Friday, 5 June 2015

New Dawn Fades @ The Dance House, 22.05.15

Being a Scouser in Manchester I have on occasion come into contact with the Liverpool v Manchester ideology. It is a rivalry that has been fought for years, and I’m not entirely sure of how it started. Now and again I’m asked “what’s a Scouser doing in Manchester?” followed by the predictable and over phlegmy impressions of “kaarm down”, “Steevie G!”, or “oor’right mate”. All silly feuding aside, these two North West titans have more in common than they care to admit – cosmopolitan cities filled with passionate inhabitants and a shared spectrum of epic music. There’s no denying the two have great music heritage and I for one don’t mind crossing the boundary to relish in Manchester’s.

A particular favorite is Joy Division, and combining a passion for music and theatre I jumped at the chance to see New Dawn Fades, a play that recounts the days of the band’s ascension to success and their tragic demise. This one off performance corresponds with the 35th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death and honors him beautifully.

Very much a play of two halves; we are first guided by band manager Tony Wilson as he narrates the story. Played by Lee Joseph, who exudes Wilson’s playful charisma and wit. Joseph uses these qualities to educate the audience on Manchester’s history (an integral part of Joy Division’s beginnings) thus lighting the fires of passion in the belly of all watching, be they devote Division fans, theatre fans or newbies.

Playing roles of non-fiction always carries the risk of playing a caricature rather than more rounded portrayals of their characters, but Joseph plays the Mancunian legend to perfection. In fact, the casting is excellent across the board, with Bernard Sumner played by Sean Croke, Stephen Morris by Matthew Melbourne and Peter Hook by Bill Bradshaw.

Completing the band line up is Ian Curtis played by Michael Whittaker, whose performance is eerily astounding. Rising to the challenge of playing the role of an adored music icon, he made it look effortless as if Curtis is living on through this performance. Whittaker encaptures his spirit, crafing a complex portrait of Curtis’s fragility and his struggle with epilepsy, all while being torn between his duty to those around him and his own worries over his morality.

Another emotive driver in the piece comes from Natalie Perry playing Debbie Curtis. Her being the only female in the play accentuated the idea of isolation, as she desperately tries to remain supportive of her husband’s dreams while tensions build between them and bleakness encroaches on Ian.

Written by Brian Gorman the play is intelligent and well thought out, and director Sarah Van Parys finds a balance between accuracy and sensitivity to create this stunning and emotive piece.

Words: Kate Morris

Image: Courtesy of All Roads Meet

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Last Dance @ King's Arms, Salford, 27.05.15

Those who know me know what kind of theatre I like, and they know what I’m looking for when I take my seat, programme in hand, waiting for lights up. You could say the qualities I like in theatre are the same I appreciate in my family and friends: passion, tenacity and having something to say. Fortunately Vertigo productions has these three virtues in spades, and have proven as much with its most recent production Last Dance.

The piece is a true labor of love as writer Craig Hepworth started work on it four years ago. Upon viewing at The King’s Arms, it’s evident how much commitment and hard work has gone into the play.

Set in 1980s New York, Last Dance takes an intimate look at a group of family and friends and how their lives are affected when main protagonist Corey is diagnosed with AIDS. Currently unnamed and being referred to as ‘gay cancer’, professional dancer Corey - played by the marvelous Richard Allen - has contracted the immune-attacking virus. Allen is awe-inspiring and gives a heart-wrenching performance, as he effectively applies much-researched physical techniques and dramatic skills to offer an honest portrayal of Corey’s declining health. A standout moment is when Corey first hears his diagnosis from his doctor Henry (Stuart Reeve). It’s a challenge for an actor to emulate a genuine response to something they haven’t encountered personally, but Allen did so brilliantly and I was already reaching for my tissues and fighting the temptation to hug him. This wasn’t the last time I found myself with a lump in my throat; another powerful performance came from Julie Edwards as Corey’s mother Rose, caught between the love of her son and loyalty to her faith.

The weighty content and severity of the issues explored by the play means the cast have to be very honest in their work – the fact that they were paid off. However, there was also a tendency to shout lines. While this is an understandable and realistic response, it can run the risk of disengaging the audience from poignant moments. That isn’t to say the content wasn't engaging though, because it truly was: the story was touching and was told well.

The narrative touches on a variety of other topics and social issues, including assisted suicide; I particularly wanted Hepworth to tread further into this. Of course this may not be the production to do so, but maybe an idea for future work? Whatever the content may be I have every faith that Vertigo are going to continue to produce theatre I like and stories that I love. If Last Dance is anything to go by it’s going to be passionate, bold and with a lot to say!

words: Katie Morris

Image: Courtesy of Vertigo Productions