Sunday, 30 June 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: London Symphony Orchestra - Trafalgar Square, London.

There is something rather strange but also magical to be able to sit in front of a computer screen in Manchester watching an open-air music concert being performed live in London. The BMW Classics  (since these concerts are sponsored by BMW) have become a regular and very welcome part of a summer in London. And what is even more remarkable in this day and age is that the concert is completely free. Anyone living within easy reach of Trafalgar Square should have no excuse at all, and even people like myself or others in countries far and wide can still enjoy the magic - albeit slighly less authentically.

The London Symphony Orchestra is one of the country's most well respected orchestras and for good reason. And this afternoon's concert did nothing but augment that reputation. Conducted by the forever youthful Simon Rattle, whose passion and commitment are omnipresent and abundant along with his obvious talent for coaxing the absolute best out of his musicians - even when faced with a very hot and sticky Sunday afternoon in the open-air, the pieces - even when played through the computer's somewhat minimalist sound equipment, sounded marvellous, and one could only imagine what they truly must have sounded like if I'd have been there to experience it in person.

The afternoon's programme was a sandwich of well-known and popular crowd-pleasers with a new work in the middle. Starting with a selection of Antonin Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, and finishing with a couple of movements from Poulenc's, 'Les Biches' and Ravel's showpiece 'La Valse', these were bound to please most people, even those who might have been completely new to classical music or concerts, and since this event was open to anyone, even passers-by, these were good and solid choices. That is not to belittle the pieces or their composers in any way, on the contrary, it proves their popularity and therefore their skill and beauty of composition.

The piece that the orchestra perhaps gambled a little with was a new composition from contemporary Lebanese composer Bushra El-Turk who has been named as one of of the BBC's top 100 most inspiring women of today. The piece was a special commission and was written especially to incorporate members of youth and children's ensembles. This afternoon members of The LSO's own 'On Track' Youth programme as well as musicians form The Guildhall School played alongside the adult LSO orchestra. This was a gamble, but one that paid its dividends many times over. I knew nothing of El-Turk's music or style beforehand, but for contemporary composers this piece was able to hold my interest and I actually found it quite enjoyable. - as you can probably tell, I am really rather sceptical when it comes to contemporary classical composition. Here El-Turk employed many traditional rhythms and melodies, with heavy use of percussion as the piece built from a very quiet almost prayer-like sound, to a huge crescendo. The instruments were also used in interesting ways.. such as hitting the wooden part of a string instrument, slapping the strings with your hand, or indeed taking the reed away from the woodwind instrument and blowing through just the reed alone. Simon Rattle asked the audience not to applaud until he turned and the whole orchestra bowed. This was because the final part of the piece, called 'Tuqus' - which means 'Ritual' in Arabic and receiving its world premiere this afternoon - required each orchestra member to stand individually and bow as the other members were playing a haunting, ghostly quiet screech. Only when all the orchestra were standing and no-one was playing did the piece actually finish. It was an interesting idea, and quite visually powerful, as indeed this did conform to the piece's title. 

The sun continued to shine, and the audience continued to applaud, an so a short encore was required, and for this Rattle chose the final section, 'fugue', of Britten's Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra.

I would have loved to have been among the throng this afternoon in person, but instead took the second best option to relax in the comfort of my own home and listen to this wonderful orchestra and celebrated conductor take me on a glorious musical journey. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this completely new piece of music, and was more than hapy to listen to and reaquaint myself with old favourites. - I once years ago, when asked, said my favourite composer was Poulenc; more to annoy the asker than anything as he had then to admit to never having heard of Poulenc! He probably isn't my favourite, but he is certainly in the top 10!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 30/6/19

AMATEUR MUSIC REVIEW: Junior RNCM Performance Day - The RNCM, Manchester.

Accompanied by my Assistant Reviewer, age eleven (and a guitarist), we first attended the Junior RNCM Percussion Ensemble’s concert. This octet performed a very varied programme, from the highly experimental “Plato’s Cave” by Casey Cangelosi, to the much more traditional “Bouree In A Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach, with “Catching Shadows” by Ivan Trevino and “Busy Signal” by Bill Molenhof included. The members themselves had created their own Stomp-style piece called “Deck”, where they sat around a long table with a pack of playing cards and used these props and their own bodies as the percussion instruments. The last piece was a charming arrangement of the CeeLo Green pop song “Forget You”, created and conducted by Junior RNCM member Alex Walton. Otherwise, Andrea Vogler was a low-key presence as the director of this concert.

The Foundation Section concert was a group of instrumental solos by a younger range of Junior RNCM members, aged approximately eight to thirteen. Several of these children were already playing at adult standard. There was a range of classical and modern pieces, beautifully executed, on an assortment of stringed instruments as well as piano, clarinet, and flute. David Jones gave sympathetic accompaniment on the piano.

The Assistant Reviewer needed breaks, so we missed the Vocal Ensemble performing Hubert Parry, William Henry Harris and Leonard Bernstein with full organ accompaniment. We also missed the Brass Band concert of Matthew Hall, Leonard Bernstein, Ottorino Respighi and Louis Prima. And the Wind Ensemble performing Antonin Dvorak and Richard Strauss.

Filled with cake, we were back for the Junior RNCM Symphony Orchestra concert, and this was so worth attending. Ninety young musicians took part. That’s quite a wallop of live orchestral sound. For the first piece, “A Charm of Lullabies” by Benjamin Britten, vocal soloist Angelina Dorlin-Barlow, also a Junior RNCM member, took centre stage and crooned her way through the arrangement with her lusciously rich singing voice. (The Assistant Reviewer was very taken with her gorgeous emerald-green gown.) Once she left the stage, the orchestra re-tuned, and then showed what they could really do, with an incredibly dynamic performance of the “Pictures At An Exhibition” suite by Modest Mussorgsky. All the sound pictures were crystal clear, and this was due to the masterful conducting of Ewa Strusinska. The audience even held off clapping until she had relaxed her fingers completely and was holding them loosely by her sides.

The final concert was the Junior RNCM Jazz Ensemble, who indicated their coolness through dashes of red with their traditional black clothing. This big band of twenty two musicians, and an added four vocalists, was conducted by the chilled-out groovemaster Geth Griffith. The pieces were a varied mixture of modern and more traditional jazz, including “Night Train” by Jimmy Forrest, “Bembe du Beret” by Steve Berry, and “Salt of the Earth” by Andy Scott. Molly Becker sang the lead vocals for the Stevie Wonder song “Don’t You Worry ‘bout A Thing”, in a surprisingly smoky and mature voice. And for “Lingus” by Snarky Puppy, pianists Elizabeth Birch and Lizzy Gur played on electronic keyboards solos that they had transcribed themselves from the original recording.

The Assistant Reviewer was incredibly impressed that musicians only a little older than her could do such things. And that Angelina Dorlin-Barlow could sing so many lyrics from memory: “How does she remember all those words?”

The Royal Northern College of Music does excellent work in engaging and training children and adolescents, both those who perform, and those who will be the music audiences of the future. Today’s seven hours of seven different concerts was the end-of-year showcase for the Junior RNCM members: talented musicians in a range of disciplines, and all of them only eighteen or under years old.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore 
on - 29/6/19

MUSIC VIDEO REVIEW: 'The Change' by Aucoin.

“Stop you can’t help it’s changingWhy do you want control?It’s running with and without youIt’s moving in and around youThere’s nothing you can hold ontoCause the change is in youWhen you let go to it all...”

(Lyrics from ‘The Change’ appearing on album Release)

A powerful music video is so important, it can add impact, create emotion, be a focal point and can draw your attention. Music videos have become just as important as the music itself and one such video that has indeed created an impact is ‘The Change’ from Canadian indie rock musician, and described as a creatively ambitious one at that, Rich Aucoin.

Of the song itself, Aucoin says “It is about embracing change and letting go of the fear of it to take that chance. It’s also about the inevitability of that change so you can either fear it and resist or you can float down the river learning to swim amongst the current which you can’t control”

Hanlon McGregor, director of the video (along with Mihaly Szabados) describes the video:“Michael Finn aka Hanlon aka Papa looks back at his younger self through the mirror. Sees the moments when he knew something wasn’t quite right. The moments before he had language or understanding for that difference he saw in the mirror. Glimpses of the time before he was free to dance and to swim without limits or fear …the dream of so many trans people. His daughter Irene plays his younger self struggling to be seen. A phoenix appears to help clear the way, to remind him that on the other side of the flame, on the outside of the cocoon, the pain ends and the wings emerge.”

Such powerful words from McGregor about this heartwarming story. For me the video also reflects any changes in our oft complex and confusing lives, the video accompanied by the up-tempo song really helps to invigorate the mind and you learn to accept change as inevitable in all our lives. It should be embraced and we can but only be carried along that journey, that the real change is within us.

Singer/songwriter Aucoin was born, raised and is currently based in Halifax, Canada. Aucoin has been fully immersed in music ever since he can remember, learning how to play almost any instrument he could get his hands on while also teaching himself production and home-recording. A philanthropist at heart, Aucoin has raised money for several charities with his music. He has cycled coast to coast twice for both Childhood Cancer Canada and The Canadian Mental Health Association/Mental Health America; cycling to each show. He has also crossed Canada for the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation running a series of half-marathons.

You can watch the music video for ‘The Change’ here..

Reviewer - Mary Fogg
on - 30/6/19

FILM REVIEW: Paperman - animated Disney short available on Youtube.

For those who know me, they will know that cartoons are most definitely not my thing. I never really liked them as a child, except perhaps for an occasional foray into Tom And Jerry or Bugs Bunny, but mostly, cartoons were simply not for me, and even now as an adult, stay well away from anything which uses animation. CGI has advanced to such a level nowadays that it renders the original style of cartoon almost completely obsolete in any case.

My knowledge of how cartoons are made these days is, at best, guess-work, and so, whether or not this little gem of an animated film I stumbled upon on Youtube this morning is a cartoon in the traditional sense or  not, I have no idea. What I do know however, is that it is simply wonderful, and something I would not have expected to come from a studio renowned for churning out saccharine and cute children's films both animated and real. Admittedly it is a very 'sweet' film, but it is a much more adult take, and has no little bunny rabbits or butterflies to detract.

Called simply 'Paperman' and lasting just over 7 minutes, it tells the story of a young single male office worker who has a chance encounter with an equally young and single female on a station platform. There is an instant connection between them, but she boards her train and looks wistfully back at him forlorn and alone on the platform. Later that day whilst at his office he sees the same young lady again in the building opposite and so uses countless reams of paper making paper aeroplanes to try and fly one through her open window in order to alert her to his presence again. Every conceivable contrivance stands in his way however, and so the aeroplanes themselves conspire to help them in their destiny.

The entire film is without dialogue, and filmed in black and white, except for the red lipstick kiss left on one of the pieces of paper.  [I wonder if this beautiful idea was "stolen" from Schindler's List?] - but as a motif it works superbly. The story was written by Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer and the film was directed by John Kahrs for Walt Disney Animation Studios.

It's a lovely little story, and a wonderful feel-good piece of "theatre" that we all really need at the moment in these turblent and uncertain times in which we live. Life and love-affirming, and beautifully crafted. No wonder it won an Oscar for the Best Animated Short!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 30/6/19

DANCE REVIEW: Rhythm Of The Dance - Theatre Royal, Wakefield.

With a wonderfully gifted young cast of dancers, musicians and three Irish singers, this was a show that has won critical acclaim across four continents, 36 countries and in excess of seven million fans. It has undergone a process of renewal to include a reinvigoration of both choreography and music to create an even more spectacular performance. Producer Kieran Cavanagh has updated the format of the show, ensuring that 'Rhythm Of The Dance' breathes further life into the genre, thereby helping to cement its legacy and longevity through this outstandingly authentic rendition.

The set offers a large backdrop showcasing a range of breathtaking and iconic Irish geographic scenery and famous portraits. The set was enhanced throughout the show with changing chromatics with the spotlights on key dancers. The costumes were traditional and based around the simple princess cut dress and decorated with Celtic designs, reproduced from those seen in The Book Of Kells. The skirts were gored; box pleated, spilt panel or knife-edged all to allow free leg movement.

The show begins in Newgrange, one of Ireland’s natural wonders. The dance builds in layers of different rhythms until the full troupe are dancing together in powerful synchronisation, joined by the band in celebration of the people of Ireland. There are various other dances that followed following the journey across the ocean where it all began. This is key and symbolises the evolution of Irish dance, its metamorphosis and dissemination across the globe (this production appears to employ New York as a metaphor for this growth by showing several pictures- as a backdrop- of the city under construction and in its modern and more complete form. This further offers a reference towards the hugely beneficial impact of Irish migration to the United States in the early part of the 20th century, together with its rich traditions, including Irish dancing). To this end, the female lead Amy Marie Prior stirs a rhythmic force set with the backdrop of powerful beats of the tribal drum transports you back to where it all began. In between the dancers’ performances, the band played a medley of classic Irish songs that got your feet tapping and hands clapping. Each band member had their own solo spot on their particular instrument. There were also some solo singing numbers which were sang with powerful voices.

The second half signified a New Dawn as the sun rose on a new place with a picture bright futures and full of possibilities. The male troupe took us through a variety of different rhythms from the basic to the most intricate fast footwork, each exhibiting their power and strengths. The troupe then embarked on their dance, with a combined force of both female and male dancers taking us on a trip around the world and finally ending up leaving the past behind and bringing us to a different era. The band then gave their farewell performance in the show, highlighting each soloist and bringing the house down with foot stomping live Irish music. After taking us through many foreign places they return home to celebrate their heritage through some amazing dancing numbers of such powerful dance from the whole troupe.

In summary, the performances were imbued with stamina, rhythm and perfection of timing and synchronicity, with the leading female dancer, Amy Marie Prior, epitomising all that was good about this production. It undoubtedly remained loyal to its ultimate objective: to perpetuate and showcase the immutable language of dance and the imperishable nature of its rich Irish ancestry.

Reviewer - Debbie Jennings
on - 29/6/19

Saturday, 29 June 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Tom's Midnight Garden - The Garrick Theatre, Stockport

When Edwin Heys and his fellow actors founded the Stockport Garrick in 1901 they resolved to “perform the best plays by the most capable amateur actors and with the finest scenic effects”. With those values in mind, I’m sure that Heys would thoroughly approve of the Garrick Youth’s production of the feel-good classic by Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden.

With a minimalist set, the cast, ranging in age from 7-15, had to rely on their acting abilities alone to stimulate the audience’s imagination into believing that Tom’s magical adventure was really taking place on the stage. And magical it was.

The actors worked beautifully together to bring to life their characters and the story of Tom, a modern boy, who is quarantined (due to his brother having measles) in his aunt and uncle’s stuffy, city flat that is part of a building which was once a country house in the late 1800s. The gardens of the house have been sold off for development so there is nowhere for Tom to play, leaving him lonely, restless and awake late at night, which is when he hears an old grandfather clock strike 13. Bemused, he heads off to investigate and discovers not only has the building changed, but there is also a beautiful garden where the backyard and bins should be. The story unfolds as Tom visits the garden each night and develops a friendship with a young Victorian girl called Hatty, who appears to be the only one who can see him.

Throughout the performance 8 players act as the “voices of the house” which lends an eerie feeling to proceedings – a nice touch for a story with ghostly overtones. Equally, the narrative of letters between Tom and his brother Peter helps to set the scene and give more depth to the action on stage.

With such a gifted cast, and professional direction, the show was far from amateur, making it difficult to single out individual actors for praise. However, Gabriel Love played a wonderfully eccentric Abel who brought real presence to the stage especially in the scene with Rob Preston’s Tom, where it becomes apparent that the gardener too can see the young boy. Millie Bell played a suitably brusque and domineering Aunt Grace to Jasmine Ingleby’s sweet and playful Hatty, while Elliot Davies skilfully brought the character of Peter alive despite having a pretty sedentary role in the play.

There are some truly wonderful scenes played out by the youth theatre group, including when Tom realises that Hatty can see him, when he encounters a very young Hatty, and the final night before Tom is due to leave for home, when he cannot find the garden and becomes overwhelmed by the words of all the characters mixed up with his own thoughts and memories. The final reconciliation between Tom, still a child, and the elderly Hatty is, many have argued, one of the most moving moments in children's fiction. Rob Preston and Izzy Dumbarton ensured that the classic moment lived up to expectations leaving the audience thrilled with their touching and emotional final scene.

Having listened to many children’s audio books, I have to say that the Garrick Youth’s production would transfer well as a recording. Their accomplished storytelling was a delight.

Sadly the production only runs for 2 nights, so unless you’re free tonight (Sat 29th June), you’ll miss out. However, the Garrick Youth Theatre will be performing again on 13-14th December (and throughout 2020), and while the production that they will be staging has yet to be announced, I’d mark the dates in your diary, as if Tom’s Midnight Garden is anything to go by, it’ll be a smasher.

Reviewer - Becs McNeill
on - 28/6/19

NEWS: It's all happening Stateside for The Side Project!

The Side Project shares their cover of Childish Gambino's "Redbone" via Backseat Mafia; announce sophomore LP 'Everything We Do' on Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records
'Everything We Do' is due July 26th 
STREAM: "Redbone" (feat. Alita Moses) -
Backseat Mafia / Spotify
 / SoundCloud

Today The Side Project accompanied by New York singer Alita Moses share their saxophone quartet version of the Childish Gambino classic "Redbone". Check it out here.
Regarding the song The Side Project stated:
"What attracted us first was the old school feel of the song. The magic of The Side Project is that it is a saxophone quartet which means that only 4 saxophones are playing what normally a full band would play. The bass, drums, and guitar - it’s all saxophones which creates this edgy raw groove. We started doing covers featuring different singers from New York and when we decided to work with Alita she suggested the song and it was a perfect fit."​
The Side Project takes on the classical concept of a saxophone quartet and pairs it with drums, bass, and soul singers to create their edgy and irresistible sound.
The band was started in 2013 by Eyal Hai, Alto player and lead arranger for the group. He called his friends, Eden Bareket on Bari, Arnan Raz on Tenor, and Hailey Niswanger on Soprano, and met for the first time at the Bedford L stop in the NYC Subway. They spent a few hours experimenting with different arrangements of Pop and R&B hits, and it was quickly understood by all that this band was unique.
Since then, The Side Project has opened for the New York Philharmonic at the Concerts in the Parks series, performed at The Brooklyn Bowl, The Knitting Factory, the commencement ceremony for the Art Institute of NYC, and many other prestigious venues and private events. They have also been attracting serious attention on social media with their live videos featuring the top singers from the local New York City scene.
The Side Project has one instrumental album out, #ThisPartySax (2015), and will be releasing their second album in July 2019 under their label Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records. The album features guest vocalists, covers and original songs.
Tour Dates

June 29th - New York, NY @ National Sawdust
July 3rd - Portland, ME @ Empire
July 4th - Burlington, VT @ Monkey House
July 5th - Burlington, VT @ ArtsRiot
July 6th - Montreal, QC @ Quai Des Brumes

NEWS: Liverpool's Brazilica Fest announce their FILM programme!


Brazilica organiser Liverpool Carnival Company is delighted to announce the return of its popular Film Festival for 2019, bringing the very best of Brazilian cinema to venues across Liverpool.
Film buffs can enjoy 5 films celebrating Brazilian life and culture, which will be screened at various venues across the city from 18 – 30 July.
Brazilica Film Festival will begin at Metal on Thursday 18 July with the 2018 drama Rust. Two high-school students Tati and Renet share an instant connection over social media that deepens during a class trip. Rust explores the power and prevalence of social media and technology in the lives of a generation that has never known connection without it.
The Kazimier Stockroom plays host to acclaimed director Miguel Gomes’ black and white drama Tabu on Tuesday 23 July. This moving poetic tale of love and friendship is told through flashbacks which details a love affair between Aurora and Gian-Luca.
Liquid Truth looks at the moral landscape of modern society highly affected by social media in this drama about a swimming instructor who has been accused of inappropriate behaviour with a young boy. Taking audiences on a roller-coaster of emotions it comes to FACT onWednesday 24 July.
Capitães Da Areia tells of the life and adventures of a gang of street kids known as Capitães Da Areia (Captains of the Sands) in Salvador, Bahia, during the 1950’s. Inspired by 1937 novel of the same name, it comes to VideOdyssey on Thursday 25 July.
Closing the show for 2019, the film festival returns to FACT on Tuesday 30 July for Pixote. This movie tells the story of homeless adolescent Pixote who becomes enmeshed in an underworld of drugs and violence.
Brazilica organiser Maeve Morris said: “We have a wonderful variety of films on offer for this year’s festival. Brazilian cinema depicts fascinating stories and lives of its characters and is increasingly attractive to a global audience as well as being such a great medium for exploring Brazil’s culture.
“I want to thank The Embassy of Brazil in London for their help and support for this year’s film festival.”
Please note: Check for additional film screenings and changes to the programme.

Thursday 18 July
Edge Hill Station, Tunnel Road, Liverpool, L7 6ND
Duration 100 mins
Time 7pm / Tickets FREE
Tuesday 23 July
Kazimier Stockroom (next to Kazimier Garden)
32 Seel Street, Liverpool, L1 4BE
Duration 118 mins
Time 7pm / Tickets FREE
Wednesday 24 July
88 Wood Street, Liverpool, L1 4DQ
Duration 87 mins
Time 7pm / Tickets FREE
Thursday 25 July
37-45 Windsor Street, L8 1XE
Duration 96 mins
Time 7pm / Tickets FREE
Tuesday 30 July
88 Wood Street, Liverpool, L1 4DQ
Duration 128 mins
Time 7pm / Tickets FREE

To get involved in Brazilica Festival 2019 as a media partner, sponsor or volunteer please contact
Watch Brazilica 2018 highlights here:
Keep up to date with all Brazilica Festival activity at:

Twitter - @BrazilicaFest
Instagram - @brazilicafest 

THEATRE REVIEW: The Bob Dylan Story - The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool.

As a huge Bob Dylan fan I was looking forward to a night of folk/blues/rock musical entertainment and Dylan nostalgia. The theatre publicity stated “UK's most authentic Bob Dylan tribute act”, with other reviewers claiming him to be as close to the real thing as it is possible to get. However, Bill Lennon, performing as Bob Dylan is an accomplished singer, guitarist and harmonica player but his portrayal of Bob Dylan was, for me, at times a parody.

The show started with the usual screen backdrop (favoured by most tribute shows these days), showing visual projections of evocative videos and stills from the USA during the 1960s - Martin Luther King, the protest marches of the civil rights movement from August 1963 and newspaper headlines of events from the period plus of course pictures of Dylan during his younger days. Dylan has written more than 500 songs and this show featured those he’d written from the start of his popularity through to those performed at the Isle of White Festival of 1969.

Lennon took to the stage singing 'The Times They Are A-Changing', followed by the Dylan song which Peter, Paul and Mary took to the number one spot in 1963, 'Blowing In The Wind' and then 'Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright'. He tried hard to emulate Dylan’s voice but for me, he failed. To me it was very strained and sounded more like a rendition by members of The Wurzels, the group who sang the 1976 novelty song, 'Combine Harvester'.

The folk rock song, 'Mr Tambourine Man', the number one hit by The Byrds (a personal favourite of mine from my youth which I have recently learned to play on the guitar), preceded the story of 'Tangled Up In Blue'. Lennon gave us a short selective summary of the history attached to each song and an insight into Dylan’s personal life prior to singing each number. 'All Along The Watchtower' was performed after explaining that it was a Jimi Hendrix hit and 'I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight' and 'Just Like A Woman' were accompanied with pics on the screen of Joan Baez, Dylan’s girlfriend at the time.

'I Want You' and 'Hurricane' quickly followed with the first half finishing with the haunting ballad, 'Knocking On Heaven’s Door'. This was complemented with pics on the screen of all the rock icons who are now deceased such as John Lennon, George Harrison, Prince, George Michael, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, and Hank Williams.

Lennon’s enthusiasm for the music of Bob Dylan and his skills as an entertainer cannot be denied and the success of the production rested heavily on him. The backing group were just that - a backing group - devoid of enthusiasm or personalities, except maybe for the keyboard player, Tom Bayliss. This is not to say they were not accomplished musicians in their own right but they didn’t interact with Lennon a great deal nor add greatly to the overall performance. Leigh Chambers played guitar, Phil Marriott was on drums and Al Parker played bass guitar.

The second half started with 'Maggie’s Farm', followed by one of my personal favourites 'Highway 61' and then the song which was a 1968 hit for Manfred Mann, 'The Mighty Quinn'. During this song Lennon encouraged the audience to clap and join in. 'Lay Lady Lay' followed and by the time he sang 'Everybody Must Get Stoned' I was beginning to wish I was! It was a pleasant relief when footage of Dylan himself singing 'I Was So Much Older Then' appeared on the screen which I sang along to. This short hiatus gave Lennon the time to go off stage to change. He appeared back on wearing a Dylanesque wig, sunglasses and replicas of the clothing worn by Dylan during his 1966 appearances. This unfortunately did not appeal to me at all in fact I was beginning to squirm in my seat.

His rendition of the beautiful, 'Visions Of Joanna' was pleasing as was 'Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat' but still not up to the great man’s standard. 'Positively 4th Street' and 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' (accompanied with video of Dylan with the handwritten placards) were greeted well and enjoyed by the audience which was indicative of the era, i.e. consisting mainly of the 60 year old plus generation. The performance finished with the poignant ballad Dylan wrote for his children, 'Forever Young'.

With an encore of 'Like A Rolling Stone' from the Highway 61 Revisited album and Dylan’s performance at the 1969 folk festival, Lennon and the band exited to appreciative clapping and cheering from the audience. Perhaps because I am such an enormous fan of the legend which is Bob Dylan, I am not content with a tribute of him and only the real thing will do for me!

Reviewer - Anne Pritchard
on - 28/6/19

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Poptastic: The Musical - Theatr Clwyd, Mold.

Poptastic is not a musical I had ever come across before. It revolves around the story of Charlie Fosdyke and her dreams to become the next big thing. It's jam-packed with lots of big singing and dancing numbers but none that really stand out.

The performance was undertaken by the Trap Door Theatre Performing Arts Students. A group of young people aged from 4 to 19. They all gave their best and had obviously worked hard to create the performance. Unfortunately technical issues impeded their performance. Various sound cues were missed and quite often radio mics failed. This was a real shame as it meant on a few occasions the audience missed the dialogue on stage.

The set was minimal and functional. It was made up of a bed and cardboard juke box downstage right and a clock and laptop downstage left. Upstage there was a live band in a gazeebo and a stepped stage. The set didn’t add to the performance, it was clearly hand-made, cardboard cut-outs and in all honesty the size of the Anthony Hopkins Stage swallowed the set pieces and left it looking bare.

The highlight of the performance had to be the number done by the youngest of the theatre company. A group of 4 and 5 year olds danced their socks off to “Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Justin Timberlake. The number certainly brought the cute factor and allowed the little ones to really show off their dancing skills.

The group called The Cherry PopTarts provided a comic relief. They used flamboyant gestures to show their stereotypical girly girl group. The airhead motif worked well and gave the group an air of a sixties girl band while still keeping a comedic element. Their “You’re Always On The Phone “ number was well choreographed and again gave a sense of a sixties girl group. The girls were all in sync and had some lovely harmonies at times.

The Snake Oil duet were clearly the best singers of the whole company. Their song “Seismic Shudder” displayed a fantastic vocal range and really excellent harmonies. In my opinion the duo were rather underused by the company and clearly needed more then the two songs they had.

The actor playing Godfrey Tunemangier had the whole audience squirming. He was the stereotypical slimy manager, out to get whatever he can and make as much money as possible. The part was played to a tee and after his “I’m A Rich Man” number had the audience hating him like a pantomime villain. This hate was amplified when the whole performance led to the climax of the play, the fall from grace of Charlie Fosdyke, and the smack Godfrey gives to Charlie when she can’t perform at her concert. There was an audible intake of breath from the audience and it was clear everyone was shocked by the actions. The smack was timed perfectly and the young performers had clearly rehearsed and choreographed the moment to create the maximum shock value.

Overall the performance was what you would expect from a young persons' theatre company. The performers had clearly tried their best and I’m sure there were plenty of proud parents in the audience. The performers had obviously enjoyed the experience and it was clear there were some very talented people among the cast. The show had a sweetness and there were definitely some very cute moments provided by the younger section of the theatre company. All in all an enjoyable experience.

Friday, 28 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Metamorphosis - HOME, Manchester

Collide Theatre’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novella “Metamorphosis” is a dynamic and expressionistic piece of dance theatre, performed by a fresh and youthful ensemble. This evening’s performance was at HOME in Manchester, as part of the Incoming Festival.

Director/dramaturg Emily Louizou and designer Iona Curelea kept the piece in an early twentieth century German setting, and appeared to have been heavily influenced by early German Expressionistic cinema. Everything was in stark black and white; the actors’ haunted faces were pale with heavy dark grey eyeshadow; and there was a lot of slow and sustained movement while the actors looked directly at the audience with faces changing through various stages of anguish. An antique white fridge perched on one side of a bare stage covered in white paper. At times white milk and red wine got poured onto the floor; the mother character Mrs Samsa kept frenetically applying more and more red lipstick over her face; and the final climax was indicated through red liquid blood. This reviewer was in Expressionism ecstasy.

Very interestingly, no actor was playing the protagonist: Gregor Samsa, the very ordinary travelling salesman who wakes up one morning to discover he has been transformed into a large and verminous insect. His bedroom was placed in the audience’s seating area, and when the actors wanted to look at him or refer to him, they were looking directly at us. We were made into an audience of Gregors. This was an uncomfortable scenario, and the Samsa family’s increasing revulsion and rejection of their son and brother became very personalised.

At many points the five performers worked as an integrated ensemble, particularly when performing a sort of agitated insect dance choreographed by Ioli Filippakopoulou that was a recurring motif, or speaking narrative pieces of text in unison or in rapid exchange. But they did break off into individual characters as well. Katharine Hardman was one of the earliest as the infuriated Mrs Manager: arriving to bang on Gregor’s door and find out why he was not at work. As is typical in humorous German theatre, the character was played as an over-the-top caricature, complete with the absurdity of Hardman’s very feminine black skirt suit and long hair coupled with a bowler hat and large, stick-on curling moustache. Hardman twitched, curled her lip, flashed her eyes, and generally milked every small detail possible of crazed petty authority.

As Gregor’s parents, Mr and Mrs Samsa, Joseph Hardy and Jodie Sully were the rather useless yet indignant bourgeois couple who were so utterly inconvenienced at losing their sole breadwinner to this transformation. Sully, teetering around in a dirndl skirt and high heels, was particularly good at this, and managed to almost, but not quite, faint multiple times. Hardy bossily asserted his grey-haired faded-with-age masculinity while regularly retreating behind an increasingly large newspaper - multiple pages had been stuck together, until it was unfolding out into a newspaper the size of a carpet – but he shrank in the presence of the two Gentleman Lodgers.

The Gentleman Lodgers were performed by Katharine Hardman and an equally revelling-in-petty-power Manuela Albrecht. Their physicality as they took full bullying possession of the Samsas’ environment bordered on clowning. Albrecht also played the Samsas’ maid, spending a lot of time mopping floors with an intensely worried look.

Katy Ellis shone as Gregor’s sister Grete. Her soulful, angst-ridden face was often the point of focus on the stage, and the rest of the time she was in a corner somewhere, subliminally adding to the action by wistfully playing a violin. David Denyer’s composing, which also appeared as strident pre-recorded music, was an integral part of this movement-heavy yet text-driven performance.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 27/6/19

INTERVIEW: with Director Of Music at Chetham's School, Manchester, Mr Stephen Threlfall.

What a lovely way to spend a too-warm-for-June morning, chatting with the extremely personable Stephen Threlfall, the Director Of Music at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester.

I'm not allowed to say his "imminent retirement", and so, after banning the use of the 'R-word' we will simply say that he is leaving Chetham's this summer to pursue projects which would perhaps not have been open to him had he still been a part of the school. He will of course, he assures me, still be working very closely with the school and helping out wherever he can, but, being a freelancer - something he is looking forward to as he has never been freelance before - he can also look forward to working with and collaborating with many other musicians and ensembles too. Maybe even playing cello with the BBC Philharmonic again, which was where it all started for Threlfall.

I asked him what brought him to conducting, and his reply was that he simply wanted to learn more. Being a cellist in a large orchestra was all well and good but he was curious, and wanted to understand the other instruments, know what it was like to stand in front, and one day simply asked if he could give it a go! This is something that as a teacher he now instills into all his students; that they must always question, always be curious, watch and listen to everything and learn from everything and never stop being inquisitive.

Had it been his father's will, then he would have ended up continuing the family building business with his brothers, but of course, fate intervened as he knew from a very early age that music was his destiny. One of his earliest memories is when he was at primary school and listening to 'The Lord Is My Shepherd' being sung in two-part harmony and understanding that this was the path he wished to follow. Outside of music, he is a very keen cyclist, he loves to cook, and is a 'true Blue'; -  a keen supporter of Manchester City Football team. And his musical awakening was, by self admission, perhaps a little topsy-turvey since, as an adolescent he would have said that 'Pictures At An Exhibition' was by Emerson, Lake And Palmer long before he knew it to be by Russian composer Mussorgsky.

Stephen Threlfall has been with Chetham's for 24 years, and in that time he has seen great changes and been a truly influential figure. Of all the wonderful things that have happened under his directorship he is most proud of the new building and the opening of The Stoller Hall. He has greatly enjoyed watching the progress and fulfilment of his young charges, and expressed real joy at being able to see them again in later life coming back to the school to teach, give masterclasses or just simply inspire the current students. He has managed to juggle teaching children with conducting world-class orchestras, and after asking him which side of his work he enjoys the better, he said both. One is not able to exist without the other, and believes in a holistic approach to his work.

As well as the BBC Philharmonic he has a great affection for and is genuinely indebted to many individuals and organisations along the way, but he made special mention of The Greater Manchester Music Hub, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Boosey and Hawkes, and Sir Edward Thomas Downes, whose conductors' course in 1986 was the catalyst for Threlfall to take up conducting professionally. His favourite music comes from the late Romantic and the 20th century periods of music, citing Gustav Mahler, Leos Janacek and William Walton among his favourites, as he indeed still keeps a very close friendship with the Walton estate, and would perhaps state Mahler's 10th symphony as being his all-time favourite piece of music.

After speaking with Stephen Threlfall it is abundantly clear that he is a man of great optimism, full of life and with a huge heart and passion for bringing music, in all its wondrous and varied forms, to as many as possible. It is this sharing of knowledge, the outreaching and engaging that makes him tick, and hopefully, this is something that he will continue doing for many years to come, bringing musical joy to all.

For his final concert as Director of Music, Stephen Threlfall will be conducting not his favourite Mahler, but Mahler's huge, nay epic, choral Symphony no 8 at The Bridgewater Hall with the Chetham's Symphony Orchestra, Chetham's Chorus and guest soloists on Friday 5th July. Details of this can be found here...

Interviewed by Matthew Dougall
on - 28/6/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Bost Uni Plues - HOME, Manchester

“Why is no-one talking about post-university depression?”
“5 signs you’re experiencing post-university depression”
“How do you cope with graduating university?”
“Graduation blues: Why we need to talk about post-university depression.” “Facing the real world: How to deal with post-university depression.”

Post university depression is often a topic that is ‘shrugged off.’ Parents, friends and spouses try to help, however no help can quite fill the void that you’re currently feeling. You’ve spent 3 years following a certain set of rules, abiding by deadlines, dates and reading lists, for what?

Manchester’s Home Theatre last night bore witness to a wonderful coming-of-age masterpiece. Bost Uni Plus. Yes you heard that correct, the show is called Bost Uni Plues, a wonderful play on words from the post university blue’s topic that they are discussing on stage. Alongside this unfamiliar subject that they are deliberating, the title ‘Bost Uni Plues’ wonderfully represents the clowning style of Ugly Bucket Theatre's work, which is completely immersed within the bright colours and even brighter energy that they bring to the stage.

As an audience member I was constantly amazed by the amount of theatrical techniques that were so carefully placed throughout, the verbatim narration and slow motion clowning captured my heart and my mind allowing me to visualise these characters who were saying their initial thoughts on their university experience. It is very clear that director Grace Gallagher has been working on this piece for quite some time, due to the immaculate detail and mise en scène of the whole performance.

Alongside directing this piece of art, Gallagher also performed throughout showcasing her fantastic acting skills. Her witty clowning and over-emphasised facial expression took the audience's inner-self, on stage with her, as we could all relate without her having to saying a word, well a human word. As lead clown, she was able to offer vulnerability, sassiness and laughs galore whilst also showcasing her incredible physical skill!

Partnered with Gallagher, Angelina Cliff and Canice Ward beautifully completed this clowning arrangement representing the inner emotions we all have, love, hate and fear. Ward's persuasive nature had myself and the audience captivated, his use of modern cultural references kept the audience engaged and eager to please when he interacted with them. Cliff's standout performance came when performing as a majestic turtle, and throughout this section I was belly laughing and crying through joy and happiness as I couldn’t contain the madness that I was seeing. Cliff’s serious facial expressions partnered with her heightened body language and craziness was everything and more.

Sound designer Duncan Gallagher and technician Rachael Smart wonderfully captured the madness of this piece, with techno beats and bright lighting effects, each scene was crafted to reflect the circus life that 3 years at university represented. Set designer Laura Lomax delightfully completed this visual ensemble, her red curtain back drops and classic white fairy lights payed homage to the illusion.

After laughing for what seemed like hours I was eventually welcomed with a nauseating sadness, the true moral of the piece hit home. Post University Depression is a real thing; you feel hopeless, you feel like you have no part in the world anymore, you feel alone and as an audience member that hit me in the chest at such a speed.

I laughed. I cried. I felt an emptiness in the pit of my stomach and then I felt hope. I felt so grateful having been given the opportunity to watch this performance. All I could think about was the amount of students, post-grads, under-grads and audiences that this show is helping.

If you haven’t seen Bost Uni Plues, or any work by Ugly Bucket Theatre, I 100% recommend you book a ticket now and see them as they are a force to be reckoned with and they’re only just getting started!

Reviewer - Caroline Bleakley
on - 27/6/19

Thursday, 27 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: A Thousand Splendid Suns - The Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Southampton.

This evening’s performance of 'A thousand Splendid Suns' based on the novel written by Khaled Hosseini and adapted for the stage by Ursula Rani Sarma was a beautiful and moving story exploring 3 generations of women discovering their strength in unity. This story of hope and courage in a world of increasing danger and threat imposed by the Taliban’s misogynistic rule is a profound emblem of human spirit and hardship. The story follows Leila, played by Suiaya Dasgupta, who is orphaned during a bomb explosion and taken in by Rasheed who weds her later that year as his second wife. We then follow their journey together, illustrating the impact of the Islamic state and the Taliban on the lives of Muslim women. Dasgupta’s performance encapsulated the harrowing life and pain that is all too real for women living in the middle east and Afghanistan for the last 40 years.

The array of colour used in this production was breathtaking and created a glimpse of beauty in a story of poverty and war. The Arabian style headscarves and dresses were blues, greens and pinks and they separated the women from the men. The costumes which I found most striking were the full body burkas worn in the second half of the play as they gave a beautiful elusion of blindness and vulnerability. This was reinforced when the audience was made aware through the narrative that after the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996 women were no longer allowed to work, attend school or leave the house without the company of a male relative. This created a sense of fear and desperation for Leila as she could not provide for her son and daughter and had to simply watch them waste away until finally Aziza, her elder child, was put into care. When Leila is giving birth to her second child, Zalamai, her baby is breach and, since she is denied hospital care because of her gender, two women are forced to rip open her womb without any anaesthetic in order to birth her son. In this moment the midwife cries, “I will not wear my burka when working” and it is a beautiful and touching moment of strength and courage. I felt warmth in her words and was overcome by admiration.

The set consisted of three levels of stone and rocks with Aztec print tapestry up stage. The use of lighting illustrated night and day and expressed the heat of the country. The use of smoke machines also created a profound ambiguity and sense of ‘unknown”. The basic and minimalistic use of props embodied the sense of poverty. Sound effects were used to create the sound of machine guns and bombs. This was invasive creating a believable and utterly terrifying performance. The simplicity also allowed for ease of location changes and also reinforced the lack of hope of change or escape. The use of ‘magic’ was effective in this piece in ‘disappearing’ characters. One of the most consuming images was watching Rasheed whipping his first wife, Mariam as she steps out of her burka and watches and he whips the back bone of her empty body. Her pain is unbearable to watch, but, her resilience and power to continue is admirable and consuming. Both Sujaya Dasgupta and Ana Ines Jabares- Pita embodied the character’s experiences displaying ranging emotions. They display hope and strength in the deepest darkness and pain.

This play is a symbol of change and is executed with grace and strength. Their story is critical in providing future change and I hope it is a message that is told and retold until we see equal rights across the world for all women.

Reviewer - Grace McNicholas
on - 26/6/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Grease - The Grand Theatre, Leeds

Grease burst into the world in 1971 when the musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. It was then popularised in 1978 by Randal Keiser, when released on the big screen, featuring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, which has gone on to be the 4th highest grossing live action musical of all time.

Tonight, in Leeds, the Grand theatre was rocking. It was Hydromatic. Systematic. It was Grease The Musical.

Bursting on to the stage came the entire cast to sing the Frankie Valli hit, “Grease” which was so colourful, full of energy and excitement that it gave me goosebumps. Wow. I sat back into my chair ready to be stunned for the next two hours with exciting choreography, wonderful acting and really great vocals.

We moved in to the first scene, which started so well, but moments later, Disaster, Jan (Natalie Woods) and Marty (Tara Sweeting) summon Rizzo, (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) to their lunch table, but no one appears, here flips a switch in my mind, oh no, whats happened, has someone injured themselves back stage? Where is she? The cast on stage start to improv, talking about their lunch, and what their timetable consists of, when from the wings, comes a loud voice saying ‘we need to stop, can you all come off the stage please.’ Well. The plot thickens. The house lights come up and a safety curtain comes down. The entire audience who had just settled in to watch a great show now left in limbo! We were reassured by the house staff, and tannoy system, that there was a technical issue, not to worry, and that we would restart shortly. A few brief minutes passed, the lights dimmed again, and we were back in the Rydell high lunch hall before long. Congratulations to the team for fixing the issue so efficiently. Also, to the cast for handling the situation so professionally.

We’re off again. And it’s really great. Heavy hit after heavy hit. Danny Zuko (Dan Partridge) and Sandy Dumbrowski (Martha Kirby) have wowed the audience with their tales of “Summer Nights,” the Burger Palace Boys, (later known as the T-Birds) have goofed around, the Pink Ladies have ridiculed Sandy, with “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” and were half-way through the act. This show is brilliant. Then, all of a sudden, a full-size hot rod drives onto the stage! All the Burger Palace Boys gather round, and rip Kenickie (Louis Gaunt) a new one, over the state of the joke of a car that he’s bought. With only one way to win the guys over, those famous lines were upon us. Why this car is automatic, It's systematic, It's hydromatic, Why it's greased lightnin'! a 5 minute high powered dance routine, from choreographer Arlene Phillips, accompanies the hit, which concluded with Danny and Kenickie inside Greased Lightnin’ suspended 10 feet in the air in a thrilling flying car moment. The story continues along, with Patty Simcox (Jessica Croll) signing Danny up to the athletic team, Roger, AKA Rump, (Ryan Anderson) ‘moons’ over Jan, winning her heart, and all the other cast members have paired themselves up for the upcoming dance, hosted by Vince Fontaine (Darren Bennett). The first half is nearing its close now, and the cast have a farewell party for Frenchy, (Eloise Davies) we go out with the tongue twisting hit, ‘We Go Together’ DJ Vince Fontaine, who has been acting as a link between scenes informs us not to go anywhere, as we’ll be back in 15.

We return at the high school dance competition, Vince Fontaine is like Elvis in this scene, all the girls swooning, and he can do anything. At moments, breaking the 4th wall, crawling off the vanity stage and mounting members of the audience. The dance scene is littered with individual duo routines, hats off again to Ms Phillips for that feat. Followed by the whole cast Hand-Jive routine, which has the whole cast in excellent unison, and synchronisation. After the dance, the scene changes to outside the school, where some of the lads, armed for a rumble, run into Frenchy, who is down about dropping out of beauty school. The atmosphere in the auditorium suddenly becomes electric, there’s whisperings, and everyone starts to lean forwards as the music for “Beauty School Drop-out” begins. Up goes the diner’s neon light to reveal our Teen Angel, Peter Andre. Suddenly, the whole room erupts with screaming wolf whistling and cheering, as the TV star stands, strikes a pose, then performs the song. Throughout, the song is mostly inaudible for screams and cheers, but when I did manage to catch a few lines of his vocal, I have to say, I was most underwhelmed. His costume and swagger on stage made him appear like a wannabe Bruno Mars, who for no apparent reason, shuffled around the stage, looking lost in the following scene, drinking a beer, before disappearing into a white light upstage. The headliner from all the PR, posters and adverts, and his whole role is done and dusted in 6 minutes.

The story goes on, and we come to the conclusion, where Sandy has transformed into the rebellious rock chick at the end, that Danny falls head over heels for, then comes the last of the shows big hits, “You’re The One That I want” which was great. Just a wonderfully cheery rendition of the great song.

The show finished with the entire cast reprising “We Go Together” while executing their bows. Following rapturous applause, Peter Andre pulls out a bedazzled microphone to start the Grease Megamix off. The whole auditorium is on their feet dancing and snapping photos.

Well. That was a really great production. Nikolai Foster and team have done a sterling job in making 2 hours of joy. I’ve mentioned before, choreographer, Arlene Phillips, who has clearly drilled this cast into a really great dance troop. The staging and props for the show were second to none, from the old wireless radio, all the up to the Greased Lightnin’ stage car with working lights, every tiny detail was brilliant, so top marks to Taylor and Foley Prop makers, and Oliver Ellerton and the in-house carpentry team. The lighting on the show was dazzling, sometimes literally, but mostly just a delight to look at, a wash of vibrant colour, and the video display work was also really cleverly delivered, for which, Guy Hoare, the lighting designer, and Douglas O’Connell, the projection designer can be proud of.

I’m a massive fan of theatre wardrobes, and this one, was great. A colourful collection, of '50’s attire, ranging from the BPB, and Pink Ladie’s leather jackets, to school letterman jackets, through day to day clothes, night wear and of course, a whole load of converse trainers. Elizabeth Greengrass and her team in the wardrobe have done a great job.

Not the best night for the sound team tonight, as throughout the night, we had some microphone issues, some people not being switched on, some crackling mics, which almost took some of the shine off the overall performance, but when everything was working, it was sounding great, and I’m sure on any other night, they would be top notch.

This leaves just one group of people to mention, and last but definitely not least, the orchestra. Being a percussionist myself, who enjoys nothing more than playing shows, I thought the band were excellent. The band were also on show all night, as they were raised up in the top right corner of the stage for all to see. MD Neil MacDonald and his band performed a really great show tonight, and they really lifted the show. At times, it was like we were listening to a studio recording of the sound track, but it was all live, so really excellent going team.

All in all a really enjoyable evening. Not without its mishaps, but that’s live theatre! What a fun evening. Thanks to Production Manager, Colin Ingram, and the various producers for putting on this show.

Reviewer - Simon Oliver
on - 26/6/19