Watch: Wicked Strife

I’m not one for heading to the theatre on a regular basis to see plays or musicals. I’m more a comedy show kind of person, which for those who know me, that won’t come as much of a surprise. However, stand by your beds. This weekend I’ve been to the theatre twice! The plays couldn’t be more different however.

On Friday night as a birthday surprise for my other half, we visited the Leeds Grand Theatre to see Wicked – acclaimed as “the ultimate Broadway experience for theatre audiences all over the UK” (Northern Echo) so says the Grand website. Another thing that won’t come as a surprise to those that know me, I’m not a fan of musicals! Whether that screen or on stage! Musicals have just never been to my taste. However, when you see something this good, you can’t be anything but impressed.

From the staging, to the dancers (obviously I’m an expert, not) to the amazing voices of the cast, this stage show is very good. Especially the two leads. Helen Woolf as Glinda and Amy Ross as Elphaba were outstanding performers. Ross in particular is amazing in the finale of Act 1.

I knew nothing about the story beforehand other than it’s something to do with the Wizard of Oz, so I was surprised at how funny it was. Woolf delivering some very funny lines in particular, as does Kim Ismay as Madame Morrible. The Wizard is played by Steven Pinder, who, for me, will always be Max Farnham in Brookside.

Many positives from the show, but also a few negatives. The seats for one. Rather narrow, and not very comfortable. I know many theatres are grand old buildings, and you can’t do much within the structures, but sat on the balcony at the Grand wasn’t a comfortable experience. Especially when you compare these seats with what you get at the cinema nowadays.

Speaking of uncomfortable seats. On Saturday night, we took ourselves off for another but completely different night at the theatre. This time to Bradford Playhouse @Studio for Strife in a Northern Town. The seats in the @Studio are basic and basically bum numbing! Thankfully the performance tonight wasn’t that long!

The play is described as ‘a high-energy thrill ride with quick switches, laughter, mayhem and maybe even a tear or two, too’. And it certainly was high energy. Just two actors, Tracy Gabbitas and Jennifer Banks play the multiple characters, including Donna and Tracey who work at the local supermarket. And it’s these two that greet us when we walk in to the tiny @Studio. One sat on the floor, one stood up, giving the audience funny looks as we walk in, sit down, clean glasses, get sweets out. And you can imagine, how in this intimate surroundings, the late comers get particular strange looks from the pair!

As the play progresses, with each character change, from the supermarket girls to receptionists Pepsi and Lulu and so on, the actors change wigs and props, moving chairs and tables to create the setting for each section. As I said earlier, you couldn’t get much different from Friday night’s grandiose to this simplicity. For me some characters are more welcome than others. I wasn’t a particular fan of Kay who has a dog phobia and an allergy to cheese and was very annoying! Sadly, she is one of the more frequent characters in the play and kept reappearing!

The Playhouse itself is an interesting building. Having looked at it’s history, it’s always seemed to struggle to stay open. It certainly is a poor relation to the other theatres in Bradford, The Alhambra & St Georges Hall, the latter being closed at the moment for renovation, which is something that wouldn’t go amiss at the Playhouse.

Strife had it’s funny moments but of the two, Wicked wins hands down. And it’s a musical! I don’t like musicals!

Watch: Funny Cow

FUNNY COW Starring Maxine Peake

What was it like to be a female stand up comedian in the 1970s? Funny Cow tells you. And it wasn’t easy, apparently because ‘women aren’t funny’ according to male comedian played by Alun Armstrong in this gritty drama. Maxine Peake is superb as ‘Funny Cow’ – we never learn her real name. Equally brilliant is Macy Shackleton, who plays ‘Funny Calf’, Peake’s character as a child, in the streets of a northern town.

The film has some laugh out loud moments, however the comedy portrayed in the Northern working mens clubs isn’t for the PC brigade of 2018. Lookout for a few brilliant cameo’s from some well known faces when she auditions ‘to be a star’.

However, it also has some dark and disturbing moments. There’s domestic abuse, with Funny Cow being beaten by her Dad, played Stephan Graham, and by her boyfriend in later life, played by Tony Pitts who as well as putting in a great performance, also wrote the film. Lindsay Coulson, Carol Jackson in Eastenders, plays the older version of her Mum, and is rarely seen without a drink in her hand. And if that wasn’t enough, we see a character commit suicide.

My overriding thoughts are that it is a very good film, very much of it’s time of setting. There are a couple of stand out performances, but would I want to see it again. Possibly not.

Listen: Manic Street Preachers – Resistance is Furtile

First things first, I’ve got to point out, I’m a massive fan of the Manics. I’ve bought all their albums, yes even Lifeblood and I’ve seen them live several times, probably too many times to be honest. They don’t always get things right, the semi acoustic album Rewind the Film in 2013 was to me, a sign of a band having a midlife crisis, but you have respect them for suriving long enough to get to this, their 13th album. And it’s not unlucky 13 either.

After a few missteps on recent albums, Resistance is Furtile is a great Manics album. One review has described it as a greatest hits album of new material, which I think sums it up perfectly. I would suggest several songs are set to be in their setlist for years to come. People Give In has a reflective mood to the lyrics, but the music is great, lovely orchestration, First single International Blue is everything you expect from them. Uptempo, catchy, great guitar solo and it’s a belter.

Dylan & Caitlin features James sharing the vocals with The Anchoress and continues a tradition from their first album Generation Terrorists’ Little Baby Nothing of adding a female voice, and it’s a another cracking tune.

Once again the band mix their epic sounds of Everything Must Go era with more spiky Holy Bible material and Broken Algorithms is as close as the band get to their classic punker sound, with Nicky’s lyrics having a go at modern life. Holding Me Like a Heaven sounds like a beautiful song but then the lyrics tell a different tale –

Tattered manifestos litter the mind
Diplomatic plans ravaged by time
It never really was the truth or lies
We just gave up and said our goodbyes

Final track of the album The Left Behind finds the band in a reflective mood again, with lyrics saying

Waiting to be left behind
Acting like a passer-by

Could this be the end of the band? Interviews once again suggest maybe, with Nicky favouring darts and painting to getting lyrical. However, this has been said before. I hope it isn’t but for me, if it is, this is a great swansong.