The 2016 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
Rob Edwards, To Kill A Mockingbird, Octagon Theatre, Bolton
David Neilson, Endgame, HOME, Manchester
Daniel Rigby, Breaking The Code, Royal Exchange, Manchester 
Don Warrington, King Lear, Royal Exchange

Best Actress
Niamh Cusack, Ghosts, HOME
Kaisa Hammarlund, Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange
Julie Hesmondhalgh, Wit, Royal Exchange 
Kathryn Hunter, The Emperor, HOME

Best Production
Breaking The Code, Royal Exchange 
Ghosts, HOME
The Emperor, HOME
Wit, Royal Exchange

Best Supporting Actor
Daniel Crossley, Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange 
Raad Rawi, Breaking The Code, Royal Exchange
Marc Small, To Kill A Mockingbird, Octagon Theatre
Miltos Yerolemou, King Lear, Royal Exchange

Best Supporting Actress
Natalie Dew, Breaking The Code, Royal Exchange 
Sharon Duncan-Brewster, A Streetcar Named Desire, Royal Exchange
Natalie Grady, Martha Josie and the Chinese Elvis, Octagon Theatre
Amy Nuttall, The Winter’s Tale, Octagon Theatre

Best Visiting Production
946 – The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tipps, HOME
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Lowry, Salford
Love’s Labour’s Lost / Much Ado About Nothing, Opera House
The Encounter, HOME
The James Plays, Lowry 

Best Actor in a Visiting Production
Edward Bennett, Love’s Labour’s Lost / Much Ado About Nothing, Opera House
Rufus Hound, The Wind in the Willows, The Lowry 
Simon McBurney, The Encounter, HOME
Michael Pennington, King Lear, Opera House

Best Actress in a Visiting Production
Lisa Dillon, Love’s Labour’s Lost / Much Ado About Nothing, Opera House
Aoife Duffin, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, Lowry 
Lisa Maxwell, End Of The Rainbow, Opera House
Zizi Strallen, Mary Poppins, Palace

Best Newcomer
Daisy Badger, Look Back In Anger, Octagon Theatre
Ben Hunter, The Girls, Lowry
Norah Lopez Holden, Ghosts, HOME 
Kirsty Rider, Pride And Prejudice, Lowry
Holly Willock, The Wind In The Willows, Lowry
Young “Michael” cast, Billy Elliot, Palace 
Young “Scout” cast, To Kill A Mockingbird, Octagon Theatre 


Best Opera

Andrea Chénier, Opera North, Lowry 
Billy Budd, Opera North, Lowry
Don Giovanni, ETO, Buxton Opera House
Tamerlano, Buxton Festival, Buxton Opera House

Continue reading “The 2016 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Review: Cyrano de Bergerac, Southwark Playhouse

“Perhaps he’ll find the words to tell me of his love”

Just a quickie for this as due to an earlier cancelled performance, the only show I could fit into the schedule was this penultimate one. An all-female production of anything is enough to pique the interest, never mind something starring the extraordinary Kathryn Hunter, and this had the added benefit of being a story I’d never actually seen before – Cyrano De Bergerac. That said, the best single-sex productions are the ones that derive something unique from playing it that way and that was singularly lacking here. 

Adapted by Glyn Maxwell from Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, Russell Bolam’s directorial conceit is to have the tale told by nuns (who play a role later on) to a novice of their order. But Bolam makes no other concession and shows no real willingness to delve with any depth into the notions of gender, love, identity, masculinity etc that seem ripe for the picking. And without the star wattage of Hunter’s striking performance, the whole show would likely collapse like a house of cards. The consequence is thus a fatally unbalanced piece of work and worse, a squandered opportunity. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 19th March

The 2015 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Actor In A Leading Role
Colin Connor in A View From The Bridge at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Rob Edwards in An Enemy Of The People at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Jonjo O’Neill in The Crucible at the Royal Exchange
Sam Swann in Pomona at the Royal Exchange

Actress In A Leading Role
Scarlett Brookes in Educating Rita at Oldham Coliseum
Barbara Drennan in A View From The Bridge and The Family Way at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Kathryn Hunter in Kafka’s Monkey at HOME
Maxine Peake in The Skriker at the Royal Exchange Continue reading “The 2015 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Review: The Valley of Astonishment, Young Vic

“How can one forget?”

I’ve often been guilty of saying ‘oh I could listen to her read the telephone book’ about any number of the actresses I love and if you’re a fan of the strange enticing melody of Kathryn Hunter’s voice and fancy listening to her reciting a load of numbers, then you (and me) are in luck. In The Valley of Astonishment she plays Sammy Costas, a woman with synaesthesia – a neurological condition that manifests in sensory confusion – and something of an eidetic memory which proves as much of a blessing as a curse as an attempt to exploit it in a variety show backfires.

And gathered around her are other stories from people with the same condition, snippets from other lives and the ways in which they have invariably learned to cope which are interwoven into the progression of Sammy’s narrative although in all honesty, I felt they added little. Peter Brook’s name inspires a hushed reverence in many but if someone were coming to him for the first time with this production, it is hard to imagine that they would be equally inspired for it is a rather dry treatment of what is an endlessly fascinating subject. Continue reading “Review: The Valley of Astonishment, Young Vic”

Review: Mare Rider, Arcola

“I’m a legendary woman my dear, and as you know, the legendary women never die”

Leyla Nazli co-founded the Arcola with Mehmet Ergen in 2000 and it was here that her first play, Silver Birch House, was directed by Ergen to considerable acclaim in 2007. And with her new play Mare Rider, her writing returns to the Dalston theatre, directed by Ergen again and featuring a highly seductive cast including Kathryn Hunter and Anna Francolini. The Mare Rider is full of mystery, a bad spirit named Elka, reputed to haunt new mothers and as Selma goes through a troublesome birth at Homerton Hospital, the two women take a journey of haunting revelation that hinges somewhere between fantasy and tragedy.

Elka is the kind of role Hunter revels in inhabiting. A mythical figure from Turkish fairytales, there’s a strong vein of mordant humour in her stories of her own rebellious long-gone past in which her struggle for independence was subverted to make her an enemy of her own society and thus a monstrous legend was born. She’s also a highly fantastical figure and her tales of adventure frequently possess a magical quality, something conjured excellent by Richard Williamson’s lighting and video design from Ben Walden and Dick Straker and of course, Hunter’s own sinuous physicality, whether stamping out a tribal dance, aggressively flipping beds or riding a horse across the Anatolian plain. Continue reading “Review: Mare Rider, Arcola”

DVD Review: All or Nothing

“Love, it’s like a dripping tap”

First up was 2002’s All or Nothing, though it was a little of an inauspicious beginning, as I’m not sure how much I actually liked this film in the end. Set on a modern-day London council estate, it circles the fortunes of three working-class families and their everyday lives, so far so Leigh, but it doesn’t really develop into anything that gripped me. There are several outstandingly strong elements in here, but they never really coalesce into an effective whole but rather remain too separate and thus end up losing some impact.

The focus settles on one of the families: Phil, Timothy Spall, is a taxi driver who has long lost ambition for life and is reduced to scraping pennies from his family in order to pay his retainer for the taxi firm; Penny, Lesley Manville, works the checkout at a supermarket and is struggling to remember what it is she ever loved about Phil. Alison Garland plays their daughter Rachel who works as a cleaner in an old people’s home and is being semi-stalked by Sam Kelly’s much older colleague and James Corden is their unemployed and belligerent son. There’s a whole lot of misery, which is then alleviated by tragedy, which ultimately suggests that life might hold something more. Continue reading “DVD Review: All or Nothing”

Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me”

Never mind ‘the Scottish play’, it appears that it’s the role of Mark Antony that has some kind of a curse attached to it. Last year saw the Dutch Hans Kesting break a leg before The Roman Tragedies arrived at the Barbican (he delivered a barnstorming performance from his wheelchair), and now Darrell D’Silva is having to perform with his left arm in a sling after suffering severe injuries to his hand after a prop firearm malfunctioned during the technical rehearsal. He has now rejoined the cast after surgery, but press night has been postponed to try and make up some rehearsal time. So my first trip to the Courtyard Theatre at the RSC in Stratford which should have been to one of the final previews actually ended up being earlier in the run than planned.

This is a modern-dress Antony and Cleopatra, featuring guns and suits to tell this great tragic love story of two powerful individuals brought together yet unable to escape their circumstances. Rome is ruled by a triumvirate (what a great word!) after Julius Caesar’s assassination, yet all is not well. Mark Antony has had his head and heart captivated by the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and is spending more of his time there than in Rome. Taking advantage of this is the ambitious Octavius Caesar who turns on the third triumvir Lepidus, setting the scene for an almighty showdown between the two rivals. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”

Review: Kafka’s Monkey, Young Vic

Kathryn Hunter is one of those actresses who has never really crossed my radar despite being feted as one of the finest actors working in the country. I’m aware that she was one of the first women to play King Lear, but beyond that nothing much, so I was quite keen to have the opportunity to rectify this by seeing her in the one-woman play Kafka’s Monkey.

In the Young Vic’s studio, she plays Red Peter, a chimp who was captured in the wild and put in a tiny cage; he realises that the only way out is to become “human,” and sets about adopting human mannerisms, spitting, smoking and drinking, eventually learning to speak. The play is delivered in the form of a speech given to a mysterious “Academy” and Red Peter recounts his life, weighed down with the absolute conviction that Red Peter doesn’t equate his new human life with freedom, and sees that as something he’ll never have again. Continue reading “Review: Kafka’s Monkey, Young Vic”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe

In the dying heat of a lovely Indian summer, I finished my set of Globe plays by watching the all-female version of The Taming of the Shrew, complementing the all-male shows I had seen earlier in the month. It is a funny choice for this treatment I think as it is such a questionable play in how it treats its heroine, but I suspect this was part of the challenge for the troupe.

The way they get round it is to play up the power struggle side of things and clearly demonstrating that Kate’s submission is in fact much more knowing, a way to keep Petruchio onboard in unknowing bliss, rather than a genuine capitulation. This allows Kathryn Hunter to play with Shakespeare’s text beautifully, pulling out new meanings as Janet McTeer’s blokey arrogance is tolerated with grim smiles.

But even with working it out this way, there was something a little odd about the production. As my first all-female experience, it was a little arresting and it was hard to shake the feeling that too often they were playing ‘men’ rather than the actual characters per se, something the audience lapped up but resulting in a sense of artifice that remained ever-present rather than allowing us to be subsumed in a fully realised world.

A curiosity but not a hugely successful one for me if I’m honest.