Review: Kate O’Donnell: You’ve Changed (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

Kate O'Donnell in You've Changed at The Lowry, Salford Quays.
Kate O’Donnell in You’ve Changed at The Lowry, Salford Quays.
Reviewer: Megan Hyland
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Kate O’Donnell quite literally bares all in her new show, You’ve Changed, a hilarious and honest account of her transition in 2003. Using the backdrop of the 1930s to add a unique twist, O’Donnell explores how transitioning fourteen years ago felt a lot more like transitioning in the 1930s. And although the show itself is only an hour long, there isn’t a topic left untouched in this unapologetic story of what being transgender and transitioning is really like.

You’ve Changed combines some truly transfixing dance routines skilfully choreographed by Lea Anderson, the music of the 1930s and O’Donnell’s effortless sense of humour and sincerity to create an entertaining and insightful performance. In collaboration with her trans-led theatre company Trans Creative, the show aims to both encourage and empower other members of the trans community, whilst also educating cisgender audiences – and it does exactly that. O’Donnell takes us through every step of her transition, beginning with the moment that she said it out loud for the first time in her friend’s living room to name change documents and the cost of her surgery.

However, it is O’Donnell’s dazzling personality and humour that is the real heart of the show. She holds the audience in the palm of her hand, keeping you on the verge of tears or uncontrollable laughter at any giving moment. She commands effortless control, drawing the audience in from the moment she steps onstage dressed as Fred Astaire to the very last moment where she remerges as Ginger Rodgers. And although there are parts that may feel slightly disjointed and perhaps rough around the edges, O’Donnell’s intelligent and witty storytelling ultimately distracts and leaves you with a smile.

All in all, You’ve Changed delivers some truly powerful messages about what it’s really like to be trans and transitioning, which despite O’Donnell’s transition being almost fourteen years ago, still remain relevant today. It will make you laugh, think and maybe even cry. But the main takeaway is the question that O’Donnell herself asks – she’s changed, but have you? I certainly have.

-Megan Hyland

You’ve Changed runs at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 11th November 2017 and continues the tour to Birmingham’s SHOUT Festival on 17th November and Lancaster Arts Centre on 1st December 2017.

Review: Superposition (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

© Sam Ryley
© Sam Ryley
Guest Reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Upstaged Rating: 

Spoken word, science and strip clubs combine to create Chanje Kunda’s one-woman cabaret show exploring the laws of attraction and the meaning of life.

Manchester poet, playwright and performance artist Chanje Kunda presents Superposition at the Lowry Theatre. Kunda took lessons in several disciplines of dance in the lead up to her show. Two are pole and lap dancing, which are commonly performed in certain venues for a particular clientele, but Kunda sets out to reinvent this.

“As a woman, I wanted to find out about the laws of attraction. I wanted to know how the universe works and about my place in the universe. So, I decided to ask these questions to a philosopher, to a physicist and to my son.”

Superposition is a frank, hopeful yet honest look at the questions that surround the universe, juxtaposed through the lens of lap dancing and quantum physics.

During one scene Kunda illustrates the similarities between the properties of particles and the routines of a nightclub. She explains that if the atom was a nightclub, “the nucleus would be dancing in the middle of the nightclub” whilst the electron would be orbiting the nucleus “getting to see the sexiness from all angles”. She explains this all whilst pole dancing, I must add.

The prospect of a show marrying poetry, pole dancing and particle physics to perform on stage is a daunting prospect, and it had the potential to go very wrong. However, it didn’t. The narrative pivoted between Kunda’s lessons in erotic dancing (including “floor fuckery”), the body positivity reflections against the backdrop of her life. And all seamlessly fused together in a dialogue of dance fusion, philosophy and music.

At one point Kunda empathises with a cat on heat and discusses the many questions life has to offer with her curious son. She then puts on the most glorious pair of ‘stripper shoes’ which she at first wobbles, unbalanced, in – but a short time later she is working the pole, transfixing the audience.

At the end of the rabbit hole that Kunda has sent us down she studies her audience and says, “I’m letting you watch me because you paid,” and in that moment we are forced to think about the politics and conflict of ownership, the policing and imposed restrictions of bodies and more importantly, the politics of black women’s bodies. When asking to pick out a lap dancer, Kunda looks for one with a “badonk-donk bum”, only there were none; instead, the lap dancer had breasts that even gravitational force couldn’t pull down. In the body confidence workshop she attended, where they were all asked to undress, and she was the only black female, she was staggered to see that their pubic hair was like down or fur rather than the texture of her own.

I imagine, it goes without saying, that this kind of show is an acquired taste. However, behind the poetry, the pole, and the heels there is a rawness which laces between the words and the movement and transcends boundaries.

The show circles around and around, looping upon itself – but it isn’t repetitive. My only qualm with the performance as a whole was that sometimes Kunda was overshadowed by the volume of the music.

In an age where women’s eroticism is often portrayed quite cheaply, Kunda searches for a new way to elevate and celebrate it – through the disciplines of science, spirituality and sensuality. The hour passed very quickly.

-Elise Gallagher

Further UK tour dates for Superposition can be found here.

The Jungle Book (The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays)

Metta Theatre's The Jungle Book ©Richard Davenport
Metta Theatre’s The Jungle Book
©Richard Davenport
upstaged rating: 

Metta Theatre are front runners in cross art form theatre practice and this week they’ve somersaulted into The Lowry, Salford with their refreshing and radical interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale, The Jungle Book.

Using a vibrant and intoxicating fusion of hip-hop, street dance, circus and storytelling, Metta’s Jungle Book is suitable for all ages 8 and up. Thing 1 (age 11), a dancer and Thing 2, (almost 8 and a keen back flipper) were gripped by the acrobatics, agility and aerial hoop display. The production swaps the original setting of the Indian jungle for the mean streets of the urban jungle in Britain, which may initially be a strange concept for younger children who are big fans of the cute Disney version. Though pleasingly, Metta Theatre challenge the well-loved tale and turn it on its head. Quite literally.

Adapted by Metta’s visionary director, Poppy Burton-Morgan – Mowgli (Nathalie Alison) is a lively young girl with a shock of black hair who has been brought up by Akela (Matt Knight) and his pack of skateboarding wolves, after finding herself abandoned. The beat-loving bin man Baloo (Stefano Addae) delivers a prologue which serves introduce the audience to each of the characters – be prepared for a graffiti artist Baghera (Kloé Dean), a pole-dancing Kaa (Ellen Wolf) and an intimidating ‘bone-breaking’ (wince) Shere Khan (Kaner Scott). It’s a clever conceit – each of the main characters are still present but they have been reshaped to reflect multi-cultural Britain and the way society views those who go against the grain.

Designer William Reynolds’ effective set of street lamps and barriers is perfectly suggestive of the concrete jungle and provides the perfect playground for the performers to dangle, pivot and climb. 

Kendra J Horsburgh’s striking choreography sees the performers fill the stage with flair and grace. Ellen Wolf displays remarkable strength and mastery as she curls and hangs from a street lamp as Kaa and Matt Knight’s Akela demonstrates superb acrobatics and street-dance skills. Nathalie Alison shines as Mowgli – weaving, spinning and balancing with absolute finesse and beauty.

The Jungle Book positively bursts with creativity, talent and passion. Each performer excels at their own individual skill and as each character, but the ensemble are at their most impressive when they occupy the stage together. This is a highly captivating show for younger theatre goers to enjoy, though cleverly, it offers a more mature social commentary on the Kipling classic – making it suitable for children and adults alike.

-Kristy Stott

The Jungle Book runs until Saturday 2nd September 2017 at The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

REVIEW: Derren Brown (The Lowry, Salford)

Derren Brown returns to The Lowry with Underground
Derren Brown returns to The Lowry with Underground
guest reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

Fresh from a sell-out London bill, Derren Brown returns to Manchester with Underground his latest stage show which brings together a collection of Brown’s previous and favourite stage work. However, do not let this put you off, for I would strongly predict that there is something new to be seen for even the most die-hard fan.

I have seen Derren Brown once before and it would seem Derren’s charm and showman ship has only grown. Underground exhibits the ingredients needed to make a world class show. Brown oozes class, charm, intelligence and just a glint of cheekiness. However, I feel Underground highlights a much more sensitive and sentimental quality to not only the show but the man himself.

As you may imagine, audience participation is key to the show, especially for the utterly jaw dropping moments. It takes genuine skill to carry a show of such ferocity alone, with only the slightest help from a gorilla and a kangaroo. The show expertly mixed culture, emotion, grief and sheer exhilaration into a perfect cocktail which we gulped down unconsciously, craving more.

I feel quite torn when considering the wonder of the mind. Half of me wants to know exactly how he does it, every unconscious clue we give on a day to day basis. However, the other half of me thinks that this would only ruin its attraction. Some things should just remain shrouded in mystery instead of being examined for all to see.

Someone remarked that this being a showcase show may as well be his goodbye tour, I sincerely hope not. The world needs a bit more magic at the moment and I’m sure he has much more up his sleeve.

It is quite hard to write a review for a one man show whose thrill factor relies solely on secrets and surprise, my lips are sealed. But I leave you with this, Underground is a true masterclass in showmanship and psychological genius. A must see.

-Elise Gallagher

Derren Brown’s Underground is at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 5th August 2017 and continues at The Playhouse Theatre, London in September 2017.

REVIEW: The Mikado (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

© McPHERSON PHOTOGRAPHY
© McPHERSON PHOTOGRAPHY
upstaged reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

The Mikado or ‘The Town of Titipu’ was first produced in 1885 and first ran for a mammoth 672 nights making it one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular plays. Set in the rather bizarre world of Titipu our protagonist Nanki-Poo (Richard Munday) falls in love with a girl named Yum-Yum (Alan Richardson) but both are tragically betrothed to others. One is bound to the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko (David McKenchnie) whilst Nanki-Poo is entrapped by the formidable Katisha (Alex Weatherhill).

 The adaption is set in a private school camping trip which I must admit, I did not realise until I read it in the programme. I feel the production was supposed to be contextualised within a certain setting, however, I felt it was staged rather randomly in a wood far away from any towns or villages. However, the ambience that the set created was a success as it only heightened the hilarity on stage.

Director Sasha Regan stated that ultimately the tale was written as a way to poke fun at the establishment. She felt that Gilbert and Sullivan put their very English society on the stage to take the mickey in their original version of The Mikado, a sentiment which reverberates in Sasha Regan’s all-male production.

Alan Richardson shocked the audience with his vocal range, I was in complete disbelief when he first hit his high note. His performance easily stole laughter from the audience. David McKechnie played a magnificent Ko-Ko, who seemed to toy with physical comedy with ease. His performance in ‘As Some Day It May Happen’ was a show highlight. Alex Weatherhill also did a fantastic job in his role as Katisha.

However, it was Jamie Jukes who played Pitti-Sing who was the stand out performer for me. His performance was effortless and I found my eye would wander to him and Richard Russell Edwards (Peep-Bo) whenever they were on stage. The two bounced off one another and make a perfect double act.

This was my first time going into a Gilbert and Sullivan production and I would say that it is an acquired taste. It took me a little longer than usual to truly settle down into the performance. This is the perfect show for anyone who wants to leave their worries at the stage door and truly have fun, although it may be a step too silly for some.

I was seated next to an older gentleman who sang and danced throughout the entire performance with a huge grin on his face. He wasn’t alone in his glee.

-Elise Gallagher

The Mikado runs in The Quays Theatre at The Lowry until Saturday 29 July 2017.

REVIEW: Taha (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

TAHA
Reviewer: Karen Clough
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.

-Karen Clough

Taha continues at London’s Young Vic from 5th July to 15th July 2017 and tickets are available here.

REVIEW: Jane Eyre (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

© Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
© Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

Following a critically acclaimed run at London’s National Theatre, Wednesday the 12th April saw Salford’s Lowry Theatre fling open its doors to the Bristol Old Vic’s stage adaptation of Jane Eyre.

2017 marks the 170th anniversary of the publication of Charlotte Brontë’s most famous piece, a tale of passion, justice and madness set against the backdrop of Yorkshire’s haunting moors. Director Sally Cookson’s adaptation is set amongst a bare wooden frame, with platforms on varying levels used throughout the performance. Adapting a novel for the stage is a challenging prospect, especially such a timeless classic – however, Cookson states that by not approaching the piece as a costume drama, allowed the company to explore the themes and get the heart of both the story and the characters in a theatrical way. Choosing to adopt an authentic set and period costume would have suffocated the story Cookson says, and in doing so would have killed the magic.

One thing must not go without note, the production is a mammoth one, a total of three hours, plus a 15-minute interval. Initially, the adaptation was presented in two parts when performed at the Bristol Old Vic, however shifting to London and beginning a UK tour has seen the production travel as a single performance.

Although I would say that this running time could have been cut down, I’m quite glad it wasn’t. The story didn’t seem rushed or forced in any way but flowed just as naturally as the icy winds that haunt the place.

The cast are outstanding. Nadia Clifford played a phenomenal Jane, I particularly admired how she seamlessly progressed from the loud and defiant girl to the calm yet highly ambitious Governess, craving more for herself in life. The shift was subtle and expertly done.

Tim Delap takes on the role of Mr Rochester and does an incredibly successful job portraying the infamously complicated and troubled character. The chemistry between Delap and Clifford is incredible, both played their parts to the standard of any die-hard Brontë fan.

Evelyn Miller deserves a lot of praise rotating between the characters of Bessie, Blanche Ingram and St. John; such versatility should be applauded. Of course, Ben Cutler as Mr Rochester’s dog Pilot granted the audience much needed light comedic moments to punctuate the brooding of his owner.

Even now, whilst I sit writing this I have the almost unfathomable voice of Melanie Marshall dancing around my head. She is present throughout the show, either singing from one of the bare platforms or lurking towards the back, always watching. In all honesty, I was surprised when I realised she was playing the role of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s estranged wife. Her omnipresent voice sent chills down the audience but also left us with mouths wide in awe. Performing songs such as Noël Coward’s Mad About the Boy and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy in such a haunting way, enabled the modern pieces to blend perfectly with the classic tale. Her recurring presence only heightened the anticipation for the clash between her and our protagonist.

On taking my seat I noticed that there was a small set up for musicians included on the stage. My heart fell initially, dreading that this adaptation would include Disney-like songs for our characters. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. The band was made up of three musicians (Matthew Churcher, Alex Heane, and David Ridley) who did an exceptional job in supplying a score to the piece, as well as taking on characters such as school children and coach passengers. The first coach journey threw me at first with the abrupt change in tone but then continued to work incredibly well – not distracting from the drama of the stage at all, only heightening it.

Charlotte Brontë did long for the story’s narrative to play out from the book, and although it sadly did not replicate her own life, it certainly deserves its place on the stage. The production received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd, I suggest you see it.

-Elise Gallagher

Jane Eyre runs at the Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 15th April 2017. The tour continues at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre from 18th – 22nd April. More tour dates/ venues can be found here.

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.

The Woman in Black (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

A scene from The Woman In Black by Susan Hill @ Fortune Theatre. Directed by Robin Herford (Taken 26-07-16) ©Tristram Kenton 07/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com
©Tristram Kenton 

upstaged rating:

Based on Susan Hill’s novel of the same name, The Woman in Black is a chilling horror story that was adapted for the stage over 27 years ago. And yet, the late Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation remains as poignant and terrifying as it has for many years. For those unfamiliar with the plot, the play follows former lawyer Arthur Kipps, an elderly man haunted by the past and desperate to have his story told. He seeks the help of an actor, who agrees to play Kipps in a re-telling for his family and friends. Together, they perform Kipps’ tale of a secluded manor, a town struck by terror, and the reoccurring appearance of a mysterious woman in black with a wasted face.

Matthew Spencer stars as the dynamic and keen young actor, who plays Arthur Kipps in their re-telling of Kipps’ story. Despite the history of the play, Spencer breathes new life into the character and offers immense likability. As the actor, he is bold and theatrical, as Kipps, reserved and distressed. Through him, we are able to share Kipps’ trepidation and horror. However, David Acton, who plays an elderly, tormented Arthur Kipps, offers an equally exceptional performance. He brings a remarkable fragility to the character and displays some skilful character acting with the roles that Kipps plays within the story, such as the tortured land agent, Mr Jerome and the rather unforthcoming trap driver, Keckwick. The shared narration between him and Spencer was both thoroughly detailed and thrillingly suspenseful.

However, it was the interactions between Acton and Spencer on stage that were most noteworthy. Despite the suspense of the play, there were interludes of charming humour in the scenes that they shared, whichever characters they were playing. Which in part is due to the captivating writing. Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation is a great testament to the remarkable quality of his writing and paired with the direction of Robin Herford, they have created a heart-pounding and terrifying spectacle.

Although it takes a little while for the story itself to begin, this re-telling of the classic novel is both timeless and imaginative. And despite the simplicity of the set and costumes, the creative uses of lighting by Kevin Sleep and the reliance upon audience imagination create the horrifying scenes that Acton and Spencer describe. And while the use of a play-within-a-play can often fall flat, this unsettling tale does anything but.

-Megan Hyland

The Woman in Black runs at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 25th March and you can click here for tickets.

REVIEW: Be My Baby (The Lowry, Salford)

Be My Baby at the Lowry Theatre Salford till Saturday 8th October 2016
Be My Baby at the Lowry Theatre Salford until Saturday 8th October 2016
upstaged rating:

There is no bigger story than a mother being made to give up her baby for adoption and this is exactly the premise of Amanda Whittington’s play, Be My Baby. Set in the so-called swinging sixties, a defining decade when young people were just being given a voice and expression, mother and baby homes still existed. It is difficult to comprehend that just 50 years ago an unmarried pregnant woman would be shipped off to one of these homes to give birth to her child in secret, for fear that a baby born ‘out of wedlock’ would bring complete shame on her family. Propelled by society and their fear of the unknown, the girls would sign their baby over for adoption before even experiencing childbirth or seeing their babies face.

Despite dealing with a bleak subject matter, Be My Baby is packed full of laughter, light and a wonderfully evocative soundtrack. The music serves as a brilliant contrast to the harsh subject matter, serving to lighten the tone and transport us back to the 1960’s.

When Mary (Jess Cummings) is brought into the mother and baby convent by her mother, Mrs Adams (Susan Twist) she shares a dormitory with her beloved record player and Queenie. Jess Cummings shines as the respectable grammar school girl who finds herself pregnant and shipped off to the home, even before her father can find out.

At the centre of the performance is Coronation Street’s Brooke Vincent, in her stage debut as tough mum-to-be Queenie. Giving a very well rounded natural performance, showing heart and impeccable comic timing, Vincent impresses as the hardened young character. Ruth Madoc is quite formidable as the matron of the mother and baby convent. Detached and stern, she gives a wonderfully subtle performance – her maternal instinct just simmers, hinting that she knows more about the way the girls are feeling than she alludes to.

The ensemble cast all give excellent performances throughout, notably Josie Cerise and Eva McKenna, with some of the most poignant sections during their daily chores in the convent laundry. Shrouded by the sheets pegged up to dry, they sing along to their favourite songs and flick through teenage annuals – all trying to come to terms with their changing bodies and myths surrounding childbirth.

Some of the scene changes were very laboured (pardon the pun) at times, particularly in the second half, which did detract from some of the more emotional scenes. However, I’m sure Kirstie Davis is fine tuning this already – leaving the audience to enjoy the powerful performances and emotive subject matter.

-Kristy Stott

Be My Baby is on at the Lowry Theatre Salford until Saturday 8th October 2016 and you can click here to get your tickets.