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24:7 Theatre Festival, Manchester - 2011

Published by: Caroline May on 28th Jul 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May
Sherica – Sachas Hotel

The word for several days has been that Sherica is well worth catching.  It’s written by Studio Salford regular Ian Winterton, so we kind of know what to expect: gritty, contemporary, near-the-knuckle and northern.  Studio Salford is establishing a reputation for itself as the brand name for a certain type of theatre in the way that Annie Horniman’s Manchester School of Playwrights did a hundred years ago. 

The story is set in a former fee-paying grammar school that has recently become an Academy.  So now rich, posh boys like Douglas (William Hutchby) are being educated alongside troubled students from deprived backgrounds like Natalie (Nicola Stebbings).  And a dinosaur like Mr Pope (David Slack), who wants to run the school the way he runs the Officers’ Training Corps, has to work with touchy-feely modern teachers like Mr and Mrs Feather (Oliver Devoti and Katy Slater).

So far, so Punk Rock - or Mogadishu, or Monster, or all those other issue-led right-on plays about Young People that the Royal Exchange insists on programming.  And sure, we get all the usual bad language and challenges to authority and home/school conflicts and bullying and so on.  But we also get a fruity parallel plot about a prostitute (Katie/Sherica – played by Ruth Middleton) and her unusual clientele.

Ian Winterton’s three teachers embody different educational approaches, beautifully demonstrated in a scene where they have to disarm a knife-wielding pupil.  (Alan Bennett tries the same thing in The History Boys, but it takes him an entire play to do it.)  Then in the second half he cleverly subverts our preconceptions about several of the characters with a sequence of very funny and dramatic twists where the stakes are high for all concerned. 

Katy Slater makes sensible art teacher Mrs Feather into a warm and vulnerable human being, and 24:7’s very own David Slack clearly enjoys the transformation from straight-as-a-die regimental sergeant major Mr Pope into a sneaky black ops expert.  William Hutchby also gives a fine account of the horrible snobby Douglas, a single-handed argument for the revival of corporal punishment in schools, if not capital punishment.

This is a fast-moving play with funky scene changes, though I was less keen on the shortness of the scenes themselves.  However Ian Winterton has mastered the technique of leaving gaps in the dialogue where the silence tells the story and the actors can really stretch themselves (good direction by Trevor MacFarlane).

Sherica is going to be at the Edinburgh Fringe next month if you can’t get to Manchester this week.

The Rainbow Connection - New Century House

Joanne Sherryden’s modern comedy of manners is a two-hander featuring TV favourites Anthony Crank and Danielle Henry.

Joe hasn’t been out of his luxurious penthouse flat for months because of the physical and mental damage caused by a bad car crash.  Shelly, who recently moved into the flat below, is trapped in a relationship that is never going to go anywhere.

As the mismatched pair share their problems and give each other confidence a contemporary kind of love springs up between them.

Joanne Sherryden knows how to craft, pace and develop a scene, and her play is very satisfying to watch, as well as being poignant and funny with some killer one-liners.

Anthony Crank and Danielle Henry’s characters constantly spar, bicker, fight and make up, with the audience always rooting for the happy ending.

Adam Zane’s production is slick and truthful.  A real audience-pleaser.

www.247theatrefestival.co.uk  has all the show information including video trailers

Tickets
£8/£6 (conc): book online from the 247 website (or turn up at the venues)

Venues
New Century House, Mayes Street entrance M60 4ES (200 metres from The Printworks, a stone’s throw from Victoria Station and Shudehill interchange)
Midland Hotel, Peter Street, M60 2DS (opposite St Peter’s Square tram stop)
Sachas Hotel, Tib Street, M4 1SH (just off Piccadilly Gardens)

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