Art

Art

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s nearly 25 years since the Yasmina Reza short play Art made its theatrical debut in Paris and judging by the anticipation and buzz around the Lyric theatre this evening, it would appear the play still has a huge drawing power. However, the big question is, is it still worth the hype and praise? Or is it a bit like the Cecilia Giménez restoration of the Fresco, and doesn’t deliver what is promised?

The plot focuses on three life- long friends, Serge, Marc and Yvan. Serge, a wealthy divorcee with a supposed penchant for modern art, decides to spend £200,000 on a painting of a white canvas. His friend Marc takes great offense by this show of extravagance.  Marc believes Serge is, either going mad, having a sly dig at him, or is just plain foolish for making such an inane purchase. Marc  enlists the help of Yvan, their down trodden people-pleasing friend to either get to the bottom of their friend’s behaviour, or at least get him onside with his assessment that the painting “is shit”.

As the debate rages between Serge and Marc, and Yvan’s piggy-in-the-middle stance on proceedings, it would appear that this rather bland, neutral piece of art exposes some home truths and harsh realities that threatens to blow the lid off their friendship once and for all.

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Art proved to be a bitter-sweet night at the theatre, with more to say about the insecurities and foibles of middle-class-white men than a critique of modern art. The script is razor-sharp, filled with stinging- barbs and some cracking set pieces that include possibly the funniest olive eating scene I have witnessed and a finale that drew loud, audible gasps from the assembled audience. The trouble is that the 2 of the 3 characters are quite loathsome and that you really don’t care about them, their friendship or the painting.

That said there is no shortage of star-power on display here: Dennis Lawson is clearly having a ball as cantankerous Marc, delivering most of the plays most venomous lines with real gusto. Nigel Havers does what he does best as the suave, extravagant Serge, a role we are all too familiar with seeing him play, but he does it so well. However the biggest applause for the night was saved for Stephen Tompkinson, whose speech mid-way through is comedy gold, and his turn as the well -meaning wet blanket Yvan very nearly steals the shows.

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Mark Thomas has created simple but effective beige set with only a few paintings and different style chairs used to show off the personality of our protagonists.

I suppose, as all Art, the idea is to challenge and debate. This piece of Art certainly does that; love it or hate you won’t forget it in a hurry that’s for sure!

Art is on at the Lowry until the 31st March tickets available here

Interview | Kerry Ellis | The Importance of Being Earnest

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Broadway and West End star Kerry Ellis arrives in Manchester next week with Oscar Wilde’s brilliant and hugely funny The Importance of Being Earnest in which she takes on the role of Gwendolen.

Starring alongside the legendary Gwen Taylor as the formidable Lady Bracknell, Susan Penhaligon as the luckless Miss Prism plus Downton Abbey favourite Thomas Howes as Algernon this will be Kerry’s first role in a straight play after an impressive and enormously successful 20 years in musical theatre.

We caught up with Kerry ahead of the show opening at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 13th March to hear all about the play, her impressive career and her thoughts on taking on this new challenge.

ON: This is a real change for you, are you enjoying the experience?

KE: It’s the first play I’ve ever done really, I did do a short play with Trevor Nunn as a bit of a try out, but this is the first major play I’ve done and I’m really proud of it, I’m with a team of people who are just wonderful. Gwen Taylor is just a dream, the whole cast are great. To get to do an Oscar Wilde and a comedy as my first play has just been wonderful, I just love it. The audiences have been brilliant, it’s been very special so far, I’m absolutely loving it.

ON: Are you finding much difference between working on a straight play compared to a musical?

KE: Of course there’s the obvious with no music but yes it is quite different, with musicals there’s always so much going on, big sets and big ensembles, lots of music, songs to learn but with a play it’s literally you and your voice, your dialogue and just a few other people on stage with you. Essentially we’re doing the same thing and telling a story but it does feel quite different, we have different scenes which of course happens in both plays and musicals so the essence is the same but there’s definitely a difference.

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ON: From the production shots it appears the play will be traditionally staged are you enjoying wearing the costumes?

KE: They are stunning, they were made by Camden Costumes, they’ve all been tailor-made to us, the fabrics are amazing, the productions shots look great and show just how beautiful they are, I just feel very fortunate to wear them, the last time I wore costumes of this style was back when I was in My Fair Lady. My character Gwendolen is from a very well-to-do- family so they fit just perfectly with her character. The two dresses that I have are incredible and the hats, just phenomenal. Earnest does take me back to my My Fair Lady days as there definitely are some similar themes. What I love about this production is just how funny it is, the class system and the ridiculous things we do are to be laughed at, sitting in corsets drinking tea, it’s so silly really.

ON: You’re working with a hugely talented cast, have they offered any advice?

KE: Just watching them has been incredible, particularly Gwen who has just had her 79th birthday, I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing that information. To watch her work and be in a rehearsal room with somebody of such talent and experience and to watch her go through the same kind of things we all go through, the developments, the confidence on one night, the self-doubt on another night, seeing how she reacts to an audience, how much she cares about the show, watching her work has been very educational and I feel privledged to be in her presence. I know that probably sounds a bit cheesy but it really has been an incredible privilege to work with her.

ON: You’re celebrating 20 years what are you career highlights?

KE: There are so many, what’s interesting about doing this 20th anniversary tour is I didn’t even realise it had been 20 years, it was my manager who suggested calling it my 20th anniversary tour and I said ‘don’t be so ridiculous it can’t even be close to that’. Looking back over things I’ve done and asking audiences what they’ve seen me in and enjoyed it’s amazing what people come out with, things I’ve forgotten I’ve even done, I don’t know how I fitted everything in. I feel very fortunate that I’m still doing what I love doing and this anniversary tour is to celebrate that and to give something back to the people who have supported me over the years, I’m loving it. To do it alongside the play is wonderful.

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ON: What can audiences expect from your concert?

KE: A little bit of a trip down memory lane, there are some classics in there I can’t not sing Gravity and songs from We Will Rock You, but I am essentially singing lots of new things from my new Golden Days album. I’m also working on some new music with Frank Wildhorn who worked with Whitney Houston so there’s some of that in there so it’s really a celebration of then and what I’m doing now as well. I like to bring people new things and take them on a bit of a journey.

ON: After such an incredible 20 years in the industry do you have any advice for young performers?

KE: I feel very fortunate that I love doing what I do, I’ve made a passion for it and you have to as there are times like now when you’re touring and are away from your family, I’ve got two young boys so I’m away from them and my husband and I do have to make those sacrifices, you do have to love it and you have to make sacrifices for it, you have to have drive for it because it’s tough and it’s brutal and competitive and all of those things but it is the best job in the world. I don’t think you ever tire from hearing an audience reaction, people say it’s in your blood and I really do believe that. I was speaking to Brian May recently, we often talk when we’re on tour as we both understand how it feels, we were emailing the other night while he’s away in Australia and asking the silly little things like ‘how’s your hotel room?’ but it’s those things that really help when you’re away from your family.

ON: Are you looking forward to coming to Manchester?

Yes, I love Manchester, I was there not too long ago with Wonderland, I always have a great time there, the city is great, the people are wonderful and the theatres are fabulous, the shopping too of course is wonderful!

Tue 13 – Sat 17 March, Opera House tickets available here.

 

Interview | Anthony Ofoegbu & Yasmin Paige | Circle Mirror Transformation

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Award winning director Bijan Sheibani brings the Northern Premiere of Annie Baker’s critically acclaimed play Circle Mirror Transformation to HOME’s stage from 7th to 17th March with previews beginning from Saturday 2nd March.

In a small town in Vermont, New England, five unlikely strangers come together in their community centre for a creative drama class for adults. The free-spirited Marty, recently divorced Schulz, former actress Teresa, the self-conscious high school student Lauren, and Marty’s quiet husband, James. Over six weeks of drama exercises and games ranging from the hilarious to the heart-breaking, their lives become entangled and transformed in the most humorous and moving ways.

We sat down with cast members Anthony Ofoegbu who plays James and Yasmin Paige who plays Lauren during a break in rehearsals to hear a little more about that play which won writer Annie Baker the 2010 Obie Award for Best New Play, and was voted one of the top 10 plays of 2009 by the New York Times, Time Out, and The New Yorker.

ON (Opening Night)- How are rehearsals going?

AO (Anthony Ofoegbu)- They are going great, I think the laid back persona of Bijan Sheibani our director keeps us all calm, he’s so giving and thoughtful, he sees the vision that maybe we can’t at the start then collectively through the process we start to see it too, it’s been a wonderful reciprocation of ideas and minds, incredible minds, I feel very privileged to be part of it, I’m pinching myself still.

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ON – Can you tell us a little about the play?

YP (Yasmin Paige) – The play is very naturalistic, I almost want to be able to watch it but obviously I can’t as I’m in it, it’s quiet but there is loudness within the quietness as well, it’s definitely a play about feeling, it’s about life.

AO – The title itself Circle Mirror Transformation is interesting, the operative word being mirror, Annie Baker writes in such a true way, everything is said in the silences; it’s an incredible piece of work. As actors we get to look at ourselves within this work and for an audience it mirrors life but offers so much choice for interpretation dependent on where you’re coming from in your walk of life dependent on your experiences, you might connect with something different to the person sat beside you. The silences within the play are so important in terms of internal thought, internal process, internal practice, it also allows audiences watching to connect with that and feel that, that’s the beauty of this piece I think.

YP – It’s very much about stillness, at times in life there may seem like nothing is happening but there is so much happening, just thinking about something like a still life painting, like a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers, in itself there may not be much happening but that fruit will eventually rot, those flowers will decay, that stillness will go on its own journey. When we reflect on life today where everything is so busy all of the time, we’re all always running around, talking, dashing from here to there, the tempo of life is so fast paced but in Vermont that’s not so, it’s the opposite so it’s a different world for us to inhabit, it strips everything back and what seems still and quiet actually is quite extraordinary and perhaps so with life’s journeys, we don’t realise or see that it has been a journey until we have gotten to the end and reflected on how far we have travelled. It’s a great insight into our internal journey in life.

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ON – What can you tell us about your characters?

YP – My character is the youngest member of the group who goes to this drama class in Shirley, Vermont. She’s 16 and professes that she’s joined the class because she wants to become an actress and she is quite insular and shy but strong minded and very intelligent. Just because she’s quiet and shy doesn’t mean that she doesn’t observe what’s going on, she’s very ambitious and restless. She’s young and almost waiting for life to happen then suddenly she’s in a room with these older people for whom life has happened, it’s really interesting to see how much they all learn from each other. I don’t want to give anything away but I feel by the end of the play she probably grows the most.

AO – James I think is an unsettled soul, trying his best but I think the skeletons in his cupboard are continually rattling and I think he starts to see and understand that more in the process that takes place within the play that’s augmented by his wife Marty who runs the adult drama class in which the play takes place.

ON – Will the play stay with its traditional setting in Vermont, New England?

AO– Yes, we’re in Vermont, hats off to our voice coach Michaela she has just been sensational. We have had a lot of fun getting to grips with the accents.

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ON – Have you enjoyed exploring the writing of Annie Baker?

YP – Yes, so much, she writes so beautifully about human experiences, she has a special sparkle within her writing, she like to put hope into her writing.

AO – She has a great understanding of humans, whatever we’ve been through, whatever experiences we’ve had there can be hope still. She has a wonderful way of giving us the remembrance of hope and being hopeful, she has a very skilled way of showing us through her writing what we can do to perhaps rectify whatever odds we think we’ve made in our lives.

YP – There’s s a lot of light and there is also darkness, it’s about searching in the darkness and remembering that darkness is interesting and there can be safety in darkens as well as in light and exploring the importance of both. I think being able to explore art is so important everything I’ve learned that has informed me has come from reading books, watching films, seeing theatre; it’s taught me so much about myself. Art is so self-reflective; it teaches you not only about yourself but about the world around you.

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ON – Are you largely on stage for the entirety of the production?

AO – Yes, it’s one setting in which all the action takes place.

YP – Although we are in one place it’s set over 6 weeks, so there are weeks to show the growth and progression and journey.

AO – Although you never see outside of that room you really don’t need to, it’s all explained, it allows for the imagination to be rampant in scope.

ON – Have you ever performed at Home before?

AO – No, I’ve performed at the Lowry, but only briefly, we’re here for a month so I’m really looking forward to exploring Manchester as a city. The architecture of the city, this beautiful building we’re in particularly really interests me. My dream was to be an architect but that didn’t happen so I always look at buildings, Manchester has some wonderful buildings.

YP – I haven’t either but I’m so excited, HOME itself is beautiful, I really want to see and explore Manchester, I can’t wait. There’s so much art and culture here.

Mirror Circle Transformation begins preview on Saturday 2nd March with an official opening on Wednesday 7th and runs until Saturday 17th March tickets available here.

 

 

 

Things I Say When I Don’t Say I Love You

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Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Created as part of the Lowry’s flagship ‘Developed With’ programme Things I Say When IDon’t Say I Love You is a poignant and perfectly judged one-man play about male relationships within one family when dealing with a life changing dementia diagnosis.

Writer and performer Sam Brady focuses on three generations of one family, granddad Tommy, the no nonsense northern alpha male of the family, grandson Scott who is desperately trying to establish his own identity amidst a upbringing of tough love & what he sees as harsh parenting from dad Ian, who is seemingly stuck in the middle and trying his best to please everyone.

Tommy’s diagnosis ignites the nostalgia within Ian as he throws caution to the wind and purchases a clapped out 1967 Triumph Spitfire, a project to work together on, a dream to fulfil. Of course in theory the three generations would come together & restore the rusted shell to its former glory, real life however doesn’t work out quite this way as tempers fray, stress levels rise and the symptoms of dementia because all too obvious. How can three men who talk but never really say anything to each other communicate when they’re too busy butting heads?

Directed by Hannah Banister, Things I Say When I Don’t Say I Love You will warm your heart, provoke your thoughts and make you laugh out loud. Brady has a true gift for honest, intelligent and humorous storytelling. Witty and incredibly likeable, his script is littered with funny anecdotes and all too familiar situations we can all relate to from tense stand offs with a partner over broken promises to hilarious disagreements with a nosy neighbour. All bases are covered in this highly amusing, incredibly touching and well observed piece of writing. It is no mean feat to stand solo on stage taking on a variety of roles but Brady engages his audience entirely with genuine charisma and clever wit, his character definition is wonderfully clear & you quickly find yourself caring deeply for this family, dealt a cruel blow familiar to so many. Relationships are beautifully explored, bridges are built and laughs dished out a plenty.

Brady succeeds in taking a heart-breaking topic and exploring it with such care and respectful attention that it allows the human and humorous elements to shine through. Honest, relatable and thought-provoking theatre.

The Wipers Times

Review by Matthew Forrest

What do you think of whenever the First World War is mentioned? The trenches? The mud? The tragic loss of life? People of a certain age, myself included, will be reminded of GCSE History lessons, with poems by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.  It would be fair to say that this period in history is not remembered for its’ humour or biting comedy. However, writers Ian Hislop and Nick Newman are on-hand to give us an alternative and surprising version of the Great War through their play The Wipers Times.

The Wipers Times was a satirical magazine produced on the frontline by soldiers who, when not dodging German mortars, were sharpening their satirical swords and giving the military top-brass a good savaging. The magazine grew with every passing publication and provided the ‘Tommys’ with a morale boosting spot of light relief.


Adapted from Hislop and Newman’s BBC film of the same name, the play focuses on a band of soldiers from the 24th Division of the Sherwood Foresters.  Whilst based in Ypres, they stumble upon a printing press and with this, Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson hit upon the idea of writing a journal made up of jokes and skits to send up the grim situation they find themselves in.  Fake adverts and spoof war reports are the order of the day as the magazine gains popularity with the troops whilst raising the ire of those in command.

This is an excellent piece of the theatre and well worth going to see. As you would expect from writers of their calibre, the jokes are bang on point, and although they freely admit they lifted the best gags directly from the pages of ‘The Wipers’, this is their love letter to a publication which proceeds magazines such as Viz, Punch, and their own magazine Private EyeIt provides a fascinating insight into satire as well as the British stiff-upper-lip. There are gags about the Daily Mail and ridiculous facial hair that, despite being 100 years old, still seem relevant today thus proving a good gag done properly will always be timeless.

The cast are on top form: James Dutton and George Kemp are excellent as Roberts and Pearson and it is their friendship which drives the play. They are supported by a great, young cast of actors who really show the camaraderie and spirit of the time, made all the more poignant with the loss of one of their ranks.

Director Caroline Leslie has got the balance between humour and pathos just right.  Leslie has got the tone spot-on and has judged it exceptionally well. The comedic set-pieces of the musical hall numbers and mock adverts are the highlights; they tip more than a nod and wink to Monty Python’s Flying Circus or The Goons and fans of this style of humour will love it.

The production design is first class, with Dora Schweitzer’s claustrophobic set design in conjunction with Steve Mayo’s booming sound scape: yes this is a comedy but you’re only a moment away from potential catastrophe, as the debris falls from the ceiling, you feel the soldiers peril and part of the action.

The production does have a few very minor issues. At times some of the dialogue was lost; I think maybe the microphones needed turning up a touch.

The Wipers Times is a funny, sharp, entertaining snap-shot of a little known part of Britain’s history, but more importantly it’s a celebration of something we do better than anyone the world over…….”taking the p**s”.

The Wipers Times is on at the Manchester Opera House till the 4th November

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-wipers-times/opera-house-manchester/

The Kite Runner

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Based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 international best-selling novel which was adapted for the screen in 2007 and following a hugely successful West-End run, The Kite Runner arrives at the Lowry this week, its second stop as part of an extensive UK tour.

First produced in the United States back in 2009, Matthew Spangler’s adaptation is as beautiful and breath-taking as fans of the book would have hoped, with rich storytelling via lead character Amir’s non-stop narrative, Director Giles Croft ensures The Kite Runner is a powerful and cleverly delivered theatrical experience.

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There are no gimmicks needed as the compelling and haunting story is sensitivly told. Amir and Hassan are opposites in every way, Amir is privileged, Hassan his servant, poor, illiterate yet fiercely loyal. As Afghanistan their homeland is about to be torn apart by war, so too is their unique friendship.

While there are many elements which make up this unforgettable piece it is ultimately a story about a young boy’s guilt and later journey towards redemption. After witnessing a tragedy as a child which impacts profoundly on the lives of the core characters, Amir is forever burdened by his guilty secret, knowing he chose not to speak up to stop the heart-breaking act. Even moving to the other side of the world to start a new life doesn’t enable him to escape the dark and crippling secret. As we follow his journey, his plea for forgiveness captures the true heart of this incredibly rich and utterly captivating production.

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David Ahmad as Amir delivers a powerful and extremely moving performance, on stage for the entire production his clear narration allows the piece to flow gently and build dramatically as tragedy unfolds and secrets are revealed. Emilio Doorgasingh is perfectly cast as Baba, Amir’s Father, he embodies the character entirely, from strong proud, privileged Pashtun to elderly and infirm immigrant, Doorgasingh is superb. Jo Ben Ayed’s portrayal of both Hassan and Sorab is deeply touching and incredibly powerful, mild and submissive yet unshakeably loyal to his friend Amir.

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The set is simple yet hugely effective, dominated by a fan-shaped kite and evocative screen projections from William Simpson, guiding the audience softly from Kabul to San Francisco. The whole production is gently underscored by live tabla player, Hanif Khan, whose music stirs emotion and adds further authenticity to the piece.

Emotional, deeply moving and beautifully staged, The Kite Runner runs at The Lowry until Saturday 7th October tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/the-kite-runner

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/