Dancing Bear

Dancing Bear 1 credit Matt Tullett

Opening Night Verdict

As part of the Queer Contact Festival 2018, Jamie Fletcher & Company and Contact bring their dramatized musical, Dancing Bear to Manchester’s Palace theatre for two nights ahead of further dates at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in April.

Conceived by director/musician Jamie Fletcher and writer/musician Beccy Owen, Dancing Bear is an unflinchingly provocative piece of theatre which examines the navigation of daily life for many LGBTQ+ individuals while focussing on their individual challenges and fight for inclusivity, acceptance and a sense of spiritual peace in whatever forms that may take.

Each member of the company is given time and space to deliver their story, ensuring from the start we see each person as an entirely unique and special being. Stories are shared, some happy some painfully sad, offering an opportunity to reflect and consider our own views and experiences. A wonderful addition to the show is the inclusion of Katie, a BSL Interpreter who is wholly part of the company and who testifies like each other cast member.

Dancing Bear 2 credit Matt Tullett

The honest and personal testimonies are interwoven with an inspired piece of poetry in which we see the Dancing Bear move through various animal communities in a bid to find his people after being banished by his family; he yearns for somewhere he feels safe, loved, accepted and free to be the person he knows he truly is inside.

Whilst the show implores you to question and explore it also entertains enormously, with superb original songs and powerful contemporary dance in addition to the real-life stories, there is a wonderful cabaret vibe to the production. There is no preaching, nor pushing of an agenda other than delivering a message illustrating the importance of love and acceptance. The glorious array of individuals on stage wonderfully demonstrates our strength as individuals lies in acceptance and the grace to embrace difference in all its forms. In exploring faith it becomes wonderfully clear that to each individual God can be exactly what they want God to be, a powerful being in which faith can be placed. Poignant, provocative and an opportunity to find our own inner peace & spirituality on our own terms, conclusions need not be drawn as we celebrate the uniqueness of each other.

On at the Palace theatre 8pm this evening tickets can be found here.

 

Strangers on a Train

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When two men meet by chance on a train journey, little do they know the impact this life-changing encounter will have. As they relax into their journey, the drinks begin to flow and stories of their lives are shared. As hopes, dreams and life’s troubles are discussed an idea emerges which will have an untold impact on both their lives.

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith which was adapted for the cinema by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951, Craig Warner’s Strangers on a Train is a sinister tale of persuasion. Smiling psychopath Charles Bruno (Chris Harper) charms architect Guy Haines (Jack Ashton) into revealing his innermost thoughts then hatches a plan to commit what he thinks are the perfect murders, clever and calculated in a way the truth could never be uncovered. Of course something as dark as murder could never be so simple, the plan quickly begins to unravel & suffocate Guy as a manipulative and unhinged Charles becomes ever-present and looms large in all aspects of Guy’s life.

Chris Harper and Jack Ashton are entirely convincing in their individual roles. Harper is commanding and brash as Charles, obnoxious, obsessive and chillingly intense, he perfectly embodies a man on the edge of madness. Perfectly paired with Ashton’s calm and relaxed presence which becomes increasingly strained as the horror off his characters situation takes over, pushed past the point of no return by a tormentor he barely knows, he takes on the role of cornered victim well, keeping up appearances believably whilst battling with an increasingly manic oppressor.

While both leads and the ensemble deliver strong performances the pace of the play lets the production down, leaving a feeling that a good chunk could have been edited in order to allow the chilling tension the cast are so clearly capable of delivering to florish.

David Woodhead’s set while wonderfully intricate with sliding panels revealling hidden rooms at times muffles conversations & in several scenes blocks cast members from view for audience members sitting anything but bang central.

While some scenes are drawn out others feel rushed, with only fleeting appearances from Helen Anderson and John Middleton as Helen Anderson and Arthur Gerrard, both are excellent and draw attention each time they are on stage.

While there are some excellent performances which hold your attention for the duration of the production, the promised chill is never quite felt. Trimmed down this could be an excellent and gripping piece of drama.

On at the Opera House until Saturday 10th February tickets available here.

Things I Say When I Don’t Say I Love You

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Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Created as part of the Lowry’s flagship ‘Developed With’ programme Things I Say When IDon’t Say I Love You is a poignant and perfectly judged one-man play about male relationships within one family when dealing with a life changing dementia diagnosis.

Writer and performer Sam Brady focuses on three generations of one family, granddad Tommy, the no nonsense northern alpha male of the family, grandson Scott who is desperately trying to establish his own identity amidst a upbringing of tough love & what he sees as harsh parenting from dad Ian, who is seemingly stuck in the middle and trying his best to please everyone.

Tommy’s diagnosis ignites the nostalgia within Ian as he throws caution to the wind and purchases a clapped out 1967 Triumph Spitfire, a project to work together on, a dream to fulfil. Of course in theory the three generations would come together & restore the rusted shell to its former glory, real life however doesn’t work out quite this way as tempers fray, stress levels rise and the symptoms of dementia because all too obvious. How can three men who talk but never really say anything to each other communicate when they’re too busy butting heads?

Directed by Hannah Banister, Things I Say When I Don’t Say I Love You will warm your heart, provoke your thoughts and make you laugh out loud. Brady has a true gift for honest, intelligent and humorous storytelling. Witty and incredibly likeable, his script is littered with funny anecdotes and all too familiar situations we can all relate to from tense stand offs with a partner over broken promises to hilarious disagreements with a nosy neighbour. All bases are covered in this highly amusing, incredibly touching and well observed piece of writing. It is no mean feat to stand solo on stage taking on a variety of roles but Brady engages his audience entirely with genuine charisma and clever wit, his character definition is wonderfully clear & you quickly find yourself caring deeply for this family, dealt a cruel blow familiar to so many. Relationships are beautifully explored, bridges are built and laughs dished out a plenty.

Brady succeeds in taking a heart-breaking topic and exploring it with such care and respectful attention that it allows the human and humorous elements to shine through. Honest, relatable and thought-provoking theatre.

Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone

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Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Francesca Eagleton

We were definitely left ‘feeling good’ after Olivier-award nominated actress Josette Bushell-Mingo brought her one-woman show, ‘Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone’ to the Lowry Theatre.

Originally performed in 2016 at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool, Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone toured across Sweden last year before starting its 2018 UK tour here in Salford.

The show opens with Bushell-Mingo painting a picture of a civil rights rally in Harlem, New York, during the early 1960’s – a time of promised revolution for the oppressed black citizens of America.

Featuring an outstanding repertoire of Nina Simone hits including; Mississippi Goddam, Sinnerman, Ain’t Got No (I Got Life) and Feeling Good. Bushell-Mingo had the Lowry audience in the palm of her hand, as she retold important chapters of her life and connection to the legendary artist and civil rights activist. She begins by singing Simone’s 1969 single, Revolution but stops in her tracks.

Nina

“The truth is I don’t think a revolution has happened yet.” Bushell-Mingo explains that it has been over 150 years since the singing of the Thirteenth Amendment and the abolishment of slavery, but society still struggles with racial inequality. “How did we come to a time when we have to say Black Lives Matter?” She begins reciting a list of names of black people, including Martin Luther King Jr and Stephen Lawrence who were all persecuted and murdered.

Laquan McDonald is part of that list, an unarmed teenager who was shot 16 times by a police officer in Chicago in 2014 – his name is repeated throughout the show. Signifying this moment in history, Bushell-Mingo stamps her foot, counting them off every time, to represent each individual gunshot. Followed by silence, which while unsettling to the audience captured the injustice perfectly without the need for words.

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Finishing the show with a selection of Simone’s finest compositions, supported by an exceptional live band; Shapor Bastansiar (musical director and pianist), Shaney Forbes (Drums) and Neville Malcom (Bass). Bushell-Mingo brings the house down with her exquisite powerhouse voice, quite rightly receiving a standing ovation.

She might say, ‘I’m Nina Simone’s understudy” but this is so much more than a straight up tribute performance, it’s a performance full of fire, fury and a whole lot of sass. But it also leaves you feeling strong and empowered – everything that Nina Simone was.

Catch this powerful and soulful show at the Lowry Theatre before it finishes it’s run on February 3rd tickets available here.