Thursday, 30 January 2014

Broken @ The Lowry, 28.01.14

We live our lives surrounded by gadgets and gizmos, engaging with the world through a laptop or a lens. We cocoon ourselves in synthetic fabrics and concrete houses, kept separate from nature while eating our processed dinners. But although we live in this mechanised and man-made world our bodies and spirit are anything but: we are alive, organic and part of an endless flowing continuum of life. It is this idea that Motionhouse's Broken at the Lowry explored so successfully as the dancers documented the struggles, trials and triumphs of modern humans and the Earth we are born from.

Motionhouse have become known for their highly physical shows that mix multiple mediums and Broken was no different; this was not a dance performance accompanied by film and music but a blend of all three, each element inseparable from the others. When dancers would reach for branches in the sky, unseen hands would send forth poles perfectly timed to greet their grasp. When the performers dived through the permeable film screen a cinematic splash would ripple outward in sympathy. The energy, expression and timing of the dancers was exemplary, leaving one to wonder at how they managed to sustain such levels for over an hour.

Broken does not follow a narrative structure, but rather paints abstract images through which the overall theme becomes apparent. The central motif is that of the earth and our relationship with it, be that as giver of life, as a source of mineral wealth or as bringer of destruction. The dancers flowed together, their bodies forming rigid rocks and disparate clouds with equal ease. Arms jutted out like mineral seams, fingers and hands reached upwards to become branches blooming forth from the soil, while ethereal beings edged onto the stage, like the ghosts of mother earth herself. As the piece ended in the present day our precarious place was illustrated by the power of an earthquake that shook all that had been made down into dust.

I normally find it quite easy to be concise in a review, but with Broken there is so much to say that it is a struggle. Of course that is the point of dance - it says complex, intricate and beautiful things in a way that words simply cannot. Praise must go to artistic director Kevin Finnan for assembling and directing such a strong team and harnessing their talents into this unified piece. Broken is a magnificent synthesis of many disciplines, accessible for those unfamiliar with dance and, above all, a moving and fun experience.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Chris Nash

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Blindsided @ The Royal Exchange, 28.01.14

The Coronation Street stars – current and previous – were out in full flow at The Royal Exchange supporting Julie Hesmondhalgh (Hayley Cropper in Corrie) in Blindsided, the fourth play written by Stockport born writer Simon Stephens, who recently adapted The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night Time.

The star of the show is Katie West who plays the lively, energetic and passionate Cathy Heyer. We warm to her entertaining exuberance and want her to succeed as she studies for an A level in History at Stockport College, something she is very excited about. There are tiny hopes of ambition in her that we want her to pursue so she can get away from domestic drudgery and the smell of the butchers. We are drawn to her raw passion and energy…but we are not the only ones, as a new arrival in town is soon enticed by the depth of her vitality.

Cathy is yearning to feel deeply, “I feel like every bit of me is awake and asleep at the same time,” and her wildest dream is to turn into somebody, but she declares, “No matter what happens, I’ll always be who I am.” However, when John Connolly (played by Andrew Sheridan) arrives on the scene, she starts to see things differently, “Round here you need people to shake things up a bit!”

Cathy falls blindly, desperately and quickly in love with Conolly, telling him, “I can get rather attracted to somebody suddenly.” But not to him, please Cathy! Sheridan plays a smug malevolent character so brilliantly that my skin crawls each time I see him on stage.

The director Sarah Frankcom successfully portrays a play of shattered dreams and shattered lives, where the characters seek to be free of the shackles in their minds. Stockport is brilliantly presented by the concrete slabs on the stage and the rain that comes and goes during the grim days.

Blindsided is the perfect title for this new play, for we are blindsided as we watch the characters’ raw emotions and devastating pain.

Words: Sadia Habib


Monday, 27 January 2014

Bonilla presents: Genius of Time, Leif and Matt Pond @ Antwerp Mansion, 25.01.14

Going toe to toe with a plethora of heavyweight Saturday night crowd-pullers is a tough ask for anyone, so first time promoters Bonilla had a job on their hands at the weekend. Hoya Hoya, Hit&Run, Wigflex, Craig Charles and Pangaea were all turning heads, but this cosmic disco vibed line-up held a different allure and as Matt Pond’s scene setting slot drew to a close, the gathered crowd was a good size – plenty enough people to warm Antwerp Mansion’s draughty climes, but with enough space to bust a groove without tripping on anyone’s heels.

Almost immediately after taking the musical baton, the headlining Swedish duo Genius of Time shake the cobwebs from the far corners of Antwerp Mansion’s main room, swapping previous gentle taps for their hefty sub-thwomps. Although away staging a ‘Pre-launch Party’ at the new Underland venue in Ancoats (established by former members of the Mansion team), it was Hit&Run’s extra soundsystem rattling the floorboards, sending shockwaves through the Rusholme venue’s core to move bass hungry dancing shoes into action.

The set mostly comprises the cut and paste percussive dexterity of cosmic house, with occasional nods to sweeping synths and hi-hats on the drum machine. Punctuating an otherwise vocal-less set, the crowd favourite was the addition of the ‘Love Thang’ vocals by oft-sampled 70s group First Choice, but no sooner had hands been raised to their remix’s infectious rhythms, than the mix ended, hands lowered and the numbers subsided to wander the Mansion’s dilapidated rooms elsewhere.

That left Freerotation Festival favourite Leif to see out the final two hours to a fluctuating dancefloor, with a set more intriguing than his predecessors’, but perhaps less appreciated, including hints of samples as disparate as The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and Jon Hopkins’ single ‘Open Eye Signal’, infiltrated by jazzy saxophones and a wide array of percussive styles across his record selections.

Words: Ian Pennington

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Write Night @ Lass O'Gowrie, 03.12.13

A night of mixed feelings at the Lass O’Gowrie: excitement, as Ransack Theatre production The Write Night made its debut. Sadness, as it is likely to be the last production this reviewer sees at the Lass before it closes. But let’s stick with the fun stuff first and talk about The Write Night, which showcased three short plays covering a wide range of material.

Although titled ‘Write Night’ the first play Boot Sale by Alastair Michael was actually more about the actors and directing than the writing per-se. An exercise in nervous uncertainty, Mike (played by James Warburton) proved just how much can be said without words. In fact, the biggest laughs came from mistakes – props falling over, tea being spilt – which were reacted to with a mixture of cheerful grimaces, flinches and frowns. An easy opener, not too serious but not too silly either.

The happiness was short lived though as the arrival of Box, written by Piers Black-Hawkins, took the night into a darker dimension. The unopened box on stage provided tension throughout as a sort of Chekhovian gun, while actors Luci Fish and Hal Geller were charming and chilling respectively. As to the writing, although the story worked well it felt like there were too many deeply descriptive passages which subtracted from the realism. The poetic parts were well done, but perhaps could have been used a touch more sparingly.

Final piece Enveloped In Velvet (also by Black-Hawkins) was something different altogether, documenting a funeral in fragmentary fashion through the accounts of those involved: the best friend, the former girlfriend, the deceased and (oddly enough) the dentist. Hard to pin down, it seemed to veer from taking itself too seriously to making fun of that very fact. An enjoyable piece, the structure worked well and the directing brought the best out of it.

So, a warm welcome to The Write Night, which will hopefully return with further interesting plays in the near future. Alas, it will most likely not be back at the Lass. Since moving to Manchester a year and a half ago I have seen perhaps a dozen productions there, from football games to romantic romps, all of which have benefited from its cramped charm. Goodbye to the Lass...your pints of bitter, interesting plays and snug space will be greatly missed.

Words: Andrew Anderson