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Feb 5th

Romeo and Juliet at Bolton Octagon

By Caroline May
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Shakespeare’s timeless tale of star-cross’d lovers has been updated by director David Thacker to a world of streetwise, knife-wielding gangs and super-rich, Gucci-clad capitalists.  At first glance the conflict seems not to be so much the old family grudge between the Montagues and Capulets as the generational divide between grungy, dressed-down youths who stalk the city’s streets and their sharply-suited, buttoned-up parents.  Even the Nurse is all lipstick and designer labels.  No wonder isolated only-child Juliet is attracted to the first jeans-and-t-shirt boy she meets - a far cry from the balding, middle-aged bloke her parents have in mind for her husband.

To say this production is in-the-round and set on a bare stage doesn’t begin to do justice to the way the creative team have used the auditorium, managing to be both intimate (when the action is focused on the naked stage) and vast (when the stairs and rear-walkways are lit up).  Ciaran Bagnall’s lighting design is a character in its own right, and the simple but effective way he creates a starry night sky in a black box theatre is a tiny miracle.  The sheer simplicity of designer Ruari Murchison’s set and balcony is a great achievement, like the RSC’s glory days at the Barbican Pit Theatre.

This technical backbone allows director David Thacker to create one of the slickest, fastest-paced productions around; scene melts into scene seamlessly, props are silently spirited away, the actors make music live on stage, and characters suddenly appear among the audience - it’s a fully immersive event.

David Ricardo-Pearce and Jade Anouka avoid the temptation to play the iconic roles of Romeo and Juliet as tragic figures (which they aren’t, until the end).  They rediscover the story by extracting every bit of meaning from the text, and even the famous speeches of the balcony scene sound like brand new dialogue.  Theirs isn’t a poetic portrayal of eternal lovers but a modern take on teenage relationships.

Rob Edwards as the pin-striped, cigar-chomping Capulet is both urbane and ruthless - he speaks the verse beautifully and is convincing as both an indulgent father and a tyrannical paterfamilias.  Paula Jennings’ impassive and self-contained Lady Capulet suggests a trophy wife who’s either extensively self-medicating with gin or who has overdone the botox.

Michelle Collins is very funny as a coutured Cockney nurse, and Lloyd Gorman’s attractive and confident portrayal of Benvolio turns a minor character into a pivotal role, while Colin Connor’s muscular-Christian Friar Lawrence is a potent presence and his Irish accent works like a charm with the Elizabethan language.

This is a full-bodied and exciting modern-dress classic that doesn’t patronise its audience.  Let’s hope for some more Shakespeare at the Octagon soon.

 

Romeo and Juliet is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 5 March 2011

Tickets: from £9.50

Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.30pm

Matinees: Fri 4, Wed 23 & Sat 26 Feb 2pm

Box Office: 01204 520661

www.octagonbolton.co.uk

Feb 3rd

Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann at Manchester Royal Exchange

By Caroline May

Vivienne Franzmann was a joint winner of the 2009 Bruntwood playwriting competition, and her winning script Mogadishu is now being premiered in the Royal Exchange’s main house.

In contrast with the exotic title (a fleeting reference to middle-class teenage gap years) the setting is a present-day inner-city school where a black schoolboy’s assault on a white female teacher becomes bizarrely twisted into an allegation of violence and racism by her on him.  

Mogadishu is part examination of the downside of political correctness (cf David Edgar’s 2008 Testing the Echo, coincidentally also directed by Matthew Dunster), and part illustration of the devastating consequences when a lie gets out of control (also themes in The Children’s Hour and The Crucible).  However because the playwright’s intentions are entirely invested in exonerating the teacher there is never any ambiguity in the drama (the events are clearly laid out in the first scene), and while the tragic back-stories flesh out the characters and provide some moments of tension they don’t raise the overall stakes.  

I might have felt more emotionally involved if Vivienne Franzmann’s central character, the supposedly experienced, dedicated and savvy teacher Amanda, hadn’t been the least believable character on stage.  Even when played with as much conviction as an excellent actor like Julia Ford can muster, Amanda’s naivety, credulity and apparent unfamiliarity with school, local authority and child protection procedures beggar belief.

However I have nothing but praise for Matthew Dunster’s fast-paced and spirited production, and the acting is universally brilliant.  The versatile Ian Bartholomew excels yet again as a harassed, crumpled, spiritually beige head-teacher, while Fraser James and Christian Dixon are sympathetic as parents of difficult adolescents.

However the evening is stolen by the school children, a group of diverse, recognisable and memorable characters that would do credit to Shakespeare.  Malachi Kirby is mesmerising as Jason, the confused, vulnerable and seemingly amoral man-child, easily switching between chilling school bully and browbeaten son.  The comically nerdy Firat (Michael Karim) and passionate goth Becky (Shannon Tarbet) are also fine, contrasting well with Jason’s streetwise and cynical gang (Farshid Rokey, Tendayi Jembere, Tara Hodge, Savannah Gordon-Liburd and Hammed Animashaun).

Tom Scutt’s design of a revolving stage encircled by a high mesh cage is a massive sight-line problem if you’re not watching from the gods, and the whole-scale switching of sets between scenes (something of a Dunster trademark) is a distraction, but while Mogadishu is not an especially thought-provoking or revealing play it is still a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre.

 

Mogadishu is on until Saturday 19 February 2011

Prices: £9-£30

Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30pm; Sats @ 8pm

Matinees: Weds @ 2.30pm; Sats @ 4pm

Box Office: 0161 833 9833

www.royalexchange.co.uk

 

Dec 22nd

Zack by Harold Brighouse at Manchester Royal Exchange

By Caroline May

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The Royal Exchange is usually a pantomime-free zone come Christmas time - but they’ve broken the mould this year with a Lancashire-set “Cinderella Circa 1910” by Harold “Hobson’s Choice” Brighouse.  And in the best gender role reversal tradition of panto, Cinderella is played by a boy.

 Zack is a distinctly unheroic hero - a gormless innocent with a big heart whose lack of social airs make him an embarrassment to his aspiring petit-bourgeois family.  After a lifetime of emotional neglect and constant criticism inflicted by his battleaxe mother, Mrs Munning, and miserly brother, Paul, they’ve even sacked him from his job in the family catering firm because his only suit (a hand-me-down from his dead dad) has worn to rags.

 Enter Zack’s Fairy Godmother-cum-Prince(ss) Charming, in the form of beautiful and rich cousin Virginia, who immediately sees what’s going on - until the artful Paul, scheming mother, and some sexual misadventures on Zack’s part convince her otherwise.

 If you’re familiar with the film career of George Formby then you’ll immediately be at home with this style of gentle northern comedy, where the unlikely protagonist wins out despite nothing to recommend him but a mixture of good humour and pathos.  Zack is played by local comedian Justin Moorhouse - for those unfamiliar with his work, he’s the guy you’d ring if you couldn’t get Johnny Vegas - and he’s certainly “got a gift for jollification”, as well as eliciting several choruses of “ahhh” from the audience when his fortunes fall.

 Pearce Quigley’s Eeyore-ish Paul is as drippy as his lank moustache (“there isn’t a woman on earth worth buying roses for at sixpence a bloom”), while Polly Hemingway as their mother nicely catches the sharp-tongued quality of the aspiring lower-middle-class (“your ways would make a cat laugh”).

 Greg Hersov’s production finds the anarchic nature of “Lancy” humour in the comparatively small roles of dirt poor Martha Wrigley (played with all the spirit of an Eliza Doolittle by Samantha Power) and the bogus servant Sally Teale (rendered with an hilarious lack of deference by Michelle Tate).

 Although Hobson’s Choice is Harold Brighouse’s greatest hit and a deservedly iconic play, Zack is also an enjoyable example of the work of the Manchester School of Playwrights - and even the panto-averse won’t object to its fairytale happy ending.

  Zack is on until Saturday 22 January 2011

Prices: £9-£30

Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30 (not 24 Dec); Sats @ 8pm

Matinees: Weds @ 2.30pm (also Tues 21 & Fri 24 Dec); Sats @ 4pm (& Mon 27 Dec)

Box Office: 0161 833 9833

www.royalexchange.co.uk



Dec 22nd

A Christmas Carol, Manchester Library Theatre Company, at The Lowry

By Caroline May
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Reviewed byRichard Howell-Jones

           Charles Dickens caught the spirit of Christmas so well with his original tale of the redemption of Scrooge that further interpretation is neither necessary nor desirable. Happily, then, the Manchester Library Theatre Company’s production of A Christmas Carol stays true to the letter as well as the intent of this, arguably Dickens’ most popular work.

          A strong and experienced cast portray the characters we know and love with every evidence of enjoyment, striking a chord with an audience composed almost entirely of school children - and on a Monday morning too! David Beames’ Scrooge glued the entire production together as the other actors, multiply cast, swirled through his life and showed him the error of his ways, led by Abigail McGibbon (Christmas Past), Kath Burlinson (Christmas Present) and a startling Christmas Yet To Come of whom Gary McCann (Designer) should be justly proud. Paul Barnhill’s Fred Scrooge, the old man’s nephew, drives his middle-class scenes with the same intensive Peace and Goodwill to All that Jack Lord provides as the poverty-stricken Bob Cratchit. Claude Close’s Jacob Marley is just plain scary, a fascinating contrast to his jolly generous Fezziwig. Geoff Steer (Choreographer) gave the ensemble plenty to do but managed to make it seem impromptu, matched by a set of appropriate carol-based songs from Conor Mitchell, culminating in a courageous, and at times impressive, piece based on Handel’s Unto Us a Child is Born.

          Of course, everyone knows that children make a tough house. As soon as the house-lights rose for the interval, several wanted to know why Scrooge had changed colour from brown to white as he got older. This was adroitly handled by one of the accompanying adults who suggested that he’d become paler as he spent more time indoors; whether or not this was the intention, it casts no shadow on Darren Kuppen, whose teenage Scrooge cleverly captured the point of his downfall, and who also entertained as the perhaps appropriately-named Tupper, Fred’s roving-eyed guest. Another query was how Marley’s hat had been so wicked as to deserve the great length of chain which festooned it, when Marley himself seemed quite lightly burdened by comparison. And, unfortunately, Tiny Tim, seeming healthier than Dickens intended and having the wrong sort of trouble with his limp, was held to be less than convincing.

          As far as the adults were concerned, there was only one criticism: that the production seemed curiously muted, as if reluctant to upset or disturb. Granted it’s intended for a family audience, but Scrooge’s character here hadn’t far to travel from miser to benefactor. The catch-phrase ‘Humbug!’ lacked conviction and his ill will towards Cratchit’s desire to take all Christmas day off might have resulted from a headache. This was really the flaw, for without clearly-seen malice there can be no great redemption – all one gets is a man in a good mood, having been in a bad one. This has the further effect of making Cratchit’s amazement at his employer’s change seem overdone, which is unjust.

          But these are pips in the Christmas orange, inconvenient but scarcely detracting from the enjoyment. From simple beginnings, the performance builds in intensity to a joyous and confidently complex finale, subtly led by Performance Musical Director, Isobel Waller-Bridge, leaving its audience with a worthy, perhaps timely, reminder of the true spirit of Christmas. Rachel O’Riordan directed.

 

A Christmas Carol byManchester Library Theatre Company is at The Lowry until 8 January 2011

Prices: £12.50 - £16.15

Box Office:0843 208 6010

Performance schedule & online booking: www.librarytheatre.com or www.thelowry.com

 

Nov 27th

David Copperfield at Bolton Octagon

By Caroline May
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Charles Dickens’ much-loved semi-autobiographical novel David Copperfield has been magically transformed into a lively musical drama by the same talented writing partnership which was responsible for the Octagon’s fantastic Oliver Twist last year.

The first person narrative voice of the novel is so strong that playwright Deborah McAndrew has embraced it by letting the older David (Geoff Breton) tell his own story while watching and joining in with his younger self (played by one of the talented local youngsters specially recruited for the show). Geoff Breton takes on this huge role with boundless energy and enthusiasm, and remains charming and engaging throughout in spite of young David’s occasionally less than heroic behaviour.  The vast troop of iconic characters that people the work - among them Mr Micawber (Tobias Beer), Betsey Trotwood and Peggotty (Ruth Alexander Rubin), Ham and Mr Dick (Lloyd Gorman), and Uriah Heep and Steerforth (Jake Norton) - are shared between seven quick-changing adult actors who are also responsible for the live, practically non-stop musical accompaniment.

Deborah McAndrew and composer Conrad Nelson have outdone themselves with their inventive lyrics and music - folk dances, sea shanties, school songs, even a parody of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song all set the audience’s toes tapping.

Designer Lucy Sierra has come up with costumes which are luscious and evocative - her lively tableau of David’s Salem House schooldays reminded me of Thomas Webster's painting "The Boy with Many Friends" in Bury Art Gallery - and the War Horse-style puppets, including a memorable donkey, are charming.

Director Elizabeth Newman does not always get her cast to differentiate strongly between their multiple characters, but the pace is always energetic; and musical director (and actress) Barbara Hockaday draws excellent musical and instrumental performances from the entire ensemble.

 

David Copperfield is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 15 January 2011

Tickets: from £8.50-£18.50

Performances Mon-Sat (for dates see website)

Eves @ 7.15pm; Matinees @ 10.15am & 2.15pm

Box Office: 01204 520661

www.octagonbolton.co.uk

Nov 17th

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell at Studio Salford

By Caroline May

Jeffrey Bernard was one of the free spirits of fifties Fitzrovia, a drinking chum of Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, John Le Mesurier and the bohemian circle which later converged around the Coach and Horses pub in Soho.  His sordid goings on were chronicled in The Spectator’s “Low Life” column from 1975 till his death some 20 years later, and fellow journalist and imbiber Keith Waterhouse dramatised some of these anecdotes for a 1989 hit show originally starring Peter O’Toole.

Jeffrey, played by here by Phil Dennison, finds himself accidentally locked into the Coach and Horses overnight, and passes the time by reminiscing about the colourful characters he’s encountered over the decades (played by a quick-changing, quick-witted cast of four).

The first thing to say is that this is an absolute tour de force by Phil Dennison, who has us spellbound for two hours with his authentic but beguiling portrait of the seedy, alcoholic raconteur.  The whistling teeth, sunken cheeks and trembling hands are small but telling details.  The conversational and confessional style of the piece are so well-suited to the intimacy of Studio Salford - fittingly a room above a pub - that Mr Dennison’s Jeffrey seems to address every member of the audience individually, holding us with his glittering eye like a slightly more convivial version of the Ancient Mariner.

The supporting cast - Edward Barry, Simon Griffiths, Zoe Matthews and Samantha Vaughan - bring to life the assorted pub landlords, angry editors, bar-room philosophers, gamblers, boozers and wives that Jeffrey engages with during his sozzled and slightly existential existence. 

However when Keith Waterhouse tops and tails the action with a rhapsodic tribute to our eponymous hero by his old Soho friend, the poet Elizabeth Smart (played by Kirsty Fox), we realise that the play is a love letter from Waterhouse, not just to Jeffrey, but to the whole drinking, smoking, betting, fighting, womanising, throwing-up, throwing-out, passing-out, long-past culture of London W1.

Gayle Hare’s production for Organised Chaos is a fantastic achievement from a clearly confident young company and well worth seeing.

 

Evenings: 17-20 Nov @ 8pm

Tickets: £7 (£5 conc) from www.studiosalford.com

 

Studio Salford (Above The Kings Arms)

11 Bloom Street

Salford, M3 6AN)

www.organisedchaosproductions.co.uk

www.studiosalford.com

Nov 16th

The Bacchae at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre

By Caroline May

In ancient Greece everybody would have been familiar with the story of Dionysus (also known as Bacchus).  Son of the king of Thebes’ daughter by the god Zeus, when Dionysus’ divinity was denied by the Thebans he visited a terrible revenge on their city.

Euripides’ tragedy is rife with dramatic irony as the god’s royal aunt, cousin and grandfather face choices, make the wrong decisions, and hurtle unaware towards their inevitable doom.

Braham Murray’s Royal Exchange production is excellent on so many levels, but let’s start with with Mike Poulton’s new translation, which rhymes flexibly and unobtrusively and is happy to use contemporary English alongside marvellous poetical coinages (such as the contemptuous dismissal of Dionysus as a “wonder monger” or a “godling”).

The acting is hugely enjoyable too, with powerful performances from the central characters.  Jotham Annan lends Dionysus great stage presence and is smooth, charming and self-possessed.  Sam Alexander as a very personable Pentheus makes such a compelling case for the king that you forget he’s a heretical tyrant.  They both deliver their long plot-heavy speeches with consummate ease and use the in-the-round space effortlessly.

A lighter note is injected by Wyllie Longmore’s pragmatic King Cadmus and Colin Prockter as his sidekick Tiresias, the blind prophet.  Their ridiculous bacchanalian rig-out of dried leaves and baubles belies their age and status, and their old-men-behaving-badly schtick provides a lovely comic interlude before the Eumenides come home to roost.

Throughout the play we cannot escape the brooding presence of the chorus, a group of Bacchants whose debauched frenzies have left them wild-haired, stripped to their underwear and covered in muddy handprints.  The eight talented dancers and singers revel in Mark Bruce’s vivid choreography and Akintayo Akinbode’s atmospheric live score.

Louise Ann Wilson’s design clears the stage of any of the predicable clutter of shrines, tombs and architectural features, and Chris Davey’s thrilling other-worldly lighting would strike fear into any mortal. 

Director Braham Murray has created a production that feels utterly modern and fresh and is a genuinely great all-round achievement.

 

 

The Bacchae is on until Saturday 4 December 2010

Prices: £9-£30

Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm [no performance Tues 23 Nov]

Matinees: Weds @ 2.30pm, Sats @ 4pm and Tues 23 Nov @ 2.30pm

Box Office: 0161 833 9833

www.royalexchange.co.uk

Nov 4th

JB Shorts 4 at Joshua Brooks Bar, Manchester

By Caroline May

Fringe fixture JB Shorts is back for another run at Joshua Brooks bar in Manchester.  This is the chance to catch the region’s finest TV writers working not merely in high definition (so passé) but in 3D no less - and what’s more being performed live. 

As usual this challenge has attracted directors and actors of the highest calibre, and the tiny cellar space means the whole evening is shot in thrillingly extreme close-up.

The opening pieces (Touched by Bill Taylor and Waiting for Gaga by Lindsay Williams) about odd relationships and unusual situations led to a montage of bizarre images: Chris Hannon (Lunch Monkeys) rowing a table-top boat; Arthur Bostrom (’Allo ’Allo!) wearing furry pink rabbit ears; and Graham Galloway in the thankless role of a corpse yet still stealing the scene with one baleful glare.

However it was Christopher Reason’s A Selfish Boy, sensitively directed by Mary Cunningham and beautifully played by James Quinn and Joan Kempson, which effortlessly crowned the first half of the show.  James Quinn takes a dual role as the barbed narrator and resentful son of a “nutty mum” who, like a latter-day Victorian lady invalid, is permanently ensconced on her fainting couch (“she’s been in bed since forever”).  As we follow Mum’s endless search for a cure (pills, ECT, you name it), the jarring and slightly confusing time-shifts add to the sense of mystery, although the killer line comes when her Harley Street psychiatrist addresses her as “Mrs Reason” and you realise with a frisson of horror that you’re not watching fiction but the writer’s own life story. 

This really was fine work, which was followed by another two-hander of equal dramatic tension (though leavened with a great deal more humour).  Going to Extremes, written by Lisa Holdsworth and directed by Trevor MacFarlane, could potentially have been nothing more than a worthy piece of Theatre In Education - white working-class cockney Lee (Joe Ransom) has come up north on an English Defence League rally, where he encounters Leeds-born Muslim Amir (Sushil Chudasama).  The inevitable clash is diffused when they recognise each other as friends and work colleagues from way back.  Lisa Holdsworth’s play examines the different meanings of racism, tribalism and discrimination in today’s society, but its warmth and heart come from her characters, a pair of genuinely nice young men made real and loveable by charming and engaging performers who get the audience rooting for a happy ending.

Next up, Octagon artist director emeritus Mark Babych turns his hand to James Quinn’s comedy pastiche Watching the Detectives.  ITV’s latest drama commissioner (Gemma North) is proposing a clear-out of the cosy Sunday night schedule, and has a quartet of edgy new detective series in the frame - when she’s found dead at her desk by Soames the Butler (Arthur Bostrom, quite supercilious enough to have stepped out of that other ITV weekend favourite, Downton Abbey).  The crime is examined by - who else? - the four short-listed detectives: posh tweed-clad spinster Miss Winter (Annamarie Bayley); Scottish maverick DI Rankin (Ryan Pope); pioneering genre-busting Page-3-model-stroke-investigator Tanya Styles (Rachael McGuinness); and Peter Slater as the seedy bent northern copper George Headingley (“I don’t mean queer - proper bent.”)  The script is funny and clever, and the performances delightfully over-the-top - as someone says, “Sunday nights will never be the same”.

Finally, Dave Simpson’s Cock-Tales is The Vagina Monologues for the Y-chromosome-toting section of the audience, a celebration of all things willy.  Like its female counterpart it opens with a woman on a bar stool addressing the audience, and also features the strings of fun facts, rudery, myth challenging, and touching true stories (here of prostate cancer) which made Eve Ensler’s formula so appealing.  But think how much more successful the original might have been with two giant dancing dicks on stage.  Joe Ransom, Liam Tims, Murray Taylor and Susan McCardle bring tears to the eyes in so many different ways.

So another ratings success for this popular re-commission - series 4 is JB Shorts at the top of its form.

 

www.jbshorts.co.uk

Till Saturday 13 November (not Sunday 7th) @ 7pm

Tickets £5 on door

 

Joshua Brooks

106 Princess Street
Manchester

Lancashire M1 6NG

Oct 27th

Love, Love, Love at Manchester Royal Exchange Studio

By Caroline May

Paines Plough’s tour of Love, Love, Love by Olivier award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett has just opened in the Royal Exchange Studio.  Despite the cosy proportions of the production this is an ambitious play which takes us from the end of the swinging sixties to the economic malaise of the late Noughties while posing the question, How did we get from there to here?

We kick off in a shabby London bedsit in 1967, where upwardly mobile Oxford undergrad Kenneth (John Heffernan) is sponging off his older and squarer brother Henry (Simon Darwen) during the Long Vac.  Though only four years separate them they’re living in different decades - Henry is a remnant of fifties austerity, while bohemian Ken is excited by the prospect of a changing world.  Then posh dolly-bird Sandra (Daniela Denby-Ashe) arrives in a cloud of patchouli and pot, a mini-dressed goddess who personifies the new era that will embrace Ken and abandon Henry.

Only in Act 2 do we come to understand the parallels between the individualistic do-your-own-thing hippy ethos and the selfish attitudes of Thatcher’s eighties, by which time Ken and Sandra are fully paid-up yuppies obsessed with their own problems and emotionally neglecting their teenage children.  The final act - which, given the amount of booze and fags consumed throughout the play, amazingly does not take place in a liver transplant unit or oxygen tent - purports to show the damage the parents’ have-it-all ethos has inflicted not just on their family but an entire generation.

Daniela-Denby-Ashe may not entirely convince as a stoned sixties swinger, but her severely chignoned, chardonnay-swigging career woman rings true.  And she’s very funny as a trendy, chilled-out mum who thinks good parenting means forcing her kids to stay up all night while plying them with white wine and cigarettes: “My little boy smoking in front of his mother - a proper family at last.”

John Heffernan’s Ken is strongest in his giggling, dressing-gowned student phase and weary, Boden catalogue clad retirement.  His obvious unease during the pin-striped interlude is well justified by his wife’s lament, “We live in Reading - something’s gone wrong.”

Rosie Wyatt and James Barrett as the unfortunate offspring, all grimaces and rolling eyes, are superb at conveying their adolescent angst in Act 2.

Like a cut-down Cavalcade, Love, Love, Love attempts to examine the state of the nation through the prism of one family, but finally the focus narrows into a simple old-fashioned love story - if you can imagine the kind of love story where Elyot and Amanda from Private Lives are married with children.

Director James Grieve acknowledges the physical comedy in Mike Bartlett’s script, and Lucy Osborne’s sets are detailed, authentic and evocative.  Although the play doesn’t offer easy answers it still manages to find some glimmers of optimism for the human condition in the twenty-first century - if you have a gold-plated pension plan, that is.

 

Love, Love, Love is on until Saturday November 2010

Prices: £10/£7

Monday-Friday: 7:30pm
Thursday Matinee: 2:30pm
Saturday: 4pm & 8pm

Box Office: 0161 833 9833

www.royalexchange.co.uk

Oct 22nd

Love on the Dole at Bolton Octagon

By Caroline May

Love on the Dole, like Hobson’s Choice, is something of a House Speciality for north-west theatres - in the last decade I’ve seen three different versions of Walter Greenwood’s Depression-era Salford stories at The Lowry alone.  Yet David Thacker’s programming of the piece could not have been more prescient at the very moment when an economic downturn promises mass unemployment, and a coalition government is implementing massive cuts in services and benefits.  Today’s newspapers barely contain a headline which doesn’t have a parallel in the play, up to and including the Manchester Evening News report about police violence against a demonstrator at a political rally in Bolton.

Greenwood’s drama, co-written with Ronald Gow, tells the tale of the poor but respectable Hardcastle family who are driven into deeper and deeper poverty by the decline in manufacturing trade and consequent mass lay-offs. With an unapologetically socialist agenda embodied by the neighbourhood’s working-class radical Larry Meath, the writers also paint a picture of a spirited community brimming with life in spite of endless hardships.

Clare Foster is funny and feisty as Sally Hardcastle, a girl who longs to leave the slums but finds her life choices increasingly constrained. Her moods veer from romantic to tearful to furious in the blink of an eye, but the actress is fiercely committed in all of them. Octagon regular Keiran Hill is the idealistic Larry, and he captures the poetic and passionate soul of the character from the moment he sets foot on stage.

The immortal trio of disreputable tea-drinkers, Mesdames Dorbell, Bull and Jike, are as enjoyably presented as I have ever seen them, particularly accordion-wielding Mrs Jike played with a salty East End relish by Annie Tyson. And Colin Connor as Sam Grundy is the epitome of a seedy back-street bookie with his brown bowler hat, fat cigar and wad of notes - a superbly menacing turn which casts an authentically dark tone over the whole production.

Director David Thacker’s decision to stage this play in-the-round is absolutely the right one, working well for both the intimate interior settings and the public scenes.

Judging by the enthusiastic responses from the audience at the post-show talk I attended, this still-topical play is going down a storm in Bolton - booking soon is highly recommended.

Love on the Dole is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 6 November 2010

Tickets: from £9.50

Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.30pm

Matinees: Fri 17 Sep; Sat 2 & Wed 6 Oct @ 2pm

Box Office: 01204 520661

www.octagonbolton.co.uk