REVIEW: The Emperor (HOME, Manchester)

Kathryn Hunter in The Emperor © Simon Annand
Kathryn Hunter in The Emperor
© Simon Annand
reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

The Emperor tells the story of the fall of the infamous Haile Selassie, Ethiopian Emperor between the years of 1930 and 1974. The play is based on Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s book, in which he interviewed the servants of Selassie after his downfall. It is a glimpse into a world of corruption, poverty and absolute power, through the eyes of those who worked under the Emperor throughout his tyrannical reign.

The shapeshifting Kathryn Hunter plays each character with such spirited passion and vigour, with no crossover in between, each character is a personality in their own right. Her voices and mannerisms bring the characters to life in an inspiring and vast performance, transforming herself completely. The limited costume and props leave the characterisation to fall into Hunter’s very capable hands, and she does not disappoint. Every character has their own tone, and she switches effortlessly between the emotionally raw and vulnerable to the closed off and political. Through every character, we were able to build our own image of the Emperor, making him almost as big of a presence as the characters on stage.

The combination of Hunter’s masterful character acting and Temesgen Zeleke’s beautifully haunting live music created the sombre yet heartfelt tale that ran alongside the Emperor’s dictation and downfall – the loyalty and love of his servants. Although the Emperor was the main focus of the production, you can’t help as an audience member to feel drawn to Hunter’s characters. She plays them with such vitality that it becomes difficult not to become immersed in their world. And although the story itself was deeply interesting, especially since it is so little known, the production itself was held up by Hunter’s incredible talent. Her performance was pivotal to the success of the play, as any other attempt at such a bold and demanding role possibly would have caused the whole production to fall flat.

Mike Gunning’s lighting and Paul Arditti’s sound combined with Walter Meierjohann’s poignant directing created an intense, albeit slightly bizarre show that is not to be missed. The quick changes in tone left audiences reeling, never quite sure whether they should be laughing or crying, but Hunter made it flow naturally. Temesgen Zeleke’s music and the inclusion of the Amharic language of Ethiopia in his side characters added a subtle authenticity to the piece, making it all the more credible.

The Emperor is an honest and engaging piece about a part of history that many people know little about, creating a lot of discussion. However, what stands out for many is Kathryn Hunter’s faultless performance and energy that carries the piece throughout.

-Megan Hyland

The Emperor is at HOME, Manchester until Friday 30th September 2016.

For a taster of this FIVE STAR show, please watch HOME‘s trailer…

My Favourite Productions of 2015

My Favourite Productions of 2015

It has been an exciting year for Upstaged Manchester and I feel blessed and nostalgic as I remember the productions that have lifted my heart, helped me to question and generally captivated me this year. Here is a list of my theatrical highlights for 2015.

 Yen at The Royal Exchange

I couldn’t shake this 2013 Bruntwood Prize Winner by Anna Jordan for quite a while – it left my mind doing somersaults. Jordan’s phenomenal writing and her vivid characters combined with Ned Bennett’s clever direction and Georgia Lowe’s sparse set design gave an unforgettable fusion of total brilliance.

Nirbhaya at The Contact Theatre

This brave, real and haunting piece of work, exploring the effect of the brutal attack that Jyoti Singh endured on board a bus in Delhi on December 16th 2012, stopped me in my tracks and left me speechless. A perfect example of the role that theatre has in spreading an important message and how art can bring about change.

Shooting With Light at The Lowry

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This is by far the best production I have ever seen in the Lowry Studio – slick choreography and an atmospheric soundscape. Idol Motion will certainly be a theatre company that I will be looking out for in 2016.

The Rolling Stone at The Royal Exchange

The Rolling Stone had me captivated – on the edge of my seat throughout. With outstanding performances from all, Chris Urch’s Bruntwood Prize Winner about the persecution of gay men in Uganda stays with you for a long time. I am so pleased that it is being performed at Orange Tree Theatre in January and February of 2016.

Boeing Boeing at Oldham Coliseum

© Joel C Fildes

I had never seen a farce done well – until I saw this version of Boeing Boeing directed by Robin Herford. An energetic production with an outstanding cast – their timing and delivery was impeccable. It really lifted my heart to see the performance propelled along by gasps, laughter and impromptu applause from the audience.

 

Beautiful Thing at The Lowry

© Anton Belmonte

The combination of Jonathan Harvey’s brilliant writing and Nikolai Foster’s intelligent direction managed to bring out every nuance in the script – I found myself noticing elements that I hadn’t fully appreciated in previous interpretations. This production felt like a celebration and a salute to how far rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people have come over the last 20 years, and a recognition that we still have a fair way to go.

Kafka’s Monkey at HOME

What an accomplished performer Kathryn Hunter is – such a rich tone and incredible physicality. Masterfully directed by Walter Meierjohann, I feel blessed to have witnessed a performance like this – this show certainly put Manchester’s new arts space HOME on the map.

Golem at HOME

A true theatrical spectacle and a perfect amalgam of animation, live performance, music and claymation. Golem was like nothing that I had ever seen before – sharp interaction between the performers, Paul Barritt’s eye-popping animation and Lillian Henley’s brilliant silent movie-esque score.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at The Lowry

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a tremendous piece of theatre – a perfect collaboration with outstanding performances throughout. Gripping and heartfelt – the perfect example of the power that theatre has to change the way that we view the world.

Wicked at The Lowry

Emily Tierney as Glinda & Ashleigh Gray as Elphaba. ©Matt Crockett
Emily Tierney as Glinda & Ashleigh Gray as Elphaba. ©Matt Crockett

Well, I’m a big fan of Wicked and despite having seen the production before it just gets better and better for me every time. With magnificent music and lyrics, Wicked is a theatrical feast for your eyes, ears and hearts.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you – thank you for all of your support this year. 

Wishing you all the best in 2016.

-Kristy Stott

final profile pic

 

 

REVIEW – Kafka’s Monkey (HOME, Manchester)

Kathryn Hunter in Kafka's Monkey. Photograph Tristram Kenton
Kathryn Hunter in Kafka’s Monkey.
Photograph Tristram Kenton
 Date: 17 JUNE 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

There are not many performers who could accomplish what Kathryn Hunter has achieved in this version of Kafka’s A Report to an Academy, interpreted for the stage by Colin Teevan and masterfully directed by Walter Meierjohann – her transformation to a monkey is beyond physically impressive. Hunter is wholly mesmerising throughout the performance- from the top of her jaunty bowler hat right down to the tips of her crooked fingers when she extends her hand to greet. She holds a command over the language and projects it with a rich and expressive tone of voice and incredible physicality. From the moment that we first see her shuffle across the stage, her body depicts a bewildered beast trapped halfway between ape and human. Hunter performs with wit and precision – furrowing her brow, her arms swinging and contorting uncomfortably and her loping gait – every sinew of her body works to create an entity trapped between the two different states of being. Startled by the world, she exhales heavily through her nostrils admitting that questioning freedom “leads to the most profound disillusionment”.

Monkey tells the story of an ape that is captured in Africa and in order to survive decides to learn how to behave like a human being. It is a solo performance that runs for just under an hour during which Kathryn Hunter’s Monkey addresses an audience in a lecture hall. We are that audience and we are referred to as ‘esteemed members of The Academy’.

Hunter is supported by Nikola Kodjabashia’s hypnotic piano score and Steffi Wurster’s simple set design which uses a projection of a monkey caged by a light box, this allows the monkey to relate to her former self, before she decided to behave like a human, and also gives the sense of a contemporary academy. Mike Gunning’s striking lighting design moves through from a crisp spotlight during a jovial tap dancing routine to majestic silhouettes which appear to tower down over the half-woman, half-ape.

This is a rare treat for a Manchester audience and if there is anything that you need to see at the theatre this summer – Kafka’s Monkey is that. And now I am totally convinced that this production puts our new arts space HOME on the map and most certainly for me ‘there was no place like HOME’ yesterday evening.

-Kristy Stott

Kafka’s Monkey is running at HOME until 27 June 2015.

REVIEW – The Funfair (HOME, Manchester)


©Graeme Cooper Ben Batt (Cash) and Katie Moore (Caroline) in The Funfair
©Graeme Cooper
Ben Batt (Cash) and Katie Moore (Caroline) in The Funfair

Date: 21 may 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

 

Manchester’s newest arts centre HOME thrust open its doors for its official HOMEwarming celebration last week. Following the merger between the Manchester’s Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company, the first theatre production at the new venue is perhaps a fitting fusion of old and new. The Funfair is Simon Stephens‘ new version of Ödön von Horváth‘s masterpiece, Kasimir and Karoline. There has been a huge build-up for this production and the stakes have been set quite high and sadly, The Funfair does not live up to its expectations.

Directed by Walter Meierjohann, The Funfair follows twenty four hours in the lives of two young lovers who are on the verge of splitting up. Cash (Ben Batt) has recently lost his job as a chauffeur and now fears that he will lose his girlfriend, Caroline (Katie Moore) too. In a strange and twisted parallel relationship, Frankie Marr (Michael Ryan) and Esther (Victoria Gee) already inhabit the lowest depths of despair, a world of unemployment, anger and dirt – surviving in the only way that they can.

Set in Manchester, to the backdrop of the recession and massive social unrest, the characters are unable to free themselves from the disorientating reality of the funfair. Ti Green‘s dark and distorted stage design suggests the hopeless and cyclical world which the characters fight to exist in – a revolving stage, haunting carousel and dark figures watching on from the hidden corners in the set, all manage to create an unsettling and uncomfortable atmosphere, complemented by Mike Gunning’s lighting design.

The Funfair is relentlessly bleak and despite the odd grasp at humour and the wonderful live band playing a soundtrack of popular songs – it is awkwardly politically defined and too repetitive. There is little hope for any of the characters, who are reduced to caricatures, particularly the women who are victims of abuse and are objectified in an uncomfortable sexist world. Victoria Gee’s portrayal of Esther is perhaps the only exception to this  – her impressive performance is stripped back, we care about her and she gives us the only shard of hope for the future.

The Funfair is a bold first production by HOME which makes me feel thrilled to be part of the Manchester theatre scene. However, it left me feeling as if I had overindulged in candyfloss and then taken the wildest ride on the waltzers. A sensory overload but nevertheless an arresting showcase for HOME’s production capabilities which makes me very excited for the future.    

-Kristy Stott

The Funfair is on at HOME, Manchester (2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN) until 13 June 2015.