Off the corner of Deansgate, in the great city of Manchester, hidden away amongst the arches of old car showrooms, there seems to be an abundance of talented thespians making a racket. I blame 53two and it’s seemingly never ending schedule of events taking the fringe community in Manchester by storm in its maiden year as an Arts Venue.
After birthing its own night of fleeting theatre, ‘North South Shorts,’ then becoming a temporary venue to the old power that is JB shorts, 53two has now played host to Scott Devon’s poetically written When Both Sides Surrender.
The writing was described as Shakespeare meets A Clockwork Orange. I must start this review by conceding that I would not class myself as a fan of Shakespeare, however I am certainly a fan of Mr. Stanley Kubrick, so I had mixed feelings as I entered the theatre.
Richard Cooper and Kaeran Dooley should be proud, first for a wonderfully creative set incorporating a burnt out car, graffiti, battered steel, and decaying sofas that set the tone for the performance. Second, because these production aspects were matched in their quality by the costume and props, from the ‘trackies’ all the way to the police riot gear.
After another stellar run, JB Shorts 16 came to a close on November 12th, but not before one last performance to leave everyone gasping for air and clawing at their sides to stop them from splitting.
JB 16 was cast by Michelle Smith and played out at a brand new bigger venue at 53 Two, which is fast becoming a mecca for Manchester’s finest fringe theatre. It’s fair to say we at Casting Networks enjoyed the show, as always, and could not be more proud to continue supporting the event!
The night began with Magaluf, written by Sarah McDonald Hughes, in which we were taken on a farcical journey with Chloe (Amy Lythgoe) and Sinead (Hollie-Jay-Bowes) on their stereotypical teen holiday. I was reminded of a two-handed, modern day Bouncers and Shakers, due to the non-stop laughs and fast pace of the piece. A well-directed, wonderful piece of theatre, and a brilliant choice to open the show.
Second on, and the first of two classics of British literature broken down in to fifteen minutes of pure entertainment, was Toil and Trouble, written by Trevor Suthers. A truly original take on the story of a certain Scottish King who, for our own sake, is named ‘MacMeth’ (Peter Ash). Three terrifyingly hilarious “hags” steal the stage for fifteen minutes in the forms of ‘Mammy,’ ‘Granny,’ and ‘Fanny’ (Maria O’Hare, Jenny Gregson, and Jennifer Bray). With constant cleverly written filth throughout, and an energy on the stage that clearly stemmed from the great direction of Sue Jenkins, meant there was no respite for the aching jaws of the audience.
The story is right up my street, being myself a chronic sufferer of white, middle class guilt, as well as being lucky enough to work in an industry in which the family behind me gave me greater chance of success than someone without such advantages. In others words my evening at the Whitefield Garrick was a real thinker . . .
Concrete Jungle, by Sarah O’Connell, is the story of Natalia (Katy Federman), an idealistic young journalist hoping to change the world with her documentary film, set deep within the drug underbelly of the city of Leeds.
Natalia starts her journey in London amongst the world of privileged, rich, white men whose own personal views of the world heavily dictate how news is disseminated to the public. Natalia must convince her producers, Verity and James (played brilliantly by and Portia Booroff and Shaun Hennessey), that it’s time to fund something a bit different. Eventually, they oblige, giving her a shoestring budget to get the footage. Natalia sets off, bags full of equipment, to complete the task in six short weeks. Little does Natalia know her bosses have their own agenda; they have no intention of telling the story that she intends to document.
When it comes to heavy subject matters, Cancer is definitely up there at the top of the list, so it was with great pleasure and surprise that Beetles From the West wasn’t all doom and gloom. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of drama and some very touching raw moments during the intense hour-long performance, but there were also moments of light comic touches in the relationship between Boyd and Jenny.
Having emerged from the dark hot confines of The Hope Theatre on a summery Saturday evening, I felt as though I had witnessed something quite special. New playwright James Hartnell tackles the themes of masculinity and the stigma attached to men’s health head on, and there is little pause for reflection during continuous dynamic dialogue on stage.
If you love the North, Fringe Theatre, and are desperate to find a piece that includes references to the Philosophy of Rene Descartes, the musical genius of George Formby, and the phrase “Once you go black you never go back,” then The Book of Northern: The Entire History of the North West, Told In Under An Hour is one for you.
In a small, stuffy 20-seater studio above the Kings Arms in Salford, KinkyBoot Institute made us all forget our problems, sweaty backs, and place of origin as we embarked together, as fellow Northerns, on a “Reet Good” journey through time.
Opening with the epic music of Star Wars, you know you’re in for a spectacle, but this quickly transitions into the calming tones of the Corry theme tune. Sitting in darkness, the everyday sounds of the North ring out: Peter Kay, The Beatles, Oasis, Warburtons. The audience is told the story of when God created the North and its many wonders, such as Wigan, and when he was done “He looked down at all the gorgeous Northernness and said ‘That’s Reet.'”
After 35 years in “the Biz,” John Topliff and Gina T. Frost decided to call time on their wonderful careers as performers and start a new journey in life as teachers. This didn’t last long in this current climate’s attitude towards the arts. Before they knew it, they were hauled up on the 3rd floor of Afflecks Palace, selling off 35 years worth of costumes and props. This led to an idea, an idea that flowered into a beautiful story of two unique people risking everything and coming out on top . . . well, just! Sitting with the two of them in their own theatre, on a warm Wednesday afternoon, they shared their inspirational story. Here it is in their own words.
We felt that it was very quiet on the 3rd floor of Afflecks; we didn’t necessarily get as many people in as we would’ve liked. So we thought we’d put an ad out on the “Arts News” section of the Arts Council website asking for short, three minute scripts to be performed in our tiny shop; it was worth a go. Little did we know that this would be the catalyst for a tsunami of replies from a host of budding writers, so what else do you do but put on as many as you can? We started presenting three minute plays every 30 minutes on Saturday afternoons and it was a big success. “Big” may be an inapt word here since we had audiences of 12, six sitting, but we knew we were on to something, as mad as it seemed. In fact, David Slack, organiser of the 24/7 Theatre Festival (very well known amongst the independent theatre goers in Manchester), described it as “bonkers.”
Written by Elisa Armstrong.
I’ve been back in Australia – Melbourne to be precise – for over two years now. I first moved to London to study at Drama Centre and ended up staying for five-and-a-half years. The transition back to Australia, and acting in a much smaller industry, has been challenging, but ultimately rewarding, and I am thankful for my time working the hustle in London.
When I left Drama Centre, I was without an agent, but quickly learned which online casting sites to use (and which to stay away from), and found people who were supportive and gratefully passed on contacts. Even when I look back on my London CV, there are so many others I haven’t listed, like rehearsed readings, workshops, and masterclasses. London gets the best of the best people that we can learn from, even though they sometimes come at an elite price.
A Midsummer Nights Dream by the Butterfly Theatre Company performed at Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean. Photo by David Broadbent.
We interviewed Carla-Marie Metcalfe of Butterfly Theatre, a London based group, whose mission is “Breathing new life into much loved texts, immerse audiences in classic tales, using unusual spaces to set our story – such as caves, castles and woodlands – and truthful, responsive acting to excite and delight in every moment.” They specialise in the Meisner Technique and have worked across the UK and Germany.
Casting Networks: Can you tell us a little bit about the theatre company you’re a part of?
Carla-Marie Metcalfe: Butterfly are a London based theatre company who specialise is site-responsive theatre. We have travelled both nationally and internationally performing in some of the most unique and historic venues from Caves to Castles, Forests to Medieval towns. Breathing new life into classic texts, Butterfly interact with the amazing spaces and immerse the audiences into these truly alive and moment to moment promenade style performances. Whereas other companies simply erect a stage in the grounds, Butterfly are passionate about making each place we visit very much a part of the performance rather than just a backdrop and giving the local communities the chance to experience the history and culture on their doorstep in a truly memorable and magical way.
Casting Networks is always looking for organisations that create their own magical work and promote actors, so when we first heard about Scripts Aloud, run through Acting & Directing Partnership (ADP), we had to find out more about this Manchester based organisation. We touched base with one of the founding members, Diana Atkins, to find out how it started, why a cast member of Downton Abbey comes along to watch, to hear more about its roaring success up North, and to try to get the low down on what they plan to create over the next few years.
CNI: So what is Scripts Aloud/Manchester ADP?
Diana Atkins: Manchester ADP (Acting and Directing Partnership) hosts Scripts Aloud – a regular (twice a month) performance of new writing with script-in-hand. On the last Monday of every month, we pick four short plays. Then each team of professional actors and directors have just 3 hours rehearsal time on the Sunday before a Monday show, where there is live audience feedback to help writers to know how to take their work forward.
In January, we also started doing full-length readings in between our regular Scripts Aloud nights.
CNI: How did Scripts Aloud come to be?
DA: I moved up to Manchester from London just over a year ago. I had been involved in a script reading group in London (Actors and Writers London) that has been so successful that it’s been running since the 1970’s! When I moved up here, I looked around to see if there was anything like it. And there wasn’t. There were a few script reading initiatives but they were either irregular or sat round a table, as opposed to being performances up on their feet. I thought to myself, well, maybe I’ll start something.