REVIEW: Derren Brown (The Lowry, Salford)

Derren Brown returns to The Lowry with Underground
Derren Brown returns to The Lowry with Underground
guest reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

Fresh from a sell-out London bill, Derren Brown returns to Manchester with Underground his latest stage show which brings together a collection of Brown’s previous and favourite stage work. However, do not let this put you off, for I would strongly predict that there is something new to be seen for even the most die-hard fan.

I have seen Derren Brown once before and it would seem Derren’s charm and showman ship has only grown. Underground exhibits the ingredients needed to make a world class show. Brown oozes class, charm, intelligence and just a glint of cheekiness. However, I feel Underground highlights a much more sensitive and sentimental quality to not only the show but the man himself.

As you may imagine, audience participation is key to the show, especially for the utterly jaw dropping moments. It takes genuine skill to carry a show of such ferocity alone, with only the slightest help from a gorilla and a kangaroo. The show expertly mixed culture, emotion, grief and sheer exhilaration into a perfect cocktail which we gulped down unconsciously, craving more.

I feel quite torn when considering the wonder of the mind. Half of me wants to know exactly how he does it, every unconscious clue we give on a day to day basis. However, the other half of me thinks that this would only ruin its attraction. Some things should just remain shrouded in mystery instead of being examined for all to see.

Someone remarked that this being a showcase show may as well be his goodbye tour, I sincerely hope not. The world needs a bit more magic at the moment and I’m sure he has much more up his sleeve.

It is quite hard to write a review for a one man show whose thrill factor relies solely on secrets and surprise, my lips are sealed. But I leave you with this, Underground is a true masterclass in showmanship and psychological genius. A must see.

-Elise Gallagher

Derren Brown’s Underground is at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 5th August 2017 and continues at The Playhouse Theatre, London in September 2017.

REVIEW: The Mikado (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

© McPHERSON PHOTOGRAPHY
© McPHERSON PHOTOGRAPHY
upstaged reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

The Mikado or ‘The Town of Titipu’ was first produced in 1885 and first ran for a mammoth 672 nights making it one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular plays. Set in the rather bizarre world of Titipu our protagonist Nanki-Poo (Richard Munday) falls in love with a girl named Yum-Yum (Alan Richardson) but both are tragically betrothed to others. One is bound to the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko (David McKenchnie) whilst Nanki-Poo is entrapped by the formidable Katisha (Alex Weatherhill).

 The adaption is set in a private school camping trip which I must admit, I did not realise until I read it in the programme. I feel the production was supposed to be contextualised within a certain setting, however, I felt it was staged rather randomly in a wood far away from any towns or villages. However, the ambience that the set created was a success as it only heightened the hilarity on stage.

Director Sasha Regan stated that ultimately the tale was written as a way to poke fun at the establishment. She felt that Gilbert and Sullivan put their very English society on the stage to take the mickey in their original version of The Mikado, a sentiment which reverberates in Sasha Regan’s all-male production.

Alan Richardson shocked the audience with his vocal range, I was in complete disbelief when he first hit his high note. His performance easily stole laughter from the audience. David McKechnie played a magnificent Ko-Ko, who seemed to toy with physical comedy with ease. His performance in ‘As Some Day It May Happen’ was a show highlight. Alex Weatherhill also did a fantastic job in his role as Katisha.

However, it was Jamie Jukes who played Pitti-Sing who was the stand out performer for me. His performance was effortless and I found my eye would wander to him and Richard Russell Edwards (Peep-Bo) whenever they were on stage. The two bounced off one another and make a perfect double act.

This was my first time going into a Gilbert and Sullivan production and I would say that it is an acquired taste. It took me a little longer than usual to truly settle down into the performance. This is the perfect show for anyone who wants to leave their worries at the stage door and truly have fun, although it may be a step too silly for some.

I was seated next to an older gentleman who sang and danced throughout the entire performance with a huge grin on his face. He wasn’t alone in his glee.

-Elise Gallagher

The Mikado runs in The Quays Theatre at The Lowry until Saturday 29 July 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: Jane Eyre (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

© Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
© Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

Following a critically acclaimed run at London’s National Theatre, Wednesday the 12th April saw Salford’s Lowry Theatre fling open its doors to the Bristol Old Vic’s stage adaptation of Jane Eyre.

2017 marks the 170th anniversary of the publication of Charlotte Brontë’s most famous piece, a tale of passion, justice and madness set against the backdrop of Yorkshire’s haunting moors. Director Sally Cookson’s adaptation is set amongst a bare wooden frame, with platforms on varying levels used throughout the performance. Adapting a novel for the stage is a challenging prospect, especially such a timeless classic – however, Cookson states that by not approaching the piece as a costume drama, allowed the company to explore the themes and get the heart of both the story and the characters in a theatrical way. Choosing to adopt an authentic set and period costume would have suffocated the story Cookson says, and in doing so would have killed the magic.

One thing must not go without note, the production is a mammoth one, a total of three hours, plus a 15-minute interval. Initially, the adaptation was presented in two parts when performed at the Bristol Old Vic, however shifting to London and beginning a UK tour has seen the production travel as a single performance.

Although I would say that this running time could have been cut down, I’m quite glad it wasn’t. The story didn’t seem rushed or forced in any way but flowed just as naturally as the icy winds that haunt the place.

The cast are outstanding. Nadia Clifford played a phenomenal Jane, I particularly admired how she seamlessly progressed from the loud and defiant girl to the calm yet highly ambitious Governess, craving more for herself in life. The shift was subtle and expertly done.

Tim Delap takes on the role of Mr Rochester and does an incredibly successful job portraying the infamously complicated and troubled character. The chemistry between Delap and Clifford is incredible, both played their parts to the standard of any die-hard Brontë fan.

Evelyn Miller deserves a lot of praise rotating between the characters of Bessie, Blanche Ingram and St. John; such versatility should be applauded. Of course, Ben Cutler as Mr Rochester’s dog Pilot granted the audience much needed light comedic moments to punctuate the brooding of his owner.

Even now, whilst I sit writing this I have the almost unfathomable voice of Melanie Marshall dancing around my head. She is present throughout the show, either singing from one of the bare platforms or lurking towards the back, always watching. In all honesty, I was surprised when I realised she was playing the role of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s estranged wife. Her omnipresent voice sent chills down the audience but also left us with mouths wide in awe. Performing songs such as Noël Coward’s Mad About the Boy and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy in such a haunting way, enabled the modern pieces to blend perfectly with the classic tale. Her recurring presence only heightened the anticipation for the clash between her and our protagonist.

On taking my seat I noticed that there was a small set up for musicians included on the stage. My heart fell initially, dreading that this adaptation would include Disney-like songs for our characters. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. The band was made up of three musicians (Matthew Churcher, Alex Heane, and David Ridley) who did an exceptional job in supplying a score to the piece, as well as taking on characters such as school children and coach passengers. The first coach journey threw me at first with the abrupt change in tone but then continued to work incredibly well – not distracting from the drama of the stage at all, only heightening it.

Charlotte Brontë did long for the story’s narrative to play out from the book, and although it sadly did not replicate her own life, it certainly deserves its place on the stage. The production received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd, I suggest you see it.

-Elise Gallagher

Jane Eyre runs at the Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 15th April 2017. The tour continues at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre from 18th – 22nd April. More tour dates/ venues can be found here.

REVIEW: Yank! (Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)

Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester © Anthony Robling
Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
© Anthony Robling
guest reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

Hope Mill Theatre swung open its doors to the European premiere of Yank! – a love story set during the second world war between two soldiers, Mitch and our protagonist Stu.

Stu (Scott Hunter) is a 19-year-old who is drafted into the army and immediately becomes the outsider. Stu is soon whisked away from the front line when he has a chance encounter with a photographer from Yank, the forces’ weekly magazine, a gay man’s haven and the production’s namesake. The photographer Artie, played brilliantly by Chris Kiely, exudes charm and sass – the tap dance number between him and Stu stole the first half for me.

Having been nominated for seven Drama Desk awards for the original in 2010, the play tackles notions of institutionalised homophobia expertly, especially through the character of Mitch (Barnaby Hughes). The story’s success hinges itself on the stark contrast between our two leads, Stu’s wide-eyed naivety and the worldly Mitch with his Hollywood charm. It is Stu’s personal journey that is the most effective device in the narrative, growing from the scared and confused 19-year-old to the brave and open reporter.

The lighting and set design which was incorporated in the second half is worthy of note, especially when done on a budget. My only criticism of the performance would be that the songs seemed to be arrived at rather suddenly; the transitions could have been delivered much less abruptly.

The hero of the night has to be Sarah-Louise Young, who didn’t just portray one character but several throughout the performance. Personifying each and every mother or wife, Young illustrated great strength and versatility in both performance and vocal style. It seemed her various appearances bookmarked a new chapter in Stu’s journey. Chris Cuming and James Baker must be applauded for their direction and choreography.

For a production to almost scream Broadway, you’d be forgiven to think that the cast and crew have arrived at the wrong venue. This was my first visit to Hope Mill and I found myself completely blown away by the quality of the fringe. The production was made all the more special by being held at Hope Mill Theatre. The theatre, barely a year old, has already resurrected once controversial productions long thought lost. Productions that tackle antisemitism in the US with Parade and now with the triumph that is Yank!.

Reaching a genuinely moving conclusion, Yank! received a well-deserved standing ovation. Running until the 8th April, the production is polished, genuine and full of class.

– Elise Gallagher

Yank! runs at Hope Mill Theatre until April 8th 2017 and you can book tickets here.