REVIEW: Blood Brothers @ The Palace Theatre, Manchester

Blood Brothers - group shot

The show has Kenwright written all over it, literally – with his beloved Everton football club emblazoned on the set.

And who can begrudge him that in a show which bristles with energy, fun and tragedy, exploring the concept of nature versus nurture?

Penned by Merseyside playwright, Willy Russell, the story centres around twins separated at birth but drawn together throughout their lives by fate, with tragic conclusions.

Blood Brothers - Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone (previous cast production)Lyn Paul, who some may remember from the 1970s pop group the New Seekers, gives a powerful performance as the long-suffering working class mum, Mrs Johnstone, forced by circumstances to give up her son to middle class employer, Mrs Lyons, desperate for a child .

The promise that Mrs Johnstone can see her son every day is quickly broken, but the two boys lives are intertwined bringing together two very different worlds.

Sean Jones is particularly excellent as Mickey. We watch his progress with class division there for all to see from encounters with police in his youth to the harsh realities of adulthod. While his brother Eddie goes to university and ends up with a position on the council’s housing committee Mickey is thrown onto the scrapheap.

There are certainly tear-jerking moments but this is a show which is full of energy. The songs are a bit corny and there is no shortage of clichés in the dialogue but this show is more than the sum of its parts. It is well worth a visit.

Runs till May 26th

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Wythenshawe teenager is young equestrian leader

Darren Todd has become the first volunteer at Wythenshawe Park Riding Stables to achieve the prestigious Young Equestrian Leaders Bronze Award.

Eighteen-year-old Darren has been volunteering at the Centre for a year where he has developed leadership skills and extended his knowledge and experience of working with horses.

Darren said, “I am very pleased to have achieved this and am looking forward to beginning the work for my Silver Award.”

Centre Proprietor, Fiona Jackson, commented that the YELA examiners had noted the excellence of Darren’s responses to their questions.

Fiona said, “We are delighted with Darren’s achievement and we look forward to helping other volunteers achieve this award in the future.”  Darren is pictured with his certificate, Inky, one of the Centre’s horses and Centre Proprietor Fiona Jackson

Manchester College crimpers spring birthday treat on Elsie, 97

Elsie-Oates

Shereen Wilkinson-Rennicks (second left), Michaela Cole (fourth left) and colleagues from the Hair and Beauty Team at The Manchester College with Elsie Oates and her daughter Margaret Figueroa (second right).

The hair and beauty team from Manchester College in Wythenshawe treated their most loyal client to a surprise celebration to mark her 97th birthday.

Elsie Oates, from Baguley, has enjoyed a cut and colour at the college salon for almost 50 years, helping countless students over the years gain their hairdressing qualifications.

The much loved grandmother-of-three still travels by public transport to the Northenden campus every few weeks for her regular hair appointment. Read More…

Review: Kindertransport @ The Opera House, Manchester

kinderThe return of Diane Samuel’s Kindertransport to the stage 25 year years after it was first penned could not be more more relevant today.

It is a story of family relationships and secrets set against a backdrop of themes which explore the treatment of refugees, nationalism, anti-semitism and cultural identity.

The story is centered around the true events of the Kindertransport rescue of Jewish children fleeing Nazi Germany and its occupied territories before the outbreak of the Second World War.

There is a challenging uneasiness about this play in which the seemingly humane policy of providing safety for the children is set against their parents’ requirement to have work to go to to qualify for refuge. The policy split many families, leaving the parents to face their fate in the brutal Nazi regime.

Samuels also requires the audience to question the long-term consequences of conflict and its impact on the lives of subsequent generations.

There are two inextricably linked parallel stories  in the play – that of progress of young Eva (Leila Schaus) leaving her mother to escape Nazi Germany for the safety of Britain in 1938, and that of her older self Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) with a daughter of her own in 1980s Manchester.

The stories interchange as Evelyn’s daughter, Faith (Hannah Bristow), preparing to leave home, discovers a box of papers from her mother’s past resurrecting the ghosts of a past her mother would rather was left alone.

There are some fine performances which delve into the intense relationships between mother and daughter and the themes of clinging on to roots and heritage. Hannah Bristow is particularly good as the modern daughter displaying her insecurities and selfish arrogance of youth.

 

The play is a stark reminder of one of world’s darkest periods but there are lines which are remarkably prescient, particularly as Evelyn refers to keeping her immigration papers suggesting they would be needed in case anyone wanted to send her back.

It is not always an easy play to watch and there are no tidy endings and resolutions but it certainly worth the journey.

Runs till May 5

Labour’s John McDonnell launches May Day celebrations and declares: “We are going into government”

Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell launched Manchester’s May Day celebrations declaring Labour is ready for government.

Mr McDonnell spoke at the beginning of a week of events aimed at marking the 150th anniversary of the Trades Union Congress which began in Manchester.

He said he didn’t know when it would come, believing the government will attempt to cling on to power for as long as possible, but is confident Labour will win the general election whenever it happens.

The left-winger promised Labour would bring in a fair taxation system, a crackdown on tax evasion, the introduction of a “real living wage of £10 an hour” and the repeal of anti-trade union union laws.

 

Sunday’s May Day events also included talks on The Original Gig Economy – A Musician’s Perspective on the Challenges of Freelancing hosted by the Musicians Union, and the forthcoming McStrike when workers at McDonalds on Oxford Road will join with stores across the country in a strike against low pay.

On Saturday 5th May at the Mechanics Institute there’s also a performance of  We Are the Lions, Mr Manager, a play about the the 1976 Grunwick  strike (click here for tickets and further details).

On Monday 7th May Manchester TUC will be joining with Salford Trades Council for a May Day march.

REVIEW: 20th Century Boy @ The Opera House, Manchester

The life of glam rock icon Marc Bolan is celebrated in this musical which visits the Opera House as part of a tour marking 40 years since the star’s untimely death.

The show charts the progress of the musician from childhood through his rise to stardom, descent into hedonism to his death in a car crash.

There is an attempt at portraying Bolan’s cocky swagger and a desperate desire to make it to the top while showcasing those memorable seventies tunes.

And there is no doubt that the music is the show’s biggest strength. George Maguire manages to capture the essence of Bolan in some impressive performances.

Unfortunately, the glue that holds it all together – the script – is sadly lacking. The drama is often quite laboured, lacking energy and quite clichéd at times.

John Maher’s original script was developed with additional material from Nick Graham and Colin Giffin. Perhaps it’s a case of too many cooks, because it didn’t work for me.

There was sometimes a cringey, amateurish feel to the production with clunky scene changes and an odd set design.

That said, it was still an enjoyable night out, but it could have been so much better. Perhaps the producers would have been better off playing to their strengths and presenting a straight tribute act show.

Runs till Saturday April 21

REVIEW: Of Mice and Men @ The Opera House, Manchester

Many people are familiar with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men either as admirers of the American literary giant or having studied it at school.

The story is centred around the unlikely coupling of George and his mentally disabled companion Lenny – a gentle giant unaware of his own strengt.

They are bound together by a mutual dependence and both harbour an unattainable longing for a utopia in which they will have a place of their own, where they will rear chickens, tend rabbits and live off the the fat of the land.

Steinbeck is rightly revered as a champion of the downtrodden and oppressed giving a voice to the poor and migrant workers of the American dustbowl.

You might say that you can’t go wrong with the the classic ingredients of a Steinbeck story – but you can if you mess about with those ingredients.

I’m not sure whether it is the result of the interpretation in this production at the Opera House or whether it was down to Steinbeck himself, but there were some strange departures from original text.

Fortunately the heart of the play, which relies on the relationship between exasperated George and his companion is not lost.

And the performances by Richard Keightley (George ) and Matthew Wynn as Lennie are touching, with well crafted portrayals of the elderly Candy from Andrew Boyer and Crooks from Kevin Mathurin

But Curly’s Wife, trapped in a world she is desperate to escape, is given new lines and different edge to her character that doesn’t quite fit. Rosemary Boyle does well with what she’s been given in this production, but what she’s been given is not the Curly’s wife I remember. In this version before the inevitable tragic encounter with Lenny, she has suitcase in hand and is ready to leave. But the Curly’s Wife I know would never leave. She is trapped.

But although this show could have been better in my view, it maintains the heart and soul of Steinbeck’s story and is certainly worth seeing.

Runs till Saturday.

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