Lady From The Sea-Royal Exchange, Manchester

By Sadia Habib

Manchester Mouth’s entertainment guru gets to grips with the choppy waters of love in her review of Sarah Frankcom’s production of ‘The Lady from the Sea’ at Royal Exchange theatre.

Henrik Ibsen’s The Lady From The Sea beautifully illustrates the dilemma encountered by the dreamer Ellida as she struggles between honouring her commitments to her husband and her step-daughters or opting for a life with a past lover – The Stranger (Bill Ward)- who has happened to return to her life.

Apparently Ibsen was inspired by Norwegian folk tales in the writing of The Lady From The Sea. One of the legends concerned a sailor who returned home to find that his wife had assumed he was dead at sea and thus re-married. This legend is cleverly explored in this production and incorporated in the stories told by Ellida (Neve McIntosh).

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Love On The Dole – Octagon, Bolton

By Sadia Habib

Manchester Mouth’s entertainment guru talks economic turmoil in her review of David Thacker’s adaptation of ‘Love On The Dole’ the Octagon, Bolton.

Octagon’s Love On The Dole is based on a 1930s Walter Greenwood novel (which was later adapted by Ronald Gow). Born in 1903 in Ellor Street, Salford, Greenwood inherited his parents’ and grandparents’ ambitions to leave behind this neighbourhood with its “jungles of tiny houses cramped and huddled together” in which “men and women are born, live, love and die and pay preposterous rents for the privilege of calling the grimy houses ‘home'”.

Throughout Thacker’s production we see how poverty pervades the lives of the characters of Hanky Park, a working-class community in Salford. The characters are struggling to get by on the pittance earned and this tale highlights the plight of those who are desperate to get out, “Hanky Park…we can’t get away…it gets everybody”.

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A Streetcar Named Desire – Octagon, Bolton.

Manchester Mouth’s entertainment guru Sadia Habib reviews David Thacker’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ at the Octagon, Bolton.

A classic play that some would say is synonymous with a young and unknown Marlon Brando. If you have seen the film adaptation you will have high expectations of Thacker’s production and these will be fulfilled.

The star of the show is Clare Foster (Blanche Dubois) for she manages to carry each of her scenes with energy and intensity in a long production, which reminds the audience of Blanche’s very nervous disposition. 

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The Comedy of Errors – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

MANCHESTER Mouth community reporter Sadia Habib reviews Roxana Silbert’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – Royal Exchange Theatre.

The glass box suspended in the air contains the Duke of Ephesus – regal and poised on his throne – waiting for the audience to be seated.  Once the theatre is full, the glass box slowly descends, and the Duke steps on to the stage.  A sober scene is set: great enmity between the cities of Ephesus and Syracuse, and Egeon (a merchant from Syracuse) is condemned to death.  Egeon recounts an old tale of the separation and disunity in his family, whilst pleading for his life. This very long opening speech establishes the plight of “hapless Egeon”.

Be not alarmed that this will be an intensely weighty adaptation causing you to sigh, and then sigh some more.  Instead, you will laugh and laugh some more.  For what proceeds from here onwards is markedly different in tone from the grave opening.  The serious beginning of the play is soon counter-balanced with great moments of mirth, while mistaken identities result in banter and humour and the comedy (of errors) commences.  There is tugging, pulling, pushing, slapping, hugging, beating, rope whipping, nose-yanking, ear-grabbing and more!

Very modern props of bright red plastic sunglasses and the inhaler add contemporary comedy to this Elizabethan play – thrice the inhaler is used to amuse the audience. Hats off to Sydney Florence, associate costume designer, as the men and the women of this adaptation are dressed magnificently: embroidered golds and blues, jewels and sequins, stylish hair and even more stylish shoes – based on the couture designs of Viviane Westwood and Alexander McQueen no less.

The stars of the show are the servant Dromios (Michael Jibson and Owain Arthur) – exuberant and exasperated, but loyal and lively.  Their encounters with their masters reflecting their respective relationships are moments of perfect comic timing.  The witty banter is relentless and makes us roar with laughter.  The antics of the servants and the antics of the masters (Sam Collings and Jack Farthing) appeal to our sympathies, whilst making us belly-laugh at the same time.  Orla Fitzgerald’s performance as Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, is also impressive: her wrath and her woe aptly demonstrated in her dramatics.

The Shakespearean wordplay we anticipate does not disappoint. “She is spherical, like a globe.  I could find out countries in her” the outraged Dromio of Syracuse cries to his master when he is accosted by Nell, the lady friend of Dromio of Ephesus who tries to “lay claim” to him. The audience laugh at the crude anatomical-geographical puns.  Then come Dromio’s tears of despair, and the audience laughs.  When he has long left the stage, we can still hear him crying, and the audience laughs some more.  There is also the funny exchange about the correlation between wit and hair.  And the amusing speech where Dromio of Ephesus relays his master’s strange behaviour to the master’s wife – “My gold, quoth he…My meat, quoth I” and more.

Silbert’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play, with its fast-paced and furious banter perfectly reflects the confusion and chaos that can occur because of mistaken identities.  If you are Shakespeare-shy don’t worry – this adaptation makes Shakespearean language highly accessible. It is an excellent introduction to Shakespeare for new, as well as long established, fans and the jokes keep on coming.

The Comedy of Errors will be running at Royal Exchange until 8 May 2010. To book tickets visit the theatre’s website.

Our World – Touchstones, Rochdale

NATURE: Garside asked local school pupils what they think of the environment

MANCHESTER Mouth community reporter Sadia Habib reviews Steve Garside’s ‘Our World’ exhibition – Touchstones, Rochdale.

The Our World exhibition was inspired by photographs in the albums of Garside’s friends on the social networking site Facebook.

He examined the holiday snaps from near by and far-flung places and with permission painted a number of landscapes to address the issues of travel and environmental responsibilities.

While this means that the artist’s experience of the landscape itself is second-hand, his response to the photographs is expressive and immediate and the result is a series of paintings that shimmer and glow with restless energy.

With the help of Zahid Hussain, author and chair of literature group Manchester Muslim Writers, Garside decided to take the exhibition to the next level and engage local school children to explore how the generation’s relationship with these landscapes would differ from his own

Pupils from St Vincent’s RC Primary School, Rochdale, wrote poems which outlined their reactions to the landscapes and these have been displayed in the style of a gigantic teardrop mobile alongside Garside’s paintings as part of the exhibition.

“Who better to comment on the impact on the environment than the next generation, and at the same time it raises their social conscience,” said Garside.

“It’s about social competence for the kids – their work is being included in a public space, and if only a couple of students take this further in their life, that will be some achievement for me.”

The free Our World exhibition runs until Sunday 21 March 2010.

1984 – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

MANCHESTER Mouth community reporter Sadia Habib reviews Matthew Dunster’s adaptation of ‘1984’ – The Royal Exchange Theatre.

George Orwell’s political masterpiece 1984 still holds great resonance with a contemporary audience: the idea of an omniscient and omnipotent Big Brother brings to the forefront current debates about CCTV surveillance, identity cards and governments holding sensitive data on their citizens.  The dramatic scenes of torture in the production also remind the audience of uncomfortable news coverage of similar painful humiliations at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay.

Sayings like Big Brother and Room 101 have become familiar language for today’s audience with their own connotations in mainstream popular culture.  However, in the play these watered-down terms, and others such as Newspeak, Thought Crime and Doublespeak, have dangerous consequences of mind control in a dystopian and dangerous world.

The opening of the play successfully establishes the persistent and pernicious interruption of thoughts through the telescreen device: the monotone, almost malicious drone of the Party’s indoctrinating words linger in the minds of the audience, reflecting the lack of privacy in the minds of the residents of Oceania, Orwell’s dystopian world.  The props of the telescreens are used effectively throughout the play to highlight an intermittent penetration of peace of mind.

The fleeting moments of pleasure experienced by Winston Smith (Jonathan McGuinness), the main protagonist of Orwell’s novel, when he witnesses the proles and their simple pleasures, and in his stunningly passionate union with another Outer Party member, Julia (Caroline Bartleet), bring some light in an otherwise very dark play.  The production also manifests the mindsets and lifestyles of the proles through use of music and laughter, a stark contrast to the bleakness that pervades Winston’s life.

Winston’s quiet desperation is evident on McGuiness’s face as he seeks to learn the end of the rhyme:  “Oranges and lemons/Say the bells of St. Clements/I owe you five farthings/Say the bells of St. Martins…”. And the audience, share the joy as he bonds with others through this rhyme. The prop of the picture of the church hanging over the bed above the junk shop is cohesive with the rhyme and powerfully depicts the past times Winston is aching to hold on to.

This production of 1984 ensures that the long speeches in the novel have maximim dramatic impact and are accessible to the audience. The complexity of the political concepts are elaborated upon through the use of actors representing the three factions of Oceanic society: the Inner Party, the Outer Party and the proles.  The audience, therefore, are able to engage with abstract notions without the play being overly-intellectual.

We are reminded about control of the body reinforcing control of the mind – Winston writes his private thoughts in a tiny alcove behind the telescreen, and each morning he is made to participate in a tedious and tiring exercise regime in front of the telescreen.  However, this production cleverly highlights the nature of body control through the disturbing scenes of devastating torture.  The production places emphasis on physicality furthermore by showing us the stunning scenes of love between Winston and Julia as moments that are rebellious, beautiful and hopeful.

Dunster’s adaptation remains very faithful to the original text, whilst creating a very modern debate about how elements of the Orwellian vision ring true today.  In the language of Oceania, a doubleplusgood production.

1984 is playing at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 27 March 2010.