THE AUDIT (Or Iceland, A Modern Myth)


Written/Directed by Andrew Westerside

Devised/Performed by Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees

This is the follow up to Proto-type’s last work dissecting contemporary politics. A Machine they’re secretly Building delved into the world of surveillance, whereas The Audit is a razor sharp analysis of the 2008 global financial crisis, viewed as the worst since The Great Depression of 1933. Sharply observed and clever this show feels like part theatre/part podcast/ part Jackanory for grown ups. A heartfelt and thought provoking plea to wake up and look at what is going on around us. An invitation to react and respond rather than just remain ignorant and accepting.

Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees are a great combination and perfect foil for each other. Together they deftly create a strong emotional response evoking shock, anger and clarity around the facts while also subtly provoking awareness of our own acquiescence and willingness to be nurtured towards a false sense of security.

The performance includes original writing that contains some beautiful spoken word and deftly, measured performance, blended with emotive new music and film. Taking the audience from The Great Depression of 1933 to Bill Clinton signing off on deregulating the financial industry in 1999. The subsequent buying up of mortgage bundles that were not always secure, the false assurances to guarantee insurance cover from titans like A.I.G and the assumption that the housing market would continue to boom and the crazed greed of the banks sounds so wildly speculative that it beggars belief that it was allowed to happen. It did.

The Audit focuses on the ordinary people of Iceland, a country that made it’s first radio contact with the world in 1906. It is not a happy story. It is a horror story. Not a nice story. The global crash of 2007/08 left banks such as Lehmans with 619 billion dollar debt, led to the first run on British banks in 150 years and of course crippled Iceland whose three biggest private banks all defaulted with catastrophic consequences. The public protests in Iceland brought down the government and led to the creation of a new Constitutional Assembly which pledged that the country’s resources should belong to the people rather than a select few. Iceland has made a strong economic recovery in the past 10 years.

This probably sounds rather dry and heavy going. The brilliance of Proto-type’s approach is to engage, inform and entertain. I wish our education system made these two women the Trinny and Susannah of make overs in how we educate and inform our young people. They are not preachy but they are passionate. They are never dry and boring but they exude warmth and wit. The clarity and insight here allows for the telling of a modern horror story of greed that resonates with age old folk stories that we should not forget.

The Audit is a chilling and telling reminder of what happens when we forget the lessons of the past and sleep walk through our lives dumbing down and silencing the questions our gut instincts are screaming at us. When the storm is coming what do we do? What can we do? What is possible if we stand together?

Take your pots, take your pans. Bang them! Make the World move…

The Lowry – 28th Feb and touring.

Tour dates

The Newspaper Boy


Written by Chris Hoyle

Directed by Simon Naylor

A Dibby Theatre production

Part of Queer Contact 2018

From start to finish The Newspaper Boy is a real joy to watch. Writer Chris Hoyle has such a natural ear for dialogue and a genuine affection for his characters ensuring they are all warm, earthy and colourful. The look and feel of this production is absolutely 1992 from the iconic television ads to the music of New Order and the clothes by John Richmond and Comme des Garçons. This is a real labour of love and perfectly evokes the joy and the anguish of coming out in the Nineties.

The cast do a great job as an ensemble. Christian is on a high speed trajectory from Moston to Didsbury via the nation’s tv screens and Daniel Maley is great as the naive, awkward boy who may be growing up too fast but is having a brilliant time until the newspapers break the scandal. He has the super confident soap veteran Mandy as his ballsy guide to drugs, clubs and fashion. Hollie-Jay Bowes is totally believable as the sweet ingenue/spoilt brat/faghag who just wants to get wankered and not have another cute guy love her like a fucking sister!! The fifteen year old Christian falls in love with the older boy Max who Sam Retford embodies with charm and genuine honour and sweetness.

Director Simon Naylor directs the sex scenes with genuine tenderness . This is a coming of age in a really special and joyful way that is later brutalized and cheapened by an ignorant media obsessed with the moral high ground and the desire to sell newspapers. When Christian says I’m proud of us it is said with a naivety about the personal, social and possible legal repercussions. Regardless of this Chris Hoyle has written young love in a joyous way that anyone could be proud off.

The older cast members bring additional depth to this story and of course were young people in the Nineties so can draw on their experiences. Eve Steele gives a chilly television executive in Burberry and heels but blisters with her genius take on a Manc drug dealer on the club scene. Samantha Siddall as Christian’s Mum is perfectly cast as the proud parent basking in the glory of a famous child while still worrying for his well-being. Karen Henthorn is just brilliant as the feisty, chain smoking Gran who adores Christian. Her performance shifts from impish to red eyed and broken, with the stuffing knocked out of her as the scandal unfolds.

The staging works really well and built over several levels allows for creative space to move the action on stage across a range of settings. The family home in Moston to soap star Mandy’s place in Didsbury via Flesh night at The Haçienda and the Granada studio offices and the set for famous soap Mancroft Walk. The energy ramps up a gear as a throng of tv crew thrust through the audience to film another scene on set. The audience are watching this unfold on stage while overhead monitors play out the filmed scene. A large tv screen above Christian’s bed shows scenes from the soap as the family watch Christian and Mandy on scene as the young lovers. Interspersed with iconic Nineties ads for Gold Blend and Milky Way the feeling of slipping back 25 years becomes stronger and stronger. It is a clever and impressive use of this small, bustling theatre. 53Two is quickly becoming a hugely exciting space to see theatre in Manchester.

Based on some of Hoyle’s personal experience as a child actor on Coronation Street, this play highlights the hypocrisy of television programming that storylines teenage pregnancy by a teacher but baulks at teenage gay sex with another young man. Staged as part of Queer Contact 2018 this is a funny and poignant take on an important subject.

Images by Richard Kelly

At 53Two until Saturday 24th February

Winter Solstice


By Roland Schimmelpfennig

Translated by David Tushingham

Directed by Alice Malin

This production of Winter Solstice is co-produced by the Orange Tree Theatre and Actors Touring Company. The original production was first staged a year ago and coincided with the inauguration of a certain tow haired individual. Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig as a response to the resurgence of the far right in Europe, it remains an elegantly chilling observation of the dangers of harmful and subversive views infiltrating society and home. As glass after glass of red wine is poured on Christmas Eve so too is the slow and steady drip, drip, drip of poison from the lips of a benign stranger in this family home.

Lizzie Clachan gives us a stage sparsely set with trestle tables and swivel chairs. The tables are messy and disordered with water bottles, grapes, tic tac sweets, and empty plastic tubs and tape. This is the rehearsal room space in a theatre but could be a craft space for children. The performance runs straight through without an interval and is mainly fully lit giving an real sense of eavesdropping on an improvised scene rather rather than watching a play.

The result is curiously engaging. Schimmelpfennig has written this piece so the cast voice all the stage directions and create the sound effects themselves. The result is clever, funny and creative. A dropped glass baubles has the sound of shattering but is a dropped Satsuma squashed underfoot. Juice sprays out instead of shards of glass. Albert pops pills that are grapes or tic tacs. Throughout Alice Malin’s direction (reviving that of Ramin Gray) ensures that the cast are mainly seated on swivel chairs. They glide across stage moving tables to change the staging. This grows the sense of people trapped, unable or unwilling to exercise free will and stand on their own feet. Albert and Bettina are unable to not have Corinna visit each Christmas or curtail the length of her stay, just as they seem unable to leave a unhappy marriage. They are unable to stop a stranger with his suitcase entering their home on Christmas Eve. Perhaps in the same way we the audience are not offered an interval, and even if anyone wanted one, no one in the theatre speaks out.

The cast of five all give strong and compelling performances. They all play flawed characters who are each in their own way unpleasant and mean spirited. Fittingly there are no shining examples of humanity here even though we see parents, grandparents, artists and intellectuals. All are selfish, cruel and philandering and no one seems to have much empathy or kindness. The sinister stranger at the door appears initially to personify the better traits of humanity.

David Beames is excellent as the silken tongued snake who is courteous, benign and benevolent. He personifies the horror of the ingratiating stranger at the table playing music to a mainly rapt audience while his conversation becomes peppered with almost imperceptible Neo-nazi statements. We all seek others to meet our unmet needs from childhood. If what we seek is guidance,reassurance and nurturing, then we are all susceptible. The truly terrifying realisation is that we are all vulnerable to the voice of calm and reason. The insidious charm of a Pied Piper softly whispering as he leads us towards the “Right”path. We have to stop this mixing. This contamination. We had a garden and tgen the aphids came…..Boundaries exist……Beware of aphids.

It is only the hapless and cowardly Albert who as a social historian picks up on the subtle menace of this German doctor from Paraguay. Felix Hayes gives a vivid portrayal of this weak adulterer as he repeatedly unravels and pops pills to try to manage his anxiety and fear. He tries to speak up and expose this stranger/doctor/Butcher of Auschwitz but seen as weak and ineffective, he is unsupported by family and friends. A lone voice in the madness while an innocent child sleeps upstairs.

This dark and clever comedy is never boring. It is a timely lesson in observation and an invitation to really listen and dissect what we hear. With two apparent endings the rehearsal room scene has a crazed Albert lash out and assault Rudolph splashing red wine like blood with the childishly crafted Christmas tree flattened and destroyed. We see Rudolph reveal his true allegiance. Then the alternate staging of a real home with the fairy tale image of a real Christmas tree lit with candles and proper elegant glasses for a toast. Perhaps this really is a move from staged rehearsal to real life on this stage. The chilling image is of the stranger fully accepted. As the last candle is snuffed out, we, the audience are left in darkness. This is a call to arms, to light our own candles, listen to our own voices, heed our conscience. We all need to be watchful and ensure that no one ever has another Christmas in an Auschwitz.

At HOME until Sat 17th February

Narcissist in the Mirror 

Written & Performed by Rosie Fleeshman

Produced & Directed by Sue Jenkins


This one woman show by Rosie Fleeshman dazzles from start to finish. The set alludes to the plush dressing room of a Hollywood Diva. The opening track Youre Gorgeous by Babybird nicely frames this piece about a girl who craves adulation and success as best daughter, lover, actress and grammar Nazi.

This is a real gem with sparkling prose, well judged in its blend of dark pathos and gutsy humour. Fleeshman charms and repels with equal flare without ever losing her audience. The standing ovation is well deserved as throughout she uses acutely observed images to enthrall a rapt audience before swiftly making us laugh out loud her wry, blunt humour

The narrative feels authentic  throughout so even her references to her family feel true even when most raw and unflattering. In the end this makes the piece all the stronger as the self awareness and lack of self pity suggest a family that is ultimately flawed but also close and strong- her mother, actress Sue Jenkins is producer and director. The dynamics and dramas of a family of actors is vivid and this narrative could easily lend itself to an excellent novel as well as a play.

The stories of first fumblings, real love and the rabbit hole of Tinder as a means to fill a void are artfully portrayed. The prose is just great as Fleeshman paints domestic images and dating vignettes with the care and precision she doubtlessly painted her tiny London flat with Street Symphony No2. 

Life as a trained actress who is an actor waiting to act is described with no self pity but tells a poignant story of every casting call opening a door on another life then giving the key to someone else. 

Writing Narcissist in the Mirror may have been an exercise in self therapy and healing as well as a means of taking control of her career. The woman on stage is too self aware to really be a Narcissist but she is certainly a perfectionist and probably her own harshest critic. There has been all the  waiting and the yearning to be seen, really really seen and accepted. I really hope as she takes her bows that she truly recognises that she can skip to her own beat and certainly disarm with ability.

At HOME 16/17th January PUSH2018 

5 Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist 



Having sat down in Theatre 2 at HOME I have a quick introduction to Sam who is politely engaging with a number of audience members. We exchange names and pleasantries before Sam heads to the microphone on stage. This winner of Total Theatre Award for an Emerging Company/Artist 2017 is also Sleepy Boy who wants to suck cock, 22, bisexual in E1. 

Welcome to Sam who is curious about how he engages with others in the world and how humans connect with each other especially in a technologised world. Standing barefoot on stage in t-shirt and dungarees he appears slightly vulnerable but also quite detached from the words he speaks as he leads us through 5 sexual encounters with various men.

There is a lot of audience participation and although Sam is keen to create a “safe” and “democratic” space for this theatrical exploration/group therapy session, I am not certain how comfortable or safe everyone actually was. Of course theatre is there to push boundaries and allow for new experiences but there were moments when boundaries may have have blurred between cooperation and coercion. The intriguing aspect of this is how conscious or not Sam and the participants were as this is also a performance about power dynamics in relationships.

There are some endearing moments in this piece such as when Sam sits on a picnic rug with a participant. They feed each other grapes as he asks questions from the 36 Questions that lead to Love based on the work of psychologist Arthur Aron and others. The theory is that humans can accelerate intimacy by mutual vulnerabilty or sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure. Demonstrations of romance and emotional intimacy are evoked in various creative ways alongside the cool, factual descriptions of perfunctory sexual acts.

There are other elements that seem to work less well such as some of the props the participants are told to use on stage that seem like random, naive ideas that are irrelevant to the actual performance. The nudity also felt slightly awkward, not because it was nudity on stage but simply because it seemed unnecessary at that point in the narrative.

The overall sense of 5 Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist is of a piece that is still evolving as the performer absorbs more from each audience and possibly from the contents of the boxes on stage holding the answers to Question 22. Watching this pale, blond young man in his simple attire made me think of the David Bowie character in The Man Who Fell to Earth who walked quietly amongst us as an Alien absorbing and reflecting on what makes us human. 

At HOME as part PUSH2018 til Wed 17th January 

The Manchester Project


Monkeywood Theatre Company 

Director: Martin Gibbons

The Manchester theatre company Monkeywood have created The Manchester Project as a celebration of Manchester and what it means to be Mancunion. Manchester is home to all the 19 writers and the actors involved and fittingly it is being performed at HOME.
On the stage are a series of simple white cubes and hexagonal blocks which evoke the honeycombs of a hive in which the Manchester we know interconnects and holds our creative worker bees/Mancunions. The bee has been  our symbol since The Industrial Revolution and adorns the mosaic floors of our Town Hall, our public bins and the tattooed skin of a community resilient in the face of terrorism. 

It is easy to think of the Manchester we know as portrayed by Coronation Street or on the music tours with The Haçienda and The Salford Lads Club or the rousing poetry of Tony Walsh or Mike Garry. What Monkeywood have done is to give a voice to the wider arena of the whole city spread across 19 tiny plays that criss cross the City from Chorlton to Droylsden to Middleton to Rusholme and back to its core the City Centre. 

First up is Reuben Johnson performing his own piece Little Hulton. Opening with a blast of fresh energy he moves across the platforms recreating the playgrounds of his childhood like a bee between flowers. This beautiful, questioning piece conveys a sense of attachment- we may leave this city but it has the power to pull us back.

Reuben Johnson – Little Hulton

There are five actors on stage and 19 plays. It is astonishing and impressive how the actors power through such a range of varied pieces without pause or break. There is a lot to take in as each tiny play is packed with poetic imagery. The brevity ensures that each writer wants to make every single work count and create impact.  The direction by Martin Gibbons creates a sense of flow which is seamless and elegant. The music used is a smattering of iconic tracks opening with Joy Division Love Will Tear Us Apart and ending with Buzzcocks Ever Fallen In Love. The Manchester bands and the buzz of a solitary bee mesh these little gems into a cohesive whole.

We flit to Levenshulme where the tone is gritty and sarky and the image is of meat raffles and possible hook ups at the weekly nude bathing sessions. James Quinn and Curtis Cole are clearly relishing the words of writer Gareth George. Prestwich by Becky Prestwich brings the lions of Heaton Park and the largest mental asylum in Europe. Eve Steele really shines as she evokes the sense of being different or other whether in spirit, religion or ethnicity.

Timperley conjures up the iconic Frank Sidebottom while Rusholme revisits the bee with the black and yellow uniform of a school born from Manchesters’ proud history of female emanicapation. Rebekah Harrison’s Droylsden is a poetic, tender and evocative portrait of a young soldier not forgotten by his community. Meriel Schofield and James Quinn bring quiet dignity to a piece that reminds us of the losses and sacrifices that run deep in the story of every community. 

Old Trafford glimpses the memory of the cosy domesticity of a couple in their first home with an image of a couple dancing in their kitchen while over in Burnage a cab meter is running and there’s Sunday dinner at Our Kids. In Middleton we queue in Tommy’s Chippy with writer Chris Hoyle who vividly portrays small minds, small town chatter as he prepares for his escape to the City centre via the newly “done up” bus terminal. A young homosexual given joyous opportunities to explore in Canal Street.

Chris Hoyle – Middleton

Didsbury reminds us of Manchester’s rich, musical heritage where everyone seems to have a story in their front room. Samantha Siddall explores heritage and what we hold dear in our community in Denton as a town planner looks at the outcome of his work. Chorlton has the largest public graveyard in Europe as Becky Garrod recalls family strolls and rituals. Withington sees James Quinn relish the closure of Greggs as Pasta La Vista as old and new businesses try to co-exist in the community.

Ian Kershaw writes poignantly of Harpurhey with the racist comics in The Embassy Club and the horrific burning of the local dogs home. The tram stop at Cornbrook is a bleak, blank canvas yet peel back the layers of history and Eve Steele and Sarah McDonald Hughes see Pomona Palace with the magic of lions and tigers in its pleasure gardens. 

Cathy Crabb takes us back in time to a pub in Failsworth where Meriel Scholfield brillantly evokes a truly beautiful man Ernie Jump, whose front teeth are fashioned from Scrabble blocks. In Moss Side despite stereotypical expectations Curtis Cole conveys kindliness and humour and carnivals without the risk of being shot or sodomized! Sarah McDonald Hughes deftly paints Flixton as having little of merit bar differing sized fields yet there is still fun to be had in a place where nothing happens. 

Eve Steele – City Centre

The closing piece by Eve Steele is of course the City Centre and what a celebration it is. I fucking love town. It is a passionate love poem to Manchester city centre for being my place as a mad little punk. My second home. 

The Manchester Project is glorious. It is a five star theatrical TripAdvisor for Manchester. Like the honey from a bee it is a sticky, messy, sweet and golden stream that glues us together as Mancunians. 

At HOME January 12th and 26th as part of PUSH2018.

Portrait Photographer – David Fawcett



Written & Performed by Keisha Thompson

Directed by Benji Reid

Man on the Moon explores the mysteries of how we connect to others in the World. Is it gravitational force or a random fluke that makes we feel at ease with a total stranger in a supermarket on the 192 bus or fear them as a potential threat to our well being? How can some of us snuggle up securely on the sofa with a parent while others feel adrift and disconnected from their father with no clear map to bring possible reunion? In this one woman show Keisha Thompson uses storytelling, poetry, looped sounds and song to explore father/daughter relationships and the impact of potential barriers such as family ruptures, culture, religion and mental health.

This is impressive work with lots of subtle layers and a real depth of intelligence, determination and vulnerability. The spoken word is beautiful and evocative and is well supported by a soundscape that is never overwhelms the piece. Likewise the lighting by Andrew Crofts and Benji Reid complements the emotional and physical journey the story takes from preparing to board the 85 bus in Whalley Range to eventually reaching Rusholme via the 192 in Winter.

The staging is dominated by piles of books, numerology charts and a shabby cream vinyl sofa. Nothing is wasted – the charts open up conversation with the audience about numerology, which introduces the complexities of a father whose identity shifts with every new name. The many books serve as a communication device for her father to connect with his child, but also tell the story of a father who wants his daughter to “go much further than I did.” The range, complexity and occasional inappropriate elements of their content also create a growing sense of a fractured mind and it’s impact – good and bad- on the recipient. When these book are ordered and reordered on stage or thrown up in the air to fall where gravity chooses there is a growing sense of how they also represent our thought processes. They are an attempt to make sense of ourselves and how we fit in this world, to explore in their pages or in our own thoughts – what is reality  or fantasy – sane or insane. 

The bus journey is inspired as it allows for exploration of cultural perceptions in a diverse community. The journey also evokes a sense of Aboriginal Songlines as it looks at both indigenous memory code and the real fear of inherited mental health problems. 

The placing of the visit near Christmas also connects us all with familial obligations and the trepidation/anticipation of duty visits to sometimes difficult relatives. The theme of the gifting of books as a connector also reminds us of we interpret the meaning behind any gift. Out of the books scattered around or piled up, perhaps the most hopeful and poignant was Thomas  A Harris  I’m Ok – You’re Ok.

There is a genuinely positive sense of this piece using creativity as a means to mental health well being and as a form of social action in a society where the current limitations of social workers, hospitals and police create huge gaps in the support of vulnerable people.

The final scenes are visually arresting as we literally see an unhinged mind open up in front of us. However this is no nightmare but a delightful child’s dreamscape evoking playfulness, magical thinking and possible redemption. This is a truly stellar show about how some emotional relationships can seem as unreachable as the Moon.

21 – 25 Nov CONTACT

Tour details