Friday, 28 February 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Dare To Know Theatre Launch and Showcase - The Grange Theatre, Oldham.

Dare To Know is a new theatre company based in Oldham, and headed by two Oldhamers, Jake Talbot and Miranda Parker. The theatre company, we are told, is all about the locale... to celebrate Northerness, with especial reference to Oldham and the surrounds and those who live there, in a bid to try and make professional theatre both affordable and relevant to the community.

This evening saw their launch at Oldham's own Grange Theatre. A theatre I have long and strong memories of myself, remembering it fondly as Grange Arts Centre attached to Oldham College. The theatre still has very strong links with Oldham College, but is now available for hire to outside companies and is marketing itself as Oldham's second proferssional theatre venue. Indeed, when The Coliseum was undergoing needed restoration, they used The Grange Theatre to produce their season of productions.

The evening was advertised as starting at 7pm, although in truth, the showcase did not start until 7:30pm in the theatre. Before that, a small reception with live music was held in the foyer.

The showcase itself seemed a little ad hoc, despite perhaps detailed planning. The whole came across as a little - dare I use the word amateurish - in the sense that cast and staff were seen in the audience and coming in and out of the auditorium throughout the evening whilst a rear stage door was left open all evening and cast and crew could be seen behind it. It all felt very 'homely' but lacked a certain 'polish'. The other negative criticism I would proffer is the lack of programme. As much as I applaud the company wishing to reduce paper usage and waste, not having a programme in an evening of many different sections with many different performers etc, was rather disappointing. I doubt many people would have wished to have come home that evening or gone onto the internet the following morning to read about what they had already seen.... that information needed to be more immediate and not just on the www or announced by the two company owners in a brief introduction before the start of the showcase.

The showcase itself was also something of a potpourri of ideas, talents and even differing theatre companies. Starting with, 'This Is Oldham', a new piece of writing by Lindsay Williams and Sonya Nisa Saeed, it told the story of an Oldham born-and-bred Asian's perspective on the Muslim community and the relationships between white and non-white in Oldham with sincerity, truth and good humour. 

Following this it was the turn of another up-coming local theatre company, Kitchen Sink Theatre, to present a two-hander all about their time as siblings growing up in Royton, 'A Brew, A Terrace, And The 184'. Written and performed by Chloe Heywood and Rowan Curran there was a lovely phyiscality and lightness to the piece which made it very watchable. Local dialect and northern humour made the piece enagaging to the local audience, although I doubt whether, as with the first piece, this would have any life outside of the North West.

During the evening we were shown two excepts from a new piece of writing which Dare To Know are producing. It is a two-hander called 'Smoking Shelter' which tells the story, as far as I can gather, of a lady patient at the hospital (where the smoking shelter is located) having been given only one week to live, whilst the man she encounters on her trips to the shelter for a cig is visiting the hospital regularly because his 7 year old son is there with leukemia. The acting here between Andrew (Simon Naylor) and Carol (Jeni Williams) is very real and sympathetic, although I am sad to report that both myself and my companion this evening had a deal of difficulty in hearing Williams, her projection was very weak. The final piece of the showcase, the second excerpt from this play, was to my mind however, the most real and best written of the evening.

Before watching a short excerpt from another play that Dare To Know are producing, we were shown its TV/ filmed trailer. The piece is a one-man play written and performed by Jake Talbot and directed by Miranda Parker. The play is called 'Drowning' and tells the story of a teenage schoolboy whose views on suicide and mental health in general are not mainstream. Talbot presents a hugely engaging character, shows great stage presence and was an engaging actor. The play embarks upon a tour starting in May and I am looking forward to catching it when it has a very short run at the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival in July.

Another piece of new writing followed by local writer Cathy Crabb, 'It Could Be You'. A short comedy play, it told the story of Helen (Elizabeth Poole) and her next of kin (presume daughter) Anne (Jessica Anderson). Anne wants to see Helen sectioned as she believes it would be in her best interests, and, as next of kin has the authority to do so. Unless I missed something though it was never explained what Helen's problems were and why she had been having therapy and the courts had agreed to section her. Present at this meeting was Helen's therapist, Joanna (Nancy Monaghan), and as it was Joanna's final day of working as a therapist she was keen to leave on a clean sheet. However, Helen had promised her half of her 3,5 million pound lottery win, all she asked was that she be allowed to go back home and live with her cats and not be put into care......! Unfortunately we had the same problem with lack of audibility in this piece as with 'Smoking Shelter' and I missed much of the opening dialogue and parts later on due to a dip in volume and lack of projection.

The final theatre this evening came from another theatre company, this time the Salford-based Up 'Ere Productions, and their short play 'Ten'. Taking as their starting point the 'ten signs to suicidal behaviour', this two-hander went through these as tiny vignettes leading up to the final moment where one of them is actually standing atop a building ready to jump. Written by John O'Neill and Noe Sebert and performed by O'Neill and Ross Thompson, this was a rather visceral and emotionally raw piece which had audience members ask them, 'So, how are you?' between each section. Rap style porformance poetry started the play which became more physical and more realistic as it went along, until the final moments which were acted in realistic dialogue. An interesting concept and a thoughtful way of highlighting suicide and the signs which might give people a clue to a suicidal tendancy.

In between all of these pieces two singer / songwriters had a short spot each; a female folk singer called Chloe in the first half and a more experienced Sam Parker in the second. As previously mentioned the evening ended with the second intallment of 'Smoking Shelter' which was an unusual choice as it ended on very much a down-beat. I would have found it more preferable to have watched a light-hearted comedic piece with a good punch-line to end the showcase on. However, what is certain is that Dare To Know Theatre are here and have many exciting new projects both current and in the pipeline, and as such, this can only be a good thing for local theatre in general and Oldham specifically.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/2/20

NNoé Sébertoé Sébe

Thursday, 27 February 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: One Good Night - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester.

'One Good Night', from the pen of local up-coming writer Aisling Caffrey, tells the story of a 29-year old lady who leaves her long-term boyfriend to stay with a friend, after a night of misunderstood and nonconsensual sex with him.

The story is told from three differing points of view, - her own, her boyfriend's and that of the friend and neighbour (the onlookers) - however, the greatest emphasis by far is placed on her own feelings and perspective. Running for 70 minutes through without interval, there seems to be a lot to pack into such a tight time-frame, and yet, many themes which arise from this situation, including her witnessing her best friend and ex-boyfriend kiss and cuddle, are left unexplored.

The audience are given to understand that the young lady's story is truthful, and that she was effectively raped after she had slipped in the shower and lay prostrate on the bathroom floor, and therefore our sympathies are, right from the start, geared in her favour. I sat there however, a little like a police officer or a judge may well have listened to the case, and, particularly after watching Pete's (Oliver Devoti) pathetic apology and obvious devotion, was torn between whether or not the girl's reaction to his 'love-making' was too much. After all, she obviously loved kinky sex, and simply couldn't get enough, even after leaving him, she went in search of various one-night stands. Strangely, the audience only truly start to believe her story at the same time as her friend, May (Misha Duncan-Barry). In this regard, the play does not explore the themes deeply enough and leaves too many question marks. 

It is undeniably true that some men are manipulative, conniving, and controlling of their girlfriends / wives, and do treat them as objects for their own pleasure, sometimes not understanding that 'no' really does mean 'no'. And certainly Pete's first entrance, shouting from outside the house at night-time, does nothing to allay this, but as the play progresses we do get a very female insight into his personality.

Sammy Winward plays Amelia, the protagonist, who teeters between near insanity and utter lethargy; spending a lot of time in bed, or bitching with May and their gossipy next-door neighbour Julie (Susan McArdle), who managed to bring a deal of needed light relief into the play without it becoming comedic.

I found the set rather awkward. Set in a thrust formation (which didn't really work, as little of the direction ever considered the audience on the two much shallower sides), the majority of the stage was given over to a large bed, around which was strewn every-day detritus such as crisp packets, drink cartons, glasses, tissues etc, whilst a small occasional table near the bed was full of post-it notes. Behind this was the exterior of the two terrace houses, the front doors, wall (with ivy), and garden furniture. I think this premise might have worked better if the cast had had a more definitive way of making entances and exits in and out of these spaces, but since they sometimes walked through the front door directly to the bedroom, and other times came from behind the audience, it was very hard to understand exactly where they were going from and to. The lighting didn't really help much in this regard either sadly; and each small scene was succeeded with a far-too-sudden blackout, cutting in on the end of the dialogue or moment too quickly. In fact, the whole play was a series of short scenelets, and because of this became a little disjointed and lost its chronology and impetus.

Please don't misunderstand me; I am not trying to downplay the seriousness of such a happenstance, nor the marks something like this can leave you with; it is just that I didn't engage with this play in a way that I thought I ought to have done and it didn't seem to be as powerful a vehicle to bring these themes to light as perhaps it ought to have been. Even the couple of possible 'false endings' to the play would have made it a stronger piece, rather than the actual ending... a seeming 'feel-good' compromise about empowerment and moving-on.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/2/20

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Cabaret - The Palace Theatre, Manchester.

This new UK tour of Kander and Ebb's evocative and Brechtian musical, Cabaret is dark and stark, with director Rufus Norris putting his own stamp on it and slightly reworking this classic hit musical to make it even colder and harder than ever. Norris's direction works on a series of tableaux each one becoming more and more serious and hard-hitting than the one previous until we reach the ultimate conclusion - or should that be the Final Solution?

Cabaret tells the story of a young American novelist coming to Berlin in 1930 / 31 and how he finds himself willingly and happily thrown headlong into the decadence and immorality of the Berlin underworld of the time, falling in love with one of the more notorious cabaret club's 'star' artistes, but inadvertently helping the Nazi cause, chosing the 'wrong' friends, and witnessing the start of events which would eventually lead to the 1938 Kristalllnacht and the Nazi's treatment of Jews throughout the second world war. It's not much as yet, but it is enough for anyone on the outside looking in to know that it is time to leave. His friendship with a Jew and an open homosexual do nothing to make his stay pleasant.

Norris's inclusion of highly overtly sexual gesturing and outright lewd and lascivious behaviour, as well as full-frontal nudity is indeed a brave choice. The original musical suggests such things but, I guess, times have changed since Kander and Ebb wrote their show and our own attitudes and morals have changed too, and so what was shocking for audiences in the late 1960s would be, perhaps, far too tame now for us, and so Norris has drawn upon these and highlighted them.

John Partridge heads a very strong and talented cast as the Emcee. His unflinching, unsmiling style, glowering at the audience, demanding them to like him even though he is the least likeable character on stage is laudable. He has an enigmatic energy and a great stage presence. Kara Lilt Hayworth plays the 'darling' of the Kit Kat Klub, Sally Bowles, and her rendition of  'Maybe This Time' sent shivers down my spine. Anita Harris and James Paterson make a most endearing couple as Frauline Schneider and Herr Schultz respectively, and Charles Hagerty is the unwilling protagonist, Clifford Bradshaw, who only really seems to come into his own when given more dramatic scenes. His first few scenes were a little weak in comparison.

A dark, mostly black set with few additions, except for the band in a box at the back and a large flashing sign pronouncing 'Kabaret', the lighting and effects are clever and not over-done. However, what really made this production for me was the choreography. Javier De Frutos has excelled in this regard, giving the company some difficult and athlectic leaps and falls as well as precision pictures and poses to complete, all in split-second timing, and it works beautifully. The dances are strong, hard and crisp, and totally uncompromising, and are all executed by a talented ensemble.

Yes, it's Cabaret folks, but not as we know it. But that didn't seem to worry the press night audience giving a long standing ovation this evening!

Reviewer - Chris Benchley
on - 25/2/20

Sunday, 23 February 2020

NEWS: Next month sees Zorro arrive at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre in true "Blue" Musical Theatre style!

Re-imagined Zorro the Musical production arrives in Manchester from March starring Antony Costa from chart-topping boyband Blue

The new re-imagined production of Zorro The Musical featuring classic hits and original music by the Gipsy Kings will run at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester from 14 March – 18 April.

The audience will be enveloped by the action of the legendary adventure of the masked hero as they are taken on a thrilling journey into an iconic story of good vs. evil, love vs. hate, brother vs. brother. The action begins in the foyer with live entertainment and a Flamenco party led by the actor-musician company before the thrills continue to grow in the theatre itself.

Directed by Christian Durham, with music by the Gipsy Kings and John Cameron, lyrics by Stephen Clark and a book by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson. The show will be brought to life by a 16 strong cast of actor-muscians led by Antony Costa as Garcia (who best known as a member of the chart-topping boyband Blue), Alex Gibson-Giorgio as Ramon, Emma Kingston as Luisa, Genevieve Nicole as Inez, Kit Orton as Don Alejandro and Benjamin Purkiss as the masked hero, Zorro.

Directed by Christian Durham
Book and Lyrics by Stephen Clark
Music by Gipsy Kings
Original Story by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson
Co-Composer and Adapter: John Cameron

Hope Mill Theatre
113 Pollard Street, Manchester M4 7JA

First Performance: Saturday 14 March 2020
Press Night: Wednesday 18 March 2020
Final Performance: Saturday 18 April 2020
Performances: Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2:30pm, Sunday at 3pm

Box Office details
Tel: 0333 012 4963
Prices from £16

NEWS: Manchester Jewish Museum presents their first ever Festival Of Belonging



Manchester Jewish Museum presents its first ever Festival of Belonging from March 7-14th – featuring one off events and nights of comedy, theatre, storytelling, films and visual arts to examine how we assimilate in new places, explore what makes us feel that we belong and question what happens when we don’t.

Taking place at different venues across the city including Manchester Central Library where the Jewish Museum is currently in residency during its ‘wandering’ phase, the Festival is inspired by and features the stories found in the Museum’s collection. Through the diverse and creative Festival programme, the events will tell the history of the Jewish people who came to Manchester and how they attempted to assimilate - to celebrate and foster a sense of belonging. Some events will also connect and link with contemporary stories of migration to Manchester within both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities across the city.

Running throughout the Festival is visual art installation - Dark Room by artist Helena Tomlin - a free exhibition at Central Library exploring the anonymous photographs in the Manchester Jewish Museum’s collection. The darkroom is a place to come face to face with the people in its archive about whom nothing is known. It also offers visitors the opportunity to create a caring response to those whose stories have been lost.

All other Festival events are one off. Highlights include: Good Appetite with theatre chef Leo Burtin whose ticketed event at Manchester Art Gallery fuses storytelling, food and film to present a unique and tasty evening inspired by the Jewish kitchen. Stories are sifted into dishes, history is stirred with spices and cultures from around the world are sprinkled on top. Come with an appetite for food and for life; Critically acclaimed comedians Shazia Mirza, Rachel Creeger and Juliet Meyers come together for an all female multi faith night of comedy in Immigrant Diaries, hosted by multi-award winning comedian/writer, actor and activist Sajeela Kershi;

Jerusalem born singer/songwriter Avital Raz brings her solo show, My Jerusalem to the Festival. Renowned for her politically engaged and fearless songs which span a 20 year career in music and performance, this show tells the tale of a drunken one night stand, infused with stories of growing up in the turmoil of 1980s Israel. It is followed by a panel discussion with artists Dani Abulhawa and Sarah Spies; Musical exploration of migration and turmoil can also be found in Songs of Arrival – a one-off performance of songs based on the stories of Jewish refugees arriving in Cheetham Hill taken from the museum’s own oral history collection. A moving and musical evening bringing to life the voices and stories of Manchester migrants past and present. The evening features performance by renowned baritone Peter Brathwaite, and a premiere of specially commissioned music by Israeli composer Na’ama Zisser.

Manchester Jewish Museum Chief Executive, Max Dunbar comments: “We are really thrilled to curate and launch our very first Festival of Belonging. In such changing and often challenging times of political and social unrest, it seems a festival to celebrate unity, diversity and belonging is both timely and needed. We are delighted to bring together so many talented and creative people, many with their own stories to tell and many who will so beautifully bring our own to life. We are extremely grateful to Manchester Central Library for the use of their space and for their continued support offering us a temporary home, and place of belonging whilst major work continues on our permanent site in Cheetham Hill.”

Full festival listings are below. Booking and festival information can also be found via the Manchester Jewish Museum website:

Dark Room by Helena Tomlin
7th-14th March
Museum Pop-up space Central Library Free
A free installation exploring the anonymous photographs in the museum’s collection, the darkroom is a place to come face to face with the people in our archive that we know nothing about and help us to create a caring response to those whose stories have been lost.
Storytelling with Robin Simpson
Saturday 7th March Museum
Pop-up Space, Manchester Central Library
Experience the amazing stories in our Story Selector Machine, brought to life. Meet Fanny and the two Freddies who made a long train journey to Manchester, have a boogie to the tunes played at a 1911 dance at Cheetham Assembly Rooms, and find out what happened to boxer Sam Aarons.
Good Appetite with Leo Burtin
Sunday 8th March
Manchester Art Gallery Café
£10 (£8 concessions) plus booking fee

Theatre Chef Leo is your host for a unique foodie film experience. Enter the diverse world of the Jewish kitchen, where stories are sifted into dishes, history is stirred in with spices, and cultures from around the world are sprinkled on top. Taste, listen and tell your own story.
The Great and the Grand with Dynamite Island Theatre
Monday 9th March
Performance Space
Manchester Central Library
A sharing of a new musical theatre work in tribute to the sacrifices, support and adventures of our grandparents. What can we learn about ourselves from them, from tall tales to words of wisdom? Come along and celebrate grandparents everywhere. The Family History Archive will also give advice on researching your family from 4.30pm.
Immigrant Diaries with Sajeela Kershi and special guests
Tuesday 10th March
 Performance Space
Manchester Central Library
£10 (£8 concessions) plus booking fee

An all-female multi-faith night of comedy on the Jewish Festival of Purim, with special guests Shazia Mirza, Rachel Creeger and Juliet Meyers. Immigration, migrants, the refugee crisis, are hot topics dividing Britain. How many are there? Why are they coming here? What do they want? ‘Statistics don’t tell the story, people do’
My Jerusalem by Avital Raz
Wednesday 11th March
Performance Space Manchester Central Library
£10 (£8 concessions) plus booking fee

A solo performance derived from a song. A politically-charged tale of a drunken one-night stand, infused with stories of growing up in the turmoil of 1980s Israel. A nuanced exploration of the politics of division, from internal checkpoints and separation walls to gender norms. Can we go beyond the blame game and really see each other’s all too vulnerable humanity? The show is followed by a panel discussion with artists Dani Abulhawa and Sarah Spies.
PLEASE NOTE: Contains adult themes, the content of which may cause distress. In particular, issues of political turmoil and child abuse.
Songs of Arrival with Peter Brathwaite, Na’ama Zisser, Joe Steele and MJM’s Song-writing Group
 Thursday 12th March
£10 (£8 concessions) plus booking fee

A performance of songs based on the stories of Jewish refugees arriving in Cheetham from our oral history collection as well as contemporary stories of migration to Manchester. We explore how we try to assimilate in new places and what different communities can learn from each other. Moving and joyous, we give voice to historical and modern stories.
Rendezvous in Bratislava (Affiliated Show) with Miriam Sherwood and Dynamite Island
Saturday 14th March

Miriam and her granddad are making a cabaret together. They’re the perfect double act: He’s got the stories, she loves telling them, and they both have a flair for the theatrical.
The only problem is – they’ve never met.
And he’s been dead for 39 years.

THEATRE REVIEW: Elton John: It's A Little Bit Funny - Upstairs At The Gatehouse, Highgate, London.

Great balls of fire, what a show! Am I really watching this amazing show playing to a small audience in Highgate? This performance is worthy of a far bigger audience. 'It’s A Little Bit Funny' is a one man musical extravaganza. Set in a world where the effervescent Martin Kaye bumps into his hero in Vegas. This time his hero is the larger than life performer Elton John. Martin obviously adores the man and his music all simply oozes out of his pores. It’s an evening of never-ending Elton and Bernie songs as a tribute to the great man. But let me add, no way is this a tribute singer. Martin Kaye, himself, is already a fairly successful musical performer who was working in Las Vegas, starring in the Million Dollar Quartet as Jerry Lee Lewis. He starts this show as he means to go on with a loud and raucous rendition of 'Great Balls Of Fire'. The story unfolds with Kaye’s possible meeting with Elton John who was in Las Vegas at the same time. Imagining a meeting at the famous Caesar’s Palace, Kaye is playing the grand piano in the foyer when he is joined by a looky-likey- real or fake?

The two play on and chat about Elton’s life.

Martin Kaye is full of energy, bounding round the stage, attacking the piano with as much flamboyance as Elton, blasting out the tunes and holding a note for an incredibly long time. He played to the crowd, made us feel included and encouraged us to be more than willing partakers.
The audience were clapping along, singing to their favourites, up on their feet and singing "laa la la la laa" to 'Crocodile Rock'. It was a show of two halves covering the life and music of Reginald Kenneth Dwight.

The stage is set like a foyer to a hotel. We have a grand piano and a sofa. Martin is the sole performer (playing himself), he is accompanied by a bass guitar (Johnny Wells), guitar (Morgan Rickman) and drums (Adam 'Twenny' Sheffield), all of whom are hidden behind the set.

As the show goes on, we learn that Kaye has a large tattoo covering his forearm which is actually the music to 'Your Song'. Definitely my favourite Elton track and the one that closed the show. It is also where the title of the show comes from.

Tonight was extra special as Kaye's parents were also in the audience. We learnt that Kaye’s father played piano, owned an Elton John musical score book and played for the family. It was this input into Kaye’s early life that set him on this path of hero-worship. Similarly Kaye spent his formative years playing classical piano and then joining a band just like Elton.

The Gatehouse is a great little venue in Highgate, the audience were friendly and willingly interactive. I chatted to a few and was pleasantly surprised to hear that one young man had been following Martin Kaye since seeing him perform on a cruise ship last year and had travelled from Milton Keynes to see the show bringing with him two other friends.

Probably one of the best small stage performances I have seen. I think it’s worthy of a much bigger stage and wouldn’t it be super if Elton, himself, caught a show. Next up is The Radlett Theatre just outside Harrow where performances start on 3rd March and then on to his hometown show at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester from the 21st April.

Reviewer - Penny Curran
on - 22/2/20

Saturday, 22 February 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: A Hunger Artist - The Square Chapel, Halifax.

Tonight’s performance was the directorial debut of a new theatre company called CVIVarts, so called because it adopts the director’s name. Carrieanne Vivianette, a theatre practitioner who has a dream to create her own unique and experimental theatre pieces.

This absurdist adaptation of Franz Kafka’s ‘A Hunger Artist’ takes a man, a cage and a clock and attempts to unpick the simple topics of the nature of art and the human condition.

As the doors opened to the small theatre space. we could see that the performance had already started. The simple set consisted of a cage marked out with chalk set central stage with piles of straw around the edges, a clock and a glass of water. This was the Hunger Artist’s (Henry Petch) domain for the whole performance. The Warder (Richard Koslowsky) sat close by and intermittently paced around the cage gazing at and guarding the Hunger Artist. The narrator (Carrieanne Vivanette) sat to the right of the cage and navigated us through the Hunger Artist’s days of starvation.

As the days went by, the narrator guided us through the Hungers Artist’s days and nights. As the crowds drew in close to watch this form of entertainment, the Hunger Artist performed with appropriate movements for a man who was starving himself, progressively getting more exhausted and tired as the days went by. The movement and choreography by Phil Sanger was superb and appropriate. It portrayed the tremendous pain and admiration of a man who was desperately trying to hold his audience's attention throughout the days and nights as they came to watch a man starve.

But as the days swiftly went by, the crowds got thinner and thinner and the Hunger Artist struggled to perform. He kept moving the outline of his cage further forward to try to hold their attention and retain the spectacle of curiosity and control.

As the 40 days of starvation drew closer, the narrator’s voice and strength grew and clearly portrayed the anger and desperation admirably of the Hunger Artist as he struggles to survive and keep his audiences.

Towards to end of the 40 days the Hunger Artist loses his battle to survive but not before giving a tremendous performance of movement portraying his sheer desperation.

After the Hunger Artist’s death, he was no longer the main attraction, so the warder simply replaced him with a new circus attraction: The Panther.

In conclusion it was a powerful and interesting performance which portrayed the Hunger Artist well with his desperation and endeavour to survive and stay the main attraction for as long as possible. All three characters were superbly acted but special credit to the Hunger Artist ( (Henry Petch) and narrator/ director Carrieanne Vivianette who should be proud of her directorial debut tonight.

Reviewer - Debbie Jennings
on - 21/2/20

Thursday, 20 February 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: The Last Temptation Of Boris Johnson - Northern Stage, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

The first half of 'The Last Temptation Of Boris Johnson' depicts the fateful evening in February 2016 when Boris Johnson made the decision to back the Leave campaign. The discussions held in that room between Michael Gove, Sarah Vine, Marina Wheeler, and Evgeny Lebedev during a dinner party explore, albeit sparingly in the wives’ cases, the motives of each person. Exposing Johnson’s inner conflict are the spirits of Churchill, Thatcher and Blair.

The second half jumps forward to the year 2029 where, in the chaotic aftermath of Brexit, we re-meet Johnson. He is no longer in political power but faced with another chance to “Make Britain Great Again” and get his name in the history books. The only caveat being, in order to get another shot at the leadership, he must support a referendum on Britain re-joining the EU; thus ‘Brentry’ is born.

The second half is a major improvement on a somewhat confused opening. As is to be expected from a narrative based on events of just 4 years previously, not much is learned in the first half that we didn’t already know. The funniest gag is Lebedev’s constant name-dropping, but, besides this, the kitchen scenes leave you searching for the point of this passably funny spectacle. The saviour of the first half is the inherently entertaining scenes between the past Prime Ministers in Boris’s head. Bill Champion, Emma Davies and Tim Wallers do a nice job in bringing flamboyant personas to the well-known faces, turning them into a sort of Angel/Devil on Johnson’s shoulder.

After the interval, it quickly becomes apparent that what was holding the first half back was the requirement to somewhat stick to reality. Being able to partly suspend belief and therefore accept the slightly outlandish, surreal events that unfold plays right into the sweet spot of writer Jonathan Maitland. The jokes, ranging from describing Sunderland as Chernobyl but with more metro branches to evidencing the completion of Amazon’s world takeover (including the BBC), consistently land better and the Buster Keaton style closing is both fitting and hilarious.

The main flaw with the piece is that it plays off the media's fully-formed and somewhat overused image of Bojo; the larger-than-life, clown-like character. The entire play is built on the notion that Johnson is a selfish, opportunistic, power-grabbing man with an uncanny capacity for survival, but that is as deep as the analysis goes. The internal monologue goes part way to humanising the dislikeable buffoon he is portrayed as on the surface, but in no way is this a revolutionary, new or original interpretation. That being said, although not picture perfect, Will Barton’s performance as Johnson should not be overlooked. He works with what he is given admirably. He has perfected his mannerisms and executes his appearance compellingly despite the difference in their physical stature.
On balance this is a piece of theatre which, like its subject matter, is inherently dividing. The satire could be more refined and the representation of Boris less caricature-like but overall it is a relatively amusing spectacle.

Reviewer - Rhiannon Wells
on - 18/2/20

Sunday, 16 February 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: The Dame - Millgate Arts Centre, Delph. Greater Manchester

A new theatre (for me) - Millgate Arts Centre - and what a beauty it is. This gem is set amongst the narrow streets of Delph, Saddleworth sandstone buildings and is a complete delight to discover and attend, and an honour to be welcomed so warmly, away from the blustering winds and wet weather outside. (There was a debate during the Q&A session after the show around as to whether we were in Lancashire or Yorkshire, as a sign when entering the village suggests being in the historic city of York). Primarily a receiving house, for some impressive shows, I was excited to attend ‘The Dame’, a show whose success and acclaim I had been aware of and just had to see for myself.

Written by Katie Duncan, for her father - Blue Peter daredevil Peter Duncan - to perform, there is clearly a lot to be said for a man in a dress (Peter, not Katie) and we are brilliantly drawn in and captivated by the presentation of this beautiful yet impactful and poignant piece. With a running time of 70 minutes, this space is the perfect setting for such an intimate, fringe-esque, tale of a veteran pantomime dame named Ronald Roy Humphrey who, whilst in the dressing room of the final(?) night of the run of 'Jack And The Beanstalk', opens the floodgates and expresses some rather raw insights into his background. He doesn’t look much without all the glamour of make-up and showbiz. From his roots as side-kick to his abusive (mainly in a disciplinary way), single-parent father, who was also a Music Hall performer in many a seaside town; to his struggles of the strain and burden of life in The Arts and the demands/attention of ‘fans’, this covers it all and can only be this powerful, as a one-man show.

With a minimal yet well-thought out set, of the dressing table and mirror adorned with bulbs, a props basket/trunk with all sorts in - including a ukelele - and a costume rail where hung an array of panto dame dresses and wigs...and Punch and Judy puppets. Described in the literature as ‘[exposing] the fragile creature beneath the make-up’, Ron/Peter describes it as armour: “my warpaint. The battle out’s all I’ve ever known”, which can easily be empathised with, in the presence of performers (from Saddleworth Players present in the audience), tonight and further afield.

During the rare post-show Q&A, where we had the pleasure of meeting the writer, questions were asked about the reason for the show and its preparations. We were informed that Duncam’s family were performers too and his mother had worked with Danny LaRue (one of the dresses - gold - is in the rail on set, as are the job lot that Duncan bought from somewhere, some years ago). Although Katie and Peter Duncan both have limited experience and insight into being a pantomime dame, the story stands up, probably with the great help of director, Ian Talbot, however Duncan was dame in his first Pantomime in Poole, last year. This offers a slight biographical insight.

Included in the show is reference to one Dan Leno (George Wild Galvin) who was a pantomime dame, actor and comedian in the late Victorian era, and a painting of him which is owned by Duncan. With the art of Pantomime moving from just a festive show at Christmas time to be used by producers as a mechanism to draw crowds at Easter too, this show is instrumental in affirming the roots or the art and celebrating that the efforts of performers, in lighthearted pantomime and all other forms, should be recognised all year round, not to mention the struggles that they evidently face and hide away. I brought up on the Q&A that most pantomime dames over the years, be it to draw in the crowds or be versatile at ad-libding, have been comedians and that I always suspected that comedians were so in order to suppress their own insecurities. We are always told not to take ourselves too seriously and what better way to do that than to have others laugh at/with us.

In short, this show is great! We wish Katie Duncan well in her future writing (we hear she has already finished her second piece) and wish Peter Duncan good luck in his next venture - Million Dollar Quartet, in India before a tour here.

The show now heads to Bury St Edmunds (19th & 20th), before The Pomegranate in Chesterfield (23rd) and Basingstoke's Haymarket (5th March)

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 15/2/20

Friday, 14 February 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: The Last Quiz Night On Earth - The Welcome Inn, Salford.

This is a new, site-specific play by Alison Carr. The world has been given seven hours’ notice that an asteroid the size of Singapore is about to hit the Earth, specifically via the bit of sky above Salford (why not?) and, being the stoic Northerners that the audience are, we have all decided to congregate in the pub and spend our last two hours of life having a pub quiz. As you do. Box Of Tricks Theatre Company presented tonight’s performance in the genuine working pub The Welcome Inn, Salford.

This is a really good idea for a play, and there was a lot of fresh comedy and some genuinely moving performances from the actors. But the audience had also been cast into the play as actors too, and that part of it was not quite handled as effectively as it could have been.

Let’s go back to the actors. Meriel Scholfield ruled as our pub landlady Kathy. Warm and friendly, she pumped audience hands vigorously and seemed to know everybody by their (fictional) name: – one luckless man was assigned the identity of Paul, her naughty ex, but as the world was about to end, she generously exempted him from his pub ban. She was soon joined by her barman Rav, who had donned a sequinned evening jacket and was now relishing in his alternate role as quizmaster. Shaban Dar was bossy, playful, anal and entertaining all at the same time as he dictated his music and launched the quiz that he had specially prepared for this momentous night.

So I was in a warm pub with my drink and crisps, I’d run into a friend to chat to over the quiz sheet, and I love pub quizzes. I actually forgot I was there to watch a play, and though Kathy had casually mentioned that we only had two hours to live, I forgot about that part too. Certainly nobody around me was bothered. We were all focused on those thirty questions……..

…… And just when we’d swapped sheets to mark the first round: – Kathy’s estranged brother Bobby, who she hadn’t seen for twenty years, burst through the door and demanded her car to escape the apocalypse.

…… And just when we’d swapped sheets for the next marking: – Rav’s ex-girlfriend Fran from high school, who’d been secretly stalking him on Facebook for years, burst through the door to declare that she was in love with him.

…… And: - so on.

This made the play very hard to concentrate on, because each time the marking was held up until they’d finished, and all I could think about was: did I get the Serena Williams question right? Please, Alison Carr – can you hold off the next scene until the marking’s been finished? (There were five quiz rounds, so this was a very frustrating play structure for an audience of trivia fiends……)

Chris Jack gave a mature and moving performance as Bobby, with an emotional arc leading up to a climatic reflection on his life in divorced and mortgaged middle management. Amy Drake brought a kooky yet vulnerable edge to Fran, thrashing around a little desperately for meaning in her own empty life, and yet still finding the goofy comedy of her role. Between them, they drew out the back stories and deeper emotional depths of Kathy and Rav, with a few new discoveries along the way….. And then right towards the end of the two hours, the lights started going on and off, and for the first time, we the audience looked up and felt the apocalypse to be near……

This is where I feel director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder had left out a dimension. The actors were talking about how five hours earlier they had been smashing crockery, hiding under office desks and looting the stationery cupboard in reaction to the news of their impending doom, and presumably we as audience-actors would have been reacting in similar ways earlier too, before arriving for our night of jollity. If the apocalypse had been factored in a little more in the earlier scenes of the play – a bit more unstable electricity, a bit more radio news being heard without being drowned out by audience chatter – if that tang had been put in beneath the frothy comedy and personal reconciliations – then it would definitely have been a last night on Earth to remember.

I will not divulge if our table won the £500 cash prize for best team name.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 13/2/20

Thursday, 13 February 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Wuthering Heights - The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Andrew Sheridan’s new adaptation of the Emily Bronte novel aimed at the primal aspects of the story. With elegant direction by Bryony Shanahan, a couple of live rock musicians, and some taxidermied birds spreading their wings up a wind-lashed dead tree, the Royal Exchange Theatre put its own very distinctive stamp on the production.

Designer Cecile Tremolieres had transformed the stage into a foggy, misty moorland of swamp and hillocks and plants, with a swaying swing to one side, and the dead tree looming over the stage with imploringly outstretched branches. Tremolieres’ costumes were mostly mid-Victorian, but with anarchic touches such as a jewelled earring in wealthy Heathcliff’s ear, and some really vibrant shades of dark pink and purple satin among the otherwise soft earthy tones. The only furniture was a few chairs and a tin bath – but in such a lush landscape, no further items were needed.

Lighting designer Zoe Spurr had narrow vertical lights providing dim illumination; but the absolute aesthetic star was Alexandra Faye Braithwaite and her ever-present, pulsating, subtly electronic sound score. Running from lyrical folk-like melodies to hard rock guitar riffs and quiet throbbing sounds that felt like blood moving, it was a wonder there wasn’t a soundtrack album available for sale afterwards.

Into this playground came Bronte’s famous story of oppression, rivalry, revenge and doomed romance.

Rakhee Sharma was earthy, fiery and sublime as Cathy. The story had been skewed to show her inner life as well as her outer life, and there were moments such as when she stopped time, and atoms appeared to be dancing around her, that were truly magical.

Gurjeet Singh matched her in intensity as her brother Hindley. He gave quite a nuanced and intelligent performance that journeyed from the unloved and spiteful boy to the smugly proud man – and then his fall into drunkenness and desperation.

David Crellin was warm and patient as their father Earnshaw, though with just a touch of edge when dealing with his son Hindley. Samantha Power was another warm presence as the housekeeper Nelly, but she was always observant, and her face kept up a running inner monologue of its own.

As the awkward gentleman suitor Edgar, Dean Fagan brought a touch of perfectly timed light comedy into the gloom. Doubling as both Edgar’s unwillingly virginal sister Isabella and Hindley’s snooty wife Frances, Rhiannon Clements had her own light touch and sense of comedy, and she especially had a lovely daffiness with Isabella.

Becky Wilkie and Sophie Galpin kept ultimate coolness as the live musicians, and child performers Raya Dasgupta and Lewis Freeman were fresh and innocent as the children of Cathy and Hindley.

Absolutely incredible though, was the performance of Alex Austin as Heathcliff. He was an unconventional casting choice – this is not the Laurence Olivier interpretation – but he embodied the primal unfettered rawness of the production’s aims to the maximum. Having spent most of the first act as an unwashed, abused and thoroughly unlikable feral street child: in Act Two he returned from his exile as a man, and a wealthy and well-dressed one – and this dynamic combination of Loki / rock god / elongated goblin relishing in his power was original, unnerving, and like nothing this reviewer had seen before. Austin sustained a very unpleasant yet laser-sharp energy right to the death scenes at the end – and by that point, the audience were quietly begging for release.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 12/2/20