Review: Blindsided, Royal Exchange

“He puts his hand in your knickers and promises the world”

Lord this was grim. Hard-going, unlikeable and sterile – much of Simon Stephens’ writing has felt like this for me (as opposed to his adaptations) and so it can be something of a slog until one breaks through the revelatory moment that he often provides. But Blindsided never really got there, despite some excellent work from Julie Hesmondhalgh – making a bold move now that Hayley Cropper is coming a cropper – as the adult Cathy who has comes to terms with something shocking.

We first meet Cathy as a much younger woman though and see the seeds of what will happen coming from a tough upbringing in an unforgiving part of Stockport and her meeting with a darkly enigmatic man. But there’s something very artificial about the whole thing – there’s nothing discernible connecting the two versions of Cathy we meet – her rebirth is too much of a copout without any hint of redemptive quality in her – and the world(s) around her are poorly populated, the supporting character mere wisps. Continue reading “Review: Blindsided, Royal Exchange”

Review: Macbeth, St Peter’s Church Manchester

“Thou call’st thyself a hotter name than any is in hell”

One of the big ticket numbers in the Manchester International Festival this year has to be the return of Kenneth Branagh to Shakespeare, with him taking on the role of Macbeth in a production that was surrounded in secrecy and full of advisory warnings to the lucky few with tickets such as “don’t wear any dry-clean only outfits”, “you may not leave your seat once it has started” and possibly the toughest given its 2 hour interval-free running time, “no toilets in the venue”. That venue has now been revealed to be St Peter’s Church in Ancoats, a deconsecrated space used by the Hallé orchestra to rehearse in and whilst the toilets may be five minutes away at Murray’s Mill where tickets are collected from, any fears of emerging from the show drenched in mud and/or blood were left unfounded.

One can see straightaway though why the warnings have been made. The audience is placed in traverse either side of an earth-covered aisle and within moments of the start, a huge battle rages just inches from the audience with rain pouring, mud churning and sparks flying as swords clash. It’s an incredibly visceral start to a frequently breath-taking production – co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford – which successfully marries tradition with innovation, reinvigorating rather than reinventing Shakespeare’s timeless tale of the corrupting influence of power and ambition. Ashford’s eye for theatrical spectacle is combined with Branagh’s acute Shakespearean expertise and together, create something uniquely special. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, St Peter’s Church Manchester”

Re-review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith

“I sometimes think I’m the best person in this town”

Returning to the Lyric Hammersmith for a two week run before a national tour, Punk Rock premiered a year ago to great success and introduced me to great performances from the likes of Tom Sturridge and Henry Lloyd-Hughes, but particularly Jessica Raine who is tearing up the stage at the National in Earthquakes in London and is my tip for great things in the near future. It is the same production team here but with a rejigged cast, three originals remain with a sea of new faces, two of whom are making their professional stage debuts.

Set in a private school in Stockport and following some sixth-formers over a few months as they deal with the pressures of mock A-Levels and the tantalising glimpse of university and the freedom from their current life it offers. It sweeps over a range of teen issues, bullying both by text and physically, inappropriate crushes, fears about the future and university, sexual confusion, self-harming, in an impressive manner, never lingering too long on any but not patronising them either as the relationships between them become the focal point as we reach the shocking climax. Continue reading “Re-review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith

Marking the beginning of Sean Holmes’ artistic directorship of the Lyric Hammersmith, Punk Rock is a new play written by Simon Stephens. It looks at the experiences of seven teenagers as they negotiate their final years of private school in Stockport, with the pressure of imminent mock exams looming on top of their regular adolescent trials and tribulations. The punk rock of the title is limited to short bursts which mark the scene changes, which i have to say was a blessing for me!

The company is made up of young people (thankfully there’s no 30 year olds dressing up embarassingly as schoolboys) with a combination of some experienced actors and some debutantes. This definitely adds to the freshness of the production, which is handsomely mounted, the library set looking very convincing. The action opens with new girl Lily meeting the somewhat kooky Will who is keen to impress the newcomer but finds his plans skewered by the arrival of other schoolmates into the library. Continue reading “Review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith”