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.

REVIEW: Andrew Lawrence: The Hate Speech Tour (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

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upstaged rating: 

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.

-Demi West

Andrew Lawrence continues The Hate Speech Tour throughout April and May 2017. You can find dates, information and tickets by clicking here.

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.

Our Favourite Productions of 2016

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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

The Girls at The Lowry, Salford © John Swannell
© John Swannell

 

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

Origins by Animikii Theatre. Developed with The Lowry.
Origins by Animikii Theatre.
Developed with The Lowry.

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

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes ~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes
~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~

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

Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity © Richard Davenport
Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity
© Richard Davenport

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. 

Wishing you all the best in 2017.

-Kristy Stott

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REVIEW: My Big Fat Jobseeker’s Wedding (The Lowry, Salford)

My Big Fat Jobseekers Wedding at The Lowry, Salford
My Big Fat Jobseekers Wedding at The Lowry, Salford
Reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 

Adult themed pantomime My Big Fat Jobseeker’s Wedding is the latest production from Manchester based theatre group Ard Knox. It invites the audience into the life of a stereotypical council estate family, where money is tight, and drama lurks around every corner.

The play is centred in the family sitting room, which is reminiscent of The Royle Family, setting the scene perfectly for the cliché type of humour that’s on offer. The formula that is used does not bring anything new to the genre, and nor does it particularly do well what it intends in the first place. This is by no means down to the acting, which offered a clear visual rapport, showing how much the cast have spent time together, really helping to create the friendships on stage.

The failed gags, however, are down to the poor writing, and jokes were often relying on simple gags and toilet humour which was both predictable and forgettable and felt as though it was aiming for cheap laughs. The script also offered a very incohesive narrative which felt as though it was written with scenes in mind rather than the whole story,  rather a stitch together of random characters and scenes into a form of linear narrative. However this was hidden by some overarching jokes throughout, like the chat room on the laptop, which helped bring together the story in some way, but it did not deny the outlandish random plot points that made no sense.

Despite that the characters were stereotypes, they were very good stereotypes, resulting in people relating them to someone they knew, which made them funnier. However, some characters again were completely out of place and ruined the believability of the other characters. For example, the son was a ‘cowboy’, relying on Sergio Leone references as jokes were completely out of place for a northern working class sitcom style play, which overall tarnished the suspension of disbelief.

Overall My Big Fat Jobseeker’s Wedding was a big fat random collage of cheap jokes and crude humour, that I’m sure would suffice for a quick laugh while drinking with a couple of friends, but would leave no further than that, as it falls flat in offering nothing more than a cheap attempt at Mrs Brown’s Boys.

-Demi West
You can find out more about Ard Knox Theatre Company by clicking here.

REVIEW: You Boy (Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)

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Reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 

You Boy is the latest piece by SeeGold Productions, co-directed by Zach Slater of The Sketch Men, starring Oliver Burkill and Scott Harrison. The story follows two adoptive brothers in their last year of secondary school. The narrative is told through a non-linear structure, which allows the audience to learn about the present, whilst also learning about the past through flashbacks of the two brothers. The acts are centred around the gravestone of one the brothers, which is the centrepiece of the two timelines, creating an almost circular narrative that gives two satisfying ‘book-ends’ to an otherwise expansive story line.

The play begins with the deceased brother lingering around his gravestone, contemplating the lonely realities of death, which sets a sombre tone for the play. Shortly after this, his brother visits the gravestone, and thus begins the tale of the two brothers in their trials and tribulations of becoming men. This is where the flashbacks begin, elaborating on the close relationship between the two brothers which continue after death, making the bond between the pair believable, giving depth to the present storyline. This also displays how as well as their relationship, the roles of both brothers remain unchanged, which works well to convey the unconditional love that the brothers share. Throughout the play, there was unexpected humour which was well received by the audience, which helped to take the dramatic edge off things, working well to create a balance between the positive and negative.

The actors performed to a high standard, which was impressive due to the small size of the venue and the lack of set design, although at times their performance during the flashbacks seemed overly dramatic, almost destroying the illusion of them being teenage boys. However, the minimalistic set meant that their performance was the focal point, meaning that the performance itself was the main story teller, and created a mental set design in which the audience could set the scene themselves. This was echoed further when the actors would interact with non-present characters, aiming their dialogue towards the audience and making them feel more involved, strengthening the effectiveness of key scenes.

Overall, the storyline flowed well, with all the events from the past and the present coming together in a way that made conversations from earlier on in the play begin to make sense. The non-linear narrative structure was a large factor of what made the play flow so well, as it was an effective alternative of telling an otherwise standardised drama, in a way that constantly gripped the attention of the audience. The audience were left with a comically sad ending, which tied everything together in a way that didn’t dampen the mood. I would highly recommend this play to anyone who gets the chance to see it.

-Demi West

REVIEW: The Sketch Men – Attempted Jokes (GM Fringe Festival – Joshua Brooks, Manchester)

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reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 

‘Failed’ actors Jack and Zach returned to Manchester as The Sketch Men, attempting to woo the crowd of the Joshua Brooks with their comical scenarios, accompanied by aspiring comedian Johnny Molyneux. Despite being nervous, Johnny’s classic stand-up style helped warm the crowd up for The Sketch Men, making cliché but effective jokes about his weight, and where he comes from. The Sketch Men got a good reaction from the audience, acting out skits that were relevant to everyday life- as well as some that definitely weren’t.

The show starts out with an almost pantomime-esque song about how ‘one shouldn’t be offended’ by controversial jokes, which set the overall tone for the show and prepared people for what types of jokes they would be seeing. As the show went on, sketches ranged from all types of topics, built around simple everyday situations, from cold calling to gap ‘yahs’, to more eccentric ideas such as Picasso and his muse, a failed magician, and an Art-Attack style show helmed by ‘Banksy’.

All in all, most of the sketches were humorous due to the outstanding acting skills showcased by the pair. This kind of humour is reliant on the comedic acting ability, in order to generate effective sketches, however, Zach and Jack seemed to possess more than the average comedic acting ability, performing at a level seen in theatre productions. This was the main reason for the effectiveness of the sketches, as they were able to keep up the suspension of disbelief, despite only having a small crowd with limited props, and had to utilise their acting prowess in order to transport the audience to the weird and wacky world of The Sketch Men.

Although able to perform well in a small venue with a crowd of less than forty, The Sketch Men would benefit from larger venues as their abilities would allow them to work a larger crowd and create a better atmosphere. Despite this, the venue size allowed the performance to be more intimate, enabling them to connect better with the audience, giving the show a more personal feel.

Overall, The Sketch Men created a night of comical fantasy that was successful, due to their ability as actors, and obvious strong rapport shared by the pair, which allowed the night to flow nicely. I would highly recommend The Sketch Men, even if sketch comedy isn’t your first choice.

-Demi West

 

Greater Manchester Fringe Festival runs until 31st July 2016 and you can visit their website for full listings here.

 

REVIEW: GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe with Justin Moorhouse (The Dancehouse Theatre, Manchester)

Justin Moorhouse's Fast Fringe opened the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016
Justin Moorhouse’s Fast Fringe opened the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016
reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 

The Manchester Fast Fringe festival at the Dancehouse was a visual montage of the best jokes and gags from up and coming comedians due to perform at the festival, all comically led on from one another by Manchester’s own Justin Moorhouse. The show was to kick off the Manchester Fringe and consisted of twenty comedians, who each had three minutes to barrage you with a taster of their best material so that you could get a flavour of what they are offering at the Manchester and Edinburgh fringe. This offered a ‘selection box’ of comedy, which had a wide range of acts from puppets, to bearded men in dresses, keeping everyone’s eyes on the stage.

The acts, on the whole, were all very entertaining, with acts such as Brennan Reece offering anecdotal humour on the struggle of masculinity, and Andy Field who did a quirky take on the classic impersonation, including Elton John, and ‘Poprah’. All of these acts thought out their jokes and executed them to a good standard gaining a good response from the audience. Some acts broke the generic anecdotal formula of humour and offered more interesting approaches that worked well yet sometimes fell short, as the three minutes provided was sometimes too narrow of a time frame to sample their whole act.

Acts like Harriet Dyer offered an eccentric performance centred around nineties music and growing up in Cornwall, in which she performed an acapella singing dance routine with unusual body movements, catching the audience completely off-guard, yet still provoking the desired response. Other acts like Daniel Nichols simply picked out members of the audience and made them attempt to try and remove his jumper, but due to the short time slot, the audience wasn’t able to grasp what the whole act consisted of, which was one of the main problems with the show.

The show was all brought together and well-rounded by Justin Moorhouse, who worked the audience very well and connected with them through jokes on topical subjects, such as what it’s like to be from Manchester and the EU referendum. After attending the Fast Fringe, I’d definitely consider seeing some of the acts in their full-length solo shows, and thought it was a great way of sampling the best comedy that Manchester has to offer.

-Demi West

 

Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016 runs from 1st July – 31st July and with an eclectic collection of shows and events, we recommend you check out the website and full festival listings by clicking here.