Sunday, August 06, 2017

AUNTIE & ME

Theatre review



Written by Morris Panych

Directed by Brainne Edge

The King's Arms, Salford

Reviewed 27th July


Review by Brian Gorman

Rating: 4.5 stars


The dark, claustrophobic, and (on the occasion of this summer's evening) sweltering atmosphere of the upstairs theatre, at The King's Arms in Salford, is perfect for this gloriously gothic and peculiar little piece (which runs at around 75 minutes, without an interval). Imagine, if you will, Alan Bennett and Samuel Beckett having a good old evening in, downing the grape juice, and getting off their heads on crack cocaine. Well, maybe that's pushing it, but I'd guess that 'Auntie & Me' is what they'd come up with. Especially if they'd had the cheese, too.
Kemp (Sean Mason) is a sad, pretty pathetic, and morose middle-aged sadsack, who receives a letter from an aged aunt on her last legs, and promptly heads off to see out her last days, and plan for the funeral. Except, she doesn't appear that pleased to see him, and manages to hang on, for what seems to Kemp, like an eternity. 


Here we have two actors on stage (Mason, and a suitably grumpy, and almost mute, Siobhan Edge), but 'Auntie And Me' is essentially a one man show. Sean Mason excells in the part of Kemp; a hybrid of Fawlty-era John Cleese, and Allo Allo's Gorden Kaye. He's a dishevelled, somewhat effeminate, well-educated, yet hapless fellow, scarcely able to deal with his own everyday life, nevermind having to look after a bed-ridden relative. With barely a flicker of response from Auntie, Kemp rambles on at length, and we eventually begin to sympathise with his sad, lonely existence. It soon becomes apparent, though, that Kemp needs Auntie, as much as she now depends upon him.

Photo: Shay Rowan

This is classic British tv sit-com, reminiscent of the much-loved Steptoe and Son, Rising Damp, and Porridge. Mis-matched characters, seemingly unable to barely tolerate each other, yet harnessed together by fate; with a grudging empathy and respect slowly developing. The youthful Mason has a puppyish demeanor, but expertly portrays the aging Kemp, and his world-weary outlook. The struggles with his 'black dog' of depression, and aching need for love and acceptance are conveyed beautifully. We feel for this guy, and his pain is all too obvious. Edge's granite-faced, almost comatose Auntie, is a perfect foil; her moments of stage business all the more effective following the long periods of sitting in bed, listening to her reluctant carer's woes.
Director Brainne Edge keeps a tight rein on the emotions, and allows the characters space to develop gradually. There are no frills, and they aren't needed, as this is a strongly-written piece which concentrates on character and atmosphere. The amiable, yet impotent Kemp does have his more serious moments, particularly when the inner emotions break through, and Mason explodes in terrifying fashion.
Auntie and Me has two perfectly-controlled performances, and works superbly well. Old-fashioned on the surface, but with depth, pathos, and even a little bit of Orton-esque farce. This production deserves a much wider audience.



Tags: Auntie and Me, Morris Panych, Sean Mason, Siobhan Edge, Brianne Edge, King's Arms, Salford

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

THE DEAD, LIVE

Carly Tarett & Howard Whittock


Theatre Review

Written by Daniel Thackeray
Directed by Alex Shepley

The Met, Bury

Reviewed on 13th July

Review by Brian Gorman

4 stars


Lawrence Dodds is a run-of-the mill stage medium, a mix of Peter Falk's crumpled detective Columbo, and Ken Stott's down-at-heel Inspector Rebus. Dodds seems to be a dead man walking, a guy at the fag end of his career, and lacking the starry charisma (shallow though it is) of a Derek Acorah. In a perfectly-pitched opening scene, we find Dodds downing more than his fair share of cheap whiskey, whilst schooling nervous new assistant Rachael Connor (Carly Tarett) in the dark arts of audience exploitation. We are told everything we need to know about this amoral charlatan. He's a complete fraud; and he appears to have no shame about it. Using simple word play, Trump-esque self confidence, and NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) – owing a debt of gratitude to the likes of Derren Brown, Penn & Teller, et al, he elicits crucial snippets of personal information from audience members, and makes them believe he is actually channelling deceased relatives. Rachael duly plays her part, pretending to be an innocent punter, but the evening takes a very dark turn when an unexpected (and, as we discover, rather unwelcome) guest threatens to humiliate Dodds, and uncover the spiritual shennanigans. 

Lawrence Dodds  (Howard Whittock)

With only two actors on stage, this is a tight, atmospheric, and unsettling piece, which utilises the minimum of props and stage set to maximum effect. As the story takes place in a theatre (on this occasion, the lovely new 'Box' studio at The Met, in Bury), and part of the action has Dodds inter-acting with members of the (real) audience, we are sucked gently, and efectively, into the unquiet world of writer Daniel Thackeray. Chilling sound effects, effective use of complete blackouts in the confined space, and a quite terrifying, yet simple, onstage ghost effect makes for a nervy evening for those of a delicate dispostion. Howard Whittock plays Dodds with the distracted air of a man barely conscious of the physical world around him. He is disturbly placid, and distinctly unmoved by the emotional and spiritual wounds he is delicately fingering. Carly Tarett grounds the piece, with a realistic and wholly sympathetic performance as the callow young Rachael, who grows a backbone when things begin to fall apart. Anne Baron plays a third, rather chilling and unsettling, character in the play, but I won't spoil anything by saying any more!

Writer Daniel Thackeray with actor Howard Whittock


Thackeray channels the great Nigel Kneale (creator of tv's 'Quatermass', and cult classics 'The Stone Tape' and 'The Year Of The Sex Olympics') in his sparse, unshowy script. The dialogue is lean, crisp, on the nose, and sharply effective. Alex Shepley's directing avoids the pitfalls of trying too hard to scare her audience, and wisely allows the actors to inhabit their respective characters, and let the story gradually unwind to its chilling conclusion. The scares are subtle, and the atmosphere grows naturally, rather than being delivered fully-formed. This is a hugely enjoyable piece, which certainly leaves the audience hungry for more. My main quibble with the production is the short running time (just under an hour), and the fact that things end rather abruptly. However, one shouldn't really complain too much, as there are far too many shows that shamelessly outstay their welcome. Scytheplays' 'The Dead, Live' is short and sweet, but delivers a heck of a sting. 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Faces At The Window: The Bandwiths of Balderdash



Theatre review

Written by the company

Directed by Ross Kelly

Gullivers, and various Greater Manchester venues throughout July to Nov


Review by Brian Gorman

Rating: 5 bright shining stars!


'Manchester's answer to the legendary Monty Python team' isn't too far off a legit description of this brand new comedy troupe; at least on the evidence of this (somewhat awkwardly titled) first outing, 'The Bandwiths of Balderdash'. Six local writer/actor/musicians make up The Faces At The Window (a wonderful team moniker, evoking the darkly humorous inspiration of The League Of Gentlemen). This was a superbly staged production, played in the style of a live radio show, taking full advantage of the atmospheric, and beautifully gothic environs of the upstairs of Gullivers pub on Oldham Street.

Any team needs a diversity of individuals who come together to create a formidable fighting force; think of The X-men. The Faces have their Wolverine, in the form of fruity-voiced leading man, Edward Barry. Then there's Professor X (eccentric Cleese-esque Daniel Thackeray), Phoenix (steely-eyed Victoria May), and The Beast is scary/cuddly Steve Cain. There's also musician Richard Barry (The Thing? I can't think of an appropriate X Man, but here's another Marvel super hero – big, a bit scary, but hilariously entertaining!), and director Ross Kelly (Quicksilver – you don't see him, but his fingerprints are on everything).
Any show that uses the classic theme from 70s tv series, Follyfoot, as an opener, is surely on to a winner. There's also snippets from classic radio shows, obscure sound effects, and even a funky version of the 1970s Sweeney film! But what about the meat? The sketches? Well, there was something for all tastes this evening (as long as your taste is for intelligent, surreal, often dark, and genuinely unsettling humour). A cracking spoof of those terrible 'Epic!! tv ads showcased Daniel Thackeray's range as he evolved from OTT voice-over artiste into terrifying psychotic mass murderer. The actor looks like your favourite, slightly bonkers uncle, but can turn on his inner Ronnie Kray to startling effect. Steve Cain had us in fits with every syllable he uttered, every glassy-eyed stare, and his Welsh Norman Bates desperately seeking to impress Victoria May's Janet Leigh, was a delicious highlight.
A band of inept super villains, with cringe worthy names including 'Puce Princess' (Victoria May playing her as a mix of Bonnie Langford and Miranda Hart, but with smouldering allure), were a real hoot. The team also had Richard Barry's testosterone-fuelled Russian character onboard, losing his cool when obsessing over the destruction of all tea related paraphernalia. More psychotic hilarity came from Edward Barry as a cocky, super slick salesman, demonstrating the prowess of his new electronic printer; failing spectacularly when the machine achieves consciousness, and proceeds to reduce him to a quivering wreck.
A sketch featuring a bereaved football comentator, desperately keeping his grief at bay by resorting to an endless array of warmed-up cliches was simply sublime. Daniel Thackeray was pitch perfect as the buttoned-up wretch, avoiding subcuumbing to his emotions, whilst Victoria May's gentle everywoman tried vainly to elicit a human response. The two actors were superb in this supremely affecting, unsettling, and very human interchange. This was quality stuff indeed.

Faces At The Window: The Bandwiths of Balderdash is a Lilaloka Production, with Hat Hair Productions and Scytheplays Ltd. The next performance will be at The King's Arms Theatre, Salford on Monday 17th July, followed by more dates later in the year.

A (slightly) edited version of this review was originally published at www.thereviewshub.com


Monday, June 05, 2017

THE BEGGAR'S OPERA

Macheath (Alex Mugnaioni) in action.


Review

Storyhouse, Chester

Writer: John Gay
(Adapted by Glyn Maxwell)

Composer & Musical Director: Harry Blake

Director: Alex Clifton

Until 19th August (25 performances)



5 Stars

This is a perfect opening production for Chester's new £37m multi-purpose 'Storyhouse'; a brand new cultural centre for the city, incorporating a professional theatre company, public library, and cinema, contained within an impressive 1930s Art Deco building (previously, the Odeon Cinema). Artistic director Alex Clifton is a graduate of the old Chester Gateway's Youth Theatre, and understands just how important it is to hit the ground running. A hugely appreciative, capacity audience were treated to a truly glorious confection of perfectly crafted theatre, from a 15 strong, multi-talented cast.
John Gay's 18th century 'anti-opera' has been adapted by Glyn Maxwell, and is (appropriately enough) set in Chester; providing ample opportunity to tickle the audience with a wide range of local references. The story follows the adventures of notorious bad boy Macheath (of 'Mac The Knife' fame), and his dandy highwayman antics. Wooing the ladies, staying one step ahead of the law (and the hangman's noose), and having a right gay old time of it. On a spacious thrust stage, illuminated by opulent chandeliers, and bedecked with a full size harpsichord, the multitude of larger-than-life characters whizzed on and off stage, through the auditorium, across mini connecting bridges, with some popping up in the upper circle to mingle with bemused and often delighted members of the audience – one chap seemed especially pleased to be touched up by a 'lady of the night'.



Alex Mugnaioni plays the irrepressible Macheath with just the right mix of Errol Flynn charm, and Liam Gallagher swagger, and certainly looks the part in fetish-inspired black leather, knee length boots, and metrosexual eyeliner. His regular asides to the audience, with a permanent Peter Kay twinkle in the eye, make for an almost lovable anti-hero (if one can overlook his murderous tendencies, throat-slitting, dubious personal hygiene, thieving, and general immorality, of course). Caolan McCarthy is a hoot as The Beggar, and makes a fabulous entrance, crashing through the auditorium doors to interrupt the harpsichord player on stage, whilst being castigated by flustered ushers. With his cheeky chappie manner, and lovable roguish attitude, he provides the ideal guide for the evening. Daniel Goode's Peachum oozes virtual slime, as an odious moral vacuum of a wretch, whilst Charlotte Gorton provides a perfect contrast as the vivacious, razor-tongued Mrs Peachum. As their much used and casually abused daughter, Charlotte Miranda-Smith breaks hearts as the porcelain doll-like Polly Peachum, and forms a rather touching double act with Nancy Sullivan's Lucy Lockit. Harry Blake's musical direction has cast members rocking out with electric guitars, drums, trumpets (and the harpsichord), with Jennifer Fletcher's choreography harnessing, and enhancing, the infectious energy of the ensemble cast. 



Alex Clifton directs with gusto, and an obvious love and determination to deliver the best possible package of thrills, spills, and value for money entertainment. This is the perfect start for Storyhouse, and a standing ovation from an ecstatic audience ushered in a whole new era for Chester and its theatre-loving citizens.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

CITY OF GLASS

Theatre review:

Chris New as Daniel Quinn. Photo: Jonathan Keenan


Written by Paul Auster (adapted for the stage by Duncan MacMillan)

Directed by Leo Warner

HOME, Manchester

Until 18th March 2017


Review by Brian Gorman
Additional material by SM Worsey

Rating: 5 stars


Well, this is eye-opening (and mind-expanding) stuff! Adapted (by Duncan MacMillan) from the first book of American novelist Paul Auster's 1980s trilogy, the 59 Theatre Company have a world premiere to be proud of.
This is an intense, beautiful, visually-glorious experience that kicks off with depressed thriller writer Daniel Quinn's urge to take on the persona of his private eye protagonist, resulting in a series of alternative realities spinning around each other, and creating a fascinating, horrifying, and mind-boggling web of intrigue. Setting aside his personal material reality, our hero becomes consumed in his own script, following a middle-of-the-night phone call to a seemingly wrong number, that he had subconsciously longed for. A beautiful woman needs his help when her disturbed husband is threatened by his domineering and terrifying father. But, the woman thinks she has called a private detective called 'Paul Auster', and Quinn elects to play along. Yes, folks, it's all a touch meta-textual.

Jack Tarlton as Stillman. Photo: Jonathan Keenan.

Creating his own reality, based on his literary vision, Quinn (played by two actors, Mark Edel-Hunt and Chris New) is soon embroiled in a series of nightmare, film noir inspired scenarios involving femme fatales, eccentric wealthy oddballs, and acid-tongued alter-egos. When things don't go according to script, Quinn becomes obsessed with finding the 'truth'. He clings to the memory of a kiss, like a crazed drug addict desperate for the next hit, and we have no choice but to accompany him.
Eventually coming up against a physical, mental, and emotional brick wall, with every other character either presumed dead or missing, Quinn sacrifices everything. The finale is grand, disturbing, evocative, exotic, and genuinely inspiring. The special effects are truly amazing.
59 Productions have really gone to town in delivering Auster's vision, with incredibly intricate lighting and visual effects by Matt Daw, terrifying and nightmarish sound design by Gareth Fry, and an evocative score from Nick Powell. A small cast of six have plenty to do, especially Edel-Hunt and New, who allow the energetic Quinn to be in several places at the same time. New also doubles as 'Paul Auster', when all apparent logic goes out the window and we have a writer pretending to be his own P.I. Protagonist meeting another writer with the same name as the real-life novelist, but has seemingly been mistaken for another fictional private eye (who is a real life private eye in the context of the play we are watching). Confused? You will be, but you won't mind.
Jack Tarlton is mesmerising as the ghostly Peter Stillman, the son who has been experimented on for years by his deranged father. Evoking Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty from Blade Runner, he moves like a stop motion mannequin, and speaks like a man possessed by competing demons. Tarlton also plays the elder Stillman as a soft-spoken psychopath, clearly distinguishing him from his wretched son. Vivienne Acheampong is suitably sultry and enigmatic as Mrs Stillman, and equally effective as contrasting supporting characters. 
 
Vivienne Acheampong in 'City of Glass'. Photo: Jonathan Keenan.

In City Of Glass, there is no objective reality. There are reflections, there are ghosts, there are visions, dreams, and promises. As 1980s chart-toppers T'Pau once said “Don't push too hard; your dreams are china in your hand”, and it's pretty dangerous to push hard against glass. The late philosopher and science-fiction writer, Robert Anton Wilson created the term 'reality tunnels'. He once opined “I don't know what anything 'is'. I only know how it seems to me at this moment”. We all write our own script. It is only by abandoning the script, that we can truly be gods. We have to abandon the ego.

Illustration by BG.


Tags: City Of Glass, HOME, Manchester, Paul Auster, 59 Productions, Duncan MacMillan, Leo Warner, Nick Powell, Mark Edel-Hunt, Chris New, Jack Tarlton, Vivienne Acheampong

Originally published at www.thereviewshub.com

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A NIGHT AT THE MATCH



A NIGHT AT THE MATCH
(An outsider's view)



Curzon Ashton FC v Westfields FC
F.A. Cup 2016. First round replay Mon 14.11.16
By Brian Gorman

I moved to the small suburb of Audenshaw 18 months ago, after living in Manchester city centre for a good few years. Things are much different out here. My usual pint costs me over £4 in the city. Here, it’s around £2.70. That’s a pretty big deal. It’s also quieter, less people rushing about, less hipsters, and fashion victims. It feels real, around these parts. There are people who have lived in the same small area all their lives; families in the same house for generations. I like it here. Around once a week, I walk into Ashton town centre for an evening drinking session. It takes me approximately 30 minutes, which is ok.
Just over a week ago, I was channel hopping, when I caught the second half of an F.A. Cup first round match between Westfields FC and Curzon Ashton FC. I’d never heard of either team, and had no idea where in the UK they were actually located. It was a good match. Curzon were on top most of the half, and played surprisingly well for a non-league team (they are currently struggling in the lower regions of the Vanarama National League North; just 3 points behind FC United Of Manchester). I’m more used to watching Premier League games (on tv), and the odd international. The match ended in a draw. I then realised that the game had been played somewhere down South (actually, in Hereford), and the away team, Curzon, were based just a couple of miles from me. Interesting. I thought no more about it until this Monday 14th November. I was flicking through The Guardian Online, and noticed the replay was scheduled that evening. Now, you may think that I’m a dreamer, but I’m a great believer in synchronicity/coincidence. It was mid-afternoon, I was still struggling with a cough and cold I’d had for the past week, and the weather wasn’t promising, but I had an idea. An F.A. Cup tie is a mighty big deal for a small club, and the occasion would certainly be an emotional one for the fans, and a tantalising possibility of a financial windfall for the club. I made a decision; I wanted to write a report on the occasion. Not a match report, but a memoir of an evening. The whole evening. I checked out the Curzon Ashton website, and emailed the chief executive. I offered to do a write-up, and I got an almost immediate response from Natalie Atkinson. I was invited along, and told my name would be on the door.
I did a little more research, discovered the ground (The Tameside Stadium) wasn’t far from Ashton rail station, and checked out the nearest pub (The Wood Man). I wrapped up warm, stuck a rainproof hat in the pocket of my rainproof (except it really isn’t) coat, on top of a suit jacket (I like to be smart), and set off. I prefer to walk most places, but as I was passing the bus stop near Guide Bridge Rail Station, a 347 appeared, so I jumped on. Alighting at the bus station, I consulted my hand-drawn map (call me old-fashioned), and headed towards the ground. I found The Wood Man, and popped in for a pre-match pint. What a great little boozer! Strange décor, but a bunch of friendly locals (one or two were quite well -inebriated for 7.15pm on a November Monday), and attentive bar staff. I was told I should get a taxi to the ground, as it was a bit far to walk from there. But, I’d done my homework, and I had my map! It took me just ten minutes (lightweights!). I wandered through a quiet housing estate (the mist dampening any noise from nearby traffic), and headed towards the glow from the floodlights.

Approaching The Tameside Stadium

 I made for the main reception area, as Natalie had instructed me to, and felt quite the VIP heading past the queue at the turnstiles (at least I THINK there were turnstiles. Maybe things had changed since I last attended a game over ten years ago). The young man on the door was a little flustered as he couldn’t find the names of several people also attempting to gain entry ahead of me. Luckily, my name was there, and I was ushered in. He seemed to be gesturing down a corridor, so I headed that way. I was soon lost. After wandering outside, and seeing no obvious Press area, I headed back in and improvised. I found the main bar, and there was Natalie, clearing empty pint glasses up. The Chief Executive was helping the bar staff (I bet you don’t get this at Old Trafford!). I recognised her, as I’d just had time to see an item on Granada Reports just before I’d left home earlier, and Natalie had been interviewed. I introduced myself, and she showed me out into the main stand, and to my seat. She was very welcoming, down-to-earth, and busy, busy, busy (whilst looking impossibly glamorous)!
As I walked through the bar door, and out into the stand, I was suddenly hit by the atmosphere. The pitch looked gorgeous under the floodlights, and the place seemed to be full. There was a real family atmosphere, but (curiously) hardly any chanting or aggressive behaviour (which I had, perhaps naively, expected). I also noticed a good few rival supporters sitting with the home fans. As I spend most of my time sitting down anyway (I’m a writer/artist), I decided to stand near the cameramen and local radio broadcasters, rather than take my seat. Across the far side of the pitch was, I assumed, the away fans’ stand. It wasn’t quite as luxurious as the home stand, and didn’t appear to have a bar attached to it. The Westfields supporters looked like one big dark, almost static mass, and as they had little to cheer about over the next couple of hours, there was, therefore, little scarf-waving or leaping up and down out of seats. I did feel quite sorry for them, as I imagined their view across to my side was quite a contrast – happy looking locals, a brightly-lit bar, and a nearby café. I wondered if all grounds were designed like this (to give the home team, and fans, as much of a psychological and physical advantage as possible). I didn’t have a programme or team sheet, so I had no idea which team was which. For some reason I assumed Curzon Ashton were in white, as it was the white-shirted players that seemed to be on top from the start. This soon changed, and the blue-shirted team hit back quickly; dominating the entire first half. It was only when the first goal went in (a low drive from No.10 Adam Morgan), and the home fans cheered, that I realised I’d guessed wrongly. For mid-November, it was a fairly warm evening, and I was completely comfortable standing behind the back row of the main stand. 



Just after the first goal went in, I got chatting to a smartly-dressed, alert-looking young man who introduced himself as the club’s press officer, Aaron Flanagan. Whilst keeping a close eye on the game, Aaron indulged this fish-out-of-water, and filled me in on a few details. The cup run was a Godsend for clubs like Curzon Ashton, as it brings in much-needed revenue. Getting to a first round replay, and (hopefully) winning it, would mean around £100,000 income, and would secure the club’s future for a good few years. Tonight there was approximately 1100 people in the ground, whereas a regular attendance would number in the low hundreds. I asked about the players, and was told they were only on a match fee of around £50, and many of them had to make a lot of sacrifices to compete for a place in the squad. I noticed the Westfield’s assistant manager jumping up and down, and screaming to his players throughout the game, and was informed that he’d been up at 3am that morning, milking cows down in Hereford. He would be getting home around 1am, and would probably be up working again at dawn (such are the downsides of non-league football!). This energetic behaviour was in complete contrast to Curzon’s manager, John Flanagan, who was much more composed in a Sven Goran-Eriksson kind of way. Most of the staff at the club were volunteers (including Aaron, who is also a sports reporter for The Mirror), and this was only the second time in the club’s history that they’d reached this round of the cup. If Curzon won, they would be playing either Wimbledon or Bury in the next round. Aaron said they’d prefer Bury, as a local derby would be an exciting prospect (however, it was Wimbledon who won the tie 5-0). Being past winners of the cup (beating Liverpool in a famous 1988 final), Wimbledon will be equally as exciting, and add a little glamour to the game. On 34 minutes, the impressive Adam Morgan scored again, with a superb curler in to the top left-hand corner of the net, to make it 2-0, and the home fans were in cup heaven.
I got myself a pint at half-time, in the impressive Leisure Suite, and had a nice chat with the lovely and efficient Abbie and Lianne. I missed the start of the second half, as I was expecting an announcement (I’m too used to the theatre!), but guzzled my Stella Artois down (reassuringly less expensive than city centre pubs) and headed back outside (no booze beyond the door!). Curzon dominated again, and it was noticeable how there was much more urgency from both sides as the match went on. There was a hell of a lot at stake for both clubs, and with Westfields being a couple of divisions lower, the pressure was on for the home side to wrap things up. It really was end-to-end stuff, and a far more exciting game than I’d expected. The players cannot compete, obviously, with the insane physical levels of Premier League teams, but there was a lot of skill out there. Both keepers made several outstanding saves, and both sides hit the post a couple of times. It was all over when local teacher Niall Cummins netted the third in the 70th minute, and the relief was palpable. I had a lot of sympathy for Westfields, as they never gave up, and worked hard, right up to the final whistle. They had their consolation with a 92nd minute goal from Nick Harrhy, and the whole crowd applauded. It was an incredibly good-natured atmosphere, and a wonderful contrast to the often psychotic behaviour of some fans at Premier league games. The home supporters applauded and cheered every substitution (for both teams), and rival fans mixed happily in the bar afterwards. It was quite illuminating to see the home team players arrive in the bar, and help themselves to a small bowl of pasta, and a glass of champagne. They’d worked hard to earn their club a fantastic prize – a second round home game against ex F.A. Cup winners Wimbledon, and a cash bonanza to secure Curzon Ashton’s future. I was glad I came out.

Winning manager John Flanagan speaks to the press.

Walking home through the Autumnal mist, I ruminated on the evening. The atmosphere had been fantastic, and the generosity of the club in welcoming a complete stranger along to a historic cup tie gave me a warm glow inside. I took a few mobile phone shots as I left the ground; the place had a romantic shimmer about it, in the late evening.

An atmospheric end.

 I now needed an after match pint, and headed back towards The Wood Man. It was a perfect end to an unexpectedly exciting evening, as I downed a few pints of Guinness with Nyree the bar lady, and was shown the Turin Shroud-like image of Jesus she’d recently discovered on the back of a cubicle door in The Ladies. I kid you not.
Thanks to Natalie, Aaron, everybody at Curzon Ashton FC, and Nyree and her staff & customers at The Wood Man.

Jesus in The Ladies.



Brian Gorman 17.11.16

Monday, November 14, 2016

BREAKING THE CODE


BREAKING THE CODE

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Until 19th Nov
By Hugh Whitemore
Directed by Robert Hastie

Review by Brian Gorman
4 Stars

Local lad Daniel Rigby (born in Cheadle) steps into some mighty big shoes here, taking on the role of the iconic Alan Turing (the father of modern day computers, and renowned for helping to save millions of lives during WW2). Going up against thespian titans Derek Jacobi and Benedict Cumberbatch, he more than holds his own in a restrained, unshowy, beautifully subtle characterisation. Hugh Whitemore’s play tells the tragic tale of a naïve genius brought down by an ungrateful society that would rather poke its collective nose into our bedrooms, than accept the individual characteristics of its people. 
It’s 1952, and Turing is interrogated and arrested by the Manchester constabulary, after reporting a burglary at his Wilmslow home. Unfortunately for Turing, his honesty about the prime suspect (a young ‘bit of rough’ he’d been having an affair with) proves to be his undoing. With homosexuality a criminal act, he is sent for trial, and forced to accept chemical castration (in the form of Oestrogen injections) instead of serving time behind bars. The sympathetic interrogating officer (an excellent Phil Cheadle; firm-handed but fair) has no option but to take action when Turing blurts out the truth of his illicit relationship with the 18 year-old delinquent, but is keen to know more about his enigmatic (no pun intended) prisoner. Turing relates the story of his wartime work for the government, how he was tasked with deciphering the German Enigma code (which he cracked), and how the work of he and his colleagues at Bletchley Park helped to reduce the war by an estimated 2 years, saving millions of lives.

Artwork by Brian Gorman 

Ben Stones’ set is simple, a bare wooden floor with a couple of chairs and a desk. Illuminated rods are occasionally lowered into place to create a skeleton frame suggesting various acting spaces. It’s pretty perfunctory, and adds little to the atmosphere. The same goes for Richard Howell’s lighting, which is basic, unflattering, and reminded me of 1980s American television movies. We could have done with a little more warmth, perhaps some period tunes, as Turing bumbles about like a schoolboy Alan Bennett, but there’s little sense of time or place. After all, The Royal Exchange is only about ten minutes’ walk from the place on Oxford Road, where Turing met Ron Miller (his bit of rough), and that particular area is pretty atmospheric with the cobblestones leading down to the iconic Salisbury pub by Oxford Road Railway Station.
Geraldine Alexander is perfect as Turing’s mousey mother, fussing over her son’s lack of basic hygiene, and quietly accepting his eccentricities. Raad Rawi almost steals the show as the wild-haired, kindly Dilwyn Knox (Turing’s mentor), and Harry Egan (as Turing’s duplicitous teen-age lover, Ron Miller) exudes macho cockiness, and looks like a young, skinny Gary Neville. Natalie Dew, as Turing’s love-sick colleague, has little to work with. Mark Oosterveen’s slick, sly, black-hatted spook harks back to the entertaining character played by Jeremy Northam in the factually-challenged 2001 film ‘Enigma’, and provides much-needed comic relief.
Robert Hastie’s direction is unfussy, unshowy, and echoes Turing’s personality with its hesitancy and lack of energy. But, like Rigby’s Turing, bursts into occasional life, providing moments of exciting verbal gymnastics such as Turing’s lengthy speech about electronic brains, and some sparkling exchanges with Rawi’s Knox character.

Turing’s tale is an epic tragedy, and I really wanted to enjoy this production far more than I did. Maybe the story was too familiar, or the recent Cumberbatch film, ‘The Imitation Game’, too fresh in the memory. This was a dull-looking, stripped-back affair, but could have been so much more thrilling.

ALL OR NOTHING: The Mod Musical

The lovely MARK HAZARD reviewed this show for me (originally published at soundsmagazine.co.uk)

Opera House, Manchester
Until Sat 22nd October 2016
Written by Carol Harrison
Directed by Tony McHale
Review by Mark Hazard
2.5 out of 5 stars



Here we go with another bloody ‘jukebox musical’. At least we get to hear some classic songs played live. But that’s about it. I went to see the show with a friend who actually saw the band live, in the 1960s (and even jumped on their car bonnet once), and she thought this show was rubbish (but she did enjoy hearing the songs, which is something). 
Opening with a bang, the curtain rises, and the band are in full flow, belting out ‘Rolling Over’, and getting things off to a cracking start. Tim Edwards looks the spitting (and snarling) image of the young Steve Marriott, and has all the required onstage energy, moves, and barely-contained aggression. The song halts mid-way, as Steve loses his cool, and attempts to smash his guitar over the keyboards, but is frozen mid swing. So, the stage is set, and wandering in from the auditorium like a drunken, lank-haired Denis Waterman (not a pretty sight, I grant you), comes the older Steve (played with music hall gusto by a twinkly-eyed, semi psychotic Chris Simmons). Older Steve is our guide to the story of The Small Faces, and provides a cheery, half-sloshed account of the familiar rags-to-riches tale of four East End kids who came together to create the archetypal ‘Mod’ band.

The set looks like a 1960s East End back yard, although far more garishly-lit and cheerful, suggesting we’re in “gotta sing, gotta dance” OTT musical theatre land. Unfortunately we were. Everything about this show is brash, larger-than-life, with caricature performances, broad humour, and knockabout slapstick. Daniel Beales plays a range of characters, in a variety of (intentionally, one hopes) ill-fitting wigs, and provides some much-needed belly laughs with affectionate portraits of Tony Blackburn, Sonny Bono, and eccentric genius Stanley Unwin. It’s all very entertaining, energetic, and easy on the eye, but a little lazy. There’s no attempt to understand the various personalities, nor any analysis of their DNA, motivations, or psychology. As expected, the focus is on the multi-talented Steve Marriott, but it’s a thinly-sketched character. We’re presented with a stereotypically cheeky, impish cockney kid, setting fires in school wastepaper baskets, and larking about at the expense of his education. Marriott is keen to do his own thing – raucous, loud, ear-splitting rhythm ‘n blues, and gets a little miffed when ordered by his gangster of a manager, Don Arden (a blustering, menacing Russell Floyd) to sing more commercial ‘poppy’ stuff such as ‘Sha La La La Lee’. The thing is, though, that we never really get in to Marriott’s (or anybody else’s) head.
 Simmons’ Older Steve is the real star of the show, giving glimpses of darkness, and irrepressible energy, and almost saves the day with a final symbolic/surreal confrontation with his brassy harridan of a mother, Kay (played with Barbara Windsor-esque restraint by writer Carole Harrison) which looks wildly out of place in such a brash circus of a production. This is basically a tribute band evening, which is no bad thing if that’s your can of Pepsi Max, but so many shows like this miss huge opportunities. Immense talents like Steve Marriott deserve so much more than a rehash of hit songs, and a perfunctory history lesson. What made the man tick? What’s the macro story? Rather than a chirpy, brightly-coloured, Willy Wonka style makeover of an episode of EastEnders, why not dig deeper, and wider? Add some depth. Use the strengths of live theatre. Oh, and we end with a sing-a-long, with Older Steve acting as ringmaster to cajole the audience to their feet for a less than impromptu standing ovation. I stayed sitting, of course.