Measure for Measure

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Hey, have you heard the one about the powerful older man who offered a young woman help in return for sexual favours? You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m speaking of the latest scandal to engulf Westminster or Hollywood but I’m referring to the plot of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

Measure for Measure is the is the final production for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s mini residency at the Lowry. Despite being four years shy of its 400-year anniversary this is a story that arguably has more resonance now than it ever has: the ill treatment of women and abuse of power by unscrupulous and seemingly omnificent men.

Set in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, the Duke of Vienna has taken a sabbatical, leaving his deputy, Angelo in charge. Angelo is harsh and swift at implementing law and order to the city, while a young man Claudio, falls foul of the new changes to the law. He is sentenced to death for impregnating  his fiancé.  Claudio’s Sister Isabella, who is training as a nun hears of her brother’s plight and is soon up before Angelo pleading for her sibling’s life. The interim leader agrees to clemency in return Isabella must sleep with him. Isabella is repulsed by the very notion of this, but what can she do? Go up against the most powerful man in the city, it’s her word against his and who would believe her.  Isabella soon encounters a kindly friar, who agrees to assist  her with a plot to bring down Angelo, however the friar is really the Duke of Vienna returning to the area so he can get a a true measure of the city.

It is easy to see why this is referred to as one of Shakespeare’s more “problematic” works. On the one hand, this is a story about the abuse of power, as well as the wretched treatment of women. Whilst at the same to there are some comedic elements to the production in the form of the Duke’s deception and host of colourful yet despicable characters including the cunning pimp, Pompey, and slimy sycophant Lucio.  Director Gregory Doran manages to reign in all these elements to tell an engaging, fluid, and entertaining story, which does not shy way from the more despicable facets of the narrative.

Sandy Grierson is fantastic as loathsome Angelo; there is an understated menace to his performance, helped by the fact that he has more a passing resemblance to a certain Russian head-of-state.  Antony Byrne is also on fine form as the Duke, he is both strong and flawed, whilst his exchanges with Joseph Arkley’s Lucio offer up some of the productions lighter moments. However, at the centre of the production is exceptional performance by Lucy Phelps as Isabella, sometimes strong, sometimes vulnerable, it is her angst riddled turn that highlights the gravitas of the situation.

The superb acting works hand in hand with the high production values, there is very little in the way of set set design; instead, a change of location is signified by the use of projected images at the back of the stage.  Save for a few chairs and the use of two-way mirrors, set design is minimal which if anything intensifies the claustrophobia of the situation. The stage at the Lowry seemed to grow, as the narrative continues leaving the characters firmly in the spotlight, with no place to hide. In addition, the score by composer Paul Englishby, opens with a beautiful waltz, but soon shifts into darker territory, providing a sense of menace and foreboding.

Despite being on uncomfortable ground with its subject matter, this is an accessible, engaging production that is made even more fascinating by its relevance today. This may not be one of the ‘bards’ best-known plays but it is filled with twists and turns, none more so than the close 10 seconds of the play which add to the cynical nature to this intelligent piece

Measure for Measure is at the Lowry till 5th October. Tickets available:  here.

Tags: Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare, Gregory Doran, Drama, Theatre, Sandy Grierson, Antony Byrne, Lucy Phelps, Joseph Arkley

 

 

 

 

A Taste of Honey

Reviewed by Michelle Eagleton

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When one of Salford’s most iconic plays comes back home to its birthplace, there’s bound to be a huge weight on the company performing it to get it right. The National Theatre set itself the challenge of doing just that by making one of the first stops on its UK Tour of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, The Lowry. 

Director Bijan Sheibani, who is at the helm of this production, has managed to rise to the challenge though, as it received an encouraging reaction from the audience on press night.

Sheibani takes the play back to its roots in this bold incarnation, which echoes how it was originally performed, adding the incorporation of music. There’s a live band onstage throughout, which accompanies the characters in solo numbers and plays underneath some of the dialogue, which helps evoke the mood of the piece.

For those who are unaware of the story behind the Shelagh Delaney classic, A Taste of Honey is essentially a gritty norther tale of the love-hate relationship between a working-class single mother Helen and her  daughter Jo, set against the stark backdrop of 1950s Salford. The play was penned by 19-year-old Shelagh back in 1958 and it’s hard to believe that at such a young age the local girl, who had very little experience of seeing shows let alone writing them, could produce such prolific work which would resonate with generations to come. 

Lancashire born theatre and TV star Jodie Prenger puts in a solid performance as northern matriarch Helen making the most of the acid tongue humour gifted  from Delaney and her natural comedic delivery, prompting huge amounts of  laughter from the audience. We also get the chance to see Prenger put her impressive  vocal chords to good use as she packs  a punch with the opening number ‘A Good Man’ (a soulful track reminiscent of some of the late Amy Winehouse’s repertoire).

Gemma Dobson’s portrayal of Jo creates a character that’s like marmite  you love her vulnerability one minute but want to throttle her for her outbursts the next. Dobson’s whining edge to Jo gets a little tedious in the second half of the play but overall her sweet scenes with Jimmie (her sailor love interest) and Geof make up for it and we see her performance of the troubled teen really come into its own.

Despite the play being primarily focused around the two main female roles, Jo and Helen, the stand out performance comes from one of the males in the cast, Stuart Thompson as Geof. Thompson is a delight to watch and displays a natural  sensitivity  as Jo’s gay best friend. Thompson manages to find a balance of campness and caring in the role of Geof, who struggles with his worries of being an outcast in the 1950s society whilst looking after his pregnant friend.

Elsewhere, Hildegard Bechtler’s contemporary design of the production  adds to the bleakness of the piece with a minimalist set complete with stark and dingy lighting. Everything seems shabby and in need of TLC, except for Helen’s brash and glam outfits which extenuate her desire to appear better than she is in reality – which you could say epitomises  the phrase ‘all fur coat and no knickers’.

There have been numerous productions of A Taste of Honey since it opened on stage over 60 years ago and the National present a good version here, which really highlights the comedy and pathos of Delaney’s work.

A Taste of Honey is on at The Lowry until Saturday 21st September then begins a UK tour, further information can be found here.

Interview | Jodie Prenger | A Taste of Honey

The National Theatre brings Shelagh Delaney’s ground-breaking play A Taste of Honey to The Lowry this month as part of a new autumn UK tour. Returning the northern classic back to its roots, Bijan Sheibani’s production takes an enthralling look at working-class life in post-war Salford.

Jodie Prenger takes on the iconic role of Helen, a single mother who takes off with a car salesman leaving her feisty teenager Jo to fend for herself. Jo’s relationship with a sailor comes unstuck when after promising to marry her he heads off back to sea leaving art student Geoff to take on the role of surrogate parent. Things get even more interesting when Geoff innocently calls on Helen to help, opening the doors for this unconventional set up to unravel.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Jodie Prenger during rehearsals to hear a little more about the production and what it means to be tackling such an exciting role written by Delaney when she was just 19.

I first watched it about 8 years ago now, a dear friend of mine Bobby Delaney (no relation) gave it to me to read and I absolutely fell in love with it.” Jodie explains “…it was so real, so honest and so tender. It was the mother and daughter relationship that really got me, for me, my Nan and all that side of the family were all from Manchester so it was just like hearing my Nan’s voice. The feistiness and the fight that my Nan had I saw a lot of that in Helen.”

Prenger has played many strong women on stage including the ultimate Scouse independent woman Shirley Valentine; we asked Jodie what is was about northern writing that makes for such a memorable and original piece. “Northern writing just has a real warmth…it’s witty, it’s tender, there’s a zest and spiciness to these strong female characters who I think are always interesting to watch in theatre, in film and TV. The way Shelagh Delaney wrote is just so great that the story comes to life and I just love reading it and watching it.” Explaining what makes the North so special Jodie said, “There’s a beating heart within the North, in Manchester and Salford and within the play itself. Even though people are up against so much they still fight and strive and still have that warm genuine humour. It’s like me and my Mum we can be battling royal but then one of us will say ‘oh have you finished then’ it’s a type of humour that you don’t often find in every corner of the UK.”

The play was famously seen a very taboo when it first premiered due to the themes and characters, “We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go, the cast were told they may have to evacuate the theatre when it was first put on, you’d not have that happen now, that wouldn’t even be entertained today but back then it was. I think we’re getting better well at least I hope we are. Yes back then it was taboo and although not so much now it’s still very, very poignant”.

Aged just 19 when she wrote this debut piece, Prenger sees Delaney as a courageous writer, “I think she unleashed a really strong genuine female voice which around that period was unknown. It was very brave, I think it’s the same kind of woman’s voice we’d hear today but then it seemed shocking and taboo.”

The role of Helen has famously been played by several incredible actresses including Angela Landsbury and Avis Bunnage, Jodie explained how she goes about making a character people know so well her own. “You do feel the pressure of those who have gone before you but that’s what gives you the drive to work hard and gives you the confidence to decide how you are going to create your character. It’s about my Nan’s ethic almost of rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in. It’s important you develop the character how you want to develop her and that comes from working with your fellow cast members. I think she’s real; the only way you can play a character like her is by playing the truth.” 

Drawing on her experiences with her own family when it comes to the mother daughter scenes Jodie states “Making the mother daughter relationship believable I think comes from taking your experiences and using them. Taking experience and inspiration from characters you’ve met along the way. Definitely the relationship you have yourself with your mother, sometimes I find although Helen and Jo are polar opposites they are also so similar I think that’s why they come up against each other so much.”

Set famously in the 1950’s Prenger explained how those elements will still very much be present but with some additional styling from designer Hildegard Bechtler. “It’s the same production team who worked on the 2014 production at the National, but what they are really, really set on is keeping those elements of the 1950’s but making it poignant for today. There’s music like Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Amy Winehouse, there’s live jazz, there’s folk music. The aesthetic of Amy Winehouse really influences the design, her style, look and music. The costumes will be 1950’s but not so much starched dresses etc that it couldn’t be any other time but will hint at modern day as well, same with the props and set too.”

Launching the tour in Salford the birthplace of Shelagh Delaney feels appropriate; we were interested to hear Jodie’s thoughts on what her character Helen would make of 2019 Salford. “My brother Marco lives nearby and I can’t believe how much it’s changed, perhaps she’d find the nearest gin bar, she’d have a great choice. I’m sure she’d love it; you always love home don’t you. That’s what Shelagh Delaney was like, she says there’s not many places she’d like to live, maybe London but then she’d always come back home. Home is home.”

A Taste of Honey opens at The Lowry on Friday 13th September and runs until Saturday 21st September, tickets available https://thelowry.com/whats-on/nt-a-taste-of-honey/

 

 

 

 

Mythos: A Trilogy

📷 David Cooper

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fresh from taking the Edinburgh Fringe by storm, Stephen Fry brings his one-man trilogy to the Lowry as part of his first UK tour in almost 40 years.

Mythos: A Trilogy based on his best selling books Mythos and Heroes allows Fry to focus on a different subject matter in each of the three shows starting firstly with Gods, then secondly Heroes before thirdly and finally taking on Men.

Effortlessly charming and unquestionably entertaining Fry weaves through the history of Greek mythology right from the origins of the Ancient Greek Gods all the way through to the realisation that mortal man had progressed so far that perhaps the glorious Gods who’d ruled with such majestic power were no longer needed. Each and every story is packed with brilliant and witty observations as the Great Gods are brought to splendid and spectacular life.

Sitting centre stage on a throne-like leather armchair, Fry, a natural storyteller draws his audience in as though huddled round a campfire: his knowledge and enthusiasm bursting to be shared. Large screens surround him as projections of animations and classical paintings play out.

Stories roll off Fry’s tongue captivating the audience while delving deep into the origins of the Greek Gods. The names of the Original 12 Gods, their children, their cousins, heroes, creatures and mortals are reeled off effortlessly as Fry adds depth to his delivery with witty anecdotes and entertaining ad libs.

Stories are made accessible with Fry designating regional accents to the various individuals and comparing their personalities to modern day references, Heracles for example is a Brummie while Titan is described as being a “bit of an emo”.

As well as Fry’s captivating storytelling he adds various interactive elements to each show firstly in the form of the ancient version of trivial pursuit, in this case ‘mythical pursuit’. Audience members are invited to pick a subject from which Fry regales the listeners with interesting facts about said subject. In addition to this Fry opens up his oracle during the interval giving audience members an opportunity to email their burning questions in the hope of Mr Fry selecting theirs for discussion at the start of Act II. Sadly on this occasion even the oracle was stumped when the word Brexit emerged.

Wonderfully this Herculean sharing of what can only be described as an encyclopaedic knowledge never feels overwhelming or inaccessible. Fry’s warm and playful nature ensures every audience member feels part of this mythological ride and will leave the theatre armed with both a huge respect for the ancient Greeks and plenty of interesting facts to wow their friends and family with thus achieving Fry’s aim of returning to a storytelling society.

Mythos: A Trilogy covers all bases, there is love, war, heroism and devilment, with each and every story told with passion and joyful delight. The ancient is brought to wondrous life in this epic trilogy of olympic storytelling we have just one request: please Mr Fry don’t leave it another 40 years.

Mythos: A Trilogy can be seen at various locations across the country further information can be found here.

Mrs Lowry & Son

LOWRY 2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mention Salford to anyone and it’s highly likely that legendary local artist L.S. Lowry will soon get a mention; so ingrained in the city is he that not only is there an award-winning arts venue (in which tonight’s Gala Premiere is fittingly held) but also a luxury hotel and even an outlet mall all named in his honour.

Such an important figure in British art history it’s astonishing really to learn that Lowry didn’t receive any form of recognition until he was in his early fifties; interestingly the very same year his overbearing mother with whom he lived passed away.

Low

It is this intriguing relationship that Mrs Lowry & Son focuses on, detailing the daily fights and frustrations which ultimately defined the industrial impressionist.

Adapted from a 2013 stage play by Martin Hesford, Mrs Lowry & Son is a moving, at times wonderfully witty, often deeply dark yet beautifully crafted two-hander acted to perfection by Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall.

Mostly set within a two-up-two-down terraced house in Pendlbury in 1934, the relationship is intricately explored and examined by director Adrian Noble. The majority of the action takes place within Elizabeth Lowry’s (Vanessa Redgrave) bedroom, well versed is she in using her illness to secure the attention of her son whose escape from the daily tyranny is found within the attic of the house where he paints into the small hours. Bitterness and resentment have long since taken hold of Elizabeth Lowry, she loathes living in Salford yearning to be back in the leafy suburbs of Manchester’s Victoria Park. The smog of the factory chimneys and the sights and sounds of Salford’s textile mills do not fit in with her middleclass aspirations.

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Resolutely loyal to his controlling mother Lowry (Timothy Spall) battles with her beliefs as he sees beauty in the things she hates the most, the mill workers dashing home at the end of the day, the smoke that billows across the industrial landscape and the working class neighbours he mixed with daily in his job as a rent collector. He absorbs himself in life documenting his observations on canvas in the sanctity of his attic, a space his bed-ridden mother is unable to infiltrate.

This simmering observation of the brittle but vital relationship between the two is punctuated with sharp humour and delightful moments as both Spall and Redgrave give a masterclass in acting. Both successfully portraying the importance of Lowry’s desperation to make his mother happy in ultimately securing himself as one of the most iconic artists of all time.

Mrs Lowry & Son opens at cinemas across the UK on Friday 30th August further information can be found here.

SIX the Musical

Six 1

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It was just a month ago that the Spice Girls announced a series of comeback gigs that seemingly sent the music world into a feverish frenzy: Girl Power was back and back with vengeance. However way, way, way before Girl Power was a thing, we had Queen Power in the form of six strong, powerful, inspirational ladies who just so happened to be married to the same man, Henry something or other.

With the exam aiding rhyme of: Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived coursing through your brain from the outset Six bursts into life with the vibrant, ballsy opener Ex-Wives where we are introduced to our six monarchs: Aragon, (Jarneia Richard –Noel) Boleyn, (Millie O’Connell) Seymour, (Natalie Paris) Cleves, (Alexia McIntosh) Howard (Aimie Atkinson) and Parr (Maiya Quansah-Breed. This certainly sets the tone for the evening, there are big tunes, ostentatious costumes, and some seriously sublime and sassy performances.

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The premise for the show is a simple one, the women want to step out from the shadow of their husband, Henry VIII, with each of them convinced that their story is more interesting than their counterparts. The only way to find out who the ‘Queen Bee’ is, is for each one to tell their story and let the audience decide.

Writers Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss have created a modern masterpiece. Songs weave historical facts with smart, cutting and cheeky lyrics. The show is a hybrid between a traditional musical and what could easily be a huge stadium concert marrying the two together whilst at the same time sending them up in the process. The pair poke fun at the X Factor whilst in addition making some serious points about the media trying to divide strong females instead of encouraging unity and sisterhood.

Six

The all-female cast are on fabulous form with each of them getting their moment in the spotlight. All the ladies demonstrate their huge talent by singing various styles: drawing inspiration from artists such as Beyoncé, Lily Allen, Adele, Britney Spears and Alicia Keys to name but a few. They are supported by a great backing band who perform a wide range of musical genres, from hip-hop, to German techno, with some unique interpretations of Greensleeves thrown in for good measure.

Stand out songs (and believe me it’s difficult to pick as they are all exceptional) are the brilliant and bizarre German electro pop ditty, Haus of Holbein, and the catchy Anna of Cleves solo, Get Down. It’s not all fun and frolics as the Katherine Howard led, All You Wanna Do takes the show into a momentary but necessary dark place, as we vividly realise the abusive treatment she endured, so relevant today with the #meto movement, brilliantly and cleverly performed by Atkinson.

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This is a fun and enormously entertaining show filled with glitz, glamour, plenty of attitude and more than a razors edge to it, it’s addictive and then some. Whilst sisters may be doing it for themselves isn’t it better when they work to unite, in this case six heads are better than one, even if two of them have been chopped off!

Six is at the Lowry Quays Theatre until 16th December. Tickets available https://thelowry.com/whats-on/six/

Interview| Lucy Moss | Six the Musical

Six 1

Not one but SIX queens are coming to reign over Salford this festive season proving there is much more to each and every one of them than just a forgettable name in an ancient rhyme.

Smash hit musical SIX arrives at The Lowry for a strictly limited 2 week run from Tuesday 4th until Sunday 16th December as the six wives of Henry IIIV take to the stage in a sassy and sensational sisterly retelling of their forgotten stories. Prepare for their feisty and fabulous her-storical her-stories in full, feel-good glittering glory.

Opening Night were lucky enough to catch up with writer Lucy Moss (one half of writing team Moss and Marlow) ahead of the show’s arrival to hear a little more about this infectious production that’s currently taking the theatre world by storm.

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After meeting at Cambridge University Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow knew pretty quickly they wanted to write a show together; Lucy explained how the disparity of meaty theatrical roles for females was something they thought needed taking on: “In musical theatre particularly the majority of the female songs are about how much the character loves their husband or how sad they are because the man they want to love them doesn’t love them enough. We really wanted to create something that had more interesting and also funnier parts for women, it’s crazy really because it was just created as something for fun and our biggest worry was that our friends would think it was really bad. It’s been so cool it really has.”

Lucy added: The was a slot within the university musical theatre society to take a show to the Edinburgh fridge so Toby applied and came up with the idea of doing a show a bit like a pop concert with microphones and dance routines, I almost never thought it would happen but now we’re here about to go on tour and it’s been incredible.”

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What is striking (and utterly brilliant) about Six is walking into a traditional theatre setting and seeing an all-female cast accompanied by an all-female backing band, sending out a very strong and positive message to theatre goers, we are in effect seeing the ultimate girlband on stage. Lucy explained: “We really wanted to tell the stories from the women’s perspective rather than it being just about Henry and how they died which is what we’ve all heard before, we wanted to tell more about their lives and their experiences. The message of the show and its growth very much coincided with the #metoo movement so I think the themes felt very relevant to a lot of people when the show first started taking off and it’s just snowballed from there.”

If you think you’ve heard earworms before then you ain’t heard nothing yet, prepare to be humming the SIX soundtrack for the rest of time as each track is as catchy as the last and could give any pop princess a run for her money, Lucy explained: “We definitely based the Queens on different pop divas so for example Catherine of Aragon is based on Beyoncé, Anne Boleyn is based on Lily Allen, Catherine Parr is Alicia Keyes and so on.”

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As well as being massively entertaining, seriously just wait until you see it, SIX is also impressively educational as each Queen becomes so much more than just a name, we asked Lucy out of all the fierce Queens did she have a favourite? “My favourite Queen’s story is Anne of Cleves because she’s the only one who has a happy ending really, yes she got divorced but she ended up living in this really fancy palace in Richmond, drinking mead, going hunting and outlived every one of them even Catherin Parr who survived, she absolutely lived her best life til the end of her days.”

From starting off as a small fringe production the rise of Six fever really has been incredible. “We had absolutely no idea the show was going to do anything more than the fringe, I was excited then at the thought of somebody maybe coming to see it and inviting us to do one night at a fringe venue in London, that was like, in my wildest dreams and now were here it’s so cool, we’re definitely super hyped to come to the Lowry.”

Six the musical opens at The Lowry on Tuesday 4th December and runs until Sunday 16th December to ensure you have a spectacular Sixmas book your tickets here.