Blog

GREYHOUNDS


Time & Again Theatre Company 

Kings Arms

Greyhounds is a big play for such a tiny theatre space. Thankfully Laura Crow has written and staged Greyhounds so effectively that for most of the performance the tiny stage is forgotten in that the writing and the performances are what command attention. Set over a month long rehearsal for an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Henry V it gives a poignant and perceptive window into the impact of WW11 on individuals in the sleepy village of Shuttlefield.

Each of the five characters are fleshed out and have an real authenticity as people in 1941 living in wartime Britain and dealing with their individual responses to war. Big sister Ruby is stoic and gungho in her determination to do her “bit” for the war effort. Armed with a sneaky gin or two she sets about staging Henry V to raise money for a Spitfire for the war effort. She is undeterred by a cast of five plus recreating a play with a cast of fifty plus. Nancy is a would-be professional actress with a husband in the Navy. Bright and bubbly, Rachel Horobin portrays her as a wartime “good” goodtime gal who rejoices in her independence . Katherine is brilliantly analytical and terrifyingly literal. The character is beautifully conceived as the young  sister who is clearly on the autistic spectrum. She is played by Laura Crow with the chilly coolness of a early Katherine Hepburn.

The men in this piece are slightly more obvious. There are two very different heroes who are both struggling with what constitutes courage and honour in wartime. In Will there is a clever, sensitive man trying to stay true to his beliefs in a war where nothing is truly black and white. Ned is perceived by all as a wounded war hero but his emotional wounds are much deeper and are unlikely to ever fully heal.

The passages from Henry V in the rehearsals are thoughtfully used to develop and highlight the individual stories of each character on stage. They also provide a light touch as we observe the range of acting skills in this bunch of mainly reluctant thespians. At times Katherine is as woefully wooden in her roles as the swords used as props.

The attention to detail in the whole play is a delight. The dialogue has a real period tone that manages to always feel fresh and naturalistic. The wartime posters, period gin bottles, bakelite phones and radios are on stage while the audience clasp beautiful programmes designed like wartime i.d. cards. Hair, make up and costumes are also lovingly considered.

The play unfolds with little gems of story. A character lives a life of duty and obligation yet dreams of the work of Frida Pablo and Diego Rivera. Another fears the end of this war and a return to a bleak domestic normality. Others look for salvation in new opportunities, the lucky ones in this war are those for whom war gives openings to natural abilities previously seen as character flaws.

 I see you stand like greyhounds in the slip, straining upon the start. This line from Henry V is apt as a title in that all five characters are straining for new freedoms and opportunities. I suspect the writing is also straining to start her next work. I for one look forward to whatever that may be.

We Are Ian

In Bed With My Brother

HOME 

Ian is real, so real it turns out he is sat in the audience tonight. For the show he remains a voice pulsating as a bare lightbulb, while he reminisces  about the Manchester rave scene of the Eighties. Three young women crowd around the bulb listening to his Mancunion words of wisdom like he is a Messiah and they are his disciples of dance. Ian says, “Its 2017, we got fuck all. Let’s have a party. Party like it’s 1989.”

The show is a blend of thumping music, smoke machines and frenzied dancing to club classics like Hallelujah – The Happy Mondays.  There is projection screen with dance instructions, lyrics and footage of political speeches and events from the last 30 years. The performers do lots of lip syncing and are incredibly facially expressive yet barely speak. The gurning and munching and spitting of so many biscuits is bizarrely completely engaging. 

This is a mainly young audience who like IBWMB were not even born when Ian was raving, getting wankered and feeling the love on brown biscuits. Quick learners they follow Ian’s journey and it’s a fun trip to take with neon instructions for Hot Potato/Cold Spaghetti. Fun til the politics kick in and images of Thatcher and May appear in black, white and grey to the sound of Dominator by Human Resource. They are interspersed with footage of the old Hulme being demolished and Anti-Austerity marches etc. This is a timely history lesson about the unifying power of music and dance and its impact on civil unrest.

Dora, Nora and Kat (IBWMB) repulse and beguile in equal measure but by the end of the show I might just be a little in love with all three, biscuits crumbs included. Their capacity to physically engage with the audience is impressive as by the end of the performance they generate a love in the space that their mate Ian would approve off. They even manage to do it without illegal brown biscuits!!
We Are Ian is a masterclass in clubbing and a political call to wake up and make change happen. The end of the performance is pure exuberance and the scenes on stage may be my best ever memory of being in a performance.

Until October 14.

BOURGEOIS & MAURICE: HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD WITHOUT REALLY TRYING


HOME
Drag aliens have descended on Theatre 2 at HOME and an audience of humansexuals are there for the anarchic Weimaresque cabaret. These drag aliens are rocking some serious sequins, latex, beehives and lashes. They are also strangely reminiscent of Ana Matronic and Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters being channelled via AbFab Patsy and Julian Clary.  

The performers are the first to receive the HOME  T1 Commission which will result in a creative development project leading to new piece of work in Theatre 1 in Spring 2019.

Georgeouis Bourgeouis (George Herworth) is an acerbic, bitchy, narcissistic cabaret singer who is an armchair activist. Maurice Maurice (Liz Morris) is a deadpan, piano playing nihilist who aspires to become simply gas. Bougeouis & Maurice are full on throughout the performance. They never break character even when talking to their multiple other selves on screen. 

The performance is a riotous blend of wickedly funny songs and sharp observations on our current political landscape. The drag aliens have studied and googled our society and having decided that all the other political isms have failed they suggest adopting their own brand of hedonism.

Subjects such as flawed British values, Brexit, patriarchy and chemsex are covered in unforgettable songs. I drove home humming the classic “everyone’s at a chemsex party except me”- available on Spotify.

This is slick delivery underpinned by layers of carefully conceived detail and precise observations. The rousing anthem was no saccharine song of hope but was an inspired and a perfect way to close a show about saving the world. If cabaret is really the last frontier then what a way to go. 

10/11 October

Interview with Aziz Ibrahim

HOME in partnership with Manchester Camerata present Lahore to Longsight as part of the Upclose series. This will be a multi-media realisation of the cult album by Aziz Ibrahim about his father’s journey to Britain after Partition; and will also feature Dalbir Singh Rattan (tabla).

Sitting in the bar at HOME with Aziz Ibrahim, we start off chatting about the famous C18th Scottish map maker Colin MacKenzie who had one of the largest Indian artefact collections in the world. This leads to conversation about the impact of The East India Company on the history of the British Empire and Aziz’s involvement with his old friend Dalbir Singh Rattan on an Arts Council project in Stornaway about 70 years of Partition. Several hours and a parking ticket later I know a lot more about a Pakistani Muslim from Longsight who has toured the world with artists such as The Stone Roses and Simply Red, collaborated with artists like Paul Weller and Mike Joyce (The Smiths) but who is equally happy playing guitar in a prison or a hospice. A guy who may love basketball more than music and who once played The Star Spangled Banner during a boxing match between The Staffordshire police and the N.Y.P.D. despite having been refused a visa to enter the U.S.A.

Was history always a big interest?

I was interested in history at school but I didn’t feel a connection as it was a very one sided history from an English perspective; later on I realised the history of this “wonderful” Empire was filled with blood, trauma and slavery.

The whole principle of identity and how we identify ourselves as being that culture, this religion, that city was actually brought about by The East India Company and The British Empire. Divide and Rule has segregated communities for centuries, made us feel a certain way about culture, religion and gender. Prior to colonialism people had fuzzy borders. Indians lived next to Muslims, next to Sufi. We are still perpetuating principles that were used to kept us apart. It happened to South Asians, Africans, Chinese, The Irish and Celtic communities. I’m looking at music as in how does music bring people together.  

Growing up in Northern Ireland there was a lot of segregation. In school we were taught different histories, cultures and music depending on religion. Being asked your name could define how you were treated.

I’ve been refused visas because of my name.

You missed out on a big world tour because of that, didn’t you?

Yes. My whole life changed. The knock on  effect- so many things happened after that like a domino effect- many things fell apart. 

Do you think being refused a visa shook your sense of your own identity?

It shook something!!! It made me question what is identity. Why are people identified in this way? Being perceived in a different way made me ask more questions. Why do I think in this way? I have dual heritage in that my parents came over here and I’m a Mancunian born Muslim who lived in an inner city council estate. I like to draw on all the strengths of different cultures and communities. Music is the key through which I communicate with people. 

Maybe with a curious mind comes openness to different things…outlooks?

Oh yeah, I’m definitely curious. I’m intrigued how I get ideas from different cultures, personalities, instruments – like  how they’re played then trying to mimic them on guitar to create a new voice. I’ve always thought about individual voices, our uniqueness. How do you express that in any art form? My way was incorporating other voices into the guitar. Then I became a lyricist inspired by my father and the stories he told me about India, Pakistan and Britain. Train journeys, the jungle, his army training…..hence how Lahore to Longsight came about.

What age were your parents when they left Lahore?

I dunno, they don’t know. There was no formal record keeping in the villages. My father estimated his age when he applied for the army. He was about 86 when he passed away in 2006. 

So he had a long history in India before he left after Partition?

He had a long life in India. That begs the question – Am I actually Indian, am I Pakistani, what am I?

So how did this collaboration with Manchester Camerata come about?

I was introduced to them my mate Mike Joyce from The Smiths. Mike and I have a group together which we started just playing for fun- it involves spoken word, narrative, visual art – called Azmik. 

I told them about my philosophy of music and what I’m doing. They were thinking about a Reimagining India project for the 70 years of Independence and asked if I was interested in collaboration. It came out of the blue.

Ah, so the Universe provides. Right place, right time.

Absolutely. I suggested the concept behind the album which is a partition story. A personal story about my father, a simple person from Indian roots, the story of how we lost family during Partition and resettling in Pakistan. It reflects how life was for a generation of people who went through such a traumatic experience and didn’t speak of it, who didn’t have a platform or a voice to be able to tell their story. It is not about finger pointing- my Mother always said, ” When you point a finger, there are three more pointing back at you.”

What’s it like working with the Camerata?

They are a contemporary, forward thinking orchestra. I like working and arranging with Tim Crooks (Arranger and Conductor) – he is very quick, efficient, creative. I’m aiming towards involving the orchestra in my music, exploring how we interact- not just telling them which parts to play. I’m testing them and they are testing me so it’s a sharing process. I don’t want them to be confined to the notes on a score sheet. I want them to feel they can improvise.

So you basically want to create a jamming session with an orchestra?

When two very different perspectives come together how do they work together? Like a marriage- you don’t want to be exactly alike and like the same things. That’s boring. I like the difference of opinion and perspective. Different contributions bring about new things.

The Camerata and you seem like a very natural fit. They work on projects based around mental health and dementia, and you are involved in a wide range of community projects.

Image: Mudkiss Photography. 

It’s that relationship with music and other arts. The government can withdraw funding from the Arts like it is less important than other areas of investment. I think when times are tough people rely upon the Arts to lift their spirits. It’s about engaging with people not preaching at them, and giving opportunities on an equal footing. For instance allowing a hurt child to express in music what they can’t in words. Giving young third and fourth generation South Asians respect- engaging in what interests them, asking what do they want?

Working in prisons, hospices, special needs schools and with Crisis, has made me think music is key in mental health. It is more important for people to engage and express themselves than have the correct notes. That beautiful freedom of expression and positivity even when it has maybe started from a negative place.

What do you want people to take away from this event at HOME?

That anything is possible. I’m a British Pakistani Muslim from Longsight, from a really poor family yet my journey has been so exciting. If it can happen for me it can happen for anyone. As long as you try there is always the possibility of change. The only way humanity succeeds is through perseverance. I think if HOME and Camerata can continue to develop projects like this more young people from the inner city will come through the doors of HOME etc.

Will you have family at the gig?

For the first time since 1987 my Mum is coming – she came to GMex for Simply Red and never came again! 

My brothers Ejaz and Abdul are performing with me as special guests. Its nice to have them participate as they are part of this story.

Which instruments do they play?

They play guitar and Abdul, my older brother plays all sorts of instruments – he’s on Ian Brown’s My Star – not many people even know that! 

My parents came from poor villages and worked hard their whole lives. They motivated us all to achieve academically. I wanted to be a doctor but music chose me and Simply Red offered me a career.

What do think  your Mum will be thinking?

Get a proper job!!

Still?

Yeah absolutely 100%!

This will be the first time she hears something that relates to a husband she lost in 2006. It’s honouring him. I also wanted to do this concert so she feels happy about my father’s contribution. How much we cared about him. What he did for me when I could easily have been running with gangs. Their guidance and nurturing – it’s honouring someone’s love and commitment.

That’s a life well lived, isn’t it? You have to create that. It didn’t just happen.

Absolutely. 

So what is next for you?

I hope this leads to further work with orchestras. I like the idea of creating film scores like South Asian composers like A.R. Rahman and Adi Burman. I’ve got an Arts Council grant to explore music and identity and the use of digital orientated projects  called PROJECT 70 ASIAN BLUES. It is about accessing new audiences using new tools and my mentors NAE (New Art Exchange) and people like Dave Moutray from HOME have been very supportive.

I wanted to do projects like this just so I might widen that door, so maybe others follow what I’m doing and see there are opportunities for them too. They can be younger, more talented, better looking. I want them to see they could achieve more than I could. If HOME and Camerata  are listening then others will follow.

HOME OCT 11.

PALMYRA

HOME ORBIT2017

Written and Performed by Bernard Lasca and Nasi Voutsas

Bert and Nasi performed their 2016 show Eurohouse about an hour ago so it feels like I already know these two charming pals or clowns or maybe I’m just beginning to have a sense of what they could be capable off. 

The stage is set as simply as before with two chairs set far apart. What enfolds is on a larger scale than EUROHOUSE and adds a ladder, boards on wheels and china plates, in fact boxes and boxes of broken china plates. Oh and there is a hammer too.

Hauntingly beautiful music inspires a dance where Bert and Nasi literally glide to the music. There is scuffling, destruction and bargaining. This is bigger than the hopeful formation of the European Union and its subsequent splintering as seen in EUROHOUSE. Instead  Palmyra is a painful look at the making and breaking of an ancient civilisation. The piece looks at how complicit we all are in the preservation or devastation of a community, a society or a culture. 

Bert and Nasi flit in and out of civility, acts of  intimidation and literally trying to brush the ugliness and damage out of sight. What started out in EUROHOUSE as disturbingly dark clowning is rapidly becoming more violent and unpredictable in this piece. When one of them threatens the other with a hammer it is then offered to an audience member for safe keeping. Choices become central. Who do you choose to entrust it with? I was contemplated and duly rejected. The keeper of the hammer is faced with what to do next or who to give it back to. 

These two are lovely guys or they might just be Tom & Jerry in human form. Their work together is exciting and provocative creating much needed dialogue about the world we live in.

Palmyra will never be glued back together like a broken plate, nor can those lost lives be revived. Yet we can still react and respond. We can defy expectation and we can try to be better. Perhaps there is still hope for us all if we can still hand some stranger a hammer and anticipate empathy and goodwill rather than large scale carnage.

EUROHOUSE

HOME, ORBIT2017

Created and performed by Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas

Co-produced by FellSwoop Theatre

From the moment they step on stage it is clear that Bert is a just a little bigger, more confident and sophisticated in every way  than the delightfully sweet Nasi. The audience is swiftly engaged in greeting them and each other, before we all hold hands. The govial assumption being that this will be good for all of us. Tellingly I happily hold hands with the lovely Nasi but soon my arm starts to ache held up at an unfamiliar angle. He smiles. I smile. I show no sign of discomfort. It is a lovely concept that is ultimately unsustainable. 

This is EUROHOUSE. The clowning, running and dancing together is joyous and mainly harmonious until a darker edge starts to appear. Competitive elements in our personal and national psyches start to infilitrate the piece. Run fast, yes really fast but not too fast- never go faster than me and I will reward you.

Bert happily shares his sweets with Nasi encouraging and delighting in greedy pleasure. Later almost menacing he asks where the sweets are and clearly wishes them returned. It starts to feel claustrophobic in the space as Nasi has less and less options. There remains the bare vestiges of civility while food is literally taken from his mouth and the clothes from his back. The bonhomie of this functional friendship is cracking and Nasi starts to assert his individuality.

The show had opened with Bert confiding  that he will be controlling the sound and lighting for the evening  as if to give the nice staff at HOME a break. It is now apparent that the agenda here is control not support.  

This is cleverly illustrated by the music choices played ad finitum by Bert who insists on a cloying diet of Sardou’s classic Comme d’habitude (My Way) and Kraftwerks Europe Endless. As an audience we are invited to also choose a song, as is Nasi, though neither get played by the charming Bert. When Nasi defiantly ramps up the volume on Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way I want to sing along- something I never do! It is a momentary small victory but it feels so good.

The spirit of EUROHOUSE is in sharing and playing and growing just like in the playground when we start to make the friends or enemies we must share a classroom with for the rest of our education. EUROHOUSE brings together performers from France and Greece who met in Scotland. They were part of two different companies FellSwoop and ANTLER. This performance is a bittersweet warning for us all in the aftermath of Brexit. We all need support and friendship but at what cost? 

BRAVADO

HOME

Part of Orbit 2017

Written and Directed by Scottee

Entering The Briton’s Protection pub on a busy Saturday night felt intimidating. It was heaving with men out for the night, men on stag do’s, men in football scarves and men already pissed. A perfect setting for performance artist Scottee to stage Bravado as part of Orbit 2017.

Upstairs in the pub a room is set up with 3 flickering and crackling analog screens, a mike and a teleprompter. Tension builds in the room as we wait for someone, anyone, to break the stalemate awkwardness and embarrassment filling the space. We need a volunteer from the audience to stand up and deliver the text, to man up and speak up about Blood, Spit, Tears and Cum. We need a perpetrator or a victim, a male presence to speak the words that Scottee has lived. A different voice each night for a story that remains unchanged and timeless.

This is a visceral and vicious account of working class men at their most brutal and brutalized. It is set against a backdrop of blokish telly of the Nineties like WWE wrestling, The Mitchell brothers in Eastenders and Bullseye. Each segment is broken up with an Oasis song which could be sung by tonight’s bloke. Ours honours the text with real tenderness and compassion but baulks at singing. Yet another insight into the complexity of the male psyche as he reads out such painful experiences but cannot sing the familiar lines of Look Back in Anger.

The content of the text is not easy to hear but the writing is a delight. The emotional pacing and the delicate attention to such brutal details are incredible. Bravado is a lesson in both how not to be a man and a testament to the potential beauty in every man.