Tag Archives: Reviews

Review: Heads Up, HOME


Heads Up by Kieran Hurley

HOME, Manchester [19.05.17]

Kieran Hurley’s Heads Up is an end of the world storytelling sesh that, at times, resembles the sorts of stories you hear from people sat in Chicken Hut after a night on the lash in the toon. Except this didn’t have the “must keep talking about it” quality that late nights in Chicken Hut do.

Whilst Hurley is clearly a very talented actor and vocalist with the ability to use small and subtle movements to give the performance an urgent physicality, the story itself lacked legs. Either that or it had too many legs that, when lined up, unfortunately tumbled like a house of cards caught in a gust of wind. The four narratives that were delivered to us were rather far fetched, but nonetheless had some important home truths (that are possibly humbling when the world is about to end) and at times, were funny. However, the stories were so jumbled that they didn’t really get off the ground and the linking points between them were too obvious at points.

I appreciate shows that do not crave a set in order to make their world exist and was impressed by Hurley’s ability to provide his continued presence, vocal range and physicality whilst engaging in a live form of play with sound effects. But, and this is a very big but, the lighting of this piece was atrocious. And, I’m not saying that to be harsh but, because at points, I had to sit with my eyes closed for a moment to counteract the pain in my eyes caused by the lighting. The stage was in darkness with Hurley in the centre barely illuminated. It is clear that the thought behind this lighting choice was to create a feeling of tension and urgency. However, there is a difference between giving your audience the feeling of tension and actually causing tension in their eyes. This piece of theatre was not accessible for individuals with sensory difficulties and I believe these staging decisions cut off a potential audience and hindered some of the audience who did attend.

Verdict: Heads Up has the potential to be something great – Hurley is a skilled performer and storyteller and, the stories of this piece have some interesting elements. However, this was a physically uncomfortable experience that I wouldn’t want to have again. Though, I would be interested to see a relaxed performance of this piece to see how much of an influence the poor conditions had on my experience of the narrative.



NB Having spoken to other attendees at this performance, it is clear that where you were seated really influenced your sensory experience of the show.


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Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon



The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (adapted by Deborah McAndrew)

The Octagon, Bolton [11.04.2017]

Sitting in a seat with a somewhat restricted view following a very long and arduous bus journey (though to be fair these events were separated by some thought provoking conversation) was probably not the best start to the evening. Leaning forward to admire the set was an error on my part, there was very little visual artistry to greet or titillate.

Now, is probably a good time to say that the classics are not of huge appeal to me and I don’t usually write reviews in this style. However, there’s a first time for everything and said time is upon us.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (we’ll refer to it as Wildfell from now on) is the sort of play that my best friend would appreciate:

It is a window into the harrowing love life and struggle for independence of a ‘widow’ named Helen. Helen has fled from her foul husband with her child and is hiding away in fear that he will find her and subject her to a life of misery. In what is now to be her new home, she stumbles across local farmer Gilbert and they fall in love, against the odds.

Or at least, that’s how I imagine her describing it (okay, maybe she wouldn’t have said that last bit).

It reminded me of Catherine Cookson’s The Girl. If you’ve not read or watched it, allow me to elaborate. Hannah marries a butcher, but is in love with a guy called Ned, who’s been in love with her since she was a child (which I find uncomfortable to say the least). Anyway, the butcher dies and Hannah sends his mother away. She gives the shop to her sister and runs off into the hills to be with Ned. Yes, Wildfell is very much like that except there’s less dramatic fighting, no butcher in sight and oh yes, there’s a dog that makes an appearance at the beginning and then it just doesn’t come back. I am not a fan of The Girl, but I am able to vaguely outline its plot because it’s the joy of my mother’s life on a Sunday afternoon. It’s more predictable than that On The Buses episode where Stan becomes infatuated by the Indian belly dancer who works in the canteen and, thanks to his good old pal Jack, he ends up taking her snake home and hiding out in his upstairs loo until she comes to collect it. Wildfell is very much like this, riddled in misogyny but less humorous.

It’s important that I highlight some good things. Number 1: Helen is a strong feminist character (be it of the time) and I can see how this would have ruffled many a feather back in the day (props to Anne Bronte). Number 2: I appreciated that the child was actually played by a child. Often adults embody children and the audience is expected to see beyond them and appreciate the craft used to make you believe they are a child. In this instance, it not only felt appropriate but would seem ill placed for an adult to perform childhood in this environment (p.s. if he can sing, they should recast him for Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol). Number 3: Gilbert (Helen’s love interest) was like a cross between Ned (mentioned above), Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre) and Mr Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) – I think this would be a positive for many audience members. Number 4: the string music played during scene changes was rather soothing and was well complemented by the purple hued lighting changes that accompanied it. Number 5: the period costumes were complementary to the era in which the piece is set. Number 6: I liked that the dog wondered about for a bit (even though I don’t like animals).

Verdict: If you appreciate the back to back period dramas shown on Yesterday (Freeview channel 20) and would like to be immersed in one in the round (be it with a no frills no fuss set), then this is definitely the shout for you. Equally if you have an appreciation of the classics, I’m sure you’ll like this. However, if like me, you prefer contemporary theatre that defies boundaries and require a less predictable plot, give this one a swerve.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall will be at The Octagon until Saturday 22nd April.

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Review: The People Are Singing, Royal Exchange

The People Are Singing

The People Are Singing by Lizzie Nunnery

Royal Exchange, Manchester [07.04.2017]

A tin tub with some cargo net. Some coloured rope. Three photographs. A tally chart counting nothing. A man lighting candles. A child skipping.

Distant memories of childhood games immerse us in a younger world view in Lizzie Nunnery’s new play. We observe a twelve year old girl, Irina skipping and playing hop scotch. But, at unexpected instances her actions and thoughts are no longer her own  – trauma is her puppet master and fear, her strings. This external domination of Irina’s choices only grows as the piece progresses. What starts as an external war to their small home, grows into an indoor war in which Olena (the mother) demands that Irina sing everything away for her, this war lapses when Olena is shot by Dima, a strange man who comes into the house offering safety, food, a ‘home’. A new war is waged as Irina runs away to escape Dima and ends up in a highly original forbidden forest, en route to a freedom she has only ever imagined.

Whilst this piece possesses a strong narrative, it is its physicality, poetry, sound and visual artistry that make it a poignant piece of theatre. Irina’s poetic monologues take us on a harrowing journey in which she begins to question her actions and who their purposes pertain to. These pieces alongside a soundscape that removes the need for specific physical props, gives us a true sense of immersion into this abraded landscape and unsettling forest.

The movements within this piece highlight the characters relationships to the warped world in which they are living and express the proximity in sensation between fear and excited pleasure: each time Irina throws her arms out, are these sensations what she perceives them to be or are they crafted externally. Theses mixed emotions are almost like a replica of the state of uncertainty that arises when you are not sure whether or not you are having a panic attack.

The accompanying strong element of visual arts only builds on this experience. The use of bungee cords (in the colours of the Ukrainian flag) as household items, undergrowth, outdoor games, and a physical expression of both internal and external limitations imposed on us, gives the piece a continued identity – which starkly contrasts with the decomposing identities of all of the characters.

The People Are Singing leaves us questioning ways to respond to wrong doing and whether it is right to do the thing that is most truthful. The snapshot experience we have through a little girl’s eyes also brings us to consider what truly crafts one’s identity in childhood and how this is impeded by the cold light of trauma.


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Review: Nothing, Royal Exchange

Screenshot 2017-04-20 22.28.52

Photo by Fureya Nelson-Riggot

You know a play is dark, when you leave the theatre with that “i’m not okay” kind of feeling. You know a play is really dark, when you leave in a state of indescribable distress and an inability to articulate the state that you are in. If a play triggers me (especially if it happens on multiple occasions throughout its duration), I usually refuse to write about it. But. But, Nothing. Nothing is exactly that, it is something that needs to be talked about and experienced in all of its catastrophic disturbances because Nothing matters. Every dark tale weaved into this distorted, Rubix coated search for meaning, reminds us why we are here, why we matter and why we are more than our experiences. I am not going to go into detail about the plot of Nothing, but I will give you a list of some of the objects of reference (to meaning) in the piece and allow you to join up the dots: antidepressants, a hamster, a finger, a pair of trainers, a diary, a dvd box set, a t-shirt, a phone, a dog’s head and virginity.

In playing with levels, the elements, physicality and close proximity delivery, this production places the audience right in its centre. You are not the fly on the wall, but the fly free to roam the room and feel all kinds of sensations that you may or may not want to engage with.

Did I enjoy this play? No.

Is it an exceptional piece of theatre that breaks the mould and stays with you once you’ve left the space, in a very real way? Yes.

And for that reason, I do not regret experiencing this. It has pushed me to reassess how much my experiences matter to me and how I let them shape me. It has compelled me to think about what really matters because when nothing matters, everything matters. Nothing is to be commended for its challenging nature, a story that truly makes you ache and an amazingly talented cast.


P.S. Shout out to Annie Rogers who played Sophie – you made me cry.

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Review: The Wedding, Northern Stage


The Wedding by Gecko             Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne

The trials and tribulations of marriages of all sorts are brought to light, dismantled and re-conjugated in Gecko’s newest offering, The Wedding. New arrivals drop onto the stage after a whirlwind romance overheard by the audience as though we have a glass against a dorm room wall. They shoot out of a tunnel slide and land in a pile of misplaced and forgotten innocence – each arrival leaves their teddy bear on the pile and goes in pursuit of their dream dress and their contractual existence. Gecko use their trademark physicality to shift between time and space, and escort us on a journey of overrun offices filled with overenthusiastic and overworked staff. Within this frenzied atmosphere that resembles a poetic wall street hosting a brief case endowed nu wave cha cha slide, we experience relationships. Each is shared between two characters and we feel everything from anger and love, to confusion and loss. We are there with them. And reminded of every occasion that we wanted – no needed – to scream, to be held, to let go, to get out, to be seen, to belong. To be.

It is rare that you go to the theatre and experience an ensemble being and then laughing, and then being whilst laughing. The final moment of The Wedding will stay with me for a long time. As the cast brought their chairs to the stage edge, set them down and let their lights come up, they made the most beautiful body percussion which brought every emotion to the surface. I was compelled to join in, not because I was happy, but because I could truly feel. I could feel despite limitations that I have placed on myself and that others have placed upon me.

When I saw The Institute a few years back, I thought it was the most incredible piece of physical theatre I had ever seen. Now having seen The Wedding, I have concluded that Gecko have a way with movement as Margaret Atwood has a way with words. Awaiting their next offering with anticipation…

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Review: The Suppliant Woman, Royal Exchange


The Suppliant Woman by Aeschylus       Royal Exchange, Manchester

It’s not often you get to say that you watched a play that is 2500 years old. So, I’ll say it now: I watched a play that is 2500 years old. Aeschylus’ opening and only living remainder of his lost trilogy is an epic that shares the story of 50 Egyptian women fleeing their country to escape the grips of the cousins they are betrothed to, and heading to Greece to seek sanctuary.

35 young women fill the round – singing, chanting, dancing, praying and seeking. As they move with grace and intention, we see each of these women’s individual qualities and quirks emerge. The strong collective energy of this ensemble creates a definitive sense of unity and commitment to both one another and their cause. However, the energy ceases there.

This is supposedly a play about women’s rights and empowerment but whilst there is an attempt at an exploration of the former, the latter was lacking to say the least. In the presence of the men, the women were more often than not kneeling and hanging on their words – this is not an example of empowerment, it is an example of why we still need feminism. Taking in to consideration the time at which this play was written, it is not surprising that patriarchy takes a dominant place within its structure. However, surely a modern day take on this theatrical relic could have been more aware of itself and the message it is giving to an audience. The dominance of the male characters and the women’s dependency on their decisions cannot be overcast by their choral singing. If anything, it is a reminder that, within patriarchal structures, women challenging the status quo are perceived as noise and nothing more. This is a falsehood that needs to be challenged and it was unfortunate that whilst this challenge proposed itself through the physicality of the piece, it failed to follow through on this hopeful spark.

I did not leave The Suppliant Woman feeling empowered. Empowerment is a development in strength, confidence and power, it is growth in one’s ability to make their own decisions and move forward. The stagnation of progress expressed in this piece left me feeling tired – tired of the long road ahead. But, it also left me even more confident that a feminist revolution is what will evoke change.



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