Taking inspiration from the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, HOME Manchester present Andrew Upton’s beautifully touching translation of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.
Over one hundred and fifty years have passed since Chekov’s birth and his plays have become almost as much part of British theatre’s repertoire as Shakespeare. Uncle Vanya is a complete masterpiece – portraying a society on the brink of change and an uncertain political climate – it was a revolutionary play for its time, written twenty years before the Russian Revolution. Most startlingly, to a modern audience, Uncle Vanya offers a timely commentary about the world we inhabit right now.
Director Walter Meierjohann has brought this deeply layered and finely nuanced production to complete fruition. Fascinating and truly absorbing, every word resonates and strikes new meaning – Meierjohann has teased and provoked to create a stunning theatrical feast which resonates powerfully with a contemporary audience.
Nick Holder’s Uncle Vanya straddles the tragicomic, playing the title role in a way Chekov would have applauded. Emerging as a yawning buffoon, then doe-eyed and needy, as he fawns over the Professor’s beautiful wife, Yelena. Holder interweaves comedy and anguish perfectly giving the best Vanya that I have ever seen.
Chekhov’s work is always about the ensemble and there is a host of top-notch performances in this production. Katie West gives us a gentle, diligent and honest Sonya against Hara Yannas’ beautifully elegant but idle Yelena. David Fleeshman’s gout-ridden Professor is suitably embittered by the onset of old age; Jason Merrells is brilliant as Astrov, a character who was viewed as a visionary and radical outsider at the time the play was first written; now, Astrov and his passionate appeals to plant seeds, nurture our environment and take responsibility for our society, strikes a resounding chord.
A self-playing piano haunts the characters from the back of the stage and provides a melancholic musical score composed by Marc Tritschler. The unkempt estate that the characters inhabit is suggested perfectly by Steffi Wuster’s minimalist though effective set design.
This production is completely consuming. Like a beautiful meal, I leave HOME feeling content and full with no bitter aftertaste.
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.
The Trial is a thrillingly absurd adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel of the same name, adapted by People Zoo Productions. Josef K, honourable citizen and profoundly innocent man, is told on the morning of his birthday that he has been arrested. The audience follows K as he tries to prove his innocence to the unjust and strange legal system that he finds himself entangled in. But not knowing what he stands accused of, and fighting against an unidentified, immeasurable power, how much is his innocence really worth?
William J Holstead stars as the protagonist, displaying remarkable physicality and masterful control, telling the story of one man’s desperation in an emotional and thoroughly committed performance. Holstead acts as a guide for the audience through this peculiar situation that K has found himself in, and as quickly as Holstead has built up the character in the opening scenes, he begins to tear him down, as we see just how far one man will go to prove his innocence. In such a dark and disturbing narrative, however, the rest of the cast provide some much-needed comic relief, all acting in multirole, with Adrian Palmer and Sarah Legg standing out in particular. Palmer’s excellent character acting and Legg’s performance as K’s moralistic and over-sexed landlady are outstanding.
The play itself can only be described as bizarrely entertaining, with well-written and clever dialogue that keeps the audience engaged even despite the nonsensicalness of the plot. The remarkable humour and intrigue that the first act creates outweigh the unusualness of the storyline, and instead supply it with a strange charm. The second act, however, is incredibly intense, with some exceptional performances and gripping scenes that send some powerful messages that are still relevant today.
Director Craig Sanders has created a wonderfully offbeat dark comedy, managing to portray both the nostalgia and relevance of Kafka’s work on the stage. Paired with the intense music of Dennis Tjoik and the simplistic but expressive set design, the effect is a thought-provoking combination of surrealism and farce. These are two things that the play combines effortlessly, transitioning frequently between slapstick humour and highly intense scenes with ease and fluidity. And although the storyline itself is quite non-traditional and perplexing, once the eccentricity of the production itself is embraced, it makes for a captivating and unusually amusing watch.
The Trial is performed as part of PUSH Festival at HOME, Manchester. PUSH Festival runs from 14th January – 28th January 2017 and the full festival brochure is available by clicking here.
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
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
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
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
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.
“Where were you on June 15th 1996, when the bomb went off?”
It’s a question etched into most Mancunian’s minds and this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the 1996 Manchester bombing. That fateful day when the Provisional IRA detonated a 1500kg truck bomb on Corporation Street, in the heart of our city centre on a busy Saturday. It was the biggest bomb blast in Great Britain since World War II, damaging many landmark buildings and reducing others to rubble, it injured 212 people.
Now, ANU Productions and Manchester’s newest theatre HOME collaborate to stage On Corporation Street, a thoughtful and deeply engaging performance which propels the audience through a series of meetings with those affected by the bombing on June 15th 1996. These are real Mancunian stories, framed by shards of glass and the image of the one red postbox left standing amid the entire devastation.
Taking our seats in HOME’s darkened theatre, that lorry is on the stage – reddish orange front cab and the hazard lights flashing. Individual characters enter and the ensemble move slowly – their voices drowned out by the deafening, reverberating noise. An emergency siren disrupts the performance and we are all evacuated from the theatre – stepping into the backstage area we are invited to meet those affected by the blast.
It’s a powerful theatrical work of art – watching a film documenting the effects of the blast on our city we are abruptly interrupted by one of the bombers who, sharpening our senses to his motivations behind the act of terror, ushers us along a stark brick corridor. More highly personal encounters follow – a young 18-year-old shop worker recalls his experience on returning from the basement of the department store, eyes wide and tearful. We are shifted up in a lift to meet a Northern Irish nurse, angry and fearful, feeling ashamed of her accent and a frustrated business owner who is waiting to get the keys back to her shop.
Throughout our journey within the performance space, we can hear noises which serve to disorientate us further – snippets of news relevant to Euro 96, music and arguing. It all serves to create a fully immersive and interactive environment, unsure of who we will encounter next.
At the close of the performance, we are regurgitated back out on to Whitworth St West with a proud 2016 Manchester skyline welcoming us. Fabulous old architecture punctuated with the new and with Beetham Tower staring impressively down on us, it is incredible and hopeful to see how much our city has healed since the bombing on 15th June 1996.
The Encounter is an adventure story which gets inside your head. Literally. Every member of the audience is issued with a set of headphones and using cutting edge audio technology we are transported to the Amazonian rainforest where we find ourselves inside the head of Loren McIntyre, a stranded American photojournalist.
In 1969, photographer Loren McIntyre was dropped into a remote part of the Brazilian rainforest to make contact with the Mayoruna people for a feature he was working on for the National Geographic. Tracing McIntyre’s steps into the dense Amazon rainforest, Simon McBurney gives an immensely powerful solo performance. By combining 3D audio technology with dynamic storytelling, The Encounter is an intense and intimate show which weaves its way into your mind, becoming as much about the storytelling as the narrative itself.
Simon McBurney’s performance is a true tour de force, his rich and complex storytelling draws us close, in the same way that photojournalist McIntyre became compelled by the Mayoruna. Creating the Amazonian soundscape from everyday objects and familiar vocal sounds – a whistle and the beat of his chest quickly becomes a repetitive dance ritual; the rustle of a crisp packet, a fire and the sound of a water bottle, a noisy ground underfoot. It’s totally immersive and remarkable piece of theatre – the sounds of the jungle take over your mind and the intensity is immense, like a mosquito buzzing close to your ear.
Due to the intelligent use of technology, the audience experiences the same kind of heightened consciousness as McIntyre feels in the jungle. At the start of the production, McBurney presents all of the technology to us and explains how he is going to use it in the show. It’s a fascinating insight into the creative audio capability and knowing how McBurney plans to deliver the show does not detract from the effect it has on our imaginations.
The Encounter is a richly layered exploration of the importance of stories, the fascination with different cultures and the influence of time and technology upon our lives. A unique and wonderfully intoxicating two hours in McBurney’s company is time well spent.
It’s pretty apt that the newest theatre in Manchester brings one of the first great works of theatre, Aeschylus’ The Oresteia to its stage. The Oresteia, a Greek tragedy, is a trilogy which first saw the light of day back in 458 BC when it was performed in Athens at the Festival of the god Dionysus. This festival involved pitting poet against poet – a much grander version of the poetry slam competitions that we have today – needless to say Aeschylus’ The Oresteia was triumphant, taking home first-place.
Director Blanche McIntyre uses a gripping and fast paced translation written by Ted Hughes. It’s well condensed which sees the epic trilogy clipped down into a single play of highlights running at around 1 hour 45 minutes.
Hughes’ language is bold and concise and McIntyre’s direction gives a powerful hit of sharpened stage imagery. Laura Hopkins’ design is stark, the action taking place on a stage loaded with dark gravel – it’s as if the dust has fallen on humanity. When Lyndsey Marshal’s powerful but softly spoken, Clytemnestra insists her husband Agamemnon to join her, four of her servants serve to scrape the dirt away with their fingers to reveal a pathway of crimson.
A fringe curtain of metal chains shimmers and clinks behind each character as they exit through it to kill or be killed. It’s ominous and volcanic, there’s a sense of impending doom – that an eruption could occur at any minute.
What is perhaps so special about this production is the chorus which is made up of fifty six Greater Manchester residents. The two choruses, separated into male and female, seek to bridge the gap between the bloody private lives we see on stage and their public implications. Interestingly, possibly one of the most striking images throughout the whole of the production is that of the furies, played by the members of the community chorus – with their jerky movements they contort their limbs about the stage, long dark hair covering their faces.
Now in its fifth year, it’s a week-long run of amazing solo and one-to-one live art, spoken word, comedy, dance and theatre performances. And this year Contact Theatre have a bold line-up of artists including Chris Brett Bailey, Jackie Hagan, Keisha Thompson, Cheryl Martin, Jamie Lewis Hadley and the vacuum cleaner, as well as premières from last year’s Contact Flying Solo commission winners Louise Orwin and Ester Natzijil.
For those fancying a bit of Shakespeare -Northern Broadsides production of King Lear is at The Lowry from 5th May until 9thMay 2015. Renowned for their down-to-earth performance style, Northern Broadsides have won over a whole new generation of Shakespeare fans. And if you want to treat yourself to a rock ‘n’ roll musical inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the Olivier Award winning rock spectacular Return to the Forbidden Planet blasts into The Palace Theatre, Manchester from 4th May until 9th May 2015.
The premiere of Jim Cartwright’s The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetansstarring Denise Welch, Tom Mannion, Eric Potts, Lauren Drummond, and Matt Tait is running at Bolton Octagon until 23rd May 2015.
Box of Tricks Theatre Company present Plastic Figurines at The Lowry on the 6th May and 7th May 2015.
“Mum told me that there was something in his brain that was different, she said that he liked to put his toys in lines and that was a symptom or whatever. I used to go in his room and see all his stuffed animals in a line and I’d mess them up. I’d mess the line up.”
Inspired by events in the writer, Ella Carmen Greenhill’s own life, Plastic Figurines is a funny and moving new play that explores autism and the relationship between siblings with very different views of the world.
From 10th May- 17th May…
The story of the greatest middleweight never to be champion, Len Johnson ‘Fighter’is showing at Studio Salford in The Kings Arms in Salford from 11th May until 13th May.
RITES is on at Contact Theatre from 12th May until 14th May.It is a powerful and provocative new production exploring the deep-rooted cultural practice of Female Genital Mutilation, a local and national issue in the UK. With a strong creative team behind this production, it is a verbatim piece based on interviews with girls, women and professionals who have been affected by the practice.
Told by an Idiot and The Royal Exchange present The Ghost Train from 14th May until 20th June 2015.
Told by an Idiot return to the Royal Exchange, bringing their trademark wit, flare and theatrical invention to this blisteringly funny take on the classic ghost story.
Newly opened HOME on First Street in Manchester kicks off with the world premiere of The Funfair on 14th May until 13th June. Featuring a live band playing a soundtrack of iconic tracks, The Funfair promises to be a theatrical experience that will immerse you in all the colour, chaos and fun of the fair.
Meanwhile, Boeing Boeing opens at Oldham Coliseum on the 15th May and runs until 6th June 2015.
The Three Minute Theatre, based in Afflecks Arcade present a FREE event, Three Friends and you, on 14th May 2015 – it’s an evening of spoken word with a focus on mental health, in support of Mental Health Awareness week.
Winner of the Best Studio Production Award at The Manchester Theatre Awards, He Had Hairy Hands returns to The Lowry on the 15th and 16th May 2015. It’s described as Hammer Horror meets the Wicker Man, Scooby Doo and The League of Gentlemen…
Other hot picks on at The Lowry this week are Different is Dangerous on the 14th May2015 and Edinburgh Fringe sell-out, So It Goes on the 15th May 2015.
From 18th May -25th May…
The Call of Nature by Mike Heath runs for 7 nights from 18th May 2015 until 24th May 2015 in The Cellar at The Kings Arms, Salford. You are strongly recommended to get your tickets early for this event, as due to the intimate performance space, there will only be 18 tickets available per night.
Harper Lee’s much loved story – To Kill a Mockingbird is running at The Lowry from 19th May until 23rd May 2015.
Cuddles, the story of Eve a 13 year old vampire, is guaranteed to give you shivers in The Studio at The Royal Exchange from the 19th May until 23rd May 2015.
Billed as one of the best musical theatre nights of the year and acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels arrives at The Opera House Manchester on the 20th May and runs until 30th May 2015.
And if you didn’t catch Len Johnson ‘Fighter’ at Studio Salford earlier in the month – it is showing again at Bolton Octagon on the 20th and 21st May 2015.
The 56 arrives at The Studio in The Lowry Theatre on the 23rd May 2015, retelling the stories of those involved in the Bradford City Fire in 1985.
The Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival comes to Oldham on 23rd May 2015.With events taking place in and around Oldham Coliseum.
I’ll be doing another post with theatre and entertainment ideas for the family during the May half term – but for now there is The Journey Home at Z-Arts on the 23rd May 2015. It’s suitable for ages 2+ and is based on the book by Frann Preston -Gannon. There is also One Little Word, a beautiful story about friendship suitable for ages 3+, at The Lowry on the 24th and 25th May 2015.
From 26th May onwards…
Judy – The Songbook of Judy Garland is on at The Palace Theatre, Manchester from the 28th May until 30th May 2015. Along with never before seen film highlights and interviews, Judy’s dazzling songbook is brought to life by the creme of London’s West End.
On the 29th and 30th May 2015 HOME and Rosie Kay Dance Company present5 Soldiers – The Body is the Frontline – it’s site specific with the Rusholme Army Reserve Centre providing the appropriate backdrop for a piece that weaves a story of physical transformation, helping us to understand what makes a soldier and how the experience of warfare affects those that choose to put their life on the line.