Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink opens at Oldham Coliseum this Friday
Written By Freya Lewis
The Kitchen Sink Runs at Oldham Coliseum from Friday 9th February –Saturday 24th February.
Tom Wells is one of the UK’s most innovative and intriguing young writers, and The Kitchen Sink is what struck him into status in the theatre world, leading to his Most Promising Playwright Award at the Critics’ Circle Awards and the George Divine Award for Most Promising Playwright, plus a nomination for Most Promising Playwright at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards.
Sponsored by the New Charter group, this follows, from the same team, Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts in 2016; Director Chris Lawson and Designer Anna Reid.
The play presents us with a wild look into an unusual family situation, along with an amazing northern cast. A hilarious, modern family drama that makes us think what family really means when one has huge dreams in a little town. Chris Lawson commented: “Tom Wells writes stories that matter; we relate to them because they reflect real life.”
Sue Devany, star of Dinnerladies, Casualty and Coronation Street maintains her Oldham roots as Kath. She said “When I knew my favourite local theatre, Oldham Coliseum, was doing The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells I was over the moon… It’s a play full of hope, humour and love.”
The play also features This Is England’s Will Travis, Hollyoak’s David Judge, alongside the outstanding young talent of Sam Glen and Emily Stott.
Here we have a Japanese Christmas Dinner and a gangster gran, along with maybe a little too much of Dolly Parton. And, of course, the kitchen sink.
The Kitchen Sink follows Kath, working two jobs with an interesting cooking passion as she attempts to keep her family on track. Her husband, Martin’s milk float is falling apart along with his business. Billy’s lost confidence in his painting and Sophie’s dreams of becoming a Ju Jitsu teacher have crumbled after punching her sensei in the face.
This charming Oldham theatre is sure to impress, and this beautiful Northern tale of a regular, extraordinary family is unmissable.
We’ve had premieres, modern adaptations and watched some shows receive West End transfers – the Manchester stages have been truly brilliant this year. Here is Upstaged Manchester’s round-up of theatrical highlights through 2017. Which shows would make your list?
The Suppliant Women at the Royal Exchange
The Suppliant Women was certainly one of the most extraordinary theatrical events that I have ever seen. Debating ideas of identity and asylum, the story strikes a shrill chord now – in our current migrant crisis – as it ever did over two thousand years ago. The most impressive aspect of this show was the chorus, made up of thirty-five girls aged between 16 and 26. Thrilling, shocking and painfully good. The Suppliant Women is just one jewel in what has been a bold and exciting season for the Royal Exchange.
The Father at Oldham Coliseum
It is rare that we experience dementia from the perspective of the person who is struggling with it, rather we experience it from the viewpoint of family members and carers. Oldham Coliseum triumphed in presenting The Father, a highly engaging but charming, heart-rending though witty, interpretation of Andre’s struggle with the disease. With a tremendous performance from Kenneth Alan Taylor, many people were left moved as the show came down. This was a flawless production that managed to get people talking, sharing and understanding dementia together.
The Band at The Opera House
The Band is a complete triumph – it’s not just a musical for Take That groupies, but a musical for anybody who grew up with a boyband. Tugging hard at your heartstrings and tickling your funny bone, with a sterling cast and Take That’s wonderful floor-fillers, I was thrilled to find out that the musical will tour for an extra year following the huge demand for tickets. Truly feel-good and fabulous.
Uncle Vanya at HOME
Director Walter Meierjohann brought this deeply layered and finely nuanced production to complete fruition. Fascinating and truly absorbing, every word managed to strike new meaning. Nick Holder’s Uncle Vanya straddled the tragicomic perfectly, giving the best Vanya that I have seen, and all of the ensemble gave top-notch performances. This interpretation of the Chekov favourite was completely consuming.
Reviewer – Elise Gallagher:
Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre
My first review for Upstaged and my introduction to a fantastic venue – Hope Mill Theatre. A fresh musical which I feel took everyone by surprise and has introduced a new chapter of theatre in Manchester. I was thrilled to hear that Yank! received a well-deserved West End transfer.
Jane Eyre at The Lowry
One of my favourite stories translated onto the stage – it broke my heart (but in a good way!) and did Charlotte Bronte justice. Adapting a novel for the stage is a challenging prospect, especially such a timeless classic like Jane Eyre.
Reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Cotton Panic (MIF) at Upper Campfield Market Hall
Manchester International Festival audiences who ventured away from Festival Square, down Deansgate to the atmospheric Upper Campfield Market Hall were rewarded with a powerhouse performance from Jane Horrocks in Cotton Panic. This linked Manchester’s industrial heritage to the US Civil War in a truly enlightening way, whilst also serving up an innovative, entertaining, genre-defying piece of theatre. For me, it was the highlight of the festival.
People, Places and Things at HOME
Following a 2015 debut at London’s National Theatre, the touring version of Headlong’s People, Places & Things opened at HOME in September 2017. A perfect example of how to bring quality theatre out of London, this production drew on seemingly limitless reserves of energy to propel the audience through a tale of addiction and recovery. Lisa Dwyer Hogg had big shoes to fill after Denise Gough won an Olivier in the central role, but the power and nuance of her performance blew me away.
How to Save the World Without Really Trying at HOME
This was my first experience of self-described ‘drag aliens’ Bourgeois & Maurice, and I am already a devoted fan. The chemistry between the two is as good as you will ever see on stage, and the songs are well-written and hilarious. Get along to one of their shows if you possibly can, and if not check out their albums on Spotify.
Merry Christmas to each and every one of you – thank you for all of your support this year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chotto Deshruns at the Lowry in Salford until 4 May 2016.