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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

 

 

 

The Damned United

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

In 2006 The Damned United hit the bookshelves, blending fact and fiction it told the story of charismatic, controversial football manager, Brian Clough and his ill-fated tenure at Leeds United. Author David Peace described it as “An English Fairy Story”. In 2009 it was turned into a film starring Michael Sheen, and now somewhat inevitably it has been adapted for the stage by the Red Ladder Theatre Company.

Following the same narrative structure of the book, we start with the end of Clough’s playing career due to injury. The demons, the nagging self-doubt are there for all to see from the onset, as well as the brash arrogant showman the world of football came to love or loath depending on your point a view. The action zigzags between him taking the helm at Leeds in 1974 and his successful but turbulent run as Derby County manager from 1967 through to 1973.

This is a fast paced, journey into the tortured mind of one man battling many enemies – unhappy players, interfering chairman, the bottle and rival manager Dom Revie. However, it’s Clough’s own insecurities and his relationship with his assistant manager and best friend Peter Taylor that is the heartbeat of the production.

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The time-hopping narrative structure can be a little confusing at times, but the production is anchored by two outstanding central performances: Luke Dickson puts in a nuanced, layered shift as Clough, filled with subtly traits and mannerisms: it would be easy to play this as a caricature but Dickson avoids this. David Chafer is also on fine form as Taylor, a man loyal and true to his friend but growing disillusioned by his treatment. Their relationship is what holds the production together. They are supported by James Smelt who morphs into all the other parts in the play.

The action is played against a corrugated fence backdrop: adding to the tension and authenticity of the surroundings, you can almost feel the deep-heat in the air. The fence doubles as a screen with various images projected on it throughout, pushing the drama along.

This is a fascinating look at obsession, addiction and self-loathing that is well worth a watch.

The Damned United is at the Lowry until the 27th October tickets can be found here.

Interview | Circa Tsuica | Now or Never

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The circus is coming to town! Well more accurately, fabulous French circus company Circa Tsuica will be setting up camp in The Lowry Plaza ahead of their new show Now or Never with the MAPAS Jazz Band, Salford.

Watch the performers fly through the air, bounce around the big top and cycle on trick bikes all while belting out funky brass music!

First performance is Thursday 30th August and here at Opening Night we got the chance to talk to co-director and performer Tom Neal and workshop leader and performer Baptiste Bouquin to find out a little more about this spectacular show.

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First of all, what is Now or Never all about? What are you trying to achieve with the show?
Tom: Our first aim is to create a really great link between us and the audience – but also among the audience themselves. Everyone is individually welcomed and invited to share something to eat and drink. One way or another, we want everyone to become part of the show.

We perform a lot on bicycles because they are universal objects that everyone uses or sees on a daily basis. A bike is less abstract than a trapeze or teeterboard – though we perform on those too – and it’s great to show people just what can be done on one!

Live music, composed by Guillaume Dutrieux, is also very central in Now or Never. It’s not just as an accompaniment – we all play our instruments and do circus tricks at the same time. Blending the acrobatics and the music really enhances the way we reach the audience.

In the end what people usually remember is how close to us they feel – and that is reciprocal, we feel the same way too. This show is an ode to tolerance, sharing and living together in peace.

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The young musicians of the MAPAS Jazz Band, Salford are performing with you in the show, how have you worked together?

Baptiste:  Before the Circus arrives, we have had two sessions where we rehearse the sections of the show that they will play with us. We help them with the usual musical parameters – rhythm, sound, playing together etc – but also with the specific skills that they will need to be part of the show. They’ll need to know all the music by heart so they can interact with the others, they will have to move on stage, they will have to be characters (for example, they’ll be guests in a wedding scene). Some of the bands are surprised that they need performance as well as music skills!

When the circus arrives, we do the dress rehearsals in the Big Top with all the team. We want the young musicians to really make the most of the whole experience, not just be focussed on notes or sheets of music.

Maybe that’s what we want to share with them, that music is huge and there are so many different ways to perform it. In Now or Never, it’s linked to circus, to a relationship with others, to joy and risk. It’s not just about playing notes – even if I would prefer them to play the right ones!

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Now or Never takes place in Circa Tsuica’s travelling Big Top rather than a theatre. What difference does that make for you as performers? And what about for the audience?

Tom: Performing in a circus ring is very, very different to performing on a stage. There is no ‘cheating’ in a ring, the audience is all around you and there is nowhere to hide. All the action is in the centre so the the focus is greater. For the audience, every point of view is unique and close-up. For us, it is a challenge because we have to make every perspective interesting. At the same time, we can really feel the closeness of the audience which is a great pleasure. The audience can see each other and we like to play with that in the show. We change people’s perspective, get people talking to each other while eating some crepes, we want everyone to feel that they are invited to a giant party.

Baptiste: When the audience arrives they expect to just go and find their seats but, actually, it’s already like a party, or the main square of a village. There’s a buffet right in the middle of the track, people are offered drinks by the artists, they are welcomed. It’s a very warm atmosphere, the opposite of the pomp and circumstance of some theatres.

How do you work together to set up the tent – and the camp around it which you will live in while you are in town?

Tom: Well, setting up the tent and everything inside takes us about a day. It is usually a collaboration between us and a group of local people provided by the venue. I am the tent master and I explain to the locals how things should be done. In our group everyone knows what to do so it’s quite organic. If the location allows it we then place the caravans in which we live all around the Big Top to recreate a tiny village. Before and after the show the audience is invited to walk along them to share a glimpse of what our lives can be, since in “real life”, back in France, we live in the same village (but in houses now) and run our company together collectively.

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How does daily life work while you are there? Who does the shopping, the cooking, the washing? Do the kids go to school?

Tom: We have a very long preparation day before the show, we need to prepare the food and drinks we offer to the audience, clean the stage, wash the costumes, check the props, instruments and the bicycles, warm up, rehearse the music and the circus and so on… We also have our own showers and laundry in a semi-trailer, we have a cook preparing nice meals, a nanny, a teacher, with a mini-circus-tent-school, in order to be as autonomous as possible, so when I say we’re recreating a real village it is not a joke…

Is it true that once the tent is up, that there will be music rehearsals during the day that passerbys can come along and watch and listen to?

Tom: Sure, we’re always happy to welcome people to have a peep when we rehearse, so come along if you hear noises in the Big Top…

Now or Never opens on Thursday 30 August and runs until Saturday 1 September tickets are available here.

Adults £16, Under 16’s £13 – Family tickets sold in 4’s (minimum 1 adult) £12.25