The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is Simon Stephens’ charming adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name. The story of Christopher Boone is one that has touched many people over the years, telling of an intelligent and inquisitive 15-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome. The play begins with the murder of his neighbour’s dog, Wellington. Upset by Wellington’s death, Christopher vows to find the murderer, but on the way ends up uncovering more secrets than he set out to.
Scott Reid (Still Game, Line of Duty) stars as Christopher in his most challenging role yet, delivering an authentic and emotional performance. His incredible capability is undeniable in this stunning piece, bringing new life to the much-loved character. There are some particularly beautiful scenes in which Reid acts alongside the supporting cast in a series of physical theatre routines that show the audience what the world is like in the mind of somebody with Asperger’s Syndrome. And despite the limited space of the stage, the cast are able to create a truthful and open world that explores family, mathematics, the universe and everything in between. David Michaels stars as Christopher’s father, Ed, giving a poignant and genuine performance that displays the struggles of a single parent. Supported by the delightful ensemble cast, this is a seamless production, with the cast working together to create an original and extraordinary piece.
Director Marianne Elliot has helped to create a heart-warming and moving production, with skilful use of a seemingly simplistic set. The music of Adrian Sutton and lighting design of Paule Constable also masters communication of both intensity and warmth, resulting in an exciting piece. But despite some sensitive and emotional scenes, Stephens’ dialogue is often incredibly humorous, breathing life into the well-known characters.
Despite having seen the play before, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time still offered a new and sensational execution of the critically acclaimed novel. And as a widely loved story, it is recommendable to anyone that is looking for a production that is both intelligent and surprising.
For anybody who is not accustomed to solo shows, I, Myself and Me (created, written and performed by Rachael Young), serves as a delightful introduction to the form, one that is as entertaining and captivating as any other genre of theatre. With generous and well-interspersed portions of humour, paired with the thoughtful inclusion of audience participation, Young’s autobiographical material is expressed in a medium that encapsulates the struggles any single woman in their late thirties can encounter on a day-to-day basis.
Standing on a set (designed by Naomi Kuyck-Cohen) that comprises of a neglected garden, a palm tree, various plant pots and two microphone stands, Rachael Young gives the audience an insight into her life. Learning that she is someone with Caribbean lineage and a working class background allows everyone to engage with her, creating a rapport that engenders an honest and comfortable atmosphere. Through this, she imparts some personal recollections, ranging from the comical anecdote that details her using said palm tree in the absence of a real partner at a school dance, all the way to the heartfelt confession that she didn’t visit her mother’s grave for eleven years.
This sentimentally is explored further in Young’s building up of the garden: an emotional endeavour that is revealed to be an homage to the garden her mother took pride in maintaining. In the background, video footage (edited by Lucy Skilbeck) is projected onto a pull-out screen as she does this, presenting a journey of her buying flowers and finally visiting her mother’s grave.
A dramatic shift in the format of the piece (metamorphosing into one that is reminiscent of a television game show) is introduced when a member of the audience, named Kash, joins Young on stage. Here, the former attempts to help the latter with two challenges, the first entailing the both of them running a lap ‘faster than Usain Bolt’ on the floor, with the second involving Kash navigating the blindfolded Young around a series of mini cacti. The contrast in lighting (designed by Alyssa Watts and Eva G Alonso) aids this transformation, with a spotlight on Young being replaced by stark floodlighting in moments of physical activity.
I, Myself and Me may be a solo show, but it is in no way uniform in nature. The unique performance offered by Young and the unconventional dramatic techniques featured makes for a diverse and compelling interactive monologue.
You can see Rachael Young performing a work in progress of her new show OUT at the Steakhouse Live Festival in Richmix, London on Friday 14th October 2016.
“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.
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.
Different is Dangerous aims to give a unique insight into the lives of the Asian community living in Leeds. Devised and performed by Fadia Qaraman and Nyla Levy of Two’s Company, the piece aims to explore multicultural life, the challenges of ethnicity and present the voices of Asian Leeds locals.
Qaraman and Levy use a combination of fictional monologues and a technique called headphone verbatim as a means of presenting these personal stories from within the Asian community living in Leeds. The idea is that the performers each wear a set of headphones which relays an audio script to them – each actor then aims to recite this audio script not only word for word but with exact precision, capturing the nuances and speech patterns of the original interviewee. The idea is that there is as much information embedded in the way somebody speaks as the words that they actually use.
Setting is very minimalist consisting of just four chairs and Qaraman and Levy only have 2 scarfs as props, but this is the idea of this type of theatre – it is not meant to be highly visual. Both performers shift between the different characters with ease as they tackle subjects such as unprovoked attacks, relationships and politics. The two creator-performers also reveal some controversial viewpoints as well as some lighthearted and humourous conversation.
Qaraman and Levy certainly manage to keep the audience listening throughout the full 50 minute experience. And despite the performance style not being highly visual, you do still manage to get lost in the everyday voices, opinions and beliefs of the community in Leeds.
Different is Dangerous certainly succeeds in getting people to think and discuss cultural identity in Britain, raising the profile of a topic that some people still feel uncomfortable talking openly about.
February brings us Chinese New Year celebrations, Pancake Day and St Valentine’s Day…but it’s not all about dragons, roses and Jif Lemon. Here are my picks for the Manchester theatre scene throughout February…
Kate O’Donnell -Big Girl’s Blouse (Contact Manchester)
Contact Theatre Manchester have a whole bunch of good stuff to offer as part of Queer Contact 2015 celebrating LGBT arts and culture in Greater Manchester. The event runs from Thursday 5th February until Sunday 15th February, to coincide with LGBT History Month in the UK. For the full rundown please check out Contact Manchester here.
Using humour, music, and high kicks, Big Girl’s Blouse tells the story of a girl, Kate, who was born a boy and became a woman. Who knew what being transgender was in the 1970s? Not Kate’s family. The path to becoming a woman doesn’t always run smooth and with a lifetime of coming out, Kate has had to use every trick- theatrical and otherwise – to get by.
Created in collaboration with Olivier Award-winning director Mark Whitelaw.
There is a post show Q & A on 12th February with Dr Rachel Morris (Cosmopolitan).
Kate O’Donnell – Big Girl’s Blouse will be performed on the 11th and 12th February at 9pm. Tickets are £10 and £6 for concessions.
Laugh Local (Chorlton Irish Club) – Friday 7th February
Laugh Local is held on the first Friday of every month at Chorlton Irish Club. This Friday, Justin Moorhouse is joined by Jamie Sutherland, Holly Walsh and Iain Stirling. It’s a popular night in South Manchester, doors open at 6:30pm and tickets are £12.00 on the door (that’s if there are any left)! The comedy commences at 8pm and finishes up at around 11pm. All this comedy and a (free) pasty supper included in the price – what’s not to like?
The Mist in the Mirror (Oldham Colliseum)
Oldham Coliseum are proud to present the world premiere of The Mist in the Mirror. The original novel by Susan Hill has been adapted for stage by Ian Kershaw.
Hill is very well known for penning the original novel for chilling West End smash hit, The Woman in Black. This new production promises to be just as unsettling and atmospheric and is staged as if the audience are eavesdroppers to a fireside ghost story.
Visual theatre innovators, imitating the dog, will be on hand to scare you out of your wits. Their visual antics will create an unsettling feeling, on stage and off, that might just follow you home at the end of the night …
Runs from Friday 30 January to Saturday 21 February 2015 in Oldham then tours nationally
Check out this creepy trailer:
Enough of the scary stuff – isn’t February the month of amour…
Top Hat (The Opera House, Manchester)
And so we move on to a love story to set the pulse racing, Top Hat brings us all of the glitz and glamour from Hollywood’s golden age.
With tap dancing a plenty and celebrating all of that 1930’s song style and romance, Top Hat tells the tale of Broadway sensation, Jerry Travers who dances dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society girl Dale Tremont.
It’s won three Olivier awards for Best New Musical, Best Choreography and Best Costumes and it features Irving Berlin’s most popular toe tapping swoon tunes – Cheek to Cheek, Top Hat, White Tie & Tails, Let’s Face the Music & Dance and Puttin’ on the Ritz.
How can we resist!
Top Hat runs from the 10th February until the 21st February at Manchester’s Opera House.
Moving on to our beautiful Royal Exchange Theatre – there are a couple of shows I want to tell you about…
Scuttlers (The Royal Exchange)
Scuttlers tells the story of Manchester in 1885 as workers pour into Ancoats to power the Industrial Revolution – this is the worlds first industrial suburb, the air is thick with smoke and life is lived large and lived on the street. The young mill workers, the living cogs on its machines form the very first urban gangs. Inspired by the Manchester riots in 2011 and the stories of all of the Manchester gangs between the nineteenth century and today. This new play, written by Rona Munro, promises to give us an artistic commentary on youth gang culture and the cyclical nature of urban violence. And I believe, there are plenty of references to contemporary Manchester through the language, stage design and casting as we watch a nineteenth century Ancoats collide with twenty first century sensibility.
Running from the 5th February until the 7th March 2015.
Yen (The Royal Exchange)
Anna Jordan’s Yen won The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting in 2013 and is receiving its world premiere in The Studio at The Royal Exchange.
The play explores a childhood of living without boundaries, where you are forced to grow up on your own. It tells the story of sixteen year old Hench and thirteen year old Bobbie, who live alone with their dog, Taliban, playing Playstation, watching porn; surviving. But when Jenny knocks on the door, the boys discover a world far beyond that which they know – full of love, possibility and danger…
Yen is running from the 18th February until the 7th March 2015.
And finally a trip up to The Lowry for some quality children’s theatre…
I Believe in Unicorns (The Lowry, Salford)
We are big fans of Michael Morpurgo in our house – of course, he is the author of The War Horse and we have a lot of his books. This story, adapted by Daniel Jamieson promises to be spellbinding and moving, telling the story of Tomas – who doesn’t like books or stories of any kind. He would rather be enjoying the great outdoors, clambering up a mountain or tobogganing with his father. That is until the Unicorn Lady comes to town and reels him in with her irresistable tales…
I Believe in Unicorns runs from 19th February until 22nd February 2015.
What a lovely treat for a half term theatre trip – you can catch the trailer here:
DESH means ‘homeland’ in Bengali. Akram Khan has woven a full length contemporary solo on this subject and by moving the story between British and Bangladeshi culture, he intricately juxtaposes his personal experiences with folklore and evocative memories.
Akram Khan is a gifted storyteller and an outstanding dancer and performer – perhaps the most striking aspect of this performance is the way that he can achieve such intimacy despite the performance being delivered on such a grand scale.
Khan gives a transfixing performance and draws on his comparisons of two different cultures in this outstanding collaboration with Oscar-winning visual artist Tim Yip and Award-winning composer Jocelyn Pook. DESH is essentially a quest by Khan to make sense of his parents life in Bangladesh. Born in London, Khan wants to explore this culture to help him understand himself.
I walked out of the theatre deep in thought- there is a lot to take in- Khan’s personal cyclical narrative leaves you thinking for some time afterwards. Khan punctuates his traditional storytelling with humorous references to pop culture which suggests different character traits and the way that identity and family values can change with the passing of time.
The set is visually stunning particularly the section where Khan performs behind a large gauze which is projected with moving images. It is a real treat as we watch Khan stare in awe at an elephant, float down stream in a canoe and come face-to-face with a giant crocodile. Later we see Khan caught in a relentless but beautiful monsoon, hanging upside down between glimmering silvery fabric panels and it is magical.
The whole show has such fluidity- everything flows into everything else, the props constructed by Sander Loonen are used effectively throughout the performance. There is an aeroplane engine, central to the narrative, which is used as a telephone and there are two chairs- one considerably larger than the other, which are used to frame sections of Khan’s captivating performance.
By the close of the show, Khan has managed to excavate his fathers old shirt and he puts it on. We realise that Khan is telling a story that we can all relate to, cultural changes between different generations, the feeling of loss when you no longer have your parents and the questions that you wished you had asked them.
A beautiful and magnetising piece of theatre.
DESH is at the Lowry until 14 November.
Post first published by What’s on Stage in November 2014