REVIEW: Silver Lining (The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays)

Silver Lining - A new comedy by Sandi Toksvig © Mark Douet
Silver Lining – A new comedy by Sandi Toksvig
© Mark Douet
upstaged rating: 

Storm Vera is battering the UK and people are being evacuated from their riverside homes following the imminent threat of severe flooding. With the promise that emergency services are on their way, five older age ladies wait patiently on the first floor of the Silver Retirement Home in Gravesend for help to arrive. As time ticks on and the water level rises it becomes apparent that the women have been forgotten about.

Silver Lining is a new comedy by the writer, actor, presenter and political activist Sandi Toksvig which explores the lives of five extraordinary yet forgotten older women. With only one young agency carer Hope Daley (Keziah Joseph) to assist them, the ladies realise their only chance of survival is to pull together and forge their own ‘sink or swim’ escape.

Sandi Toksvig took her inspiration for the play from the observation that there are many hugely talented older age female artists competing for very few interesting roles. The play really is a celebration of older women taking to the stage. However, despite the pressing, current and liberating subject matter, in a time of a social care crisis, Silver Lining still manages to limit itself with stereotypes of older age women. And certainly, the first Act feels mechanical, propelled by gags about death and bowels.

It isn’t really until Act Two that we really begin to get under the skin of the characters with the fruition of their ‘Great Escape’ mission. Sheila Reid gives a sparkling performance as leopard print wearing, selfie taking Gloria. Reid is suggestive of the colourful and indulgent life that the ex-barmaid has lived – boldly cracking sexual taboo’s not normally spoken about by older women. Perhaps most notably there is a beautiful monologue given by Amanda Walker as St Michael which gives a poignant description of life from the perception of somebody with dementia.

There is plenty of charm and warmth to be found in the chemistry between each of the performers. Michael Taylor’s intricate residential home set design sums up the functional, oppressive environment that the women inhabit; Mark Doubleday’s lighting design works with Mic Pool’s clever sound design to create the illusion of a storm wreaking havoc outside. Aside from this, Silver Lining isn’t quite watertight and lacks the lustre that the title promises.

-Kristy Stott

Silver Lining runs at The Lowry until Saturday 8th April 2017 and tickets are available here.

REVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Cinderella ©BILL COOPER
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Cinderella ©BILL COOPER

 

upstaged rating: 

Conjuring up all of the charm, magic and celebration of the fairytale, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella is an absolute delight. With David Bintley at the helm, the enchanting story of Cinderella is brought to the stage in a celebration of ballet, childhood stories and the idea that our wildest dreams can come true.

Staged over three acts, the Birmingham Royal Ballet present the timeless tale of Cinderella in their traditional but nonetheless awe-inspiring fashion. Poor Cinderella spends most of her days in the scullery answering to her cruel stepmother and her ugly step-sisters. Marion Tait as the Stepmother, flanked by the two ugly stepsisters, is suitably prickly and unkind to Cinderella. Samara Downs gives an admirable comic performance as Skinny alongside Laura Purkiss as cake-scoffing Dumpy. With impeccable timing, the three characters add some wonderful slapstick moments – their wit and foolery providing a striking contrast against the elegance and poise of the pas de deux between Cinderella, danced faultlessly by Jenna Roberts, and The Prince played with charisma and athleticism by William Bracewell

Set design by John F. MacFarlane complements each section of the ballet perfectly – the grey, dank kitchen where Cinderella serves her stepfamily contrasts with the picture book beauty and infinity of the starry sky on the night she meets The Prince. MacFarlane’s costume design is imaginative – frogs, lizards and mice grace the stage, tutu’s twinkle in the ensemble under David A. Finn’s clever lighting design.

Birmingham’s Royal Ballet’s Cinderella was well received, by an audience of all ages, on the night that I attended. The familiar and charming tale of Cinderella and her Prince make this show more accessible to younger ballet lovers or those attending the ballet for the very first time. This enchanting production is a balletic feast of technical brilliance, striking scenery and scintillating costume. Set to Prokofiev’s spellbinding score, stunningly played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, there is much to enjoy in this breathtaking production.

-Kristy Stott

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella is at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 4th March 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

The tour continues at Theatre Royal Plymouth from 8th-11th March and Sunderland Empire from 16th -18th March.

REVIEW: The House of Bernarda Alba (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

© Jonathan Keenan
© Jonathan Keenan
upstaged rating: 

The House of Bernarda Alba is a wholly unique performance for a number of reasons. Federico Garcia Lorca’s formidable text, in a wonderfully uncompromising translation by Jo Clifford which is set within the distinctive confines of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. Perhaps what makes this performance so special is that it is a co-production with Graeae, an all-female disabled-led theatre company.  Director Jenny Sealey weaves British Sign Language, captions and audio description into the performance adding further meaning to Lorca’s rich text, while the cast of Deaf and disabled actors take centre stage to showcase their extraordinary talents and challenge cultural preconceptions.

In The House of Bernarda Alba, the Royal Exchange have peeled away the walls on a house during a period of mourning. Kathryn Hunter takes the central role of Bernarda Alba, an old widow who rules her household and wields absolute control over the lives of her five unmarried daughters. Hunter is dangerously deceptive as Bernarda Alba, her diminutive and fragile frame purely a distraction – she exudes dominance from the beginning to end of this performance. Ruling with a silver topped cane she instils fear in her daughters and those who serve her. At her most dangerous when she is resting in her chair – latent, unpredictable and deeply frustrated. Kathryn Hunter is extraordinary, exuding matriarchal power at the helm of a phenomenal cast.

Liz Ascroft’s heptagonal stage is set with seven chairs, providing a simple backdrop for the action as it unfolds. The Royal Exchange’s in-the-round performance space further fuels the enclosed world that the Alba daughters inhabit. The captions are shown on screens around the theatre; Jenny Sealey and Jo Clifford have moulded the text admirably to fully incorporate British Sign Language and audio description into the performance. This must have been quite a challenge but adds a further dimension to Lorca’s poetry. The mechanics of communication, or the lack of, becomes a striking theme.

There were strong performances all around with some beautiful moments shared between Kathryn Hunter as Bernarda Alba and Nadia Nadarajah as the soon to be married and eldest daughter, Angustias. Hermon Berhane gives an emotive performance as Adela, adding a sense of hope, sexuality and mischief.   

At times, some of the captioning seemed like more of a distraction than a help – as the screens were quickly shuffled through in a bid to catch up with the action on stage. However, I believe that these small issues will be tackled and resolved by Jenny Sealey and the team. Despite this, The House of Bernarda Alba is a hugely successful production – captivating and unique – a useful and expressive reworking of Lorca’s classic.

 

-Kristy Stott

The House of Bernarda Alba runs until 25th February 2017 at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre and You can buy your tickets here

 

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty (Oldham Coliseum)

Sleeping Beauty at Oldham Coliseum © Joel C Fildes
Sleeping Beauty at Oldham Coliseum
© Joel C Fildes
upstaged rating:  

The team at Oldham Coliseum always succeed in delighting their dedicated Northern audience during pantomime season and this year they’re back, and true to form, with Sleeping Beauty.

With Kevin Shaw at the helm, Oldham Coliseum triumph once again – following their tried and tested recipe of pantomime goodness. With no glitter spared, every performer has that magical twinkle in their eye and, commanding the stage, they deliver the perfect Christmas show. Perhaps what makes Sleeping Beauty so delightful is that every child (and adult) feel involved – the auditorium is just the right size for the audience to be able to interact, which is a real bonus for the younger theatre-goers.

With an unexpected reshuffling of the cast following Fine Time Fontayne’s injury in rehearsal, Simeon Truby jumps into dame Nanny Nutty’s large and vibrant Doc Marten’s and delivers a superb performance. Celia Perkins’ costume design is a real treat – bright, larger than life and guaranteed to put a smile on even the most hardened of faces. Accompanied by Dave Bintley’s toe-tappingly brilliant musical soundtrack, Fine Time and Shaw’s script is tight and littered with references to popular culture. With a range of gags for the adults and the usual panto slapstick for children, Sleeping Beauty is a real winner with the diverse crowd.

Radiant Demi Goodman steps daintily into the role of Briar Rose, oblivious to the curse that has been thrust upon her by the bitter Carabosse, played by Liz Carney. Comedy capers are plentiful from Oldham Coliseum regulars Richard J Fletcher and Justine Elizabeth Bailey as The Nutty’s with Demi Goodman doubling up to play Nicky Nutty. Sara Sadeghi is full of energy playing both the good fairy, Spinning Jenny and the ‘super shiny’ Queen Hermione; David Westbrook completes the super line-up as King Cuthbert – there is no weak link here. The chorus dancers are full of energy, unbelievably light on their feet and springier than bouncy balls.

Simply put – Oldham Coliseum’s Sleeping Beauty is everything that a pantomime should be. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, a lively musical score and the opportunity to interact with the performance – and all in an ideal sized performance space, where everyone can feel part of the action. Packed to the brim with magic, mischief and good old fashioned fun, Sleeping Beauty is certain to get all of the family ready for Christmas.

-Kristy Stott

With performances running until 7th January 2017, Sleeping Beauty is the perfect treat for families this Christmas. To book your tickets click here.

The Boy With Tape on his Face (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

tapeface
upstaged rating:

When I walked into the Lyric Theatre at The Lowry to watch The Boy With Tape on his Face, I really was not sure what to expect. I was aware that Sam Wills was a prop comic and I knew that this show would be performed with tape firmly stuck across his mouth. Normally, I would research but a theatre friend had told me that the less I knew about The Boy With Tape on his Face – the more I would enjoy it. 

Having won the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award Panel Prize in 2012, Wills has recently made the final of America’s Got Talent and has just announced that he has a 7-week residency at the Garrick Theatre, London through summer 2017. His humour is perfectly simple, laden with wit and thoroughly charming – it’s easy to understand why the show with no words has managed to get everybody else talking. Recently, he has renamed the show Tape Face.

As the show opens we find Tape Face in a setting resembling backstage at the theatre, presumably he is waiting for his call to perform. He rests in a tatty old armchair, listens to the wireless and takes the occasional cat nap. Luckily for us, his curtain call never comes and his own show begins to play out.

Audience participation is the key with this show and Tape Face manages to drive plenty of unsuspecting audience members to the stage. One of the great delights of his act is the way that he conveys feelings with a look – a cheeky shake of the head or an intense raise of the eyebrows. Using everyday objects he creates mini comic sketches which are fascinating to watch – one being a western style shootout reenacted with staples and balloons.

As each unknowing punter is plucked from their chair to join Tape Face on the stage they are particularly good sports. There is only admiration for the chap who finds himself auditioning for The Full Monty and the poor fellow who keeps finding himself brought up to the stage only to be sent back down again. 

Tape Face has a wonderful universal appeal about it – there are no language barriers because there are no words. I’ve deliberately written this review without going into too much detail about the show because I believe the less you know – the more you will enjoy it…

Go see!

-Kristy Stott

For Tape Face’s full tour listings click here. These listing include London’s Garrick Theatre from 6 June 2017.

REVIEW: Rambert: A Linha Curva plus other works (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

A scene from Frames by Rambert Dance Company ©Tristram Kenton
A scene from Frames by Rambert Dance Company
©Tristram Kenton
upstaged rating: 

Now in their 90th year, Rambert continue to lead the dance world with their exhilarating and  innovative dance works. Back in 1966, the company changed their artistic focus from classical to contemporary. Always forward thinking, they commission the most exciting choreographers, composers and designers and give them the freedom to lead wherever their vision and imagination takes them.

To celebrate their 90th year in true Rambert style, the world-class dancers are presenting three contrasting works at The Lowry, Salford. Opening with the world premiere of Malgorzata Dzierzon’s Flight, followed by Frames choreographed by Alexander Whitley and ending with the beautiful, vibrant and sexy A Linha Curva.

Malgorzata Dzierzon used stories and dialogue about travel, migration and shifting space as inspiration for Flight. It’s a captivating vision set to Kate Whitley’s evocative soundtrack, delivered by the company with fluidity and grace. A revolving set design accompanied by Luke Halls’ video projection creates an eerie atmosphere, drawing our attention to the pace at which we move through our everyday lives. Paul Koegan’s smart lighting design works perfectly alongside the dancers, creating sharp powerful silhouettes during the stunning duet between Miguel Altunaga and Liam Francis.

Frames provides a fascinating contrast, exploring themes of permanency and the dance space or theatre as a construction site. With set design by Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, the performance space is transformed into a white box as the dancers construct their performance within it. The sound of metal bars clashing and Daniel Bjarnason’s industrial-esque soundtrack heighten the senses as the dancers hold the audience’s gaze, moving with agility and strength. Who knew that you could make dancing with metal structures look easy and stunningly beautiful? 

And just as you think the performance could not get any better… A Linha Curva, choreographed by Itzik Galili, explodes onto the stage, giving a powerful  injection of colour and carnival to the evening. The audience begin to join in, clapping and bobbing, whooping and cheering to the sound of the samba beat. The live percussion musicians are elevated above the dance space, upbeat and vibrant they use a range of instruments, their voices and their bodies to create the dynamic soundtrack. It’s sensual, witty and terribly good – the dancers are faultless as they move alongside each other in a truly intoxicating display.

There’s a true sense of celebration throughout the performance and during the standing ovation, which is very well deserved for Britain’s oldest dance company. Rambert may be 90 this year but they show no sign of standing still.

-Kristy Stott

Rambert: A Linha Curva plus other works is at The Lowry until Friday 30th September 2016 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.