How a closed theatre is opening doors

Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake has launched a programme of free artistic activity for their audiences and community while forced to keep closed. The three-act initiative comprises the TBTL play reading club; Cumbrian Creatives – a network for local artists; and a community exhibition which will reopen the theatre in 2021.

The TBTL play reading Club is an opportunity for those who love chatting about plays to meet like-minded people and delve deeper into some play-texts. Each month the group will read a play and meet (online) to discuss it, as well as enjoying  guest appearances from the playwrights themselves. The first play is Love, Lies and Taxidermy by Alan Harris (who wrote TBTL’s 2017 hit production How My Light is Spent) with the first session taking place on Thurs 30 July. The play reading club will be hosted by Artistic Director Liz Stevenson. Further sessions will include plays by Jessica Swale, Laura Wade, Simon Longman and Roy Williams.

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Roy Williams

Alongside this, TBTL is planning a community exhibition called ‘Life after Lockdown; a community’s story’, intended to reopen the building in 2021. They’re calling on members of the community to contribute their stories from lockdown, and hopes for the future, with different age groups asked to create different pieces which together will make up the exhibition, which is being curated by Cumbrian theatre designer Louie Whitemore. More information on getting involved and instructions for contributions can be found on the theatre’s website.


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Jessica Swale

Finally, Cumbrian Creatives is an artists’ network which TBTL is launching in order to bring together local talent and creativity. Over the coming months the theatre will be working with those interested in being involved to develop what the network will be and do, in terms of networking opportunities and what Theatre by the Lake can offer in the future to local creatives.

Artistic director Liz Stevenson said: “Our doors might be closed at the moment but it’s really important for us to continue, in whatever way we can, to serve our community and audiences artistically and creatively: that’s what we’re here to do and that’s what we’ll endeavour to keep on doing.

“We’re really thrilled to have some wonderful playwrights lined up to join us for our play reading club discussions, and with our Cumbrian Creatives network we’re hoping to discover, develop and celebrate the brilliant talent which we knows exists in our county. Now, more than ever, it’s important that we bring creative voices together and look to the future. Whether you are local aspiring theatre-maker at the beginning of your journey as an artist, or an experienced professional who grew up in the region, we want you to help us shape the future of TBTL.

“Finally, our community exhibition is a way in which everyone can tell us their stories of this unprecedented time and share their vision for the future. We look forward very much to working with a wide range of community groups to make this happen and can’t wait to see what they create.”

To find out more about the activities and how to get involved visit or

For information on how you can support Theatre by the Lake, visit

Virtually beautiful at Hope Mill

OSCAR winning star Olivia Colman will feature in a virtual event taking place at Manchester’s Hope Mill.
Her appearance is part of an evening with acclaimed writer Jonathan Harvey, on Saturday, July 18, at 8pm, which will include an interview with him by actress and Hope Mill theatre patron Denise Welch.
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Harvey, whose many writing credits include Gimme,Gimme,Gimme and Coronation Street, Beautiful Thing, Hushabye Mountain and The Cherry Blossom Tree, as well as songs from musicals Dusty and Musik.
The event will also feature scenes from his past plays and guest hosts who have starred and worked along side him, including Ms Colman, who starred in Beautiful People, as did co-stars Meera Syal and Layton Williams.
Further guest hosts include: Catherine Tyldesley, Coronation Street; Tameka Empson, Beautiful Thing and Maria Friedman, director of Dusty.
The evening will coincide with the launch of the venue’s first ever Prize for Playwriting, Through the Mill, which will provide finalists with the opportunity of mentorship with Harvey.
For more information and to book your ticket, click the link below:,1S2O,48FZJ,6O82,1

Dancing out of lockdown

The Lowry Centre for Advanced Training in Dance (CAT) has opened applications to be considered for its next annual scheme starting September 2020.

The acclaimed regional pre-vocational training scheme is open to young people from the North West aged 11 – 16 (once on the scheme dancers can stay until 18), with a passion and talent for dance. The scheme offers young people with exceptional potential, regardless of their personal circumstances, to benefit from world-class specialist training as part of a broad and balanced education. The training programme has a highly successful track record, with graduates progressing to study dance at major UK conservatories including: Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, The London School of Contemporary Dance, Central School of Ballet, and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

The audition process has been altered in keeping with Government guidelines around the Covid-19 pandemic which means that The Lowry centre is currently closed for the foreseeable future. But  the show must go on and so too must the training of the next generation of dancers. The CAT will be facilitating the application and audition process for the first time with remote classes and dance experience days to ensure all potential candidates and young dancers interested in the scheme have the opportunity to be considered digitally.

This year’s application is twofold: In the first instance, interested parties are invited to take part in and experience FREE practical and informative dance workshops delivered live online via ZOOM on Friday evenings in June, July and August 2020. In addition to these weekly 75 minute sessions, those wishing to be considered are then encouraged to take part in one of two Digital Experience Day Workshops where more in depth training and a greater insight into the course is offered.

A panel consisting of the CAT Management and artist team will informally observe all weekly classes and the Experience Days to ensure those wanting to be considered are seen. They will be observing how students engage and respond to tasks set in these online sessions and encourage those wanting to be considered to engage with as many of the sessions as possible to ensure they have opportunity to be seen. This will replace the standard and more traditional live audition and offers a unique opportunity for those interested, to be observed over a longer period – giving young people the opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of their creativity and facility while being support by the CAT staff in challenging setting and unusual circumstances.

The Lowry CAT Scheme has been running for 11 years and is now seeing its alumni enter  the industry working with companies such as Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Cilla The Musical, Motionhouse, Southpaw Dance Company, Jasmin Vardimon 2, Disneyland Paris and Opera De Lyon as well as many more.

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Jade Aitchison, The Lowry Centre for Advanced Training Manager said: “ We understand that this process is new to participants and to us and so we hope that by offering free weekly dance classes and online experience days, we are making it as accessible as possible for as many interested candidates to be able to try out for our scheme.

“We are looking for passion, commitment and creative potential in dance and we feel that by observing students via our online Zoom classes over a number of weeks rather than in just one single audition, we will be able to really get a sense of who has these key ingredients to pursue a career in dance. We are aware that there will be a reasonable level of challenge due to differing home environments, environmental distractions and WiFi connectivity issues. But with the  recruitment process designed to run over a long period of engagement, we are confident this will allow for a process that is as fair and equal as possible, giving young people the opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of their ability and potential.”

All interested candidates can apply for the Weekly Workshops and Digital Experience Days via Google: form here…..

The masterpiece that is The Last Five Years

If ever a musical might have been written specifically for our two-metre ruled current lives, it’s The Last Five Years. A love story told through the eyes and hearts and voices of both partners in a tempestuous relationship, it starts with his beginning and her ending, and they tell their separate stories.

If you’re confused, you have two more nights to catch this remarkable digital theatre production. If you know the story, believe me that this is the most perfect presentation by two performers for whom it might easily have been written, personally.

Declaration of bias. Jason Robert Brown is a genius, and The Last Five Years is a masterpiece, an unconventional and utterly unique piece of work, and this reviewer balks at the word unique.

True, we’re starved of theatre and desperate for morsels of nourishment, but this is the most magnificent of feasts. Lauren Samuels, reprising the role of Cathy, also directs this Lambert Jackson production for the Other Palace, while Danny Becker is the epitome of the stereotypical Jewish boy who falls for his Shiksa Goddess.

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Between them, in scenes recorded in isolation, they create magic. Create it out of simple backdrop scenes, for this musical more than any other needs only voices and heart. But here we get some superb acting, too (see Becker in the strangely masterful what’s-this-all-about Story of Schmuel, and Samuels in the divinely comic number Summer in Ohio, “where I’m sharing a room with a former stripper and her snake…Wayne”.)

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Samuels articulates the fine balance between calm and exasperation, trying so hard not to be vulnerable; the audition song is a heart-rending example. Becker exudes bravado and energy, nowhere more so  than in the effervescent Moving too fast. The middle section, where her story moving back meets his moving forward, is a delicately expressed wedding scene with a split screen (on the MacBook Air; this show invariably lends itself to updates, but purists will be pleased that the bookshop where Jamie’s masterpiece is being launched is still Borders).

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The Last Five Years is like a see-saw, or a finely-balanced weighing scale, illustrating with sharp clarity the perilous nature of love, the raw dissection of a relationship. It’s flooded with poignancy and veracity, and surely there’s never been a more incisive line in a love song than, “I open myself, one stitch at a time”.

Last but not least, as JRB is a pianist/composer, what a terrific piano accompaniment from Josh Winstone.

It’s available again tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday , and for the digital tickets go to You will cry, even if your heart’s made of stone.

Why we should talk to strangers

Great excitement: I went to Sainsburys and talked to a strange young man at the check-out.

It wasn’t so much the need to shop – our village stores have kept us supplied for months – or the desire to get a bit dressed up and GO somewhere, as the urge to talk to people I don’t know.

Talking to strangers is the easiest way to enrich our lives and see things from another perspective.

Talking to friends is imperative, too, of course, especially in recent times. I’ve run and walked with friends, talking non-stop, and it’s been a life-saver for those of us who live alone and who’ve spent night after interminable night talking to the teapot.

(Of course we walk and run using common sense. I will NOT use that loathsome expression, those two words beginning with S and D, hated even more than “new normal”.)

But strangers take you beyond your own world, as well as making the connections that prove how small is the real world. I loved camping holidays when the kids were young, not least because you never knew who you’d talk to at the washing-up block. I book table seats on trains, because striking up conversation is easier with eye contact. (The last train journey I made, I met a delightful woman making a desperate attempt to visit her daughter in Paris. I hope she got there; I wonder if she made if back?) Travelling solo is often more rewarding because you have to look outwards, you’re forced to be more receptive to others around you, than if you’re part of a couple or a group.

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Sitting with strangers

I’m a social animal. People are my oxygen, they validate my own existence. And as a storyteller – by instinct as well as profession – strangers provide the structure for the narratives of my life. So the young man at the supermarket checkout, who proved to be an out-of-work chef set me thinking about all the people whose lives and careers will be changed by the impact of the pandemic.

Most of all I miss theatres. The performances, of course, the experience of being utterly absorbed into the best of all narrative forms, but also for the strangers I’d meet in the interval. The last show I saw in London, I found I was sitting next to a cover Marius.

And the best story ever came from a conversation with strangers in a theatre. I chatted with a couple sitting beside me when my son was in a West End show; I did that embarrassing-mum thing: “That’s my boy!”

A year later, my son was travelling in South America and called me from Peru. He’d just had a call from a drama-school friend, Lewis, now touring in a musical, who had broken down near Swansea in Wales. A kind garage mechanic rescued him, mended his car, asked what he was doing in the area, what part was he playing in the show?

“Swing? Wow, that’s really difficult. You have to learn all different parts, and you never know from one night to the next what you’ll be going on as.” Lewis was amazed. How did this car mechanic know what a swing in a musical was? “Well, last year my mum and dad went to London to see Les Mis, and they sat next to a woman in the audience whose son was swing in the show…..”

Talking icons

The theme of isolation is inevitably taking centre stage right now.  From Dublin comes an exciting international production by  LipZinc Theatre, Talking Icons.  Written and directed by  artistic director Tzarini Meyler, the show will be streamed live on their Youtube channel in two parts on the  June 10 and 11.

It features 24 lives, 24 characters, 24 modern day icons, as Meyler explores the boundaries of the terms ‘cocoon’ and ‘isolation’. Each piece represents a different hour of the day. Taking iconic literary quotes as stimulus, the characters evolved. The 24 modern day icons invite you into an intimate window of their private lives, through the medium of the smartphone.

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It’s an exceptional take on isolation with an international and multilingual cast. Each character represents a different surreal element that has come out of the lockdown – ranging from anxious panic buying to body transformations, excessive baking to online work. It doesn’t take a political stance but puts the individual at the centre – we are all icons in our own stories. While the acting is naturalistic, the show is visually stimulating with masks, bright costumes and abstract props, highlighting the bizarre nature of our current times with humour and depth.

The cast of Talking Icons includes Kate Lynch, Aaron O’ Farrell, Janet Little, Guillermo Lluch, Martina Mccormack, Eoin O’ Sullivan, Megan Cusack (The Country Girls at the Abbey Theatre),  Joe Wright (Astronaut at Dublin Fringe Festival), Ana Canals, Emmet O’ Sullivan, Valentina Temussi, Oscar Valsecchi (El Arte de la Comedia at Teatro Nacional de Cataluña), Neele Heite-Meissner, Natalia Villegas Antimo, Conall Cahill, Tzarini Meyler, Eimear Griffin, Lucy Richards-Smyrk, Eoghan Burke, Sarah Gordon(Carousel at the National Concert Hall), Kate Fisher, Joseph Reed (The Nobodies at Vault Festival 2020), Carmen Segura, Martin Kelleher and Praise Titus.

Tzarini Meyler is a playwright, actor and director. Raised in West Cork, she moved to Dublin for her degree in English and Drama at UCD where she became an active member of Dramsoc. She then trained at the Institute of the Arts Barcelona under Kate Firth, Aiden Condron, Drew Mulligan and Armando Rotondi. Writing/Directing credits include: Hamlet, UCD Astra Hall; Venus by Candlelight, El Gin Tub, Barcelona; Corn Flake Girl, Institute of the Arts Barcelona; A Hero of Our Time, Institute of the Arts Barcelona; Dolly, Edinburgh Fringe; Mad Cats and Divas, Galway Fringe; Sugar Mice, Scene and Heard; Daddy was a Boogie Man, Galway Fringe.

“LipZinc Theatre Company was conceived through a need to make work that is truthful to the artist and vital to the audience. ‘Lip’ meaning the opening of the mouth, where words and feelings escape and let loose; ‘Zinc’ meaning the essential element to the body that we cannot live without. Founded in 2016 by Tzarini Meyler the company puts the unheard characters of this world centre stage, to tell the tales untold. Beginning with a script we change and move with the flow of the performers, physicality being a major aspect of our work. Our shows are visually engaging – juxtaposing glamour with grime, rural with industrial and past with present. Working with visual and sound artists, our shows are a sensory experience. Life is never only one thing – we want our shows to find the sadness in beauty, and the joy in disorder.  LipZinc was born kicking and screaming and she’s here to stay. “

Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th June at 8pm 
Streaming live on YouTube

Obituary from the Theatre of Dreams

Long before I fell in love with the stage, with Shakespeare and Arthur Miller and Boublil and Schonberg, I spent every weekend at the Theatre of Dreams.

Old Trafford wasn’t known as such back then, of course, but the thrill was the same, climbing up and over the top into the stands…stalls, balcony, circle.

It was a man’s world, too. Very few women went to watch football, and those who did were there mostly to idolise the cult icon that was George Best. It was a tough world. You had to fight to stay on your feet in the Stretford End, especially after a goal. (Is this why I’m now such a fan of the standing ovation?)

But I was there for the love of the game, and for the hero-worship of an unlikely hero, a full-back from Ireland called Tony Dunne. He was the quiet man in a team of giants, a steady, reliable defender who avoided the limelight at a time when footballers were starting to become celebrities, and we shared (I gathered) a fascination for Irish history, for the folk songs of the Easter uprising.

Oh, and yes, I was a teenager and I fancied him.

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Years later, 31 years, in fact, after the 1968 European Cup Final in which Dunne (with Charlton, Best, Kidd, Stiles ) played a crucial part, and Manchester United were again champions of Europe, I went to interview Dunne for a magazine feature. It was one of those regular items in which a “celebrity” is asked a standard set of questions each month, and it was one of the toughest I ever tackled.

Not that Dunne wasn’t a delightful character, with plenty of stories to tell, comfortable and happy in his role as the owner of a golf driving range. He just didn’t think like other people, didn’t respond like others did. This was a glossy, lifestyle magazine read by people with material aspirations, with spending power, and Dunne wasn’t one of them.


Some questions were easy enough. Who had the greatest influence on his life? Matt Busby, of course. But Dunne had little sense of the materialistic. What would you do if you won the Lottery? Well, he wouldn’t go on working (no surprises there): “I’d like to go back to college, I’d like to learn more. I’ve been around the world three times but there’s lots I don’t know. Knowledge is a wonderful thing.” And: “I’d donate money to children’s charities, particularly research into childhood diseases.”

OK, so how about your ideal escape from work? “I’d read more. I love reading anything – fiction, law, finance…football.”

But surely everyone has an indulgence. “That’s a tricky one. I’d like to be in a position to give to other people, and to be comfortable in giving. That’s the nicest feeling.”

The theme continued. If he ruled Manchester he would “organise for professional people to go into schools and work alongside teachers to give children opportunities to improve. Children all need encouragement to fulfil their potential.”

You’re getting the drift. Dunne was interested in religion and spirituality, and above all, in his family, his three children, four grandchildren. I read not long ago that he’d sold his European medals to help them.

Now, hearing of his death at the relatively young age of 78 (I gather he’d been suffering from dementia), we all look further back. To the man who could run backwards faster than anyone else on the field, the man who would calmly raise one arm in triumph when a goal was scored. He played out his days at Bolton – where he returned for a spell as first team coach – and in the States with Detroit Express. But he’ll be remembered with a very deep affection by all who used to worship at what became the Theatre of Dreams.

RIP Tony Dunne: 24 July 1941 –  8 June 2020

The time of the monologue is now

The brave new world of theatre, alone, isolated, performing on our own, is giving voice to the power of the monologue.

The compulsive fascination of the solitary voice is ideally suited to our current situation… as Lynne Truss once said, monologues can take you into strangers’ minds – and can stop an audience breathing. And we do NEED to be taken out of ourselves now, to be transfixed and transported by the power of theatre, even if we can’t sit in the stalls.

We love listening and watching monologues. From Shakespeare (one favourite our ours is Lady Anne Neville in Richard III:

Set down, set down your honourable load, if honour may be shrouded in a hearse

To Arthur Miller’s plea from Biff in Death of a Salesman:

Now hear this, Willy, this is me. You know why I had no address for three months? I stole a suit in Kansas City and I was in jail. I stole myself out of every good job since high school!

We’ve been taking a look at the work of Encompass Productions, the London-based company that’s been making bold and visually arresting new theatre since 2010. This is theatre with no frills in its most stripped-back and elemental form, exploring

the psychological and emotional, drawing from cinematic influences to tell stories through heightened reality and stunning minimalism.

Two wildly contrasting monologues stand out for us. Little boy by John Foster, is performed by James Unsworth, exploring the nightmares of post traumatic stress disorder, and taking us back to the ultimate nightmare of Hiroshima, describing the aftermath of the bomb “…like a tree in the sky, it would look beautiful if you didn’t know what it was.”

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Then there’s the comic Radio Foreplay by Lucy Kaufman,  performed by Alexander Pankhurst, featuring a Radio 4 producer engaged in a phone conversation with a “Mr Mackintosh”, which includes a cruelly-funny portrait of the typical R4 listener. “She may be branching out culturally but her feet are firmly back in her Clarks sandals.”

He’s trying to tell “Mack” that his play needs some adjustment… “Our target audience doesn’t take kindly to smut…there must be more to Tourettes than just profanity….if we can just change this fuck to damn….”

Encompass are inviting invite new work…

while also broadcasting their latest series of Bare E-ssentials, an hour-long selection of new plays. Watch them online via



The anti-slavery campaigner

We have always been great fans of the city of Hull, and spent many happy nights there during the City of Culture year in 2017.

Now, given recent events, we’re prompted to plan a return, when re-openings allow, to visit the city’s oldest museum, Wilberforce House, the birthplace of the anti-slavery campaigner.

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William Wilberforce was born there in 1759, the only son of a Hull merchant whose wealth came from the Baltic trade.

At St. John’s College, Cambridge, he met William Pitt, the future Prime Minister, became interested in politics himself and was elected MP for Hull in 1780. Four years later he became MP for Yorkshire, an immensely position. And like many a provincial man moving to the capital, Wilberforce enjoyed the theatres, clubs and parties of London society.

But following his conversion to Christianity he met a religious minister who had once been a slave trader, the Rev. John Newton, and was introduced through him to Abolitionists who persuaded him to take up the cause of slavery. His efforts led ultimately to the end of the slave trade.

The museum tells the story of trans-Atlantic slavery, and follows through with contemporary displays about the continuing fight for human rights.

Wilberforce House is in the heart of the old town of Hull, close to other museums and galleries. It’s likely to become once again a place of pilgrimage.

Angry and sad and close to the edge

A personal viewpoint

This is why I’m angry and sad, and very close to an edge, today, on the day of all the Black Lives Matter protests, when I’m sad and ashamed that I’m not there with my black friend Winnie in Manchester, while I’m almost embarrassed to be living in safe-ish bubble in a beautiful part of the country.

I’m reading, for the umpteenth time, Things Can Only Get Better by John O’Farrell (the son of my dad’s best friend, but also one of the funniest and most perceptive writers) who is describing his experiences as a Labour activist in the 1980s. He writes about a typical voter: “There were millions like him – no car, no holidays, behind on the rent with no prospect of life improving. But Terry voted Conservative and tore into my beliefs like I was threatening the very existence of his country. A voice at the back of my brain wanted to shout, ‘Look, I don’t go to all these Labour Party meetings for my benefit, you know. I do it for the likes of you, so that your kids can have a proper education….”

And here we are, 35 years down the line, living in a nightmare because enough people believed enough lies to convince themselves to elect an incompetent shallow opportunist with a minor talent to amuse. Not my words, but those of a columnist for that left wing rag – The Times.

We are living with Covid19, and no election result would have changed that. But had enough people thought seriously, looked beyond the venom, looked to do something for the “likes of you”, us, all of us, we might have now a government led by compassion. Corbyn was not the perfect leader, but under his command we would now be led by a regime that was putting lives before business; would be ensuring the NHS was prepared, equipped and rewarded; and would not be telling lies, all of the time.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but how is it that so many otherwise intelligent people (I’m about to lose friends and followers right now) were taken in by the Brexit-driven bullshit of a liar and a cheat? And how, as a result, we have the world’s worst death toll from this dreadful pandemic, and we still can’t go into the homes of our family and loved ones even though we can go into the temples of mammon such as IKEA. (And I write that as a great fan of IKEA).

We should learn from history, and yet we don’t. If each and every one of us thought, what would be best for me AND for the rest of my street/village/town/college, could we see a different way forward? But instead I’m sitting on my own at home for the umpteenth night, desperate for company and for love and for someone to feed and someone to make me laugh, and watching news of the mounting death toll here, and how compassionate leaders from New Zealand to Germany have made it more bearable in those countries, and wondering why so many voted for this?