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


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


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