Blackpool – What a Shit Place to Die

Three Minute Theatre, Manchester – Fri 20 July 2018

Starring Mark Newsome

Writer – Phil Pearson

Director – Grace Cordell

Reviewed by Eric Potts

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

At only fifty minutes long with no interval this is a real emotional roller-coaster.  We follow the mental descent of Billy Costello – a young, gay, depressed, autistic actor with a drug problem during what could prove to be his last few days on the planet…in Blackpool.

Oldham based actor Mark Newsome portrays Billy with truth, integrity, clarity and a real passion.  Although a one-man play, Newsome delivers duologues within the text as Billy encounters both random strangers and problematic family.  He does this with aplomb, the audience quickly buying into the theatrical device and enjoying the well-scripted content.

Writer, Phil Pearson has delivered a tight and fast-moving script, which Newsome delivers with apparent ease.  Costello’s downward spiral towards attempted suicide is, as you would expect, emotionally charged but deliciously peppered with acidic one-liners and asides that allow the audience to laugh through the tears and create a real empathy with the main character and his demons within.

The main thrust of Costello’s mental anguish would appear to be both his and his family’s struggle with his sexuality.  His other issues, drug-use and autism are featured secondarily within the play by means of some clever writing which came across as half-rap, half incantation.  It worked well.

A few minor directorial tweaks would solve some positioning issues and allow better use of the cleverly conceived projection sequences within the narrative, which should be expanded in any future production to augment the staging.  That said, director Grace Cordell has done a very good job and presented an almost full house with both a production and a performer that should go much further in the future.

Lennon’s Banjo

Lennon's Banjo cast in costume - credit Dave Jones

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Lennon’s Banjo aims to shed some light on one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll mysteries of all time, where on earth is the Holy Grail of pop memorabilia which John Lennon learnt his trade on that’s been missing since 1958?

The whereabouts of the mother of pearl backed banjo have never been revealed but one thing is certain, whoever discovers this missing musical treasure which without we may never have heard the Beatles would guarantee themselves instant fortune.

Writer Rob Fennah aims to shed some light on this missing part of Beatles history in his new comedy play, aptly titled, Lennon’s Banjo. The story follows Beatles tour guide Barry, a fab four fanatic who delights in sharing his knowledge to anyone who will listen but especially tourists who roll up for his magical mystery tour. One day he stumbles upon an unopened letter sent from John Lennon to Stuart Sutcliffe detailing where the missing banjo is stashed. Ever the artist the language in John’s letter is flowery and littered with jabberwocky style riddles which will need deciphering before the precious pop memorabilia can be located. Unfortunately for Barry he’s overheard discussing the letter by a double crossing, dodgy dealing Texan who fancies finding the infamous banjo for himself. Cue comedy capers galore as the race to discover the whereabouts of Lennon’s priceless relic begins.

Eric Potts heads up a strong cast at the loveable Barry, happy in his Beatles bubble he is trusting in nature which could very easily become his undoing. Potts is a superb comedy actor, he excels in the role and portrays Barry with such heart you find yourself willing him to succeed from the off.

Mark Moraghan and Jake Abraham as Joe and Steve, Barry’s begrudging buddies and local Beatles memorabilia shop owners add depth to the piece as they team up with hapless Barry in the race to find the musical treasure. There’s mickey taking a plenty and despite their apparent irritation with Barry and his endless Beatles facts the genuine affection for their pal shines through. The scenes between the three being a real highlight of the show as the banter and the put downs flow they are likeable, relatable and enormously entertaining.

Villains of the piece Travis and Cheryl portrayed brilliantly by Danny O’Brien and Stephanie Dooley add another layer to the story as their desperate and debt driven search for the illusive banjo becomes increasingly complex while the consequences of not delivering it get higher. The two have great chemistry and despite attempting to double cross an unwitting Barry are enormously likeable.

The strong cast deliver Rob Fennah’s witty script to perfection in this laugh out loud production, with wonderfully clear storytelling littered with humorous local references. Lennon’s Banjo is a fun and fast paced comedy romp. With bucket loads of scouse charm, enough Beatles facts to keep you entertained for days and appearances from Pete Best in certain performances Lennon’s Banjo will leave you grinning from ear to ear while considering lessons in jabberwocky.

On at the Epstein Theatre until Saturday 5th May tickets available here.

Hamlet

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Often described as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Director David Thacker’s Hamlet is relocated to a gently suggested Soviet Block with it’s marbled walls and leaders portraits, a nod also perhaps to the troubled political times we find ourselves living today.

Upon entering the theatre James Cotterill and Ciaran Bagnall’s impressive set and lighting design looms large; making use of the full height of the Octagon it is dominant, multi-levelled and imposing. In the opening scenes at the funeral of Hamlet’s father we quickly get an idea of the style of this production, beautifully and dramatically lit, scenes change at a pace from bright and bold to soft and brooding.

Hamlet Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Taking on the title role is the hugely impressive David Ricardo-Pearce, the tragic Prince, torn away from his studies abroad to a kingdom in turmoil, his Uncle taking not only the throne from Hamlet’s dead father but also Hamlet’s own mother to be his new bride. Overcome with confusion and grief the haunting sight of his dead father’s ghost sends Hamlet further into the depths of despair as he strives to find clarity in a world he feels increasingly uncertain.

Ricardo-Pearce delivers the multi-layered prince with conviction, playful yet proud, intense and sardonic. He takes of the task of avenging his father’s murder with fervour as he struggles to find an outlet for his grief, he is unflinching in his quest for retribution. At times addressing the audience directly, Ricardo-Pearce’s commitment to the role is exceptional as he questions, considers and confirms his plans.

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The supporting cast are equally as impressive. Jessica Baglow captivates entirely as the broken and grief-stricken Ophelia, singing gently as she weeps for the loss of her love Hamlet and her father, her mind turns to madness. Eric Potts injects great humour amidst the intensity as the trusted Polonius while Brian Protheroe is impressive as the cold and composed Claudius. Marc Small makes for a loyal and committed Horatio while Michael Peavoy is a charismatic and dignified Laertes.

Thacker’s emphasis on the family tragedy of Hamlet reaps dramatic rewards, with the delivery of the script some of the clearest I’ve seen, this Hamlet is accessible and gripping, it feels fresh and inspired with the cast working together perfectly to deliver and engaging and enormously entertaining piece of theatre.

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

A great Hamlet of course rests enormously on the lead, Ricardo –Pearce succeeds entirely in involving the audience in his journey as we experience and feel not only Hamlet’s broken and disillusioned heart but his manic and mesmerising mind. Fast-paced, gripping and utterly compelling.

On at the Octagon Theatre until Saturday 10th March tickets available here.

The Threepenny Opera

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Opening with a snarling and solo rendition of the much loved Mack the Kinfe, David Thacker’s version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1928 anti-capitalist ‘play with songs’ packs a re-energised and impressive punch.

Set in the near future where Queen Elizabeth is dead the country is awaiting the coronation of King Charles III, the powers that be work together to oppress the poor. Corrupt police are in cahoots with criminals while ruthless capitalists getting richer by the day by keeping the working classes down, making fat profits from the work they tie them to. Macheath (David Birrell) runs rings around both the corrupt authorities and the ever plotting underworld, with women, his only weakness in life seemingly being the only people who might be able get the better of him.

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James Cotterill’s set is industrial and inventive; levels of scaffold add height to the Octagon’s performance space offering the actor/musicians full involvement in the production.

The themes in David Thacker’s version resonate deeply as corrupt police, dodgy politicians, seemingly inexplicable fires and benefit cuts all get a mention bringing this Threepenny Opera bang up to date. Macheath’s treatment of women mirrors the injustice and exploitation seen so frequently in society, no more so than this last two weeks, it is a production which speaks powerfully about the times we’re living in. As always where there is social commentary there is sophisticated satire as the cast deliver this script with genuine wit and great style.

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Birrell is exceptional as Macheath, dangerous and manipulative; his brooding presence has just the right amount of menace about it, his voice rich, strong and powerful. Eric Potts as the odious Jonathan Peachum is superb, full-on and incredibly funny his paring with wife Celia (Sue Devaney) offers genuine laugh out loud moments throughout. Anna Wheatley as Polly Peachum is outstanding, sassy and strong she throws herself heart and soul into the character and has the audience in the palm of her hand.

Packed full with live music and incredibly clever and catchy lyrics The Threepenny Opera is a show that will entertain hugely yet send you away contemplating life and the injustices within it, powerfully politically and enormously entertaining David Thacker has got the balance just right in this slick, snarling and incredibly entertaining production.

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On at the Bolton Octagon until Saturday 4th November https://octagonbolton.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/the-threepenny-opera/#tickets