Measure for Measure

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Hey, have you heard the one about the powerful older man who offered a young woman help in return for sexual favours? You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m speaking of the latest scandal to engulf Westminster or Hollywood but I’m referring to the plot of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

Measure for Measure is the is the final production for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s mini residency at the Lowry. Despite being four years shy of its 400-year anniversary this is a story that arguably has more resonance now than it ever has: the ill treatment of women and abuse of power by unscrupulous and seemingly omnificent men.

Set in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, the Duke of Vienna has taken a sabbatical, leaving his deputy, Angelo in charge. Angelo is harsh and swift at implementing law and order to the city, while a young man Claudio, falls foul of the new changes to the law. He is sentenced to death for impregnating  his fiancé.  Claudio’s Sister Isabella, who is training as a nun hears of her brother’s plight and is soon up before Angelo pleading for her sibling’s life. The interim leader agrees to clemency in return Isabella must sleep with him. Isabella is repulsed by the very notion of this, but what can she do? Go up against the most powerful man in the city, it’s her word against his and who would believe her.  Isabella soon encounters a kindly friar, who agrees to assist  her with a plot to bring down Angelo, however the friar is really the Duke of Vienna returning to the area so he can get a a true measure of the city.

It is easy to see why this is referred to as one of Shakespeare’s more “problematic” works. On the one hand, this is a story about the abuse of power, as well as the wretched treatment of women. Whilst at the same to there are some comedic elements to the production in the form of the Duke’s deception and host of colourful yet despicable characters including the cunning pimp, Pompey, and slimy sycophant Lucio.  Director Gregory Doran manages to reign in all these elements to tell an engaging, fluid, and entertaining story, which does not shy way from the more despicable facets of the narrative.

Sandy Grierson is fantastic as loathsome Angelo; there is an understated menace to his performance, helped by the fact that he has more a passing resemblance to a certain Russian head-of-state.  Antony Byrne is also on fine form as the Duke, he is both strong and flawed, whilst his exchanges with Joseph Arkley’s Lucio offer up some of the productions lighter moments. However, at the centre of the production is exceptional performance by Lucy Phelps as Isabella, sometimes strong, sometimes vulnerable, it is her angst riddled turn that highlights the gravitas of the situation.

The superb acting works hand in hand with the high production values, there is very little in the way of set set design; instead, a change of location is signified by the use of projected images at the back of the stage.  Save for a few chairs and the use of two-way mirrors, set design is minimal which if anything intensifies the claustrophobia of the situation. The stage at the Lowry seemed to grow, as the narrative continues leaving the characters firmly in the spotlight, with no place to hide. In addition, the score by composer Paul Englishby, opens with a beautiful waltz, but soon shifts into darker territory, providing a sense of menace and foreboding.

Despite being on uncomfortable ground with its subject matter, this is an accessible, engaging production that is made even more fascinating by its relevance today. This may not be one of the ‘bards’ best-known plays but it is filled with twists and turns, none more so than the close 10 seconds of the play which add to the cynical nature to this intelligent piece

Measure for Measure is at the Lowry till 5th October. Tickets available:  here.

Tags: Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare, Gregory Doran, Drama, Theatre, Sandy Grierson, Antony Byrne, Lucy Phelps, Joseph Arkley

 

 

 

 

Mrs Lowry & Son

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mention Salford to anyone and it’s highly likely that legendary local artist L.S. Lowry will soon get a mention; so ingrained in the city is he that not only is there an award-winning arts venue (in which tonight’s Gala Premiere is fittingly held) but also a luxury hotel and even an outlet mall all named in his honour.

Such an important figure in British art history it’s astonishing really to learn that Lowry didn’t receive any form of recognition until he was in his early fifties; interestingly the very same year his overbearing mother with whom he lived passed away.

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It is this intriguing relationship that Mrs Lowry & Son focuses on, detailing the daily fights and frustrations which ultimately defined the industrial impressionist.

Adapted from a 2013 stage play by Martin Hesford, Mrs Lowry & Son is a moving, at times wonderfully witty, often deeply dark yet beautifully crafted two-hander acted to perfection by Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall.

Mostly set within a two-up-two-down terraced house in Pendlbury in 1934, the relationship is intricately explored and examined by director Adrian Noble. The majority of the action takes place within Elizabeth Lowry’s (Vanessa Redgrave) bedroom, well versed is she in using her illness to secure the attention of her son whose escape from the daily tyranny is found within the attic of the house where he paints into the small hours. Bitterness and resentment have long since taken hold of Elizabeth Lowry, she loathes living in Salford yearning to be back in the leafy suburbs of Manchester’s Victoria Park. The smog of the factory chimneys and the sights and sounds of Salford’s textile mills do not fit in with her middleclass aspirations.

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Resolutely loyal to his controlling mother Lowry (Timothy Spall) battles with her beliefs as he sees beauty in the things she hates the most, the mill workers dashing home at the end of the day, the smoke that billows across the industrial landscape and the working class neighbours he mixed with daily in his job as a rent collector. He absorbs himself in life documenting his observations on canvas in the sanctity of his attic, a space his bed-ridden mother is unable to infiltrate.

This simmering observation of the brittle but vital relationship between the two is punctuated with sharp humour and delightful moments as both Spall and Redgrave give a masterclass in acting. Both successfully portraying the importance of Lowry’s desperation to make his mother happy in ultimately securing himself as one of the most iconic artists of all time.

Mrs Lowry & Son opens at cinemas across the UK on Friday 30th August further information can be found here.

Home, I’m Darling

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fresh from its Olivier Award success Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling arrives at the Lowry this week as part of a limited UK tour.

Co-produced by The National Theatre and Theatr Clwyd, Home, I’m Darling takes us into the perfectly stylised 1950’s home of Judy & Johnny; their bliss seemingly as bright as their primrose kitchen. Their marmalade is homemade while their gin gimlets are freshly poured as life in their 50’s bubble bounces along; that is until the rose tinted glasses begin to slip as this cleverly crafted comedy moves into choppier waters as the subtle analysis of gender divide and nostalgic perfection begins.

Judy’s made her choice: rebelling against her upbringing in a feminist commune eating lentil lasagne she now likes things shipshape, living a life of domestic bliss as a picture perfect housewife complete with pastel prom dress & devilled eggs on tap. While her mother argues against this misguided nostalgia insisting that the only people who were truly happy in the 1950’s where white, straight, men as choice, tolerance and acceptance were in very short supply.

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Designer Anna Fleischle has created a magnificent 1950’s haven. The two level set a perfect home with living room and kitchen downstairs neatly topped by a bedroom and bathroom all connected by a central staircase. Director Tamara Harvey ensures the cast make full use of the visually stunning set as each corner of the house is explored and inhabited. The genius scene changes where cast members jive their way around the house add immensely to the charm of this initially playful piece.

Katherine Parkinson is excellent as the insecure domestic goddess Judy, insisting that her feminism is evidenced in the life choices she makes while she attempts to live harmoniously in an inaccurately imagined era.

Jo Stone-Fewings gives a strong performance as husband Johnny, increasingly frustrated with this nostalgic domesticity and what it means for their marriage.

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Susan Brown shines as Judy’s Mum Sylvia, exasperated by her daughters life choices and desperate for her to start living life in the here and now, her scalpel-sharp monologue in Act II is sublime.

The strong cast work together wonderfully keeping the audience guessing throughout as to where this fascinating story will take us. Laura Wade’s script is both generous in its humour and sharp in its observations. Once the saccharine surface has been scratched the grit and relevance of this black comedy effectively take hold. Judy of course insists she is happy but the cracks in her gingham palace quickly show as money begins to run out while the fantasy lifestyle becomes a prison of her own making.

Judy’s indulgence for her ‘hobby’ which she clings onto for far too long impacts not only on her own but the life of husband Johnny who feels emasculated and embittered by his wife’s endless care and devotion. The constantly shifting perspectives engage as well as entertain; add to this a hefty dose of humour, superb cast and stunning set and you have a uniquely brilliant production.

Home I’m Darling is on at The Lowry until Saturday 27th April tickets available here.

Heart of Darkness

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ll be honest when I heard that Heart of Darkness was being brought to the stage my interest was massively piqued for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious is this particular novella is the inspiration behind two of my favourite films: Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola and Heart of Darkness, a documentary which looked at the chaotic production of the Coppola masterpiece. However the Joseph Conrad penned story is today viewed somewhat differently from when it was first published in 1899. The story of captain Marlow being sent to the Congo Free State to retrieve an Ivory trader, Kurtz is considered by many academics to be offensively racist because of its apparent defence of colonialism, it’s portrayal of African natives as being primitive and savage by nature. Clearly this is an ambitious project and as far from “safe” theatre as you can get.

Fortunately Leeds based Theatre Company: Imitating the Dog are up to the task. The company have subverted Conrad’s text and created a unique production. There are two stories at play here on the surface there is the Conrad intended only the action has shifted from the Congo to Europe following a World War Two, which has a different outcome. As well as the change in location, there are also numerous character changes and other tweaks. In addition to this narrative, are numerous breaks where we drop into production meetings where the production team attempt to not just delve into the soul of Conrad as well as examine what impact the work has today.

Initially the jumps between plots and use of a small cast seem a little confusing but once you adapt you can fully immerse yourself in this ambitious project. Using cameras and projectors and green screen imagery the company has created a visual feast that is part classic Hollywood, part graphic novel. This marries perfectly with the reading of script directions and as well references oral and visual references to Casablanca, Blade Runner, and aforementioned Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness.

This production does offer it’s take on just how fractured a nation we are over Brexit and for this it should be commended however one sequence which showed footage of drunken girls on a night out lumped in with the likes of Boris Johnson and remain protestors was for me no better than a sneering article in the Daily Mail.

This bold, innovative and powerful performance will be up for interpretation amongst its audience and create a great deal of debate which is what original theatre should do.

Heart of Darkness is on at the Lowry until Thursday 18th April tickets available here.

Interview | Jenny May Morgan talks eVULVAlution

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In tackling that difficult 29th erotic fiction novel, author Pamela DeMenthe has hit a stumbling block, her time travelling prehistoric erotic fiction romp, set in Hull, eVULVAlution needs a little help; luckily for Pamela Lowry audiences’ creativity is there to be called on in this brand new comedy.

Following on from her hugely successful debut show ‘Pamela DeMenthe presents: Sticky Digits, Jenny May Morgan returns to The Lowry her brand new show eVULVAlution. We caught up with Jenny to hear a little more about the show, her involvement with The Lowry’s Artist Development programme and inappropriate offerings from her audiences.

Opening Night: For anyone unfamiliar with Pamela can you tell us a little bit about her?

Jenny: Pamela is a self-published erotic fiction author; she started writing erotic fiction a few years ago writing 28 books in the first year and then brought out Sticky Digits which is the title of my original show. Now a year on she’s writing her new book eVULVAlution which is a pre-historic erotic fiction story with time travel set in Hull, so far it’s been a bit of a stumbling block for her and she has a bit of writers block .

ON: I read that Pamela might be seeking help from her loyal readers; does this mean some audience interaction?

Jenny: Definitely, in the original show there was a bit of audience interaction, the original show was hosted a little bit like a TED Talk/Audience With… this one has a similar sort of premise but the audience will be expected to help Pamela complete the book as she’s left the book a little bit open-ended. I don’t get anyone up on stage or anything like that but there are definitely opportunities for audience interaction.

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ON: Are you fully prepared for a wild variety of offerings from the audience?

Jenny: Ha ha oh yes, to be honest when audiences say things you maybe don’t expect it can be a bit of a gift and you end up getting something hilarious. It’s amazing how many people actually come up with the same kind of suggestions. When I did the original show I did a part with a bespoke original erotic fiction story and asked people to come up with a body part, I’d say around 80% of people said elbow, which was bizarre. I did around 25 shows up in Edinburgh and almost always they said elbow. So who knows what will happen this time around.

ON: Have you ever been thrown by any suggestions?

Jenny: I have been yes, I’m not sure I should say ha ha; in Edinburgh there was an older couple in the audience and at one point I ask the audience if they have any questions and the guy asked when was the last time Pamela had an orgasm and his wife just shot him a look, it was just so unexpected he went bright red!

ON: You’ve toured the show in different areas do you notice different responses around the country?

Jenny: There are definitely different reactions, some people enjoy the cruder aspects of the show, some audiences enjoy more of the storytelling nature of the show. I don’t know if you could draw any geographical comparisons to that; I did the show in Bristol at the end of last year and that was really interesting as Pamela the character is from South Gloucestershire so there’s lots of references to Gloustershire that are a little bit obscure and funny if you don’t know it but even funnier if you do know it so doing the show where people really get the references is a lot of fun.

ON: When you’ve had such a successful first show how do you find your starting point for show number 2?

Jenny: I’ve been thinking about the show for quite a long time so I’ve been slowly writing it in my head for the last couple of years. There is a pressure to deliver something funny, that’s remains true to the character but also you want to do something a little different to the last show. I quite like the fact that not only do I have that pressure but Pamela has that pressure so part of the show is about the follow-up and the pressure on her to write a new novel and the struggles with that. I guess it’s a bit of an analogy of my situation and the pressure writing a new show; I like those things colliding a little bit.

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ON: How did you get involved with The Lowry’s Artist Development Programme?

Jenny: I live in Manchester so I know The Lowry well; I’ve been involved in their studio programmes as a performer engaging with workshops for quite a number of years. I invited them to come and see the original show and they kindly then programmed the original show last April. I was aware of the development programme so put an application in and luckily they agreed that they could develop me. It’s been fantastic, they create a bespoke package of support to help further your career, that’s exactly what I’m getting at the moment and it’s just lovely.

ON: As a female comedian, are doors harder to open or are things shifting now?

Jenny: I think it’s definitely changing, I think how things are for women in general are changing, the last few years certainly feels like there have been huge changes across the board. In the bigger cities there feels like there are more opportunities and you definitely see more female comedians about, I have done a few gigs in more remote places where you feel a little like you’re the token woman and the audience can be a little ‘Right come on then, make me laugh’ but I don’t actually mind that; I see it as a challenge. It’s still a male dominated industry but things are definitely changing, when you go to Edinburgh there are loads of brilliant females creating and that’s a wonderful atmosphere to experience.

ON: Will you be heading to Edinburgh Fringe this year?

Jenny: Not this year, but I’m hoping to take eVULVAlution up there summer 2020 so really looking forward to that.

ON: What do you think Pamela would make of online dating apps?

Jenny: Well she’s been married for 10 years so hasn’t been participating in that sort of world; I would say Pamela hasn’t got the most straight forward of private lives with her husband. There’s a slightly complicated relationship going on there in the background so I’d say a lot of her erotic fiction is perhaps wish fulfilment coming out through her writing. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s definitely been a bit of a development in her personal relationship with her husband, there’s been some talk about maybe becoming polyamorous so I think she might have to start engaging with the dating world which I think will be a bit of a whole new world for Pamela.

ON: So we need to book our tickets and see what happens next for Pamela then don’t we?

Jenny: That would be wonderful!

Catch eVULVAlution at The Lowry on Thursday 4th and Friday 5th of April tickets available here.

 

John Barrowman’s FABULOUS tour coming to The Lowry

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Singer, actor, showman and recent jungle celeb John Barrowman is taking a new all-singing, all-dancing show on the road, and it comes to The Lowry later this year.

In this new show, Barrowman – who last year was seen in panto at the Opera House, will celebrate his 30 years on stage and screen by showcasing some of his favourite songs, and sharing stories from his fabulous life and career.

Barrowman is a singer, actor, dancer, presenter, judge and author. Most recently, he made the final three in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here 2018.

John Barrowman’s Fabulous tour will come to Salford’s The Lowry on Monday, July 1 and tickets go on sale on January 23.

Speaking about the tour he said: “I can’t believe it’s been 30 years from my West End debut in Anything Goes to my Australian jungle adventures in I’m A Celebrity, and there’s been lots of fabulousness in between.

“I’m thrilled to celebrate this amazing milestone with my Fabulous tour. I’m looking forward to meeting fans and sharing some of my favourite moments with you all.”

Born in Glasgow, John moved to the USA as a child, and now splits his time between Palm Springs in the USA, Cardiff and London.

He rose to fame starring as Billy Crocker opposite Elaine Paige in the musical Anything Goes at the National Theatre in 1989. He has since starred in West End productions of Miss Saigon, The Phantom of The Opera and Sunset Boulevard – reprising the role of Joe Gillis on Broadway. He was Olivier Award-nominated for his role in The Fix, and most recently in the West End he appeared as Albin/Zaza in La Cage Aux Folles in 2009. A range of screen roles includes perhaps his most famous, Captain Jack Sparrow from Doctor Who and Torchwood.

Tickets go on general sale at 10am on Wednesday January 23. To get tickets head to ticketmaster.co.uk or seetickets.com they’re priced between £25-£55 plus a booking fee.

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Matt Forrest

It would appear that anything Mischief Theatre touch turns to gold; maybe they should rename themselves the Midas Theatre instead. First, there was the enormously popular The Play That Goes Wrong, which is a huge West End and Broadway smash. This was followed up by Peter Pan Goes Wrong, which although did not perform quite as well still proved immensely popular. Now the company return to the Lowry with their third offering: The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Set in 1958, we are transported too Minneapolis, a city ravaged by crime, where no one is to be trusted: in addition, the city is blighted by a seagull problem that seems to be getting out of hand. Despite Minneapolis becoming the crime capital of the USA, Prince Ludvig of Hungary is bringing the Hungarian royal family’s crown jewels over to Minneapolis for a state visit, and everyone wants a piece of them!

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The list of suspects include: shady bank manager Robin Freeboys (Damian Lynch), his manipulative daughter, (Julia Frith), local street hustler Sam, (Sean Carey), escaped convict Mitch Ruscitti (Liam Jeavons), and his hapless sidekick, Cooper, (David Coomber). As plans are forged and alliances formed just who will walk away with the centrepiece of the crown jewels, the Maguvin Diamond: a 300-carat stone with a huge value.

I am not ashamed to say I loved The Play That Goes Wrong and was looking forward to this show immensely: I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. Heavily influenced by the films of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, who brought us the Naked Gun and Airplane series, this smart, innovative and ridiculous comedy will have you grinning like a Cheshire cat. The Comedy About A Bank Robbery draws heavily from the ‘Teen Exploitation’ films of the 1950’s and is more a love letter to them than it is to the heist/bank robbery genre, which is a welcome surprise.

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Getting off to a slow start by Mischief’s standards, the first act is packed full gags around word play, who knew the name Robin Freeboys could be such resource for material? However, following the interval, the production leaps from one set piece to another showcasing the physical comedy the company have become famed for; highlights include a three-man fight performed by one man (the super talented George Hannigan playing as credited Everyone Else) and the trademark ‘dangle from a rope sequence’ with a twist. The undoubted highlight is the jaw dropping and innovative sequence as the would-be bank robbers view the bank from inside the ventilation ducts plotting their approach: spectacular and visually brilliant this scene alone is worth the price of admission.

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With this production we are treated to something a little different with a few songs and dance routines which showcase the fantastic voice of Ashley Tucker, these again are firmly in keeping with the absurd nature of the show.

There are a few minor issues: some of the scene changes could be a bit slicker, and there is a slight pacing issue, however these are minor quibbles. This is a show so packed full of visual and verbal gags that there is something for everyone. Unlike most major banks following the crash of 2008 I cannot see the stock on this production diminishing anytime soon!

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is at the Lowry until 15th September tickets available here.