REVIEW: Fatherland (Royal Exchange, Manchester)- Manchester International Festival

Fatherland at Manchester's Royal Exchange. Performed as part of Manchester International Festival. © Manuel Harlan
Fatherland at Manchester’s Royal Exchange.
Performed as part of Manchester International Festival.
© Manuel Harlan
upstaged rating: ⭐⭐

Fatherland is one of the central performance pieces at the 2017 Manchester International Festival. Staged in Manchester’s monumental Royal Exchange Theatre, Fatherland is the product of an impressive creative team and seeks to explore themes around fatherhood and men’s relationships with their fathers.

Co-created by Olivier Award-winning Simon Stephens (Writer), Scott Graham of physical theatre giants Frantic Assembly (Director) and founding member of Underworld Karl Hyde (Composer)- Fatherland has been described as a verbatim piece, though it is unclear how much the stories have been edited to fit the trio’s own agenda. Fatherland is inspired by conversations with fathers and sons from the creative team’s hometowns of Stockport, Kidderminster and Corby.  So, there’s an overwhelming sense of each of the co-creators relationship with their old stomping ground. 

As the play opens we meet the three interviewers, played admirably by Emun Elliott, Bryan Dick and Ferdy Roberts, who are ready to make their show. As they explain the premise behind their interviews with real men, there is a sense that we are watching a frame story – the ground is being laid before the show digs deeper. Sadly, Fatherland never really gets to the good stuff.

Along the way, the interviewers meet an array of characters with stories to tell – some aim for humour, some try to shock while other tales are warm, familiar and comforting. A range of subjects and experiences are tackled including alcoholism, violence, childhood experiences and their love of football. We hear tales surrounding fatherhood from single dads, men who have never known their fathers and those who are yet to father; we meet men who are firefighters, jolly pensioners and those battling mental health issues.

I’m just not sure why the creators choose to punctuate these stories with an intermittent reminder of the fact that they are making a show? Is there an element of self-indulgence? Is it a show to tell us more about the creators (who now reside in London) and the industrial towns from which they hail? One potential interviewee called Luke (Ryan Fletcher) shares the scepticism and questions the integrity of the interviewers, “Do you think this is going to be in any way interesting to anybody?” Funnily enough, I asked myself the same question frequently throughout the dull 90 minutes duration.

-Kristy Stott

Fatherland runs at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 22nd July 2017 as part of Manchester International Festival 2017.

Review: Returning to Reims (HOME, Manchester) – Manchester International Festival

Bush Moukarzel & Ali Gadema in Returning to Reims Performed as part of Manchester International Festival 2017 © Jonathan-Keenan
Bush Moukarzel & Ali Gadema in Returning to Reims
Performed as part of Manchester International Festival 2017
© Jonathan-Keenan
guest reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

Returning to Reims marks a new chapter for director Thomas Ostermeier. Differing from his previous interpretations including A Dolls House (2003) and Hamlet (2007), Returning to Reims is the first time the German director has adapted a text which was not originally intended for performance.

The book, Returning to Reims, was published in 2009 by author Didier Eribon. Here, he looks back on his life in the wake of his father’s death in order to observe the working-class identity he rejected as an intellect, and as a gay man. His book is a memoir and a sociological study and one in which he tries to understand the wider working class culture, and its shift from the far left of the political spectrum to the far right. However, the production itself is not weighed down with heavy political jargon and knowledge.

Returning to Reims successfully tackles the resurgence of populist nationalism in Europe and class struggle through live action performance, video, sound, and narration. Ostermeier routinely chops and changes classic texts by a means of forcing them into the current day, he mockingly references this in the production through Bush Moukarzel who proclaims, “it’s multi-layered filmmaking – it’s my style!”

The play takes place in a dated recording studio where Homeland’s Nina Hoss reads a voiceover of Eribon’s memoirs for a documentary which observes the oppression of the working class and their struggle for a political voice. In doing so, Hoss also begins to reflect on her own background as the daughter of a union leader and activist. Her performance is breath-taking. I found the use of the recording of a documentary a beautiful way to tell someone else’s story. I also found that despite the lines being diegetically scripted in the scene, they were expressed thoughtfully and effortlessly, further captivating the audience.

The use of such a multi-layered approach to the production creates a simple narrative rooted in current, topical themes surrounding notions of tolerance and social justice. The production becomes even more relevant especially when taking into account the last 12-18 months.

Light relief to the production came in the form of Ali Gadema who played the disgruntled recording studio worker. Alongside the banter he shared with Moukarzel, Gadema also delivered a rap/spoken word performance with the audience. Although it contrasted greatly with the soft and arguably lucid narration delivered by Hoss, the rap itself was used to interact with the audience. Moukarzel acknowledged that there was an audience and even joined and sat with his audience below the stage, again, adding yet another layer to the production.

I felt the addition of the spoken word piece was cleverly done as today the rise of genres such as grime give artists the opportunity to express themselves and their feelings towards many things such as the government. Grime is also commonly heralded as a voice for the working class, did Moukarzel deliberately adopt this sentiment to further drive home his message?

Returning to Reims is a highly watchable, lucid, and intriguing play which pitched the past and present day against each other and in turn, highlighted that the stage can still be a venue for political and living debate. The German directed English-language dramatisation of the memoirs of a French sociologist makes a perfect addition to the Manchester International Festival.

-Elise Gallagher

Returning to Reims is being performed until 14th July 2017 at HOME, Manchester as part of Manchester International Festival.

REVIEW: The B Word (The King’s Arms, Salford) – GM Fringe

The B Word at The KIngs Arms, Salford as part of Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2017
The B Word at The King’s Arms, Salford as part of Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2017
upstaged rating: 

Only this morning has a precautionary evacuation taken place at Manchester Airport. Triggered by a ‘potential issue with a bag’ in terminal three, the bomb disposal team were called on reports of the suspicious package.

Airport security, and indeed national security couldn’t be a more relevant theme and forms the basis of Big Liars Theatre Co‘s debut production, The B Word.

In this new immersive one-man show, the audience are encouraged to get to know Dan, a Manchester Airport security officer, while he eats his butties and shares his doughnuts on his tea break. Under Grace Cordell‘s perceptive directorial debut, The B Word is interactive from the outset. On entering the intimate studio space, audience members are frisked and sternly directed to their seats, before assuming the role of Dan’s trainee security coworkers. An atmospheric soundscape by Mikey Ridley incorporates an airport style PA announcement asking us to ensure that all liquids are placed in clear plastic bags.

Writer and performer Ryan Gilmartin is confident and charismatic as security officer Dan, a 22-year-old university drop-out, trainee Jedi – he cares for his mother who has MS, doesn’t like mushrooms and has vivid dreams about a girl called Asia. He talks about his co-worker and friend Good Cop fondly although we never meet him.

A promising writing debut, Gilmartin’s monologue is carefully crafted and well paced – as the layers are ripped away, it becomes evident that not everything is as it first appears. What starts out as a series of playful musings over doughnuts in a staff room, soon takes a darkly disturbing confessional turn. Left with a big decision to make and a limited amount of time, will Dan do the right thing? And how do the audience, his trainee coworkers feel now that they hold his sinister secret and are complicit in his decision?

-Kristy Stott

The B Word runs at The King’s Head, Salford on 5th, 6th and 8th July 2017 as part of Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2017.

 

 

REVIEW: Taha (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

TAHA
Reviewer: Karen Clough
upstaged rating: 

Taha follows the inspiring story of Palestinian poet Taha Muhammed Ali (Amer Hlehel) – a story of humanity and hardship, hope and devastation, opportunity and misfortune, discovery and challenge, achievement and survival. The story is told from the perspective of Taha, recounting his life journey in a nostalgic, fireside storyteller style.

The stage design (Ashraf Hanna) was starkly minimal, a successful means for Taha’s story to hold the stage alone, supported by the thoughtful use of simplistic lighting (Muaz Jubeh) and carefully considered musical interjections (Shehadeh Habib Hanna) to punctuate the production. Deliberately unattractive bursts of strings accompanied the tone of adversity well. Even Taha’s wardrobe was understated and modest, a reflection of the title character and also a non-distraction from the story’s message.

Born to parents who had suffered tragic losses and were cautious to celebrate him, Taha was a curious and creative boy, who recognised at a young age there was a role for him in taking care of his family. Keen to develop himself and provide, the audience followed Taha’s transition from inquisitive boy to proud and resourceful young man, who grew to earn celebration by others. Taha’s love of culture, learning and poetry was portrayed beautifully by Hlehel. Poetry marked a range of poignant hopeful to crushing life events and was translated and projected onto a screen behind Taha, recited simultaneously. The use of language in this way was powerful and gave Taha credibility and integrity whilst reaching across the audience.

Against a backdrop of adversity, religion, politics, war and loss, the story of Taha and his poetry is more concerned with the emotions and fortitude of his human experience and is told in a heart-warming and self-deprecating style. Like Taha’s poetry, the story gives the modest and relevant message that our focus should be drawn to humanity, informed but not dominated by surrounding politics. Looking around at the audience, they watched with an air of respect and endearment. Amer Hlehel delivered his solo performance as Taha with an honesty and authenticity which engaged the audience throughout, demonstrating a true talent for conveying human experience and emotion, generating empathy for Taha with ease. Hlehel deserved his enthusiastic applause from an audience entirely on their feet at the end.

A thoughtful production with superb acting and direction (Amir Mizar Zuabli), though as a solo performance, for me, it was just a little too lengthy.

-Karen Clough

Taha continues at London’s Young Vic from 5th July to 15th July 2017 and tickets are available here.

REVIEW: Party Skills for the End of the World (Manchester International Festival – Centenary Building, Salford)

Party Skills for the End of the World. Manchester International Festival 2017 © Donald Christie
Party Skills for the End of the World.
Manchester International Festival 2017
© Donald Christie
upstaged rating:

If the world was close to its end -how would you spend your final hours?

Storm clouds are gathering as the world teeters on the edge. It’s time to look at all the good things in life – and the fear that stops us enjoying them…

Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari of Shunt Theatre have created this immersive, chaotic and high-spirited performance to help you get by when the end of the world is nigh. Party Skills for the End of the World asks us to celebrate our experiences and our individuality and resist the fear that stifles our enjoyment of living.

Party Skills for the End of the World is a site-specific show, set in the corridors, labs and vaults of Salford’s Centenary Building, which blurs the boundaries between performance and spectatorship. Who are the performers here and who are the audience? And arguably, one of the strengths of this show – is that you never really know.

Learn how to make a gas mask at Party Skills for the End of the World © Donald Christie
Learn how to make a gas mask at Party Skills for the End of the World
© Donald Christie

Strike up a conversation with a fellow party-goer as you learn the art of making the perfect martini; follow the lively crowd as you are ushered through corridors to the sound of the Latino beat. You’ve never hit a piñata? Well now is your chance. Learn how to stitch using a surgical needle. But don’t get too comfortable – it won’t be long until you transported further through the wild, vibrant but volatile performance space.

You might want to learn how to make a light bulb, throw a punch or navigate your way using the night sky. For well-being and relaxation, you may prefer to create a bouquet of paper flowers or indulge in a spot of balloon modelling. There’s a thought-provoking sermon flanked by drummers and dancing. This is intelligent, immersive performance on a grand scale.

Party Skills for the End of the World is an innovative experience and as a member of the audience – the more you contribute to the performance, the more you get out. The performance stays with you long after you have left the wild confines of the Centenary Building and certainly fuels a conversation that carries on long after the dancing has ended.

-Kristy Stott

Party Skills for the End of the World runs until 16th July 2017 and is being performed as part of Manchester International Festival 2017. Full listings for the festival can be found by clicking here.

 

REVIEW: The Father (Oldham Coliseum, Oldham)

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

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. This idea is obviously even more difficult to dramatise in a theatre. In The Father, written by Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton, Oldham Coliseum triumph in presenting a highly engaging but charming, heart-rending though witty, interpretation of Andre’s struggle with the disease.

Patrick Connellan’s raised set design is intelligently reminiscent of a Polaroid picture. The stage is framed almost like a photograph – perfectly suggestive of Andre’s struggle with memory. A deconstructed piano lies at the fore, hinting at Andre’s love of music and his attempt to make sense of the confusing world that envelopes him. A stunning piano soundtrack by Lorna Munden accompanies the cast as they adjust the stage around Andre. Confused and his senses heightened, he can hear the clank of cutlery and plates clashing and we feel his pain and confusion. Kevin Shaw has catered for every detail in this accomplished production. Stunning and painstakingly beautiful.

Kenneth Alan Taylor’s performance as Andre is nothing short of tremendous, charting one man and his family as they struggle with the grip of dementia. Giving a beautifully nuanced performance – managing to hint at the insight he still has into his condition, while giving depth to the rich and lively life he has had, he fleshes out the resilient fiery character that continues to push up against the disease. Kerry Peers gives a strong and emotive performance as Andre’s daughter Anne, always striving to do the right thing for her father despite the pressure she faces from her husband Pierre, played solidly by John Elkington. 

As I looked around the Oldham Coliseum at the end of the show, it was clear to see that so many people had been moved by The Father. Two ladies sat in front of me wiped the tears from their eyes as others appeared to be sharing stories, clearly deeply touched by this phenomenal production. This is a flawless production that gets us talking, sharing and understanding dementia together.

-Kristy Stott

The Father plays at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 1st July 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

 

REVIEW: JB Shorts 17 (53-Two, Manchester)

JB Shorts 17 at 53-Two, Manchester until 27 May 2017
JB Shorts 17 at 53-Two, Manchester until 27 May 2017
REVIEWER: MEGAN HYLAND
upstaged rating: 

JB Shorts 2017 is a diverse collection of six short plays – each lasting fifteen minutes – written by established TV writers. Started in 2009, it is a bi-annual event that aims to showcase local talent in and around Manchester.

The first in the selection of plays is Helen Farrall’s Turn Around When Possible, which tells the story of married couple Gemma (Alexandra Maxwell) and Kev (Gareth Bennett-Ryan), who are on their way to Gemma’s birthday meal when their car breaks down. And while they run into Kev’s boss Melissa (Julia Walsh), they find that she is not all that they have to confront. Bennett-Ryan offered an emotional performance, however, Maxwell and Walsh’s delivery at times fell flat. Although at times the storyline felt reminiscent of a soap-opera, it had an undeniable heart.

Living the Dream by James and Aileen Quinn follows, starring Adam Jowett as Sam, a rehab patient tended to by nurse Rosa (Sandra Cole). This particular play features both clever and politically charged dialogue, with “Sam” representing fallen America. Both Jowett and Cole offer engaging performances, pushing the eloquently written script to new depths. Despite this, had I not read the play’s summary beforehand, the true meaning of the character may not have been as clear.

The last play before the interval is Pretty Pimpin’ by Peter Kerry. Richard (James Quinn) is preparing to appear on the radio show Desert Island Discs in order to promote his memoir. However, both his agent Vicky (Victoria Scowcroft) and his daughter Janet (Alice Proctor) feel that one song, in particular, is missing. Kerry’s writing is beautifully delivered by the cast, offering a poignant and bittersweet story about the helplessness of a father.

Despite the promising quality of the first three plays, those that followed the interval were perhaps the best of the night, and my personal favourites.

Ian Kershaw’s Keep Breathing is a hilarious and skilfully written piece, starring Amy Drake as spinning instructor Carly, reflecting on her week whilst giving a class. The character of Carly will be familiar to many, and Drake brings remarkable charm and heart to her. And as Carly begins to realise that life with condescending boyfriend Matt (Ethan Holmes) may not be all that it seems, Keep Breathing takes on a more inspirational tone, encouraging us to live life for ourselves, not for others.

This was followed by Nick Ahad’s equally hilarious Inside Voices, which follows characters Reshma (Perveen Hussain) and Bob (Adam Rickitt) on their first date. However, there are some rather uninvited guests – their egos, played by Sara Latif and Leon Tagoe. With Inside Voices, Ahad offers an insightful and humorous look into self-censoring and what might happen if we just stopped listening to that inside voice.

But perhaps the most surprising performance of the night was Dave Simpson and Diane Whitley’s Pot Plant. Pensioners Iris (Jenny Gregson) and Stephen Aintree (Brian) are enjoying a quiet night at home when their house is raided by the police – but what will they find? Simpson and Whitley’s writing is as unexpected as it is absorbing. What starts out as a humorous story of two pensioners facing charges for the most unlikely crime actually has a deeper meaning to it. Gregson and Aintree’s experience serves them well in this unique piece, both giving a committed and at times riveting performance.

Overall, JB Shorts 17 is not to be missed. It is a delightful evening full of wit, charm and remarkable poignancy. And most importantly, it succeeds in delivering what it aimed to do – showcasing local talent.

-Megan Hyland

JB Shorts 17 runs at Manchester until Saturday 27th May 2017.

REVIEW: Tank (HOME, Manchester)

Tank by Breach Theatre Company at HOME, Manchester until 6 May 2017
Tank by Breach Theatre Company at HOME, Manchester until 6 May 2017
upstaged rating: 

“Don’t even think in your own language. English, all the time!” says Margaret Lovatt, a volunteer researcher in a NASA-funded project to teach Peter, a dolphin how to mimic and understand English.

Led by John C Lilly, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, a dolphinarium was built and communication ‘training’ started. In a series of communication experiments – Margaret would live with Peter for ten weeks in isolation on the first floor of the flooded laboratory in an attempt to teach him English.

This series of events actually happened in the 1960’s and was later made into a BBC documentary, The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins, which formed the inspiration for this bizarre but nevertheless captivating performance piece from Breach Theatre.

Part verbatim. Part satire. Part experiment with narrative. The only tape recordings of the experiments are fragmented and sodden (they have to be baked before they can be heard) which means that the four performers construct the details in the story as it plays in front of the audience. They interrupt and argue over the details in the story – filling in the gaps as they go. The two male performers seem to get highly enthused by the woman-masturbates-dolphin narrative but the female performers stand their ground aligning the relationship akin to that between a farmer and his cattle.

Breach have expanded an incredibly rich metaphor in Tank. Both Peter the dolphin and Margaret the volunteer were positioned in the midst of an awkward situation. Remembering the social backdrop of the 1960’s – the dolphin whose needs are inferior to those demands of a human; together with the woman who is seen as subservient to a male scientist. Tank is about colonisation. Intelligently, Breach fire up the synapses and leave the audience to explore the themes and their beliefs around this themselves.

Funny, dark and brilliantly pitched. Breach’s use of sound, film and stylised movement all contribute in exposing the result of legitimising our actions against others in the name of science, humanity and the struggle for power.

-Kristy Stott

Tank runs at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 6th May 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

 

REVIEW: How My Light is Spent (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

IMG_0412

Reviewer: Megan Hyland
Upstaged rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

How My Light is Spent is a charming and beautiful play about love, loneliness and belonging. Written by Alan Harris, it follows the intertwining lives of Newport Nuts employee Jimmy and phone sex worker Kitty. The two develop a unique relationship, but when Jimmy begins to disappear, can they put the phone down and help each other before it’s too late?

Rhodri Meilir (Pride and Under Milk Wood) stars as Jimmy, also displaying remarkable character acting skills as secondary characters Stephen – preferably known as ‘Stevo’ – Kitty’s topiary enthusiast landlord, and Andre, the man that introduced Kitty to the sex industry. His comedic timing is impeccable, perfectly delivering Harris’ witty one-liners. However, Meilir also brings heart to the character of Jimmy and his relationships with other characters, particularly with Kitty and his daughter Mallary. His performance in these scenes is both emotional and raw, creating some particularly heart-warming moments. However, his chemistry with Alexandria Riley is undeniable. Whether they’re playing mother and son, father and daughter or two people in love on the end of a phone, they are entirely captivating. And their narration of the story is an equally humorous and striking description of events, with the two of them working together in tandem, effortlessly smooth in their delivery. But that’s not to say that Riley herself is not spectacular. In each character that she plays, she is equally as comical and emotional as Meilir, however, she brings a unique intensity and likeability to the character of Kitty in particular. Although her character acting skills are astounding, making her almost unrecognisable in each role, she brings a depth to the character of Kitty in particular. Although her character acting skills are astounding, making her almost unrecognisable in each role, she brings a depth to the character of Kitty that only enhances the overall performance.

And although the setup is entirely simplistic, with no props or set, the performances of Riley and Meilir continuously astound without the need for this. In fact, it’s possible that the presence of a set or props would distract from their captivating talent.
In 2015, How My Light is Spent won the Judge’s Award in the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting – and it’s not hard to see why. Alan Harris has created a heartfelt and delightful story that – despite its unusual subject matter – many audiences can relate to and perhaps even learn from. It is a truly beautiful and inspiring piece, offering hope for a man turning invisible and a woman who may as well be.

-Megan Hyland

How My Light is Spent runs at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 13 May 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

 

REVIEW: Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

Faith Omole as Viola in Twelfth Night at Manchester's Royal Exchange © Jonathan Keenan
Faith Omole as Viola in Twelfth Night at Manchester’s Royal Exchange
© Jonathan Keenan
UPSTAGED RATING: 

“If music be the food of love, play on” and certainly the production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Manchester’s Royal Exchange is full of music, mirth and mischief, particularly during one particular night of mayhem when encouraged by Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Harry Attwell), a drunken Sir Toby (Simon Armstrong) wakes up the household with his electric guitar.

Following a terrible storm, Viola has found herself shipwrecked and washed up on the sandy and unfamiliar shores of Illyria. In her only bid for survival, Viola (Faith Omole) disguises herself as male, changes her name to Cesario, and goes to work in the household of Duke Orsino (Kevin Harvey). With powerful waves of unrequited love, gender and sexual identity guiding Shakespeare’s verse – this production at the Royal Exchange is a complete success and arguably one of the best Shakespeare adaptations that I have seen.

Quirky casting by Vicky Richardson teamed with Jo Davies’ intelligent direction makes for a refreshing interpretation of a play that was written over 400 years ago. Kate Kennedy’s striking Olivia towers over Faith Omole’s diminutive Cesario; confidante Cesario holds the punch bag gingerly while Orsino bolsters and pummels. Our Malvolio, played by Anthony Calf, gives a perfect portrayal of the party-pooper and prissy steward. Davies and Designer Leslie Travers substitute Malvolio’s traditional yellow stockings and cross-gartered look in favour of gaudy lycra MAMIL attire.

Kate O’Donnell steals the show as a witty, lively and self-assured Feste. Giving a whole new perspective to the character, O’Donnell exudes elegance and foolery. Dressed in a luminous turquoise get up and feathered head-dress, she reminds me of a glamorous Statue of Liberty. Suggestive of freedom in regards to gender and sexual identity and almost definitely reminding us of the lack of trans actors on the professional stage.

Alex Baranowski’s Eastern European musical score of fiddler, harpsichord and folk vocalist Kate Young provide a pleasing backdrop to the romantic entanglements, frivolous comedy and disguises in love. In a poignant framing, the Eastern tones lay the sombre tone for Viola’s shipwreck at the very start and then return for The Wind and The Rain ditty delivered by Feste at the end of the performance. As the lights fade and the melancholy returns O’Donnell feeds new life and meaning into Shakespeare’s poetry, singing the final line  “When I was a little boy.” Absolutely captivating.

-Kristy Stott

Twelfth Night runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until 20 May 2017 and you can get your tickets here.