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

 

Little Baby Bum

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Many parents with babies and toddlers will know of – and probably be exceedingly grateful to! – the nursery rhyme world of Little Baby Bum.

For the uninitiated, Little Baby Bum – or LBB as it’s known – is one of the world’s most popular educational YouTube channels.

LBB features colourful computer-animated versions of traditional nursery rhymes and original songs, and featuring a cast of recurring fun character.

From The Wheels on the Bus (2.1 billion views online and counting!) to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, many a parent (this reviewer included!) can probably credit LBB for helping their little ones learn the words to the classics.

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And now LBB has followed other major family brands like Teletubbies and Peppa Pig in taking to the stage – with the first tour of Little Baby Bum Live hitting the Lowry this weekend, in the large Lyric theatre no less!

I’ve often thought there was a gap in the market for a live show dedicated to nursery rhymes, so was curious to see if the LBB magic could translate to the stage.

My little reviewer (3 and a half) started bopping his head as soon as he entered the auditorium, thanks to the jolly pre-show music, which was a good sign.

The show introduces audiences to popular LBB characters including Mia, Jacus, Baa Baa Sheep the Baker, Incy Wincy Spider, Stan the Monster, Pig, Baby Panda and my son’s favourite, a high-energy, high-kicking, high-faulting Old Macdonald.

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Using an effective mix of colourful projections, props and puppets, LBB favourites are performed within the framework of preparing for a parade at the end of the show.

The cast are all excellent, switching roles, costumes and puppets with ease – and are in fine voice, so those all-important nursery rhymes are done justice.

Most of our favourites were included, and we particularly loved the section of non-stop songs towards the end that included faves like Ring a Roses, Grand Old Duke of York and many more.

This finale was so fantastic that on reflection I wonder if there could have been a little less talking about the parade in the first half the show, and a little more singing! But maybe I’m just being greedy!

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The only real negative aspect to the LBB Live experience was the impact on the show the persistent flash photography had on things – sadly many parents ignoring the explicit request at the start of the show by cast members, while photos and videos were encouraged, flashes should be turned off. Perhaps a no photography at all rule should be considered as all the screens and flashes was very distracting.

But this gripe aside, Little Baby Bum Live Was an extremely enjoyable show for pre-schoolers, especially if they are familiar of the LBB world. It effectively captures the charm and magic of singing these songs – and I’m happy to report singing and dancing along was encouraged throughout!

More information and further tour dates can be found here.

Interview | Jonathan Harvey | DUSTY

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BAFTA and Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey (Beautiful Thing, Coronation Street) has recently taken on a new challenge, bringing the legendary Dusty Springfield to life in a new and hotly anticipated production, DUSTY the musical.

Based on the personal memories of those who knew her best and chock-full of timeless classics including, I Only Want to Be with You, Son of a Preacher Man and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, DUSTY the musical heads to The Lowry’s Lyric theatre for one week only as part of its premiere UK tour starring the magnificent Katherine Kingsley, Rufus Hound and Roberta Taylor.

We caught up with writer Jonathan Harvey ahead of the show opening at the Lowry on Tuesday 24th July to hear a little more about the new musical which critics are describing as ‘outstanding’.

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ON: What was your starting point when it came to writing DUSTY the musical?

JH: I spoke to the producers who had their own ideas for what they wanted the story to be, I mostly researched through books and DVD documentaries from over the years, I read and watched as much as I could. Dusty was really popular in Australia so I found lots of Australian TV interviews and watched those. When she died the BBC did an amazing documentary about her which is still on YouTube which was a great piece for my research. I also spoke with her Personal Assistant who is also a character in the show that was invaluable really.

Dusty I think was all things to all people, I can really identify with that, you might behave one way with your mates then a completely different way with your partner, so I read some descriptions and thought, that’s nothing like the one I just read so it was really important to get to the true essence of Dusty so we can deliver that in the show.

ON: Is it a challenge to tell the story of someone so private?

JH: Yes, you are conscious of that but everything we’re featuring in the play has already been said before so we’re not exposing anything, everything I’ve included is out there, I’ve just brought it together and made a drama about it. What’s brilliant about someone who is private is what goes on behind closed doors is often some of the most interesting things about them so we get a glimpse into that which I think will really entertain and engage audiences.

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ON: Have you had any surprises whilst researching?

JH: Absolutely I’ve found out some really interesting information, I didn’t know she’d been kicked out of South Africa for refusing to play to segregated audiences, incredibly she was really slagged off for doing it, the British press went ballistic about it at the time because it was such a political thing to do and pop stars at the time weren’t expected to act like that, many household names at the time were happily playing to separated audiences.

She hosted Ready, Steady, Go and had a Motown special on there featuring black artists she’d met in America, then suddenly after this their careers here took off all thanks to Dusty. Things like that I’ve found just so interesting, she was a real innovator.

Some people I’ve spoken to when I mention Dusty didn’t know she was British, didn’t know she was gay or didn’t know she was white. She did a lot of things ahead of her time. To get into a recording studio and be in charge and tell people exactly what she wanted was a new thing for the men working with her. She seemed to do a lot of firsts, mix this in with all her amazing songs and getting involved for me was a no brainer.

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ON: Do you feel then the show is a celebration of women?

JH: The story works best when she’s surrounded by her two best friends, her PA and her hairdresser. It’s interesting that when she went off to America in the 70’s and her mates weren’t with her she spiralled into drug and alcohol addiction, lost everything and only really got back on track when she got back to Britain with her mates around her. So I’d say it’s a real celebration of friendship.

ON: What can audiences expect from the show?

JH: They can expect something more than your average jukebox musical. The last workshop we did I invited two of my mates, one of which being the actress Kathy Burke who is always brutally honest with me and I also invited my mate Tina, Tina hates musicals. Two songs in I looked at them both sat on the front row and they were both crying their eyes out and then the next minute they were really laughing. Tina said to me, ‘I hate musicals but I really, really like this’ and Kathy said ‘She’s a f***ing star’ ha ha. It’s very moving but you’ll also have such a laugh, we’re having such a scream with this show. Kathryn is incredible, right from the audition she really made me laugh and her talent really stood out I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect for the role.

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DUSTY opens at the Lowry on Tuesday 24th July and runs until Saturday 28th July tickets available here.

Interview | Katherine Kingsley | DUSTY

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Based on the personal memories of those who knew her best and packed full of her timeless hits including, I Only Want to Be with You, Son of a Preacher Man and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, DUSTY the musical heads to The Lowry’s Lyric theatre for one week only as part of its premiere UK tour.

BAFTA and Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey (Beautiful Thing, Coronation Street) brings Dusty Springfield to life with a script celebrating the extraordinary story of one of Britain’s most successful artists.

Olivier Award-winner Maria Friedman (Merrily We Roll Along, Stepping Out) directs Katherine Kingsley (Piaf, Singin’ in the Rain) as the legend that is Dusty Springfield in this incredibly funny and deeply moving new musical. We were privileged to catch up with Katherine to hear a little more about the show and her feelings on portraying such an icon.

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ON: Were you a Dusty fan before getting involved in this new musical?

KK: Yes I really was, I grew up listening to Dusty, my Mum used to play Dusty a lot which had a big influence on me, I’ve always loved that style of music, Soul, Motown, I really grew up on those sounds. I never would have imagined I’d end up playing her, when I heard about the show I had some reservations about appearing in what I thought might be another jukebox musical, it’s not really what I do but then I read Jonathan Harvey’s script and that was something else. Plus there is so much that I love about the music that I just thought, yes, I want to do this. It’s a challenge on many levels but such a good one.

ON: With Dusty being a very private person is it difficult to know what to share and how to do this respectfully?

KK: We’ve learnt so much about Dusty the person during the process of preparing the show and yes she was a very private person. I guess she lived in an era which was pre-social media and therefore there was an element of privacy for performers if they wanted it. Dusty never sought attention from the media like some other performers did, she had quite a sad life in some respects, she was fiercely private particularly about her sexuality, she was never really comfortable discussing it publicly. I almost feel quite protective over her, I’m very aware that I’m playing the role of a woman who would not have wanted to be known by her sexuality. This is where Jonathan has done an absolutely brilliant job. He’s written the script so beautifully so it reveals things about her which are surprising, fascinating and interesting but never gratuitous and always respectful. It touches on many things, her self-harming, her sexuality but most of all its about her talent and that’s absolutely where it should be.

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ON: How difficult is it not to do a flat-out impersonation of Dusty?

KK: I approach it from a very different perspective I think than an impersonator would. Those iconic moments when Dusty is performing I will look at her hand gestures etc. I will honour that and try to match it as best I can so it feels authentic but I’m never for one minute trying to do an impersonation. I am not her but hopefully bringing an essence of Dusty. I really aim to capture her spirit for the audience and if they feel a little like they’re watching Dusty then that for me will be wonderful.

ON: Do you have a personal favourite from the incredible Dusty back catalogue?

KK: Oh gosh I love so many, there are so many amazing songs. I guess my favourites are the more unusual songs, I really love I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten which is absolutely gorgeous, it’s included in the show but with a completely different arrangement. I love Losing You, it’s such an amazing song. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is such a great song and such a big sing for me, it really is massive, it just shows how talented she was. They’re all just so wonderful. Oh I can’t forget about Spooky. A lot of people seem to forget about Spooky but what a song!

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ON: We get the feeling you’ll be sharing a real message of female empowerment through telling Dusty’s story?

KK: Yes, I’m so excited for our audiences, particularly younger women and girls who maybe aren’t familiar with Dusty. Those who are maybe a generation or three behind who will be able to discover this amazing woman and will have more evidence and knowledge that these amazing kind of women existed in the 1960’s and were out there paving the way for future generations. Dusty undoubtedly paved the way for so many iconic singers, Adele, Amy Winehouse. Dusty was paving the way and doing that sound many years before.

ON: In a nutshell, why should audiences come and see Dusty?

KK: I think it’s a modern story, beautifully told about an amazing, strong woman who goes through some incredible personal struggles. It also has the best musical catalogue, we take you from the 60’s through pop culture right up to Dusty’s song with the Pet Shop Boys in the late 80’s, there’s so much to discover about Dusty. It’s deeply moving, it’s enormously entertaining and you’ll come away we hope feeling incredibly inspired.

DUSTY opens at the Lowry on Tuesday 24th July and runs until Saturday 28th tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love from a Stranger

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Agatha Christie is one of the most prolific writers of not just her own, but any generation, turning out over 60 books. She was also a successful playwright, having penned the theatrical titan that is The Mousetrap.  However, her flirtation with the stage didn’t stop there, as here we have Love from a Stranger, a Christie short story called Philomel Cottage which was adapted for the stage by writer/actor Frank Vosper in 1936. This isn’t just another ‘run of the mill’ Christie ‘whodunit’, but a multi-layered tale of control, manipulation with a thoroughly believable monster at the centre of it.

Having come into a substantial amount of money, Cecily (Helen Bradbury), seemingly has the perfect life: wealth, a good job, and engaged to her partner Michael (Justin Avoth). However, it is adventure that Cecily seeks, and a chance encounter with a handsome photographer, Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum) opens all sorts of possibilities for Cecily. The charismatic young American persuades Cecily to leave her old life behind and start afresh with him.

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The couple move to a remote cottage in the country where at first everything seems perfect, however cracks begin to appear in the relationship, and all is not what it seems with Lovell, as he begins to control and manipulate his now wife much to the distress and concern of Cecily’s family and friends.

Director Lucy Bailey has done a fantastic job crafting a tense, captivating psychological thriller. The production’s main strength is its ability to shock. At first it seems to be run-of-the-mill, easy going fodder, perfect for a lazy Sunday night in front of the telly. There are even a few laughs in there, courtesy of Aunt Louise (Nicola Sanderson) and then later housemaid, Ethel (Molly Logan), however this is all a ruse, designed to sucker you in and leave you fully unprepared for the events that transpire in the nerve shattering finale.

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It’s not just the script that helps ratchet up the tension, Mike Britton’s unique and intricate set design, of sliding panels and see through walls add to the claustrophobia, whilst bringing an element of voyeurism to proceedings. In addition, Oliver Fenwick’s film noir lighting design comes into its own as the story unfolds adding menace and an almost seedy quality to proceedings.

The cast are on fine form: the two leads have a believable chemistry with each other: Bradbury is feisty yet naive as Cecily, whilst Frenchum is charming and menacing as the unhinged Lovell. They are supported by a superb group of actors: with special mention going to a near show stealing turn from Nicola Sanderson as Aunt Louise, who certainly brings a great deal of humour to a character that could be irritating: however, some of her lines and her stage presence had the audience in stitches.

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One thing which did affect this fabulous production, and which is in no way the fault of the cast or crew was various audience members leaving their mobile phones switched on throughout the performance, one noisy intervention coming at a particular tense moment in the play: it really is frustrating the amount of times this seems to happen. Switch your phones off! Embrace being at the theatre and be in the moment!

Mobile phones aside, this is a riveting, entertaining and engrossing production, that like its lead character, starts off as one thing and in the end is a different beast all together: certainly, worth a watch.

Love from a Stranger is at the Lowry until the 14th July tickets available here.

The Nature of Forgetting

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tom is preparing for his 55th birthday; Tom also has early onset dementia. As he dresses for his party, with each touch of fabric threads of memoires begin to stir; we follow his minds recollections and failing retentions over the next 75 minutes through an exploration of memory, friendship, love and the fragility of human life.

Established in 2009, Theatre Re is a London-based international ensemble creating moving and incredibly poignant explorative theatre which pushes the boundaries of mime and physicality. The company move together effortlessly as beloved memories play out patchily while others remain strong, taking Tom right back to his school days, to sharing his first kiss through to enjoying his wedding day.

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The fluid execution of each scene allowing the peaks and troughs of Tom’s life to play out in front of us. Tom’s mind may be weakening as shown through the stuttering and stalling of particular memories as scenes blur and frustrations rise where the simple becomes complex but the person at the heart of it remains.

Alex Judd’s beautiful composition becomes almost an additional character, stirring and atmospheric it flows beautifully through the fluid memories and punctuates the distorted, splintered recollections.

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The show’s creator and director, Guillaume Pigé takes on the title role of Tom, delivering the complex choreography with ease. Timing here is everything and the small ensemble cast don’t miss a beat as this moving exploration of dementia as seen through the eyes of a sufferer offers a stage for soon to be forgotten memories.

Fast-paced and poignant, Theatre Re succeed entirely in delivering a thought-provoking and impactful piece of theatre. Tom may seem broken but his inner-strength and the person he was remain despite his failing, weakening mind.

Theatre Re have one more performance of The Nature of Forgetting at the Lowry on Wednesday 13th June at 1.30pm, tickets available here.

Northern Ballet | Jane Eyre

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Jane Eyre has been reimagined many times, Northern Ballet’s challenge is telling this familiar story without a single word of Charlotte Brontë’s famous text being uttered. A challenge acclaimed choreographer Cathy Marston undoubtedly rises to as the key details of Brontë’s masterpiece unfold in this dynamic and visually stunning production.

Marston focusses firmly on the female characters within the piece; Jane is indisputably the heroine of the production as Abigail Prudames encompasses the passion and determination of the trailblazer through the most exquisite and precise of performances. Tested to the point of self-betrayal before her belief in love and the fierceness of her own integrity saves her, Prudames tells a story with every slight movement she makes, delivering elegance, drama and emotional depth.

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Rochester is brought to life by a brooding Mlindi Kulashe, the chemistry between Prudames and Kulashe is electric, full of passion and intensity. Kulashe capturing the complexity of Rochester’s bruised soul effortlessly, the duo glide from awkward to playful with ease before passion and intensity takes hold.

Adding further layers to the piece is Hannah Bateman’s Bertha Mason, often described as the ‘mad woman in the attic’ she is wild, highly-sexualised and unpredictable as she prowls across the stage barefoot, bathed in red.

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The production feels fresh and inspired as the pace dances through Jane’s life from tragic childhood to complex adulthood, her search for fulfilment never wavering.

An ensemble of male dancers, known as the D-Men, symbolise Jane’s inner demons, creating a clear visual image of the orphan girls emotions and inner turmoil, a superb creative decision which visually portrays the constant tug-of-war between Jane’s intensely passionate feelings and her outer reserve.

Young Jane is portrayed to perfection by Ayami Miyata, agitation and frustration depicted in her defiant, energetic movements.

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The adaptation does absolute justice to Brontë’s work, bringing the novel to effervescent life with incredible skill and creativity.

Phillip Feeney’s emotive score blends a mixture of both original and 19th-century music which compliments the contemporary feel of this piece superbly. Patrick Kinmonth’s set is sparse moving screens, muted in colour allowing the performers to really be at the centre of this piece, all lit to atmospheric perfection by Alastair West’s lighting design.

The fusing of the traditional and the contemporary ensures this is a performance packed with intensity as well as originality, a beautiful and expressive tribute to both Jane herself and author Charlotte Brontë.

On at the Lowry until Saturday 9th June tickets available here.