With the sweet smell of incense wafting through the air, a chorus of thirty-five women take to the RoyalExchange’s stage to present DavidGreig’s new adaptation of Aeschylus’s The Suppliant Women. I use ‘new’ adaptation loosely – I mean that Greig has not stripped back and brought The Suppliant Women to a twentieth-century audience in a direct contemporary fashion. Working alongside director RamonGray, Greig has embraced the ritual and structure surrounding Ancient Greek performance and in doing so has set the wonderfully poetic language ablaze for a modern audience. We just need to take our seats and listen. Debating ideas of identity and asylum, it’s a story that resounds as deeply now, in our current migrant crisis, as it did over two thousand years ago.
The Suppliant Women is one of the world’s oldest plays and the only section in Aeschylus’s trilogy to have survived. Written around 463BC, The Suppliant Women tells the story of fifty young women who have fled their homeland, in a bid to escape forced marriage, in order to seek asylum in Greece.
The most striking aspect of this show is the chorus, which is made up of thirty-five girls aged between 16 and 26. Led by Chorus Leader Gemma May, the young women are at the very heart of the production – dressed in colourful batik and floral print, they chant, sing and create soundscapes alongside Ben Burton on Percussion and Callum Armstrong on the ancient Greek aulos. Ramin Gray’s direction is key here- managing to cultivate the raw passion and determination of the chorus alongside Sasha Milavic Davies’s compact but expressive choreography, results in an honest, vulnerable and fearless performance.
The Suppliant Women is certainly one of the most extraordinary theatrical events that I have ever seen. Although written over two millennia ago, the dramatic themes manage to strike a shrill chord with current world events. We are warned at the beginning when we are told that we will “find ourselves reflected in this strange and ancient mirror”. Thrilling, shocking and painfully good.
The Suppliant Women runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange until April 1st, 2017 and you can get your tickets here.
Hope Mill Theatre swung open its doors to the European premiere of Yank! – a love story set during the second world war between two soldiers, Mitch and our protagonist Stu.
Stu (Scott Hunter) is a 19-year-old who is drafted into the army and immediately becomes the outsider. Stu is soon whisked away from the front line when he has a chance encounter with a photographer from Yank, the forces’ weekly magazine, a gay man’s haven and the production’s namesake. The photographer Artie, played brilliantly by Chris Kiely, exudes charm and sass – the tap dance number between him and Stu stole the first half for me.
Having been nominated for seven Drama Desk awards for the original in 2010, the play tackles notions of institutionalised homophobia expertly, especially through the character of Mitch (Barnaby Hughes). The story’s success hinges itself on the stark contrast between our two leads, Stu’s wide-eyed naivety and the worldly Mitch with his Hollywood charm. It is Stu’s personal journey that is the most effective device in the narrative, growing from the scared and confused 19-year-old to the brave and open reporter.
The lighting and set design which was incorporated in the second half is worthy of note, especially when done on a budget. My only criticism of the performance would be that the songs seemed to be arrived at rather suddenly; the transitions could have been delivered much less abruptly.
The hero of the night has to be Sarah-Louise Young, who didn’t just portray one character but several throughout the performance. Personifying each and every mother or wife, Young illustrated great strength and versatility in both performance and vocal style. It seemed her various appearances bookmarked a new chapter in Stu’s journey. Chris Cuming and James Baker must be applauded for their direction and choreography.
For a production to almost scream Broadway, you’d be forgiven to think that the cast and crew have arrived at the wrong venue. This was my first visit to Hope Mill and I found myself completely blown away by the quality of the fringe. The production was made all the more special by being held at Hope Mill Theatre. The theatre, barely a year old, has already resurrected once controversial productions long thought lost. Productions that tackle antisemitism in the US with Parade and now with the triumph that is Yank!.
Reaching a genuinely moving conclusion, Yank! received a well-deserved standing ovation. Running until the 8th April, the production is polished, genuine and full of class.
Andrew Lawrence’s The Hate Speech Tour mocks the obsession with political correctness, whilst dealing with the difficulties of fatherhood, as well as everyday life. The show is not for the easily offended – with the comedian delivering jokes that insult people from all walks of life. It was made clear in the show’s introduction that the comedian’s material offered a dark alternative to pre-watershed comedy, requesting all sensitive ‘idiots’ to leave the room.
The overall tone was set in the first half of the show, with Andrew working the audience with some classic front row interaction, in which he declared his hatred for those who don’t turn up for his shows. He didn’t beat around the bush in regards to the fact that comedy is his main source of income, addressing the point that the audience makes up his pay check, and that he sees ‘pound signs’ as seats fill up. This gave off the impression that Andrew’s comedy was genuine, rather than a built up illusion of perfectly rehearsed jokes, as well as breaking the cliché’s of performers in the entertainment industry.
This was followed by Andrew’s opinions on being a comedian, parenting stories, which were met with a dark twist, and issues with the obsession over political correctness. This backlash against P.C was an ongoing feature throughout the show, which was driven by crude humour and unpopular stereotypes, which offered a different angle to the typical “special snowflake” orientated material that dominates the media. Andrew’s resentments towards P.C culture was developed with an anecdote of his own personal experiences of being boycotted from inner comedy circles, as he has often been shunned and even banned from performing at venues due to his unusually anti-left views.
The only noticeable downsides to the act were the stumbles between gags, which were unexpected due to Andrew’s 14-year career. These stumbles were filled with stutters and re-hashed phrases that took away from the flow of the show and the comedic effect. However, this wasn’t detrimental to the act, as his care-free attitude and relaxed demeanour gave of an air of confidence and experience.
Overall, despite giving the audience “68%”, as opposed to the “110%” given by baby-faced comedians, Andrew Lawrence gave a well performed, alternative night of comedy, which offered a refreshing change of pace.
Andrew Lawrence continues The Hate Speech Tour throughout April and May 2017. You can find dates, information and tickets by clicking here.
Conjuring up all of the charm, magic and celebration of the fairytale, Birmingham RoyalBallet’s Cinderella is an absolute delight. With David Bintley at the helm, the enchanting story of Cinderella is brought to the stage in a celebration of ballet, childhood stories and the idea that our wildest dreams can come true.
Staged over three acts, the Birmingham Royal Ballet present the timeless tale of Cinderella in their traditional but nonetheless awe-inspiring fashion. Poor Cinderella spends most of her days in the scullery answering to her cruel stepmother and her ugly step-sisters. Marion Tait as the Stepmother, flanked by the two ugly stepsisters, is suitably prickly and unkind to Cinderella. Samara Downs gives an admirable comic performance as Skinny alongside Laura Purkiss as cake-scoffing Dumpy. With impeccable timing, the three characters add some wonderful slapstick moments – their wit and foolery providing a striking contrast against the elegance and poise of the pas de deux between Cinderella, danced faultlessly by Jenna Roberts, and The Prince played with charisma and athleticism by William Bracewell.
Set design by John F. MacFarlane complements each section of the ballet perfectly – the grey, dank kitchen where Cinderella serves her stepfamily contrasts with the picture book beauty and infinity of the starry sky on the night she meets The Prince. MacFarlane’s costume design is imaginative – frogs, lizards and mice grace the stage, tutu’s twinkle in the ensemble under David A. Finn’s clever lighting design.
Birmingham’s Royal Ballet’s Cinderella was well received, by an audience of all ages, on the night that I attended. The familiar and charming tale of Cinderella and her Prince make this show more accessible to younger ballet lovers or those attending the ballet for the very first time. This enchanting production is a balletic feast of technical brilliance, striking scenery and scintillating costume. Set to Prokofiev’s spellbinding score, stunningly played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, there is much to enjoy in this breathtaking production.
The House of Bernarda Alba is a wholly unique performance for a number of reasons. Federico Garcia Lorca’s formidable text, in a wonderfully uncompromising translation by Jo Clifford which is set within the distinctive confines of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. Perhaps what makes this performance so special is that it is a co-production with Graeae, an all-female disabled-led theatre company. Director Jenny Sealey weaves British Sign Language, captions and audio description into the performance adding further meaning to Lorca’s rich text, while the cast of Deaf and disabled actors take centre stage to showcase their extraordinary talents and challenge cultural preconceptions.
In The House of Bernarda Alba, the Royal Exchange have peeled away the walls on a house during a period of mourning. Kathryn Hunter takes the central role of Bernarda Alba, an old widow who rules her household and wields absolute control over the lives of her five unmarried daughters. Hunter is dangerously deceptive as Bernarda Alba, her diminutive and fragile frame purely a distraction – she exudes dominance from the beginning to end of this performance. Ruling with a silver topped cane she instils fear in her daughters and those who serve her. At her most dangerous when she is resting in her chair – latent, unpredictable and deeply frustrated. Kathryn Hunter is extraordinary, exuding matriarchal power at the helm of a phenomenal cast.
Liz Ascroft’s heptagonal stage is set with seven chairs, providing a simple backdrop for the action as it unfolds. The Royal Exchange’s in-the-round performance space further fuels the enclosed world that the Alba daughters inhabit. The captions are shown on screens around the theatre; Jenny Sealey and Jo Clifford have moulded the text admirably to fully incorporate British Sign Language and audio description into the performance. This must have been quite a challenge but adds a further dimension to Lorca’s poetry. The mechanics of communication, or the lack of, becomes a striking theme.
There were strong performances all around with some beautiful moments shared between Kathryn Hunter as Bernarda Alba and Nadia Nadarajah as the soon to be married and eldest daughter, Angustias. Hermon Berhane gives an emotive performance as Adela, adding a sense of hope, sexuality and mischief.
At times, some of the captioning seemed like more of a distraction than a help – as the screens were quickly shuffled through in a bid to catch up with the action on stage. However, I believe that these small issues will be tackled and resolved by Jenny Sealey and the team. Despite this, The House of Bernarda Alba is a hugely successful production – captivating and unique – a useful and expressive reworking of Lorca’s classic.
I told my mum I was going on a R.E trip… was a theatre production aimed at creating an onstage documentary style performance looking at real life stories of abortion. This was a play performed by only four people, in which they would repeat the words of real life interview recordings that they had conducted. This was a very interesting and unique concept for me to experience, as I had never seen a documentary tackled in a theatre setting. Interestingly, the fact that it was acted out instead of the audience hearing the actual recordings managed to create a distance between the characters interviewed and the audience. However, I felt that this verbatim style performance reduced the real life people to caricatures of themselves, which again, was not helped by the often bad accents, and the simple but stereotypical costume props.
In this verbatim performance, the actors each had an MP3 player which they would synchronise with one another, and then repeat the interview, word for word, that was playing in their ear, which gave an authenticity to the dialogue. This was subsequently broken up into seven sections, breaking down the stages one goes through with an abortion, which was again a good way of creating that documentary feel; other characters were added as well such as nurses and even the partners. The addition of a small section exploring how male partners may feel surrounding an abortion was a pleasing addition, as this perspective is often ignored. However, I felt that the way that this was handled really reduced a good idea to just a bit of joke.
Before the play had even started the cast were walking around the stage dancing around and interacting with family/friends which I felt secluded the rest of the audience and affected the vital suspension of disbelief needed for this style of performance. How was I ever meant to believe I was listening to an African girl, who had tragically died when minutes before I had seen her dancing around whilst miming paper planes? Simply waiting off stage until the play was ready to begin would have massively helped create a strong performance, as the acting on show was good but with a bit more of a serious approach would have been even stronger.
Overall the show was a very good concept and was executed well as a contribution to the ongoing debate around abortion – but I would like to see the concept developed further. The actors mentioned some of the interviews they didn’t include and I found myself wanting to hear more about them, as this would have offered a far more diverse opinion range to what was a fairly typical and narrow point of views and experiences. An exception of this was the extreme case of the African girl, which was a very hard hitting narrative and extremely well performed – for me, the star of the show. I Told My Mum I Was Going On An R.E. Trip was an interesting idea, but one I would urge to go deeper.
In Narvik, Lizzie Nunnery has written a beautifully harrowing production, produced by Manchester-based theatre company Box of Tricks. The play – described by Nunnery as “a play with songs” – opens with 90-year-old Jim Callaghan suffering a fall in his home, and tells the story of what led him there. Flashback to World War Two, and Jim, a Liverpudlian fisherman docks in Oslo, where he meets the charming Else. Their story unfolds as Jim goes away to work as a radio operator on a Navy ship, and through the struggles of war and the horrors that he sees; the one thing that keeps him going is his memories of Else. His journey to get back to her is as captivating as it is tragic.
Joe Shipman stars as the buoyant and pragmatic Jim, giving an utterly outstanding performance. He displays faultless range, showing both the excitement of Jim’s youth and the fear felt in his old age. We see Jim falling in love, going to war and gripped by horrifying memories, which Shipman carries through seamlessly, giving an honest and powerful performance. But perhaps the core element in the play’s success in telling such an engaging story is the dynamics of the cast. Starring alongside Shipman is Nina Yndis as the endearing Else and Lucas Smith as Kenny, Jim’s closest friend on the ship. Yndis and Shipman captivate the audience with the sincere and youthful love story of Else and Jim, and the intense bond between Kenny and Jim is due to the humour and chemistry between Shipman and Smith.
However, a large part of Narvik’s charm and haunting poignancy is the music, also written by Lizzie Nunnery. The bittersweet romance between Else and Jim is truly felt through the enchanting lyrics and the voices of the cast, with one of the most beautiful vocal performances coming from band member, Maz O’Connor.
Director Hannah Tyrell-Pinder has created a simplistic but truthful production, in which the talents of the cast are allowed to excel without overshadowing Nunnery’s spectacular writing and songs. Also noteworthy is the innovative use of lighting (Richard Owen) and sound, used to create a sense of time and place in a tasteful way that didn’t distract from the touching performance.
Narvik is a compelling and moving production of a love tested by war and a friendship tested by love. It is unpredictable in its narrative and overwhelming in its heart, and overall is utterly unmissable.
https://homemcr.org/production/narvik/Narvik is showing at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 4th February 2017 and you can get your tickets here.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is Simon Stephens’ charming adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name. The story of Christopher Boone is one that has touched many people over the years, telling of an intelligent and inquisitive 15-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome. The play begins with the murder of his neighbour’s dog, Wellington. Upset by Wellington’s death, Christopher vows to find the murderer, but on the way ends up uncovering more secrets than he set out to.
Scott Reid (Still Game, Line of Duty) stars as Christopher in his most challenging role yet, delivering an authentic and emotional performance. His incredible capability is undeniable in this stunning piece, bringing new life to the much-loved character. There are some particularly beautiful scenes in which Reid acts alongside the supporting cast in a series of physical theatre routines that show the audience what the world is like in the mind of somebody with Asperger’s Syndrome. And despite the limited space of the stage, the cast are able to create a truthful and open world that explores family, mathematics, the universe and everything in between. David Michaels stars as Christopher’s father, Ed, giving a poignant and genuine performance that displays the struggles of a single parent. Supported by the delightful ensemble cast, this is a seamless production, with the cast working together to create an original and extraordinary piece.
Director Marianne Elliot has helped to create a heart-warming and moving production, with skilful use of a seemingly simplistic set. The music of Adrian Sutton and lighting design of Paule Constable also masters communication of both intensity and warmth, resulting in an exciting piece. But despite some sensitive and emotional scenes, Stephens’ dialogue is often incredibly humorous, breathing life into the well-known characters.
Despite having seen the play before, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time still offered a new and sensational execution of the critically acclaimed novel. And as a widely loved story, it is recommendable to anyone that is looking for a production that is both intelligent and surprising.
The Trial is a thrillingly absurd adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel of the same name, adapted by People Zoo Productions. Josef K, honourable citizen and profoundly innocent man, is told on the morning of his birthday that he has been arrested. The audience follows K as he tries to prove his innocence to the unjust and strange legal system that he finds himself entangled in. But not knowing what he stands accused of, and fighting against an unidentified, immeasurable power, how much is his innocence really worth?
William J Holstead stars as the protagonist, displaying remarkable physicality and masterful control, telling the story of one man’s desperation in an emotional and thoroughly committed performance. Holstead acts as a guide for the audience through this peculiar situation that K has found himself in, and as quickly as Holstead has built up the character in the opening scenes, he begins to tear him down, as we see just how far one man will go to prove his innocence. In such a dark and disturbing narrative, however, the rest of the cast provide some much-needed comic relief, all acting in multirole, with Adrian Palmer and Sarah Legg standing out in particular. Palmer’s excellent character acting and Legg’s performance as K’s moralistic and over-sexed landlady are outstanding.
The play itself can only be described as bizarrely entertaining, with well-written and clever dialogue that keeps the audience engaged even despite the nonsensicalness of the plot. The remarkable humour and intrigue that the first act creates outweigh the unusualness of the storyline, and instead supply it with a strange charm. The second act, however, is incredibly intense, with some exceptional performances and gripping scenes that send some powerful messages that are still relevant today.
Director Craig Sanders has created a wonderfully offbeat dark comedy, managing to portray both the nostalgia and relevance of Kafka’s work on the stage. Paired with the intense music of Dennis Tjoik and the simplistic but expressive set design, the effect is a thought-provoking combination of surrealism and farce. These are two things that the play combines effortlessly, transitioning frequently between slapstick humour and highly intense scenes with ease and fluidity. And although the storyline itself is quite non-traditional and perplexing, once the eccentricity of the production itself is embraced, it makes for a captivating and unusually amusing watch.
The Trial is performed as part of PUSH Festival at HOME, Manchester. PUSH Festival runs from 14th January – 28th January 2017 and the full festival brochure is available by clicking here.
With all of the big Christmas shows in full swing, it feels like a good time to look back at the highlights of a busy year for theatre in Manchester. Here are Upstaged Manchester’s theatrical highlights of 2016. Which shows would make your list?
Wit at The Royal Exchange
Julie Hesmondhalgh’s portrayal of Dr Vivian Bearing, an American Professor who finds herself diagnosed with advanced metastatic ovarian cancer, was striking and raw – nothing short of magnificent. Cancer is a hard subject matter to tackle on stage, especially in a performance as honest as this. Wit had everything. Powerful enough to make some cry and poignant enough to make everyone laugh, think and discuss.
The Girls at The Lowry Theatre
I am just so pleased that The Girls is on its way to the West End and is set to open at London’s Phoenix Theatre from January 2017. The collaboration between Gary Barlow and Tim Firth is a perfect recipe for success. Hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time, I spent most of Act 2 looking through a blur because my eyes were so teary from laughing and crying at the same time. Just fabulous.
Husbands & Sons at The Royal Exchange
Husband’s & Sons had the perfect line-up of creatives and performers – all of the best in the field working together on one show. Director Marianne Elliott, of War Horse and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, at the helm of a truly phenomenal cast – including Ann-Marie Duff and Louise Brealey. Fused with Bunny Christie’s ingenious design, Husband’s & Sons was heartfelt and gritty. So good, I wanted to watch it all over again.
The Encounter at HOME
A strikingly different theatre experience to anything that I have witnessed before. Every member of the audience is issued with a set of headphones and using cutting edge audio technology is transported to the Amazonian rainforest and into the head of Loren McIntyre, a stranded photojournalist. The Encounter is gripping, an adventure story which gets inside your head. Literally.
Parade at Hope Mill Theatre
I always enjoy James Baker’s productions massively – with every show he raises the bar of the Manchester Fringe Theatre scene a little higher. Parade was nothing short of a triumph. The dimly lit, eerie walls of Manchester’s newest performance space, Hope Mill Theatre added a further dimension to the production – intimate and powerful, something quite special.
Origins at The Lowry Theatre
An intense new piece of physical theatre by Animikii Theatre Company exploring the story of the world’s first murderer: the killing of Cain by his brother Abel. Captivating storytelling communicated only through movement and sound. Adam Davies and Charles Sandford are highly skilled performers and with every detail loaded to perfection, Animikii Theatre Company are certainly ones I’ll be watching out for in the future.
Rambert: A Linha Curva at The Lowry
Now in their 90th year and still leading the dance world with their innovative and exhilarating dance works. A Linha Curva is sensual, witty and terribly good. The dancers are faultless, moving alongside each other in a truly intoxicating display. Rambert may be 90 this year but they show no sign of standing still.
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at The Lowry
The Red Shoes is a breathtaking balletic display – a beautifully tragic tale poignantly told. Terry Davies’ musical score, using the music of golden-age Hollywood, and Lez Brotherston’s ornate set and dazzling costumes ooze 1940’s glamour. Following it’s sell out run in 2016, it returns again to The Lowry in July 2017. So if you didn’t catch it this time round, get your ticket booked for next year!
Sweet Charity at The Royal Exchange
With its irresistible Cy Coleman musical score, supervised by Nigel Lilley and directed by Mark Aspinall, played superbly by a live band; an ensemble that dazzle and a top-notch central performance from Kaisa Hammarlund – Derek Bond’s Sweet Charity is an absolute must-see. At the Royal Exchange until 28th January 2018 – there is still plenty of time to bag a ticket. You’re welcome.
REVIEWER: CIARAN WARD
A Streetcar Named Desire at The Royal Exchange
Sarah Frankcom’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ modern domestic tragedy, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, was an exhilarating piece of theatre that warranted much more than a five-week run. Maxine Peake’s effortless performance as the fallen Blanche DuBois was every bit as riveting and worthy of acclaim as her predecessors, Vivien Leigh and Gillian Anderson.
REVIEWER: DEMI WEST
GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe at The Dancehouse Theatre
The ‘GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe’ show was by far the most memorable comedy that I have enjoyed this year. The selection box of comedians kept the show fresh, each offering a diverse style of comedy that was sure to please all audience members. The Fast Fringe is a brilliant way to sample and discover different comedians, along with guaranteed laughs.
Merry Christmas to each and every one of you – thank you for all of your support this year.