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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C’est magnifique! Catalan Dragons stun Wire at Wembley

But is it time to look at the showpiece event, and specifically, is it time it left Wembley?

Firstly, the match itself. There is no doubting that Warrington certainly looked stunned when Catalan went ahead inside the first 5 minutes, bur from that point on, the victor was hardly ever in doubt.

Warrington looked like staging a late comeback, but the Dragons defence was strong enough to hold on for an historic 20-14 victory.

Ahead of kick off, I bumped into Alex Simmons of Rugby AM, and asked him how he felt the game would go…

As it was, Catalan Dragons went home with both the Challenge Cup and the Lance Todd trophy for Man of the Match, which is voted for by the press, went to Tony Gigot.

There had been a Twitter campaign to #LetsFillWembley but it fell someway short as the crowd of 50,672 was the lowest of the modern era. Quite a few people blamed this on the fact that one of the finalists came from France, and traditionally, the month of August is a holiday period, and the short turnaround between the Semi final and Final.

Me?

I think the Challenge cup needs a MAJOR overhaul.

Wembley is too big to stage a rugby league showpiece final.

The amount of buildings that have gone up around the stadium means there can be no fan park for supporters to mingle and to build the atmosphere ahead of entering the ground, and this is important.

When you’ve a stadium that holds 90,000, generating an atmosphere with just over half of that really takes some doing. You can’t rely on a couple of 1/2 time games and a choir before kick off to generate one. No matter how good the stadium announcer is, and in Pete Nuttall the sport has one of THE very best in the business, he cant do it if there is no crowd to motivate.

Even the small fan park at the Grand Final gets fans in the mood for what is usually a really tasty encounter, even if you’re not a fan of either team, there is always something to do and see for fans of the sport, and a decent band during the break always helps.

Wembley without a full crowd is a soulless void of concrete with a nice green oblong of grass in the middle.

A soulless concrete void with a green oblong

A soulless concrete void with a green oblong

Credit to those Catalan fans (and those from other clubs sporting “Dragon for a day” tee shirts) who did their utmost to create an atmosphere, but really? I’m not certain Wembley would have filled 90,000 if it had been both Hull clubs in the final, let alone Wigan v St Helens.

Its played on a bank holiday weekend during the English school summer holidays. The RFL needs to look again at perhaps moving it back to its traditional May date, and hold it away from Wembley.

The London Stadium would be a better venue.

The former home of the Olympic games has been configured for a ball game, has superb transport links, has already hosted a big rugby league event and is easily big enough to accommodate a match of the stature of the Challenge cup. It holds 57,000 people, and given the outward lack of concern from the RFL about fan numbers, it seems perfect to move the game away from Wembley, keep it in London and actually fill a stadium.

May though is Magic Weekend.

I want to see the Magic Weekend stay in Newcastle, as St James park is perfect, but I think it’ll be moved in 2019, probably to the Etihad in Manchester as part of the RFL move to the campus full time, but surely, Magic Weekend can be moved to accommodate an early season final for the Challenge Cup?

From small acorns…

There is room at West Ham for a decent fan park, as provided by Rugby AM when England played the Kiwis there a couple of years ago, and if anyone fancies a spot of shopping, there is the Westfield centre within walking distance.

Sadly, the lack of imagination from the RFL means that they won’t even consider a move away from Wembley.

Perhaps if the mooted break away from the RFL by the top flight happens it will stir some action from Red Hall, but somehow, I cant see the breakaway happening either.

For too long, the sport I love has stagnated from the top down. It’s high time that there was some new thinking at all levels.

Next years Challenge cup final?

Not unless Hull KR are playing.

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…

REVIEW: Film stars Don’t die in Liverpool

I can honestly say that until this film crossed my path, I’d never (probably like a lot of my generation) heard of Gloria Grahame, Oscar winner and star of both stage and screen, let alone seen her work, but despite its saccharine look back at her love affair with author and actor Peter Turner (on whose book this film is based), there is a real grittiness underlying the film that Annette Benning (Grahame) and Jamie Bell (Turner) try so hard to show, but despite the best efforts of a wonderful ensemble that includes Kenneth Cranham, Julie Walters and Stephen Graham, the film never really gets into the real lives of a couple who were separated by close to 30 years (The couple met when she was fifty-four and he was twenty-six).

Suffering from late stage cancer, Graham runs back into the arms of her younger lover, ostensibly saying she is ill, but eventually, having to admit the truth about her cancer.

Turner is torn between what to do for the best, for both Gloria and his family. His mother is due to fly to Australia to see her other son and Gloria is denying her illness, and is insistent that Peter shouldn’t tell her family back in the USA.

It would have been easy to gloss over the family and how they react to having Grahame under their roof, but in Julie Walters as the matriarch, and Cranham as the slightly downtrodden father, we see just how Grahame’s illness and her request to live with the family of Turner affects them, as well as him watching her die in their spare room.

The scenes where Bell is dealing with Grahame on screen alone are touching, but you feel there is always more to be found and yet never shown on screen.

The film jumps backwards and forwards  far too often for my liking, and this detracts from a story that deserves to be told, if not in a more linear sense, then certainly in a slightly more structured vein than that offered by Director Paul McGuigan.

The clumsy way the break up of our main protagonists is dealt with is particularly tough to watch, certainly seeing the same scene from two different sides is a bit messy, given that we see how it was designed by Grahame to sent Turner back to further his career at the expense of their relationship.

Flitting between Liverpool, New York and California cant have been an easy task for any director, but the film manages to do it clumsily in my opinion, and to the detriment of the story trying to be told under heavy handed direction.

Benning shines in her role as the faded star, while Bell really dotes on Grahame, doing everything he can to make her final days as comfortable as possible, even taking her to the stage of the Liverpool Playhouse to perform Romeo and Juliet alone together.

On the whole, its a very basic movie.

Thats not to say it’s not a good movie, it is, but given its source material, it could have been better. It’s what my wife describes as “one of those” particularly British movies she can enjoy on an afternoon off, she compared it to Brassed Off in that respect.

There was love in this movie, but not in the places you’d expect. I wanted to love this film, but can’t.

Its not a movie I’ll be rushing out to buy, but I’ll certainly be looking for a copy of Turner’s book on which it’s based, as I think I’ll learn more about the couple there than this film can ever hope to show.

3*

 

Rhinos miserable season continues

Rugby league can be a cruel mistress…

One minute, you’re celebrating as Champions, the next, you’re in the bottom four, staring at possible relegation and get dumped out of the Challenge Cup by Warrington Wolves.

Leeds looked nothing like the Champions of October as they were well and truly beaten by Warrington in the second of today’s semi finals at the University of Bolton stadium.

With rugby union returnee Josh Charnley and Tom Lineham both grabbing a pair of tries, Leeds were always on the back foot.

Perhaps its telling that director of rugby Kevin Sinfield isn’t putting his name forward for the job of head coach on a full time basis, as his side capitulated 48-12.

For their part, Warrington never looked troubled during the 80 minutes, and could have broken the 50 point barrier if Ben Westwood had brought his shooting boots for the final kick of the game.

Warrington will go into the showpiece final in three weeks time hoping that their opponents, Catalan Dragons, have a similar sort of day at the office Leeds did.

Given how often Wolves fans start the season saying “its our year”, perhaps this year, where the Challenge cup is concerned, it might well be.