C.O.N.T.A.C.T

📷 Phil Tragen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest


Over the last 14 months many of us have had a great deal of time to take stock and reflect on the world around us, so wouldn’t it be exciting to enter the head space of someone different for a short while, and become immersed in their world.

Well for 50 minutes you can, with the unique production of C.O.N.T.A.C.T brought to audiences by Aria Entertainment, WEF Productions and The Lowry, staged either at Media City and/or a Manchester City Centre.

We were told prior to the event to meet near the tram stop at Media City and to bring a brolly: this after all is Salford where the city and grey sky fit like hand in glove. In addition we were asked to download the C.O.N.T.A.C.T app for your smartphone of choice and to bring a set of earphones.

📷 Phil Tragen

We are soon introduced to Sarah (Chloe Gentles), a young women with a lot going on in her head: from the uncomfortable fitting of her bra to the odd feeling in the pit of her stomach, all the while taking in the sounds of the city, lost in her own little bubble.

However her world is soon turned on it’s head with the introduction of Raphael (Cellan Scott), a mysterious stranger who knows more about Sarah then she knows about herself.

Sarah and Raphael soon begin a journey of discovery and reflection which will change Sarah forever.

C.O.N.T.A.C.T was first performed in Paris at the height of the pandemic, moving to London last summer and garnering huge praise for it’s bold, innovative attempt to stage live theatre. After all we can’t order a drink without an app, so why shouldn’t we enjoy theatre in the same way?

📷 Phil Tragen

Both Gentles and Scott do not utter a world throughout, with both giving visual, expressive performances whilst their dialogue is drip fed into our conscious’ via the app. The two actors performances, in conjunction with the highly impressive 3-D sound design allow you to switch off and become totally immersed in Sarah’s world, so much so that as we strolled around the grounds of the Blue Peter Garden I became aware that I was part of the production, as baffled on lookers watched a group of people with headphones observing two others have a silent but very heated debate.

This unique, production is the perfect reminder of how much we need human connection and the importance of looking after not only ourselves but also looking out for others. No matter what challenges we may face, there can always be a solution found.

C.O.N.T.A.CT is on in Manchester and at Media city until the 27thJune. Tickets available at: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/contact-salford-quays/

Critically-acclaimed outdoor show C-O-N-T-A-C-T comes to Salford & Manchester in May

Aria Entertainment and WEF Productions have announced that the critically-acclaimed
outdoor production C-o-n-t-a-c-t will run for six weeks from Tuesday 18 May – 29 June 2021.


This immersive, two-hander outdoor performance featuring a captivating 3D sound design will
run in partnership with The Lowry in two locations – Salford Quays and central Manchester following a hugely successful run in London in autumn 2020.

This innovative production opened to 4* reviews from The Guardian and the i, with The Times
calling it “a tantalising vision of a new kind of theatre.” It will be one of the first live theatre show to open in Manchester & Salford following theatre closures last year.

Originally created by Samuel Sené and Gabrielle Jourdain and premiering in France with
French production company Musidrama last summer in a world where social distancing became
the ‘new normal’, this timely story of a moving and unexpected encounter explores the themes
of mental health and anxiety through the eyes of Sarah as she is approached by someone she
believes to be a stranger. She discovers that he can hear her thoughts but how? Who is this
man? Dive into her mind in this unique sensory and immersive new show and experience
theatre like never before.

The show runs for 50 minutes without an interval and audiences download the audio from the
app which is a completely new piece of technology synchronizing the spectators and actors,
allowing the show to play with theatrical concepts and a new form of dramaturgy. Audiences of
no more than 17 per show will purchase their tickets online and will then receive a link to
download the app and exact location details.

The show complies with the safety and hygiene measures arts as set out by the government. This pedestrian performance is an outdoor promenade experience for small groups of up to 17 and adheres to strict social distancing
between audience members. It is also an audio experience which involves no direct speaking of
any actor in the play.

Tickets can be purchased via The Lowry’s website Contact | What’s On | The Lowry


An Evening With Bruce Dickinson in Salford

Legendary Iron Maiden lead singer BRUCE DICKINSON is today delighted to announce a very special one man show for Summer 2021 – which comes to The Lowry on August 4.

‘An Evening With Bruce Dickinson’ is Bruce’s first-ever UK spoken word tour and follows sold-out shows across Europe and Australia.

This unmissable six-date tour – peppered with anecdotes from Bruce’s extraordinary life both on and off-stage, and delivered in his own inimitable anarchic style – visits Brighton, Salford, Bradford, Nottingham, Birmingham and London in August.

‘AN EVENING WITH BRUCE DICKINSON’ – FEATURING Q&A

 SIX 2021 UK SHOWS ANNOUNCED ON SPOKEN WORD TOUR

LIVE NATION today announces a very special Evening With show by IRON MAIDEN singer, BRUCE DICKINSON on his first-ever UK spoken word tour.

THE SUMMER 2021 DATES ARE:

AUG 1       BRIGHTON               THEATRE ROYAL

AUG 4       SALFORD                 THE LOWRY

AUG 5       BRADFORD              ST GEORGE’S HALL

AUG 8       NOTTINGHAM          THEATRE ROYAL

AUG 9       BIRMINGHAM           THE ALEXANDRA

AUG 10     LONDON                   O2 SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE

Tickets go on general sale at 10am, Thursday April 29 via ticketmaster.co.uk

A Monster Calls

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s not very often I’ll go into review a show cold: I’ll usually have some idea of plot, cast, etc before going into the the theatre. In the case of A Monster Calls I knew it was based on a book, and there was something in the back of mind telling me that there had been a film adaptation too. In terms of plot I knew very little, had I known I could have prepared for the tsunami of emotions that hit me.

This is the story of Conor (Ammar Duffus), a lonely 13-year-old boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders: harassment from the school’s bully, a father living on the other side of the world, his mother (Maria Omakinwa) is seriously ill. Understandably, it’s his mum’s illness that is of most concern to Conor, confused by what he is seeing and his mother’s reassurance that “everything with be fine” he has no outlet for emotions.

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Conor’s life soon becomes even more complicated when he receives a visit from a monstrous creature. Located in his garden is a giant yew tree, which comes to life at the same time each evening. The yew tree has been on the earth for hundreds of years and informs the boy that he will tell him three tales and in exchange Conor will tell him one in return.

Each night the tree returns with a brutal fable, involving, kings, queens and apothecaries, all with a dark heart to them, there is no happy ever after with these stories. But, what do they mean and how do they help Conor?

Sally Cookson has created a powerful, visceral and devastating adaptation of Patrick Ness’ international bestseller.  This is a fairy-tale that deals with grief, anger and the importance of expressing our emotions, this is an unflinching, unsentimental view of the world through the eyes of teenager, complete with all his frustrations and heartache.

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The production looks and sounds amazing. The haunting score by Benji Bower, is both beautiful and haunting, played masterfully by musicians Seamas Carey and Luke Potter. There use of electronica and voice distortion gives the production a fantasy, other worldly quality.  The staging is simple but affective, just a white floor, with a white back drop where, looking not to dissimilar to a padded cell, adding an element of claustrophobia, despite the vast openness of the stage. Visuals are projected on the wall throughout, and the ensemble cast when not playing their part will double up as visible stagehands handing out props as and when required.

However it’s the recreation of the woodland behemoth that is most impressive: using a series of  giant ropes which cascade onto the stage throughout, the ensemble cast gather them together to form the tree, this coupled with Keith Gilmore’s physical and menacing delivery as the monster, make for an impressive visual spectacle creating a truly intimidating protagonist.

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The production isn’t without it’s flaws, despite a solid showing from the cast, with strong physical and emotional performances throughout they are occasionally let down by some stilted dialogue which is a little distracting, however this is a minor quibble for what is an innovative, powerful piece of theatre.

Having quite recently lost my father, nothing could have prepared me for the emotional sucker punch the production provided during its final moments and judging by the amount of people clearing the sand from their eyes (least that’s what I think it was) at the end of the performance nor was anyone else. Powerful, intelligent and emotional, when this monster calls you had best answer as you won’t be disappointed.

A Monster Calls is on at at the Lowry until Saturday 29th February, tickets are available here.

Ghost Stories

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Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Finally, a decade after it’s theatrical premiere at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, Ghost Stories is embarking on a full national tour, and trust me it was well worth the wait!

From the twisted minds of childhood friends Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, comes the ultimate scary theatrical experience, that will chill to your core.

Both Dyson and Nyman are no strangers to horror and the supernatural: Dyson is arguably best known for his work with, The League of Gentleman. Whilst Nyman is an actor and writer, who recently starred opposite Renée Zellweger in the Oscar winning film Judy. However, it’s his previous work with Derren Brown, which undoubtedly feeds into this production.

It would do the show a disservice to offer a review complete with plot synopsis and spoilers, the less you know going in beforehand the better. So, this review like a government investigation into Russian donors to the Conservative Party will be heavily redacted.

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Beginning with a lecture from Professor Goodman (Joshua Higgott), Goodman specialises in the study of the supernatural, especially debunking people’s stories, or exposing fakers and frauds. However, of all the cases that he has investigated there have been three that have stuck with him.

The first is that of security guard, Tony Matthews (Paul Hawkyard), and his unsettling final shift. The second is that of teenager, Simon Rifkind (Gus Gordon) and the strife his troublesome car gets him into. Finally, businessman, Mike Priddle (Richard Sutton) and the events that lead up to a family tragedy.

Can Professor Goodman offer up a rational explanation behind each of these stories, if so what can be?

If the aim of Ghost Stories is to have you jumping out of your skin then it achieves its goal ten times over, like a rollercoaster the thrills come thick and fast, just when you think you’re safe there’s another scare right around the corner. It’s not all shocks, there are several laughs too, with a pitch-black script and lots of fun gags, horror and comedy have often made strange bed fellows, Ghost Stories undoubtedly have got the balance spot on.

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With a production of this nature it of course relies hugely on its creative team and high production values and what they have created is something quite special. With James Farncombe’s lighting design, sound design by Nick Manning, then add into the mix Jon Bausor’s impressive set design and you have an atmospheric, gasp-inducing full-on sensory experience.

The cast are on fine form, Higgot has an engaging stage presence as our guide to the paranormal, whilst the three storytellers each bring something different to their tale. There’s comedy, drama, and terror from each turn but all done very differently, which is a credit to all three actors as well the sublime writing and direction.

This is so much more than a fright-fest: it’s smart, innovative and most of all an enormously fun piece of theatre that pulls out all the stops to give you a night out that will live long in the memory.

Ghost Stories is at the Lowry until the 22nd February 2020 tickets available here.

 

 

 

My Night with Reg

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First premiered at The Royal Court in 1997, Kevin Elyot’s ground-breaking play My Night with Reg was loved by critics and audiences alike. A transfer to the West End followed as well as Olivier and Evening Standard awards, a successful Broadway run and even a feature film so it comes as no surprise that Manchester-based Green Carnation should choose this moving play as their first touring production.

Set in Guy’s apartment over various years the story focuses upon the relationships of a group of gay men, all have in some form a connection with the eponymous Reg. What initially seems like a light-hearted look into the lives and loves of the group soon develops into a perceptive exploration or love and friendship as secrets and betrayals are exposed while the ever-present threat of the 1980’s AIDS crisis looms large.

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Guy (Simon Hallman) is hopelessly in love with John (Nicholas Anscombe) yet doesn’t have the courage to tell him. Eager to please he puts everyone else’s needs before his own while his hesitancy to put himself out there results in a life unfulfilled and free from any real intimacy.

Old mates John (Nicholas Anscombe) and Daniel (David Gregan-Jones) joke and jostle while never actually having an honest conversation. Interestingly it’s primarily the youngest character in the play Eric (Alan Lewis) who speak freely, unafraid of sharing his thoughts and feelings about the way he sees the world while couple Bernie and Benny bicker and bark at each other by way of communication.

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As Guy, Simon Hallman perfectly captures the frustration of a man thwarted by his own niceness, hopelessly in love yet lacking in the courage to do anything about it. He endears himself to the audience as he flusters and fusses around his friends making the final part of the play all the more affecting.

David Gregan-Jones flounces spectacularly as charismatic Daniel while showing great skill in his ability to switch from carefree to devastated with ease. Nicholas Anscombe plays John as a cool and composed figure who becomes increasingly lost as the piece develops.

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Steve Connolly and Marc Geoffrey as Benny and Bernie play off each other brilliantly offering some of the most cutting humour in the piece while Alan Lewis is refreshingly real as the much lusted after Eric.

Co-directors Dan Jarvis and Dan Ellis has succeeded in creating a piece that’s as funny as it is moving. This dark comedy doesn’t sugar-coat nor should it, Green Carnation’s affecting revival will resonate with many. Designer George Johnson-Leigh’s set is simplistic yet effective with neon lighting pulsating as the intensity rises.

A well-crafted, well-acted piece which will leave you more than happy you’ve spent the night with Reg.

My Night with Reg is on at The Lowry until Saturday 25th January tickets available here.

Further information about regional tour dates can be found here.

 

 

An Inspector Calls

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Having been seen by over 5 million people since its premiere at the National Theatre in 1992 Stephen Daldry’s ground-breaking production of J.B. Priestley’s classic thriller comes to the Lowry this week as part of a UK wide tour.

Celebrated by audiences and critics alike its dramatic edge and clever theatricality remains. Set amidst a bleak, ominous backdrop we see a strange almost doll-like house, claustrophobic and precariously balanced. The laughter and chattering of the family within rings out, they are as yet unaware of whom lies within the wings waiting to unravel and expose their harmonious gathering.

A young working-class girl has committed suicide and it is Inspector Goole’s belief that each and every member of this loathsome family has played some influential part in her tragic demise. Daldry’s radical reimagining of this theatre heavyweight is strong in its impact and stirring in its message, the theatre packed with GCSE pupils, a clear sign of the continued relevance of this captivating piece.

Liam Brennan takes on the role of Inspector Goole, initially calm yet commanding he both examines and exposes each member of the elitist Birling family meticulously. Cocooned by their privilege he draws them out one by one rocking their very foundations and exposing their cruel entitled behaviours.

Each character is developed fully and delivered convincingly by an incredibly strong cast with special mention going to Chloe Orrock as daughter Sheila Birling whose journey from spoilt and materialistic to unravelled, ashamed yet reflective offers real hope for change.

Daldry’s exceptional direction clearly illustrates that the change Priestley wishes to see in the world must come from the younger generation, where they repent and reflect, their parents scrabble round in the gutter grabbing at their silverware polishing it in the mud, still grappling for their place at the top of the social ladder. Silent character Edna, (Linda Beckett) maid to the Birling family observes the fall-out while becoming more and more relaxed in her manner as the family fall from grace.

Designer Ian MacNeil’s intricate set design is strikingly impressive while Rick Fisher’s lighting adds to the atmosphere and intensity pairing wonderfully with Stephen Warbeck’s ominous soundtrack.

Whilst socialist Priestley wrote the play as a blistering criticism of capitalist society it very much remains a play for today with its message of social responsibility and consequence strikingly relevant. The piece illustrates perfectly how everything is connected and how our own individual actions impact others while using its platform to call for a kinder, fairer and more compassionate world. This thrilling adaptation is both slick and stylish, delivering a message that will stay with you long after the curtain call.

An Inspector Calls is on at The Lowry until Saturday 18th January tickets available here.

 

The Red Shoes

THE RED SHOES

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures premiered The Red Shoes in 2016 it stunned audiences and critics alike, winning two Olivier Awards as well as the LA Critics’ Award for both choreography and set and costume design. Returning for 2019 this breathtakingly beautiful piece of theatre proves to be as timeless a classic as ever.

Based on the 1948 Powell and Pressburger film which drew it’s inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Red Shoes this perfectly paced production is rich in indulgent theatricality, sweeping you up on a joyous, heart-wrenching, mesmerising journey from the moment Benard Herrmann’s stunning score with orchestrations from Terry Davies begins.

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The Red Shoes tells the powerful story of young ballerina Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) who swiftly rises to the position of principal dancer after her recent arrival at an established ballet company. Her success brings her to the attention of both composer Julain Craster (Dominic North) and also that of the dance company’s powerful impresario Boris Lermontov (Adam Cooper). With the first there is a genuine truth and innocence with the second the lure of higher artistic achievement pulls like a magnet, which ignites a battle between ambition and true love.

Ashley Shaw makes a welcome return to the role of Victoria Page a role she originated in 2016; her performance feels entirely authentic as she weaves her way through a whole spectrum of emotions capturing euphoria and bliss just as convincingly as she portrays terror and furious anger. This authentic emotion paired with her exquisite technique and precise delivery is nothing short of magnificent, embodying the young dancer to perfection. Her performance during The Ballet of The Red Shoes is mesmerising as she is firstly enthralled by then ultimately captured by the shoes, she tells the story movingly and with her whole being.

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Adam Cooper’s Boris Lermontov is strong and domineering, seductive in both his power and precision, he stalks the stage bringing an ever-present feeling of temptation and danger while Dominic North’s portrayal of struggling composer Julian Craster is a joy to watch, his solo piece in Act One develops a strong characterisation which he maintains superbly throughout

Bourne’s skilful storytelling and his unbeatable attention to detail matched with a company of dancers at the absolute top of their game ensures that this production enthrals entirely. From playful scenes on the French Riviera to intensely passionate duets every element of choreography is slick, masterful and exciting while every single person on stage gives an impressive and fully developed performance. It is such a visual treat almost cinematic at times that one viewing doesn’t feel like enough, every scene could stand alone and happily satisfy any theatre goer.

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Lez Brotherston award-winning set design is immediately striking and wonderfully effective. Allowing the audience access to both onstage and off-stage scenes via a grand revolving sumptuously curtained frame which almost feels like it pirouette’s before your eyes, drawing you into the very heart of the drama, lit beautifully by Paule Constable.

The Red Shoes is a unique piece of theatre in which every element has been crafted with such love and care that the end result is an unquestionably perfect piece of theatrical magic. Bourne’s wonderfully clear storytelling ensures that anyone dipping their toe into the dance world would find the show accessible while seasoned fans of his work will revel in the thrill of having another dazzling piece to enjoy, a masterpiece!

The Red Shoes is on at The Lowry until Saturday 30th November, tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

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.

Writer Henry Filloux-Bennett talks TOAST

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When Nigel Slater released his 2004 autobiography TOAST: The Story of a Boys Hunger, it’s doubtful he ever imagined it would be made into a BBC film let alone become a critically-award winning play which after wowing the West End is now touring the country to packed audiences every night.

Here at Opening Night we were lucky enough to catch up with writer Henry Filloux-Bennett ahead of the shows return to The Lowry to hear a little more about the process of taking the book from page to stage as well as what audiences can expect from this heart-warming adaptation which critics have described as ‘delicious’.

Opening Night: “How did you first become aware of the autobiography and did you read it with the intention of adapting it for the stage?”

Henry Felloux-Bennett: “I was a cook working in London, weirdly in the same hotel that Nigel works in at the end of the book, I was knackered as kitchen hours are stupidly long and I didn’t have any money so I had to live outside of London and commute in. To keep me awake, I would read a book. I was given TOAST one Christmas and it was the first book I picked up as I left one day. I just started reading it on the bus back and forth from the kitchen not only did the story resonate because he has an interesting upbringing and then goes into cooking and I thought – ‘Oh that’s like me’, but also I didn’t have anything to do with theatre but I sort of wanted to do something in theatre, and I thought: ah, that could be the show.”

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ON: “Once you’d decided to create the piece was it an instant yes from Nigel?”

HFB: “I tried originally to get the rights for a show in Edinburgh but Nigel said no, thank God because ten years later, the play became much more of a considered thing. Back then, I would have just done it in two hours and hoped for the best. It would have been rubbish so thank God he did say no.”

ON: “Your perseverance clearly paid of as 10 years later Nigel finally gave his backing to the adaptation.”

HFB: “Yes, the Lowry was doing a festival called Week 53 and it was about coming-of-age, Nigel also turned 60 the year it started so I think that had something to do with it. I think also it was something to do with this festival because it wasn’t a big glamorous West End show. We were trying to create this small experience for a very limited number of people that I hoped showed I genuinely wanted to do it. I think a lot of adaptations happen because it’s going to make money – I think he worried about that, not that it would be a big cash cow but that it was cynical. I just thought, oh we can get some foodies to come and see this.”

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ON: “What is the starting point when taking a book from page to stage?”

HFB: “I think one of the big challenges of adapting any book to stage is how you a make it interesting to watch. Obviously if you’re reading a book you can be totally absorbed in it. You can enjoy the characters and you can enjoy the plot, but actually when you’re faced with watching something that sort of takes it in a different direction. The challenge with TOAST is that it’s not a narrative-based book, it skips around quite a lot. Finding a journey to go on, from start to finish, was a massive challenge because it doesn’t flow in a linear way. But that’s what made it more fun as well because I didn’t have to stick to normal storytelling rules.”

ON: “Did Nigel have an absolute veto on anything?”

HFB: “Mainly language. There is a bit where they go to Bournemouth on holiday and there is a line about looking out on the sea and the guy who used to play Nigel once said ocean instead of sea. Apparently, that is a massive no-no because Nigel would never have said ocean in the 60s. It’s the details – like making the labels for the damson jam props. He made a lot of props. The general shape of the play he’s always been quite happy with because he understands that you send a book out into the world and it’s up to everyone else how they deal with it”.

Toast

ON: “Were you worried about Nigel Slater’s reaction to what you had produced?”

HFB: “I was terrified about Nigel’s response. I think you always think that what you’re doing you quite like but then you have to present it to people who’ve never read it before and you have to present it to the person who it’s about, who wrote the thing itself – that’s terrifying. He was very nice about it. He said he wouldn’t read it until I was happy with it, which was a massive bonus because we didn’t know each other. I might’ve massacred his memoir, which would’ve been awful. Touch wood, I haven’t done that. But he was very generous in saying do whatever you need to do. When I was writing it, I read an interview with Lee Hall, who wrote the screen play for the film. And Lee Hall basically said that you can’t care the person is still alive and you can’t care about the person reading it. You have to write the thing you need to write. If the person hates it you can change it, which he did a little bit, but you have to write the thing that you want to write and don’t worry that there’s a real-life Nigel Slater who will be there at some point. It was great advice, which I followed.”

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ON: “Why do you think the tastes and smells are so important in both the autobiography and the play?”

HFB: “If you read the book, which you absolutely should, you’ll know that all the chapters are named after food, like Apple Pie, Marshmallows or Digestive Biscuits. Angel Delight was what I responded to when I read it. Butterscotch Angel Delight is probably the best thing ever invented, it’s an amazing pudding and it takes five minutes to make – who wouldn’t love it? It’s those memories – and the smells. Everyone knows the smell of certain things. If you open a packet of digestives, you know that smell. The same with toast. If you think about it, everyone can tell what toast smells like, just when it’s just starting to burn a little bit. All of those things are in his chapters so we had to respond to that in the play.”

ON: “How involved has Nigel been in the process?”

HFB: “He was literally involved from day one. He was there for the workshop week with The Lowry six months before we made the show and then he was there for every step of the way with the food. I think the tech period for him was the most exciting bit because he works in TV so he’s not used to being involved with how the sets get made. At The Lowry, he made half the props with us. He was literally in the dressing room making labels. I’ve still got the label he made for the Damson Jam bottle, it’s my favourite thing. Oliver, who is the Executive Chef at The Lowry’s Pier Eight, worked very closely with Nigel and James [Thompson], our Food Director, to create things that everyone would get to taste. Nigel came up for tastings and was like ‘this bit needs this’ and ‘it needs a bit more sharpness in the lemon meringue tarts’ so he was really involved.”

Toast 5

ON: “Does any cooking take place on stage?”

HFB: “Yes, I’m not going to tell you what. But there is a scene when we cook on stage. Have you ever seen Billy Elliot? In the script I wanted to copy the bit where he does the angry dance and he can’t express himself any other way. There’s a moment in the play when Nigel gets told something and he doesn’t know how to respond. In my head the only way he could’ve responded was to cook and so it’s meant to be the angry dance for Nigel. It’s a really interesting thing because there is no talking for nearly five minutes. It’s quite intense and Giles had to learn how to cook that dish perfectly. Hopefully it resonates and you’ll find it interesting, but for some people it’s the only bit that I didn’t write and it’s the bit that people cry at. That bit certainly gets people because they can smell and see. The sound of food cooking in a frying pan is amazing, especially in a theatre”.

TOAST returns to The Lowry where it first premiered in 2018 on Monday 11th November for a limited one week run until Saturday 16th November. Tickets available 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.