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

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

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

NOTES ON GRIEF

The author of NOTES ON GRIEF Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Directed by Rae McKen

Commissioned and produced by Manchester International Festival

Exchange Auditorium, Manchester Central

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

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

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

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

Michelle Asante, Uche Abuah and Itoya Osagiede ©Tristram Kenton

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

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

Manchester Central 6-17 July MIF21

Bloody Elle – A gig musical

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

Written and Performed by Lauryn Redding

Directed by Bryony Shanahan

ROYAL EXCHANGE THEATRE

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

Lauryn Redding. Image by Pippa Rankin

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

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

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

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

Royal Exchange June 23rd – July 17th 2021

INSANE ANIMALS

Bourgeois and Maurice. Image by Drew Forsyth

Written by George Heyworth and Liv Morris

Directed by Philip McMahon

HOME

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

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

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

Emer Dineen in Insane Animals. Image by Drew Forsyth

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

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

HOME 28th Feb – 14th March 2020