REVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet: Shakespeare Dream Bill (The Lowry, Salford)

Wink Birmingham Royal Ballet © Andrew Ross
Wink
Birmingham Royal Ballet
© Andrew Ross
upstaged rating:      

2016 marks four hundred years since the death of William Shakespeare and Birmingham Royal Ballet continue their celebration of the world’s most prolific dramatist with Shakespeare Dream Bill. The production presents three contrasting works, from contemporary to classical, in a Shakespeare-themed feast of balletic brilliance.

American choreographer Jessica Lang’s Wink serves an elegant entree inspired by the language of The Bard’s sonnets. Set to Jakob Ciupinski’s new score, both the music and the movement echo the structure of the sonnets. Surreal and captivating, the piece takes its title from the first line of sonnet 43, ‘When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see.’ The graceful performance is framed by Mimi Lien’s set of rotating boards which switch from black to white representing the blink of an eye. Stylish and contemporary, Peter Teigan’s lighting design and Alfie Jones’ voiceover add further clarity to this faultless display.

José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane subtitled ‘Variations on the theme of Othello’, distils the tangled tragedy of Othello into a tightly knit and thrilling one-act piece. The four dancers: Tyrone Singleton (Othello), Iain Mackay (Iago) , Delia Mathews (Desdemona) and Samara Downs (Emilia) sweep and glide in Pauline Lawrence’s medieval inspired gowns. Moving in a circular motion about a dark stage, they are enmeshed. Othello’s white handkerchief is passed between them to Henry Purcell’s baroque score.

The Dream concludes the triple bill with a good dose of magic and wit as the company revive Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1964 interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With Peter Farmer’s leafy woodland setting and John B Read’s dramatic lighting design, the company fill the stage with elegance and jest.  

I was very surprised to see a few empty seats on the night I attended as the Birmingham Royal Ballet usually, and rightfully, attract a full house. Perhaps the idea of Shakespeare fused with ballet felt quite daunting for some, which is quite a shame as The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare Dream Bill is pure perfection- a stunning display of agility, beauty and technical wisdom. This production is a superb evening out for all ages and whether you are a seasoned theatre-goer or on your first trip to the ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare Dream Bill is a dazzling visual feast.

-Kristy Stott

The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare’s Dream Bill is on at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 17th September 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

 

 

REVIEW: My Big Fat Jobseeker’s Wedding (The Lowry, Salford)

My Big Fat Jobseekers Wedding at The Lowry, Salford
My Big Fat Jobseekers Wedding at The Lowry, Salford
Reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 

Adult themed pantomime My Big Fat Jobseeker’s Wedding is the latest production from Manchester based theatre group Ard Knox. It invites the audience into the life of a stereotypical council estate family, where money is tight, and drama lurks around every corner.

The play is centred in the family sitting room, which is reminiscent of The Royle Family, setting the scene perfectly for the cliché type of humour that’s on offer. The formula that is used does not bring anything new to the genre, and nor does it particularly do well what it intends in the first place. This is by no means down to the acting, which offered a clear visual rapport, showing how much the cast have spent time together, really helping to create the friendships on stage.

The failed gags, however, are down to the poor writing, and jokes were often relying on simple gags and toilet humour which was both predictable and forgettable and felt as though it was aiming for cheap laughs. The script also offered a very incohesive narrative which felt as though it was written with scenes in mind rather than the whole story,  rather a stitch together of random characters and scenes into a form of linear narrative. However this was hidden by some overarching jokes throughout, like the chat room on the laptop, which helped bring together the story in some way, but it did not deny the outlandish random plot points that made no sense.

Despite that the characters were stereotypes, they were very good stereotypes, resulting in people relating them to someone they knew, which made them funnier. However, some characters again were completely out of place and ruined the believability of the other characters. For example, the son was a ‘cowboy’, relying on Sergio Leone references as jokes were completely out of place for a northern working class sitcom style play, which overall tarnished the suspension of disbelief.

Overall My Big Fat Jobseeker’s Wedding was a big fat random collage of cheap jokes and crude humour, that I’m sure would suffice for a quick laugh while drinking with a couple of friends, but would leave no further than that, as it falls flat in offering nothing more than a cheap attempt at Mrs Brown’s Boys.

-Demi West
You can find out more about Ard Knox Theatre Company by clicking here.

REVIEW: The Shawshank Redemption (The Lowry, Salford)

The Shawshank Redemption © Mark Yeoman
The Shawshank Redemption
© Mark Yeoman
reviewer: megan hyland
upstaged rating: 

Adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Jones from Stephen King’s critically acclaimed novel and the iconic 1994 film, the Shawshank Redemption tells the familiar story of Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary. Whether you know the story or not, this production is accessible for all audience members, with its hard-hitting and emotional performances drawing you in from the beginning.

thumbnail_Paul NichollsThe play follows Andy Dufresne, (played by Paul Nicholls) an intelligent and charismatic banker imprisoned for the double murder of his wife and her lover. The story is beautifully narrated throughout by his fellow prisoner Red – played by Ben Onwukwe who brings brilliant animation and magnetism to the well-loved character. Throughout the twenty years in which the play is set, we see Andy interact and develop relationships with his fellow prisoners – played by an outstanding supporting cast – all the while forming a rather resourceful plan.

The all-male cast offer a range of powerful and gripping performances, from the quiet and bumbling but lovable librarian ‘Brooksie’, played by Andrew Boyer to the terrifying and sinister prison tormenters Rooster and Bogs, played by Jeff Alexander and Sean Croke, whose performances were exceptional and uncomfortably convincing. The entire cast had incredible physicality and great chemistry, particularly between Nicholls and Onwukwe, who bring both humour and charm to their characters. Nicholls gave a charming and likable performance as Andy, effortlessly transitioning from Andy’s distanced and quiet personality to bold, raw performances with Jack Ellis’ performance as Waden Stammas being the perfect menacing contrast. Each scene was thick with tension, but the hard topics especially were handled effortlessly and tension was quickly diffused with wonderfully dry humour.

Gary McCann’s set and costume design although simplistic added greater authenticity to the story, and allowed it not to distract or take away from the incredible acting performances. Although the costumes and set design were reminiscent of the 1994 film of the same name, they were magnificent in their own right. Paired with Dan Samson’s eloquent sound design, they create a genuine and intimidating prison atmosphere.

Transferring this story to the stage can’t have been an easy task, but director David Esbjornson has done a faultless and beautiful job. The cast bring a new life to the familiar roles, without leaving behind the story we’re familiar with. And although not a light-hearted watch, the play tells a riveting and heartfelt story of friendship, strength and hope that resonates with the audience.

-Megan Hyland

The Shawshank Redemption runs at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 10th September 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Gangsta Granny (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Birmingham Stage Company's Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. ©Mark Douet
Birmingham Stage Company’s Gangsta Granny by David Walliams.
©Mark Douet
upstaged rating: 

The Lowry fizzes with excitement with the arrival of the Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of David Walliams’ much-loved Gangsta Granny. 

Since 2008 David Walliams has taken the children’s literary world by storm – writing nine children’s books and selling more than 12.5 million copies worldwide. Children (and grown-ups) love his books and it was clear to see that this stage show was also well received. Gangsta Granny has been a staple read in our house- the immersive sheer brilliance of Walliams’ wit has ignited our imaginations and prompted conversation. While the stage show doesn’t offer the same enveloping delight as diving into the original, the charm and excitement of the live stage match the vigour and flamboyance of Walliams’ writing.

Adapted by Neal Foster, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben (Ashley Cousins) and the relationship that he has with his little scrabble playing, cardigan wearing, cabbage chomping Granny (Gilly Tompkins). Ben loathes having to stay at his boring Granny’s house every Friday when his Mum (Louise Bailey) and Dad (Benedict Martin) go to watch their Strictly Stars Dancing show.

Vibrant and colourful, each character looks as though they have sprung from the pages of Tony Ross’ wonderful illustrations. Travelling around on her motorised scooter we soon learn that Granny is not as boring as we have been led to believe. Action packed and dream-like with a wicked brilliance, Gangsta Granny is poignant with some top-trumping wit and offers a thoughtful twist as Ben comes to realise that beyond the drab exterior, his gran is wild and adventurous.  

‘It’s important to follow your dreams Ben, it’s all you’ve got to guide you.’

Jacqueline Trousdale’s set is colourful and snappy, the simple design makes scene changes swift and fluid. Jak Poore’s ballroom themed musical composition is lively and comical, adding further depth to the production.

© Mark Douet
© Mark Douet

Gangsta Granny is fun and fast paced and the perfect outing for children, parents and grannies. It continues to tour right through summer  2017 – running at 2 hours and 10 minutes, it is the ideal treat for those children who read, share and love Walliams’ writing.

-Kristy Stott

Gangsta Granny is at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Sunday September 4th 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

Gangsta Granny continues to tour the UK right through to September 2017. Click here to find your nearest venue and book tickets.

REVIEW: Little Sister (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

Little Sister at Manchester's Royal Exchange
Little Sister at Manchester’s Royal Exchange
reviewer: Ciaran ward
upstaged rating: 

Manchester’s Royal Exchange receives the world premiere of Little Sister, a ninety-minute adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Six Swans. Created in collaboration with The Company, Little Sister has finally brought to life Lead Artist Mark Storer’s wish to develop such an intricate and profound piece of theatre, following a lengthy eighteen-year absence to do so. As such, no aspect of the play faltered throughout its course, making Little Sister’s quest to help return her brothers to their true human form an enchanting display of love and affection, one that entertained the audience from the very inception to the final curtain.

Despite occasional cries from characters and sporadic sound effects (contributed by Ben Almond, Dave Norton and Sorcha Williams), the prevalence of silence throughout heightened the courage and determination Little Sister offered, given the sacrifice she made to not make a sound for seven years so as to break her brothers’ curse. As a result, there was a dependence on the motion of the different characters to tell the story, one which, although an unconventional approach, made for an enjoyable and quirky experience.

One notable element of the performance was the inclusion of acrobatics in it. A rope that spanned the height of the theatre and was attached to the ceiling was artistically utilised by the skilled performer and aerialist, Alice Ellerby, providing an awe-inspiring and majestic display that was especially appropriate considering the fact the 2016 Olympic Games are due to commence. The graceful movements also proved the play to be visually profuse and thus a stunning spectacle to watch.

In particular, the rich architectural designs of the Royal Exchange Theatre meant that it was the most suitable venue in Manchester to house the play. The round theatre allowed for the entire audience, regardless of which seat they were in, to see what was happening on stage – extremely convenient as a multitude of actions, performed by different characters, were occurring in conjunction with each other for the majority of the show. In turn, this literally kept you on the edge of your seat as you attempted to spot everything going on in all corners of the stage.

A play with scarcely any lines may be perceived as boring to some, but this definitely wasn’t the case with the Little Sister. Through its accomplished choreography, aptly used props and effective use of silence, this greater emphasis on stage direction resulted in a play that entirely warranted two separate bouts of applause at the end.

-Ciaran Ward

Little Sister runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until Sunday 7th August 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

 

REVIEW: You Boy (Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)

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Reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 

You Boy is the latest piece by SeeGold Productions, co-directed by Zach Slater of The Sketch Men, starring Oliver Burkill and Scott Harrison. The story follows two adoptive brothers in their last year of secondary school. The narrative is told through a non-linear structure, which allows the audience to learn about the present, whilst also learning about the past through flashbacks of the two brothers. The acts are centred around the gravestone of one the brothers, which is the centrepiece of the two timelines, creating an almost circular narrative that gives two satisfying ‘book-ends’ to an otherwise expansive story line.

The play begins with the deceased brother lingering around his gravestone, contemplating the lonely realities of death, which sets a sombre tone for the play. Shortly after this, his brother visits the gravestone, and thus begins the tale of the two brothers in their trials and tribulations of becoming men. This is where the flashbacks begin, elaborating on the close relationship between the two brothers which continue after death, making the bond between the pair believable, giving depth to the present storyline. This also displays how as well as their relationship, the roles of both brothers remain unchanged, which works well to convey the unconditional love that the brothers share. Throughout the play, there was unexpected humour which was well received by the audience, which helped to take the dramatic edge off things, working well to create a balance between the positive and negative.

The actors performed to a high standard, which was impressive due to the small size of the venue and the lack of set design, although at times their performance during the flashbacks seemed overly dramatic, almost destroying the illusion of them being teenage boys. However, the minimalistic set meant that their performance was the focal point, meaning that the performance itself was the main story teller, and created a mental set design in which the audience could set the scene themselves. This was echoed further when the actors would interact with non-present characters, aiming their dialogue towards the audience and making them feel more involved, strengthening the effectiveness of key scenes.

Overall, the storyline flowed well, with all the events from the past and the present coming together in a way that made conversations from earlier on in the play begin to make sense. The non-linear narrative structure was a large factor of what made the play flow so well, as it was an effective alternative of telling an otherwise standardised drama, in a way that constantly gripped the attention of the audience. The audience were left with a comically sad ending, which tied everything together in a way that didn’t dampen the mood. I would highly recommend this play to anyone who gets the chance to see it.

-Demi West

REVIEW: King Lear (GM Fringe – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)

King Lear by Purplecoat Productions at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre
King Lear by PurpleCoat Productions at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre
reviewer: Ciaran ward
upstaged rating: 

PurpleCoat Productions’ interpretation of William Shakespeare’s infamous tragedy, King Lear, has asserted itself as a befitting homage to the playwright’s life and career in wake of the 400th anniversary of his death back in April. The emotional turmoil inherent in the many of the play’s round characters is emphasised through the skilled creative direction of Karl Falconer: a single set compounds the intense feeling and impending sense of enclosure experience by all, be that by death, imprisonment or loss.

Through the evident proficiency of the actors, the despair of Lear (Paul Carmichael) over his deteriorating authority, the anguish of Edmund (Stephen Michael Turner) from being the bastard son of the nobleman Gloucester (Karl Falconer) and, in turn, his own worries of being guilty of treason after aiding the King in escaping the wrath of his vengeful daughters (Natasha Ryan and Evangeline Murphy King) is greatly achieved, making for a riveting piece of theatre which stirs a desire for more than a three hour show.

Given the immersive nature of the performance, the audience began engaging with the drama from the exposition. Immediately, your sight informs you that the characters are dressed in modern attire but your hearing confuses you when you realise they are speaking the traditional lines that were crafted by the Bard himself. The anachronism, in itself, complements Lear’s descent into madness, but is also suggestive of the fact that the themes of human cruelty and justice are just as relevant today as they were in the Renaissance era.

The technical aspects of the play effectively contribute to the various atmospheres produced throughout, with the highly commendable lighting and sound effects being offered by Alisha Johnson and Mel Wells. Scenes of sinister plotting are aided by the stark reduction of light; a paradoxical approach to how you would generally discover a character’s ‘true colours’. Moments of truth and reconciliation, however, are embellished with mellow lighting, superficially indicating a sense of ease and tranquillity, before the tragic events in the dénouement become apparent.

Considering that this showing in Manchester is the last stop of the PurpleCoat Productions’ UK and Ireland Tour, it is impressive that the quality and high standards of the cast and crew have been so well preserved throughout the show’s run. Every aspect of the production, from the incongruous costuming to the raw talents of the actors dealing with such an acclaimed piece of drama, engenders it to be a mesmerising performance that enchants any Shakespeare fan, young or old.

-Ciaran Ward

REVIEW: National Killing Day (GM Fringe 2016 – The King’s Arms, Salford)

 

National Killing Day at Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016
National Killing Day at Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016
reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

Lee Clotworthy’s writing debut, National Killing Day is a thrilling and fast-paced hour of entertainment. The play follows James, a young man struggling to come to terms with the breakdown of his marriage on the country’s first National Killing Day. For the next 24 hours, murder is legal. James finds himself purchasing a train ticket to his ex-wife’s house – with a knife and her death certificate in his bag. But it’s the people that he meets along the way and the glimpses of media coverage that make the play so exceptional.

With an animated cast of nine, the play explores and tests dynamics between brothers, friends and even couples on the tensest day of the year.  The narrative switches between the media coverage, which paints National Killing Day as a vitally important day in the country’s history in order to control the population, and also the violent reality that James witnesses on his journey.

Although simplistic, the staging and lighting only emphasise the outstanding acting talent of the cast. Dean Brammel delivers an engaging and raw performance as James, as we watch his developing struggle to “open up” emotionally to his ex-wife, Jenny. Whereas Hayley Thompson and Mike Howl expertly handle multirole, with Thompson, in particular, showcasing her diverse acting ability as both patronizing and propaganda-pushing broadcaster Phillipa Phillipson and bumbling yet unruly shopkeeper Phyllis.

The play’s individual selling point is its complete control of building and diffusing tension. National Killing Day deals with some uncomfortable subjects, such as affairs, unhappy marriages and social barriers, all brought to a head with the idea of legal murder. The tension in the scenes often rises to points where they become quite difficult to watch, as the characters are driven to hysterics by the reality of National Killing Day. But just as quickly as the tension is built, it is ultimately diffused by the clever and quick satirical humour of Clotworthy’s writing.

Overall, National Killing Day is incredibly tense and exciting to watch, with the last five minutes particularly bringing the play to a surprising and shocking climax. Music is used sparingly throughout, but its ironic and unexpected uses only adds to the satirical tone of the play. And while this may be Clotworthy’s first stint as a script writer and director, it’s certainly an encouraging and promising start.

-Megan Hyland

National Killing Day shows at The King’s Arms until Friday 22nd July 2016 and you can get your tickets here. 

For further information and complete listings for Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016 click here.

REVIEW: Cyril the Squirrel (The Lowry, Salford)

Cyril the Squirrel is so sq-exciting
Cyril the Squirrel
thingstars: 

Theatre maker Cathy Shiel’s background in early years teaching really shines through in this delightful and touching new piece of children’s theatre, Cyril the Squirrel. This charming tale is pitched perfectly for children aged 3 and up and is packed to the brim with bright visual storytelling and amusing interaction. With clowning, puppetry and performance, Cyril the Squirrel has plenty to keep those inquisitive minds engaged for the full 45 minute running time.

The tale unfolds within Woody Woodland when Cyril (Jennifer Birch), a grey squirrel, meets Rosie Red (Cathy Shiel), a red squirrel.The heartwarming tale explores themes around friendship and diversity as the two become best friends despite sneaky Willy the Weasel and his best efforts to divide them.

With their little eyes wide, many children in the audience were gripped from the very start of the show. This production has interaction at its core, inviting children to engage with the performers throughout – it’s a sure way to get theatres toughest critics on your side from the outset. The narrative is simple and pitched at a perfect level for younger children; the clever use of instruments, highly visual tricks and puppetry succeed in feeding their excitable minds and imaginations.

Fresh from The Royal Exchange’s The Crucible, Alastair Gilles shows his versatility as a performer in doubling up as the crafty Weasel and the calming and knowledgeable Owl. Cathy Shiel and Jennifer Birch are dynamic, suitably animated and fun, working alongside each other as Rosie Red and Cyril.

Lara Booth’s set design provides the ideal balance between simplicity and woodland magic – complete with hidey holes and vines. Will Hague’s squirrel tail design is the perfect visual for younger children to understand the difference between the two characters on stage.

FullSizeRenderCyril the Squirrel is a superb piece of children’s theatre – smart and well pitched. Thing 2 laughed along with many of the jokes throughout the show and took away the important message that it is interesting to be different, change can be good and that diversity makes the world go round.

 

 

-Kristy Stott

Cyril the Squirrel continues to tour throughout July 2016: The Dogs Trust, Denton 26th July 2016 (plus and post-show doggy themed workshop) and The Atkinson, Southport 30th July 2016.

REVIEW: Beyond Caring (HOME, Manchester)

Beyond Caring © Graeme Braidwood
Beyond Caring
© Graeme Braidwood
upstaged rating: 

Beyond Caring pulls the filthy wall away to reveal the reality of working life for the night shift workers on zero-hours contracts in a meat factory. Employed as cleaners on agency contracts, their work is physically demanding and repetitive and they don’t always get paid on time. Alexander Zeldin’s perception of life on the lowest rung of the employment ladder is precise, darkly comic and painstakingly accurate.

Beyond Caring © Graeme Braidwood
Beyond Caring
© Graeme Braidwood

Designer Natasha Jenkins has managed to make Theatre 2 at HOME feel just like an industrial warehouse. Harshly lit by bright white strip lights from above, there is the smell of cleaning products and pungent damp mops in the air. We learn snippets about the characters lives during their 15-minute lunch breaks before they continue with the arduous task of cleaning the meat factory.

The whole piece has been devised by the company through investigation and talking to those who have experienced zero-hours contracts. The show centres around the introduction of three new agency workers to the soul-destroying and dingy walls of the factory: Grace (Janet Etuk), Susan (Kristin Hutchinson) and Becky (Victoria Moseley). Led by factory taskmaster Ian (Luke Clarke), the three women join with permanent employee Phil (James Doherty) to work the night shift. Hints are threaded throughout the script to indicate why the three are so desperate for the job – it’s authentic, real and at times, difficult to watch.

Beyond Caring © Graeme Braidwood
Beyond Caring
© Graeme Braidwood

Luke Clarke’s supervisor Ian has a ‘David Brent’ air about him, conducting pointless team meetings and describing his self-indulgent spiritual beliefs; though despite the shades of black comedy, the piece takes the subject matter seriously. As somebody who has worked in a zero-hours environment, I could relate to the way he treated his workers, which made for uncomfortable but achingly real viewing.

-Kristy Stott

Beyond Caring runs at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 16th July 2016 and you can get your tickets here.