PEOPLE, PLACES & THINGS

HOME

Written by Duncan Macmillan

Directed by Jeremy Herron                          with Holly Race Roughan

Almost 2 years after it’s world premiere at the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre Headlong open the first UK tour of People, Places  & Things at HOME. The play retains the original set, but has a new cast and is updated to include reflect recent major political events.

The stark white set is like a tabula rasa before the sudden ear splitting plunge into period drama with Emma as the fragile Nina from Chekhov’s The Seagull. Seconds later and time fractures again like a skipping cd and the seamless shift to the reception area of a rehab unit reveals a second audience facing us with traverse like staging. This device toys with the layers we may all sometimes hide behind. It also  manages to convey that sense in therapy that someone literally  has your back.  In many respects the seating of the audience serves as a second circle of trust in this therapeutic space.

If there is a huge amount of pressure on Lisa Dwyer Hogg to follow the award winning performance of Denise Gough it is not apparent. She delivers a wonderfully brittle, fractured addict trying to survive her many demons. The frequent use of gallows humour sits well with her Northern Irish accent and places her securely in a family of distant fathers and relentlessly harsh mothers.

Her Nina/Emma/Sarah is “excellent at being other people and totally useless being myself.” Like so many addicts she displays a toxic combination of low self esteem and grandiosity, doubting herself as an actress while challenging her doctor to “be cleverer than this. I need you to match me.”

Bunny Christie’s set facilitates the craziness of withdrawal. Aspects of the walls and floor move and shift like prisms and open up to reveal floating images, and alternate Emmas fragment and appear through walls and furniture like ants crawling on skin during withdrawal. 

The therapy space reveals the raw vulnerabilities of those in recovery seeking to deal with pain, make amends in the 12 step programme and ‘practice’ ways to avoid the triggers of people, places and things. As a therapist I can vouch for the authenticity of these characters, the fragility of their sobriety and the beauty of those ‘lightbulb moments’ when new truths are revealed.

The closing scenes are brutal and harrowing as a family explores honesty and their separate truths. Therein lies the painful reality that sometimes the people, places and things we most yearn for are truly the most dangerous. The final moment on stage sees a fragile survivor seeking acceptance from us the audience. 

Booking details

22nd Sept- 7th Oct.

We’re Not Really Here – A Football Opera

CONTACT, MANCHESTER 

Knowing nothing much about football and having been to an actual match once (Manc Utd vs Chelsea 30 years ago), I admit to having major reservations about We’re not really here.

I met the co-creator Yahya Terryn at CONTACT in July and I was intrigued by his curiosity about what goes on in the stands and how the footballers experience the crowd from the pitch. He has created these performances in various countries and last night Manchester City picked up the baton/ball/whatever.

CONTACT was crackling with energy and waiting in the foyer felt how I might imagine waiting to come out the tunnel. The audience sat on the Stage while the performers/actual City fans faced us from the stands. As they spill out unto the terrace and the music pumps there is a tangible feeling of anticipation. 

This is exciting theatre regardless of how anyone views football or its fans. The shouting, chanting and singing is phenomenally powerful. At times joyful and infectious, but in other moments warlike, tribal and intimidating. The action is full on interspersed with freeze frame moments where snapshots of the fans reveal  them as individuals but also their personal motivations for being part of this tribe. 

This felt like a authentic take on the fans. Single blokes of all ages, young women snacking on crisps and hotdogs, families kitted out in all the gear, dads bonding with their lads with squabbles and hugs in equal measure. The end result is mainly heart warming and infectious but the speed at which things can potentially turn nasty is sobering and slightly unnerving.

The overall experience is brilliant and the concept creates a genuinely stimulating theatre experience. Further development of the individual interactions and personal stories would help to more fully develop this piece.

Did it work as a response piece? I think Yahya Terryn got his answer last night – ex Man City player Paul Lake who kicked off proceedings was sat directly in front of me with his family. He seemed to be loving every moment and sitting beside his young son was mirroring another father and son on stage. As for me I might not wait another 30 years before my next football match. Result!!

Until September 23rd

OUR TOWN

Royal Exchange Theatre

Thornton Wilder’s 1938 OUR TOWN is often perceived as a cosy, nostalgic view of happier days when life was simpler and slower. Sarah Frankcom’s ensures that Wilder’s original frustration at “the aggressive complacency of the middle class” is more  evident than simply a depiction of small town New Hampshire life before WW1.

The Stage Manager (an excellent Youssef Kerkour) involves the audience throughout  the three acts depicting Birth, Marriage and Death with an actual sense of  real time collaboration. In the opening act Frankcom goes a step further and places some of the audience on stage amongst the actors. We sit and watch life in Grovers Corners much like the dead do from their white chairs on the hill. The effect will differ for the individual. Some will be bored or irritated by the minutiae of daily life and others will be absorbed in the tiny details of everyday rituals.

On the surface the characters are unremarkable and lead insignificant lives. Emily is “naturally bright” yet naive as to the opportunities open to her beside marriage and family. Her father is a journalist yet seems to think the only news of value is local and parochial. Dr Gibbs sees illnesses but is blind to his own wifes’ hopes and dreams. Almost everyone bar the town drunk has a sense of propriety and order to the extent of almost seeming like autobots in a tidy town. When strong emotions crack the surface they seem as dangerous and undesirable as the unwanted automobiles which will literally not sleeping dogs lie.

The tension gradually builds as characters respond to larger life events. The marriage highlights family stresses most of us recognise. Fear of change, last minute bridal nerves, mother’s fears for children leaving the nest, a fathers resignation over giving away his terrified daughter are all beautifully realised. Norah Lopez Holden as Emily is excellent throughout, and the quietly distraught Graeme Hawley as her father soothing her bridal jitters while twisting his fingers in anguish is heart rending.

The final act brings together the dead from past and present. The standout moment in a set so devoid of props is beautifully realised and quite exquisite. The resounding message is do not “spend and waste years like you had a million to waste.” Pay attention to the smallest detail (notably one of the few props at the start and the close is a simple sunflower), as life is so precious and so fleeting.

I grew up in a small town where everyone knows each other, and the local shop is visited daily for supplies of milk, bread and gossip. The graveyard is home to my parents, grandparents and ancestors; to neighbours, friends and local gentry. Visiting last month I imagined them all together chatting and reminiscing on the hill above the deerpark. I like to think they would agree with Wilder and want us all to live each day like it really matters. The here and now may be the very best of what is to come.

Until October 14th 

THE WEDDING

HOME


Gecko opened their tour of The Wedding at HOME and the space has been buzzing all week. Last night was no exception and Gecko delivered a frenetic performance which was high on energy and buzzing with ideas and concepts.

The performance opens in darkness and noise starts to whoop behind and above the heads of the audience and moves swiftly round the theatre. Clever use of sound creates a vivid sense of what is about to happen as a performer bursts out of a chute in his underwear into a pile of teddies. Picking one up he rather reluctantly exchanges it for a wedding dress. It evokes the end of childhood freedoms and the donning of adult constraints. This exchange is officiated over by a stern woman in business dress clutching a clipboard. In this way the stage is set for Creator Amit Lahav to realise his “dystopian world in which everyone of us is a bride, wedded to society.”

The show is a blend of set dance pieces, physical theatre, circus performance and puppetry. There is always a lot happening on stage whether it is inferred from one immigrants face appearing from a suitcase to the exuberance of a Jewish wedding party. There is frequent shifts of musical styles, languages and cultures. We are all wedded to whatever society or culture or religion we are born into. The rupture of divorce from lover, job, culture or community is usually brutal whether we choose it or it is imposed upon us.

Blanked out bureaucratic faces look down from a height at office workers suffocating in endless stale routines, and often the dance reflects the jerking spasms of marionettes whirring into submission. At another point veils are torn away and we simply see another human being hiding his ordinariness behind giants stilts- no bigger or greater than anyone else on stage.

This is a piece that will probably continue to change and develop. It feels chocoblock with ideas like children spilling out of a play chute pumped full of E numbers. There is too much to take in to fully appreciate everything on stage. 

The end piece is triumphant as everyone comes together in a marriage of love rather than a wedding to state. The singing, clapping and stomping fill the theatre til it is booming with life. Home is where the heart is and last night Gecko truly put their hearts into the core of HOME.

The Beggar’s Opera 


Image by Mark Carlin

STORYHOUSE, Chester.

Walking in to this brand new space is a delight. Wall to wall books surround huge tables to eat at and cosy spaces to sprawl in. The space is bright, airy and lively. Here to see the theatre, the rest is an unexpected pleasure; and also includes community meeting spaces, a story telling space for kids and a cinema. The theatre space does not disappoint. Welcoming and cosy it is in 500 seat mode surrounding a large stage, but can alter to accommodate 800. 

The glowing candelabras lower and a musician starts to play the harpsichord. A raucous Irishman ruptures the elegant period moment by lunging unto the stage as though stumbling in from the street and so opens The Beggar’s  Opera. Soon the stage starts to fill from all directions and the energy ramps up as Caolan McCarthy’s beggar leads this 18th century ballad opera firmly into 21st century Chester courtesy of  electric guitars and drums etc. The impact is vibrant and eclectic and feels like Vivienne Westwood, Tim Burton and Adam Ant are in the wings feeling delighted with this bawdy party.

Writer Glyn Maxwell  and composer  Harry Blake do a good job creating a modern day relevance to the piece and the audience are warmly receptive to the local references. The vocal performances are mainly strong however there are a few points when it is difficult to grasp all the lyrics particularly when singing en masse seem to blur the clarity of the vocals.

The staging is very effective and the lighting is perfectly atomospheric in every scene. The costumes are a joy and I’m tempted to see if you can check out costumes as well as books at The Storyhouse!

The performances are gutsy, visceral and ribald as befits these raffle taggle blend of thieves, whores and henchmen. Standing out is the earthy honesty of Lucy Lockit the pregnant jailers daughter who shines in the portrayal by Nancy Sullivan and her comic foil is Polly Peachum, the pretty and vacuous ingénue convincingly played by Charlotte Miranda-Smith.

As in the original the menfolk are weak dandies like the Captain or deplorable villains like Peachum and the jailer. The women are no better but their desperate circumstances remind us there are often limited choices in a society built oncapitalist greed and social inequality.

Artistic Director Alex Clifton has launched his programme for The Storyhouse with a bold and familiar tale and ensured that the story resonated with the local community. It is a really promising start in a great space for the largest repertory company aside from The RSC and The National Theatre. This is a promising opening chapter for The Storyhouse.

Leaving the bright and modern theatre on a busy Saturday night was a stark reminder of an unequal society. Passing noisy bars with drunken groups on stag nights and homeless men begging on the cobbles it felt like The Storyhouse performance had left the building and become a promenade performance  through the quaint dark streets of Chester.

From 11 May – 19 August


Cotton Panic!

Upper Campfield Market

Created by Jane Horrocks Nick Vivian and Wrangler

The old Victorian market space works perfectly as a space for a gig or for an immersive theatre piece. Giant screens either side of the stage project ephemeral images interspersed with close ups of actress and activist Glenda Jackson and other storytellers. On stage is the tiny and feisty Jane Horrocks fizzing with passion and energy. Behind her is a translucent screen projecting  more images and seemingly super-imposed behind that is the band Wrangler  and their analogue synthesizers.

A mix of folk music and clog dancing blend into tracks such as Billie Holidays “Strange Fruit” and Grace Jones “Slave to the Rhythm” with synth music and story telling of the poverty and political struggle weave together to celebrate our working class heritage in the North West.

Walking through the space feels exciting and quite special. The sense of urgency and energy is intoxicating and moving sporadically from the back of the space I soon find myself front of stage. Watching Horrocks’s character descend into wretched poverty and dependency on the kindness of others is a sharp reminder of the problems inherent in misinformed aid assistance. How often do we make assumptions about the needs of others? When we buy a homeless stranger a sandwich do we check first if they are vegetarian or gluten-intolerant or do we simply expect their gratitude? If we give money for aid do we want to meet a specific need or one which we feel is appropriate? 

This is the story of the cotton industry in Lancashire from riches to rags in the industrial carnage that arose from the American Civil War (1861-1865). It is a timely reminder of how any growing economy is intensely vulnerable to over dependency on a single commodity. The lack of cotton arriving in the 1870s crippled Lancashire and created mass unemployment and poverty. It would be good to think we have learned valuable lessons from our social and economic history yet sadly we continue to waste valuable resources and make poor electoral decisions such as Brexit.

Emerging from this performance into the evening sunshine on Deansgate many of the crowd dispersed to nearby bars and restaurants. A lovely way to end a sociable evening. Perhaps the sobering thought being in a coffee or wine shortage how quickly would we be inconvenienced or potentially economically ruined?

Lancashire Cotton Failure

Manchester austerity and homelessness 

Ethics and Aid
Potential impact on Manchester of Brexit

What If I Told You?

Written and Performed by PAULINE MAYERS

Directed by CHRIS  GOODE 

The Studio, The Royal Exchange 

Pauline Mayers is a Rambert Ballet trained dancer, a choreographer, a writer and a theatre maker. She is a Hackney girl who has travelled the World as a dancer. She is a women of a certain age who has lived through significant  physical injuries and the emotional pain of depression.  She is a performer and an experimenter and an explorer. She is a black woman who has had a mixed response from the dance world about having a black body  to channel ballet through. More recently she has also experienced the closed doors that often greet an older dancer.

Talking to her in interview recently and watching her perform this  evening there is an undoubted warmth and engagement with others that is striking. As she opens the show her gaze attempts to connect with each member of the audience with a white hot intensity. This will draw in many audience members but for some may prove uncomfortable to fully engage with.

What If I Told You? uses theatre, movement and dance to explore prejudice and the conscious and unconscious assumption around skin colour. The piece weaves elements of her personal history and dance experience with the story of Dr J.Marion Sims often referred to as the father of modern Gynaecology. 

Dr Sims practised medicine in the nineteenth century and made major discoveries in the field of Gynaecology. His work was and remains highly controversial as he used black slave women as his subjects and refused to use anaesthetic deeming them less able to feel pain than white women.

The piece uses audience interaction and participation throughout. It is most powerful as we recreate a montage of a painting of Sims with Anarcha (a patient he experimented on many times), and two other white doctors observing while two tramatised black women peek through a curtain to see what awaits them. This is the impact of the piece that has stayed with me. Imagining that Anarcha might have been Pauline and seeing a lovely young black woman I know who could have been waiting her turn. Sims and another doctor were portrayed by white middle class men I also knew. It was deeply unsettling to imagine whose shoes we might walk in, in another place or time. 

There are some very rich moments to observe and there are some lovely interactions and connections as the audience participate in the movement of the piece. There is however a frustration that in weaving these elements together so much there is a risk that the piece loses some of its impact. An hour limits some of the storytelling when we also are participants. Pauline is so engaging I wanted more of her and less of me!!

Koan is a Japanese word for public thought. Its the audience thinking and speaking and reflecting together. Its a radical act of self care and empowerment. 
The Koan completes the second half of the show and is led by poet Khadijah Ibrahiim. Koan is a Japanese word for public thought. This is an important part of the piece as it is an exploration of subjective experience and a continuation of sharing what is “sameness” as opposed to “otherness”. 

The genuine hope in What If I Told You? is that each of us leaves the space with a keener and more empathic perspective on our neighbours. 

“There are periods of history where skin colour is used as a means to separate and disconnect us. I really feel what hurts you, hurts me. We are all human beings. There is only one race.”
This is a very personal piece. Pauline says it is an invitation to walk in her shoes for an hour. As with any subjective experience this will be more potent for some than for others. This is undoubtedly painful and chilling at times however it is also celebratory. Having stubbornly fought to be recognised as a black dancer and struggled with the loss of that career this show is also a homecoming. Theatre has welcomed her as a performer and story teller and her joy and appreciation is evident in this piece.

SHOWING 19/20 JUNE