REVIEW: Porno Chic, Footlights theatre, Media City.

The #MeToo bandwagon rolls (rightly) on across the globe, but this revival of Vertigo Theatre’s “Porno Chic” is more than deserving of its place on any stage.

There are some who would deride this play, unseen, set in the 70’s and looking at the “other” star of the famed skin flick “Deep Throat”, Harry Reems, for glamorising the porn industry, and going against everything Me Too has stood for, but they are missing the point of the entire play. Porn is not, never has been, nor can it ever be glamorous.

Yes, it can seem it, looking back at how Reems and his co star Linda Lovelace were feted by both Hollywood and it’s stars AFTER the film began to gross more than many mainstream movies released the same year, but lets be honest, and this play is brutally honest, porn is not where any actor sees his or her career in the long term.

I’d not seen the previous incarnations of this show, so was able to watch it without making comparisons to those actors who had previously played these parts, and I was so glad. A fresh eye on what was, to me at least, a fresh and relevant work of fringe theatre.

Richard Allen as Harry Reems gives a performance that should get other directors sitting up and taking notice of this talent.

He is believable in every way as the man behind the cock, whose life was turned upside down, prosecuted, pilloried  and generally spent the rest of the next decade and a half trying to get his life as a serious actor back after just one day of filming.

This play does not shy away from just how bad his life descended into a drink fuelled orgy, before he found (As Harry puts it, “Yes, it is one of those story’s) god , met his wife and settled down until his death in 2013.

Nobody here is claiming that Harry was an angel, far from it, but what we do see in the skilful direction from Craig Hepworth is a man who is at war with himself.

We also get to see the far seedier side of the early 70’s porn industry.

Hepworth does not hold back where Lovelace (Celine Constantinides) and her abusive relationship with her first husband, Chuck Traynor, (Alex Thompson) is concerned. From forcing his wife to take part in alleged gang rapes and beating her when she refused to whore herself out to fuel his drug addiction, Constantinides is utterly believable as she moves from not so innocent waitress to sex object to anti-porn activist.

Watching the mental and physical abuse Traynor doled out to Lovelace is uncomfortable to say the least.

This is more than just a two handed play though. The entire cast slip into different characters with ease, and the scenes in the courtroom with a female Judge Harry W. Wellford are hilarious!

They do say you can find humour in almost everything, and lets face it, most comedy comes down to sex at the end of the day, so finding humour in the porn industry of the 70’s should not really faze anyone in todays times where you can watch pretty much any sexual act you desire at the click of a mouse, but you have to remember just how many barriers this film broke down at the time.

The staging and lighting were fantastic, as was the soundtrack. Just enough to keep the plot moving, and not enough to detract from what you were seeing unfold on stage.

From beginning to end, this show had an audience held in the palm of its hand. Its subject matter and principals dealt with in a sensitive, yet unvarnished way that allowed the performers to really get under the skin of those they were portraying.

Porno Chic is a parable for the 21st Century. It touches on the political pressures brought to bear by a Republican president, desperate to hold on to power, it shows us the reality of porn before the internet and just how bad it was for both sexes to be involved in the often violent and abusive industry.

If anything, Porno Chic was ahead of the #MeToo curve…

 

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REVIEW: MNIB The Glitch

Sometimes, great music appears on your radar from unexpected places.

That’s what happened with “The Glitch” by Manchester act MNIB.

I found myself chatting with a new work colleague when he happened to mention he was an artist, so, naturally, being a journalist, I asked him what he made and lo and behold, MNIB (My Name Is Billal) was on my radar and my playlists.

I have to say, as someone whose musical tastes have a broad range, I didn’t expect to be as blown away as I was.

Northern grime never sounded so good. Dropping onto my Spotify list via MNIB himself, each track is short, sweet and stings like a short jab from Golovkin.

The Glitch may well be explicit and not easy listening in front of your maiden aunt, but its as Mancunian as Oasis, and as hardcore as any other act you’ll hear.

Stand out tracks include “Save some belly”, “Dog Fight” and “The Glitch”, but for me the longer track of “No Stopping You” really hit the spot.

An album that looks both out and is introspective at the same time, MNIB delights in his ability to use expletives not to shock, but to actually put his point across in a manner that makes the album really jump out. Lyrically, it can sound a bit passe at times, but the quality of the production and the maturity of the writing makes it an easy flaw to overlook.

This could have so easily veered into self parody, but it straddles a line, and although not a colossus, it’s certainly an album you’ll enjoy listening to again, unlike some other acts you’ll discover.

 

MNIB Wants YOU

MNIB Wants YOU

I’ll certainly be keeping an ear out for other tracks, and, even if I can’t play it in front of some of the more easily upset members of the household, its worth keeping on Spotify for those hours when I’m alone in the car…

Lionman (Footlights theatre, GM Fringe 2018)

Fringe theatre is, by its very nature, meant to challenge its audience. Lionman, from Dapertutto, at the Footlights theatre, Media City is certainly that.

Challenging.

Starring Tom Hardman as Leonard and Cameron Jones as pretty much everyone else, this is a piece of physical theatre the likes of which you probably don’t see often enough outside of fringe.

From the surreal outset, we follow Leonard as he attempts to complete his screen play, fall in love with the woman upstairs, fight the man in the flat below and all the while there is so little dialogue, you are drawn ever closer to the edge of your seat to see just how Hardman manages these feats of physical theatre.

The use of multimedia is brilliant. From the opening mashup to the awards ceremony, the technical aspects of the show could easily detract from whats going on elsewhere on stage, but its a credit to technician Leon Hardman and sound designer Kris W Laudrum that they add to the actors presence, and don’t overpower the piece.

The lighting is subtly muted, and the staging for such a physical piece works wonders. Sometimes less truly is more. I have no idea how long the performers have rehearsed this, but they hit every mark and made it seem so easy.

 

Footlights, Lionman, GM Fringe

Lionman

It may be a cliche, but this really was a work that made you stop and wonder at times.

The scene where Leonard and the neighbour rewind after a lengthy fight is so well done, that both actors deserved an ovation just for that.

Hardman must come off stage every night both physically and mentally drained! How he’s managed an entire week of shows is a testament to his skills as an actor.

There are dream sequences, which Leonard thinks are real, an awards ceremony that actually IS real and an off stage love interest who has no idea our hero even exists.

Even Casablanca gets a look in.

I went into this only having the preview on the GM Fringe website, so had very little as to what to expect.

I came away from the show filled with admiration for the lead, and the whole crew that they could so easily draw an audience into the world of Leonard so fully and with such aplomb as to leave me feeling as breathless as the performers must have been as they took their bows.

In the end, our hero appears to overcome everything that stands in his way, but at what cost?

 

Lionman runs for the next two nights at Footlights theatre, Kansas Avenue, Media City, Salford.

4*/5 Easily a must see piece of work from a promising new company.

From Heaven to Hell (Footlights Theatre, GM Fringe 2018)

It’s not very often a writer is asked to take a second look at a play he has already reviewed, but on hearing that Danny Clifford had expanded his World War One piece, “From Heaven to Hell” from 2017’s single act into two acts, I have to say, I was sceptical, but interested, after all, I’d really enjoyed its debut run.

The original show, at Salford Arts Theatre, was rightly nominated for “Best Drama” at the Fringe awards, and it was hard to see how it could be improved, but improved it certainly was.

Once again, the production is directed by the fantastic Sue Jenkins (Brookside, Coronation Street) who, given the slightly larger space of the Footlights theatre, could have easily gone overboard and cluttered the stage, but its a credit to her abilities as a director that the staging is kept as minimal as before, but still allowing the actors to inhabit the larger space Footlights offers.

Sue Jenkins set for "From Heaven to Hell

Sue Jenkins set for “From Heaven to Hell

Writer, as well as producer and lead, Danny Clifford, (Noir, Reflections) has excelled himself with the rewriting of this emotionally tense piece, giving new characters both life and breadth, without taking away from the central love story that is already there, its difficult to believe that this is his first play as a writer.

The tale of John Harper (Clifford) and William Jones (Peter Ash, Hollyoaks, Coronation Street) and how their mates from the ship canal joined the Salford pals and head off to the Somme is based on true stories, and dedicated to the 24 Officers and 650 men from the battalion who didn’t make it back.

Against this backdrop, we see John fall in love with the partially sighted Mary (Emily Jones, Reflections) and William who is parted from his wife, Betty, (Caroline Wagstaffe, As You Like It, Octopus).

The rest of the cast is fleshed out by a supporting cast who really leap out of the stage and into your consciousness. We have the genial Irishman, Fergus Finney (Alex Slater, Shameless), the gentle giant, Charlie Edwards, (Luke Richards, Fresh Meat, Noir) The light fingered but harmless Ben Shifton (Matt Hall, Heartbeat, The Last Leg), and Sgt. Hunt (Sean Chriscole, The Crucible, Fine Comb Conversations) give the show a more “rounded” feel to last year.

Aside from a broader brush the larger cast brings to the table, the interplay between the pals and their sergeant is so well described as to be uncanny, as is Williams PTSD after a shell narrowly misses the boys.

The brutality of war is not shied away from on the home front either, as Betty goes to work in a gas mask factory, much to Billy’s disgust, and Mary falls pregnant when the boys come home for leave before their posting to the front.

The cast take their bows

The cast take their bows

The entire play is mesmerising, and there were certainly a few eyes a little less dryer as the final line of “We WILL remember them” rang out across the theatre.

This was one of the more powerful theatre pieces that Greater Manchester Fringe threw up over the last few years, and this revival was made all the more powerful given its expansion and rewriting. If Clifford can continue to write like this, then it won’t be too long before he garners not just nominations, but actual awards for his craft.

The direction is subtle, with three different sets again at times sharing the stage, and the lighting just right.

5*/5

“From Heaven To Hell” has just one more night at Footlights Theatre, Media City on the 14th July. 

A surefire dark hit of theatre

In recent years, Vertigo theatre productions has become a byword for excellence in Manchester fringe theatre. It regularly puts on locally written pieces, and is also a regular when the awards season comes about, thanks to the work of not only Craig Hepworth, but the art direction and technical know-how of Karl Burge.

With their new production, Noir, the ever upward trajectory of Hepworth and his merry band of actors looks set to continue.

A real multimedia extravaganza, Noir is a tale oft told of forbidden love between a young 16-year-old schoolboy, Jimmy Flynn, played by Richard Allen, and Veronica Smart, played to almost smouldering perfection by Emma Morgan (Hollyoaks, /Happy Valley) and her husband Cliff (Danny Clifford).

Emma Morgan and Stuart Reeve

Any fan of the film noir genre will immediately recognise the scenarios…

A twisted saga of love, betrayal, sex, manipulation and eventually murder. There are plot twists that would please Hitchcock, settings you will adore, and acting that will astound, Noir is a rare thing on the fringe scene, a wholly realised and well drilled production that leaves the audience gasping and on the edge of their seats.

A lonely housewife, aspiring to be a movie star, but whose talent can’t live up to her ambition, a class full of young kids, easily led astray by a beautiful older teacher who wants to be loved, but who is bored by her humdrum home life.

A streetlight illuminating our narrator, Detective Sal Pelattiere (Stuart Reeve) who guides you through the early stages of the story, before taking a more vital role as the plot twists come thick and fast.

Noir harks back to some of the great movies of the 40’s and 50’s, screen gems like The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil to name but two.

The subtlety of some of these performances is astounding. Every single player seems so nuanced and able to convey their thoughts as well as actions with ease, it’s easy to think this is a cast that have been performing this show in a much larger auditorium for weeks, if not months.

The outstanding performance for me was Anna Hickling as Vivian Pierce, the young lady who, infatuated by Veronica Smart, tries to style her whole life and outlook on her arts teacher. The transformation from mousey schoolgirl to full on vamp is great to see.

Veronica and Vivian face off in Noir

I’d love to say that there was a weak link in the cast, but I can’t. From scene shifting, to hitting their marks, I was hard pressed to find a fault with the production.

One of the more chilling characters, that of young Jimmy’s deadbeat dad, is played to masterful levels by Luke Richards. He really shows an edge to his part that is so believable, at one point, I ducked his blows from the back row!

Bekka-Jane Milner and Luke Richards

My only gripe would be the use of the smoke machine, which although necessary to add atmosphere, could have been toned down, or sited elsewhere to allow the audience to see at times…

But if that is the only gripe, then I’m happy for that to be it.

The show is a long old beast, but its directed in a very competent manor and lit to perfection.

At some point, Hepworth will fail to write or direct a winning show.

I just hope it’s a long while before that happens.

With an off Broadway run of their award winning “Porno Chic” in 2018, the future for the company as a whole looks as bright as Noir is dark.

Noir runs until the 2nd December at The Kings Arms, Bloom Street, Salford, with limited ticket availability

 

REVIEW: The Marriage of Kim K.

As someone not overly well versed with the comings and goings of the Kardashian family, We sent Andrew Riley to 53Two to see the culture clash between reality TV and opera…

I will admit to not knowing a great deal about reality TV, but I do enjoy a good opera, so was pleased to find this on the Greater Manchester fringe.

Written by  Leoe & Hyde – a northern musical-duo who live and work together in central Manchester, Leoe Mercer and Stephen Hyde have really got an underground fringe hit on their hands if the audience reaction is to be believed.

Based around Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”, this show brings together the queen of reality TV during her 72 day marriage to basketball star Kris Humphries, a married couple who fall out over wanting to watch reality TV or opera and the central figures in the Mozart opera.

All three couples occupy the small stage at 53two at various times, and although there were some initial sound problems, once they were cleared up and we could hear the cast over the wonderful string quartet Echo Chamber, the fun really began.

The cast of "The Marriage of Kim K"

The cast of “The Marriage of Kim K”

Anyone who has ever argued over the remote control will sympathise with both Stephen and Amelia. In the end, we get a TV rota, then two TV’s, a break up or three, and all accompanied by a wonderfully eclectic mix of live music.

Every single player on the stage is possessed of a superb voice, and although there is very little in the way of dialogue, it is the blending of the voices that really marks this as such a complete piece of work.

It would be all too easy for a voice to become “lost” in the mix, but initial problems aside, in this production, it really works.

Overall, this is a very polished production, in one of the more unusual spaces in the city centre, it being a former Bauer Millett showroom.

Its the subtle things, like Stephen switching the subtitles on for the opera and the move from the original into English that marks out just how well crafted this work is, and why it deserves to go from fringe to mainstream.

The production heads north to Edinburgh for August, and is at Greater Manchester Fringe as part of a two month UK wide tour.

Overall, I’d give it a 7 out of 10 rating, and look forward to seeing more of Leoe&Hyde productions in the coming years.

http://www.marriageofkimk.com/ for more information, and for tickets head to http://www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk/