Monday, 30 September 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: DoveTales: Come Over Here

DoveTales are made up of songwriters Stef Rose (who is of Finnish descent), and Johnny Evans, a Mancunian. The band is completed with Victor Freeman (bass guitar) and Chris Joyce (on rhythm). They released their first EP (DoveTales: The Early Years) in September 2018 and they are now back with a single release titled “Come Over Here”.

The band describe themselves as getting together “with a love of great music and Indian food” – they sound like a very happy bunch when reading their profile information and any interview transcripts. Evans, for example, talks about how he started in music. On his way to the travel agent to book a trip to India, he walked by a guitar shop and ended up stopping off and buying a white Stratocaster – never getting to the travel agent. His experience prior to DoveTales includes being a touring member with Mancunian legends Happy Mondays.

I would describe the DoveTales sound as being pop, with a little bit of Indie rock thrown into the mix. The singing duties appear to be shared between Evans and Stef Rose, the “Come Over Here” vocals being provided by the latter. Her voice has a rough soothing quality about it, there is something mesmerising about her voice that just makes you want to hear more of it. Rose has been singing since the age of 12 but took a career break to have her 2 children, so has only recently been persuaded back into the music industry.

“Come Over Here” is an upbeat track with a very rhythmic melody; there's a real feel good start to the song that immediately catches your attention. By the time the chorus arrives the song already feels familiar which is the mark of a great track. “Come Over Here” really is a triumph and it continues the great work produced so far by DoveTales. I can only imagine there is much more to come.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 30/9/19

THEATRE REVIEW: The Fire Of Olympus - The RNCM, Manchester.

“The Fire of Olympus" or "On Sticking It To The Man” is Radius Opera’s newest production, which this evening toured to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Musically it worked very well – but the theatre part of the opera didn’t quite match up to it.

Composed by Radius Opera’s Artistic Director Tim Benjamin, with libretto by both Benjamin and Anthony Peter, the story is a modern-day mash-up of both the Prometheus and Pandora myths that is heavily influenced by today’s world politics, and set to a pseudo-Handel score. The choice of Handel as the musical inspiration was initially an odd one – today’s world politics seem more suited to the crashing chords of Beethoven than the silvery shimmer of harpsichords – but my ear tuned in, and once I was used to it, there was a cool targeted understatement in the score that music director Ellie Slorach utilised fully to realise the inherent shades of the subject matter. A very nice touch was recording choirs and choral societies to create a digital “chorus of a thousand voices” as the voice of the Plebeians, and fourteen groups from around the north of England had contributed.

So if it had stayed as an oratorio, it would have been a successful event. But it was presented as an opera. And this is where it began to diminish. I note that the stage direction was also done by Tim Benjamin, and really an outside theatrical eye was needed on this work.

The force driving the storyline is the personality of Zeus, here presented as the President of a dystopian country called Olympus, who regularly addressed the audience as “My fellow Olympians…..” The set was a monochromatic space with cold white banners and podiums everywhere, decorated in a single black footless-Omega symbol: – the air was of a futuristic Nazi Germany. Zeus, sung by Robert Glyndwr Garland, in casual contrast strolled around in a luxurious gold dressing gown. According to the programme: “Zeus is a horrid, overbearing, manipulative man-child”, and Garland….. just wasn’t. He performed in a rich warm baritone that was pleasurable to the ear, but there was not a horrid, overbearing, manipulative bone in his body. However hard the rest of the cast worked, this big performance hole could not be filled.

Hephaestus, puzzlingly for a story where fire is a central motif, had his mythological status as a fire god who used volcanoes as his forge stripped away, and was here presented as a slimy little weasel in a military black coat and a limp. (Minister for Munitions?) Having said that, Michael Vincent Jones was a very good slimy little weasel, and particularly in the prison scenes his tenor voice took on an Iago (Shakespeare version)-like intensity and sinisterness.

Charlotte Hoather shone as Pandora, here presented as the Presidential Aide who resigns and joins Epimetheus’ gang of rebels. Her clear soprano was especially suited to the nature of the score, and her dramatic performance was strong yet subtle. The Pandora myth wasn’t really utilised though, which considering the subject, seemed a very wasted opportunity. There was a bottle, which she and Epimetheus drank from to confirm they were now lovers and then…. It was just left on the stage. Where was the unleash of the world’s worries? Or any acknowledgement of that part of the story at all? Why even have Pandora, rather than the nymph from down the road?

Joanna Harries and Elspeth Marrow did very well as Prometheus and Epimetheus, the two young activist brothers rebelling against the regime. Joanna Harries’ mezzo soprano and performance as Prometheus was quietly subtle and deeply sincere: – it was completely believed that Zeus had killed the brothers’ parents. Elspeth Marrow’s mezzo soprano and performance as Epimetheus was bright and warm and edged with mischief. They had the plotline of stealing “the Fire of Zeus”, the source of all his power, which was presented as a black hollowed-out bowling ball. When it was tipped upside down during the opera’s climax, it poured a handful of orange beads onto the floor…… a very underwhelming effect, considering the enormity of the stolen fire in the original Prometheus myth, and the structural place of the scene in the opera.

There are a lot of good things about “The Fire of Olympus”, but this current production does not fully realise its potential.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 28/9/19

Sunday, 29 September 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: Craig Finn: Something To Hope For

Craig Finn is a singer-songwriter and musician from Minnesota, USA. He is also the front man of Indie rock band The Hold Steady which is what he is probably most well known for. However, he has a very successful solo career and has released four albums since 2012. His latest album was released back in April this year titled "I Need A New War" and the second single release is "Something To Hope For”.

Finn is most notable for his third-person lyrical style, wherein he frequently makes reference to partying, religion and drugs. Despite his talk of hangovers being a full part of the experience and not just the "celebration and confetti", he maintains this isn't about personal experience or confession. It is purely him observing the world.

"Something To Hope For" is a typical solo melody from Finn, which is in stark contrast to the work he does with The Hold Steady – his solo work has long been a contrast to his other work. The track covers the rather strange subject of an insurance payment after an accident at work - but Finn manages to tell the story so well. It is about a ray of light in a dark time for the character in the song - a very familiar theme for Finn and told through a very well-constructed melody that invites you to listen to the lyrics without being distracted. The music is there to help tell the story, not to take over.

Finn is a solo performer who has developed his own style. Sure he is clearly influenced by Springsteen, particular in his early work, but as time has moved so has he. His ability for storytelling in his songs is the real hook for his audience - it is hard to think of an alternative who is better at this than Finn.

"Something to Hope For" is typical of the music you will find on Finn's latest album and you can only imagine he will continue to produce quality output for years to come. It is a little sad that he hasn’t had the big success in the UK but he continues to visit and his audience grows slowly each time he tours.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 29/9/19

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Dial M For Murder - PADOS Studio Theatre, Prestwich, Manchester.

Famous as a 1954 Hitchcock movie thriller, the stage version is a Frederick Knott play and was a post war theatre hit. The plot is: faded tennis star Tony Wendice discovers his wealthy wife has rekindled an old affair with TV screen murder writer (Halliday) so he blackmails an old school acquaintance (Lesgate) to kill her for the inheritance. Unluckily, the murder attempt goes wrong leaving Wendice to hatch a cunning plan to cover his tracks. The suspicious Inspector Hubbard smells a rat and as the plot twists and turns we watch as Wendice wriggles and twists. Will the true villain be discovered before his wife hangs?

PADOS once again produced a quality piece of drama in their unique space. They mesmeriseand astound with the sets that they constantly create in their year-round season with astonishing levels of design and ingenuity for a tight staging space. They always succeed in suspending the audience’s belief to draw them into the time and place of the play. George Bellis and team have produced a beautiful living space in a wealthy Maida Vale basement apartment complete with French windows and a rear hallway and entrance to the apartment. The furniture and decor was completely in keeping with the period and with a detailed interior of Wendice’s tennis memorabilia, trophies and photographs, this really established the couple's background.

Lighting by Rob Armstrong was detailed and atmospheric and created suspense for the murder scene as Lesgate/Swann lurked behind the curtain waiting for Mrs Wendice to unwittingly enter from her bedroom. A shadowy lighting mood of dark suspense for Wendice’s phone call to the murderer also impressed.

Director Ian Taylor had drawn out some fine characterisations from his actors with clear pauses to build mood. My favourite scene was the meeting of Wendice as he invited unsuspecting Captain Lesgate (Rob Livesey) to discuss the sale of a car and revealed his true agenda. The chemistry between James Haslam’s Wendice and his former school acquaintance Lesgate (who is really Swann) was tangible. Their little looks and chess-like meeting was moody and tense with a superficial pleasantry but with dark undertones. I also felt another subtext of public school boys and secret, long-buried histories with a knowing, yet unspoken language displayed in their body language as they smoked and drank together. Haslam’s cold and calculating persona gave me the chills driven by monetary gain and no conscience for his plan to have his wife killed. The director had created a scene which set up the rest of the play’s standard and style. Livesey portrayed a small-time crook who inadvertently gets drawn into something way beyond him with panache and his moustache matched his need to constantly shift alias perfectly.

Sara Brockway’s glamorous wife, Sheila, looked every bit the part as a wealthy wife of a former tennis star. Her indiscretion with Halliday and her subsequent loss of a love letter is the vehicle for her being blackmailed. Brockway showed all the facets necessary; glamorous and kept, manipulative and wheedling to conceal her adultery, and then confused, hurt, and distraught at being almost strangled to death! She demonstrated a control of the ilk that we see in movies of the era and her loyalty to her husband was sincere and coy. Her final scene when she is used as a dupe to lure her husband showed her demise and distress as everything she thought was true collapsed around her was very well done. A great performance.

Her lover, Halliday, played by Jack Martin, was a lovely foil for the cold husband. Martin has warmth and intelligence and as a crime writer his looks and pensive facial expressions showed that he was slowly figuring it out and it is he that is the key to coming up with a plausible explanation as to the true motivation why of Sheila’s murderer was really there!

Lastly, and by no means least, PADOS's  stalwart, award-winning pantomime Dame, Simon Fletcher showed that he has more than one acting style in his repertoire and gave a sterling turn as Inspector Hubbard. Reminiscent of Columbo (it may have been the raincoat) he mused with Wendice at the things that puzzled him and didn’t quite fit the alibis. I almost hoped he would say "Just one more thing" but of course he didn’t. Simon had gravitas and a plausibility which had me wanting to cheer when he solved the case and set Wendice up in the final scene. A great characterisation.

Again, PADOS have produced a quality piece of theatre which left the capacity audience highly entertained as part of this weekend’s Prestwich Art Festival.

The play has a variety of blackouts which were not just covered with music but had a perfectly selected tasting menu of musical interludes which reminded me of movies and underscores of the time. They were just perfect and really added to the entertainment and all round quality of this production.

The play is on all next week and I believe there are still a few tickets available. If you are lucky, you might get one for a treat of an evening.

Reviewer - Kathryn Gorton
on - 28/9/19

MUSIC REVIEW: Chay Snowdon: Men Cry Too

Chay Snowdon are a four piece band from Plymouth in the UK. They have released a number of singles in the last few years but "Men Cry Too" feels like more of a landmark release, certainly something with more fanfare than their previous singles.

They have attracted some positive feedback from the Indie media channels such as BBC 6 Music and over the last couple of years and there is no doubt that they are a talented group. The band has a real likeness to Kings Of Leon which I guess is not surprising given they list them as a big influence.

This latest single "Men Cry Too" was written following the band overhearing a conversation in which one man told his friend to 'man up' - a cliché that whilst may sound very outdated in 2019 is still used commonly between men. The song is about men getting together in support of each other and being there for theirselves.

The track is what you might describe as gritty, a typical Indie sound but there is something catchy about "Men Cry Too" that is hard to describe but is definitely there. It feels like an anthem that the band may have been playing live for years - maybe one that wasn’t a single but the live crowd insist on them playing live and everyone knows every lyrics.

The song feels like it has more depth than their previous releases. It is potent and almost punk-like, albeit with a softer tone. There is an anger to the track that I really enjoyed and I can imagine this will be much magnified during live performances.

This is the first opportunity I've had to review Chay Snowdon and I like what I hear. As I said earlier in this article, this feels like a landmark release that the band may look back on in years to come. They have had some decent support slots with The Sherlocks, The Snuts and Glass Caves - this release may just allow Chay Snowdon to stand up on their own and sell out venues not just in their local area. Definitely one to keep an eye out for in the future.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 28/9/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Malory Towers - HOME, Manchester.

Unshackled from The Globe, Emma Rice lets rip with her company Wise Children’s second production and her trademark firecracker vigour and inventiveness again bewitch but – and this is why she really triumphs – it’s all done with passion and huge heart.

Smashing together six of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers 1940’s/50’s novels into one musical narrative set in a boarding school about the power of female relationships and loyalty, Rice’s adaptation chucks in all her visual inventive, layered staging, creating a beach, a dorm, a cliff, a railway carriage and employing her inspired box of tricks – animation, projection, stunts, dance…

It’s not exactly a pastiche but is often a tongue-in cheek, affectionate homage to Blyton’s sealed-off public school world of midnight high jinks, female bonding and learning what it means to be a good friend and a decent human being.

Rice has also assembled a highly diverse cast (Emma Rice productions must have actors thronging in waiting lines to audition) – actors of colour, a non-binary actor and an actor with dwarfism (Francesca Mills, pumping out a high energy performance) are uniformly brilliant and multi-task surprisingly throughout – acting, singing, dancing, doing acrobatics, using beds as trampolines, doing headstands, playing the harp… These are gold standard performances that would sit easily in a huge West End theatre and watching the cast bounce energetically around the stage (& even giving the audience an energetic interval mini performance) and singing with full throated abandon, the glee they evince is infectious.

Rice has said the Malory Towers series was ‘radical to its bones’ and Rice movingly highlights abuses of power and bullying in this rarefied environment as well as the traumatic after-effect of war on families and pupils. The action is framed by present day school pupils and ends with the proto-Girl Power message that it is not enough to be a strong character, you must also be kind and use your talents to do good in the world, and the stentorian tones of Sheila Hancock as the headmistress, given commanding life in silhouette projection form, gives wise life advice to her pupils.

Although the songs occasionally cause the narrative to drag a little, the pace is picked up in the second half which sees the characters perform a daring rescue, stage a play and do the Can-Can. It’s an energetic, often breath-taking, visual delight.

The family audience loved it. This production is another entrancing triumph for Rice, who is firing on all cylinders now she has full autonomy to make all her own decisions. Girl Power indeed.

Reviewer - Tracy Ryan
on - 25/9/19

Saturday, 28 September 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The Taming Of The Shrew - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

This is a modern adaptation of a classic comedy about a wealthy merchant Baptista, who has two daughters he wishes to marry off, Katherine and Bianca. The youngest, Bianca, has many admirers but is unable to marry until the eldest, Katherine, a sharp-tongued tempestuous “shrew” is married off first.

In the original play Lucentio, a young student, sees Bianca and falls in love, but Bianca already has two suitors rivalling for her affections, Hortensio a fortune hunter and the elderly but very wealthy Gremio. Gremio unwittingly hires Lucentio under the guise of a tutor to woo Bianca on his behalf, while Hortensio pretends to be a musician to tutor Bianca and win her affections. At this point Petrichio a friend of Hortencio comes from Verona to visit and hears about the feisty Kate, he too is looking to marry into a rich family for the dowry and likes the idea of a challenge. Baptista who is weary of the tiresome Kate agrees they can be married and so against her will she is married and whisked off by Petruchio to his home where he begins to wear her resistance down through unusual methods until she is submissive and obedient, hence the play's title.

In Justin Audibert's twist on this historic tale the gender roles are reversed. Unlike the time in Elizabethan England where women were second-class citizens and seen almost like a goods commodity, it is the men who fall in to this role. The women are the dominant sex, their characters boldly look you in the eye and the men are portrayed as demure and timid. Petruchio becomes Petruchia, Lucentio is Lucentia. Katherine and Bianca have the same names but are played by men.

As the play progresses it weaves and twists humorously through the sub-plots as each of the characters set about achieving their goals.

To set the scene the play begins with the orchestra playing Renaissance style music with a contemporary twist and the characters enter the set to perform an Elizabethan dance but it is the women who take the lead. Their costumes are sumptuous, rich velvet and structured as was the fashion of the era. They move boldly and confidently whilst the men (all except the bold Katherine) have long loose hair and were smaller in stature. The costumes of the male leads is floral and feminine yet of the style from the time.

The set is simple, as one would imagine in an Elizabethan theatre, with lots of doors which were used to good effect to change the scene without the use of many props. Changes to the set are done manually, yet seamlessly and very often amusingly as little interludes in themselves.

The cast gave outstanding performances as you would expect from an RSC production. Baptisa, played by Amanda Harris was the matriarch of the family and Katherine, played by Joseph Arkley was her strong willed son, who as the play progressed saw his spirit broken. Changed costumes reinforced this process with him being portrayed in torn and tatty clothes rather than the rich garments he was used to. By the end of the play he is a biddable, obedient husband. His portrayal complimented the forcible and at times brash character of Petruchia played by Claire Price. The complete opposite showed the cosseted Bianco, played by James Cooney, as a simpering flighty male who is quite self-absorbed and ready to fall in love given the right amount of wooing! His character was humorous in portraying perceived feminine affectations.

Gremia, the older suitor to Bianca, played by Sophie Stanton was fantastic and had you not quite believing your eyes as she literally glided across the stage and the facial expressions used at various points in her performance were most amusing. Lucentia, the smitten suitor of Bianco was portryed by Emily Johnstone who got her servant Trania played by Laura Elsworthy to pretend to be her. The comic performances as they switched roles with Lucentia as the servant, combined with Elsworthy's northern accent and dramatic flounces made the dialogue very funny. Amy Trigg, Lucentia's other servant Biondella gave some comic peformances especially when explaining the whereabouts of Petruchia in the wedding scene and Richard Clews, who was Pertucia's old servant Grumio gave many comic performances as he misinterpreted Petruchia's instructions.

The role reversal gives a fresh, new and very thought-provoking perspective to the play. It has you re-assessing scenarios as a result of the dual impact of the historic changes in views and perspectives as a result of the gender flip.

Well worth seeing and more so if you have seen the original version.

Reviewer - Catherine Gall
on - 27/9/19

THEATRE REVIEW: The Accident Did Not Take Place - HOME, Manchester.

Orbit Festival is taking place until 5th October and aims to provide Manchester theatregoers with some great, thought-provoking entertainment in this wonderfully vibrant arts' space that is HOME. The premise of the entire festival is to explore the divisive nature of our world and what we can do collectively to conquer these divides. So already, I knew I wasn’t in for an evening of passive theatre watching; this production was going to make me think.

On entering the auditorium, the stage was laid bare, with some words projected onto a backdrop from one of the greatest philosophers of the 21st Century... Justin Timberlake! The words related to whether an event is even an event, after the moment has passed. Although this made me think, I did wonder why on earth anyone would ever quote Timberlake, barring an instance when one has no other alternative but to bring 'sexy' back. The idea that after an event has happened, if you cannot see it anymore, has it really happened at all, is undoubtedly a philosophical one but is it going to change the world? I’m not sure.

YesYesNoNo’s short 60-minute production began with the cast of three entering the stage and describing to the audience a plane crash which took place between London and New York. These performers were the witnesses of this accident, as opposed to the victims. They described the documentary evidence of the crash on the news, the YouTube clips and the pictures all over the media, but despite their dissatisfaction with the evidence, they want to feel closer to the event. Was this the idea behind the whole piece: we crave too much information and media coverage? We are hungry for tragedy? We shouldn’t gain satisfaction by other people’s misery? Who knows... I’m not even sure if YesYesNoNo knew either!

So, this is when the performance took a whole new direction and they invited someone on stage from the audience to relive the events based on the evidence from the on-board cameras and black box recordings of the crash. The audience participant, Ross, was instructed to re-enact the series of moves as known from the evidence, but it was all very superficial. The cast asked Ross to ‘really feel’ what he was acting-out so that they could feel closer to the accident but the group took it in turns to make Ross re-enact the events around 7 times . . .possibly more (I stopped counting)! To begin with it was interesting, then humorous and then just downright frustrating.

When they were finished with this exercise, they moved on to asking Ross to re-enact moments of his life so that they could ‘feel closer’ to him. Questions such as ‘Show me how you looked when you fell in love’ and ‘show me how you looked when you were born’ (an impossible look to recreate) and I began to wonder if this piece was all about social media and the way people have to document their lives. . .or it didn’t really happen at all. I started to warm to the piece again at this point as I felt I had some notion of what this way-too-clever-for-its-own-good piece of contemporary theatre might be about.

I’m not sure what to make of YesYesNoNo’s production of The Accident Did Not Take Place. The rest of the audience, who I suspect were cleverly scratching their chins, seemed to enjoy it. But did I like it? Strangely, yes. Was it fun to watch? Not really. Were the performers energetic and entertaining? Most definitely (and that includes poor Ross!). Did I have a clue what was going on? I don’t think I did. For the most part, this was an enjoyable event, which I doubt even happened… Perhaps Justin Timberlake’s 25 year career never even happened. We can but hope.

Reviewer - Johanna Hassouna-Smith
on - 27/9/19

EVENT REVIEW: The Gin Society Festival - The Cathedral, Manchester.

Manchester Cathedral opened the grand front entrance to welcome guests to the Gin Society’s gin festival event in Manchester. On arriving, we were greeted with a smile as our tickets were checked and given a gin goblet and a metal straw which we were allowed to take home, a drinks voucher and a guide to the drinks on offer. The ticket, at a cost of £12, was a very reasonable price for all of this.

The guide clearly divided the gins on offer in to three categories – British gins, World gins and Fruit gins. With well over 100 gins available, the guide was very useful in helping to decide what to try without much fuss and I must say it even added to the excitement of planning what we would have next, inviting us to discuss the merits of one botanical over another with each other.

The main bars were also divided very clearly into the three gin categories on offer. I immediately spotted a favourite gin that I rarely get to try and was thoroughly delighted to sip it with my new sustainable straw. Aviation is an American gin and while the description says it contains notes of lavender, cardamom and sarsaparilla, it was not strongly floral or soapy and was a fantastic, subtle blend of flavours. The bar tenders were all very efficient and thorough, knowing without hesitation which garnishes matched each gin. My Aviation was dressed with a sprig of rosemary and three cardamom pods. The drinks were expertly poured, mixing the perfect amount of tonic with each drink.

My companions and I, in the name of research, sampled a few more gins over the course of the evening. To name a few - Dictador Ortodoxy from Colombia had a great citrus note and had been aged in rum barrels, Portobello Road, made in London, was very clean and light in taste. Unicorn Tears, another English gin, had a delightful hint of orange and was a pleasant surprise.

The ambience in the Cathedral was delightful and there were many happy faces sat around the many chairs and tables that were available. A singer entertained throughout the night singing a wide variety of songs from over the decades. She also informed us of a few announcements – there was a masterclass provided by guest distilleries every thirty minutes. These guest distilleries had their own stalls in the Cathedral as well, to the side of the Gin Society’s British, World and Fruit bars.

Although the Cathedral was busy, two of the masterclasses were cancelled as seemingly there weren’t people wanting to watch them. There may have been some confusion about this as we hung about the masterclass area at 8pm and then 8.30pm but there was no sign of a masterclass at all. We weren’t too concerned as we could see that the distillers involved were very busy and chatting to the customers. It was very clear that staff from the Gin Society and also from the guest distilleries were very accessible and amenable.

We managed to attend the 9pm masterclass with a representative from Brockman’s Gin. About two dozen attendees listened as the amiable rep told us about the company and the gin. He passed around two bottles of gin and told us to help ourselves while he got some tonic. Generosity breeds generosity, they say, and indeed Brockman’s generosity was shared around. I instinctively took a sip of the gin without the tonic while we waited and what a delicious taste! Blackberries! It was very pleasant to sip without the tonic but still kept its flavour when tonic was added. This gin, we were told is distilled with eleven botanicals including blackberry as a bass note, blueberry for a highlight and an aroma of liquorice to make a long flavour. With an intentionally less juniper flavour than is expected in a gin, this is easy to sip on its own without being thick or overly sweet as sometimes a sloe gin or damson gin can be. It is good to use in cocktails, we were told, and I can imagine already what a gin martini with this would be like, and also can be drunk traditionally with a tonic.

The company, Brockmans, is eleven years old and exports to forty-five countries around the world. They bottle everything in the UK to support industry here. Of all the gins I tried this evening, Brockmans is the one that I would definitely like to get a bottle of. It might go on my Christmas list!

Overall, the festival experience had a magical air to it from the friendly staff to the grand environment all with a whiff of luxury and pampering. It was well worth every penny and is suitable for a treat night out, a birthday or celebration, or even just one of those things you might luckily stumble upon when out and about.

The festival contained a food stall but as we had eaten already we didn’t try out what was on offer. There was also a rum and prosecco bar. I would have liked to have seen the rums in the guide book too as I am as much a rum fan as I am a gin fan, but the bar man gladly talked us through what was on offer and I had a lovely buttery fudgy Dominican rum on ice to end the night with.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the evening from start to finish and I would definitely try this again next year.

Reportage - Aaron Loughrey
on - 27/9/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Five Years - Theatre Deli, Sheffield.

Five Years is a thought-provoking one-man show, which breaks down stereotypical boundaries. Set between 1998-2002, the five years that Neal Pike attended Foxwood, a 'Special-Needs School' (even I hate those words....just because someone is different or has a disability, does not make their needs “special”, just “different” to the average Joe Bloggs), where he describes being “put into a box” and being told he couldn’t do certain things just because he’s different.

Being a teenager is tough enough already, but for Pike, growing up with Dyspraxia and a stammer, he refused to be stereotyped from all angles, given that only 5% of people with disabilities end up in long term employment, he wanted to challenge that and prove people wrong. Pike said: “Being told you can’t do something because you’re special and you will be forever known as special always stuck with me.

Pike states: “I wrote this show and am touring it because I want to show people that it’s possible to do things when everyone defines you as having disabilities can forever dampen your expectations”. Ironically the last two touring shows I’ve been to (“Malory Towers” and “War Horse”) have both featured cast members with disabilities, which, as a disabled person myself, is something that is long overdue in this day and age. It’s so utterly refreshing to see people being recognised for their talents, and not as the condition/restrictions they were born with.

Pike starts off by saying how he’s always been a bit of a bookworm - “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” was the first book he read. It’s kind of ironic because I can actually see a resemblance to the young wizard myself - and so could his classmates as it was just one of the nicknames given to him during his time at Foxwood. He clearly has a love/hate relationship with the school - he was bullied, for his stammer and his tall and super-skinny figure, told by teachers he’d not succeed in life yet at the same time he is grateful for his time spent there as it’s made him who is is today.

Pike takes us through his highs and lows of his time at Foxwood, a school that although it’s different from most schools, in some ways it is very similar to “normal” schools. Pike's attitude towards others' negativity regarding his disabilities and life expectations is him quite literally poking to fingers in the air at them. There’s an instant likability about Pike - and from the many laughs from the audience as he takes us through his adolescent years, it’s obvious that everyone can see a bit of themselves in him.

Whilst the adverts for this production show Pike with a collection of memorabilia, no props were used in the fifty minute performance. I felt that it would have benefited from a rear projection screen with possibly old photos of Pike’s school memories etc. I personally would have loved to have had subtitles on a screen too, as at times I did struggle or completely miss what was being said. Whilst the advert warns of references to bullying to sexual abuse, I didn’t hear some of these issues discussed due to not being able to understand what was being said. This didn’t stop me enjoying the rest of the show though but it might be an issue for some. Also worth noting is that this touring production also includes a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter at each performance.

Five Years is touring across various UK venues (for info see Whilst this is the first time I’ve seen Neal Pike perform, hopefully it won’t be my last.

Reviewer - Lottie Davis-Browne
on - 27/9/19

THEATRE REVIEW: The Thunder Girls - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Last night I attended what turned out to be quite a star-studded event but then this was by no means an ordinary show. This was The Thunder Girls, an adaptation of the book written by the sassy, headstrong, multi-talented and creative PR guru Melanie Blake, and directed by Joyce Branagh. Blake had initially made a start on the book in 1999, and it sat tucked away in a cupboard for 15 years. After some pivotal moments in her life Blake decided life was too short and so wanted to live her own dream again, and so she took the bull by the horns and in 2018 she rewrote The Thunder Girls. It was finally released in July 2019 it became a best-seller. As we took our seats at The Lowry, Salford, it was a lovely touch that every seat in the packed-out auditorium had Blake’s golden covered book on it and a great memento to take home!

The Thunder Girls broke the record for the fastest selling ticket sales for a new play at the Lowry theatre, and has a well-known line-up starring Coronation Street’s Beverley Callard, Nolan sister Coleen Nolan, Eastenders’ Carol Harrison, Emmerdale’s Sandra Marvin, and not forgetting Minders’ Gary Webster. This is an outright comedy show but also touches on some much more emotional and in-depth issues further on into the performance and which takes the audience on a rollercoaster journey. The gags are hilarious and the audience lapped them up. “I should have played the field a bit more” said Carly (Marvin) A great comeback from Roxy (Callard) “There’s a lot of s*** in fields” had the audience in hysterics.

The play focuses on the lives of the once-famous members of the former chart-topping girl band that reunites 30 years after one of its members Chrissie, played by Harrison goes solo, steals her fellow bandmate’s (Roxy’s) man, and is felt to be the mean, selfish one of the all-girl group. An opportunity has arisen that could offer them all a new and exciting lucky break, performing as the opening act at an otherwise all-male-artiste concert at Wembley Stadium. This opportunity leads to breakdowns, fighting,( involving a fabulous slap from Callard and which was expertly directed by company fight director Kaitlin Howard), crying, more crying, secrets being uncovered and all this within a backdrop of lots and lots of comedy moments.

The set design by Richard Foxton was simple yet effective. We are in Chrissie’s mansion which is adorned with beautiful drapery from floor to ceiling and clear hints at their past success adorning the walls. This is the reunion dinner of all reunion dinners and where it all ‘kicks off’ so to speak. With the spacious stage used to its advantage, separate areas are made clear with the use of lighting and blackouts. Callard’s Roxy was a clear winner with me using her natural wit and don’t-mess-with-me attitude. Her native accent only highlighted the comedy gags for me and made them even more funny. Marvin as Carly brought a real warmth to this production, I felt she was the peacemaker and tried to be a friend to all, though was definitely torn at times. Some excellent use of comedy and I loved the way she delivered her line in response to being asked if she’d had her boobs done. “No, it’s cake!” was her reply, again one of many laugh out loud moments in the show. There are lots of sexual innuendos in The Thunder Girls and a few blue moments within the language but it all felt very naturally placed within the script and I didn’t feel offended at all. I felt the pace did drop a little during the first half and perhaps this was due to in my opinion it being a little too long as there were occasional moments where I wanted to move the story along. I loved the phone calls via Alexa with Rick the band manager throughout the play. It reminded me of Charlie Townsend played by John Forsythe in Charlie’s Angels, a great touch!

Chrissie played by Harrison was a much more unlikeable character of the (so far seen) trio of women during the first half. She was the 'lady in red' and wanted everyone to know it. Harrison played her role with an edginess that made me feel a little edgy at times, I’m not sure if intentional or not but there was a definite slightly neurotic side to Chrissy and her frequent pouting. As we got to know her more during the play she really softened and allowed herself to become vulnerable, which proves versatility to Harrison’s work. Their was a poignant moment on the stairs between Harrison and Callard that was really lovely to witness, where after some opening up emotionally from both of them, they had gone from cat-fighters to hand-holders and shoulders for each other to cry on. Callard mellowed into an almost new role and showed real emotion.

With Anita played by Nolan and her dramatic arrival at the end of the first half, you just knew you were going to be in for a treat. Well she didn’t disappoint and added a great energy and pace. Her being genuinely (I think) out of breath after singing a number was a particular highlight, we the audience had to wait (which we didn’t mind) for the delivery of her next line. With lots of ad-libbing she is a natural crowd pleaser and definitely looks like she enjoys performing to an audience. Nolan kept the pace up for the rest of the play and I think she had more than one or two fans in the crowd, a great performance from her.

Regarding the singing where all four actresses delivered a song I think there may have been a little miming via the use of pre-recorded songs, this did de-value the performances a little for me as I love live music and I’m all for even if it’s not perfect, give it a go! However the play is a little kooky at times and the miming was spoken about in conversation regarding some group members who used to mime so perhaps it gelled within the story. Bar a few line fluffs here and there it is a very slick and sassy show and, as a, a-hem, slightly older actress myself, I was delighted and comforted to see a stage full of female performers and definitely inspiring that this is very much a women power production. Gives me hope! I would like to mention Webster who did an excellent job of playing Rick, the only chance we get to see his face (although we have heard him) is very briefly at the end, oh I wish we got to see more of him!!

The final show-stopping number at the end got everyone on their feet, singing and clapping away and there were not one, not two but three encores! Id like to end by quoting from director Branagh, who’s words are what this whole show is all about, readdressing the balance, letting females take the driving seat on their own work and ultimately doing a damn fine job of it: “I’m always looking for female-led drama. That’s my thing, just to sort of redress the balance a bit. I think sometimes people are a bit snobby in theatre and they ask: is it challenging? Is it educational? All of those things are brilliant, but it doesn’t all have to be like that, and this is entertainment. It’s got soapy elements, it’s got pop elements, it’s kind of Dynasty meets Dinner Ladies and its rare to have an all-female over-40 cast, writer, director and producer team in theatre.”

Well I like rare things and hope this production of The Thunder Girls entertains as much as it makes you proud to be a woman and see what can be achieved when, like Blake, you take those bull's horns and run with it! Life, as I know only too well, is short.

Reviewer - Mary Fogg
on - 26/9/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Main House Takeover: Double Bill - The Coliseum Theatre, Oldham.

As part of Oldham Coliseum's commitment to providing a platform for local emerging theatre companies and new writing, the Main House Takeover event is a one-night only occasion when two local theatre companies have the opportunity of performing their one act fringe productions on the Coliseum's main stage. Having missed both of these plays in the Fringe Festivals this year, and having heard very positive things about both, I was greatly looking forward to seeing them this evening.

CLOUDS by Time And Again Theatre Company.

The stage was superbly lit to start this one-act play. A replica model (not to scale but realistic enough for the purposes) of a period plane, stood alone, seemingly both proud and sad at one and the same time - ( forgive me trying to anthropomorphise at this stage, but that is how it seemed to me... a plane respesenting the sky, which in turn represented the clouds, which were all so important as an allegory throughout the narrative. )

Laura Crow's writing was interesting, as indeed there were some very clever lines in there, but one had to dig quite deep to find the pearls, but the directing was really rather stilted and unimaginative sadly. I actually found this play, the more in went along, quite difficult to watch; not because of the subject matter, but because it didn't really go anywhere or do anything, but for the entire time stayed very much on the same level both emotionally, vocally, and dynamically.

The story is set in 1931 and concerned a young lady who called herself  Freddie, and was obviously monied and upper-class (despite her accent betraying her) and her determination to learn to fly this plane and enter a competition open to men only (unless you were a pilot). Sadly this actress's projection let her down and so was struggling to hear some of her speeches. This is set amidst an air of upper-class optimism and a rise in feminism as one young debutante joins the Suffragette Movement because she thinks it would be rather jolly, but gets her come-uppance when hearing the news of Emily Davison's fate and finding herself behind bars for throwing a brick at a window in Whitehall.

Overall, the women and the young pilot tended to slightly overact. There is always that tendency when trying to mimic the upper-classes of the bygone era, especially vocally. Whilst Freddie's brother, gave a truly sterling performance of the retiring but educated young man with a slight speech impediment. A drama - with a little comedy thrown in - of those living through a time of change.

MEN CHASE, WOMEN CHOOSE by People Zoo Productions

An open stage, a large screen taking centre stage with the words 'Men Chase, Women Choose: A Lecture In The Science Behind Our Gender Narratives'.

Enter two young ladies: one the prim, prudish and punctilious scientist, the other a brash, bawdy and bouncing actress. Together they made a wonderful double-act and not only did they give us a lecture on feminism through the ages, but also a masterclass in comedy timing too.

The premise was simple: they were to take us through the history of patriarchy and the rise of feminism from hunter/gatherer to the present day. How they did this though was both excellently researched and incredibly funny. they didn't really need the screen with the images and quotes on them - it was enough to watch and listen to Sophie Giddens and Eve Shotton's banter; but the screen was cleverly used and ameliorated their presentation well.

Starting with the rather open question, 'What is the point of woman?' their lecture came full circle to mention all the five points once again, but from the feminist perspective and say that all these things apply to men too. One gender cannot exist without the other.

The rapid-fire one-liners following some 'Bad Science' information, telling us where we as a race have gone wrong in the past, using Eve Shotton's exhuberant and extrovert energies to balance perfectly with Sophie Giddens' negative introverted energy created a lecture - well, a theatre show actually, but let's not quibble over minutiae! - like no other! And their interpretive dance using Madonna's 'Like A Virgin' simply needs to be seen to be believed!

Excellently thought-out, perfectly presented, informative, clever, and hilarious; performed by two extremely talented young actresses.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/9/19

Friday, 27 September 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Under Three Moons - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

The Aldridge Studio was packed out for this production of Daniel Kanaber’s Under Three Moons. It was thrilling to see such enthusiasm for a piece of new writing, as well as a testament to Box Of Tricks’ growing reputation, who have kicked off their latest touring production at the Lowry Theatre.

Under Three Moons is a strong two-hander which charts the friendship between two seemingly mismatched men over the course of twenty years, as they meet to discuss their feelings and changing lives under three different starry night skies.

Kyle Rowe and Darren Kuppen both gave excellent performances as Michael and Paul. Michael hides a kinder and goofy nature beneath a wannabe tough guy persona before mellowing into a settled yet insecure family man, while Paul carries the pain of his lonely childhood into his life as a brash and over-confident businessman. These characters were a delight to watch, as each actor had excellent comic timing as well as the ability to convey their troubles with the smallest of details.

The script's greatest strength was the depiction of genuine friendship between the two characters. This depiction, while never crossing over into sentimentality, was infused with a sense of the loving bond between them, even as they bickered and acted in hostile ways to one another. Despite the heavy themes being dealt with, the play was never depressing or dour, as the direction by Adam Quayle handled the script’s delicate balance of humour and pathos with skill, never allowing one of these elements to overshadow or obscure the other.

The drama is at times somewhat overstuffed with an abundance of themes, many of which were never given the space to properly develop. While some of this may have been intentional, as two people will of course encounter a vast amount of different issues over the course of twenty years, it still felt like too much at times. In particular, a reference to a MeToo style incident involving Paul’s father and his secretary was jarring. The themes which worked best were the ones which were sustained and recurred throughout the men’s lives.

The production wisely eshewed any over-the-top theatrics to depict the passage of time, instead allowing a few simple clothes' changes and the performances to relay how Paul and Michael have changed over the years. Much was conveyed with a slightly deeper voice and a stiffer body language. The simple setting of a wooden stand beneath some electric stars and a velvety moon allowed the space for the actors to convey the changing setting, while the sound design really let the audience feel the biting winds of Dijon and Pembrokeshire, as well as the claustrophobic experience of staying in a house with paper-thin walls

The script kept a tight hold on its characters, even as they changed and matured. There were still echoes of the two insecure schoolboys trying to keep warm at a French campsite, even as they found themselves middle-aged men, standing in the family home of Michael one Christmas. But of course that’s what the title told us from the start. It’s only ever the same moon and stars despite how it appears to Paul and Michael looking up at them, just as they have the same hopes and fears as they always did despite all the changes they think they’ve gone through.

Reviewer - Richard Gorick
on - 26/9/19

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Evita - The Memorial Court Theatre, Northwich.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s fifth musical masterpiece, Evita, is the story of Argentinian Eva Duarte and her rise to power in this rags to riches tale. The story charts the journey as Eva begins her life living in poverty in a small Argentinian town, then moves to Buenos Aires, and eventually becoming a radio star, then an actress and finally Argentina’s first lady Eva Peron (commonly referred to as Evita). Lloyd Webber explores the theme of saint or sinner very well in this production as Evita has a lot to be sorry about from her younger years and how she clawed her way to the top but after becoming so widely adored by the lower classes because of her work to use her status to help them, she ends up being revered much like a saint.

Mid Cheshire Musical Theatre Company is one of the oldest amateur groups in the country, dating back to 1916 when they performed light opera. The group have grown over the years, developing a youth theatre and adult company, creating a huge boost for the avid theatre goers of Northwich and the surrounding areas. The company performing Evita boasted more than 80 in the cast, crew and orchestra. The production took place at The Memorial Court Theatre which opened as part of a huge leisure facility in 2015. This fabulous facility provides the community with a fantastic 500 seater auditorium with comfortable seating and high tech light and sound. Both the company performing and the choice of venue helped to create a really professional quality of production.

Director, Louise Colohan clearly had a fantastic vision and this has been brought to fruition by a superb creative team. Choreography by Liz Cardall grabbed every opportunity for a big number and livened up what is a very sombre show with some fabulous moments of movement; a particular favourite being ‘And The Money Kept Rolling In’. The fourteen-piece orchestra, led by Musical Director Marilyn Bland were superb throughout and kept up with a lengthy score with few breaks as the production was almost entirely sung.

There are very few principle roles in Evita and much of the solo singing rests on just seven performers, with two of these performing the ‘lion’s share’ of songs. Andrew Lee, in the role of Che, was out of this world. He brought this production to another level of professionalism, in my eyes. His vocals were spot on in pitch, dynamics and interpretation and his diction was crystal clear, which really helped as his role often acted as narrator. Lee’s stage presence was such an asset to this production and I felt in capable hands whenever he was present on stage.

Eva Peron, played by Colette Williams gave a powerful performance of the rags to riches girl and brought a sense of believability and dignity to her character’s demise. It was in the second half of the production when Williams was at her best. Act two opened with the classic musical theatre number, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’. Seeing it performed in the context of the story brought this song to life and the words had so much more meaning. Williams’ vocals, at this point of the show were at their finest.

Other notable performances were from Laura Merriman as Juan Peron’s former Mistress, in her rendition of ‘Another Suitcase In Another Hall’ which was spine-tinglingly beautiful. Stuart Dutton’s portrayal of Magaldi as Eva’s ex-boyfriend, whom she used to climb the ladder of fame, is excellent in the role and has some strong vocals which this production didn’t fully allow him to explore.

Evita has scope for a huge ensemble and Mid Cheshire MTC grabbed that opportunity with both hands. The thirty-strong ensemble were dynamic and brought the stage to life throughout. I particularly enjoyed the characterisation, choreography and costume of the soldiers and aristocracy in ‘Peron’s Latest Flame’, which brought a lovely sense of humour to the dark context of the plot. If I were to criticise anything it would be the choice to have sound recordings of the chants for Peron during the balcony scenes. This large and lively ensemble seemed very capable of producing the live vocals and the recordings seems somewhat electronic. That said, I really enjoyed all of the large chorus numbers and felt that they drove the energy of this production forward.

Reviewer - Johanna Hassouna-Smith
on - 26/9/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum With Expats - HOME, Manchester

Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole are angry and passionate performers who, in typical Sh!t Theatre style, mix a very modern, edgy, punk style of storytelling with a multi-media presentation concerning a political issue.

As we enter HOME's Theatre 2 space, the stage is set as a bar - the words "The Pub" written on the bar side, and we are offered a free glass of beer and some cheese. The screen above flits between Karoake lyrics and images of North African refugees in the Mediterranean. One side of the stage is the Naval "White Ensign" whilst opposite it on the other side is the flag of Malta. Between these two flags, these two young ladies in quasi-military garb and their faces painted with what could be either (or both) the flag of St George (representing England) or the Maltese Cross.

The story is, ostensibly, that Biscuit and Mothersole had been asked by a lady / organisation (we shall as they did call her Charlie) to go to Malta and perform a one-off show in "The Pub" (yes, it is actually called just that) in Malta's capital, Valletta. [European Capital Of Culture!] And we also get to 'meet' local ex-pats and regulars of the pub too! However, they also seem to have a secret and more important mission,; namely to find out about Malta's political stance on the mass migration of North Africans travelling to and through Malta as refugees, and how the Maltese government treats these refugees.

It's a very bold premise, and combining humour with a very upbeat and modern presentational style - as well as drinking copious amounts of both rum and beer throughout - they tell their story of travellling to Malta, their experiences at 'The Pub' and another, more seedy estamina out of town, and their endeavours to both rehearse and perform their one-off show (which must not contain any political or contentious material!) and investigate their second brief in order to present the show they did for us this evening.

Combining two-part harmony singing of British sea shanties and folk songs (with different lyrics), as well as crowd-surfing, boozing, Oliver Reed anecdotes, and teaching us some Maltese, this was a highly original piece of theatre. Yes, it was humorous and punchy; but there was also a hard and important message they needed to impart. This was done through the juxtaposition of images and information about the refugees and their situation both prerecorded on the screen and spoken verbatim by the two actresses, of real cases, real newspaper articles, real events, real people. The message hits home.

The show is advertised as being one hour, however this evening it did overrun somewhat and I did feel that the last 10 to 15 minutes of the production was adding nothing and they had run ourt of steam.

This is Agitprop Theatre for the 21st century, passionately and meaningfully performed.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/9/19

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: One Man, Two Guvnors - The Little Theatre, Southport.

Southport’s Little Theatre, a plush, genteel, beautiful old theatre, is the home of the Southport Dramatic Club, now in its 99th year: former Chairmen’s names are etched in gold leaf on wooden wall plaques, they serve civilised tea in the interval and staff and audiences clearly love the place.

In this very traditional space, Richard Bean’s riotous, ridiculously popular and award-laden adaptation of Goldoni’s eighteen century farce, which made a stage star out of He Who Shall Not Be Named in the National’s performances, still cuts the mustard, with its sharp comedy of gangsters, disguise, dodgy business, double-dealing and, ultimately, romance.

1960’s Brighton sees unemployed skiffle musician Francis Henshall employed by two men – gangster Roscoe Crabbe and dense ex-public schoolboy Stanley Stubbers, and desperately trying to keep the two men apart so he can continue to cash in on both wages is the springboard for a comedy where classes collide. Other characters thrown into the frantic mix include Roscoe’s twin sister, local mobster Charlie ‘The Duck’ and the cringeworthy actor Alan Dangle (who affords Bean the liberty of satirizing the pomposity and affectedness of OTT thespians).

This fast-paced farce is a comedy of errors, mistaken identity, slapstick, innuendo and clever wordplay (although Stubbers displays a mystifying but very funny line in obtuse and nonsensical sayings), mixing high and low humour, as Carry On sensibilities intertwine with references to classical theatre.

Francis repeatedly breaks the fourth wall and drags up audience members to assist him in his increasingly panicked endeavours to keep his livelihood intact and to invite them to guess what his motivations should be. (Clue: they involve various appetites). The audience, it must be noted, were initially reluctant to participate and sparred verbally in their own defence; I’ve honestly never seen an audience so slow to get on stage.

The cast really do put their heart and soul into the performance and although working as a solid ensemble, some performances do solidly anchor the show and Tony O’Keeffe as Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench, a twitchy, Del Boy type wheeler dealer, & Chris Smalley as posh boy Stanley Stubbers, with his Matt Berry booming tones and delivery, were compelling. However, plaudits must go to Liam Rabbette, who took over the role of Francis with less than three weeks rehearsal time and who acquitted himself brilliantly with perfect comic timing and a lot of dialogue.

In the programme, director Adrienne Ledson explains the play as an escape from the stresses and strains of the real world, but I’m not sure if she’s being entirely disingenuous, as the surface comedy is underpinned with real life issues – unemployment, juggling work commitments, the sexism of the time, the necessity of working the system to get on et al.

There is a bit of fraying around the edge that needs snipping off; some of the sound effects are clumsy, the TV background artiste whispering/mouthing of unspoken dialogue gives an uncomfortable artifice and the pauses between scene changes are slightly too long and the frenetic nature of the scenes themselves only points this up.

The audience are regulars and almost all were older theatre-goers and somewhat subdued in their laughter & applause as they seemed to be absorbing the fast-paced and intricate plot - and so laughing was a secondary concern, which was a shame as the cast completely throw themselves (often physically) into their roles with clear enjoyment, verve and gusto.

I would love to see a younger audience be entranced into this historical space and to witness such a lively contemporary play; the venue has a definite cosiness and clearly attracts regulars for whom the venue is a second home (the couple next to me celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary who have been attending for 30 years are a case in point) but maybe it’s also time to market such labours of love productions to a younger, less traditional audience demographic?

Reviewer - Tracy Ryan
on - 24/9/19

Thursday, 26 September 2019

DANCE REVIEW: Matthew Bourne's Romeo And Juliet - The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.

Matthew Bourne, renowned choreographer and director, known for his innovative and contemporary styled dance pieces, brought this Shakespearian tragedy alive in the Mayflower Theatre tonight. The story was retold from a mental institution in Verona in which the boys and girls are separated by a harsh regime. The prison guard, representing Tybalt, played by Danny Reubens, presides over the incarcerated youths, sexually assaulting Juliet, Seren Williams, and posing a constant threat. Bourne alters the ending, reverting from the somewhat predictable Shakespearian classic, creating a dramatic and elevated romantic twist which left me in tears.

The set, representing a mental institution, consisted of high cage-like walls. Further forward, a tile structure represented the hospital. It had 3 main entrances, for girls, boys and a central door. This created a dynamic flow of performance and allowed separation between the girls and the boys, an important element of the show. The central door was used mainly by the prison guard building tension, particularly in the rape scene in which he carries Juliet through the opening slamming the door shut leaving the image of her hands grabbing in desperation against the glass: Romeo trapped on the opposite side.

The chorus of dancers were stunning. Dancing in mainly contemporary style, surprisingly there was not a ballet shoe in sight. The formations of the dancers were fascinating, moving in and out of each other like liquid and then coming together in perfect synchronisation. The dancers were all dressed in white for the majority of the performance which reinforced the institutionalised state and allowed uniformity. One scene which for me was particularly memorable was a scene in which Romeo and Juliet are separated in their bedrooms at the opening of act 3. This was technically perfect with each group moving seamlessly creating two bedrooms with no set changes. The girls and boys weaved up and down without almost realising. Jana Baldovino was a dancer who particularly stood out. Her characterisation was genius and her commitment to the role unwavering. I was drawn to her constantly.

Mercutio and Balthasar played a very impressive duo creating a beautiful connection through movement. Romeo and Juliet’s duet were also impressive, capturing their giddy excitement and teenage lust. The use of fake blood was also highly successful connecting the two lovers through blood in the final scene. The blood stains on the white clothing illustrated their deeply emotional relationship. Their dancing was passionate and romantic, moving together with constant touch like ribbon. Bourne captured Shakespeare’s narrative exactly in theses scenes.

The lighting was stark, using white flood lights washing out the stage creating a clinical atmosphere. The stage felt bare thus making Romeo and Juliet’s love the focus of the stage always. There were also lights from behind the three entrances which created intense shadows. This was particularly effective in the final scene in which Romeo and Juliet are both dead and the chorus of youths carry them to a bed, intertwining them.

Conclusively, this was the best staged ballet I have ever seen and one of the best Shakespeare interpretations! I absolutely loved Matthew Bourne’s style of choreography and direction and would be happy to see this show again and again! Wow!

Reviewer - Grace McNicholas
on - 25/9/19

DANCE REVIEW: Wasteland - Northern Stage - Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Wasteland is the sequel to Clarke’s most recent production Coal. Coal portrayed the struggle of mining communities during one of the UK’s most infamous political battles in recent history, the miners’ strike of 1984/5. Both pieces come from a personal place as Clarke grew up in the mining village of Grimethorpe and personally witnessed the downfall of the Grimethorpe Colliery in 1994. He saw first-hand the reality of life as a pitman and how that crumbled following the upheaval. It was in fact Gary’s older brother David who inspired the creation of the sequel. During one of the post-show discussions whilst on tour with Coal, a man asked Gary “What about us Gary? What about the next generation?” It was David. He had been a raver in his teenage years and thus the premise was born. Wasteland continues to follow lead dancer Alistair Goldsmith’s character from Coal and explores how his generation gave exhaustedly into submission whilst that of his son rebelled.

Wasteland is in every way the perfect balance. It seamlessly blends rave movement with contemporary dance in such a way that it does not simply feel like one is paying to see what you could see in any nightclub but simultaneously remains true to the original movement language. The dancers' training and expertise is apparent, yet it is also apparent that their characters are normal people who are raving rather than dancers who are raving. This is best displayed in the fight scene which merges all the control and grace of the dancers' movements with the fury of their characters. They remain perfectly synchronised; their movements are immaculately precise and thrum with intense energy. It is a true feat of endurance. This is, in part, how they so successfully create the illusion that it is 5000 people dancing in a derelict warehouse when in reality there are only 5 people on stage. Credit must also be given to the creative team (Lighting & video design: Charles Webber and Set & Costume design: Ryan Dawson Laight), who so effectively cut the stage to make this atmosphere possible.

At the heart of the production, Wasteland is a community show. It is about the destruction of one community and how the youth attempted to combat this by creating their own, but it is made unique to each venue’s community by the involvement of local musicians. It is a full circle in multiple senses: the Thatcher government shut down the mining community and so the rave community was born and it subsequently shut that down also, but now Clarke is returning the Rave movement to the people and places that created it. It allows each audience to in some way feel that the show is theirs, whether they have connections to the former mining community or not; a slice of home on stage.

A truly exhilarating viewing, Wasteland tells a raw human narrative through an intense but still somehow real form of movement. Clarke revealed that the third instalment of the trilogy will be completed in a few years and will explore Section 28 and the government's handling of the gay community in the 1980s. Expect big things, if it is anything like Wasteland then it is sure to be a must-see show.

Reviewer - Rhiannon Walls
on - 25/9/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Once Upon A Time - The Tobacco Factory, Bristol.

Despite The Tobacco Factory being such a monstrously large building, the Speilman Theatre located inside is the type of intimate setting that can take you away from the outside world. The set seemed as though it might be a little too small, and as I sat down I worried I was the only childless woman at an after-school special. And that the small space would only draw more attention to this fact.

As I sat just shy of the back row and the music began, I still left like a wolf in sheep's clothing. For the first minute or so, the show is filled with children's entertainment ,though after watching two of the leads run around in circles, I began to forget where I was sitting. I forgot that I, along with two other sets of adults, were one of the few who were childless. I began to fall right down the rabbit hole, where these three talented actors had me at the first joke. And let me just say - this is not just a children's show. Do not let the age of 7+ alter your view. I heard more jokes on the Government, sex, and adulthood than I did on anything else, though in such a way that would go completely over a child's head. 'Once Upon A Time', the tale of the Brothers Grimm and their sister Lottie, taught me the joys of revisiting your childhood as an adult. The show brought about a nostalgia for Saturday morning cartoons, and the simple humour of your youth.

So what exactly is it about? You might be yelling into your screen about now. Well, as I said before, it's about The Brothers Grimm. The plot is the most simple thing - there's a clock on one of the brother's hearts and their sister ventures into the Fairy Tale Kingdom to see the dreaded Rumplestiltskin to save her brother's life. However, while the plot is simple, Gonzo Moose have worked wonders with the side plots and simple twists and turns. The characters in the Fairy Tale Kingdom are each more hilarious than the last, and even without a glass of wine or a drink, you'll be laughing to the point of crying. Who knew the gatekeeper could be so funny, or the elf-slinger could make an audience cheer. The show throws out the comedy, only for you to do what you want with it. It's up to you to enjoy the fun, and truly 'Once Upon A Time' is a short show that is good for parents and kids alike. And even the childless adults like me.

Only available till Saturday, 'Once Upon A Time' runs at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. So catch it while you can, tickets are cheap and drinks are plenty.

Reviewer - Aidan Bungey
on - 25/9/19

THEATRE REVIEW: As You Like It - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Midway through the Epilogue of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedy, Rosalind makes this impassioned plea; ‘I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, like as much of this play as please you’ and to the men in the audience ‘that between you and the women the play may please’. These words are like catnip to a reviewer, and I will not be the last in a long line who simultaneously cite this line whilst selecting which parts of the production ‘pleased’ us.

'As You Like It' is part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s ambitious touring programme, which brings three productions to a venue and rotates them over a period of two weeks. In this instance, the other two productions are ‘Measure For Measure’ and ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’. This gruelling schedule of lengthy adaptations also has a rep cast, who take on roles in all three productions, particularly focusing on large roles in two each. I am in awe at the cast’s ability to remember their lines so well for such weighty roles in three different productions on the same tour - I can’t even remember my own PIN number!!

The RSC’s production begins in a court occupied by suited men and prosecco-quaffing women, set in a sparse, rather industrialised court, which is softened only by a large, circular patch of artificial grass on the floor of the stage. The production design is excellent, with its minimalism allowing us to focus on the performances, which were excellent. In the first 15 minutes it had occurred to me that I was watching the best, most-coherent and most balanced production of Shakespeare that I have seen in about two decades. The scene veered from dramatic to comic beat with ease and never missed its mark, holding the audience rapt. However, upon arriving in the forest the creative team made their presence felt quite intrusively. As a backdrop fell away to reveal Stephen Brimson-Lewis’s rough-hewn timber set design (with an enormous circular shape as a backdrop), the cast got changed on stage whilst a voiceover called ‘Miss Stanton to the stage please. Miss Stanton to the stage. All the world’s a stage’ (Y’know, like a forehead-slappingly-conspicuous big circular world made out of wood panels) and more jarringly, the house lights came up. The programme notes reveal the vision of Director Kimberly Sykes, because they reveal how Shakespeare plays broke the fourth wall consistently, through soliloquies making direct appeals to the audience, things being thrown from the stage, the audience being entreated to conspire with characters or, and here’s the rub, the audience being visible to the stage. However, one only needs a B grade at A-Level in Theatre Studies to remember that bringing up the house lights becomes an alienating device that detaches us from the cathartic immersion of a play… and this is exactly what happened. After the immersive and perfectly pitched opening, the Brechtian devices alienated so jarringly that I didn’t listen to a thing anyone said for about 5 minutes and it was left up to me to get back into the plot. If the director intended to alienate the audience, surely it would be for the purposes of engaging in dialectical theatre, which raised issues to be discussed, which of course, are not forthcoming in this production.

I found myself thinking ‘I know why the exiled Duke is played by the same actor, because they are brothers. But why are the exiled Duke’s companions a direct composite of the Courtiers… Are they related as well?!’. A distracting choice of casting. The house lights remain up for the rest of the 2 hours and 56 minute running time and like the casting, I eventually settled in to the new norm.

Once in the wood, Shakespeare’s play becomes overloaded and sub-plots vie for attention at the expense of narrative momentum. I have a controversial (nay blasphemous!) belief that Shakespeare plays could do with a jolly good abridging here or there and this was no exception. Chief culprits in 'As You Like It' are the scenes including the shepherds and Touchstone, the court fool, who has accompanied Rosalind and Celia into the forest. Shakespeare’s fools are often a minor irritant in productions, because their witty wordplay and bawdy badinage can’t help but feel 400 years old and Sandy Grierson’s portrayal of this fool was no exception. It was a gallant try, but after the interval he was noticeably unable to engender any laughs from the audience and whenever he returned to the stage, he signalled another halt to the plot’s momentum and a slow-paced tangent of a scene.

The second half seemed mired in its reverence for the original text, but there were notable high points, such as Rosalind’s asides to the audience during the wooing role-play and Celia reading Orlando’s poetry that he has been etching into a tree, which in this case was played by an audience member wearing a coat made from "Post-it notes".

Throughout the production the performances were outstanding and met the high expectations of the RSC, with everyone making Shakespeare’s words sound like everyday 21st century English. Early in Act 1, the play looked in danger of being stolen by Emily Johnstone, whose attendant to Duke Frederick is awkward and bumbling to great comic effect. Other notable performers are Antony Byrne who payed both Duke’s with contrasting tempers; one cold and tyrannical, the other noble and warm. However, this production belongs to Lucy Phelps, as Rosalind and Sophie Khan Levy as Celia, together a pair of spiffing girls, awkwardly eyeing prospective men and grasping moments of farce whenever the opportunity arose. Both performers clown expertly, with impeccable comic-timing and energy that carries 'As You Like It' along. Their presence on stage noticeably lifts the production. Phelps is an incredible actress who in a single 360 pivot can portray a boyish malcontent, a swooning girl, who simultaneously confides that she is completely blagging it and back to swaggering disaffected lad; with every one of those beats provoking chuckles from an audience who egg her on for more. I find it strange that Kimberly Sikes was able to find more comic pace and timing from Rosalind (through Phelps) than she was from Grierson’s fool.

'As You Like It' buckles under the weight of Shakespeare’s top-heavy plot and the creative team’s interpretation of the play, but it never fully loses its way, or the audience’s attention. Rosalind implored that we ‘like as much of this play as please you’, and there is much that pleases. The RSC’s performers are a joy to behold and the way in which they make Shakespeare accessible is invaluable.

Reviewer - Ben Hassouna-Smith
on - 25/9/19