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 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

Friday, 7 November 2014

The Dumb Waiter @ The King's Arms, Salford, 06.11.14

When a play by an established writer is performed in the fringe there is one key question that must be answered: does fringe bring anything to the work that mainstream theatre could not? In the case of The Dumb Waiter, Harold Pinter's play produced here by Ransack Theatre, the answer is a resounding yes.

Set in the seldom used cellar of the King's Arms the damp, cramped and confined space is authentic to the point of discomfort. Two hitmen Ben (Alastair Michael) and Gus (James Warburton) wait impatiently in this uncomfortable room, knowing they could receive the call to kill at any minute, and we the audience are right there with them. Every drip, rustle and scrape was in your ears, the mood of the room and the mood of the play creating an uneasy harmony.

Pinter's writing is rather like a pen and ink drawing: clean, hard and crisp, with plenty of white space for the imagination to fill in. Both Michael and Warburton, with the input of director Piers Black-Hawkins, judged the pacing of the text well, leaving silences and adding expression to create tension and humour respectively. It was the sort of performance that has you staring intently at an actor's face, looking for the slightest eyebrow movement or curling of a lip that might indicate what is going to happen next.

To fully answer my earlier question, the fantastic location of this production brought the audience right into the room, something that could never be achieved with this much conviction on a bigger stage. Added to this was a sense of thoroughness and attention to detail - both in performance and production values - that made for a very enjoyable evening.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Image: Shay Rowan

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof @ The Royal Exchange, 04.11.14

There is a rather pleasing disconnection in seeing Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, set in the sweltering deep south and with the word 'hot' in the title, on a cold, crisp November evening in Manchester, especially at the Exchange: the space was created for just this kind of drama, equal parts grandiose and intimate. The stage itself is a brilliant white, as is all the furniture, rather like an interior designer's idea of how heaven might appear. But, as we soon find out, for the play's protagonists this is very far from heaven indeed.

The action takes place on a plantation, where a family has gathered to celebrate patriarch Big Daddy's birthday. Brick (Charles Aitken) and his wife Maggie (Mariah Gale) have become cut off from one another, with Brick more in love with liquor than anything living. Meanwhile Brick's Brother Gooper (Matthew Douglas) and his wife Mae (Victoria Elliot) are doing their best to impress Big Daddy (Daragh O'Malley) and Big Mama (Kim Criswell) in order to secure a juicy inheritance. Self interest, self loathing and self pity collide and contort under one roof and, in the end, no one gets what they really want: happiness.

Although the play is 60 years old and set in the deep south the subject matter and dialogue feel relevant to a modern Manchester audience. The issues it addresses like mortality, sexuality and sibling rivalry are ones that people will no doubt find a way to fight over until the sun ceases to shine. The conflict between ambition and emotion is one that we all must struggle with at one time or another, and one that is dealt with devastatingly well by Williams, a writer with few equals when it comes to dysfunctional families.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is not an easy play for actors as the scenes are long and the southern accent can be problematic. Therefore the Aitken's performance was particularly pleasing, as he created a seemingly effortless vacuum in Brick around which the other characters revolved. Gale made me feel more and more for her character Maggie as the play progressed, while Elliot and Douglas provided comedic support as the infuriatingly fertile Gooper and Mae. O'Malley as Big Daddy had commanding presence but struggled with the accent, which made some of the dialogue difficult to listen to.

Director James Dacre made good use of the Exchange's multiple levels, taking actors into the upper tiers to deliver lines and having them loom menacingly over your shoulder during dramatic moments, visually illustrating the inward pressure a family can exert on its members. The timing and arrangement of the group scenes was also very well done, as Dacre balanced the forces of the varying personalities and drew feeling and humour from them.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is an exceptional play, full of great lines and sensitive discussions of serious subjects. This production does it justice, but is not outstanding in itself: there were too many lulls, too many things that didn't quite work out for it to reach that rank. Satisfying never the less, this is a must for fans of Williams' work and worthwhile for those wanting to experience his brilliance for the first time.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Jonathan Kennan

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Wolf @ Salford Arts Theatre, 31.10.14

1956 theatre company have taken us on quite the journey over the past 4 weeks with their superb rep season. Starting in war time Britain, rock and rolling in 50s New York, to keeping up with multi-role playing in ‘The Lodger’ and reaching our final destination: Salford 1998. Wolf is the second original piece from the season and is written by the wonderfully talented Amy-Jane Ollies (who also acts as the company’s Artistic Director). Ollies has a fluid and natural style of writing inspired by Mancunian writer Simon Stephens. Stephens has insisted he “likes art that shines light into dark places,” which is evident with the content of his plays. Wolf is no different.

Telling the story of raw and intimate relationships between family, friends, lovers and forbidden territory, the narrative unravels a theme of an absence of truth and the dangers our little white lies can get us into. At the centre of the story is a family torn apart after the arrest of their eldest son Carl (Lee Lomas), and the lies they tell each other.

Julie Hannah gave a stunning performance as the mother Kate, as she desperately tries to keep her family together. She and Lomas have some beautiful moments as Kate visits Carl in prison and masks the truth as to why she remains his only visitor. We also see how the other family members are affected. Graham Eaglesham plays the silenced father lost for words and how to help. Nick, played by the versatile Bradley Cross, lies to his partner about visiting his brother, which nearly costs him his relationship. Ben Wolstenholme plays Paul, the youngest brother about to leave for uni and yearning for escape (another theme explored by Stephens writing.)

The most interesting and surprising twist comes from Ollies and her convincing portrayal of Samantha, the youngest sibling and only daughter of the family. Lost and lonely in the quiet chaos that disrupts her security within the family, she acts out of desperation for attention and love, causing a new wrath of grief and ultimately falls prey to the wolf.

The piece is gorgeously written and brilliantly executed, ultimately reminding us there is no such thing as a little white lie. Beware of the wolf!

Words: Kate Morris

Images: Courtesy of 1956 Theatre

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Picture Of Doreen Gray @ Oldham Coliseum, 21.10.14

The Picture of Doreen Grey is a wilfully jumbled tale of a media personality who has, by the harsh standards of celebrity, passed her sell-by date. Fortunately for her she stumbles across a self-portrait she made while at school, which has been brought to life by some sort of supernatural occurrence. Trading places with her younger self kickstarts her career...but at what cost?

This is my first experience of LipService Theatre, a production company made up of writer-performer pairing Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding. They've been working together since 1985, and this show is one in a series inspired by famous books (past productions include Very Little Women and Withering Looks). Much of the writing pokes fun at young people and the modern world, with reference points - twitter, facebook, pop music - that are not terribly original. This would be problematic if LipService's aim was to make groundbreaking comedy or cutting social satire, but since they aren't it isn't. Instead, they've made a silly and accessible Radio Four-style comic romp that the audience at the Coliseum absolutely adored. Highlights included a choreographed office chair chase, some old-fashioned show tunes with titles like 'No One Loves a Fairy Over Fifty,' and a very funny skit in which Fox and Ryding recreate famous paintings using some decidedly dodgy props.

While by no means a political piece the show did have a message of sorts: getting old, gracefully or otherwise, is no crime. The Picture of Doreen Grey doesn't take itself seriously, even for a second, and if you're a fan of Radio Four comedy this is probably the perfect night out for you.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Image: Courtesy of LipService Theatre

Juke Box Baby @ Salford Arts Theatre, 16.10.14

Freshly formed Theatre Company 1956 have been hard at work with their ambitious Rep season of four plays over a four week period. Following the success of their debut (a stylised adaptation of Little Women) is Juke Box Baby, and original piece written and directed by cast member Lee Lomas. Set in 1950s New York, the production tells the story of Jimmie and Bobby Rose (Ben Wolstenholme); two brothers from Brooklyn, aspiring for a more optimistic future and self-discovery.

Jimmie - a naturally gifted writer with a heck of an emotional wall – is a high school dropout stuck in a dead-end job. He is the provider to his kid brother and alcoholic father. When Bobby’s future from an indubitable baseball scholarship is jeopardised, Jimmie does an act of kindness that changes both their lives forever. Writer/Director Lomas is a triple threat, as he plays the lead role of Jimmie and does so with emotional precision.

The supporting cast shine too, particularly Bradley Cross as the brilliantly diverse JC. Cross has impeccable comic timing, delivered by unrestricted physicality and stage presence. However his JC is not to been seen as a mere comic relief, as the character tells an underlying narrative of homosexual prejudice in the 50s.

Josh Morter plays Hunter, Jimmie’s best friend and alpha male of the group, and Morter, Wolstenholme and Graham Eaglesham (who plays the brother’s father) all collaborate to make a presence of the archetypal 50s male dominance with dangerous calibre. The romanticism of the production comes from Matthew Hattersley playing Michael and from the ladies of the cast: Amy-Jane Ollies as Lizzie and Hannah Ellis as Angie. Despite the stereotypes of the era, they break the mould; they are headstrong, stand by their beliefs and, more importantly, their emotions.

A nostalgic offering with modern grit!

Words: Kate Morris

Image: Courtesy of 1956 Theatre

Friday, 17 October 2014

Dracula @ Contact, 10.10.14

With Halloween almost here and a new film version recently released Dracula is currently in the public consciousness. What better time, then, for a new tour of The Mark Bruce Company's adaptation, a dance performance that follows Bram Stoker's story but throws in a few original ideas to keep the whole thing fresh.

For those unfamiliar, Stoker's Dracula is split neatly in two. First, the hero Jonathan (performed here by Wayne Parsons) travels to Transylvania to help the Count purchase of a new home in England. Unaware of his host's evil intentions Jonathan is trapped for a time in his mansion, eventually making his escape. Meanwhile the Count sales to England to take up his new residence and spread an army of the undead. In the second half our hero and the count each try to ensnare the other, building to a final confrontation between good and evil.

Not bound by one particular style or approach, choreographer Mark Bruce has the freedom to pick and choose from the entire dance cannon, matching technique to mood. For example, in a love scene he borrows from ballet, the perfect approach to illustrate the first flowering of affection. Later on, when Dracula is trying to pull the wool over Jonathan's eyes, a vaudeville tap is adapted, its slapstick silliness succinctly showing the character's intentions. Each of these is then stitched into a whole that hangs together, an impressive feat indeed. The dancers delivered on the promise of these ideas, showing great versatility and characterisation in doing so. Jonathan Goddard in particular stood out as a muscular and menacing Dracula, displaying both his human and animalistic elements.

Mood is very important in a piece such as this; it is the otherworldly, ungodly essence of Dracula that is so disturbing, and this has to be conveyed in the staging, lighting and sound as well as through movement. The company achieved this by using unusual lighting angles, keeping much of the stage in shadow, and by building a set that gives an impression of darkness and depth. The musical score also worked very well, with gothic classical mixing with eastern european strings. The production sticks closely to the original story, and - so long as you have read the book - is fairly easy to follow. However, it could be tricky for someone unfamiliar with the plot, so I would recommend doing a bit of research in advance of seeing the show.

This dance version of Dracula has drama, diversity and depth, and is a great evening out for first-timers and old-hands alike. If you get the chance go and see it for yourself, and prepare to be scared.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Courtesy of The Mark Bruce Company

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Preview: Autumn Live Shows

Leaves are turning from green to a plethora of brightness and autumn is tightening its chilly grip. But before we drift into summer nostalgia, its worth reminding ourselves that this time of year is also synonymous with touring, and with Manchester being part of many major tours there’s no shortage of gigs coming our way in the coming weeks.

For starters, the Holy Trinity of Trof venues are offering a vast range of acts to please any discerning ear, from Mercury Award nominee Kate Tempest (Deaf Institute, 9 November) and the euphorically eclectic Adult Jazz (Deaf Institute, 12 November) to one of Liverpool’s finest new acts Circa Waves (Gorilla, 7 November) and the rising superstar St Vincent (Albert Hall, 22 October).

Manchester Cathedral has certainly come a long way as an alternative music venue. As well as an impressive list of gigs, on 1 November it is hosting the all-day festival, Columns. Its diverse and painfully cool line-up includes artists such electronic sound architect East India Youth (another 2014 Mercury nominee coming to Manchester) and this year’s US breakthrough ‘perfect pop’ act Future Islands.

While we're on the topic of those Mercurys, the shortlisted local tip is GoGo Penguin, an intricate jazz trio who've conveniently booked a show at Soup Kitchen on 21 October to celebrate.

Another notable festival event is Carefully Planned, which will take in various venues around the Northern Quarter over the weekend of 18-19 October, bringing us a wide range of new music with a line-up designed to please everyone from indie folk aficionados to hardcore fans. Now in its fourth year, Carefully Planned is making a bit of a name for itself, which is hardly surprising given its tactic of booking some of the best new bands from all corners of the UK (Hail! The Planes, Post War Glamour Girls) and established cult names (That Fucking Tank, Thought Forms).

Louder Than Words is another grassroots weekend event worthy of a serious mention. Dedicated to words about music, this new festival involves writing workshops as well as Q&As with the likes of Viv Albertine and John Bramwell, panel debates on subjects such as Goth subculture and the 'Golden Age' of music journalism, plus signings and performances.

Finally, keep an eye on Islington Mill's goings on as it’s now back in operation and its event listings once again prove it to be a key creative hub in the Manchester area. The awesome 2 Bears (Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Raf Daddy) are set to play there on 29 October, followed by a big Halloween event promising ghost tours, film screenings and live music.

Words: Anastasia Connor

Monday, 13 October 2014

Little Women @ Salford Arts Theatre, 09.10.14

1956 Theatre’s Manchester repertory season begins with Little Women, adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s classic American novel following the rites of passage of four sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy - at the time of the American Civil War. This adaptation by Amy-Jane Ollies (who also plays the second eldest sister) and Nicole Garvin sees the action shift to World War 2 Britain, which enables some discussion about the girls’ places in the world, their entitlements and expectations, with Jo’s desire to study and write conflicting with Amy’s - the youngest - dreams of marrying someone rich.

The show begins with the four sisters standing and narrating directly to the audience, a device that is used intermittently through the rest of the action. I liked the idea of the sisters taking ownership of their story and, at times, it helped to signpost the action for the audience, but I felt that it would have been even better if one sister had been chosen to narrate - probably Jo as the biggest journey is hers - and would have been a bit less confusing. As well as this, it sometimes seemed to be used simply to join the scenes together - a difficult task for an adaptation of a long novel - in too simple a way, rather than finding a different means of allowing the story to flow and, overall, added to a sense of a lack of clear direction, particularly in the second half.

Having said this, the scenes were enjoyable and the audience was engaged throughout. Emma Fernell’s delightful portrayal of Amy generated lots of laughs and Ollie’s performance of a slightly re-imagined Jo was convincing. Special mention goes to Graham Eaglesham whose Freidrich Baer doesn’t appear until the second half but brings a strong and confident performance for the moments he is on stage.

This is an entertaining show with several nice ideas, some of which could do with a bit more commitment - were limes readily available during the Second World War? Would you be taking a casual break in Paris? Would a German Professor be having an easy time in London? - but its inventiveness bodes well for the rest of the season, which includes two pieces of new writing and another adaptation. You can catch them all at the Salford Arts Theatre.

Words: Julie Burrow

Images: Courtesy of 1956 Theatre

Friday, 10 October 2014

Early One Morning @ Bolton Octagon, 09.10.14

Early One Morning, from writer Les Smith, tells the tale of a boy from Bolton who was shot for desertion during the first world war. Put like this it sounds simple, but beyond these bare facts lies a complicated and complex story...

...Private James Smith (Michael Shelford) is a broken soldier who can no longer cope with the constant bombardment of bombs, orders and trauma. In desperation he tries to walk back to Bolton only to be caught, courtmartialed and sentenced to be shot at dawn. His comrades are asked to organise and carry out the killing, causing them to question the morality and sanity of their situation. Meticulously researched and poignantly provoking, Smith's script - first performed in 1998 - cuts back and forth between Bolton and Passchendaele, providing a desperate glimpse of what life for a WW1 soldier was like.

The cast showed class in dealing with this serious and sensitive material, drawing out emotional performances without straying into sentimentality. As Private Smith Michael Shelford successfully captured the essence of a man facing his own mortality, moving this reviewer to tears at the show's end. Colin Connor, in the role of Sergeant Fielding, brilliantly expressed the strain of giving out difficult orders, his voice full of cracked emotion, while Jessica Baglow was warm, gentle and engaging as Smith's sweetheart Lizzie Cartwright.

With this play Director David Thacker demonstrates once again why he is so well regarded, creating a controlled framework in which the chaos of war could be shown. His decision to make the set out of actual mud, and to split the action over multiple levels in the theatre, brought the audience right into the trenches with the actors. Jason Taylor's clever lighting created spaces within spaces, the wonderful period costumes from Mary Horan added further authenticity, while the demonic rumbling of Andy Smith's soundscape provided a disturbing undercurrent; this was a production team working in harmony to create something special.

Early One Morning exposes the meaningless, blistering, brutal destruction of war, where humans are pulled apart into ligaments and bones, where all sense of whole, all sense of humanity, is lost. We need theatre like this to show us the mistakes of our collective past, and to remind us that such horror must never be repeated.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Ian Tilton

Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis @ The Great Northern Playhouse, 08.10.14

Participatory theatre. Those two words can strike fear into even the most hardened drama devotees. But they needn't, as when it is done well it represents the best things about live performance: it is spontaneous, unpredictable, engaging and endearing. Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis, is a fine example of just why that is.

Upon climbing the stairs to the newly opened Great Northern Playhouse you are confronted by a man with a walking stick and a decidedly dubious foreign accent. A name-tag is stuck to your front and information about the evening's events - a lecture on the deducting methods of Sherlock Holmes - is shoved into your hand.

Problems, puzzles and party hats aplenty follow, the audience interacting with one another as well as the performers, while the mystery of Professor Moriaty's whereabouts is slowly unwoven. Highlights include a fact-finding foray during the interval, a practical lesson in deducing facts from the faces of fellow audience members and a short improvised dance session.

The performers won the audience over early on with their energy and enthusiasm, and soon had us doing whatever they wanted. The script, written by Alexander Wright, stayed true to the Conan Doyle style and kept the story moving along at a good pace. However, the second half did not quite keep up the promise of the first, with the play reverting to a rather more traditional format that wasn't quite as fun to follow.

If you're scared of audience interaction Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis presents an opportunity to try some total immersion therapy; I suggest you take it.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Image: Courtesy of The Flanagan Collective

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Colder Than Here @ King's Arms, Salford, 03.10.14

Colder Than Here, from writer Laura Wade, is the first production from What A Little Bird Told Me Theatre company. It's a tale of a family coming to terms with a problem that modern medical science had made: knowing - roughly - when you're going to die. Diagnosed with cancer and given a life expectancy of 6 to 9 months, Myra (Joyce Branagh) decides she wants to tie up loose ends and set her family up for when she is gone. However, she is the sun around which her family orbits, the one from whom they get much of the light in their lives. How will they cope once she is gone?

The script, Wade's first published work back in 2005, is well structured, never dwelling on a moment longer than necessary, and is full of both mirth and melancholy. Highlights include recurring visits to potential new-age graveyards (which are invariably described with epithets and expletives), and a short powerpoint presentation given by Myra that details possibilities for her funeral (including glitter throwing). Director Alyx Tole has kept everything simple, so the story moves along at a good pace.

The cast and director have achieved the feeling of a real family in their interplay, which is the single most important thing for a play like Colder Than Here. Leo Atkin is good as the grumpy but caring dad Alec; Rachel Creamer and Laura Danielle Sharp (playing sisters Jenna and Harriet) capture the mixture of needle and nurture that so often exists between siblings; finally, Branagh plays the weary and slightly wacky sides of Myra equally well.

Overall the production was strong, working as a cohesive whole. However, fringe theatre at its best usually takes a few risks, which is what makes it so captivating; what perhaps was lacking from this production was a standout element, something to stray from the safety of simplicity. This, though, is a solid first effort, and will give the company confidence and a good platform to build from. It will be interesting to see what they do next.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Phil Benbow

Monday, 29 September 2014

Now Then Announcement

After a memorable two years publishing 12 issues, it is with a heavy heart that we’ve taken the decision to discontinue the printed Manchester edition of Now Then magazine for the time being.

We are certain that this is by no means the end of our aims to encourage and provide a platform for the independent art, trade, music, writing and local news that we have stood for from the outset. The popularity of the magazine and the positive feedback we receive with each issue is both humbling and testament to everyone who has contributed in any way, shape or form. So we are aiming to regroup and explore our options for the future.

The fact is that it is a difficult task to raise the revenue to sustain a free magazine project with our ethos and print quality. Compromising that ethos and quality has never been an option.

We will be maintaining a presence in the Manchester area, with events and other projects, so keep your eyes peeled for the whens and wheres and for opportunities to get involved.

We are also planning to continue publishing a new issue every two months on our new website, so if you have something to say or would like to highlight a local campaign, good cause or community project then get in touch. We are still here as a source of independent citizen journalism.

Finally, we’d like to offer our thanks to everyone who has been involved up to now. We’d love to hear your stories from the past two years that we’ve been in print, or ideas and suggestions for the future.

So, for now you won’t be seeing us in print, but we've not given up and you’ve not heard the last of us.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Contact Compacts #3 @ Contact, Manchester, 25.09.14

The premise of Compact Contacts is to stage six short plays, handpicked by Pull Your Finger Out productions, and stage them in the foyer of the Contact Theatre. Tonight, the foyer is crammed with people on benches and bar stools as well as a healthy amount of stragglers standing around the fringes all awaiting the first twitch of the curtain. The fifteen minute performances are staggered in groups of two before short intervals. This gives the audience a decent amount of time to digest what they have just seen before returning to the next batch with their sense of anticipation heightened. It is an inspired idea and one that works to great effect.

From the emotionally charged monologues of Hallelujah and Wings to the darkly comedic turns in Celebrity Death Pool and Famous for Fifteen Minutes, each performance is executed with a professionalism which belies the unconventional setting. Personally, I thought the most nuanced writing appeared in Sean Mason’s Cream Tea, a concise tale of Oedipal pain woven into an espionage thriller - but there was no doubt that the six plays provided something for everyone in attendance.

Gareth George’s Famous for Fifteen Minutes is masterstroke in prop ingenuity (via flying bags of Wotsits) while Louise North’s Wings gives flight to thought’s that are rarely shared in public. In Hallelujah, Megan Griffith proves to be a deft dramaturge, augmenting the dialogue when it could easily have distracted from it in lesser hands.

The actors were picked through open auditions which make the performances all the more striking. All of the dozen or so performers were entirely believable but the lead in Cream Tea and the mother in Famous For Fifteen Minutes deserve a special mention.

For me, the best was saved till last. Elliot Hughes’s Boxes, written purposely with the space in mind, makes use of the lift, balcony and cleaning trolley of Contact. This story of an archetypal working man and bureaucratic boss begins with clich├ęd aplomb whilst a cleaner in the theatre’s uniform noisily cleans up a spillage at the back of the foyer, disgruntling those in attendance. The cleaning grows loud enough for the down at heel working man to break the third wall and throw a tantrum, revealing his true self in luvvie splendour. The ensuing interaction between cleaner and well-meaning artiste captured societal attitudes of class in ways that would escape more traditional formatting and had the room in stitches.

It was a great ending to an enjoyable night of vignettes that will leave a lasting impression on even the shortest of attention spans.

Words: Nathan McIlroy

Image: Andrew Anderson

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Romeo & Juliet @ Victoria Baths, Manchester, 17.09.14

Set in the archaic beauty of Manchester’s Victoria Baths, Walter Meierjohann’s directorial debut with Romeo and Juliet for HOME’s site-specific season is a sight to behold. Situating the audience in the depths of one of the empty pools, the production successfully immerses them right from the outset with the two opposing families appearing intimidatingly above you from either side of the pool (in a moment somewhat reminiscent of Chicago's iconic Cell Block Tango).

The fact the director has used cinema as stimulus is immediately clear, with abstract moments dispersed amongst the action, heightened characterisation prevalent and an energised use of music throughout (in an homage to director Emir Kusturica). In addition to this the production recalls the modernity of Baz luhrmann’s vibrant film adaptation.

However, what marks Meierjohann’s adaptation out as unique is seeing all of the above and more brought to life before your eyes. A silvery bridge that is raised and lowered, the seductive, strutting, sequined dancers, the leather-drenched revelers, the voyeurism of peering in on an intimate moment – all of these things feel far more powerful when seen up close than they ever could on a cinema screen. The production excellently navigates and embraces the raised stakes and challenges that promenade theatre can offer, asking the audience to travel with the story, to continually commit to the Meierjohann’s world and Shakespeare’s words.

The production is also decidedly youthful – the couple’s age is something that can often be forgotten when reading, but not here. Romeo (Alex Felton) and Juliet (Sara Vickers) are well cast for this: their fresh faces, fashion sense, body language, earnest expressions and unselfconscious emotions depict teenage life perfectly. The result was an emotional intensity, heightened sense of tragedy and feeling for beauty that was perfectly suited to Romeo and Juliet, and was only amplified by the wonderful staging and setting.

Speaking of which, although one could argue that the venue itself is the star attraction – Victoria Baths are a Manchester icon, inherently atmospheric, full of drama, beauty and sorrow – it did not overshadow the stunning decisions that have been made with both design and direction. The euphoria of them soaring the length of the pool on a shared swing without harnesses was positively contagious, and perfectly depicted the elation and risk of falling in love. The echoing expanse of the Gala Pool, reserved solely for the final crypt scene and lit by candles, was truly spectacular and alone makes this production unforgettable.

Romeo and Juliet made my heart soar causing me, as all good theatre should, to reflect on my own experiences, of youth, angst, and love with an added theatricality and beauty on an epic scale. A fantastic first effort from Meierjohann that has me already excited to see what he and his team at HOME will do next.

Words: Megan Griffith

Images: Graeme Cooper

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Othello @ Gullivers, Manchester, 22.09.14

Taking on Shakespeare is a herculean task in any nature, and taking it to the fringe scene is a bold and brave move. To deal with such caliber can be quite ambitious with the short rehearsals, small spaces and limited budgets of fringe. I for one have been hesitant as to whether it could be done; my past experience of fringe productions of Shakespeare have consisted of untamed onomatopoeia, embarrassing staging and such a thing as ‘Shitfaced Shakespeare’ – which in short (though I’m sure you’ve guessed) is a production of a Shakespeare play with one inebriated actor royally screwing it up. All of which was marketed as a contemporary niche.

To me the ‘try hard’ factor lets down these performances, with more concentration being put on that niche than on the deliverance. However, this was not the case with Lass Production’s Othello. Director Michael Whittaker and producer Gareth Kavanagh found a wonderful balance of staying true to the piece as well as giving the narrative a contemporary accessibility. Bonus points are awarded for finding success with their niche: setting the action in a football club. This idea was inspired by the infamous falling out of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand over alleged racial slurs that resulted in Terry loosing his England captaincy in 2011. This motif was used eloquently, without overshadowing the brilliance of the words.

The skilled delivery of these words of course is thanks to the abundantly talented cast, with George Oluyinka playing the title role – personifying themes of isolation and jealousy. Arch-villain Iago is played by the phenomenal Liam Grunshaw; the versatility of his emotional range perfectly pairs Iago’s comedic dimensions against scheming tyranny.

The other players of the match day line up were: Francene Turner as Othello’s wife Desdemonda, Taran Knight as Rederigo, Dru Jones as Montano, Eryl Lloyd Parry as Brabantio, Roisin McCusker as Bianca and Vicky Burrows as Gratiano, all of whom played with honest conviction. A serious hat tip goes to Ryan Russell who artfully gave life to a very likeable Cassio. Finally, Morag McLean Peacock injected the play with feminine strength as the feisty Emilia.

The cast took the challenge of Shakespeare without fear; they allowed themselves to open up to potentially difficult but nonetheless interesting material – and the rewards were bountiful. An enjoyable piece of theatre that stays true to its context, with accessibility for the modern audience.

Words: Kate Morris

Images: Courtesy of Shay Rowan and Lass Productions

Thursday, 18 September 2014

COMPETITION: Fear of Men @ The Castle Hotel

Brighton trio Fear of Men make the trip up to Manchester's Oldham Street on Sunday 28 September on a wave of melodic indie pop.

With debut album Loom still hot off the press earlier this year, this show finds them in the intimate climes of the Castle Hotel's back room. Following a spate of 7" singles and EPs, the band now has a body of recorded repertoire fitting with their headlining billing and subsequent European tour.

We’ve teamed up with Northern Noise to give away a pair of tickets to their show at The Castle Hotel on Sunday 28 September. All you need to do to enter is like and share the image at the other end of this link (making sure it’s set to ‘public’ so we can see that you’ve entered).

We'll announce the winner on Friday 26 September.

Good luck!

COMPETITION: Silverclub EP Launch gig

Manchester electronic band Silverclub may have slipped from the radar of sonic adventures lately, but their next recorded output is imminent, in the form of an EP and launch show this month.

The lead single, 'Back to the Start' is a chugging train of minimalism indicating their wheels are firmly back on the tracks, while sating your deepest desire for more cow bell with your synths.

We’ve teamed up with Deaf Institute to give away a pair of tickets to their EP launch show on Friday 26 September. All you need to do to enter is like and share the image at the other end of this link (making sure it’s set to ‘public’ so we can see that you’ve entered).

We'll announce the winner on Wednesday 24 September.

Good luck!

Pride Fringe 2014

The first sign that Pride is on the horizon is usually the fancy dress shops. Gone are the ubiquitous paper masks of Harry Styles, replaced by feather boas and stripy rainbow hats. In one auspicious corner of the Arndale Centre, a woman stands decked out like a gaudy Pearly Queen, occasionally dropping handfuls of colourful wigs and hats on the ground. “Get your Pride merchandise! Pride this weekend!” she exclaims uninterestedly. I suddenly feel slightly underdressed when I arrive at the station on the way to work, as hundreds of ticket holders mill around waiting for friends. I am not one of them.

It’s not like I’ve never been to a Pride event. Over the past decade, I've lined the streets of central Sydney with thousands of others to cheer on the processors, joined the after parties in Bristol and ridden the rickety old rides in Brighton. Just not in Manchester. Well, there was the once, but I drank too much in preparation and passed out behind a kebab van somewhere near the Village. I swore this year would be different.

My mini Pride Fringe adventure began the Thursday before the fences were put round the main area. I was to be taking part in an LGBTQ art trail around the Village to showcase art made by members of the community and to socialise and have a drink. It turns out that art suits the Village. Seeing paintings hanging in your regular watering holes gives them a whole new edge. In particular, Via Fossa felt like an established gallery with its wooden walkways and hidden nooks and crannies. It was a resounding success. I could feel the kebab van moving steadily away.

The main weekend arrived and I stayed away from the city centre in case I was tempted by the bright lights or hypnotised by Anastacia’s wailing siren call. Sunday was to be the second part of my toe dipping into the fringes of Pride. I stepped out into the bustling city centre, narrowly avoiding an inebriated group of Pride-goers running away from a Princess Street Chinese restaurant without paying. One member was pulled back sharply by her glow-stick wristbands as I reached Bangkok Bar and my night’s entertainment.

I should take this moment to say that I had friends on the inside: wristband holders who had spent the weekend taking in all Pride has to offer. I waited for them as the soaring voice of Conchita Wurst rose majestically out of the car park behind Portland Street and told us all that her heart will go on. A small amount of envy at the crowd’s cheers was quickly dissipated when I closed my eyes and saw the kebab van backing up. Back to reality, my friends and I spent an entertaining evening making ‘Queer Art’ (the Tate won’t be calling anytime soon) and listening to bands performing. Simple, yet effective. Talk of all the other Pride alternatives (Drunk at Vogue, Homoelectric) remained just talk, as we threw shapes on the dance floor. Next time. It may have been a paddle in the shallow pool rather than full immersion in the Pride Fringe, but it was a start and set the ball rolling for future years of exploring what the weekend has to offer. Sadly, however, I still had a kebab on the way home.

Words: Andrew Collier

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Preview: Stone Flowers @ Manchester Food & Drink Festival

As part of this year's International Peace Day on 21 September, Stone Flowers will be performing two sets at Manchester Food and Drink Festival.

Formed via working with the Musicians Without Borders and Freedom From Torture charities, the open collective of torture survivors has been raising awareness and fundraising to support other survivors, who often endure difficulties even after the experiences. Following loss of home, culture or family, they are then mistreated even in a place of refuge, such as the UK, where they can experience social isolation, threat of removal and mental health problems.

Stone Flowers raises awareness about refugees and asylum seekers and the violation of human rights," says Frank, member of the band. “It enables the world to hear us and learn about us. It’s the only way to take out the pain inside us.

For Stone Flowers music is not an exclusive club: you don’t have to be a virtuoso to join and many members never tried performing before they started. Through an organic creative process, which draws on diverse cultural influences, members are encouraged to express themselves through the languages and rhythms of their home countries, which include Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. The act of expression is cathartic, and by being empowered to voice what they have been through, Stone Flowers members are the architects of their own recovery. Members take ownership of the creative process, making positive connections with audiences, leading the way in speaking out against war and torture.

Last month, supported by Manchester charities Freedom from Torture and Musicians without Borders, Stone Flowers started a fundraising appeal, asking the public to support a professional recording and album release of their original music. They well on the way to the £7,000 needed, been featured on Radio 1’s ‘War Children’, and even received a mention from the legendary label Ninja Tune.

Words: Anastasia Connor

Their appeal runs until the end of September. Click here for information on how to donate.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Our Day Out: The Musical @ Oldham Coliseum, 09.09.14

Under the excellent direction of Kevin Shaw, Oldham Coliseum bring you a rip-roaring adventure with a class of kids from Fairbottom High as they venture into a place quite unlike what they are used to in Our Day Out. Containing a cast of nearly 40, the show is fun, funny and moving at the same time, revealing the antics of a motley crew of characters who are brought together by fate. We meet the fantastic teacher, the teacher we all wish we had, Mrs Kay (Claire Storey), who adores this class that she has taken under her wing. The class is maligned by other students and teachers at Fairbottom High, due to it being a special “Progress” class for sometimes bullied students with a range of issues labelled variously as “psychos, schizos, OCDs” or “dyslexic, fat, anorexic”.

The Progress kids are exuberant, excited (well, apart from the “boring duo”) and excitable. And Mrs Kay gets them. Mrs Kay has the psychology needed to work with these kids. But Mr Briggs (Russell Richardson) has gatecrashed this gig, and taken them on a detour. Instead of going to a theme park, as the kids expected, he takes them somewhere he thinks they will benefit educationally, much to the Progress students’ annoyance. Will Mrs Kay save the day? Will Mr Briggs succumb to her psychological strategies, like the students do, and like the bus driver did?

The cast as a collective are impressive, and when they have solo scenes or one to one interactions, they are equally memorable. The characters are larger than life: Old Les, the non-politically correct lollipop man (Kieran Cunningham) with his cataracts. The bus driver, Ronny (also played by Kieran Cunningham) is the boss of the bus! Some of the students show the audience what it means to be young and troubled: Amy (Emily Fitton) is enamoured by the seagulls, loves the escape from reality, and really does not want to go back home. There are touching moments in the hilarity and chaos that give us glimmers of heartache that these Progress students endure.

The show reminds us of the humanity needed when working with young people, schools are not simply sites of teaching and learning the academic curriculum. Teachers earn the privilege of knowing the troubles and tests faced by these students in their everyday lives, and Mrs Kay has full knowledge of this, whilst Mr Briggs is on a learning curve. Willy Russell wrote the play in 1977, yet it is still apt today. Willy Russell was a teacher, and this shines through in the dialogue and characterisation, for he surely met such wonderful characters in his teaching years.

Our Day Out has brilliantly entertaining song and dance numbers performed by talented young people, with extremely high levels of energy and enthusiasm. The band, Sam Fluskey on Bass and James Newton on Drums, perfectly accompany the mood of the play. Sometimes hilarious, other times the production is concerned with poignantly reminding us of the dreams, hopes and pains of young people. It is a must watch for students who study Willy Russell writings in school, as well as anybody – young or adult – who wants a jolly night out witnessing the Day Out.

Words: Sadia Habib

Image: Courtesy of Oldham Coliseum

Monday, 8 September 2014

Preview: Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby @ The Lowry, 23/09/14 - 27/09/14

Lisa Dwan’s critically-acclaimed star performances at the Royal Court Theatre in London were successfully sold-out, and now we have the privilege of watching her in this Beckett trilogy at the Lowry in September in Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby under the direction of Walter Asmus.

Asmus knows Beckett better than anyone in the profession as he actually worked with Beckett in theatre and television, as his assistant, and later they collaborated on many productions until his death in 1989. Thus, we can look forward to these pieces showing us intense insight into how Beckett would have wanted his writings to be presented to us, as well as how Lisa Dwan undertakes the great challenge as Mouth in Not I.

Not I was originally performed by Jessica Tandy in 1970s New York and Billie Whitelaw in 1970s London. According to Professor James Knowlson, a friend and biographer of Beckett, Not I should work at speed on the nerves of the audience, rather than their intellect. Billie Whitelaw has also coached Lisa Dwan in how to perform Beckett’s characters, adding a further direct connection to Beckett.

Footfalls, which also originally starred Billie Whitelaw (as did Rockaby), focuses on the middle-aged May’s conversation with her sick mother. Rockaby, one of Beckett’s last works, explores the theme of loneliness and finality through the character of a prematurely old woman with unkempt grey hair sitting on a rocking chair.

The tour is visiting the Lowry Theatre in Salford from 23 to 27 September and will go onto tour internationally.

Words: Sadia Habib

Images: Courtesy of The Lowry

Friday, 5 September 2014

Rochdale Feel Good Festival, 30.08.14

What have Andrew Nutter, Scouting for Girls and the M6 Theatre Group got in common? The answer is not immediately obvious, but one answer is that they all appeared at this year’s Rochdale Feel Good Festival.

Such a diverse collective is an essential part of this free, public spectacle, which is designed to appeal to all people. So there were smiling mums queuing up to get a picture taken with Ainsley Harriott after his cooking lessons, whilst the younger element of the demographic could be found shouting enthusiastically for the headline act, Scouting for Girls.

Those with more of an adventurous attitude to life could be seen abseiling down the clock tower at the town hall, some with eyes closed and others enjoying the view over the fairground rides.

When the rain came it was torrential at times, but did lead to one group of youngsters spotting a marketing opportunity by selling ponchos at £2 a time. The rain also drove a number of the crowd away from the enjoyable pop of the Lottery Winners, into the welcoming recesses of the Flying Horse where local bands delivered their versions of heavy rock numbers.

Bird to Beast, a band that has evolved from the core members of the husband and wife team of Hannah and Sam Hird to a full band line-up, were playing their second gig of the day, so it was a welcome delight to hear that their voices were still in fine fettle.

Thankfully the rain eased up enough to allow the square outside to fill again to celebrate all things ska rude boy courtesy of Pauline Black’s Selecter. With Pauline and Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson leading from the front, it was difficult to believe that some of these rich, vibrant sounds were over 30 years old.

Not many people left the event without a smile on their face, so let’s look forward to next year’s event.

Words & photos: Ged Camera