Review: Jubilee ( Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

PHOTO CREDIT: Johan Persson
PHOTO CREDIT: Johan Persson
Guest Reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jubilee is a riot. From the slogans spray-painted on to plywood surrounding the Royal Exchange’s in-the-round space to the chaotic way the cast commandeer the stage, it is obvious from the start that this is no ordinary night at the theatre.

 An adaption of Derek Jarman’s punk film from the 1970s, Jubilee revolves around Amyl Nitrate (Travis Alabanza) and her loose collective of societal outcasts. As Amyl, Alabanza is a revelation – her heartfelt, angry, intelligent monologues are highlights of the show and I have never witnessed someone engage an audience more skilfully.

 Expertly adapted by director Chris Goode, this production brings what could have been a nostalgic glance back at punk kicking and screaming in to 2017. There are references to the Grenfell Tower disaster which occurred in June, and even the Kevin Spacey scandal which broke less than a week before previews began.

 The structure of the show is as anarchic as the rest of it; anybody looking for a coherent, sensible plot will be disappointed. What you get instead is a series of snapshots in which Amyl and her friends attempt to leave their mark on society, whether that is through performance art, sex, music or violence. As in life, the boundaries between these things are blurred.

 Forty years on from starring as Mad in the film, Toyah Wilcox plays Elizabeth I. She spends most of the time presiding over the production from a throne on the first gallery with very little to say, but the moments when she does speak allow for welcome periods of calm – something you won’t find anywhere else in the show.

 Goode’s production is constantly self-referential, it never wants you to forget that you are watching a piece of theatre. Indeed, Lee Curran’s lighting design keeps the audience lit for several scenes and the cast don’t hesitate to playfully put their arms around the shoulders of audience members.

 Whether you love it or hate it, I promise Jubilee will be unlike anything you’ve seen on stage before.

-Daniel Shipman

Jubilee runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until 18th November 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Get A Clue ( The Arden School of Theatre: The Waterside Theatre, Manchester)

Get A Clue by The Arden School of Theatre, Manchester
Get A Clue by The Arden School of Theatre, Manchester


Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get A Clue is the latest performance piece produced and performed by the third year BA (Hons) Dance and Performance students at The Arden Theatre School. The whole hour-long piece has been choreographed in just four weeks as a collaboration with international choreographer and dance storyteller, Cindy Claes.

Armed with detective style magnifying glasses, realms of unsolved case papers and a lifetime supply of paperclips, the talented ensemble present an alternative perspective on the life of a crime-solving detective. Fusing spoken word with hip-hop, dancehall and contemporary dance, the performers fill the space with energy and a good dose of wit as they showcase their skills.

The performance commences with our lead detective and her portfolio of unsolved cases – in a beautifully stylised and rhythmical sequence each file is presented to her. Uttering the subject of each case, the dancers slam each heavy pile of papers down in front of the detective. My only qualm is that this opening section may have been stronger if it had taken place in the middle of the stage.

Slowly, our detective feels the pressure of her increasingly heavy workload – she appears to become more concerned with the way that her papers are held together, than with the actual content of each case. Will she ever find her missing papers clips? Are her deceptive colleagues hiding the paper clips from her?

Paper fills the stage as it is thrown around in a display of disorganisation and madness creating a visual display of unease and chaos. Our dishevelled detective lies sprawled on the floor in the centre. Beautifully simple but powerful imagery.

There are some delightful sequences when the whole company is on stage together. The line-up was a highlight for me – simple choreography and clever storytelling by the ensemble. There is also some entertaining slapstick storytelling as two of the detective’s assistants quarrel over a chair. Each facial expression by the cast further adds to the narrative.

A dance off between our lead detective and a rival detective was particularly pleasing – confined to the simple ‘click’ – how far could these two take this basic movement to appear better than the other? Georgina Thompstone certainly shines as being a capable dancer and skilled storyteller.

This was a wonderfully entertaining showcase from a group of highly talented young dancers, who have a very bright future ahead of them. Well done!

-Kristy Stott

Review: Hedda Gabler (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

HEDDA GABLER UK Tour 2017/2018 Royal National Theatre London PHOTO CREDIT: BrinkhoffMögenburg
UK Tour 2017/2018
Royal National Theatre London
PHOTO CREDIT: BrinkhoffMögenburg
Guest Reviewer: Gillian POtter-Merrigan
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Creating a new version of a classic is always a mission fraught with danger.  Will the original mood of the play be lost in translation?  I am happy to report, that with a few minor details, the National Theatre’s new adaptation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler by Patrick Marber manages largely to retain the same malevolent and desperate tone as the original whilst updating the story both visually and adding another layer with the inclusion of musical interludes. 
Hedda is trapped in a marriage she despises – slowly losing her grip on herself and those around her. Lizzy Watts‘ Hedda is depicted with an underplayed desperation that remains just a whisper from insanity.  The whole cast move seamlessly from cowed to controlling within the narrative providing a fine ensemble performance.  However, Adam Best as Bract, the judge and some would say the jury on Hedda, stands out in his role as the eventual winner in the game of mental cat and mouse with a shocking denouement that drives Hedda to her last act of nonconformity albeit one which will create the scandal she has always feared.   
The desperation of the characters is palpable largely to a perfect set designed by Jan Versweyweld; a blank cold white box with the characters observed like rats trapped in a box.  Blinds filter the sun to become prison bars and the lighting is used by Verweywald to show the shifting dynamics within the group, especially the use of shadows. At the start, Hedda’s shadow looms large over the others but with her increasing inability to manipulate the story that unfolds her shadow decreases mirroring her own waning influence. The lighting as we watch Hedda breathe her last is particularly bleak.  The staging also cleverly extends to using the spaces within the auditorium to include the audience along with the placing of the actors on the stage, stepping forward only when their roles dictate.  This mechanism gives the play an almost doll’s house feel with characters being played with by both the audience and Hedda only when they are needed. 
A couple of things are confusing; if there is an entry screen for the front door why is other technology missing?  Also, the positioning of the entry screen largely obscures it from the audience.  However, these are merely footnotes in what is an unmissable provoking and entertaining retelling of Ibsen’s treaty on the female psyche. 
However these minor issues aside it is a mesmerising and reflective production and, unlike Hedda, you could wish for nothing more.
-Gillian Potter-Merrigan
Hedda Gabler runs at The Lowry, Salford Quays until 4th November 2017. 


Review: The Wipers Times (Opera House, Manchester)

The Wipers Times   ©  Philip Tull
The Wipers Times
© Philip Tull
Guest Reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Set in the mud-ridden trenches of Northern Flanders an unlikely band of soldiers stumble upon a printing press amongst the bombed-out ruins of Ypres. Here, the Wipers Times is born.

The play opens with the paper’s editor Captain Fred Roberts (James Dutton), who is struggling to find a job in post-war Fleet Street. However, The wealth of the narrative follows Captain Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson (George Kemp) of the 12th Battalion, who head the infamous paper.

The paper wasn’t concerned with the words of so-called ‘war experts’. Instead, they offered their readers a cocktail of satire, parodies, poems, spoof advertisements and cartoons -perfectly illustrating that humour is a relief to anyone, even in their darkest times. When you think of the First World War images of death, destruction and ruin come to mind, not of the humanity and humour of the men who fought in it. Refreshingly, this play gives another face to the First World War, a perspective I haven’t witnessed before.

Long-time collaborators Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have already made an award-winning television film in 2013 from this story; here, they deliver a thoroughly-researched production punctuated with facts. As editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye, it’s clear to see why Hislop was attracted to the story.

Caroline Leslie’s direction allows for scenes to seamlessly alternate between that of military attack to a music-hall comedy sketch. Dora Schweitzer’s design merges the confines of the trenches and barbed wire fence to create a light-up frame to host the paper’s vaudevillian sketches.

The narrative was carried by a stand-out cast who had undeniable chemistry. Dutton and Kemp particularly shone, leading their cast expertly and readily filling the theatre with laughter. It’s clear to see why Dutton has attracted the attention of prestigious awards such as WhatsOnStage’s Best Newcomer. Dutton and Kemp are absolute delights who have a clear command over comedy – I look forward to seeing what they do next.

I genuinely liked this production. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the venue of Manchester’s Opera House was ill-suited for it. For such a unique tale of an extraordinary situation and characters, I found the venue was too large and overshadowed the story, diluting the warmth and feeling from the audience before they had a chance to receive it.

Whilst the puns are one of the main driving forces in this production, the jokes eat away at time which could have been spent on character development. There are truly touching moments amongst the mockery, such as a young officer writing a poem dedicated to his friend who has been killed in action.

The story progresses without escalating into powerful drama – I believe a conscious choice, but one many may not expect from a play about the First World War. Our characters seem to only exist within the confines of the war, which many may not like, however, I don’t see too much of an issue with this. After all, once the war was over, the paper ceased to exist.

Rather sadly, the audience learns that the editors of the Wipers Times were forgotten. Hislop, Newman, the cast and crew have ensured that this will no longer be the case. God bless the piss takers.

-Elise Gallagher

The Wipers TImes runs at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 4th November 2017

Review: Superposition (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

© Sam Ryley
© Sam Ryley
Guest Reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Upstaged Rating: 

Spoken word, science and strip clubs combine to create Chanje Kunda’s one-woman cabaret show exploring the laws of attraction and the meaning of life.

Manchester poet, playwright and performance artist Chanje Kunda presents Superposition at the Lowry Theatre. Kunda took lessons in several disciplines of dance in the lead up to her show. Two are pole and lap dancing, which are commonly performed in certain venues for a particular clientele, but Kunda sets out to reinvent this.

“As a woman, I wanted to find out about the laws of attraction. I wanted to know how the universe works and about my place in the universe. So, I decided to ask these questions to a philosopher, to a physicist and to my son.”

Superposition is a frank, hopeful yet honest look at the questions that surround the universe, juxtaposed through the lens of lap dancing and quantum physics.

During one scene Kunda illustrates the similarities between the properties of particles and the routines of a nightclub. She explains that if the atom was a nightclub, “the nucleus would be dancing in the middle of the nightclub” whilst the electron would be orbiting the nucleus “getting to see the sexiness from all angles”. She explains this all whilst pole dancing, I must add.

The prospect of a show marrying poetry, pole dancing and particle physics to perform on stage is a daunting prospect, and it had the potential to go very wrong. However, it didn’t. The narrative pivoted between Kunda’s lessons in erotic dancing (including “floor fuckery”), the body positivity reflections against the backdrop of her life. And all seamlessly fused together in a dialogue of dance fusion, philosophy and music.

At one point Kunda empathises with a cat on heat and discusses the many questions life has to offer with her curious son. She then puts on the most glorious pair of ‘stripper shoes’ which she at first wobbles, unbalanced, in – but a short time later she is working the pole, transfixing the audience.

At the end of the rabbit hole that Kunda has sent us down she studies her audience and says, “I’m letting you watch me because you paid,” and in that moment we are forced to think about the politics and conflict of ownership, the policing and imposed restrictions of bodies and more importantly, the politics of black women’s bodies. When asking to pick out a lap dancer, Kunda looks for one with a “badonk-donk bum”, only there were none; instead, the lap dancer had breasts that even gravitational force couldn’t pull down. In the body confidence workshop she attended, where they were all asked to undress, and she was the only black female, she was staggered to see that their pubic hair was like down or fur rather than the texture of her own.

I imagine, it goes without saying, that this kind of show is an acquired taste. However, behind the poetry, the pole, and the heels there is a rawness which laces between the words and the movement and transcends boundaries.

The show circles around and around, looping upon itself – but it isn’t repetitive. My only qualm with the performance as a whole was that sometimes Kunda was overshadowed by the volume of the music.

In an age where women’s eroticism is often portrayed quite cheaply, Kunda searches for a new way to elevate and celebrate it – through the disciplines of science, spirituality and sensuality. The hour passed very quickly.

-Elise Gallagher

Further UK tour dates for Superposition can be found here.

Review: Sunset Boulevard (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

Sunset Boulevard at Manchester's Palace Theatre
Sunset Boulevard at Manchester’s Palace Theatre
Guest Reviewer: Ciaran Ward
Upstaged Rating: 

Ria Jones and Danny Mac star in the Curve touring production of Sunset Boulevard, respectively portraying the faded silent film star, Norma Desmond, and the struggling Hollywood screenwriter, Joe Gillis. The musical, based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film, with music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, depicts the close-knit working relationship that both characters form, and the dire consequences that manifest from their alliance with each other.

Norma’s glamorous past is soon contaminated by the bleak stage lighting (designed by Ben Cracknell) and the melancholy score of ‘Once Upon a Time’ (directed by Adrian Kirk) – defining the state of depression that dominates the emotional depth of the character. A direct antithesis is provided through the bright spotlights and melodic harmonies inherent in the ‘This Time Next Year’ number, where almost all members of the ensemble cast look forward to the freedom that the future offers for their success.

The tragic underscores of Jones’ character generate a sense of heartfelt pathos among the audience. Her attachment to the past is compounded, in the narrative, through the vintage movie cameras that serve as a ubiquitous presence on stage; every time they come into focus, the audience is reminded that Norma is trapped within her former sense of stardom. Soon it becomes clear that this middle-aged woman is doomed to live in the shadow of the girl she once was, forever.

Joe’s response to this, in various moments of the play, is both cathartic and endearing. The Tango (choreographed by Lee Proud) that accompanies the ‘New Year Tango’ number, reflects the growing intimacy between the two characters and the ways in which Joe serves as a solace to the perturbed mind of Norma. Her suicidal tendencies become less pronounced as their attachment grows, with this substantiating a sense of ease and tranquillity in the conflict of the plot – one that makes the tragic climax so unanticipated.

Elements of foreboding, however, become predominant in the second act, with the detachment of Norma’s grand staircase into three distinct parts, paralleling her fractured relationship with Joe, and foreshadowing the three shots that resonate deeply in the penultimate scene. These elements provide the foundation for the iconic ‘I’m ready for my close-up’ moment in the dénouement, which Jones reinterprets to perfection, with this characterising the metamorphosis of the play, in the genre, from a musical to a tragedy.

-Ciaran Ward

Sunset Boulevard runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 4th November 2017.

Review: What I Felt Whilst Under You ( Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)

Guest Reviewer: Megan Hyland

In What I Felt Whilst Under You, David Gregan-Jones presents the beautifully crafted story of a husband struggling to conform to the restrictive stereotype of masculinity and a wife trapped in the tedium of suburban gossip, kid’s packed lunches and dull work parties. The play is set in Paul and Marie’s bedroom and begins with a compelling pre-show in which we watch Paul’s best kept secret unravel. But when Marie comes home early because she forgot something, she stumbles upon a side of her husband that she has never seen before. From that point onwards, we watch in real time as Marie struggles to come to terms with Paul’s secret, whilst also revealing some of her own.

Oliver Devoti gives an emotionally raw performance as Paul, breaking down the barriers of toxic masculinity and showing incredible vulnerability within the character. He is both powerful and enthralling in his delivery, drawing the audience’s empathy from the start. However, Clare Cameron certainly does not fall short here as Marie. Although as a character, Paul resonates more with the audience as he is at the forefront of the story, Cameron is equally as passionate in her execution. She brings a great depth to the character, exploring both her cynicality and sorrow. But for the play to work, the chemistry has to be there – and these two certainly have it. Whether they’re screaming at each other nose-to-nose or rolling over laughing, they tell a remarkably honest and believable tale of marriage. Their performances are so intense and intimate that at times as an audience member you almost as though you’re intruding.

The majority of praise, however, has to go to the writing. Although the set-up is simplistic – two actors and one set for an hour and twenty minutes – the story’s heart bursts through, keeping the audience gripped throughout. The play deals with a lot of heavy topics such as mental health, sexuality and toxic masculinity, but it does so delicately and masterfully with an injection of humour every so often to lighten the mood. David GreganJones’ quick wit and skilful writing is at the epicentre of the play’s brilliance, though there are some pacing problems in parts where some tension-building pauses went on just slightly too long. A simple but charming detail is the subtle uses of lighting, sound and music by Liz Barker to create fireworks outside and the radio in the background. It’s not much, but it really heightens the raw emotion of the scenes.

Overall, What I Felt Whilst Under You is a compelling and elegant exploration of many modern-day issues that both men and married couples must face. In a charming little theatre in Ancoats, David Gregan-Jones will both captivate and educate you.

– Megan Hyland

Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)
Guest Reviewer: Karen Clough
Upstaged Rating: 

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, one of the first productions borne of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice partnership in the 1970s, is making as colourful an appearance as you might expect at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.

The story is adapted from the Bible’s book of Genesis, in which Joseph is one of 12 sons of Jacob. Joseph, a dreamer, attracts jealousy and contempt from his brothers, who fear that their father favours him and that the gift of his coat of many colours symbolises this. When Joseph dreams he is destined to rule them, they cannot risk that it may be prophetic, so fake his death and sell him as a slave, in the hope he’ll never be seen again.

Following in the footsteps of likeable household-name ‘Josephs’ spanning four decades, Joe McElderry (of X-Factor) has stepped into Joseph’s Dreamcoat and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it.

After a leisurely start, the large and enthusiastic cast and choir (Stagecoach Chester and Wirral choir) were revealed on a stage filled with glitz, colour and bold lighting (Sean Cavanagh, Nick Richings). The impressively co-ordinated choir brushed off a curtain malfunction with true ‘show must go on’ professionalism.

The entire script is sung, the story joined up by a vibrant and cheery-voiced narrator, Trina Hill. Within a bizarre show, the narrator helpfully keeps the audience in the loop of the story amidst a buzzing, constantly moving and singing stage crowd (Bill Kenwright, Henry Metcalfe). At times this was overwhelming, McElderry’s presence lost in the mayhem of comic inflatable sheep, Elvis (Ben James-Ellis), Egyptians, a golden motorcycle, curious handmaiden (Anna Campkin, Sallie-Beth Lawless, Gemma Pipe) wardrobe choices, Joseph’s range of skirts and, not forgetting, The Coat (Phil Murphy). McElderry did well to recover command of the stage and audience attention as the lead and gave undeniably strong renditions of the show’s best-known hits, ‘Close Every Door to Me’ and the finale ‘Any Dream Will Do’.

This is a chaotic, cheery and at times disorienting whirlwind of a show, performed by a cast who seemed to fully recognise and laugh along at the boldness and absurdity threaded through it. The youngest and oldest in the audience showed their appreciation the most. Take your children or your grandmother – they’ll be dancing in the aisle, or sitting with their hands high and their heads swaying by the end.

-Karen Clough

REVIEW: Khloé Kardashian ( The Arden School of Theatre: Waterside Theatre, Manchester)

upstaged rating: 

The opening words of Chekhov’s play, The Three Sisters are projected at the back of the stage before we are introduced to a man in a mouse suit who calmly describes our journey to the theatre today. The Three Sisters is set in a Russian provincial town but we are sat in a black box theatre in the centre of Manchester. Devised and performed by the students at The Arden, Khloé Kardashian explores the real time and space of performance.

Working with the live-art and experimental theatre group, Sleepwalk Collective, the current cohort of the BA (Hons) Theatre and Performance at The Arden, have created a deeply profound contemporary piece, which certainly encourages the audience to search for their own narrative outside of the confines of the performance space.

Using a Christopher Brett Bailey inspired soundscape, beautifully overwhelming and uneasy at times, we are introduced to six different personas (Paul Burke, Tristan Chadwick, Lily Rae Hewitt Jasilek, Sam Lowe, Frank Macdonald and Kate Smith) – their voices are only ever heard when they speak down a microphone.

Reminiscent of Forced Entertainment, particularly Bloody Mess, the costumes worn by each of the performers suggest narratives for their personas. We have the darkly comical mouse with his deadpan delivery; we wonder if the elegant lady in the red dress is somehow connected to the dapper gentleman with the cummerbund. A pregnant F1 pit girl totters along pushing a small television into the view of the audience.  As the audience, we are encouraged to be active in drawing the dots on these fragmented narratives. The whole production is carefully and intelligently sculpted – there is always something different for the audience to cast their eye over.

Khloé Kardashian is a densely layered and poignant performance piece, occupying the space between text and performance – it seeks to deconstruct Chekhov and expose the illusion associated with such a naturalistic performance style. A props table is packed full of antiquities in stark view of the audience. One performer toasts a piece of bread before another chews on a cracker as he reels off Facebook-style memes into the microphone. Every little sound is heightened here – it feels awkward, fascinating and strangely entertaining.

As the darkness falls at the end of the performance to the sound of the haunting and relentless slow clap, I wondered if some themes could be excavated further as individual performance pieces. Such an absorbing performance with definite scope for further development.

-Kristy Stott


REVIEW: English National Ballet – Song of the Earth/ La Sylphide (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

English National Ballet: Song of the Earth/ La Sylphide © Jason Bell
English National Ballet: Song of the Earth/ La Sylphide
© Jason Bell
guest reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 
Ballet. One of the most renowned and beautiful cultural practices performed throughout the world. The English National Ballet (ENB) is without a doubt, one of the highest respected programmes for continuing the visibility of one of the most delightful of artistic expressions. With the longevity of excellence that the ENB has endured, one is left with a level of high expectation, and anticipation, and the ENG is creating a spectacle of ballet with its offering of not one, but two productions back to back. From the 11th to the 14th at the Manchester Palace Theatre, audiences can experience Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s much-celebrated Song of the Earth, to coincide with his 25th anniversary of his passing, and a faithfully accurate version of the 1830s classical production, La Sylphide.
The first of the two performances, Song of The Earth, is more of a contemporary production than its counterpart of the night. It offers a more primal show, one that is stripped down to its bare bones, with its lack of set design and modest costume, this story is told through the basics; movement and sound. What it managed to do with this, however, was to create a mesmerising, simple, yet complex narrative that beautifully fused the very fundamental essence of what ballet is; dance. The music of Mahler’s song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde, performed live by the English National Ballet Philharmonic, harmonised perfectly with the sequences unfolding on stage, sequences that present not just the beauty of movement, but the pure power, stamina and discipline of the art form itself.  All of these elements come together to create a compelling story of, life, death and renewal, through three central characters, a Woman, A Man, and an ‘enigmatic Messenger’, in a show of pure expressionism through sensational audible visuality.
The second of the performances, La Sylphide, is a classical ballet, and what we have come to expect. However, that is not to say this is without merit, as it achieves to create a beautiful show, with lavish, outstanding set designs, enhanced by the sensational costume design, all encompassed by the breath-taking performances and musicianship.  What is witnessed, is a story of love, fantasy, humour and tragedy, which aforementioned is all held together by the truly impeccable work of the ENB. Not one element of the show is the star, the production itself is the star – a platform showcasing some of the most spectacular talent a stage has shown. What was created is something to be proud of, and I celebrate what the ENB has achieved with this show, and highly recommend that you try to see it whilst you can.
-Demi West
ENB’s Song of the Earth/ La Sylphide runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 14th October 2017.