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