Birdsong

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Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s a bold move by anyone’s standards to take a 503-page novel and attempt to turn into a 2 ½ hour play: especially one the scale and volume of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, so a great deal of credit must go to writer Rachel Wagstaff for this brave choice.

The story shifts back and forth between 1910 and 1916 and focuses on three central characters. First there is Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar), a loving husband and father out on the frontline of the Somme, digging underground tunnels for the British in an attempt to gain the element of surprise on the German soldiers. Jack is like a Father figure to his troops: however when news reaches him from back home that his own son his unwell, he wants leave to go and visit. However a chance encounter and near death experience with Lieutenant Stephen Wrayford (Tom Key) would see the two men strike an unusual bond and friendship: Firebrace the warm hearted working man and Wrayford, the cold, distant serving officer.

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But what made him so distant in the first place? The answer to this lies in 1910, France, where Wrayford is starting life in the textiles business. Wrayford is staying with a wealthy but cruel factory owner, his wife Isabelle (Madeline Knight) and family. It is here that Wrayford can see that the marriage is an unhappy one, and soon he and Isabelle fall in love and thus a passionate affair ensues.

Back in 1916, we see Wrayford begin to recover from his ordeal, however still haunted by images of Isabelle, we zig-zag between 1910 and 1916 to find out what really happened to him to make him the way he is now.

From the moment the lights come up, and you see Victoria Spearing’s fantastically haunting set design: complete with barbed-wire fence resembling a cross, you know you are in for a roller-coaster ride of emotions, one that will leave you with a smile on your face one moment and shocked to your core the next. The near deafening sound design my Dominic Bilkey creeps up on you and throws you headlong into the full horrors of war: however always in the chaos and calm is the haunting sound of Birdsong: the only true constant of the play.

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The cast are exceptional throughout with most playing dual roles. They must barely get time to breathe with constant costume and set changes: it really is a team effort like a band of brothers/sisters off to war that you cannot help but be bowled over by the warmth, humour and pathos each one brings to their roles. There are a few mis-placed accents here and there, but these are very minor quibbles in what is a truly and engrossing piece of theatre.

The relationship between both Stephen and Isabelle, and then Jack and Stephen is what drives this production forward. You firmly invest in the love/obsession Stephen and Isabelle have for each other, as well as the moving friendship between Jack and Stephen and this is firmly down to the impassioned performances of the leads who all give captivating performances.

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This is what theatre should be: engaging, entertaining, leaving you shocked and entertained: after the curtain call and the applause had died down and the audience shuffled silently out of the Quays Theatre: that said more about the impact this play had then any reviewer ever could.

Birdsong as the Quays Theatre Lowry until Saturday 7th April, tickets Available here.

 

 

Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone

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Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Francesca Eagleton

We were definitely left ‘feeling good’ after Olivier-award nominated actress Josette Bushell-Mingo brought her one-woman show, ‘Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone’ to the Lowry Theatre.

Originally performed in 2016 at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool, Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone toured across Sweden last year before starting its 2018 UK tour here in Salford.

The show opens with Bushell-Mingo painting a picture of a civil rights rally in Harlem, New York, during the early 1960’s – a time of promised revolution for the oppressed black citizens of America.

Featuring an outstanding repertoire of Nina Simone hits including; Mississippi Goddam, Sinnerman, Ain’t Got No (I Got Life) and Feeling Good. Bushell-Mingo had the Lowry audience in the palm of her hand, as she retold important chapters of her life and connection to the legendary artist and civil rights activist. She begins by singing Simone’s 1969 single, Revolution but stops in her tracks.

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“The truth is I don’t think a revolution has happened yet.” Bushell-Mingo explains that it has been over 150 years since the singing of the Thirteenth Amendment and the abolishment of slavery, but society still struggles with racial inequality. “How did we come to a time when we have to say Black Lives Matter?” She begins reciting a list of names of black people, including Martin Luther King Jr and Stephen Lawrence who were all persecuted and murdered.

Laquan McDonald is part of that list, an unarmed teenager who was shot 16 times by a police officer in Chicago in 2014 – his name is repeated throughout the show. Signifying this moment in history, Bushell-Mingo stamps her foot, counting them off every time, to represent each individual gunshot. Followed by silence, which while unsettling to the audience captured the injustice perfectly without the need for words.

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Finishing the show with a selection of Simone’s finest compositions, supported by an exceptional live band; Shapor Bastansiar (musical director and pianist), Shaney Forbes (Drums) and Neville Malcom (Bass). Bushell-Mingo brings the house down with her exquisite powerhouse voice, quite rightly receiving a standing ovation.

She might say, ‘I’m Nina Simone’s understudy” but this is so much more than a straight up tribute performance, it’s a performance full of fire, fury and a whole lot of sass. But it also leaves you feeling strong and empowered – everything that Nina Simone was.

Catch this powerful and soulful show at the Lowry Theatre before it finishes it’s run on February 3rd tickets available here.

Manchester Theatre Awards 2018

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The Manchester Theatre Awards in association with Target Live will be held at The Lowry’s Quays Theatre on Friday 9 March 2018, hosted once again by Manchester favourite, comedian and actor, Justin Moorhouse.

The annual awards seen by many as the most important theatrical awards outside of London has been an important fixture of the North West cultural calendar since it first began back in 1981 and is an opportunity to honour productions seen in Greater Manchester during 2017

From big receiving venues like The Lowry and the Palace Theatre and Opera House, via acclaimed producing houses such as HOME and the Royal Exchange to exciting fringe spaces like Hope Mill Theatre, over 20 awards categories recognise the exciting array of theatre on offer to audiences in the region and beyond.

In recent years the Awards have expanded to include a group of enthusiastic young critics who also choose an annual award from the city’s youth theatre productions.

Coronation Street and Broadchurch actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, herself a previous multiple MTA winner, paid tribute to the awards and the importance of the Greater Manchester theatre scene, saying: “I love the Manchester Theatre Awards. It’s always such a lovely coming together of our artistic community in the best city in the world, and is a celebration of all things theatrical here: From the emerging raw talent of the burgeoning fringe scene to the bobby dazzler spectaculars in our main houses and from the internationally acclaimed cultural highlights of MIF to a couple of people in a tiny space above a Salford pub.”

Kevin Bourke, chair of the Manchester Theatre Awards, said: “Helping to celebrate the tremendous, passionate and creative work in the Manchester theatre world is not only a huge honour and privilege for my colleagues and me, but also great fun and genuinely exciting – just like the shows we try to spotlight”.

Further information on the awards can be found at www.manchestertheatreawards.com and @MTAwards