Andrew Lawrence’s The Hate Speech Tour mocks the obsession with political correctness, whilst dealing with the difficulties of fatherhood, as well as everyday life. The show is not for the easily offended – with the comedian delivering jokes that insult people from all walks of life. It was made clear in the show’s introduction that the comedian’s material offered a dark alternative to pre-watershed comedy, requesting all sensitive ‘idiots’ to leave the room.
The overall tone was set in the first half of the show, with Andrew working the audience with some classic front row interaction, in which he declared his hatred for those who don’t turn up for his shows. He didn’t beat around the bush in regards to the fact that comedy is his main source of income, addressing the point that the audience makes up his pay check, and that he sees ‘pound signs’ as seats fill up. This gave off the impression that Andrew’s comedy was genuine, rather than a built up illusion of perfectly rehearsed jokes, as well as breaking the cliché’s of performers in the entertainment industry.
This was followed by Andrew’s opinions on being a comedian, parenting stories, which were met with a dark twist, and issues with the obsession over political correctness. This backlash against P.C was an ongoing feature throughout the show, which was driven by crude humour and unpopular stereotypes, which offered a different angle to the typical “special snowflake” orientated material that dominates the media. Andrew’s resentments towards P.C culture was developed with an anecdote of his own personal experiences of being boycotted from inner comedy circles, as he has often been shunned and even banned from performing at venues due to his unusually anti-left views.
The only noticeable downsides to the act were the stumbles between gags, which were unexpected due to Andrew’s 14-year career. These stumbles were filled with stutters and re-hashed phrases that took away from the flow of the show and the comedic effect. However, this wasn’t detrimental to the act, as his care-free attitude and relaxed demeanour gave of an air of confidence and experience.
Overall, despite giving the audience “68%”, as opposed to the “110%” given by baby-faced comedians, Andrew Lawrence gave a well performed, alternative night of comedy, which offered a refreshing change of pace.
Andrew Lawrence continues The Hate Speech Tour throughout April and May 2017. You can find dates, information and tickets by clicking 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?
Wit at The Royal Exchange
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.
The Girls at The Lowry Theatre
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.
Husbands & Sons at The Royal Exchange
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.
The Encounter at HOME
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.
Parade at Hope Mill Theatre
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.
Origins at The Lowry Theatre
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.
Rambert: A Linha Curva at The Lowry
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.
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at The Lowry
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!
Sweet Charity at The Royal Exchange
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.
REVIEWER: CIARAN WARD
A Streetcar Named Desire at The Royal Exchange
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.
REVIEWER: DEMI WEST
GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe at The Dancehouse Theatre
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.
2017 marks the 30th year anniversary for New Adventures and to celebrate this milestone Sir Matthew Bourne brings the first full-length ballet adaptation of HansChristian Andersen’s fairy tale The Red Shoes to the stage. The Red Shoes is one of the lesser known of Andersen’s stories but it strikes a resounding chord with the dancing world; it has been a 20-year ambition of Bourne’s to revive the Academy Award-winning 1948 film storyline for his audience.
The ballet tells the much-loved story of Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), a young dancer who is torn between fulfilling her dream and falling in love. Victoria dreams of being the greatest dancer in the world but when she falls for the struggling composer Julian Craster (Chris Trenfield), she finds herself caught in the midst of a battlefield between her love and her one true love, which is to dance.
When Victoria puts on the vivid red ballet shoes, given to her by the commanding ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer), she is unable to stop dancing until the shoes are removed from her feet. Strikingly set against Lez Brotherston’s stylish monochrome backdrop, Ashley Shaw moves passionately with technical brilliance and much like the red ballet shoes on her feet, she is intoxicating to watch – graceful and passionate en pointe.
Chris Trenfield demonstrates strength and agility as a dancer and storyteller through his sensitive and charming portrayal of love interest, Julian Craster. Sam Archer’s imperious Boris Lermontov offers a striking contrast – ambitious, pushy and marked. Commanding the stage, the red shoes become a tool of seduction; their trailing red ribbons indicative that all may not end well.
Throughout the performance my eye was drawn to Liam Mower as gregarious Ivan Boleslawsky – agile, fun and bold – Mower is just mesmerising to watch.
Sir Matthew Bourne’s choreography is elegant and super stylish, and the company deliver with precision and wit. Bourne is a unique storyteller who is never afraid to challenge himself – it is this which makes every production he takes on a triumph.
Terry Davies’ new musical score, using the music of golden-age Hollywood composer, Bernard Herrmann, is an absolute delight. Managing to juxtapose the romantic, heart-achingly beautiful with the more playful, comical numbers – the New Adventures Orchestra deliver with gusto. Lez Brotherston’s ornate revolving theatre set design and dazzling costumes inspired by 1940’s glamour contrast strikingly against Duncan McLean’s Burton-esque video projection.
The Red Shoes is a breathtaking balletic display – a beautifully tragic tale poignantly told.
But don’t just take my word for it – go and see for yourselves.
The Wind in the Willows is a heart-warming and colourful musical based on the novel by Kenneth Grahame, produced by Jamie Hendry. It stars comedian and actor Rufus Hound as the sparky and bold speed enthusiast Mr Toad, alongside other familiar faces such as David Birrell (Midsomer Murders and Buried) as Mr Badger and Fra Fee (Les Miserables) as Mole. The musical tells the renowned story of friendship and adventure through beautifully orchestrated live music and the incredible dynamics of the cast. When Mr Toad is arrested and thrown in prison for the theft of a motor car, his lavish mansion is seized by the Wild Wooders, a fiendish band of woodland animals.
As Mr Toad, Hound steals the show with his quick humour and physicality. His boundless energy brings new life to the well-loved character, making him charming and likable despite his endless scheming. Although Hound may seem an usual choice for the role, none could have played it better. That being said, the rest of the cast fell far from short. Their command of the stage was masterful, and the singing in particular was captivating. Every harmony was perfectly blended and the actors seemed constantly in-tune with one another, working together to create a mesmerising production.
Other stand out performances were that of Neil McDermott and Sophia Nomvete. McDermott played the Chief Weasel, a cunning and cruel Wild Wooder. He was as menacing as he was exciting, and he brought up the energy of the other woodland creatures. As the strong and gutsy Mrs Otter, Nomvete delivered an amusing and engaging performance, playing the worried but protective mother who is no doubt familiar and lovable to us all.
However, it is the music, written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe which makes this performance truly special. The songs are both uplifting and catchy, with a perfect combination of emotion and humour. They are heartfelt and sincere, without bringing down the general light mood of the production. Combined with the stunning sets and costumes designed by Peter McKintosh and Howard Harrison’s striking light design, it creates an enchanting atmosphere that is matchless.
With the Wind in the Willows, Julian Fellowes has expertly crafted a magical tale of the power of friendship. It is perfect for families and children, although I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a few hours of lighthearted fun and music. Without a doubt, this is the musical production of the year.
2016 marks four hundred years since the death of William Shakespeare and Birmingham Royal Ballet continue their celebration of the world’s most prolific dramatist with Shakespeare Dream Bill. The production presents three contrasting works, from contemporary to classical, in a Shakespeare-themed feast of balletic brilliance.
American choreographer Jessica Lang’s Wink serves an elegant entree inspired by the language of The Bard’s sonnets. Set to Jakob Ciupinski’s new score, both the music and the movement echo the structure of the sonnets. Surreal and captivating, the piece takes its title from the first line of sonnet 43, ‘When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see.’ The graceful performance is framed by Mimi Lien’s set of rotating boards which switch from black to white representing the blink of an eye. Stylish and contemporary, Peter Teigan’s lighting design and Alfie Jones’ voiceover add further clarity to this faultless display.
José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane subtitled ‘Variations on the theme of Othello’, distils the tangled tragedy of Othello into a tightly knit and thrilling one-act piece. The four dancers: Tyrone Singleton (Othello), Iain Mackay (Iago) , Delia Mathews (Desdemona) and Samara Downs (Emilia) sweep and glide in Pauline Lawrence’s medieval inspired gowns. Moving in a circular motion about a dark stage, they are enmeshed. Othello’s white handkerchief is passed between them to Henry Purcell’s baroque score.
The Dream concludes the triple bill with a good dose of magic and wit as the company revive Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1964 interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With Peter Farmer’s leafy woodland setting and John B Read’s dramatic lighting design, the company fill the stage with elegance and jest.
I was very surprised to see a few empty seats on the night I attended as the Birmingham Royal Ballet usually, and rightfully, attract a full house. Perhaps the idea of Shakespeare fused with ballet felt quite daunting for some, which is quite a shame as The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare Dream Bill is pure perfection- a stunning display of agility, beauty and technical wisdom. This production is a superb evening out for all ages and whether you are a seasoned theatre-goer or on your first trip to the ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare Dream Bill is a dazzling visual feast.
Adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Jones from Stephen King’s critically acclaimed novel and the iconic 1994 film, the Shawshank Redemption tells the familiar story of Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary. Whether you know the story or not, this production is accessible for all audience members, with its hard-hitting and emotional performances drawing you in from the beginning.
The play follows Andy Dufresne, (played by Paul Nicholls) an intelligent and charismatic banker imprisoned for the double murder of his wife and her lover. The story is beautifully narrated throughout by his fellow prisoner Red – played by Ben Onwukwe who brings brilliant animation and magnetism to the well-loved character. Throughout the twenty years in which the play is set, we see Andy interact and develop relationships with his fellow prisoners – played by an outstanding supporting cast – all the while forming a rather resourceful plan.
The all-male cast offer a range of powerful and gripping performances, from the quiet and bumbling but lovable librarian ‘Brooksie’, played by Andrew Boyer to the terrifying and sinister prison tormenters Rooster and Bogs, played by Jeff Alexander and Sean Croke, whose performances were exceptional and uncomfortably convincing. The entire cast had incredible physicality and great chemistry, particularly between Nicholls and Onwukwe, who bring both humour and charm to their characters. Nicholls gave a charming and likable performance as Andy, effortlessly transitioning from Andy’s distanced and quiet personality to bold, raw performances with Jack Ellis’ performance as Waden Stammas being the perfect menacing contrast. Each scene was thick with tension, but the hard topics especially were handled effortlessly and tension was quickly diffused with wonderfully dry humour.
Gary McCann’s set and costume design although simplistic added greater authenticity to the story, and allowed it not to distract or take away from the incredible acting performances. Although the costumes and set design were reminiscent of the 1994 film of the same name, they were magnificent in their own right. Paired with Dan Samson’s eloquent sound design, they create a genuine and intimidating prison atmosphere.
Transferring this story to the stage can’t have been an easy task, but director David Esbjornson has done a faultless and beautiful job. The cast bring a new life to the familiar roles, without leaving behind the story we’re familiar with. And although not a light-hearted watch, the play tells a riveting and heartfelt story of friendship, strength and hope that resonates with the audience.
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.
Theatre maker Cathy Shiel’s background in early years teaching really shines through in this delightful and touching new piece of children’s theatre, Cyril the Squirrel. This charming tale is pitched perfectly for children aged 3 and up and is packed to the brim with bright visual storytelling and amusing interaction. With clowning, puppetry and performance, Cyril the Squirrel has plenty to keep those inquisitive minds engaged for the full 45 minute running time.
The tale unfolds within Woody Woodland when Cyril (Jennifer Birch), a grey squirrel, meets Rosie Red (Cathy Shiel), a red squirrel.The heartwarming tale explores themes around friendship and diversity as the two become best friends despite sneaky Willy the Weasel and his best efforts to divide them.
With their little eyes wide, many children in the audience were gripped from the very start of the show. This production has interaction at its core, inviting children to engage with the performers throughout – it’s a sure way to get theatres toughest critics on your side from the outset. The narrative is simple and pitched at a perfect level for younger children; the clever use of instruments, highly visual tricks and puppetry succeed in feeding their excitable minds and imaginations.
Fresh from The Royal Exchange’s The Crucible, Alastair Gilles shows his versatility as a performer in doubling up as the crafty Weasel and the calming and knowledgeable Owl. Cathy Shiel and Jennifer Birch are dynamic, suitably animated and fun, working alongside each other as Rosie Red and Cyril.
Lara Booth’s set design provides the ideal balance between simplicity and woodland magic – complete with hidey holes and vines. Will Hague’s squirrel tail design is the perfect visual for younger children to understand the difference between the two characters on stage.
Cyril the Squirrel is a superb piece of children’s theatre – smart and well pitched. Thing 2 laughed along with many of the jokes throughout the show and took away the important message that it is interesting to be different, change can be good and that diversity makes the world go round.
Back in the late eighties, I remember my mum taking my brother to the GP because he was so hard to manage – highly intelligent, bursting with questions and the ability to stop a whole shopping centre with his tantrums. The GP’s advice was cut the sugar and watch out for those E numbers, and my mum and my brother were sent on their way.
Created by Rachel Moorhouse and Sarah Emmott, Declaration is a bold and insightful new play by award-winning arts adventurers and theatre-makers, Art With Heart, exploring Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Using autobiographical material, animated storytelling, humour and audience interaction, Sarah Emmott presents her experience of living with ADHD. Chatting with the audience prior to the show, Sarah breaks down any barriers – there is no sense of us and them – and the audience is encouraged to join in at various points during the 70 minute running time.
Staged in the round, Sarah’s effervescent presence fills the performance space; animated but vulnerable; brave and funny. Describing her mind whizzing ‘like a water wheel’, there’s a refreshing sense of spontaneity, as she guides us through her experience of growing up and trying to fit in, coming to terms with a diagnosis and a ‘label’ and trying to find some sense through all of the noise and opinions around medication.
A mish-mash of ‘things’ are pegged to a washing line above our heads – bright childlike artwork, cheerleading pom-poms and dolls amongst other items. There’s a wooden trunk, containing necessary props, which Sarah wheels around and film projection by People Staring which shows candid interviews with Sarah’s mother, her partner and medical professionals.
Sarah’s ability to interact with her audience and the frequency with which she does so really makes Declaration quite extraordinary. Directing questions to members of the audience, she demonstrates her thirst for knowledge and her need to feel the same as everybody else. She joins a conversation with a parent called Val and asks her about her parenting experience and coping strategies and encourages the audience to ring bells in a clever demonstration of how overwhelmed she feels sometimes.
Declaration is an intelligent, entertaining and thoughtful piece of theatre which is sure to prompt discussion around mental health and the complex issues faced by those adults living with a condition like ADHD. Brilliantly executed and refreshing, Declaration challenges stigma and raises awareness, paving the way for further discussion and understanding around mental health.
In Petrification, Zoe Cooper’s dynamic writing boldly explores the strains of family relationships, and how these relationships form who we are. Set in a local pub in the North East, it tells the story of two brothers – Sean and Simon – meeting up the night before their father’s funeral. However, after having been away in London at university, Simon is surprised to be meeting Sean’s boyfriend, Aidan. Uncomfortable with Sean’s new relationship and how close Aidan has become to his family, Simon struggles with the changes that have developed in his absence, and we begin to understand the significance of a family holiday to Whitby when the brothers were young.
The opening scenes of the performance are unusually honest, with Cooper’s expertly crafted dialogue and Mark Maughan’s direction combining to create a familiar and compelling narrative. The physicality of the actors and their increasing use of the limited space available begin to make the piece more animated and intense, creating momentum, as the details of the Whitby holiday are slowly revealed. As the play progresses, the tension between the three becomes more difficult to watch, built up by the dramatic combination of lighting and sound designed by Joshua Pharo and Guy Connelly. James Baxter delivers a particularly riveting and emotionally engaging performance as Sean, portraying a challenging yet heartfelt brotherly relationship in his chemistry with Neil Grainger as Simon. The two have a natural, energetic humour, whereas interactions between Grainger and Jamie Quinn as Aidan are perfectly awkward, reinforcing Aidan’s inability to become a part of the family.
However, as the details of the holiday and the different relationships the three men had with Sean and Simon’s father begin to spill into the story through imaginative techniques such as rewinds and multirole, the impact is slowly lost. It becomes near impossible to recognise who the actor is speaking as, and where we are in the story. The dizzying cuts between the past and present soon become far too confusing, and without answering some of the questions raised throughout the play, present a rather unsatisfying ending.
Nonetheless, Petrification is a captivating and meaningful representation of family dynamics and relationships that although confusing, is unbelievably refreshing. Zoe Cooper’s writing is clever, witty and shocking, and although seemingly simplistic in its summary, Petrification is a seamless and gripping spectacle.