Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Anna Karenina, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds - Opening Night, 9th May 2015

Anna Karenina at West Yorkshire Playhouse
Photo Credit: Jonathan Keenan
(Accessed from http://www.wyp.org.uk)

Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina comes alive on stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. The theatre's joint production with The Royal Exchange Theatre, adapted by Jo Clifford and directed by Ellen McDougall, is staged in the round.

Anna Karenina's biggest wish is to be happy but like many women she has to live, though comfortably, in a predominately masculine society and adhere to what is expected of her. She fights for her desires and independence throughout and follows her heart by falling in love with Vronsky.  

Powerful and convincing portrayals of Anna and Vronsky are given both by Ony Uhiara and Robert Gilbert respectively.  They perform collectively the passionate love shown between both the characters and convincingly project the emotional roller coaster expected from the story.

John Cummings plays Levin extremely well; he demonstrates to the audience how he's finds difficulty in establishing a presence and finding love in a rich and poor divided society in 19th Century Russia. Tolstoy wrote this novel bearing in mind the social inequalities raised which suggests the eventual country's revolution in 1917.  Clifford wants to focus on the story's three main characters and look at the social context then and how this affects many today in similar situations.

Joanna Scotcher's in the round staging is simple with a railway track running through; the railway is the centre point for re-enacting the plays scenes with versatile stage and its related props.  An excellent production performed by an exceptional cast and supported by a talented creative team.  Anna Karenina is playing until 13th June 2015 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

The Rolling Stone - West Yorkshire Playhouse (On behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the link can be accessed here.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Keenan
(Accessed from http://www.thepublicreviews.com)

The Rolling Stone, a Royal Exchange Theatre production, comes to the West Yorkshire Playhouse.  The play begins with harmonious singing by the six member cast which sets the context.
Dembe and Sam are in love and often spend their time together at the lake.  The scenario shows them care free and innocent until a comment is made about feeling “watched”, suggesting all is not all well, and their relationship is a lot more complicated than they wish.  The setting is in Uganda where being gay is notoriously condemned (and also illegal), forcing Dembe and Sam’s relationship to go underground and be kept a secret.
The title of Chris Urch’s award winning play is taken from a Ugandan tabloid newspaper who are reputed to name and shame men who they believe are gay.  The paper refers to them as “Sodomites” and the publishing of such pictures leads to devastating consequences.
Dembe’s family is more the reason why his relationship with Sam must be secretive.  His brother becomes a pastor and regularly condemns homosexuality in his church sermons.  Disturbingly, suspicions are made about those “missing from the church” and the chilling comments made about the “epidemic rise in homosexuals”.   The churches pastors have been the main players in supporting Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill, from 2009, and this has created a homophobic and fearful culture in the country.
There are strong and moving performances given from all the cast members.  The complex character of Dembe is played very well by Fiston Barek who is torn between what is expected of him by his family and being true to himself.  Robert Gilbert’s Sam, whose confidence, wit and charm makes the couple uniquely in love, is what Gilbert successfully carries out.  One must admire the Sule Rimi’s powerful Pastor Joe who intensely demands full attention and interaction from his church’s congregation.
The singing and music, under the direction of James Fortune, is harmoniously beautiful and certainly creates the appropriate moods and emotions in each of the scenes, while Dave Norton’s soundscapes build up the tense atmosphere throughout the performance.  There are smooth transitions between the scenes with the support of Joanna Scotcher’s simple staging and spacing and Richard Owen’s lighting.
What Dembe and Sam go through is echoed by many in similar situations in countries where homosexuality is still illegal and punishments are enforced.  Being gay, however, will always be met with discrimination in the world (whether illegal or legal), as Sam points out to Dembe. Although gay rights have come a long way; it is evident and clear more work still needs to be done in educating and raising awareness particularly in families, especially after seeing Dembe’s family’s loyalties being tested in fearful circumstances.
This production certainly raises more questions than answers, as shown from the characters’ uncertainty at the end of the play.  The Rolling Stone is excellently well written and powerfully thought provoking both socially and politically.
Runs until: 23rd May 2015

Monday, 18 May 2015

2's Company, A Mini Theatre Festival, Harrogate

 Image credit:HarrogateTheatre  

2's Company is returning to Harrogate for its fifth year! A theatre company known for its small, intimate and personal theatre adventures.  They previously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and from 24th-30th May 2015 the company will present their productions to a few unique venues across the town centre.  

 Images credit:HarrogateTheatre  

At Hales Bar, in the town centre, Early Doors (presented by Presented by Not Too Tame will be shown in a pub to an audience alongside pub regulars.  It's about a brother and sister who opens their family pub after inheriting it from their mother who sadly passed away.

 Image credit:HarrogateTheatre  

Personal and interactive Somebody I Used To Know explores how technology connects with another in extraordinary circumstances and is performed to a one person audience.

 Image credit:HarrogateTheatre  

There is an invitation to join two strangers on a journey in The Fixer, created by Brad McCormick.  This takes place in a moving vehicle, Renault Clio, which will travel round Harrogate.  Certainly immersive, a test of self and others, and fast paced! 

 Image credit:HarrogateTheatre  

Live and imaginative Room is a 25 minute performance which involves a blindfolded and seated member audience.

Certainly a unique theatrical experience - very different from being at a conventional theatre! Limited tickets for the productions will no doubt sell fast so best get them sooner than later via Harrogate Theatres or call their box office.  Further information about the productions including dates, times and venues can be found on the theatre's website.

Guardian's Lyn Gardiner says 'it's perfectly formed festival of small'  and offers up and close theatrical experiences to the performers and performances.

Dawn Smallwood
On behalf of Local Theatre Blogging Community
May 2015

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Northen Ballet: Mixed Programme (On behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the review can be accessed here.

Photo Credit: Emma Kauldhar (Accessed from The Public Reviews (http://www.thepublicreviews.com)

Award winning Northern Ballet begins their mixed programme with Jonathan Watkins’ Northern Trilogywhich was created for the Northern Ballet’s 45th Anniversary Sapphire Gala in March 2015. The work celebrates the Northern spirit and its traditions in monologues.  It is reflective with Stan Holloway’s abstract and comical audio which the dancers interpret to.  They physically share how a ‘Yorkshire Puddin’ is made; celebrate Soldier Samuel Small’s Birthday; and relive seaside tales of Albert and his fateful encounter with a lion. The audience no doubt is familiar with the dialect and the northern references with locations such as Ilkley Moor and Blackpool.
Following Northern Trilogy is Daniel de Andrade’s Fatal Kiss.   Astor Piazzola’s Otoño Porteño is chosen for this piece. The story is about a man who reluctantly comes to terms with meeting his death, through a kiss, in Buenos Aires. The Pas de Deux is danced dramatically and provocatively, as is Piazzola’s music in a form a tango, which is danced beautifully and passionately by Lucia Solari and Javier Torres.
Little Monsters is based on three songs by Elvis Presley including Love Me Tender and Are You Lonesome Tonight? Two dancers, Dreda Blow and Joseph Taylor, physically explore and emotively express the joy of falling in love to the pain of separating when the lovers go their separate ways. There are some excellent close, synchronised and parallel movements in the dancing linking with Demis Volpi’s choreography.
The classical Perpetuum Mobile is danced to JS Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major. The place does not have a narrative structure as such instead emphasis on the composer’s music.  Christopher Hampson wants the focus shifted on the composition by creating and layering the movements in the ballet.  There is a continuous flow of physical movements by the dancers with no pauses throughout; instead an overflow of dances appearing from the stage’s wings covers the music’s section from one stage to another.  The dancers are certainly ‘lost’ in Bach’s concerto including the music’s tempo as shown in the dancing.  A reflective and beautiful piece of work blessed with imaginative choreography.
The final piece is Kenneth Tindall’s Architect.  This contemporary work is inspired and based from the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The clever use of Alastair West’s lighting and Christopher Giles’ staging are used to narrate Adam and Eve’s existence in the Garden of Eden from the creation element, eating of the forbidden fruit and to their fateful ends.   A variety of music from Zoe Keating Remix, Olafur Arnalds, Kerry Muzzy and the Balanescu quartet is played and danced by the company artists who interpret the story’s stages with thorough connectivity, synchronisation and intricacy.
A well chosen diverse programme and one has to admire the breathtaking, soft and colourful lighting and staging used for the works.  Five pieces represent the contemporary world and existence one lives in and yet it beautifully and significantly connects with one’s spiritual and emotive reflections.

Flanagan Collective's Romeo and Juliet, St Olave's Church, York - 12th May 2015

Photo Credit: James Ducker
(Accessed from http://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk)

Shakespeare would have been proud how love is celebrated in this production of Romeo and Juliet!

This contemporary production is part of York International Shakespeare Festival and currently playing at the city's St Olave's Church.  This all women cast tells the story of Shakespeare's tragedy which is infused with live music and singing.  Flanagan Collective take prides in using non traditional approaches and maximising intimate spaces.

One big party atmosphere greets the audience arrival with balloons, whistles and the donning of party hats.  The cast welcomes one and all to the party celebrating the youthful spirit of falling in love, being in love and being care free.

Alexander Wright makes the story people orientated as possible and focus on the universal quality of love with celebration with song and dance.  Reflection plays a part in joyful and painful circumstances through harmonic recitals, rituals and traditions.

There is this passion and energy by the six member cast throughout Romeo and Juliet from the beginning to the end.  With the adapted text from Tom Spencer the play links perfectly with the relevant themes, primarily love, which are relevant today as much then in Shakespearean times.  The objective of this production is the characters' present being rather than past events and fates.

This beautiful 15th Century Church stages the production effectively with great use of the alters and pulpit.  The characters interact with the audience in the pews.  The second act, as in line with the story, is reflective and poignant and this is when the use of candles come in. The dimmed lighting during the act reflects this,  Certainly a contrast of ambiance from a carnival party like atmosphere at the beginning to the poignant reflection of the lovers' tragic fate.

Hannah Davies' portrayal of the nurse stands out especially.  Her down to earth portrayal of the nurse is familiar with the audience with words shared plainly and wittingly.  It confirms that the producers' desire to project honest storytelling with its simple use of language; not compromising the Shakespearean feel but engaging the audience with comprehension. Rest of the cast plays the multiple characters; a job well done!

Certainly energetic and the passionate shared love is celebrated and reflected.  A must see during York International Shakespeare Festival!  It's playing at St Olave's Church until Saturday 23rd May.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Macbeth, Harrogate Theatre - 8th May 2015

Photo credit: Tara Arts

Jatinder Verma's production of Shakespeare's Macbeth, jointly presented by Tara Arts and Black Theatre Live, has been touring the country between February and May 2015. Seeing it at the last venue on the tour, Harrogate Theatre, Macbeth is presented with an Asian twist.

The setting is in the midst of an Asian British Family and the murder of Duncan is considered as patricide, family linked, not regicide.  Verma is keen to explore the strong themes Macbeth bring which can relate to a family setting as much as a monarch one. These include honour, superstition, faith, identity, desire, ambition and so on which are driven with expectations.

The key characters in the play remain intact.  One notable change in the production are the colourful Indian hijras, drag queens, who replace the witches.  They define themselves belonging to the spirit world which links to Ardh-Narishwar, the half-man half-woman god.

Robert Mountford plays a convincing Macbeth and meets the troubled character's requirements.  The same goes for Shaheen Khan as Lady Macbeth.  The acting ties in nicely with the Indian/Asian percussion played by Rax Timyr with precision and creates the compelling atmosphere and mood the play demands.  

There are some blurred moments identifying the exact location - it is felt sometimes the action happening in Scotland, in the castle or the battlefield instead of the family's suburbia! Nevertheless it is interesting to see a contemporary, open and ambitious interpretation of one of Shakespeare's popular tragedies.  Verma proves how versatile Macbeth is and how its strong themes and messages can be applied in any era and setting!

The staging is simple and effective allowing for maximum interpretation of this production with flexibility of the characters in which they play multiple roles.  This ensures smooth transitions between the scenes and the characters.

Certainly a unique production with an Asian twist and reliving the appreciation Macbeth deserves.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Hindle Wakes, Oldham Coliseum

 Image Credit; Oldham Colisuem
(Accessed from http://www.coliseum.org.uk)

Stanley Houghton's Hindle Wakes, originally produced by Annie Horniman, is jointly produced by Oldham Coliseum and Bolton's Octagon Theatre.  It premiered at the Octagon Theatre before coming to the Coliseum.

At the boom of the cotton industry in the early 20th Century, the story tell us about Fanny Hawthorn (played by Natasha Davidson), a mill worker, and Alan Jeffcote (played by Tristan Brooke), a mill owner's son, who spent an illicit weekend away together at the seaside.  For obvious reasons at the time they had to keep the affair a secret until a dramatic turn of events exposed their weekend away.

Houghton wrote the play in 1910, a time when women rights came to the forefront and at the height of the women's suffrage, and one can think of  the local activist Emmeline Pankhurst.  Like the women then Fanny fights for the right to be independent than conforming to the traditional lifestyle which was expected by doing the 'right thing' such as getting married and being an 'honest' woman.

Hindle Wakes is humourous particularly James Quinn's Nathaniel Jeffcote as well as controversial and celebrates and consolidates the early women's emancipation and their say in society at the time.  Great direction by David Thacker who kept the authenticity of the era with Lancashire's cotton industry and how important Wakes Weeks were to the mill workers. Crucial social issues alongside women ones were directly and indirectly raised in the play.

 Photo Credit: Ian Tilton
(Accessed from http://www.coliseum.org.uk)

An enjoyable play that keeps the audience entertained throughout the two hours which a talented cast and creative team successfully delivered.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Personal thoughts about Opera North's 2015/16 Season

Photo Credit: Opera North

I had the privilege attending Opera North's Season Launch in Leeds to learn more about the new opera season for 2015/16.  A proud supporter of Opera North I was curious what will be featured in their forthcoming repertoire.  Announcement was made earlier in day so I know by then what is coming our way to the stage.

Richard Mantle,Opera North's General Director,opened the launch, gave a company update and shared exactly an update of works with some musical highlights sung from the new programme by two Opera North guest artists.

Autumn 2015

The season will host Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, directed by Jo Davies and co-produced with Welsh National Opera.  There are some traditional opera greats such as Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Janacek's Jenufa.

The New Year and Spring 2016

There's Giordano's Andrea Chenier, which is an opera based on the French Revolution and the story is told through the eyes of an artist.  Some will enjoy the traditional operas of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte and Donizetti's L'eliser d'amore. A new commissioned chamber opera, Pleasure, composed by Mark Simpson and written by Melanie Challenger, is a story about Val who works in a gay night club and a young man - which upon their meeting brings a dramatic turn of emotions and actions. One of the highlights of the season must be Into The Woods, a Sondheim musical produced jointly with West Yorkshire Playhouse. Two of my favourite directors, James Brining and David Charles Abel, will lead this exciting production. It's a definitely a must see!


Opera North has a commendable outreach programme which Mantle shared with us.  The company is keen to attract a diverse range of audiences to the operas and involve schools and communities regionally. 

Wagner's The Ring

Not forgetting Wagner fans; there is The Ring which journey  will come full circle in Summer 2016 with a celebratory programme.

I look forward to seeing some Opera North performances during 2015/16 and hopefully illness won't get the better of me as I've had to miss two operas last season!

Dawn Smallwood
7th May 2015

The Measures Taken and The Grit In The Oyster, Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds (On Behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the review can be accessed here.

Accessed from The Public Reviews(http://www.thepublicreviews.com)

Alexander Whitley brings his dance company to perform the double bill, The Grit in the Oyster and The Measures Taken to Leeds.  The programme opens with The Grit in the Oyster set to Thomas Adès’ Piano Quintet and Sadler Wells commissioned this for Adès’ See the Music. Hear the Dance.   The classical music feeds well into Whitley’s choreography with the three dancers interpreting the fast tempo and intense music.

The musical arrangement has a tango like passionate feel; the dancers, one male and two female, appear to be in a love triangle with an involvement of pushing and pulling, intertwined with vicarious movements and emotive body language expressions.  The dancers interpret physically and intricately to the music and the simple staging is used well.
The Measures Taken is reputed to be “visually striking and kinetically charged” and it certainly lives up to its reputation.  The piece is created jointly with Marshmallows Laser Feast and lasers are indeed used effectively – diagonally, horizontally and vertically symbolising how technology dominates people’s lives.

The visuals have a good relationship with the five dancers who navigate figuratively their personal relationships with technology and Rutger Zuydervelt’s music works in unison with Whitley’s choreography.  Some of the scenes show how far technology can go in humanity and the dancers’ physical movements, such as the robotic sequence towards the end, show these frustrations and restrictions; the clever use of digital projection and the dramatic soundscapes.  Certainly an enjoyable and unique production.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

National Dance Company Wales - Spring Programme 2015

National Dance Company Wales came to Leeds' Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre to present their mixed programme.  Three pieces, couldn't be any more different, are presented by the company's dancers.

Photo credit: National Dance Company Wales

First piece, Walking Mad, by Johan Inger, is danced to the versatile Ravel's Bolero and the reflective Pärt's Für Aline.  The nine dancers explore with physical interpretation a range of emotions and creative usage of space reflecting the different circumstances of predicaments in relationships.

Inger ensures an emotional romantic combination of seriousness and teasing humour in Ravel's masterpiece which pictures individual life journeys of yearnings and being in the present.  The pregnant pause in the latter stage of the music makes one wonder the sudden unforeseen circumstances one encounter in their lives. Pärt's music is interpreted beautifully and with reflection by two dancers.

After the interval Lee Johnston's They Seem To Find the Happiness They Seem is performed by two dancers.  The piece is interpreted to a variety of music cleverly arranged by Max Richter.  It explore inner relationships, which are unknowingly carried out, within individuals and between couples.

Tuplet, choreographed by Alexander Ekman, is performed by six dancers.  The dancers have an opportunity to perform impulsively and spontaneously to sounds and visuals using their physicality to create rhythmically a story or message.  They use their bodies as percussion instruments.  Erkman considers this unique as every dancer is an individual who react subjectively to sounds, visuals and invitation to impulses.  It may not be to everyone's taste but it's a refreshing opportunity and an ambition creativity to create this unique piece where it's guaranteed to be changed whenever it's performed.

An ambitious bill by the company and performed by talented dancers and creative choreographers.

Friday, 1 May 2015

A Testimony to the Bradford City Fire - 11th May 1985

FYSA Theatre is presenting The 56, on tour and was recently on at Bradford's Alhambra Studio, a fitting venue in city where this tragedy happened nearly 30 years ago.  This is a testimony to the 56, 54 Bradford City supporters and two Lincoln City supporters who lost their lives in the Bradford City Fire.

The 56 at Bradford's Alhambra Studio

On stage there is a replica of wooden seating, symbolising the main stand's wooden structure that caught ablaze during the match between Bradford City and Lincoln City. Three performers, representing the supporters, retell the story, based on real life sources from witnesses, on the fateful day of the fire. Their poignant accounts emphasises how the tragedy brought the city together through solidarity and community cohesion. Emotions are felt with the truthful accounts bringing shock and tears.  It is very fitting to have the 56 victims announced in alphabetical order at the end of the performance.

The production is attended by a number of Bradford City fans, of all generations and it's incredible to witness the intergeneration spirit within the audience.  Afterwards money is collected for the University of Bradford Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit.


The cause of the fire is unclear although speculations has been shared by the media.  Being told real life accounts from witnesses certainly gives one a clearer deeper soulful picture of the tragedy which the media coverage wouldn't have given.  Only more information and emotions will be revealed, seen in other tragedies, as time goes by.

The 56 may not be with us today but they will be in many hearts and spirits now and forever - not just on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy.  A fitting well researched documentary theatre production tells the accounts honestly and with sincerity and that it pays homage to the 56 supporters.

A Memorial to the Victims