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.

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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

 

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