The Funfair

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The Funfair

By Simon Stephens

HOME, 21 May 2015

Ben Batt (Cash) and Michael Ryan (Frankie Marr) in The Funfair adapted from Ödön von Horváth’s Kasimir and Karoline by Simon Stephens, directed by Walter Meierjohann.  Presented by HOME Manchester (14 May - 13 June 2015).  Photo by Graeme Cooper

Ben Batt (Cash) and Michael Ryan (Frankie Marr) in The Funfair adapted from Ödön von Horváth’s Kasimir and Karoline by Simon Stephens, directed by Walter Meierjohann. Presented by HOME Manchester (14 May – 13 June 2015). Photo by Graeme Cooper

The first theatrical production in the former Library Theatre’s new home is Simon Stephens’s version of Kasimir and Karoline by Odon von Horvath.

A gritty, grimy drama, it follows the fortunes of a squabbling couple, Cash (Ben Batt) and Caroline (Katie Moore), their mates and hangers-on, over the course of a night spent at a Manchester funfair.  In no time at all, the couple argue and bicker and fall out.  Cash has just lost his job, he’s all out of cash, which doesn’t help his mood any; while Caroline decides it is a fine evening for taking offence.

Such dissatisfaction sits side by side with the gaiety and grotesqueness of the funfair: there’s a freak show and were treated to a performance.  On reflection, this is quite apt; you can’t wash away the dirt of the world so easily.

While faithful to the original, The Funfair also gives us some Stephens’ scenes.  Two characters looking at the sky, with one telling the other what the constellations are called, we’ve seen something like that before.

At any rate, this is an explosive, entertaining production of an intriguing play with the outstanding performance coming from Michael Ryan, who plays Frankie, Cash’s supposed friend, erstwhile tempter and demonical ally.

The Funfair is showing at HOME until 13 June, further details can be found here.

The Ghost Train @ the Royal Exchange Theatre

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The Ghost Train

By Arnold Ridley

Told by an Idiot

Royal Exchange Theatre, 19 May 2015

Calum Finlay as Teddie Deakin in The Ghost Train.  Photo by Jonathan Keenan

Calum Finlay as Teddie Deakin in The Ghost Train. Photo by Jonathan Keenan

In Arnold Ridley’s comedy adventure we are in Edwardian England, sort of, John Buchan and/or P.G. Wodehouse country.

Various disgruntled passengers find themselves having to spend the night at a deserted railway station, a station that is supposed to be haunted by a ghost train.  Among them we find a bickering couple, a pair of newly-weds, a suspicious looking spinster, an oddball sportsman who we come to learn more about later.  The porter – sorry, stationmaster: he is very pernickety about how he is addressed – is a cantankerous curmudgeon who is reluctant to let them stay.  He’s less than welcoming, let’s put it like that.

It was all good, but for my money two performances stood out.  Calum Finlay’s turn as the aforementioned oddball, sporty type of fellow, who’s a bit of a smart aleck too, come to think of it, was done with great aplomb.  And Javier Marzan, who was villain and vixen both, donning female clothing for the spinster role, a certain Miss Bourne, was splendid too.

Told by an Idiot’s reputation for creating inventive and entertaining theatre is well known; this production will further enhance their reputation.  The Ghost Train is a knockabout comedy that children and grown-ups will enjoy.

The Ghost Train is showing at the Royal Exchange until 20 June, further details can be found here.

Finale: Fliter & Figaro

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Finale: Fliter & Figaro

Ingrid Fliter and Manchester Camerata

The Bridgewater Hall, 16 May 2015

Ingrid Fliter.  Photo by Anton Dressler

Ingrid Fliter. Photo by Anton Dressler

The closing concert of the season was a characteristically classy affair, featuring new work by a young composer and artists from the Camerata’s own Youth Forum, these being sandwiched between solid offerings (or, some may say, monumental intimidations) by Mozart and Beethoven.

The concert began with the overture to the Marriage of Figaro after which the Youth Forum performed their own inventive take on it.

Ingrid Fliter’s astonishing virtuosity during Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, as well as in the encore, another Beethoven piece, that followed, was the highlight of the evening.  It was a salutary reminder, lest we ever forget, of just how strange, how unequalled, how unapproachable Beethoven is.

There was a sparse elegance to Jack Sheen’s Etudes, which received its premiere here.  It was fleetly followed by Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ symphony, which left you in what can only be described as a celivagous mood.  Drifting heavenwards.

Details of Manchester Camerata’s forthcoming concerts can be found here.

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

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RNCM Symphony Orchestra

RNCM Concert Hall, 1 May 2015

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

In a superb programme of music it was Keiko Abe’s ‘The Wave’, here receiving its UK premiere, which stood out.

An exhilarating work, it featured Le Yu, an RNCM alumnus, on percussion.  Fully focused right from the off, immersed in the music, pitch-perfect throughout, Le Yu gave us a rousing and exciting work, rich in entrancing rhythm.

This was the first evening in a while where the RNCM Symphony Orchestra didn’t play a symphony.  No matter, for the three other works, particularly Kodaly’s Hary Janos Suite and ‘The Miraculous Mandarin by Bartok, more than made up for it.  (Toru Takemitsu’s Ran Suite was the other work and that wasn’t bad either.)  Taken altogether, there was enough epic sweep and technicolour grandeur on show for a slue of symphonies.   Myriad musical textures courtesy of a veritable bestiary of instruments.

A splendid concert.

The Boy Who Killed Demons

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The Boy Who Killed Demons

By Dave Zeltserman

Duckworth, 2015

ISBN: 9780715649893

The Boy Who Killed Demons

A brilliant contemporary horror novel written in the form of a journal (a la Adrian Mole), the clue being very much in the title.

Henry Dudlow is your average American adolescent, except for one tiny quirk: he sees some people as demons and believes that it is his mission to kill them before they can carry out a fatal ritual that will open the gates of hell.  Or has the world already fallen to wrack and ruin?

We don’t really know why Henry can see demons, how come he has been chosen to receive this gift or curse, while it has passed others by.  It’s unasked for and unwelcome; few have apparently possessed it in the past.  Henry is reflective, has insight into his condition.  He scouts demons out where he finds them, suspects they’re on to him (or is this just his paranoia?).  Researching past lore surrounding demons in myriad occult tomes, he uncovers claims which seem to vie with his own experience, such as that dogs and demons have a deep antipathy.

It’s an absorbing novel, and we’re quickly caught up in Henry’s concerns and anxieties.  Zeltserman convincingly captures the grumpy, grouchy voice of an adolescent boy – spoilt yet with a core integrity.  So much so, in fact, that we don’t really appreciate until right at the end how he has kept open the (albeit slim) possibility that Henry may be deluded.  Are these people actually demons, or is Henry the demon?

An entertaining novel, dark and humorous, touching and often exciting, with lots of inventive demon lore.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.

Life is a Cabaret!

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‘Life is a Cabaret!

RNCM Concert Hall, 27 April 2014

RNCM Day of Song: Cabaret!

In this concert , the final event of this year’s RNCM Day of Song, we were entertained with cabaret songs by William Bolcolm, Ben Parry and Schoenberg, together with a selection of songs from The Threepenny Opera and Cabaret itself.

It is curious the way in which cabaret songs can conjure a world and a mood, something which Burlesque, her younger, simpler, albeit sometimes naughtier sister cannot quite manage (though, naturally, there are affinities between the two, as the performance of Fred Ebb’s ‘Mein Herr’ made plain).  With cabaret you’re minded of a big city, its high society and its seedy underbelly sitting side by side.  You’re introduced to characters who move between these milieus, seemingly well-to-do, with great prospects even, yet in truth never that far from penury and/or the prison yard.  There’s anxiety as well as hedonism in cabaret, since illicit (true?) pleasure is always transgressive…  Cabaret has an implicit philosophy, it counts the cost.

I liked two of William Bolcolm’s songs best of all here, his ‘Song of Black Max’ and ‘George’ (did the latter inspire Rod Stewart’s song ‘The Killing of Georgie’, I wonder?), mainly for the reasons given above.  And, yes, we did get to hear a rousing version of ‘The Ballad of Mack the Knife’.

As a sampling of the delights and rewards of cabaret, this concert could hardly have been bettered.

Dawn Upshaw can be heard performing ‘Song of Black Max’ here.

The Rolling Stone

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The Rolling Stone

By Chris Urch

Royal Exchange Theatre, 24 April 2015

Robert Gilbert as Sam and Fiston Barek as Dembe in THE ROLLING STONE by Chris Urch.  Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Robert Gilbert as Sam and Fiston Barek as Dembe in THE ROLLING STONE by Chris Urch. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Dembe is gay, a Christian whose brother Joe leads the congregation of their church.  When there is a threat that his sexuality will be exposed – we are in present-day Uganda – he becomes anxious, takes fright.

Chris Urch’s play grabs your attention right from the get-go and holds it fast throughout.  ‘Fast’ is the operative word, actually, for the play drives forward at a breakneck speed.  There’s no let up at all.  And though the odd polemical point is made (how could this be omitted in an intelligent play?), it is the fate of these people – above all, what will become of Dembe and his lover Sam – their lives and predicament, that becomes your overriding concern.

A fine play, with splendid performances throughout, notably from Fiston Barek (Dembe), Sule Rimi (Joe) and Robert Gilbert (Sam). The Rolling Stone is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 2 May.  Further details can be found here.

Anything Goes

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Anything Goes

Songs by Cole Porter

Opera House, Manchester

8 April 2015

Anything Goes

An entertaining evening of delightful songs and superlative dance, this musical perfectly captures the moment when America segued (nosedived?) from the Jazz Age into the Great Depression.  The youthful arrogance and devil-may-care attitude is still there, but it’s waning somewhat.

I found the story – a knockabout farce penned by, among others, P.G. Wodehouse and ending like one of those Shakespeare comedies with multiple weddings – to be quite absurd, but the splendid Cole Porter songs and the spectacular tap dance routines more than made up for it.  Debbie Kurup (Reno) and Matt Rawle (Billy), the two leads, were wonderful, absolutely top-notch, and another performer who caught the eye was Stephen Matthews.  He played Lord Evelyn Oakley, a Wodehouse-veined English aristocrat, with freshness and real verve.  His performance of ‘The Gypsy in Me’, complete with tango steps and a rose between the teeth, was one of the stand-out moments in the show.

It was exhilarating to hear so many Cole Porter standards one after another: ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘You’re the Top’, ‘Friendship ‘, ‘Easy to Love ‘, ‘It’s De-Lovely’ and, of course, the title song, ‘Anything Goes’.  Many of these songs are rightly admired for their lyric inventiveness and verbal dexterity, but there were several lesser-known gems here too.  Of these I’d single out the gospel/Negro Spiritual-tinged ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ – a rollicking number – and the exquisitely poignant lyric of ‘Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye’.  There are 19 Cole Porter songs in total in this show, so you are pretty much spoilt for choice.  A great night out.

Anything Goes is at the Opera House until 18 April, then tours throughout the UK.  Full tour dates can be found here.

Blind

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Blind

Directed by Eskil Vogt

Norway, 2014

Cornerhouse, 2 April 2015

Blind

Vogt wrote the screenplay for Trier’s enigmatic Oslo, August 31st a while back and Blind, his directorial debut, is another trying, testing film – still, it is one that’s well worth sticking with.

The fears of a woman suddenly struck blind, lost in the world, at once absolutely dependent on others, anxious about the future: that’s Vogt ‘s playground this time out.

In particular, the woman here fears that her partner will desert her or seek out other women on internet dating sites.  She invents a story with two forlorn lovers (her body is bound yet her imagination is free to roam) and her partner appears in this story.  Like Mommy, Blind is another troubled meditation on the resilience of human relationships.  The finitude of love, how much we care to care.

A bleak and beautiful film.

Mommy

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Mommy

Directed by Xavier Dolan

Canada, 2014

Cornerhouse, 2 April 2015

Mommy

If parents were given the option of washing their hands of their children , pushing the oftimes onerous predicament of raising them on to the state, would they?

It is a question that Dolan explores in this fine film, which focuses on the intense relationship between a single mother and her teenage son.  One of the boy’s issues is his ADHD, another is that he is still mourning the death of his father.

We can see the love between mother and son, but love (as it is here) is finite, conditional, can be all used up.  It is human, all too human.

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