White is the new Black

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Last seen at the Anthony Burgess Foundation in the hilarious self-penned ‘The Community Centre’ Nicola Gardner returns to Manchester with fellow actress Jennifer Banks to deliver two very different yet hugely poignant plays, in the double bill, White is the new Black.

Piece one, The Last Appointment, written by Nicola as a commission for Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre sees black middle class GP Jo (Nicola Gardner) confronted by white Black Lives Matter activist Aretha (Jennifer Banks) who arrives at her surgery for the last appointment of the day. Things quickly become heated and increasingly personal as Aretha struggles to understand why Jo would not want to protest and take up the front line at rallies like Aretha, she tells her to “Get with the programme” and challenges Jo’s position of privilege, aghast that being the only black girl in her school didn’t leave her traumatised and angry at the injustice Aretha feels Jo faced. Whereas Jo wants to forget the struggles and the strife and aspires to succeed, holding people like the Obamas in high esteem and admiring their achievements in life, she wants to look forward not back.

There are some highly entertaining moments delivered beautifully by both actresses, Aretha strives to make Jo believe she too has lived a persecuted life due to being a Scouser, she knows how it feels to be targeted and treated badly, resulting in dramatic and hilarious eye rolls from Jo. Aretha challenges Jo’s attitude just as much as Jo challenges Aretha’s motives, ultimately boiling down to that fact that both just want what they feel is right and is fair despite going about things in dramatically different ways, both ladies show how ultimately despite our choices and actions we aren’t so very different after all.

Piece two in contrast to The Last Appointment reverses the roles of our two actresses, in Florence – The Fight of her Life written by Maurice Bessman, we meet African asylum seeker Florence (Nicola Gardner) as she comes face to face with seemingly cold-hearted Immigration Officer Mrs Lewis (Jennifer Banks). Florence is literally pleading for her life during the cold and demeaning immigration test as Mrs Lewis digs for detail despite the deeply upsetting and heartbreakingly sad reality of the life Florence has escaped from, boxes are ticked and devastating accounts disregarded as Florence fails to provide hard, factual evidence of the stories that she tells. The immigration office want physical proof explains Mrs Lewis and without that she must simply press on and get her job done, detaching herself from the emotion of the story, she simply sees herself as a woman just doing a job. The coldness and reality of the test is hard-hitting and sensitively delivered by both actresses, our characters have a task to complete and both are driven by achieving the best outcome, for Florence it is a life-changing and potentially devastating outcome should she be refused, for Mrs Lewis it’s just another work-placed task that she needs to complete efficiently. Florence has to relive painful and devastating memories, which are cruelly brushed away by Mrs Lewis due to not being documented anywhere as proof they ever happened.

While the two pieces are very different, they both ultimately highlight the same themes, despite colour and differences in race, we are essentially all one, we share so much in life that ties us together and bonds us, we love, we live and we all strive to succeed. While we may differ in our attitudes, choices and approaches, there are many more similarities that draw us together. The two plays both powerfully demonstrate how deep down we really are one, our diversities should be embraced and celebrated as the melting pot we come together in grows in richness and diversity. Emotive, powerful, and beautifully delivered theatre, highly recommended.

White is the new Black has one final performance tonight at the Anthony Burgees Foundation, tickets available here; http://www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk

 

The Loves of Others


We’ve all been there, that awkward moment when you witness a couple have blazing row, it could be  friends of yours, or complete strangers, I once saw a couple verbally massacre each other in the snacks and nibbles isle at Tesco  the night before Christmas Eve, it was embarrassing, crass, but most of all entertaining. Well imagine that multiplied by three and the genesis of the latest offering from play write Alex Keelan, The Loves of Others.

Set during two separate dinner parties held a year apart, we are treated to an insight in the lives of 3 couple’s lives: we have the host and hostess of the party Max (Dan Jefferies) Leanne (Alexandra Maxwell), he’s a boozy hangover from the ‘Loaded’ generation, and she’s Hyacinth Bucket only on Facebook. There are Tina (Amy Forrest) and her partner Dave (William J Holstead), she has a few confidence issues, and he’s a bit laid back to deal with them. Finally there is Vic (Alice Proctor) and Ike (Kyle Walker), she’s strong willed and feisty, he’s a people pleaser. As both dinner parties continue, relationships become more fractured, friendships and boundaries are pushed to the limit.


The script is a fine blend of acerbic put downs, and on point observations, whilst at times dealing with dark subjects including abuse, grief and prejudice Whilst some may feel dissatisfied with the rather abrupt ending, I rather enjoyed that the play left it’s characters dealing with their issues as opposed to resolving them: like a snapshot into their world.

There are fine solid performances throughout from all 6 actors: however I find that none of their characters were particular likeable, just as you begin warming to one of them, they’ll do or say something that will just grate on you. Director Kayleigh Hawkins certainly works her cast hard; with full costume and scene changes throughout neither which detract from the story. There is no interval either so the play never loses momentum allowing the lighter moments to shine through, whilst enabling the tension build and the mood to darken.


The promotional material claims The Loves of Others to be “A Modern Northern Abigail’s Party”, which will certainly draw in the punters, but may also mean that the two could be unfairly compared. This is a funny, brave, ambitious, and at times miserable look at modern British life, a hark back to the Great British kitchen sink dramas, only replacing the kitchen sink with a selfie, and a bottle of vino! 

The Salford Belles

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Jack Land Nobel’s darkly comedic soap opera The Salford Belles is headed to Hope Mill Theatre from tomorrow as part of The Greater Manchester Fringe this month.

First staged as The Barnsley Belles by the Yorkshireman Company back in July 2013 and now given a Salfordian twist by LS Theatre Productions, The Salford Belles promises to be a little like an episode of Coronation Street screened way, way after the watershead!

We meet Queenie, Mary and Martha who are all are at their wits end after a lifetime of cooking, cleaning, caring and conspiring. They are all desperate for change – but at what cost? Join The Salford Belles in this hilarious dark comedy and discover what goes on behind closed doors when the washing’s brought in from the rain and the curtains are drawn.

Catch the show from Monday 17th July until Saturday 22nd at Hope Mill Theatre, tickets available via the link below;

http://www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk/index.php#startlisting