Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Stuff @ 24:7 Festival, 20.07.14

Some plays take a while for you to settle in. Stuff isn’t one of those plays.

I don’t know much about Mick Cooper but anyone who can hook you in with three characters in a living room for an hour knows how to draft their writing until it gleams. A lot of the time within fringe theatre the productions are works in progress which gauge a reaction instead of forcing one. Stuff is fully formed as well as expertly nuanced, once again raising the bar for this year’s 24:7 festival.


The story centres on a married couple who are trying for a child without success. The brooding wife Jess, played by Eve Burnley, is excellently cast as is her ex military husband Toby, played by Danny Ryder. He’s a discharged soldier (no pun intended) who gets hot headed when his manhood is called into question and this crisis of masculinity leads him to waiver about parenthood. Jess openly confesses that having kids is ‘the next thing to tick off the list’ and her desperation to achieve her vision tests the relationship to its limits.

IVF is discussed in depth and in one memorable scene the procedure is even mimed by Xav, their close friend who happens to be dying, played by Karl Greenwood in a show-stealing performance. He remains an eternal optimist throughout and beautifully offsets the selfish needs of his friends with his kindness. He offers his worldly possessions as last will and testament and won’t take no for an answer. This also happens to include his Stuff - or rather his shame custard/love gravy/bollock yoghurt - which he gives them ‘first dibs on.’


Due to his lack of self-pity or perhaps due to how wrapped up as a couple Jess and Toby have become, Xav’s illness takes a back seat to their bickering. His tumour dictates when his body clock runs out but that still doesn’t stop the couple airing their parental grievances as if their lives depended on it.

People will get different things from this play which is what’s so great about it. For all the humour involved which made the heavy topics of infertility, and death more palatable, there are pertinent questions ringing around your head when the laughter subsides. When a play can grab you in so swiftly and keep you thinking for days afterwards you know that the writer is a talent worth keeping your eyes on. I’d highly recommend seeing anything by Mick Cooper and this cast. Just maybe give this one a miss if you like tzatziki.

Words: Nathan McIlroy

Image: Courtesy of My Bleeding Heart Productions

Monday, 28 July 2014

Afterglow @ 24:7 Festival, 24.07.14

This tale of girl meets boy strikes an interesting counter point/companion piece to the similarly themed In My Bed. Both share similar set design (the action revolves around a bed) and a fractured approach to narrative structure but Afterglow is easily the lighter of the two pieces.


The play is a two hander and as such lives or dies on the spark between it's romantic leads. Both Julie Burrow (who also wrote) and John Weaver share an easy chemistry, playful, likeable and candid. Both give charming and emotionally charged performances. They are the every couple, their problems are shared candidly and as things unravel the piece does not force us to take sides. At the bow the audience is left thinking of their own relationships, what is and what could have been.

Burrow's script is witty and heartfelt. When he asks her what her favourite place in the world is, she replaces “Barcelona.” When she asks the question of him he responds “The middle of a tram.” This is her first full length piece and I hope she continues to write with such humanity and truth.

Megan Marie Griffith's direction is smart and inventive use is made of the stage and set to depict various locations (the blue bed cover becomes the sea in a beach scene). The pacing is tight and she teases subtle performances from her actors.


Whilst Afterglow may explore well travelled territory, the modern relationship, rarely have I seen this subject approached so unpretentiously. For all it's speeches to the audience and fun use of set it feels oddly untheatrical in it's depiction of a realistic relationship. It's in the small moments, the truthful moments, that this play really shines and whilst it may not have much new to say it says it better than most.

Words: Sean Mason

Images: Courtesy of 24:7 Festival and PYFOP.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Lives & Loves of Vera Dymond @ 24:7 Festival, 24.07.14

They say it’s lonely at the top, but not half as lonely as it is at the bottom, lost and forgotten, which is where club singer Vera Dymond finds herself in The Lives and Loves of Vera Dymond from writer Jayne Marshall.


“You can’t polish a turd,” says Vera (Melissa Sinden) in her opening address, “But you can roll it in glitter.” This would certainly be an apt description of her backing singers’ early rehearsal efforts, an act in sequined screaming rather than stylish singing. Dubbed ‘The Dymontees’ Renee (Kimberley Hart-Simpson) and Caitlin (Laura Mold) are almost as broken as Vera herself, only they’re young enough not to notice. We follow their attempts to hone the howling into something enjoyable, as Dymond tries to rekindle the flame of her former glory while The Dymontees seek to surpass her and seal their own stardom. All of this occurs under the watchful eye and wandering hands of manager Vic (Adrian Palmer), an old-time promoter who is out to exploit them for all they’re worth. Intercut with the struggling and scrapping are flashbacks of Vera’s own origins, which have a striking similarity to the present day events.

The play is pitted with pithy putdowns, snappy asides and plain old silliness that gets a lot of laughs. However, this perhaps prevents the characters from developing further, and as the three singers veer between cattiness, contempt and consoling one another it becomes quite hard to work out exactly how they feel. This is not to take away from the work of the actors, who all gave engaging performances; the highlight coming when Renee – Encouraged by Vera in a Disney-esque fashion to “sing a song that means something to you” – does an endearing number that reveals a soft centre beneath her made-up exterior.

Ultimately it was the musical numbers that worked best, especially the one discussed above, and keeping the singers on stage as real-life silhouettes during scenes they were not involved in was a cute touch. The live band accompanying the piece gave the show a sonic depth that made it feel like a real music performance and not just a play about a band. Not everything came off though, as the flashbacks scenes – where an invisible young Vera (voiced upstage by Sinden) is harangued by her manager Billy (Pat Lally) – made for awkward viewing.

The Lives and Loves of Vera Dymond captures the seedy side of showbiz well, and is a fun way to spend an hour.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Friday, 25 July 2014

NOW THEN | ISSUE 11 | A MAGAZINE FOR MANCHESTER

We have all sorts of news to share along with this issue, our 11th. The final few drops of our ale collaboration with Marble Brewery are out and about (try the Marble Arch) after an incredibly successful run. Here's the photo blog of our brewing day again.


We have also launched our shiny new website, which will host each magazine's writing online. This time it features the Tycho interview, Mr Hass's art work, news, reviews and opinion, including features on Central Library, Urban Psychosis and nutritional reports - all the same as the printed magazine but with extra videos and links.


On Saturday 26 July we'll be in Moston for a free event, which is the area on the other side of Simon Bray's lens in our issue 11 photo feature. Running 2pm-7pm, the event includes a free DJing workshop run by Mind On Fire and Taste The Difference, followed by a special live soundtrack performance by beatboxer and vocal sculptor Jason Singh. If you don't know what a vocal sculptor is or does, then make you come armed with questions to ask him after his short talk about his craft. Sign up to the workshop by emailing ian at nowthenmagazine dot com with your name and 'MIND ON FIRE WORKSHOP' in the subject line. Did I mentioned it's free all day? See you there.

Here are our supporters for this issue (in page order). Be independent, buy independent.

MANCHESTER ACADEMY VENUES.
Manchester Academy.

MARBLE & NOW THEN ALE.
Marble Beers.

CHORLTON DRINKING.
Electrik / Volta.
MONO Chorlton.
Strange Brew.

FOOD AND DRINK.
Proof Chorlton.
Morley Cheek's.
International Anthony Burgess Foundation.

HEALTHY LIVING.
The Eighth Day Shop & Cafe.
Lotus Vegetarian Kitchen.Manchester Acupuncture Clinic.
Chin & Tonic.

ARTS & DESIGN.
East Street Arts.
Opus Distro.
Hazel Bee.
Chorlton Art Market.

GOING OUT IN MCR.
Museum of Science and Industry.
Hot Damn @ Liars Club.

SUMMER FESTIVALS.
Cloudspotting Festival 2014.
Ramsbottom Festival (sponsored by Outstanding Beers.).

MUSIC AND THEATRE PERFORMANCE.
Brighter Sound.
Band On The Wall.Into The Road @ 3MT.

TWENTY TWENTY TWO.
Brand new ping pong room now open.

Three Women @ 24:7 Festival, 23.07.14

Three Women is an inter-generational drama about coping with loss, and how life has a knack of passing its patterns down through the family tree. Written by Mari Lloyd and directed by Peter Mitchelson, it tells the story of Lorraine (Jackie Jones), her daughter Ellie (Lily Shepherd) and Nan (Annie Edwards). Ellie has just had a miscarriage from an unexpected pregnancy, which sends Lorraine into feelings she thought she had forgotten. Unwilling or unable to communicate with one another directly, Nan arrives and attempts to smooth things over. Blame, shame and confusion ensue as the three try to come to terms with what has happened and with how they feel towards each other.


Although there is a good idea at the play’s heart, neither the script nor the performance manage to get the most out of it. Much of what happens involves people changing their minds quickly, switching from one decision or feeling to another and back again. While this may indeed be what happens in real life, the lack of space makes the play feel rushed, giving a sense that although a lot is being said not a lot is actually happening. This leads to the story stagnating somewhat, and it never really makes much progression after the opening 15 minutes. Indeed, the start actually works quite well because it is taken at a slower pace and has almost no dialogue.

A couple of elements did work: the set design was excellent, a cut above what you would normally expect from a fringe piece. The casting was also a success, as the three women made a believable family unit and worked well together. However, this is a case of what might have been rather than what actually was, with Three Women remaining a promising concept rather than becoming a successful play.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Thursday, 24 July 2014

In My Bed @ 24:7 Festival 23.07.14

When love is in harmony it is a wonderful thing. But when one person’s love isn’t reciprocated that can create all kinds of problems, not only for the couple involved but also for those who care for them. In My Bed, from writer Rebekah Harrison, shows the consequences asymmetric affection can have, and how something that should be beautiful can turn out to be bleak.


The play begins with the small talk of housemates Sarah (Olivia Sweeney) and Rose (Amy Drake), who quickly form an endearing double act. “New bedding means one thing!” chides the irrepressible Rose as Sarah prepares for a date. The date leads to Danny (Kurt Nikko) coming home with her; they cuddle, but he's reluctant to get closer and so that's as far is it goes. Something about this doesn't seem quite right or, as Rose puts it the next morning, “Snuggles, what the fuck?” Soon Danny becomes an ever-present, leaving Sarah to question what it all means while Rose is kept at a distance, the blissful balance of their friendship thrown out by the introduction of a third force.

I don’t know what the actors and director did to achieve such great onstage chemistry and cohesion, but I have seen very few pieces where the characters seemed so natural as a collective. They also gave great individual performances: Sweeney has an iridescent intensity as Sarah, Drake is interesting and irreverent as the doting Rose, while Nikko works well as Danny, the man who isn’t quite there. Although dealing with some dark issues the text is not heavy, using a lightness of touch to paint a detailed picture with a few strokes. Recycling lines from different parts of the play works wonderfully well, with the actors striding across the stage to deliver these flashbacks while Sarah descends into internal agony.

The result is hypnotic, with the repetitions accentuating how trapped the characters have become in the destructive patterns of their lives. However, all this is lightened by a playful humour, as when Danny asks a series of disturbing ‘would you rather’ questions and Rose delivers her catchphrase “fuck him off!” with ever increasing splenetic vigour.

A very well written play with excellent performances and smart direction, In My Bed condenses the consequences of unbalanced affection into a moving hour of theatre, one that is well worth watching and that will hopefully have a life beyond its run at 24:7.

Words: Andrew Anderson

The Box of Tricks @ 24:7 Festival, 23.07.14

The Box of Tricks follows the building and breakup of brotherly bonds, illustrating the impact a feud can have on a family and the strains that exist between siblings. Written by Ric Brady & Stephen M Hornby and directed by Helen Parry, it deals with issues of expectation and ambition in a confident and concise manner.


Brothers Mike (Sam Thompson) and Mark (Sam Moran) live together in what at first appears to be a happy home. However, it soon becomes clear that everything is not alright and Mike is left to look after younger brother by himself. He offers the stability, security and support that a parent normally would and, in return, receives the unfettered adoration of his sibling. Jump forward twenty years and we see Mike returning home from abroad, no longer the centre of the family but now a pariah among his own people. What happened to cause such a seismic shift?

The story is paired down to the essentials, allowing a lot of ground to be covered in an hour without feeling rushed. Told with a mix of present and past events, the writing is clean and each character has a clearly defined voice that can be quickly picked up on. Mike’s support of Mark, who he begs to, “Please be someone,” is touching, as is his self-sacrifice in working to support Mark’s ambitions. As a pair Thompson and Moran go well together, although perhaps the standout moment is Thompson’s tearful performance in the closing soliloquy. The rest of the cast are also due praise, supporting the central pair assuredly. Parry has marshalled her actors well, keeping a stable balance between the different personalities and allowing each to express themselves without dominating, while the story moves on at an appropriate pace.

One could easily imagine The Box of Tricks as a full production, either on a professional stage or perhaps as a television play. Doing so would also alleviate the issue of adult actors playing themselves as children, which is often problematic and proved to be so here; it is nigh on impossible for adult male actors to play very young children without some degree of awkwardness. Given the needs of the script it is an unavoidable issue, and Thompson and Moran got through it without too many difficult moments.

The Box of Tricks is a solid play that tells an interesting story in a succinct manner, with a high standard of writing, direction and performance - well worth watching.

Words: Andrew Anderson

To The Dam @ 24:7 Festival, 22.07.14

Life isn’t linear; it is irrational and irregular, made up of feelings, moments and memories that don’t always fit together. But, somehow, we’ve got to make sense of it all, and that’s just what Lisa, played by Jo Gerard, is trying to do in To The Dam, a new one-woman show from writer and director John Clarke.


A middle aged mother of one living in Todmorden, Lisa's life has not been easy. She's lost close connections, suffered through an abusive marriage and has a difficult teenage daughter who she does daily battle with. But, throughout it all, she's had the dam: silent and unchanging, it is a place to find peace, pleasure and, perhaps, acceptance.

The structure of To The Dam is discontinuous, with present-day narration inter-spliced with recollections of past feelings, thoughts and conversations. Not everything Lisa does is likeable, but her actions always make sense in the context of her character, whether that is re-enacting a fight, recalling an old song or remembering how love used to be. Her language is by turns hard, pretty and poetic, creating a vivid world that feels so real you could almost step out of your seat and into the scene, with the words rising around you like the water of the reservoir itself.

To bring such disparate parts of a person's persona together, knitting them into a cohesive whole, is a very impressive achievement. Whether her face is contorted with hatred, her voice trembling with emotion or her limbs lost in the joy of movement, Gerard is always utterly engaging as Lisa. The direction plays a big part in this, Clarke and Gerard clearly forming a fantastic working relationship both with each other and their character. Further flourishes, such as the use of lighting to create a tripartite shadow of Lisa on the rear wall, accentuate the performance.

To The Dam has a deep empathy for the impact of events on one woman’s life, and great credit must go to Clarke for his skilful writing and subtle understanding of the subject. This is a great play, with a stunning performance that will stay with me for some time to come.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Pass @ 24:7 Festival, 22.07.14

“Everything could change or nothing could change,” says Jake (Ethan Rodgers) in Pass, the new play from writer Naomi Sumner that is debuting at this year’s 24:7. That single sentence is a great summation of the teenage experience: life is exciting, fresh and fun while, at the same time, it all seems so hard to grasp, slow to move and no one thinks you’re ready for it. It is this universal story of juvenile yearning that Pass follows, told through the tale of two school kids in love.


The premise is pretty simple: Jake wants to go to university and get out of Manchester while his girlfriend Maddie (Natasha Davidson) is quite happy where she is, glad to be young and in love. Caught in this clash is newly qualified teacher Louise (Joanna Hinton), a tutor to Jake and a potential rival for his affections as far as Maddie is concerned. The three strong wills go to war, with inevitable break-ups, make-ups, and break downs as Jake takes his final exams. The question is, will he pass?

Pass’ storyline works well and the dialogue has strong moments, as with the quoted line at the start of this review. However, the quality is not consistent throughout and is occasionally clunky rather than quick and charismatic; a drama like this needs a real feel for how young people speak and a sense of their energy. That said, both Rodgers and Davidson did well with the material and made believable teens, which is not an easy assignment for an actor.

As to the direction, the pacey scene changes gave a feeling of life flashing by, but the sudden snaps of sound used to punctuate these didn’t quite work, preventing a mood from developing; it was hard to get lost in the play. It was also a tricky piece to see in thrust staging, as several key moments happened at the far reaches of the stage where they could not be seen so well from the other side.

Pass succeeds in capturing that feeling that fifteen is everything, that there is no time to lose and you’ve got to have it all right now – an impatience for life to begin. While it has some weaknesses there is also enough to suggest that this play can be improved, and that those involved have potential.

Words: Andrew Anderson
Image: Courtesy of 24:7

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me @ Joshua Brooks, 08.07.14

It is said that if you knew when you'd die you'd go mad. But the madness of not knowing when you can live again is itself a form of death. That's what an Irishman, and Englishman and an American find out when they're imprisoned by unseen terrorists with unknown motives for an indefinite amount of time in Frank McGuinness' play Someone Who'll Watch Over Me.


First on stage were Adam (Alastair Gillies) and Edward (Richard Patterson), who make up the American and Irish contingent respectively. Their sniping, fighting and friendship had a real feel of brotherliness; the actors have a clear chemistry. Their ragged appearance seemed real, and the physical interactions between them felt threatening, a result of strong performances and good direction. However, the arrival of Englishman Michael (Karl Seth) upset this symbiotic relationship somewhat, and from here on the play never quite regained its momentum, with Michael pitched perhaps a little too old-world-English for believability.

The basement of Joshua Brooks was the perfect location for Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, which is set in a squalid prison (make of that what you will). The bare brick walls and metal roof were well dressed and lit, and Colin Connor's directorial choice to leave the actors lying on display in their cell during the interval engendered further audience investment in the story.

The play, first produced in 1991, is of the wordy kind that strives for atmosphere rather than realism, where dialogue is a diatribe rather than a direct depiction of existence. Obviously the play has been a success, but it felt like it might not have aged terribly well - it is overwrought and overly earnest without offering enough insight to justify being either of those things. The performances of Gillies and Patterson were strong, the atmosphere convincing, but the material itself did not quite work to my mind. However if you're into dark, paranoid pieces then this might well be your thing.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Image: Shay Rowan