Beauty Of The Beast

22 October
The Lowry

Being a boy isn't always easy. You've got to be cool, tough and funny, at least you do if you want to fit in. On the flip side, if you do have friends then you're probably having tonnes of fun, with more freedom than you’ll ever have again. It is this duality that Company Chameleon provide an eloquent insight into with their new production Beauty Of The Beast, a dance piece that explores just what it means to be a young man.

The story follows a group of friends from early initiation rights to full on fights, as they change and grow together. Some parts are very funny, like an early movement that involved nose picking and fart impressions. Others are frightening, like a scene where the young men become angry Staffies straining violently at a leash. The production's greatest success came in capturing the awkwardness of male interaction, those moments of suspense where you don’t know if someone is going to be lauded or laughed at, praised or punched. The choreography, from company Artistic Director and performer Anthony Missen, was gritty and graceful, muscular yet tender. While Missen stood out on stage, with a monologue to his mum being particularly moving, the entire company deserves praise for their work here.

The performers were aided by great lighting, which gave the Quays Theatre a real feeling of depth. The score, ranging from Bach to Rage Against The Machine and including some original compositions, was as diverse as the multi-faceted males it represented. As with all good modern dance it was the intertwining of music, lighting and movement that made Beauty Of The Beast work so well, with no one element overpowering the others.

While modern dance can often be impressive, it can sometimes be too abstract, making it an art form for the already initiated rather than readily accessible for the layperson. Beauty Of The Beast had no such issue as the dancing was coupled with a compelling narrative, making for a great piece that can be enjoyed by anyone, be they novice or fanatic.

Andrew Anderson

Transmissions

24 October
The Lowry

Transmissions takes a look at the serious issue of addiction. How does it affect our lives, and what does it do to our minds? To tackle the subject the play is split into two stories, with about a third of the action taking place inside someone’s brain, while the rest is a real-life relationship playing out between Jess (Rosie Fox) and Elaine (Jilly Bond). Inside the brain all is confusion, with different elements battling it out for supremacy in the quest to get more dopamine. Out in the real world a love story unravels, as the two women turn to one another, alcohol and drugs to help them to gain control of their lives.

Transmissions is a devised piece, with the script evolving from group improvisation rather than the pen of a single writer, and both its strengths and weaknesses can be traced back to this. Off-the-wall ideas, like Fox’s exaggerated Australian accent that she used in the inside-the-head scenes, gave it an immediacy and quirkiness that a straight script might lack. But it lacked continuity and clarity, and switching between the two storylines proved somewhat confusing.

As for the performance itself, Fox and Bond had a great onstage chemistry, and the tension of their early attraction could be felt in the audience. Some of the script could do with sharpening, with the quality of the dialogue being a touch uneven over the course of the performance. The brain scenes in particular could do with further development. The graphics and audio from Albino Mosquito looked good, but perhaps could be better integrated into the production itself, as they seemed tacked on as an afterthought rather than an integral storytelling device.

Huda and his team are trying to do something very difficult here as they deal with love, addiction and the science of mental health all at once – rather a lot to cover in one hour. Transmissions doesn't quite manage to do it all, but it’s full of good ideas, and I’m sure the piece will be polished and improved before reappearing in the future.

Andrew Anderson

Hoke’s Bluff

25 October
Contact Theatre

High School. Two words that define the best years of your life, where time dilates and you can be a sports hero, a celebrity or an outcast; where the world can feel so real that you want to cry, can be so exciting that it makes your bones ache, can be so sad that you think you might burst and break into a thousand fragments. This time, these feelings and those thoughts are expressed brilliantly in Hoke's Bluff, a play from Action Hero that examines the stories we tell ourselves and whether they really mean anything at all.

Set in the small town of Hoke's Bluff, the show follows the struggles of the high school’s sports stars and cheerleaders as they search for success, with plenty of hyperbole and sentimentality along the way. The show’s genius comes from its generalisation. This is not about one school’s struggles; one sports team’s triumphs; one person’s problems. This is about all people living in the modern Western world, and the narratives we use to understand ourselves.

The dialogue is repetitive and poetic, stirring up a sense of yearning, and it taps into the world of sports stories that we’re all familiar with. Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse, who play several characters and wrote the play, pour energy into everything they do, from sprinting around the room in a workout routine to dancing in costume as the high school mascot (a wildcat). Delivering their lines in a deadpan manner somehow makes you examine each word more carefully, giving them greater power than if they were emoted. The show also contains a number of musical numbers, moments of audience interaction and segue sequences that turn referee gestures into an art form, all of which add up to make this an ambitious and articulate piece of theatre.

Sometimes when you see a play you think, “I wish I had thought of that,” as it seems like something anyone could come up with. But sometimes, as was the case with Hoke's Bluff, you know you’d never have thought of it in a million years, but you’re very glad someone else did.

Andrew Anderson

Listings

Hosted by Andrew Anderson

RAMPANT CHAOS FESTIVAL
4-7 November | Various Venues | £10

Rampant Chaos, like the name suggests, is going to be, well, different. We have no idea quite what to expect from this, with one play starring three 12-year-olds and another that tells the tale of what it is like to be an animal. But it will be different. Also a great chance to check out The Great Northern Playhouse before it closes in December.

NEW STUFF
9 November | 7:30pm | Comedy Store | £3

I had the good fortune to be on the radio with comedian Harriet Dyer the other week, who was super duper. I have it on good authority that she’ll be testing new material, so it's a cheap way to see a tonne of funny stuff.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND
14 Nov-10 Jan | 2.15pm & 7.15pm | Bolton Octagon | £5.50-£22.50

An adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic, the Bolton Octagon always does a great job of transforming their space and making each show an immersive event. The costumes sound incredible, and Director Elizabeth Newman is one of the best in the North West.

BEFORE I FALL
18 November | 2pm | King's Arms, Salford | Free

An immersive theatre experience and part of Contact’s Future Fires programme. This is a chance to interact directly with local actors and become part of the performance. Email in advance to book a time slot: withouttheatre@gmail.com

THE UGLY GIRL
21 November | 8pm | The Lowry Studio, Salford | £8 - £10

Writer Terry Galloway, deaf since the age of nine, recently had a cochlear implant and has now written a musical. An international cast of disabled performers explore ideas of beauty in darkly comic fashion.

BRYONY KIMMINGS: THAT CATHERINE BENNETT SHOW
22 November | 7pm | Contact Theatre | £11/£3 conc

I was torn over what to choose from the Contact this month. Almost everything they have on at the moment looks amazing, but I am going to go with Bryony Kimmings’ new piece. This follows on from her last work, which was a moving exploration of what it means to be a ‘tween’. Expect silliness and thought-provoking moments in equal measure.