Guest Reviewer: Gillian POtter-Merrigan
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Taha follows the inspiring story of Palestinian poet Taha Muhammed Ali (Amer Hlehel) – a story of humanity and hardship, hope and devastation, opportunity and misfortune, discovery and challenge, achievement and survival. The story is told from the perspective of Taha, recounting his life journey in a nostalgic, fireside storyteller style.
The stage design (Ashraf Hanna) was starkly minimal, a successful means for Taha’s story to hold the stage alone, supported by the thoughtful use of simplistic lighting (Muaz Jubeh) and carefully considered musical interjections (Shehadeh Habib Hanna) to punctuate the production. Deliberately unattractive bursts of strings accompanied the tone of adversity well. Even Taha’s wardrobe was understated and modest, a reflection of the title character and also a non-distraction from the story’s message.
Born to parents who had suffered tragic losses and were cautious to celebrate him, Taha was a curious and creative boy, who recognised at a young age there was a role for him in taking care of his family. Keen to develop himself and provide, the audience followed Taha’s transition from inquisitive boy to proud and resourceful young man, who grew to earn celebration by others. Taha’s love of culture, learning and poetry was portrayed beautifully by Hlehel. Poetry marked a range of poignant hopeful to crushing life events and was translated and projected onto a screen behind Taha, recited simultaneously. The use of language in this way was powerful and gave Taha credibility and integrity whilst reaching across the audience.
Against a backdrop of adversity, religion, politics, war and loss, the story of Taha and his poetry is more concerned with the emotions and fortitude of his human experience and is told in a heart-warming and self-deprecating style. Like Taha’s poetry, the story gives the modest and relevant message that our focus should be drawn to humanity, informed but not dominated by surrounding politics. Looking around at the audience, they watched with an air of respect and endearment. Amer Hlehel delivered his solo performance as Taha with an honesty and authenticity which engaged the audience throughout, demonstrating a true talent for conveying human experience and emotion, generating empathy for Taha with ease. Hlehel deserved his enthusiastic applause from an audience entirely on their feet at the end.
A thoughtful production with superb acting and direction (Amir Mizar Zuabli), though as a solo performance, for me, it was just a little too lengthy.
Taha continues at London’s Young Vic from 5th July to 15th July 2017 and tickets are available here.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Wishing you all the best in 2017.
A curtain featuring a pretty painted seaside picture lifts slowly to reveal Tom Piper’s suitably grimy set – rusty, damp and closed off from the world. There are two small windows offering a peek outside, but you’ll need a ladder to reach them and a cloth to clean them. Samuel Beckett’s Endgame is an extraordinary piece of writing, a classic of modern theatre and this collaboration between the Citizens Theatre and HOME is as vital and as macabre as it should be.
Taking on the roles of chair bound and blind master Hamm and his dutiful servant Clov are Coronation Street favourites, David Neilson aka Roy Cropper and Chris Gascoyne, who plays Peter Barlow. Existing somewhere between life and death, far from the cobbles and chatter of Weatherfield, Hamm (David Neilson) and Clov (Chris Gascoyne)are inextricably bound to one another and spend their existence verbally brawling at each other. Hamm’s parents, Nagg (Peter Kelly) and Nell (Barbara Rafferty) occupy two bins on the stage offering Hamm a glimpse of memory and nostalgia.
Director Dominic Hill brings out every bit of detail in the script, finding new subtlety and absolute meaning in the bleak and absurd world that the characters inhabit. Endgame is not without humour – dark but strangely uplifting at the same time, and it is this ambiguity, masterfully brought out by Hill, that makes it so compelling.
Neilson and Gascoyne give striking physical performances throughout, their peculiar and repetitive traits build upon Beckett’s very particular stage directions. Chris Gascoyne’s timing and physicality as Clov is superb; unable to sit down and constantly threatening to leave, he excels in bringing out the elements of slapstick. David Neilson is brilliant as Hamm, intelligent and matter-of-fact, nothing is rushed here and every word is loaded with meaning.
I read somewhere that Gascoyne and Neilson, having been in Coronation Street, are hoping to bring in an audience who possibly haven’t been to the theatre or haven’t seen any of Beckett’s work before, which is a really positive thought. On the evening that I attended, I was thrilled to sit next to the world’s leading Beckett scholar James Knowlson OBE – a personal friend of Beckett and writer of his biography, Damned to Fame. Amidst the noisy applause, James Knowlson was shouting his approval and later described the production to me as ‘extraordinary’. Now that has to be a worthy testimonial.
Endgame is on at HOME, Manchester (2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN) until Saturday 12th March 2016 and you can click here for tickets.
2016 marks the 400th anniversary year of William Shakespeare’s death and so it seems fitting that HOME are kicking off their new season with an intense, engaging and unsettling adaptation of the Bard’s Macbeth.
Directed by Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin, this production is startlingly different to any other versions of Macbeth I have seen before. It’s a highly visual production exploring the main themes of Macbeth’s breakdown and the supernatural through a fusion of Shakespeare’s original words and stunning choreography.
The stage is set like a concrete tunnel – there is no muddy battlefield and death does not occur by the sword. Lizzie Clachan’s claustrophobic but clever set design shifts and opens to reveal torture rooms where executions are carried out by suffocation or electrocution. Bodies wrapped in plastic bags and duct tape are moved about the stage; plastic bags are used to suffocate and transparent plastic suits are worn by the soldiers. There is a lot of plastic used in this production – even the tablecloth in the banquet scene is sterile, wipe-down plastic – all fully suggestive of the unnatural world that Macbeth inhabits and the supernatural theme running through the original text.
Neil Austin’s eerie lighting design really intensifies the production, clinical blue-white lights cast menacing silhouettes and flash lighting reveals bursts of violence and brutality. Lurking in the depths are the three Witches Ana Beatriz Meireles, Jessie Oshodi and Clemmie Sveaas. A dominant force, they use little speech but contort and glide unpredictably about the stage – the few words and sounds they make are woven into their fluid movements. And this production is at its best when the text and movement are fully integrated.
John Heffernan impresses as Macbeth, his physicality perfectly representative of a man overrun by mania. Fully committed to the requirements of this adaptation – from the erratic behaviour and uncontrollable laughter in the banquet scene to the measured low pitch tone of his soliloquies. Anna Maxwell Martin’s Lady Macbeth is cool, sensual and pleasingly peculiar but at times appears constricted by the Shakespearean verse.
This is an engaging, unsettling and scary reimagining of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The elements of movement and dance are the real merit of this production – high quality and executed powerfully. Compelling choreography to the beat of the iambic pentameter.
Macbeth is on at HOME, Manchester (2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN) until Saturday 6th February 2016 and you can click here for tickets.
At 3.40pm on May 11th 1985, a small fire broke out in the main stand at Valley Parade football ground during the final match of the season. Within four minutes the wooden structure was ablaze.
The Bradford City football ground fire was the worst fire disaster in the history of English football and this year marks its 30th anniversary. Fifty four Bradford City supporters and two Lincoln City supporters lost their lives in this tragic event. Sheffield based FYSA Theatre Company have produced this remarkably moving piece of documentary theatre wholly from real life testimonies and interviews with witnesses. This unique theatrical experience brings the audience closer to the raw emotions of the survivors and provides a truthful retelling of individual stories.
Under Matt Stevens Woodhead’s uncomplicated direction, the three actors give powerful and poignant performances as they look directly out into the crowd, each sharing their traumatic accounts – from the first signs of smoke through to their experiences in the hospital burns unit. The stage is set very simply with a wooden football stand construction and there is little movement from the performers, except when they move into the stand for a section of the play – it all makes for a fitting and respectful tribute.
Perhaps what makes this courageous play all the more authentic is the way that Tom Lodge, Will Taylor and Danni Phillips deliver the tiny details and idiosyncrasies of everyday speech. The piece also has a strong sense of camaraderie and pride and is freckled with humour, which makes for a convincing and touching representation, revealing solidarity, strength and community in the face of overwhelming tragedy.
The 56 certainly moved many people in the audience to tears on the night that I attended. However, the company also managed to establish a resounding sense of Yorkshire pride, bravery and community when they described people helping each other to safety during the atrocity and then supporting one another through the aftermath.
The 56 is a considerate and emotional tribute to all who were affected by the fateful events on May 11th 1985. If you do get the opportunity to see this production, I would urge you to go.
All profits from The 56 are donated to the University of Bradford Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit.
Manchester’s newest arts centre HOME thrust open its doors for its official HOMEwarming celebration last week. Following the merger between the Manchester’s Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company, the first theatre production at the new venue is perhaps a fitting fusion of old and new. The Funfair is Simon Stephens‘ new version of Ödön von Horváth‘s masterpiece, Kasimir and Karoline. There has been a huge build-up for this production and the stakes have been set quite high and sadly, The Funfair does not live up to its expectations.
Directed by Walter Meierjohann, The Funfair follows twenty four hours in the lives of two young lovers who are on the verge of splitting up. Cash (Ben Batt) has recently lost his job as a chauffeur and now fears that he will lose his girlfriend, Caroline (Katie Moore) too. In a strange and twisted parallel relationship, Frankie Marr (Michael Ryan) and Esther (Victoria Gee) already inhabit the lowest depths of despair, a world of unemployment, anger and dirt – surviving in the only way that they can.
Set in Manchester, to the backdrop of the recession and massive social unrest, the characters are unable to free themselves from the disorientating reality of the funfair. Ti Green‘s dark and distorted stage design suggests the hopeless and cyclical world which the characters fight to exist in – a revolving stage, haunting carousel and dark figures watching on from the hidden corners in the set, all manage to create an unsettling and uncomfortable atmosphere, complemented by Mike Gunning’s lighting design.
The Funfair is relentlessly bleak and despite the odd grasp at humour and the wonderful live band playing a soundtrack of popular songs – it is awkwardly politically defined and too repetitive. There is little hope for any of the characters, who are reduced to caricatures, particularly the women who are victims of abuse and are objectified in an uncomfortable sexist world. Victoria Gee’s portrayal of Esther is perhaps the only exception to this – her impressive performance is stripped back, we care about her and she gives us the only shard of hope for the future.
The Funfair is a bold first production by HOME which makes me feel thrilled to be part of the Manchester theatre scene. However, it left me feeling as if I had overindulged in candyfloss and then taken the wildest ride on the waltzers. A sensory overload but nevertheless an arresting showcase for HOME’s production capabilities which makes me very excited for the future.
The Funfair is on at HOME, Manchester (2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN) until 13 June 2015.
Adapting Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, for the stage is a brave decision to make. The novel has recently celebrated it’s 50th anniversary and besides being a staple on the GCSE curriculum, it has been translated into 40 languages and sold over 30 million copies worldwide. This humble, poignant and charming stage adaptation by Christopher Sergel pays homage to the legacy of the novel and everyone who has read it.
With simple staging the cast present the story of racial injustice in a small-town community in the Deep South. Lawyer Atticus Finch is in seek of the truth when he represents Tom Robinson, who stands accused of rape. The narrative is told through the eyes of his daughter, Scout who is a feisty and inquisitive young girl.
The play opens with the whole of the cast holding various editions and well thumbed copies of the novel in an acknowledgement to the text. Under Timothy Sheader’s skillful direction, the company then remain visible throughout the production, each holding and reading their copies of the book at each side of the stage. All costume changes are all performed with little fuss on stage, in a bid to create the insular society that the characters inhabit. And musician Luke Potter plays a colourful folk soundtrack composed by Phil King, which hints at the slow pace of life in Maycomb.
The simple stage design by Jon Bausor creates a perfect canvas for the storytelling to shine, as the cast read excerpts from the novel, staying true to the texts original form. Daniel Betts gives a captivating performance as Atticus Finch, particularly during the court scene. Scout (Rosie Boore), Jem (Billy Price) and Dill (Milo Panni) certainly impress, especially when so much hinges on the quality of the child actors in this production.
Perhaps my only qualm is that the production does take for granted that the audience have all read the text – Boo Radley’s character is not really explored enough for us to fear him and as a result the ending does lack some depth. Nevertheless, this is a production which is definitely worth seeing and not just by those studying for their GCSE’s.
To Kill a Mockingbird is at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 23rd May 2015.
The Contact Theatre’s Flying Solo Festival runs from 5th until the 9th May 2015.
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 9th May 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 Tibetans starring 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.
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 May 2015 and Edinburgh Fringe sell-out, So It Goes on the 15th May 2015.
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.
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.
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 present 5 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.