10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Review: Deposit, Hampstead Downstairs

“Friends are uniting, to help each other’s dreams come true”

Keeping it brief for Matt Hartley’s Deposit as it closes this week. The Hampstead Theatre Downstairs was conceived as “an experimental” space where plays could be put on free from critical scrutiny and whilst that hasn’t necessarily been the way things have turned out (the programming has positioned it more as a companion to the Royal Court Upstairs rather than anywhere more adventurous), it has been a reliable destination for some pretty good theatre.

And in a rare case of the incubator effect coming into fruition, two plays which have previously played here have been brought back and deemed ready for the press (which also means their £5 preview tickets disappearing). First up is Deposit, a contemporary fable directed by Lisa Spirling about the challenges of trying to buy property in London where two couples test their friendship to the limit by renting a one-bedroom flat and sharing it to help them save that all-important lump sum. Continue reading “Review: Deposit, Hampstead Downstairs”

TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2

“Yet another everyday story of country folk”

And so Series 2 of Happy Valley winds to a close and you have to hope that the people who acclaim Scandi-noir as the high point of today’s television recognise that this slice of Yorkshire-bleak is just as good, if not better. Sally Wainwright might have thrown some people for a loop by moving (even further) away from straight police procedural to something much more intimate and emotionally complex, placing Sarah Lancashire’s utterly magnificent portrayal of Sgt Catherine Cawood at its very heart. (My thoughts on episode 1 are here.)

“Omnipotent and ubiquitous, God I’m good” she wryly notes as a younger colleague drunkenly praises her at the end of a boozy evening and as the multiple strands of this series slowly began to converge, it was her presence that knitted the whole thing together. Wainwright’s closer hand on the tiller (directing four of the six episodes, all of which she wrote) allowed for some of the bolder moment to really shine, notably the two-handers that opened so many of the shows, a scorching stillness and quietude that underscored much of the horror of policing the Dales. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2”

TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1

“This is sheep-rustling, north-Halifax style – just the one sheep and three lads off their heads on acid”

One of the televisual highlights of 2014 was Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, anchored by an astonishing central performance from Sarah Lancashire as pragmatic Yorkshire sergeant Catherine Cawood. So the return of a second series on BBC One is good news indeed, especially given Wainwright’s decision to also direct considerably more of the episodes this time round.

It’s obvious from the off that she is entirely at the top of her game. Reintroducing the startlingly mordant vein of humour on’t’moor, this opening sequence sees Cawood recounting a day’s work to her sister, namely sheep-rustling gone unfortunately wrong on a housing estate but leading to an even grimmer discovery, one which links directly back to James Norton’s Tommy Lee Royce, the father of her grandson after raping her daughter (who then committed suicide) and Catherine’s nemesis from the first series. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: Hobson’s Choice, Open Air Theatre

“There’s another man with claims on me”

Harold Brighouse’s 1916 play Hobson’s Choice is regarded a good old-fashioned British classic and features on the NT2000 Top 100 plays list so when a production was announced at the Bolton Octagon earlier this year, I was keen to see it for the first time. Sure enough, having made that trip the Open Air Theatre then announced their own revival at the distinctly more convenient location of Regents Park but hey ho, you can’t win ‘em all.

And in all honesty, I did prefer the bona fide Northern version. Nadia Fall’s production here feckles the show a little too much, moving it into the 60s which undoubtedly gives it a brighter sense of modernity but one which also flies in the face of many of the gender relationships of the play – the huge social change of the time is quietly forgotten for the most part, an inconvenient truth when so much of the writing is about specific notions of parental obedience and the bestowing of dowries.  Continue reading “Review: Hobson’s Choice, Open Air Theatre”

TV Review: Happy Valley

 
“Why would he do something like that? We’ve got caravans, we’ve got a games room that caters for people in wheelchairs”

My favourite thing about Happy Valley is actually the association the title has for me and my family – it was the name of the Chinese takeaway opposite my Aunty Jean’s house where we’d often get our Saturday tea. It’s a lovely fond memory that sits rather at odds with the realities of this recent TV series which I finally caught up with and which reunites what looks like becoming one of the best creative partnerships we have in the country – writer Sally Wainwright and actor Sarah Lancashire. Baftas all around I shouldn’t wonder.

The location may be similar to the rather more bucolic Last Tango in HalifaxHappy Valley is set in nearby Hebden Bridge – but we’re in a much grittier world of suburban disillusionment as this police drama takes in kidnap, rape and murder, all underscored by the pervasive influence of a spiralling drugs problem throughout the town. Wainwright being a more sophisticated writer than most though, ensures that her drama takes in the full breadth of the experience, examining the aftermath of the crimes just as much as the deeds themselves. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley”

Review: The Organist’s Daughter / Corrinne Come Back and Gone / The Patience of Mr Job

“We’re happy enough – what more can anyone ask from life?”

Three short reviews for three short radio play this week. My favourite was The Organist’s Daughter by Stephen Wyatt, a genuinely gorgeous piece of drama with a beautiful soundscape and an excellent cast including Simon Russell Beale, Emma Fielding and Naomi Fielding. The story concerns the succession of Lübeck Cathedral’s organist – the incumbent, Dieterich Buxtehude, is in ill health and wishes to retire but the man who follows him must, as tradition dictates, marry his eldest daughter. But Anna Margreta has what people call inner beauty and her rather plain looks leave him despairing, though a series of suitors bring their own surprises with them. Russell Beale is an excellent grouch, Fielding a superbly pragmatic daughter and as the would-be organists, Karl Davies, Joseph Kloska and Matthew Watson are all good fun, the first two wannabes bearing the somewhat familiar names of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Handel…

Lenny Henry’s reinvention as a proper thespian continues apace with his first radio play, Corrinne Come Back and Gone, a powerful tale of a difficult family reunion in Jamaica. Due to the poverty of their lives, Corrinne was forced to leave her children in the Caribbean as she fled to the UK but twenty years later, she receives a letter from her daughter inviting her back though nothing is quite how she imagines it would be nor how she remembered. It’s an emotive subject but one suffused with hard-headed humour as Claire Benedict’s Corrinne sets about attempting to make amends where she can and trying, and failing, to stop interfering to make things better. A slightly too schematically upbeat ending aside, it’s an impressive debut from Henry, helped by a superb cast including Doña Croll, Nadine Marshall and Alex Lanipekun.  Continue reading “Review: The Organist’s Daughter / Corrinne Come Back and Gone / The Patience of Mr Job”

The 2012 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
Justin Moorhouse, Two, Royal Exchange
Christopher Ravenscroft, The Winslow Boy, Bolton Octagon
Clifford Samuel, Obama the Mamba,
President Of The Slums, Lowry
Ed Gaughan, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Royal Exchange


Best Actress
Victoria Elliott, Two, Royal Exchange
Lucy van Gasse, Wonderful Town, Lowry
Maxine Peake, Miss Julie, Royal Exchange
Lysette Anthony, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Royal Exchange
Imogen Stubbs, Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange

Best supporting actor
John Branwell, Alfie, Bolton Octagon
Antony Eden, Taking Steps, Oldham Coliseum
Russell Dixon, Macbeth, Bolton Octagon
Christopher Villiers, The Winslow Boy, Bolton Octagon

Best supporting actress
Natalie Grady, The Daughter-in-Law, Library Theatre
Clare Calbraith, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, Royal Exchange
Carla Henry, Miss Julie, Royal Exchange
Maggie Service, The Country Wife, Royal Exchange

Best Actor in a Visiting Production
Karl Davies, Henry V and The Winter’s Tale, Lowry
John Owen-Jones, The Phantom of the Opera, Palace
Ray Fearon, Julius Caesar, Lowry
Robert Bathurst, Blue/Orange, Opera House

Best New Play
The Gatekeeper, by Chloe Moss, Royal Exchange Studio
Snookered, by Ishy Din, Oldham Coliseum
Towers Of Babel, by Nick Yardley, 24:7 Theatre Festival
Obama the Mamba, President Of The Slums, by Kevin Fegan, Lowry

Best Actress in a Visiting Production
Josefina Gabrielle, The King and I, Lowry
Elaine C Smith, I Dreamed a Dream, Palace
Sian Phillips, Cabaret, Lowry

Best Performance in a Studio Production
Tricia Kelly, The Gatekeeper, Royal Exchange Studio
Fred Bloom, No Sleep For The Haunted, Lowry Studio
Reuben Johnson, Wrecked, Lowry Studio
Julie Hesmondhalgh, Black Roses, Royal Exchange Studio
Rachel Austin, Black Roses, Royal Exchange Studio

Best Production
The Winslow Boy, Bolton Octagon
Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange
Arabian Nights, Library Theatre
Wonderful Town, Royal Exchange/The Halle/
Lowry, at the Lowry


Opera

Giulio Cesare, Opera North, Lowry
Xerxes, Royal Northern College of Music
Hansel and Gretel, Clonter Opera
The Maiden in the Tower/ Kashchei The
Immortal, Buxton Festival
Don Giovanni, Opera North, Lowry


Dance

Hofesh Shechter – Political Mother, Lowry
Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Lowry
Lyric Pieces, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Buxton Opera House
Some Like It Hip Hop, Zoo Nation, Lowry
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, New Adventures Production, Lowry


Best Visiting Production

DNA, Hull Truck, Royal Exchange Studio
Love’s Labour’s Lost, Northern Broadsides/
New Vic Theatre, Buxton Opera House
Our Country’s Good, Out Of Joint/Bolton Octagon, at Bolton Octagon
Julius Caesar, Royal Shakespeare Company, Lowry
Blue/Orange, Theatre Royal Brighton production, Opera House


Best Musical
The Phantom of the Opera, Palace
Carousel, Lowry
9 – 5, Opera House
American Idiot, Palace
The Lion King, Palace

Best Special Entertainment
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Radio Show Live!, Opera House
Translunar Paradise, Lowry
Star Cross’d, Oldham Coliseum
Cinderella, Oldham Coliseum

Best Design
Manchester Lines, Library Theatre
Wonderful Town, Lowry
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Oldham Coliseum
Hansel and Gretel, Clonter Opera
Arabian Nights, Library Theatre

Best Studio Production
Days Of Light, Starving Artists, Royal Exchange Studio
Snookered, Tamasha/Oldham Coliseum/Bush
Theatre, Oldham University
Black Roses, Royal Exchange Studio
London, Paines Plough/Live Theatre and Salisbury
Playhouse, Royal Exchange Studio

Best Ensemble
Snookered, Oldham Coliseum
Star Cross’d, Oldham Coliseum
All the Bens, 24:7 Theatre Festival
Arabian Nights, Library Theatre


Best Newcomer
Tamla Kari, Saturday Night And Sunday
Morning, Royal Exchange
Anna Wheatley, Peter Pan, Octagon

Best Fringe
JB Shorts, Real Life Theatre Co,
Joshua Brooks, Manchester
All the Bens, 24:7 Theatre Festival
The Cell, 24:7 Theatre Festival
The Bubbler, Studio Salford

DVD Review: A Very British Sex Scandal

“Do you think that homosexuality between 2 consenting males should be a criminal act”

A Very British Sex Scandal was a docu-drama that aired in 2007 on Channel 4. I watched it at the time and it has stuck with me ever since, a devastatingly powerful piece of film-making and a pertinent reminder of the struggles and battles that others fought in order for gay people to live in a more equal society today. Written and directed by Patrick Reams, it centres on the mid-1950s trial of several well-known men arrested for gross indecency and buggery which proved to be a landmark moment in solidifying public opinion against such legislation, stemming the virulently anti-homosexual political establishment and eventually leading to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults in Britain.

The film is a combination of dramatisations of key moments and events from the story interspersed with a set of interviews with gay men who were alive at the time. The mix is a good one: initially it is a roughly even mixture of the two, full of scene-setting shots in the drama but also providing much context of the realities of being a practising homosexual man in this era. These contributions are often eye-openingly frank and disturbingly brutal, it’s hard to think that it really wasn’t so long ago but this was just what life was like.  Continue reading “DVD Review: A Very British Sex Scandal”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Propeller at the Crucible

“Many a man there is”

The second part of Propeller’s current double bill is The Winter’s Tale and much as we did last year for The Comedy of Errors, Boycotting Trends and I (with bonus @3rdspearcarrier) trekked up to Sheffield to catch it early in the substantial tour that follows. It was a little sad but true that Henry V failed to live up to my (sky-high) expectations so I’d aimed for a better job of managing them this time round for this ‘problem play’.

Sicilia is all moon-lit stark, metallic edges, the dark candle-lit atmosphere matching the troubled mind of Leontes, whose tortured jealousy sends him into a frenzy that challenges a lifelong friendship, the will of the gods and the lives of his children and his dear wife Hermione. Robert Hands give his Leontes an anger that subtly builds rather than one that defines his character and thus we feel for him even in his most fevered moments and always see the husband and father that is being lost in the red mist of jealousy – this in turn makes it (slightly) more believable that Hermione might forgive him. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Propeller at the Crucible”