Thursday, 12 November 2015

Pomona, Royal Exchange, 11th November 2015

Fresh from a run at the National Theatre, Pomona slides North to its rightful resting place at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Described in a recent Guardian article as ‘the grassy Limbo’ between Salford and Manchester and popularly known as ‘the lost island of Manchester’, the abandoned isle a couple of miles shy of the city centre is an inspired location for this slippery dystopian thriller by Alistair McDowell.

Opening with an impassioned exposition of Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed seamlessly by an enigmatically unhinged pitch on the virtues of daily consumption of bulk bought chicken nuggets, the cold, steel framework of the Royal Exchange only adds to the feeling that the next hundred minutes are going to be, at the very least, jarring. The inaugural monologue is sassily popped out by Zeppo, exuding slick charisma whilst munching mcnuggets and clad in grubby underwear and a parka, the fact that McDonalds survives for his enjoyment whilst civilisation self-destructs is bleakly tongue-in-cheek. Seeking her lost sister in the squalid wasteland is Ollie, Zeppo’s listener, and between them, an unacknowledged, dice rolling tentacled figure. Zeppo points Ollie towards Pomona with a disclaimer that it’s unlikely to end well, and the story begins.

The mark is set for a portrait of humanity at its brink, of squalor, disease and finding surreal humour in the darkest of places. Pomona unfortunately just doesn’t quite hit it. The disjointed components of the fragmented plot fail to catch enough interest to warrant elucidation whilst intermittent injections of puerile humour feel like cheap shots at forcing a laugh. Strong performances confirm a coherent thread of humanity amid apocalyptic chaos, but it is these alone which prevent the show from dissolving into incoherent ramble.

Whilst it’s clear that you’re not supposed to ‘get it’, and there are far more questions than answers (‘did Ollie even have a sister?’, ‘who/what is Keaton?’ ‘does Zeppo get involved more than he claims?’), these are unfortunately not questions that cross your mind once you’ve got a pint in your hand five minutes later. There’s an argument that the all-encompassing ambiguity unsettlingly masks deeper more disturbing truths, but it’s unfortunately not a protest that feels important enough to spare a thought for once the lights have gone up. First-rate performances and a strikingly fitting venue prop up an ambitious production that entertains in part but fails to wow. 2/5

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Strictly Balti, Travelling Light, The Edge Chorlton, 23rd October 2015

Sid and Saikat, Saikat and Sid. Both begin with an ‘S’, similarities end there. Sid - bog standard Birmingham lad, thick accent, Christmas presents? He got way more than you, he’ll whoop you at computer games too. Saikat doesn’t celebrate Christmas, although he did get a book of Bengali poems this December, and he goes ballroom dancing.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention, Saikat and Sid are the same kid.

Strictly Balti details the true-life trials of actor Saikat Ahamed growing up as a second-generation immigrant in the UK. By day Saikat is ‘Sid’, lives Birmingham, eats Birmingham, sleeps Birmingham. However, stepping through his front door each evening to the flocked wallpaper, curries and traditional writings of his parents’ Bangladesh homeland, Sid evaporates. Welcome home Saikat.

Sound confusing? Well yeah, definitely, I couldn’t help but feel grateful that as a white British ten year old girl my biggest worry was whether to go for blue or green hair mascara. Masterfully infused with the contagious, endearing energy of Ahamed and on-point direction of Sally Cookson, Strictly Balti is a toe-tapping triumph, waltzing between laugh out loud comedy and poignant introspection, foxtrotting through the ubiquitous social and emotional trials of growing up, whilst pulling at the immensely relevant thread of growing up as a second generation immigrant pulled between two ways of life. 4/5

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Review: So Here We Are, Royal Exchange Studio, Royal Exchange & High Tide, 6th October 2015

Four men, black suits, black ties, the mood bleak, the sense of loss evident, a tense silence hanging on the air, broken only when one of them pipes up “well that’s f**ked up the five a side”. From the first line, you know that bog standard isn’t going to be dish of the day. A co-production with High-Tide Festival, So Here We Are tracks the events leading up to a young man’s death and the ripple of its aftermath. Ripple being the key word, no flapping of arms, no histrionics, barely an undry eye, just a liberal dose of crude, laugh out loud lad banter masking emptiness, devastation and preventing anyone from asking what the hell happened to Frankie.

It’s a winning start, but it fails to grab the medals. The sharp dialogue and mystery of the opening scene, a chunky, 30ish minute four hander focussing less on what is said (how fit was the grieving mother/grandmother?) than what no-one wants to say,  is concurrently riotous and intensely moving (although arguably becoming slightly too ‘Inbetweeners’ at some points). The ensuing scenes fail to live up to the blast of this starting gun, descending into a perfectly executed but ultimately clunky, formulaic catalogue of exposition that is saved by a crushing twist and a heartbreaking final scene. 3/5

Review: Golem, 1927, HOME Manchester, 7th October 2015

If you’re one of those people who's ever wondered what would happen if you mixed The League of Gentleman, The Mighty Boosh, Black Mirror and Dr Caligari into a nutty, trippy soup, this is one for you. Hot on the heels of their previous show, which played to sell-out audiences at the National Theatre last summer, 1927 march into HOME with Golem, a simultaneously hilarious and unsettling feat of visual gluttony which will satisfy even the portliest of eyes. A timely revival of the German silent film trilogy, Golem is the story of a clay automaton who gains sentience with devastating results.  
A co-production with Salzburg festival and Theatre de la Ville Paris, Golem’s European inspirations ooze throughout, 1920s German expressionism fuses effortlessly with twists of film noir and Chaplin-style slapstick to articulate a strong polemic on the looming stride of complacency in the ever technological age. In fact the key twist on the tale is Golem’s ubiquity, with the newest upgrade being the must have item, you can’t help but sense the strong whiff of iphones. 1927 are sublime, exuding intelligence, attention to detail and timing so spot on it’s got to be bordering on indecent. 
Their set, all projections, is a show in itself; when combined with the impeccable comic timing of the five sets of feet on stage, Golem is second to none. 5/5

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Review: The Bogus Woman, Z-arts, Curtis Productions and Theatre by the Lake - 11th September 2015

Looking at the current climate (today the Guardian ran an article called 'A Day on a Refugee Ship' whilst the DM ran a uncharacteristically sympathetic (*cough*) story on the plight of disabled refugees), The Bogus Woman, an uncompromisingly frank documentation of an African refugee’s bleak, inevitably hopeless grasp for safety on UK shores, couldn’t be more bang on time or smack closer to home. Krissi Bohn executes this revival of Kay Adshead’s hard-hitting, gut-punching play with an inexorable energy that far eclipses your average bee-hive and leaves you with a far worse sting. An inspiring one-hander that never once strays into the tempting yet tediously fatal pit of self-indulgence; Bohn, under the flawless eye of director Zoe Waterman, springs seamlessly between 30 plus characters, oozing cocky revulsion as a bigoted official one second and bumbling as an affable ex-Eton type solicitor the next. A gutsy and unflinching confrontation that teases out glimmers of hope before wrenching them from under your feet; The Bogus Woman is a must-see show for anyone who has ever taken for granted the four walls around them, the wallet in their pocket or settling in for the night, securely locking their front door and getting a good night's sleep. 4/5

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase, HOME Manchester, 16th September 2015

With two and a bit hours of gloriously aggressive assaults to the senses; Kneehigh don’t fail to disappoint as they smash into HOME with their retelling of John Gay’s ‘The Beggars Opera’. True to form, it’s Kneehigh’s good old singing and dancing with a solid sprinkle of bawdiness, a few puppets, cross-dressing, colourful language and a couple of willies thrown in for good measure. The performers spurt pure vocal and musical gold, with standout prowling from the hilariously deranged Mrs Peachum whose bafflingly energetic performance brings to mind Cher, Mrs Lovett and my Auntie after a bottle of Pernod. However, this opera ain’t forgetting it’s Brechtian roots; the play crashes to a graphic, unsettling halt which sits uncomfortably with the toe tapping sordid sexiness of its preceding acts, a conclusion which menacingly disperses the lingering darkness that's been trapped in the floating noose the whole time.

Would I go see it again? Absolutely, do you want to go? Yes? Let’s mash it.

Spoiler alert. It doesn’t end well for the dog. 


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Review: Yen, Royal Exchange, Wednesday 18th February 2015

Normally when you walk out at an interval it’s a fairly clear indicator that Breaking Bad and eating Nutella in your jammies is a far superior alternative than another hour of a seat in a dark room.

Not in this case.

Happily musing my love of ‘open endings’ on my skip exitward I discovered that there was a whole bonus second half of the Bruntwood Prize winning Yen to come. And, in all honesty, sod what people have said about my ignorant near walk-out being a heinous indictment on the play as a whole, the fact that the first half had me deep in thought and saturated with theatrical glee (something many a 'full' play fails to bag) is testament to just how bloody good this production is.

tells the story of two teenage brothers left to fend for themselves and their dog in a squalid flat in Feltham, Performances that could easily be grating and overbaked (alcoholic absent mother, animal loving teenage girl and malnourished trakkie bottom-wearing sweary youths) are played out with brutal honesty, no stain hidden. Sharp dialogue and gritty delivery tosses you from hilarity to despair with each passing second and an empty stage populated by a grotty sofa-bed is filled with the turbulence of first love; the monotony of a seven hour Playstation marathon and a tragic childhood where nicked charity shop clothes and chicken nuggets for tea are considered luxuries. 

All this before a horrific twist in the second half. (Make sure you don’t leave).

It was busy on the first night, and it's Manchester so word will get out. This is a seat in a dark room you'll want to get your bum on. 4/5