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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Daniel Shipman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Daniel Shipman

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

Our favourite productions of 2017

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

The Suppliant Women at the Royal Exchange

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

The Father at Oldham Coliseum

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

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

The Band at The Opera House

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

Uncle Vanya at HOME

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

Reviewer – Elise Gallagher:

Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre

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

 

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

Jane Eyre at The Lowry

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

Reviewer: Daniel Shipman

Cotton Panic (MIF) at Upper Campfield Market Hall

© Charl Marais
© Charl Marais

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

People, Places and Things at HOME

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

How to Save the World Without Really Trying at HOME

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


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

Wishing you all the best in 2018.

-Kristy Stott

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REVIEW: Forced Entertainment – Real Magic (HOME, Manchester)

©Hugo Glendenning
©Hugo Glendenning
Guest Reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

As with much of Forced Entertainment’s work, Real Magic at HOME revolves around a set of established (but unspoken) rules. Here, these rules take the form of a game show that seems to be taking place in limbo – the three performers take it in turns to play a host, a contestant and a third role you could roughly describe as an expert. The expert thinks of a word and shows it to the audience on a piece of cardboard, whilst the host encourages the contestant to take three guesses at what that word might be. Their three guesses are always the same words in the same order, and they are never correct. This continues for the duration.

The problem with Real Magic is that it spends far too long establishing those rules and not nearly enough time playing within them, or having fun breaking them. There are well observed caricatures of all the archetypal game show characters; the contestant who acts as if they are performing an exorcism rather than a simple task, the host who has been in the job far too long and makes no attempt to hide their fatigue, the expert who gleefully expresses incredulity at the limitless stupidity of the contestant.

Whilst these crude characters can be fun to watch for a while, they make up the bulk of the show’s 90-minute running time and in my opinion, this is an over-estimation of how entertaining it is to watch. This is a shame because the moments when the cast really begin to have fun breaking the rules are the highlights of the show – Richard Lowdon illegitimately whispering the word ‘sausage’ across the stage got the laugh of the evening, despite the audience knowing that the contestant was doomed to failure anyway.

The show can be thought provoking. The contestant’s third guess is always money and when you see them shouting that word with increasing desperation, you begin to examine the ethics behind game shows – inviting people on TV to entertain the masses by humiliating themselves for the vague possibility of a cash prize.

An entertaining night in purgatory, but a night in purgatory all the same.

-Daniel Shipman

Forced Entertainment’s Real Magic runs at HOME, Manchester until Friday 1st December 2017.