When two become one

OthelloMacbeth, Home, Manchester

SHOEHORNING two classic Shakespearean plays together into one  production and bringing a semblance of understanding to the audience of what was going on was always going to be a difficult task but this play works incredibly well.

It may well be that old Will is turning in his grave at this Jude Christian inspired production currently at Manchester’s Home, supported by the Lyric Hammersmith, but it certainly presents a new way of re-interpreting the presence of women in plays by the Stratford-on-Avon bard.

The first half features an abridged 80 minute version of Othello, which highlights all the things men are famously known for including treachery, ambition and jealousy. What stands between the men are the characters of Desdemona and Emilia, the former who dies at the hands of her husband because he believes she has committed adultery with the innocent Cassio, and the latter because of Iago’s treachery and for her being unable to keep her mouth closed in owning up to Othello.

The shoehorning comes at the end of Othello, when we get a taster, as the women so cruelly struck down by their husbands, play the witches, who foresee less hubble and bubble, but a whole lot of dastardly trouble in the second half.

Jude’s presentation of Macbeth takes apart the accepted notion that witches are the femme fatales and have led astray the poor tragic hero Macbeth, without anyone, until now, daring to look at what was happening to women in Europe at the time Shakespeare was writing the play. It almost went without saying that women who stood up also stood out and were likely to be targeted for daring to challenge the male order.

Jude says: “These plays are badass. They’ve got sword fights, final reckonings and mortals cursing hell and heaven for their tragic fate. And the language is poetry. The characters talk unashamedly and viscerally about love, sex, yearning, triumph and pain, and that’s the kind of theatre that does it for me.”

To my mind, this is a breathtaking exploration, which re-positions the role of men as less important characters to the generally received wisdom and as a result, helps to empower the female roles as more relevant to a modern day revisionist viewpoint.

The cast is Sam Collings(Iago/Macduff), Grace Cookey-Gam(Lodovico/Lennox), Paul Courtenay Hyu(Brabintio/Duncan), Caroline Faber(Lady Macbeth), Kirsten Foster(Desdemona), Sandy Grierson (Cassio/Macbeth), Kezrena James(Bianca), Melissa Johns (Emilia), Ery Nzaramba(Othello/Banquo)

OthelloMacbeth will be staged until Saturday, September 29.

Box Office: 0161 200 1500 (Mon-Sun 12:00 -20:00)

Peter Devine

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A new royal Shakespearean hero

Queen Margaret, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Imagine the excitement about the discovery of a previously unknown Shakespeare play, one which throws a new perspective on a crucial period of English history?

Suspend disbelief, for here is Queen Margaret, to all intents and purposes a Shakespeare play. Not only the first “Shakespeare” play to have a woman’s name (on her own) as the title, but one which looks at our history from a woman’s perspective.

Shakespeare wrote many lines for Margaret of Anjou in four of his plays:  the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III. Playwright Jeanie O’Hare has brought all those lines together into one compelling narrative, and added Shakespearean lines of her own, pulling together scenes that feature her protagonist. She reckons that about 50% of the script is hers but says: “I haven’t allowed myself to use any language that wouldn’t have been available to Shakespeare.”

The result is stunning on many levels. To begin with, close your eyes and listen to the dialogue; this is Shakespearean beyond any doubt. Then open your eyes and see what astute casting can do. A central protagonist, Jade Anouka, as the Queen, growing in stature but perhaps diminishing in morality from naive, charming, feisty young bride of Henry VI, still believing in peace but impatient with the history of tradition, into a ruthless warrior monarch.

Jade Anouka: Queen Margaret (photo: Johan Persson)

She is the one attempting to hold everything together because none of the men around her can. Meanwhile, in exquisitely portrayed role reversal, her reticent and unwilling consort, played by Max Runham, would rather spend his days in prayer and contemplation.

There are other male actors, but the women stand out. This being the start of the War of the Roses there’s York – note that the cast list does not say “Duke of” – played by Lorraine Bruce, a matriarch of forbidding stature and equally fearsome blunt speech, with political ambition and determination, yet ultimately bereft by the murder of her offspring.

Then there’s the duplicitous Warwick (Bridgitta Roy), and the loyal and fascinating commoner Hume (Helena Lymbery). But don’t for a moment imagine that with a woman writer and female protagonist there will be any softening of the brutal terrors of war, the bloodshed of political machination. Some of the scenes are truly shocking.

There’s more sorrow than redemption, even though Margaret does survive to return to her native France. But there is liberation for the ghost of Joan of Arc, finally freed to rest in peace after her role as inspiration and spiritual conspirator for Margaret. An absolutely magnificent performance here from Lucy Mangan as warrior sprite.

There’s no doubt that O’Hare has reclaimed the voices of Shakespeare’s women. For the Royal Exchange, this is yet another bold and courageous step to the pinnacle of modern English theatre.

Queen Margaret runs until October 6. Details and booking: royalexchange.co.uk

The exotic island of Great Britain

He’s a rare combination: writer, performer, film-maker and …. professional wrestling manager. Now Pariah Khan is to stage his debut one man show, An Indian Abroad, at Clapham’s Bread and Roses Theatre (September 23-25).

An Indian Abroad tells the story of an Indian student, on a journey of self-discovery, who takes a gap year to Britain to find himself. Stifled by life in middle-class India, Krishnan is desperate to see more of the world, so he visits the “exotic” island of Great Britain to learn about life and who he is. What does Krishnan’s journey teach him about the world? What might he learn about himself? And what happens when he falls in love with one of the natives?

indian pic

Khan was named one of Bristol’s most influential young people for his work in theatre and comedy. Last year, he was selected by Channel 4’s Random Acts scheme, where 12 of the South West’s most promising filmmakers were chosen to create their first broadcast quality film. Using this opportunity, he made the short film Slice, a dark satire of the graduate experience.

He has previously performed his work at Bristol Old Vic, Nuffield Southampton, Bike Shed Exeter, Camden People’s Theatre and the Rose & Crown Theatre in London.

An Indian Abroad has been touring throughout the year, and after Clapham it goes to the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol in October, York Theatre in November and Tara Arts in January 2019

Event link: http://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/an-indian-abroad.html

Slicehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y59_8Qmcsiw&t=2s

Snowmen in August do exist

Old Fire Station Carlisle

You’re in for something special when a show’s organisers double-sell-out a debut performance after finding extra seats. And that was We Know Now Snowmen Exist at the Carlisle Fringe show, directed by Lexie Ward.

There was a real buzz around this play, written by Michael Spencer, and entering the performance space we were with our ill-fated heroines in their tent, joining them on their camping trip up a Scottish mountain.

It’s based on the eerie, horrifying and very real events of the Dyatlov Pass Incident in Russia. I won’t go into the details of this – Google it – but not before bed. In what is a masterstroke, Spencer has reworked the story, moving it to 2018, with an all-female cast of delightful, strong, fierce –  and filthy – women.

After 90 minutes of laughter, tension, goosebumps and tears, I desperately wanted to be friends with Chloe, (Vanessa Sedgwick), Lisa (Rowan Kikke), Rachel (Rebekah Holly Neilson), Hayley  (Chloe Sturrock) and Zoe (Naomi Webster).

Credit to Spencer for writing, complex, multi-dimensional, funny women who swore like troopers and talked about struggles with shewees and Netflix and chill, along with masturbation, menstruation and orgies.

An exploration of female friendships Spencer’s comedic strengths came through with these five foul-mouthed Scottish lassies. Talking about nothing and everything, the actors were bafflingly believable as buddies. It was hyper-natural, as they teased and laughed and made tea. They interacted physically together so brilliantly we forgot it was a play and felt like we were just hanging out with girlfriends.

It was clear the director had complete trust in the actors to produce such genuine performances. The reassuring realism that Ward created only heightened the ominous air when the girls would say something that foreshadowed the horror of what was to come.

The laughter, juxtaposed with the tension and a couple of clever, well-timed jump scares was a triumph. Ward’s inspired use of underscoring added to the atmosphere and we heard the audience audibly react to the shocking, chilling climax. Goosebump-inducing, powerful stuff, this is relevant, necessary theatre.

We Know Now Snowmen Exist is the debut original play from Highly Suspect Theatre. Since forming in 2013 Highly Suspect have established themselves as one of the country’s leading Murder Mystery companies, having performed at prestigious venues such as Durham, Cathedral, The National Centre for the Written Word and Blackpool Winter Gardens.

They are thrilled to be branching out to create original theatre pieces, and We Know Now Snowmen Exist marks the transition from being solely a murder mystery performance company to a theatre company creating original plays.

 

*****                                                                                                                        Caroline Nancy 

 

Oh Man, this is personal…..

I’M sorry guys, but this play Oh Man just got personal.
That it was acted out in a garage workshop on the streets of Salford added a poignant touch of irony as the Contact Young Theatre and its director Hetain Patel took the audience on a tour of what it is to be masculine and also by raking over the embers of this reviewer’s personal experience.
Born into life in North Manchester, where Anthony Burgess based his novel A Clockwork Orange, and thrown together by my older brother to fight with a lad in Miles Platting, was an early baptism. No matter how much I protested that I was bigger and stronger than him, it mattered little and the gang who surrounded us never laid off until I had bloodied his nose and made him cry.
The second occasion was a few years later, aged eight or nine, when I came to blows with a blonde haired boy who was being a proverbial pain in the arse but nothing more, but in some sort of crazy ritual and because he was upset with me, he started to scratch me with his long nails across my face. For every punch I landed, he drew blood from my face with his long nails, which he dug in deep. I told him to stop, I begged him to stop, but he had to prove himself and in that moment I understood.
oh man
This was not about fighting, it was about proving we were masculine.
The result was I stopped picking fights and instead took to showing the bullies how painful it can be to become the victim of brutality. I remember on another occasion seeing a school ground bully hitting younger boys. As he stood there smirking at the damage and cruelty he had inflicted, I launched a punch which landed squarely on his chin. The look on his face was priceless in that he burst into tears and I took off around the playground with him now more composed and threatening to return the compliment!
Oh Man is raw and its gutsy in its approach using first hand accounts of what it’s like to be a male. It is beautifully put together by weaving together first hand accounts from boys and men across the generations, as both male and female seek gender equality.
The play shows the futility of it all in that we men have to be men and the women have to be obedient to our wishes, or else….
However, as recent sex scandals have shown, we men have also become the victims of keeping a tight lip and not sharing our grief and feelings for the childhood wrongs done to us. If this play is anything to go by, the redeeming factor is that we men  are a work in progress
As Hetain explains: “We have made something that is personal to us and we hope it reasonates with you too.
“There are no full stops in the piece. Instead we extend our hands to you and hope you’ll continue this journey with us – beyond the performance space and into the everyday.”
Oh Man is part of the In The City project by the Contact and is held at a secret location. It plays until Sunday, September 2, at various times. For more information telephone the box office on 0161 274 0600.
Peter Devine

Rocketing into Orbit

Orbit Festival, Home, Manchester

Manchester’s innovative and exciting arts centre, Home, is to stage Orbit festival again this autumn.

Orbit is the annual showcase festival and brings together a collective of artists and performances from some of the world’s best festivals as well as premiere productions into a two week celebration at the modern new building.

Home, an international centre for contemporary visual art, film and theatre, was created from the merger of two old city-centre favourites, Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company, into the Greater Manchester Arts Centre.

Theatre at Home has an international focus. It’s a base for UK premieres of foreign language plays and celebrates many of the most inventive international theatre companies making work around the globe. They work with artists to produce questioning and ambitious projects and involve audiences with new and extraordinary theatrical experiences.

Orbit Festival 2018 brings together innovative new work from theatre makers who want to explore how we face the world, our relationship with the past, how we remember, the stories we tell ourselves and what it is that makes us who we are today.

The various productions to be staged from October 23 to November 3 ask the questions about where we come from defining who we are. Must we delve into the past in order to journey onwards? Are we the choices that we make, the relationships we try to form, our quests for understanding, for love, and for self-expression? How do we face the world?

They start with Xavier de Sousa’s Post asking, bluntly, “What the hell is ‘national identity’?” We live in an ever shifting political and geographical landscape. As a generation that grew up into an open-doors Europe and the advances of the internet, we’ve been accustomed to travel, exchange, engage and collaborate with people from different nationalities.

Post presented by Xavier De Sousa

But there’s a wave of nationalism arising across the world that threatens to change all of this and close our national borders. Post is an exploration of what it means to be a migrant, of constantly inhabiting a ‘national limbo’ and failing to adhere to border and identity-defining norms.

The final show is Often Onstage with “the smartest girls in town”, Figs in Wigs,  an offbeat facetious romp that explores the ins and outs of the stage through dance. With curtain calls, blood baths and exits pursued by bears, Often Onstage revels in the absurdity of theatrical traditions with the straightest of faces.

figs

In between there’s a range of gritty new productions, plus a poetry reading by Lemn Sissay. For full details, tickets and venues, see https://homemcr.org/event/orbit-festival-2018/

Pandora’s box of bitter pills

Allelujah! Bridge Theatre, London ****

On the 70th birthday of the NHS it seems fitting that the most prominent playwright of a generation has set his latest play within a hospital ward.

Alan Bennett is now an octogenarian himself and yet, unlike the health service a decade his junior, his acerbic wit remains in rude health.

Immediately the lights dim on the beautiful auditorium of the Bridge Theatre on London’s Southbank, we are transported to a geriatric ward in West Yorkshire. The set evokes the jaded reality of hospital corridors, Bob Crowley’s design meticulous from the low-spec plastic-cushioned chairs to the utilitarian nurses’ trolley. If anyone doubts the authenticity, a visit to any Northern District General’s underfunded obelisks is highly recommended.

Bennett’s return to the stage, in collaboration with Nicholas Hytner is a slice of sharply observed political commentary.  Serving up in the ‘cosy and familiar’ sanctuary of the Welfare State’s hospital ward, there is no illusion of real comfort at the Bethlehem Hospital even among those rallying to ‘Save the Beth’ from closure.

‘The Beth,’ is threatened by a new ‘specialist unit’ in Tadcaster and faced by impossible targets from faraway Whitehall. The irrepressible hospital trust chair Salter (Peter Forbes) is the officious face of the ‘Save’ campaign, parading the wards accompanied by a news crew enlisted to document the life of the ward.

Bennett’s trademark whimsy buoys up the sadness of everyone’s situation and leads us more often to laughter than tears, although a deeper discomfort is bedding in like an ulcer.

Bennett himself admits his initial script channeled a care-home more than a hospital, but those familiar with NHS medical wards will recognise the reality it reflects  ‘a patient who has been admitted to the elderly care ward often cannot be discharged’ because of lack of social care, thus becoming the bed blocking bane of hospital management.

Bennett has an ability to set the old and infirm in a rosy light and we are won over by ex-miner Joe (Jeff Rawle) fighting through the confusion of an infection, academic Ambrose (Simon Williams) confined to his wheelchair, timid Mary, once-flamboyant Lucille.

The ensemble unite throughout the play as the ward’s choir under George Fenton’s musical direction.   When the second half opens to ‘Good Golly Miss Molly,’ the frail elderly are recast as their former selves; selves otherwise under-referenced with intent ‘unwaged, unpensioned, disendowed,’ Dr Valentine observes. The elders discarded by society, waiting, patient Ambrose quotes the poet Causley, for the unmentionable ‘tenth visitor.’

The main characters wrestle with the challenges of working within a system where their humanitarian values are pitted against the harsh realities of cutbacks and underfunding.

When one of the rare visitors turns out to be a management consultant to the very department seeking to close the hospital, the stakes become higher for the ‘plucky little hospital.’

Samuel Barnett’s Colin is the best constructed character: deeply conflicted in his own identity – a successful City slicker a world away from the disenfranchised North, thrown reluctantly back into the role of Yorkshire son with a dying father. No sooner is he unclipped from his all-the-gear bicycle, he is all edges and unease: caught between the surety of his Whitehall brief and the ghost of the boyhood, family and home he has long escaped. Through his eyes, youth, health and the wealth of London looks in at this ailing system and yet teeters in its own capitalist conviction (‘If the State is seen to work we shall never be rid of it’); will it choose kindness or ultimately look away for good?

In contrast Sacha Dhawan’s Dr. Valentine is the epitome of the Good Doctor. His compassion is undeniable but for a scientist albeit without white coat does he miss the subterfuge developing or is there a subtler complicity? A medical audience member would be wide-eyed at the amount of time he has to idle around the ward without taking a single pulse. The sub-plot about Valentine’s right to remain poignantly taps topical themes around immigration but we learn precious little about the man. Who he is outside the hospital walls remains unalluded to.

Even the expertly observed Matron (Findley), whose resigned dedication to the relentless demands of her work takes a sinister turn, has no wider life than the hospital walls afford her. Omission of character or telling tales on the NHS’s attitude to its professional care-givers, of whom operating on goodwill is an unspoken expectation and who remain expendable.

This discursive piece has too many themes to handle simply by tackling the behemoths of the NHS and society’s swelling ranks of an ageing population. As the choir sings on, plot lines darken and the cracks in the system align.

While the entertainment throughout prevents the audience from dwelling too long on the deeper debates about the NHS and society, it opens a Pandora’s box of bitter pills that Mr. Bennett has every qualification to set out before us and we must swallow.

Rebecca Robinson

Allelujah! runs until Sept 29. Details and tickets: https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/allelujah/