Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Grosvenor Park

Screen-Shot-2014-08-23-at-23.23.50-300x183The summer has sadly come to an end, and with it the bumper season of excellent theatre at Grosvenor Park.

Following the fantastic performance of The Comedy of Errors a couple of weeks ago, I decided to test the waters of tragedy, and booked a pair of tickets for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Used to enjoying light hearted comedies in this outdoor setting, I was anxious to find out whether this company could pull off a drama – I needn’t have worried.

Opening with the epic battle between Macbeth’s army and the allied forces of Norway and Ireland, the tone was set for the evening: brutal, bloodthirsty and brilliant! The guerrilla soldiers lugged it out and the death toll rose within minutes of the show’s beginning, all the while revealing the story’s setting during a time of great upheaval for the Scottish Kingdom. Chester Performs’ version of the play was set in an unnamed era, yet the costumes were reminiscent of WW1 uniform; a reference to this year’s centenary commemorations perhaps?

Having defeated the enemy, masked in thug-like balaclavas, Macbeth (Mark Healy) and his right hand man Banquo (Richard Pryal, doing a great job of such a serious role following his hilarious endeavours in The Comedy of Errors) are set upon by three “weird sisters”, who prophecise that Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, is soon to be “Thane of Cawdor,” and then “be King hereafter.” When Banquo asks of his own fortunes, the witches inform him that he will father a line of kings, though he himself will not be one. Fatal words indeed, as these predictions soon come to haunt and control Macbeth as he embarks on a killing spree to claim what he now sees as his destiny.

The three witches, played by Nichole and Danielle Bird, and Max Gallagher were presented with innovative flair. Having seen Macbeth on stage and in various film versions before, it was refreshing to see the portrayal of the witches not as cloaked old hags in a cliff-side, but as blood-soaked phantoms of the battlefield, appearing throughout the performance leering and grimacing at the other characters on stage, visible only to Macbeth.

Named Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan of Scotland (Peter F Gardiner), Macbeth returns to his wife, elated and full of ambition, lusting after the crown. Lady Macbeth, played by Hannah Barrie, who absolutely stole the show with her portrayal of Macbeth’s tortured, guilt-ridden accomplice, plots with her husband to murder the king upon hearing he is to visit their home, finally forcing her husband to commit the act she now so deeply desires.

The next morning, Macduff, (Thomas Richardson) discovers Duncan’s body and Macbeth is named king. Following the flight of Duncan’s heirs to England and Ireland, the new king is not content in his position for long, and remembering the witches’ prophecy, now consumed with fear of losing the crown, orders his friend Banquo to be killed next.

Known as one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays, the story then follows Macbeth and his Lady as they are consumed by guilt, and completely undone. Plagued by the ghosts of the men and women he’s killed to take the throne, Macbeth is driven mad by his deeds. In a scene where the new king invites his men to join him for a celebratory feast, Banquo’s ghost appears at the head of the table, flanked by the ghoulish witches, terrifying Macbeth. This scene was staged wonderfully, with a zombie-like Banquo crawling clumsily towards his murderer across a gigantic trestle table, arms raised and threatening towards the cowering monarch, as chairs and goblets were thrust across the floor.

Another example of an ingenious use of props occurred as a sink and a old fashioned tin bath were put to mesmerising effect. In earlier scenes, these were used as washing stations for the bloody soldiers and tired travellers, and following the emotionally charged feast, both taps were turned on full blast, threatening to drown out the conversation on stage. The dual jets competed with the actor’s voices, building suspense as Macbeth awaited news of an oncoming army, until a blood curling scream filled the air. The taps both stopped running instantly, as Lady Macbeth was pronounced dead: the water of life finally running out.

Now without wife or friend, Macbeth laments his transgressions as he prepares for the final battle against Duncan’s true heir. Ahead of the final fight, appearing from the platform at the back of the stage, Macbeth is lit from the front to create a huge black shadow baring down upon the battlefield ahead. The use of lighting was simple yet inspired, and the very timing of the performance, which was cloaked into blackness as the sun set over the closing scenes was ethereal. In this darkened setting, the actors swarmed the stage, running from every entrance into the fifth act with huge wooden crosses which they hurled into the earth to signify the graves of every fallen man in the ultimate battle for the throne. This decision really brought the battle to life, as the crucifixes meant the scale of casualties multiplied before the audience’s very eyes, making the final killing of Macbeth more poignant, as he fell amidst broken wooden props whilst the rightful heir took to the throne.

Another incredible adaptation, realised by the talented cast and crew. Unfortunately it seems, theatre this good is just a fleeting summer treat, so until next year, lets hope that Liverpool’s autumnal offering can exceed the expectations set by this expert summer programme.

Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre will be back in summer 2015. Look out for updates at www.grosvenorparkopenairtheatre.co.uk

This post was originally written for www.artinliverpool.com

Posted in chester, drama, grosvenor park, macbeth, open air theatre, play, Reviews, shakespeare, the comedy of errors, Theatre, tragedy | Leave a comment

Coming Soon: Leisure, Discipline and Punishment

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Continuing the ongoing programme of film happening here at FACT as part of Liverpool Biennial 2014, we will be hosting an evening of new moving image works entitled Leisure, Discipline and Punishment.

This collection of films, by international artists Sonia Boyce, Petra Bauer, Keren Cytter, Agnieszka Polska, and Marinella Senatore present ideas in response to the social regulations that govern our lives, and the ways in which we attempt to break or navigate these rules. These themes relate to the wider concepts currently being explored inA Needle Walks into a Haystack, the 2014 Biennial exhibition at venues around the city.

The evening will begin with a Q&A session with video artist Sonia Boyce who will be in conversation with Liverpool Biennial’s Public Programme Curator Vanessa Boni. The premiere of Boyce’s Move (2013) will follow, a new film exploring two episodes in the recent history of the Swedish city of Göteborg: the underground nightclub scene in the Haga district during the 1980s and the developments of the anti-globalization protest in the summer of 2001. In the film, Boyce sets out to examine the role that the architecture of the City plays, and how it can stimulate or block collective public action.

Throughout the evening, Petra Bauer and Marius Dybwad Brandrud ‘s Choreography for the Giants (2013) will be screened in the FACT foyer, and can be viewed before or after the main event. In this new work, Bauer looks at the procession known as the Mechelen Ommegang, a world heritage event which only takes place every twenty-five years. The last time was in 1988, and since then society has undergone many changes, and so in the film, Bauer documents the way in which the organisers have attempted the difficult task of representing societal change in the context of this public parade.

Keren Cytter’s film The Coat is currently on display as part of the Tate Collection on the second floor of the gallery and uses a dramatic soundtrack, split-screen treatments and psychedelic morphing effects to frame a dramatic, murderous love triangle. For Leisure, Discipline and Punishment, FACT will be showing Cytter’s 2013 filmCorrections, which tells the story of a man ridden with guilt for ruining his parent’s life. During the film, he compares his life to that of a cockroach, and while trying to remember what happened in the past, discovers the real reason for his guilt.

Next up, Agnieszka Polska creates a fictitious after-life for artists, in which artists of different generations meet after death in Future Days (2013). The characters appearing in her film include key figures from the twentieth-century art world and a number of forgotten Polish artists and theoreticians – an opportunity for the clued-up art fanatics in the audience to spot their heroes!

Last but not least, Marinella Senatore’s nomadic school, The School of Narrative Dance, is based on open dialogue with communities around the world. The lessons are centred around storytelling, and encompass stage techniques, poetry and oral history. The eponymous film tells the story of the school through dance, drama and movement, utilizing a unique method of storytelling in this context.

If you like what you see, then make sure to visit The Old Blind School too, where artists Peter Wächtler and Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet are also presenting film works as part of this collaborative commission.

Leisure, Discipline and Punishment takes place on Wednesday 3 September, at 6.30pm in The Box at FACT. Free tickets are available now from the Box Office, by phone on 0871 902 5737 and online

This post was originally written for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology)

Image credit: Agnieszka Polska Future Days, HD 29 min., 2013 (still). Courtesy of the artist.

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Film Round Up: Liverpool Biennial 2014

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Peter Wächtler, Untitled, 2013 video, 14’ 14” on view at The Old Blind School 

In contemporary art exhibitions, film installation and video art play as big a role as any other medium, which is echoed in the exciting array of video work being shown for A Needle Walks into a Haystack. To celebrate these artists, we take a look at a selection of the films in this year’s Biennial Exhibition, and uncover where you can see more film around the city this summer.

#1: Jef Cornelis 

Belgian television director Jef Cornelis made over 200 films during his career, which spanned over 30 years and captured many of the changes and innovations taking place in the art world during that time. For Liverpool Biennial 2014, a special exhibition featuring a selection of these films takes place in St. Andrews Gardens, a 1930s art deco-inspired Grade II Listed building once known as the ‘Bullring’ which started life as council housing and has been refurbished more recently for student accommodation. In this domestic setting, the exhibition is first of its kind in the UK and includes a huge variety of films, from interviews with Richard Hamilton and Andy Warhol to coverage of art festivals such as Documenta

Cornelis explored how art, architecture and culture are represented and talked about – all the while asking questions about the medium of television itself. Often broadcast during prime slots in the evening, the content and style of his television programmes interrupted the comfortable routine of home viewing. In a selection curated by Koen Brams, these works have been newly translated into English, making this a must-see retrospective of his work. 

Read more about Cornelis’ work in the  Tate Papers.

#2: Sharon Lockhart

At FACT, Sharon Lockhart presents Podwórka, a film made in 2009 which explores how a group of children in the Polish city of Lodz use the dilapidated courtyards (podwórka) where they live as an imaginative play-space. Across six courtyards, we see parking lots, storage units, and metal armatures become jungle gyms, sandboxes, and football fields demonstrating the resourcefulness of childhood. On Friday 17 October, FACT will host the world premiere of Lockhart’s newest film, for which she returned to Poland to work with a young girl named Milena whom she met whilst filming Podwórka. Milena also appears in a series of photographs taken by the artist on display in the foyer at FACT.

Sharon Lockhart, Podwórka, 2009. © Sharon Lockhart, 2008 Courtesy the artist, neugerriemschneider, Berlin, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

To accompany the exhibition, Lockhart has also curated a film programme showing fortnightly on Wednesday evenings at FACT. The films explore themes of childhood and have so far included Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, shot over a 12 year period with the same cast, and Haifaa al-Mansour’s Wadjda, the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director.

#3: Peter Wächtler

“A shakily-drawn cartoon rat enters a room and gets into a sad-looking bed, sleeps and when morning comes, rises and leaves.” Writing for The Double Negative, Richard Whitby refers to one of Peter Wächtler‘s untitled films as his favourite piece of work in the whole Biennial Exhibition. A series of three shorts, each narrated in the artists accented melancholy monologue finds a dark humour and platform for the exploration of contemporary social issues in some of the most unexpected of places. See all three works and a selection of watercolours and sculptures by the artist at The Old Blind School.

#4: Louise Hervé & Chloé Maillet

As part of the group exhibition at  The Old Blind School, artists Louise Hervé & Chloé Maillet present The Waterway (2014), Treatise on Baths (2013) and A Recess and a Reconstruction(2011). Weaving together themes inspired by science-fiction and historical fact, the duo build narratives exploring our present and possible dystopian future. In one film, Hervé & Mailletcombine marine archaeology, Thalassotherapy (the medical use of seawater as a form of therapy), forgotten civilisations, immortality and post-humanity in a nightmarish vision of a world inhabited by amphibious beings.

Still from The Waterway, 2014. HD video. Photo Credit: red shoes│SOME SHOES /I. I. I. I. courtesy Marcelle Alix Gallery with support from Pole image Haute-Normandie, Région Pays de Loire, La Passerelle.

#5: Hairy Who & The Chicago Imagists

Tuesday 16 September, 6.30pm
£6 / £5 conc

A special film screening of Leslie Buchbinder’s film Hairy Who & The Chicago Imagists with a Q&A afterwards takes place at FACT. Featuring work from Christina Ramberg, part of the group exhibition at The Old Blind School, Hairy Who… is a lavishly-illustrated romp through Chicago Imagist art: the Second City scene that challenged Pop Art’s status quo in the 1960s, then faded from view. Forty years later, its funk and grit inspires artists from Jeff Koons to Chris Ware, making the Imagists the most famous artists you never knew.

Karl Wirsum at the Hyde Park Art Center, 1967. Photo by: William Arsenault. Courtesy of Pentimenti Productions.

#6: Leisure, Discpline and Punishment with Q&A

Wednesday 3 September, 6.30pm
Free, booking required

Presented at FACT, this special commission for Liverpool Biennial 2014 invites you to an evening of new moving image works by Sonia Boyce, Petra Bauer, Keren Cytter, Agnieszka Polska, and Marinella Senatore, that respond broadly to the regulations and social orders that govern our lives – and in turn, the way that we attempt to break or navigate these rules. A Q&A session with artist Sonia Boyce precedes the screening of the films. 

This is a selection of some of the films being shown throughout the festival, and there is yet more to discover. At Tate Liverpool, within Claude Parent’s La colline de l’art you will find Trisha Brown’s Water Motor, whilst upstairs in the display of works from the Tate Collection is Keren Cytter’s The Coat. Meanwhile, at The Old Blind School, there are further film works by Chris Evans (Company, second floor) and Uri Aran (The Donut Gang, first floor), as well as a ‘floating cinema’ on the top floor, where you will find Judith Hopf and Henrik Olesen’s Türen/Doors. In addition to this, discover Michael Nyman’s film installation Aztecs in Liverpool at the Walker Art Gallery, or venture into venues such as The Royal Standard and 24 Kitchen Street for an experience of what else the city has to offer in terms of film this summer.

This post was originally written for Liverpool Biennial

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The Role of the Artist: Using the Arts for Social Change

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“Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.” – Bertolt Brecht

In mid-July, I attended a talk hosted by DadaFest with special guests Roger Hill (Broadcaster, Performer & Artist) and Ruth Gould (Artistic Director of DaDaFest). The topic of conversation? When is art for more than just art’s sake? The arts have the power to alter both the personal and political, challenging people’s views and impacting the structures of society. So should art always communicate a political message? Or is it okay to sit back and enjoy creativity, regardless of intent?

Roger Hill opened the evening’s discussion with a bold statement; “If the person who affects change is the Mayor of Liverpool, then you’ve got to go and do whatever it is in his office”. So, to change the system through your work, be it visual or performance-based,  it is important to engage people who have political power. But will those powerful individuals listen, and are they open-minded enough to understand that message? Roger stated that he believes the role of the artist is to “precipitate openness”, to deconstruct society and to enforce change. I similarly believe that political and social messages can convey great meaning and reach a great audience through art, and so placing this mantle on the shoulders of the artist is in some ways just. This sharing of information is a huge part of social change, and if artists can precipitate this by conveying meaning through their talent, then why not share that information with the person at the top?

Countering this argument, Ruth Gould pointed out that politicians are not around forever, so you need to convince the people, not them. I found this to be a reasoned response, grounded in a clever logic: even if you got that ticket into 10 Downing Street, said your piece and convinced Cameron of your ideas, he’s still not the only one you need to get on side. Whatever legislation he comes up with next would need to be accepted by his peers, and more importantly, the public. Just because the government says something is so, it doesn’t make the people like it or want live with it, and there are countless examples of laws and actions in recent history that we have risen up against. Ruth believes influencing the views of even just one person at a time means empowerment for the arts and for disabled people, which is something DaDafest is working hard to achieve. And besides, the next election is always just around the corner.

But does art even need to do any of the above to be called art? The medium itself is not always about audience – art can be part of self-renewal, a private practice to better oneself, to come to terms with an emotional experience or simply to produce something to be proud of. Roger suggested that creating art can also be a rehearsal for the society you want to be a part of, where the artist has control of the future and is able to shape it, making it perfect and beautiful.

It is also true that art can be complicit in social orthodoxy, and used as a commodity by the powers that be. Art is forever tied up in a relationship with the economy and the recession filters the kind of art we see; take for example Arts Council funding. In order for an individual, collective or organisation to gain funding, they must first submit a proposal to a powerful body which then decides whose project is worthy of their money. These gatekeepers therefore play a crucial part in choosing what art is produced, and perhaps more sinisterly, what is prevented from reaching that grander scale of public influence. With a lot of public art in effect being paid for by the government, could it be that art is sometimes part of a political cover-up rather than as the solution to social change?

The next idea to be discussed was what artists must do in order for their art to enact change; should an artwork shock its audience, and what is the perceived point in this? As Roger pointed out, there is no larger effect if what we get from art is exactly what we expect; disruption must occur, and the audience must be encouraged to think about things differently if they are to learn or understand a new idea or concept, or even just be left with a lasting impression or memory of what they have seen.

 

Norma Jeane

Norma Jeane

A way for this to happen is for the artist or performer to change the relationship between artist and audience; take for instance one of the artists taking part in this year’s Liverpool Biennial, Norma Jeane. Norma Jeane is an artist “without a fixed body, gender, or biography”*. The artist was born in LA on the night that Marilyn Monroe died, and by taking over her birth name and using this persona to contain a wide range of different personalities, her ideas translate into participatory works of contemporary art where the audience is as much responsible for the outcome as the artist. This is a trend with potential across all artistic mediums, and by inviting the viewer to be part of the work, the audience feels responsible for the result – a phenomenon that could translate into better education and social change.

Next, we pondered why it seems that only small independent organisations face the expectation to be actively in support of change and social justice, and why the expectation is not always the same of larger institutions who have the resources and backing to actually contend with serious issues. This relates back to the ideas discussed around revenue streams, and how those with the power (the boards funding bigger arts organisations) can actually prevent politics from entering into the gallery (or performance) space. Ruth explained at times being faced with the ultimatum: are you a political organisation for social justice, or an arts organisation? For her, and for the people of Liverpool and beyond, DaDafest has thankfully managed to transcend this boundary and define itself as both; facilitating great art as well as fighting for equality.

For DaDaFest, fighting for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the arts, is part of a much wider issue of equality. As Ruth pointed out, “disability is a human issue, not just something for disabled people to think about”, reminding everyone present that we are all simply “temporarily abled”. Only 17% of people classed as disabled were actually born with their disabilities, whilst the majority acquire their disability during their working lives, through age, injury or otherwise.

47% of disabled people are currently in work compared to 77% of non disabled people, which is a shocking statistic given the advances society should have made on matters such as these by 2014. As well as the distinct lack of opportunities, disabled people are often treated differently on a day to day basis, because there is a lack of knowledge around disability. As such, it is the media who must become more reflective of the disabled population if those with disabilities are to be accepted on a social level. Currently, 18% of the UK population are disabled (efds.co.uk) but this translates to only 3.8% of BBC employees.

We live in a “mediated society”,  and the rare false-positive images of disabled people in the media misrepresent the truth, causing us to ignore the very real problems people are having to deal with. Proper education is the key to encouraging  society to be more accepting of those with disabilities, and DaDaFest are amongst those who believe that this positive re-education can be made possible through art. DaDaFest make it possible for disabled artists to be seen as artists, not defined by their physical capacity but by their artistic talent, and respected as such.

So what is the purpose of art? Roger Hill summed it up: “If art doesn’t celebrate or criticise, then there is no point”, and surely these are the only prompts an artist would need when sitting in front of a blank piece of paper to suddenly find themselves inspired. The idea of art either having to celebrate goodness or to highlight society’s wrongs encompasses all that an artist could hope to create in order to produce a positive, constructive outcome from its audience. I can’t think of a better reason to write an article or compose a review other than to celebrate or criticise. If art doesn’t comment on life in some way, then it can be of little interest or relevance to its audience.

Let us hope then, that DaDaFest and artists across the country can continue to produce art that is for more than just art’s sake, and inspire social change through their work and practice.

This event ran in conjunction with an exhibition about positive images of adults with learning difficulties in the media, entitled Working Lives: Here and There.

* http://ow.ly/AE4NA

This post was originally written for Art in Liverpool

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We Hope This Isn’t Goodbye: Liverpool Academy of Arts

George Harrison by Deirdre Foy, oil on Dutch metal.

George Harrison by Deirdre Foy, oil on Dutch metal.

As many of you have probably already heard, Liverpool Academy of Arts, a venue which has earned its place on the Liverpool art scene through 25 years hard work and devotion to local artists, is set to be closed down. For a brand new gallery for the city? No. For much-needed artist studios and performance spaces? No. The reason? For yet more student accommodation.

Sculptor Arthur Dooley dreamt of creating a ‘gallery of the people’ and opened Liverpool Academy of Arts at 36 Seel Street back in 1988 with its premiere exhibition of work by artist Mick Lawson. By 1989, recently retired theatrical costumier June Lornie had been persuaded to manage the gallery full time – an enterprise she has maintained tirelessly ever since. Meanwhile, Arthur continued to produce his own work, remaining President of the gallery until 1994 when he passed. In 2007 the gallery moved next door to a bigger space, installed a stage for performances and became a registered charity – a busy year for June and all involved! “We were offered the building next door to have just one exhibition but ended up staying!” June remembers. Run by volunteers, the gallery has since seen many more exhibitions, concerts and even operas.

Marie McGowan has been volunteering at the gallery for eight years and told me that “June has given so many artists their first opportunity to show their work. We’ve seen how they have progressed as they have gained confidence and gone on to build an artistic profile.” Marie has been exhibiting at the gallery herself since 2004 when her art class collaborated for a show, and after that formed art group Collidoscope, who have exhibited regularly ever since.

Cherie Grist, mixed media on wood.

It is important to note that LAA is an independent, non-funded organisation and registered Charity, with a great respect for like-minded ventures. “We love Independents in this city, whether it’s coffee shops, bookshops, bars, bakeries or restaurants, so surely there is a place for an independent art gallery?” Marie asks. This gallery, thanks to June’s organisation and dedication, Dave Lornie’s behind-the-scenes input, and the hard work of a team of passionate, unpaid volunteers has produced over two decades of opportunities and memories for the artists of Merseyside, and it is crushing to think of all this being stripped away for the sake of commercial redevelopment.

The current exhibition Finale! is the last to be held at Liverpool Academy of Arts, and is crammed with works produced by artists from all over Liverpool and beyond. From music-inspired portraits to abstract art and costumes, this eclectic exhibition reflects a talented arts community who will surely miss this space when it is gone.

So how can you help? June is now seeking new premises for the gallery, and welcomes any suggestions. “I feel so sad to have to leave what has been my life for so many years and I have met so many people who have become close friends. 36 Seel Street has been a meeting place, and in my opinion there will never be any place like it again.”

Marie added “A recent comment on our Facebook page said it all, ‘A gift from June to all of Liverpool, I’m so very grateful.’ And so am I, for all the support and encouragement June has given me over the years.”

Liverpool Academy of Arts would like to thank all of the people who have made the gallery a success for the past 25 years; from the many loyal volunteers, to landlord and patron Allan Johnstone who let the building to Arthur and then June. On a personal note, June adds “I would like to wish Sue in the cafe John Cooper, English Rice Productions and the rest of the people who work at number 36 all the luck in the future.”

Finale will be on display at Liverpool Academy of Arts, 32 Seel Street until 28 August. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday 12-4pm.

This post was written for Art in Liverpool

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The Comedy of Errors, Grosvenor Park

 

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Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre know how to do comedy, that’s for sure. Last summer, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend A Midsummer Night’s Dream (review here), and this time around for The Comedy of Errors, that magical experience continued.

Artistic Director Alex Clifton has managed proceedings for five years now and the increasingly high standard of production, as well as the incredible performances from the hugely talented cast the company has brought together, are testament to his vision. Clifton set out to provide an experience that would “captivate and entrance” his audience; a success of which he can be sure.

This year’s season of “carefree picnic theatre” includes Shakespearean farce The Comedy of Errors, an adaptation of children’s classic The Secret Garden, and bloodthirsty tragedy Macbeth. Having little prior knowledge of The Comedy of Errors, I decided to unashamedly avoid reading up on this particular piece of literature and let the live production, as last time, speak for itself.

The premise of the story is this; two sets of identical twins, separated at birth in truly fantastical Shakespearean style grow up in two faraway cities. When unforeseen circumstances cause one mismatched pair to turn up in the home city of the other, a ludicrous and highly entertaining case of mistaken identity unfolds, resulting in unfounded accusations, misguided seductions and a bizarre string of confrontations none of the characters can even begin to understand.

The show opens with a rag-tag troop of characters performing a series of old fashioned Cockney knees-ups – a musical introduction to the array of contemporary pop hits that would seamlessly punctuate the night’s performance. Kathryn Delaney’s husky southern twang led the chorus, with Max Gallagher’s unexpected proficiency on the accordion providing the musical accompaniment.

The supporting cast were brilliant throughout, providing light relief with slapstick cameos as well as narrating the story with a series of musical interludes taken from the unlikely songbooks of Sinead O’Connor, Whitney Houston and Britney Spears. If this sounds completely out of place, think again. The soundtrack to the show, overseen by Musical Director Harry Blake is perfectly pitched and surprisingly in keeping with the tone of the play, expertly overlaying verses of flamboyant iambic pentameter with a simple recognisable hook.

As well as helping to ‘translate’ the story for the modern audience, these tuneful additions provided the opportunity for the actors to show off their musical prowess, with a full live band making the midsummer performance even more magical.

The two sets of twins, played by real-life twins Danielle and Nichole Bird (Dromio of Ephesus and of Syracuse), and look-alikes Richard Pryal and Thomas Richardson (as Antipholus of Ephesus and of Syracuse) were brilliantly cast and expertly carried the show. A huge fan of Danielle and Nichole following their joint performance of Puck inA Midsummer Night’s Dream (2013), it was great to see the male actors hold their own besides this familial tour de force. Excellent comic timing combined with great chemistry on stage made each pair a real treat to watch.

Also wrapped up in this unlikely tale were Louise Kempton as wife Adriana, who mistakes Antipholus’ twin brother for her husband and becomes entangled in a love triangle she cannot comprehend. Her sister Luciana (Kezrena James) also falls for the exotic twin, but believing him to be her brother-in-law denies her lust. A similar fate awaits the servant twins; Dromio of Ephesus and sister Dromio of Syracuse have never met, and their presence in the same city continues to baffle everyone around them as they unwittingly cause mayhem whilst trying to set things right.

This comic classic of Jacobean theatre proves a fantastic adaptation and continues in demonstrating the capabilities of Chester Performs as a forerunner in the outdoor theatre scene. From a beautiful setting (what more could you ask for?) and great choice of programme, to the talented cast and production team, The Comedy of Errors delivers on laughs throughout and if you’re a fan of a happy ending, well, I’m sure you can guess the rest.

There are just 3 weeks left to see all three shows, and I certainly hope to catch them all before the summer is out! Book your tickets here.

Find out more about Chester Performs, their other projects and their involvement in ongoing redevelopment projectRE:NEW.

@chesterperforms #GPOAT

This review was written for Art in Liverpool

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What’s next for Festival of Firsts?

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Earlier this year, when Wirral Festival of Firsts 2014 announced its full programme, organisers boasted that this year’s festival was set to be the best yet. This may have seemed a dangerous assertion back in May, but Art in Liverpool can now report that it really was: with record numbers of visitors at festival events, more funds than ever before raised for Claire House and many stand-out moments, the Festival of Firsts team can give themselves a bit of a pat on the back.

Amongst those key moments this summer were the “Festi-Velo” and Parade on Saturday 12 July. This day long celebration was led by the Off Pitch choir singing aboard an open-top bus, followed by over 50 decorated bikes, embellished rickshaws and accessorised milk floats, courtesy of Morton Dairies, Hoylake. The Festi-velo was followed by a walking parade of groups such as the Wirral Pipe Band and the Big Easy Jazz men.

The BSide the Cside show on Sunday 13 July was another memorable event. The Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra opened the show followed by a community sing-along version of the Pirates of Penzance, with the Grace Darling driftwood installation by Frank Lund as the back drop. Later on, John Gorman compèred an afternoon medley of musical performances with the Rock Choir closing the show.

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Festival-goers also won’t forget international classical guitar star Craig Ogden’s performance, nor that of poet and comedian Ian McMillan, who teased laughs from the crowd throughout his set. More famous faces appearing in this year’s line-up included Harry Hill, Mike McCartney, Willy Russell and David Crystal as well music from the Wirral Ukulele Orchestra, the Wirral Symphonic Wind Band, the Wirral Community Orchestra, amongst others.

The Festival also enjoyed an array of premieres: from the first Wirral Mass by Clare Madely and John Gorman, to the world premiere of Hyacinth Sweeney Dixon’s play Rosa starring Perri Alleyne-Hughes and the first full production of Tim, an Ordinary Boy by Steve Regan, there were certainly a few ‘firsts’. In addition, Gallery Hoylake encouraged artists to work closely with shop proprietors to develop original window displays, over 120 poems were displayed in shopfronts throughout Hoylake and West Kirby, and Art at the Parade and Art on the Promenade drew record numbers of artists wanting to display their work.

There were also some ‘Firsts’ winners this year, thanks to Wirral Festival of Firsts’ aim to inspire and encourage new work through a series of competitions. Organised in collaboration with Art in Liverpool and Art Club, Steve Deer won the Festival’s second annual online photographic competition with his photo Mr Diggles, with second and third place awarded to Patrick M Higgins and Bel Shaw, who also won the People’s Choice award. First place in the online art competition also run by the festival was earned by Amanda Oliphant, with artists Kevin Adams and Nigel Morris as the runners up.

With so much going on, it’s been a busy few months, so what’s next for Festival of Firsts? Run entirely by volunteers, the organisers are already looking for people who can offer their time and skills over the next year to plan the 2015 instalment. Festival of Firsts is a community association, holding annual public meetings to report on activities and finances and elect their executive. The next Annual General Meeting is open to anyone interested in supporting next year’s event, and it will take place at Holiday Inn Express, Hoylake on Tuesday 2 September, at 7.30pm. There are many roles and responsibilities to suit all interests and availabilities and everyone is welcome to get involved.

For more information about the Festival, visit www.festivaloffirsts.com. For general festival enquiries, please contact Judy Ugonna, Festival Manager 2014 by emailing judy.ugonna@gmail.com or calling 01516322750.

This post was written for Art in Liverpool

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