MAN ON THE MOON 


CONTACT 

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

The Value of Nothing 

Waterside Arts Centre, Sale

Written by Kim Wiltshire 

Directed  by Joyce Branagh

This is a very slick looking production. Right from the point at which we are escorted upstairs to the oak panelled conference room by smiling staff clad in Artworks t-shirts this feels like a genuine launch of something – be it an organisation or a new play!

On entering the space I am asked who I am and given an appropriate file enclosing a pertinent question or statement relevant to the production. I am a journalist from The Guardian and have a rather probing question for the man of the moment Mr Vince Hill. The tightly packed rows of corporate  chairs, the big screen, the glossy company billboards and the hospitality areas all look very authentic. 

The staging effectively takes the audience backstage as observers of the seedy reality behind this glossy launch event but also has us participate front of stage as a theatre audience, and as the participants, business representatives and journalists here for the launch. 

As Vince makes his rockstar entrance moving through the audience  giving high fives and randomly touching people it all starts to feel a little unpleasant. He is the face of Artworks here to prove that Artworks because Art Works.  He is ably supported by his shallow and ruthless companion Michelle who has a skin as thick as the leather on her expensive handbag. Clearly what has started out as a well meaning grassroots projects has been hijacked as a money making vanity project.

We hear from participants of the Artworks scheme who are keen to state they are artists not scallies.  We see videos of well wishers including Councillor Smethurst who successfully nominated Artworks for a Pride of Bolton Award. There are short films from an unemployment workshop with interviews from participants. There is a growing sense that the numbers don’t add up and Artworks is not going to eradicate poverty and unemployment.

Moving on to the staged questions from the audience as potential investor businesses and as zealous members of the press, here the action unravels slightly. The Value of Nothing hints at being both site specific and immersive yet although visually this works it felt disappointing being in the audience when statements and questions did not facilitate any further involvement. This stilted the energy and stopped the performance really getting to grips with the political issues it aims to address.

There are some strong performances from Curtis Cole as the real deal Mikey and the always excellent Samantha Siddall as the gritty mum to be who loves Vince but is not fooled by this con masquerading as social enterprise. Their scenes are the most cohesive and Mikey’s verbal annilhilation and actual devouring  of the class divided hospitality buffet is inspired.

This is a performance with a genuine social conscience which seeks to address some major issues around unemployment, poverty and the opportunities open to us dependent on social class and education. It certainly provides food for thought – and custard creams. 

GREYHOUNDS


Time & Again Theatre Company 

Kings Arms

Greyhounds is a big play for such a tiny theatre space. Thankfully Laura Crow has written and staged Greyhounds so effectively that for most of the performance the tiny stage is forgotten in that the writing and the performances are what command attention. Set over a month long rehearsal for an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Henry V it gives a poignant and perceptive window into the impact of WW11 on individuals in the sleepy village of Shuttlefield.

Each of the five characters are fleshed out and have an real authenticity as people in 1941 living in wartime Britain and dealing with their individual responses to war. Big sister Ruby is stoic and gungho in her determination to do her “bit” for the war effort. Armed with a sneaky gin or two she sets about staging Henry V to raise money for a Spitfire for the war effort. She is undeterred by a cast of five plus recreating a play with a cast of fifty plus. Nancy is a would-be professional actress with a husband in the Navy. Bright and bubbly, Rachel Horobin portrays her as a wartime “good” goodtime gal who rejoices in her independence . Katherine is brilliantly analytical and terrifyingly literal. The character is beautifully conceived as the young  sister who is clearly on the autistic spectrum. She is played by Laura Crow with the chilly coolness of a early Katherine Hepburn.

The men in this piece are slightly more obvious. There are two very different heroes who are both struggling with what constitutes courage and honour in wartime. In Will there is a clever, sensitive man trying to stay true to his beliefs in a war where nothing is truly black and white. Ned is perceived by all as a wounded war hero but his emotional wounds are much deeper and are unlikely to ever fully heal.

The passages from Henry V in the rehearsals are thoughtfully used to develop and highlight the individual stories of each character on stage. They also provide a light touch as we observe the range of acting skills in this bunch of mainly reluctant thespians. At times Katherine is as woefully wooden in her roles as the swords used as props.

The attention to detail in the whole play is a delight. The dialogue has a real period tone that manages to always feel fresh and naturalistic. The wartime posters, period gin bottles, bakelite phones and radios are on stage while the audience clasp beautiful programmes designed like wartime i.d. cards. Hair, make up and costumes are also lovingly considered.

The play unfolds with little gems of story. A character lives a life of duty and obligation yet dreams of the work of Frida Pablo and Diego Rivera. Another fears the end of this war and a return to a bleak domestic normality. Others look for salvation in new opportunities, the lucky ones in this war are those for whom war gives openings to natural abilities previously seen as character flaws.

 I see you stand like greyhounds in the slip, straining upon the start. This line from Henry V is apt as a title in that all five characters are straining for new freedoms and opportunities. I suspect the writing is also straining to start her next work. I for one look forward to whatever that may be.

We Are Ian

In Bed With My Brother

HOME 

Ian is real, so real it turns out he is sat in the audience tonight. For the show he remains a voice pulsating as a bare lightbulb, while he reminisces  about the Manchester rave scene of the Eighties. Three young women crowd around the bulb listening to his Mancunion words of wisdom like he is a Messiah and they are his disciples of dance. Ian says, “Its 2017, we got fuck all. Let’s have a party. Party like it’s 1989.”

The show is a blend of thumping music, smoke machines and frenzied dancing to club classics like Hallelujah – The Happy Mondays.  There is projection screen with dance instructions, lyrics and footage of political speeches and events from the last 30 years. The performers do lots of lip syncing and are incredibly facially expressive yet barely speak. The gurning and munching and spitting of so many biscuits is bizarrely completely engaging. 

This is a mainly young audience who like IBWMB were not even born when Ian was raving, getting wankered and feeling the love on brown biscuits. Quick learners they follow Ian’s journey and it’s a fun trip to take with neon instructions for Hot Potato/Cold Spaghetti. Fun til the politics kick in and images of Thatcher and May appear in black, white and grey to the sound of Dominator by Human Resource. They are interspersed with footage of the old Hulme being demolished and Anti-Austerity marches etc. This is a timely history lesson about the unifying power of music and dance and its impact on civil unrest.

Dora, Nora and Kat (IBWMB) repulse and beguile in equal measure but by the end of the show I might just be a little in love with all three, biscuits crumbs included. Their capacity to physically engage with the audience is impressive as by the end of the performance they generate a love in the space that their mate Ian would approve off. They even manage to do it without illegal brown biscuits!!
We Are Ian is a masterclass in clubbing and a political call to wake up and make change happen. The end of the performance is pure exuberance and the scenes on stage may be my best ever memory of being in a performance.

Until October 14.

BOURGEOIS & MAURICE: HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD WITHOUT REALLY TRYING


HOME
Drag aliens have descended on Theatre 2 at HOME and an audience of humansexuals are there for the anarchic Weimaresque cabaret. These drag aliens are rocking some serious sequins, latex, beehives and lashes. They are also strangely reminiscent of Ana Matronic and Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters being channelled via AbFab Patsy and Julian Clary.  

The performers are the first to receive the HOME  T1 Commission which will result in a creative development project leading to new piece of work in Theatre 1 in Spring 2019.

Georgeouis Bourgeouis (George Herworth) is an acerbic, bitchy, narcissistic cabaret singer who is an armchair activist. Maurice Maurice (Liz Morris) is a deadpan, piano playing nihilist who aspires to become simply gas. Bougeouis & Maurice are full on throughout the performance. They never break character even when talking to their multiple other selves on screen. 

The performance is a riotous blend of wickedly funny songs and sharp observations on our current political landscape. The drag aliens have studied and googled our society and having decided that all the other political isms have failed they suggest adopting their own brand of hedonism.

Subjects such as flawed British values, Brexit, patriarchy and chemsex are covered in unforgettable songs. I drove home humming the classic “everyone’s at a chemsex party except me”- available on Spotify.

This is slick delivery underpinned by layers of carefully conceived detail and precise observations. The rousing anthem was no saccharine song of hope but was an inspired and a perfect way to close a show about saving the world. If cabaret is really the last frontier then what a way to go. 

10/11 October

PALMYRA

HOME ORBIT2017

Written and Performed by Bernard Lasca and Nasi Voutsas

Bert and Nasi performed their 2016 show Eurohouse about an hour ago so it feels like I already know these two charming pals or clowns or maybe I’m just beginning to have a sense of what they could be capable off. 

The stage is set as simply as before with two chairs set far apart. What enfolds is on a larger scale than EUROHOUSE and adds a ladder, boards on wheels and china plates, in fact boxes and boxes of broken china plates. Oh and there is a hammer too.

Hauntingly beautiful music inspires a dance where Bert and Nasi literally glide to the music. There is scuffling, destruction and bargaining. This is bigger than the hopeful formation of the European Union and its subsequent splintering as seen in EUROHOUSE. Instead  Palmyra is a painful look at the making and breaking of an ancient civilisation. The piece looks at how complicit we all are in the preservation or devastation of a community, a society or a culture. 

Bert and Nasi flit in and out of civility, acts of  intimidation and literally trying to brush the ugliness and damage out of sight. What started out in EUROHOUSE as disturbingly dark clowning is rapidly becoming more violent and unpredictable in this piece. When one of them threatens the other with a hammer it is then offered to an audience member for safe keeping. Choices become central. Who do you choose to entrust it with? I was contemplated and duly rejected. The keeper of the hammer is faced with what to do next or who to give it back to. 

These two are lovely guys or they might just be Tom & Jerry in human form. Their work together is exciting and provocative creating much needed dialogue about the world we live in.

Palmyra will never be glued back together like a broken plate, nor can those lost lives be revived. Yet we can still react and respond. We can defy expectation and we can try to be better. Perhaps there is still hope for us all if we can still hand some stranger a hammer and anticipate empathy and goodwill rather than large scale carnage.

EUROHOUSE

HOME, ORBIT2017

Created and performed by Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas

Co-produced by FellSwoop Theatre

From the moment they step on stage it is clear that Bert is a just a little bigger, more confident and sophisticated in every way  than the delightfully sweet Nasi. The audience is swiftly engaged in greeting them and each other, before we all hold hands. The govial assumption being that this will be good for all of us. Tellingly I happily hold hands with the lovely Nasi but soon my arm starts to ache held up at an unfamiliar angle. He smiles. I smile. I show no sign of discomfort. It is a lovely concept that is ultimately unsustainable. 

This is EUROHOUSE. The clowning, running and dancing together is joyous and mainly harmonious until a darker edge starts to appear. Competitive elements in our personal and national psyches start to infilitrate the piece. Run fast, yes really fast but not too fast- never go faster than me and I will reward you.

Bert happily shares his sweets with Nasi encouraging and delighting in greedy pleasure. Later almost menacing he asks where the sweets are and clearly wishes them returned. It starts to feel claustrophobic in the space as Nasi has less and less options. There remains the bare vestiges of civility while food is literally taken from his mouth and the clothes from his back. The bonhomie of this functional friendship is cracking and Nasi starts to assert his individuality.

The show had opened with Bert confiding  that he will be controlling the sound and lighting for the evening  as if to give the nice staff at HOME a break. It is now apparent that the agenda here is control not support.  

This is cleverly illustrated by the music choices played ad finitum by Bert who insists on a cloying diet of Sardou’s classic Comme d’habitude (My Way) and Kraftwerks Europe Endless. As an audience we are invited to also choose a song, as is Nasi, though neither get played by the charming Bert. When Nasi defiantly ramps up the volume on Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way I want to sing along- something I never do! It is a momentary small victory but it feels so good.

The spirit of EUROHOUSE is in sharing and playing and growing just like in the playground when we start to make the friends or enemies we must share a classroom with for the rest of our education. EUROHOUSE brings together performers from France and Greece who met in Scotland. They were part of two different companies FellSwoop and ANTLER. This performance is a bittersweet warning for us all in the aftermath of Brexit. We all need support and friendship but at what cost?