Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Snowangels @ The King's Arms, Salford, 16.08.14

Snowangels, the latest play from Fresh Loaf Productions, is a two hander from writer Joe McKie that, rather like an English summer, swings from sunny spells to stormy skies in a very short space of time. We follow the lives of Daniel (Charlie Ryan) and Mia (Keeley Fitzgerald), childhood friends who’ve become a couple and are now dealing with the difficulties of adulthood. Old emotions from youth like jealousy, guilt and shame keep coming back, making it hard to move on and grow up. These forces take a heavy toll on their relationship as well as their individual well-being, drawing them into very dark places.


The script has many good lines and details, as when Daniel jokes in iambic pentameter or when Mia tenderly wraps a pain au chocolat up in a tissue like an infant in swaddling clothes. The dialogue, both between Daniel and Mia and also with the other unseen characters whom they address, feels authentic. However, the text was slightly heavy with similes, which had the effect of diluting the strength of the best ones. The storyline could also do with an edit, as the concept of time-travel (which both claim to experience) seemed unnecessary; the narrative works without it. Overall though this is a script with promise, a rough gem waiting to be cut and cleaned rather than a plain pebble that can be polished no further.

As to the acting, Ryan was charming and cruel as Daniel, doing justice to both sides of the character. However, it was Fitzgerald who was the revelation here. Portraying pain, need and suffering without playing too big, her performance left many in the audience wiping tears from their eyes. Her trembling hands, shaking shoulders and tear-streaked cheeks offered realism to the point of discomfort. This performance, brought out by the partnership of Fitzgerald and directors Joe Mellor & Ollie Kerswell, was exceptional.

As with previous Fresh Loaf productions this is an achievement beyond the norm, showing a sensitivity to difficult issues that belies the young age of the writer, performers and directors. The script could do with some tightening, and perhaps the level of abuse and pain portrayed was not quite explained by the character’s earlier development, but on the whole Snowangels is a promising play, difficult to watch but worth sticking with.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Image: Courtesy of Fresh Loaf Productions

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Luke Jackson @ Barista, 18.07.14

Luke Jackson has been creating waves for a while now. Emerging on the acoustic folk scene a couple of years back at the age of 18, but already with years of songwriting and performing behind him and further championed by established musicians such as Show Of Hands and Martyn Joseph, he’s a couple of albums into a career which is set to continue to soar.


While his impressive debut, More Than Boys, contained songs and stories about growing up and sounded very much like a young man finding his recording feet, his second effort was a different story. Fumes and Faith emerged earlier this year with a hail of marvellous reviews. With more of a blues feel to the songs, it proved quite a step in him rapidly becoming a confident and down to earth young man. To see him play in a tiny local venue – which sold out, naturally – was too good a chance to miss.

Whether he’s singing his own songs or covering the a cappella blues standard, ‘Grinning In Your Face’, the traditional ‘Man Of Constant Sorrow’ or ‘Beeswing’ by the legendary Richard Thompson, the two halves of the set were quality personified.


The gig also saw a couple of new songs thrown in, which seem to have taken him away from the bluesy ambience of his last recording. ‘Heart Of Stone’ and a touching, delicate ‘Flowers’, written around his experience of losing a friend in his teenage years, both bode well for the next record. With just ‘More Than Boys’ and a superbly rearranged  ‘Last Train’ from his first album in the set, Luke is definitely moving at a pace, not only in his writing but also in his stunning playing, ranging from dramatically strong and forceful to delicate picking, mixed expertly for the small venue.


Together with his own very distinct identity, Luke is now set with a sound and an increasingly broad set of unequivocally mature and self-assured songs – phrases which seem to be bandied about whenever Luke Jackson is mentioned. The bluesy approach of his latest work gives the impression of him being an artist who has suddenly grown up – rather like one of the characters about whom he sings, Charlie in the big world – and fulfilling the promise of becoming a musician of considerable stature.

Words & photos: Mike Ainscoe

The show was the last in the season of Playing Out gigs promoted by Rick Stuart whose Roots & Fusion show plays on Stockport’s PureFM. Watch out for shows in the Stockport area soon.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Review: Young British Artists – A Change By Any Other Name (YBAs Records)

After two EPs and years of buzz, the Manchester-based band Young British Artists has finally released a full-length album, A Change By Any Other Name. The eleven track album showcases the band’s ability to understand the theatrical elements of performance.


Initial tracks exhibit a thrashing, surf rock sound and, while there is a shift to more understated tones in fourth track ‘Mirror Trail’, Leo Scott’s vocals always remain an adamant component. The second half of the album establishes a strong keyboard infusion that lingers throughout the remaining tracks, meshing with guitar and an orchestral build up and break down, as demonstrated in ‘Everything in Front of You’ when Scott aptly sings, “Everything has been laid out”.

The steady insistence of last track ‘Forget Your Past’ attests to a steadfastness throughout certain chaos and imparts a valid confidence that this band has bright days ahead.

Words: Ruby Hoffman

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Stockport Old Town Fringe Festival 2014

The revitalisation of Stockport's Old Town continues apace, with more independent traders opening up all the time and the Fringe Festival scheduled for the end of August.


The festival, taking place across the final weekend of August ( Friday 29 to Sunday 31), stands as a benchmark of the new cultural life being breathed into the area, following a successful Portas Pilot bid in May 2012. The schedule includes artisan food and drink, comedy, live music, art installations and workshops.

The focal point of the festival will be the market hall, affectionately known as the 'glass umbrella', whose outdoor courtyard will host Foodie Friday from 6pm on 29 August, featuring a range of culinary stalls and live music.


Nearby, the popular new arts venue Seven Miles Out is taking centre stage for a range of events and activities, including the last of Mojo Bravo Comedy Club's series of Edinburgh Fringe preview shows featuring Vikki Stone.

Other highlights include a music performance by the lively Gideon Conn, whose upbeat and quirky crossover of hip hop and folk never fails to raise a smile, and there are family activities across the whole weekend, such as Pif Paf's magical tours around the Old Town on their Flycycle and Submercycle inventions.



In February 2012, Stockport gained the unwelcome accolade of being the large town centre with the highest shop vacancy rate in England and Wales. Since then, locals have secured Portas Pilot funding which has been ring-fenced to invest in plans to add life to its neglected and waning independent trade in the town. Among its programme of events, the Fringe Festival will display the new vibrant spirit instilled in Stockport and in particular the Old Town.

Ian Pennington

For more information about the event and Stockport Old Town, visit their new website.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Don't Hate, Gyrate

When the EDL visits Manchester on Saturday 16 August it won’t be to spread hatred and fear, but instead the opposite will be true. Two years ago, with EDL protests grabbing headlines in the national media, Alex Jones and some friends joked about the idea of claiming the acronym back from the clutches of racism and violence. Today their joke has developed into a positive movement aiming to promote community spirit and diversity under the heading of English Disco Lovers.


Beginning with social media and search engine optimisation to link the ‘EDL’ acronym with their own English Disco Lovers title, they then set about creatively and humorously deflating the negative right-wing messages by arriving in fancy disco dress, aiming soundsystems at English Defence League demonstrations and turning Gloria Gaynor's ‘I Will Survive’ up to 11. Elsewhere, the Disco Lovers have pointed their soundsystems at various dancefloors across the country by arranging clubnights whose proceeds fill the pockets of charities that work towards greater social cohesion.

Jones will first pay a visit to the People’s History Museum for a 60 minute talk as part of the venue’s Work in Progress exhibition and workshops series. His talk will cover the array of tactics used by the alternative EDL to combat and subvert the far right EDL group.


Later on, the Manchester division of the English Disco Lovers will be on the turntables at the Roadhouse to deliver an earful of soulful grooves. Jonny Shire of Oui Dig fame and Zero are the resident EDL tune selectors, while guests this time around are from the Hi Ku and Full Stop Manchester clubnights.

Ian Pennington

The English Disco Lovers talk at People’s History Museum begins at 2.30pm and the suggested donation on entry is £3 in order to support the museum.
The clubnight is from 11pm til late on Saturday 16 August at Roadhouse. Tickets are available via the ethical ticketing agency, Party For The People, who donate a cut of their sales to selected charities.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Savoy, Lord Horror and Corridor8

Like a BookCrossing novel sharing scheme, The Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books is migrating from its previous exhibition at Islington Mill. When its covers are next opened, it will be positioned in the downstairs exhibition space at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation venue on Cambridge Street.


The Exhibition Centre is collaborating with the science fiction author Michael Butterworth to produce a short run of events and a display of work. Butterworth co-founded the Savoy Books independent publishing house in 1976 with fellow author David Britton.

The setting of the IABF is a fitting choice given Savoy’s brushes with controversy for, in the words of Judge Gerrard Humphries, its ‘glorification of racism and violence’, for example in 1989’s Lord Horror, which was soon seized by Greater Manchester Police’s Obscene Publications Squad just as many of its other output had been across a series of raids. Such sentiment was familiar to Burgess’s most famous novel, A Clockwork Orange, albeit mostly following the release of Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation in 1971 and not with the same force. Overall, Butterworth’s Savoy has flown far further below the radar and into the crosshairs of the law than Burgess’s writing.

But the Savoy exhibition hasn’t been compiled as a form contrast to Burgess in any case. Instead, it intends to display text, art work and graphic novel panels from its publications – including the recent Reverbstorm series – in the exhibition area at the Burgess Foundation venue, as well as staging screening events featuring short films by local artists relating to Butterworth’s Corridor series of zines.

Words: Ian Pennington
Image: Courtesy of IABF

The exhibition previews on Thursday 14 August, then remains viewable until Friday 5 September from 10am to 4pm on weekdays and in evenings on event days. You can find out more about the film screenings via the Life and Use of Books or IABF websites.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Tongue Twister @ 24:7 Festival, 24.07.14

The only family friendly piece of the festival, The Tongue Twister is a charming and energetic work in which rhyme is a crime and you risk losing your tongue for your transgressions. This is a dark fairy tale with echoes of Dahl or Neil Gaiman's writing for younger audiences.


Writer Luke Walker displays great verbosity whilst avoiding excessive pomposity. Although the implied wider world and some of the histories that motivate some characters are not fully explored the piece is driven by a sense of fun and intelligence that ably compensates. He understands his audience well and, like all good children's fiction, the macabre is common place whilst kissing is icky. At the same time, he understands that all good family pieces play to the whole audience and there are rich ideas explored about imagination, education and cultural elitism.

The play is presented in the round and the austere stage is made full use of, location and motion suggested by Andrew Whitehead's fantastically eerie score.

The cast playing young are great and delight not just in handling of the text but their physicality and enthusiasm. Jack Dearsley delivers his rhymes with vigour and confidence, giving a warm and engaging performance. Remmel Dawodu is a kinetic ball of energy with great comic timing. Jose Cerise plays the conflicted Jemima, bringing heart to the piece and giving us an engaging and complex female lead. Unfortunately Ruth Evans as the villainous Miss Primer doesn't quite match the energy or conviction of the rest of the cast, and delivers an unconvincing maniacal laugh. Finally, Leo Atkin achieves a lot with very little in his role as The Old Timer, conveying menace and mischief without dialogue.

The Tongue Twister is a thrilling though imperfect piece, entertaining and engaging its audience old and young throughout.

Words: Sean Mason

Image: Courtesy of 24:7 Festival

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 Beating 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