Herding Cats – Preview

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On Weds 24th May, critically acclaimed Play With Fire Productions return to Hope Mill Theatre with their latest production, Herding Cats.

The black comedy focuses on central characters, Justine (Kaleigh Hawkins), Michael (Daniel Bradford) and Saddo (John Gully), for them life is a challenge, about as easy as Herding Cats; as they battle to navigate life with all the love, loss, trials and tribulations it brings.

The acclaimed play finds dark humour in the loneliness of life while, writer, Lucinda Coxon’s characters will burrow into your brain as you recognise familiar life challenges played out before you.

The creative team behind the production is led by director Lawrence Evans (nominated for an Olivier Award for his work at the National Theatre with Tony Harrison, A Midsummer Nights Dream with the Irish Chamber Orchestra & Storytellers Theatre Company) and designer Elizabeth Wright (Theatre by The Lake).

This will be Play With Fire Productions third visit to Hope Mill after two hugely successful shows Orphans (January 2016) and Sans Merci (September, 2016) which received rave reviews from both audiences and critics alike.

Herding Cats Weds 24th May until Saturday 3rd June at Hope Mill Theatre

Tickets are available now via http://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/herding-cats/

Winter Hill

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Set on Bolton’s iconic Winter Hill, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play explores what could happen if corporate greed was allowed to take over the town’s beloved moorland and the effect of this on a group of feisty local women, not yet ready to bow down to might of the developers. Transforming their reading-group into a powerful political statement where revolution, resistance and rebellion take centre stage the ladies occupy the part-built sky-scraping hotel as they declare themselves to be “Women Against Erection”.

The play is delivered in a series of flashbacks, present day sees Emma (Fiona Hampton) daughter of activist Dolly (Denise Black) meeting with some of the women who occupied the building with her mother to find out the truth about what actually happened that day.

Winter Hill is a real ensemble piece with clear and witty narrative and a cast any production would be thrilled to have, it’s a joy to see such talented female actresses under one roof. Denise Black, is superb as the gutsy and fearless Dolly, she is determined to safeguard the future of Winter Hill for the generations to come to enjoy and explore as she did. Souad Faress takes on the role of Vivian; somewhat mysterious in her background she is quietly confident and utterly committed to the cause. Janet Henfrey delivers a fine performance as wheelchair bound Felicity, weak of body but strong of mind she offers sharp and witty observations of the world as she sees it. Louise Jamerson’s Beth is less revolutionary than her friends but her loyalty to them soon sees her understanding more their reasons for resistance. Attempted voice of reason is local councillor Irene (Cathy Tyson) calm and rational she attempts to talk the ladies out of their action but you can’t help think she like the rest of the Council has been dazzled by the investors as she attempts to justify their approval of the monstrous hotel despite the fact the promised school and social housing seem to have been long forgotten now the developers have moved in.

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Resident Octagon artistic director Elizabeth Newman has delivered a thought-provoking and quality piece of drama, this all female cast shine as they strive to decide what makes a heroine and eventually realise that if they are going to be heroines then they will be heroines for humanity, a sentiment that really strikes a chord in the current unsettling political climate. This is a passionate and spirited piece as we see the underdog fight to make a difference, the women are tired of being suppressed and will go just as far as they need to make sure their voice is heard. They declare that the bullies “…don’t come with machine guns but power points and plans” as they unite to show just how strong and important people power can be, a relevant and powerful reminder to us all.

On at the Bolton Octagon until Saturday 3rd June tickets available here https://octagonbolton.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/winter-hill/

 

 

 

Extra matinee of The Play That Goes Wrong!

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Due to enormous demand an additional matinee performance of the West End and Broadway hit The Play That Goes Wrong has been added to the Lowry run on Friday 9th June at 2pm!

The multiple international award winning production will entertain north west audiences for a week long run from Monday 5th-Saturday 10th June, this highly physical comedy delivers the finest of slapstick humour and has audiences literally rolling in the aisles as the bonkersly brilliant cast act up a storm on stage.

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The play introduces The ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ who are attempting albeit disastrously to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery, but as you would guess (and secretly hope), everything that can go wrong ultimately does, as the accident prone thespians battle on against all the odds to get to their final curtain call.

The Play That Goes Wrong is an absolute riot of expertly choreographed mayhem and side-splitting silliness, a huge audience pleaser an absolute barrel of laughs.

Tickets available via the following link https://www.thelowry.com/events/the-play-that-goes-wrong

Running Time: 2 hours & 5 minutes including 1 interval Suitable for ages 8+.

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Bucket List

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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.

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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

Jane Eyre

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First staged at the Bristol Old Vic, where the story was performed over two evenings, director Sally Cookson brings her acclaimed production on tour, presenting Bronte’s much loved classic as a thrilling and inventive performance beautifully staged in the Lowry’s Lyric theatre.

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While many will be familiar with the story of Jane Eyre for some it’s one of those novels that you may have always intended to read but never quite got there, it is the biography of orphan girl Jane Eyre (Nadia Clifford) and bares striking similarity to Brontë’s own life, raised in the North of England Jane is taken in by her Uncle after the heartbreaking death of her parents, much to the disgust of his cruel wife, Jane’s Aunt, Mrs Reed (Lynda Rooke). When Jane’s Uncle becomes unwell, he asks Mrs Reed to promise to raise Jane as her own, sadly although she provides a house for Jane to dwell in she certainly doesn’t offer the love and warmth of the promised home subjecting Jane to a life of misery and abuse from not just her Aunt but her Cousins as well. At 10 years old she shipped off to Lowood, a school for orphaned girls, where she continues to experience a cruel and unforgiving life, despite this Jane manages to form a strong bond with her school friend Helen Burns (Hannah Bristow), tragedy however is never far away and Jane suffers more gut-wrenching loss.

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Eventually Jane becomes a teacher at Lowood but yearns for change and adventure, she advertises herself as a Governess and is soon summoned to Thornfield Hall to educate Edward Rochester’s (Tim Delap) French ward Adele. As the developing friendship between Jane and Rochester begins to build strange happenings within the house start to occur risking both the safety and the future of both Jane and Rochester.

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The staging of this production is immediately striking upon entering the theatre; set designer Michael Vale uses wooden pallets to create various levels and platforms accompanied by multiple ladders and steps which are used to maximum effect by the cast. Aideen Malone’s lighting design is bold and dynamic, creating and changing the atmosphere dramatically throughout the production.

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The small cast take on a multitude of roles throughout the play and are magnificent, their characterisation outstanding and utterly captivating. They strive to ensure we see Brontë’s work is just as relevant today as it was then; they deliver each and every character with commitment and style. The piece feels fresh and inspiring as the spirited and strong Jane fights for her own freedom and fulfilment. Jane is told early on in the play after being punished by her Aunt in the red room, “Perhaps you should learn to keep your passions under control” something we soon realise is a thing Jane in order to be true to herself could never do. Nadia Clifford is superb in the role of Jane, yearning for liberty and adventure her spirit is strong and her need for fulfilment, physically, spiritually and mentally never wavers. Clifford is mesmerising, charismatic and captivating you immediately warm to her and are desperate for her to succeed. Sally Cookson uses several cast members to verbalise Jane’s inner thoughts, this works beautifully, illustrating just how strong and determined Jane truly is as she battles with herself to do what she believes is right as heart-breaking as it may be.

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Melanie Marshall as Bertha Mason, the ‘lunatic in the attic,’ is superb, frequently appearing through musical interludes her vocals are hauntingly brilliant and pack a real punch. The effect feels almost like a musical narrative, with hugely inventive and highly original song choices that flow beautifully from one scene to the next offering more depth to an already magnificent production. The entire cast give their all; they make for a tight ensemble and move fluidly from one role to the next, accompanied by on stage musicians who add a further creative layer to this inventive piece.

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Jane Eyre is a truly exceptional piece of theatre, groundbreaking and utterly captivating. Brontë’s much loved masterpiece is delivered with freshness and intelligence, you can’t help but think how pleased she would be to see her Jane portrayed with such heart and soul. The National Theatre in partnership with Bristol Old Vic once again succeed in bringing a true masterpiece to life, full of passion, intensity and originality, an absolute must see.

Photo credits Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

On at the Lowry until Saturday 15th April https://www.thelowry.com/events/jane-eyre

Silver Lining

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Set in a retirement home amidst the threat of raging storm Doris, we meet an all-female group of residents awaiting evacuation, only to realise like the families who left them there their desperately hoped for rescue may have been abandoned too. Far from doom and gloom writer Sandy Toksvig focuses on humour with some great comedic performances delivered well by her strong cast.

As the storm begins to worsen the ladies soon realise they have been forgotten as their only source of help comes from a young agency care worker from Croydon who’d much rather be snapchatting than hanging around with these long past it oldies. Once the reality that they have been abandoned sinks in the ladies characters and stories really begin to develop, which leads to both moments of laugh out loud hilarity and several more moving moments as they discuss their regrets, their struggles and make their apologies before their fighting spirit returns.

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Sheila Reid gives a strong performance as Gloria Bernhardt, a leopard print wearing, mobile phone addicted pensioner desperately clinging onto her youth. Sisters May Trickett and June Partridge played by Maggie McCarthy and Joanna Monro respectively bounce well of each other, bickering for most of the play, ultimately very different but both hurting inside yet keeping their stiff upper lips for the majority of the performance. Northerner Maureen played by Rachel Davies regrets having children and waiting her life on her husband, she harps back to her glory days as a film extra and theatre understudy, never quite getting her chance to shine. Dementia patient St Michael played by Amanda Walker offers some real comedic moments as she slips in and out of the present. As the storm worsens the ladies stories begin to flow and their walls start to break down, even agency worker Hope, Keziah Joseph goes through a transformation as we see just how much we can all learn from each other if we just take the time to listen and ultimately care.

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Silver Linings is a fun and thought-provoking piece, it gathers pace as it develops and offers audiences a light-hearted look at the resilience of a group of ladies who whilst elderly certainly haven’t given up on life.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 8th April www.thelowry.com/events/silver-lining

 

The Woman in Black

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It’s hard to believe that The Women in Black is celebrating its 30 year anniversary, such is its reputation and reverence it seems to have been around much longer. Doing for the horror genre what The Mousetrap has done for murder/mystery, the two plays are held in such high regard that seldom is mentioned of the shocks, frights, twists and turns: it is more just a case of take a seat and go along for the ride.

Based on the 1983 Novel by Susan Hill and adapted for the stage by the late Stephen Mallatratt, The Women in Black sees retired solicitor Arthur Kipps attempting to tell the terrifying story of his time at isolated and desolate Eel Marsh House, located in the market town of Crythin Gifford. To fully do justice to the horrors he encountered, Kipps enlists the assistance of an unnamed actor to help tell his tale. The two men are at odds with what they want from the experience: Kipps wants the courage to finally finish his story and put the nightmare behind him, whilst the keen actor wants to tell a fascinating tale using all the craft of theatre and performance at his disposal. What follows is a nightmarish journey filled with laughs and frights as we witness the full horror of Eel Marsh House and the sheer evil of The Women in Black.

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Both leads are outstanding: Matthew Spencer plays the confident unnamed actor, and the younger Arthur Kipps to perfection seamlessly drifting between brash showmen and a man trapped in a situation that is spiralling out of control. David Acton plays the older vulnerable Kipps as well as a variety of roles, both act as narrators throughout. Acton certainly borrows from Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Cornets to help with his transformation which is high praise indeed.

I would argue that the play has a third performer: the theatre itself. Within the first minute of the play Spencer strides from the back of auditorium and thus lets us know that space you occupy is part of the play and by design as the narrative progresses you aren’t safe in your seat either! Throughout the play you find yourself scanning the room to see where the next fright is coming. This is aided and abetted by some fantastic sound and lighting design from Gareth Owen and Kevin Sleep respectively.

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The script is surprisingly funny: punctured with humour, I laughed more in the first 15 minutes than I have at most supposed comedies; however this is a ploy, designed to sucker you in and make you complacent so that when the first scare comes it smacks you like a spade in the face. As the play progresses the laughs diminish and the frights more frequent.

It is a credit to not only the two leads: but Robin Herford’s direction that the play has the right balance of laughs, drama, and terror that keeps you keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It is a slow beginning but once it hits its stride and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

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I’m not going to spoil any frights or big scares, however what I will say is that the reaction of some patrons sat around said a great deal: one lady said she nearly lost her lunch (and later claimed she almost had an even worse accident than being sick), several people gasped our Lord and saviours name and my arm has some heavy bruises where my friend held on during some of the more terrifying scenes.

The Women in Black is what great theatre should do: take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, at times makes you laugh at the same time as scare the life out of you. This is a truly outstanding piece of theatre and one that will still be celebrated in another 30 years time. If I could give one piece of advice if you are going to see it may I suggest getting rid of that old rocking chair… it’ll be for the best.

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The Women in Black is on at The Lowry until 25th March 2017, tickets are available here;

http://www.thelowry.com/events/woman-in-black