Friday, 30 August 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Rent - The Blue Box Theatre, Chorlton, Manchester.

The Musical 'Rent' is not an easy watch, and its storyline is hard to follow. I first came across this Musical in 1999 when I watched it on Broadway, and was absolutely blown away by it. Then, it was fresh, alive, daring, different, and challenging. Now, the themes and issues which the musical navigates are less shocking, but still manage to place a good gut-punch if placed correctly.

It's a Rock Opera - a genre of Musical Theatre which is through-sung, little or no dialogue, and the music is, as the name suggests, of the more edgy side of the 'pop' bracket. Due to this, the lyrics, especially those which tell the story and advance the plot, need to be crystal clear and signposted. My over-riding concern with this production of Rent, by East Cheshire Musical Theatre Company, was that there was very little evidence of this happening on stage this evening.

I am familiar with the story, having seen this show several times; however my companion this evening, and others I spoke to in the interval, were new to the show, seeing it this evening for the first time. They were confused and did not understand the storyline, and needed an interval explanation before the second half.

The story is a reworking of Puccini's 'La Boheme', set in Alphabet Village in New York in the mid 1990s. A time when HIV/AIDS was prevalent, drug addiction commonplace, and a time when homosexuality was still something you could be killed for. We see an artists' commune, where money is a scarce commodity, and their apartments are leaking, with no heat or light, and where the whole community looks out for each other. The story centres around Mark, a would-be film documentarian, and his composer room-mate Roger. In just one year things go from bad to worse, despite their optimism, as Angel, a drag artist and lover of their best friend Tom dies of AIDS, and Mimi, an exotic dancer from across the hallway, falls in and out of love with Roger, and has a dramatic near-death at the end of the show. It sounds much worse though than it is, and the songs are uplifting and in the spirit of shows like Les Mis which deal with tragedy so superbly, this show has the same ethic.

The individual performances as well as the ensemble singing were all very good, and the society had assembled a very talented cast who were all clearly enjoying themselves and their enjoyment was infectious, pervading the auditorium with their high energy and enthusiasm. The talented and extremely personable Sam Bates leading the cast in what is actually the most difficult role of Mark, a sometime narrator, sometimes slightly on the outside watching and recording, sometimes on the inside caught up in amongst the angst. It's a hard character to 'know', and Bates pitched it beautifully. Grace Stubbs's Mimi and Lucy Thornburn's Maureen were both delightful characterisations with powerful voices. I really enjoyed the chemistry between Stubbs and Wagstaff during 'Light My Candle' and Thornburn showcased her talents in the hardest song of the show 'Ovr the Moon', where the ability at appearing to be slightly 'off your head' certainly helped!

Whoever plays Angel isn't in for an easy ride either, and young Connor Wyse made a very proficient and noteworthy attempt at this, dragging-up, and struttung his stuff in high-heeled boots whilst dancing and singing. Chris Wagstaff played his role of Roger with a credible amount of vulnerability, and yet, this evening, his voice was strained and muffled, and I was having great difficulty in understanding his very poor enunciation. That was such a shame, as I have seen him perform in other shows and have never had that problem with him before.

Keisha Golden (Joanne), Jonathan Hall (Tom) and Dan Pothecary (Benny) offered sterling support in their roles, as did the ensemble. The singing and harmonies were lovely.

Director Andrew Lee managed to find a talented cast which sparked excellently off each other, working superbly as a team, as well as finding some lovely individual characterisations too. Choreography, what little there was, was nicely arranged by Sally Hilliard, and the music was in secure hands with MD Ed Nurse. Where the overall production quality dipped for me were in things techinical. The mic levels were not right all evening meaning that chorus voices could be heard above the soloists, and sometimes the music drowned out the singer. Also the lighting was not sufficient in many places. When cast stood on the table they were not lit from the front, and stage extremities were not given sufficient cover, meaning that several cast members were performing in semi-darkness or in weird shadows.

Rent is a thrilling and gripping, if gritty and urban-angst-ridden musical. Perhaps it is a little dated now, but that notwithstanding, it is a testament to the time it is set, and East Cheshire Muscial Theatre Company have assembled a stellar cast to bring this story to life, and that they do, with their up-beat version of  'La Vie Boheme'.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 29/8/19

Thursday, 29 August 2019

INTERVIEW: with comedienne Adrienne Coles; performer at Coastal Comedy - Lighthouse, Poole.


Comedy isn't just for the big cities and the Festivals. Coastal Comedy, a monthly showcase of stand-up comedy at Poole's Lighthouse is laughter-guaranteed, and here ADRIENNE COLES, a single mother of two, promoter for and performer at these events, tells us a little more.....

Ambition can take many forms, but behind the friendly smiling face of comedy performer and promoter Adrienne Coles lies… a friendly, smiling comedy performer and promoter.

“For me it’s not about getting on TV or having a string of comedy clubs, I love what I do and I want to do it as well as I possibly can,” says the friendly, smiling host of Coastal Comedy, the monthly stand-up comedy showcase in The Sherling Studio at Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts.

“I get a real buzz from performing, but I also love dealing with the comedians, getting the show on, promoting it, all the things that need to be done – I’m a real one-man band and when we have a really good night and people are leaving the venue on a high because of something I put on, there’s no feeling like it.”

Having started her own comedy night in Bournemouth’s Hotel Celebrity – the childhood home of Tony Hancock – Adrienne set up Coastal Comedy at Lighthouse in April last year hosting three comedians a month with herself as compere.

“You get to know what works after a while. My persona is this really friendly, happy and slightly innocent person who just talks to people in the audience. A naughty, wicked side pops out here and there which gets the laughs.

“I get to meet some incredible people just by talking to them – we have a prison chaplain who comes in, what a gift! Talk about having a captive audience!”

Adrienne has a busy life also working part-time as Head of Marketing for Dorset Children’s Foundation and with two children of her own, but as well as the monthly studio gigs at Lighthouse she is now hosting regular shows in the 650-seat Theatre. The first, with headliner Lee Nelson, was a sell out and is being followed by another triple bill with Tom Stade, Ben Norris and Zoe Lyons on 5 October. Adrienne already has star names such as the Lost Voice Guy, aka Britain’s Got Talent winner Lee Ridley, lined up for next year.

The funny thing is, Adrienne’s route into comedy was anything but – she took her first faltering steps on the stand-up stage while she was in the pits of despair going through a divorce.

“There’s always a laugh though,” she laughs. “I did stuff about missing my husband’s curry and should I eat the last portion that was in the freezer.

“I asked myself what it was that I really wanted to do and ever since I was a kid people have told me I should be on the stage because I always had a comeback or a funny line. I did open mic nights then got a few paid gigs and was driving all over the place late at night, which can be pretty lonely when you’ve had a bad gig.”

What better solution than to bring the funny to your own night, but what of the future?

“It can be quite emotional. I was so thrilled when Ben Norris said he’d had his best gig ever at Coastal Comedy. I’m happy with where it has taken me – the club nights are going well; I’m loving having the big stage and the audience in the theatre shows and I’m bringing top names to Dorset for shows with incredible line-ups at affordable ticket prices.”

:: Coastal Comedy returns to Lighthouse on:

Saturday 14 September, Sherling Studio – Paul Tonkinson, Michael Fabbri, Tom Taylor

Saturday 5 October, Theatre – Tom Stade, Zoe Lyons, Ben Norris

Saturday 12 October, Sherling Studio – John Lynn, Mike Cox, Rob Mulholland

Saturday 23 November, Sherling Studio – Marlon Davis, Sam Savage, Ant Dewson

Saturday 19 December, Sherling Studio – Christmas Special with Tom Lucy and Jake Lambert, with guests

Tickets for all shows at

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Sister Act - Theatre Royal, Wakefield.

As I sat in my chair this evening, in the beautiful, and intimate Theatre Royal, a small voice behind me asked their father what the show was about, and he explained it beautifully. "A Lady, Deloris Van Cartier, sees something she’s not supposed to see, and the police put her into a witness protection programme and hide her in a convent, where she must act as a nun. She ends up running the choir there and they become amazing." A pretty good summary if you ask me.

I love this show, but had never seen it performed by a youth theatre group before; I held my breath, not knowing what standard to expect from Wakefield Youth Musical Theatre Company, but boy, how I was mistaken! They were fabulous baby!

The band kicked off and we were away, into a nightclub, and the show had begun. There was a glitter ball spinning, lights flashing and the band were really popping. We were introduced to our very own Deloris, Antonia Opare-Amo, a club singer, and her gangster boyfriend, Curtis, (Dan Romano), who went on to shoot one of his mob, just as Deloris walked in. She ran to the police, where her high school chum, Sweaty Eddie, (Benjamin Raynard) put her into a witness protection, at a Philadelphia convent, under the supervision of the rather sceptical Mother Superior, (Kaytie-Jo Genty). As we entered the convent, a troop of nuns, (nearly 40 of them!) walked on, singing hilariously in any key, at any pitch, and as high as they could, then left through the opposite side of the stage. The nuns came to dinner, and Deloris, was introduced to some more of the principals, Sister Mary Robert, (Tilly Ducker) and Sister Mary Patrick, (Emma Chapman). Deloris broke the rules of the convent, and Mother Superior asked for her to be removed from the convent but was shot down. So, Mother Superior makes her join the choir, where she immediately stands out, due to her singing profession. Sister Mary Lazarus, (Jessica Logan) reluctantly gave up the reigns of the choir, and the transformation began.

Deloris teaches the choir her hit song, ‘Raise Your Voice’ helping the choir to sing in amazing harmony, and brings the young naïve Sister Mary Robert out of her shell, blossoming into an incredible singer. This performance lifts the roof of the church, bringing in new faces to the ever doomed church, and they then segue into her theme song, ‘Take Me To Heaven’ which is performed with such power and energy from the whole cast, it leads us into the interval in a great way.

The second act opens at a very funny confessions session, between Monsignor O’Hara, (James Bradshaw) an Irish Priest, Mother Superior and Deloris, followed by mass, where the choir perform once again. After which, O’Hara announces to Deloris and the choir that they are to perform for the Pope. The direction that Deloris has taken the choir irks Mother Superior somewhat, and contacts Officer Eddie to have Deloris removed. Following a news report from the church, Curtis and his mob, who have been on the hunt for Deloris the whole time, now knew exactly where to find her, and even though she had moved into Officer Eddies apartment, she had travelled back, to sing with her Sisters. The mobsters perform a comedy chase scene, which ends with Sister Mary Robert in a headlock with Curtis pointing a gun at her head. Deloris talks him out of shooting, but he then turns his attention to her, and just as he is counting down to shoot her, from nowhere, Officer Eddie shoots Curtis in the arm, and relieves the whole situation, arresting Curtis and putting him away for good. The choir then perform for the Pope, a brilliant finale, 'Spread The Love Around', with a reprise of 'Raise Your Voice', and 'Take Me To Heaven'.

I was sitting in my seat at the end of this wonderful show and the dear lady next to me turned and said, “That was wonderful wasn’t it.” And all I can say is, "Yes, it was fabulous baby, fabulous".

Wakefield Youth Musical Theatre have done an incredibly professional job here. And they can all be immensely proud of the show they have put together. Every voice that was singing was in tune, it was coming from a smiling face, and it was just wonderful to see so many young people who are so very talented in the theatre. I think it's fair to say, the future of theatre is in safe hands if these youngsters continue the way they are headed!

Now these shows are not only performed by an excellent cast, they are the vision of the director, who was also the choreographer, Louise Denison, who has led this cast so incredibly well. The work that must have gone in during the months before today, has really paid off, and they should be over the moon with the outcome. Also, top marks to the team. Mark Walters, who designed the set and costumes, did a brilliant job. I was not expecting the youth theatre group to have set flying in and out of the stage as it did, as this is very much a luxury at this level, but the sets were all very well put together, and all practical in the way they were used, with a great stage team, running smoothly under the supervision of stage manager, Katie Flatters. The costumes were unbelievable. From the detail in each nuns habit, all the way down to the last sequin in the backing singers' dresses, everything was so brilliantly thought out, and not only stylish, but period appropriate, and fabulous with the management from Emma James, all of the quick changes were executed to perfection, and there were no mishaps.

John Trenouth and his team in the sound department, had a great night as the nightmare of many costume changes, and microphones can often lead to disaster, but thankfully, we had nothing to worry about here from this clearly well led experienced crew. As I mentioned earlier, the lighting was sublime. I’m a sucker for a glitterball, and I applaud the tasteful use of it. (I’d have turned it on and just left it going all night) The rest of the lighting was also excellent, the features, the movement, the mood setting, all spot on from my point of view, so congratulations to Joe Warrington and team for that. This leaves just one department, and where would a musical be without its music? Nowhere. Jim Lunt and his band did a sterling job, filling the auditorium with a lively, great sound, and gave the show that lift that just made it sparkle ever brighter. I really hope that the rest of your run goes as well as tonight.

All that leaves for me to say is thank them for the work and effort every single member made to get this show up to the professional standard it was, exceeding my expectations. I left the theatre feeling such a buzz, as I do often from seeing the touring professional shows, and that really says something about what the company achieved here. Congratulations to Wakefield Youth Musical Theatre, I cannot wait to come and see you again.

Reviewer - Simon Oliver
on - 28/8/19

COMEDY REVIEW: Kevin Fraser: Leave The World Behind - The Frog And Bucket, Manchester.

I’d never heard of Kevin Fraser before tonight so I duly did a little googling to discover his background. Kevin hails from Durban, South Africa and was a successful DJ before moving to Australia in 2014 where his lively persona and engagement with audiences was gaining him acclaim as a comedian . He is very popular on YouTube with a rising following of his blogging style, comedy commentaries on life and his experiences. He is sharp, engaged and has a very positive vibe whilst poking fun at himself .

Manchester is part of his foray into mainstream, live , stand-up comedy and what better place to start your UK tour than Manchester’s Frog and Bucket? He had a very full and receptive audience with some friends, possibly family and South Africans in the audience who rallied the mood and set a good buzz in the venue.

Initially, I struggled with Kevin’s thick South African accent and did miss some punch lines but mostly I could decipher through his strong physical comedy and facial expressions even though I may have missed a few words. Some of the audience completely got it and whooped and cheered and applauded some of the content, heartily. I struggled more than I should have.

Kevin’s set is a cornucopia of social commentary and some anecdotal memoires. It jumped around a little but for the most part was very enjoyable. His sharp asides and momentary ascerbic looks and occasional camp wit made me laugh out loud. He is clearly a great dancer and the portions where he was dancing in a club as part of the story were amazingly good. His tale of seeing a very attractive lady and dancing - African style, below the waist - was highly impressive. ‘And then I looked and she’d gone!‘

He told us that when he moved to Australia they wouldn’t accept him in the country as an immigrant DJ and he ended up in hospitality where he was ‘far too sassy’. So, he moved to Noosa in Queensland and ended up working in a fish factory complete with Grey’s Anatomy outfit and gum boots. He lasted a day when he couldn’t kill a crab that batted its eyelashes at him. A similar career in scallop shucking ended when he decimated the shells rather than removing the perfect scallop intact, thus reducing the profits. A very funny guy when he acts out his stories.

The funniest and longest story Kevin retold was of flying Emirates in economy and the social commentary of walking through the aspirational and unattainable first and business class cabins until you reach the chaos of economy and economy plus (which he wittily renamed ‘peasant plus’). A flight attendant had spotted and recognised him and was serving him first; to the envy of the other cattle class passengers and even gifted him a business class toiletry bag which he mistook as a fast pass to business class upgrade. Wrong! As he sashayed through the cabin, he had the interconnecting curtains demonstratively closed before him, blocking his access. Forced with the choice of turning and facing a whole cabin audience who had watched this - he decided to perform his first, live, mid air comedy show. I was howling laughing at this. 

We watched a funny, entertaining up-and-coming comedian tonight. The set ran at an hour without a break, and we’d expected two shorter sets. I’m sure with his online following, Fraser’s popularity as a live act will continue to grow.

Reviewer - Kathryn Gorton
on - 28/8/19

THEATRE REVIEW: In The Night Garden Live! - The Palace Theatre, Manchester

It is not often my two year old little friend will sit still but the little man I accompanied to In The Night Garden Live took it all very seriously, he studied every move his heroes made on stage. If you have a little one and a television, chances are you'll be aware of IgglePiggle and his friends in the hit CBeebies show In The Night Garden.

The television show is the vision of Andrew Davenport, who came under scrutiny after the Teletubbies, accused of  'dumming down' the TV world of children. I, however, have followed Davenport's work and believe him to be a genius; the worlds he has created are actually entirely positive and encourage child development, especially language development.

In The Night Garden turns it's hand to the stage this year and I was very intrigued to find how it will translate to these little eyes and ears.

As we walked in to the theatre, our little dude, a huge fan, immediately recognised the In The Night Garden logo on stage and became very excited at the event. Clutching onto to his Upsy Daisy doll, we heard a slight tweeting bird sound in the auditorium, it was being overpowered by excited children's anticipation of what was about to happen. I really wanted it to be great, for them and I wasn't disappointed and neither were they. In The Night Garden Live is a fun, simple, light-hearted show to get excited about.

We appreciated the voice-over alert to the show “starting in 3 minutes” and again in 2 minutes and again that IgglePiggle was not in his seat! The lights went down and our adventure began, the audience still buzzing to meet their favourite characters.

The theatre show mirrors in format the TV show, with the familiar narrator's voice and known music, (composed for the live version by Davenport) the visuals that are projected and the well-known backdrop of the garden are all recognised by the regular viewers in the audience, even the puppeteers' costumes reflected the beloved world we already know and love.

The story was beautifully and simply told through the characters we had come to see, and their interaction with the narrator. As IgglePiggle searched for his friends, he discovered a noise which they are all encouraged by the narrator to follow. Along the way we met a giant Macca Pacca, who washes IgglePiggle's face and actual bubbles materialised, a magic enjoyed by little ones and adults alike. We met the dancing, singing Upsy Daisy in her world of flowers, an army of busy little red Pontipines, some very excited Tombliboos, the Ninky Nonk train of course and the star of the show; the Pinky Ponk airship!

I have to say, I was worried about what our little dude would make of the giant skin characters onstage, as he has previously become tearful when meeting his oversized hero Igglepiggle in a 'Meet And Greet' at CBeebies World (who wouldn't scream at a giant waving blue thing you have only ever seen inside a screen) but, although he was apprehensive he surprised me. The smaller puppet versions of the characters were a great idea and much more comfortable with him. The scale of these puppets were perfect as they jumped on puppeteers shoulders or walked the garden set, especially enjoyed was little IgglePiggle sailing across a sea of bedtime to the familiar theme tune.

Audience participation was encouraged and the best part of the show was very evident by the happy squeals and hellos from both children and adults as the main event emerged. When the giant Pinky Plonk flew out from the stage by itself, even I was overcome with that little bit of childhood magic. My little friend smiled as his eyes traced the airship above our heads in the stalls, behind the audience and right up to the circle to a chorus of wows of real delight.

Finally IgglePiggle, tired from his adventures had followed the noise and found his friends. The show was book-ended with a giant story book and all the characters went to bed. However, the ending we are all acquainted with, Igglepiggle was not in bed! He joined us for one last wave with his famed red blanket and went to sleep. “Well, isn't that a pip” as the narrator says, I say, we had a great time, if it aint broke don't fix it!

Reviewer - Cathy Shiel
on - 28/8/19

GASTRONOMY REVIEW: Cafe Rouge, Salford Quays.

Situated overlooking both The Lowry Theatre and The Manchester Canal, this airy and tastefully decorated cafe and restaurant offers French themed dishes in a very relaxed atmosphere. Without any distracting muzak playing in the background, the cafe allows guests to make their own conversation and the tables are set at a respectable distance apart. The dining area is very clean, and the toilets exceptionally clean with separate hot and cold water taps (with very hot water) and liquid soap dispensers. The only thing which would make this even better would be to have towels rather than those awful hot air hand-dryers.

Waitress service is guaranteed, and our waitress this early evening was respectful, polite and responded to our concerns with professionalism. Attentive but not gushing. In fact, almost perfect.

My companion and I chose to have a starter and a main forgoing dessert - since the menu seemed only to cater for dessert when ordering a set menu and we couldn't find any mention of desserts a la carte.

The food was a mixture of the sublime and the very poor. I had a crab and avocado Tian which was truly delicious, and my companion king prawns which again were cooked perfectly. We both opted for the same main course, choosing duck with orange sauce. The duck was slow-cooked and fell off the bone. It was beautifully cooked. Sadly the same could not be said for the dauphinoise potatoes and the green beans which were served with it. The beans were cooked, but only just, not even 'al dente', and the potatoes were almost raw and inedible! Sadly the main course was also served on a cold plate, which seems to be very much the way these days. Whatever happened to heating the plates before serving?

The wine was by the glass and so we had a Merlot and a Pinot Grigio which went down very well with our meal choises; and coffee and tea to finish. The tea was English Breakfast, and there was enough hot water to make a second cup, whilst the coffee was strong it was plentiful and again very hot.

All in all, not a bad experience, and the prices here are very affordable, and not going to rip a hole in your wallet; just a shame that the vegetables were not cooked properly. Definitely worth giving the Cafe Rouge a second try though.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 28/8/19

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

FILM REVIEW: Mrs. Lowry And Son - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

This is something that Manchester has been waiting for for quite a while, and one which started a little while ago with HOME premiering Mike Leigh's film Peterloo, and now Salford's Lowry Theatre hosting the Gala Premiere of Adrian Noble's debut film about L S Lowry and his relationship with his mother. Must we wait though for another historical film set in Greater Manchester before we see another premiere in the north of England? I hope not.

However, this evening it was indeed a star-studded occasion, as celebrities gathered in their droves to come and watch this beautifully constructed film with a short Q+A on stage after the screening. In attendance this evening was not only former RSC director Adrian Noble, but also the film's two stars, Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall.

The film itself, is very much like a stage play, [that is both its saving grace and its downfall at one and the same time; Noble obviously bringing his years of stage directing experience to bear on this film certainly makes it very dialogue-driven at times, but also brings out the absolute best from the film's co-stars] but with the occasional glimpse of cinematic possibilities thrown in. It's claustrophobic - deliberately so. The vast majority of the film is set in the small bedroom of Mrs Lowry, with the camera shooting portrait or mid-body shots in preference to anything. Even when we do see the whole room or two people together, it's very cluttered and fussy. This contrasts with the seldom forays into the countryside, and as Lowry hikes up a hill near Bolton the view behind him (why was it blurred?) came as quite a shock. Rain seems to be almost constant in 1930's Pendlbury too, as this is obviously being used as a metaphor for the relationship Laurence had with his mother. This is an independant film and produced obviously on a budget, however, there were at least two instances in the film where the CGI of buildings was noticably poor. A scene by the river with mill buildings and Lowry's view over the mill industry of Bolton were so obviously superimposed images that sadly they spoilt the film.

Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall however deliver immaculate performances. Redgrave's cynicism and cutting remarks - reminiscent perhaps of Alan Bennett - are perfectly placed and hit the bull every time. She is domineering and controlling, highly manipulative and selfish; it makes you wonder why anyone would put up with that. Spall however plays Lowry as a man who has accepted his lot in life, and his is to care for his mother, since it is all he knows. Working as a rent collector by day, and retiring to his attic studio at night as his release and way of expressing his innermost thoughts through his art.

This is a gentle docu-drama, which may or may not be entirely historically accurate. That doesn't really seem to matter though. What does matter is that this film shows how Lowry's mother did not approve of Lowry being an artist, and never liked any of his paintings, despite him painting them all for her. The film is set in the 1930s, just before Elizabeth Lowry's death and just as the art world was beginning to take note of L S Lowry and take an interest in his paintings. Despite his success and offers of knighthoods later in life, he would reject them all, and still live locally and modestly. What, he said, was the point if mother wasn't there to see it all happen.

The film does come across quite Oedipal in this regard, perhaps unintentionally, but it doesn't show Laurence doing anything other than at work, tending to his mother or painting. The only ephemeral glimpses we get of the man outside of this are when he plays with the children, or his one moment when talking about the bearded lady. We have no indication of his friendhsips, his social life or indeed what made him tick outside of painting. Again, perhaps this is a deliberate choice on the writer's part, as we are shown flashbacks of his life as a young boy, happy, playing on the beach with his mother. Do we simply take it that he is asexual and has not ever had a relationship with a female? But this film is not really about Laurence, it is more about Elizabeth. It is her relationship with him, her thoughts, her demands, which are the overriding memories I have of this film sat now at my desk writing this review. And if only a small portion of this is true, it makes you see and understand Lowry's paintings in a new light. 

The film is most definitely worth watching for the beautifully nuanced and magnificent portrayals of Elizabeth and Laurence Lowry by Redgrave and Spall, and their on-screen chemistry is wonderful. but for me at least the story tends to drag, and doesn't really go very far. We learn little or nothing new after the first 20 minutes of the film, and since the film is a two-hander, very little screen time is given to any other character - even the 'sub-plot' of the rowing and newly-moved-to-the-area couple next door is reduced to a few short scenes and never developed.

It's moving, expertly acted, but slow moving and quite heavy going. A fitting tribute though to one of Britain's more enigmatic and individualistic artists. 

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/8/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Gangsta Granny - Ordsall Hall, Salford.

Heartbreak Productions specialise in open air theatre tours and have several shows touring the country throughout the summer months. I had seen a couple of their previous shows, and having enjoyed them, was looking forward to seeing what this company would do with a piece of modern children's literature, aiming their production for the primary school age bracket (7 - 11 year olds).

As I took a seat on the lawn outside Salford's Ordsall Hall, with the lovely building as a backdrop, the sun was beating down so strongly (and no shade was to be found anywhere) I found myself having to go inside the hall and watch the second half of the production from an upstairs room with an open window! How the cast managed with some rather heavy and ungainly costumes, with several changes, I don't know, but the costumes were very good and, unlike many touring outdoor theatre companies, didn't skimp on this nor on the staging and set.

In fact the set was designed very well. A large oblong stage erected centrally enabling action to take place on three sides (where audience were also seated) as well as on the stage itself. Behind this a curtian which was used in the same way curtains on the sides of traditional stages are used, in order to mask entrances and exits and allow the cast to change unseen. The simple, but very effective, changing of a single hanging feature from a lamp-shade, to a mirror ball, to a hospital sign etc was very clever and worked excellently. The plumbers' tubing as car and window were less effective.

The story of Gangsta Granny is now well known and loved by children, and Walliams' popularity as a children's author increases year by year. I have not read the book, but somehow have the feeling that this adaptation by David Kerry-Kendal was not the best, as it failed to keep the youngsters in this afternoon's audience enthralled. This was not helped by some very unimaginative and repetative direction from Scott Worsfold. The first act was dialogue heavy with most of the verbal jokes falling flat (not even being picked up by the adults); whilst the second act was slicker and more physical, and there were some groans from the adults, it was really only when the cast were given rein to involve the audience did the younger audience members perk-up. The teaching of various dances throughout, or getting a dad from the audience to dress-up and make a fool of himself gained laughs and interest, as did the few occasions when the cast walked into the audience or threw water at them. However, these instances were too few and far between, and during the majority of the play - which was far too long for an outdoor show for children (2 hours) - they were only sitting still and behaving because their parents had told them to, not because they were watching and engaged with the action.

The actors are to be commended for performing this withourt microphones, and being able to project their voices suficiently. This is something I am very keen on as I spent some time as a voice and movement teacher, and disapprove of the new breed of actor who needs to rely on technology in order to be heard. I therefore found this part of the production the most noteworthy. Sadly the songs and dance routines did little to engage the interest of the target audience, and despite the 5 cast members giving their all, the applause at the end was somewhat apathetic.

Daryl Hughes played the protagonist Ben, a young boy who goes to stay at his grandma's whilst his parents enter a dancing competition, only to find out that his cabbage-soup-loving grandma has a dark secret and he then ends up helping her to gain her final wish of stealing the Crown Jewels. His performance was empathetic and reminded me in many ways of Micahel Crawford playng Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.  Gina George was the Gangsta Granny, played with a glint in the eye. The rest of the cast playing multi-roles were Rachel Dussek, Howard Scott Walker and Danny Milwain.

As an endnote, I would also add that asking the children to score the dancing with the score cards was a very good idea. This was spoiled completely however by having the score cards as part of the programme - which one had to purchase! Issue score cards separately or give the programmes free!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/8/19

MUSIC REVIEW / REPORTAGE: The 6th Manchester International Piano Concerto Competition - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.

As a rather fitting and uplifting end to The Chetham's Festival and Summer School for Piano and Pianists, for the last 6 years they have also been running a piano concerto competition. The competition is open to any young person of any nationality under the age of 23, with a special award for the most inspiring and talented young pianist under the age of 16 who does not qualify for the semi-final round.

Both the semi-finals and the finals are performed live at Manchester's Stoller Hall, with the Manchester Camerata providing the orchestra and Stephen Threlfall conducting. This evening I was most fortunate to be in the audience to watch (and listen to) 3 of the six finalists performing their concertos in front of the judging panel.

We first heard Luca Grianti from Italy, at just 17 years old, give a masterly and passionate rendition of Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto. After this came 16 year old Ilya Lomtatidze from Georgia, and wowed audience and jury alike with his emotive and highly skilled interpretation of Rachmaninov's 2nd piano concerto. The third finalist to pick up the gauntlet this evening was Australian Caitlin Rinaldi, again just 16 years old, and again wowed with her lovely performance of Chopin's 1st piano concerto.

It was quite exhausting listening to three huge and extensive concertos played back to back as an audience member; therefore I did not envy the task the judges now had to find just one winner from not just these three, but also from three other finalists who played their concertos yesternight. It was not going to be easy. And so, whilst they went away to deliberate, we were entertianed with more music. And yes, another piano concerto. Again played by The Manchester Camerata under Stephen Threlfall, but this time, played by rising star Eric Lu. He chose Mozart's piano concerto no 23, and played with panache and elan.

The three finalists from yesterday which I did not see were; Oscar Collier (16) from France, Sunah Kim (18) from South Korea, and Noah Zhu (18) from The UK.

After Lu's well deserved applause and a short break, the audience reassembled to hear the judges' comments and see who would win the first prize of £1500. Joint second prize was awarded to Oscar Collier and Luca Grianti, whilst winning the first prize was Georgian wunderkind Ilya Lomtatidze.

It was a huge privilege to be in the audience of such a wonderful event, and see such incredible young talent. I feel sure all of these pianists will go on to forge profitable and interesting careers as they develop their talents further. It was also a superb ending to a fortnight of incredible concerts, recitals and masterclasses given by some of the world's leading concert pianists. So incredibly intense but extremely fulfilling and thrilling to experience this on one's own doorstep. Such a privelege, and I am already looking forward to August 2020!

Congratulations to all the semi- and finalists. It must have been such a great experience for all of them too to have had the opportunity of performing in the Stoller Hall. Thank you, and wishing them all much success and happiness in the future.

Reportage - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/8/19

Sunday, 25 August 2019

NEWS: Thumper, the Irish sextet announce UK Tour dates.


Fresh off the back a debut stellar performance at Primavera Pro in Barcelona, pop-rock sextet THUMPER have announced a string of UK live dates for this Autumn. 

UK Tour Dates
YES (Basement) // Manchester // Sun, Sept 22
Red Rum // Stafford // Mon, Sept 23
The Old Blue Last // London // Tues, Sept 24
The Back Prince // Northampton // Wed, Sept 25
60 Million Postcards // Bournemouth // Thurs, Sept 26
The Richmond // Brighton // Fri, Sept 27
Hy-Brasil Music Club // Bristol // Sat, Sept 28

Tickets are on sale now.

Following in the footsteps of Fontaines DC they have played showcases at Music Cork and It Takes A Village, and are doing the festival rounds at all the major Irish festivals this summer including Electric Picnic, Sea Sessions, Kaleidoscope and many more! Riding the crest of New Music Friday playlist with the release of their latest single ‘In My Room’, THUMPER released a 5-track vinyl entitled ‘Out of Body Auto-Message’, available in all major record stores. They launched this new release with an exclusive signing at Tower Records and completely sold out their headline show at Dublin’s Lost Lane live music venue on May 25th. 

THUMPER are the band everyone’s talking about, delivering bubblegum pop through a wall of sonic death. With a reputation for raucous and frenzied live shows and penchant for howling feedback and pounding rhythm, each show is an exercise in unpredictability.

Out of Body Auto-Message is the first studio record by THUMPER, produced by Dan Fox (Girl Band). In this new phase, THUMPER step away from their early days of lo-fi bedroom recordings into a more widescreen effort - without losing any of the grit that defined the early material. From the mile a minute word vomit of AFL, to the 10 minute psych meltdown of 3am & Restless, each song squirms to contain the dichotomy of its blistering psych and its saccharine pop sensibility. 

It’s no wonder THUMPER are consistently topping the “Ones To Watch” lists, touring relentlessly - headlining Hard Working Class Heroes well, joining Fangclub on a national tour, playing their first UK show at a sold-out Shacklewell Arms. Following this year's festival packed summer, THUMPER are set to hit the road this September with seven back-to-back dates in established music venues of major UK cities.

From UK radio support from Steve Lamaq on BBC 6, Kerrang! Radio, and Irish national stations including Today FM and RTE 2FM, to features with Paste Mag US, Hotpress and Nialler9, the future of rock and roll looks bright for these wide-eyed rockstars.

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Piano Festival: Recital by Peter Donohoe - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.

When ex-Chetham's pupil Peter Donohoe is on form, there is no-one like him, and this evening he was on fire! Watching him this evening play in the region of 30 notes per second (both hands) and dashing up and down the keyboard with eagle-precision, and making it look effortless and sound sublime is a gift that only a select few have. Donohoe was in excellent shape this evening and he even delighted us with a brief introduction to the pieces he played adding background, personal anecdote and humour to the concert.

It must also be noted that Donohoe played everything this evening from memory, not relying, like the previous concerts, on the score and able page-turners.

Making the piano sing, Donohoe started the evening with two pieces by Schumann; Toccata in C and Arabesque in C.  He followed these with a delightful 'Dumka' by Tchaikovsky.

The show-piece and finale though was a real rarity and absolute gem. As a huge Tchaikovsky fan, this is now the second piece of piano music from these concerts that I am discovering for the first time and being absolutely delighted by them. Here, Donohoe played his Sonata No 2 in G (opus 37). In his introduction he stated that to his almost certain knowledge this would be only the second time that this piano piece has been performed in Manchester. He knows this because he also performed it the first time. And after having played the first movement for a piano competition in Russia, he was even told that the work isn't very popular over in Tchaikovsky's homeland either. Donohoe proffered a suggestion that the reason for this was perhaps because of the rather surprising and unusual enigmatic ending to the sonata, and the fact that the work is in G major; a key Tchaikovsky usually reserved for heroic deaths. Perhaps the use of G major is because of Tchaikovsky's synesthesia, and G major was a very dark colour for him? Who knows.

All Tchaikovsky's music sounds very symphonic. His structuring; lovely melodies, thick harmonies, lush 'colours', flamboyant and extensive passages full of decoration and Russian pomp. No wonder he is one of the world's most accessible composers, and this Sonata was no exception. A behemoth of a  work, with an extensive first movement, followed by an equally extensive second movement and Donohoe's nimble fingers were put through their paces, showing incredible skill and precision. The end is a little strange, but not as much as I had expected after such a build-up by Donohoe. A series of a few chords, almost hymn-like, takes you to the final perfect cadence.

Donohoe accepted several rounds of hugely deserved applause and gave a short encore. An absolutely mesmerising and emotionally charged concert.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/8/19

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Piano Festival: Recital for Two Pianos - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.

The next concert this evening was music for two pianos by Debussy and Rachmaninov. To play these pieces we welcomed Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen. Owen I have seen and heard many times, Apekisheva was new to me. Watching them play together this evening though was quite thrilling. Apekisheva attacks the keys with wild, passionate Russian demonstratism, whilst Owen's typical British reserve allowed the passion to flow from the keys without it necessarily affecting his whole body; and yet this ying and yang of outward emotion worked excellently for them as they sparked off each other excellently mainting excellent togetherness and almost being able to feel and anticipate each other's fingering.

The first work to be played this evening was an orchestral work by Debussy, arranged for two pianos by his friend and fellow Frenchman, Ravel. Sometimes known as Trois Nocturnes, they were introduced this evening as The Triptych Nocturnes (Nuages, Fêtes, and Silence). So emotive and effective was the playing that one could have heard a pin drop throughout every pause, as the audience held their breath right until the final few notes had been played. Owen and Apekisheva responding to each other superbly and producing a sublime version of these Nocturnes.

Following this, and over to Apekisheva's homeland for Rachmaninov's Suite No 1 (op 9). I had never heard this music before, but became an instant fan. Undeniably Russian in flavour, Rachmaninov has woven deep and unexpected harmonies, with lush, powerful and expressive melodies creating a velvet-textured piece of exquisite beauty. Jokingly, (since Minimlaism is something Rachmaninov could never be accused of! Quite the opposite) but, the beginnings of the Minimalist Movement in music could be heard quite clearly in the 3rd and final movements, as short phrases were repeated over and over again and then mutated ever so slightly. I wonder if this was indeed where Philip Glass and co. got their idea from?? Just a silly musing....! That notwithstanding, the music was divine and played with passion and completely flawlessly. Magical!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/8/19

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Piano Festival: Recital for Violin and Piano - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.

Chetham's School of Music's Festival and Summer School for Pianists continued their evening concerts this evening with two substantial works for piano and violin duet. Playing the piano for these was summer school leader and world class concert pianist, Murray McLachlan, and the violin was played by renowned violinist and conductor, Steve Bingham.

The first piece was the ever-popular Sonata No 1 by Brahms. The work is in three lyrical movements and although all three are given different tempo markings [vivace ma non troppo, adagio and allegro respectively], all three go through quite a varying range of dynamics before their ultimate, quiet and rather peaceful resolution. If I am to be honest though, for me, this work lacked attack and punchiness. It all felt a little too 'comfortable' for me. That is not to say it wasn't masterfully played, with Bingham and McLachlan working excellently together, it just didn't come quite as alive as I have heard it do so on other occasions.

The second and final piece in their concert this evening however was just that; bright, alive, engaged, thrilling, and exciting. It was a very rare outing of a little known piano nd violin duet by Busoni; his Sonata No 2 in E Minor. I had never heard this before, but was absoluely delighted by it. This is no stroll in the park for either player and it is a work of substance and considerable beauty. Starting quite dark and brooding, slow and perhaps also meditative, it gives way to passages of lyrical and romantic mood, frightening pompous marches, joyous country dances, slow and mournful passages, Celtic jigs, a fugue, and finishing back in the minor key softly and lyrically. This was a sheer delight to hear and was played masterfully.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/8/19

COMEDY REVIEW: Richard Stott: Right Hand Man - Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh.

‘Right Hand Man’ is Richard Stott’s debut show in which he examines disability, body images and mental health in our tough image conscious world. Having been born with a little known condition called Poland Syndrome - which made him “lopsided with a misshapen hand” - we learn of many aspects of his life before and after life-changing surgery, that gave him toes for fingers on his left hand.

Stott describes himself as “probably on the right-side of the disability spectrum” and he indeed questions whether he is disabled at all (“especially as I’m a professional stilt-walker...and never had to read ‘do not touch’ in braille. That would be a bit unsettling!”) We are treated to a hilarious ‘Poland Syndrome’ song and learn that since fellow sufferer Jeremy Beadle’s death (who knew?) he is now PS’s “funniest man” (or “Poldark with jokes” And yes there is definitely a resemblance there!) “At least the upside is no-one is going to steal my act!” he says ironically.

This is a very funny show full of honesty, perceptive insights, pathos and some very witty one liners. Apparently Richard got into stand-up because he wanted to sleep with a comedienne, giving her £500 to help with her Edinburgh Festival rent, which subsequently lead to him performing a show about disability: inaccessibly “up the stairs”.

We are drawn into his childhood stories, when he was the “go-to guy for getting things out of cracks”. Later he was a tour guide at Cambridge pretending to be a rich student who “for some reason got more tips” Then there are the pressures and ridiculous competitiveness of being in the creative industries (“we jump in a well with 3 million other middle class people saying positive things to each other”) And then of course there is the whole issue of being disabled in the mix - how disabled actors never take able-bodied roles (“I wasn’t even cast as Richard the 3rd”) At least he managed to get on a TV programme called ‘The Undateables’ as ‘Toe-hand Man’.

Richard tells us candidly of his multiple operations, his friend’s suicide, and his own battle with depression, interlaced with acidic commentary about Donald Trump “mocking someone with Cerebral Palsy” and a surreal story about being covered in someone’s father’s ashes on a random trip to Stonehenge.

In covering all of this and more, Richard’s performance very occasionally dips in momentum and energy. However this is a totally unique and highly thought-provoking show that deserves to be seen - and in fact needs to be heard. I hope that the day will come - sooner rather than later- when performers with Richard’s undeniable talent will be given opportunities that don’t soley pigeon-hole them into the ‘disability’ bracket.

Reviewer - Georgina Elliott
on - 22/8/19

Saturday, 24 August 2019

INTERVIEW: Richard O'Brien chats about The Rocky Horror Show.

The Rocky Horror Show is currently on tour. Here Richard O'Brien, it's creator and original Riff-Raff chats about the show.

Details of show dates and venues on the current tour can be found here ....

How does it feel to see the incredible success the Rocky Horror Show has had?

I hope what I’ve done professionally on stage has entertained and made people feel a little bit better when they leave the theatre. I’ve never done anything for back-slapping purposes, to make myself feel elevated in any kind of way. I'm just so grateful that I've been part of something that has so uniquely left its mark.

I remember a director once told me, ‘There’s only one thing you should do in your life, Richard, and that’s realise your dreams. A lot of people will try and stop you achieving those dreams but the only real person who can stop you is yourself.’ I was young and he was old and it was the first time a grown-up had ever said anything so joyous to me, so wonderfully liberating. Everybody else said, ‘Be careful, get a proper job, get your degree as a plumber. Don’t get these lofty ideas.’ As it says in the show, “Don’t dream it, be it.”

Why do you think Rocky Horror is still so popular?

It's very inclusive, it's very easy to watch. It's not rocket science as far as narrative is concerned - Brad and Janet are a couple that we kind of recognise as Adam and Eve or Romeo and Juliet, like a stereotypical couple - we can all relate to them. It is a fairytale - we even like the nasty characters, we love the Cruella De Vil kind of character, Frank N Furter. The fact that it is such light-hearted naughtiness, combined with root fairy tales has a lot to do with its longevity.

What was happening in your life at the time you wrote The Rocky Horror Show?

I was a recent father of my first child and out of work when I wrote the show. 1972-73 was a moment of change. Glamrock and overt sexuality was around, gay people were coming out and there was a ‘buzz’ in the air. There are certain parts of the world where we are a little bit more free to be ourselves. London is certainly one of them. Back in the Seventies you had gay bars, but now you don’t need to because if you walk into most bars in London there will be a gay man behind the bar. That is rather nice.

What was your inspiration when writing the show?

I have a very low-brow approach to life, I like Populist kinds of themes - comics and rock’n’roll and B movies. The plot and dialogue for The Rocky Horror Show are raids on populist things: from advertising, from comics, from B movies, from sci-fi. It’s a complete and utter raid upon all those elements; a joyous raid.

Do you have a favourite character?

I would have loved to have played Rocky, that would have been cool, wouldn't it? But one thing is essential, you have to be rather handsome and you know, muscular, and that ain't going to work. I could have played Janet. They're all so stupidly wonderful these characters, they're iconographic.

How do you think the live shows compare to the film?

The live show has an energy that the movie doesn't have - it wasn't intentional, but the film was very slow. Once some fans came up to me and said, "did you leave the gaps between the lines so that we the audience could say our lines?". I said, "Well, ok yes". But no we didn't. The movie is a very surreal, almost dreamlike journey, the live show is far more rock and roll.

What advice do you have for anyone that is new to Rocky Horror?

None - just come with an open heart and a good will or not at all. I always worry that maybe the fans might steal the evening. I don't ever want the show to be just a few people having fun and the rest of the audience thinking that they've arrived at a party that they weren't invited to, so that's important.

What’s your favourite part of the show?

The noise at the end of Rocky is wonderful – it is empowering and exhilarating at the same time it is quite joyous. Rocky never fails to deliver. Each performance lifts the heart and the nightly laughter and roars of approval leave the whole cast with a sense of wellbeing and accomplishment that you rarely get from any other shows.

What sets Rocky Horror apart from other musicals?

When it was written, it didn’t follow any kind of formula. The songs aren’t showbizzy. So many new musical numbers you hear now, if you didn’t know what song it was you would instantly know it was a Broadway song. I find that a bit annoying. If you’re going to spend a bit of money on a night out it’s good to know that you’re spending it on something you’re going to enjoy. It’s a rock’n’roll show with a storyline on one level, it’s a fairy tale on another level, and it’s as enjoyable and silly as a Carry On on another.

How different do you think your life might have been without Rocky?

I have no idea but, I would have had a good life because I am made that way. My journey has been a different one than others. I guess some people have a game plan. I would imagine they’re rather humourless. Most of us get an opportunity and we wing it. Luck plays an awfully big part in our lives. You should never underestimate that. I am the luckiest person on the planet. I shall be happy as long as I can keep singing.

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Grand Hotel - The Opera House, Buxton.

Whilst listening to the soundtrack online in preparation, I was struck at how ambitious a choice of show this was for a local company to put on but, Present Company - whose production of High Society I witnessed when they were last here was lacking somewhat - did extremely well with it. I speak, of course, of none other than ‘Grand Hotel’, based on the novel by Vicki Baum and book by Luther Davis, at Buxton’s ever-opulent Opera House.

With music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest and additionals by Maury Yeston, the music (as with any ‘grand’ old musical) is complex and had tones of Sondheim and Cabaret (John Kander). Sadly even though the live orchestra, under Morris Fletcher, did well to keep pace, it was unfortunate that the cast were unable to keep up with it or match the original score with regard to syncopation. Nonetheless, there are some gems within this show, set in the 1920s, particularly ‘Fire And Ice’, ‘I Want To Go To Hollywood’, ‘Who Couldn’t Dance With You?’, ‘Bonjour Amour’, ‘How Can I Tell Her?’ and, what I consider the showstopper ‘Love Can’t Happen’ - whose final note is immediately before the interval and is well worth the ticket price for that alone!

With the whole cast in fine voice, the chorus were well utilised, in contrast to their last show, as was the whole stage, dressed with a set split into sections of the hotel. It really was well thought out and the show’s production team and actors really should be commended for a great show. The technical team however needed to focus perhaps a little more as they missed a few microphone and lighting cues.

The story involves various plot streams of guests and staff at Berlin’s ‘Most Expensive Hotel In Europe’, with themes of love, corruption, innocence and naivety, loss of funds, terminal illness and the inevitability of death and having to look for life and the realisation of passed stardom. With occasional narrations by Doctor, Colonel Otternschlag, who decides daily to stay “one more night” (Philip de Voil), we meet Baron Felix Von Gaigern (Andrew Dennis) whose inherited fortune is dwindling but his voice and musical talents are well and truly intact, especially in the aforementioned showstopper that brings us to the end of the first act. He and Prima Ballerina, Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Rachael-Louisa Bray), strike up quite an adoration when he declares his admiration as a fan whilst plotting something else less romantic. Bray’s performance follows the same form as her leading lady role in their last show but it is well-placed and her dancing and vocal talents are justly admirable. Whilst the Baron’s song is the best of the show, the best character of the show has to be terminally ill understated Jewish Bookkeeper Otto Kringelein (Craig Arme) who is played with such likability and naturalism, matching the sound of the original - for me he is the star. His chemistry and later passion for and with Typist Flaemchen (Alice Hands) is a joy to behold and their duet part of ‘Who Couldn’t Dance With You?’ and her talents in ‘I Want To Go To Hollywood’ are outstanding.

Judith Hanson’s portrayal of Elizaveta’s 22-year confidante Raffaela is lovely too and her vocality is brilliant too, in ‘A Villa On A Hill’ and ‘How Can I Tell Her?’. Sadly, although they clearly tried, the dancing of cabaret entertainers ‘The Jimmy’s’ was not in-sync and their routine seemed quite frankly poor and clunky but Jack Warriner and Madison Naylor’s roles elsewhere (as gangster, etc.) worked well. Joe Woffinden’s Front Desk Clerk Erik was a nice role, with his phone call news of his son’s birth in ‘the finale scene’ providing welcome comedy and a heart-warming touch, following the mourning of the Baron, after Director General of the hotel and tycoon Hermann Preysing (Lee Stephens) turns to the crooked path and attempts to take advantage of his new typist, following a failed merger to save the hotel.

Supporting roles from Julie Fletcher (as Ursula Witt, Company Manager of Elizaveta’s show) and impresario Sando (Peter Gemmell) were well-performed, and the beautiful dance sequence of Warren Smith and his partner (whose name is sadly not in the programme or available online in relation to this role) added more pizazz.

With the band at the rear of the set, sporting toastmaster jackets, they initially set the tone for the wonderful costumes, facilitated by wardrobe mistress Marion Fisher. It is disappointing that there were some invisible props in a bar scene and of the absent telephone in the bedroom. It has to be noted that the songs in the second half are better than those in the first, not from a performance aspect necessarily but generally.

I must, as previously said, congratulate each and every performer for their clear dedication to making this show a success, here in Buxton and for their run in Derby at the end of the month, and thank Jean Gemmell for her Artistic Direction and Choreography which added to the show.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 22/8/19

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Piano Festival: Philip Martin, Composer's Concert. - The Stoller Hall, Manchester

'In residence' for the whole week of Chetham's Fesival and Summer School for the Piano, composer Philip Martin is on hand to give lectures, masterclasses, and indeed, showcase his own work with two concerts given over entirely to him and his pieces. This evening I was present at the first of these two concerts. which was the fourth concert of the evening, and starting at 10pm, it was late, and most of the evening's audience had already left. I sat in the auditorium with just 30 other stalwarts, eager to hear the music of Martin.

Martin cut quite a striking dash, entering in a bright multi-coloured Hawaiian-style shirt, and was quite happy to chat excitedly about his pieces, jumping up from the piano and greeting the sudience with banter and information before each piece. Sadly, despite Martin being given a microphone, he had no idea how to hold / use one, and it became a useless prop in his hand. Again, I was unable to hear anything Martin was saying. Why would it not be possible for the pianists to wear chest mics, and have the technician turn them off when playing? It would be more interesting and far more advantageous for the audience's enjoyment of a concert if we could actually hear and understand the artistes.

Martin's compositions are rooted in classical technique but infused with jazz, some more than others, and indeed he played one short suite which was pure jazz, blues, boogie-woogie and honky-tonk! His pieces were far more accessible than I had thought they might have been, and his composing style is a base of late Classical / early Romantic layered wth modernisms on top. His final piece for this concert was a set of variations for paino on a old Irish harp melody, called 'Give Me Your Hand'. This and the Jazz Suite were the more accessible for me, but it was fascinating to hear pieces played by their composer.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 22/8/19

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Piano Festival: Recital by Piers Lane - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.

The Chetham's Piano Festival and Summer School continued this evening with a concert from the enigmatic and charmingly eccentric talents of internationally renowned pianist Piers Lane.

Lane started with an introduction to the pieces he had chosen. Most unfortunately though I was unable to hear the vast majority and caught only the odd word. I was sitting on the back row of the auditorium and he spoke quietly and without microphone. Such a shame. There was also another intro / explanation about the final piece of his concert too, and again, I missed out on what he had to say.

His first piece was a prelude and fugue by Bach, which was swiftly followed by pieces by Chopin; Impromptu No 2, and three Nocturnes.  I am not a fan of Bach's music (yes, strike me down now if you wish... but we can't all like the same things. He is far too mathematical and rigid for my tastes... however..) and the Nocturnes were certainly doing their job and sending me to sleep. It was the third concert of the evening and the atmosphere quite warm. The playing of these pieces though was utterly beyond reproach, and Lane had a superb relationship with the keys. Beautiful phrasing and masterly technique combined to great effect in all of his pieces.

His final piece though was what brought me out of my slumbers. It was a work for the piano by Tchaikovsky, and a composition that I had never heard of, despite being a fierce Tchaikovsky lover! This rare and seldom-performed work was written in the middle of  Tchaikovsky's career and after completion dedicated the work to his friend and fellow pianist / composer Anton Rubenstein. The work was '6 Pieces on a Single Theme'. The theme was a folk melody (entering first as a prelude) which Tchaikovsky had cleverly reworked into a Bach-like fugue, a funeral march, a lively dance, etc... and even though this was a rather naive composition in many ways, you could easily hear the ideas and melodic structures which were paramount in his large symphonic works. An extremely interesting piece of music and am so privileged to have heard it played by Lane, a pianist who clearly understood the music and the man behind the writing.

As an encore, Lane delighted everyone, including myself, with something of a curiosity piece. In fact, I have never heard anyone other than the composer of this piece play it before, and Lane made no apology in parodying it. It was Dudley Moore's 'Colonel Bogey In The Style Of Beethoven'. Proving that even classical piano music can be hugely comedic and entertaining. It was hilarious to watch Piers Lane being Dudley Moore being Beethoven! It was a truly bravura finish with brash chords and a flourish. From a rather inauspicious start to this concert, Lane had pulled it round completely and as he left the stage after his final bow, I was willing him to return to play more. Brilliant!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 22/8/19

Friday, 23 August 2019

EVENT REVIEW: Penguin Pride - HOME, Manchester.

Now in its third year, publisher Penguin brought their celebration of LGBTQ writers and writing to Manchester, following great success last year. Arriving at HOME, the midweek before Manchester Pride, following a tour in London and Liverpool, it was a real pleasure, as an openly gay man, to 'cample' some of the great works of my peers.

An “awe-inspiring line-up of LGBTQ+ writers, poets and performers to celebrate the city's incredible diversity”, it was attended by an also diverse audience, with people from all walks of life, from all across the city, reflective of all of the LGBT community..and allies. This is humbling and promotes the fact that writing (or any common interest) can bring people together and moreso that members of the LGBT community, and specifically Manchester, continue to stand together against discrimination, abuse and - as one speaker expressed - “being looked at for no other reason than being yourself” and can still have a bloody good time!

Hosted by the reknowned award-winning poet and playwright Toby Campion, we were first welcomed along by one of the organisers, Zaynab, who made reference to the 50th anniversary since the Stonewall Riots and how far we have come since that but also reflected on the horrendous media report of a lesbian couple still experiencing physical abuse on a London tube because of their orientation and refusal to do as commanded by a young straight person for their own entertainment. Sadly, we do have some way to go to end this behaviour and the streams that feed it but tonight was a celebration of expression, comradeship and talent. We have to be more visible and confident to fight the fight. We still have to protest through celebration.

Campion stimulated the sold-out crowds from the start, encouraging them to react, applaude, cheer and just generally appreciate, with energy and enthusiasm. The night was entitled ‘Turn Up!’ to ensure that the voices of the various underheard and undervalued spectrums of the LGBT community are heard and listened to. First, was local-born storyteller Ella Eneme Otomewo, whose collaborations have included those with BBC Philharmonic, Manchester International Festival, The Lowry and The Guardian. Her confidence is admirable for, what must have been, the youngest performer of the night but her writing and delivery is of maturity, to be admired. Her first piece, ‘Fem’, told of the adoration of the colour blue - a midnight kind - and the highly relatable scenario of having to hide away until the darkness comes before showing your love for your same-sex partner. Then came ‘Oyiba’ (a Nigerian word generally used to refer to a white person or one of European descent or people perceived to not be culturally African) which provided a stark but genuine and heart-warming insight into returning to the motherland and the contrast of being free and being truly at home, albeit slightly uncomfortably, and being followed around a shop by a security guard here in the UK. Then came ‘Cooking (in the Dark)’ which explained her secret life of doing just that, coupled and intertwined with a powerful piece about domestic violence. Otomewo is one to watch and monitor.

We were made aware that a change of programme was made due to Emma Morgan’s absence due to train travel and so followed LGBTQ+ writer Roo, from Yorkshire, whose witty and highly-amusing writing comes from her unfinished book but tells of losing and finding of family, but more focussed tonight around growing up in a rural area. Introduced as “a flawed human being in an uncertain world”, her writing is very atmospheric, as the recited piece jumps from a walk around her village with her dog and reminiscing to school life and becoming aware of LGBT life. The main first piece was ‘Rural 20%’, giving a nod to the minority who come from rural areas and the even smaller proportion of LGBT people in those areas. A quote from her mother of “well, if you will push it in people’s faces…” justifies the reason for lack of comfort and mental security and stability, in a world where “you can do what you want out of school, but in school you are my responsibility”.

Toby Campion was honoured to be chosen as a poet in residence for the River Thames, but did not expect when accepting that it would be, for him, on a waste disposal unit. Whilst there, his research suggested that the only link between LGBT people and the waterway was one of dead people on the seabed. With a bit of creativity and the idea to promote the forgotten, he ended up with ‘The Thames In Drag’ series. Starting this section off was Anthony Wallgate whose family were suing the Met Police for lack of competence during an investigation. In this the river was to portray ‘The River As Batty Boy’. Then ‘The River As Mother’ for Jeff, which was beautifully poignant. Finally, ‘The River As The Creepy Guy In The Bar’, linked to Jonny Benjamin who was saved from attempting suicide on Waterloo Bridge after escaping from a psychiatric hospital. A stranger stopped to talk him into stepping down and after 20 minutes, he did.

Before the interval was journalist Paul Flynn, originally from Wythenshawe, he has worked for many media outlets and even in a music shop. His book, ‘As Good As You’ takes us from 1984 to 2014 and on a journey through how gay men changed and how Manchester helped him to be gay, wuth help from Citylife’s sister publication Gaylife; The No1 Club, etc. We hear extracts from the ‘Work Experience’ and ‘Enjoy Yourself’ (yes Kylie is mentioned)

After the interval, where copies of some of the books were available, we heard from Kirsy Logan who, although has strong links to Manchester, writes a lot about her time in Glasgow - we later heard that the pieces we heard were written whilst on residency in Iceland. Her book ‘Things We Say In the Dark’, is horror-like and includes ‘Things My Wife And I Found In The House’ (apologises if paraphrased) which features the engrossing finding of a sea glass ring, a paper note, a small horse, pearls, hair, a glass jar, a knife and more.. The book is in three parts - houses and the idea of no boundaries, pregnancy.and childbirth, and primal fears - “I'll eat you up I love you so”. “A shocking collection of dark stories, ranging from chilling contemporary fairytales”, I found then quaint. Kirsty is one of Britain’s 10 most outstanding LGBTQ+ writers at the International Literature Showcase 2019, as is…Andrew McMillan.

Andrew McMillan read from his book, Playtime. First was ‘Martyrdome’, ‘Things Said In The Changing Room’ and ‘What 1.6% Of Young Men Know’. Most of these are around body image and the difficult relationship with the body, apart from the first which was more a confessional of gay life and the many men. Then we hear ‘Inheritance’ and ‘Blood’ which is around a HIV test and a piece about his personal trainer’s technique to enhance his abs and strengthen him. We finish with three pieces about observations on trains and ultimately ‘Intimates’ which is about his current partner (who hates poetry). His writing is witty with a dark humour but underlying relatability.

The evening was brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable. Happy (Penguin) Pride everyone!

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 21/8/19