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! 

Spelling Bee Preview

Spelling Bee

Following on from last year’s success of Urinetown The Musical, Side by Side Productions return next week to Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre with a charming and funny production of the Tony Award-winning musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Ever wonder what’s going through the adolescent minds of those endearing, quirky Spelling Bee champs? Six awkward spellers learn that winning (and losing) isn’t everything as they vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime. In hilarious, touching, and catchy songs by William Finn, each speller reveals his/her hopes, struggles, and passions as they make their way through the competition. Even audience members are invited to challenge the six competitors!

Director Mal Wallace said “Spelling Bee is a fantastic musical which is rarely produced and the exceptionally talented cast and production team are a joy to work with. Judging by the hilarity that is constant through every rehearsal the audience are in for a real treat!”

Spelling Bee contains mature themes and language.

Follow Side by Side Productions on Twitter for futher info: @sbsprodutions #SpellingBeeMCR and head to www.ticketsource.co.uk/sidebysideproductions to book your tickets!

Hope Mill Theatre

Tue 25 – Fri 28 July 2017

Tickets from £13

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

 

 

The Marriage of Kim K


A combination of a musical about the failed marriage of Kim Kardashian and Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ really shouldn’t work but somehow Northern music/theatre duo Leoe & Hyde have created a little piece of magic here, ensuring a monster hit for fringe production, The Marriage of Kim K.

At the centre of the story we have Amelia, (played superbly by Amelia Gabriel) and Stephen (portrayed wonderfully by director and composer of the piece Stephen Hyde), a couple who are poles apart in their ideas on what makes for a relaxing night in front of the TV, something which ultimately affects the harmony of their whole relationship. Amelia will happily watch, and watch, and watch reality TV Queen Kim Kardashain while Stephen’s idea of heaven is immersing himself in the works of Mozart, regardless of whether he understands what is being said or not.


As our couple sit centre stage fighting for control of the TV remote a look into the life of Kim K begins to take place stage left whilst The Marriage of Figaro emerges to our right. The staging of this piece is wonderfully creative, with witty lyrics and outstanding orchestration, sharp observations are played out to great effect.

As Kim (played brilliantly by Yasemin Mireille), becomes increasingly bored of life with Kris (portrayed superbly by the hilarious James Edge) we see perhaps that reality TV isn’t too different from real life as Amelia and Stephen become increasingly frustrated and fed up with each other. Cut to the Marriage of Figaro and life isn’t too rosy here either as Count Almaviva (played by the charismatic and comedic Nathan Bellis) is increasingly testing his Countess (portrayed beautifully by Emily Burnett) with his dalliances and downright bad behaviour. We soon begin to realise that life is pretty similar for us all, whether you’re from revolutionary France, glamorous LA or sat on your sofa scrapping over the TV remote here in the UK.


The whole cast deliver outstanding performances, Leoe Mercer has gifted each character with witty and well observed lyrics which offer many laugh out loud moments as we realise just how absurd life can be whether that be as a grand Countess or a struggling composer, and how deep down we’re not so different after all, allowing the three very different stories to perfectly intertwine. The addition of a live orchestra really makes this a stand out piece, Stephen Hyde’s score adapted from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is beautiful and sets perfectly the pace and flow of the on stage action.

Together Leoe & Hyde have created an absolute gem of a show, witty, beautifully crafted and superbly delivered. Book your tickets here www.marriageofkimk.com/tickets.html

 

 

 

Flare17 Launch & Double Bill

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Flare International festival of new theatre launched in spectacular style at HOME Manchester last night with a blistering performance from all girl rock band PINS followed by an address and recital from Manchester poet Tony Walsh’s now legendary ‘This is the place’ familiar to many after his emotional reading at the recent Manchester vigil.

Flare17 Artist Director Neil Mackenzie, announced to audiences how putting together the festival had reminded him of how extraordinary an art form theatre can be and reminded us all of the importance of celebrating the good of what not only theatre can be but also what it can offer to each of us. The festival which features 65 different artists from 7 different countries is an opportunity for audiences to invest their belief and trust in new experiences and absorbing performances.

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The first performances of the festival took on the form of an intriguing and absorbing double bill. Firstly One by BOG from the Netherlands, an award winning solo by Lisa Verbelen, in which she uses the melody of her own voice to examine everything around her, time, space, light, sound, people, thoughts, feelings, actions and demonstrates to audiences how everything which comes and goes is ultimately connected. With a rolling screen delivering the score for this four-voiced one woman choir, Verbelen engages the audience beautifully as she builds layer upon layer in this simple yet effective piece, proving both visually and audibly that movement is both constant and all consuming .

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The second piece of the double bill in stark contrast to One by Bog is the Leopard Murders by K.U.R.S.K. The piece recalls the story of George Ebrecht, grandfather of K.U.R.S.K. director Timo Krstin and former Nazi SS officer who post WWII joined the peace movement. Ebrecht as a failed artist found his forte as a hate speech writer and soon rose amongst the ranks of Hitler’s men achieving the status and success he had long desired. K.U.R.S.K examine the drive and ambition of Ebrecht and look at how this need for success and recognition can manifest itself in each of us, they cleverly examine the pushing of political arguments whether it be for the left or the right wing and how our own personal agenda can steer us down paths which seemingly offer the most rewards and recognition. There is an interesting element to the piece examining the genetics of families, can the opinions and passions of our forefathers be passed down through the generations and if so is there anything we can do to stop the unstoppable? Thought-provoking and engaging theatre.

Double Bill – One and Leopold Murders can be seen again this evening Wednesday 5th July at HOME for more information head to www.flarefestival.com

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles

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If you’re looking for a riotous romp through the mysterious Devonshire moors without having to leave the comforts of the city, then get yourselves down to Manchester’s newest pop-up theatre, The Reading Room where you’ll find Northern Rep putting their hilarious stamp on Arthur Conan Doyle’s much loved classic, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

This fun-filled murder-mystery spoof follows legendary super sleuths Sherlock Holmes and Dr Jane Watson as they attempt to solve the curious case of the death of Mr Charles Baskerville as the threat of the curse of a bloodthirsty hound looms large over Baskerville’s heir Henry. Unbeknown to our crime solving duo the secret to cracking the case may well be being kept from them by Charles’ very own family, despite this our detecting duo press on determined to return to Baker Street triumphant!

Incredibly all parts in this innovative production are played by just two actors who rotate performances, the highly versatile and hugely talented Christopher Brown and Angela Hazeldine perform this evening with Thea Beyleveld and Michael Justice also performing during the run. They differentiate characters by giving them superbly exaggerated accents from as far as Texas to Taunton and many, many places in between as well as props befitting each character. The duo blister through the piece with hilarious consequences, both are engaging, superbly silly and hugely entertaining, with the action becoming increasingly outrageous as we meet more and more characters from the moors.

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The emphasis here is on comedy and boy do the two cast members deliver; they play off each other beautifully as the sharp script gifts our duo with some real genuine moments of laugh out loud humour. Of course no spoof would be complete without occasional trips and line-fluffs which only adds to the controlled chaos of this delightful production, there are cheeky innuendos a plenty as canes are caressed and overgrown bushes penetrated, ooh err!

Director Thomas Moore has used the intimate space of the reading room to great effect. The beautifully crafted 30 seater venue within Manchester’s Great Northern Warehouse is the perfect setting for bringing the melodrama and magic of the piece to life. You don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes fan to get enormous pleasure out of this farcical whodunit, the show’s spontaneous feel makes it accessible to all as the cast charmingly address the audience apologising for apparent mistakes. The Hound of the Baskervilles is an absolute riot, cheeky, chaotic and jolly good fun, with the fabulous Mrs Hudson on hand to wet your whistle it’s an absolute must-see!

On at The Reading Room, Great Northern until Saturday 16th September https://www.northernrep.co.uk/thebaskervilles