The Last Ship

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s rather fitting The Last Ship should wind up its UK tour in Salford: sure, they never built ships there, but the Lowry now stands on a site that up until 1972 was a working port. However soon like so many British industries the Salford/Manchester docks closed with 3000 people losing their jobs. So, it seems rather fitting then that for one last time (well on this tour at least), The Last Ship sets sail.

The story revolves around the return of local boy Gideon Fletcher, (Richard Fleeshman) who 17 years prior fled the town and joined the navy: he could see the writing was on the wall even back then for the shipyard and wanted to avoid the seemingly inevitable indoctrination into that way of life. However, on his return he now finds his town in potential ruin from the proposed closure of the ship yard. To make matter worse he receives a frosty reception from his old-flame Meg Dawson, (Frances McNamee) the girl he left behind. These two may be the focal point, but this is story with a bigger tale to tell: one of community, hope and defiance.

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The Last Ship is Sting’s love letter to a town he grew up in and a life he had once known. It fully acknowledges the pride and struggle that the people of Tyneside and other communities faced at the closure of not just the docks but coalmines and pits as well. Songs like “The Last Ship” the “Shipyard” swell with pride with the latter being a foot stamping statement of intent.

The cast are on fine form, Richard Fleeshman makes for engaging, charismatic lead, who at times doesn’t half sound like Sting when singing. Joe McGann and Penelope White as shipyard foreman Jackie White and his wife Peggy, make for a heart-warming, strong couple, who have each other’s and the rest of the communities backs at all times. The show is packed full of spirited and strong performances throughout that certainly do the source material full credit.

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The production design by 59 Productions is outstanding: one minute you’re in a dockyard the next a church complete with stain glass windows and eerie echo. Above we have the claustrophobic grey clouds, and magnificent tower cranes: the visuals take this production to another level, never ‘showy’ or flash, just simply stunning.

Anyone expecting an all singing, all dancing musical affair complete with ‘jazz-hands’ need look elsewhere, for this is production filled heart, soul and an unashamed political agenda. It calls out Margret Thatcher and the government of the day for the pain and suffering they caused so many at that time. The production highlights the mistakes of the past a warning to make sure these mistakes aren’t repeated in the future, especially regarding the NHS: It certainly has some something to say, and it says it loud and unashamedly proud.

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At the close of the production the cast took a well-earned standing ovation and gave us one last song: joined by Sting for an unannounced, unassuming blink and you’ll miss it cameo for the Last Ships final week of shows, judging by this performance lets hope there are plenty more voyages to come!

The Last Ship is at the Lowry until 7th July tickets available here.

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

From Ibiza

Opening Night verdict –

It was, of course, the immortal allure of David Bowie that drew us like a siren’s call to ‘From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’… an irresistible opportunity to hear his music; to listen to his voice (albeit brilliantly mimicked by comedian Rob Newman); to see his otherworldly face projected front and centre stage…

So, inhabiting protagonist Martin’s world – where Bowie shines perpetually like an ephemeral ‘Diamond Dog’ – takes no leap of the imagination at all. We first encounter him aged seventeen, and he is a broken bird of a boy: gripped by an eating disorder, he is prone to occasional self-harm and leads a reclusive, dead-end existence with his alcoholic mother.

Martin’s father left the family home when he was two years old, so when he stumbles across his estranged patriarch’s treasured collection of Bowie albums and memorabilia, an obsession is born.

On the morning of Martin’s eighteenth birthday, he is gifted an envelope; left to him by his erstwhile father, it contains a map of London that treads in Bowie’s footsteps.

Galvanised by the hope that it may ultimately lead to his father’s whereabouts, Martin scrapes together enough money to head to the capital – beginning his quest outside the wrought-iron gates of Stockwell Infants School, where David Robert Jones was the small boy with anisocoria eyes and a huge future…

First thing’s first, this is a ‘one-man show’ in the truest sense – a tour de force solo performance by the impressive Alex Walton [After the Blue, ISM, London Calling, Macbeth], who is seemingly inhabited by a cast of thousands. You see him morph from all-knowing narrator to angst-ridden teenager to wizened record store owner within seconds. Each character is as fully formed and believable as the last – leaving you with the impression of having been entertained by a whole company, rather than a single performer.

Walton’s emotional range is vast – taking him from an overexcited karaoke performer in a rough pub to the victim of an all-too-real panic attack in a greasy kebab house within minutes. (Anyone who has experienced crippling fear and breathlessness when anxiety strikes could find this a particularly triggering scene, although credit must be paid to him for a startlingly accurate portrayal.)

Curiously, although Bowie’s spectre engulfs the production from start to finish, anyone expecting a musical of smash hits is going to be sorely disappointed. His music is purely incidental – utilised to hint at Martin’s mental state, rather than a succession of rousing choruses taken from the hit parade. (Expect to hear snippets from Bowie’s more experimental side of his oeuvre.) Likewise, Set & Costume Designer Andie Scott delivers a pared-back aesthetic, which merely hints at Bowie – providing no more than window dressing to Walton’s considerable talent.

Writer & Director Adrian Berry (Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane Theatre in London) is to be especially praised for delivering a truly innovative narrative and production that is heart-breaking and humorous in equal measure, as well as avoiding all temptation to conclude with a definitive ending. Part of the great joy of this experience is walking away from the theatre and ruminating over what the final scenes mean for Martin, his father and the Thin White Duke himself.

Hugely acclaimed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – playing to sell-out audiences – the show is currently on tour nationally, with concluding performances at Jacksons Lane Theatre (6-10 March 2018). For tickets, click here.

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Doctor Doolittle heads to The Lowry!

Dr Doolittle

A brand new stage production of Leslie Bricusse’s family favourite Doctor Dolittle will be heading to The Lowry for Christmas 2018!

Produced by Music & Lyrics Limited who recently brought The Addams Family and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the Salford venue, Doctor Dolittle will stay for the entirety of the festive season opening on Tue 11th December 2018 and running through to Sat 5th January 2019.

This all new production which will feature stunning visual puppetry, a stunning soundtrack including Academy award-winning “Talk To The Animals” as well as the hilarious Pushmi-Pullyu and Dolittle’s trusty sidekick Polynesia the parrot.

Booking is now open for Lowry members with general sale soon to follow, more information can be found here

Your Toys

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Slot Machine Theatre have created a pure delight for families with their latest production, Your Toys. The 5 strong cast don overalls to resemble furniture removal workers and, surrounded by a set full of cardboard boxes and flatpacks, they bring make-believe to the stage awakening youngsters imaginations.

The show sees the audiences’ well-loved toys take to the spotlight as they go on a journey through sand, sky and even a jungle, animated by the clever puppeteering performers. There’s squeals and smiles from the mini-theatre goers during the fun filled 60 minutes as they witness their toys coming to life, from plastic dinosaurs to even a prized scarf!

The innocence and charm of childhood is used to the max in this production with audience participation creating sound effects, kids drawings projected onto the backdrop and a script with its own made up gobbledygook. To top it all off we got to see a Doc McStuffin’s toy busting some great dance moves alongside Bagpuss and a Panda…how many times can you say you will witness that? A real joy to watch and I imagine a unique show every time, depending on which toys come to play!

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Daisy, our mini-reviewer

 

Mini-reviewer Daisy, aged 7

“I loved the fact that the toys from the audience were put in the show. I recommend that you should bring your toys to this show. The ages that are welcome are 5 – 9 years. The puppeteers were amazing Matthew Coulton, Nadia Morgan, Isabel Sharman and Nicola Blackwell. We loved seeing our toys in the adventure. My favourite part was when they did dancing with the toys on the stage and when the toys sang  Don’t Eat The Berries which was very funny. The musician Nick Tigg was as good as the puppeteers, making outstanding sound effects and putting smiley faces on the crowd.”

Your Toys played The Lowry, Salford Sunday 29th October

The show is next played at The Lyric, Hammersmith, London 4th November

 

Lowry Competition!

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We are thrilled to be able to offer a family ticket to see the fabulous Fauna on either Thursday 21st or Fri 22nd September at the Lowry.

Winner of the Total Theatre and Jackson’s Lane Award for Circus at Edinburgh Festival 2017, Fauna is a unique mixture of acrobatics, dance and movement with a brilliant live musical score – a mesmerising evening of extraordinary strength and sublime skill!

To enter all you need to do is follow our page and share this post, good luck!

Further information can be found at http://www.thelowry.com/events/fauna

Marshmallow Laser Feast presents ‘IRIS’

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Probing, enlightening, hypnotic and playful, ‘IRIS’ – the unique digital art installation – is a mesmerising sensory experience that visitors to the Lowry are going to ADORE! Last night was our first opportunity to see it, FEEL it, and to fall in love with it at the world premiere, as well as to meet the Director of this laser and robotic feast, Ersin Han Ersin.

Fresh from a win at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival for the virtual reality experience ‘Treehugger: Wawona’, Ersin had completed a successful ‘IRIS’ rehearsal earlier in the day; yet as VIP guests filtered into The Quay Club – swooping up cocktails that were as inviting as the day’s blissfully sunny skies – Ersin admitted to feeling (understandably) a little nervous: “I want people to find it spectacular,” he confides. “Usually, our production company, Marshmallow Laser Feast, designs for the stage. In this case, the commission was to create something for the auditorium that responds to the architecture of the Lyric Theatre.


‘The theatre is always the theatre. We have tweaked and played with the architecture – shrinking it and expanding it using laser lights. It’s abstract, ephemeral; there’s no clear narrative. People create that through their own response to it. We wanted to take people to a space that is changing and then leave them with that space – and hopefully breathless.”

It’s a hope that The Lowry’s Chief Executive Officer, Julia Fawcett OBE, shares: “Contemporary art, digital art… these can be a challenge. Our Digital Programme is about finding ways of opening up people, so that they bring no prejudgment; they haven’t already decided it’s not for them.

‘Our usual programme is planned two, even three years ahead, and artists approach us all the time with wacky ideas. We could never get our clocks in sync to exhibit them. That’s what our biennial commissioning festival Week53 is all about – stopping the clock and saying: ‘Our building is available’.”

‘IRIS’ is The Lowry’s Week53 commission for this intervening year. The Digital Programming Team were looking to work with artists who were at home with the challenge of working in the elliptic-shaped theatre; an empty space that isn’t truly empty. Previous collaborators – and internationally-renowned pioneers – Marshmallow Laser Feast were selected. Julia shares her delight at discovering one of the founders is from Salford, exclaiming: “They’re from around the world and around the corner!”

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‘IRIS’ exists in two free formats: as a ‘Black Box’ experience you can enjoy as a piece of digital art, or as a surprise piece of pre-theatre before selected shows.

“It’s dynamic – a completely different experience that changes whether you are in the circle or the stalls,” says Julia, who challenged Marshmallow Laser Feast to create a digital art piece that would sit comfortably before every kind of show, from comedy to opera to drama.

“As it’s free, people can come back again and again. What happens isn’t like anything else that you usually experience when you sit in a theatre. You are a participant as much as an observer. You’re inside something – the void of the building – encapsulated by the sound and music-scape.”

With our appetites well and truly whetted, we head into the Lyric Theatre itself for a short introductory speech by Julia. It is only four days since a terrorist atrocity took 22 lives and caused injuries to 119 others at the Manchester Arena, so it is with loving respect that Julia pays tribute to all those affected. From the initial feeling of helplessness, she says, came a resolve to: “Do what we do: to carry on delivering the programme and great art.” It echoes Ersin’s earlier comments that the show will give us breathing space, and that “they [the terrorists] can’t win.”


After this moment of reflection, ‘IRIS’ begins… The bowels of the Lyric Theatre are plunged into darkness and is punctuated by mechanical, industrial noises, which are interspersed by strains of classical music. With my heart pounding, I feel for my husband’s hand – uncertain of what to expect next. Overhead, robotically-controlled lasers now pierce red beams of light through the darkness – stretching long, searching fingers down from the ceiling to slowly probe the audience below.

The movie reel of my mind digs out ‘Blade Runner’ as a cultural reference – it feels dystopian… a disembodied presence extending tendrils of light to prod and provoke.. yet as the light columns begin to encircle us – caging us in – I desperately want to be one of the ‘chosen ones’ who are ‘touched’ by the criss-crossing lights that stain faces and hands red for a fleeting second. When I finally ‘catch’ one, it ribbons through my fingers – leaving a smile of pleasure on my face.

Pulsating… growing and shrinking… ‘IRIS’ now changes – the soundtrack becoming ethereal and yearning. We have entered a time of enlightenment, similar to Aldous Huxley’s ‘doors of perception’; there is a feeling of a new dawn of knowledge and connectivity. The lasers are a friend and an educator – showing their intelligence with increasingly intricate patterns that suspend, swoop and play.

Then – after six all too short minutes – it ends abruptly; the hypnotic trance is broken. Julia Fawcett’s ardent wish that ‘IRIS’ will leave you curious – and with a burning resolve to return – is fulfilled.

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Spilling back out into the still brilliant daylight, it’s now time to nurse a drink and muse over what we’ve experienced in ‘IRIS’, while the ‘Tim Peaks Diner’ experience takes residence at Pier Eight below us. Strains of overhead conversation echo Julia and Ersin’s promise that this ethereal being, ‘IRIS’, will be interpreted uniquely by all. No two opinions are the same, but there are surprised and curious grins of pleasure all around.
It’s the perfect precursor to The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, who is joined by guests TEAR and a bevy of DJs for an uplifting mini-festival that feels communal and comforting after the week’s events.


Hi Resplendent in a gold glittery cardigan, which he later peels off to reveal a ‘A Different Day’ T-shirt, the indie legend serves up an acoustic set of the ‘songs we know, but done different’ – treating us to crowd-pleasers like ‘The Only One I Know’, ‘Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over’, ‘Tellin’ Stories’ and ‘North Country Boy’. It is hot on the heels of the launch of The Charlatans’ new album, ‘Different Days’. Touted as ‘the best Charlatans album in 20 years’, it features a plethora of special guests – including Smiths’ legend Johnny Marr, who plays on three tracks. After the ‘Tim Peaks Diner’ experience, Opening Night will be snapping it up!


Audiences can experience ‘IRIS’ before selected performances in the Lyric Theatre and on the following additional dates:

Saturday, 27 May – Sunday, 28 May: 11am to 4pm

Saturday, 10, 17 and 24 June: 10.30am to 11.30am

Saturday, 8 July: 10.30am to 11.30am

The artwork will last for approximately seven minutes and will be shown every 15 minutes.

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Bucket List

(c) Alex Brenner

Following an award winning Edinburgh Festival Fringe run, the internationally acclaimed Theatre Ad Infinitum bring their latest powerful piece Bucket List to the Lowry.

The all-female cast tells the story of Milagros, a spirited Mexican orphan who tragically sees her mother murdered during an anti-corruption protest. Milagros is left with only a bloodied list of names, names of those responsible for her mother’s death. Milagros soon realises her only option to make them pay and find her vengeance is to destroy them, one by one.

(c) Alex Brenner

Ad Infinitum’s style of story-telling is exceptional, physical, effusive and hugely powerful. The piece at 90 minutes straight through with no interval flows rapidly and packs a punch, raising a fist of defiance to the powers that be. The ensemble cast successfully take on a number of roles; once you get into the flow of how this innovative company share their tales you are soon scooped up and hooked by their charismatic and emotive style.

(c) Alex Brenner

(c) Alex Brenner (info@alexbrenner.co.uk)

Director Nir Paldi perfectly illustrates through her cast the desperation and frustration of living in a place where poison not only flows through the rivers but right to the core of the establishment. The cast made up of Tamsin Clarke, Charli Dubery, Luisa Guerreiro, Orian Michaeli, Deborah Pugh, Shamira Turner portray this tangled web of hurt and pain magnificently, there are many light-hearted moments of joy as we see Milagros childlike, innocent as she has fun with her young friends before the brutality of real life takes over. An interesting and clever narrative of a chess game flows through the piece, offering tactical advice on how best to make the next and most deadly move whilst offering up the suggestion we are all just pawns in a bigger and much more terrifying game.

Bucket List is passionate and incredibly moving, intricate and brilliantly delivered, physically charged theatre at its best. On at the Lowry until Thursday 27th April tickets available here; https://www.thelowry.com/events/bucket-list