REVIEW: I Told My Mum I Was Going On An R.E. Trip (Contact Theatre, Manchester)

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guest reviewer: Demi west
upstaged rating: 

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.

-Demi West
I Told My Mum I Was Going On An R.E Trip continues its UK tour at Battersea Arts Centre London until 13th February 2017. For further tour dates/ venues and to book tickets please click here.

REVIEW – RITES (Contact Theatre, Manchester)

©  Sally Jubb
© Sally Jubb
 
Date: 12 may 2015
Upstaged rating: 

The Contact Theatre in Manchester is renowned for its high quality and diverse artistic programme. With experimental and bold theatre at it’s core, Contact Theatre has joined forces with the National Theatre of Scotland, acclaimed champions of storytelling and creative risk taking to produce this powerful new play, RITES.

RITES is a verbatim piece of theatre, borne out of interviews conducted with real people who have been directly affected or have some experience of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The people who were interviewed to make this production are from all over the UK and are FGM survivors, medical staff, health and social workers, activists and campaigners.

When the play begins, Fara (Paida Mutonono) asks us to “start by listening” and it is her direct story of FGM which forms the backbone of the production. The other characters that are presented to us also provide their viewpoints and share their stories which furthermore  enriches the play giving it integrity, balance and depth. The four other members of the cast (Janet Kumah, James Mackenzie, Beth Marshall, Eleni Pavli) play a range of vibrant characters which include a group of Somali women swigging tea discussing western media and guests on a talk show with differing viewpoints. Director Cora Bissett and Co-creator Yusra Warsama’s staging does not demonise or judge victims of FGM but asks us to step back and understand a subject which is not as straightforward as we are led to believe.

© Sally Jubb
© Sally Jubb

RITES is an accomplished example of verbatim theatre – performances are all strong with each character’s mannerisms, stumble for words and idiosyncrasies adding to their credibility. And despite the heavy subject matter, the play does have a scattering of humour too particularly from female Muslim Chaplain Abhaya (Elena Pavli) and midwife Vanessa (Beth Marshall).

Jessica Worrall’s set design is perfectly simple allowing each of the characters and their narratives to shine through. Projections are used on stark white hospital screens, some are powerful signifiers such as razor blades whereas as others simply suggest Fara’s search for reason and truth with images of her google searches and tense skype calls to her mother.

After the 90 minutes of theatre, I walked out into Manchester with a different mindset on the subject of FGM and definitely a deeper understanding. I also felt hopeful for the future – FGM cannot be condoned but in order for us to change it, we have to step back, listen and gather facts so that we can challenge it and eventually put an end to this abusive practice.

-Kristy Stott

Rites is at Contact Theatre until 14 May 2015 (with a women only performance on 13 May at 12:30pm) before continuing its tour at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol from 19 May -23 May 2015 and then Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh from 26 May- 30 May 2015.

-Kristy Stott

February’s Fancies

February brings us Chinese New Year celebrations, Pancake Day and St Valentine’s Day…but it’s not all about dragons, roses and Jif Lemon.  Here are my picks for the Manchester theatre scene throughout February…

Kate O’Donnell -Big Girl’s Blouse (Contact Manchester)

Contact Theatre Manchester have a whole bunch of good stuff to offer as part of Queer Contact 2015 celebrating LGBT arts and culture in Greater Manchester. The event runs from Thursday 5th February until Sunday 15th February, to coincide with LGBT History Month in the UK. For the full rundown please check out Contact Manchester here.

Using humour, music, and high kicks, Big Girl’s Blouse tells the story of a girl, Kate, who was born a boy and became a woman. Who knew what being transgender was in the 1970s? Not Kate’s family. The path to becoming a woman doesn’t always run smooth and with a lifetime of coming out, Kate has had to use every trick- theatrical and otherwise – to get by.

  • Created in collaboration with Olivier Award-winning director Mark Whitelaw.
  • There is a post show Q & A on 12th February with Dr Rachel Morris (Cosmopolitan).

Kate O’Donnell – Big Girl’s Blouse will be performed on the 11th and 12th February at 9pm. Tickets are £10 and £6 for concessions.

Laugh Local (Chorlton Irish Club) – Friday 7th February

Laugh Local is held on the first Friday of every month at Chorlton Irish Club. This Friday, Justin Moorhouse is joined by Jamie Sutherland, Holly Walsh and Iain Stirling. It’s a popular night in South Manchester, doors open at 6:30pm and tickets are £12.00 on the door (that’s if there are any left)! The comedy commences at 8pm and finishes up at around 11pm. All this comedy and a (free) pasty supper included in the price – what’s not to like?

The Mist in the Mirror (Oldham Colliseum)

Oldham Coliseum are proud to present the world premiere of The Mist in the Mirror. The original novel by Susan Hill has been adapted for stage by Ian Kershaw.

Hill is very well known for penning the original novel for chilling West End smash hit, The Woman in Black. This new production promises to be just as unsettling and atmospheric and is staged as if the audience are eavesdroppers to a fireside ghost story.

Visual theatre innovators, imitating the dog, will be on hand to scare you out of your wits. Their visual antics will create an unsettling feeling, on stage and off, that might just follow you home at the end of the night …

Runs from Friday 30 January to Saturday 21 February 2015 in Oldham then tours nationally

Check out this creepy trailer:

Enough of the scary stuff – isn’t February the month of amour…

Top Hat (The Opera House, Manchester)

© 2015 Top Hat On Stage Ltd
© 2015 Top Hat On Stage Ltd

And so we move on to a love story to set the pulse racing, Top Hat brings us all of the glitz and glamour from Hollywood’s golden age.

With tap dancing a plenty and celebrating all of that 1930’s song style and romance, Top Hat tells the tale of Broadway sensation, Jerry Travers who dances dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society girl Dale Tremont.

It’s won three Olivier awards for Best New Musical, Best Choreography and Best Costumes and it features Irving Berlin’s most popular toe tapping swoon tunes – Cheek to Cheek, Top Hat, White Tie & Tails, Let’s Face the Music & Dance and Puttin’ on the Ritz.

How can we resist!

Top Hat runs from the 10th February until the 21st February at Manchester’s Opera House.

Moving on to our beautiful Royal Exchange Theatre – there are a couple of shows I want to tell you about…

Scuttlers (The Royal Exchange)

Scuttlers tells the story of Manchester in 1885 as workers pour into Ancoats to power the Industrial Revolution – this is the worlds first industrial suburb, the air is thick with smoke and life is lived large and lived on the street. The young mill workers, the living cogs on its machines form the very first urban gangs. Inspired by the Manchester riots in 2011 and the stories of all of the Manchester gangs between the nineteenth century and today. This new play, written by Rona Munro, promises to give us an artistic commentary on youth gang culture and the cyclical nature of urban violence. And I believe, there are plenty of references to contemporary Manchester through the language, stage design and casting as we watch a nineteenth century Ancoats collide with twenty first century sensibility.

Running from the 5th February until the 7th March 2015.

Yen (The Royal Exchange)

Anna Jordan’s Yen won The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting in 2013 and is receiving its world premiere in The Studio at The Royal Exchange.

The play explores a childhood of living without boundaries, where you are forced to grow up on your own. It tells the story of sixteen year old Hench and thirteen year old Bobbie, who live alone with their dog, Taliban, playing Playstation, watching porn; surviving. But when Jenny knocks on the door, the boys discover a world far beyond that which they know – full of love, possibility and danger…

Yen is running from the 18th February until the 7th March 2015.

And finally a trip up to The Lowry for some quality children’s theatre…

I Believe in Unicorns (The Lowry, Salford)

We are big fans of Michael Morpurgo in our house – of course, he is the author of The War Horse and we have a lot of his books. This story, adapted by Daniel Jamieson promises to be spellbinding and moving, telling the story of Tomas – who doesn’t like books or stories of any kind. He would rather be enjoying the great outdoors, clambering up a mountain or tobogganing with his father. That is until the Unicorn Lady comes to town and reels him in with her irresistable tales…

I Believe in Unicorns runs from 19th February until 22nd February 2015.

What a lovely treat for a half term theatre trip – you can catch the trailer here:

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