Narcissist in the Mirror 

Written & Performed by Rosie Fleeshman

Produced & Directed by Sue Jenkins

HOME

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 

YESYESNONO 

HOME

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

HOME

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

Hot Brown Honey

HOME

Briefs Factory presents Hot Brown Honey 

Six vibrant First Nation women wearing identical shellsuits on a stage dominated by a huge gleaming, pulsating honeycomb hub. Our MC is Busty Beatz  (Kim Bowers) a co-founder of Hot Brown Honey and she is loud and  proud and magnificent towering above everyone astride the honey dome. Below is the other founder, Director and Choreographer Lisa Fa’alafi who I met briefly as I took my seat in the theatre. These women are chatty and welcoming as they stroll  around the aisles before the show. They are upfront and direct, almost immediately the audience is told a collection toward their childcare will be passing through the aisles because as Lisa says The Revolution can not happen without  childcare. 

Suddenly the performance ramps up the energy. I can’t fully hear everything. I’m blinking as the lights flash powerfully on the honeycomb dome. The performers are hi octane and nothing is going to stop them. It’s too loud!! It’s too bright!!! It’s too……DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET. WAKE UP. GET ON BOARD. ROCK THE BOAT. THIS MAY JUST BE THE TRIP OF YOUR LIFE.

There is zero tolerance of stereotyping as MC Beatz quotes from the 2009 TEDTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The Danger of a Single Story. There are no single stories here and this is reinforced by a show that defies any genre. This is burlesque, cabaret, song, beatboxing, hip hop, poetry, hula hooping, aerial silks, sermon and comedy. This is an EVENT and like its orchestrators it cannot be pigeonholed.

This is an intelligent, passionate celebration of womankind in all its colours, shapes and creeds of politics, religion and sexuality. There is a strong burlesque influence running through all aspects of this show. This is burlesque as gender politics defying any attempts at body shaming. Women standing proud and celebrating perfect boobs, giant inflatable  boulder boobs, pussies that may or may not have  seen childbirth, giant padded feline pussies, bodies curvy or lean, skin that gleams or has cellulite or skin blemishes. Women using burlesque to own their own bodies using the frequent vivid costume changes to drive the stories. Fa’alafi describes the experience as the decolonisation of our thoughts and inhibitions. The poet and playwright Maya Angelou was also a burlesque dancer in her early years; and it a very powerful tool of expression and liberation.

There are group sequences ramming home the message We Are Not Maids. Shellsuits are shed to reveal cheeky Princess Megan t-shirts then shed again to reveal maid costumes. MC Beatz dons a massive Afro for the anthem Don’t Touch My Hair.  Fa’alafi delights with a reverse striptease parodying the fantasies of bare breasted Polynesian maidens in grass skirts. This is no coy blushing maiden or unskilled island girl. Our Lisa is surrounded by leaves but deftly fashions shoes and bags like a fashion forward icon. The glorious voice of ‘Ofa Fotu rips apart the James Brown anthem It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World while she wears a stifling costume that clearly alludes to a golliwog doll. Elena Wangurra battles the confines of the Australian flag and triumphantly emerges as a superhero in the vivid colours of the Aboriginal flag. The beat box skills of Hope One pound through the speakers while Crystal Stacey spins hoola hoops with the dexterity that most women multi task. Domestic violence is portrayed in a way that is gut wrenchingly shocking. Crystal Stacey performance was my personal highlight as she escaped violent assault by using aerial silks. Her performance was exquisite and horrifying and incredibly poignant. Literally hanging by a thread this was a truly visceral evocation of desperation, determination and resilience. We do this for the Women who cannot speak. We are taught that silence will save us. But we will make noise.

The Speaker of this Hive asks Will you stay the same or rock the boat? The Hot Brown Honey mantra throughout this amazing show is DECOLONISE AND MOISTURISE or as Faalafi  says We want to decolonize the World , one stage at a time. The audience are on their feet dancing. The atmosphere is electric. The Party Manifesto is clear and this is one party you won’t want to miss.

HOME until Saturday 23rd Dec

REAL MAGIC

HOME

Director Tim Etchells

Devised with and Performed by Jerry Killick, Richard Lowdon and Claire Marshall

Forced Entertainment bring their latest show Real Magic to real theatres and real audiences and so the endless loop of absurdity continues. Attempting to critique this show is probably as ridiculously hopeless and pointless as trying to guess the word on this gameshow/mind reading show. Real Magic is like musical chairs for demented amnesiacs.

Three people on stage. Three roles to adopt. Three possible words to guess. Three answers given regardless of who asks who the question. Three chicken suits. The magic perhaps lies in the myriad of ways this short, basic scenario plays out. The three actors gift this absurd, apparently mediocre scene with a wide range of emotional pitch and timing that shifts through upbeat fun to encouragement to intimidation to sheer desperation.

From early on it is apparent that this fruitless task is looping just like the canned applause. The internal dilemma for the watcher is when is this going to end?…..Will it magically resolve?…. Do I care?…..How many more times can they do this?…..Can they really keep this going for 85 minutes?

At certain points Jerry asks the would-be mindreader Are you feeling good? Are you feeling safe? Are you feeling confident? The same might be asked of the audience as the show progresses. Ultimately I guess this show is challenging our consumption of mediocre television shows and our sometimes tunnel vision around our perceptions about our world. If nothing else Real Magic is a masterclass in the art of cognitive dissonance and the risks of stubbornly resisting change.

The overly long performance does hit home the sense of time wasting watching banal television. There are lots of allusions to crappy gameshows parodying hosts such as Chris Tarrant. The word CARAVAN in this pointless show within a show is a cheeky reminder of 70/80s shows where people won caravans but didn’t own driving licences or cars. 

I found myself drifting at times but perhaps that was exactly the intention. Did the chicken suits remind me of the jumpsuits worn in Guantanamo Bay? How many people were relentlessly interrogated when they could never knowingly answer certain questions in the way the interrogator desired? Was this absurd and bizarre scene a cut from the impenetrable Red Room in Twin Peaks? I keep seeing Jerry on the floor, sweaty and wild eyed like Killer Bob, with Claire in her evening dress as Laura Palmer and affable Richard in the suit as Agent Cooper. Perhaps I just watch too much television and need to go to the theatre more. 

If I took anything useful from the show it was questioning How do we elicit change?  Is it by encouragement, co-operation, education, by example or by intimidation? Or perhaps more worrying is the fear that we never change and just like the characters in Real Magic we are trapped in a nightmarish loop repeating our mistakes over and over and always failing to learn from them.

 At HOME until Dec1

Uncle Vanya

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Written by Anton Chekhov

Adapted by Andrew Lipton 

Directed by Walter Meierjohann

Uncle Vanya was written 20 years before The Russian Revolution of 1917 and may depict a long gone era, however the themes of depression, regrets and obsessional love are timeless. The uncertainties and frailties of human emotion are all on display and are beautifully depicted in this adaptation.

The set by Steffi Wurster is vast so the home setting dwarves the characters. The walls extend up to encompass everything and everyone, effectively creating a sense of claustrophobia. The raised piano ensures that the comfort of music remains out of reach for Yelena. The sense of decay and gloom seeps out of the walls. Even a garden scene plays out within the gloom of the house. There is literally no escape for Vanya and Sonya. The estate dominates everything as both prison, and home and hearth. 

The key human emotions of Anger, Fear, Joy and Sadness are all evoked in subtle ways. The layers of each performance ensure that each character is defined and memorable. There is always a sense of fatalism here and human curiosity about how each character chooses to respond. The emotion connection with the audience becomes truly intimate when characters  address us as though personally sharing with us one to one. 

The Professor is a man whose success and potency is fast waning and the only new challenges he faces are illness and death. Nick Hodder’s Vanya brilliantly evokes a man who has given up in body and spirit. He is only 47 but feels his life is not only over but has never really started. The tragicomedic outcome of his brief reach for love and hope is  perfectly pitched. In contrast Jason Merrells gives Astrov vitality and curiosity which lifts the gloomy house. He imbues new thinking and change yet is born too soon to really make a difference for himself. Despite their differences neither man is likely to get the future they crave and will continue to exist rather than thrive.

The older women seem stoic and content in their roles within the house. The younger female characters are similarly trapped by the social norms. Hana Yannas is perfect cast as a beautiful and brittle trophy wife full of longing and repressed energy. She is mystified at the possibility of breaking free and having love and passion rather than wifely duty and social position. Katie West is luminous on stage, her Sonya is an innocent and it is her sense of hope in an weary old world that holds everyone together. Her physical plainness is viewed as an obstacle to love and passion so she is as equally thwarted as Yelena. She remains unseen by Vaskov despite being a good match for the middle aged doctor. The tragic irony that both her and Vaskov would rather have nothing if not a great love, and therefore both are likely to get nothing. She is at peace in a spiritual way, resigned to a life of duty and tending to the needs of others rather than fulfilling her own desires in her earthly life.

The ephemeral nature of love and hope seem to dictate that emotional survival comes from taking solace in solid things like food, vodka, work or nature. In Uncle Vanya we see all too painfully what may be the outcome from missed opportunities or possibilities not acted upon. If only Vanya had seized his moment with Yelena 10 years earlier or if Astrov was more of a pragmatist than a dreamer then Sonya would have a very different life. The  invitation in this production is Seize the Day for each day is a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

Fri 3Sat 25 Nov at HOME 

SOMETHING DARK

HOME 

LEMN SISSAY

Dark, In Darkness always comes the question,Where is the light?”

Lemn  Sissay literally bounces unto the stage as though about to launch into a stand up routine. The first twenty minutes are indeed a stand up routine in the sense that this is a connection process. Who are we, how do we respond, are we accepting or rejecting? This is the quicksilver poet, the actor, performer, public speaker and private man and inner child. In giving the audience an extra bonus introduction before the play there is an unspoken understanding that this connection is about boundaries and safety.  In therapy we talk about the three Ps- Protection, Permission and Potency. In this instance they seem vital to this piece.

During the performance he remarks, that  “You shouldn’t tell your story in the way that I’ve told mine if you’ve not come to terms with it. Your well-being has got to be in mind.” On stage he exudes strength, confidence and a wickedly playful sense of humour. He creates a safe space for himself and for the audience in how he performs his own life experience. I sincerely hope that when he steps away from the stage those carefully constructed and honed inner strengths remain robust.
Something Dark is Lemn Sissays one man play telling the extraordinary and shocking story of his childhood in foster care from birth and in four  state childrens homes from age eleven to eighteen. It seems impossible to believe that Wigan Social Services countenanced such appalling disregard for a Mothers wishes for her child’s well being and safety. The second half of the play follows his journey to seek out his birth mother living in The Gambia and find a sense of family both there and in his parents homeland, Ethiopia. 

Any sense of family however dysfunctional is a gift for a man who at twenty had no one in his life that had known him more than two years. “I was the only proof of my own existence,” As he reminds us family gives us reference points, family provides  a set of disputed memories over a lifetime which inform how we see ourselves in Society. As someone who once stood pregnant for the first time at a parents graveside I can connect with that acute sense of being adrift and unknown without parents or siblings  to validate my stories and memories. 

The performance is rich and full of life, full of resilience and persistence. This work embodies our need in Society to embrace acceptance and tolerance. It eloquently screams out our need to address how we view young people in care and ensure that every aspect of their well-being is paramount while they are being parented by the State.

The performance is both uplifting and painful to watch as this clever, engaging and quite beautiful man reads his story and leads us on a journey so very dark and yet so brilliantly light. Light- because standing on that stage telling his story so poetically and advocating so passionately for young people in the care system, he radiates a light much brighter than the spotlight upon him.

For a human being born into such a dark place he epitomises nothing but light and has certainly fought long and hard “for the right to light.”

Journeys Festival International/ Orbit Festival

13th October 2017