Glee & Me

Royal Exchange Theatre

Written by Stuart Slade

Directed by Nimmo Ismail

Lola is 16 and super bright. Lola has big plans. Lola has a future as bright as the interior of her bedroom. And then suddenly Lola has Glee (Glioma Multiforme) and a median life expectancy of 11.2 months. Glee & Me was the winner of the Judges prize at the 2019 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting . Writer Stuart Slade has created something incredibly special in this portrayal of living your best life in the face of your impending death. With this kind of subject matter it is such a delicate line between creating some magical and memorable and producing misery porn… Sykes has done the former.

Director Nimmo Ismail has done an exquisite job of encapsulating the spirit of the writing. Liv Hill ensures that the Lola on stage is the girl next door, the clever, capable girl at college, the daughter you worry about, the mate you’d like your own daughter to have and the bright funny girl that some of us have already seen taken by a lethal brain tumour. Liv Hill shines in this role as she navigates her way through diagnosis, surgery, treatment and hospice care. Never maudlin, she faces life or what’s left of it and makes plans for the future she has. There is a defiance in her actions but increasingly a calm when all she has is each moment in each day. We talk so casually about living in the moment but perhaps nothing quite focuses the mind than impending death.

The play is a one hander yet Hill brings life to those around her…we sense a mother struggling with losing her only child, we meet best friend Clem who helps Lola make her video blog and Rufus her student boyfriend who supports her while valiantly assisting Lola cram in a lifetimes sex into under a year…no mean feat! In short this a production teaming with life. The staging is bright with yellows and pinks while the lighting has pulsating beams that hum and crackle with energy or flash as neurons die as the tumour advances.

Glee & Me is emotive but oddly inspiring and reassuring. I found it impossible not to emerge with moist eyes but mainly it feels uplifting. We are so afraid of death and often so sad and angry when it draws close. It is easy to forget or miss that other core emotion, joy. This is a sublime piece of writing that does not ignore or minimise the fear, the sadness and the anger, but it allows a light to shine on the joy too. The joy we find in sex, in paddling on a beach, making a log fire or simply being with those we love. As Lola says having a finite amount of time…makes everything more – vivid. In the end what remains is love.

Royal Exchange Theatre 11th Sept- 30th Oct

FREEDOM PROJECT

Bramall Rock Void, Leeds Playhouse

Written by Luke Barnes

Directed by Alexander Ferris

Reflecting on Freedom Project and the issues and conversations it raises I found myself thinking why do we call children seeking a new home here refugees? Why are we not seeing them for who they actually are? They are simply children requiring support, nurture and safeguarding. Why do we have such differing perspectives on refugees than on evacuees? Is it because one is seen as voluntary and the other as forced? Surely both have a commonality in the driving issue being a removal from danger? This country saw around 2 million children evacuated during WW2 in Operation Pied Piper. Children were moved out of the cities to rural Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I imagine we wanted them to be safe, nurtured, educated and valued. Fast forward 80 years to now and refugee children arriving in Britain are met with uncertain welcomes, interrogations, pupil referral units, police searches and housed in hostels if they don’t “look” like children.  These are just a few of the thoughts that came from watching Freedom Project.

This production was originally scheduled for 2020 but was delayed due to Covid. Perhaps it is even more timely showing now, mere weeks after events in Afghanistan led to the heart-rending scenes at Kabul airport. Written by Luke Barnes in response to dialogue with young people seeking asylum in London and Leeds, this piece gives a vital voice to those whose lived experience is to dream of reaching  safety but discover the reality is often very different. Perhaps one of the most potent memories from this show is the warm and very personal welcome that audience members are greeted with on arrival. The actors in this two-hander welcome us into the space with friendly confidence and yet these two young men who will perform as 15 year old refugees have been refugees themselves. The dialogue could easily be their own truth and therefore their friendliness is all the more potent and meaningful. Leeds Playhouse was the first theatre in Britain to create a Theatre of Sanctuary for Refugees and people seeking asylum in 2014. Actors Mohammadreza Bazarbashi and Hossein Ahmadi have established relationships here and this has been a space to foster supportive relationships and assist budding actors to establish careers and learning opportunities.

The traverse staging works really well creating both an intimacy as the actors can get close up to engage with the audience. Having the audience facing each other accross the stage also serves to remind us of the opposing factions that lead to so many refugeed fleeing their homes. Designer Katie Scott has created a set with the feel of a disused playground or skateboard park. This allows for loads of movement in this energetic piece and allows the young actors to be children as they leapfrog, slide or just hang out chatting. The overhead fluttering  canopy of tent fragments is a stark nod to the tents at Calais and elsewhere.

Both actors exude charm and are extremely engaging. Luke Barnes ensures that the writing tells a hard hitting story but at its heart is warmth and compassion. Their journey of arriving in Britain with nothing but second hand clothing, no identification and little English is terrifying yet it also tells of the hopes they have arriving here…we came to England because it’s the best. It has the best schools, the best jobs, the most money…the best films, football and music. The tragedy enfolds as the smalls acts of human kindness these boys receive is outweighed by the callous nature of bureaucracy that asks children to relive the horrors they have escaped without any adequate safeguarding or support in place.

This is important storytelling. It would be so easy to be comfortably assured that once refugee children arrive that they are supported and placed in secure, welcoming foster homes. Freedom Project is an important reminder that children fleeing may have no documentation and therefore can fall through the cracks ending up in unsuitable hostels and denied appropriate education opportunities. Without the right support these young people can lose their optimism for the future and we therefore lose all their potential too. We risk harnessing bitterness and despair when we could be nurturing hope and positivity. We love England. Despite what it did to our home.

Leeds Playhouse 10th-18th September 2021

Leeds Playhouse Theatre of Sanctuary

A Home for Grief

A Home for Grief. Installation at CONTACT. Image: Phil Daley

Created by Fabiola Santana and WilL Dickie

Audio walk is downloaded on Go Jauntly app

CONTACT THEATRE

Today 23 years ago I was mourning anew the loss of my father as I contemplated becoming a parent for the first time. I was imagining the new relationship I might have with my mother as she became a grandmother for the first time. 8.15pm tonight is the 23rd anniversary of my mother’s death. Birth and Death are certainties…the bit in between is the tricky bit. This morning I entered CONTACT for the first time since it reopened. It made me immediately think of Dave Murray, QuietManDave, another bereavement in my life who also loved theatre and loved this building. Was today really the day to walk and contemplate A Home for Grief?

Images from my walk

Fabiola Santana created this audio walk and installation. The Portuguese dancer and theatre maker shares intimate memories of her own bereavements; a dearly loved father taken suddenly by the sea and a grandmother whose own family memories were slowly erased by dementia. Interspersed with her own reflections and a soundscape evoking the Portuguese coast are the voices of women from the North West who tell their own stories of grief. This approximately 50 minute walk is a study in quiet reflection…a opportunity to slow your pace…look around and above and just be…be comforted by the gentle voices of Fabiola and the other women.

There is nothing to fear in this contemplation of loss, and the warmth and supportive nature of Fabiola and fellow creator and sound designer WilL Dickie ensure that safeguarding is paramount in the production. They are present as you depart and when you return they guide you into the installation. Housed in the new Space O at CONTACT this installation is a series of spaces within a space that each have a short accompanying audio. Big leather chairs envelop you as you create your own memorial for a loved one. A rocking chair soothes you before you add to a growing story of remembrance. Other curios evoke feelings and connections as you move through a space interspersed with quilted hangings describing the varying landscapes of grief within us. A memory book is the fitting close to this emotional but incredibly comforting experience.

The Memory Book

This is a unique and deeply personal theatre experience which deftly and mindfully navigates difficult subject matter. Plans are hopefully in place to create a permanent sound walk here as established at Lancaster Arts. Perhaps now more than ever before we need a A Home for Grief where like these women we feel witnessed, connected, comforted.

CONTACT 29TH – 31ST JULY 2021

Go Jauntly app

NOTES ON GRIEF

The author of NOTES ON GRIEF Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Directed by Rae McKen

Commissioned and produced by Manchester International Festival

Exchange Auditorium, Manchester Central

Michelle Asante in Notes On Grief. Exchange Auditorium, Manchester Central. ©Tristram Kenton

The programming of this piece is incredibly timely and poignant. Grief is nothing new but grief experienced on a global scale in a digital age is new to us. Loss and Grief have enveloped us all in a choking haze for the past 18 months. This is a verbatim piece that brings to the stage Notes on Grief written by the renowned writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This essay was her response to the overwhelming loss she experienced last year on the news of the death of her beloved father, the original dada; the scholar James Nwoye Adichie. What she writes is the uniqueness of her own lived experience but running through her words are the threads that bind us all in our humanity- the knowledge that grief will take us to a dark chasm and when we emerge we are never the same again.

Michelle Asante gives a strong performance in this demanding piece of verbatim and she is supported by two other cast members who are tasked with fleshing out a range of characters including her dead father at various points on his life. Accents and mannerisms of the Nigerian family are on point but too often lines are fluffed and beats are missed. Asante is the consummate professional amidst minor errors and tech issues with lights coming on out of sync. However the overwhelming problem is they distract from the writing and give this production an am-dram feeling that is unworthy of an international festival production.

There is something jarring and clumsy in the movement sequences that do nothing to add to the production and seem at odds with the text. Adichie actually writes of her acknowledgement of the Igbo way, of the African performative playing out of grief and acknowledges that it is not for her. It seems odd that Director Rae McKen chooses to use this device to push home to the audience the level of grief…it is unnecessary when the writers words spoken aloud by Assante do all that is needed. Video sequences and projected images also allude to the sense of loss and there are moments where they work beautifully but they risk being overused and losing their potency.

Michelle Asante, Uche Abuah and Itoya Osagiede ©Tristram Kenton

Notes On Grief could have been the absolute highlight of this Festival but sadly it falls short. The emotion of the writing just does not translate to stage in this particular production…perhaps the Director was hampered by the fear many of us hold around grief and what it may do to us. Any issues are however secondary to the power of this very personal essay. Without alluding to it once, Adichie takes us through the 5 stages of grief so wonderfully explained in Grief and Grieving by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler. We see the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression and in the final line, the acceptance I am writing about my father in the past tense,and I cannot believe I am writing about my father in the past tense.

Adichie reflects towards the end that her father was truly lovely. The simplicity and power of that statement is perhaps the most moving moment in the production. Sitting in the audience I could not help reflect on my own father. He too was Daddy and he too was truly lovely and has been gone now for 29 long years. Watching this play was also 2 years and 1 day on from the loss of another truly lovely man in my life. If Notes On Grief reminds us of anything it is that grief is just love with nowhere left to go. We are lucky to have loved and to have encountered people in our lives who were simply easy to love.

Manchester Central 6-17 July MIF21

The Global Playground

The Global Playground by Theatre-Rites. Manchester International Festival 2021 ©Tristram Kenton

Director Sue Buckmaster

Choreographer Gregory Maqoma

Composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson

Great Northern Warehouse

Manchester International Festival 2021

A family theatre show in the midst of an ongoing pandemic is special for so many reasons. In a MIF programme that is for many alarmingly short on theatre and dance, there is no small pressure on Theatre-Rites to use their 25 years of experience to make something very special indeed. The focus of The Global Playground is all about the joy of unfettered play. It is all about exuberance, collaboration and celebration. A show for families can often appear off putting with the assumption it will be either saccharine or heavy handed or sadly both. However Director Sue Buckmaster and MIF have a proven flare for family programming that can appeal to all ages in ways that delight and inform. The Global Playground delivers on entertainment with a neat look into the world of creative film making.

The Global Playground. Theatre-Rites. MIF21.Jahmarley Bachelor and Sean Garratt ©Tristram Kenton

This is a show within a show as it unfolds, it is clear that we are the audience watching the filming of a show for children’s television that reflects diversity in dance. It soon becomes clear that we are also witnessing the lovable flustered Sean Garratt as an inexperienced film director faced with mounting challenges as dancers and musicians drop out due to travel restrictions and other issues that neatly reflect the last year of a global pandemic. Creative solutions abound as Kennedy Junior Muntanga dances a duet on Zoom with Thulani Chauke who genuinely couldn’t travel to Britain as originally planned. Merlin Jones takes the reins playing all the live instruments when composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson is also unable to appear.

A circular stage has a flavour of the circus and certainly this is a performance filled with clowning and buffoonery but the staging also creates a feeling of safety for all in this new world of covid safety. This is a set filled with film equipment which is introduced and explained to the audience. Above, in front and behind there is always stuff to see. Images are projected on walls, a drum kit looks down on us, a talking camera is sometimes like a chatty ventriloquists’ dummy or becomes snake like and sinister as it darts a red light across the stage like a beady, disapproving eye. This is a fun way to learn about sound and lighting on a set.

The dance performances are uniformly excellent and varied. There are flavours of a range of styles including contemporary with hip hop dance offs and moments of clowning. The sheer exuberance and joy of movement is palpable and shines through in the facial expressions of all the performers particularly Annie Edwards and Jahmarley Bachelor. Puppetry and ventriloquism also feature and are seamlessly interwoven into the story by choreographer Gregory Maqoma.

The Global Playground by Theatre-Rites. Annie Edwards and Jahmarley Bachelor. ©Tristram Kenton

The dancers increasingly take charge doing their own thing and left to play something new and beautiful emerges. The set is deconstructed and props and equipment are repurposed as lighting equipment become skirts and a wonky tripod covered in duct tape becomes the choreographer. There is an anarchic element yet also an underlying message that if we embrace the chaos we may create a new order that has its own intrinsic value.

Unit 5, Great Northern Warehouse 2-18 July 2021

Bloody Elle – A gig musical

Lauryn Redding in Bloody Elle – A gig musical. Image by Pippa Rankin

Written and Performed by Lauryn Redding

Directed by Bryony Shanahan

ROYAL EXCHANGE THEATRE

It’s 14 months since the Royal Exchange closed its doors on the eve of press night for Rockets and Blue Lights. Racing across St Ann’s Square to the cheers across the city as England scores in the footie, I spot the smiling faces of the theatre Comms team as they welcome everyone back to press night. There is a general feeling of goodwill and excitement in the building so undoubtedly huge pressure on Writer/Performer Lauryn Redding and Director Bryony Shanahan and the team to make this a night to remember. It’s a huge gamble to have only one performer sustain a 2 act 2 hour plus performance on the main stage and make it work, make it matter, make it memorable for the work not just as a reopening after a global pandemic…Lauryn Redding does just that. Funny, tender and raw, Bloody Elle is a rousing tale of sexual awakening with all its joy and sorrow. As Redding tells us Censoring. Of anything. Of anyone. Of yourself. Of someone else. Is exhausting and it cuts you from the inside.

Lauryn Redding. Image by Pippa Rankin

Director Bryony Shanahan and Movement Director Yandass Ndlovo ensure that the performance has flow and energy and never feels like a static piece of solo story telling. The staging by Designer Amanda Stoodley dispenses with the famous banquette seats and their potential covid risks. Instead she introduces red stools and candle lit tables to create a cosy pub vibe that effectively frame the stage. This is gig theatre and a true one woman band. The original music by Redding with direction by Sound Director Alexandra Faye Braithwaite is great and drives the narrative but also creates a swirling soundscape to add mood and shade to the story telling.

The multi levelled stage aids the introduction of characters and scenes including Elle’s high rise council flat in Cloud Rise and is splashed with what seems to be a bucket of white wash? This picks up the bursts of coloured light that flood the stage or envelop Redding. The white wash effect also seems to reflect the way we can paint out aspects of ourselves or let others not see our true colours, to continue to not see the whole of us, the truth of what and who we may be if we own our own story. Corny perhaps but I wish Redding was flooded with glorious rainbow colours as she look her well deserved second curtain call.

The story is a simple story of girl meets girl. There is a division of class and aspirations when working class Elle meets posh Eve with guacamole green eyes on route to a medical degree at Oxford University. They bond over vinyl records and work at Chips and Dips despite their differences – Eve has a pony in a paddock whereas Elle has Big Sally on the 12th floor. The driving force of this narrative is less about class, it zeroes in on the agony and ecstacy of first love and how this is still intensified by the difficulties for many of coming to terms with your sexuality and being accepted for who you are and how you love.

This is a show that might not have been seen at the Royal Exchange without the global pandemic. Redding would probably been too busy working to create this show and a solo gig theatre performance might not have been an obvious choice for this theatre. It probably needed ten years of growing and healing for Redding to be ready to tell such a personal story. There is a vivid whip sharp authenticity to this performance. Insouciant banter with the audience, poignant and emotional song writing, raw, vivid storytelling filled with poetic observations…Bloody Elle ticks every box and more. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of rebuilding what is broken or damaged using gold to create something stronger and even more beautiful. Redding has taken her broken heart and using her artistic talent as Kintsugi – the result is the threads of gold running through this gorgeous show. Hopefully as we navigate the new normal of Covid-19, the Royal Exchange is also emerging with new seams of gold too.

Royal Exchange June 23rd – July 17th 2021

Little Wimmin

Little Wimmin. Image by Jemima Yong

Adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women by Figs in Wigs

HOME

Is this a feminist deconstruction of a revered classic novel? Is it poking fun at the many movie versions? Perhaps it is a clever take on climate change? Or simply a bizarre series of infomercials for juicing machines and vibrating exercise platforms? I’m not entirely certain that the five strong ensemble that is Figs in Wigs are any clearer than the audience.

A whirlwind first act that is a similar length to the interval break seems to be a trailer full of spoilers to Little Wimmin spliced with an idiots guide to Little Women. Dressed in floaty gowns while suspended midair with fluffy cloud wigs the Figs manage to both enchant and irritate. They appear to be both artful and artless in their delivery, creating a challenge for the audience…do we want to come back after the interval and wait almost 2 hours to see the little Wimmin make a margarita or shall we bugger off at the interval and just order one at the bar?

Act 2 opens like an am-dram performance that appears to be a faithful rendition of the classic…just very orange. If the past was all white lace gloves then the present for Figs in Wigs, and undoubtedly the future, is orange…very orange indeed. Meg manages, Jo lollops, Meg simpers (and dies) and Amy flounces. Oh and the Christmas tree breaks the fourth wall to give a sneering critique of the show so far before lip syncing to the Chris Rea classic Driving Home for Christmas with a delivery that would not look out of place on Rupaul’s Drag Race.

There are radical hair restyles, arson, births and deaths all interspersed with prolonged crying. It feels like this pain will never end…When will it be over? These phrases repeatedly occur as time fractures, ice sculptures melt on tea trays, jelly wobbles on vibrating plates and rugs are beaten in an orgasmic frenzy. There is a pervading sense of what mind blowing creative carnage might occur if you locked these five in a rehearsal space with Forced Entertainment and Rashdash.

There are some clever and beautifully choreographed dance sequences, especially the piece depicting time against a backdrop of faded replications of the performance that is very effective. Genius moments include an unforgettable delivery of Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien and Lynchian sequences where a giant lace glove dances alongside a horse in a pin stripe suit. Limes fall from the sky and are rhythmically squeezed by an industrial juicer before being decanted into a giant cocktail glass and drank by the famous five now clad in you guessed it – orange hazmat suits.

This is not a show for the faint hearted or the easy confused. However it is a delight if you like your absurdist theatre orange…very orange indeed. With a pinch of subversion, a dash of too clever for its own good, a drip of climate change politics and a squirt of feminism Little Wimmin is a theatrical cocktail.

HOME 5th -14th March 2020

All images by Jemima Yong

INSANE ANIMALS

Bourgeois and Maurice. Image by Drew Forsyth

Written by George Heyworth and Liv Morris

Directed by Philip McMahon

HOME

From the moment the spoken intro distorts into static and alien green beams swirl out across the audience, it is clear the mothership has landed. HOME is now host to the lovable alien glitter gods Bourgeois and Maurice. All brittle deadpan delivery and bored insouciance the delightful duo open with a cheery ditty Brink of Extinction reminding their audience things are not great on Earth, while also informing us that with their assistance and the aircon pumping out Poppers…well we might just be okay.

It is quickly evident why this dastardly duo secured the first T1 Commission to create a new piece of work for the main stage at HOME. Witty fast paced lyrics and double entendres ricochet like alien laser beams as they stride around a tinfoil stage as though on a Parisian runway. Writers and performers George Heyworth and Liv Morris have their audience in the palms of their exquisitely manicured hands and we are going on the ride of our lives as we are pulled back 1500 hundred years before Homer wrote The Iliad to the oldest written story The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Michael Hankin has designed a set that blends all the enthusiasm for arts and crafts of 1970s Blue Peter with traces of a set from The Mighty Boosh or an Austin Powers movie. The overall effect is a full on riot of colour and glitz that works surprisingly well. Accommodating a cast of eight plus all their musical instruments and a most unlikely throne, there is thankfully still space on stage for singing, dancing, fighting, fucking and brain sucking.

Emer Dineen in Insane Animals. Image by Drew Forsyth

Despite being a long established double act who take no prisoners there is a real generosity in this production and the writing allows the rest of the cast to glitter every bit as brightly as the dynamic duo themselves. A definite surprise hit is Lockie Chapman as Gilganesh, he absolutely owns his onstage kingdom and provides a mighty vocal talent. His big ballad Don’t Want to Get Old is simply beautiful; incredibly moving lyrics delivered with a poignant depth of emotion. The comic timing with his opponent/bedfellow Enkidu is as electrifying as the sparks crackling from the elegant talons of the alien gods. Kayed Mohamed-Mason  charms with his forest innocence but quickly ramps up the mischief after his raunchy encounters with the high priestess Shamhat. Emer Dineen has the natural talent to steal every scene she features in. A gorgeous bluesy vocal is accompanied by easy charm and deft comic expressions that captivate.

This is a fast paced musical that unapologetically steals from popular culture whether by an impish note from an Amazon delivery or a bed scene that could be from Morecambe and Wise or The Odd Couple. There are some weak points in the storyline and the first act ideally could end on the absolute high of the sublime anthem Gay for You. However by the end it’s hard to remember these points as the infectious joy of the show threatens to overwhelm even the Poppers in the atmosphere. Director Phillip McMahon of Thisispopbaby has given the whole production an extra layer of gloss and sequins. The songs are witty, pithy and socially relevant and are delivered with gusto by the whole cast. With a little editing and careful maintenance of the tinfoil budget this is a musical that could run and run.

HOME 28th Feb – 14th March 2020

FOUR MINUTES TWELVE SECONDS

Jo Mousley and Lee Toomes as Di and David.
Image by Joel Chester Fildes

Written by James Fritz

Directed by Chris Lawson and Natasha Harrison

Oldham Coliseum

With this week seeing the incarceration of Harvey Weinstein, this is a timely revival of James Fritz’s clever and insightful four hander. Four Minutes Twelve Seconds explores the darker aspects of the internet as this play takes a family down the rabbit hole of sexting, fake news and private forums. An act lasting four minutes will rupture trust and strain moral boundaries in a close family. Under the sensitive and empathic direction of Chris Lawson and Natasha Harrison this production is a genuine psychological thriller that gets under your skin and challenges its audience to consider our own views on morality, class and parenting in this digital age.

Di and David are the parents of a 17 year old boy who is on track for exam results that will get him out of Oldham and into University. After a violent attack from the brother of his girlfriend Cara, Jack’s parents are forced to face up to the consequences of a sex tape their son has made. Leaked unto the internet it tells a damning story depending on what the viewer chooses to see. Is this revenge porn, a terrible judgement error or possibly something even more dreadful? This is a truly fascinating insight into the cognitive dissonance that subverts our perception of truth when our minds cannot always accept the information we see before us.

The slick white set is modern and middle class with the few splashes of colour provided by fresh flowers and Hunter wellies. Designer Anna Reid has created something crisp and beautiful that allows for nowhere to hide. The reflective panels add to the feeling of this family being utterly exposed and continually finding their perception of reality and truth shift as they uncover more real and fake facts about those fatal four minutes. The lighting design and slashes of sound add to the growing sense of family normality being repeatedly tipped into a nightmarish vortex. This feeling is further enhanced by the movement direction employed by Natasha Harrison which sees Di and David (Jo Mousely and Lee Toomes) literally tipped over the edge as new information jolts their middle class contentment.

The cast all give strong and utterly believable performances. Jo Mousely is a powerhouse of emotion as feisty mum Di who is initially like a lioness out to protect her cub at all costs. As events unfold she is strained to breaking point, utterly at sea as her moral compass fluctuates and she contemplates the unimaginable. Lee Toomes as husband David appears pragmatic if somewhat ineffectual as he tries to steer his family through choppy waters. Calm and apparently likeable, Toomes delivers a performance that continually surprises with some punchy shifts of light and shade. The working class Cara (AlyceLiburd) and school friend Nick (Noah Olaoye) both give gently nuanced performances that add real depth. Liburd shows not an ounce of self pity is shown here, instead there is a blunt acceptance that accent and class will impact how her story is heard and believed. As “Thick Nick” Olaoye beautifully illustrates that morality and brains certainly do not always go hand in hand.

This production is genuinely exciting and thought provoking on so many levels. Beautifully staged and directed with strong performances, this is the undeniable proof that regional theatres may be short on finances but are certainly not short on talent and vision.

Oldham Coliseum 21st February – 7th March 2020

Images by Joel Chester Fildes

a little space

a little space. Image by Tom Woollard

Devised by Gecko and Mind The Gap

Commissioned by HOME and The Place

HOME

This brand new production brings together two powerhouse companies each with a unique reputation for creating challenging and provocative high calibre work. In a world with a rapidly growing population and a society where homelessness has somehow become a norm in our cities, a little space explores what space and home means. It might be something we treasure and nurture, or something we crave and dream off, or perhaps it is something to fear. An oasis, a vacuum, a suffocating space to escape from or a mental space to just breathe in.

There are all the trademark elements of Gecko in the precision and intricate details within this production as they balance the banal and the utterly weird and wonderful. The performances from Mind The Gap add another vibrant dimension by utterly embracing the weirdness and otherness while also celebrating the ordinary and the mudane elements of just inhabiting our own space.

a little space. Image by Tom Woollard

The five performers from Mind The Gap are utterly committed to their space on stage. Compellingly owning their physical space as this apartment block mutates from space to space, as light blurs and blends from dim and ominous green to rosy hue, as the soundscape incorporates church bells, birdsong or the terrifying beep of life support machines. There is a real magical aura as floorboards shift to create outdoor grass and daisies, performers disappear through trapdoor and rugs are pulled from under foot and one performer is literally weighed down by the weight of their apartment.

Engaging and provocative this is a production that goes straight to the heart of its subject matter. The tubular structure of the set is both reassuringly solid and secure yet playfully could equally suggest the bars of a prison. As the performers shine torches out into the audience there is a clear message about inclusion and exclusion, solitude or loneliness – how does it feel to be alone? A couple in one apartment are utterly alone yet together. He seeks escape and companionship in the flickering television while she is left out, alone and frustrated. Are the soap operas on tv becoming our guide or model for how to live in our space? An incisive scene blurs the lines between what happens on screen, on stage and in the audience perception. Multiple lightboxes portray many lives lived in many similar homes. On stage and in the audience we are all voyeurs seeking our best means to exist within our own little space.

HOME 12th – 15th February

Gecko details and Tour dates

Mind The Gap details and Tour dates