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.

 

 

Advertisements

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…

 

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