“If music be the food of love, play on” and certainly the production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Manchester’s Royal Exchange is full of music, mirth and mischief, particularly during one particular night of mayhem when encouraged by Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Harry Attwell), a drunken Sir Toby (Simon Armstrong) wakes up the household with his electric guitar.
Following a terrible storm, Viola has found herself shipwrecked and washed up on the sandy and unfamiliar shores of Illyria. In her only bid for survival, Viola (Faith Omole) disguises herself as male, changes her name to Cesario, and goes to work in the household of Duke Orsino (Kevin Harvey). With powerful waves of unrequited love, gender and sexual identity guiding Shakespeare’s verse – this production at the Royal Exchange is a complete success and arguably one of the best Shakespeare adaptations that I have seen.
Quirky casting by Vicky Richardson teamed with Jo Davies’ intelligent direction makes for a refreshing interpretation of a play that was written over 400 years ago. Kate Kennedy’s striking Olivia towers over Faith Omole’s diminutive Cesario; confidante Cesario holds the punch bag gingerly while Orsino bolsters and pummels. Our Malvolio, played by Anthony Calf, gives a perfect portrayal of the party-pooper and prissy steward. Davies and Designer Leslie Travers substitute Malvolio’s traditional yellow stockings and cross-gartered look in favour of gaudy lycra MAMIL attire.
Kate O’Donnell steals the show as a witty, lively and self-assured Feste. Giving a whole new perspective to the character, O’Donnell exudes elegance and foolery. Dressed in a luminous turquoise get up and feathered head-dress, she reminds me of a glamorous Statue of Liberty. Suggestive of freedom in regards to gender and sexual identity and almost definitely reminding us of the lack of trans actors on the professional stage.
Alex Baranowski’s Eastern European musical score of fiddler, harpsichord and folk vocalist Kate Young provide a pleasing backdrop to the romantic entanglements, frivolous comedy and disguises in love. In a poignant framing, the Eastern tones lay the sombre tone for Viola’s shipwreck at the very start and then return for The Wind and The Rain ditty delivered by Feste at the end of the performance. As the lights fade and the melancholy returns O’Donnell feeds new life and meaning into Shakespeare’s poetry, singing the final line “When I was a little boy.” Absolutely captivating.
Talawa Theatre Company has been making theatre since 1986 and to mark their 30th anniversary year, and to commemorate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death artistic director Michael Buffong returns to the play he first directed in 1994, King Lear.
In this co-production between Talawa Theatre, Manchester’s Royal Exchange and Birmingham Rep, Don Warrington steps into the royal breaches and takes on the title role. William Shakespeare’s story of a kingdom divided with devastating political and personal repercussions still remains highly pertinent to a modern audience. Striking a chord with a contemporary crowd particularly in the wake of Scottish Independence and the looming EU opt in or opt out discussion. Perhaps most poignantly, this production explores ideas around our aging society and dementia.
Entering to the single steady beat of the drum, Warrington appears wearing a heavy cloak and furs, every inch the look of a formidable leader. He traces the dominant character’s slow descent from greatness to confusion and shame.
“I have, so to speak, lost myself.”
Fists clenched desperately holding on to the sleeve of his robes indicative of his struggle to retain clarity in an increasingly murky world. There is some well-observed physicality from Warrington – his awkward gait and empty stare are all suggestive of a man battling with dementia. However, Warrington’s delivery of the text is lacking in fluidity which means that some of Shakespeare’s powerful rhetoric is lost at times and most particularly during the famous storm in the wilderness scene.
Signe Beckmann’s design is completely stripped back to an empty performance space with the characters dressed in period costumes, and the danger is that it all feels very habitual RSC and old fashioned. The combination of Johanna Tom’s atmospheric lighting design and Tayo Akinbode’s ethereal soundscape is a match made in heaven, especially during the apocalyptic downpour at the end of the first half.
The ensemble cast are all impressive and fearless throughout and all give remarkable performances. Miltos Yerolemou gives a well-balanced performance as The Fool, both humorous and touching; Alfred Enoch gives a mesmerising performance as Edgar – compassionate and honest, much in contrast to his brother Edmund, an ambitious opportunist, again played strongly by Fraser Ayres. Pepter Lunkuse shines as the good-hearted, youngest daughter Cordelia and Rakie Ayola and Debbie Korley give fully realised performances as bloodthirsty sisters, Goneril and Regan.
Philip Whitchurch as The Earl of Gloucester is outstanding with his gory ocular fate prompting the most audible response from the audience during the lengthy 3 and a half hour running time.
King Lear is running at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Saturday 7 May 2015.
For those of us who aren’t jetting off to sunnier climes during the Whitsun school holidays, there is an abundance of good stuff going on. I’ve helpfully compiled the best picks of theatre, film and creative activities for families happening in Manchester from 22nd May until 7th June 2015…
Remember Basil Brush? Well “Ha ha ha! Boom! Boom!” – he is coming back to The Lowry in Salford for a performance on 24th May 2015. Currently, he is super busy on his UK tour, a brand new specially written ‘live’ stage show, which promises to be packed with laughs, storytelling and song. He’s celebrating over 50 years in show business and he’s back With a boom in The Basil Brush Show. Suitable for ages 3 and up.
One Little Word also heads to The Lowry for 4 performances on 24th and 25th May 2015. A play from local M6 Theatre Company, who are internationally renowned for producing high quality, dynamic and relevant theatre for young audiences. One Little Word is a moving and beautiful story about friendship, power struggles and the rich world of creative play.
Stick Man Live on Stageheads to The Lowry from 26th May until 31st May 2015. It’s suitable for ages 3 and up and tells the charming tale of Stick Man, as he tries to escape playful dogs, nest building swans and even a fire, in a bid to get back to the family tree.
Also, at The Lowry on the 6th June 2015 is The Bounce. This is a multi-sensory and highly interactive show, using trampolines, video projection and live music, for young people from 3-19 who are defined as having Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities or who are on the Autism Spectrum.
This half term also brings the usual fun and frolics with Half Term Little Actors, who will be swimming in rivers and rolling through forests with The Hedgehog and her Hoglet and Half Term Little Artists who will be making their own characters inspired by Julia Donaldson’s book Stick Man. Sessions are suitable for ages 5-11 and run from 11:00-12:30 from 25 May until 29 May 2015 at The Lowry.Each session costs £3.50.
For ages 11-18 there is Wicked – Half Term Musical Theatre Madness running from 26 May 2015 from 10:30-15:30. Over the 3 days young people will work with a professional Musical Theatre director and performer to stage well known musical theatre hits and perform them at the end of the course for family and friends. No experience is necessary.
Waterside Arts Centre
Flyaway Katiezooms into the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale on the 28th and 29th May 2015. Based on the popular Children’s book by Polly Dunbar and with music by Tom Gray of Gomez – Flyaway Katie is an inspiring flight of fancy about the power of imagination.
Forensic Science in Action is back at Waterside Arts on the 30th May– the event is led by experienced forensic scientists and is suitable for children aged 7-11. Ticket price is £20 which admits 1 adult & 1 child to the session. (Every child MUST be accompanied by an adult).
Birds Nest Theatre presents My Friend Moleon the 31st May at Waterside Arts. This hour long show also includes a stay and play and is suitable for ages 3-6.
The Journey Home, the acclaimed children’s book by award winning author Frann Preston-Gannon, is brought to life through puppetry, lyrical music and transformative design in this new production by Little Angel Theatre.
The Journey Home is at The Edge on the 22nd May 2015 (11:00am/1:30pm) and Z-Arts in Hulme on the 23rd May 2015 (2:30pm/3:15pm) – with a running time of 45 minutes, it is perfect for ages 2 and over.
Casa comes to The Edge on 4th June 2015 with 2 showings at 11:00am and 1:30pm. It is advised for ages 1-5 years and tells the surreal story of a grown-up and a child who meet, get to know each other and start to build. Building turns into play, and little by little, while playing, they build a story. For more information click here.
The Journey Home arrives at Z-Arts on the 23rd May 2015 (2:30pm/ 3:15pm). Please see listing above, The Edge for the trailer and more information…
Tarsa by Dorna Theatre is also showing at Z-Arts from 26th May until 28th May 2015. This play is suitable for ages 14 and up and features live music and dance. More information can be found here.
Z-Arts also have a number of events available for those families with a Bright Sparks Membership. Membership costs just £15 per year per family and gets you discount on some shows as well as free access to all of the regular activities at the centre.
Bolton Octagon are offering two workshops during the half term break.
On 27th May 2015 there is Shake Up Your Shakespeare which is suitable for ages 11-18 and on 28th May 2015 there is The Magic of Masks, suitable for ages 8-11. Each of the workshops costs just £10 and runs from 10am until 4pm.
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 9thMay 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 Tibetansstarring 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.
From 10th May- 17th May…
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 May2015 and Edinburgh Fringe sell-out, So It Goes on the 15th May 2015.
From 18th May -25th May…
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.
The 56 arrives at The Studio in The Lowry Theatre on the 23rd May 2015, retelling the stories of those involved in the Bradford City Fire in 1985.
The Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival comes to Oldham on 23rd May 2015.With events taking place in and around Oldham Coliseum.
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.
From 26th May onwards…
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 present5 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.