Friday, 31 May 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: Clandestino - new release with updated lyrics - Manu Chao (featuring Calypso Rose)

Let me take you back to 1998, and the debut album of French singer / songwriter Manu Chao.  The title track of this album, 'Clandestino', with its Calypso melody and Spanish  / English lyrics was an instant hit.

In 2015 Manu Chao met Calypso Rose, a huge star back in her native Tobago, and they formed a friendship that would see them record two albums together and bring Calypso international recognition.

So, why re-release this song now? and why the new lyrics?

Originally the song sang about a Clandestine one - a 'traveller' who arrives on Spanish shores without any identity papers from the land of Babylon, and the way the authorities treated him at that time. And now, in a wave of increased migrations and refugees coming into Europe, the song has perhaps more meaning and relevance, and the re-written lyrics include lines like "the land in front don't want me, the land behind me burns", and "When I see these things on television, I cry that this should be happening in the 21st century".

None of the jauntiness and foot-tapability has been lost with these more poignant and direct messages, and it is perhaps in spite of these lyrics that the catchy tune deceives and lulls you falsely. Both artistes are well known for being very political in their songs, and championing the displaced and marginalised. A very current theme in our 21st century political Britain.

Calypso Rose is 79 and still going strong, and is it a delight to hear her here with Manu Chao's youthful 57 years, as his signature guitar playing is still evidenced. Who knows, after such a long time in the spotlight, Clandestino might just make a comeback and find a new generation of admirers.

Listen to it for yourselves here -

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 31/5/19

MUSIC REVIEW: Tuscon Train - single from upcoming album Western Stars - Bruce Springsteen

'Tucson Train' is the third song to be released from Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming album ‘Western Stars,’ his nineteenth studio album. Following previous single releases 'Hello Sunshine' and 'There Goes My Miracle', 'Tucson Train' taps into the orchestral-country music feel of works such as Glen Campbell’s recordings of 'Wichita Lineman' (written by Jimmy Webb) and 'Rhinestone Cowboy' and the musical bridges between verses wouldn’t sound out of place in a Western movie from the 1950s starring John Wayne.

While the music, bookended by a clattering sound recalling the sound of train wheels on tracks (or a metronome marking time), is bathed in orchestral sweeps and steel guitar licks, Springsteen’s lyrics place the listener in the mind of the songs narrator – a down-on-his-luck guy who left his old life and love to start again. It’s tempting to think that the protagonist of 'Tucson Train' is perhaps the same one from Springsteen’s most famous song 'Born To Run' grown older, the optimism of young love tainted by bitter experience: “I got so down-and-out in 'Frisco/Tired of the pills and the rain/I picked up, headed for the sunshine/I left a good thing behind/Seemed all of our love was in vain,” Springsteen sings in the opening verse. The narrator is waiting for his love to arrive on the eponymous Tucson train, “Just to show her a man can change.” Their relationship, it seems, was not without its problems: “We fought hard over nothin'/We fought till nothin' remained,” a couplet which manages to compress years of bickering into a few seconds of singing.

This far into his career, Springsteen is still able to dig deep into the well of emotions and while the music is polished (due in no small part to the production skills of Ron Aniello), the lyrics hint at a darkness beneath the gloss. This is a familiar trope of Springsteen’s canon – while 'Born In The USA' sounds like a very pro-American song when you just hear the chorus in isolation, as those who have used the song in Presidential campaigns have done, the lyrics to the verses reveal the tale of a Vietnam veteran who has returned home and been let down and abandoned by the society he fought for. Springsteen’s voice is still in fine form considering he is due to turn seventy later this year (many of his peers, sadly, cannot say the same) and his performance really draws the listener into the song.

'Tucson Train' is certainly likeable upon the first listen but repeated listenings brings out more layers to the song and it grows nicely with each revisit. It certainly bodes well for the upcoming album and it’s fair to say that The Boss is back in town.

'Tuscon Trail' can be listened to for yourselves by following this link - 

Reviewer - Andrew Marsden
on - 31/5/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Blue Jay - Hope Street Theatre, Liverpool

Blue Jay is being performed at Hope Street Theatre in Liverpool, which has approximately 100 seats and is situated in one of the back rooms of The Masonic building. It’s a lovely building, full of character and beautiful architecture. The theatre is available to hire to both professional and non-professional theatre companies. The theatre is extremely adaptable as the staging and seating can incorporate any play layout, which was suitable for Blue Jay. The theatre has since become a community hub for local writer groups and Open Mic Nights too.

Blue Jay was produced, directed and written by Bri Mansy. He has done an incredible job managing to do all three jobs himself. His dedication, enthusiasm and hard-work were clearly demonstrated in the play. Transgender issues are such a delicate subject to get right and I sensed a lot of research had been done previously. The narrative was extremely raw and hard-hitting at times. The narrative never shied away from difficult situations, which transgender people daily face, which was really refreshing to see and added realism and authenticity to the story. There were other issues, which were touched on in Blue Jay such as self-harm, grief and homelessness.

The cast consisted of two main characters, Stevie (Connor Kelly) and Grace (Ceri Bellis Grace). There were a few minor characters including Dave (Kieron Duane), Timmy (Lewis Deon Stelfox), the busker (Daisy Gill), the dancer (Jade Contini), the waitress and homeless girl (both played by Rebecca Bryan).

The story of Blue Jay opened, when Stevie, a transgender teenager, was contemplating suicide. Thankfully, he was saved by a stranger, Grace, who met him by chance. During their conversation later on, Stevie gradually confided in Grace about his abusive childhood and difficulties he was currently experiencing. Inevitably, they both realised they can help each other though their grief and loneliness. Stevie was a very troubled soul, who Grace could offer him guidance and wisdom. Blue Jay was set somewhere in Liverpool, with the beautiful backdrop of Albert Dock displayed on the visual projector screen.

The chemistry and dynamics between Stevie and Grace were a joy and pleasure to watch. Grace was the sympathic one, who was helping Stevie as much as she possibly could. She was dealing with rhe grief of her daughter, Joy. On the other hand, Stevie was extremely troubled and brilliantly displayed all the raw emotions he was feeling during the play. He got in his character really well and showed us the journey he was going through.

I thought kelly’s portrayal of Stevie was excellent, as his performance was powerful and he added hidden depths to his character. He played a very difficult character, with so many issues. The show started very dark at the beginning, but as the play progressed, the mood became happier as Stevie found who he was.

SFX was utilised very early on in Blue Jay, when the backdrop of The Albert Dock and the railway crossing were on the visual graphics. There was a good use of noises in the background with the birds and waves of the River Mersey could be heard. It added to the atmospheric surroundings of the scenes.

The characters' costumes in the play were good, attention to detail was noticeable, when Stevie put the blue dress on. The set design was minimal, but very practical for the number of the scenes in the play. There were a few props, but only visible, when the character needed them. The scene transitions were done so smoothly and effectively, by Kieron Duane and Lewis Deon Stelfox. The same applies to the props, which were moved swiftly between the scenes of the play.

Lighting was utilised really well throughout the production. Some early scenes were very dark, but as the play developed, the lighting became brighter. I thought the lighting effects used for the train were good. The contrasts between darkness worked incredibly well, considering the subject issues covered in the show. Sound was good as all dialogue and songs could be heard.

Music played a huge part in Blue Jay, as a few songs were either sung and performed on stage. Special mention to Daisy Gill, who performed 'Take Your Time' in the show. Her vocals and performance on the stage were amazing. The song choices were relevant to all the scenes in the play. I particularly liked the American Song, which was played out, when Stevie was transiting and freely danced on the stage. A very touching moment, as Stevie became the person he always wanted to be. The choreography of the dance moves of Stevie and the dancer were good.

I would highly recommend you go and see Blue Jay, it’s a great narrative with two very interesting characters, who put in incredible performances and handled transgender issues genuinely and realistically. The play made you weep one moment, then laugh the next. A brilliant show that displayed all the emotions and the journey Stevie went through to find out, who he was. An absolute pleasure to see the show, really hope the play is extended and further shows are announced as the show definitely needs to be shown to a wider audience.

Reviewer - Mark Cooper
on - 30/5/19

THEATRE REVIEW: The Audience - Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Southampton.

The Audience, written by Peter Morgan, intends to capture the essence of the weekly private meetings which the Queen has shared with all 14 of her prime ministers throughout her 65 years on the throne. Paul Kemp brilliantly transcends through time taking on at least 7 of the prime ministers, each one a paragon caricature. The Audience is absolutely genius, hilariously funny and up-to-date.

The innovative traverse stage creates a voyeuristic position for the audience, apt given the setting of the play: in a private audience room. The set, designed by Rosanna Vize, consisted of a central raised rectangular platform on which stood two chairs and a carpet. There was also a conveyer belt running centrally through the stage which was loaded with boxes for set changes and brought the smooth and timely entrances and exits of each prime minister. On the far right hand side of the stage there was a 6 foot raised platform on which sat Young Elizabeth Windsor, played beautifully by Fay Burwell.

The Queen, played by Faye Castlelow, was portrayed with flare and ease. The depiction was perfect, with every intonation, facial expression and mannerism crisp and thoughtful. An excellent royal! With each meeting she changed her dress on stage with the help of her Equerry, Sharon Singh. This created a beautifully intimate movement sequence, mirroring the intimate and personal conversations which she has shared with each of her prime ministers. Each of her costumes was designed with thought and insight presenting the Queen with character and style. It was interesting to see her movements as she dressed become more frail as she ages. This helped the plot to jump, without confusion, non chronologically.

Each scene was orchestrated by the Queen’s Equerry. She rearranged the set and undressed and redressed Her Majesty. She also acted as a narrator figure allowing the passing of time to run parallel to the snapshot private audience meetings between the Queen and the prime minister weekly. The meetings focused on specific moments in history and their effects on later prime minsters, demonstrating the Queen’s lengthy experience and large ability to offer insight. Particular attention was given to the Suez Crisis in 1956 under Mr Eden’s government, showing how the Queen knew his decisions were of ill intent but she still had to offer her complete support, because the Queen must always have complete support for her prime minister. The production discusses the issues she has faced, not having any opinion in any matter, but still having it happen under her government.

For me, it was the natural and spontaneous relationship between Paul Kemp and Faye Castelow which made the show so exciting and believable. This was aided by Paul Kemp’s excellent performance of each prime minister, particularly his iconic portrayal of Winston Churchill and his genius and accurate characterisation of Anthony Eden. He was hilarious and also highly genuine and personable, particularly in his characterisation of Harold Wilson, resulting in most of the audience shedding a tear at his resignation after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s.

This play is witty, moving and highly interesting. A thoroughly good watch!

Reviewer - Grace McNicholas
on - 30/5/19

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Paula Varjack: The Cult Of K*unzo - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Paula Varjack is a writer, filmmaker, actor and performer. She has performed at many arts festivals including Glastonbury, the Berlin International Literature Festival and the Vault Festival. Her works to date have attempted to take a satirical look at a particular subject and provide a layman’s view to get her message across. The “Cult of K*nzo” is no different with the subject matter in question being the fashion industry.

Varjack uses the fashion collaboration of high class designer Kenzo with the high street brand of H&M – something that received a lot of media attention when it was launched in 2016. For those people who are unaware, Kenzo is a high-end fashion brand who are generally associated with high profile celebrities and creating “one-off” designs that cannot simply be bought on the high street. This is why the Kenzo / H&M collaboration attracted so much attention – it was an opportunity for ‘anyone’ to buy Kenzo-designed clothes.

The story of “Cult Of K*nzo” began with a girl who was obsessed with her grandmother’s collection of Chanel perfumes and cosmetics, and takes us through a childhood where she became obsessed with those logos that identify the fashion industry, the logos that separates the high-end from the high street – this is something that Varjack very expertly portrays through the eyes of a child and adolescent girl. Sadly I think this is where the show starts to deteriorate and the messages being portrayed become very confused.

Varjack’s story continued with a very detailed account of queuing up at 4am outside H&M in London, in order to get the first look at the Kenzo collection. It depicts the obsession that this became and through various storytelling methods, some of which work quite well in this one-woman show but others that fall very flat with the audience.

Ultimately this show is about fashion and in particular the Kenzo and H&M collaboration but it was very unclear whether Varjack was sympathetic toward Kenzo Takada (the original Kenzo founder who retired back in 1999) or blaming him for creating the luxury brand. Parts of the show depict Kenzo Takada as an artist, someone who came from a poor background as a Japanese immigrant in Paris – this back-story being shown on the large screen behind Varjack with sketches of scenes that included Takada with accompanying commentary from Varjack herself.

It is also unclear whether this show is about Varjack herself or not. At the start of the performance she refers to a girl in the third person but throughout the show she talks about herself in some of the experiences. This lack of clarity was frustrating – if this was about Varjack herself then I would have perhaps connected with her much more. At times she felt like a narrator of a story, rather than it being autobiographical, and therefore no emotional connection with her.

The show is just over one hour long and whilst the subject Varjack has taken definitely has cause to be depicted through this type of performance, I simply don’t think that “Cult of K*nzo” works in its current form. There is some humour that I liked in some of the scenes but I didn’t connect with Varjack enough throughout the performance. There is no doubt that this show could work but right now it simply doesn’t.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 30/5/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Nell Gwynn - HOME, Manchester.

This was the final of the current third year students at The Manchester School Of Theatre's public productions, and if they meant to go out with a bang and on a high then they most certainly did!

Nell Gwynn is a play (with a few songs thrown in for good measure) by Jessica Swale, and tells the (not entirely historically accurate) account of one of England's first and perhaps most celebrated actresses, Nell Gwynn, from her upbringing in the hovels of squalor and whoring to becoming the favoured mistress of King Charles II through her gutsy but honest natural talent of acting.

It's a fun play, and not meant to be taken too seriously, not even by itself, and here director Mary Papadima excels in keeping the whole moving and light even when tragedy strikes. There is a feeling that the play within the play of a play is perhaps all just a play in any case, and with some excellently observed colourful but never too over-the-top characters, this self-effacing laugh at the Restoration period of both drama and politics is hugely entertaining and perfectly cast.

With a simple but effective set (Rula Stasevictiute), quasi-authentic costuming (Chloe Ramsay) and non-intrusive lighting (Kay Haynes), all the component parts of the creative team came together to ameliorate and aid the narrative. But it was the effectiveness of casting, the beauty of nuanced and flawed characters, and some lovely on-stage chemistry between the cast which really brought this play to life.

The 11-strong cast all were deserving of praise, and the ensemble work was lovely. Jessica Nicholson's feisty and uncompromising performance as Nell Gwynn was of course central to the whole plot, and was superbly anchored; and despite it being an unmittigating tour-de-force of a performance it was far from being a selfish one, and her - along with the whole cast's - obvious enjoyment at being in this play really shone through.  Dora Davis showed great skill in the dual roles of Nell's sister Rose (quiet, unassuming and loving) and Queen Catherine (somewhat overt and aristocratic). Kirsty Johnson's minimalist portrayal of the maid, Nancy, and her frustrations of acting, were very underplayed and real, whilst Elizabeth Kentish was given rein to do just the opposite and be as outrageous as possible in her dual aristocratic roles. Adam Chalk showed great sensitivity in his performance of King Charles, as we genuinely felt for his plight politically, and his speech to parliament was superb. The members of the actors' company were all very good indeed, with Noe Sebert playing Charles Hart.the actor who 'found' and tutored Nell Gwynn and fell madly in love with her. His feelings both real, and 'acted' were very cleverly observed and one really rooted for him despite knowing it was doomed. Joe Pass played the 'leading lady' of the company, and, if you have never been involved with members of the profession, then  you could be forgiven for thinking that he  was overacting... however, you may take it from me that characters like that, unfortunately, do exist, and are undoubtedly what gives the profession such a bad name. Egotistical, vainglorious, limelight-hogging, prima donnas who create elaborate and unnecessary backstories and need to know their motivation for every single action, without having the imagination to know it for themselves! Yes, we've all come across people like this every now and again! However Pass did play his chaarcter with a heart and a conscience and I enjoyed his interpretation greatly.

I was truly thrilled by this production, to my mind, one of the best I have seen from MST so far, and one which will live long and fondly in my memory. Congratulatiosn to you all and I wish you all much success as you start your chosen career and hope to see you on the West End stage very soon!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 30/5/19

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: 42nd Street - The Grand Theatre, Blackpool

Blackpool’s Grand Theatre celebrates 125 years this year and the seaside town and Fylde’s Light Opera Company also marks its 70th anniversary so what better way to showcase the wonders of everything that happens behind the scenes of a show than to present the mammoth that is 42nd Street, set just 16 years prior to the company’s formation.

A show about a show, this concept and story is often difficult for those who have never seen the show film to comprehend but the cast and crew pulled it off, with only a few technical issues (microphones - or the lack of them - and lighting). With a few modern elements that could have done to have been omitted (Pat’s shoes, a 70s-esque outfit in ‘Dames’ and the ‘shinbusters’ constructed from materials of the local tool store), the show was highly impressive.

The best performer was, for me, the writer of Pretty Lady, Maggie Jones (Helen O’Neill) as her male equal, sadly, the least convincing, with little sense of rhythm. Leading ladies Dorothy Brock (well, in Pretty Lady - the show that the overall show is about), played by Lynne Nolan, and her younger aspirant Peggy Sawyer (Nikita Coulon), were very well performed, against Jack Price’s “juvenile lead”. Leading man Julian March (Derek Winward) is to be admired for his constant presence on stage for the majority and great memory bank of lines. Miss Brock’s sugar-daddy Abner Dillon, in the form of Chris Cooper, was excellent also, with wit and charisma, whilst smaller parts Mac (Mike Donnellon) and dance director Andy Lee (Joff Keelan) built their parts entertainingly.

Howard Haw’s direction is clever and well-followed, coupled with Danielle Woodhouse’s iconic choreography and the brilliant band, under the baton of Dave Thomas.

It is always a delight to see cast members gaining experience in the ‘grassroots of the industry’ and the variety of roles that they play in a plethora of productions. As well as a great social hobby, this art-form is also highly empowering.

With great musical numbers and highly amusing quips from Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book, with lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer, this show is a triumph and should be commended.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 29/5/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Mole And Gecko: The Show - The Library Theatre, Oldham

Poet Simon Mole and musician Gecko performed their new children’s show “Mole And Gecko: The Show” this afternoon at Oldham Library, as part of their national tour. It is a gentle musical journey involving the value of friendship, suitable for toddlers and younger children, interspersed with the occasional cow poo joke. I brought the Assistant Reviewers, who are aged eleven, nine and five.

The set and costumes relied very heavily on the audience’s imagination. Mole and Gecko were playing the characters of a mole and a gecko, while wearing plain T-shirts and having nothing else about them to suggest these animals. As most of the young audience have probably never seen a mole or a gecko in real life – I remember having to find a heavily illustrated edition of “The Wind In The Willows” to read to the Assistant Reviewers, modern city children that they are – it would have been helpful if the audience’s imaginations could have been supported a little more in this regard.

Having said that, watching two grown-ups doing silly things for almost an hour kept the audience content, and I think the overall message of the piece came across.

Mole and Gecko live by a river, find a boat, and go on a journey. They encounter a Crab that’s lost its digging stick, a Duck that’s lost its comfort blanket, and then a naughty Weasel that tricks them out of their boat in exchange for a pile of chocolate biscuits. The Weasel character, also performed by Simon Mole, was a great success: scampering about the stage in a sharp checked jacket lined with biscuits, and doing several acoustic rap numbers with a Madness flavour. In the end, the friendship of Mole and Gecko saves the day, and the naughty Weasel is reformed.

Mole and Gecko passionately believe in the audience being active participants rather than passive consumers, so the audience were regularly called on to make suggestions, contribute lyrics, and sing to the songs. The young audience loved this. The very youngest in the audience were regularly dancing onto the stage. All the Assistant Reviewers joined in with enthusiasm, with the five-year-old’s right arm being raised in a straining way during most of the performance: he had so many things he wanted to say.

Both performers sang, and Gecko accompanied on the guitar. Much of the script, when it wasn’t being improvised around the children’s offerings, was written in a stylised poetic way. There was humour, but it was of a gentle and low-key nature, and there was some physicality, which was also gentle and low-key. As a children’s show, it was understated, but very effective.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 29/5/19

DANCE REVIEW: Silent Lines - The Lowry Theatre. Salford.

A dance piece, an exploration of the relationship between movement, light and music. An ensemble of obviously talented dancers limited by a choreography that just teetered on the edge of delivering something exciting.

A one night only performance at The Lowry, Salford on their esteemed Lyric stage, Russell Maliphant's 'Silent Lines' resonated throughout the auditorium and had the audiences' rapt attention. Five dancers performed Maliphant's devised piece; Althia Antonia, Edd Arnold, Grace Jabbari, Moronfoluwa Odimayo and Will Thompson. Each of the dancers had an incredible presence on stage, their strength of movement was admirable and the poise in which they held themselves it was evident they were extremely capable dancers on the verge of exploding into movement.

The opening sequence was fatidic of the piece as a whole, a stage mostly in darkness and the light, design by Panagiotis Tomaras, gracefully highlighted the dancers' movements. Tomaras' animated light patterns played across the dancers' bodies like water, the movements of this sequence were slow extensions and counter balances with partners, the effect the lighting had on this made the bodies seemingly blend with one another and even the dancers' stillness vibrated with the energy of the light cast on them. The effectiveness of the lighting on the dancers' bodies was aided by Stevie Stewarts Costume design, plain trousers and tops that appeared to be inspired by b-bop casual wear and capoeira martial arts uniform. The dancers bodies were able to move freely and each had some element to their design that felt represented them individually.

The choreography was evidently inspired by capoeira, b-bop and contemporary dance, shown during sequences when the dancers performed short duets filled with physically skilled movements of mentioned genres. The dancers ability at filling the negative spaces around each other were a demonstration of their abilities to perform and respond to the needs of the space simultaneously, this was a level of awareness not often seen and captivating to watch. I hoped for more of these magical moments and indeed the performance was sequence after sequence of solos and group sequences filled with these impressive feats of connectivity. But as the performance went on the choreography became repetitive, so much turning by the dancers it brought to mind Whirling Dervishes, I longed for a break in the turning and capoeira-like circling.

In the programme Maliphant states that he likes to play with 'pushing against expectations', indeed I concede moments that I felt a climax in the choreography was mounting it did not arrive and the dancers would continue turning or transpose into another sequence. This piece was an example of movement being dissected and dancers having the power to be in the space with others with choreography simple enough for them to emanate their physical prowess. I admire this piece but for entertainment value I would like to see another of Maliphant's productions, one with a story or more traditional narrative structure.

For an introduction to this company I am left inspired to seek out seeing future work by them, though I can't say this is one of my favourite performances.

Reviewer - Kerry Ely
on - 29/5/19

Thursday, 30 May 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: Manchester Camerata: Up Close: The Evolution Of Dance - HOME, Manchester.

One of the UK's most versatile and 'get-up-and-going' music ensembles has to be Manchester's own Camerata. It doesn't matter what is thrown at them, they are more than happy to give it their best shot. And they are just as at home with Baroque as they are with contemporary experimental, always happy to use whatever musician configuration necessary from solo instrument to a small concert orchestra.

This evening they welcomed internationally renowned accordeonist Martynas Levickis to join them in their celebration of dance music throughout the ages.

The evening felt much longer than it actually was, or even needed to be. Two 20 minute intervals separated three sections of music lasting only approx 20 minutes each themselves, and so this did drag things out somewhat. Not only this but there seemed to be an awful lot of 'faffing' between each small piece as technicians and stage-hands came on and alterted the seating, music stand and microphone configurations constantly. This became very distracting and time-consuming. Surely there was one single optimal position for ALL the items and just leave everything on stage the whole time?! Furthermore, I really failed to understand the need for microphones at all in such a small and intimate venue. Maybe the sound was travelling straight up into the flies of the stage rather than out towards the audience, and if so, fair enough; but otherwise, it didn't make any sense.

Anyway, let's turn to the music...

Part one (the first 20 minutes) was devoted to Baroque music, in particular that of Johann Sebastian Bach. First we heard Hannah Roberts perform his Suite No 1 in D Major for solo cello. A short pieece in three movements played skilfully by Roberts. This was followed by excerpts from his second Orchestral Suite (B minor) which saw Levickis play the accordeon with harpsichord and strings. An odd combination and one which wouldn't have been available to Bach in his lifetime [the first accordeon is credited as being invented in Germany in 1822]. However, the arrangement was nice and Levickis' playing delightful, playful and superb.

The second part was dance music from a much more recent time. Still with classic composers,  but taking a huge jump from Bach (who died in 1750) to 1915 and Bela Bartok's suite of short Romanian Folk Dances (arranged for accordeon and violin duet by Simon Parkin). This was followed by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla's haunting and emotive tango for accordeon and cello duet.  And finally in this section, a suite of Bulgarian dances by contemporary accordeonist,. composer and teacher Vyacheslav Semyonov. For me, this section of the three was definitely my favourite - classic music whose roots are firmly fixed in the traditional folk music of their own or others' countries, where melodies are the order of the day and stamping your feet and extemporising on the themes is most definitely a part of the whole experience. It was also in this section where Levickis seemed to be both at his best and most at home. His playing was simply brilliant.

The third and final section was, for me at least, something of an anti-climax.. and since they had already covered contemporary dance, I didn't really know where else they could go, unless it was to the Classical or Romantic eras of music. Sadly there were no programmes, and so we were completely in the dark about the whole evening. To be fair. yes, the information is on the website, and yes, there was a poster in the hallway before entering the theatre, but this was really not suffient at all. A single A5 freesheet would have been much more welcomed. Instead, we were left having to guess. Levickis did also announce some of the pieces, but often AFTER they had been played and if you are unfamiliar with a certain composer or style, this was insufficient for one to truly understand. However.... for this third section they did not go back in time, but instead stayed with the contemporary repertoire, and turned to pop music.

First was a highly contemporary piece of classical composition by Daniel Nelson. The only piece in the evening's programme to have been written for accordeon (this one with string quartet). It was an interesting and rather experimental piece called, 'My Inner Disco', which broke up the melodic and rhythmic patterns of the dance in odd and unexpected places, as if the organs of the body were trying to control the music themselves and not being able to co-operate fully with each other.

This was followed by 2 pieces from the pop repertoire. The first, a love ballad by Donna Summer (with a rather surprise ending) was followed by Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky'. Perhaps not the best way to finish a concert of dance music through the ages, but certainly the most original!

It was also during this third section that the lighting became noticeably bizarre. In the first two parts the lighting had kept itself to doing what it should have been doing - making sure the musicians were lit. However in the third section, we were "treated" to some very odd colours and shadows. Quite strange. The mirror ball was a nice idea for the Donna Summer piece but it was unnecessary for the Daft Punk.

All in all a very enjoyable evening in the company of some very talented musicans. Martynas Levickis was a hugely enigmatic and personable presence on stage and his playing was second to none this evening obviously enjoying himself greatly.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 29/5/19

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

PODCAST REVIEW: Something Rhymes With Purple: Eggcorns - Susie Dent and Gyles Brandreth

I fear I may well have come rather late to the party with this delightful series of podcasts from the endearing and entertainingly educational duo, Gyles Brandreth and Susie Dent, as they chatter about the English language, in 'Something Rhymes With Purple'. [of course we all know that something does not rhyme with purple - burple and curple though do!] However, I am extremely glad I did stumble upon this podcast - appearing quite innocuously in my Twitter feed! - and I shall most certainly be playing 'catch-up' and listening to the rest of the series over the weekend!

Language in all its glorious and inglorious forms has long been a passion, and my love of the origins of language and language usage [along with my hatred of Americanisms....] is well known among my close circle.

This particular episode, titled, 'Eggcorns', was the perfect introduction for me to this series. Much of what I knew already [or at least thought I knew, and had it confirmed] was here, but I had no idea what an 'eggcorn' was, nor had I ever heard the word before. And of course it was that title alone which drew me in.

For those unfamiliar with the two presenters of this podcast then perhaps Susie Dent will be the one more easily recognisable these days, as she has been and still is, the point of reference in Dictionary Corner on both Countdown and the comedy version using the 8 Out Of 10 Cats team, whilst, Giles Brandreth is an ex-politician and perhaps nowadays best known as an author ['Have You Eaten Grandma?] and a contestant on radio's 'Just A Minute'. Both are keen wordsmiths, Dent being a lexicographer and Brandreth a keen grammarian, and yet neither inflict their vastly superior knowledge upon the listener. Instead they impart their offerings with charm and wit, also very cleverly allowing the listener to make sure they are on the same wavelength and starting point by explaining everything - even for those who already knew! - it's good to be reminded.

Anyway, back to Eggcorns. These, we are told are misheard idioms. An idiom [eg.. 'like a bull in a china shop] is misheard, and repeated ['like a bowl in a china shop'], and it somehow sticks and becomes a part of that person's and perhaps others' vocabulary. As Brandreth so rightly pointed out these are nothing more than Malapropisms, but I suppose we could say that the 'genus' is Malapropism and the 'species' is 'Eggcorn'.

Eggcorn, we are informed, comes from a genuine mishearing / misunderstanding, as an American linguist overheard a lady talking about the "eggcorns falling from her oak tree" (obviously meaning 'acorns').

At the end of the podcast, Dent has a regular spot, 'Trio' and imparts three words which the pair would liek to see re-introduced into our language. These are genuine words which have gone out of favour or are quite obscure; and today's three words were 'petrichor', 'a zarf', and 'to spuggle'. But you'll need to listen to the podcast to know their meanings!

During the 30 minute broadcast we learn about other eggcorns too, as well as another 'species' known as 'Malaphors'. Don't worry, if all this sounds a little too much and intellectual for you, trust me, it isn't. It's a little like going back to the quarters of your favourite lecturer and chatting over a cuppa - only for you to look at him quizzically - and then for him to explain everything to you in simple terminology, and you leave with a huge smile on your face! It really isn't 'rocket surgery' , so don't be 'worried stiff' by it all!

I am sure the podcasts should be available on all major podcast sharing sites, but I found mine on I urge you to listen to them, you will be beguiled by the dulcet tones of Dent and Brandreth as they take you on a journey, not putting the cat before the horse, and certainly not going at it like hammer and thongs...a-hem... let's burn that bridge when we get to it, - a journey through some of the less clear waters of our ever-changing and colourful language. And you will undoubtedly learn a couple of things along the way too.

Eggcorns can be found here -

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 29/5/19

NEWS: Historic New Mills Art Theatre returns to its former glory!

New Mills Theatre Breathes New Life into Historic Building

Photographs have been released of the Art Theatre in New Mills, High Peak following a £46,000 refurbishment.

The restoration delivered largely by volunteers includes the installation of London's famous West End, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane seats. 

More than 1800 volunteer hours were calculated over a 11 week programme including 100 rolls of wallpaper and 80 litres of paint.  In addition to this, the fitting of new carpet featuring the Art Theatre logo (360 m2), new safety flooring (200 m2), new skirting and dado rails (120 m2) and a new heating system. 

Announced early in January, New Mills Art Theatre was one of three chosen venues to be gifted the iconic comfy golden seats from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  To mark this occasion and to celebrate 60 years of managing and wholly funding the building, the Directors of New Mills Art Theatre Ltd embarked on a project to transform the auditorium into a warm and welcoming public building for all of New Mills and District to enjoy.  

The first theatre to be built on the site was the New Mills Hippodrome, which opened in June 1911. The theatre closed in April 1921 and reopened in August 1921 as the 'Art Picture Playhouse'. It was commissioned by local theatrical entrepreneurs Messrs. Walters and Law, who had been granted planning permission for their ambitious proposals which had been drawn up by the northern theatre specialist, Albert Winstanley [1876-1943].  The choice of the new name was significant and of the moment. The reconstruction took place whilst cinema was still ‘silent’ but aspiring to bigger and better artistic aspirations.

Today, New Mills Art Theatre continues to promote a variety of programmes serving local community groups and semi-professional acts.  The theatre provides a public service at no cost to the public purse. 

Next month they are the home for the High Peak Independent Film Festival (12-16 June) and the Musical "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" (21-23 June) by Bowden Theatre Works in association with New Mills AODS. 

Audiences will also be delighted to see a programme of events throughout the year including clairvoyant David Holt, Freedom!'19  - a George Michael tribute concert, Pinked Floyd – a Pink Floyd tribute act, a week’s run of performances by New Mills AODS with the Musical "The Sound of Music" and a one night performance from comedian and actor Dave Spikey.  Announced last week, the 2020 pantomime to be performed by Friends of the Art Theatre will be Hansel & Gretel.  See facebook @newmillstheatre for more details.  

Beverley Eaves, Director of New Mills Art Theatre, said: “It puts a whole new outlook on getting bums on seats.  It’s all about team work and making the Art Theatre accessible to a future generation for another 60 years". 

She added, "The theatre is loved and run entirely by volunteers.  This kind of asset delivers high public worth and deserves to be supported wherever and how ever possible".   

You can help New Mills Art Theatre by being a Theatre Supporter and/or a member of New Mills AODS.  Look out for their Sponsor a Seat initiative which will offer the public a chance to name a seat by way of support.

MUSIC REVIEW: Gigantic All-Dayer Indie Festival - The Academy, Manchester.

The last time I was at an all-day gig, it was in Milton Keynes in the ‘80s, so perhaps I’m not the best commentator to pass judgement on Manchester Academy’s fifth annual 10 hour ‘Gigantic’ festival. Reuniting a clutch of beloved indie bands of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the ones who may have been two hit wonders but whose devoted fan base (even despite some break-ups and reformations), their churning out of solid tunes and commitment to hard slog touring, kept them selling records and filling venues. Crazyhead, Jesus Jones, The Juliana Hatfield Three, Jim Bob (of Carter USM), The Wonder Stuff, The Bluetones - and the granddaddies of them all, Echo & the Bunnymen. Not exactly the bands that time forgot, but the ones that the charts no longer want or promote. Nowhere was this more poignantly encapsulated than in Bluetones’ frontman’s Mark Morriss’s repeated dry jibes about the evasion of chart success, over & over throughout their set.

Let’s get my old lady gripes out of the way first. First surprise is that on being searched, my laptop was commandeered for the cloakroom; the second surprise was that there was only one stage: unlike past Gigantic festivals, bands were scheduled one after the other in one big room with no time for encores – even though The Wonder Stuff in particular looked apologetic and rueful as they waved themselves off the stage.

It initially felt less like a free-movement festival and more like an internment camp. There were no muddy fields or distances to traverse, but we were effectively incarcerated in a human pig-pen courtyard as the only respite from bar & performance hall - hemmed in by metal barriers & wire mesh fences. There were roughly twenty seats in the bar, three food stalls, one craft beer & cider stall (not the tent, as advertised) & an ice-cream van; middle aged folk who couldn’t get a seat in the courtyard were sitting in the corridors or had dossed-down at the side of the performance hall.

What entirely redeemed this cramped and slightly-uncomfortable-for-the middle-aged-punter gig was the quality of the music and the performances; probably some of the most technically accomplished, assured and exuberant musicianship I’ve heard in recent years. The snob in me had already decided to give Jesus Jones a miss, but the performance audio was pumped through the bar stereo and they were immediately amped-up and arresting. Mike Edwards’ voice is stronger, bigger and more commanding live than anticipated, and the band sounded tub-thumpingly rich and raw when stripped away of gimmicky indie-dance novelties that clouded them in the ‘90s.

Keyboard player Iain Baker (out-Bezzing Bez), gurned throughout, tongue lolling and (as self- described), his role was to ‘move around on stage in an unconventional manner’; he also refused to allow the initially riveted and respectfully quiet audience off the hook, grabbing the mike stand and shouting “We’re making more noise up here than you are down there. C’mon, make some noise!” And so, given permission, the beardy, short-wearing 40-something fan-boys did.

I remember really disliking Jesus Jones in the ‘90s (dance music came too late for my ‘80s indie-honed sensibilities); I found their sound flimsy & tinny and any idea of what they could really do as musicians was lost in layers of production. They are now a born-again rock band, albeit keeping some of the more aggressive and clean hip-hop samples and brass – which sound fresh even now. The baggy dance club garb & bucket hats are gone, replaced by tailored floral shirts, cravats, waistcoats and long coiffured hair. Jesus Jones have gone devilishly dapper. They won me over at 'IBYT', played as the first track as a nod to indicate that they didn’t come to trade on past glories, so furiously got the big hit out of the way at the start. They haven’t had a charted album since 1997 – and they clearly don’t care. Their new album 'Passages' is out now.

Juliana Hatfield, looking skinny teen 18 but bringing her 51 year old wise head has such a musically illustrious and varied history – Blake Babes, Some Girls & The Lemonheads for a start - and for now is settling on what some have called ‘coffee-house grunge’ with her own trio. Her standout song was a mesmerizing, agonised slow-mo’, seductive version of Britney’s ‘Toxic’. I am going to cop out a bit here and confess I missed most of the set; I know Hatfield’s work – and it felt a bit strange to be watching here, with middle-aged, pierced men, chugging beer. I’d rather listen to her stuff at home, in my bedroom, as I would’ve done in my teens and twenties. A musical force-of-nature, as intimate and as raucous as you’d wish any icon to be. Highly recommended.

I apologise to the fans of former Carter USM frontman Jim Bob for my neglect; I dived out for wine & the loo and so only just caught the final number, ‘The Only Living Boy In New Cross’, as hundreds of fans, full-throated, joined the acoustic-punk troubadour. The warmth of that connection and the huge round of extended applause will send me to Carter’s & Morrison’s back catalogue for closer investigation.

The Wonder Stuff, who boast that they never have the same line-up for each album – apart from lynchpin/songwriter Miles Hunt, joyfully banged through their 30 year old album Hup in its entirety. Almost a cartoon creation with their larger-than-life stomp-along jolly anthems, such as ‘Piece Of Sky’ & ‘Size Of A Cow’, they easily and gleefully whipped up the crowd to merriment & dancing - with the addition of some demonic fiddling. I wasn’t a fan before but their vibrancy & recklessness at least makes you want them at your next party.

So much enthusiasm and energy was pumped out thus far by bands who clearly loved performing – until The Bluetones appeared. Hounslow’s former Brit-pop darlings have endured, despite splitting for several years in 2011. (I saw them on their farewell tour in Liverpool, when Mark Morriss in particular was energised at the thought of pursuing a solo career). Now it’s 2019 and he’s more subdued – and although the band have had thirteen Top 40 singles and three Top 10 albums in the UK charts, Morriss peppers the between-song banter with references to their chart misses & I can’t quite work out if he’s being arch and playful or bitter and resentful. It didn’t really matter though as the band clearly warmed to the crowd’s enthusiasm. It was a strange role-reversal, the audience winning over the musicians. Bluetones are, performance-wise, at the top of their game; flawless playing, Morriss' voice is still childlike and beautiful & their songs charm, engage & acquire more poignancy as time passes. (“It’s all that I can do to sing these stupid songs to you…”) What started off as a bit of a weary Norman Desmond performance ended with amped-up energy as the love spread on stage to envelop the band.

If you were to venture outside to the courtyard, through the crowd, who were mostly being sensible and sipping their craft cider, ambling about, vaping and discussing their childcare arrangements, you’d notice that the DJ set was tenderly mindful of the target demographic - so Neil Hannon, Nick Cave, Richard Hawley & Beck played as the sun set, but not too loudly.

Post punk, new wave, Liverpool music scene royalty & uber-grandees, Echo & the Bunnymen quietly assumed the stage as headliners, with a mellow Mac in an uncustomary brown jacket (sorry if I was briefly reminded of Lewis Collins in The Professionals) – albeit wearing his standard Lennon dark specs. No grand gesture or flourishes, just a commanding stillness and self-possession – with Will Sargeant being equally compelling: the most unflappable & completely in-the-moment guitarist. At 61, he was probably the oldest person in the room but had just to pick out a few goose-bump seminal guitar notes to get cheers. The 40-year back catalogue brought shouted requests from the crowd; it seemed that everyone who had bought a ticket was in the room & knew all the words of all the songs as Mac just shrugged out the lyrics, sometimes hitting bum notes - but no-one really cared about that. The light show boomed deep purple, a thunderous blue & white light to underline the doomy and swirling grandeur of the music. Mac clearly had no need to impress, shuffling with hands in pockets, using two simple hand claps to start an audience response, with 'The Cutter' still getting a roar from its first evocative violin strains. Shouldering the frantic 'Never Stop' alongside the subdued 'All My Colours' even worked tone-wise because the band have long-standing fans with long memories. Whatever they did would have been just dandy.

It was a ‘best of’ day, an event calculated to leave a loyal fan-base sated with the hits and a satisfying series of sets by bands who are technically pretty perfect – and who sadly got left behind by an unfeeling industry. I came expecting to only like a couple of bands. I left loving every one.

Regrets, I had a few; missing half of Bunnymen’s set for fear of missing the last train was a low point. (I remembered belting down Oxford Road in the ‘90s from the Students’ Union building, drunk and panicked that I’d not get back to Liverpool. At least this time I wasn’t wearing heels.) I also missed the newly reformed (after 17 years) Crazyhead, who were first on set, and their ever-reliable ‘urban bastard blues’ garage-punk.

So, my initial grumpy, parochial crustiness at being deprived of my lifeline laptop & being hemmed into a small-ish space (I felt like Papillon) was replaced with a widening grin as the day progressed. There was an honesty, a simplicity and total lack of pretension here. These are bands who have survived the caprices of fate, the fickleness of the charts & music journalism, and changing indie/alternative tastes. It’s now all about the music for them. If you get a chance to see any of these bands individually, jump at it. Forget age-prejudice or worries about appearing unfashionable - or it being simply a nostalgia-fest for those trying to cling to their youth; this music has lasted, and is played with energy, passion & pure survivors’ joy. You can even dance to it. Big Love.

Reviewer - Tracy Ryan
on - 25/5/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Little Miss Sunshine - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Selladoor Productions and The Arcola Theatre present a new musical based on the film of the same name with new music and lyrics by James Lapine and William Finn. Having been on the London stage for a while, it has now gone out on tour and I caught up with the show this evening at The Lowry Theatre in Salford.

This is a very nice musical. The set is nice, the costumes are nice, the characters are nice, the story is nice, the songs are nice; everything is nice.  And that is the show's ultimate downfall.

A hard-up and perhaps somewhat eccentric family from Albuquerque (New Mexico) suddenly find themselves having to drive in their old clapped-out VW camper-van the 800 miles to Redondo Beach, California in order to support their young daughter as she enters a Beauty Pageant. - The Little Miss Sunshine Contest. The musical is billed as 'A Road Musical' taking inspiration from the 'Road Movie' genre whereby the narrative follows the journey across country of a group of people and as they learn more about themselves and each other, revelations and happenings bring them ultimately closer together by the end of the final reel. It should be a family feel-good comedy with heart.

In this case the dysfunctional family to take the road trip is The Hoover family. The dad, a dreamer turned pragmatist, a sometime motivational speaker with his 10-point-plan watchcry; the Granddad, a sex-craved druggie who has been kicked out of his Retirement Home; a moody teenage son who dreams of being a pilot but since he hates his family has resorted to pretending to be mute and communicating everything via text messages; the preteen daughter, a little frumpy, awkward, and perhaps what the Americans would class as a 'dork'; Uncle Frank, a lecturer and Proust authority who has recently tried to commit suicide due to the unrequited love of one of his male students; and perhaps the only normal one in the family trying to stick all these disparate pieces together with familial glue, the mother. This should be more than enough for a comedy writer to get their teeth into.

However, the jokes don't come. Certainly there are some mildly humorous moments, but certainly no belly laughs from either the dialogue or the physicality, and it is all played on one very monotonous even keel: nice! The directing (Mehmet Ergen) makes sure it is kept that way: nice. There are no real highs and no real lows: even a death and the consequences thereof couldn't bring about any high emotions. It was all just 'nice'.

The set design, a two level affair with the band on the top level with room enough only for the cast to walk up a short ladder on one side and stand in a very small "balcony" at times - seemingly the only reason for this was to create different levels and break the monotony. Nice. There were three large signs attached to this framework, however only one of them (MOTEL) was ever used, so have no idea why there was a pharmacy sign and Holiday Inn logo there too. The set was extremely minimalist and bland. Even the colour never changed, we were given yellow ochre throughout. Nice. The VW camper was made with a truck base and the family's 1950's style dining chairs on top. However, to begin the second half, the van had dispensed with the base part and the cast used only the chairs, only for the base of the van to reappear towards the end. Very strange!

The whole lacked pizzazz and shazzam, even the characters obviously brought in to provide the laughs - Larry, Buddy, Joshua, Miss Califronia - completely missed their marks; and the three other beauty pageant contestants were quite obviously far too old. Putting a tiny preteen into this pageant with three girls who were mature and developed (playing younger) just simply didn't make sense to me on any level and it looked very awkward.

The music was good - and I especially enjoyed the harmony singing. The tunes were all nice, and they were played very nicely. But sadly nothing in there that I left the theatre humming and even now as I write the review am unable to recall one single melody-line or one single lyric.

The acting was nice. Nothing outrageous, nothing wooden, nothing outstanding, nothing glaringly odd. It was all just nice. Lucy O'Byrne as the mom, Sheryl, shone vocally - but even she had somehow condescended into blending in with the 'nice' in all other respects. Mark Monaghan showed great potential as the renegade grandad, but somehow, again seemed to be on a very short leash.

If 'nice' is what you are looking for, then this show delivers that by the bucket-load. Mildly entertaining, very tame, and lacking dynamics; but very nice.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 28/5/19

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: All I See Is You - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

A two-hander exploring the oppressive difficulties faced by homosexuals in the 1960s from society and the law. The play is set in both Manchester and Bolton. Bobby works on the record counter in Woolies and Ralph is an aspiring teacher whose paths collide, in the 1960s: when the girls were swooning for Tom Jones and the boys for Dusty Springfield. These boys were more in the Tom Jones camp. This is an award-winning production for its cast, writer, director and producer . Originally performed at Bolton Octagon in 2018, it is now on tour around the country and is at Hope Mill for the rest of the week.

The capacity, first night audience were treated to a continuous performance (just over an hour) of the two characters' narrative from their meeting to the end of their story. The play is a set of monologues and scenes driven by Bobby recounting their romance and relationship and the challenges facing ‘queers’ in the 1960s where it was illegal, an imprisonable offence and sometimes medical intervention - electrical therapy treatment- used to correct ‘illicit thoughts and impulses.’ Crazy hey?

The stage was cleverly lit, just a bare floor, cleverly used to show time and place changes with nothing more than actor movement in and around the space. This worked beautifully, along with the atmospheric music of the time.

Bobby was the more ‘out’ character than Ralph (who was concerned with preserving his career and the need to be secretive about his sexual preferences.) Bobby’s mother and brother both knew about Bobby but wouldn’t tell father because ‘he’ll hit the roof.’ Ralph’s father catches the twosome in the act, in the opening scenes, and never speaks of the matter again until later in the play when he tells the police about his son and pronounces him perfectly, shunning and disowning him.

The two leads are played by CiarĂ n Griffiths  (TV’s The Bill, Shameless and The Bay) as Bobby; the Woolies record dept worker with aspirations of being an assistant manager which get thwarted by the rumours of his queerness and the job goes to a married man from Preston. Griffiths' energy was impressive. A commanding performance. His love and uncontrollable emotion towards the, at the time, illegal love of Ralph was tangible. He was ably matched by the more detached, more experienced and self-controlled characterisation of Ralph played by Christian Edwards. (Cyrano and Les Miserables). His character was not as strong as the rougher Bobby as he crumbles in the later stages when arrested for gross indecency and faces prison. There was genuine connection, tenderness and attraction between the two making their seemingly impossible situation sadder.

This piece, written by the talents of Kathrine Smith is a well-crafted, entertaining, just-enough-gay-referenced to make you smile, (whatever your preferences), homage to a period of recent history; which given the recent political status of LGBT feels a hundred years ago and yet it is in our lifetime. Homophobia, gossip, hysteria and the shame and guilt for the individuals and their families must have been a daily and lifelong burden. It skirted around sham marriages to save face and keeping up appearances of ‘ normal’ when lots of people ‘always knew he was “one of them”!’

The play has been expertly and thoughtfully directed by Ben Occhipinti and Mark Powell .

A powerful piece of theatre which left me thinking about it all the way home from the delightful Hope Mill Theatre.

Reviewer - Kathryn Gorton
on - 27/5/19

Monday, 27 May 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Wallace And Gromit's Musical Marvels - The Lowry Theatre, Salford

In celebration of thirty years of Aardman’s iconic duo Wallace and Gromit, Carrot Productions proudly presents a touring production featuring a cracking live orchestra. The orchestra, all dressed as a character from the popular short animation movies, lead by Presenter Matthew Sharp it starts with him getting the audience in the mood clapping along to the sound of the W&G theme tune being played by the band, fooling the audience into believing that he is the conductor - that is until the real conductor steps up to take his place. 

Whilst act one predominantly is filled with snippets of the highlights of the Wallace and Gromit short movies whilst backed by the live band playing a variety of songs including a stunning rendition of Queens “Bohemian Rhapsody” (unsure what exactly this has to do with Wallace and Gromit nor how this is a song the hundreds of young children in the audience would be familiar with), there’s some new animation from the animated duo. Wallace is planning to make his live debut with his musical masterpiece “My Concerto in Ee Lad”. As usual with the often unlucky duo, several disasters strike from struggling to transport the grand piano, until Wallace using his investor skills turns it into a Petrol Powered Piano - will this work and get the show on the road on time? Meanwhile sidekick Gromit is working on perfecting his “worthless” violin (which turns out to be quite the collectors piece). There’s even more drama when Wallace’s inventions cause a blackout in the theatre as he’s shown working backstage.

 Act two consists of a screening of 'The Wrong Trousers', with live accompanying music performed by the band. At two and half hours long including the interval, the running time is just about tolerable. Dot get me wrong, the live band are spectacular and Matthew Sharp brings warmth and humour to the performance ensuring the entire audience gets into the spirit with clapping along etc, but for young children, which this tour is predominantly aimed at, unless coming from a very musical background, there isn’t enough interaction or engagement from the band to hold their interest. This was clearly noticeable before the end of act one and more so during act two with children getting restless and noise levels increasing, plus several loudly crying children, from the blackout scene in act one to frustrated restless children during “The Wrong Trousers”. Whilst for myself having grown up watching the movies as a teenager, the event was nostalgic and refreshing to watch, brought to life by the wonderfully talented live orchestra. However for a young child (two showtimes for Manchester - 1pm and 4pm, the first one being the one I attended) - therefore clearly targeted at families, I feel that if I’d have taken any of my three youngest nieces along (aged 6, 4 and 10 months) they’d have grown restless before the interval.

I can’t help but feel that part of the reason behind this tour was to promote the next animation by Aardman staring Wallace and Gromit, along with it being an excuse to sell tonnes of expensive merchandise. The production left me feeling somewhat bittersweet - I enjoyed rewatching the movie especially on a large screen with a live band, but couldn’t quite grasp why this tour is aimed at young children when there’s clearly not enough interaction in it to hold their interest as evident from the response from today’s audience. I would definitely recommend it to anyone old enough to have seen all the animated movies the first time around, it has been so long since I last watched any of them it felt all shiny and new again, however for children under the age of twelve - unless they themselves play an instrument to a high level and have a passion for this sort of live music, I would book a babysitter and leave them at home as the chances are they will become easily bored.

Reviewer - Lottie Davis-Browne
on - 26/5/19

Sunday, 26 May 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: Sting And Shaggy: The 44/876 Tour - 02 Apollo, Manchester.

Sting and Shaggy for four nights only, sounds like the promotion for an event at your working man’s club. However, for four nights only Sting and Shaggy entered into an unlikely collaboration at intimate venues in the UK in London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester. The pairing at first does indeed seem to be an odd one; Sting, an 18-time Grammy-award-winning music icon, Shaggy has won one, this year in collaboration with Sting. Sting writes about deeply political subjects ('Russians', 'Invisible Sun', 'They Dance Alone'), he’s also written a musical about the closure of the ship yards in the North East and famously writes about the complexities of a relationship separation ('Every Breath You Take'). In comparison Shaggy is famed for 'Oh Carolina', 'Boombastic' and 'It Wasn’t Me' (a song where one man asks his friend what to do after his girlfriend caught him having sex with another woman, the clear answer is say “it wasn’t me”). So, what does bring these two together? Perhaps the answer is simple, the spirit of Reggae music. Clearly these are the roots for Shaggy and in their early years, The Police were referred to as a white Reggae band.

Whatever the whys and wherefores, an expectant crowd packed the Apollo. Lights down, the pair were met warmly with cheers as they opened the set with '44/876' and 'Morning Is Coming' (songs from their Grammy award winning album). This set the tone for the night as both the performers and the crowd enjoyed every moment of these numbers. We moved smoothly into 'Englishman In New York' with Shaggy taking the second verse and the lyrics becoming ‘Jamaican In New York’. I have seen some very harsh reviews about this concert with both the concept and this and lyric changes, being called cringe worthy. For me it showed that we were here to have a good time and serious though Sting can be, tonight was about having fun. We were treated in all to over two hours of music, the quality of all the performances was excellent. The set list moved smoothly between Sting's repertoire, the new album and a few of Shaggy’s hits thrown in for good measure. There were some sublime cross-over moments such as Shaggy singing in 'If You Love Someone Set Them Free' and Sting singing Shaggy’s song 'Angel'. There was of course some political elements, this is a Sting concert, Shaggy asking for unity in religion, colour, and sex, and going on to ask about respect between nations, but this was done in a way not to affect the mood of the evening. There were a few little unexpected moments. For example, Shaggy appearing in a judge's costume with Sting as a defendant for 'Crooked Tree', I am still pondering why? The mash up of 'Roxanne' and 'Boombastic' will live long in the memory, though perhaps not for all the right reasons.

The stage design was reminiscent of the early Police concerts, no screens, no obvious theme but instead, lots of lights, lots of colour and outstanding in their effectiveness. Sometimes less is more.

Sting was on top note all the way through the night. He is 68 this year but physically and more importantly, vocally sounded like he did 30 years ago. Shaggy is, well, Shaggy! He was a great crowd-pleaser, lots of hip gyration, especially in “It Wasn’t Me” and he orchestrated the "e -o" parts of the Police hits to perfection. He took pictures and videos of the audience with his own phone and generally stayed out of the way for the majority of Sting's songs. So, if this really was about Sting, why are these two performing together? I think it starts with a love of reggae and finishes with ensuring that the audience had a great night. Let’s be honest if Sting asked you to tour, who wouldn’t say yes? And if the plan is just to have a joyous time even more reason to grab the opportunity with both hands. Often Sting finishes his concerts with the haunting 'Fragile' (a real favourite of mine) not tonight, for the second and final encore the chosen song was the very upbeat Police hit 'Next To You'. Allowing the audience one last chance to dance like no-one was watching and, I suspect looking at the average age of the audience, reaching for the Deep Heat tomorrow, but who cares, a great time was had by all.

Reviewer - Jen O'Beirne
on - 25/5/19

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: UnTaPped - (Saturday) - Impossible, Manchester.

This evening’s performance of “UnTaPped” at Manchester’s cabaret space Theatre Impossible was created and performed by students from the Arden School of Theatre. It was an eclectic selection of pieces from students on the performance maker course; and featured everything from waltzing corpses to pelvic thrusting into pasta.

The first piece was “The Death Of You”, involving about twenty performers smeared in grey, and initially draped unmoving all over the floor and the furniture as the audience entered. Once everyone was seated, they sprang into life. Very alert, quick-moving corpses: they had the audience completely surrounded; and went into a high-energy frenetic piece of physical theatre without words that was powerful immersion theatre, as well as ensemble performance of a high standard. The story, as far as I could pick up, was that the corpses surrounded people who were locked out of their houses at night and couldn’t find their keys, drained their life away, and took them down to a sort of grey underworld where nobody knew anything and sort of bumbled around in a lost daze. Overseeing everything was an icy Corpse Queen.

Next were several sound installations, and I listened to “Detective Tri And The Impossible Murder” by Noah Ross. This was a detective story about the murder of a writer of detective stories, and was delivered in a satirical style, with a neat twist at the end. Noah Ross also performed the voices of all the characters.

Back to the main stage for “Friendshit”, created and performed by Georgia Dodd and Stacie Tilsley. Two friends, who had known each a long time but hadn’t seen each other for a long time, kept a marked distance from each other on opposite sides of the stage as they went through all sorts of relationship dynamics, finally ending in resolution.

My next favourite, after “The Death Of You”, was “You Before Me”, created and performed by Kellie Colburt and Kayleigh Rough. The two friends began talking about their mothers. Then, it turned out, their (real-life) mothers were in the audience, and were brought up on stage. The girls whipped off their dressing gowns to reveal they were dressed exactly like their mothers. Then they involved their fathers, who were also in the audience. The mothers must have known they were going to be put on stage, but plainly had no idea what to expect after that. Colburt and Rough took a very simple premise, structured it with plenty of changes in dynamics and regular elements of surprise, and created a piece of theatre that was fresh, engaging, touching, and like nothing I have seen before. Extra kudos to the four parents involved, who were such good sports.

In between acts, the students showcased individual talents in singing, guitar, stand-up comedy, and a dance-off between a ballerina and a street dancer. (The ballerina won!)

The final piece was “Make Pasta Great Again”, created and performed by Rory Kelly and Stacie Tilsley. Two very grotesque characters, with extra body-padding and no filters about expressing their dubious sexuality in public places, used a mixture of multi-media and live performance to get across their story of first meeting on a romantic date in a pasta restaurant, in which much real freshly-cooked pasta was used for various gross-out purposes. The date was such a success they founded a religious movement based on the worship of pasta, and then started turning it into a political party. The end message was Pasta Power, and a request for us all to start wearing colanders on our heads to show our support.

The premise of Arden’s performance maker course is: “Tools to create and perform your own work, as opposed to acting in somebody else’s.” Tonight’s offerings were ample proof of that.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpischore
on - 25/6/19

FINE ART REVIEW: A Cricket Match (1938) - L S Lowry

Stretford born artist Laurence Stephen (LS) Lowry has become more synonymous with Salford than his native area of Manchester due in no small part to the theatre and arts building which shares his name. Housed within The Lowry at Salford Quays is a permanent exhibition: LS Lowry: The Art & The Artist. Covering Lowry’s entire career, the paintings within enable viewers to chart the development of the artist from early works such as paintings which rely on muted, dark colours, through to pencil drawings, the famous depictions of Salford and its surroundings with the vast swathes of white paint and almost stick-like figures dwarfed by gigantic mills, up to his later paintings of seascapes, devoid of any industrialisation and reliant on the blending of whites and blues.

The exhibition is currently hosting a very rare painting by Lowry which can be viewed until 5pm on the 27th May ahead of its auction at Sotheby’s on June 18th. A Cricket Match, from 1938, depicts a group of children playing a game of cricket on wasteland behind their homes, while adults stand to the side and talk. The painting has only been displayed in public twice before: first in 1939 as part of an exhibition of Lowry’s work in London and then again in 1996 at Sotheby’s as part of a pre-auction exhibition. Upon viewing A Cricket Match it is apparent that it is very much what people expect a ‘Lowry painting’ to be: his uses white paint for the sky in the background, the wasteland ground the children play on and this contrasts cleverly with the use of darker colours in the foreground for the broken fencing onto the wasteland, the clothing of the children and adults, as well as the colours of the houses, outhouses, and chimney smoke rising up into the barren, white sky. The crooked shapes of the people in the painting are offset against the stark straightness of the structures within the background of the painting.

A Cricket Match is a very striking work, at once very fresh and modern and yet it perfectly captures a specific moment in time from over eighty years ago. The wasteland the children play on may now be the site of a high-rise apartment building, office block, car park, or supermarket. The adults will be long gone, some of the children may live on, many years older now, with their memories of playing the match depicted by Lowry. His very restrained colour palette, vermilion, ivory black, Prussian blue, yellow ochre and flake white (as claimed by the artist himself) brings this and his other works in the exhibition to life in a very vivid manner. Lowry’s paintings are never dull even when he creates vast expanses of white – his representations of people and places stand out even more as a result.

The special showing of A Cricket Match coincides with the ICC Cricket World Cup in June and July coming to the Lowry’s neighbouring cricket ground at Old Trafford hosting matches, as well as a feature film opening in the summer called Mrs Lowry & Son, a biopic of Lowry and his mother. Lowry is played by Timothy Spall, marking another performance by the actor as a painter following his performance as JMW Turner in Mike Leigh’s 2014 film Mr Turner. Catch A Cricket Match while you can, it will certainly be a talking point during the summer!

Reviewer - Andrew Marsden
on - 25/6/19