Hope showcases exciting new works by LGBTQ+ writers

OutStageUs – Hope Mill Theatre

MANCHESTER’s Hive North will present a series of sketches to illustrate the long fight for LGBTQ+ rights is far from over.

This year’s OutStageUs production, based at Hope Mill, from September 29. until October 2, promises to be an adventurous celebration of theatre, that explores both the issues of sexuality and gender identity.

Created and performed by LGBTQ+ artistes, the scripts are decidedly targeted at breaking down barriers and ultimately giving a bigger voice to a community still fighting for greater equality.

​Cancelled because of last year’s pandemic, OutStageUs, is an inspiring annual event that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and its rich history of defiance and activism in the face of adversity. .

​This year’s event will present Greedy by Lynsey Cullen, a piece exploring bi-erasure within today’s society. There will be a historical look at Manchester and the Pride movement through Swirling written and presented by Elis Shotton and Diane Online by Sarah Hayton, that explores age and relationships within the LGBTQ+ community.

Box Braids by Manchester-based spoken-word artiste Maz Hedgehog will delve into the deep, intimate relationships between Black queer people and how they can so often escape easy definition.

A performer in OutStageUs 2019, Billie’s Vision, by Billie Hindle, is a personal take on both jealousy and envy and how the trans experience is different for everybody.

OutStageUs will also present Be A Man by Roo Pilkington, Brute by Charlie Tidmas, Negative Space by Priyanka Jha, Not Out Out by Alex Joynes, The T-Word by Dian Cathal, Two Floors by Luke Abbott and Watermelon by Nathan Hardisty.

For tickets go to the following link:

Shakespeare coming closer in the North

Work on the Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot has reached an important milestone with the removal of the tower crane that has been doing all the heavy lifting on site.

The crane became a major – and much loved – landmark as it dominated  the skyline.  For 20 months it towered above the spire of the nearby Parish Church, itself once a landmark for ships sailing up the River Mersey.

Now the crane’s work is done, with the theatre build entering the final phase and  staying on schedule for opening in 2022. The good news for crane fans is that the iconic ‘To Be’ sign suspended from the tower has been kept on site and will be displayed at the theatre.  The sign led to the crane being affectionately known as Toby.

Meanwhile, the Shakespeare North Trust has been doing some building of its own, assembling the core team who will take charge of the artistic, technical and business elements of the Playhouse.

Laura Collier was appointed Creative Director and Programmer in September 2020.  More recently, the Trust has appointed Siobhan Noble as Project Producer to work with Laura on the opening season.   


Why Prescot?  The Elizabethan market  town had the earliest known, purpose built freestanding theatre outside London.  Prescot also sits cheek by jowl with  Knowsley Park, home to the Stanley family – the Earls of Derby –  who were patrons of Shakespeare and had their own theatre troupes. 

Keswick theatre chooses Christmas show

Theatre by the Lake in Keswick have chosen Tom’s Midnight Garden for their Christmas show.
Directed by Liz Stevenson and designed by Louie Whitemore,  it aims to wow audiences with playful theatricality, music and puppetry, on the theatre’s Main Stage.
It tells the story of Tom who has been sent away with his aunt and uncle to quarantine in a mysterious old house. Bored and lonely, Tom counts down the days until he can go home to his old life, until one night, he hears the grandfather clock strike thirteen. Guided by ghostly voices, Tom discovers a magical garden on the other side of a door and meets Hatty. The pair strike up a firm friendship, sharing adventures without a care in the world. But all is not as it seems, and poor Tom soon discovers that he is rapidly running out of time.

Theatre by the Lake’s production of Tom’s Midnight Garden has been adapted for the stage by David Wood from the book by Philippa Pearce and will run from Fri 26 November 2021 until Saturday 15 January 2021. Puppetry will be provided by Jimmy Grimes – the puppet director from The Shepherd’s Life in 2016.
Most performances will be running at full capacity, and you can book unlimited tickets. However the theatre are offering 4 guaranteed socially distanced performances. These performances will take place on Mon 29 November, Fri 3 December, Fri 7 January and Friday 14 January, all at 7.15pm. The theatre has also catered for those for whom an in-person visit to the theatre is too soon by announcing a digital on-demand version of Tom’s Midnight Garden available to book now and viewable on-demand from Thu 23 – Thu 30 December.  
Artistic director Liz Stevenson said: “It is so wonderful to be able to bring our beloved annual Christmas show to our Keswick stage once again. The show is going to be inventive and vibrant with a little bit of that special magic that our audiences have come to expect and love! Tom’s Midnight Garden is about the passing of time and people growing up and getting older – but it is also about friendship, imagination and having wild adventures. After an unprecedented year, we hope that this will be the perfect Christmas treat for friends and family to come together and enjoy.”
Priority Booking period starts on 14 September at 9.30am with general sale opening on Friday 17 September at 9.30am.  Read more about the show and see performance times on the theatre’s website.

Newspaper wars

London Zoo: Bread and Roses Theatre

It’s the dawn of the new millennium; print newspapers are in crisis as the world falls in love with, and adopts, electronic media. Arabella is a director with drive, the ability to manage ‘pesky’ creatives and a nose for profit. Together with gentle accountant Charles, she’s charged by bullish CEO, Alex and his conniving sidekick, Christian, to acquire a thriving title.
Its success is dependent on its publisher, Kelvin, who happens to be black and therefore an anomaly in this senior role at the time. Kelvin invests in creativity, editorial integrity and quality – ‘fluffy’ drivers which Alex rejects in favour of his ‘slash and burn’ mantra to create profit.
Arabella realises the ruthlessness required for success this time will also destroy their most valuable assets; her gifts become a curse. Charles too, begins to realise that his loyalty is misplaced. Only insightful Kelvin is prepared for, and resigned to, the inevitable unfairness.
Against this choppy mutability, the wild final act sees the characters having a stab at changing the status quo, as we learn that pain is not always felt at the site of the wound. We leave you to decide where madness really lies on man’s behavioural scale.
Following a tremendous response to its first rehearsed reading held during lockdown on zoom in February , London Zoo is now opening at the Bread and Roses Theatre, 68, Clapham Manor Road SW4 6DZ
from 7-11 September 2021. The performances start at 7pm.

UnEqual Productions was established during lockdown in February 2021 by Farine Clarke as a vehicle for contemporary, cutting-edge plays, which are of their time. So far, UnEqual Productions has held rehearsed readings on zoom for two plays; London Zoo and The Story of Friends, both of which had a fantastic response.

Hello, Manchester!

By Peter Devine

TWO of Manchester’s biggest theatres have announced that they will be reopening their venues to audiences later this month.

After the 18 month lockdown, caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, both Oxford Street’s Palace Theatre and Quay Street’s Opera House, will be open up to the public, on August 20 and August 23 respectively.

Sheena Wrigley, the theatrical director of both theatres said: “It is thrilling to be able to welcome people back into our theatres. 

“Not being able to share the joy of live theatre together has left a huge gap in the lives of many people across the region and country. 

“Our staff, production teams and the committed tenacious producers we work with have pulled together and supported each other through the pandemic to ensure we have great shows and a safe environment for audiences to return to this summer.”

Sheena Wrigley

She explained: “We have a packed season full of award-winning musicals, plays, dance and music that we are eager to welcome audience members back with. This has been a time like no other for theatre and live entertainment and we are striving to return better than ever.”

 The Opera House starts the season on with Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt (Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor) on August 20.

Prior to the pandemic, the production had played to sell-out crowds at the Edinburgh Fringe and in runs in London’s West End.

The Palace will follow three days later with the electrifying The Woman in Black, on August 23,a show that has been thrilling audiences for more than three decades in the West End, becoming a true classic for theatre lovers.

Looking further ahead, the season features award winning musicals with Heathers, Waitress and School of Rock and three brand-new musicals Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Cher Show and The Osmonds.

The season also sees the return of much-loved musicals with the likes of Dirty Dancing, Hairsprayand Grease to the rock and roll anthem filled Bat out of Hell and Rock of Ages. Winter sees the return of the phenomenal hit The Book of Mormon.

Ms Wrigley added: “We understand the huge importance of continuing to keep our staff, audiences and performers as safe as possible. We are therefore implementing new safety procedures to make sure that anyone walking back through our doors can do so confidently.

“We’ll have new routes through the building in place, offer at seat services for food and beverages, and will be deep cleaning the venue before and after each performance. Masks will not be mandatory, but we will be encouraging audience members to wear them alongside our staff.

“This has felt like a very long period of closure and a hiatus in the lives of so many. Over the last few months, behind the scenes, we have been busy working hard to be able to bring you a truly special season that will hold particular significance for all of us as the curtains rise once again. To our audiences we say, “We have missed you, welcome back”  

Full details of the theatres safety policy can be found here: https://www.atgtickets.com/help/health-and-safety/

The full season at both venues can be found at: Manchester | ATG Tickets

A home for grief


THERE could not be a more apt presentation taking place in Manchester right now, at Manchester’s Contact Theatre, from this Thursday, July 29 to Saturday, July 31.

A Home for Grief captures the sense of loss many of us are feeling after the coronavirus pandemic and how we might or might not deal with that.

The Fabiola Santana and Will Dickie production provides a localised auditory experience of women recounting how they had dealt, or not dealt, with the loss of a loved one.

Quite literally, we were walking along the same streets close to the Contact and listening to their pain and sharing their fears, but often hopes going forwards in locations where they had been and on streets and a park they had visited previously.

One woman recalled how loss for her meant avoiding meeting people, familiar places and not wanting to witness any couples holding hands.

Another mentioned that she was felt like she was drifting in a sea of grief, where sometimes waves would wash over her and depending on her mood others would hit her hard.

The auditory walk also includes the story of the loss of a mother which set one family at war with itself, where the father was ruled by fear at the loss of his wife while other family members felt a loss of identity and cohesion, but the grief was never talked about.

It was also said that another family were removing cards from friends, before their mother had ‘taken her last breath’ and were intent on removing everything that reminded them of the loss, and as Fabiola explained: “I think I wanted to create moments, spaces and experiences that would allow people to feel connected to others in grief. People can feel very lonely and I had the experience of loss at an early age.”

The idea for providing safe spaces for people to grieve was conceived five years ago and resulted in the permanent establishment of such walks in both Lancaster and Liverpool.

Fabiola explains: “I feel that over the past year and a half these spaces are absolutely essential after what many have gone through during the pandemic but where people can connect with each other’s stories about loss and feel supported.”

Will added: “People have been missing out on the human touch and at the same time there’s been a lots of mixed messages out there about keeping calm and carrying on like this pandemic is a war or a battle, but it doesn’t remotely reflect on people’s experience or indeed how they are feeling.”

The short walk returned to the Contact, where an accompanying installation featuring five quilted maps charting the different aspects of grief where participants can offer up their own feelings of loss and discuss how to bring a joined up communal effort in dealing with grief.

I am reminded of Helen Keller who once remarked: “We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world – the company of those who have known suffering.”

It’s deep, it’s profound and deeply personal and it might just have you on the edge of tears, but definitely worth the experience

More information, tickets and details of the varying time slots at https://contactmcr.com/shows/a-home-for-grief/

Welcome Home to Keswick theatre

Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake will open again to live audiences on October 6.
The autumn season consists of two Main House shows, Home I’m Darling by Laura Wade and Jacaranda by Lorna French, taking the programme up to Christmas – which will be announced in September.  
Home I’m Darling is a co-production with Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough and The Octagon, Bolton and runs from Wed 6 – Sat 30 October in Keswick.  The show opened on 9 July in Scarborough to ecstatic audience reception and is directed by TBTL’s Artistic Director, Liz Stevenson (who directed TBTL favourite productions, The Secret Garden and Handbagged – shows which received widespread critical and audience acclaim).
  The story centres on Judy and Johnny – a couple with the seemingly perfect marriage.  But behind the gingham curtains all is not quite what it seems. Described as a ‘blistering comedy’, the show explores gender roles in modern Britain.  
  Jacaranda is a co-production with Pentabus – the nation’s leading rural touring theatre – and is a play that explores love, loss, prejudice, race and belonging through a chance meeting of two unlikely strangers on the longest night of the year.  It runs from Thu 4 – Sat 13 November.  
To ensure that audiences feel comfortable returning to the theatre, both shows will go on sale with some guaranteed socially distanced performances.  Other performances will be sold initially in socially distanced conditions in bubbles of varying sizes which may be relaxed to full capacity at a later date. 
The theatre has also catered for those for whom an in-person visit to the theatre is too soon by announcing a digital on-demand version of Home I’m Darling available to book now and viewable on-demand from Sat 23 – Sat 30 October.   TBTL is proud to be See it Safely approved by Official London Theatre and have received the Visit Britain ‘We’re Good to Go’ industry standard mark. 
Strict Covid precautions will be in place to ensure the safety of audiences with enhanced cleaning, ventilation, safe queueing systems in place and reduced touchpoints.  Audiences can also book with confidence knowing that the theatre allows maximum flexibility to exchange or refund your ticket(s) up to 24 hours before the performance.
TBTL’s Artistic Director, Liz Stevenson said:   “Our whole team have been immensely touched by the support we’ve received from our community over this period of closure. Whilst we’ve learnt so much from our digital season of work, we’ve also seen how much live theatre has been missed in our region. We’re thrilled to be opening with these two productions, which have been made with some incredible companies and artists from across the country. It’s going to be a very special moment when our doors open for the first time.”  
Tickets and more details: https://www.theatrebythelake.com/plan-your-visit/

Friendship and identity in the spotlight

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner: Royal Court Theatre

Cleo wants to kill Kylie Jenner. Well, not really. But frustrated with the absurd ‘self made billionaire title’ given to the youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner brood, she goes on a violent Twitter-tirade to highlight the problem of famous white women profiting off black female stereotypes  – and it works. People are talking; soon, Cleo is black Twitter famous. And she embraces it. Until Twitter – and her best friend Kara, turn against her.

Cleo and Kara have been best friends since school, and now in their early twenties, their friendship is hanging on by a thread. As Cleo increasingly vents online and Kara urges her to stop tweeting, Cleo can’t understand why her bestie isn’t as outraged with the commodification of black bodies, as her.

But then, she’s a ‘lightie’ isn’t she?  Furious, at this racially devise slur, Kara also accuses Cleo of not being there for her since she came out as gay.

At its core, this is a coming of age play about friendship and identity  – but writer Jasmine Lee-Jones also expertly tackles the additional pressure of social media faced by so many young people today. Twitter is almost like a third character, with memes, comments, retweets and likes all explicitly referenced by multi-rolling – with pacy, upbeat energy, echoing the exciting, frantic and dangerous world of social media.

Lee-Jones explores some incredibly important issues such as cultural appropriation, colourism, and prejudice in this play, as well as the limitations of social media activism and the importance of real life friendships. Funny, sharp and more relevant than ever Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner is a must see.  

Sophia Leonie

Currently at The Royal Court until Tuesday 27th July. https://royalcourttheatre.com/your-visit/tickets/

A beautifully crafted presentation

Bloody Elle – A gig musical: Royal Exchange Theatre.

By Peter Devine

THE Salford born dramatist Shelagh Delaney once remarked: “Anything’s hard to find if you go around looking for it with your eyes shut.”

The first production at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, 14 months after it was forced to close to the public because of Covid, is a master class in how to root out a 21st century script delivered with all the ironic humour of life’s relationships, but also where tragedy and pathos are not just outside the front door.

If anything, the production of Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical, represents much more, in that it could herald in the long overdue return, in this century, of scripts similar to the 1950 and 1960s stage classic kitchen sink dramas. Ultimately, it is to be hoped that major theatres will stage more warts and all productions.

Bloody Elle is a beautifully crafted presentation, written and performed by York born Lauryn Redding, which is a personal story of how we fathom out our lives, whether we be poor or indeed rich.

Playing the teenage working class character Elle, she lives in her hometown bubble before she discovers there is a bigger, wider world outside.

That Ms Redding manages to keep the audience spellbound for more than two hours, is an art in itself, and by playing the multiple characters who come and go in her life, encourages one to believe both the script and performance is of the highest order.

It tells the story of a working class lass living in the town, which is the “home of the tubular bandage” and where life was lived from the 10th floor of a high rise flat and as Elle remarks: “Where people look down on us but we look down on them!”

Working in a takeaway, she meets the rich girl of her dreams and the clash between two ways of life will play out, with high stakes for both women, whose parents have both hopes and expectations

Director of Bloody Elle, Bryony Shanahan said: “Working on a new piece is always special. Knowing that the entire team is creating something that’s never been seen before is one of the best feelings. It takes muscle and delicacy and bravery and also a load of faith from everyone involved.”

Bloody Elle is being staged until July 17, with an audio described performance on Saturday, July 10, at 2.30pm, BSL performance on Saturday, July 17, at 2.30pm, a captioned performance on Wednesday, July 14, at 2.30pm and 7.30pm and relaxed performance on Thursday July 8 at 2.30pm.Tickets – https://tickets.royalexchange.co.uk/event/bloody-elle/

Keswick theatre to re-open in style

Rehearsals start shortly at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake for a new production of Laura Wade’s acerbic comedy, Home I’m Darling, which was a sell-out hit when it premiered in 2018.

This second production, a co-production between TBTL, Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre and the Octagon Theatre, Bolton will feature Vicky Binns, Sandy Foster, Sam Jenkins-Shaw, Tom Kanji, Sophie Mercell and Susan Twist.

Sweet peas in the garden; homemade lemon curd in the kitchen; conjugal joy in the bedroom. Judy and Johnny seem to be the perfect couple – quite sickeningly happy, in fact.

But is their marriage everything it seems? Are there cracks in their domestic bliss? And where do they go when the manners and morals of the 1950s don’t quite suit them?

Laura Wade’s blistering satire takes a timely scalpel to gender roles in modern Britain through the eyes of a 21st-century couple slowly discovering that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

The show is directed by Theatre by the Lake’s Artistic Director, Liz Stevenson, who says: “Home, I’m Darling is the perfect way to welcome back our audiences to live theatre again: sharp, funny and incredibly timely, it’s one of those plays that will have everyone chuckling, discussing and debating long into the evening. I can’t wait to bring this brilliant play to life in-the-round with this incredible creative team and with three fantastic northern theatres.”

The show is designed by Helen Coyston, with lighting design by Zoe Spurr and sound design by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite. The movement director is Chi-San Howard. Casting is by Sarah Hughes CDG, with Casting Assistant Olivia Barr.

Home, I’m Darling by Laura Wade was a Theatr Clwyd and National Theatre co-production which premiered on 25 June 2018, directed by Tamara Harvey at Theatr Clwyd. It transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre, London on 26 January 2019.

Home, I’m Darling can be seen in the Round at the SJT on from Friday 9 July to Saturday 14 August 2021. It will then be performed at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton in September and at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick in October.

Tickets for TBTL will go on sale by the summer alongside further programming announcements, and audiences are encouraged to sign up to the theatre’s mailing list to be the first to hear more.