Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Re:play festival presents: Hidden @ The Lowry Theatre, 17.01.13

The existential crises created by 21st Century living – worries about sex, jobs and the meaning of it all – build up pressure in each of the six characters in this play from Black Toffee, with entertaining outcomes. Hidden deals with a very modern problem: what happens when the secret voices in our heads overwhelm us?

Writers Peter Carruthers and Laura Lindsey, who also played all of the parts, certainly have a flair for the humorous, particularly when dealing with the mundane. Their characters are comic exaggerations, but they contain just enough truth that we are willing to believe that we ourselves, or people very much like us, might act the same in similar circumstances. Who hasn’t bashed out an abuse-laden email to a co-worker, only to delete it at the last moment? Who hasn’t written a romantic novel in their own head, projecting sexuality onto people we have never even spoken to? Perhaps we have not all taken a pregnancy test and anxiously awaited the result – but we probably know someone who has.

The key to this play, as the name suggests, is that you get to hear the hidden thoughts of the characters. They make you squirm, laugh and feel embarrassed, but above all they draw you to their humanity. The monologue-driven approach allows Lindsey and Carruthers to deal with intensely personal situations, like the strains put on a young woman by an unwanted pregnancy, or the longing for companionship and love felt by a trapped office worker.

Perhaps less believable, and therefore less effective, were the scenes dealing with more off-the-wall characters; for example, one of the early acts involved a man who appeared to be an English Josef Fritzl. This flight from normality was much less real than, for example, a supermarket checkout assistant preoccupied with sex, and so seemed out of place.

The staging itself was plain, necessarily so in a play that moved so quickly between quite different settings and moods. Director Martin Jameson had a difficult job in how to approach a work that contains so much in such a short time, and by keeping things simple he prevented it from becoming confusing and difficult on the eye. The music and sounds were understated too, with a recurring melody signalling the changes of scene, a useful marker when there is no obvious demarcation between one character and another.

It is a relief and a pleasure to find out that so many worries are universal, and that many of the things that trouble us most have a funny side to them. While Hidden might run slightly long it also provides a lot of laughs and does it indeed reveal much that is normally hidden. I suggest that you keep an eye out for any future performances of this very funny play, and for any new work produced by Black Toffee.

Words: Andrew Anderson
Images: Courtesy of Library Theatre Company

Re:play festival continues until Saturday 26 January with all productions taking place at the Studio theatre at The Lowry. The festival showcases its picks of Manchester’s independently produced fringe theatre from the past year. Visit their website for more information.

A version of this review first appeared on the Manchester Mule website.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Slow Show and Ellis Davies & Ríoghnach Connolly (Honeyfeet) @ Roadhouse, 13.12.12

“Have you heard that woman’s voice? It’s fuckin’ brilliant.”

That comment was made by the manager of the Roadhouse about Ríoghnach Connolly, who is also the vocalist with Honeyfeet. Well, if it’s good enough for her, then it’s good enough for me. Tonight Connolly and Ellis Davies are here at the request of The Slow Show to open this evening’s performance.

Having just toured with Elbow, this show is intended as a low key homecoming event for the headliners, The Slow Show. Nearly 200 people have filled the venue and as soon as Robert Goodwin leads the troupe out, they’re greeted with cheers of approval.

The six members can just about squeeze onto the Roadhouse stage and they quickly set off into opening number ‘God Only Knows’, whose title is the only similarity with the Beach Boys hit. This number has the delicious tones of the cornet relayed by Jenna Smith. If you were to hear the vocals only, you might wonder if Richard Hawley is making a surprise appearance, but the deep tones belong to Robert Goodwin and add a languorous feel to proceedings.

Slow in name, measured and lush in delivery, the band create an intriguing weave of brass band sounds allied to a multi layered, Americana tinged, pop sound. Like a hot bath on a cold night, it’s something to luxuriate in. There’s no moshing or throwing of beer pots by the crowd; instead there is a line of bobbing heads and feet tapping in quiet contentment.

Their style is typified on one song that they do cover, ‘Born to Run’ by Springsteen which is stripped of its testosterone fuelled delivery, allowing its dreams of escape to echo as loudly as Clarence Clemons’ sax playing did.

Words & Photography: Ged Camera

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Reeks Of Effort Present… @ Fuel Cafe, 05.01.13

“I hate you.” Well it didn’t take that long for the season of goodwill to dissipate did it?“I hate you.” Well it didn’t take that long for the season of goodwill to dissipate, did it?

Alanna McArdle uses the moniker Ides when performing and she is the one who utters the “I hate you” line during one of her songs. Armed with a voice, guitar and series of foot pedals, she cuts a vulnerable image stood alone at the mic stand, especially as she angles her body sideways on, seemingly avoiding the gaze of the listeners. Songs start gently and build up with an intensity that belies her youthful looks. Distortion kicks in towards the end as her passion increases. The impact is effective for a few songs, but she is restricted as to how much she can vary the effect without using other musical support.

Benefiting from the practice during their recent series of gigs are the Oxford based and snappily titled Beta Blocker And The Body Clock. With a contrasting musical style to Ides, the live set-up is forged around the core duo of Vincent Hollywell (vocals, guitar) and Matt Girling (drums), supplemented with another, unnamed, guitarist. The enjoyably fuzzy, lo-fi series of numbers raises the question of what sort of food the band indulged in over the festive break; was it Brussels sprouts or mushrooms of the magic style? Even without the warmth of the sun to enhance the effect, the samples and songs that flood through the small venue keep heads and torsos moving nicely.

Manchester musical arena is very incestuous, with people swapping and appearing in several bands concurrently and the Dinner Party line up typifies this. The trio are melded of Nick and Tom from Former Bullies and Edwin Stevens of Klaus Kinski, Sex Hands and Irma Vep. Such musical activity allows an indulgence in different musical grooves, this collaboration delivering a cauldron of gritty, raw, sounds. Tom stands above his drums, presumably to generate more power at full height, and it works well for the crowd who are now mixing in with the band due to the limited space. With frenetic pace engaged, the garage style thrash is enough to displace the cold air blowing through.

More distortion and metronomic rhythms follow with Base Ventura, who push out a pulsating, psychedelic arrangement. Calmly spoken, disassociated vocals float out over the hypnotic arrangements, in the manner of a voice echoing around a cathedral. I half expected the phrase “I am not a number” from cult 60s show The Prisoner to bellow out. The enjoyment factor is too much for at least one member of the audience who wraps his arms around the guitarist’s head as he plays – playfully, not maliciously – serving to illustrate their increasing popularity.

Words & Photography: Ged Camera

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Wild Birds & Literature Thieves @ Night and Day Café, 27.12.12

The turkey has been plucked, stuffed and recycled. The post Christmas sales are in full flow and the best bargain I've seen is the £2 admission charge to watch six bands at the Night & Day Café.

The three females who take the stage go under the title of Literature Thieves, and with them is a sizeable contingent of friends and family to lend support. The name is derived from the reluctance of one band member to return books to their owner. Such literary leanings inevitably find their way into the songs, producing some intriguing results such as the line: “Woven into the story of my skin”.

All three, Angela Hazeldine, Amy Clarkson and Cassie Ellwood supply the vocals, with each song being dissected in order to allow each one to take a turn. The harmonies are a key feature of their tunes and they combine well even though each of their voices occupies a different range. A mandolin (Amy) and a guitar (Cassie) support Angela, whose drum kit is absent tonight, creating a more delicate effect. Whilst they may tag themselves as occupying the folk arena, there are tinges of a stripped down Midlake in the Americana direction.

“Meet me at midnight,” urge the Wild Birds, but there are quite a few in this crowd who can’t wait that long, so for the first time tonight people have gotten down to the front for a dance. This is what the band can do; get people off their backsides to start moving.

Sometimes you need to move on in order to progress. On stage tonight as Wild Birds are Steve Ballinger, Joe McAdam, Paul Hodson and Alistair Garner, former members of outfits such as The Travelling Band, The Vox and Sycamore, all displaying their musical abilities to great effect.

Rousing, full-bodied songs bounce across the venue. Skilfully crafted mixtures of aggressive guitars sit alongside melodic harmonies that conjure up distant memories of sunshine and fun.

Within a few minutes of finishing their set the crowd melts away, possibly looking for another place to meet at midnight.

Words & photography: Ged Camera