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

 

 

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

Lowry Competition!

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We are thrilled to be able to offer our reader the chance to win 2 x tickets to Symphonie Dramatique at the Lowry on Tuesday 23rd May!

Presented by French-Canadian company Cas Public, Symphonie Dramatique offers a darkly humorous look at the mythical couple, Romeo and Juliet combining ballet with elements of hip hop and video projections to tell the story of the two star-crossed lovers by award winning choreographer Hélène Blackburn.

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The performance takes place beneath a huge chandelier of wine glasses, alongside a score from Martin Tétreault that evokes Prokofiev, Tchaïkovski and Gounod. Switching suddenly and seamlessly between moments of wild abandon and abrupt stillness Cas Public’s dancers leave no space to get comfortable as you’re hurled from scene to scene. From sections en pointe to popping and locking you won’t know what to expect next.

Competition winners will receive 2 x tickets to Tuesday 23rd May, 8pm performance at the Lowry. To enter simply RT this post and follow us on twitter or like and share on Facebook! Winners will be announced on Sunday evening, good luck!

Babe, The Sheep-Pig

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Based on the best-selling book by legendary children’s author Dick King-Smith, which inspired the Oscar-winning 1995 film, Babe, The Sheep-Pig is brought to life on the Quays stage in the most enchanting and charming of ways in Polka theatre’s delightful new production.

Babe arrives at the Lowry as part of an extensive UK tour which will see our little piglet entertain audiences from Salford to Southend with many stops along the way. Directed by Michael Fentiman whose previous productions include The Taming of the Shrew and Titus Andronicus (RSC), and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Kensington Gardens). Babe is a story of perseverance, friendship, understanding and bravery. When Babe arrives at Hogget’s Farm as a proposed addition to Christmas dinner he is taken under the wing of loyal sheep-dog Fly and soon discovers a talent for herding, (once he eventually works out his own unique way of encouraging the sheep on the farm to do things his way). But as cute as our little piggy is can he make it in a dog’s world? Will Babe be the hero of the hour when his farmyard friends are in trouble? Will Mrs Hogget find an alternative pork free recipe for their festive feast? That we won’t tell you, you’ll have to head down to the Lowry to find out!

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We will tell you however how truly enchanted we were by this beautiful production, the stunning hand-crafted puppets, created by award-winning puppet designer Max Humphries (Chief Puppet Designer, Cirque de Soleil) and Dik Downey, were expertly brought to life by the talented cast who delivered a masterclass in puppeteering and performance, the children in the audience were truly captivated.

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Madeleine Girling’s stage design sweeps you away to a countryside farm as cast members reside on the stage dressed as fluffy sheep, baah-ing and chomping on hay. The incredible puppetry direction by Matthew Forbes really makes you feel that the residents of Hogget’s Farm have come to life before you, so good is their fluidity and characterisation you soon begin to believe you really are down on the farm. The joy this production brings to its young audience is utterly heart-warming, the small cast deliver this production with heart and soul and the importance of true kindness and real friendship shines through. Babe will warm your heart, fill you with joy and remind you of just how much good there is in the world.

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel - Engelbert Humperdinck - Opera North - 2nd February 2017

Hansel - Katie Bray
Gretel - Fflur Wyn
Gertrud/Witch - Susan Bullock
Peter - Stephen Gadd
Sandman - Rachel J. Mosley
Dew Fairy - Amy Freston

Conductor - Christoph Altstaedt
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A STELLA Artois-swigging father, a confectionary house made of Nestlé Caramac and a witch with a Rupaul’s Drag Race-inspired wardrobe… It’s clear that Opera North’s production of Hansel and Gretel has two feet firmly planted in the 21st century rather than The Brothers Grimm’s latter-day Germany.

A scrumptious opera that totally satisfies our appetite for entertainment, Opera North are to be congratulated on a stupendously inventive production of the Engelbert Humperdinck classic. Hansel and Gretel, The Snow Maiden and Cinderella are part of a grand experiment that sees three ‘Deliciously Dark Fairy Tales’ from contrasting European traditions brought together in a single season – all of which are on at The Lowry this week.

Hansel and Gretel - Engelbert Humperdinck - Opera North - 2nd February 2017

Hansel - Katie Bray
Gretel - Fflur Wyn
Gertrud/Witch - Susan Bullock
Peter - Stephen Gadd
Sandman - Rachel J. Mosley
Dew Fairy - Amy Freston

Conductor - Christoph Altstaedt
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The action begins in suitably ‘Grimm’ surroundings, a kitchen-sink high-rise occupied by an empty fridge, two hungry children, the eponymous Hansel (Katie Bray) and Gretel (Fflur Wyn) and their despairing mother, Gertrud. When their chaotic play sends the contents of a milk jug flying, Gertrud sends Hansel and Gretel out into the woods to pick wild berries for the family supper. Their father, Peter (Stephen Gadd, who plays a wonderfully reeling drunken broom seller), is aghast when he returns home – revealing that the forest is home to an evil witch with ‘Satan’s eye and a heart of stone’. The two children awake the following day to find a magical house has appeared in the woods, constructed from Bird’s Custard and BN Biscuits. While they gorge from the fridge, the witch returns and fires up her oven… ready for a very special bake!

Hansel and Gretel - Engelbert Humperdinck - Opera North - 2nd February 2017

Hansel - Katie Bray
Gretel - Fflur Wyn
Gertrud/Witch - Susan Bullock
Peter - Stephen Gadd
Sandman - Rachel J. Mosley
Dew Fairy - Amy Freston

Conductor - Christoph Altstaedt
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Opera North veteran Fflur Wyn, and Katie Bray, of the company’s Albert Herring and The Barber of Seville, are delightful together – playful, charming and utterly believable as children. Their deftness with a video camera adds to the production’s signature special effect: freestyle camera footage – captured by the actors in real-time – which is livestreamed and magnified onto the walls of Giles Cadle’s pared-down set (that also features in The Snow Maiden and Cinderella). A masterful stroke by video designer Ian William Galloway, the hand-held camera acts as a supporting cast member in its own right; it boasts two particular ‘wow’ moments: the children’s journey through the forest and the big reveal of the witch’s house, which solicited audible gasps of delight.

Hansel and Gretel - Engelbert Humperdinck - Opera North - 2nd February 2017

Hansel - Katie Bray
Gretel - Fflur Wyn
Gertrud/Witch - Susan Bullock
Peter - Stephen Gadd
Sandman - Rachel J. Mosley
Dew Fairy - Amy Freston

Conductor - Christoph Altstaedt
Dire

When not doubling up as Gertrud, Susan Bullock plays the witch with a pantomime villain’s relish, brandishing her whisk as a wand and spooning her fattening concoction into Hansel, all with a wicked twinkle in her eye. Costume designer Christina Cunningham’s and wigs and makeup supervisor Kim Freeland’s choices for this role are perfect, complementing Bullock’s characterisation and adding to the overall comedic effect.

Both conductor Christoph Altstaedt and director Edward Dick have made their company debut this season; their energy, inventiveness and commitment to making opera more accessible to a modern audience shows. There is so much to love about this enchanting production, which marries a lively score, sparkling duets and trios, characterful performances and cutting-edge video technology with a well-loved, timeless fairy tale.

Tickets for Opera North’s productions of Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and The Snow Maiden are available for purchase at http://www.thelowry.com/events/category/Opera

Reviewer: Michelle Ewen

BRB – Cinderella

brb-5Birmingham Royal Ballet triumphantly returns to the Lowry with David Bintley’s magical production of the classic and much loved fairy-tale ballet, Cinderella. Originally performed in 2010 and broadcast by the BBC as their 2010 Christmas ballet, Bintley’s award winning production features the complete original score by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev delivered superbly by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Staying true to the Cinderella story, we meet the wicked stepmother, Cinderella’s two ugly sisters (who we of course love to hate), as well as the handsome prince and not forgetting her magically gifted fairy Godmother.

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We begin in the dark and dank depths of Cinderella’s kitchen dwelling where a bare foot Cinderella has been cast by her wicked stepmother and ugly sisters, her only purpose in life seemingly to serve them. Despite the bleak and depressing surroundings Jenna Roberts ensures Cinderella shines and her joyous and delicate performance is enchanting. She moves with poise and perfection, light on her feet and full of endearing charisma.

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The story telling in this production, as with all Birmingham Royal Ballet productions is wonderfully clear allowing for a beautifully paced performance where we move effortlessly from one piece to the next, eager for more. Complimenting this exceptional narrative is an impressive set and deliciously extravagant costumes both designed by John F. Macfarlane, familiar to audiences as designer of the BRB’s hugely popular Nutcracker. The excellent narrative also allows for some great comedy acting from Skinny (Samara Dowes) and Dumpy (Laura Purkiss), the ugly sisters. Both excel in their roles and their acting is wonderful, offering the audience laugh out loud moments each time they enter the stage they are a fantastic fun and absolutely adored by the audience.

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Perfectly partnering Jenna Roberts’ Cinderella is handsome Prince, William Bracewell. Strong and athletic Bracewell is perfection in the role and the two of them glide beautifully together, their pas de deux performed at the grand ball is utterly mesmerising, they delivery of Bintley’s choreography is precise and striking. As the clock strikes twelve the dreamlike scene begins to crumble as Cinderella dashes from the scene leaving only her sparkly slipper, cue a highly entertaining hunt for the wearer of the shoe.

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Birmingham Royal Ballet succeeds once more in making a production which is not only enchanting and utterly thrilling but accessible and appealing to all. It is wonderful to see a diverse audience from very young children to those senior in age all totally captivated by this stunning production.

Cinderella is a work of magic, enchanting and sublime, an absolute delight.

On at The Lowry until 4th March

http://www.thelowry.com/event/birmingham-royal-ballet-cinderella