Fracked Off- Review

New Hull- based theatre company Radio Faces treated Kardomah 94 to the first showing of their new confrontational comedy Fracked Off on Saturday night.

The production, which is explained with the title, is a genuinely funny romp in the countryside showing off truly quality writing with bags of character and hysterical laughter along the way.

With great dialogue from writers Mark Bones and Mike Foston the story moves at a very good pace and the relationships between the four main characters Tonto (Jack Holt) Panda (Luke Gillingham) Annabelle (Sarah Hicks) and Janice (Tiolina Puteh) are clearly defined and draw the audience into the world of the anti-fracking urban warriors and the ladies who have a clear interest in the field where the protest is happening.

Throw in a slimy newspaper reporter called Flip Greasley and an angry farmer who is the father of Janice and you have the perfect concoction for a delectably riotous comedy which will capture the heart of all who see it.

The playing out of the would-be relationship of Tonto and Janice is quite heartwarming and the efforts of Panda to try and get fresh with fire-brand Annabelle provide a beautiful balance to the story and definitely keep you guessing about what’s going to happen next right the way through.

The scenes which show when trouble could erupt with police and TV cameras supposedly in the area are handled quite expertly by the actors, and the Jack-the-lad approach of Panda and the great attitude of Annabelle make great comedy look like almost effortless normality.

The show will now move on to the studio theatre at Hull Truck on 6th and 7th April 2016 for its next outing and there is talk of a possible tour of the East Riding to take this production to some of the places where fracking is still an issue, it’s a chance that anybody would be well-advised to take to see it.

 

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Six Characters In Search Of A Handout- Review

Theatre On The Edge have launched their latest production called Six Characters In Search Of A Handout at Kardomah 94.

This new black comedy is an outstanding piece of theatre with laughs, confrontation, guts and an unflinching genuine quality at its heart.

Dealing with a very hot subject that is very capable of blowing up if done wrongly, this production with a quality cast presents extremely well with six ‘Characters’ (real life people) asking six ‘actors’ (played by actors) to tell their real life stories of meeting at a food bank and how they ended up there.

The reality of the stories and the acting of them is hard to tell apart in a blissfully excellent way which moves the story along at a fantastic pace and also seems to explain some of the myths about the reputation of modern theatre in this day and age after careful cultivation over many centuries.

With a cast of 12 handling a really hot brick it would have been very easy for writer/director Barrie Wheatley to go down the political route and bash the Conservative government from pillar to the post due to the explosion of uses of food banks but it doesn’t.

It is also pleasantly noted that no one character dominates and the dynamic changes around as each character is explored in depth but for exactly the right amount of time to explain their personal story.

The cast of Molly Robinson, Maxwell Smales, Sara Featherstone, Dave Bush, Clare Crowther, Jamie Wilks, Kirsty Old, Ella Straub, Stan Haywood, Chris Gruca, Jackie Rogers and Katy Burgess are expertly pitched and perfectly suited to their parts.

The main strength comes from Arnold (Haywood) and Katie (Burgess) as the latter arrives last on the stage and gives a whole different dynamic with her ruthless treatment of the ‘Characters’ and is eventually taught a harsh lesson by the messed up but meaningful and charming older man.

With a political undercurrent which is perfectly handled by the wonderful cast who never allow it to takeover the proceedings this is very powerful storytelling at its finest with breathtaking control of a very difficult subject without creating a pervading scandal.

There is also an appeal to give to a collection for organisations that help to fight against food poverty with donations of Tinned food, Packets of food or money.

The production is on at Kardomah 94 on 5th and 6th November, Holy Trinity Church on 10th November and Northern Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) on Anlaby Road on 13th November tickets are £7 each at Kardomah 94, £5 each at Holy Trinity Church and £7/£5 at NAPA on the door at either venue.

Six Characters

Poles Apart review

John Godber has landed at Hull Truck Theatre with his latest offering called Poles Apart which is an attempt at asking the questions that exist between theatre and your average Joe Bloggs.

The set up, ordinary working men (scaffolders in this case) working in the slightly run-down ageing theatre with a proud history which has apparently seen its stage graced by Ken Dodd, Jasper Carrott and John Bishop, while the executive director Grahame (played by the reliable Rob Hudson) and star attraction Abi (played with great poise and presence by Ruby Thompson) fret about the opening night of the show which is meant to save the theatre financially.

Added to their problems is that workmen Phil (played with just the right chauvinistic attitude by Keith Hukin) Jan (played by the compelling Frazer Hammill) and Pete (played by the wonderfully timed Adrian Hood) seem more interested in drinking tea, eating and talking about their problems/connections with the ladies.

The first half ambles along with the occasional decent laugh to be had but seems slightly off key for a comedy although there are some definite highlights in what is a well acted piece with a strong script and the early establishment of the relationship between Grahame and the workmen is well done and draws on established theatre language that everyone will recognise instantly.

The set up before Jan’s one man show is built up quite well and his little show maybe deserved a small round of applause but didn’t get one.

There is a bit of a cliffhanger thrown in just before the interval when Phil overhears a conversation between Abi and Grahame which leaves him feeling rather annoyed.

In the second half the production clearly improves with more laughs and moving at a faster pace, however the whole piece suffers from the direction. John Godber is a wonderful writer, of that there can be absolutely no doubt, but what this piece needs is an independent director who would undoubtedly get more out of the script.

While it asks plenty of interesting questions about modern theatre and the audience it draws, and why certain people maybe don’t go, there is a spark there which needs more punch from the direction which could be un-achievable when it’s being directed by the person who wrote it.

One other area where this production also fails a bit for me is that the character of Abi is not on stage enough, when she’s there her effervescence is plain for all to see as she provides that touch of star quality that her feisty character is all about, when she isn’t there it notices although the other actors do make-up for it with some tangibly strong acting.

All-in-All the production is crying out for some stronger direction but it is also well worth watching with some good laughs guaranteed.

The production is on at Hull Truck until Saturday 14 November with tickets available at the Box Office at the theatre, on the phone on 01482 323638 or online Tickets

Poles Apart

Review of Mercury Fur by Middle Child Theatre Company

Hull-based Middle Child Theatre Company have launched their first ever extended run of a single production with a relocating of the controversial Mercury Fur which was written by Philip Ridley and originally launched in 2005 in Plymouth and then London where it was originally set.

The production is set in post-apocalyptic Hull and takes place in the abandoned unit 15 of the Lowgate Centre in Hull Old Town, on entry you are given directions to where the performance is taking place at the top of the building, you’re told to follow the butterflies (pictures on the walls) and step over the dead dog, which I didn’t see, and this is meant to immerse you in the sort of futuristic world that the production is set in.

The long walk up the stairs is slightly arduous but is a half-decent scene setter, however when you enter the room where the action is taking place you are struck by the dim light and the general almost anarchic state of the room with rubbish strewn around in a great panic and signs on the walls saying things like: If at first you don’t succeed… Call An Air-raid, Army of One, Hope Is All We Have and If You Tell A Lie Enough, It Becomes Politics.

The background music and sound is set perfectly to draw you in and immerse yourself in this unforgiving world that is being replicated.

When the action starts you’re thrown into the edge-like life of Darren (played with superb resonance by Laurie Jamieson) and his big brother Elliot (Played with admirable menace by Joshua Mayes Cooper) who survive on their wits in this new world and not much more.

The story moves at a very good pace and once it has hold of you it doesn’t let go, to the point that this 2 hours 20 minutes performance doesn’t actually include an interval, which makes it all the more immersive and entertaining because of the subject matter.

The timing of the entry, and the backstory, of Naz (Played with great relish by the great Nima Taleghani) is pitched quite well but the building of the relationship between him and Darren is done with absolutely the right amount of suggestion and, when it becomes slightly more controversial than you expect, it does seem to fit very well with the surroundings and the story, and is very well acted and very sensitively handled by the two actors.

With the clearly very disturbed Darren (who has a penchant for eating butterflies as if they’re hard drugs) being bossed by Elliot and the developing friendship with the very disturbed but also impossibly laid-back Naz you begin to genuinely care and worry about the characters and you also start to wonder what the ending will be like.

Elliot’s true love Lola (daringly well played by Laurence North) is a genuine character to remember with great control and desire.

The part of Spinx (admirably portrayed by Edward Cole) is very well developed by the three main characters even before you see him, and when he arrives he is exactly as you imagine him, as long as your imagination stretches to a man with a blonde mohican and wearing trousers, boots and a 3/4 length fur coat.

When Spinx arrives he has a surprise guest with him called The Duchess (played by the wonderful Madeleine MacMahon), whose appearance causes great panic even before she enters the room. The Duchess is quite a peripheral part in some ways, but absolutely essential and heartbreakingly lovable and understated all at the same time.

10-year-old Charlie Thompson is very strong as the character known only as The Party Piece, around whom this whole sordid party is built, along with the Party Guest (played rather convincingly by James Stanyer) and as the production moves towards its seemingly horrific ending it doesn’t wilt in any way shape or form.

The story is driven along by the power of suggestion, particularly by Spinx, which seems to suggest an awful fate for the Party Piece at the hands of the bloodthirsty Party Guest, but even as the meat hook is being sharpened a terrible twist befalls one of the other characters.

Finally, as the Party Guest gets his evil way in the bathroom, the whole audience are left sitting in what is effectively the Living Room, hearing bitter and almost sickening howls of pain, before the Party Guest is stopped by an unexpected interruption and his victim is taken from his grasp and brought back in a thoroughly horrible mess.

Eventually the production ends as it began, with Darren and Elliot arguing and clearing up the mess, but this time there’s a difference which leaves it with the sort of cliffhanger ending that the story demands.

The whole piece is expertly directed by Paul Smith, last week he told me that Middle Child “Really want to challenge audiences with this one.” That objective is very powerfully achieved in breathtaking fashion, take a bow Middle Child Theatre Company.

Paul Smith Talks About Middle Child’s Mercury Fur Production

Hull-based Middle Child Theatre Company are taking on a formerly controversial production originally written by Philip Ridley and giving it a new location on the 10th anniversary of its original release.

The play, which premiered in 2005 at Plymouth Theatre Royal before moving on to Menier Chocolate Factory in London, has for the first time been given a northern setting in unit 15 of the abandoned Lowgate Centre in Hull City Centre.

Middle Child’s effervescent artistic director Paul Smith took time out from rehearsals to tell me about this risky production which centers around a post-apocalyptic version of Hull, as opposed to London’s East End where it was originally set.

He said: “We wanted to take on something really challenging. It’s a bit like 28 Days Later meets This Is England and Mad Max.

“We want it to be very intense and immersive, we picked the building we’re in because not being surrounded by a theatre means we have more space to work in.”

Middle Child regular actor Marc Graham is currently acting in sensational Hull Truck production of Dancing Through the Shadows so I asked if he’s being missed, Paul replied: “No not really, Marc is a fantastic actor but we’re quite a big company so we’re used to people coming in and dropping out and we’re all just thrilled for Marc to be working at Truck.”

Getting back to the matter in hand Paul says: “We really want to challenge audiences with this one, it’s the first time it’s been set away from the South of England, it’s very sight specific so it will feel very relevant to the people of Hull for sure.

“We want to stimulate debate and this piece is perfect for that because it’s so controversial and it really forces engagement and asks a lot of questions.”

Sitting in the actual venue where this challenging, multi-faceted piece of theatre is going to be happening it’s difficult to believe that come next Wednesday it’s going to double as a theatrical space, but at the same time considering the setting of the production it is also in seemingly a perfect state to communicate it as everyday items like chairs, food and drink containers and bits of paper are strewn around us and adorn the walls.

Although the performance will be set in this one room at the very top of the high building the rest of the venue is going to be made into an immersive experience so the audience will be ready for the action once it starts.

Middle Child have also brought in 10-year-old actor Charlie Thompson to play the part of the character known as ‘The Party Piece’ who is a child that has been kidnapped by central characters Elliot and Darren who, along with their gang, live on their wits in this world of degenerates who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Tickets are £12 OTD or £10 in advance and can be purchased at https://thelittleboxoffice.com/middlechild

They are also giving offers of ‘Pay What You Want Wednesday’s or if you book in a group of 5 or more each ticket will only cost £5.

The show runs from 14 to 24 October although there are none on the 18th and 19th, there will also be a Saturday Matinee performance on the 17th.

There is a talk back with original writer Philip Ridley after the performance on Thursday 15th October and if you go and see the show on either of the Saturday’s you will get £2 off entry into Welly that night.

Middle Child 4 Middle Child 3 Middle Child 6

Dancing Through the Shadows- Review

If there is a better show at Hull Truck Theatre in the coming months, even years, I would very much like to see it. This latest Hull truck production, written by the masterly Richard Vergette is an absolute masterpiece in every sense of the word.

A superb cast of Laura Aramayo, Marc Graham, Christine Mackie, John Elkington and Jim English make this an absolute must-see treat of epic proportions.

Beautiful direction from Mark Babych and wonderful set and costume design from Dawn Allsopp just add to the grandness of this visually stunning story.

The effervescent opening with Neville Chaimberlain claiming ‘Peace In Our Time’ in September 1938 sees the cleverly written start of the budding relationship between Sylvia (Aramayo) and Tom (Graham) as they celebrate the good news that everybody at that time had been hoping for.

The relationship between the two young lovers is beautifully and masterfully developed early on and then of course came the moment of the declaration of war with Germany and suddenly the whole dynamic was changed as if the stage was balanced on a sixpence.

The music in the background set the tone absolutely expertly and the story became a genuine roller coaster of emotions and huge respect, not only for the full cast which included a community ensemble, but also as we were given a ride through it, for the people who lived through this most awful part of Hull’s history.

But along with the very powerful heart rending moments there was also some fun and comedy on offer that just lifted the mood in the auditorium and set people giggling. The class divide between Hessle and Hessle Road is also perfectly acted as rich (Tom, Grace and Gilbert) are brought together with rough and ready (Sylvia, Maurice and David) by the now blossoming relationship and the destruction of World War 2.

The part of Brian (also played by Graham) is perfectly pitched as the wide boy looter and black market Spiv, just adding to the character that the production exudes. John Elkington gives a wonderful performance as both Maurice and Gilbert, he and Graham seemingly handle playing two roll’s with great poise and minimal effort, a true indication of their prowess.

The desperation of war is superbly established and extremely effectively communicated, no more so than when Hull is hit by a stray bomb after the all clear has sounded, killing a young mother and her baby despite Maurice’s attempts to save them.

The interval is also perfectly timed leaving a big cliffhanger caused by the blitz of 7 May 1941 when Hull City Centre was virtually flattened.

You barely have a moment to settle back into your seat before you are shocked with the opening to the 2nd half beginning where the 1st half left off.

There is a big change in the emotional state on stage after the interval and it’s not just caused by David signing up and going off to fight, but once again the hopelessness of war is very well expressed and the occasional one-liner from either Sylvia or Grace does just nicely lift the mood again.

The way the set is designed and the sound effects of the bombing give you a sense of what it must have been like to live through this tragic period as you are left emotionally tested while always hoping for the best for the characters who you really identify with and develop feelings and emotions as powerful as a speedboat on the Humber Estuary.

The characters are thoroughly believable and lovable all at the same time and the ensemble cast are not just merely there to make up the numbers they are there as an essential part of the storyline and used to great affect by the director.

After the literally heart-wrenching moment of an incident caused by the war, particularly on the Normandy Beaches on D-Day, there is genuine shock and bewilderment, followed by some harsh words which then eventually give way to thankfulness.

After the abject failure of the BBC to include this ‘North-East Coast Town’ in its recent series about Blitz Cities, Hull now has a very proud answer to that snobbish failure, the next UK City of Culture can be outstandingly proud of its traditionally iconic theatre that was founded by Mike Bradwell almost out of protest.

After the performance Marc Graham said: “It’s a really good cast, they’re lovely to work with.

“The ensemble cast are older members of the youth theatre here so they really know what they’re doing as well.”

Speaking about playing two characters, including a lead, he said: “I loved it… It was really great to be able to tap into the two characters, Brian is obviously the secondary character who is quite a wide boy, while Tom really gets down and serious.

“With the injury that Brian suffers I just kind of thought about how would somebody like that react to losing something like a leg.”

Speaking about working on this particular project with Laura Aramayo he said: “It’s great to be able to work with her on something like this, I’ve worked with her before but only on small stuff so to work with her on this, with the run it’s having is great.

“We had a good talk before about what our characters are going to do and what it would be like for them and of course with the class divide which was a real struggle and still is a real struggle unfortunately.”

I then spoke to the writer Richard Vergette about this premiere performance after the three previews last week.

He was obviously very happy with how it had gone, saying: “We let it go tonight and it seemed to go well and the audience response was very enthusiastic so yes I’m a very happy man and a relieved man tonight.

He then spoke about his delight at how the cast had handled the story: “I think it’s really important that when you’re working with a company on a piece that is as emotionally intense as this is that you’ve got a group of people who are willing to invest themselves as enthusiastically and passionately as they did.

“I’m absolutely delighted at the way that the actors have responded to the challenges of the piece.”

Talking about the community ensemble who are involved he said: “I didn’t realise when I wrote it that the community would be involved but I’m delighted with them.

“They’re a real bonus and they are a very important part of it not just an add on.”

Clearly enjoying talking about the production he then said: “This play is about Hull, for Hull and it’s about one of the most desperate times in its history, which largely the population is not aware of.

“They don’t know that this was the most bombed city outside of London, 1200 people perished, 3000 were injured or maimed 90-95% of houses were destroyed or damaged at least once and that the city re-grouped and re-found itself is a testament to its courage and its ability to take care of each other.”

It is a play for Hull but the writer would also like to see it go outside Hull because “The themes are universal and people maybe don’t realise what a part Hull played in the war.”

You can buy tickets in the box office at the theatre on Ferensway, on 01482 323638 or online at http://www.hulltruck.co.uk/book-tickets/buy-online

The show runs until Saturday 24th October

Never Gonna Give You Up- Review

Never Gonna Give You Up is, as it says on the ticket, a bitter sweet roller coaster stroll back to the 80’s by The Three Amigo’s Theatre Company, and it is very memorable in many ways.

It is a high octane story of domestic discord, criminality, political bashing and a love story that is superbly disguised at first and revealed later on having been hinted at a few times.

From the moment someone from the Northern Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) came on to explain that one of the actors was having to use a crutch to support himself due to an unfortunate injury in his foot from the performance the night before you knew this would have to be a gutsy performance to get around this and make it look natural.

With an excellent soundtrack of 80’s classics, provided by the cast who had been in the recording studio, in the background the action began on a Saturday afternoon as Mark (played by director and co-writer and looking suspiciously like one of Harry Enfield’s three scousers despite living in Gipsyville) is watching his afternoon racing hoping that one of the horses he’s backed will finally win him some money.

Unfortunately for dock worker Mark his selfish, egotistical wife Sharon (played by Georgina ‘Sparkle’ Garton) has invited her best friend Lisa (played by the outstanding Paula Branton) who just happens to work in the bookies that Mark frequents, and her new man Dave (the excellent Stan Haywood) for drinks.

It soon becomes apparent that there is something about Dave that Mark clearly doesn’t like and it isn’t just the fact that he is insatiably flirting with Sharon, and it doesn’t take him long to mention something about prison, Sharon however thinks it’s just sour grapes because Dave has money to burn, a fast BMW car and a flat in Hessle of all places, because she’s blinded by his attentions.

In a superb performance by Paula Branton her character Lisa is seemingly floundering around in a daze, unaware of Dave’s outrageous flirting with her best friend but she also drops the odd very subtly disguised hint of a closeness that exists between her and Mark.

Stan Haywood makes a very convincing greasy criminal mastermind, despite the difficulties his injury had caused him, and the cast in general, particularly Branton and Garton, did make it all look and feel very natural.

With a well thought out bit of writing Lisa’s boss Douglas (the very likable Peter Bernard Shally) is introduced into the story to give Sharon a job interview over a burnt Sunday roast.

Before you know it Dave has arrived for the dinner late and he’s pulled a gun on them, he convinces Sharon to take the safe key that Douglas has handed over and empty it of its apparently £5000 takings, saying he’ll take her off to Spain with him to live the high life.

When she returns with the money she and Dave think they’re going to escape until the perfectly timed introduction of Tony Taxi (Steve Willis made-up to look like 80’s icon Adam Ant) and Eye Patch Mickey (Kevin Hickson) which changes the dynamic and increases the laughs on offer.

Then finally Dave reveals his dastardly plan, his wife and son are waiting in Spain for him and Sharon, having ditched her husband for him, isn’t invited to go with him, he’d been brilliantly stringing her along the whole time to get her to do the job on the bookies safe for him.

However there is a double kick in the guts waiting as Douglas has a heart attack, turning the drama up another notch, and then, in a desperate struggle between Mark and Dave, the gun goes off and Mark is shot.

After the inevitable delay caused by the crazed gunman not wanting any emergency services anywhere near, an ambulance is called for Douglas and Mark.

It all becomes a bit chaotic, understandably so, towards the end as first the ambulance crew Jim (NAPA stage manager Colin Thompson) and Sally (Sophie Burgess, working on behalf of “The Pauline Quirke Academy of Performing Arts”) arrive to try and save Douglas and Mark.

While the Paramedics are trying to save the stricken pair Chief Inspector Vincent Julian Husband (Sean Smith) and Police Woman Sergeant (Kathy Stokoe) also turn up and Husband is seemingly “Looking for answers” which he reiterates several times.

There is genuine emotion as the very likable Douglas passes away, there is the obvious nightmare of recrimination from Sharon seeing her husband laid on the floor fighting for his life.

Finally Mark and Lisa express their love for each other, which has been wonderfully handled by the actors in question, before the compelling Sally announces that he too has tragically died.

The production was then given a rousing ending as the cast all reappeared on stage and encouraged the audience to get involved with a sing-a-long to Rick Astley’s 80’s classic tune of the same name of the production.

Speaking afterwards Paula Branton said she’s “Had a fantastic time with the production but it has been very tiring with all the rehearsals, the dancing and performing.

She then spoke about her highlights of the production:”Oh god there’s been so many, I think last minute nerves and the comedy at times it’s been really difficult to keep a straight face on stage.

Identifying with her character obviously came quite naturally to this gifted lady “When you learn your lines you get ideas about the character because she’s a bit simple and you sort of just develop the character just over time really.

I asked her if the injury to Stan Haywood had meant any changes for her and she replied: “I threw in a line early on saying that his football injury hadn’t taken away any of his charm.

“It was brilliant working with Stan, I’ve starred with him in a couple of other things like A Month of Sunday’s so yeah that was brilliant.

She also said: “It was a great experience recording the songs for the production.”

Stan Haywood confirmed some scenes were very awkward for him using a crutch “The dance scenes were murder only using one crutch but luckily with the way the scene is set we were able to make a couple of changes like moving the furniture.

“I think you could see it in the scenes when I was dancing with Gina she was more or less holding me up half the time.”

Talking further about the cast he echoed what Paula had said “The cast have been brilliant and so have the audiences as well.

“When you’ve got a cast that’s giving you all the support they can, and an audience who you can sense want it to go well for you that helps as well.”

A definite highlight for him was definitely working with Georgina ‘Sparkle’ Garton who he had never acted with before.

The injury which caused him so much pain is a problem with the tendon’s in his foot so, when he pushed off his right foot the night before something snapped in his heel so his preparation for this performance was three hours in Hull Royal Infirmary in the afternoon making his performance all the more remarkable.

Never Gonna Give You Up Napa