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Liverpool Fringe Festival: Hurt and The Man with No Identity – Review

Liverpool Fringe Festival: Hurt and The Man with No Identity – Review

If you were not in the Casa, Liverpool Friday night between 7 and 10 you missed two wonderful things.  First: the best night of the Liverpool Fringe Festival.  Two: the debut shows of two of the most promising new playwrights Liverpool has right now.

The first show was Hurt by Jemma Buntin.  This groundbreaking play tells a vital daring story of extremism, isolation and radicalisation in today’s uncertain world.

Michael Moran who recently starred as Kevin Moody in ITV’s Little Boy Blue gives a heart wrenching portrayal of John, a 15 year old boy whose loneliness has led him to the world of Islamophobia and Far Right Extremism.

John is alone while the other characters are arranged in pairs, which increases the sense of his isolation.  Lee Morris and Katie Lynn play Isaac and Jenny.  Isaac is John’s best friend and tries to defend John though he doesn’t agree with his views.  Jenny is Isaac’s friend and attacks John and his views.  The three way relationship gives a roundness to the story in a beautifully subtle way.

Zeedane, played by Dimitri Dematteo, who is Muslim has moved to the town with his sister Madeeha, played by Christina Bimpson, and is joining the youth club football team John, Isaac and Jenny are a part of.  John is very upset by this and after an emotional argument leaves the youth club angry and distressed.  This begins a cycle of events that drives John further into the world of extremism and towards the path of anger and violence.  Zeedane and Madeeha’s parents are both dead and John’s father was killed while serving in the armed forces creating a tangible emotional parallel between the characters.

The final pairing are the two adults in the play, John’s mother played by Emily-Louise Lockhart and Eddie played by Louis Cashin-Harris who runs the youth club.  John’s mother is struggling with alcohol addiction making his home life difficult and Eddie tries to keep the peace by removing John from situations rather than offering him the help that he needs.  This leaves him with no mature role model to turn towards.

A loud surreal fast moving Ensemble made up of Joe Massey, Andrew Holliday, Dylan Kealy, Britani Humphries and Kenya Humphries, along with some of the primary cast, make up the last element of an environment in which John is rapidly suffocating.  He is alone in the world and there is nothing anywhere for him.  The Far Right Extremists say they will give him the chance to do his Dad justice and, most importantly, somewhere to belong.

This controversial play is a fast moving, heart wrenching tale of what it is to be young and alone in today’s world, desperate for someone to turn to and something to cling on to.

This show has been performed as part of the Liverpool Fringe Festival.  Some of the performances had some roles performed by an alternative cast.  Michael Moran, Louis Cashin-Harris, Christina Bimpson and Dimitri Damatteo appear in both casts.  The actors were all provided by AllStars Casting and the play was skillfully directed by Sylvie Gatrill.

I managed to catch up with some of the cast and the playwright after the showing.  This is the first stage performance for a lot of the cast including Michael Moran and Dimitri Dematteo.  The cast are all very mature and showed great insight into the issues dealt with in the play and the motivations of the characters.  There was a lot of support for events like the Liverpool Fringe Festival and its ability to promote theatre within the local community and give people within the arts scene the opportunity to network with other local artists.  They feel it is very important to produce and perform controversial theatre as it raises awareness of issues.  Michael Moran said that people are aware of things happening but don’t understand all of the issues involved.  He feels the play will help people to understand hate and presenting the issues as a story paints a full picture of what is happening.  The play was particularly important to Dimitri Dametteo who wanted to play his role after experiencing racial bullying growing up.  He loves the play and feels the message if very important.  He says that doing the play has been an education for the whole cast and changed them all.  Christina Bimpson really appreciated the parallels of parental loss between Madeeha and Zeedane, and John and liked the contrast of Madeeha and Zeedane having religion to turn to whereas John had nothing leading him to turn to extremism.

Speaking to Jemma Buntin, the playwright I learned that this performance was a shortened version of her full play.  She is hoping to find the right venue to perform the full show in and would also be interested in adapting the play for screen and also going into schools with the play as a Theatre in Education with associated workshop activities.  The issues in the play are very important to her and related to her work in Prevent based projects.  She thinks it is important to raise awareness as people talk about the situation behind closed doors but not often enough in public which leads to the isolation that people are feeling.  This stops effective intervention happening quickly enough when radicalisation is taking place.  She is very proud of the whole cast and what they have achieved and has great hope for the future.

Hurt will be reperformed on 29 June at 8:00pm.

IdentityThe second show was the last ever showing of The Man with No Identity by Christopher Woodward which I reviewed after its debut showing in May.  Seeing it again did not lessen its impact and Bob Towers’ masterful portrayal of Edgar J Harris has evolved to become more provocative, more daring and more acerbic than ever.  It is a loss to Liverpool theatre and the world of theatre as a whole that Edgar J Harris will never smile sardonically at his Newton’s cradle again.

Both Christopher Woodward and Jemma Buntin have long exciting careers to look forward to and it has been a privilege to witness the beginning of both.

Copyright, D M Day, 2017


Zoo Story – Review

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

Two Thousand Yard Stare: Improv – Review

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

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

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

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

Katherine Howard – Review

Katherine Howard – Review

Some historical figures, Cleopatra, Van Gogh, Henry VIII, have become the stuff of legends, so famous for a certain quirk, a love affair, their temperament, particular incidents, that it has become easy to forget that they were real people just like you and me and had everyday lives and conversations just like you and me.  Bebington Dramatic Society‘s production of Katherine Howard showed the everyday life in Henry Tudor’s court and also showed his lesser known faults – the lonely little boy who was afraid of the dark and only wanted to be seen as a person and loved for who he was.  A very funny production that often left the theatre laughing out loud it quickly dissolved into the tragic circumstances that ended Katherine’s life.  Henry’s vicious and unpredictable temper was not dwelt upon, but this added to this little known story of Henry’s fifth wife.  While not entirely historically accurate, the play is a beautiful portrayal of love, longing, jealousy, manipulation, the powerful and the powerless.  The final scene was particularly haunting, and while none of the cast could be criticised, Mark Prescott and Charlotte Cumming performed brilliantly as the ill fated husband and wife.

Katherine Howard closes tonight at 7:30 at the Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight.

Copyright, D M Day, 2017