PREVIEW: Funny Women Awards : Regional Finals

This month, the Funny Women Awards: Regional Finals returns for its fifteenth year of running, with a Manchester date of 28th February
at Tribeca at 7:30 pm.

Funny Women Awards 2018
Funny Women Awards 2018
Written by Freya Lewis

The staggeringly popular ceremony, with 400 applicants for the Stage Award alone, has now whittled down to 70 female comedians of to compete at the regional final stage. Previous winners include Katherine Ryan,  Sarah Millican and Harriet Braine, and the search for the next female comedy icon promises to be a real showstopper.

Funny Women founder, Lynne Parker said, “Women have such a strong and important voice in the comedy industry and so many of today’s big names have taken part in the awards at the beginning of their careers. I am excited to see who comes next!”

The regional finals with produce six winners, with two ‘wild card’ acts to make it to the Grand Final of the competition, leaving eight finalists in total.

Funny Women is also now partnered with UN Women National Committee UK, inspired by the renowned HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality, and the monitoring board will be composed of male and female comedians together. This follows 2016’s successful pairing of the finalists with celebrity female comedians, including Sara Pascoe, Ellie Taylor, Jan Ravens, Zoe Lyons, Tiffany Stevenson and Shazia Mirza.

Laura Haynes, Chair, UN Women National Committee UK said: ”We are delighted to confirm the Funny Women Awards as one of our signature events for HeForShe London Arts Week 2018 in support of UN Women… The arts guide and reflect culture by helping people to re-think established norms and explore challenging topics in a thoughtful way.”

Funny Women promises to be a hilarious, amazing night to perfectly encapsulate the hilarity and positivity that women possess. It encourages a brilliant message to help adapt a male-dominated industry. Only 25% of comedians are women, and so for this ceremony to shed light on some of our countries most uproarious female characters promises to be a treat for those wanting a change for the better.

The 2017 Funny Women Awards are sponsored by Comedy Central, Why Did the Chicken, Women in Comedy Festival, Soho Theatre, Women’s Radio Station, Oliver Bonas, Starling Bank and MOO.

-Freya Lewis

To find out more and book for Manchester’s Funny Women regional final click here.

PREVIEW: The Kitchen Sink at Oldham Coliseum

Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink opens at Oldham Coliseum this Friday

CREDIT: Oldham Coliseum
CREDIT: Oldham Coliseum
Written By Freya Lewis
The Kitchen Sink Runs at Oldham Coliseum from Friday 9th February – Saturday 24th February.

Tom Wells is one of the UK’s most innovative and intriguing young writers, and The Kitchen Sink is what struck him into status in the theatre world, leading to his Most Promising Playwright Award at the Critics’ Circle Awards and the George Divine Award for Most Promising Playwright, plus a nomination for Most Promising Playwright at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

Sponsored by the New Charter group, this follows, from the same team, Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts in 2016; Director Chris Lawson and Designer Anna Reid.

The play presents us with a wild look into an unusual family situation, along with an amazing northern cast. A hilarious, modern family drama that makes us think what family really means when one has huge dreams in a little town. Chris Lawson commented: “Tom Wells writes stories that matter; we relate to them because they reflect real life.”

Sue Devany, star of Dinnerladies, Casualty and Coronation Street maintains her Oldham roots as Kath. She said “When I knew my favourite local theatre, Oldham Coliseum, was doing The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells I was over the moon…  It’s a play full of hope, humour and love.”

The play also features This Is England’s Will Travis, Hollyoak’s David Judge, alongside the outstanding young talent of Sam Glen and Emily Stott.

Here we have a Japanese Christmas Dinner and a gangster gran, along with maybe a little too much of Dolly Parton. And, of course, the kitchen sink.

The Kitchen Sink follows Kath, working two jobs with an interesting cooking passion as she attempts to keep her family on track. Her husband, Martin’s milk float is falling apart along with his business. Billy’s lost confidence in his painting and Sophie’s dreams of becoming a Ju Jitsu teacher have crumbled after punching her sensei in the face.

This charming Oldham theatre is sure to impress, and this beautiful Northern tale of a regular, extraordinary family is unmissable.

-Freya Lewis

 

Review: Hamlet at The Lowry, Salford Quays

©Manuel Harlan
©Manuel Harlan
Guest Reviewer: Ciaran Ward
Upstaged Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Following on from a critically successful production of Hamlet in 2016, the Royal Shakespeare Company opens their 2018 tour of the play at The Lowry, bringing forth the return of Paapa Essiedu as the eponymous character and a vibrant reinterpretation of one of the Bard’s most renowned tragedies.

 The five-act play – following Hamlet’s efforts to avenge the late King of Denmark (portrayed by Ewart James Walters) by murdering his usurping uncle Claudius (Clarence Smith) – finds itself in a contemporary setting through Simon Goodwin’s thoughtful direction. Despite the prevalence of modern clothing and objects, the play retains its originality by conforming to the prosody of Shakespeare’s text – enabling Goodwin to punctuate the plight inherent in Ophelia’s (Mimi Ndiweni) verse and the comic moments of the Gravedigger’s (also played by Walters) prose.

 Though the mournful dénouement stands out in the performance, the juxtaposition elicited through the liveliness of the percussive and woodwind instruments (directed by Phil James) that recurs throughout the scenes, guarantees the construction of a rounded theatrical experience for the audience. The director ensures that the expanse of the stage is effectively utilised, with the growing emotional distance present between Hamlet and the other characters, often being symbolised through their physical distance on stage.

 The protagonist’s soliloquies are executed with significant flair throughout. The hesitation of Hamlet’s question ‘to be, or not to be’ is casually expressed in a vein counter to the often melodramatic approach taken by other actors – epitomising Essiedu’s unique take on the role. An emphasis is subsequently placed upon this hesitation, with the climax depicting Hamlet holding a gun to his uncle’s head, serving as a powerful cliff-hanger that precedes the interval of the play.

The visual aesthetic of the production is never compromised: elaborate set designs ranging from the King’s materialistic court to the minimalistic graveyard are skillfully crafted by Paul Wills, thereby illustrating a world both mesmerising and frightening. Kev McCurdy’s work as Fight Director deserves equal praise, with the fight between Hamlet and Laertes (Buom Tihngang) instigating the suspense that lasts until the curtain fall.

For any production of Shakespeare’s plays, performance is key. This production, however, not only boasts engaging performances but situates them in a dynamic theatrical setting –enabling the entire cast and crew to assert this show as a compelling production that reflects the virtues of the theatre.

-Ciaran Ward

Review: Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone at The Lowry, Salford Quays

 © Fulton MacCallum
© Fulton MacCallum
Guest Reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone is not a tribute concert or a jukebox musical based on Simone’s songs. It is a powerful and totally contemporary take on racial politics, which utilises the potent political element in Simone’s music that you may not have even noticed was there. The show is effectively an 80-minute monologue, interspersed with songs. As the title suggests, it is intensely personal and could not be performed by anyone else

From the moment Josette Bushell-Mingo coolly strolls on to the stage whilst the house lights are still up, it is clear that you are about to witness a masterclass in audience engagement. Before a word is spoken or a note is played, Bushell-Mingo’s casually confident demeanour has the audience on her side.  Whilst this is an extraordinary feat, it is also totally necessary for this piece to work. The first few lines set the scene of a Nina Simone concert in 1969 and the audience responds to each line with applause and cheers like the crowd at a concert would.

The stage is set up simply, as if for a concert – there is a double bass (played by Neville Malcolm), drums (Shaney Forbes) and a piano (Shapor Bastansiar) all in front of a large curtain which doubles as a screen for projections. In the final number, the band are named one-by-one and receive rapturous applause. It is thoroughly deserved, they provide the perfect musical backing to some of the finest moments in the show, with Bushell-Mingo twirling enchanting shapes around the stage as if channelling the spirit of Nina Simone herself.

Despite the heavy politics of the evening, and the message that very little has changed in terms of society’s inherent racism in the decades since Simone’s protest songs were first written and sung, the show mainly stays surprisingly light. The only exception to occurs roughly halfway through, following an archive clip of Simone saying she wishes she could take up a gun against the racists of the southern states. Even in this, a grim subject covered in a simple yet very powerful way, Bushell-Mingo continually appeals to the audience, asking them ‘stay with me’.

It works. The performers and audience come out the other side feeling as though they have truly experienced a transformation together. And at the final bows, the multiple standing ovations and shouts of ‘more!’ show just how much the audience enjoyed it.

-Daniel Shipman

Nina runs at The Lowry until 3rd February 2018 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Black Men Walking (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

 © Tristram Kenton
© Tristram Kenton
Upstaged Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

Inspired by a real-life Sheffield-based Black men’s walking group, Black Men Walking is an influential and compelling brand new play written by Leeds-based rapper and theatre-maker Testament (aka Andy Brooks) in collaboration with Eclipse Theatre Company.

On the first Saturday of every month, a group of Black men meet to ramble through the Peak District. Taking in Yorkshire’s breathtaking landscape – it’s a way of escaping the day to day, making new friends and sharing their identity as Black and British together. The men talk about their own personal life experiences and discuss stories of the Black people who walked Yorkshire long before them; reaching as far back as Roman times, they claim it was an African who put the York into Yorkshire.

This particular Saturday it is just Thomas (Tyrone Huggins), Matthew (Trevor Laird) and Richard (Tonderai Munyevu) who show up for the monthly walk as the other group members have been deterred, due to the stormy weather forecast. The characters are beautifully layered, and each of their different experiences are explored, from difficult family relationships and music to racism and the way the media portray Black men.

Under Dawn Walton’s well-paced direction, Tonderai Munyevu gives a finely nuanced performance as Richard – fresh from a Star Trek convention and laden with a selection of chocolate bars, he is kind-natured and incredibly funny. Southerner Matthew is strongly portrayed by Trevor Laird – a doctor and family man, who is constantly receiving messages on his phone, hinting that he has some issues at home. Tyrone Huggins’ Thomas is the most senior member of the group, possibly showing early signs of memory problems and hallucinations associated with dementia. When the men find young millennial Ayeesha, played by the captivating Dorcas Sebuyange, on the top of the Peaks, their experience swiftly changes as the full complexities associated with being Black and British are unravelled.

Testament’s writing is poetic and punchy; honest and important; witty and urgent. Black Men Walking faces stereotypes head on and then blows them apart in order to present the real identities of Black people living in Britain today. This is a much-needed production which seeks to illuminate Black Britain’s important identities and missing histories.

-Kristy Stott

Black Men Walking runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange until 3 February 2018.

REVIEW: Finding Alice (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

Manchester ADP
Manchester ADP
Reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Creative collective Manchester ADP premieres a new piece of writing with Finding Alice, directed by Charlie Mortimer.

The hour and a half piece explores the lives of Camille, Ida, and Audrey – three cellmates under interrogation by prison officer Himmel. They are accused of being a part of the spy network known as the “Alice Network” run by the infamous Alice Dubois. But the question everyone wants to know is, who’s Alice?

The play opens with Camille, a fiery proud woman played by Nuala Maguire being interrogated by her German prison officer Himmel (Oates). Her naïve fifteen-year-old cell mate Ida is played by Chloe Proctor who delivers a standout performance. Camille’s character fluctuates between unrivalled fury, ignorance, and then maternal instinct over Ida, whom she promised she’d look after.

It seems Camille had made quite a name for herself before she was imprisoned, as revealed by the arrival of Audrey played by Diana Atkins, a part-English part-Belgian officer of higher rank than Camille within the Network.

Maguire plays Camille with a thick Belgian accent which I feel was prone to variation throughout the performance. Audrey speaks with an eccentric RP, one only the Queen could rival, whilst Oates plays the German Officer Himmel with a thoroughly Northern English accent. I found this inconsistency could cause confusion with the audience.

In a production like this, I feel it would either make sense to either allow each actor to perform in their native accent or encourage all actors to adopt their character’s accents, variation between the two distracts from the narrative at hand and remains unexplained.

Furthermore, I feel Oates’ delivery failed to meet the mark. I often found his delivery didn’t match that of a supposedly threatening German soldier.

However, for an opening night performance, I sincerely hope the play’s actors gather proper grounding in their roles as the tour develops.

It’s important to note that this performance contains scenes of implied sexual violence.

Most fascinating of all, the story’s foundations are completely true. The play is dedicated to Louise de Bettignies, also known as ‘The Queen of Spies’, as well as to Edith Cavell and to all the women who were apart of the Alice Network but whose names do not grace history.

Alice Dubois lived and fought occupying forces in Europe during the First World War, during which women across Europe challenged the expectations their society shackled to them. Finding Alice was selected from over two hundred script submissions sent into Manchester ADP – I thoroughly look forward to seeing more original stories and the voices they share on the stage.

Finding Alice is an intricate tale of imprisonment, desperation, resilience, and most importantly, survival. However, for such a fantastic story I feel it was let down by its performance.

-Elise Gallagher

Finding Alice is being performed at Oldham Coliseum on 10th and 15th February 2018.

REVIEW: Air Play (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

air play

Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Thing Stars: 

Air Play is a stunning 60-minute circus-style adventure for absolutely everybody from ages 6 -106. This beautiful show is currently in the midst of an international tour, playing only 4 UK venues and we were lucky enough to catch it at The Lowry, Salford Quays. It would be fair to say that the husband and wife team, Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone of Acrobuffos, held the audience, which included a lot of children, mesmerised throughout.

This two-hander follows the surreal journey of two siblings through a land of air as they turn familiar objects into complete works of art. The premise of the show is very simple – there is balloon play, huge kites of glimmering fabric, glitter and packing peanuts suspended in the air. However, the presentation is highly accomplished and wonderfully conceived and the result is magical – straddling clowning and circus with modern art, pure imagination and sprightly humour.

Huge canopies of gold and red silk dance in the wind – reminiscent of watching the flames in a fire or the clouds in the sky – as your imagination runs free trying to make sense of the images they create. An errant balloon strays far so from the stage that the audience becomes part of the spectacle in batting it back to the performers. A breathtaking night sky and a huge snow globe take over the performance space – the audience are all gripped.

Thing 2 loved the simple storytelling and slapstick style humour, particularly when the performers each disappeared inside a balloon. Bloom and Gelstone frequently break the fourth wall and invite the audience into their world – climbing among the audience interacting with children and adults, everybody gets the opportunity to be part of the magic.

The musical soundtrack is delightful – incorporating many different music styles from around the world, it sets the pace and mood for each section in the show. This is a show without spoken word which makes it a universal piece, language really is no barrier here. Both performers are skilled storytellers – their physicality and facial expressions communicate everything that the audience needs to know.

Featuring a winning blend of visual masterpieces and playful storytelling, Air Play is a heartfelt poetic performance guaranteed to enchant and amaze the young and the young at heart.

-Kristy Stott

Air Play performs at The Lowry, Salford Quays on Saturday 20 January 2018 before continuing on its international tour. Further dates, venues and tickets can be found here.

Review: From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads at The Lowry (Salford Quays)

 © Ben Hopper From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
© Ben Hopper
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Guest ReVIEWER: Daniel Shipman
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is a one-man show which tells the story of Martin, a mentally ill 18-year old who is obsessed with David Bowie. Written and directed by Adrian Berry, the show is liberally sprinkled with Bowie’s music, lyrics and related-trivia. There is obviously a lot of love for Bowie in the writing, and this is shared by the audience.

In an 80-minute running time, the show attempts to address a plethora of issues, and this is not always to its benefit. On top of his mental illness, social outsider status, and Bowie obsession, Martin has an alcoholic mother and his father left when he was two. The show soon begins to strain under the weight of its protagonist’s many misfortunes.

The plot revolves around a trip to London on Martin’s eighteenth birthday to visit several locations connected to his idol, such as his primary school and his first home. This leads to numerous situations which were felt as if they wanted to say something about one of the shows many themes. The example which stood out most to me involved Martin falling asleep in Bowie’s childhood bedroom, having paid the current resident (who is seemingly unaware that he lives in David Bowie’s old home) £8 to browse the house unaccompanied. The show has some great moments which hint at what it could have been: an in-depth look at the nature of idols. This was not one of them.

Martin’s mental illnesses aren’t all detailed in the writing, and this raises problems. He certainly has an eating disorder but there are also a couple of mentions of self-harm, which seem to serve no purpose other than showing that the character is troubled. This lack of sensitivity in dealing with a topic as delicate as mental health really affects how enjoyable a piece of theatre can be.

This is not to say that the show is all bad. As the sole performer, Alex Walton carries the show from what could have been a disaster into a passable evening. He does a stellar job of keeping the energy up and engaging the audience throughout the show.

There were even a handful of people who got to their feet during Walton’s bows, which suggests that some audience members enjoyed the show a lot more than I did.

-Daniel Shipman

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is at Sheffield’s Theatre Delicatessen from 30 – 31 January 2018.

Our favourite productions of 2017

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We’ve had premieres, modern adaptations and watched some shows receive West End transfers – the Manchester stages have been truly brilliant this year. Here is Upstaged Manchester’s round-up of theatrical highlights through 2017. Which shows would make your list?

The Suppliant Women at the Royal Exchange

The Suppliant Women was certainly one of the most extraordinary theatrical events that I have ever seen. Debating ideas of identity and asylum, the story strikes a shrill chord now – in our current migrant crisis – as it ever did over two thousand years ago. The most impressive aspect of this show was the chorus, made up of thirty-five girls aged between 16 and 26. Thrilling, shocking and painfully good. The Suppliant Women is just one jewel in what has been a bold and exciting season for the Royal Exchange.

The Father at Oldham Coliseum

Kenneth Alan Taylor in The Father at Oldham Coliseum © Joel C Fildes
Kenneth Alan Taylor in The Father at Oldham Coliseum
© Joel C Fildes

It is rare that we experience dementia from the perspective of the person who is struggling with it, rather we experience it from the viewpoint of family members and carers. Oldham Coliseum triumphed in presenting The Father, a highly engaging but charming, heart-rending though witty, interpretation of Andre’s struggle with the disease. With a tremendous performance from Kenneth Alan Taylor, many people were left moved as the show came down. This was a flawless production that managed to get people talking, sharing and understanding dementia together.

The Band at The Opera House

The Band is a complete triumph –  it’s not just a musical for Take That groupies, but a musical for anybody who grew up with a boyband. Tugging hard at your heartstrings and tickling your funny bone, with a sterling cast and Take That’s wonderful floor-fillers, I was thrilled to find out that the musical will tour for an extra year following the huge demand for tickets. Truly feel-good and fabulous.

Uncle Vanya at HOME

Director Walter Meierjohann brought this deeply layered and finely nuanced production to complete fruition. Fascinating and truly absorbing, every word managed to strike new meaning. Nick Holder’s Uncle Vanya straddled the tragicomic perfectly, giving the best Vanya that I have seen, and all of the ensemble gave top-notch performances. This interpretation of the Chekov favourite was completely consuming.

Reviewer – Elise Gallagher:

Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre

Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester © Anthony Robling
Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
© Anthony Robling

 

My first review for Upstaged and my introduction to a fantastic venue – Hope Mill Theatre. A fresh musical which I feel took everyone by surprise and has introduced a new chapter of theatre in Manchester. I was thrilled to hear that Yank! received a well-deserved West End transfer.

Jane Eyre at The Lowry

One of my favourite stories translated onto the stage – it broke my heart (but in a good way!) and did Charlotte Bronte justice. Adapting a novel for the stage is a challenging prospect, especially such a timeless classic like Jane Eyre.

Reviewer: Daniel Shipman

Cotton Panic (MIF) at Upper Campfield Market Hall

© Charl Marais
© Charl Marais

Manchester International Festival audiences who ventured away from Festival Square, down Deansgate to the atmospheric Upper Campfield Market Hall were rewarded with a powerhouse performance from Jane Horrocks in Cotton Panic. This linked Manchester’s industrial heritage to the US Civil War in a truly enlightening way, whilst also serving up an innovative, entertaining, genre-defying piece of theatre. For me, it was the highlight of the festival.

People, Places and Things at HOME

Following a 2015 debut at London’s National Theatre, the touring version of Headlong’s People, Places & Things opened at HOME in September 2017. A perfect example of how to bring quality theatre out of London, this production drew on seemingly limitless reserves of energy to propel the audience through a tale of addiction and recovery. Lisa Dwyer Hogg had big shoes to fill after Denise Gough won an Olivier in the central role, but the power and nuance of her performance blew me away.

How to Save the World Without Really Trying at HOME

This was my first experience of self-described ‘drag aliens’ Bourgeois & Maurice, and I am already a devoted fan. The chemistry between the two is as good as you will ever see on stage, and the songs are well-written and hilarious. Get along to one of their shows if you possibly can, and if not check out their albums on Spotify.


Merry Christmas to each and every one of you – thank you for all of your support this year.

Wishing you all the best in 2018.

-Kristy Stott

upstagedlogo

Review: Hot Brown Honey (HOME, Manchester)

© Dylan Evans
© Dylan Evans
UPstaged Reviewer: Megan Hyland
UPstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

From the moment the women of Hot Brown Honey take to the stage, they immediately command your attention and awe. This award-winning show is an explosion of female rage against the systems that have held them back for so long and it is entirely unapologetic about it. It combines an eclectic range of dance, circus, striptease and song to deliver a truly powerful message that holds nothing back.

Kim Bowers a.k.a. Busty Beatz is the queen bee, here to educate and liberate us all. Armed to the teeth with striking quotes from fellow artists and activists, a pair of comedy breasts and some impressive rhymes, she does just that. From her position atop the hive, she fills the room with a volcanic energy and takes no prisoners. And as creator, musical director, composer and sound designer, she and fellow creator, director, choreographer and designer Lisa Fa’alafi have created a truly ground-breaking production unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – but will definitely want to see again.

However, beyond the colourful creativity and fun of the performance, there are some particularly poignant moments such as Crystal Stacey’s beautifully heart-stopping aerial piece about sexual assault. In another powerful piece, we see each of the women bring their cultures to life on stage, embracing their heritage through costume, dance and music. This show pushes all the boundaries and smashes every stereotype, fighting for the place of women of colour on stage and within society. It is a fierce, political battle cry that creates discussion and evokes feeling. It talks openly about every issue that it raises and teaches you that if you’re not angry already then you should be.

Hot Brown Honey is an independent feminist masterpiece that will make you think and leave you buzzing. The talent and confidence of these women is mesmerising, from Ofa Fotu’s stunningly soulful voice to Hope Hammi’s blazing beatboxing skills. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, Hot Brown Honey is selling merchandise, the proceeds from which go towards funding childcare for the working mothers of the cast. It is an empowering must-see performance full of laughter, joy and truth that is entirely faultless and will have you out of your seat joining in. In the words of the mother – fighting the power never tasted so sweet.

-Megan Hyland

Hot Brown Honey runs at HOME, Manchester until 23 December 2017.