THE WHITE CARD

Estella Daniels. Image by Wasi Daniju

Written by Claudia Rankine

Directed by Natalie Ibu

HOME

Claudia Rankine’s first play forensically dissects the debate around white privilege and guilt in a world where collecting  artworks of black deaths is perceived by some as more worthy than taking an unflinching look at why white skin remains invisible. The White Card is a cool, clinical look at themes of art, race, suffering, discrimination and patronage. Written in 2019, it predates the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests and highlights an America that is increasingly racially divided. Rankine places a cultured  black artist at a dinner party with her privileged white hosts and invites her audience to sit back and watch as the conversation implodes.

The White Card. Image by Wasi Daniju

The dinner party from hell includes wealthy, liberal hosts Charles and Virginia, their woke son Alex, their obsequious art broker friend Eric, and Charlotte, a successful black artist who they hope to impress with their patronage. The first half plays out a number of  classic racial faux pas as Virginia mixes up the identity of her guest with another black artist she had previously met and later in the party delivers the ultimate cringe worthy comment. The first half focuses primarily on highly intellectual and rather stiff conversations around American artists such as JeanMichel Basquiat and Robert Longo interspersed with details of numerous, horrific race hate crimes. The dialogue is debate heavy with little action and is undoubtedly interesting, however the degree of detail and the volume of factual information involved makes for a somewhat heavy, rather plodding script. The characters are all very well played by the actors especially Estella Daniels who brings so much nuance to her character Charlotte. The main issue is that the pacing doesn’t quite work and the result is a play with fascinating subject matter that somehow remains quite flat and static. The characters are so elite that they feel largely unrelatable and the core theme of the play about the invisibility of whiteness risks getting greyed out by the equally stark, unspoken visibility of class.

Image by Wasi Daniju

The set design by Debbie Duru looks fabulous and perfectly conveys a sleek, minimalist Manhattan loft apartment. Everything screams whiteness including the male protagonist’s carefully curated art collection despite its content. All the paintings are blank with their subject matter of black suffering conveyed starkly by their titles simply written on white canvases. In the second half the cleverly crafted set reveals Charlotte’s much more personal studio workspace.

It is the second half where the dialogue becomes more richly human rather than cerebral. The energy and drama of the set change accompanied by the thrombing beat of Childish Gambino‘s This is America seem to breathe life and colour into the proceedings. It’s one year on from the disastrous party where Charlotte’s artwork was compared to Charles’ latest acquisition which is a sculptural piece that included the autopsy report for Michael Brown. The artist has profoundly changed her style and is now making work to make the invisible visible instead of photographing renactments of black trauma. When Charles comes to her studio he is bewildered by her shift and is aghast to discover that it is his white skin on display in her latest exhibition. The great white curator has been redacted down to simply become Exhibit C.

This is a genuinely fascinating piece of theatre and definitely provokes dialogue on complex subject matter. The performances are all strong and perfectly pitched especially those of Estella Daniels and Matthew Pidgeon. I really wanted to love this piece but somehow this dissemination of race issues that affect all of us feels too elitist and removed from the everyday conversation we all need to be having if things are to ever truly change.

HOME 18th – 21st May 2022

On tour Leeds Playhouse 24th May – 4th June 2022

Birmingham Rep Theatre 8th – 18th June 2022

Soho Theatre 21st June – 16th July 2022

OH MOTHER

Abbi Greenland ,Helen Goalen and Simone Seales. Image by The Other Richard

Devised by Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland, Penny Greenland and Simone Seales

Composed by Becky Wilkie and Simone Seales

HOME

Rashdash has been a hive of creativity and productivity in recent years. In the midst of Covid lockdowns they produced shows Don’t Go Back To Sleep about the pandemic and Look At Me Don’t Look At Me about Pre-Raphaelite artist and muse Lizzie Siddall. while also producing several babies. New show Oh Mother was originally in the making pre- pandemic but was delayed due to funding issues, covid and subsequent pregnancies. It seems oddly fitting that when it finally reaches the stage all three core members of Rashdash are now mothers.

Oh Mother is brimming over with ideas and creativity that spills out the like the vivid ball pit balls that litter the opening sequence. Fittingly the stage is initially hidden by a curtain haphazardly erected to screen the audience from the mayhem on stage. There are apologies from Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen who both appear dressed like Grecian goddesses and whose studied poses exemplify the glorification of Motherhood in classical art. As the curtain falls away the disarray is all too visible. The gleaming, sleek stage is littered with plastic balls, toys and ikea beakers. As they frantically tidy up this unflinching look at motherhood also includes the tidying away of blood soaked maternity pads and disposable birthing sheets. Either side of the stage is a cello played by Simone Seales whose music flows and spikes like hormonal surges and a glossy dishwasher which is the subject of choral hymn. The glittering raised backdrop is a gorgeous light display of the word BABY which is used creatively throughout the show. The set design by Oli Townsend and lighting design by Katharine Williams are really striking and incredibly effective.

Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland. Image by The Other Richard

The show is structured around sketches and songs and movement that all explore what it is to be a mother and to be mothered and the expectations and assumptions Society makes around what it means to have a vagina and be potentially capable of building another human being. It also explores mothering from the cradle to the grave as dementia means that many of us become mothers to our own mothers when they require the same care they gave us as babies.

Abbi Greenland. Image by The Other Richard

There are poignant moments as Goalen and Greenland reflect on those who don’t have their babies any more or who never got to meet them while recognising the vital importance of saying something rather than being silent on the subject. Goalen grapples with the tension between couples when a new baby redefines her relationship, while Greenland reflects on navigating friendships where one is now a parent and the other is not. Seales who is non binary experiences nightmarish sequences where they are under threat from a mother who has rigid stereotypical views of women and hilariously meets their own vagina in the form of Greenland dressed as a swashbuckling, baby demanding Don Giovanni as Goalen feverishly ejects baby dolls through the vee of the A in BABY. Interspersed are conversations with the unseen Penny Greenland who looked after her own mother Hannah for 7 years. The other performers play her and her mother giving a wonderful flavour of generations of wit, wisdom, joy and despair.

This really does feel like vintage Rashdash (even though I miss Becky Wilkie on stage) with witty acerbic songs on how to make motherhood sexy despite the shit under your nails and underneath your maternity pants being unwashed and unwaxed. There are golden cherubic babies strapped to bosoms, Daddy bear costumes, playful toddler games and desperate pleas to tyrannical babies who have left them feeling like dried out husks. There is undoubted strength as their dance trained bodies are still strong and limber as they move fluidity around the set. There is joy and adoration as these mothers embrace their new roles while still wanting to have the time to fuck around and leave a trail of beautiful men wondering what went wrong. If they can produce work like this with the infamous fevered baby brains then there is no doubt that these clever, witty women are just hitting their stride

Abbi Greenland and Simone Seales. Image by The Other Richard

Oh Mother is rather like a projectile vomit of creative ideas, it is gloriously messy and frantic and for some it may seem too busy with too much crammed into 90 minutes. Personally I loved the energy and passion. It perfectly summed up the cacophony in your head that is early motherhood when your pre-existing neuroses get magnified fifty-fold and you are chronically sleep deprived so fact and fantasy merge. As Greenland and Goalen acknowledge there is a lot going on…but perhaps just like their babies they have birthed something really special.

HOME 12th -28th May 2022

Tobacco Factory Theatres with MAYK Bristol 21 -25th June 2022

Soho Theatre 19th July- 13th August 2022

Between Tiny Cities

Devised and Directed by Nick Power

CONTACT THEATRE

Between Tiny Cities is the creative vision of Australian hip hop dance artist and choreographer Nick Power. He has previously worked with Aboriginal communities, and his other productions have included works such as Two Crews which brought together Sydney’s Riddim Nation and from Paris, all female crew Lady Rocks. This interest in exploring diverse cultures, languages and geography through conversations in dance has culminated in the four year project that is Between Tiny Cities. This production brings together Darwin company D*City Rockers and Tiny Toones from Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

Dancers Erak Mith and Aaron Lim square up to each other in the centre of a circle surrounded by their audience. Will this be a classic hip-hop dance battle, a war of clashing cultures or miscommunication due to language barriers, a fight of masculine prowess or even some form of mating game? Will these two young men find a commonality within this dance space? Being in such close proximity to the performers means the audience get a real sense of connection to the dancers. We see up close the glistening sweat on their bodies and the wary looks that later warm and then become humorous and  collaborative.

At one point the dance moves from street dance styles that are similar filled with young male posturing and impudent intensity to the commonality of two breathlessAt CONTACT Theatre 10th -12th May 2022CONTACT THEATRE 10th-12th May 2022, exhausted performers who simply sit down and share water. This shift in pace cleverly brings the men together as their breathing synchronises. This is also when Erak Mith steps out of the circle to briefly sit in the audience as though to say we are all one…we breathe and we need water to survive…these are universal needs.

Image credit. Prudence Upton

The sound design by Jack Prest and lighting design by Brosco Shaw work perfectly with the choreography as the dancers change pace, explore each others style and learn from each other before merging and forming a new shared style. The spotlight focus on Lim and Mith highlights the differences and the similarities but as the lights warm and mute down towards the closing sequence. There is a dreamy quality as movements become increasingly obscured and finally it is simply two young men inhabiting and sharing the same space. As this piece moves through the rituals of their individual cultural experiences and their shared knowledge of hip hop dance culture, we witness a sharing of journeys and styles leading to a genuine appreciation of each other.

CONTACT THEATRE 10TH-12TH MAY 2022

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster

Beatbox Academy. Image by Joyce Nicholls

Directed by Conrad Murray and David Cumming

A Battersea Arts Centre and Beatbox Academy Production

CONTACT THEATRE

This is an incredibly innovative and skilful reimagining of a classic. A truly bold and daring reworking that Mary Shelley herself would undoubtedly delight in. This Beatbox Academy production uses alchemy in a way that Dr Frankenstein could only dream of as the performers use their unique vocal skills to breathe life into their creation. They cleverly deconstruct Frankenstein to reveal the monsters in present day Society, bringing to life the horrors of social media, false news and our shunning of anything unique or outside our understanding.

BAC Beatbox Academy was established 14 years ago by Conrad Murray and is based at Battersea Arts Centre. Working with 11-29 year olds this is an incredibly inclusive art form that requires only the power and ingenuity of the human voice. There is no need for expensive music lessons or a requirement to buy or hire musical instruments so this is genuinely accessible to all regardless of class or wealth. This vigorous approach to accessibility is obvious throughout the show as the audience is encouraged to take photos and video extracts if they wish. The performance is relaxed and Special K (Kate Donnachie) involves the audience in the classic beatbox Call and Response having taught us the basics Boom Tee Cla. Later in the performance which melds gig theatre with traditional storytelling, the audience are part of an electrifying rave as everyone is up on their feet and dancing.

The ensemble include BAC Beatbox Academy stalwart GLITCH (Nadine Rose Johnson), Beatbox UK champion ADH (Alex Hackett) and relative Beatbox newcomer AZIZA (Aziza Amina Brown). Every performance style is unique and relative to each performer but they are melded together with fluidity and sensitivity. Co-Directors Murray and Cumming ensure that everyone gets to shine while ensuring the piece is cohesive and powerfully choreographed. The cohesion of sounds of birds, traffic and the cacophony of social media chatter are woven into rap and  snippets of tracks that help drive the narrative. They move effortlessly between Pachelbel’s Canon, Firestarter by The Prodigy Cardi B‘s WAP, and a fearsome take on Todrick Hall’s CLICK CLACK when they literally turn a spotlight on an audience often validated by their own shares and likes.

The message is clear, we are all better together as opposed to when feeling connected is more important than being connected. BAC Beatbox Academy did a highly effective job of connecting their audience to their message…I think we all left feeling more connected and much the better for it!

CONTACT THEATRE 10TH-14TH MAY 2022

BAC Beatbox Academy Battersea Arts Centre

Together Again, Again

Created and performed by Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales

It’s 2022 and the newly refurbished CONTACT THEATRE is open again, the space is packed as audiences return to theatres as we slowly emerge from a global pandemic…all is well…or is it? Apparently its actually 2065 and the world is ruled by reptiles and many of the stars of Rupauls Drag Race are long since dead, as is Lady Gaga. Thankfully we are still here and so is the live cabaret…enter faded movie star and chanteuse Jinkx Monsoon reunited with her pianist and lyricist Major Scales after 45 long, hard years.

Major Scales is balding and bitter but still stylish like a snide merging of Noel Coward with Karl Lagerfeld. Winner of Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 5 is the indefatigable Jinkx Monsoon who now looks like a cross between retired club singer Rita Sullivan and the infamous Norma Desmond. This mighty drag queen has undoubtedly seen better days as she shuffles arthritically across the stage with all the style of an OAP in sequins and an ill fitting Tena lady pad. This doesn’t bode well but as the show gets going one thing is resoundingly clear; the body may decay, the mind may glitch but the indomitable spirit of a great drag queen will remain. This musical duo may have had a 45 year hiatus and a whole other lifetime of festering resentments yet the old magic remains.

Belting through blistering asides, heckling the audience and occasionally “forgetting” where she is in a song…Monsoon still has the voice and Scales is the perfect foil and accompanist. This really is a joyous and raucous night out. The jokes come thick and fast, the onstage arguments are like the Burton and Taylor of the cabaret world, and the choreography perfectly captures an elderly superstar still living her best life on stage. The songs feature some great twists on classics and very funny but also allow Monsoon to deliver some brilliant vocal performances.

Together Again, Again is a delightful celebration of raw talent, sheer determination and the ruthless meeting of vanity and the aging process. The 45 year hiatus for this creative duo is a wickedly funny but sobering reminder of what the pandemic did to performers across the world when theatres had to close their doors to live audiences.

CONTACT 7-8th May 2022

UK Tour dates 2022

ELECTRIC ROSARY

Written by Tim Foley

Directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart

Royal Exchange Theatre

At the 2017 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting I was both bemused and intrigued by the prospect of a play that brought nuns and robots on to a theatre stage together. Tim Foley won a Judge’s Award for Electric Rosary and it was a genuinely exciting prospect to see if his theatrical vision could ever be effectively realised. Fast forward to 2022 and despite scheduling delays due to the pandemic the time finally arrived to unpack Mary the council-funded robot nun and deliver her to the shabby, crumbling convent of St Grace.

Times are hard and nuns are in short supply in this grim, futuristic world. Foley cleverly just alludes to this world outside the convent walls where climate change makes for ever muddy fields farmed by robots under threat of attack from dissatisfied Luddites. Jez WoodcockStewart invites the audience into the convent to simply imagine this bleak world outside the confines of convent life. It is grim enough inside where the nuns have little to look forward to in this life except extra biscuits and sweet buns if one of their sisters dies, and the dwindling hope of affording a trip to visit their twin convent in Ecuador.

Designer Charlotte Espiner opts for a beautiful inlaid wooden floor made for years of mopping and polishing. There are random boxes of overspill relics alongside the obligatory tea trolleys, candles and a beatific crucified Jesus. The staging of the closing scenes provide an uplifting miracle as cascading rainbows are born of the eventual use of the chains that rise up from floor to ceiling in the second act. They initially suggested the wild possibility in this eclectic play that the trip to Ecuador might yet be funded through the creation of an S&M dungeon club staffed by robot nuns!

The Royal Exchange is the perfect setting for this new play. It is home to The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting which champions new works and supports new writers. A play that introduces robots as our future into an out of date convent immersed in the rituals and relics of the past. A play performed in a space age like theatre that breathed new light into a defunct old building that had once been a thriving cathedral to commerce that had once birthed both Luddites and Cottonopolis.

The simple setting is a very fitting backdrop for  this production which is filled with strong, vivid performances from all the actors. Foley writes these women in a very authentic way and avoids them simply becoming comedic caricatures to simply deliver the humour and provide contrast to robot Mary. Jo Mousley is doggedly determined as Acting Mother Sister Elizabeth as her ambitious streak squares up to the gritty and world weary Sister Constance. Owen May is marvellous as the older nun with a secret pain that makes a possible miracle in Ecuador even more poignant. She exudes gritty common sense and is a mistress of the pithy one liner. The other nuns provide additional shades of dark and light with a mischievously comedic turn by Saroja-Lily Ratnavel as the boxfresh, ingénue postulant Sister Theresa while Suzette Llewellyn brings complexity to Sister Philippa with her complusive need for faith and duty to sooth her troubled mind.

The standout performance is however Breffni Holahan as Mary, the newly arrived robot nun. She is eerily believable with her bird like movements and watchful stare, you can literally see the cogs of machine intelligence as she absorbs and assimilates her environment and new companions while she calmly mops like a smiling maniac. Her journey from her council funded programming through to her emerging belief that she is indeed a conduit for miracles is genuinely moving.

It’s delightfully bonkers veering through a kaleidoscope of ideas and concepts like a night at Eurovision. At times it feels like a rollicking good farce with almost a 70s sitcom feel before moving towards more sinister sci-fi themes and sideways to a detective drama or Grand Inquisition as Sister Elizabeth seeks to discover who nobbled her election as Mother Superior. Electric Rosary questions our faith and our humanity in a fast changing world and seeks to explore the nature of miracles whether we place our hopes in the religious or the secular. Electric Rosary is a play that simply shouldn’t really work and yet miraculously it really does hit its mark on so many levels.

The Royal Exchange 23rd April – 14th May 2022

The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting

The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken Legs
Rah Pelherbridge

Written by Sophie Anderson

Adapted by Oliver Lansley

Directed by Oliver Lansley and James Seager

Co-production HOME and Les Enfants Terribles

HOME excels at being a welcoming venue for vibrant, colourful and riotous productions such as the Emma Rice’s Wise Children and The Tiger Lillies Corrido de la Sangre. This brand new collaboration with Les Enfants Terribles is no exception. This lively adaptation of the hugely successful children’s book by Sophie Anderson is brimming with energetic performances, Eastern European folklore, music, puppetry and animation. Its easy to see why The House with Chicken Legs  was such a great choice to showcase the very varied talents of Les Enfants Terrible as they celebrate 20 years as a successful company.

The House with Chicken Legs tells a tale steeped in Eastern European folklore as the audience are invited into the netherworld of this house of bones which is home to Baba Yaga and her granddaughter Marinka. They play host to nightly parties for the dead before guiding souls through the gate to the afterlife and safely on their journey back to the stars. Baba Yaga relishes her role as gatekeeper unlike 12 year old Marinka who wistfully dreams of a life among the living. The fantastical house moves often and careers around the world on its chicken legs so Marinka is quite literally a displaced child. Although in development from before the pandemic this story is particularly relevant in our current political times. The folk music and the rustic borscht and kvass that nourish the living and the dead have much of their roots in Ukraine. Witnessing Marinka in this house that literally moves without warning is a potent reflection on what it is to be a refugee child who has witnessed death all around her.

Eve de Leon Allen as Marinka
Andrew AB Photography

This production is brimming over with passion and energy. Like the house itself it moves constantly between quiet, beautiful moments of reflective song or charming storytelling through puppets crafted from wood and bones through to riotous parties for the dead and dreamy, kaleidoscopic animation sequences. The house is sometimes homespun cosy for Baba Yaga or jazzy and sassy for the Yaga Tatiana in New Orleans while in other instances it literally grows legs to be on the move. Intimate moments with ingenue Marinka can be replaced by big song numbers with the whole cast resplendent in Yaga house costumes from across the world that lead to bizarre sequences that feel like you are suddenly watching some bonkers Eastern European entry for Eurovision!!

Pérola Conga as Baba Tatiana
Andrew AB Photography

There is enough content here to have something for everyone. The set design by Jasmine Swan is suitably fantastical and glorious, as is the lighting design and fabulous costumes. The musicians are multi talented and a pleasure to listen to. The performances are strong and well fleshed out. Eve de Leon Allen is perfectly cast as Marinka and has a beautiful tone to their singing voice. Lisa Howard and Pérola Conga excel as Baba Yaga and Baba Tatiana, with the latter giving a real powerhouse performance as a sexy, sultry ancient Yaga full of wisdom and panache. Matthew Burns brings magic with a simple puppet and a glistening fan that brings Jackdaw to life for both adults and children. There really is a lot to enjoy and admire in this production however there are points where the pace gets bogged down in repetitive narrative and this clever show loses its tautness. The result is overly long and coming in at just under 3 hours with the interval may be more than some younger kids will comfortably appreciate.

The House with Chicken Legs
Andrew AB Photography

The House with Chicken Legs has definitely got big enough Legs to take itself out on tour. This is a production that celebrates being different and has a strong message of inclusion. It is both magical and macabre but with enough heart at its core to tell us about death and loss in a way that may bring comfort and reassurance to children and adults alike as we navigate our own stories of what it is to live our lives and mourn our dead.

HOME 29th March – 23rd April 2022

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Les Enfants Terribles

Spinach

Charlotte Linighan and Joe Parker as Kate and Joe.

Written and Directed by Janine Waters

Music and Lyrics by Simon Waters

The Edge

It’s not often you take your seat in the theatre by walking past an attractive young couple drugged and tied up in a hostage situation. Last night was certainly a first for me. As the show begins and its clear that every word of dialogue is sung and that halloumi kebabs rather than spinach are going to be integral to the plot…well its fair to say I’m experiencing a little trepidation. It wears off quicker than the drugs being administered on stage as I’m swept up in this rollicking yarn about kebabs, buses, romance and pharmaceuticals.

Janine Waters and Simon Waters debuted Spinach ten years ago at the Royal Exchange so it’s rather fitting that they are reviving the production to celebrate the tenth birthday of the beautiful boutique theatre The Edge in Chorlton which they established with Dom Waters. Spinach doesn’t fit any clear theatrical genre and feels quite unique, but all the way through it I kept thinking that Victoria Wood would rejoice at being in the audience for this production. The show exudes a playfulness and energy that perfectly reflect its co-creators. Fizzing with witty lines and confident direction Spinach is further enhanced by the scoring which is just delightful; this is feelgood theatre entertainment at its best.

The cast of four play off each other perfectly and each character feels well crafted and fleshed out. Fresh out of drama school Charlotte Linighan really shines as hostage Kate. She brings both sweet innocence and an impish humour that is wonderfully engaging as she plays off Joe Parker as Tom. The onstage chemistry between them is impressive given that a lot of their time on stage has them tied together back to back. Craig Whittaker and Rachael McGuinness are both perfectly cast and ensure that their characters Darren and Maureen are likely to be permanently etched in memory like any great comedy double act.

Spinach is a delightfully bonkers story about how we can find love in the most unlikely places. This is a confident production which really is a pleasure to watch. Perfect entertainment in a beautifully refurbished theatre that is quite simply a great night out.

The Edge 30th Nov – 18th Dec 2021

First Time

Nathaniel Hall in First Time. c Dawn Kilner

Writer and Performer  Nathaniel Hall

Director and Dramaturg  Chris Hoyle

CONTACT THEATRE

I saw First Time when it premiered at Waterside Arts in 2018. It was World Aids Day and I sat in the audience remembering all the young men I had worked with at Manchester Aidsline, now George House Trust. It was a profoundly moving and life affirming experience. It was impossible not to weep for old friends long passed away but also to celebrate all those lives now saved by medical advances. I saw the show again in 2019 when it had a hugely successful run at Edinburgh Festival. So watching it for a third time exactly three years on, I wondered if it would still pack the same powerful emotional punch.

Living in a global pandemic would an audience perhaps have sympathy fatigue or just be too shell shocked from Covid-19 to really care about the story of a young man who was once a Head Boy in Stockport? A 16 year old boy who once upon a time ate a stolen chicken and stuffing sandwich from Boots. A 17 year old boy who was utterly alone when he was given a HIV diagnosis. A young man who struggled with such shame, fear and sadness that it was 14 years before he could share his diagnosis with his own family. A full house in the theatre, a sea of candles glimmering in the darkness and a standing ovation was proof enough that this production still has the power to resonate and inspire.

There is something deeply special about First Time as Nathaniel Hall’s experience of living with HIV breaks through stigma and shame and celebrates the messy, often fucked up ways in which we humans navigate pain and trauma in order to survive and hopefully thrive. Hall is working the room from the moment the audience starts to fill the space, charming and fizzing with bonhomie and wisecracks. He has an uncanny knack for drawing you in as he tidies up the scene of last night’s party and cheerfully glugs gin from a lurid bumbag and sniffs white powder  from a dubious plastic sachet. He is setting a scene that celebrates living life on his own terms.

Chris Hoyle directs the performance with a really tender touch which belies some of the brittleness that could easily overtake aspects of this piece. By bringing out the warmth and humour in the writing, he ensures that the story is never mawkish or self pitying. He gives Hall space to be vulnerable and perhaps in this production there are also tinges of darkness that feel more harrowing than in previous stagings. There is a truly chilling moment where the man he is now revisits that first relationship and is confronted by the boy he was then, being bathed by his older lover. In that moment his trauma is not just about getting HIV on his first time but about the distress he experiences as he reevaluates what had previously felt so romantic and now seems something more sinister.

This production ticks so many boxes. It is well-crafted and excellent storytelling which charts a journey from naive teenage boy enjoying a first romance through to the shock and isolation of a HIV diagnosis and finally to the acceptance of a young man educating and advocating for others. It entertains and crucially it also informs around current important information around HIV, PrEP, anti-retrovirals and U=U- Undetectable=Untransmittable. It is also a production for everyone and a powerful reminder that as with any infection risk we all need knowledge to be empowered to make positive choices for ourselves and others. Let’s hope that if First Time ever takes its final curtain call that its because there simply are no new cases of HIV.

CONTACT 30th Nov- 4th Dec 2021

Dibby Theatre

Aladdin

Written by Fine Time Fontayne and Chris Lawson

Directed by Chris Lawson

Designed by Celia Perkins

Originally scheduled for 2020, Aladdin at Oldham Coliseum was reluctantly stored in its proverbial lamp until now. On Saturday night it burst forth with delight and relief as Chris Lawson and his team finally polished the production back into life. Aladdin the production is every bit as flamboyant and fizzing with energy and goodwill as the colourful Jinn of the Lamp, played with a psychedelic flourish by Marc Zayat.

Oldham Coliseum always delivers a festive production that is lovingly crafted to celebrate the tradition of Pantomime. Written by the theatre’s Artistic Director Chris Lawson and stalwart of Panto Fine Time Fonteyne this year’s show has a perfect balance of wholesome family entertainment full of irreverant banter that is genuinely funny but never offensive. Placed firmly in Oldham with lots of local references and of course a Panto villain from Rochdale the script is fast paced and fresh while retaining the classic ghost scene and the audience singing competition. Director Chris Lawson ensures that each scene rolls into the next like the pages of a much-loved storybook and this is ably abetted by Designer Celia Perkin’s delightfully colourful set, (The Cave of Wealth is especially beautiful and looks truly magical).

Richard J Fletcher as Widow Twankee and Sam Glen as Wishee Washee. Image by Darren Robinson

The cast do a great job on opening night and even the odd fluffed line is smoothed over with consummate professionalism. The very capable and charming Shorelle Hepkin returns as Aladdin, as does Sam Glen who plays Wishee Washee with oodles of twinkling humour. Richard J Fletcher once again dons some fabulous costumes as Widow Twankee. His Dame is a wonderful blend of earthy warmth and wicked humour, and he gets to deliver a cracking covid/fart joke that is genuinely funny. Dora Rubenstein is a feisty Princess Jasmine while Shaun Hennessy really delivers as her roué dad, the evil yet somehow lovable Emperor. Alex Phelps and Marc Zayat play off each other really well as Spirit of the Ring and Jinn of the Lamp, while also doubling as a comic duo of hapless policemen. Liz Carney is fabulous as villain Aunty Banazar oozing evil and effortlessly belting out her songs. Covid concerns mean four dancers replace the usual community chorus but they do an excellent job, especially when adding menace to the villainous high drama scenes.

Liz Carney as Aunty Banazar. Image by Darren Robinson

Aladdin is packed with popular songs delivered with passion and enthusiasm. Sweet Caroline is a real crowd pleaser that has the whole audience joining in to raise the spirits and the roof at the Coliseum. Brimming with energy and goodwill this is a family night out at the theatre that won’t disappoint. The tradition of Pantomime remains safe for generations to come as long as Oldham Coliseum remains a presence in the town.