Saturday, 26 March 2016

Personal Thoughts: Sneaky Experience's The Shawshank Redemption, 25th March 2016

(Accessed from

Leeds Town Hall was transformed as the 'Ohio State Redemption' for Shawshank Redemption, a live cinema experience. Sneaky Experience in partnership with Leeds Young Theatre Festival offered the interactive experience over the Easter Weekend. Wasn't a time to be an bystander but had to be part of the experience.  As well as Shawshank Redemption there was also the Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory experience for children.  After a very long wait outside the town hall for our fate we were processed as prisoners.

We were then taken down to the court room where I was sentenced to two life sentences for murdering my spouse and his lover.  I didn't share whether I was guilty or innocent and responded, 'no comment'.  No matter whether you're in prison or free one needs to either 'get busy living or get busy dying'.

After the sentencing we were taken to the cells and was roughly prepared for prison life and we experienced the life of fellow inmates just like Red, Andy and Brooks.  Eventually parole was given to all of us including me after admitting I was serving two life sentences!  We then seated in the main hall for the film.

The film, starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, is excellent and we could relate to things in the film form our interactive experiences.  The experience we had linked to the lives the prisoners lived.

It was an excellent experience which certainly enabled me to get more out of this excellent film. One criticism was that we were waiting rather a long time to enter the experience and waiting quite a bit in between some of the different experiences.  I feel we waited longer than we should have done.  Perhaps relook at co-ordinating the experience events that are likely to be held in different areas of a building. Nevertheless it's a great idea, concept and experience!   Great evening in all!

Friday, 25 March 2016

Punching The Sky - Harrogate Studio Theatre, 24th March 2016

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Punching The Sky is a new play following a personal journey which involved a national media storm when a mother courageously blogged the experience when her 11-year-old son stumbled across online violent pornography.

The play had its beginning as Slap, a Scratch performance at West Yorkshire Playhouse's Playground in 2013 and subsequently developed in a 85 minute theatrical production. Punching The Sky explores the interest generated from the public and industries in the complex and contextual issues around online pornography.

Obviously pornography especially online is still very much in the media spotlight and debates and concerns continue with no hope of definitive answers and foregone conclusions.  The blame continues to shift between concerned parents, competitive Internet Service Providers and the lucrative porn industry with interventions from the media and the Government. The reasons seem to be subjective and the yearning for one to label what's right and what's wrong.

Lizi Patch sensitively and honesty addresses these issues via the story on stage.  The play looks at complexities of relationship with online pornography.  From an audio and visual charged stage setting, Patch narrates, through vivid animation and live acting, experiences of parenting and social peer pressures up to the fateful day.  The day where childhood innocence of the online world is destroyed with a violent introduction into the unknown adulthood.  This only takes a click on an internet link on a smart phone.

The experiences are shared in a fast paced setting.  This reminds the audience of the ever changing world one lives in particularly with the internet and technology.  Following the play one is left with more soul searching questions than answers. Patch quotes in the play, 'If we don't know him, how can we care?'.

This is an excellent, clever and very thought provoking production, Patch sincerely and energetically shares this human experience with support from Emily Dowson as Medea and Milton Lopes as Webster.  Their media and internet perceptions intertwine Patch's personal story.  Light hearted and down to earth too!

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Damned United, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (On behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be accessed here.

Photo Credit: Malcolm L Johnson
(Accessed from

Kicking off West Yorkshire Playhouse’s season is Anders Lustgarten adaptation of The Damn United from David Peace’s novel. The production brings to life Brian Clough’s 44 day reign as manager at Leeds United. According to many fans, it was considered a dark chapter of the club’s history, following Don Revie’s legendary era.
Co-produced by Red Ladder Theatre Company and West Yorkshire Playhouse, Peace’s ‘An English Fairy Story’ explores Clough’s brief reign at Leeds United in 1974. The play switches back and forward chronologically to Clough’s football management career from when he first managed Hartlepool United in 1965 to reliving Derby County’s successes between 1967 and 1973.
Signe Beckmann’s simple dim staging combining visuals and soundscapes, arranged by Isobel Waller-Bridge and Nina Dunn, aids the narration.   It is no secret that Clough openly showed contempt to Leeds United particularly to Revie where he declared that he wouldn’t shake his hand. It could suggest jealously was shown to Leeds United’s successes even if arrogance obscures this.
Andrew Lancel is excellent as Brian Clough. Lancel energetically puts in the passion, desire and drive of this controversial character of British football. Clough was an outspoken individual even if one considers he was misunderstood for his drive and enthusiasm. Tony Bell portrays strongly as Peter Taylor, assistant manager, and Bell matches to Taylor’s character from standing up to Clough to supporting him in buying suitable players.
A lot was at stake for Clough at Leeds United particularly the legacy and reputation that Revie left behind. Everything was against him from previous loyalties and strong personalities between the board, players and fans. His unpopularity grew more especially his approach to rebuilding the team instead of relying on reputable players of the past season and before. He even questioned their motivation to win matches and infamously stated, “I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing. I contributed. I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me.”
The ensemble doubling up as dancers represents the football players. They synchronise in unison with the soundscapes and video footages of the matches and anticipated wins particularly during Clough’s Derby County. The dark silhouetted presence of the ensemble who wears masks and interprets the story’s poignancy, reputations, pessimism and the questioning of the ‘beautiful game’. Tim Skelly’s lighting is used effectively in illustrating this sombreness.
The Damned United is about the clash of ideologies between an ambitious manager and a club resting on its legacy and laurels. The clash demonstrates the positive and negative impact of football and its governance and this could apply to other sports too. The complexities of human nature, leadership and power are tested to its limits and its aftermath. There is no doubt that Clough and Leeds United had individually good intentions for succession then even if the outcome then was poignant. However they both triumphed in terms of future achievements since then.
It is certainly more than the ‘beautiful game’ and the ‘working man’s ballet’. The production opens questions about the politics of football with recent allegations of corruption involving FIFA; there is the intensive media interest about what happens off the pitch as much as on; fans’ influences concerning the players and the clubs; and, of course, the reported extortionate rise in ticket prices.
Strong language is used to emphasise the true nature of this thrilling production. The Damned United throughout is ingenious and eye opening. A must see whether one is a football fan or not.

Tosca, Grand Opera House (On behalf of The Reviews Hub)

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

(Image accessed from

For one night only, Opera & Ballet International presented Ellen Kent’s Tosca at York’s Grand Opera House, starring an international cast of soloists and a critically acclaimed orchestra.
Tosca is adapted from Victorien Sardou’s five act drama La Tosca, a French play exploring true love, jealousy, betrayal, torture, murder and suicide.  Tosca premiered in 1900 and is set in Rome at the beginning of the 19th Century when the city was then under the reign of Naples. Italy at the time was under constant threat of a Napoleonic invasion.
Puccini’s operas are renowned for its melodramatic work, and the tragic opera Tosca is no exception.  This beautiful masterpiece contained arias, recitatives and choruses.  These attributes emphasised the story’s unique characters and plot.  Neoclassical design staging and traditional costumes in the production reflected the era, complimented throughout the three acts.
Alyona Kistenyova portrayed a fiery and passionate Floria Tosca.  Kistenyova projected powerfully through song Tosca’s strong personality and her love for Cavaradossi.  Her determination to be faithful to him remained strong throughout, despite being at the mercy of the villainous Baron Scarpia. One of the outstanding highlights was Vissi d’arte when she emotively questioned spirituality and her very existence at the end Act II.  An expressive and soul searching aria by Kistenyova, it was particularly well received by the audience.
Ruslan Zinevych starred as the artistic Cavaradossi.  Being a victim of injustice and torture, he never stopped loving Tosca, evident of the tenderness between the pair.  When Cavaradossi’s fate was sealed in Act III, one was moved by his romantic E lucevan le stele, reflecting the strong love he and Tosca had for one another.
The powerful manipulative Baron Scarpia was played by Vladimir Dragos.  Dragos’ excellent interpretation of the womanising and power abusing character was palpable throughout.  Noted was his pious determination in Te Deum laudamus in Act I, intending to have Cavaradossi eradicated and to claim Tosca for himself.
The ensemble roles were played by Stagecoach Theatre Arts York’s students, who certainly cherished the fantastic opportunity to star in this international production.
The orchestra, under the direction of Vasyl Vasylenko, played Puccini’s masterpiece wonderfully and to Illica and Giacosa’s libretto.   A variety of musical instruments, particularly the percussion, contributed to the dramatic nature in Tosca.  Sung in Italian with English surtitles, this allowed the audience to experience it in the original language while also appreciating its emotive depths that the opera deserves and the crescendo to the anticipated tragic in the finale ended with a well-synchronised use of music and silences. Tosca was a melodramatic opera with a powerful story, and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Mai - Monkgate Theatre, York

I was invited to see a preview of this production at York's Monkgate Theatre.  The Mai coincided with St Patrick's Day and York International Women Festival.

York Settlement Community Players presented Marina Carr's The Mai.  This Irish play explored issues that really mattered and addressed by four generations of women in one family.

Set in Ireland between 1979 and 1980 the women shared ambitions, hopes and goals in faceof reality, adversity, struggles and disappointments.  Millie (Beth Sharrock) narrated reflectively each of the characters' life journeys which began with her mother, The Mai (Beryl Nairn).  The Mai shared her love for a man who exactly hasn't been faithful and follwed by other women who wished 'If only' from missed opportunities and second changes.  All met at The Mai's house which she specially built for Robert (Damian Fynes), her estranged husband.

The narration and dialogues are enriched with poetic elements which are full of metaphors and Irish folklore, linking to the feelings of abandonment, regret, neglect, fate, pessimism and aligning with family traditions and cultural expections.

Act 1 slowly built up the experiences women share and this lead to explosive consequences in the second act.  It was felt however that the dialogues could have been more condensed and smoother less time consuming transitions between the scenes.  With the adult nature of The Mai strong language is used throughout and targeting audiences at 16+

First class performance from the cast who enthusiastically and sensitively portrayed the characters particularly Beryl Nairn (The Mai) and Elizabeth Elsworth (Grandma Fraochan). Mike Rogers' set reflect a quintessential house in the Irish countryside which is complemented with Graham Sanderson and Edward Dick's lighting.  Appropriately chosen Irish music and Dick's sounds represent the story's mood, the Irish culture and emotions.

York Settlement Community Players successfully have pulled together The Mai after the Director's long wait, a wait worthwhile.  The themes raised are no stranger to family generations particularly among women.

Playing until 19th March 2016 at York's Monkgate Theatre.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Known as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Diao Chan The Rise of The Courtesan
(Image credit: Red Dragon Fly Productions and 
accessed via

Red Dragon Fly Productions brings Diao Chan The Rise of The Courtesan to tour in 2016. The current production is part of a three year Chinese Classic Programme.

Diao Chan is a fictional character in San Guo Yan Yi by Luo Ghan Zhong.  The book is about the latter days of the Han Dynasty and the war torn era of the Three Kingdoms.  This production is set at the latter end of the Empire and how its threat of power become real.

There are many portrayals of Diao Chan however in this production she is a courtesan who sang and perform to subjects of the Empire.  Ross Ericson draws on Diao Chan as an individual in her own right than just another woman.

Michelle Yim confidently portrays Diao Chan as a woman in her own right.  Questions the woman's role in then a predominantly masculine Chinese society.  Argues with LuBu (Arthur Lee), DongZhou's bodyguard, about what is expected from women and she asserts definitive qualities that equate to men's.

Diao Chan through her soliloquy asserts that women are equal to men; they aren't an ornament to be seen or a commodity to be used; and complains how the women's spirit is caged and like tigers that are domesticated.  She is determined to break this 'yolk' even if it means seduction, manipulation and an ultimate contribution to the downfall of a dynasty. 

This colourful production has characters dressed in traditional bright costumes which are assisted with props reflecting the era.  The traditional music and lighting are atmospheric and the percussion play during the change of scenes.  Narrative summaries are given between some scenes about the state of the Empire.

The main theme is about women and their positions in the Empire.  It also explores power and tradition and exposes the Empire's attitude towards women particularly with child bearing and internal ranking. Sadly similar situations are still seen in modern times where women have very limited rights or freedom.

An enjoyable production by Red Dragon Fly Productions which gives everyone an opportunity to know more about ancient Chinese cultures and traditions.  Yet at the same time drawing out the themes that are relevant today than in the 21st Century.

Next year they will bring Monkey: Journey to the West to conclude their three year Chinese Classic Programme.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

English National Opera's Norma, London Coliseum - 11th March 2016 Personal Thoughts

I attended the last night of English National Opera's new production, Norma.  I enjoyed the Opera North's production a few years ago and my desire to see it again was strong.

English National Opera's Norma
Photo Credit: Alastair Muir
(Accessed from

Norma, a bel canto tragedy, is adapted from Alexandre Soumet's Norma, ou L'infanticide.  Music composed by Vincenzo Bellini and libretto by Felice Romani. Norma explores community, pagan rituals, power change, motherhood, jealously and the ultimate sacrifice.  A quintessential Romantic opera packed with drama as well as songs of expression.

Marjorie Owens was outstanding as Norma.  It is acknowledged the title role is very demanding vocally and emotionally.  Owens met the challenged beautifully from beginning to end.  The highlight was her singing Casta Diva to a goddess.  It was sung with conviction and hope which moved many in the audience following the applauses after the aria.

Rest of the cast were excellent including fellow soprano Jennifer Holloway as Adalgisa and tenor Peter Auty as Pollione.  All under the direction of Christopher Alden and musically Stephen Lord.  This Bel canto opera is beautiful for all the senses.

I always make time for English National Opera productions and I now look forward to seeing Madam Butterfly during their summer season.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Carriageworks Young Theatre Makers War Letters

This enjoyable short play gave an insight in the lives of Leeds residents who lived through the First World War.  Carriageworks Young Theatre Makers read letters of residents' experiences of the war.

  (Accessed from

The company, lead by Ruth Cooper, developed this production with real and re-imagined correspondence with assistance from Leeds Museums and Galleries, The Preservative Party and West Yorkshire Archive Service.

The cast read letters by turn chronologically.  Patriotism reigned but some readers questioned The Great War.  Some expressed worries and concerns about their loved ones who were fighting at the front.  A glimpse into World War I was given from the residents' eyes.

Northern Ballet's Swan Lake, Leeds Grand Theatre - 5th March 2016

I recently took my niece and her Nan to Northern Ballet's new production, Swan Lake, at the Leeds Grand Theatre.

Photo credit: Emma Kauldhar
(Accessed from

Here are my niece's thoughts on Swan Lake:

"It was beautiful.  The costumes were extremely elegant and the dancing was amazing.  The music set the mood for the perfect show x"

Similar sentiments are echoed with Northern Ballet's new production.  It is refreshing and liberating to base Tchaikovsky's extraordinary musical masterpiece on a modern story where one can relate to the emotions that fates bring.

The story is about Anthony, a young man, who is troubled by a tragedy in the past.  He is confused about how he feels for his best friends, Simon and Odila.  He seeks solace and comfort from Odette, who emerges from the lake as a mystical swan-like creature,

The production proves that Tchaikovsky's music is adaptable for many interpretations whether contemporary or tradition.  Dave Gillan's beautiful staging and Peter Mumford's lighting compliments the story told with excellent interpretation of characters from Jeremy Curnier (Anthony), Ashley Dixon (Simon), Rachael Gillespie (Odila) and Antoinette Brooks-Daw (Odette).  Under the ingenious and creative direction of the legendary David Nixon.

Northern Ballet as always delivers!

Friday, 4 March 2016

Loaded in Harrogate - 3rd March 2015, Harrogate Theatre

Image Credit: Antony Robling 
(accessed from

Sun is Shining

Harrogate was voted as the sunniest place in the UK...

Going to the Promised Land

Harrogate was reported in the press the 'happiest place to live in Britain'.

Harrogate is perceived to be this typical English spa town to many visitors, particular to the wealthy who were originally drawn to the town's waters, and they are drawn to its cliches.

Loaded in Harrogate, however, tells a different a different story about the town's community. The production is a reworking of David Bown's 1999 award-winning comedy, Loaded.  The story is about three local mechanics who had enough of their wealthy Porsche clients' demands.  Following the sharp increase of armed robberies in the town centre, where cross border perpetrators who views Harrogate as 'a sort of "honey pot of riches"', the mechanics wanted to be part of the action.  Only for the trio to face hilarious and devastating consequences.  Carol (Sue Mitchell), a vulnerable partner of Pete (Andy Murton), and she is fighting her own battles in a place she considers being lonely and not belonging

Accompanied with localised references, local Indie and popular music (featuring Nina Simone's Here Comes the Sun, Black Ocean's Sick Inside and KLF's It's Grim Up North), Loaded in Harrogate is a dark comedy specially adapted for the town and explores what really matters and challenges existing perceptions.

Don't Take Your Guns into Town

Many in the audience no doubt relate to the relevant themes such as relationships, welfare, expectations and disappointments alongside insecurities and loneliness.  Loaded is figurative as well as physical.

Alexander Swarbrick's staging is sterile, serves its purpose and is used to the maximum effect.  It fits well with the play and its themes and this also compliments with the lighting. The backdrop video visuals are used for illustrating the town centre and its environs.  All is cleverly choreographed with the mentioned musical and local radio, Stray FM and courtesy of Alex Cann.  Appropriate creativity throughout are certainly well thought out and prepared.

Personal stories are shared among the characters whose struggles and disillusionment drives them to crime, violence and self destruction.  This powerful production certainly challenges existing perceptions of Harrogate and thought provokes.  The local talented cast of Lee Bainbridge, Keith Hukin, Andy Murton and Sue Mitchell portrays enthusiastically and excellently the fast paced play's stories.

A highly recommend production is playing at Harrogate Theatre until 12th March 2016.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Personal Thoughts: Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford - 27th February 2016

My lovely niece and I went to see Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty at Bradford's Alhambra theatre. I first saw the production there back in 2013! Loved it! You can read my personal thoughts here.

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

My niece loved it too and thought it was dramatic.  Seeing it for the second time made me appreciate the key themes such as good versus evil, growing up and womanhood and rebirth.  The tale certainly fed multiple imaginations with an eclectic mix of fairies and vampires in decadent settings.  The 'Once Upon A Time' Sleeping Beauty once again showed Matthew Bourne's supreme innovation and reinvention of characters which some 'Lived Happily Ever After'.  It was a pleasure to see Cordelia Braithwaite starring as Aurora; Chris Trenfield as Leo; and Liam Mower as Carabosse/Caradoc.