REVIEW: Strangeways, Here We Come

Here we have a movie that has been roundly panned by the (mainly) London bubble of reviewers. Indeed, the Guardian gave it just one *.

Lets have a proper look…

OK, I’ll freely admit, this movie isn’t going to bother any award ceremonies, but if it had been set in Hoxton, Brixton or any of the London “sink” estates, then the plaudits would be gushing, but outside of the London media darling bubble, the film is being enjoyed by pretty much everyone who goes to see it.

It’s a good laugh. What more do you want from 90 minutes of movie?

Its written to please an audience, not reviewers. I’ve lived in Salford, as well as on council estates across the North, and can testify that there isn’t a single character in this film that couldn’t be found on any estate, anywhere in the North of England.

Writer Chris Green knows his audience, and knows the area that the film is set. So complaining that they are caricatures in “implausible situations”  tells me that the writer has never set foot, never mind lived, on such an estate.

I enjoyed this, and so did the rest of the audience at Salford Arts theatre, where this film ended its run tonight with two showings.

As I say, it wont be winning any Oscars, but it is what it is, a bit of fun, set on an estate where people deal drugs, loan sharks are bas***ds who deserve a good kicking and people take drugs at weekend parties to escape the mundane boring life that Austerity Britain has become.

If you cant go into see this (or any piece of art) with an open mind, don’t bother, but I assure you that if you do, you will have a laugh.

It wont be a belly laugh for the full 90 minutes, but you will smirk, laugh out loud at times and leave with a smile plastered across your face.

If you want gritty, indy art house, look elsewhere. This film is aimed at the working class it portrays, maybe larger than life, but then, how else are they supposed to be played?

Ignore the mainstream media critics. What do they actually know about life on a council estate?

More than likely nothing, or if they did, they’ve long ago moved into middle class mediocrity and are denying their past…

Me?

3*/5

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Andrew Riley interviews…Episode one

The first in a series of informal interviews with local artists sees Andrew at Salford Arts Theatre to chat to Scott T. Berry.

 

 

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. 

REVIEW: Two, Footlights theatre, Salford (GM Fringe)

Its GM Fringe time again, and this year, its bigger and better than ever. Andrew Riley went to a new venue for 2018, Footlights theatre in Media City to watch a revival of the Jim Cartwright play “Two”

On nights like tonight, I truly do love the job of reviewer.

This was my first visit to Footlights theatre, tucked away on a little Avenue, just off Salford Broadway, but it won’t be my last.

A bijou place, and entirely self-funded, I can’t wait to see what else this theatre has in store over the coming years. It may be small, but it has a very welcoming atmosphere.

Watching a pair of actors take an audience from simply watching, to becoming an active part of the work they are watching always leaves me speechless.

Tonight, I saw two actors who simply astounded me.

I digress…

I was here to review Yard Brush Theatre Company take on the Jim Cartwright play “Two”

This is probably one of the hardest things an actor can do, outside of a one handed play, is a two hander, relying on someone else to hit every mark and every line, without any backup.

Dave Jordan and Jacqui Padden take on 14 different characters over the course of the piece, which is set in a fictional northern pub.

Yes, you read that right. 14 characters, one pub, one night.

Needless to say, like every pub, they have their regulars, and each one as recognisable as the next. The beauty of Cartwright is his ability to pick apart the minutiae of the human condition and lay it bare.

Dave Jordan and Jacqui Padden in TWO

Dave Jordan and Jacqui Padden in TWO

From the errant wannabe Romeo to the Housewife whose only escape from her disabled husband is her trips to the butcher, followed by a Guinness, Cartwright, and in turn the actors, lay open a host of stories that the audience can find both believable and have sympathy with.

We begin with a busy night in the pub and your hosts are hard at it behind the bar, but there is a simmering tension underlying the careful banter between the pair, which culminates after the pub closes.

Before then, we see the local Lothario, his girlfriend and assorted other locals who anyone who has sat in a British pub long enough (or run one) will recognise.

Dave and Jacqui have mastered the art of the quick change, after all, you can’t cover 14 different people without a few tricks, and they must have worked so hard to make these changes look so flawless.

The play runs seamlessly from beginning to end, with a beautifully subtle soundtrack that helps weave the tales into each other. It’s a simple set of a bar, two tables and four chairs and the fourth wall is broken just enough to really bring the audience into the pub and its atmosphere.

Yard Brush have really made this play come alive in a way I didn’t expect.

My only criticism would be that its run of three nights is too short, but if you get the chance, make certain you do get to see it, because Dave and Jacqui deserve as wide an audience as possible, and Footlights deserves a thriving local audience to help keep it afloat.

 

5*/5 for both the play and the venue