ROSE

HOME, Manchester

 

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Written by Martin Sherman

Directed by Richard Beecham

Performed by Janet Suzman

The curtain goes back to reveal a simple wooden bench on which a dimly lit Suzman sits. She informs us that she sitting Shiva. As she sits, we sit. As she speaks we listen. Stillness fills the main theatre space at HOME.  Suzman as Rose commands the stage alone for over 2 hours, and is mesmerizing

Rose is simply one voice and one story picked out and told from a history of displaced people all across the World and all through History. The potency of that one voice telling one story ensures that it feels impossible not to focus and engage. There are no distractions other than subtle touches of music and a beautifully simple  moodscape of  shifting colours as a backdrop.

The first half focuses on Roses early life with her family and her first marriage to the love of her life and the subsequent birth of her daughter Esther. The images of family life and lilac trees and smooth chested men is rich and evocative. As the story moves from  the ‘shtetls’ of Eastern Europe into Nazi occupied Warsaw the memories fragment as the horrors of the ghetto permeate her life.

The second act opens with the stage now filled with benches to sit Shiva. The result is haunting, so many benches for so many dead. The stark white simplicity is reminiscent of the rows of simple crosses marking the graves of  the war dead in so many cemeteries.

Rose is now a business woman, married with a son and speaking with the accent of her adopted country. She speaks of her life in America and the choices she makes about what she recalls and what she suppresses from past memories. Her son and grandchildren continue the theme of displacement and the battle to forge a new nations identity. Her journey from the ill fated Exodus ship and the bright hope of a homeland is tainted by later events in Israel and Palestine. “The milk was slightly sour, the honey a bit tart.”

This is a beautifully crafted script by Martin Sherman and is skilfully directed by Richard Beecham to ensure that Rose is vital and real. The play avoids the stereotypes of Jewish mothers and tells a story from 20th Century history without preaching.  The star of the show is of course Rose and rightly so, Janet Suzman is astounding as this warm yet brittle and wounded survivor. Her performance is subtle and understated but every look and movement is exact and illuminates Rose with depth and clarity.

History repeats itself and Rose has observed a century of the ebb and flow of peoples and their religions and cultures. It is timely that in the 21st Century we are revisiting this play as refugees flee their homes and seek uncertain welcomes and futures elsewhere.

At HOME until 10th June

 

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

Schrödinger

RECKLESS SLEEPERS

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CONTACT MCR

In 1933 Erwin Schödinger won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to Quantum Mechanics. he theorised a box in which a cat exists as living and dead at the same time. In 1998 Reckless Sleepers built that box – and now over a decade later, they are climbing back inside.

Quantum Physics and Mathematics were not my thing at school, thankfully cats, truths, lies, love, Magritte and alcohol were. Experimenters/ Artists Reckless Sleepers reopen Schrödingers famous box and delve in seeking questions and answers. Time ebbs, flows and pulsates as do the objects and the performers. The whole performance flows circling theories and story threads like water eddying in a pool.

The black cubic set is like a mad Goths playground with endless hidden doors and portals. Performers flow in and out or are thrown up and down with the plasticity of rubber boned children. Actions are repeated with methodic rhythm or frenzied intensity as though in some kind of Obsessive compulsive ballet.

There are snowstorms observed and experienced with magical curiosity. Water is sprayed, splattered, guzzled as a sometimes  lifeforce and other times a weapon. Crisp green apples as Magritte painted bring colour, sustenance and scientific creativity. Chalk is scrawled over black walls and suits then rubbed out or washed away. White sheets adorn tables, mold masks for lovers, or become bungee cords or chalk wipes. Numbers represent contacts and change as the 5 performers make contacts with objects. It is entrancing and engaging at every point. Things are happening and can’t always be seen, the result creates a desire as the observer to become plastic and flow with the performance and miss nothing.

Throughout this clever and mesmerising piece of physical theatre runs a pure child energy that is the creative force of all experimentation. It is anarchic and challenging, poetic and balletic and fiecely clever. If my school had had a Schödingers Box and a visit from Restless Sleepers I suspect I would have happily engaged with Physics and Mathematics. “It may seem like we have done this for the first TIME” I’m hoping I haven’t just seen this for the last TIME.

UNTIL 25TH MAY

Good Grief

HOME

Written by Jack Rooke and his Nan 

Performed by Jack Rooke

Jack knows more about death and dying, grief and grieving than most people want to. He has lived through the loss  of his beloved dad when he was 15 and his delightful Gran who helped him develop this show has recently passed away.

This show is a walk through his experience. With a soft humorous voice and a wicked glint in his eyes those much loved family members are present in the room with us as certainly as they flow through his memories and his DNA.

Jack uses storytelling, family film footage and carbs to introduce the audience to death and bereavement. He uses humour to describe the journey through shock and disbelief via slices of  Soreen and custard creams and a multitude of lasagnes filled with Bechamel sauce and awkward pity.

He describes the benefits of a get out of class free card which allowed him to have a weep or a wank but most importantly gave him a badge of honour and acknowledgement of his loss.

This is a lovely piece full of charm and wimsy that feels very natural. There is banter with the audience but is never feels slick or polished. The connection he envokes is genuine but this is not about sharing his grief or fixing it. This is an intimate window into the world of loss and acceptance is an ongoing process. Jack is touring a show that has not “fixed”or “replaced” his losses. It is a means of affirming how shitty death is for those left behind but also how sweet life is when we fill it with laughter and compassion and carbs.

At HOME until 20th May then touring.

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.