REVIEW: I Told My Mum I Was Going On An R.E. Trip (Contact Theatre, Manchester)

RETRIP_1072X600_jpg_710x400_crop_q85
guest reviewer: Demi west
upstaged rating: 

I told my mum I was going on a R.E trip… was a theatre production aimed at creating an onstage documentary style performance looking at real life stories of abortion. This was a play performed by only four people, in which they would repeat the words of real life interview recordings that they had conducted. This was a very interesting and unique concept for me to experience, as I had never seen a documentary tackled in a theatre setting. Interestingly, the fact that it was acted out instead of the audience hearing the actual recordings managed to create a distance between the characters interviewed and the audience. However, I felt that this verbatim style performance reduced the real life people to caricatures of themselves, which again, was not helped by the often bad accents, and the simple but stereotypical costume props.

In this verbatim performance, the actors each had an MP3 player which they would synchronise with one another, and then repeat the interview, word for word, that was playing in their ear, which gave an authenticity to the dialogue. This was subsequently broken up into seven sections, breaking down the stages one goes through with an abortion, which was again a good way of creating that documentary feel; other characters were added as well such as nurses and even the partners. The addition of a small section exploring how male partners may feel surrounding an abortion was a pleasing addition, as this perspective is often ignored. However, I felt that the way that this was handled really reduced a good idea to just a bit of joke.

Before the play had even started the cast were walking around the stage dancing around and interacting with family/friends which I felt secluded the rest of the audience and affected the vital suspension of disbelief needed for this style of performance. How was I ever meant to believe I was listening to an African girl, who had tragically died when minutes before I had seen her dancing around whilst miming paper planes? Simply waiting off stage until the play was ready to begin would have massively helped create a strong performance, as the acting on show was good but with a bit more of a serious approach would have been even stronger.

Overall the show was a very good concept and was executed well as a contribution to the ongoing debate around abortion – but I would like to see the concept developed further. The actors mentioned some of the interviews they didn’t include and I found myself wanting to hear more about them, as this would have offered a far more diverse opinion range to what was a fairly typical and narrow point of views and experiences. An exception of this was the extreme case of the African girl, which was a very hard hitting narrative and extremely well performed – for me, the star of the show. I Told My Mum I Was Going On An R.E. Trip was an interesting idea, but one I would urge to go deeper.

-Demi West
I Told My Mum I Was Going On An R.E Trip continues its UK tour at Battersea Arts Centre London until 13th February 2017. For further tour dates/ venues and to book tickets please click here.

REVIEW: King Lear (GM Fringe – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)

King Lear by Purplecoat Productions at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre
King Lear by PurpleCoat Productions at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre
reviewer: Ciaran ward
upstaged rating: 

PurpleCoat Productions’ interpretation of William Shakespeare’s infamous tragedy, King Lear, has asserted itself as a befitting homage to the playwright’s life and career in wake of the 400th anniversary of his death back in April. The emotional turmoil inherent in the many of the play’s round characters is emphasised through the skilled creative direction of Karl Falconer: a single set compounds the intense feeling and impending sense of enclosure experience by all, be that by death, imprisonment or loss.

Through the evident proficiency of the actors, the despair of Lear (Paul Carmichael) over his deteriorating authority, the anguish of Edmund (Stephen Michael Turner) from being the bastard son of the nobleman Gloucester (Karl Falconer) and, in turn, his own worries of being guilty of treason after aiding the King in escaping the wrath of his vengeful daughters (Natasha Ryan and Evangeline Murphy King) is greatly achieved, making for a riveting piece of theatre which stirs a desire for more than a three hour show.

Given the immersive nature of the performance, the audience began engaging with the drama from the exposition. Immediately, your sight informs you that the characters are dressed in modern attire but your hearing confuses you when you realise they are speaking the traditional lines that were crafted by the Bard himself. The anachronism, in itself, complements Lear’s descent into madness, but is also suggestive of the fact that the themes of human cruelty and justice are just as relevant today as they were in the Renaissance era.

The technical aspects of the play effectively contribute to the various atmospheres produced throughout, with the highly commendable lighting and sound effects being offered by Alisha Johnson and Mel Wells. Scenes of sinister plotting are aided by the stark reduction of light; a paradoxical approach to how you would generally discover a character’s ‘true colours’. Moments of truth and reconciliation, however, are embellished with mellow lighting, superficially indicating a sense of ease and tranquillity, before the tragic events in the dénouement become apparent.

Considering that this showing in Manchester is the last stop of the PurpleCoat Productions’ UK and Ireland Tour, it is impressive that the quality and high standards of the cast and crew have been so well preserved throughout the show’s run. Every aspect of the production, from the incongruous costuming to the raw talents of the actors dealing with such an acclaimed piece of drama, engenders it to be a mesmerising performance that enchants any Shakespeare fan, young or old.

-Ciaran Ward

REVIEW: National Killing Day (GM Fringe 2016 – The King’s Arms, Salford)

 

National Killing Day at Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016
National Killing Day at Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016
reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

Lee Clotworthy’s writing debut, National Killing Day is a thrilling and fast-paced hour of entertainment. The play follows James, a young man struggling to come to terms with the breakdown of his marriage on the country’s first National Killing Day. For the next 24 hours, murder is legal. James finds himself purchasing a train ticket to his ex-wife’s house – with a knife and her death certificate in his bag. But it’s the people that he meets along the way and the glimpses of media coverage that make the play so exceptional.

With an animated cast of nine, the play explores and tests dynamics between brothers, friends and even couples on the tensest day of the year.  The narrative switches between the media coverage, which paints National Killing Day as a vitally important day in the country’s history in order to control the population, and also the violent reality that James witnesses on his journey.

Although simplistic, the staging and lighting only emphasise the outstanding acting talent of the cast. Dean Brammel delivers an engaging and raw performance as James, as we watch his developing struggle to “open up” emotionally to his ex-wife, Jenny. Whereas Hayley Thompson and Mike Howl expertly handle multirole, with Thompson, in particular, showcasing her diverse acting ability as both patronizing and propaganda-pushing broadcaster Phillipa Phillipson and bumbling yet unruly shopkeeper Phyllis.

The play’s individual selling point is its complete control of building and diffusing tension. National Killing Day deals with some uncomfortable subjects, such as affairs, unhappy marriages and social barriers, all brought to a head with the idea of legal murder. The tension in the scenes often rises to points where they become quite difficult to watch, as the characters are driven to hysterics by the reality of National Killing Day. But just as quickly as the tension is built, it is ultimately diffused by the clever and quick satirical humour of Clotworthy’s writing.

Overall, National Killing Day is incredibly tense and exciting to watch, with the last five minutes particularly bringing the play to a surprising and shocking climax. Music is used sparingly throughout, but its ironic and unexpected uses only adds to the satirical tone of the play. And while this may be Clotworthy’s first stint as a script writer and director, it’s certainly an encouraging and promising start.

-Megan Hyland

National Killing Day shows at The King’s Arms until Friday 22nd July 2016 and you can get your tickets here. 

For further information and complete listings for Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2016 click here.

REVIEW: Beyond Caring (HOME, Manchester)

Beyond Caring © Graeme Braidwood
Beyond Caring
© Graeme Braidwood
upstaged rating: 

Beyond Caring pulls the filthy wall away to reveal the reality of working life for the night shift workers on zero-hours contracts in a meat factory. Employed as cleaners on agency contracts, their work is physically demanding and repetitive and they don’t always get paid on time. Alexander Zeldin’s perception of life on the lowest rung of the employment ladder is precise, darkly comic and painstakingly accurate.

Beyond Caring © Graeme Braidwood
Beyond Caring
© Graeme Braidwood

Designer Natasha Jenkins has managed to make Theatre 2 at HOME feel just like an industrial warehouse. Harshly lit by bright white strip lights from above, there is the smell of cleaning products and pungent damp mops in the air. We learn snippets about the characters lives during their 15-minute lunch breaks before they continue with the arduous task of cleaning the meat factory.

The whole piece has been devised by the company through investigation and talking to those who have experienced zero-hours contracts. The show centres around the introduction of three new agency workers to the soul-destroying and dingy walls of the factory: Grace (Janet Etuk), Susan (Kristin Hutchinson) and Becky (Victoria Moseley). Led by factory taskmaster Ian (Luke Clarke), the three women join with permanent employee Phil (James Doherty) to work the night shift. Hints are threaded throughout the script to indicate why the three are so desperate for the job – it’s authentic, real and at times, difficult to watch.

Beyond Caring © Graeme Braidwood
Beyond Caring
© Graeme Braidwood

Luke Clarke’s supervisor Ian has a ‘David Brent’ air about him, conducting pointless team meetings and describing his self-indulgent spiritual beliefs; though despite the shades of black comedy, the piece takes the subject matter seriously. As somebody who has worked in a zero-hours environment, I could relate to the way he treated his workers, which made for uncomfortable but achingly real viewing.

-Kristy Stott

Beyond Caring runs at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 16th July 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Declaration (The Lowry, Salford)

Declaration by Art With Heart ~ Developed With The Lowry ~ © Sam Ryley
Declaration by Art With Heart ~ Developed With The Lowry ~
© Sam Ryley

 

upstaged rating: 

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.

-Kristy Stott

To find out more about Art With Heart‘s brilliant work, click here to visit their website.

REVIEW: Petrification (The Lowry, Salford)

Petrification by Telltale Theatre Company
Petrification by Telltale Theatre Company in association with LittleMighty
Reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

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.

– Megan Hyland
Find out more about LittleMighty here. Petrification continues the tour at the Mitre Inn, Knaresborough on 20 June 2016 with further shows in Ripon, Harrogate, Leeds and London through June and July. Click here for tickets and more information.

REVIEW: The Night Watch (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

The Night Watch at the Royal Exchange until 18th June 2016. © Richard Davenport
The Night Watch at the Royal Exchange until 18th June 2016.
© Richard Davenport
UPSTAGED RATING: 

Adapted for the stage by Hattie Naylor, The Night Watch is Sarah Waters’ thrilling novel of the same name. Shortlisted for both the Man Booker and Orange prizes for fiction, the narrative is set against the backdrop of 1940’s London and spirals back from the post-war devastation of 1947 to the Blitz of 1941. 

“People’s pasts are so much more interesting than their futures.”

 

As the fragmented stories of five people unfold we begin to understand the secrets, regrets and shame that have bound all of them together. With each life intertwined, so skilfully and softly layered, they are all detonated by war, but more so, by love.  

It’s a tricky narrative to present on stage but Naylor cuts right to the chase and avoids any extraneous period detail – the story is presented to us powerfully, each scene juxtaposed perfectly allowing each characters experience to weave smoothly into the next. The fusion of Georgia Lowe’s stark stage design and Rebecca Gatward’s intelligent direction ensures that scene changes and shifts in time are handled beautifully. The sweet and dream-like sound of a piano accompanies the circular movement of the stage as we are transported to another point in time. 

Flooding the stage with soft warm lighting, Elliot Griggs’ lighting design compliments perfectly, transforming an office desk to a summer roof terrace, switching through the darkness of war and devastation to the warm light of love and hope.

With such a pleasingly simple set design, there is absolutely no room for error on stage and the cast deliver a stunningly captivating production. Flawless and intricate, the characters are developed throughout the play – their emotions stripped back as we get to know, and love, them. Led by Jodie McNee, playing the troubled and endearing Kay Langrish, there are no weak links here. Kelly Hotten captures the vulnerability of secretary Helen – wearing her heart on her sleeve, it’s easy to understand her attraction to Julia, the feisty and flamboyant writer played by Lucy Briggs-Owen.

The Night Watch is a gripping adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel – beautifully realised and faultlessly performed.

 

-Kristy Stott

The Night Watch runs at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until Saturday 18th June 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW – Chotto Desh (The Lowry, Salford)

Chotto Desh © Richard Haughton

 

Thingstars: 

Chotto Desh is being performed as part of the Week 53 festival at The Lowry Theatre in Salford. The innovative festival seeks to bring together contemporary dance, visual arts, music and theatre in interactive installations, exhibitions and performances.

We were thrilled to find out that the Akram Khan Company were taking part in the festival with a new adaptation of their Olivier Award-winning DESH, suitable for children aged 7+ and their families. This is the first ever family show created by Akram Khan and I was very excited to introduce Thing 1, who loves to dance, to some of Akram Khan’s work.

Chotto Desh meaning ‘small homeland’ in Bengali, is the perfect blend of dance, clever animation and simple storytelling set to the beat of an original soundtrack. The narrative is beautifully painted and is pitched at the ideal pace and level for older children to enjoy and understand, detailing a young British man’s dreams, curiosities and memories on his journey to find home. Despite being born in London, Akram has roots in Bangladesh and the Philippines – we follow him on his journey from Britain to Bangladesh and back again; we understand his aspiration to be a dancer and we explore a magical world of memories and stories as they unfold to us.

The show is stunningly performed by Dennis Alamanos – the dynamic and detailed choreography fuses classical Indian Kathak with ballet and contemporary dance. With references to Michael Jackson, breakdancing and street dance – we can understand how popular culture influenced Akram’s childhood. Alamanos’ movement fuses perfectly with the voiceovers and dream-like moving images. Children’s mouths were agape at the enchanting animation – as Akram comes face to face with a crocodile and stares in awe at an elephant before sprinting away from an approaching tiger.

There is such fluidity with the whole performance which also aids little ones understanding and there is a perfect scattering of humour. It was pleasing to see so many children engaging with the performance and enjoying such a breathtaking piece of choreography. Chotto Desh is the perfect mix of storytelling and dance, loaded with innocence and affection, making it fitting for young minds.

Chotto Desh is a beautiful adventure for children aged 7+ and their grown-ups – thrilling, poignant and brilliant. It certainly encouraged us to think about our own home and family and the aspirations that drive us forward.


-Kristy Stott

Chotto Desh runs at the Lowry in Salford until 4 May 2016.

REVIEW – Origins (The Lowry)

Origins by Animikii Theatre.
Developed with The Lowry.
Upstaged Rating: 

This new piece of physical theatre by Animikii Theatre Company explores the story of the world’s first murderer: the killing of Cain by his brother Abel. The result is an intense hour of gripping storytelling communicated only through movement and sound.

Co-created by Henry McGrath and Adam Davies, who also plays Abel, Origins probes the psychological and divine relationship between the two brothers and examines the reason that the two became such hateful enemies.

The brothers relationship is well mapped from the start with Abel (Adam Davies) and Cain (Charles Sandford) engaging in enjoyable and boisterous brotherly games. Oscar Thompson’s ominous musical score resonates powerfully, from the sound of a maternal heartbeat to a discordant boom, giving further depth and meaning to the skilled physicality.

Charles Sandford as Cain towers over Adam Davies’ Abel and appears as the dominant brother from the very start. Cain proves to be diligent crop farmer and Abel a shepherd but the power balance is shifted once Abel makes a more pleasing sacrifice to their god. Could jealousy be the motivation for the murder? Did Cain feel a loss of self-esteem which powered him to kill his brother? Animikii aim to look beyond the monster that Cain appears to be and deliver a portrait of his dreams, passions and the motivations that lead him to commit fratricide.

Adam Davies and Charles Sandford are highly skilled performers and gripping to watch. Bare-chested they deliver an agile performance demonstrating precision, spatial awareness and creativity. 

Origins is a tremendous and gripping piece of physical theatre, intense and biblical in the grand sense. With every detail loaded to perfection, Animikii Theatre Company are certainly ones to watch and I can’t wait to hear about their future projects.

-Kristy Stott

Origins continues to tour through May 2016: Visiting the Southbank Centre, London on the 4th and 5th May. The tour visits the Rainhall Centre in Barnoldswick, The Bureau in Blackburn, The Barbour Institute in Tattenhall, The Goodwill Hall in Faddiley and the Unity Theatre in Liverpool. Please click here for more info and tickets.

REVIEW – Leaper – A Fish Tale (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Leaper - The Fish Tale by Tucked In Theatre Company
Leaper – The Fish Tale by Tucked In Theatre Company
Thingstars: 

It’s quite alarming to find out that around 90% of global fish stocks are over-exploited, fully exploited or in recovery from exploitation. In severely depleted areas, the only way to restore fish stock is by introducing protected reserves. However, considering a massive 72% of our planet is water and only 4% of this is currently protected, it becomes evident that without urgent measures we may be the last generation to catch food from the oceans.

It’s really important to educate the younger generation to care for their planet from an early age and Tucked In Theatre Company explore this idea through their production of Leaper – A Fish Tale. There are no blinding statistics or complicated language but charming puppetry, original music and a set with a wonderful hand-crafted quality. The energetic cast of three: Lizzie Franks, Philip Bosworth and Robert Welling tell the story of Leaper the fish and the beautiful but perilous ocean world that she inhabits.

Through the eyes of a little girl, we follow Leaper on her journey to encounter the ever growing natural and man-made dangers in our ocean. After accidentally falling into the water to retrieve her dropped prawn cocktail crisp packet, the little girl makes friends with Leaper as they explore the waterways together, travelling from the tiny stream to the vast ocean and back again.

The young audience were engrossed by Claire Harvey’s wonderful puppet design featuring a school of fish, a noisy duck and a formidable brown bear. Jim Harbourne’s warm and upbeat musical score provided continuity and familiarity for the little ones and Annie Brooks’ design had a real home-made appeal. However, there was a lot of story to cram into a short running time of 60 minutes and with frequent set changes, some of the sections felt rushed. The young members of the audience would certainly benefit from a slower pace which would give them time to reflect and understand.

Following our visit to watch Leaper – A Fish Tale,  Thing 2 was busting with questions about fish and our oceans, proving that theatre can be a powerful way to tap into a child’s understanding of the world and our environment. Tucked In theatre have to be applauded for their imaginative approach in tackling a complex subject and their ability to make it accessible to children. After all, our children are the future generation and the earlier we educate them about our planet – the brighter their future.

-Kristy Stott

 Leaper is showing next at the Blackwood Miners Institute in Caerphilly on the 30th April 2016 and at 96 Shenley Road in Borehamwood on the 2nd May 2016.