Home Manchester

Twelfth Night

Dan Poole (Toby Belch) and Amy Marchant (Viola) in Filter Theatre's Twelfth Night - photo Mark GarvinFerdy Roberts (Malvolio) in Filter Theatre's Twelfth Night - photo by Robert Day

11/05/16

Home, Manchester

If you’re planning to do Shakespeare, you pretty much have two choices: you can play it straight, like the admirable King Lear currently coming to the end of its run at the Royal Exchange, Manchester – or you can ‘do something completely different with it.’ Filter’s production of Twelfth Night certainly fits into the latter category. I mean, when else have you seen a production of the play that includes an audience-participatory game of Butt Head half way through… a production where a lively conga line of dancing audience members is interrupted by the delivery of hot pizza? This is Shakespeare taken to the very edge, reshaped, remodelled and radically stripped back. Mostly it works well.

As you take your seats it’s clear that this isn’t going to be the usual relaxed evening at the theatre. The stage is pretty much filled by musicians and as the play begins, the house lights are left on, the better to involve the audience. Orsino (Harry Jardine) strolls on and puts the band through its musical paces, before launching into ‘If music be the food of love,’ and then we’re off at a sprint, because this is ninety minutes of energetic action with barely a pause for breath. (It helps if you have at least a working knowledge of the original play, because there’s not much here in the way of set-up.) Much of the text is delivered in the form of punky songs, actors conflate characters (Jardine plays both Orsino and Aguecheek) and some of the sub plots are simply thrown out with the bathwater.

Mind you, it’s not all gimmicks. Dan Poole gives a roistering interpretation of Sir Toby Belch, as a hapless drunkard clutching a carrier bag full of lager cans and Ferdy Roberts is a splendid Malvolio, whose transformation from a stiff-backed martinet into a yellow-stocking clad degenerate is one of the evening’s highlights. I loved the fact that Viola (Amy Marchant) borrowed her male disguise from a bloke in the audience and her interplay with a radio weather forecaster was great fun.

As you might expect with something as freeform as this, not everything in the performance is perfect. The regular recourse to the use of a tiny speaker to distort some of the actors voices occasionally makes it hard to understand what’s actually being said and one of the extended comic routines between Belch and Aguecheek goes on rather too long for comfort, even though it comes good in the end. While I don’t fully agree with Philomena Cunk’s assertion – ‘If you go to watch a Shakespeare comedy today, you’ll hear the audience laughing as though there are jokes in there, even though there definitely aren’t.’ – I understand exactly what she’s driving at. Happily, this isn’t the case here. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I laughed quite so much at the Bard of Stratford (apart from a Macbeth I saw back in the day where the titular hero accidentally chinned himself with the handle of his broadsword).

My only regret? I should have gone on stage for one of those free shots of tequila. Now that’s something you don’t usually get to say in these circumstances! Twelfth Night is on at Home, Manchester until the 14th May, then moves on to the Theatre Royal Plymouth from the 16th to the 21st May.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Stowaway

Unknown

Home, Manchester

06/05/16

Hidden in the wheel arch of a plane from Dubai, a stowaway falls to his death in the car park of a DIY superstore. The fall is witnessed by Andy (Steven Rae), an event that makes his own recently disrupted life begin to unravel – and when a passenger on the plane, Lisa (Hannah Donaldson), a crime writer returning from a prestigious literary festival, reads about the incident, she feels compelled to try and find out about the dead man – who was he and what brought him to such a horrible end? But even when she returns to Dubai to investigate, she finds that nobody wants to give her any answers.

The four actors that comprise Analogue Theatre’s production present a whole series of intertwined stories which serve to flesh out the tale, but also demonstrate how close proximity to a tragedy intensifies the situation. In a series of cleverly constructed flashbacks we find out more about the dead man, seeing him as a child in India with his sister and how his attempts to better his own life lead him into the construction industry in Dubai, working on glittering high rises for the super-rich, whilst being paid slave wages and made to work around the clock. Eventually his only hope of a better future is to try and escape from the awful  world into which he has unwittingly blundered.

This is a sharp and sinewy story, one that delivers more questions that it offers answers for. It’s a prescient tale and one that I would highly recommend. An after-show discussion with two of the actors and some lecturers from Manchester University also benefited from a guest spot by Gulwali Passarlay whose book The Lightless Sky is based around his own experiences as a 12 year old refugee fleeing from from Afghanistan.

Stowaway concludes tonight (7th May) at Home, Manchester, before moving on for a single performance at The Civic, Barnsely on the 12th. If you’re able to catch a performance, please do: you’ll be moved, informed and riveted by what you see onstage.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney 

Endgame

Endgame - pic 14 (0499)Endgame - pic 03 (0126)

26/02/16

HOME, Manchester

Endgame is a bleak play – by any standards. “The end is in the beginning – and yet you go on,” says Hamm, with a fatalistic, morbid acceptance of his looming demise. The script is deft, funny and thought-provoking – of course it is; it’s Beckett; his place in the theatrical canon is patently deserved – and the acting and direction here are pretty top-notch too.

Let’s deal with the elephants in the auditorium: Roy Cropper and Peter Barlow. It’s true – actors David Neilson and Chris Gascoyne are both well-known for their parts in Coronation Street. And it’s a fame that the promoters have been keen to exploit: on the publicity posters for this play, the men are instantly identifiable as their TV counterparts; on stage, however, they are barely recognizable. I’ve never really understood why people are confounded by an actor’s ability to perform a different role; it’s kind of in the job description, isn’t it? And these two are very good indeed.

If anything, it’s Beckett who feels over-familiar, not the actors performing him. The audacity of his ideas has been diluted – by time as well as exposure. And yet this production is still well worth seeing: it’s a masterclass in precision and control. Chris Gascoyne’s Clov is a perfect clown, a physical embodiment of futility and despair. There is humour here too, in the repeated movements and the spiteful asides, and comic timing of the very best. David Neilson is equally skillful: his Hamm is a raging, wasted, tragedy of a man, whose cruelty is wrought from desperation; I felt a glimmer of sympathy for Hamm tonight, and I never have before. Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty (as Nagg and Nell) give strong performances too; indeed, the saddest moment in the play is theirs, I think: roused briefly from the dustbins where they are living out their final years, they reminisce, recalling the April afternoon they went out rowing on Lake Como. “We had got engaged the day before!” “You were in such fits that we capsized.” The dreadful contrast between this happy memory and their current circumstances encapsulates the agony that underpins Endgame. They are us, aren’t they? And still we go on.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Hasret (Yearning): Ben Hopkins

Bild-000001-Editimages

18/01/15

Ben Hopkins seems genuinely pleased. He’s flown in from his home town of Berlin for a special screening of his ‘expressionist’ documentary Hasret (Yearning) at Home, Manchester and it must be gratifying to see a full screening theatre for the event. Hasret is, after all, not the kind of film that usually packs out cinemas. It’s a vibrant love letter to the city of Istanbul and forms the final part of what Hopkins refers to as his ‘Turkish trilogy.’

What appears at first to be a conventional documentary, quickly metamorphoses into much more than that, as elements appear that confirm it is in fact, a kind of meta-fiction. Interspersed with vivid footage shot on the streets of the city, there are elements that appear to have stepped straight out of an MR James story – the unexplained appearance of a ghostly woman in a landscape, a mysterious man who gives Hopkins phone numbers which enable him to speak to dead people. It’s all so cunningly done that you constantly find yourself asking which parts are real and which parts are fake, something that I take up with Ben as we settle ourselves at a table in Home’s second floor bar.

For instance, the film begins with Ben claiming that he was originally commissioned to make a straightforward travel documentary, but was increasingly tempted to go off-brief.’

‘No,’ says Ben, gleefully. ‘That was all lies!’

OK, so how would he describe Hasret?

‘Well, it’s a documentary about Istanbul, but it’s also a documentary about the process of making a documentary. I’m lucky in that I have a body of work that is well-regarded, which allows me to do films like this. For anyone just starting out, the opportunity to make a film about Istanbul that wasn’t just a straightforward travel documentary… well, it would be very difficult. As it is, I struggled to get funding. There’s an element in our televisual culture that edges towards the superficial. Producers would rather see something about the great food on offer, the oysters, the baked goat.’

Amazingly though, we should be aware from the very start that something is up. All that business about Hopkins and his two man crew arriving at their destination in a container ship, because the company that commissioned the film ‘couldn’t afford plane tickets’…

‘Exactly,’ agrees Ben. ‘It would probably be cheaper to fly than to travel that way. I’m saying, right from the beginning, don’t take this entirely seriously.’

There are scenes in the film, I suggest, thinking particularly of the ones shot amidst the city’s late night club scene, that suggest Ben and his team might occasionally have been in danger of being caught up in violence.

‘I’ve been robbed in Istanbul once and ripped off another time, and sure I’ve witnessed a couple of fights, but I’ve never personally felt physically threatened,’ he assured me. “The fights are usually about somebody disrespecting somebody else’s sister and as I don’t go around disrespecting anyone, I usually get by.’

Much of the film is concerned with the gentrification of Istanbul, how some of the oldest parts of the city being bulldozed to create swish new homes for the wealthy. I ask Ben how he feels about that.

‘Very sad,’ he says. ‘’Of course, all cities change and regenerate. This building we’re sitting in now, for instance, is brand new and replaced something that was here before. Sometimes these things are good. Sometimes they’re inevitable. The difference in Turkey is that often there’s an entirely politically motivated intention for the changes… so for instance an area that’s home to communists and shiites will be bulldozered, simply to disperse the people who live there, to teach them a lesson. I’m afraid that happens a bit too often in Turkey.’

I ask Ben if he has anything else in the pipeline.

‘I actually have another film opening in Britain on Friday, called Lost In Karastan. It’s a film I made before this one and I’ll be doing some publicity for that later in the week.’

And given a substantial budget, what would he do next?

‘A horror film,’ he says, without hesitation. He’s clearly a fan of the genre. I ask him is he has an all-time favourite and I’m delighted to learn that it’s one of my favourites too, Jack Clayton’s superb supernatural chiller, The Innocents, a film that these days carries a 12 certificate despite being absolutely terrifying.

I ask if he has already written the screenplay for his horror movie and he smiles and nods. ‘It’s all ready to go,’ he says. ‘All I need now are the actors and…’ He grins ruefully. ‘The budget.’

Ah yes, there’s always the budget.

‘There is,’ he agrees. ‘And that’s the main reason why, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d probably give up film-making.’

‘Really?’ I ask incredulously.

‘Yes. Don’t get me wrong. I love filming, I love writing, I love working with the actors and I love working with the producers. I just hate the process of trying to raise money.’

And with that, he moves on to his next interview and we head out into the night. My feeling is, we should all watch this space. Provided Ben doesn’t win the lottery… and let’s face it, what are the odds? -there should be a really chilling horror film with his name attached heading in our general direction in a year or so. Until then, Hasret is screening in London tonight (19th January) at the Bertha DocHouse, Curzon Bloomsbury, before a wider opening in Turkish cinemas in March, so if you get the chance to go along to the event, please do. It’s a remarkable and enigmatic film that deserves a wider audience.

Philip Caveney

 

 

 

 

Inkheart

11/12/15

Home, Manchester

‘Tis the season of theatrical family fayre, when children’s stories are plundered for festive productions, with often mixed results.

Inkheart started life as a novel by Cornelia Funke, evolved into a successful film, and now struts its stuff as a lively Christmas play. It tells the tale of twelve-year-old Meggie (Katherine Carlton) and her father, Mo (Paul McEwan), whose ‘Silvertongue’ status means that, when they read aloud, characters step from the pages of their books, and blunder into the real world. Meggie and Mo embark upon a desperate quest to save the last copy of the eponymous book, protecting it from the villains who wish to destroy it.

The set comprises a mountain of books, with shelves and steps cunningly concealed. It rotates and tips, and is used effectively to represent a home, a library, a beach and a car; it’s really quite a lovely thing. And the production starts well: the narration (provided by Kelly Hotten) is clear and engaging, and the disruption of Meggie’s world by the appearance of the mysterious Dustfinger (Andrew Sheridan) is nicely unsettling. Carlton is uncannily convincing as a twelve-year-old, and Rachel Atkins, as Elinor, is a comic delight.

Overall, it doesn’t quite work for me though. It’s not as light as it needs to be; it’s pedestrian when it needs to fly. The fire-juggling, for example, just  isn’t spectacular enough, and the panto-villain antics of Basta and Flatnose (Darryl Clark and Griffin Stevens), while competently done, seem at odds with the general tone. The magic isn’t… magical enough, the comedy too clumsy and the scary stuff just doesn’t scare.

Of course, as two adults, we are not the target audience. There were a lot of kids watching with us tonight, and they seemed to find it an utter joy. One for the children, then, but without much to commend it to the grown-ups accompanying them…

3 stars

Susan Singfield