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.

Everything All of the Time

CONTACT

Contact Young Company

Directed by Matt Fenton

Choreographed by Yandass Ndlovu

After 3 years, a 6.75 million pound building and redevelopment project and a global pandemic, CONTACT finally opened its doors to the viewing public again. The iconic building on Oxford Road launches with a powerful new dance production Everything All of the Time. Directed by the theatre’s long standing Artistic Director Matt Fenton and choreographed by Manchester’s Yandass Ndlovu, it is absolutely fitting that CYC (Contact Young Company) are the first to grace the main stage. The result is an hour long immersion in the visceral emotions of young people who were undoubtedly impacted by living in a pandemic but whose identity is ultimately shaped by so much more in this rapidly changing world.

Everything All of the Time skillfully blends dance and spoken word against a soundtrack of artists such as Gaika, Migos and Phaeleh. The result feels seamless and yet edgy with performances that flow from sharply observed satirical reflections on 2020 to tender reflections on love and self into blistering dance that exalt physical strength and our capacity to still breathe in a world than has seen us masked and fearful. One of the most emotive moments may well be the simple sounds of unabashed noisy breath sounds whether in a haka inspired piece or elsewhere, there was something so pure and adulterated in those moments on stage. The stage itself creates a powerful impact… vast and sparse with a simple white backdrop that allows the performers to be the absolute focus at all times. Every inch of the vast staging is utilised whether in spotlit pole dancing or in groupings that fill the space or utterly own it as 16 performers advance on their audience, 16 faces, 16 stories…all special and memorable

Whether reflecting on justice for George Floyd, burning forests, saving Hulme Hippodrome or the cancellation of Holby City; at the heart of this production is the theme of connection and inclusion. Moving through the aisles while singing about being born believing I belong in boxes or on stage coming together in rapturous embraces, speaking from the heart while sitting in the boxes or breaking the fourth wall as they stare straight out into the eyes of their audience…CYC immerse everyone into this production. Director, choreographer and performers ensure that this dance piece allows for everyone to find their own deeply personal response.

CONTACT is all about putting young people at the front and the core of its organisation. This is a theatre which strives to not just empower young people through the arts and creativity but to give them a voice in how that happens. Young people feature at the very heart of all decision making and CONTACT is a national exemplar of best practice in relation to young people and diversity.  The major redevelopment of the building has seen its young members be a part of every stage of the decision making process from choosing architects and plans to the development of new recording studios, free work and social spaces to new performance spaces and a unique health and science development space supported by The Welcome Trust. In dialoging with and giving young people the very best resources what CONTACT has achieved in Manchester is something that really celebrates the youth of our city. There is an established history of CYC cohorts who have gone to great success in the arts. A new cohort is chosen every year and they get to develop their talents in spoken word, performance, music, dance,etc. Working with other established exciting companies such as Slung Low and HighRise Theatre, also allows the cohorts to make valuable industry connections and go on to work on new projects and support the next set of cohorts as emerging artists. Tonight’s performance is a wonderful testament to a shared vision that has never been diminished by funding cuts to the Arts or indeed a global pandemic.

This production is brimming with creative flair, humour, tenderness, unbridled energy and raw talent. Gaika is cited as one of the creative influences for this work. He terms his own work as Ghetto Futurism and a quote from him seems to perfectly sum up CYC and the ethos of CONTACT

This is who we are and we’re here to stay. You can’t turn us off.

CONTACT 6th – 9th October 2021

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