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

BEARS


Image by Chris Payne

 

A Powder Keg and Royal Exchange Co-Production

Royal Exchange Studio

The stage looks like a rundown bear pen in a post- apocalyptic zoo. Despite the welcome mat this is clearly no cosy Bear home that Goldilocks has chanced upon. The Bears are styled in the fashion of Mad Max meets well worn patched up teddy bears. They are both bizarre and delightful as they set their dinner table to eat salt and peppered KitKat with knives and forks. These are civilised bears adopting human behaviours in a no longer civilised world.

We want people to see a piece that is about climate change without it preaching to them or without it fearmongering to the point where people just turn away from it. I think that is one of the main reasons a lot of people don’t focus on climate change as one of the overriding problems of the world.
Powder Keg won the 2016 Hodgkiss Award to develop this piece about climate change and conservation. It is not remotely preachy –  especially as the bears do not speak any words. It is however a humorous and at times enchanting look at the impact of consumerist waste. We may smile as the bears playfully try out a variety of aerosol deodorants then casually throw them away. We might be amused as they scramble through boxes of rubbish bearing high street brands like Cafe Nero or Starbucks. The message is however very clear. We have choked the planet with waste to the point where we have been extinguished and now the last animals left know nothing other than to emulate their destroyers.

The physicality and movement of the performers is deft, and effective in evoking the bears in their habitat. The cast have created 3 very watchable bears however the pacing needs some work as the middle 20 minutes flounders needing further dramatic development. The last section picks up pace and with a clever use of lighting and more of an already good soundscape it develops to a striking conclusion.

There are some beautiful moments as the bears play and scavenge and squabble. The most striking moment is perhaps the magical use of fairy lights. Ultimately so poignant and heartrending as they become like barbed wire enveloping  the tragic, bewildered animal.

The use of brightness and darkness works effectively to portray the last gasps of our technological world. The closing scene of the bears downsizing their home bangs home a powerful message about the shrinking icecaps. These bears are the natural descendants of those earlier cuddly eco creatures The Wombles. Sadly 40 years on and we seem to still need reminding that our planet remains in crisis.

Every Brilliant Thing

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THE EDGE THEATRE

A Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company
Cast James Rowland
Writer Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Director George Perrin

You are seven years old and your Dad tells you that your Mum has done a stupid thing. Actually your Mum is in hospital and has just tried to commit suicide. You feel guilty that you’re clearly not enough to make her want to stay alive. You’re seven years old and you need your Mum to want to stay alive. So you start to write a list of every brilliant thing which might just make her want to stay alive.
This a play with perfect pitch. It delivers on every level. What could be mawkish and heavy handed is instead life affirming and delightful. There is unbridled energy in this performance and absolute glee in each interaction but also moments of real affect where Rowland describes the reality of depression on relationships and family and the lasting impact on children.
This award winning play has toured America and Australia as well as Edinburgh Fringe and lots of small regional theatres here. It is a play that could easily run and run as it has a lot to say about life and due to its format every performance will be unique.
There is no big cast or eye catching set or clever lighting to hide behind. There is just a great script and soundtrack, with one actor on stage who is engaging with the audience well before the performance starts and whose impact lingers long after he has left the stage.
This is a uniquely engaging performance in that it exists only through the audience participating in an act of trust and taking on a range of roles on stage. Foreman gives out post it notes or annotated sketches or coffee stained scraps as the audience is first seated. As he calls out the numbers on the papers each participant becomes a part of the performance. Others are deftly engaged as actors voicing roles such as the veterinarian who euthanizes his first pet dog or the narrator’s father or his first love.
The success of each show relies on a willingness to participate that is elucidated by pure charm and warmth. From start to finish this ensures the attention of all involved as we wait for a cue for our part. The result is a theatre space full of energy and life. As the list grows so does the confidence of the participants as we move from the 7 year old child listing-

3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
To the teenager-
994 Hairdressers who listen to what you want.
To the adult in love-
1009 Dancing in public, fearlessly.
9995 Falling in love.
To the man who has known depression and loss-
999998 Inappropriate songs played at emotional moments.
1000000 Listening to a record for the first time……
Adding to the list I write-
1000001 Watching Every Beautiful Thing on a Summer evening at The Edge Theatre.

TOURING

 

 

SCORCH


PRIME CUT PRODUCTIONS

By Stacey Gregg

CONTACT MCR

Happiness. Aching, constant, consuming. On there it’s more real than real life. I’m honest on there. I’m being honest. That’s important”

Out in the real world identity is often a fragile concept, a fluid construct that is subjective and individual to Self. The norms and legislation in Society requires objectivity. The two can make awkward bedfellows, and often produce confusion and misinterpretation especially when looking at gender identity.

The world of online gaming, avatars and messaging can be a haven for those who are confused or conflicted about their identity. Here anything is possible and anyone can be He, She, They or Ryan Gosling.

Amy McAllister is unobtrusively sat in the audience before she begins to snake in her seat as though shedding an unwanted or ill fitting skin or garment. Her movements are painful and beautiful to watch. She pulsates with energy and this begins to look like a interpretative dance performance. 

Then suddenly she moves to sit again in the group and starts to share. Like the confessional space of a therapy group we see an 8yr old girl who favours natty wsistcoats and an 11 yr old frustrated and horrified by burgeoning breasts. Then Kes emerges as a gender confused teenager experiencing online first love in all its bewildering intensity.

Performed in the round this is highly intimate and at times uncomfortably so. The staging is immersive as the audience become  the circle of trust Kes sits in at his LGBTIA support group but later that same circle feels like a threatening courtroom. The lighting in this piece is incredibly important informing when we look at each other and support the performer or when our faces blur and McAllister is alone and vulnerable.

The first half of this performance is funny and joyous as we engage with thie wee Norn Irish lad who embraces with an open heart and a hoodie to hide his girlish ponytail. The beautiful script by Stacey Gregg ensures a sense of understanding as Kes walks an increasingly tenuous line between what is known and what is left unsaid.

The later half quickly descends into the disturbing world of lawyers and courtrooms ill-equipped to deal with a changing society. Here we see the performance darken as a different confusion arises. Do the actions of a gender-confused young person require a lengthy prison sentence or a place on the sex offenders register? This play is based on real life cases such as that of Justine McNally.

SCORCH does not attempt to have all the answers but it raises many important issues. This is a worthy winner of multiple awards and is all the more remarkable emerging from Northern Ireland where only 5 years ago such a group as ours would this evening would have met in a secured room in Belfast’s Psychiatric Unit.

At Contact until 26 May

HEADS UP

HOME

Written and performed by Kieran Hurley

A desk, table top sound equipment, a candle in the darkness and a barefoot man in a suit. The rest is sound. A rich, melodic voice talking, talking, talking. Shifts of tempo, tales of random souls and the drip, drip, drip of impending doom. 

This 2016 Fringe Award winner is hypnotic storytelling but this is no bedtime story by candlelight, it is a ferocious and visceral assault. A tale of an apocalyptic event with a slow burning fuse that fizzes through four lives photoshoped from the media.

Mercy works in Futures and sees Armageddon coming, preaching a warning to others and seeming unhinged in her desperation. Ash is 13 and slut shamed in school, cringing in a toilet cubicle as her fragile teenage identity implodes. Abdullah is stoned and paranoid as he smiles and smiles pouring drinks in a  corporate coffee house. Leon is a coke fuelled pop star saving icebergs and bees in a fugue of media hype while his girlfriend gives birth alone.

These characters are fragmented elements of all of us. Their stories collide and connect and are reframed as the apocalypse shakes down our existence and our humanity. The sonic boom is deafening and seems to go on forever then bleeds into exquisite choral music. As Mercy repeats her mantra What we have is  now everything changes and we adapt as we always have.

Hurley is a gifted writer and a skilful storyteller. There is poetry is every gesture and anguished expression. This is a performance in which he wrings out every drop of self. The result may not be to everyones taste but at best it makes you wake up and really feel alive.
At Home until 20th May then touring.

The Road To Huntsville

20170517_200052.jpgThe Aldridge Studio, The Lowry

Part of WTF Wednesday in association with Word of Warning

Written and performed by Stephanie Ridings

Directed by Jonathon V McGrath

Cute cat GIFs are interspersed with websites for prisoners seeking penfriends or girlfriends or wives. The screen behind Stephanie fills with images of death row prisoners seeking love and a disturbingly literal happy ending. Did you know that the fourth biggest selling Author in the world, Danielle Steele has twice married prisoners? Her second wedding took place in a prison canteen after her fiancé was reincarcerated after cheating on her by raping someone else!

Stephanie is a lovely engaging woman who has just had a certain birthday and lives in Warwick with Stumpy her partner of 12 years and her one eyed fluffy housecat. She has a family with some issues and stressors based in Blackpool. She takes antidepressants but feels they may not be working. She is a performer and likes to research her subject matter thoroughly.

The show uses a blend of screen images and video interspersed with Stephanie telling the story of how she moves from internet research and ordering books from Amazon to corresponding with Jonny incarcerated on death row to being the last image he sees as he receives a lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas.

The brilliance of this performance is Ridings curiosity and how her bewilderment with the women who form relationships with these men moves to her own burgeoning connection with Jonny and his sister. The subject matter is difficult and highly sensitive regardless of how we view the death penalty yet Ridings  is never preachy or judgemental. Sitting in the front row as she sits opposite it feels like having a surreal  coffee with a girlfriend who has just visited death row on her holidays.

The tiny details make the most potent impact in this show- the institutional smell of Jonnys’ letters or the tiny windows in the prison or the view from a diner which faces Huntsville death room to the glorious lake views on the 45 mile trip from Prison to the Huntsville. Ridings has taken a huge personal emotional risk in making this piece of theatre and there are moments of genuine discomfort at her vulnerability and her decision making. The closing screen images of text messages appearing as she is trying to salvage her relationship with her partner are genuinely touching. It reminds us all of how universal is the need for love and connection whether we are at home in a faltering relationship or in solitary confinement on death row.

Moth

Hope Mill Theatre

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Sometimes theatre yields a little bit of magic. There was a buzz and a whizz and and and…….. Imagining how Claryssa and Sebastian would have reacted if they were in the audience for Moth instead of on the stage tonight. This is the stuff of nightmares whether we were once bullied as teenagers or we fear our children might be. Declan Greene creates a sense of the horrors of being teenage misfits and bravely portrays the two young actors  to the audience with no attempt to engage our sympathy or affection.

This is a great production by Ransack Theatre which is visually stunning. The seating of the audience is akin to sitting either side of a gym hall or sports field so we are quickly immersed in the school setting. Floodlights at one end plus a giant cocoon-like duvet and an elaborate cave structure of lights and strobes at the other end. The lighting by Matt Leventhall is seriously impressive for a smaller theatre and is used brilliantly by director Piers Black-Hawkins to convey the disintegration of relationships and ultimately of sanity.

Charlotte Gascoigne is perfect as emo Claryssa who likes poetry and kind of tolerates Sebastian but also rages at the world and can flit from acts of kindness to vicious acts and violence. Sebastian is that weird, hyperactive kid who smells different to us as though our animal selves know to either separate from or simply annihilate such individuals. Interestingly Schizophrenia is one of a handful of medical conditions humans can detect by smell and in early onset often manifests with visual illusions. The strangely tender yet dispassionate moments of spitting into the handkerchief also suggest a sickly boy who may be suffering from cystic fibrosis. This is not going well for Sebastian or Claryssa with or without the gleaming moth of Saint Sebastian.

This is at times confusing and frustrating but somehow that doesn’t really matter. The audience will probably tell very varied stories of what actually happens on stage. The end result is still a brilliantly constructed piece with some stunning physical theatre that pulsates with the light and soundscape. Not to be missed.

Running until April 22nd