Category Archives: LBC Theatre Reviews

Quick Update on The Kite Runner

Just wanted to let anyone heading down south know that the superb production of The Kite Runner is currently running in the West End!

Visit the Wyndham’s Theatre website HERE to get all the details on how to catch this very impressive production.

 ‘For you…a thousand times over…’

Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.

the kite runner

This should be an impossible book to adapt. Afghanistan is a changing place in 1975. Religion and politics are evolving the landscape further. It is in this background that two boys attempt to navigate their path, which happens to be an emerging family tragedy. The book covers a span of 30 years. That Matthew Spangler succeeds and succeeds beautifully  in distilling the essence of this tale into a mere two acts – well it ought to be an impossible feat.

On a sparse stage, populated only by a musicians mat; a flowing backdrop and a carpet with a thousand interpretations; an intensely emotional story unfolds. The lack of clutter, heck, the near disdain of props merely served to emphasis the interpersonal focus of this play.

The hero of this production has to be Ben Turner. Aside from being the only constant presence on the stage; he manages to pull off a difficult task with aplomb. At no point is he ever in denial that he is portraying Amir as a deeply flawed person – indeed for much of the play the character appears to be cowardly, unlikeable with few redeeming features. He flies a kite, embodying enthusiastically a 12 year old and brings equal weight to his reflection as an older narrator. However, as time passes, Ben makes the audience aware of something that Amir never quite realises. He is as much a victim (albeit to a far lesser degree) of Assef’s violence as Hassan and certainly of his father’s coldness and – as becomes apparent – lies.

In a stellar cast of consummate professionals – it is impossible to understate the menace that Nicholas Karimi brings to the bully Assef. From the second he appears, spitting out insults and swaggering a la John Wayne; he dominates and intimidates. His interactions with Andrei Costin (in the dual role of Hassan and Sohrah) in particular are just harrowing.

One of the most lovely and touching aspects of a play that confirms, defies and compounds expectations (frequently in the same passage of dialogue!) is a character that emerges intact from the pages of the book. The sole (significant) speaking female role is that of Soraya, portrayed by Lisa Zahra. Though she only appears in the later sections of the play; she is the most honest and brave character – following her heart and owning her mistakes. On a male dominated stage; her every interaction with Amir is refreshing and cleansing – not necessarily what one is led to expect from a story set mostly in Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

The music throughout the play plays a powerful role and is primarily provided by Hanif Khan; an internationally renowned classically trained Indian musician and performer, who – like Ben Turner – remains on stage for the bulk of the performance. The melodies he provides both inform the story and provide emotional context. The music and sounds created by the cast provide an atmospheric backdrop; at once unobtrusive yet pervasive. A constant and haunting refrain throughout that serves as a reminder that while the story may be set in lands far away; the ultimate search for redemption is a universal one. That the sheer act of being human makes us strive to better ourselves, to make up for those things that we have done wrong, to seek to make amends…even when it is too late.

Adapted by Matthew Spangler from the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Music: Jonathan Girling
Director: Giles Croft

WYP_red_greyThe Kite Runner at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Buy tickets HERE

Visit the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre website HERE

Visit the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse website HERE

Visit the Wyndham’s Theatre website HERE

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No Man’s Land at Sheffield Lyceum

Or ‘ that time I saw Magneto and Cap’t Picard on stage together’

no mans 1

No Man’s Land blurb

Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart return to the UK stage in Sean Mathias’ acclaimed production of No Man’s Land, one of the most brilliantly entertaining plays by Nobel Prize laureateHarold Pinter.

One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.

What a strange, intense, odd play. I’m  not sure that I ‘got it’ necessarily, but I was enthralled throughout!

Harold Pinter wrote this absurdist play in 1974 and it has either delighted or confused all who have watched it ever since. Hirst – portrayed by Patrick Stewart – is a wealthy, aristocrat, patron and poet. His former Oxford friend Spooner – brought to life by Ian McKellen – is also a poet, but one who has fallen on much harder times. In the initial stages, Hirst is cold and almost rude to his guest, sometimes appears confused as to where he is and who he is with; while Spooner is a long winded, obsequious leach. However, as the show progresses, Hirst has a second wind and the two alternate between reminiscing and baiting one another.

RANDOM FACT – Each character is named after an English cricketer.

The stage setting managed to be both lavish and minimal. It is obviously a very grand room, high ceilings, a well stocked bar discretely placed at the back. However, there is only one comfortable chair – at all times reminding us of Hirst’s status and only two less comfortable chairs scattered throughout the room. I found the negotiation for the chairs – when all four character all onstage, one is conspicuously left standing – to be particularly interesting.

It feels almost unnecessary to speak to the quality of the players. From the second that the (somewhat creepy) moving forest backdrop lifts and Sirs Ian and Pat presented, I was locked into place, utterly focused on the stage. Due to their characters ancient competition and utter inebriation, Spooner and Hirst attempt to one up one another, with increasingly ridiculous assertions and anecdotes. The sheer verbosity of the characters – let alone their ability to articulate some really peculiar lines – and that they remain compelling throughout – well, I personally did feel like I was watching two grand masters of the stage at work. Even though I’m not sure I was following the Pinter side of things at all; it was a privilege to watch.

no mans 2

Owen Teale and Damien Molony in their supporting roles of Briggs and Foster were equally impressive. Their motives – heck, even their relationship with Hirst – is never really clearly delineated and each appears to regard Spooner as a nuisance and a threat. Their presence alone ups the tension levels, as well as introducing a physicality previously lacking. For the first time, there is an undercurrent of violence – it directly ties into Hirst and Spooner’s history, but is separate from it. Really odd, but quite powerful. That the actors managed to apply such nuance to their characters (a few of us speculated about their characters backstories, friendship, protectiveness and so on for some time after the curtains closed!) in such a short span speaks to their respective skills. Irritatingly, I was well into the second half before I recognised Molony from Being Human and Ripper Street – he is transformed in this.

The show ends ambiguously. At least, I think it does. We certainly had lots of questions as we headed out. A new friend, who happens to be a nurse, and I speculated as to whether Hirst had dementia? Was Foster really his son – and he had forgotten it? Would that explain why he knew Spooner one moment, and not the next? How had Foster and Briggs met – from Foster’s point of view? Was Spooner actually the most genuinely masculine, owning his cringing self, while the others puffed out their chests in a show of Alpha status…Did any of this actually have anything to do with anything?

It’s my favourite feeling walking out of a theatre.

Personally, I would recommend this showing and this cast to anyone. However, I would normally be a lot more circumspect in pushing Pinter onto others as I do find his work to be really dense and locked into a particular time frame and context.

Embarrassing aside – there’s a moment where Hirst (Patrick Stewart) face plants onto the floor. For one second, I honestly thought that my Captain had just collapsed on stage, before cottoning onto the fact that Ian McKellen was still in character. I wasn’t the only one either – there was a proper gasp and an ‘oh shit no’ from others in the audience too.

Massive thanks to @HalfPintBlonde for inviting me to join in on this lovely day out. My first ‘live’ Pinter (boy, does his stuff make marginally more sense on a stage as opposed to on the page), my first theatre trip in FAR too long and my first proper visit to Sheffield ever!

By Harold Pinter
Directed by Sean Mathias

Ian McKellen – Spooner
Patrick Stewart – Hirst
Owen Teale – Briggs
Damien Molony – Foster

The Lyceum

lyceumIt would be terribly neglectful not to acknowledge the beautiful setting for this production. The Lyceum opened its doors in 1897, though there has been a theatre on the site since at least 1879. It dates from the Edwardian era  – in fact it is the only surviving theatre build outside of London by esteemed architect W.G.R. Prague (ain’t wikipedia grand!) and has Grade II listed status.

Capable of housing an audience of 1000; it doesn’t feel like a grand space. There is an intimacy and friendly atmosphere that permeated throughout – most notably in the stalls which were a bit on the squeezy side, but I always think that encourages chatter with your neighbours, so for me a solid positive! (Oh and when you exit, there is this weird TARDIS like staircase where you seemed to go down far more stairs than you ever went up. Kinda cool.)

 

SheffieldTheatresSheffield Theatres

Buy Tickets HERE

Tweet @SheffieldLyceum

 

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Sheffield Theatres is the largest theatre complex outside London. Across our three auditoria: the Crucible, the Lyceum and the Crucible Studio, we offer a huge variety of home-grown and touring productions, as well as a thriving programme of participatory events and activities.

REVIEW – The Night Before Christmas – West Yorkshire Playhouse

Carol doesn’t feel very Christmassy. What’s all the fuss about? Trees, tinsel, baubles, pudding, presents…? What a lot of nonsense. Definitely not for her.

That is until the night before Christmas when Elf 30046, all stripey tights and pointy ears, falls down her chimney and they both tumble into a bigger adventure than they could ever have imagined. Will Elf ever do as he’s told? Will Carol learn to have fun? Will they ever spot the speeding sleigh and most importantly of all… can they find Father Christmas before it’s too late?

A beautiful, funny and delightful story of friendship and the true meaning of Christmas, The Night Before Christmas is the perfect present for little elves, a magical treat for the family this winter.

[youtube https://youtu.be/ZqPr3DrjuRo]

In what is becoming a bit of a tradition for us, Helen and I recently attended the West Yorkshire Playhouse for their annual Christmas show. After last years triumph (see our Father Christmas review HERE), we tried to mute our expectations – after all – what were the chances that we would be treated to yet another funny yet touching production that perfectly embodied the spirit of the Christmas season?

Christmas 09

Carol doesn’t like Christmas, presents, or the affable Roger

An hour later we left as giddy as all the (millions of) tiny happy humans dancing on the stage before us! Our Christmas has officially begun.

Christmas 08

Poor Elfie and Carol – NOT a meet cute

Director Amy Leach sets this charming story during the 1950’s, with the set, props and music all from this era. It was rather lovely to watch familiar oldies enchant a new generation. The set design was just wonderful – a feature I’ve come to expect from the WY Playhouse. And the backstage team pulled out all the tricks to delight, enthrall and capture the imagination of their audience – aside from a beautifully compact home recreated on the stage, there was snow (which instantly had Helen all misty eyed! She’s a sucker for Christmas based snow), misdirection and ladders – allowing for the production to literally take to the skies at one point!

christmas 07

Crowd interaction and participation was encouraged at every stage. Indeed Carol is forced to chase Elfie across the auditorium, through the seats and back again at one point. At first, some of the little people were a bit nervous about the rather huge elf and the very grumpy Carol hurtling past them but within moments they were wrapped up in the story line – all worries washed away by the energy and joy expressed on stage.

christmas 03

Possibly my single favourite  moment came towards the end of the play. Carol has been left a present and the audience – predominantly ages between 4 – 7 years – helpfully shouted up to the stage to help her find it. Poor Carol wasn’t really understanding until one grown man – obviously caught up in everything – bellowed out in a deep voice ‘look for your present behind you!’.

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James Barrett – a delightful Elfie

However the greatest accolades must be saved for Rose Warlow (Carol) and James Barrett (Elfie). They bring to life their characters and throw themselves into every piece – whether it is running, jumping, dancing or tracking down Santa – with an energy and conviction that brought every person there with them on their adventure.

Of greater importance perhaps then their impeccable chemistry, timing and vivacity was the timeless warmth that they projected onto all of us. Christmas is meant to be fun, it’s meant to be joyous and it’s meant to bring us together. I think this is a show that inspires that feeling in us all.

Christmas 11

You can read Helen’s review HERE

tl;dr – Go See It!

Written by: Robert Alan Evans
Age: 2-6 years
Director: Amy Leach

WYP_red_grey

The Night Before Christmas at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Buy tickets HERE

 

 

Theatre Reviews

MINI-REVIEW – The Winter’s Tale

This will only be the briefest of posts as it’s late and a school night.

This evening I headed out with two friends I do not see frequently enough to the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, to see The Winter’s Tale by Northern Broadsides – three firsts in one evening!

Though I rarely spend any time there, I’ve a real soft spot for Huddersfield – the people I’ve worked with are lovely; one of my favourite book clubbers (not that I have favourites, you understand – she’s just awesome) comes in to us from the great Field of Hudders and – most important – whenever l’ve gotten lost in the car (happens frequently), it’s never been a heartache to get back on the right track again.

huddersfield theatre

The Lawrence Batley Theatre only enhanced that feeling of good will. It’s a beautiful converted Methodist Chapel with a strong atmosphere of the past. And creepy pillar faces!!! Check ’em out!

huddersfield theatre 02

As noted above, this was also my first time at a Northern Broadside production. In the past, when hanging out with talented arty types, I’ve heard about this group and their director Barrie Rutter and their unique interpretations of classical works. And of course, I was here in 2005, when the world welcomed a northern Doctor Who for the first time – so I appreciate the significance of their work –

 “Northern voices, doing classical work in non-velvet spaces”

Having said that, I can’t admit to it having the same impact on me (as I joked to my friends – every play that I see here has English accents!). However, recently – while attending the Kilkenny Arts Festival, I had the great pleasure of seeing Richard and the Henry’s performed as one production – Druid Shakespeare – by Druid theatre company. This play comprised of Irish actors, using Irish accents and the two lead parts (the Henry’s) were both played by women. This was very unusual for me and defiantly raised a couple of interesting interpretations and questions!

So clearly, it’s my season for seeing Shakespeare in a new light!

[youtube https://youtu.be/eGP8aYhFypg]

The Winter’s Tale – though a remarkable play – is never one that I’ve had a strong personal connection to. It’s so strange, the entire first half is dour speech after horrifying violence followed by straight up misery and another monologue. The second half in marked contrast has songs and many more comedy elements…so I did wonder how it would actually appear on the stage.

To be honest, my first impressions were not convincing. Thematically, it’s also a very odd story. A king goes mad with jealousy and destroys his family. Unlike Othello; this darkness is entirely internally motivated and seemed to appear and fade according to impossible to fathom factors. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic (though the women fare far better than their male counterparts in not being utterly arrogant tosspots *on top* of behaving really really badly). Oh the actors were wonderful – every word reverberated and connected with the audience. However, the sparse set was rarely used and I wondered whether a lack of movement was a characteristic of ‘roving’ productions – a reaction to never being sure of the stage or set up next to be tackled.

Northern Broadsides / Harrogate Theatre Sept 2015The Winter's Tale by William ShakespeareDirected by Conrad Nelson  Designer Dawn AllsoppLighting Mark Howland  Music  Bex HughesConrad Nelson/Leontes  Hannah Barrie/HermioneJack Lord/Polixines    Ruth Alexander/Paulina Vanessa Schofield/Perdita   Jordon Kemp/FlorizelMike Hugo/Autolyclus  Andy Cryer/Camillo Jessica Dyas/MopsaAndrew Whitehead/Antigonus   Lauryn Redding/DorcasRussell Richardson/Old Shepherd   Adam Barlow/Clown©NOBBY CLARK+44(0)7941-515770+44(0)20-7274-2105nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

Northern Broadsides / Harrogate Theatre Sept 2015 ©NOBBY CLARK

The second half however, was a different story altogether. Bright, colourful costumes and set pieces were mixed with musical numbers and even a spot of (Irish?) dancing! The stage went from being a backdrop to a vibrant space  – certainty an effective way of showing we’d changed location as well as time period. An audience – just put through the emotional wringer – was suddenly laughing aloud at various antics, gestures and glances and toe tapping along to the songs. I mean the plot continued…just in a radically different way. Certainly I felt that I had a much better sense of Northern Broadsides – the company  – than I had from the first half.

Ruth Alexander/Paulina  ©NOBBY CLARK

Ruth Alexander/Paulina ©NOBBY CLARK

Though everyone in this ensemble pulled together near seamlessly; there were a few standouts. Ruth Alexander Rubin was superb as the loyal and loquacious Paulina – the only person across the play who spoke any sense. She was just tremendous and I hope to see her in *anything* again soon. Mike Hugo as Time and Autolycus was probably a very easy standout, with his character in the second half having so much to do and the charisma and presence to get away with it all. Nevertheless, Hugo never seemed to rest and his face and body language responded to various actions, even if his role was of lesser importance. While he was visible, my eyes followed him. For that matter, Jessica Dyas and Lauryn Redding played off one another so very well and provided some much needed levity with aplomb.

I’ve really enjoyed my night and look forward to seeing more productions by the northern powerhouse company and in this beautiful spot!

CROSS POSTED ON DRNEEVILS NOTES

EVENT – Sense and Sensibility in Leeds

Leeds Arts Centre is an amateur drama group based at the Carriageworks Theatre in Millennium Square in Leeds. Their next production might be of interest to some of the LBC members*!!

Sense-Sensibility

23 April 2015 – 25 April 2015

Main Auditorium: 7:15pm

​presented by Leeds Arts Centre
By Jane Austen, adapted by Jessica Swale

When bereavement compels Mrs Dashwood to move out of the family home, her eldest daughters, sensible, restrained Elinor and fiery, passionate Marianne, have to marry well to survive. But their ideal is to find true love.
Who will win their affections – shy Edward Ferrars, steadfast Colonel Brandon or the dashing Mr Willoughby?
This adaptation of a well-loved romance has an explosive mix of competing lovers, nosey neighbours and greedy relatives. Will Elinor and Marianne find their heart’s desire?

Price:   £12 (£9 concession)

Contact details:   0113 224 3801
Check out the events page HERE

 

 

*If anyone who goes would like to review the production – I’d be delighted to publish it on our theatre page!!

REVIEW – The Cardinall’s Musick – Howard Assembly Rooms

ABOUT

Founded in 1989, The Cardinall’s Musick is a highly successful and innovative ensemble. Taking its name from the 16th-century cardinal, Thomas Wolsey, the group is known for its extensive study of English Renaissance music. Although primarily a vocal group, The Cardinall’s Musick also has its own period instrumental ensemble, and now embraces a wide range of styles and periods: from complete reconstructions of historical events (the Field of the Cloth of Gold) to world premieres of commissioned music from composers such as Michael Finnissy, Simon Whalley, Matthew Martin and Judith Weir.

Add a sincere love of the music and a deep personal commitment in performance, and ‘the voices of Andrew Carwood and his eight cohorts could probably start a blaze in the Antarctic!’ (The Times). Their thoughtful, themed programmes are designed to stimulate and enlighten, to broaden horizons and bring a fresh approach to standard repertoire.

xt257_01.tifClassical Music is an area that I know woefully little about. A few years ago, I decided to complete a Lenten Challenge to listen to a new piece of classical music each day.

At the end of the Lenten period, I was very aware of 44 pieces of music but only marginally more knowledgeable! However, I had learned one valuable thing. It is possible to enjoy and delight in classical (and indeed most) music, regardless of information about it.  I’d lost my fear.

Which lead me to the Howard Assembly Rooms on the 1st of April, preparing to listen to an 8 piece emsemble, specialists when it comes to the interpretation and performance of English Renaissance music! Thankfully, the HAR provided a detailed programme.

The Cardinall’s Musick would be preforming pieces written by Thomas Tallis:

  • Mass for Four Voices
  • Motets and Plainsong
  • Christ Rising Again
  • A new commandment
  • O come in one to praise the Lord
  • Communion Service (from the Dorian Service)
  • Lamentations of Jereniah I and II

As this included pieces in both Latin and English – translations were provided. Between each of the pieces, the conductor provided us with a brief historical context for the Mass and Lamentations and so on. This was fascinating – especially the information provided about music written during the brief reign of King Edward VI. Given what I’ve learned about the Reformation, it all made sense but I’ve never really considered the impact this would have on the music of the period – particularly religious ones.

Each piece from the mass was perfectly paired with a motet and the voices of the 8 gents involved were just incredible. Every song involved a different set up meaning the stage never became staid; there was always an element of movement. Depending on each song, the vocalists would hit incredible highs or the deepest of lows with seeming ease.

The set up of the Howard Room meant that the stage was reminiscent of sacred spaces which really added to the overall effect. Personally, I preferred the Latin pieces. It’s so rare that I hear anything in the language, let alone male only and to have every word sung with such proficiency and confidence – I was enthralled! Mind you, during the English pieces I was presented with the opportunity to marvel at the interpretation – I’m not sure a single word was pronounced exactly as written!

For me the only let down was that there weren’t any CD’s for sale at the end of the show.

 

xt257_09.tifVisit The Cardinall’s Musick website HERE

@TheCardinalls

 

howard assembly room

Visit the Howard Assembly Room  HERE

@Howard_Assembly

Visit the Opera North website HERE

@Opera_North

 

Theatre Reviews

Review – Kathryn Tickell and The Side at the Howard Assembly Room

What a fantastic night! It was my first musical event at the Howard Assembly Rooms, but it will not be my last! By the time the lights went down, it was a full house and their was an air of expectancy. With such a beautiful and atmospheric venue, I think that everyone in the audience had high expectations!

The award winning duo Gilmore and Roberts – Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts – provided the opening support act. Had they any nerves, they hid them well, bursting into a series of toe tapping tunes. At times, their sound brought to my mind the band the Civil Wars, with the same emphasis on beautiful harmonies.

Katriona Gilmore seamlessly alternated between the violin and vocals for a couple of tunes, which was remarkable, while Jamie Roberts provided consistently masterful guitar playing that set the tone for many of the tracks.

One of the most interesting aspect of this duo is that they write their own songs and find inspiration in the most unexpected sources. They seem to have a particular love and talent for storytelling via song.

On this evening, they paid homage to everything from a doctor with a secret (Doctor James); an arm with an agenda of its own (The Stealing Arm); their love for sat nav (Silver Screen)and a surprisingly emotive tale about a failed Scarecrow.

They also played a track from the album Songs for the Voiceless – a collaborative effort highlighting the lesser known stories from the first world war. The track – Billy Green was probably my favourite.

The pair mentioned that they would be performing in Leeds in a few months time, I will certainly try to catch them then!

gilmore and RobertsGilmore and Roberts – Website

Twitter – @GilmoreRoberts

Youtube – Channel

 

There was a short internal before Kathryn Tickell and the Side were on.

kt and the side 02

Amy, Louisa, Kathryn, Ruth – photo from their website

 

Promptly, with no fanfare, the four musicians took to the stage and immediately began to perform. It was truly remarkable. I had heard that The Side were a super-group of musicians but honestly, I hadn’t understood what that meant before they began to play. The music swelled, lifting up to the high arched ceiling and encompassing every inch of the venue. The vast majority of the songs were set in or about Northumbria, an area that Kathryn Tickell clearly loves to the core of her being. In a second, the mood would change from plaintive and thought provoking, to joyful and stimulating.

Kathryn Tickell was as personable and funny as you could ever hope. A consummate professional – she has won every award and accolade that this island has for instruments and musicianship and then been awarded a few more. Thankfully, she was also a generous host, introducing most of the songs and telling funny anecdotes about her family, her home and the tour that they are engaged in. She played both the fiddle and small pipes with an easy smile that belied the difficulty of the instruments. Virtuosa doesn’t really cover it! One the aspects that I most enjoyed was that she would also make last minute off the cuff changes to the set list or format of the songs – such as changing the final song that Amy Thatcher would be dancing to – and mentioning it a few seconds before it began! Whether intentional or not (and she is a pro!), it ensured that the evening felt like the once off very personal event that all musical events should…but often don’t.

Louisa Tuck was mesmerizing. She played the cello as though she were a woman possessed. During a few of the faster moving pieces, her facial expressions became so animated that it felt as though she was telling a story – embodying it in fact – using music as her medium. At times, I couldn’t take my eyes off her; she was so passionate. At least twice, she was inspired to spin her cello round, which raised cheers from the crowd and frustration from Kathryn Tickell – who knows from the audience’s response that it happens, but never seems to catch it herself!

To her far right Ruth Wall performed in an utterly different way. If Louise was possessed by a some sort of dancing sprite, Ruth appeared taken over by an elf (of the Lord of the Rings variety); playing her harp with elegance, grace and dignity. Every time she spoke, her sense of humour came through, but while she played, it was calm and measured, as if she was transported away from us.

Amy Thatcher on the accordion portrayed the same degree of delight and joy in the tunes as Louisa …though in a much more controlled way. It was when she took to the small stage in order to demonstrate her clog dancing – which was wielded as much as an instrument on the stage as her accordion – that she allowed a mischievous, almost wicked little grin to transform her cooler facade and reveal her intense excitement and joy in her craft.

One of the songs that they performed was specially written to complement the four different women, musicians, instruments, forms and personalities of the band. It was remarkable to watch each come into their own and join to create a more complete whole. Two musicians representing folk, two representing classical. Within the group; there appeared to be a balance and harmony which made for a truly remarkable set.

kt and the sideKathryn Tickell and the Side – Website

Twitter – @KathrynTickell and @TheSideBand

Youtube – Channel

The Side consists of Kathryn Tickell on the fiddle and Northumbrian Smallpipes; Amy Thatcher on accordion and clog dancing; Ruth Wall on harps and Louisa Tuck on cello.

 

howard assembly room

Visit the Howard Assembly Room  HERE

@Howard_Assembly

Visit the Opera North website HERE

@Opera_North

 

Theatre Reviews

INTERVIEW – The Wood Beneath the World

twb inside the outside

The Wood Beneath The World is a large­scale, magical forest installation hidden in the depths of Leeds Town Hall Crypt, which has been growing silently for decades.

Its roots and trees have now burst through the floors and walls, and the wood has taken over…

the wood beneath the world - YEP

Rebekah Whitney (of Lord Whitney ) and Alexander Palmer (the Director of The Wood Beneath The World) were kind enough to sit down with me for a chat about a million years ago (before Christmas) about their hugely successful installation at Leeds Town Hall.

Originally, we were going to record the interview as a podcast. However, we had such good conversational fun that we sort of forgot that this was supposed to be an interview and began to talk over one another, interrupt, idea hop (where one person starts a sentence and it’s carried on by the others) and all those traits which sort of proves that a conversation is going Really Well...but makes for annoying listening!

On top of that, the project was still in full flight and the pair were obviously working all the hours in the day together. Thy’d created a sort of joint speak, where they knew each other so well that they were almost of one mind. It was pretty incredible!

Honestly, there is something beyond embarrassing about posting an interview 3 months after it was held, it’s almost shameful. However, this was such an enjoyable conversation and genuinely insightful that I think it’s worth the humiliation of admitting how slow I was to get it up.

Here, finally, is a transcription of our chat! Thanks so much to both of them for allowing me a peek into their world!

On the Order of Events – or how The Woods Beneath came to be

Rebekah: Leeds Town Hall got in touch at the beginning of the year, saying that they had this space and had heard good things about Lord Whitney and would we like to do something for Christmas.

They liked the idea of a winters forest and we went away and realised that we didn’t want to do this is a normal way – we wanted to do something quite different. And we wanted to do something that adults could get something from as well, not just for children and families.

It was a while before they were in touch and in the meantime we went down to London and watched some immersive theatre by a company called Punch Drunk, who are just THE BEST at what they do, EVER. We were massively inspired by that; the detail in their set and basically the idea that the further you explore the richer your experience is and we just thought that we had to try and bring something like that to Leeds.

We wanted to do something like that with actors for a really long time as well so it all felt like it started coming together at the same time. It felt like this was the time that we could do create something really special and really different.

twb logo

This is wonderful but it isn’t really a traditional Winters Wonderland…

R: No not at all. The Town Hall have been amazing. They’ve really championed our ideas and really tried to push us and they trust us. They believed in our vision. And it totally developed over time, especially once we got a writer involved and once Alexander, our Director became involved.

We wanted to create this world that was not necessarily Christmassy, but that was reminiscent of that festive period and of Winter. We had done an Arts Council funding project at the start of the year, all around folklore in Yorkshire which was called Lore of the North and through doing that we discovered so many amazing tales that were based in Yorkshire. They were so incredible and the narrative and backdrop to them were fascinating and we thought that if there was a way that we could tap into that, that we could develop from that, that we could combine it all; we would get so much depth in this project.

That’s something that fascinated me about this time of the year; the further back you go, it was Christmas then Pagan when it was the winter solstice, there is something almost tribal, something primal…

Alexander: There’s something ritualistic.

R: It’s our heritage. And that’s where all of this comes from. It’s been interesting to highlight all of that.

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When putting it all together; the placement of the stars, the ogham alphabet, aspects of west European folklore – were these things that you knew about before or did you learn of these from your research?

R: A bit of both actually. Some aspects were brought to our attention earlier in the year during Lore of the North. We met an incredible scholar Stephen Sayers who used to work for the university and he was just amazing. He brought this whole new angle to folklore that we hadn’t really considered for that project. It was all about the importance of folklore and why it still so important to us today and how it can enrich our lives and provide us with an escape and escapism and just basically how as a society we need it still.

So we were really keen to get him involved  in this project as well. He pointed us in the direction of certain philosophers – Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey from an ordinary world into an extraordinary world. We used that as a model, as a kind of starting point for our narrative and script for the piece.

So most of the bits that we used, that we learned about – it kind of snowballed really. Folklore, speaking to Stephen, reading up and different people that we’ve invited into the project have all brought different knowledge making it really a rich project.

The narrative and storyline felt very organic to the set that you created. But if you hadn’t told the story of Will of the Wisp, of Jack – there were many other stories that could have been told. I walked straight out thinking that this has to run all year round.

(At this point, it’s worth noting that Alexander – who has been deeply invested in the project on a full-time basis and clearly has been forgoing sleep to get all the details spot on – paled a touch!)

R: Ah, it’s so funny that you should say that. Because, we actually had to curb everything by quite a bit. We felt that it was getting so massive and the will of the wisp seemed to fit so nicely. We decided to focus on that. The idea of this character that’s forever trapped in this limbo land with his lantern, his torch that will bring him to the edge of the forest. And he’s trying to guide people…or is he? Perhaps he’s not trying to guide them, perhaps he’s trying to entice them to that place. And we felt that by having all that research up on the wall – we really wanted to encourage people to look.

The more that they look, the more they are making their own decisions about how the story will progress. So it’s up to you to decide who are these characters, why are they here – there are so many answers too on that wall as to why they could be there.

There appeared to be about 5 core subjects that people seemed to pick up on. But of course you didn’t have to provide them, it could have just been a space. How hard was it to settle on those stories? How important was it to have a coherent thread?

A: To be honest, I was less interested in narratives per se, it was more about the experiences. And I think that it’s really exciting that from the same show, two friends can come out and think that this show is about two different things. I’m all for the audience filling in the gaps and having the opportunity to do just that.

R: It’s exciting to not spoon feed people so much with it, to allow them to come up with their own theories and explanations.

A: And to make it more difficult for audience members – obviously this is not a sat down piece of theatre in an auditorium. We’re not giving them a story, we’re seeking to awaken their senses – they are not relaxed – they are active and they are searching for these bits of text. They are not being given a narrative.

For some audiences that’s very frustrating and very out of the ordinary, for others that’s very rejuvenating.

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However, this still has a component where it is about Christmas and it is targeted towards children also, who see in ways that are very different to adults but also perhaps require a somewhat more highlighted road map?

R: That one is more focused, though it’s along the same idea that we’re asking the adult audiences. We’re asking why these woods are starting to appear beneath the town hall. And that’s the same thing that we are asking the children. They are still met by Jack, but Jack is a different character. He’s a lot more excited to be showing the children the space. He’s not as mysterious or mischievous character in that sense. He’s more of a guardian of the woods. Someone who wants to be showing these families this space but again he equips them with questions and challenges to go further. Why do you think that woods would start growing here again? And it’s amazing the responses that children give back to it.

Maybe its nature trying to tell us to slow down. And they are responding with these really big issues and themes. Particularly environmental images, these are tiny children and they focus on so many different themes. It’s amazing the capacity that they have.

We do workshops with schools during the week before we open in the evening and it’s the same themes. We discuss the Holly King and the Oak King and the winter Solstice and the summer solstice and they fight. And perhaps that’s why the Holly King is trying to take over – that we’ve all forgotten the real meaning of Christmas. It’s incredible, it’s profound.

Presumably, you’ve heard all sorts of different explanations – what are a few of the more random ones?

R: A lot of people think that Gwen is a figment of Jack’s imagination. And in fact, so are the woods. That comes up quite a bit.

A: Yeah, that it’s not real. Which is interesting because of all the elements – you’re actually walking through the Woods. It’s been interesting.

R: A lot of people think that they are lovers. Or father and daughter. That she’s dead.

A: That comes up quite a bit. That’s she actually dead. In both sessions actually. Or that he is. Or that he is searching for her.

Interesting that the children are coming back with so many environmental themes. My age group are quite consumerist in outlook – we don’t care how our iPhones are made, just that they work. So it’s interesting that the younger crowd are more focused on the impact that we are having on the city and the country…

R: We really wanted the Father Christmas experience to be very inclusive and to  – this is tricky to phrase right – we didn’t want it to be so much about the Christian festival or about the Santa Claus story and the consumerism. We wanted it to be about this gift giver that seen in a lot of different traditions. All across the world, there is this character that brings joy at this time of year and has a message that needs to be passed on. That’s one of the reasons that we toyed with called it Father Winter …having said that we needed to take it one step at a time…

A: He’s a story-teller as well. Stories used to be considered gifts.

R: He thanks the children for their gift – which is time and we thought that was a lovely way of doing that – one that isn’t orientated in consumerism. This is the first year that we’ve done something like this. We had to push boundaries and test the water.

We didn’t really know how it was going to go, so even just for ourselves we were setting boundaries and testing them. We still obviously want to bring across the magic of this time of year – we didn’t want to be about all these passive political ideas or anything.

That’s something about being set in Nature – it reminds us that whether it’s snow falling or leaves falling – every time of year can be a magical time of year if you take the time to appreciate it…

A: Actually, this green message that was seemingly being picked up on by Father Christmas – this also comes out in the evening show, especially when the stars are moving. The time period that it’s all set in as well.

It feels like it’s set in a period up to Sputnik and from then on, we sort of stalled. Our technology moved on but we stopped looking upwards and outwards…

R: That’s actually one of the reasons that we ask people to turn off their phones. We want people to have intimate experiences in the space and feel fully immersed. Jack asks for the time and it’s funny that so few people have watches. These things are really important. People are losing touch of real life experiences and that’s really important to all of us that were working on this. We are really keen to give people that experience. So not taking pictures and putting them on instagram – not that we didn’t want the images to be shared but that we wanted people to actually be there and to

A: to actually be part of the world and to know that they weren’t in an ordinary place still or that they only see everything through a screen.

R: We haven’t had anyone come out and say that it was frustrating not to have been able to use their phone. If anything they have come out and felt that…not that the world is boring but to maybe view it without the screen…

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Obviously, I’m a reader and when I came out – we talked about Narnia. That and Tolkien, middle earth and all those places that make us reflect on the natural world came to mind

R: Yes, all these places – Narnia, Lord of the Rings and Tolkien, Wonderland and Oz – these all had a massive influence on us all as children. All these worlds that you can escape to. And even Enid Blyton and the magic far-away tree and to create a space where adults felt like they could do that in the middle of the city. I’m really proud to think that we’ve achieved that.

A: A lot of people are coming out and saying that they’ve reclaimed their childhood excitement. That they’re seeing the world in that way again. That there is a thrill again.

R: And that’s exactly what Stephen Sayers was saying at the beginning of the year. That this thrill, this feeling of being a child again, that if you can find that feeling as an adult, it’s the most special thing ever. To not lose sight of us as so many adults do. Which is such a shame.

Do you think that this will not perhaps change the direction that you are moving in but that it will inform it?

R: Yes, I think so definitely. I think we can say that this is probably the most proud that we have been of any of our projects. The level of talent that we’ve seen in the team, the work that we’ve all put in from the writers to the set builders to the direction and the performance – everyone has been just put there. And we’ve all been on the same page, it’s been an absolute pleasure working with people. We’ve all had the same thing that’s driving us and we’ve all wanted to be part of and create this wondrous and magical thing. So yes, definitely.

Is there any prospect that this could become something longer? A bit more permanent?

R: Well, there isn’t anything properly. There has been some talk.

Presumably all the research that you’ve done has been for this time of year, but there is clearly a potentially season element…

A: Absolutely.

R: We have actually found ourselves wondering what the Woods would look like during another season. What would they be like in Spring? What would they be like in Summer? What would they be like in Autumn?

Who would the guides be?

R: We like the idea that if the Woods did come round again they would look and feel and *be* totally different… and there would be different people to meet and different doors to open… You wouldn’t ever see the same thing twice.

A: There are a lot of different ideas. A lot of different ways that audiences could move. I’m interested in how audiences could be part of a big spectacle but still get an intimate and increasingly personal experience. Just having more of that. Having more of that sense.

We only have two actors in this show. And what they are doing between the pair of them … it’s amazing. To give every audience member the breath of experience. And to give that to each audience. It’s incredibly focused. They have so much to do and convey and it’s very demanding for them. They are doing such a fantastic job.

But if it were to evolve. If it were to change, there could be more performers. More experiences and more of a sense of community within the audience from when they arrive.

R: We’re so passionate about the North and we’re so passionate about bringing these experience to people up here so we kind of had to test the water a little bit with this. We felt that this time round it needed to be focused but sure, we have some very big ideas. If there’s a next time next year they can be realised.

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The set design is incredible but with you saying that I’m already trying to imagine how it could look and sound and evolve. 

On that note, let’s talk about the importance of the music and the sound which adds so much to setting the atmosphere of the production…

A: Oh the music is such a huge part of it.

R: It’s had such an impact.

A: And there’s a huge potential for it to become more interactive.

R: We did consider having live music and dance and more elements of performance. More of the senses being engaged. Smell was really important to us this time round. That’s something we’d like to build on for next year. We have this mist that we use in the wooden cabin… We want it to appeal to all the senses as you walk in. Doing it was something that we knew we could build on.

The music was done by Buffalo Spaces and they were incredible. Lins (Wilson) – our producer – this is one of her projects with John Folger and they are just incredible. They’ve created this incredible sound piece for us and they do installations and again – how we researched the folklore and the forest and the history – they did the exact same thing with the sounds and music.

They only wanted to use songs from a certain era and sounds that reflected the winter season and yet also festive. Then also songs about being lost and to do with the stars . Even when you do recognise the song – it was never a predictable choice. It’s totally just informed the full thing.

When we hear any of the songs now, it just transports us straight back. That’s how successful they’ve been at curating this – it’s just been so amazing.

Leeds has a huge underground that’s not currently open to the public, it’s not being explored – I’m thinking now of the Library next door and the Art Gallery…

R: We know of some tunnels…honestly our ideas…at Lord Whitney, we’re not short of ideas, if anything we need reining in a little bit sometimes, so already we’re thinking  and we’ve had some discussion about next year. About this project, about other projects. Leeds is an incredible city. It’s got amazing spaces…a lot of empty spaces, unused. Which could all be opened up for some incredible performances and immersive environments. Next year, we’d love to do something. Maybe bigger.

[Alexander pales again, then gets this weird look when it seems he’s actually visualising a bigger version and what that could be]

This was my first immersive experience. I didn’t know what to expect. Is this possibly the largest immersive theatre experience that’s happened in Leeds?

A: In Leeds, yes. There was You, at the Playhouse, but I believe this is larger.

R: This is probably the biggest. We were cautious about advertising this as ‘immersive’ because we didn’t want anyone to feel excluded. Or feel like ‘I don’t do theatre’. It took us a while to find our wording for the project.

Hopefully now that its run, next year we’ll be able to build upon this. People will be more familiar and know what to expect. We have had people come in and wonder what they’re supposed to do. And we’ve had people who have never seen anything like it, have never known that there was anything like this who have come out of it going ‘I need to go again NOW’. And we fully sold out which was just incredible. We never actually thought that this would happen.

There has been a lot of word of mouth…

A: That seems to be how something like this works best.

R: If you have a friend who says that you just have to go, then you’ll think about attending it more than if you see an advert. You trust them, you know you like the same things ‘I’m just going to do it!’

And – not to be vulgar – but this is affordable theatre…

R: Totally! We didn’t want to be exclusive in any way with this project. That was the whole reason we didn’t want it to feel too Chrismassy, we wanted for anyone to feel like they could come and enjoy it. That’s why it was more to do with the seasons and our shared folklore

A: You’re actually getting incredible value for money. If you’re thinking economically, it’s incredible what an audience gets at this experience compared to those in London. If you’re thinking pound to minute of the performance, you get so much out of this.

And – aside from attracting the young – this is a project that can appeal to people who might not normally consider going to the theatre 

R: Totally! And that’s before you consider that there’s this gorgeous little pop up pub here also!

It might not be for everyone but hopefully there have been people who have come and had an experience they never ever imagined.

Certainly on twitter – people have sent really good feedback – even a few who have said that ‘this has changed my life!’ which is just like WOW – it’s amazing, it’s more than we could ever have imagined! To have had just *one* of those comments would have made the project for me.

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If there a weirdness to that? Getting a message like that and thinking ‘I wrote this’ or ‘I created that, I put that in place’…

R: Honestly, we’re all just so sleep deprived! Maybe by February we’ll be able to sort of take it all on board!!

A: For me, it was amazing. I brought some people up who are avid fans of Punch Drunk and they go and see all of those shows and can go back and see it many many times and who are used to spending maybe £50 a pop on a ticket (R: They are at the top of their game of this world) and they came up to see this. They booked hotels, they booked trains. And then they gave this rave reviews. And for them to do that… For me, it’s more impressive that we are bringing in Joe Public and hearing really positive things, but to ALSO get top end people, who frequent these type of shows – for them to admire the depth and detail that we’ve achieved. That makes me really proud.

Online, there have been a few people scratching their heads, but the reviews seem to have been very positive

R: We’ve heard a lot of that! People saying that they had to go back and do it again because they weren’t sure what to make or it! We never thought that we’d get it right straight away. We just hoped that we’d create something that people could relate to and want more of! And a lot of people have really responded to it so well. It’s been…just terrific.

So what’s next for the pair of you?

R: Sleep.

A: Definitely sleep.

R:  We’ve just done our dining experience which is our Feast of Fools, where we had 30 guests a night come and drink and dance and generally be a bit… A: Mischievous! R: Exactly! And that was brilliant. We used more actors, space and had a similar sort of experience to the evenings. It was great fun. So we’re sort of recovering from that now. We’re starting to get the team together to get everything packed up and move out. But we feel like we can’t quite leave!

A: I’ve been meeting with the actors once a week, to give them some new ideas, to discuss the quality of the performance, introduce new lines and things like that.

R: If people do come back again, they won’t be having the same experience. It’s been changing and evolving.

A: This is a totally different show to when it first opened. Totally. We wanted to see if someone came in the first week and then came back in the last week – we wanted to know that they would see a totally different show.

I TRIED! But you went and sold out. Very annoying

[Both hung their heads, then laughed at me. I don’t think they minded one little bit actually]

A: Sorry! It’s terrible really.

[He wasn’t sorry at all I tell you!]

R: It has been weird trying to think of what this will be like when it’s all over. I don’t actually know how I’ll react once it’s all done. What will I do with myself!

the wood beneath

Has this, or how has this – the philosophy and reconnecting with folklore – changed your perspective? I’m actively reducing my time online for example…

R: I was just going to say, that’s been one of the biggest things. This project has really made me reflect on the importance of switching off, or turning the phone around and having some time away from it all. I think it’s awakened – I mean we at Lord Whitney, it’s always been something that’s close to our heart – but that idea that feeling of being playful. This has reminded me of how important this is and how much I love that feeling. And if I can keep on trying to make other people see that for the rest of my life, I think I could die a happy woman! If I could show people that you don’t have to grow up, you can still play, you can still feel that joy…

For me, with the book clubs, there are quite a few now and I’m focused on getting back to the stories – books have always make me feel that way – and worrying less about the admin-y side of things

R: I know exactly what you mean. We (myself and Amy) work at lot in fashion and editorials. We can spend all days ordering things and writing emails. And it sort of sucks you dry and this project has made us both be out there. We are dressing sets and researching and doing the things that we love. This has made us so excited. This was a tough project and it’s grown so much and it’s been stressful at times but it’s been so worth it and exciting. If I could just carry on doing things like this, I’d be the happiest woman ever!

A: From a purely directorial point of view, it’s taught me a lot about exploring the possibilities of these one-to-one experiences and exactly how can you give someone a really, genuinely personal, not manufactured experience. So, I’ve done stuff in the past where it’s all a one-on-one, so you go from scene to scene with different actors but you know that this is kind of the formula of the performance. You know that in the next scene you will see a performer act and you know what’s going to happen. (R: I HATE that. I love it when you don’t know what to expect!).

Personally, I’m a lot more green aware and I feel like I wasn’t so aware of the impact that we have. I’ve become aware of Carl Sagan through our research. His philosophies which I’m become aware of due to this has had an impact. I’m quoting him to my friend which is just seriously uncool … but I love how – with a project like this – when it touches you in a deeper way.

R: I actually studied some philosophy as an A level and I love it. But I was torn between a creative career at uni – I would have loved to study philosophy at university but that wasn’t my path. I think all of us involved in this – we’ve all been touched by this. It”s been a pleasure to look at things like Campbell again. I never thought that it would have come full circle like this.

Well, it is actually quite a strange thing that here you choose at 16 really what you are going to do. To be a creative, or go down an academic route, or I guess a creative academic route. A project like this challenges you whether you regard yourself as academic, scientific or creative. It brings us all together in a strange sort of way and reminds us that we are none of us just that one thing

R: Yes. Definitely. I completely agree with you. When you do such a creative thing as a job, you get absorbed.

A: It’s possible to be creative and pointless…self indulgent. This just…wasn’t that!

R: The folklore project was like doing a dissertation again. It brought you back to what actually mattered. It was fascinating – the more I researched the more it opened doors. Of course, we then had to rein ourselves back in.

It’s almost upsetting that I had to experience this. If it was on a dvd, I could watch it every time I feel depleted…but that’s not really how something like this works…

A: It’s not quite the point of something like this. The point is maybe to go out and experience again to get back that feeling

R: That’s what is so special about these kind of things. That no photo or film will ever do it justice. It’s how you felt while you were there. That’s the important thing. That’s the importance of going to these things. And actually of real life. That you LIVE it, not live it through a screen or via an image or a recording…

We’ve already been wondering how the hell do we reflect this on our website. I mean, really. Really. What do you say? How?

A: How would you film it? There are infinite ways of capturing or seeing this. There are so many facets.

R: We’ve dreamed up this whole world and I’ve only seen about a fifth of it? I don’t even know what the actors do sometimes. I hear things and I’m like really? Where was that? I haven’t seen that!! I’m almost a little bit gutted that it sold out, I’d love for people to experience it again. We even considered making the group sizes bigger – maybe 30 people but in the end we decided to focus on that personal experience. That was our emphasis. That was our direction.

It’s having Jack look you in the eyes. Having Gwen take you to a room. Finding the nuts in the cabin.

We had this one guy the first week that just sat in the cabin, eating nuts. We were like – go for it! You experience this as you want to! Another was in the middle of the woods, just listening to the music.

I’m love to have left a bottle of wine for them.

Maybe the last night…?

R: Yeah, maybe

A: Maybe. Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s talk about that one!!

Check out the trailer for the Wood beneath the World on Youtube below!

Twitter: @LordWhitney

Twitter: @AlexanderPalmer

Visit the official The Woods Beneath the World website HERE

Facebook: facebook.com/thewoodbeneath

Twitter: @thewoodbeneath

Instagram: @thewoodbeneath

REVEIW – Boi Boi is Dead at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Afro-jazz legend, father, lover, playboy, husband, rulebreaker, enigmatic force of nature… Boi Boi is dead. But not forgotten.

Left alone to rebuild her life, Miriam’s heartache is interrupted when Boi Boi’s reckless ex-wife Stella and traditionalistic brother show up to stake their claim on his name, on his property and to revel in the glory of his fame. Determined to keep her family together, Miriam’s life is thrown into turmoil when Stella discovers the secret she shared only with Boi Boi. Will the beguiling Stella be triumphant in the face of Boi Boi’s death? Live music entwines with crackling dialogue in this sharp new production for the Courtyard stage.

boi boi is dead

Zodwa Nyoni, a poet and playwright, has released her first full length play. It covers the course of a family at its most introspective and potentially destructive. Biting dialogue, a playful use of music and superb visuals – this production contains and highlights all the elements that the West Yorkshire Playhouse excels at.

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Photographer Richard Davenport

The titular Boi Boi – as you may or may not expect given the context – was an almost permanent presence on the stage. Jack Benjamin portrays the character as ever watchful; at times subtle, jubilant, guilty or sad…but most impressively, Boi Boi is constantly a pale shadow or reflection of the man that he used to be. Veteran actor Andrew French is particualy impressive as Ezra. In the opening moments, it is difficult to imagine every warming to this dismissive, traditional and sexist character; yet by the halfway mark, Ezra had demonstrated (a degree of )warmth and a fear of letting his family down that was very humanising. While the character never becomes likeable, neither was he the villain of the piece. Joseph Adelakun plays the petulant Petu with verve, while Debbie Korley makes the teenage Una relatable and easily the most pleasant character of the ensemble.

The stand outs of the production though are the two women whose lives were dominated by Boi Boi’s life. Lynette Clarke alternatively intrigues and repulses as the manipulative and evocative Stella. Her presence is universally undesired. Her intentions are transparent and ego driven. Her behaviour is brash…but as Boi Bois widow – estranged or not – her rights cannot be ignored. Her character is a total contrast to the put upon, maternal and warm hearted Miriam, who is masterfully brought to life by Angela Wynter. Miriam, who has held the household together for 12 years, has no valid claim to her home. She has provided for and loved Boi Boi and Una and loathes the carefree and careless Stella. Their interactions are powerful and provide the heart of this production.

One of the strengths is that it deliberately eschews moralistic overtones. As is the case in life, behaving well or selflessly doesn’t bring guarantees or rewards; any more then behaving outlandishly or inconsiderately brings with it trials or tribulations. Had there be even a hint of a political aspect to this production, I would have been disappointed at the suggestion that the only hope for young Zimbabweans was that they move to another country (in this case England), but there wasn’t. This was a deeply personal and family orientated story – no external influences were mentioned and the decisions made by the characters were based only on personal and family lines. Only one action within the play didn’t quite ring true to me. Throughout, only one relationship seems to be healthy and strong – that of Miriam and Una, which made Una’s actions during the conclusion to be unusually callous.

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Photographer Richard Davenport

 

Music also played a distinctive and mood setting role. Live music, singing and chanting – all are interspersed with the plot and dialogue in ways that feel organic and alternatively unobtrusive or attention grabbing. An afro jazz song was used to particular effect during a scene where Miriam recalled meeting and flirting with Boi Boi. Perhaps the only misfire in my view, was Una’s song. While the lyrics were no doubt very poignant, the song itself was very ambitiously structured which made it difficult to follow them.

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Photographer Richard Davenport

The ending is rather marvellously ambiguous and how it concludes very much dependson your viewpoint. For me, I think that societal and community consideration will take priority. The only people who can understand the attempt and the need to move on from Boi Boi and the disastrous impact he had are those others who were similarly impacted by him.  There is an intangible link between them. Despite what the characters may have said earlier in the production, family does not always require a blood connection.

The backdrop was very beautiful and provided a setting that was lovely to look at but I felt underutilised. While certain set pieces – such as the dog with the bone at the very beginning were very evocative; they didn’t seem to provide any function beyond being visually satisfying, which would have made sense had this been a purely minimalist play. However, boxes were moved forward and back, without ever seeming to be essential to the production. At one point, a character brings out a basin and returns it after half a minute – it felt like a somewhat unnecessary back and forth. On the other hand, the use of empty space on the stage was interesting. Characters operated as silhouettes; moved in strange and often isolated patters in the background. The space was obviously emblematic of the gap left in each characters life after the death of Boi Boi – an effective visual.

From the ages of 9 to 16, I lived in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, so I was extremely excited to learn that Boi Boi is Dead would be performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. However, this play was one that transcends its setting. Sure, the music and certain phrases and mindsets felt very orientated in Southern Africa – but the tale itself is that of a dysfunctional family. This family – torn apart and recreating itself after a death and deception – could have been set anywhere, because people in pain exist everywhere. Like the best storytellers, Zodwa Nyoni has woven a truth in a particular context, one that she happens to be familiar with, but it is one that rings true domestically, throughout the world.

Boi Boi is Dead runs until the 7th of March

Writer –  Zodwa Nyoni
Director  – Lucian Msamati
Designer – Francisco Rodriguez-Weil
Dramaturg – Alex Chisholm (Interview with LeedsBookClub HERE and HERE)

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Theatre Reviews

Review – James Meek at the Howard Assembly Room

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In a little over a generation the bones and sinews of the British economy – rail, energy, water, postal services, municipal housing – have been sold to remote, unaccountable private owners. In a series of brilliant portraits James Meek shows how Britain’s common wealth became private, and the impact it has had on us all.

In a series of panoramic accounts, Meek explores the human stories behind the incremental privatization of the nation over the last three decades. As our national assets are being sold, the new buyers reap the rewards, and the ordinary consumer is left to pay the ever rising bill. Urgent, powerfully written and deeply moving, ‘Private Island is a passionate anatomy of the state of the nation for readers of Chavs and Whoops’

private islandSince 2010, the Howard Assembly Rooms have been hosting the Liberty Lectures. As described by the Director of Projects Dominic Gray – these are a series of talks orientating around significant topics, impacting on contemporary society. The series emerged out of a desire to deliver an inter-sectional program of events, linking the productions happening on the stage in the theatre with the social world. The productions on this season (including La Traviata and The Marriage of Figaro) orientate on class conflicts, which tied in beautifully, albeit obliquely, with the nights theme.

Last night, James Meek took to the stage to discuss his recent book Private Island – about the human stories behind the privatisation of Britain’s rail, energy, water, housing and postal services.

The author was introduced by Dr Kirsteen Paton, Lecturer in School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds, who chaired the discussion and lead the question and answer section.

James Meek began by (re)assuring the audience that he was first and foremost a journalist and author. His book charted the progression of privatisation in Britain in a descriptive fashion.  It is not an attack on private enterprise. While he does believe that a radical overhaul of the political and economic state is desired by many readers; he is not a politician, nor an economist.

This book is not a call to arms, to return all industry to a centralised system (something that he doesn’t think is desired by anyone on the ‘left’ and is only conceptually kept alive by ‘right’ spectators). Neither is he a historian…nor Russel Brand – he is not offering ideas of how to change or put right the world. Rather, he focuses on the impact of privatisation, the winners and losers within the society that it creates and its paradoxical recreation of nationalism – in an almost unrecognisable way – as states other than ‘our’ own buy shares into public services.

From there, we had a whistle stop tour of public services and the definitions that we use. Are public services still provided for the public good or purely for profit? Perhaps it is more useful to consider these services in terms of universal networks – essential to each citizen. Indeed, we are witnessing the birth of a new network – internet access – and the death of another – the postal service. And if each of these services is privatised, what impact does that have on a state – what is a state if no longer the provider of these networks? Let alone the human cost – poor Britons with no respite from true poverty.

The highlight of his overview, for me, was the run down of the 6 lies told to promote privatisation over national control – including efficiency, competition and public apathy. Here, he provided pithy, practical and sensible responses to encourage conversations at every societal level, beginning at home, round the table.

Calm, measured and with a dry and infectious humour, James Meek held our attention easily for an hour. The conversation he had with Dr Paton was interesting, though I personally felt that more clarity regarding the phrasing of the questions would have been useful. The question and answer section was more thought provoking as he fielded a wider range of topics. Sadly, James Meek did not provide a road map for change; in fact he was almost coy on the question of how control and power could be wrestled away from the few – eventually revealing that he was researching this for future writings and had no easy answers. He did reveal however that he feels optimistically for the future, convinced that people do actually care.

All in all, a wonderful night out in a truly beautiful venue. I will certainly be reading the book for greater insight and look forward to the next Liberty Lecture!

About the Author

James Meek is a Contributing Editor of the London Review of Books. He is the author of six novels published in the UK, US, France and Germany, including The People s Act of Love, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Ondaatje Prize and Scottish Arts Council Award. We Are Now Beginning Our Descent won the 2008 Le Prince Maurice Prize and The Heart Broke In was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Prize.

In 2004 he was named the Foreign Correspondent of the Year by the British Press Awards and he contributes regularly to the Guardian, New York Times and International Herald Tribune.

 

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Visit James Meek’s website HERE

Visit the Howard Assembly Room  HERE

@Howard_Assembly

Visit the Opera North website HERE

@Opera_North

 

Theatre Reviews

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