REVIEW: Narvik (HOME, Manchester)

Narvik presented by Box of Tricks Theatre - press pic 10 (102) - Nina Yndis as Lucya, and Joe Shipman as Jim Callaghan. Pic by Decoy Media
guest reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

In Narvik, Lizzie Nunnery has written a beautifully harrowing production, produced by Manchester-based theatre company Box of Tricks. The play – described by Nunnery as “a play with songs” – opens with 90-year-old Jim Callaghan suffering a fall in his home, and tells the story of what led him there. Flashback to World War Two, and Jim, a Liverpudlian fisherman docks in Oslo, where he meets the charming Else. Their story unfolds as Jim goes away to work as a radio operator on a Navy ship, and through the struggles of war and the horrors that he sees; the one thing that keeps him going is his memories of Else. His journey to get back to her is as captivating as it is tragic.

Joe Shipman stars as the buoyant and pragmatic Jim, giving an utterly outstanding performance. He displays faultless range, showing both the excitement of Jim’s youth and the fear felt in his old age. We see Jim falling in love, going to war and gripped by horrifying memories, which Shipman carries through seamlessly, giving an honest and powerful performance. But perhaps the core element in the play’s success in telling such an engaging story is the dynamics of the cast. Starring alongside Shipman is Nina Yndis as the endearing Else and Lucas Smith as Kenny, Jim’s closest friend on the ship. Yndis and Shipman captivate the audience with the sincere and youthful love story of Else and Jim, and the intense bond between Kenny and Jim is due to the humour and chemistry between Shipman and Smith.

However, a large part of Narvik’s charm and haunting poignancy is the music, also written by Lizzie Nunnery. The bittersweet romance between Else and Jim is truly felt through the enchanting lyrics and the voices of the cast, with one of the most beautiful vocal performances coming from band member, Maz O’Connor.

Director Hannah Tyrell-Pinder has created a simplistic but truthful production, in which the talents of the cast are allowed to excel without overshadowing Nunnery’s spectacular writing and songs. Also noteworthy is the innovative use of lighting (Richard Owen) and sound, used to create a sense of time and place in a tasteful way that didn’t distract from the touching performance.

Narvik is a compelling and moving production of a love tested by war and a friendship tested by love. It is unpredictable in its narrative and overwhelming in its heart, and overall is utterly unmissable.

-Megan Hyland

https://homemcr.org/production/narvik/Narvik is showing at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 4th February 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet: Shakespeare Dream Bill (The Lowry, Salford)

Wink Birmingham Royal Ballet © Andrew Ross
Wink
Birmingham Royal Ballet
© Andrew Ross
upstaged rating:      

2016 marks four hundred years since the death of William Shakespeare and Birmingham Royal Ballet continue their celebration of the world’s most prolific dramatist with Shakespeare Dream Bill. The production presents three contrasting works, from contemporary to classical, in a Shakespeare-themed feast of balletic brilliance.

American choreographer Jessica Lang’s Wink serves an elegant entree inspired by the language of The Bard’s sonnets. Set to Jakob Ciupinski’s new score, both the music and the movement echo the structure of the sonnets. Surreal and captivating, the piece takes its title from the first line of sonnet 43, ‘When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see.’ The graceful performance is framed by Mimi Lien’s set of rotating boards which switch from black to white representing the blink of an eye. Stylish and contemporary, Peter Teigan’s lighting design and Alfie Jones’ voiceover add further clarity to this faultless display.

José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane subtitled ‘Variations on the theme of Othello’, distils the tangled tragedy of Othello into a tightly knit and thrilling one-act piece. The four dancers: Tyrone Singleton (Othello), Iain Mackay (Iago) , Delia Mathews (Desdemona) and Samara Downs (Emilia) sweep and glide in Pauline Lawrence’s medieval inspired gowns. Moving in a circular motion about a dark stage, they are enmeshed. Othello’s white handkerchief is passed between them to Henry Purcell’s baroque score.

The Dream concludes the triple bill with a good dose of magic and wit as the company revive Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1964 interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With Peter Farmer’s leafy woodland setting and John B Read’s dramatic lighting design, the company fill the stage with elegance and jest.  

I was very surprised to see a few empty seats on the night I attended as the Birmingham Royal Ballet usually, and rightfully, attract a full house. Perhaps the idea of Shakespeare fused with ballet felt quite daunting for some, which is quite a shame as The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare Dream Bill is pure perfection- a stunning display of agility, beauty and technical wisdom. This production is a superb evening out for all ages and whether you are a seasoned theatre-goer or on your first trip to the ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare Dream Bill is a dazzling visual feast.

-Kristy Stott

The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare’s Dream Bill is on at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 17th September 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

 

 

REVIEW: Gangsta Granny (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Birmingham Stage Company's Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. ©Mark Douet
Birmingham Stage Company’s Gangsta Granny by David Walliams.
©Mark Douet
upstaged rating: 

The Lowry fizzes with excitement with the arrival of the Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of David Walliams’ much-loved Gangsta Granny.

Since 2008 David Walliams has taken the children’s literary world by storm – writing nine children’s books and selling more than 12.5 million copies worldwide. Children (and grown-ups) love his books and it was clear to see that this stage show was also well received. Gangsta Granny has been a staple read in our house- the immersive sheer brilliance of Walliams’ wit has ignited our imaginations and prompted conversation. While the stage show doesn’t offer the same enveloping delight as diving into the original, the charm and excitement of the live stage match the vigour and flamboyance of Walliams’ writing.

Adapted by Neal Foster, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben (Ashley Cousins) and the relationship that he has with his little scrabble playing, cardigan wearing, cabbage chomping Granny (Gilly Tompkins). Ben loathes having to stay at his boring Granny’s house every Friday when his Mum (Louise Bailey) and Dad (Benedict Martin) go to watch their Strictly Stars Dancing show.

Vibrant and colourful, each character looks as though they have sprung from the pages of Tony Ross’ wonderful illustrations. Travelling around on her motorised scooter we soon learn that Granny is not as boring as we have been led to believe. Action packed and dream-like with a wicked brilliance, Gangsta Granny is poignant with some top-trumping wit and offers a thoughtful twist as Ben comes to realise that beyond the drab exterior, his gran is wild and adventurous.  

‘It’s important to follow your dreams Ben, it’s all you’ve got to guide you.’

Jacqueline Trousdale’s set is colourful and snappy, the simple design makes scene changes swift and fluid. Jak Poore’s ballroom themed musical composition is lively and comical, adding further depth to the production.

© Mark Douet
© Mark Douet

 

Gangsta Granny is fun and fast paced and the perfect outing for children, parents and grannies. It continues to tour right through summer  2017 – running at 2 hours and 10 minutes, it is the ideal treat for those children who read, share and love Walliams’ writing.

-Kristy Stott

Gangsta Granny gets a WEST END transfer! Catch David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny at The Garrick Theatre, London from 26th July 2017 to 3rd September 2017- tickets are available here.

Gangsta Granny continues to tour the UK right through to September 2017. Click here to find your nearest venue and book tickets.

REVIEW: Cyril the Squirrel (The Lowry, Salford)

Cyril the Squirrel is so sq-exciting
Cyril the Squirrel
thingstars: 

Theatre maker Cathy Shiel’s background in early years teaching really shines through in this delightful and touching new piece of children’s theatre, Cyril the Squirrel. This charming tale is pitched perfectly for children aged 3 and up and is packed to the brim with bright visual storytelling and amusing interaction. With clowning, puppetry and performance, Cyril the Squirrel has plenty to keep those inquisitive minds engaged for the full 45 minute running time.

The tale unfolds within Woody Woodland when Cyril (Jennifer Birch), a grey squirrel, meets Rosie Red (Cathy Shiel), a red squirrel.The heartwarming tale explores themes around friendship and diversity as the two become best friends despite sneaky Willy the Weasel and his best efforts to divide them.

With their little eyes wide, many children in the audience were gripped from the very start of the show. This production has interaction at its core, inviting children to engage with the performers throughout – it’s a sure way to get theatres toughest critics on your side from the outset. The narrative is simple and pitched at a perfect level for younger children; the clever use of instruments, highly visual tricks and puppetry succeed in feeding their excitable minds and imaginations.

Fresh from The Royal Exchange’s The Crucible, Alastair Gilles shows his versatility as a performer in doubling up as the crafty Weasel and the calming and knowledgeable Owl. Cathy Shiel and Jennifer Birch are dynamic, suitably animated and fun, working alongside each other as Rosie Red and Cyril.

Lara Booth’s set design provides the ideal balance between simplicity and woodland magic – complete with hidey holes and vines. Will Hague’s squirrel tail design is the perfect visual for younger children to understand the difference between the two characters on stage.

FullSizeRenderCyril the Squirrel is a superb piece of children’s theatre – smart and well pitched. Thing 2 laughed along with many of the jokes throughout the show and took away the important message that it is interesting to be different, change can be good and that diversity makes the world go round.

 

 

-Kristy Stott

Cyril the Squirrel continues to tour throughout July 2016: The Dogs Trust, Denton 26th July 2016 (plus and post-show doggy themed workshop) and The Atkinson, Southport 30th July 2016.

REVIEW: Declaration (The Lowry, Salford)

Declaration by Art With Heart ~ Developed With The Lowry ~ © Sam Ryley
Declaration by Art With Heart ~ Developed With The Lowry ~
© Sam Ryley

 

upstaged rating: 

Back in the late eighties, I remember my mum taking my brother to the GP because he was so hard to manage – highly intelligent, bursting with questions and the ability to stop a whole shopping centre with his tantrums. The GP’s advice was cut the sugar and watch out for those E numbers, and my mum and my brother were sent on their way.

Created by Rachel Moorhouse and Sarah Emmott, Declaration is a bold and insightful new play by award-winning arts adventurers and theatre-makers, Art With Heart, exploring Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Using autobiographical material, animated storytelling, humour and audience interaction, Sarah Emmott presents her experience of living with ADHD. Chatting with the audience prior to the show, Sarah breaks down any barriers – there is no sense of us and them – and the audience is encouraged to join in at various points during the 70 minute running time.

Staged in the round, Sarah’s effervescent presence fills the performance space; animated but vulnerable; brave and funny. Describing her mind whizzing ‘like a water wheel’, there’s a refreshing sense of spontaneity, as she guides us through her experience of growing up and trying to fit in, coming to terms with a diagnosis and a ‘label’ and trying to find some sense through all of the noise and opinions around medication.

A mish-mash of ‘things’ are pegged to a washing line above our heads – bright childlike artwork, cheerleading pom-poms and dolls amongst other items. There’s a wooden trunk, containing necessary props, which Sarah wheels around and film projection by People Staring which shows candid interviews with Sarah’s mother, her partner and medical professionals.

Sarah’s ability to interact with her audience and the frequency with which she does so really makes Declaration quite extraordinary. Directing questions to members of the audience, she demonstrates her thirst for knowledge and her need to feel the same as everybody else. She joins a conversation with a parent called Val and asks her about her parenting experience and coping strategies and encourages the audience to ring bells in a clever demonstration of how overwhelmed she feels sometimes.

Declaration is an intelligent, entertaining and thoughtful piece of theatre which is sure to prompt discussion around mental health and the complex issues faced by those adults living with a condition like ADHD. Brilliantly executed and refreshing, Declaration challenges stigma and raises awareness, paving the way for further discussion and understanding around mental health.

-Kristy Stott

To find out more about Art With Heart‘s brilliant work, click here to visit their website.

REVIEW: The Ladykillers (Oldham Coliseum)

The Ladykillers at Oldham Coliseum © Joel C Fildes
The Ladykillers at Oldham Coliseum
© Joel C Fildes
Upstaged rating: 

Written by Graham Linehan, well-known for penning Father ted and The IT Crowd, The Ladykillers is a dark comedy inspired by the classic Ealing film of the same name.

Widely regarded as being one of the staples of British comedy, The Ladykillers is perfectly adapted for the stage with all of the action taking place within the shaky four walls of the innocent widow, Mrs Wilberforce’s home. With slick Professor Marcus at the helm of a ruthless gang of criminals masquerading as musicians, they use the rickety old house as the base for their illegal operations.

Foxton’s pleasingly skewed set design of the lop-sided house beside the busy train line is delightful and harbours many comic moments throughout the show. Graham Linehan’s script is packed with slapstick humour and one-liners and Kevin Shaw’s direction blesses the energetic cast with some cracking visual gags and tricks. There is a superb sequence, for example, when the gang, posing as a classically trained quintet, are revealed squeezed like sardines in a tiny cupboard. A further highlight comes when the felons find themselves being forced to play for Mrs Wilberforce (Roberta Kerr) and her gaggle of old ladies, with smooth Professor Marcus (Chris Hannon) passing the din off as being an experimental musical composition.

However, for the main the show feels like it never quite reaches second gear and there is a sense that the full potential of hilarity in the script is never quite achieved. Nonetheless, the cast all give energetic performances throughout with Chris Hannon as the pompously manic gang leader Professor Marcus. Howard Gray gives a comical performance as likeable baddie One Round, more endearingly known as Mr Lawson and Matthew Ganley gives a strong performance as moody Romanian gangster who does not like old ladies. Henry Devas shows infectious energy on stage as cleaning obsessed crook Harry and Christopher Wright intrigues as a Major with a penchant for ladies clothes. Simeon Truby puts in a witty performance as Constable MacDonald and gives a sterling turn as one of Mrs Wilberforce’s pals. Headed up by Roberta Kerr’s righteous but dotty Mrs Wilberforce, there is no doubt that the cast give this production their all.

With a running time of 2 hours and 30 minutes, The Ladykillers has plenty of comic moments but failed to make my ribs ache as much as I had hoped.

 

-Kristy Stott

The Ladykillers is at Oldham Coliseum until 2 July 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: The Night Watch (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

The Night Watch at the Royal Exchange until 18th June 2016. © Richard Davenport
The Night Watch at the Royal Exchange until 18th June 2016.
© Richard Davenport
UPSTAGED RATING: 

Adapted for the stage by Hattie Naylor, The Night Watch is Sarah Waters’ thrilling novel of the same name. Shortlisted for both the Man Booker and Orange prizes for fiction, the narrative is set against the backdrop of 1940’s London and spirals back from the post-war devastation of 1947 to the Blitz of 1941. 

“People’s pasts are so much more interesting than their futures.”

 

As the fragmented stories of five people unfold we begin to understand the secrets, regrets and shame that have bound all of them together. With each life intertwined, so skilfully and softly layered, they are all detonated by war, but more so, by love.  

It’s a tricky narrative to present on stage but Naylor cuts right to the chase and avoids any extraneous period detail – the story is presented to us powerfully, each scene juxtaposed perfectly allowing each characters experience to weave smoothly into the next. The fusion of Georgia Lowe’s stark stage design and Rebecca Gatward’s intelligent direction ensures that scene changes and shifts in time are handled beautifully. The sweet and dream-like sound of a piano accompanies the circular movement of the stage as we are transported to another point in time. 

Flooding the stage with soft warm lighting, Elliot Griggs’ lighting design compliments perfectly, transforming an office desk to a summer roof terrace, switching through the darkness of war and devastation to the warm light of love and hope.

With such a pleasingly simple set design, there is absolutely no room for error on stage and the cast deliver a stunningly captivating production. Flawless and intricate, the characters are developed throughout the play – their emotions stripped back as we get to know, and love, them. Led by Jodie McNee, playing the troubled and endearing Kay Langrish, there are no weak links here. Kelly Hotten captures the vulnerability of secretary Helen – wearing her heart on her sleeve, it’s easy to understand her attraction to Julia, the feisty and flamboyant writer played by Lucy Briggs-Owen.

The Night Watch is a gripping adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel – beautifully realised and faultlessly performed.

 

-Kristy Stott

The Night Watch runs at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until Saturday 18th June 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

Looking for an explosive half term treat?

The Hollywood Special Effects Show heads to the Lowry, Salford on the Friday 3 and Saturday 4 June.

hollywood-special-effects-show-38

Following its success at the 2016 Big Bang Fair, the largest science fair in the UK, The Hollywood Special Effects Show visits The Lowry, Salford.

The Hollywood Special Effects Show is an interactive science and special effects show for the whole family.

Recommended for ages 6 and over, audiences will be able to get closer to the action than ever before. Theatre-goers will be invited behind the scenes of many favourite films to discover the explosive science and trade secrets that are involved in creating movie magic.

With a team of movie professionals, audiences will marvel at gruesome sci-fi monsters, feel the blaze of an onstage inferno and experience apocalyptic weather and huge explosions.

Using more pyrotechnics than any other UK touring theatre show and with a cannon capable of firing a projectile over 500 metres…be prepared to be blown away.

The Hollywood Special Effects Show is at The Lowry, Salford on Friday 3rd June  and Saturday 4th June 2016. You can book your tickets through The Lowry here or you can give the friendly Box Office a call on 0843 208 6000.

Running Time: 1hr 40 mins including the interval

-Kristy Stott

 

 

REVIEW: Parade ( Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)

Parade at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester © Anthony Robling
Parade at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
© Anthony Robling

UPSTAGED RATING: 

Everything about James Baker’s Parade is a triumph and if you are in or around Manchester, you really should get a ticket. Just go.

The dimly lit, eerie walls of Manchester’s newest performance space, Hope Mill Theatre stand with pride to present the harrowing true story about the trial of Leo Frank. Frank was a Jewish pencil factory manager in Atlanta who was tried for raping and murdering Mary Phagan in 1913. The intimate performance space in the old cotton mill provides the perfect backdrop for this emotionally charged and troubling narrative driven by the murder of the thirteen-year-old girl in the factory where she worked.

The super talented cast of 15 manage to cover 38 roles between them and all give stand-out performances. There is a beautiful balance between heartfelt, raw emotion and technical brilliance from Tom Lloyd as the accused Leo Frank; Laura Harrison gives a breathtaking vocal performance as his doting and determined wife, Lucille Frank. James Baker’s ensemble pieces are always a highlight too – under William Whelton’s stylish choreography, wielding their confederate flags and clicking their heels, the dynamic cast deliver to Jason Robert Brown’s finely crafted score. There is no weak link here.

There are memorable performances throughout from Matt Mills and Shekinah McFarlane, particularly during their second act opener – playing two of the Governor’s African American employees, they deliver a soulful and spirited ‘A Rumblin’ And A Rollin’, showing that racial tensions were still running high fifty years after the American Civil War had ended. James Wolstenholme proves his versatility as a performer – slipping into the ruthless shoes of desperate hack Britt Craig to deliver an outstanding rendition of Real Big News before stepping up as the authoritative Governor of Georgia, John Slaton.

Victoria Hinton’s stripped back set is split into 3 simple sections to aid the fluidity of the narrative with adaptable wooden pallets giving a constant reminder of the factory environment.

There’s a lot to be said about bringing musical theatre to an intimate setting like Hope Mill Theatre. Watching the performers emerge from within the audience, so close that you can see the beads of sweat on their foreheads and the tears rolling down their cheeks, is really something special. Add to this a wonderful 9 piece live band under the superb direction of Tom Chester and Mancunian producer Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, and Mr James Baker has raised the bar for Fringe theatre once again.

I urge you to get a ticket for Parade. Just go.

-Kristy Stott

Parade is on at Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Manchester M4 7JA until Sunday 5th June 2016. NOW EXTENDED UNTIL 11th June 2016! Please click here to get your tickets.

REVIEW – Handle With Care (Week 53 – The Lowry, Salford)

Handle With Care by Dante or Die Theatre Co Week 53 at The Lowry, Salford
Handle With Care by Dante or Die Theatre Co
Week 53 at The Lowry, Salford
UPSTAGED RATING: 

“A journey of one woman and her stuff through a lifetime of self-storage”

Handle With Care is a curiously intimate site-specific performance which plays out in the metal units and brightly lit corridors of a self-storage facility. Presented as part of the innovative Week 53 festival hosted by The Lowry in Salford, Handle With Care tells the story of Zoe through the most poignant stages of her life. Exploring the central themes to the festival, Place & Identity, we are encouraged to explore ideas surrounding life experiences, the memories we hold on to and the personal possessions that we use to keep them alive.

The show is visually impressive – it’s a promenade performance with the audience following the actors around the Ready Steady Store unit in Worsley, Greater Manchester. The small audience find themselves watching the story unfold within the locker-lined corridors and small confines of each storage unit. It’s innovative and intimate and the audience are encouraged to move around the actors during the performance – it’s a bit like a fly-on-the-wall experience. The audience witness the reality of the arguments that take place behind closed doors, the domestic bickering and private moments of reflection.

What is so remarkable is the fluidity with which Handle With Care is presented – in 90 minutes we whizz through the decades in Zoe’s life, from 1988 to the present day. The dynamic cast handle the transition between varying performance spaces and they work around the strategically placed audience well . 

Fuelled by the audiences curiosity, each key is turned in each storage unit and the door flung open, to reveal another poignant incident in Zoe’s life. The detailed design is studded with costume and artefacts from the 80’s and 90’s and the soundtrack featuring The Stone Roses and Alanis Morisette pushes us through each year and into the next. 

Handle With Care is a triumphant site-specific piece and it could not be performed in a more suited environment – encouraging us to reflect on our own experiences, memories and our notions of place and identity.

 -Kristy Stott

Handle With Care continues to tour through May and June 2016: Harlow Playhouse with Lok ‘n Store from the 13th-15th May, South St Arts Centre with Lok ‘n Store from the 19th-22nd May, Lighthouse Poole with Lok ‘n Store from the 26th-29th May and Shoreditch Townhall with Urban Locker from the 3rd-25th June. For more information on the site-specific performance please click here.