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

Herding Cats

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Critically acclaimed Play With Fire Productions returned to Hope Mill Theatre this week with their new production, Herding Cats.

The play introduces us to Justine (Kayleigh Hawkins) and Michael (Daniel Bradford) two flatmates for whom life isn’t exactly the barrel of laughs they had wished for. Justine is eternally stressed about work and gets little chance to do much else. Due to her long hours and daily pressures she lives in an almost constant state of rage, where drink becomes her crutch but is often more faux than friend. Michael is her confidant, due to his agoraphobia he struggles to leave their flat, instead earning his living by offering phone sex to men such as Saddo (John Gully), an older man who gets his kicks from twisted fantasies about his own daughter. Michael always there ready to listen to Justine’s latest rant is the one person she feels she can rely on.

As Justine risks showing her vulnerability to her ex hippy boss whom she has unexpectedly grown attached to and Michael realises he perhaps needs Saddo’s calls more than Saddo needs him we start to realise just how fragile and desperately lonely they truly are. Writer Lucinda Coxon does not shy away from the awkward and uncomfortable, this piece is bold and in your face. Directorhas made great use of Hope Mill Theatre’s unique space, every inch of the floor is covered by a pacing and anxious Justine as she dissects her day in order to process the conversations and actions of her boss whom she struggles to understand. The cast deliver each scene with commitment and confidence, there are moments that challenge, do you look on or turn away? The production make you think beyond what you see acted out on stage as you recognise thoughts and feelings played out by Michael and Justine, as those seemingly with the upper hand may actually be the needy and the lonely of this world. Powerful, bold and dynamic theatre.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 3rd June, tickets £12 can be found here http://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/herding-cats/

Thoroughly Modern Millie

TMM - Joanne Clifton as Millie and Company (c) Darren Bell - Copy

Thoroughly Modern Millie arrived in Manchester last night under the strangest and most difficult of circumstances, less than 24hrs before; a horrific act of terrorism ripped through the foyer of the nearby MEN arena and left the city in a complete state of shock and disbelief. There were multiple fatalities and many more serious injuries, even now concert goes remain unaccounted for. Despite this horrendous and cowardly attack on our city, Manchester did not shut down, Manchester did what Manchester does, we carried on, we helped each other, we looked after each other, we were and are, defiant. After careful consideration and advice from the relevant authorities, it was decided that despite the devastation and hurt caused by the terror attack, the show must and would go on.

Taking to the stage just before curtain up cast member Graham MacDuff made a beautiful and emotive speech, he then led the audience in a minute silence which in true Manchester style once the minute was over became a rapturous applause. Theatre goers whilst devastated were determined that fear wouldn’t keep them away and thankfully the cast and company of Thoroughly Modern Millie were the perfect tonic.

TMM - Graham MacDuff as Mr Trevor Graydon, Joanne Clifton as Millie and Company (c) Darren Bell - Copy

Joanne Clifton is without doubt at the top of her game right now, after lifting the 2016 Strictly Mirrorball trophy with Ore Oduba, she is a talent in high demand. Taking on a role made famous by the legendary Julie Andrews can be no mean feat; however Clifton undoubtedly makes it her own, she fizzes with charisma and literally oozes with talent as the sassy and sparkling Millie. Whilst audiences will be most familiar with her dancing skills she also delivers the iconic songs effortlessly and with great style, her acting too is on point as her perky determination to succeed has the audience rooting for her from the off.

TMM - Katherine Glover as Miss Dorothy Brown,, Graham Macduff as Mr Trevor Graydon and Joanne Clifton as Millie (c) Da

Millie arrives from Kansas determined to bag herself a husband and a glamorous new life in the big apple, things don’t quite go according to plan as she ends up broke and bunking in a dodgy flophouse run by an even dodgier Mrs Meers (Lucas Rush) who unbeknown to Millie is a white slave trader, shipping unsuspecting orphan girls across the seas to Hong Kong. The story is delightfully daft and superbly silly allowing for some truly genius comedic moments. Lucas Rush has audiences howling through his exaggerated performance as the menacing Mrs Meers, the switch from faux Chinese maiden to deep voiced convict is hilarious as he tires of the giggly girls he houses. Special mention must also go to Graham MacDuff, his performance as Trevor Graydon is a joy, the scene where Millie and Jimmy (Sam Barrett) find him roaring drunk after he thinks he’s been stood up by Dorothy (Katherine Glover) is an absolute hoot, tears of laughter streamed down my face as this riotous romp unfolded. Clifton and Barrett as Millie and Jimmy make for the perfect coupling, they bounce off each other brilliantly and their dancing is a really beautiful highlight in this great fun production.

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Thoroughly Modern Millie is a delight, funny, feel-good and flippin’ fantastic! With stunning costumes, dazzling dance routines, a beautiful score and brilliant book, quite literally has it all. We must thank and congratulate the cast and company for going ahead with the show in what must have been the most difficult of circumstances, you gave your heart and souls to Manchester last night, bringing joy and much needed laughter, a total toe-tapping treat from start to finish.

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday tickets available here http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/thoroughly-modern-millie/palace-theatre-manchester/

The Wedding Singer

Wedding Singer

Based on Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy’s monster hit movie The Wedding Singer arrives at Manchester’s Opera House full of hairspray and highlights for one week only.

Recreating the storyline familiar to film fans where loveable lead singer of wedding band ‘Simply Wed’ Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns) gets jilted at the alter by brutal bride Linda (Hannah Jay-Allan) who decides wedding singing just isn’t cool enough for her rock chick ways. Waitress Julia (Cassie Compton) helps Robbie eventually see past his misery and realise perhaps he hasn’t sung his final wedding song just yet!

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The Wedding Singer bursts into life from the opening, full of high energy dance routines and powerful performances Chad Beguelin’s witty and sharp lyrics are an absolute joy. Chockfull of laugh out loud moments this production is cheeky, charming and full of sass! West End favourite Jon Robyns takes on the role of Robbie Hart and delivers it perfectly, his Somebody Kill Me had the audience howling with laughter, his woeful misery at being dumped reminding us all just how truly ridiculous love can be. His voice is smooth and strong and the chemistry between Robbie and Julia (Cassie Compton) is perfect. Former X Factor contestant Compton is sweet and soulful; her harmonies with Robyns are simply beautiful. The show also hosts another X Factor favourite, 2006 X Factor finalist Ray Quinn who is tremendous in the role of Glen, odious and arrogant Quinn steps into Glen’s 80’s loafers and braces with ease, sharp and snarling, looking like he’s just walked off the set of Wall Street with his slicked back hair and suitcase sized mobile phone.

Special mention must go to Ruth Madoc who plays Rosie, Robbie’s randy rapping Grandmother, Madoc is hilarious and looks like she’s having just as much fun performing as the audience are having watching the show. Her paring with George (Samuel Holmes) for Move That Thang is a scream. Holmes as George delivers witty one lines throughout the production and his specially written song for the Bar Mitzvah just has to be seen!

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Director and choreographer Nick Winston has delivered a real treat of a production, with some stand out scenes that deserve special mention, All About the Green which opens act two packs a punch with some slick choreography and dynamic staging whilst Single in contrast is stripped back and simple but enormously effective, as the males of the cast share their woes whilst gathered behind the bar displaying some clever and entertaining choreography.

The Wedding Singer is a high energy, action packed, feel-good production, with a strong cast and a highly memorable score, it’s an absolute riot of an evening. Grab your hair crimper; slap on your best blue eye shadow and hot foot it down to the Opera House to party like its 1985!

Tickets available here http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-wedding-singer/opera-house-manchester/

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The Crucible

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Selladoor Productions and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, in association with Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg bring Arthur Miller’s classic play The Crucible to Manchester’s Opera House this week.

First performed in 1953 The Crucible used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for the rife anti-communism which was gripping the United States, led by the House Un-American Activities Committee who saw any kind of leftist thinking as a challenge to American civilised society. Miller transports us to 17th century Salem, a farming town in Massachusetts which is rapidly gripped by witchcraft rumours, as the paranoia peaks amidst a colossal wave of accusation and fear, innocent woman are led to the gallows, confess to being a witch or hang, the choice is yours. We see neighbour turn on neighbour in a bid to save themselves as a frenzied hysteria takes hold, as lies snowball and cause unimaginable and catastrophic damage.

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Director Douglas Rintoul keeps this production clear and uncluttered allowing for the themes to speak loudly so there is no confusion about the absurdity and madness we are witnessing. Anouk Schit’s set is effective and wonderfully versatile, a large three sided steel with wooden panels which reconfigure and transform allowing for scenes to change smoothly whilst not distracting from the powerful message being delivered on stage. Chris Davy’s dramatic and bold lightening compliments the set beautifully.

Miller stated in his autobiography “I can almost tell what the political situation in a country is when the play is suddenly a hit there – it is either a warning of tyranny on the way or a reminder of tyranny just past” proving that The Crucible is just as relevant today as it was the very day it was created.

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The strong cast deliver some superb performances, Charlie Condou makes for an excellent Reverend Hale, calm and fair he brings serenity to the absurd situations he is witness too, aghast at the frenzy of hysteria whipping up the townsfolk. In contrast to Condou’s fair and forgiving Hale is the self-serving and spiteful Reverend Parris, arrogant and ghastly, Cornelius Clarke delivers the role convincingly.

As the horror of what we see unfolding is realised it is the relationship between John Proctor (Eoin Slattery) and his wife Elizabeth (Victoria Yeates) that grips our emotions, falsely accused and wholly innocent their arrests proving that this witch-hunt is past the point of no return. Both give very strong performances, their relationship although difficult is believable and honest, both do absolute justice to Millers script and add warmth and emotion.

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The Crucible is a powerful and poignant piece of theatre, it is often said that the civilisation of a society can be measured on how it treats its weakest members, wholly apt in Salem, 1950’s American and glaringly so across the Western world today. Hugely relevant, and immensely important, The Crucible delivers a message modern audiences must hear.

On at the Opera House until Saturday 13th May http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-crucible/opera-house-manchester/

Julie, Madly, Deeply

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Hit West End show Julie, Madly, Deeply will visit Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre for two show only this coming Sunday. Written and performed by the insanely talented Sarah-Louise Young (most recently seen in Hope Mill’s critically acclaimed production of Yank!) and directed by Russell Lucas this charming and cheeky cabaret takes an entertaining look at fan and fandom.

A huge fan of Julie Andrews since childhood Sarah-Louise Young intertwines songs from Andrews much loved career including Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music with stories and anecdotes detailing the highest of highs and lowest of lows of Andrew’s life. A show guaranteed to have you grinning from ear to ear this witty and entertaining tribute is an absolute must-see!

Sunday 14th May 3pm and 7.30pm at Hope Mill Theatre

Tickets available here http://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/julie-madly-deeply/

 

Spamalot tour announced!

Spamalot

Selladoor Productions and Mercury Theatre Colchester today announced a new autumn tour of the delightfully daft and hugely hilarious Spamalot!  Opening in Blackpool on 11th September before embarking on a UK tour which will take in take in two further North West stops, Chester Storyhouse 30th Oct – 04th Nov before heading to Manchester’s Palace theatre 6th -11th November.

This brilliantly bonkers show written by Python legend Eric Idle tells the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in their quest to find the Holy Grail. There are corpses who refuse to die, a Black Knight who is determined to fight to the end despite losing pretty much every limb he has and the ridiculously funny Knights who say Ni for whom only the gift of shrubbery will suffice!

Selladoor Productions present Monty Pythons Spamalot

Featuring comic tunes including Brave Sir Robin, We’re Knights of the Round Table and perennial favourite Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Spamalot is  an absolute riot of a show!

Tickets available now!

Chester https://www.storyhouse.com/event/spamalot

Manchester http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/spamalot/palace-theatre-manchester/