Monday, 13 July 2020

PODCAST PLAY REVIEW: Placeprints Play #9: Here We Stay


The penultimate play in this lengthy and wordy series of podcast plays from playwright David Rudkin, takes us to the Derbyshire village of Eyam, and the years 1665-6. It also has taken me until the 9th play before I come across an event / place that I actually already had knowledge of.

The village of Eyam in Derbyshire is a beautiful and picturesque place, surrounded by the Pennine moors, and is famous for the way it coped with the London plague which visited the village in September of 1665. This podcast play tells that story, of how a consignment of used fashionable clothing was brought from London, and, as the clothing was received damp, it was hung out to dry over the open fires, and released the fleas carrying the virus into the atmosphere. It wasn't until October 1666, and 260 deaths later, that the village could consider the plague vanquished, and normal life could resume. It was the resolve of the whole village though, acting as a whole and unselfishly, isolating themselves completely not allowing visitors into the village and not going out themselves, that contained the virus, and eventually, brought about its downfall.

What I didn't know however was that the virus came in two distinct waves, with a small respite in the middle, and coming back with even more force and killing many more. Further I wasn't aware that the villagers themselves tried everything in their knowledge and power to counteract the virus by wearing vinegar masks, pungeant-smelling flower posies, observing social distancing by keeping 12 feet away from each other, and spending as much time in the open air as possible. Does any of this sound all too familiar??!!

The play is a little on the long side for a podcast to be honest, running at over 70 minutes; however, all 260 names are read out during the play in a kind of ghostly rollcall throughout the narrative which is, in the most part narrated by the metamorphosed virus itself, who speaks dispassionately and militarily about killing..."it's what I do".

The play, or perhaps more accurately, a theatricalised audio-guide to the plague through those 13 months, is poignant and interesting; but in our present situation, is also eerily all too close for comfort.

The virus was performed by Charlotte Cornwell, with the rollcalls and other minor roles being filled by Ray Castleton, Hayley Doherty, Jack Wilkinson, and Anthony Wise.

I've not listened to the final play in this series yet, so I am hoping for a more light-hearted and upbeat end!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 13/7/20

CONCERT REVIEW: Bernadette Peters: A Special Concert - The Minskopp Theatre, New York. USA.


Whilst theatres and concert halls are still dark, and the return to theatrical normailty threatened and uncertain, many companies and producers are doing all they can to fill our lives with online material. One such effort came this weekend in the form of the release of a special concert given by doyenne of Broadway, Bernadette Peters, in a charity special in aid of the charities Broadway Cares and Broadway Barks.

The hand-picked band was headed by one of Peters' most loyal MDs, Marvin Laird, and in the full-length one-woman show, she was aided and abetted by Broadway Barks joint founding member Mary Tyler Moore for the opening, as well as some of the members of the original Broadway cast of 'Into The Woiods'. Whilst the start of the second half saw her introducing us to many of the dogs her charity has rescued.

Bernadette Peters, for any musical theatre fan, needs no introduction, and of course her set in this concert included some of the songs from the roles which made her famous from 'Into The Woods', 'Sunday In The Park With George' etc. but it was where Peters diverged from her standard repertoire which interested me more. In between songs from 'Gypsy', 'Company' and 'Follies', there were a couple of real jewels. One such song was one that I had never heard before from a musical of which I have no knowledge, "Goodbye For Now" from 'Reds'. A favourite in the second half was the title song to the Musical 'Shenandoah' sang to solo harmonica accompanimnet, which was hauntingly beautiful. And my overall favourite was her version of the Peggy Lee hit, 'Fever' as she slouched seductively on top of the grand piano.

The concert finished with a song that Peters composed both lyrics and music to herself, 'Kramer's Song'. A lullaby for dogs.

A charity concert which has never been released before, and so most definitely a privelege to have been able to watch this, and if it's still out there, then this is a 'must-see' for any fans of Broadway shows.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 12/7/20

THEATRE REVIEW: Carousel - The Lincoln Center, New York. USA


The Lincoln Center in New York, USA, has made their semi-staged production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's wonderful musical, Carousel, from 2013, available to watch for free from their website.

The New York Philharmonic, one of America's leading classical orchestras, under the direction of Glenn Dickerow assembled in their usual formation on stage whilst a single, multi-purpose set was built around them featuring Carousel horses, a boat sail, plenty of wooden crates, and a large fairground 'Carousel' sign. This combined with the costumes and effective direction (Glenn Weiss) was enough to capture the mood and scenes for the whole show, and worked surprisingly well.

The Muscial starts with a long overture, The Carousel Waltz, which was played expertly, however for me it was not sharp or clear enough. I wrote down the word 'mushy' when listening to it. The orchestra used broad brush strokes for this opening sequence instead of using a little of Georges Seurat's technique in there too to make a bigger distinction between a dotted note and a quaver. And sadly this music, reminiscent of a dance band sound at times, prevailed throughout; we never really heard anything other than broad sweeping and lyrical passages, and there are places in the musical which most definitely need a musical punch or two.

In general, the acting and singing was of an extremely high standard. It was however, again in my opinion, not a wise choice to cast Kelli O'Hara and Nathan Gunn together. Individually their voices are amazing. O'Hara has a sweet and soft soprano, ideal for such roles as Julie Jordan, and indeed her performance here impressed greatly. Again, Gunn's voice is a wonderfully resonant, rich and commanding one, but operatic in sound and Gunn's acting was also more operatic and not as natural or real as O'Hara's. One instance where the two music theatre genres did not cohere. Gunn's voice was amazing though and I could have listened to him sing all evening; it was his gait and stance which was somehow too operatic, and so the two, despite both being consummate and excellent performers, didn't feel or sound right together.

O'Hara and Jessie Mueller however hit it off perfectly (Julie Jordan and Carrie respectively) - Mueller was, in a word, perfect. She not only understood the role completely but carried it off with aplomb. There was also a nice chemistry between the two leading ladies. Enoch Snow (Jason Danieley) also made for an excellent match with Mueller. Vocally complementing her with his mellow and soft tenor voice, and made much use of small, perhaps insignificant, gestures, building up a watchable and believable character.

Stephanie Blythe (Nettie Fowler) and Shuler Hensley (Jigger) both impressed. Blythe bringing the house down with 'You'll Never Walk Alone', and Hensley embodying the archetypal villain seen in many such shows... dark, brooding, rustic, uncouth, broad shouldered and quick-tempered.

There was more dancing in the second half, and indeed the production kept in the ballet which is sometimes either shortened or even cut altogether, and this was wonderful to watch as two members of The New York City Ballet took on the roles of Louise and Enoch Jnr. (Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild), and the whole musical finished with a very rousing and emotive denouement.

An extremely enjoyable rendition of this classic, sensibly staged and emotively portrayed by some undeniably talented individuals. It just could have been 'punchier' musically though.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 12/7/20

Sunday, 12 July 2020

ONLINE CONCERT REVIEW: The Barn Presents: The Music of Annabel Mutale Reed.


For the fifth in their series of online concerts with UK composers of Musical Theatre, The Barn Theatre in Cirencester turned their attention to unknown and unheard of by me, lyricist, writer, director and also accomplished singer, Annabel Mutale Reed. Known for her collaborations with Leo Munby and Jack Trzcinski, she has composed the musicals, 'Elizabeth', 'Alice' and 'Stop'. Again confession time, but never heard of threse shows nor know any of the music. Fear not however, as my musical theatre journey and education has been excellently nourished and ameliorated.

In a lovely surprise and very frank and outspoken inteview half-way through with Claude-Michel Schoenberg, speaking from his home in France, we learnt that these three composer / lyricists were together at Oxford under his mentorship, and he has been in contact ever since, pushing them forward and being behind them. He spoke openly of their talent, as a huge ambassador for and supporter of new writing, he saw something in this team which, in his words, was contemporary, sophisticated and theatrical. I would be an absolute fool to disagree with this after listening to their music today.

In an online concert with stunning backing tracks and great vocals from current West End Musical Theatre performers I was taken on a whistle-stop tour of the above-mentioned three msuical shows, and I seriously cannot wait to be able to see them in full production someday soon.

From the sublime and softly lyrical 'Falling' (sung by Jack Remmington) through the dramatic, thoughtful and oblique beauty of 'Blood' (sung by Ali Ewoldt), to the close-harmony quartet  of 'How Do We Get On?' (sung by Kathy Peacock, Annabel Mutale Reed, Connor Going and Anton Stephans), to the full-on upbeat Lin Manuel Miranda-esque song (quasi-rap) of 'Survivor' (sung by Annabel Mutale Reed), each song was unique, surprising, and expertly crafted. That's not to say that I enjoyed every song, but I did most, and I think these songs will work much better in context. My favourite in the concert though simply has to be the toe-tappingly brilliant swing band number, 'Dancing With Me' which was sung superbly by Natalie Brown.

The whole concert was compered and presided over by The Barn's own Jamie Dixon, and the chatting / interviews etc between the songs is perhaps a little on the long side, but nevertheless interesting and relevant.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 12/7/20

ONLINE CHILDRENS THEATRE REVIEW: What A Wonderful World - Little Angel Theatre


Children's Puppet Theatre, Little Angel Theatre have produced another short theatrical presentation for very young children and premiered it on their YouTube channel this morning. It's an adaptation of the song book by Tim Hopgood, which is itself taken from the famous classic song of the same title by George Weiss and Robert Theile.

With piano and vocal accompaniment, singing 'What A Wonderful World' as the storybook unfolds, by Barb Jungr and Jenny Carr, the well-designed and cleverly crafted book complete with clever double-sided stick puppets opens and exemplifies and ameliorates the song's lyrics.

Designed, performed and filmed by Alison Alexander and Chris Mason, this show does exactly what it says on the tin, and promotes peace, love and beauty in the world.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 12/7/20

FILM REVIEW: Drowntown Lockdown - Rhiannon Faith


Advertsied as a preview or prologue to the eventual stage show which was sadly only ever seen in preview form prior to lockdown, and with a need for the company to remain 'connected' and focused on their piece in the hope they will return with it as soon as possible; Rhiannon Faith Company came together in isolation to create a 17 minute exploration of what it means for these characters to be stuck in isolation, leading up to the moment they all, for their own reasons, make their first tentative step out of their houses for the first time in months, and find themselves in the opening situation of the stage play... on the beach.

The beach, and the waves are omnipresent in this film too, each of the six characters has a view of it. But it's not a hot sunny day, and the beach is foreboding and dangerous, with grey waves and even greyer water.

In fact this piece of contemporary dance theatre is a microcosm of how many of us were and perhaps still are feeling throughout this period. It's disjointed, fragmented, and in there we see our own frustrations, our own feelings and inabilities, magnified and given reign. There is fear, loneliness, despair.

The six performers, the same as the stage show, admit their finding it difficult to cope and whether lockdown is over or not, they all simultaneously decide to seek help or solace from the outside world.

Water is a key theme within the piece, not just from the sea, but from taps, sinks, baths, showers, rain. It is continual, unremittant and misery-making. The music too, intense and pulsating, creates this sense of an underlying threat, and yet one that one simply cannot escape from.

The film offers contortionistic and frenetic contemporary dance alongside characters whose minds replicate the dance movements, thrashing and hyperventilating, which makes this allegorical film quite compelling.

The film was shot by the dancers in their own homes and directed remotely. Directed and choreographed by Rhiannon Faith with film direction by Adam Sheldon, and original muisc by John Victor. The six performers were Lewis Bramble, Cherie Coleman, Shelley Eva Haden, Thomas Heyes, Donald Hutera, and Maddie Morgan.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 11/7/20

Saturday, 11 July 2020

NEWS: Hale Barns Carnival announce a mini-edition for July.


HALE BARNS CARNIVAL ANNOUNCE A MINI-EDITION FOR JULY 2020

LIVE SHOWS FEATURE GEORGE MICHAEL AND ELTON JOHN TRIBUTES
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hale Barns Carnival have announced that it will return after all in 2020, with a mini-edition event following the relaxing of the government rules regarding outdoor events.  The organisers have moved quickly to turn around a fantastic night of entertainment on Saturday 18th July, the date the original festival was due to take place.

This smaller event will take place on the grounds of the newly refurbished Bulls Head Pub & Hotel on Wicker Lane, Hale Barns and will feature two award-winning tribute acts performing live on stage to a socially distanced outdoor audience with outdoor bars and food on site with an innovative new waitress/ festival location order delivery service

The community focused event will this year feature big show performances by two of the greatest tribute acts in the country, firstly the award winning Elton John tribute by Ultimate Elton performed by Paul Bacon and secondly, Fastlove George Michael Tribute star Andrew Browning, both will be performing full length sets live. Support acts will also be announced soon, and the event will be hosted by Greatest Hits Radio Presenter, Darren Proctor.

Organiser Max Eden from Hale Barns Events commented“We have all really missed live music and events this Summer, following the governments guidelines which have been released allowing outdoor performances to take place. We have moved quickly to bring back our annual community event to the village in a smaller version this year.

“The safety of our audience, workers and acts is paramount and we will be adding a number of COVID Safety measures to ensure its safe for everyone to attend our new innovative festival experience. It will feature waitress service for food and drink, alongside safety measures including limited capacity, thermal checks, hand sanitizer points and more deep cleaning than usual.

We are fully confident we have met all the checks to ensure our regular attenders have a great night out.”

Gates will open from 6pm for the evening live concerts starting at 7.30pm and finishing approximately 10pm.

All 100% of the ticket revenue from the evening concerts will be donated towards community projects and charities. One ongoing project supported by the event is to help fund a building project to create a new community hall in Hale Barns, which will provide a platform to showcase local talent and run adult learning and youth projects.

Tickets for the evening concert go on sale at 10am on Saturday 11th July 2020, places are strictly limited and are only available in advance on www.halebarnscarnival.co.uk.

Website:         www.halebarnscarnival.co.uk
Facebook:       www.facebook.com/HaleBarnsCarnival/
Twitter:​           @HaleBarnsEvents #HBCarnival

THE CARNIVAL WILL TAKE PLACE ON / AT:

HALE BARNS CARNIVAL – MINI EDITION
Saturday 18 July 2020 from 6pm

Bulls Head Pub & Hotel,
Wicker Lane,
Hale Barns,
WA15 0HE

HOW TO BOOK
Tickets: £25.00*
*Subject to per ticket booking fee

NEWS: The Lovely Eggs release new single and video, 'Long Stem Carnations'.


THE LOVELY EGGS
PSYCH-PUNK DUO RELEASE NEW SINGLE ‘LONG STEM CARNATIONS’ OUT TODAY VIA EGG RECORDS
WATCH THEIR HOMEMADE CLAYMATION VIDEO HERE:
UK DATES ANNOUNCED FOR FEBRUARY 2021
NUMBER ONE SELLING NEW ALBUM ‘I AM MORON’ OUT NOW!
Today sees the release of The Lovely Eggs brand new single ‘Long Stem Carnations’ via Egg Records. The track, taken from their number one selling album ‘I am Moron’, is released on limited-edition coloured 7” vinyl and backed by brand new B side ‘The Voyage’. 
‘Long Stem Carnations’ was inspired by the Mars One programme, a global project which aims to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.  Applicants are offered a one-way ticket- never to see earth again. This fascinated Lovely Eggs Holly and David who drew parallels between this mission and their own isolation as a band. ‘Long Stem Carnations’ is a funeral march for society’s outcasts and freaks. It’s an existential voyage in cosmic form. “Is there an internal self-destruct button that cannot be destroyed?” said Holly. “We are all the pilots of our own ship. You've just got to remember it’s important to try and hang on and see the mission through.”
For the video the ever-inventive duo used lockdown time wisely and creatively to handmake their own claymation video for ‘Long Stem Carnations’.
“We’ve been making the video for “Long Stem Carnations” ourselves at home over the last few months,” explains Holly. “It’s been a bit of a beast really. We love claymation and had done a bit of it in some of our previous videos, so we wanted to do something with animation. We forgot though that it just takes SO fucking long. And we had no idea it was going to turn out how it did. We started by doing some animation bits and then David got the idea to have our heads but animated versions. So, we made a plasticine mask to cover my face. We modelled it on the cut off head of a dummy and then transferred it to my face. It looked so freaky it was unreal and right there and then we knew the video was gunna take a drastic turn and we just followed it! We then decided that it would be a cool idea if I WAS the cut off dummy, cos the song is all about being cut off and isolation, so it was a perfect fit thematically. We then faced the task of actually figuring out how to film it and put it all together!! We are definitely not animators or video makers, so it was a big learning process that took two months to come to fruition. We also had our seven year old little boy at home with us throughout the whole process and if you can imagine making a claymation video out of plasticine with a 7 year old in the room, well I’m sure you can imagine!! But we’re glad it’s done and pleased how it turned out in its own freaky way. It’s for the big bunch of freaks out there who feel like they’re disconnected and out there on their own, but we’re all connected in some way. We’ve all just got to hang on for the ride!!! Long Stem Carnations forever!!”

‘I am Moron’ was declared “Album of the Day” by BBC 6 Music and received critical acclaim from the national press. The Sunday Times called it “A Triumph”, ★★★★ “I am Moron is much cleverer than it would have you believe”- The Telegraph, ★★★★ - I Paper, 9/10- Louder Than War, “An act of fine calibration of noise and sweetness”- Q, “Packed with their observations of modern culture and the utter madness of the current world”- Sunday Mirror, Album of the month- Classic Rock, “Their Best Record Yet”- Long Live Vinyl, 8/10- Uncut, “Anarcho spirit dominates”- MOJO, “Excellent”- Brooklyn Vegan.
Despite all of this deserved praise and success, the band have obviously been gutted to not be able to play live throughout this period, and due to the on-going Coronavirus situation, have made the tough decision to cancel all scheduled live appearances this year and have focused their attentions and hopes on a UK tour in February 2021. 
The Lovely Eggs are one of the most exciting, innovative and genuine bands of the Great British Underground. Welcome to their world. Welcome To Eggland!

Catch the band live at the following dates in February 2021:
Friday 5 Gorilla MANCHESTER (SOLD OUT)
Wed 10 The Bullingdon, OXFORD (Original show tickets still valid)
Thur 11 The Loft, SOUTHAMPTON (Original show tickets still valid)
Fri 12 SWX, BRISTOL (Venue change. Fleece show tickets still valid)
Sat 13 Concorde 2, BRIGHTON (Venue change. Komedia show tickets still valid) 
Sun 14 The Garage, LONDON (SOLD OUT)
Mon 15 Junction 2, CAMBRIDGE (Venue change. Portland Arms show tickets still valid)
Tues 16 Castle and Falcon, BIRMINGHAM (SOLD OUT)
Wed 17 O2 Academy, SHEFFIELD (Venue change. Network show tickets still valid)
Thurs 18 Metronome, NOTTINGHAM (New date announced!)
Fri 19 Phase One LIVERPOOL (New date announced!)
Sat 20 The Brudenell Social Club, LEEDS (SOLD OUT)
Thur 25 The Cluny, NEWCASTLE (Original show tickets still valid)
Friday 26 Stereo, GLASGOW (Venue change. CCA show tickets still valid)
Sat 27 The Mash House, EDINBURGH (Original show tickets still valid)

Sun 30 May O2 Ritz, MANCHESTER Bank Holiday Extravaganza with support from Phill Jupitus (Original show tickets still valid)

Fri 4 June Heaven, LONDON with support from Rob Auton (Original show tickets still valid)

Tickets available HERE:

ONLINE THEATRE REVIEW: Doing The Pub Quiz - Northern Comedy Theatre



From the same company of actors and writer David Spicer, who put on “Doing Shakespeare”, they were now “Doing The Pub Quiz”. Does anyone remember that early lockdown phase where we were all obsessed with partaking in quizzes over Zoom? It felt like so long ago and yet so recent. In fact that was the first time I'd ever heard of Zoom, believe it or not. Anyway, Northern Comedy Theatre, at the very least, capture the competitive spirit of this traditional British pastime. Unfortunately, it all felt rather flat when compared with the previously dynamic, “Doing Shakespeare” play created.

We met “Smarticus”, a team of eager quiz players hoping to win the imminent pub quiz and become the chief know-it-alls and smart alecks. They had their strategies and approaches with each member demonstrating a fighting chance of being beacons of knowledge in their specialist subjects. But, one of the members called Jason was a cunning and duplicitous, cheating-master. Especially when he was able to hack into and access the official questions and answers sheet of the virtual quiz. Will the team play fairly and if they lose, lose with integrity? Or, will they give in to temptation?

Once again, I liked the connection between the actors and relationships between characters. You could tell how rehearsed the whole thing was. Although, as I said, this time around it wasn’t as exciting as the last show. “Doing Shakespeare” was visually interesting with the costumes, Shakespeare themed Zoom backgrounds, and frequent entrances and exits. With this, they were just talking to one another from their living rooms and so on for the full show. On the one hand, it is true to what would actually happen in real life. On the other hand, in the context of the production, they could have done more to make it visually engaging for the audience – by maybe going back to the creative ways they used Zoom last time?

In addition, it felt steady in some scenes, not as much variation in pace or tension. The last play had a stronger premise they could play with more, I think. This plot felt somewhat predictable. Saying that, the intellectual and political humour suited the play’s proceedings and complimented the personalities of the characters. The relatable bickering was a call-back to Christmas games with the family. The lengthy discussion of uber-complex rules was amusing.

All things considered, what I’ve written doesn’t mean I wouldn’t watch another production by Northern Comedy Theatre. After all, they all have a natural ability to brighten up our spirits during this pandemic. I just didn’t like this show as much as the last one.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 10/7/20

PODCAST PLAY REVIEW: Placeprint Plays no 8: Where There Is No More Sea


For the eighth of the series of Placeprints, author David Rudkin takes us to the Solway Firth in Scotland, and to the community of Wigtown in 1665.

This is a monologue, read expertly by Frances Grey, and tells the haunting story of how the community, torn between religious freedom and the rulings of King Charles, pass sentence on their own villagers for not renouncing religion and saying thsoe all important words, "God Save The King" which in turn would save them from their fates and give them their lives back.

One such condemned, a young lady named Margaret is sentenced to be tied to a post stuck out in the tidal bay of the firth; death by drowning. And even right at the end, they send a boat up to her, as her whole body save her head is now submerged, they still plead with her to renounce her religion and say the words. She refuses, so they push her head under.

Spoken from the perspective of a contemporary woman trying to get into the mind of Margaret and visualise her final hours, it becomes a little more obfuscated than perhaps a simple narrative from the actual time would have been, but it also adds a different dimension to the story too, making it more interesting. Sometimes though the language used gets in the way. The writing is thick and highly descriptive; and although I admit that for radio, that is helpful, it did sometimes get in the way of the narrative.

An interesting listen nevertheless.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 10/7/20

MUSIC REVIEW: Royal Scottish National Orchestra plays Saint-Saens - The Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow.


Whilst we have been on lockdown, the RSNO have been providing us all with a weekly concert from their archives. This one was a concert given at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in Novemebr 2019, of Saint-Saens' 3rd symphony, commonly known as his 'Organ Symphony', under the conducting of Neeme Jarvi. Michael Bowtree was the organist.

Saint-Saens' symphony no 3 in C minor (opus 78)  was composed in 1886. It is not an organ symphony as such, but more of a symphony with organ, which was actually Saint-Saens' own description of the work. The organ is used as an additional instrument in the orchestration of two of the movements.

It should be stated here that depending on your point of view, the work is either written as two movements or four movements. The modern trend is to play them as four seperate movements, preferring to split the movements obeying the Classical structure, however Saint-Saens wrote the symphony as a two movement work. When the organ isn't being employed, the orchestration cals for piano four-hands.

The work was firt performed by The Royal Philharmonic Society in London in 1886 at St. James's Hall. Saint-Saens knew that this work was the pinnacle of his composing career, saying that he had given his all and thrown everything he had at this symphony, and he would never compose anything on such a grand a scale again. As such it is a very eloquent and sweeping evocation of everything that Saint-Saens stood for, and is High French Romanticism at its best.

There is clever use of referencing earlier melodies throughout. Simple Gregorian plainchant themes which appear and then are metamorphosed throughout the work giving the whole a sense of unity and clarity, as well as making it extremely lyrical and tuneful. The thrilling and passionate denouement and coda is of course the piece's showpiece, and is pure genius and full of passion.

The RSNO of course did not disappoint, and their performance of this astounding piece of High Romanticism was given full justice. the audience went wild too, and as a short encore, they played another French piece, the miniature but delightful Viennese-styled waltz from act 1 of 'Coppelia' by Delibes.

Bravo!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 10/7/20

FILM REVIEW: Olympia - Ella Bean Productions. Streamed via Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester


Olympia Dukakis, I would imagine, is a much more famous name in the USA than she is here in the UK. Here we had to wait until 1987 and the release of the film, 'Moonstruck' before we knew who she was. Now, at the grand old age of 89, we are given a film documentary, about the life and career of this badass "octagenarian motherf*****", which seems out of date, coming across as insubstantial and extremely obsequious.

Running at 100 minutes, this saccharine-coated documentary follows Dukakis, a first generation American from Greek immigrant parents, through the first couple of years of her 80s; meaning that the film is now at least 7 years' out of date. And even more annoyingly, the documentary chooses to mix varying styles from rehearsed couch interviews, archive footage, photographs, and the style of documentary known as 'vérité'. (a kind of fly-on-the-wall). Many subjects are covered, from her early beginnings, starting her own theatre company in New Jersey because no-one would see past her name and ethnicity, to carving out a career as a brilliant stage actress. Sadly, this part of the film, the basis of her life and acreer was left tantalisingly short and was accompnaied by no moving footage, just promo photos of the plays she was in.

But it was the film, 'Moonstruck' which gained her universal public attention and appeal, and her subsequent portrayal of the first transgender television character to make it on US mainstream TV in the now iconic series, "Tales Of The City" earning the love and respect of the world's LGBTQ community.

The film goes from things like this, to the mundane and banal in a single stroke. Watching her shopping in a supermarket and asking a fan where the green tea is, for example. The writer and director of the film, Harry Mavromichalis, is obviously so starstruck with Dukakis that he seems unable to distinguish pertinent, relevant and insightful snippets from those which should perhaps never have even been considered for the film. Even the questions that the unseen interviewer asks on occassion seem rather strained, direct, and out of the blue. Fortunately Dukakis seems able, if perhaps not wanting, to answer them. There's no gentle builr-up to sensation or relevation, and Dukakis is presented as a forceful, matriarchal, strong, driving force, indefatigable and passionate. It has to be the final few moments of the film though, when she takes a trip back to her Greek homeland that we finally sense the real Olympia Dukakis underneath all the razz and backchat. There's a peace and a longing exposed here which even then was never exploited and all we are given is a tantalising glimpse of the private and perhaps more real person she is.

As an introduction to Olympia Dukakis, and her career, then this documentary ticks all the boxes, but as an in-depth profile, nuts-and-bolts warts-and-all look at what actually drives her and what she actually thinks, then the film is more than superficial.

Reviewer - Chris Benchley
on - 10/7/20

Friday, 10 July 2020

NEWS: The government announces that outdoor performances can commence from this weekend


Government says outdoor performances will be able to begin from Saturday.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has announced that outdoor performances in England will be able to begin from 11 July.
The new announcement is "stage three" of Dowden's five-part process for reopening venues, which was revealed last month. All productions will have to feature casts, audience and crew adhering to social distancing rules, and it is likely that few shows will be able to fully open for this Saturday.
Dowden added: "Our theatres can put on shows for socially distanced audiences...venue capacities will be reduced and electronic ticketing will be encouraged". All auditoriums will have to have deep cleans between performances.
All venues will be instructed to produce risk assessments and review their cleaning regimes, however deep cleaning and social distancing systems, including floor markings are all required to be completed in a way that does not damage the historic fabric of any listed buildings.
Though he did not offer any potential dates for indoor performances, the Culture Secretary has repeatedly stated his wish to find a way to stage pantomimes this Christmas, though has said that this will be both challenging and depend largely on the state of the pandemic and what safety provisions may have to be put in place.
On Sunday the government unveiled a warmly-received £1.57 billion package to support the arts sector throughout the ongoing crisis, though many criticised the tardiness of the announcement (with dozens of venues already making staff redundant or closing until 2021) and the lack of clarity provided around who exactly may benefit.
Many venues have repeatedly called for more guidance on staging shows outdoors. Jon Morgan from the Theatres Trust said: "Alongside the very welcome and much-needed package of government support for the culture sector announced earlier this week, the publication of the performing arts guidance today will give a further degree of clarity to theatres. The publication of details for Stage 3 will allow theatres to move to outdoor performances from 11 July.
"However, it is disappointing that the guidelines have been published without a ‘not before' date for Stage 4 and the all-important Stage 5 – the point when theatres will be able to open fully and welcome back audiences without social distancing. For the majority, it means continued delay and uncertainty as to when they will be able to reopen fully and for some, this delay may mean they never reopen.
"We appreciate the difficulty in setting a date for Stage 5 as it will always be conditional on circumstances such as the R rate remaining low, further safety tests being conducted and the safety of staff, creatives and audiences must be a priority. But without even an indicative date it is difficult for theatres to plan ahead - and for many theatres this uncertainty will be devastating."
According to DCMS: " This gives the green light for the likes of outdoor opera at Glyndebourne, Sussex and plays at Cornwall's Minack Theatre, to go ahead. London's West End will also return through the Six, The Musical Drive-In."

NEWS: Regent's Park Open Air Theatre hope to open this summer.


Regent's Park Open Air Theatre: 'We might be able to open for a shorter period later this summer'

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre has responded to news that outdoor performances will be permitted from 11 July.
Taking to Twitter, the central London venue said that: "We welcome the government's announcement to allow outdoor performances to go ahead, and continue to explore ways in which we might be able to work with partners to find a safe and economic way for us to be able to open for a shorter period later this summer."
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced today that outdoor performances will be permitted with socially distancing rules in place from this weekend, though gave no indication on when indoor shows may commence.
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre had already cancelled its entire summer season, composed of Carousel101 Dalmations and Romeo and Juliet, while the lockdown continued.
At the same time, Shakespeare's Globe has announced that: "We are currently unable to reopen our Globe Theatre for performances just yet."
Further information about potential programming at the outdoor venue is yet unkown - keep an eye on the venue's webiste for up-to-the-minute information.

NEWS: Manchester International Festival appoints Chanje Kunda as their supported representative on the National Freelance Task Force


MANCHESTER INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL (MIF) APPOINTS MANCHESTER BASED THEATRE MAKER CHANJE KUNDA AS THEIR SUPPORTED REPRESENTATIVE ON THE NATIONAL FREELANCE TASK FORCE



Manchester International Festival (MIF) is delighted to announce the appointment of Manchester based theatre maker and poet, Chanje Kunda, as MIF’s representative on the National Freelance Task Force, set up to strengthen the influence of the self-employed who make up a large and vital part of the performance sector.

The Freelance Task Force will create ongoing points of connection between freelancers, organisations, funders and government, and will amplify the collective voice of the self-employed in conversations to come.

Chanje has performed alongside the likes of Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson and produced and toured three full length plays, Superposition, Plant Fetish and Amsterdam. In 2017 she became one of the first Jerwood Fellows, an MIF and Jerwood Arts creative development programme providing access and insight into how we create international Festival work whilst helping artists develop their own practice.

Following the forced cancellation of the tour of her new show Plant Fetish earlier this year, Chanje became the first of 35 Greater Manchester artists to be supported to develop work during the lockdown, as part of Manchester International Festival’s response to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the creative community. Her piece TOILET ROLL GATE RETROSPECTIVE was presented as the first all-digital, online-only Festival in My House… And Yours.

Chanje said, “As a performance artist with a national tour cancelled due to the pandemic, I felt I wanted to do something to save the arts and culture industry. It has a special place in the world that makes everyday existence more magical. I know how hard freelancers work, from performers to stage managers to lighting and sound designers. To be representing freelancers on the national task force, for MIF and freelancers in our region, is an absolute honour and I want to champion our voices and be part of the team helping it to survive and thrive again.”

Following a jointly signed letter sent out in May in support of freelancers in the performance sector, MIF joins over 140 organisations nationwide committing to paying a freelancer for one day a week for three months, from June to August, who so far include everyone from directors to technicians, composers to costume designers, production managers to puppet-makers – and more.

NEWS: Wendy James releases new video and announces new tour dates


WENDY JAMES
REVEALS VIDEO FOR KILL SOME TIME BLUES
HER RESCHEDULED 22-DATE UK TOUR HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED FOR APRIL 2021
AND CULMINATES IN LONDON’S ISLINGTON ACADEMY ON FRIDAY 30TH
THE ALBUM QUEEN HIGH STRAIGHT IS OUT NOW!

WENDY JAMES reveals the video for Kill Some Time Blues, the last song on her recently released 20-track album Queen High Straight, which was fan-picked along with Marlene at Fleur as the next AA single. 
“I’m thrilled with the video,” Wendy says. “I wanted to close out the album with a ‘wall-of-sound’ 60’s girl group sounding song, a big number! The horn sections played by Terry Edwards and Alex Ward are marvelous! The guitar parts played by James Sedwards are magnificent and the drumming and percussion by James Sclavunos and bass playing by Harry Bohay, superlative! - and I must say I’m rather pleased with my singing too!
“To this end, I went on a video clip treasure hunt to find some great shots of The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Vandellas, The Shangri-Las, The Blossoms and I stumbled upon some fabulous old footage of 60’s girls letting loose and getting their freak on! Spliced and cross-faded into this wonderful footage is footage of me performing live at Hultsfred Festival in Sweden and a performance on a broadcast tv show called Live At The Dome. 
“The video is masterfully timed out, edited and presented by David Leigh Dodd, who has been the photographer and videographer for the entire presentation of Queen High Straight. 
“I think the video is an enormous success and it serves to amplify this great song!”
Wendy had hoped to be touring the album in September, but due to Covid-19 she has rescheduled her 22-date UK tour (again) to April 2021. “2021 will be a great touring year for THE WENDY JAMES BAND, with the UK tour in April, Festivals and a couple of big support slots to announce! Tickets and Ticket Links remain the same and valid, all VIP are still valid!” April tour dates are below.
English singer-songwriter Wendy, who was born in London, exploded onto the British music scene in 1988 as the fearless front woman of chart-topping alt-rockers Transvision Vamp. When the band disbanded Wendy went on to collaborate with Elvis Costello, James Williamson (Iggy & the Stooges), Lenny Kaye (The Patti Smith Group) and James Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds), who joins her on drums and percussions for QUEEN HIGH STRAIGHT. Also joining her on this album are James Sedwards (lead guitar), Harry Bohay (bass), Alex J. Ward & Terry Edwards (horn section) and Louis Vause (accordion). 
Wendy’s genre defying album embraces Motown with ‘Here Comes The Beautiful One’ and recently released ‘Little Melvin’. She returns, once again, to her favourite guitar guttural filth and sex for first AA single ‘Perilous Beauty’ and an unlikely sounding love song in ‘Chicken Street’. She finds a 90’s pop groove in ‘Ratfucking’, melancholia in ‘Testimonial’, Django Reinhardt whimsy in ‘I’ll Be Here When The Morning Comes’. On ‘The Impression Of Normalcy’, Wendy says, “Thanks to James Sclavunos, who told me to “speed the fucking song up”, I have a proper speed punk song.” Finally, track 20 ‘Kill Some Time Blues’ is the ultimate 60’s girl group number. 
Last year Wendy toured the UK with her permanent band THE WENDY JAMES BAND opening for The Psychedelic Furs, which was a huge success. 
Wendy usually divides her time between New York City, Paris, South France and London.
 
TOUR DATES
LIVERPOOL O2 ACADEMY2 - SATURDAY MARCH 27TH
GUILDFORD BOILEROOM - TUESDAY MARCH 30TH
OXFORD O2 ACADEMY2 - THURSDAY APRIL 1ST
CARDIFF CLWB IFOR BACH - FRIDAY APRIL 2ND
STOKE SUGARMILL - SATURDAY APRIL 3RD
NOTTINGHAM BODEGA - TUESDAY APRIL 6TH
NEWCASTLE CLUNY - WEDNESDAY APRIL 7TH
EDINBURGH BANNERMANS - THURSDAY APRIL 8TH
PAISLEY ROCKNROLLAS - FRIDAY APRIL 9TH
GLASGOW KING TUTS WAH WAH HUT - SATURDAY APRIL 10TH
LEEDS BRUDENELL SOCIAL CLUB - WEDNESDAY APRIL14TH 
BLACKPOOL WATERLOO MUSIC BAR - THURSDAY APRIL 15TH
MANCHESTER DEAF INSTITUTE - FRIDAY APRIL 16TH
NORWICH ARTS CENTRE - SATURDAY APRIL 17TH
TUNBRIDGE WELLS FORUM - WEDNESDAY APRIL 21ST
CAMBRIDGE JUNCTION - THURSDAY APRIL 22ND 
PORTSMOUTH WEDGEWOOD ROOMS - FRIDAY APRIL 23RD
BIRMINGHAM O2 INSTITUTE3 - SATURDAY APRIL 24TH 
BRISTOL FLEECE - TUESDAY APRIL 27TH
SWANSEA CINEMA & CO - WEDNESDAY APRIL 28TH
BRIGHTON CONCORDE 2 - THURSDAY APRIL  29TH
LONDON O2 ACADEMY2 ISLINGTON - FRIDAY APRIL 30TH

Tickets and VIP from https://thewendyjames.com/live
 
QUEEN HIGH STRAIGHT is available as a 20-track deluxe gatefold double vinyl, gatefold deluxe CD, regular CD and Digital Download / Streaming. Its available to preorder at https://thewendyjames.com/store and this store is the main driver for all of Wendy’s recordings and associated art, t-shirts, all things Wendy. 
She will be releasing a vinyl box set containing all the singles from Queen High Straight later this year.