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.
Derren Brown’s Underground is at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 5th August 2017 and continues at The Playhouse Theatre, London in September 2017.
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.
The Mikado runs in The Quays Theatre at The Lowry until Saturday 29 July 2017.
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.
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.
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 SandiToksvig 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.
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.
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.
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 VanBalen, 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.
The Lowry fizzes with excitement with the arrival of the Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of David Walliams’ much-loved Gangsta Granny.
Since 2008 David Walliams has taken the children’s literary world by storm – writing nine children’s books and selling more than 12.5 million copies worldwide. Children (and grown-ups) love his books and it was clear to see that this stage show was also well received. Gangsta Granny has been a staple read in our house- the immersive sheer brilliance of Walliams’ wit has ignited our imaginations and prompted conversation. While the stage show doesn’t offer the same enveloping delight as diving into the original, the charm and excitement of the live stage match the vigour and flamboyance of Walliams’ writing.
Adapted by Neal Foster, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben (Ashley Cousins) and the relationship that he has with his little scrabble playing, cardigan wearing, cabbage chomping Granny (Gilly Tompkins). Ben loathes having to stay at his boring Granny’s house every Friday when his Mum (Louise Bailey) and Dad (Benedict Martin) go to watch their Strictly Stars Dancing show.
Vibrant and colourful, each character looks as though they have sprung from the pages of Tony Ross’ wonderful illustrations. Travelling around on her motorised scooter we soon learn that Granny is not as boring as we have been led to believe. Action packed and dream-like with a wicked brilliance, Gangsta Granny is poignant with some top-trumping wit and offers a thoughtful twist as Ben comes to realise that beyond the drab exterior, his gran is wild and adventurous.
‘It’s important to follow your dreams Ben, it’s all you’ve got to guide you.’
Jacqueline Trousdale’s set is colourful and snappy, the simple design makes scene changes swift and fluid. Jak Poore’s ballroom themed musical composition is lively and comical, adding further depth to the production.
Gangsta Granny is fun and fast paced and the perfect outing for children, parents and grannies. It continues to tour right through summer 2017 – running at 2 hours and 10 minutes, it is the ideal treat for those children who read, share and love Walliams’ writing.
Playing as part of the Roundabout Season at The Lowry, Colour The Clouds Theatre Company are back with their new production Maggie and the Song of The Sea. Recommended for those aged seven and over, Maggie and the Song of the Sea explores bereavement through the eyes of a child. Colour The Clouds Theatre have been able to develop this important and universal piece of theatre with the full support of Winston’s Wish, The Charity for Bereaved Children.
Maggie (Josie Cerise) is a young girl whose world is coloured by a beautiful playground of music. Every feeling, person or object in her life has a sound – whether it is the rough sound of the scraping of a woodblock as she brushes her hair or the calming strings melody that she associates with her beloved Grandad (Scott T Berry).
Maggie’s best friend is her grandad who looks after her while her Mum (SamanthaVaughan) is at work, together Maggie and her grandad have amazing seaside adventures and take fantastic imaginative journeys to a special place called Shingle Bay.
When Maggie’s grandad dies suddenly and the adventures that they shared together come to an end, the musical backdrop disappears from Maggie’s life as she deals with the loss she feels and tries to adapt to a different world. The idea is that the young audience follow Maggie’s journey through grief and acceptance and then onwards to understanding and hope, as Maggie breaks through her wall of silence and finds her music again.
Under Alyx Tole’s direction, Maggie and the Song of the Sea offers young children the opportunity to learn about death in a safe and calm environment. Maggie’s story is told with vibrant, colourful puppetry and live music which assists the fantastic storytelling, giving a portrayal of grief that children are able to engage with.
Fully complemented by the ambiance of the Paines Plough Roundabout, CatherineManford’s charming and playful musical composition and Mark Fox’s sensitive but atmospheric lighting design provide a perfect multisensory environment to tackle this difficult subject. Writer Sarah Birch has penned this story with a truth and honesty which is truly beautiful, offering a realistic insight of a child’s journey through grief.
Maggie and the Song of the Sea visits the performance space at Oldham Library on the 10th October 2015. For information on times and tickets please click here or call the box office at the Oldham Coliseum on 0161 624 2829.