Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Preview: Sounds From The Other City 2015, Sunday 3rd May

The May Day Bank Holiday is approaching this weekend and that can only mean one thing. Well, depending which century your traditions are originate, it might mean a few other things, from pagan dancing to International Workers’ Day, but for Chapel Street in Salford it can only mean one thing, and that’s Sounds From The Other City festival.

The annual new bands knees up is once again the highlight of the long weekend, commandeering the Sunday by booking in some of Greater Manchester's finest pop pickers. This year, those directing proceedings hop from the buzz band heavyweights at Now Wave to seasoned niche indie selectors at Bad Uncle and Comfortable on a Tightrope, via the pathway of dependable promoters at Hey! Manchester, Grey Lantern and Fat Out, round the record label corner to Gizeh/Little Red Rabbit, Red Deer, Sways, Samarbeta and Tru Luv, and back onto the main road blockaded by visual delights at Video Jam and the comic timing of Sham Bodie. And breathe.

Under those umbrellas, or rather in those venues, you’ll find many of those currently orbiting at the centre of Manchester’s creative universe rubbing shoulders with handpicked touring acts to set your ears ablaze. Ex Easter Island Head’s collab with the BBC Philharmonic Ensemble is sure to be a standout, and you won’t go far wrong with Naked (On Drugs), Paddy Steer, Liz Green, Jane Weaver, Black Josh, Acre Tarn or many more, but roaming around is always a sure fire way to see something unexpectedly great.

Venues-wise, meet at the Islington Mill wristband exchange from 3pm and float whichever way the musical breeze blows you.

Words: Ian Pennington

For tickets and more info: soundsfromtheothercity.com

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Preview: Columns Festival @ Manchester Cathedral

Manchester Cathedral will host, for the second year, Columns Festival on Saturday 2 May. The one-day event makes use of the cavernous Cathedral setting and showcases a shortlist of strong leftfield emerging electronic artists. Last year’s line-up included Future Islands and East India Youth, both of whom promptly became far more established artists in their own right. This year is headlined by the Canadian duo of Purity Ring and Braids alongside Ghostpoet, Born Gold, Shivum Sharma, Clarence Clarity and Cash + David. It looks set to showcase another range of performers, many of whom are performing newly released music.

Topping the bill is Purity Ring, showcasing their second and more accessible album, Another Eternity. Arriving from an extensive European tour, the Manchester stop will be another in a long line with tour support and kindred spirit Born Gold. Both artists are deeply rooted in the electro-pop formula and are strongly interconnected performers.

The festival will also mark the first weekend after the release of Braids’ third album, Deep In the Iris. One of the most progressive Canadian artists of the decade, the group’s collective work has gained comparisons with Animal Collective, Bj√∂rk and Burial. With further shifts in direction on their new album they have delved into drum and bass as well as house. Early single ‘Miniskirt’ also suggests a new clarity to their sound that has often relied on a dense and obscure maximalist approach.

Ghostpoet likewise released his third album, Shedding Skin, back in March, conveying a similar upfront confidence that was missing from his previous work. His performance, like many on the bill, will prove his progression as an artist, from Mercury nomination to now.

Three relatively undiscovered artists complete the bill. Shivum Sharma fuses gospel atmospherics with soft, minimalist textures. Clarence Clarity is taking glitch-pop to an extreme, sounding like a cross-between Kindness and Hudson Mohawke, but with added camp. Finally Cash + David, featuring Bombay Bicycle Club backing singer Liz Lawrence, are an electro-pop duo surely taking note of the headliners. All three will feature first at Columns before venturing to play a number of the summer’s most anticipated festivals.

Columns is set to be an occasion for hearing established electronic talents alongside new blood relishing the chance to perform in one of the city’s most ornate venues.

Words: Thomas Dixon

Information and tickets can be found on the Columns website, here.

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Rise & Fall of Little Voice @ The King's Arms, Salford, 15.04.2015

The King's Arms is synonymous with theatre in Manchester (even though it is in Salford), and I have seen a number of small but brilliant productions there. I have also seen some pretty poor ones too, but that is part of what keeps fringe so interesting. The Rise & Fall of Little Voice though is something different, unlike anything I have seen in this space before.

For a start, the staging is far grander, split over two levels and with a feel of permanence. Time, effort and money have clearly been invested. The lighting and sound are also at a level of sophistication beyond what is normally attempted here - it looks and sounds like professional theatre.

But we'll come back to that; let's talk about the play itself. Written by Jim Cartwright, it is a tale of a small girl with a big vocal talent, who is forced onto the stage by a money-grabbing mother and her wannabe business tycoon boyfriend. As Little Voice's career builds so do her problems until, inevitably, everyone gets burnt.

The key element for Rise & Fall of Little Voice is casting someone who can really sing and, in Josie Cerise, they have done just that. On top of her vocal talent she also brought charisma to the role, shining in her moments on stage and drawing you into her solitude off it. In fact, this production has well-cast written all over it, with every actor in a role that showcased their numerous strengths.

So, back to that staging. What troubled me at first was that this show seemed to be focussing its efforts on high production values, trying to be like The Exchange or HOME. The ticket prices (£12) are also much closer to what you might get at those venues. It felt a bit like it was shunning what the King's Arms does best, which is putting on simple productions with plenty of charm and character.

On reflection I can see that I was wrong to think this. Just because this show places an emphasis on staging and is a little more expensive doesn't mean that everything in this space will follow this model. And, regardless of production values, the performances in Little Voice were brilliant and the direction from James Baker accomplished.

In fact, The Rise & Fall of Little Voice team did exactly what fringe producers are supposed to do: they tried something different. What's more they succeeded, creating a really memorable show that demonstrates just what can be achieved on a smaller stage.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Image: Courtesy of Assembled Junk

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Sexual Perversity in Chicago @ Salford Arts Theatre, 26.03.15

Before we even had a chance to really contemplate the success of their Manchester Rep Season (a programme of four plays in four short weeks), 1956 Theatre Company are back with another bounty for theatre guzzlers to gourmandize. Not long on the ‘scene’, the company debut saw them bring the film classic Dead on Arrival to the stage in 2013, several months later they sold out a performance of Great Expectations, shortly followed by the aforementioned Rep season. All this leads us to the play in question; still as ambitious as ever, 1956 have gone and taken on the challenge of a David Mamet play and have done so with success.

Sexual Perversity in Chicago is a heavily worded and strongly contextual piece, which can be daunting, even to the very best of actors. Set in 1976 Chicago, the play examines the sex lives of two men and two women; the main focus being Danny (Daniel Bradford) and Deborah (Amy-Jane Ollies). The two meet and they quickly establish a relationship from sexual attraction and, just as quickly, they move in together. As the play progresses their relationship is thwarted by an inability to talk with each other seriously. This is amplified by the opinions and self-interest of their friends: Bernie (Lee Lomas), Danny’s misogynic boss; and Joan (Hannah Ellis Ryan), Deborah’s sharp tongued room-mate.

Ollies and Bradford have clearly taken time to understand their roles, and truly take the character’s journey. In doing so they effortlessly exude an innocence and optimism which later festers in frustration and cynicism. The two managed to accomplish these traits while maintaining the chemistry required of a Mamet play.

In contrast to our two characters in charge of portraying the plays humanity (a better word for emotion) we have Joan and Bernie, the keys drivers of Mamet’s elaborate and daunting dialogue. Ryan gives an astounding performance as Joan, as she has impeccable control of her dialogue, which a less experienced actor could fall prey to. Lomas, is a true show stealer – his portrayal of Bernie is beautifully well rounded, again breezing through the fast paced dialogue with complete ownership.

The production has again reminded us that this company are fearless, a winning trait in this industry. Their ambitious decisions and eagerness to prove their company aim that “there is no such thing as can’t be done”, are two of the many reasons 1956 are quickly becoming one of my favourite theatre companies. Watch this space!

Words: Kate Morris

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Brink @ Royal Exchange Studio, 26.03.15

Brink, the latest production by the Royal Exchange's Young Company, marks Associate Director Matthew Xia's directorial debut for the theatre. An ambitious production, the company worked together with Youth Director Matt Hassall and poet and Exchange associated artist Jackie Kay to explore the idea of being “on the brink” using spoken word, song, dialogue, beatboxing, physical theatre and most importantly, the experiences of the performers.

What is initially striking about the production is its design - the Studio has been truly transformed into an other worldly, futuristic place, with a raised platform divided into grids of light (reminiscent of Tron), creating lots of small edges the actors can reach. These perhaps symbolise the "brinks", both big and small, we encounter throughout our lives. As the show progresses lighting design and staging are consistently strong, with doors suddenly appearing in the set and the cast crawling into other worlds, (or perhaps the "real world") which the audience has no sense of previously.

Throughout the production though it is the concept of “the brink” as an other worldly place that jars for me. The use of a slightly foreboding score sometimes overdramatised asides to the main stories, which otherwise could have served as light relief. The repetition of "this graceless place" seemingly used to assert the idea of the brink being a place rather than an idea didn't work for me, and was slightly overused.

In addition, the necessity of bringing the whole company on to the stage and establishing a world to which they all enter for different reasons, starts the play off with a rather chaotic tone. Although this establishes the concept of “being on the bring”, starting at such a high octane initially gave me reservations about what was to follow.

Disregarding the Brink as an alternative world, the concept serves as fruitful stimulus for the company emotionally, exploring decisions and conflicts big and small with humour, insightfulness and authenticity throughout the performance. The vast majority of the individual stories ring true, being told with a comforting ease which allow for some fantastic performances.

As I mentioned earlier, Kay wrote the piece after lengthy discussion with the company and there is a real sense of their ownership over their stories and the material in general. A sense of having discovered things for themselves and supporting one another through the process, which is what really great youth theatre should be about. As with any piece "based on the experiences of the performers", the show made me wonder how much of it was real, especially with the harder hitting sections, but the performers always felt safe and supported.

Where the production, and performers really came alive was during the musical numbers, written collaboratively with the company and composed by young company member Jason Singh who accompanied on piano. Strongest of the original material was "Fragile" where the performers harmonised, danced and channelled the emotions of the lyrics wholeheartedly.

Both Director Xia and Associate Director Hassall have spoken passionately about their belief in theatre as a social tool and their admiration of the young company they have had the privilege of working with. Every performer on stage seemed comfortable, confident and cared for, all given space to explore and an opportunity to shine, creating a sensitive, energetic, varied, authentic and therefore triumphant show.