DUCKIE 

CONTACT

Writer/ Performer – Le Chocolat Gateau

Produced/Developed – In Company Collective

There are moments when I wish I could rewind time with my children and go back to when they were very young. Today was such a day, watching the gorgeous DUCKIE I wished my teenage darlings were ten years younger and there in the audience with me. This show is a wonderfully deft merging of cabaret, children’s theatre, fairy tale reimagining and a big dollop of old Hollywood magic.

Cabaret performer and Opera singer Le Gateau Chocolat takes the much loved tale of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson and goes to the circus to seek out soulmates for this lonely misfit, the runt of the litter. To the delight of the child in all of us, the mischievious performer portrays a duck who cannot quack but belches instead. His lonely duckie can’t quack or dance, he is too small to be a muscleman and too big, too yellow, too tall…… DUCKIE would seem to be a duck who is seriously down on his luck.

The voiceover which speaks to DUCKIE and at times the audience is soothing and reassuring- a bit like having Judy Dench voicing your bedtime story. The rest is simply the gorgeous baritone voice of Le Gateau Chocolat which is like having your senses bathed in warm chocolate fondant. The songs often tweaked to fit the story range from Disney classics through to The Pussycat Dolls Don’t cha and La Cage Aux Folles I am what I am to Cyndi Laupers Girls just want to have fun. 

Visually the set is deceptively simple but with dressing up clothes tucked away and bright umbrellas popping out it holds gems of surprise.  The lighting design is magical and reminds me of the country village circus tours of my childhood. Throughout his costume changes there is always the fluid physicality, warmly, gleaming eyes and glittery lips. This is a performer who is totally at ease with his audience, both young and simply young at heart. It would be hard not to be drawn into DUCKIE’S world and empathise with his plight. 

When the insults come increasingly thick and fast and the voicing of them sounds more and more like children the true dark background to the story shines through. DUCKIE is rendered small, wounded  and vulnerable as he looks out in confusion at a world that will not let him belong. His salvation through a beautifully rendered little mouse is touching and ensures a fairytale happy ending. We shun or ridicule what is “ugly” not because it’s ugly but simply because it is different. DUCKIE delivers a message of acceptance and tolerance that resonates with adults and sews a seed in young children that hopefully blossoms in every new generation. 

CONTACT 24-25 OCTOBER 

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

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

The Marriage of Kim K

Music by Stephen Hyde

Libretto by Leoe Hyde

53Two

real live actual couple sit on a sofa drinking wine and bickering over what to watch on telly. A string quartet and a barefoot keyboard player play Mozart. It could be Gogglebox The Opera. Indeed it might have been if Leoe &  Hyde had thought of it.

Instead these intrepid boys weave centuries old opera with popular celebrity culture. The Marriage of Figaro meets A marriage of Kim Kardashian. This should be a car crash affair of which the least said the better. Thankfully the end result is fresh, fun and really rather clever.

The music moves well between genres and sounds great. Echo Chamber are a talented bunch who I heard earlier this year at a MIF17 Festival in my Home. The overall impact is polished and impressive. The piece would really shine in a larger venue to allow for better acoustics for such a big sound

The staging is very effective with the central sofa and telly creating the focus of the piece. If we use populist reality docusoaps as a means of escape are we just relaxing or are we disengaging from our lives? 

Real life couple Amelia and Stephen may or may not squabble over the remote control in private but like most couples they will sometimes stop listening with their hearts because their heads are full of stressful thoughts.

When all 3 couples occupy the stage the performance is at times sublime and surreal. It can also frustrate as clever lines get lost as couples are singing over each other. This works as a device to demonstrate the cacophony of our modern media obsessed world but at times detracts from some fine performances. 

Visually it’s fab and frothy. The central couple are authentic and well developed with Amelia Gabriel giving a standout performance. Kim and Kris are suitably trashy and raunchy and played with OTT relish- great fun. The Count and Countess look and sound stunning, and the costumes are fabulous. The attention to detail is really impressive and adds real depth to how the show looks on stage.

By combining Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries 72 day lovefest/marital car crash with the Count and Countess in The Marriage of Figaro we see nothing really changes. Two hundred plus years on we still fall in love, we still disappoint and are disappointed. We will always have lavish peacocks and steadfast wrens. The music may vary but at its heart the beat remains the same.

Showing July 3,4,10,11,15,16,17 July

Moving to Edinburgh Fringe

A Spanish Adventure

THE EDGE THEATRE

Written and Directed by Janine Waters

Music and Lyrics by Simon Waters 

“Welcome to the mass movement of giving a toss about stuff” Julie Hesmondhalgh, Patron, The Edge.

It’s 1936 and the far right are threatening the existence of a small family run art centre in the days before the Spanish Civil War.  It is an easy leap to today and the ongoing erosion of arts Funding in Britain. Community Arts organisations such as The Edge do battle every day to keep their doors open and get funding to make Art that really makes a difference.

Today was testament to when it all comes together and something wonderful happens. This afternoon a welcoming Dressing Room cafe and a flowery garden and cosy red theatre space was filled to capacity to celebrate The Arts Council money being well spent. The 3 year association between The Edge and The Booth Centre has flourished. 

The Booth Centre Theatre Company filled the space with drama, music, dance and mime. The show was funny, clever and provocative throughout. The cheers and claps at the end were not polite but well earned and infectious. 

I talked to one of the especially impressive performers afterwards. Catherine Bowen-Colthurst has both volunteered at The Booth Centre and been a service user. The benefits and opportunities in theatre which she has experienced are obvious. As is her quiet delight in her involvement and the diligence and talent which she brought to her performance.

The afternoon ended in Patron Julie Hesmondhalgh opening the new studio space as The Edge adventure on another day and hopefully never have to close their doors through lack of funding.

Saturday 17th June

I Capture the Castle

Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Book : Dodie Smith

Adaptation and Lyrics : Teresa Howard

Music : Steven Ellis

Director  : Brigid Larmour

Five years in development this is the musical adaptation of a much loved coming of age novel. It is surprising that it has taken almost 60 years to produce a musical on stage as Smith herself an accomplished playwright adapted her book as a ‘play with musical notes’ in 1954. A labour of love by Larmour and her collaborators it is an enjoyable affair but sadly not terribly satisfying. 

Set in Suffolk in the mid 1930s it is narrated by its heroine the sweet but fiercely perceptive Cassandra. She aspires to be a writer and through her journal seeks to literally ‘capture’ the crumbling castle and its inhabitants. Her family the Mortmains are an eccentric bunch in the book but here they become faded characters stepping bleary eyed from the dusty pages of the original book.

James Mortmain, Cassies father, hides away in the turrets struggling with chronic writers block. Author of a successful and revered piece of literature he has written nothing for 10 yrs. Topaz his wild and bohemian  second wife is a former artists model who floats around making oatcakes to feed her impoverished family. The actors are severely limited by the script. When a major song for Ben Watson suggests his passion and adoration for his ‘very particular girl” it jars as though it speaks of characters from another stage. There is little sign of the delicious Topaz floating around wearing nothing but her boots or of a frustrated genius who has written the equivalent of Joyce’s Ulysses. This weakens the plotline. We never really get to see what Cassie sought to capture or understand the importance of nurturing a great second book beyond monetary gain.

Lowri Izzard is delightful in her professional debut singing beautifully and capturing the essence of Cassie. She shines and this coupled with weaknesses in the script and in the performances of her sister, their American suitors and her friend Stephen mean that it is hard to care about the other younger characters. The older women blaze a trail across the stage bringing energy and waspish humour. The standout number has to be ‘They’re only men’ delivered with gusto by Julia St John and Shona White. 

 The music is always good and effectively evokes both the countryside and the castle, and the glamour of the city.  The dance routines and use of physical theatre do not always work. They can  seem under rehearsed or poorly conceived especially when they are all in London dancing barefoot and Stephen is just wearing an overcoat like a would be flasher or when we see a randon human gargoyle who looks more like a hoodied thief trying to raid the castle.

The visual portrayal of the castle is a chaotic heap of old spindly furniture which is witty and memorable. It towers over the performers like a crazy croque-en-bouche at a buffet.

There is a lot to enjoy but it somehow fails to deliver what was originally intended. This was intended to take a classic book and give it the flavour of LaLa Land success with a nod to An American in Paris and Oklahoma. Good intentions but perhaps too many ingredients and cooks in the mix. 

At Oxford Playhouse 16-20 May