MACBETH

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Christopher Haydon

Royal Exchange Theatre

Director Christopher Haydon delivers a production of Macbeth that is packed full of ideas and creativity. There is a veritable smorgasbord on display that is as colourful and attention grabbing as the infamous banquet where bloody heads compete for space with luridly iced party cakes and doughnuts. Unfortunately although iced delights can tempt us to a quick sugar fix this is a drawn out affair which fails to deliver in a more ultimately satisfying manner.

Lucy Ellinson is a mercurial leader who is believable as a toughened soldier and a popular leader. Sinewy and earthy she appears one of the lads, however as the prophecies of the three weird sisters start to tighten their grip, she becomes increasingly paranoid and driven by bloody ambition. Ellinson soon morphs into a power crazed maniac complete with sunken eyes and bone bleached skull. The performance itself is strong and gripping, however it somehow fails to provide a truly satisfying Macbeth. The physical fragility of a woman who increasingly resembles a crack addict searching for her next fix simply cannot deliver a plausible final battle scene with Macduff. Ultimately there is too much petulance and vulnerability here that could work with Hamlet but not as successfully here with Macbeth.

This is only part of the frustration with this Macbeth which had the opportunity to really shine a light on relationships for ambitious women in power. This lesbian couple seem emotionally ill matched and implausible as this war hardened hero seems incapable of questioning or even noticing Lady Macbeth’s scheming greed and machinations. There is no exploration of their lack of heirs as a gay couple which could have been a really interesting angle to explore in their quest for the crown. The ambitious Lady Macbeth would have surely contemplated a modern ruthless attempt at altering their fate – perhaps spurgling the sperm of Macduff or Banquo?? There is no tenderness between them or any real sharing of the damage their actions cause them personally.

Motorway murder scenes, torrential storms, helicopters, red balloons and chatty interactions with the audience members pepper this production. Designer Oli Townsend has a stark but beautiful heptagram on the stage with a steaming cauldron at its heart. All is as minimalist as a soldier’s rations until the Mad Hatters tea pparty that is the lurid banquet complete with fancy dress and part games. Looking like something from a Ken Russell movie this is OTT in the best way. Dreamlike and drug fueled the game of musical chairs drily reflects our current political situation.

Lucy Ellinson as Macbeth Image- Johann Persson

The ever present weird Sisters as drug addled party girls supplementing their incomes as sinister, sulky waitresses at the castle is an entertaining aspect to this Macbeth. They bring both light and dark elements to the production. For such a female heavy cast it is troubling that the real heart of this Macbeth ultimately seems to belong to the men. Banquo and Macduff balance career and family with grace and honour. Actors Theo Ogundipe and Paul Hickey give performances that resonate and truly highlight the tragedy of this piece.

Royal Exchange Theatre 13 Sept – 19 Oct 2019

Images by Johann Persson

The Jumper Factory

HOME

By Luke Barnes

Conceived by Young Vic Taking Part and Justin Audibert

Directed by Josh Parr

This smart, astute piece of theatre was developed with the Young Vic and inmates from Wandsworth Prison in May 2018. Originally performed in the prison using actors cast from young men whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system, The Jumper Factory has subsequently toured successfully and is currently on lockdown at HOME.

This piece is beautifully directed by Josh Parr giving all six young men on stage to shine as they converse together or step forward individually to take the spotlight. The blend of jarring soundscape and lighting blocks by Jess Glaisher that evoke prison cells interspersed with movement sequences works really effectively.

This work using verbatim story telling gives a fresh perspective on passing the time of day as we see how structure or lack of it can make or break an inmate. The boredom and the waiting between prison visits coupled with the anxiety of life and loved ones carrying on without them or with someone new is vividly evoked. The random nature of who you share a cell with and the consequences good or bad for an individual is sharply observed. Regardless of the crime whether theft, GBH or chasing a fox, prison will change you and not always for the better despite its intended reform approach.

The six performers on stage do a great job of bringing the varying experiences of inmates at HMP Wandsworth to life. Shame, embarrassment, fear, boredom, anticipation, hope and despair runs through this work. The Jumper Factory is a potent reminder of the importance and the impact of time misspent, or valued and well spent regardless of where we are.

HOME 10TH- 14TH SEP 2019

HIVE CITY LEGACY

Photo Helen Murray

HOME

Written and developed by Busty Beatz, Lisa Fa’alafi and Yami Löfvenberg and A League of Extraordinary Femmes

Directed by Lisa Fa’alafi

There is a new hive in Manchester this week and it’s not the one on the roof of HOME. Anyone who witnessed the anarchic and joyous cabaret spectacle that was HOT BROWN HONEY when their hive landed at HOME in December 2017 will have some idea of what to expect from Hive City Legacy. This show is a collaborative project between the Australian company, their producers Quiet Riot and Roundhouse. A call out in 2018 for young British Femmes of Colour to expand the hive led to the creation of this new show. Heavily influenced by the original cabaret blend of beat box, body popping, aerial work, spoken word and burlesque, this new production zeroes in on London. Stories of matriarchy, mental health, marginalisation and harnessing the power of the Hive to once again ACTIVATE POLLINATE LIBERATE.

The staging is simple but effective creating a honeycomb effect with lighting that allows for creating office parties and commuter trains while also giving a sense of magical wonder as boxes open Pandora like to reveal snaking flags and oversized combs and tape measures. In the midst of all this is a wide eyed ingénue (Farrel Cox), drinking in the truths both joyful and distressing of being a young femme of colour in a still marginalised country.

The performances by all eight femmes are full of savvy confidence, boisterous energy, anger and poignant sadness. These femmes are in your face enraged and disturbed by a world where their history is being swallowed by your history and oceans are swallowed by puddles. There is a definite sting in the words and actions of these femmes in this hive and they are definitely all queen bees in their own right.

The segments are varied in pace and style. Ropework beautifully showcases trust and faith in each other when you quite literally put your faith on the line. Office parties teeter into violent discomfort as voices assault our senses and sensibilities with racist taunts and stereotypical assumptions. The national anthem plays alongside the snaking endless swirl of the English flag while spoken word pieces are unfueled from the mouths of these femmes.

Hive City Legacy has many of the trademark magic touches of the Mother Hive and is lovingly directed by one of its founders Lisa Fa’alafi. The joyous finale has everyone on their feet dancing with the femmes. Enough of us taking to the stage and we might just outgrow the Hive and start to truly ACTIVATE POLLINATE LIBERATE!!

At HOME 3rd – 7th Sept 2019

SWIM

HOME

Liz Richardson in association with HOME and ECHO

Creators/Performers Liz Richardson, Josie Dale-Jones, Sam Ward, Carmel Smickersgill

I grew up by water, a green, gurgling river full of trout and salmon and Lough Erne, the Irish Lake District – 2 dark and beautifully treacherous loughs filled with islands. I love the comfort of water, especially a warm enveloping bath. For Liz Richardson and her friend Lisa comfort and solace comes in the icy shock of wild swimming. This new show takes a moving and tender look at the grieving process as Richardson introduces fellow theatre makers Josie Dale Jones and Sam Ward to wild swimming while composer Carmel Smickersgill observes them and creates an extraordinarily beautiful homage to the power of the water and the potency of grief.

SWIM combines performance with live music, video footage and a conversational style that creates a really fresh feel to this piece. There is a real sense that these performers are meeting in a collaborative process that is new to all of them and that their personal curiosity around the subject matter is geniune. This production is full of earthy humour and guileless playfulness yet throughout their quest to explore what is involved in wild swimming, there is a haunting constant in the grieving process and that this show is not about Liz’s friend Lisa but that it for her.

The stamina, huge heart and lust for life that Liz Richardson embodied in Gutted is on show once again. She takes her fellow performers and the audience on a quest to feel truly alive and to never feel apologetic for the gift of life. The filmic element of the show is both down to earth mundane and sublimely beautiful as they chatter and shiver in an estate car or float on vast lakes. The personalities and differing perspectives of the performers work well and the whole thing is drawn together by the soaring vocals of Carmel Smickersgill who creates an ethereal soundscape akin to Julee Cruise or Duritti Column.

SWIM speaks of the spiking feeling or electrifying shock to the body as it is encompassed by the icy water. It speaks of the pain as friends see each other grieve, on your face a type of joy til I’ve seen You’ve remembered again…just because you’ve enjoyed yourself doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten. In the water our bodies are reshaped just as our souls are by grief. In profound grief we often seem to lose ourselves, or the selves that we once were. In making this show for her friend Lisa, Liz is seeking a friend who is out there lost in the dark water. Regrouping, reforming repairing, still an unknown to herself and to Liz…may you both continue to journey well within the water and beyond it.

The day after I saw this show I too lost someone very dear to me. I’m still floundering in and out of the water but I won’t drown. Shows like SWIM are so important, we never know when we might need to revisit them and find solace.

Beside-Pleasance Courtyard 31st July-26th August 2019

PATIENT 4620

Written and directed by Victoria Snaith

The Crypt, St Phillips, Salford

Saturday lunchtime is as good a time as any for a wander around a pitch black church crypt doubling up as a contemporary art museum and a mental hospital. Donning headphones and entering the exhibition Director Victoria Snaith is charmingly optimistic about the experience though does warn us all to not fiddle with the controls and watch our heads on the low arches in the gloomy but rather dreamy crypt.

Wandering around the exhibition we learn about the fragile 1920s artist Gretel Sauerbrot and her alcoholic brother Hansel. It quickly becomes clear that these are two seriously damaged individuals but by WW1 or something more unworldly…even more unspeakably horrible? Are the clues in the art itself or perhaps in what we hear as museum recording and something more sinister start to overlap?

Things are going swimmingly so far with a delicious hint of impending dénouement and horror beckoning round the next dark corner. Then suddenly the mood fractures with the appearance of a rather unorthodox psychiatrist (Robb Wildash) who may well be an wandering patient- and if he isn’t he certainly should be. One should never introduce oneself with a description of how you castrated yourself in a forest and then attempt to medicate your stunned patients with skittles and lemon drops without checking if they are diabetic.

There are some moments of genuine discomfort and potential scare. However this is a piece of immersive theatre that sadly loses pace as it shifts from auditory storytelling into theatre. The room I was waiting for never materialized and I felt entertained but strangely cheated by never catching a real glimpse of the crazed and tragic Gretel in this thoughtful twist on the famous folk tale.

Dreadfalls Theatre. Manchester Fringe 5th-6th July 2019

TREE

Created by Idris Elba & Kwame Kwei-Armah

Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah

Manchester International Festival

Upper Campfield Market Hall

Tree certainly helped to get the party vibe going at the launch night of MIF19. Walking into Upper Campfield Market Hall the club night was in full swing. The huge stepped circular stage and runway platform were filled with dancers and audience members. There was a real energy and dynamism in the space that was coming from the audience as well as the performers. So far so good as this production has had it’s fair share of bad press this week with very measured and detailed statements from writers Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley who worked on the project until last year claiming to have been unceremoniously kicked off. Co-creator and Director Kwame Kwei-Armah seemed to want to take the project in another direction and these women are now uncredited for their contribution.

So what does Tree actually have to say in its tale of personal loss and the bloody history of South Africa? Influenced by the loss of his father in the same year as the death of Nelson Mandela, his filming of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and making his album Mi Mandela Idris Elba was inspired to create a piece of musical theatre. The subsequent end result, working closely with Director Kwame Kwei-Armah blends drama, music and dance as a young mixed race Londoner travels to South Africa to place his mother’s ashes by his father’s grave. Tree is an attempt to confront the ghosts of a fractured family history while also seeking to reconcile with the turbulent history of this complex country.

Through conversations with the living and dreamlike sequences watching history play out below him Kaleo delves into the tragic origins of his parents love affair and the bitter outcome of that love during Apartheid. Theatre blends with riotous dance that spills of the stage as audience participation is encouraged during riot scenes and celebratory dance scenes. There is a lot to like in this piece which has a strong cast including Sinéad Cusack, Alfred Enoch and Patrice Naiambana and it is beautifully staged. The tech team of Jon Clark, Paul Arditti and Duncan McLean have done a wonderful job of lighting, sound and projection which make for something quite special.

The story told is not new or unique but it is clearly personal to many who lived through or are still living in the shadows of South Africa’s past and forging a new and fairer society. Sadly that is where I have issues with Tree as in the enthusiasm to embrace so much the central characters are never fully fleshed out. These creations deserve more respect and fleshing out to fully understand the complexities of living through Apartheid. This still feels like a young sapling rather than a mighty oak. Hopefully it will grow and develop the strong roots that this ambitious project was clearly striving for.

Upper Campfield Market 4-13 July 2019

Young Vic 29th July- 24th August 2019

Images credit Marc Brenner

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

Written by Kemp Powers

Directed by Matthew Xia

HOME

This play is a genius idea by Kemp Powers. One Night in Miami literally locks the audience into Room 12 of a Miami motel on February 25th 1964. We watch 4 old friends chat about politics and life as they celebrate the success of the new World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. It’s quite a night to behold as the four friends are King of the World boxer Cassius Clay, soul singer Sam Cooke, NFL supremo Jim Brown and political activist Malcolm X. We are flies on the wall watching and listening, as are the FBI and the Nation of Islam while outside amongst the palm trees the Press are also gathering. There is only Joe Brown left alive to say exactly what did transpire that night, but Kemp has created something that feels authentic. Offering a glimpse of these men in the midst of private struggles and uncertainty that are played out alongside the thrills of public success and the darker themes of repression and segregation in Sixties America.

Designer Grace Smart has created a capsule motel room that effectively boxes in the four men as they talk privately but also works wonderfully well in recreating a boxing ring and an Auditorium stage. Lighting design by Ciarán Cunningham and sound by Max Pappenheim enhance the experience and help create the standout moments such as the boxing scene and when Sam Cooke sings. The neon sky and palm trees vividly contrast against the plain decor of the motel room, creating a perfect backdrop to the ordinary and extraordinary events unfolding in that room.

The characters on stage are vividly portrayed by the cast with fervour and passion. At times they are so full of life that the dialogue risks them becoming caricatures of themselves. Conor Glean as Cassius fizzes with energy, giddy with his success but increasingly wary of what his imminent conversion to Islam will mean. Miles Yekinni brings depth and strength as Brown as he contemplates a move from sport to the movies as a “Black action hero”. Christopher Colquhoun is convincing as the impassioned activist who clearly carries a heavy burden and is wrestling his own fears and demons.

The standout performance is Matt Henry as Sam Cooke who moves between confidence and assured charm and his fear of what may happen to his hard won success if he does indeed change his style and use his music to do more than just entertain. I would happily pay again just for the moments when he performs – he brings down the house as he brings his “Sister Flute” to his explosive rendition of You Send Me. As the play draws to a close and he tries out his new song A Change Is Gonna Come, Henry is simply sublime. Director Matthew Xia creates a moment when it truly feels like witnessing something intensely personal and genuinely moving as though we too are hearing this musical masterpiece for the very first time.

HOME 2nd – 5th July 2019

Images by Richard Hubert Smith