Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Spur of the Moment @ Re:play, 16.01.15

I’m back again making myself at HOME for another segment of the ever impressive Re:play, and I am truly starting to appreciate why the festival has featured the pieces it has. Fluid writing and strong acting is without question, but the real quality of the festival’s programme is that the work gets the audience talking. And if I where to put money on it, I would bet Deaf Dog’s production of Spur of The Moment would top the list of the most confabulated.

Written by Anya Reiss at the tender age of 17, it is a play in which its characters are simultaneously toyed by relationships and distance, power and weakness, their truths and lies, all as a result of their desires. It's is a perfect recipe for controversy, and makes for delicious audience commentary.


Delilah (Tilly Slade) has all the traits of a 12 year old: sleepover parties with her friends, imitating High School Musical and looking forward to her 13th Birthday. Just rooms away her parents, Nick (Darren Kemp) and Vicky (Joi Rouncefield), are at loggerheads again over Nick’s recent affair with his ugly, older boss – and to make matters worse, was soon after made redundant. Financially stressed and frustrated the couple take in a 21 year old lodger, Daniel (Jack Alexander) who falls between being a pawn in the parental battle and more disconcerting, a subject for Delilah’s pubescent fancies.

The concurrent theme is staged by the clever use of two transferable doors; these serve to both represent the divide of narratives and crossing of boundaries. A moment that I thought worked particularly well is when Daniel storms between his own room, currently inhabited by his visiting girlfriend (Lucienne Browne) and the room of a now devoted Delilah. A growing danger is evident as Daniel crosses the boundary into Delilah’s room for the first time in the play.

Another interesting notion I found was in the direction of Nick and Vicky and their battles over tea and cloths. The direction of petulant impersonations, “shut ups” and temper tantrums, cast an irony over the seemingly ‘adult’ relationship of the play. This is then exaggerated when Delilah ultimately makes the most conscientious decision and sacrifices what she thinks would make her happy.

Spur of the Moment has an infectious blend of comedy and tension to make you hold your breath or curl your toes. Arguably it sets out to shock, but has an underlying hybrid of “you can’t always get what you want” and “be careful what you wish for”. One thing is for certain – it will get you talking.

Words: Kate Morris

Image: Courtesy of HOME

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A View From The Bridge @ Bolton Octagon, 16.01.14

A View From The Bridge, by Arthur Miller, is all about the destructive power of that oldest and ugliest of emotions: jealousy. Centred around Eddie Carbone (Colin Connor), his wife Beatrice (Barbara Drenna) and their niece Catherine (Natasha Davidson), the story takes place along the shores of the East River in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.


There is plenty of mirth in Miller's play, especially in the opening act where the family kid each other in an atmosphere of contentment. But this is not the perfect cookie-cut American family by any means, and once Beatrice's relatives from Italy arrive hidden feelings begin to creep out, like cockroaches from behind seemingly pristine wallpaper. Eddie is jealous of Catherine's interest in the newly arrived Rodolpho (Tristan Brooke), and once that indecent dynamic is established the play careens towards its inevitable and unhappy conclusion.

Some of the cast were familiar from recent Octagon performances and, like in those, here they delivered work of very high standard. Connor as patriarch Eddie managed to take us on his difficult journey without being overblown, while Drennan as his wife showed suitable levels of nervous stress. The accents, be they Italian or American, were pretty much spot on, which is always a relief for the audience and a considerable achievement for the actors.


Building up momentum as it goes, it is easy to see why this particular Miller play is held in such high regard and why the Bolton Octagon has put it on. Much has been made of director David Thacker's connection to Miller, and his assured hand delivered a performance that was visually interesting, emotionally engaging and a credit to his friend's play.

In some ways the story seems dated, with the female characters being expected to bow before patriarchal pressure. But while that might not be the way in most households, there are still many women whose choices are taken away by overbearing male figures, and this play is a reminder that while western society has come along way it is not a rising tide that has raised all boats. A strong start to 2015 for the Octagon.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Ian Tilton

Monday, 19 January 2015

JB Shorts @ Re:play, 14.01.14

Re:play has returned to serve up seconds of 2014s most delicious pieces of fringe theatre and, with the four course banquet of JB Shorts on the menu, how could I resist? Diets are short lived anyway! The collection of 4 fifteen minute plays are taken from the sold out JB shorts 11 and 12 programmes, and are written by established comedy and drama writers: Jane McNulty, David Isaac, Justin Moorhouse and the collaborative Peter Kerry and James Quinn.


Our petite fours start with the dark and intriguing A Hairline Crack. The piece explores the relationship of two women, living amongst vast tea sets they have hoarded for an un-pursued business venture. Button (Cathy breeze) is trapped in the residence due to immobility, but she gains power and control over Ronnie (Tigga Goulding) by vindictively questioning her whereabouts, making demands and ultimately smashing her dreams. The piece moves with naturalistic normality with an underlying dark motive that surprises both Ronnie and the audience.

Moving to our main course is the full and rich Paradise Island. Abdullah (Abdullah Afzal), an immigrant looking for work on the island, is near banished, until the King (Richard Hand) is besotted with Abdullah’s wife Liz (a show stealing teddy bear). The piece is wonderfully funny but I imagine not to everyone’s taste particularly when the audience are asked to shout the dreaded ‘he’s behind you’. The piece is a guilty pleasure because the components work – a witty script with pace, a cast with impeccable comic timing, and effective audience interaction.

Moorhouse’s serving is Leaky Bacon, the story of a family of women from three generations. Linking together their interactions are monologues, delivered by each character that shares personal insight into their life, secrets and feelings as well as those of the other characters. The script has clear inclination of something truthful and moving but I feel doesn’t have the opportunity to truly flourish in the short time frame.

A Great War is the final offering; a parody of a ‘highlights segment’ of rolling news show depicting the best bits/updates of WWI. The writing is brilliant, bountiful language and hilarious responses get the style and characteristics of the era, with the whole thing executed perfectly by newsreaders Nicolas (Arthur Bostrom) and Victoria (Victoria Brazier).

Full and satisfied from the smorgasbord of theatre, it’s obvious to me why JB appears on the Re:play bill: because variety is the spice of life.

Words: Kate Morris

Images: Courtesy of HOME

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time @ The Lowry, 09.01.15

Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time received a lot of attention when it was published. This was partly because it was a very good book, becoming a best seller, but also because its central character is a boy (Christopher) with a condition on the autism spectrum. Some overlooked the fact that the character is clever, charming and complicated and focused instead on this label. The stage adaptation, first running in the West-End and now on a national tour, makes this mistake impossible to make, portraying Christopher as the one label that definitely applies: human.


For those who have not read the book, a brief preamble: Christopher discover his neighbour's dog has been killed, and decides - against the advice of his Dad and his teacher - to try and find the killer. This leads him on an unexpected journey into his past, along with difficult confrontations in the present. As Christopher doesn't like strangers or being touched, and finds the sensory overload of the modern world hard to cope with, these are plentiful and make for both funny and painful viewing.

The successful portrayal of Christopher is key to the play and, in Joshua Jenkins, the production has an actor who can meet the demands of the role. Jenkins has Christopher's character down, from the constrained movements he makes to the liberated flights his imagination takes. The supporting cast, particularly his school teacher played by Geraldine Alexander, help deliver on the promise of Haddon's story, depicting both affection and infuriation with Christopher that mirrors the audience's own response.


The staging breaks Christopher's world down into lines like an electronic graph paper, showing the mathematical lens through which he understands reality. It also makes for a very playful space, one which can light up and be drawn on, and that the audience must use their imagination to make whole. Cute moments, like the chorus animating objects Christopher finds under his Dad's bed or acting out the private lives of his various neighbours at double speed, are inventive and slightly twisted, much like Christopher's own interpretation of events. All of this, accompanied by the strong performance of the cast, indicates a director - Marianne Elliott - at the top of her game, taking an already strong text and translating it with her own twists and touches to taste.

Given the popularity of the book, and the acclaim the play has already accumulated, tickets for the rest of the tour are probably hard to come by. But, given how good this play is, it is well worth trying to get them.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Courtesy of The Lowry

Monday, 22 December 2014

Beth Orton to lead February Wall of Sounds residency

Beth Orton has been named as the latest Wall of Sounds programme leader at Band on the Wall and applications are now open to female musicians, composers and vocalists from across the UK to join the week-long intensive residency.



Following successful artistic residencies led by folk group The Unthanks, jazz trio Snarky Puppy and most recently DJ Yoda, Orton is the latest artist to be invited by Brighter Sound to pass on her musical experience at the iconic leftfield venue during a week-long tuition period.

Her music CV includes two nominations for the Mercury Music Prize, collaborations with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams and Four Tet on her solo recordings and guest appearances on songs by The Chemical Brothers and William Orbit.



"I am thrilled to be asked to support and take part in this exciting and important project," she said. "Getting the chance to mentor, or simply the opportunity to stand as witness to the diverse, and possibly unheard, talents of artists from all across the UK fills me with curiosity and some apprehension!"

The programme will take place from 16 to 20 February, culminating in a live performance open to the public on 20 February.

The online application (here) will remain open until 5pm on 23 January.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

A Christmas Carol @ The Great Northern Playhouse 04.12.14

What do you think of when you think of Christmas - festive food? Merry music? Marley, Scrooge and Tiny Tim? Well if you do you'll be pleased to hear that the good people at The Great Northern Playhouse and The Flanagan Collective have wrapped all these elements up into one big gift with their dinner theatre production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.


The production starts out in the foyer, where Marley invites you in to Scrooge's parlour to try and turn the midwinter miser into a veritable Old Saint Nick. Seated at benches, Marley and the audience suddenly become apparent to Scrooge, who begs they quit his house and haunt him no more. What follows is a playful interaction between Marley and Scrooge, calling upon some of Dickens' best bits - like where Scrooge suggests a man with Christmas on his lips should be, "boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart," - while still engaging directly with the audience.

Of course it is all very well being entertained by a witty repast, but that is soon forgotten if the food itself is not filling. While I am no restaurant critic or gourmet I can certainly say this was simple, tasty Christmas food in quantities that went beyond generous. Scrooge and Marley took part in the meal too, staying in character to read jokes pulled from crackers and chat about their lives outside of the script - Scrooge on this occasion being inspired to start up his own company called 'Wonga' that would perfectly align with his principles.


After dinner came singalong songs, parlour games and more straight drama from the play itself, culminating in Scrooge's conversion. As someone who attended on their own, and is normally slightly apprehensive about participatory pieces, this would not usually be my idea of fun...but fun it was. From the very first the actors brought the audience into the spirit of the thing, and by the end it felt like a night spent with friends.

This is a great way to sign off on The Great Northern Playhouse, a space that has been filled with interesting things and has put on productions that do it a bit differently. The team plan to return toward the middle of next year in a new location - definitely something to look forward to for 2015 - but for now I suggest you enjoy them while you can with this fun night out that gets even the most hardened drama critics into the Christmas spirit.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Courtesy of Flanagan Collective

Friday, 5 December 2014

Free Music Industry Workshops for 14-18 Year Olds

Independent Music Week is working with Cato Music and Band On The Wall to produce a two-day music industry workshop at the venue. Applications are now open for 20 students to take part in the course which aims to develop participants' skills in non-performance live music.


The 'Live Music and Touring' introductory workshop will take place on Saturdays 10 and 17 January.

"The Cato Academy focuses purely on live music and touring and we want to bring up the next generation of touring crew professionally and honestly, we don't sugar coat anything. The live music industry is stronger than ever and we need these new skilled 'roadies' to look after it” said Glen Rowe, owner of Cato.

If you are selected, the course is free to attend. You will need to email learning@bandonthewall.org with the following information by midday on Wednesday 10 December:
·       Name
·       Gender
·       Age (Must be aged between 14 and 18 in January 2015)
·       250 words why you should to be given a free place on the course - this can include any live music experience, best gigs/live music seen and why and any other music related information
·       List of other work experience or jobs
·       Do you have any registered disabilities we should be aware of?
·       1 Reference (150 words)

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Russell Brand’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin @ The Lowry, 04.11.2014

Russell Brand’s outspoken opinions have seen him draw flak from both the left and right of the establishment he fervently condemns. The media lackeys despise him, yet they can’t resist exposing him exposing them as cannibals for their own salacious flesh. In the red corner, left wing academics question his authenticity and generally continue to put working class people off political involvement with their affronted People’s Front of Judea routine.

The internet, narcissism’s great recruitment tool, doesn’t help matters. The nature of the web lends itself to contrarian posturing; a battleground to bash your keyboard in tandem with or against whatever is trending, distorting perceptions and pumping misinformation through this proud nation’s veins.

That’s why it is important to get a fresh look at things, free from the online mind pollution that clouds your judgement with Britain First memes and cat videos.

Although many people sully the reputation of the school playground with comparisons to Westminster, tonight’s book reading was full of well-behaved kids and it was refreshing to gauge a child’s perspective on the latest controversy surrounding this divisive figure.

Society’s latest point of contention with the gobby comedian? His children’s book. Not a pornographic novel or Holy Scripture, just a kids’ book. A silly rewrite of a fairytale with some mind blowing illustrations to prompt your imagination along.


Such is Brand’s current state of infamy that this book is garnering some of the most scathing attacks on his person. Granted, it is shameless in its encouragement of free thinking and critical of said establishment, but that doesn’t make it Mein Kampf for Penguin Beginners. Nicholas Tucker’s review in particular is so laughably austere that he comes across as a moralist from a bygone age, completely missing the point about what kids love.

The scatological, the grotesque and the rip roaring silliness of anarcho-rats spraying their ‘bum custard’ had the kids in stitches and, although I’m not a children’s literature lecturer like Tucker, it was obvious that these “pre-adolescent schoolchildren” were not “firmly stuck at the anal stage of their psychosexual development”.

Him on the other hand… But enough of this bum custard slinging.

The room was full of youngsters who’d been dragged along by excitable mums (and about three dads) all kept waiting in a hot room whilst some weird, hairy man whom they didn’t recognise was stuck in traffic. If you wanted an honest critical reaction free from the bile of the internet, then this was the place to get it.

Initially, Brand entered the room shame faced for his late appearance and then briefly chatted to a few children with a look of mortification, realising that he’d have to tone down his lewd persona. However, tone down his message he did not. He spoke to the kids with a shared curiosity and it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t just a vanity project. He didn’t patronise and in return the kids didn’t mock him for using big words, unlike the banter waging trolls of social media.

The book actively encourages vocabulary expansion with a glossary included. Afterwards, I spoke to Ollie (11) and Sam West (8), two brothers who loved how there was a rat in the corner of each page directing them to new words and meanings. When I asked them if they found any of it hard to understand, they shook their heads vigorously, eyeballing me like the condescending grownup that I am. Both are fans of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake – there is a mischievous correlation with Brand’s delivery and Chris Riddel’s illustrations.

As Christmas draws near, people are encouraged to buy their kids computer games glorifying war, mobile phones, and other debris from capitalism’s shelves, and nobody bats an eyelid. When this book appears, the opposite is true. If this state of affairs doesn’t sit well with you, I’d recommend you buy Brand’s book for a relative.

Michael Gove’s jingoistic syllabus is more likely to lead your children into danger than the Pied Piper, so do them a favour and prepare them to question what they’re being spoon fed. Who knows, they may grow up being less selfish than their adult counterparts.

Words: Nathan McIlroy
Photo: courtesy of The Lowry

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Farewell To Arms @ The Lowry, 13.11.14

What's that on the stage: is it a film? Is it a play? No, it's A Farewell To Arms, the latest production from mixed-media masters Imitating The Dog. An adaptation of Hemingway's breakthrough novel, the show stirs radio-style narration, cinematic expansiveness and straight up drama together to create a new theatrical concoction.


Set in World War One the play tells the tale of Frederic Henry (Jude Monk McGowan), an American volunteer in the Italian Ambulance service. After being blown up by a shell Henry finds himself in hospital receiving treatment from English Nurse Catherine Barkley (Laura Atherton) and as he heals their love for one another grows. Unfortunately for them the cynicism, hurt and pain of the war is never far away, and eventually the relationship becomes just another casualty of it.

Rather than altering the book for the stage Imitating The Dog use a chorus to narrate the descriptive passages, meaning that Hemingway's choppy but evocative expositions are not lost. The second function of the chorus is that of filmmakers, as they operate cameras that capture the action as it happens. This footage is then projected onto the set itself, meaning that each line is delivered both by the actors and by their cinematic selves.


As is often the case with work like this the worst and best bits stemmed from the same source. The projected images had a slight delay, which meant that the actors' voices were out of sync with the footage behind them. Rather like a rattling noise in a car it was a minor irritation you knew you should ignore but just couldn't. However, some of the projections were truly transporting, as when Frederic and Catherine were rowing across a lake, their faces combined with a scene of shimmering moonlit water. Further, the directors (Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, who also adapted the text) and actors chose to deliver the dialogue in a deadpan manner. In some places this worked well, capturing the hard nature of Hemingway's prose, but at other times it was so stunted that it became comical. This was particularly an issue for Atherton, whose delivery didn't quite work for much of the play, causing Catherine to come across as rather flat and frantic.


This production does exactly what it needed to: it tried out experimental storytelling ideas, and proved that these techniques can work and are worthwhile. Rarely have I felt that I, and the people I was with, had so much to say about a play, and while not all of it was positive much of it was. Finally, they did justice to a great book that can not have been easy to adapt to the stage - this is, in fact, the first time such a production has ever been put on in England.

Imitating The Dog are onto something here and, once they iron out a few technical issues, I am sure they will be making more interesting mixes with this technique sometime soon.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Ed Waring

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Naked Old Man/John And Mark @ Taurus Bar 12.11.14

Theatre is at its absolute best when it’s stripped back to the bare essentials, no fluff or extravagant sets, just expression and communication. This we learn through Northern Outlet Theatre Company’s double bill. The first, Naked Old Man, is written by Academy Award nominated writer Murray Schisgal.


Performed by Richard Sails, the play follows the 82-year-old writer entertaining 3 of his late colleagues that he envisages in his mind’s eye. The 45-minute monologue is beautifully written and the phrases are turned as frequently, and as elegantly, as a carousel. Sparked by the question “what it feels like to be old,” Sails uses the eloquent language to poignantly communicate a lifetime of experience, a frustration of present condition and expectation for the future. Despite an inevitable theme of mortality, Sails has a talent for allowing the words to carry weight and poignancy without shrouding the character in pity from the audience. A theme of legacy is present within this piece as the men discuss their accomplishments, which follows quite nicely into the second performance of the evening.

They say you should never meet your heroes; one can only suspect that this is to avoid a possible glass shattering realization that they are just another ‘working class hero.’ Being an away from home Scouser and avid John Lennon fan, I was cautious of this when I sat to watch John and Mark.

The play is simultaneously set inside a high security prison and the psyche of Lennon’s assassin Mark Chapman, played by Matthew Howard-Norman. A dramatic and dangerous character can bring out bad habits – even in the best of actors. The temptation to shock and awe the audience can be a persuasive choice over being truthful to the text and usually ends in disaster. Thankfully disaster was evaded in Howard-Norman’s performance. His portrayal of Chapman was executed to perfection, with a controlled psychopathic coldness that remained naturalistic.


Equally as challenging is playing a legend of such popularity, fame and followers. The pressure must have really been on when the show performed at The Lantern Theatre in Liverpool. None the less Lee Joseph pulls it off with precision and flare. Visiting Chapman as a spectre, Joseph swaggers around with that eminent Lennon confidence, reinforced by all the recognised mannerisms, image and distinguishable nasal voice. That being said, Joseph gave the character another dimension that raised it above mere impressions – he managed to capture Lennon’s furtive vulnerability.

The play has been deemed as controversial, receiving some criticism for fulfilling Chapman’s bid for notoriety in an attempt to ‘steal’ Lennon’s fame. This controversy is unjustified as overall the piece doesn’t deal with a singular character’s experience, but deals with love, faith, obsession and shared yearning for fulfilment. A truthful piece of two men connected by a horrific event driven by their personal hubris.

Words: Kate Morris

Images: Courtesy of Northern Outlet Theatre Company