Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Zoo Story – Review

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Zoo Story – Review

On Tuesday night I saw Edward Albee’s Zoo Story brought to life by Meerkat Productions as part of the Liverpool Fringe Festival.

A simple set consisting only of a park bench and some grass brought a secluded corner of Central Park into the theatre at the Casa.  Peter and Jerry muse about life, love and loss in what appears to be a friendly conversation but the different levels of the actors, Peter sitting, Jerry standing, subtly showed that Jerry had power in the situation.  The performance became increasingly uncomfortable while Jerry talked about wrestling with a black dog, a common metaphor for depression, and it seemed that Peter had become some form of hostage while Jerry’s stories rapidly became darker and more surreal.  When Jerry sits down next to Peter it seems that the tension is resolving and the sunny Sunday afternoon will end peacefully, but what happens at the zoo will not stay at the zoo.

What begins a simple stroll through the park quickly spirals into a horrifying climax that leaves the audience open mouthed and silent.  Masterfully performed by Stephen O’Toole and David Crosby Zoo Story is the captivating story of life in the urban zoo of the big city, the cages we put ourselves in and what can happen when we break down those bars.

Copyright, D M Day, 2017

Franca Rame/Dario Fo Monologues: Review

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Franca Rame/Dario Fo Monologues: Review

Two actresses, two monologues, two stories, two outcomes, one struggle.

Last night Maggi Green and Mikyla Jane Durkan of Burjesta Theatre, Liverpool performed two very different monologues on the theme of the struggle of women in society.  Grotesque comedies from Italian dramatists Dario Fo and Franca Rame Rise and Shine and A Woman Alone invite you into the personal lives of two women: both obedient to their husbands, both comforting babies and both so tired and sick of everything.

Rise and Shine was skillfully performed by Maggie Green.  A stressed out mother wakes up from one nightmare straight into another one.  Relieved to find her fingers still on her hands, those hands become full as soon as her feet touch the floor.  The baby in one hand, her handbag in another and the key, where is the key?  Squeezing her way around imaginary furniture, with very few props and an invisible baby, keeping up the mime of struggling to search the small cramped house for keys while narrating her life, her husband’s life and talking to baby was done beautifully.  We never see the husband but the change in stance and expression when his dialogue was recited brought to life the domestic struggles this woman is going through.  The clock is ticking, the panic is growing, no-one is coming to help, baby’s filled his nappy, again, and the key is nowhere to be found.  The panic in this claustrophobic house with nothing in the right place was tangible.

The atmosphere grew thicker again during Mikyla Jane Durkan’s accomplished portrayal of A Woman Alone.  The stage now filled with props (this lady’s husband buys her everything) a wife has been locked up in her flat after indulging in an affair with her young Italian teacher.  She is caring for her brother-in-law, who is in a (almost) full body cast in another room with just one hand and that free for groping around and her baby who is crying of often.  Music plays in every room to stop her feeling alone, the phone constantly rings – nuisance calls, checks up from her husband and begging from her young lover – and then the banging on the door starts.  There’s so much noise!  What can you do when all you want is a quiet conversation with the new neighbour?  You need to stay calm.  Very very calm.  Bright welcoming smiles and laughter gave way to wide eyed desperation dissolving into an eerie sense of calm as a woman alone welcomed everyone back into the house and tried to regain control.

Where are the keys?  The men have them.

Burjesta Theatre are a fringe theatre company based at The Casa, Hope Street, Liverpool.  Further information can be found on their Facebook page.

Copyright, D M Day, 2017

Two Thousand Yard Stare: Improv – Review

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Two Thousand Yard Stare: Improv – Review

Improv can be a dangerous thing, especially when the act is relying entirely on audience participation.  But on Monday night two man act Two Thousand Yard Stare along with guest performers Poops and Butt invited the audience to do their worst and provided an hour of completely unscripted dark surreal comedy while managing to avoid their namesake blank stare at nowhere.

The first half an hour was dedicated to the audience suggestion of “barber shop”.  Without a pair of clippers or a razor in sight a creepy barber shop with no escape was created.  The two actors obviously know each other well and know where each other’s minds are going and managed to create characters dealing with similar issues of loneliness and failure in very different ways.

The second half was dedicated to the games of Poops and Butt.  Regular audience participation was integral to this half of the show.  They started with a prison scene, taking it in turns to push the scene forward when on stage audience volunteers shouted switch.  This was followed by a garden scene where a couple preparing for the local fair insulted each other with suggestions from the audience before justifying the insults in increasingly bizarre ways.  They then created “shit” analogies, taking a list of random objects from the audience and substituting “box of chocolates” in “Life is like a box of chocolates” to create meaningful observations on the nature of life.  Finally a divorce scene played out, the estranged husband having to guess what he did to break up the marriage, what his wife wanted and who she was leaving him for.  Loud and proud with memorable lines such as “Yes I am a maggot brain because my brain cells are constantly regenerating and renewing” and “Life is like a giraffe, sooner or later you’re gonna get spots so work it“, the relationship between the actors was natural and close, their in sync nature enhancing their quick wit.

I believe both acts are relatively new and they have definite potential to make a mark on improvised theatre.  They also brought back a lot of fond memories of acting class and acting off the cuff.  My own contribution to the shit analogies: “Life is like the moon, you live it to the full then it disappears“.

Further information can be found on Two Thousand Yard Stare: Improv’s Facebook page.

Copyright, D M Day, 2017

The Man with No Identity – Review and Interview

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The Man with No Identity – Review and Interview

Tick tick tick tick tick tick.

The sound of a clock is often cited in creative writing manuals and classes as a wonderful way to add tension.  A clock puts your characters under pressure, pushes the crucial moment to the front of your audience’s mind, is so familiar, so haunting.

The sound of a clock is nothing compared to the tension created by a Newton’s Cradle being the only sound on a stage with more props than actors.

The first sound that Edgar J Harris makes before launching into a monologue on detailing his life, his loves, his successes, his failures, is the simple ticking of a Newton’s Cradle which he smiles at enigmatically before glaring down at his audience in disdain.

Edgar J Harris is the man with no identity, the creation of local Liverpool playwright, Christopher Woodward, and an example of what can go wrong when you will do anything to have everything.

The one night show was inspired by George Bouverie Goddard’s painting The Struggle for Existence which like play is painful to look at and impossible to turn away from.  In a world of wolves where the only chance of survival is to destroy, Edgar J Harris, always referred to in full, rants about self improvement in a world that hasn’t progressed and points out that with the right information you can have anything, and everything.

Money and materials are, for Edgar, the root of all happiness.  He is better than his audience.  He is performing a role.  He is a display of money and success and, as Shakespeare said, all the world’s a stage.  He quotes the Bard’s famous monologue, taken so far away from the comedy it normally nestles in, and glances at his pocket watch, a gift from May, the love of his life, who ironically shares her name both the first month of the financial year and the beginning of summer.

May is gone and Edgar is in winter.  Time is the great enemy of all men.  His reflection is empty.  The man he sees is not the man he is.  What can he do about it now?  Surrounded by so many beautiful things, but with no identity to call his own, it seems that Edgar is irrevocably lost.

The Man with No Identity is a haunting look at one man’s struggle for existence, painfully sad and darkly funny with an ending that hits you like a brick wall.  Flawlessly performed by Bob Towers in the Casa, the show was on for one night only, but will be re-performed as part of the Liverpool Fringe Festival on 23 June.  Go see it and become lost within yourself.

Afterwards I was lucky enough to speak to Christopher Woodward about his debut show.  Follow up questions were done online:

DMD: So this is your first play.  Have you written anything else before like fiction or poetry?

CW: Never.  Never wrote until last year, when I got the dream.  So it came from a dream.

DMD: Came from a dream?

CW: Yeah.

DMD: I read in the paperwork that it’s inspired by a painting.

CW: Yeah: Bouverie Goddard’s Struggle for Existence. It’s in the Walker Art Gallery. When I had the vision of writing the play I went.  I was just wandering around the Walker Art Gallery; I like art and I came across the lovely Bouverie Goddard painting and it just spoke to me and that’s where I got the characteristics for the character.

DMD: Yeah.

CW: Yeah it’s amazing.

DMD: Yeah, I’ve done poems inspired by paintings. Are you familiar with An Experiment with an Air Pump? It’s another play inspired by a painting.

CW: No.

DMD: It’s a Newcastle play so it’s quite a nice link with the local play and the painting.

CW: Ah I see yeah.

DMD: Another parallel I noticed was Dorian Grey.

CW: Dorian Grey? Yeah, yeah, I like Dorian Grey. Oscar Wilde.

DMD: Yeah when Edgar said his reflection was empty it reminded me of him looking at the portrait.

CW: The guy who inspired me most to write was Arthur Miller. Death of a Salesmen.

DMD: View from the Bridge?

CW: View from the Bridge is fantastic.

DMD: I’ve seen on your Instagram that you’re reading Henrik Ibsen.  A Doll’s House is one of my favourite plays.  Do you prefer European or American theatre?

CW: I mainly like the American theatre like David Mamett, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams but Samuel Becket is fantastic also.  Arthur Miller is my idol.

DMD: The Man with No Identity can be seen again at the Liverpool Fringe Festival.  Is there anything else in the pipeline?

CW: Yes I’m currently working on my second play which is about the daily struggle of homelessness.

DMD: After seeing The Man with No Identity, I’m sure Christopher will do that justice!

Copyright, D M Day, 2017

More Scouse Saddam?: Review

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More Scouse Saddam?: Review

Six weeks’ work, a ton of money and the cheapest beer you’ve ever had.  All you have to do is paint Saddam Hussein’s palace and get home in time for double egg and chips.

Tonight I saw Sad Ham Productions’ More Scouse Saddam? which tells the story of a bunch of Liverpool lads who pop over to Baghdad on a decorating job.  Unfortunately during their visit Iraq invade Kuwait, war is declared and they become hostages in an instant.  Based on the true story of Dave Thelwell and his friends, More Scouse Saddam? is by turns hilariously funny and tragically poignant.  The first half is haunted by the constant but silent and invisible presence of Saddam as the lads, and their wives back home in Liverpool, become increasingly unnerved by their situation.  The second half is cleverly added to with retro TV sequences specially produced for the show projected onto the back of the stage.

Add to that the 90s clothing that no-one will admit they wore but definitely did, some epic dance moves and a couple of southerners traumatised far more by their encounter with the Liverpudlians than the Iraqi dictator and his staff, and you get a wonderfully heartbreaking comedy about ordinary people going about their ordinary lives thrown into an extraordinary situation, in a place as sunny and sandy as New Brighton, but a little bit further over the water.

Brilliantly acted, there isn’t a single cast member that can be singled out, though Saddam himself is extra special for reasons you’ll have to see it to find out.

More Scouse Saddam? can be seen again tomorrow at 7.30pm at The Casa, Liverpool priced at £10 or £8 for concessions.

Copyright, D M Day, 2017

Refugee – Review

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Refugee – Review

Last night I saw Potentially Brilliant Productions’ second show Refugee at The Casa, Liverpool.  It was a collaborative play devised over 12 weeks of drama workshops.  The show was based on the group’s own experiences and viewpoints and made use of elements found in Greek theatre such as the Chorus and the Messenger as Storyteller.  The material developed in the workshops was amended, fleshed out and put together by talented director and facilitator, Mikyla Jane Durkan.

The cast who formed this play were all dressed in black clothing will slight variations in style, subtly alluding to the viewpoint that everyone involved the refugee crisis, whether they be refugees themselves, aid workers, politicians or whoever, slot into groups of people who are seen to be all the same, whilst also nodding to the reality of their actual differences.  As well as the usual sound effects use was made of the actors’ own voices to provide eerie surround sound leaving the audience surrounded by wind, rain and tears.

There were a number of monologues and performance poetry incorporated into the disjointed and often disorientating story of loss and hope against hope, with many of the actors remaining on stage forming various tableaus, with and without props, cleverly alluding to the fact that people are often asking, begging, shouting for help, but the people around them don’t hear, don’t move, don’t see – just stand there are carry on with their own lives.

The play explored happiness and what it is to be happy.  For some people being happy is having the latest iPhone in their hand and the most popular status on Facebook.  Other people only hope to have a life without pain and fear.  Fear for themselves, fear for their loved ones, fear for their children.  What it is to have, want, desire and not have, need, and crave was shown intelligently and sensitively.

As one of the actors was violently bullied on stage, after speaking happily with his British friends, I was reminded of the story of David Oluwale.  Almost half a century has passed since this man was hounded on the streets of Leeds and it seems that sadly very little has changed in that time.  Whether or not the level of hatred of people coming into this country has lessened or increased over time was something touched upon in the lively Q&A with the cast and director following the show.

Dehumanisation and desperation.  Hate and fate.  Brutality and compassion.  These were all explored with the intensity and understanding needed to show people with everything what it is to have nothing.  While each cast member contributed fully to the quality and emotion of the production, I do feel that special mention should be given to Helen Jackson, George Melling and Martin Zopa for being particularly memorable in a particularly memorable performance.

This was a story of individuals who are among millions of people.  By seeing the person in a problem which is seen by many as too big and too widely spread to do anything about, it becomes clear that we can all do just that one small thing today, and maybe things won’t be as bad tomorrow.  Because “everyone at least should have somewhere to go”.

Refugee was a one night only showing, however you can see a revised version at the inaugural Liverpool Fringe Festival on 22 June.  Potentially Brilliant’s next project will begin with a 12 week programme of workshops exploring mental illness through some of Shakespeare’s characters.

Copyright, D M Day, 2017

Living in the past, the present, the future

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Living in the past, the present, the future

Mindfulness.  It’s trendy, or so I hear.  You have to live in the moment to be truly content and mindfulness lets you do that. Or, more eloquently:

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” (Anonymous, often wrongly attributed to Lao Tzu, correctly spelled Laozi, real name Li Er – now I’m tired!)

Now, I don’t know a massive amount about mindfulness, but I’ve had my fights with the black dog and my fair share of panic.  I’ve had moments where the future looks bleak and it’s made me depressed, past experiences have left me anxious and, sometimes, the present moment has been a depressing anxiety filled place to be.  I’ve also been able to look back at my past and smile and imagine a future where I’m happy.

The Ghost of Happiness Past

Memories can be a wonderful thing, especially when they come to you at random.  I like to think we’ve all sighed when that song has come on in a bar or the scent of a bouquet takes you back to a beautiful day.  In the end, life becomes a series of memories, some bad, some good.  There will be regrets, mistakes, lessons and pain, but there will also be smiles, places, people and moments that will make the rest of it worth it.

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, and yearning for a life that you used to have and cannot have again could drive you to breaking point.  But experience, learning from what you have been through and knowing that you have learned from it, makes you better prepared for what is to come.

The Ghost of Happiness Present

As I said, I don’t know a lot about mindfulness, though I have been told that the “mindfulness” that is sold to 21st century folk is not the mindfulness that has been practised for thousands of years, but rather a sort of quick fix solution.  I remember it being described to me as completely living in the moment, and never focusing on an irrevocably lost past or future fantasy.  Even if you are only washing up, you should concentrate entirely on the temperature of the water, the feel of the pots in your hands, the way the dried on porridge feels when it dissolves into slime and gets stuck underneath your fingernails…  OK the last bit I made up, but the rest of it is completely true.

So, great, yeah.  Live in the moment.  Appreciate what you have in the here and now.  Don’t depress yourself by either wishing for what has gone or what is to come.  Be content.  On the surface it sounds like pretty sound advice.  I do both conscious breathing and grounding to help with my anxiety, which I guess is along the same lines and it’s definitely beneficial to pause at least once a day and appreciate where you are and what you have.

But, surely to fully appreciate the present, you need to also appreciate how the past brought you to that moment and what is going to come in the future?

The Ghost of Happiness Yet To Come

For a lot of people the scariest place of all is the future.  What if things don’t work out how you want them to?  What if something terrible is around the corner?  What if there is no tomorrow?

For other people the future can’t come soon enough.  The things they will do, the success they will have, how happy they will be.

Worrying about a future that might not happen is pointless – I know this and I do it anyway, but I’m working on it.  Living in a fantasy world and taking no action towards it is equally pointless – you cannot enjoy success in any area if you’re not willing to put in the hard work to get there.  But letting your mind wander where it will may help you notice a risk that you hadn’t noticed before or a solution to a problem that you never thought of.  People often “sleep on it” when they have an important decision to make.  This comes from letting your unconscious mind deal with something rather than overthinking it consciously.

Although I am biased when it comes to mind wandering, as most of my writing is done that way.

***

Your brain is the most powerful computer in the world.  It has the ability to store memories, interpret everything you’re sensing into a coherent present that you can see, smell, hear, touch and taste, and plan and strategise for what is to come.  Yes it may put a rose tint on your memories to protect you from pain, it may warp your view of the present by interfering with memories, foreboding or hope, and it may lose all control at times and lead you to panic or blindly hope for things that will never happen, but your mind has the ability to live in the past, the present and the future simultaneously.

Perhaps we would all be better off by appreciating the good and bad in all three by loving and learning from our experience, appreciating and enjoying the moment and looking towards the future with hope.

Copyright, D M Day, 2017