White is the new Black

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Last seen at the Anthony Burgess Foundation in the hilarious self-penned ‘The Community Centre’ Nicola Gardner returns to Manchester with fellow actress Jennifer Banks to deliver two very different yet hugely poignant plays, in the double bill, White is the new Black.

Piece one, The Last Appointment, written by Nicola as a commission for Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre sees black middle class GP Jo (Nicola Gardner) confronted by white Black Lives Matter activist Aretha (Jennifer Banks) who arrives at her surgery for the last appointment of the day. Things quickly become heated and increasingly personal as Aretha struggles to understand why Jo would not want to protest and take up the front line at rallies like Aretha, she tells her to “Get with the programme” and challenges Jo’s position of privilege, aghast that being the only black girl in her school didn’t leave her traumatised and angry at the injustice Aretha feels Jo faced. Whereas Jo wants to forget the struggles and the strife and aspires to succeed, holding people like the Obamas in high esteem and admiring their achievements in life, she wants to look forward not back.

There are some highly entertaining moments delivered beautifully by both actresses, Aretha strives to make Jo believe she too has lived a persecuted life due to being a Scouser, she knows how it feels to be targeted and treated badly, resulting in dramatic and hilarious eye rolls from Jo. Aretha challenges Jo’s attitude just as much as Jo challenges Aretha’s motives, ultimately boiling down to that fact that both just want what they feel is right and is fair despite going about things in dramatically different ways, both ladies show how ultimately despite our choices and actions we aren’t so very different after all.

Piece two in contrast to The Last Appointment reverses the roles of our two actresses, in Florence – The Fight of her Life written by Maurice Bessman, we meet African asylum seeker Florence (Nicola Gardner) as she comes face to face with seemingly cold-hearted Immigration Officer Mrs Lewis (Jennifer Banks). Florence is literally pleading for her life during the cold and demeaning immigration test as Mrs Lewis digs for detail despite the deeply upsetting and heartbreakingly sad reality of the life Florence has escaped from, boxes are ticked and devastating accounts disregarded as Florence fails to provide hard, factual evidence of the stories that she tells. The immigration office want physical proof explains Mrs Lewis and without that she must simply press on and get her job done, detaching herself from the emotion of the story, she simply sees herself as a woman just doing a job. The coldness and reality of the test is hard-hitting and sensitively delivered by both actresses, our characters have a task to complete and both are driven by achieving the best outcome, for Florence it is a life-changing and potentially devastating outcome should she be refused, for Mrs Lewis it’s just another work-placed task that she needs to complete efficiently. Florence has to relive painful and devastating memories, which are cruelly brushed away by Mrs Lewis due to not being documented anywhere as proof they ever happened.

While the two pieces are very different, they both ultimately highlight the same themes, despite colour and differences in race, we are essentially all one, we share so much in life that ties us together and bonds us, we love, we live and we all strive to succeed. While we may differ in our attitudes, choices and approaches, there are many more similarities that draw us together. The two plays both powerfully demonstrate how deep down we really are one, our diversities should be embraced and celebrated as the melting pot we come together in grows in richness and diversity. Emotive, powerful, and beautifully delivered theatre, highly recommended.

White is the new Black has one final performance tonight at the Anthony Burgees Foundation, tickets available here; http://www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk

 

Gangsta Granny

 

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Being massive fans of David Walliams children’s fiction, we approached the Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of Gangsta Granny with excitement and a little trepidation. What if they didn’t translate Walliams’ clever story and capture his imaginative and laugh-out-loud storytelling to their stage production. It quickly became apparent that the cast were going carry it off and their on-stage interpretation didn’t disappoint.

Ben is an eleven-year-old boy (played by young adult Ashley Cousins) with flamboyant, ball room dancing parents (Rachel Stanley and Benedict Martin). They mean well, but this dancing duo are caught up in their own drama and don’t really have time for Ben or his Granny. As a result, Ben and Granny (played last night by Louise Bailey) are unenthusiastically forced together every Friday night. Ben thinks his granny is the most boring person in the world. She relentlessly feeds him cabbage based meals, even inventing cabbage mouse for desert and their weekly games of Scrabble are the highlight of her week.

Ben would rather do anything than spend time with Granny.

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That is, until he uncovers a secret, suggesting that perhaps Granny is not quite as boring as he thinks. As a result, Ben and Granny embark on an exciting adventure, one that will bring them together and will form an unlikely bond that can’t be broken. Not only do they come within a hairs’ breath of stealing the Crown Jewels, they also meet Her Royal Majesty, the Queen, who treats them with an improbable lenience.

Director Neal Foster and his team should be applauded for their inventive use of space, sound, light and costume design. They worked wonders recreating many different scenes from the book and managed to stay true to the original tale, despite the on-stage constraints. Granny’s recounts of her youthful escapades were wonderfully illustrated by imaginative and elaborate costume design and took the audience on a hilarious journey through her many adventures and encounters.

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Following the interval, the show stepped it up a gear with many more laugh out loud moments and lots of audience participation. Bens involuntary participation in a dancing competition, which was hosted by the hilarious Flavio and played by Devesh Kishore (he also played Raj, an endearing character that appears in most of Walliams’ novels), and the chaos that ensued, had the audience laughing and jumping from their seats in pantomime style.

All in all, this is a heartfelt cross-generational story told with great humour. Be warned, as with many of Walliams children’s stories, there is a sad twist in the tale, but fear not, this is dealt with sensitively and everyone left the theatre happy. According to the youngest member in our party it was “better than the book!”.

On at the Opera House until Sunday 11th June tickets can be found here http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/gangsta-granny-2017/opera-house-manchester/

Reviewed by Margot Power

Winter Hill

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Set on Bolton’s iconic Winter Hill, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play explores what could happen if corporate greed was allowed to take over the town’s beloved moorland and the effect of this on a group of feisty local women, not yet ready to bow down to might of the developers. Transforming their reading-group into a powerful political statement where revolution, resistance and rebellion take centre stage the ladies occupy the part-built sky-scraping hotel as they declare themselves to be “Women Against Erection”.

The play is delivered in a series of flashbacks, present day sees Emma (Fiona Hampton) daughter of activist Dolly (Denise Black) meeting with some of the women who occupied the building with her mother to find out the truth about what actually happened that day.

Winter Hill is a real ensemble piece with clear and witty narrative and a cast any production would be thrilled to have, it’s a joy to see such talented female actresses under one roof. Denise Black, is superb as the gutsy and fearless Dolly, she is determined to safeguard the future of Winter Hill for the generations to come to enjoy and explore as she did. Souad Faress takes on the role of Vivian; somewhat mysterious in her background she is quietly confident and utterly committed to the cause. Janet Henfrey delivers a fine performance as wheelchair bound Felicity, weak of body but strong of mind she offers sharp and witty observations of the world as she sees it. Louise Jamerson’s Beth is less revolutionary than her friends but her loyalty to them soon sees her understanding more their reasons for resistance. Attempted voice of reason is local councillor Irene (Cathy Tyson) calm and rational she attempts to talk the ladies out of their action but you can’t help think she like the rest of the Council has been dazzled by the investors as she attempts to justify their approval of the monstrous hotel despite the fact the promised school and social housing seem to have been long forgotten now the developers have moved in.

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Resident Octagon artistic director Elizabeth Newman has delivered a thought-provoking and quality piece of drama, this all female cast shine as they strive to decide what makes a heroine and eventually realise that if they are going to be heroines then they will be heroines for humanity, a sentiment that really strikes a chord in the current unsettling political climate. This is a passionate and spirited piece as we see the underdog fight to make a difference, the women are tired of being suppressed and will go just as far as they need to make sure their voice is heard. They declare that the bullies “…don’t come with machine guns but power points and plans” as they unite to show just how strong and important people power can be, a relevant and powerful reminder to us all.

On at the Bolton Octagon until Saturday 3rd June tickets available here https://octagonbolton.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/winter-hill/

 

 

 

Julie, Madly, Deeply

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Hit West End show Julie, Madly, Deeply will visit Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre for two show only this coming Sunday. Written and performed by the insanely talented Sarah-Louise Young (most recently seen in Hope Mill’s critically acclaimed production of Yank!) and directed by Russell Lucas this charming and cheeky cabaret takes an entertaining look at fan and fandom.

A huge fan of Julie Andrews since childhood Sarah-Louise Young intertwines songs from Andrews much loved career including Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music with stories and anecdotes detailing the highest of highs and lowest of lows of Andrew’s life. A show guaranteed to have you grinning from ear to ear this witty and entertaining tribute is an absolute must-see!

Sunday 14th May 3pm and 7.30pm at Hope Mill Theatre

Tickets available here http://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/julie-madly-deeply/

 

Flare 2017 launch

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Flare International Festival of new theatre which is taking place across the city between 4th -8th July announced an inspiring and innovative full programme line up this afternoon.

Acting as a platform for some of the most talented national and international theatre makers and featuring around 60 of the best new international artists Flare 17 promises to be a unique and exciting celebration of new theatre. The full programme includes performances, workshops, feedback sessions as well as parties for both performers and audiences alike.

Artistic Director Neil Mackenzie explained the importance of programming international work, “It is our aim as an international festival and as advocates of emerging experimental theatre to bring together the international community of radical theatre artists to inform and enrich theatre practice in this country”

Flare 17 will take place at various venues across the city including HOME, Royal Exchange Theatre, The Lowry, Contact, Martin Harris Centre and 70 Oxford St and will present an ambitious programme of work from across Europe. Highlights announced today include:

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Party by Spanish/Brazillian artists Beaches – An immersive dance and audio show for 10 spectators at the time. Alluding to elements of our collective memory and popular culture, the piece creates a utopian simulation of a night out, one that functions as a detonator for hacking the senses of the spectator, blurring the limits between reality and representation.

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Blind Cinema by Britt Hatzius – In the darkness of a cinema space, the audience sits blindfolded. Behind each row of audience members is a row of children who, in hushed voices, describe a film only they can see. Accompanied by the soundtrack (which has no dialogue), the whispered descriptions are a fragile, fragmentary and courageous attempt by the children to make sense of what they see projected on the screen. In focusing on that which lies beyond the sense of sight, the attention switches between the world of the film, guided by the whispering voice, and the shared physical space of the cinema. For these performances the children will come from St Brigid’s RC Primary in Beswick, and Beaver Road Primary in Didsbury.

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Grand Applause by Guillem Mont de Palol & Jorge Dutor – An extraordinary on-stage exhibition of performance and visual art, presented in the form of the opera – Carmen. In the opera, Don José falls in love with Carmen who becomes infatuated with the bullfighter Escamillo. Don José’s love quickly turns to violent jealousy. He tracks Carmen down and kills her.

On a stage that is wired for sound, Grand Applause offers a stirring soundtrack, a live chorus and a choreography of artworks, by three artists: Norberto Llopis in the role of Carmen, Luis Urculo in the role of Don José and Bernhard Willhelm as the toreador Escamillo. After their huge hit #losmicrófonos at FLARE15, irrepressible theatrical mavericks Guillem Mont de Palol and Jorge Dutor are back, but on a much bigger scale…

Flare Molar

Molar by Quim Bigas Bassart – A much acclaimed and highly energetic interactive solo performance about happiness, and the way we move and are moved. A favourite at festivals across Spain, this is a performance that reflects on the commercialisation of human emotion, and is presented for free in the Great Hall of the Royal Exchange in Manchester.

Tickets and full listings are available now via www.flarefestival.com

 

Bucket List

(c) Alex Brenner

Following an award winning Edinburgh Festival Fringe run, the internationally acclaimed Theatre Ad Infinitum bring their latest powerful piece Bucket List to the Lowry.

The all-female cast tells the story of Milagros, a spirited Mexican orphan who tragically sees her mother murdered during an anti-corruption protest. Milagros is left with only a bloodied list of names, names of those responsible for her mother’s death. Milagros soon realises her only option to make them pay and find her vengeance is to destroy them, one by one.

(c) Alex Brenner

Ad Infinitum’s style of story-telling is exceptional, physical, effusive and hugely powerful. The piece at 90 minutes straight through with no interval flows rapidly and packs a punch, raising a fist of defiance to the powers that be. The ensemble cast successfully take on a number of roles; once you get into the flow of how this innovative company share their tales you are soon scooped up and hooked by their charismatic and emotive style.

(c) Alex Brenner

(c) Alex Brenner (info@alexbrenner.co.uk)

Director Nir Paldi perfectly illustrates through her cast the desperation and frustration of living in a place where poison not only flows through the rivers but right to the core of the establishment. The cast made up of Tamsin Clarke, Charli Dubery, Luisa Guerreiro, Orian Michaeli, Deborah Pugh, Shamira Turner portray this tangled web of hurt and pain magnificently, there are many light-hearted moments of joy as we see Milagros childlike, innocent as she has fun with her young friends before the brutality of real life takes over. An interesting and clever narrative of a chess game flows through the piece, offering tactical advice on how best to make the next and most deadly move whilst offering up the suggestion we are all just pawns in a bigger and much more terrifying game.

Bucket List is passionate and incredibly moving, intricate and brilliantly delivered, physically charged theatre at its best. On at the Lowry until Thursday 27th April tickets available here; https://www.thelowry.com/events/bucket-list

Miss Saigon returns to Manchester!

Miss S 5Hot on the heels of yesterday’s exciting Matilda announcement Cameron Mackintosh has today announced that Miss Saigon will land at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on 21th March 2018 and will stay in the city for a total of 7 weeks until 12th May 2018, with tickets going on sale on 18 May. www.miss-saigon.com

Mackintosh also announced the principal casting of his acclaimed new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical, Red Concepcion will play ‘The Engineer’, Sooha Kim ‘Kim’, Ashley Gilmour ‘Chris’, Zoë Doano ‘Ellen’ and Gerald Santos ‘Thuy’. At certain performances ‘Kim’ will be played by Joreen Bautista.

Here at Opening Night we’re thrilled to hear that Barnaby Hughes most recently seen in Hope Mill Theatre’s stunning production Yank! will be amongst the cast, huge congratulations Barnaby!

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Miss Saigon tells the heart-wrenching story of the last days of the Vietnam War, 17-year-old Kim is forced to work in a Saigon bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer. There she meets and falls in love with an American GI named Chris but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For 3 years Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he’s fathered a son.

Since its London premiere in 1989, Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon has become one of the most successful musicals in history.  The show has since been performed in 28 countries, over 300 cities in 15 different languages, has won over 40 awards including 2 Olivier Awards, 3 Tony Awards, and 4 Drama Desk Awards and been seen by over 35 million people worldwide.

Tickets will be in huge demand for this epic production, we are thrilled to say in Manchester the heat is most definitely on!

MISS SAIGON UK TOUR 2017/2018

www.miss-saigon.com

 

MONDAY 3 JULY – SATURDAY 22 JULY 2017

CURVE, LEICESTER

www.curveonline.co.uk – 0116 242 3595

ON SALE NOW

 

WEDNESDAY 26 JULY – SATURDAY 23 SEPTEMBER 2017

BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME

www.birminghamhippodrome.com – 0844 338 5000

ON SALE NOW

 

WEDNESDAY 4 OCTOBER – SATURDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2017

BORD GAIS ENERGY THEATRE, DUBLIN

www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie – +353 (1) 677 7999

ON SALE NOW

 

WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2017 – SATURDAY 6 JANUARY 2018

WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE, CARDIFF

www.wmc.org.uk – 029 2063 6464

ON SALE NOW

 

WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY – SATURDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2018

FESTIVAL THEATRE EDINBURGH

www.edtheatres.com – 01315296000

ON SALE NOW

 

WEDNESDAY 21 FEBRUARY – SATURDAY 17 MARCH 2018

MAYFLOWER THEATRE, SOUTHAMPTON

www.mayflower.org.uk – 02380 711811

ON SALE NOW

 

WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH – SATURDAY 12 MAY 2018

MANCHESTER PALACE THEATRE

www.atgtickets.com/venues/palace-theatre-manchester/0844 871 3019

ON SALE 18 MAY 2017

 

WEDNESDAY 16 MAY – SATURDAY 23 JUNE 2018

THE BRISTOL HIPPODROME

www.atgtickets.com/venues/bristol-hippodrome/0844 871 3012

ON SALE 18 MAY 2017

 

WEDNESDAY 4 JULY – SATURDAY 4 AUGUST 2018

THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH

http://www.theatreroyal.com/01752 267222 ON SALE 18 MAY 2017

 

WEDNESDAY 15 AUGUST – SATURDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2018

NORWICH THEATRE ROYAL

www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk  01603 63 00 00

ON SALE 21 AUGUST