Review: The Rover, Swan

“Come, put off this dull humour with your clothes, and assume one as gay and as fantastic as the dress my cousin Valeria and I have provided, and let’s ramble”

I’ve not been heading up to the RSC with that much regularity recently, but I’ll go anywhere for Alexandra Gilbreath and given that The Rover had the added bonus of Joseph Millson, the trip was a no-brainer. It also helped that it was written and directed by women, not that frequent an occurrence in Stratford. And written not just by any woman, Aphra Behn was one of the first professional female playwrights and this play dates from 1677.

And directed by Loveday Ingram, it is a sprightly bit of fun indeed. Set in the heady mist of carnival time, all bets are off as the normal rules of society are suspended. Three sisters disguise themselves to escape the strict futures ahead of them, and a group of Englishmen arrive in port ready and willing to create the lads on tour archetype. Chief among the sisters is Hellena, due to enter a nunnery so more than happy to make the acquaintance of the rakish and randy Willmore. Continue reading “Review: The Rover, Swan”

Review: East is East, Trafalgar Studios

“You not need to know my bloody business, missus”

There’s much indeed to love about East is East, the 1996 Ayub Khan Din play that was later made into a successful film (albeit one I have yet to catch), not least in the return of the remarkable Jane Horrocks to the stage and another of Tom Scutt’s impressive sets, marking him as one of the most interesting designers working in UK theatre at the moment. The play itself came at what could be considered a watershed moment in cultural representations of British Asians but given what has happened in the 20 or so years that have passed since its writing, it is interesting to consider how it stacks up now against today’s society.
The tale is an autobiographical one – Khan Din was himself part of a large family from Salford with a white British mother and a Pakistani father and a thinly disguised version of this household is what he puts on stage. It’s 1971 and George’s overbearing paterfamilias is keen for his seven children to respect and revere their sub-continental heritage, especially at a time when East Pakistan was fighting for its independence. He’s appalled that his children consider themselves more British than Asian though and have no respect for the customs he would impose upon them, especially in the arranged marriages he tries to secure for the family.

What additionally makes Sam Yates’ production spectacular is that Khan Din is playing George, the barely fictionalised representation of his father in all his complex frustrated rage and fury, a deeply moving portrayal that brings such nuance to a man who could so easily be demonised and dismissed as an autocratic wife-beater. Instead we come to realise the fear with which he would rule is his own fear of being left behind, of becoming his own father. And whilst our sympathies automatically go to Horrocks’ highly pragmatic Ella, we’re never in any doubt as to the depth of emotion that holds them together, even if their kids can’t understand why she doesn’t leave him.
Those kids are also excellent by the way, from the shyness of Michael Karim’s youngest Sajit through the sparkiness of Taj Atwell’s Meenah – the only girl – to Ashley Kumar’s wannabe heartthrob, the way these siblings rub each other up is heartening and hilarious, we so quickly get so fully engaged in their fates that it is nigh on impossible to not get caught up in the emotional ties that bind them all. Scutt’s design of terraced houses and flexible proppage adds to a recognisable feel that variations of the family dramas here are played out in houses across the nations and across the ages, and all with an Auntie Annie passing comment from the corner of the room! A hugely worthwhile revival.
Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 3rd January

The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
David Birrell, Sweeney Todd, Royal Exchange
Kenneth Branagh, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Nigel Cooke, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange
Paul Webster, Sugar Daddies, Oldham Coliseum
Jack Wilkinson, David Copperfield, Oldham Coliseum

Best Actress
Marianne Benedict, Chicago, Oldham Coliseum
Cush Jumbo, A Doll’s House, Royal Exchange
Gillian Kearney, Educating Rita, Library at The Lowry
Alex Kingston, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Maxine Peake, Masque Of Anarchy, Manchester International Festival, Albert Hall
Shannon Tarbet, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange Continue reading “The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Review: That Day We Sang, Royal Exchange

“It’s not exactly Roman Holiday, is it?”

Victoria Wood’s That Day We Sang premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 and it fair near captured my heart with its archetypal northern charm and its determination to find the special in the mundane. I wrote about the show back then but Sarah Frankcom’s production for the Royal Exchange features a reworked and recast version of this play with songs which has proven to be a canny choice indeed for the Manchester venue’s festive offering.

The show tells the story of how a group of Mancunian schoolchildren ended up performing with the Hallé Orchestra in 1929 on a Purcell recording and also the results of a get-together 40 years later for a Granada TV documentary. The two strands interweave and overlap as two of the choir engage in a putative romance after the reunion, the aspirations of their younger selves contrasted with the drabness of the older and the potential spark ignited after the long-awaited meeting. Continue reading “Review: That Day We Sang, Royal Exchange”

DVD Review: Housewife, 49

“What actually is mass observation?”

I have no earthly idea how this passed me by first time round containing as it does, two of my favourite things: the experience of everyday people in the Second World War and national treasure Victoria Wood. That Housewife, 49 was also written by Wood makes it even more remarkable I missed it, but catching it on the tv was one of those experiences that simply filled me with warmth, joy and a fair few tears as I utterly loved it.

It is based on the real-life wartime diaries of Nella Last (played here by Wood herself) , a Barrow-in-Furness housewife recovering from a nervous breakdown who participates in a national scheme to document the lives of normal people – Mass Observation – as a way of helping her recovery. Society is rather unforgiving of her inability to ‘cope’ especially as war starts, her marriage to the taciturn ’Daddy’ is constrictive and it is only when she is persuaded to give voluntary work a try by her younger son, that she finds the opportunity to slowly flourish as her confidence is built and she becomes an integral and vital part of the community. Continue reading “DVD Review: Housewife, 49”