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.

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Opera on the Marina, Rebecca Newman interview

People’s soprano Rebecca Newman has expressed a soft spot for Hull in an interview at The Minerva pub on the Marina as she prepared to take part in the first Opera on the Marina event and outlined some future plans too.

Speaking first of her recent experience touring with international superstar Russell Watson she said the tour “Absolutely everything, and more,” that she had hoped it would be.

Despite an incredible schedule over several months there is still no let up for this incredibly hardworking lady for at least a few weeks yet as she promotes her forthcoming show in Lichfield and a programme she’ll be doing on BBC Radio 2 with Sir Terry Wogan.

“I’m hoping come the 20th July I might get a couple of days off and maybe switch my phone off,” She says with a little giggle.

Moving onto her appearance at Opera on the Marina as the headline act she explains it’s fantastic to be back in Hull and, as much as she loved being on tour with Russell Watson, it was going to be nice to be able to do some more on stage and show her full repertoire.

“I can have a bit more of a rapport with the audience and tell a few more stories, that sort of thing.”

Her passion for Hull came over very strongly as we spoke about the impending performance with Hull classical group Tre Amici “It’s fantastic, I think I do more stuff in Hull than I do in York where I live now, I think I’ve done so much stuff in Hull over the last couple of years it’s more like a bit of a second home at the moment.”

She then explains about future events, “I’ve got a new booking agent so we’re looking the next year ahead and there will be a tour next Spring so it’s likely there’ll be a tour date in Hull then.

“We’re also looking to bring out another album next Spring as well just ahead of the tour.”

This entirely enchanting lady then continues to say that they’re looking at some slightly different options but it’s probably going to be a similar project to Dare to Dream with crowd funding so everybody can feel part of the creation of the album again.

We then start talking about the incredible support of the Newmaneer’s who follow her in massive numbers and who she has an incredibly close relationship with wherever she goes, “They’re amazing, they support me by buying tickets to performances like this one this evening and buying CD’s, that’s important.

“But also they’re important to me because I don’t think they realise how much they keep me going when I have a low day, when I’m tired you know, when some of my equipment’s broken and I’ve got to get the car fixed and when you hit the normal challenges.

“People only see the successes and things when they’re right because I tell people about them but when something goes right a hundred things go wrong and I keep plowing on regardless and it’s the wonderful support that I receive that keeps me going in many, many ways.

“They’re so friendly as well and that great because it helps me and also attracts more people to my support base because people look at it and they maybe think they’d like to be part of that club.”

The next question while all around us is a hive of activity is if there’s anybody else in particular she would like to sing with to put on the list next to the likes of Russell Watson and Aled Jones who she’s already worked with which draws a very definite response with a little cheeky glint in the eyes.

“Oh absolutely, Alfie Boe wants to sing with me but we haven’t been able to sort that out yet, he keeps asking me ‘When are we going to sing together?’ But, when I can I will be there with bells on, but he’s got a management company to work with so it’s not always as simple as that but I would love to get the opportunity to sing with Alfie.

“Also Noah Stewart is a fantastic tenor who I met a couple of years ago, he’s a very talented, and very hardworking singer who I would like to work with.”

Getting onto the subject of favourite venues places like the Royal Albert Hall are inevitably mentioned but she clearly also enjoys a nice intimate venue and the tour with Russell Watson has obviously provided her with chances to sing in some venues that she has really enjoyed although some do seem to have blended together.

“On the tour there were times when I wasn’t really remembering where I’d been but Buxton was beautiful, Basingstoke was fantastic, Leeds Grand was very good and Hull New Theatre was also fantastic with easily one of the loudest audiences on the whole tour.”

And with that the interview was ended as she has to go and prepare for what turned out to be a fantastic show on Hull Marina, we can only hope that she is back in her second home sooner rather than later.

Rebecca Newman on stage

Work Done For Sound Podcasts

Work Done for Sound Podcasts.

Most of the work I have done for the two podcasts has been sitting in the editing suite with Danielle Walker to edit the interviews we have collected.

I have also been interviewed twice myself, once for each podcast, talking about current and future theatrical projects I’m involved in.

I have also had some input regarding the scripts and I also arranged all the interviews with cast members and writer’s for the first podcast.

I have learnt a lot about what editing is like and the patience that is required when listening to literally hours of material.

Being interviewed was a good lesson for me, then listening to, and editing, myself was quite a surreal experience.

I also went and found out information for the second podcast such as the fact that the film A Royal Night Out, which was filmed in Hull last year, was having a special advanced screening on 8th May before going on general release a week later.

I also provided some direction although this wasn’t needed much as the whole team seemed to know everything they were doing anyway so the sum total of my direction was just suggestions about basic presentation.

Hull Commemorating 70th Anniversary of VE Day With Events At Various Locations

Hull is to join other cities across the UK in commemorating the 70th Anniversary of VE Day over this weekend.

The main commemoration event will take place at 9:30 on Friday night when Lord Mayor, Coun Mary Glew will light a commemorative beacon, that will burn for one hour, in Queen Victoria Square.

The Freedom Flame Committee are to hold an invitation only event at Holy Trinity Church on Friday evening with guests including Lady Arabella Stuart-Smith, grand-daughter of Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery and Bill Millin, son of WWII piper John Millin.

Other events will include a WWII Street Party from 10am to 4pm on Saturday at Hull History Centre on Worship Street. Families are invited to bring picnics to the event where there will also be a display of the centre’s extensive archives.

The History Centre is also having free craft and lego activities for children and a WWII play performed by pupils from Chiltern Street School on Saturday.

Another event on Saturday will see a Spitfire give a spectacular 15-minute display over the Humber at 12pm with members of the public encouraged to visit the Marina for a prime view and to hear a few words of remembrance from Coun Glew.

A 1940s themed event will take place in East Park on Sunday from 11am to 4pm. This free event will include live music by the Frank Cleveland Band and Swing Dancers along with free attractions like Donkey Rides, Children’s Rides and Crazy Golf and a competition for anybody in 1940s fancy dress.

Another event, although not council arranged, is a special advanced screening of blockbuster film A Royal Night Out, part of which was filmed in Hull last year. The film, set on VE Day, is being shown at 7.30pm on Friday at Vue cinema.

There is also a wartime display at the History Centre which will be free to visit until the end of June.

Protestors Vent Anger at Council and Government

Protestors from Unite, GMB and both East Yorkshire and Hull against Flouridisation have been protesting on the steps of the guildhall today while a budget meeting was taking place inside.

Patrick Holdsworth of East Yorkshire against Flouride said: “It’s a massive waste of money,

“It will cost £400,000 to set up and then £100,000 a year to maintain,

He continued “They’re targeting 5 to 7 year olds saying that it strengthens tooth enamel but there is no proof of the benefits they say it brings,”

He wants them to take the money it costs and use it to educate both children and adults about dental health instead.

Unite Convenor Pete Schofield said they, and the GMB, were campaigning against austerity cuts that have been forced on the council by a £150M cut in funding from central government.

“We’re protesting because it’s about time the Labour council grew a backbone and made a stand against the Tory government,

“Over the last five years there’s been 2,000 jobs lost and the council have had to start charging for things that were free before like day services, transport and meals at day centres,

He continued “The government have targeted Labour councils and looked after their own like Chelsea council has had a rise in funding while Hull has had a massive cut,

He also went on to say it wasn’t specifically aimed at the government but also the council saying “The chief executive shouldn’t get paid £170,000 it’s far too much,

“Two councilors Jill Kennet and Dean Kirk have actually now set up their own party for the people of Hull,

“It’s about time the council said no to anymore cuts,”

The council now charge £65 a session for day services, £5 each way for transport and about £2.50 for a meal at a day centre as a result of the cutbacks.

Paris trip Final day

The final day of the trip was very long and certainly had its quirks. We started the day by doing all the remaining packing, then unpacking to get cases rearranged and packed again, then unpacking again to get certain things in certain places and repacking everything again before leaving the room to go and wait in reception with Errin and Katie.

After the excitement of the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company, the Arc De Triumph and the Seine Cruise I certainly just wanted the day to be just as ‘Normal’ as possible as we returned home to reality so we tried to relax before starting the long journey home to good old Hull.

We found a Chinese takeaway serving large portions for a small price for lunch and then left shortly after lunchtime to get to the station to check in, when we got to Paris Nord we found we were a bit early so we had to wait about half an hour before we could check in, at which time we were joined by the rest of the group who had travelled to Paris with us.

Once we were safely through passport control we found a few duty free shops although nowhere near as many as you find in an airport.

The toilets are of quite a high standard in the waiting area it has to be said.

Once we were called to board the Eurostar you could feel the excitement mount among all of us, my friend Kati and her partner were excitedly showing off the engagement ring that he had planted on her finger while we were in Paris and I must say I’m genuinely happy for them both.

On the train we all got comfortably seated and it almost felt like there would be a big cheer as we started moving but there wasn’t one as we all just settled in for the long journey back to England.

The Eurostar is about an hour and a half travelling from Paris to the Channel Tunnel and just before we entered it a voice came over the intercom saying we were about to enter the tunnel and saying we would be in it for about 20 minutes before emerging into England.

True to form we were 20 minutes under the English Channel before reaching English soil which suddenly reset all mobile phones to original settings and suddenly gave me a good signal on my phone so I got many notifications that I hadn’t been able to get before.

The train stopped and dropped off some passengers at Ebbsfleet International station before carrying on to London St. Pancras where we all disembarked. On arriving there it was noted that there was a man sat at a piano there playing Sonata Number 14, otherwise known as Moonlight Sonata, by Ludwig Van Beethoven.

We waited a short while but were ultimately told by the lovely Di Allerston that we could dash to get the next possible train if we wanted rather than waiting for the whole travelling group to come together, so Errin, Katie, Martin and Myself went in search of the next possible train.

We dashed to King’s Cross and I noticed there was a train leaving in a few minutes from Platform 2 that would drop us off at Doncaster so we could get a connecting train to Hull.

We dashed through the crowds to get to the train and just made it, we walked through several carriages but eventually gave up looking for seats as it seemed the train was absolutely crammed full.

Eventually a lady came and checked our tickets and told us we would get to Doncaster at 7:47pm and there would be a 7:55 train from there to Hull.

We stayed where we were stood at the end of the carriage until a few minutes later when the lady who had checked our tickets announced over the intercom to us that there were several seats on carriage D so that was it we were off in a flash making our way to carriage D to sit down.

Upon reaching Doncaster we got off the train which was carrying on to Leeds and Errin and Katie were off like the clappers to get to Platform 1 where the train to Hull was waiting. After a few stops myself, Katie and Martin decided to stand the rest of the way to keep the blood flowing in our legs after being sat down as much as we had been.

We finally got home to Hull at 8:58 and all went our separate ways.

The trip to Paris has been ultimately very rewarding and I can only hope that whoever reads these entries in my blog finds them enjoyable and informative.

Homeless service under threat of closure

Six homeless people have said they, and many others, will have nowhere to go if a homeless shelter is closed down at the end of this month.

Hull Homeless and Rootless Project (Hull HARP) is due to close at the end of this month due to a lack of funding but service users want it open because it’s their only means of getting a bed for the night.

Gary Haagensen said; “I came out of prison on 3rd February after doing three months, I had two nights on the streets and the only reason I’m not on the streets now is because of this place, there’s nowhere else I can go!”

Chris Sever was in prison for four and a half months and was released on 19th December; “I had nowhere else to go so I came here,”

Hubert Lawanson was released from prison on 27th January and came to the night hostel for the first time tonight and also said there was nowhere else he could go.

The homeless problem, however, reaches much further than just people who have just come out of prison.

David Wilkinson became homeless on 19th November because his benefits were put under sanction and he found himself unable to pay his rent and bills, he said; “I haven’t got anywhere else I can go, I’m not well so they put me up in the sick room here;”

John Daddy lost his council flat in 2013, he was sofa surfing for a while and then just sleeping rough and has been going to stay at Dock House since it reopened in the run up to Christmas but again he says there’ll be nowhere for him to go if it closes down again.

Malcolm Geoffrey Stork said he’s been let down by his probation officer who was apparently more interested in “Having a cup of coffee;” than helping him with a housing application.”

Mr Daddy also said; “They need to set up a bonding process again so people can get help with paying a bond to secure accommodation.

Mr Sever said it “Winds me up more than anything else;” when he sees an empty council property.

A member of Dock House staff said he couldn’t speak about the projects current situation but someone would be able to speak to the manager the next morning.

Mr Wilkinson also said that it offers help such as getting regulars into hostels, an outreach service which sees staff going out to give hot drinks to people who are out on the streets at night and a breakfast club for people who have been on the streets overnight.

While I was there talking to them a man arrived in a white van and handed out 5 meals from a fish and chip shop, including sausage and chips, pattie and chips and fish and chips.

As a previously homeless person myself I know how much these people are suffering, almost feeling crushed by life itself, something needs to be done to save this service and very quickly.