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. 

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Roar on the England team to victory on Saturday

As good as it was to watch the Union boys win a World Cup in Australia back in 2003, to see the League team do it in 2017 would be an even bigger feat of sporting prowess.

Sadly, most of the mainstream media have ignored Rugby League for so long, its not a shock if you haven’t heard about a World Cup taking place in Australia.

There are plenty out there, ready to belittle the achievement of a team making it to a World Cup final, but look beyond the doubters, and see just how hard these players play the game, how tough they have to be, mentally and physically, just to make it in a sport where, sadly, a lot of players get by on part time wages, and only the very best get paid the big bucks.
Come Saturday, when the two teams take the field, every single player will have the weight of history on his shoulders.
It’s been 22 years since we last took to the field in a World Cup final, and 45 years since we last won it, and back then, we were Great Britain.
I’m no old romantic, I understand that beating one of the finest International teams, coached by one of the all time greatest players EVER to grace a pitch will be no easy feat, but I do believe this England team, if they play for a full 80 minutes, are more than capable of beating anyone.
It’s the playing for the full 80 minutes that has me worried.
During this tournament, they have too often switched off when seemingly in the box seat, and were very lucky not to lose to Tonga in their semi final last weekend.
A more experienced side would have beaten England.
The pinnacle of every sport is to become its World Champion.
This England squad are just 80 minutes away from becoming that.
In Wayne Bennett we certainly have the quiet man of coaching, but it’s out of his hands once the chosen XIII cross the whitewashed sideline in, what will be for some, the biggest game of their careers.
I cannot stress enough, just how tough it will be to beat the Kangaroos in their own back yard, but if it wasn’t for hope, what would we sports journalists write about?
The RFL team out there in Australia have worked wonders with Social media to keep fans back in England as up to date as possible, and the “OuRLeague” app has been superb. I’m happy to admit, they have surprised me with their ability to engage with fans in way they havent managed before.
No England player has EVER lifted the trophy, so here’s to our captain, Sean O’Loughlin, Slammin’ Sam Burgess, Flyin’ Jermaine McGillvary and rest of the boys.
Get up early Sunday and roar the Lions of England home to victory.
#BringItHome

The squads

England: G Widdop, J McGillvary, K Watkins, J Bateman, R Hall, K Brown, L Gale, C Hill, J Roby, J Graham, S Burgess, E Whitehead, S O’Loughlin, (capt).

Interchanges: A Walmsley, B Currie, T Burgess, C Heighington.

Australia squad: B Slater, D Gagai, W Chambers, J Dugan, V Holmes, M Morgan, C Cronk, Woods, C Smith, D Klemmer, B Cordner, M Gillett, J McGuire, W Graham, J McLean, R Campbell-Gillard, T Frizell, F Kaufusi, T Trbojevic, J Mansour, J Maloney.

Looking beyond the final, England will take on the Kiwis in a three game Autumn test series in 2018.

Who knows?

Buy your tickets now and you could be watching the World Champions…

International Test Series Fixtures

Saturday October 27 (14:30), KCOM Stadium, Hull.

Saturday November 3 (14:30), Anfield, Liverpool

Sunday November 11 (15:00), Elland Road, Leeds