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National Youth Theatre and Contact, Manchester: Putting young people centre stage

With National Youth Theatre Chair Dawn Airey and Artistic Director Paul Roseby
With National Youth Theatre Chair Dawn Airey and Artistic Director Paul Roseby

In this age of extremes, I often find myself at the sharp end of funding squeezes, local authority cuts, and am continually alarmed by the devastating demise of arts in our state schools.

As you can imagine, it truly depresses me. 

So, I was delighted to be invited to a soft-launch of the National Youth Theatre’s award-worthy £4m refurbished premises on Holloway Road.

The National Youth Theatre’s HQ, Holloway Road, London

The organisation nurtured Daniel Craig, Helen Mirren, Zawe Ashton and many more of our theatre legends.

Speaking at the supporters event, dynamic NYT CEO and Artistic Director Paul Roseby said: “Cuts to the arts in our state schools have led to a significant pressure on organisations like ours that work with young people to bridge the gap. What’s going on across these revitalised spaces here are all about giving young people the chance to start again. Failure is what we are about, and we embrace that as much as success.”

He continued: “If you are a youth organisation you have to stick your neck out; it’s now more important than ever before.” 

Certainly, school reforms have caused pupils to move away from arts subjects such as dance, music and art, and towards more traditional academic subjects such as geography and English. What’s more, recent analysis of government data shows that the number of GCSE music and drama students has fallen by a fifth over the last decade.

Outside the M25, Manchester’s Contact Theatre on Oxford Road, closed in 2017 but has also just reopened following a £6m ‘youth led’ revamp. 

First established as a theatre in 1972, in 1999 Contact reinvented itself as a multi-disciplinary creative space specialising in producing work with, and providing opportunities for, young people aged 13 to 30. 

Contact Young Company, Everything All of the Time

What’s so brilliant about Contact is under Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Matt Fenton, this significant refurbishment was led by a dedicated team of young people at Contact – who had their say on everything from light fittings to consultations with the architects.  

Speaking at the Press Night of Contact Young Company’s excellent show Everything All of the Time, Fenton said: “Young people should have access to free, high-quality and world-class creative resources to express themselves, to find their politics, find themselves and to then go out into the world and do amazing things. Contact has always done that, but this building now allows us to do that at such a higher level.” 

The iconic Contact, Oxford Road in Manchester

There has been a radical growth in the knowledge economy and creative industries over the past decade. It goes without saying that an education that includes creative subjects facilitates critical thinking and increases emotional resilience.

Quite simply, it is a proven fact how small investments return massively more than was spent and the cultural impact it has on our children is huge. What might a viable, authentic, enduring kind of ‘levelling up’ look like?

Nobody I speak to understands what it means – despite the government’s levelling-up fund of £4.8bn, and places now bidding for help with “town and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural heritage assets”. 

Anyway, according to a recent report UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre cultural organisations across the UK save the NHS £102 million a year thanks to the physical and mental health benefits to attendees.

Remarkably, the report found that the NHS saves a yearly total of £11.91 for every person partaking in such an activity, from a reduction in GP visits and use of psychotherapy services.

But as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, the National Youth Theatre and Contact investing in these spaces for the next generation of dramatic talent offers us all hope. I left both occasions feeling a sense of optimism that I had not felt for some years.

There is an overwhelming sense, too, that we are at a turning point and that the arts can and must play a leading role in developing talent, protecting communities, as well as in fighting cuts in higher education and cultural education in schools.

It demonstrates, quite pertinently, that in order avoid widening inequality of access to the arts, that theatres across the country must enact their civic duty – not only to plug the gaps, but to truly level up every part of the UK.

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Manchester International Festival 2021 programme announced

Manchester International Festival (MIF), returns from 1-18 July with a vibrant programme of original new work from across the spectrum of visual and performing arts and music by artists from over 20 countries.

The reasonably amazing lineup includes Angélique Kidjo, Akram Khan, Arlo Parks, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Boris Charmatz, Cerys Matthews, Christine Sun Kim, Cillian Murphy, Deborah Warner, Forensic Architecture, Ibrahim Mahama, Kemang Wa Lehulere, Laure Prouvost, Marta Minujín, Lemn Sissay and Patti Smith

  • Events will take place safely in indoor and outdoor locations across Greater Manchester, including the first ever work on the construction site of The Factory, the landmark cultural space that will be MIF’s future home
  • A rich online offer will provide a window into the Festival wherever audiences are, including livestreams and work created especially for the digital realm
  • With almost all the work created in the past year, MIF21 provides a unique snapshot of these unprecedented times. Artists have reflected on ideas such as love and human connections, the way we play, division and togetherness, equality and social change, and the relationship between the urban and the rural
  • For the first time, the curation of the Festival’s talks and discussions programme has been handed over to local people, building on MIF’s work involving the community as artistic collaborators and participants in work shaped by them
  • Festival Square returns in new location Cathedral Gardens with a packed programme of food, drink and free live music, DJs and more
  • As one of the first major public events in the city, MIF21 will play a key role in the safe reopening of the city’s economy and provide employment for hundreds of freelancers and artists
  • Much of the programme will be free to attend, with more work than ever in public spaces around the city

People sitting outside in the sunshine at tables in MIF's pop-up Festival Square in Manchester

Headshot of John McGrath

John McGrath, the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of MIF.

Manchester International Festival Artistic Director & Chief Executive, John McGrath says: “MIF has always been a Festival like no other – with almost all the work being created especially for us in the months and years leading up to each Festival edition.  But who would have guessed two years ago what a changed world the artists making work for our 2021 Festival would be working in?”

“I am thrilled to be revealing the projects that we will be presenting from 1-18 July this year – a truly international programme of work made in the heat of the past year and a vibrant response to our times. Created with safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything, it is flexible to ever-changing circumstances, and boldly explores both real and digital space.

“We hope MIF21 will provide a time and place to reflect on our world now, to celebrate the differing ways we can be together, and to emphasise, despite all that has happened, the importance of our creative connections – locally and globally.”

Hop along to the MIF official website from from Thurs 20 May 2021 if you’re interested

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Look Ahead: Theatre Streaming in March

At last! A roadmap – the prime minister has announced a timeline for when theatres and other live events venues may be able to reopen.

All being well, indoor and outdoor theatres will be allowed to reopen with social distancing from May 17.

Hmmmmmmmmm.

Anyway, here are some of the best shows streaming online now or later in March.

Whatever you decide to stream this month – please check out Richard Blackwood in Soho Theatre’s breathless reimagining of the tragic final hours of Christopher Alder’s life: Typical is a terrific and powerful monologue that deserves another life when All This is over.

Richard Blackwood in Typical

Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s Olivier Award winning Emilia will be streaming for all of March on a pay what you decide basis (from £1.00). A blazing take on Emilia Bassano, a 17th century poet who struggled to get her voice heard in a patriarchal world. Now you know.

Kiln Theatre is streaming a reading of new play Girl on the Altar by Marina Carr, streams for free on 5 March.

A new folk musical, by Robin Simões da Silva and Annabel Mutale Reed, Brother will be streamed live from Southwark Playhouse – the show follows a young transgender man finding his way in the world. Streaming live 5-6 March.

Recorded at the London Palladium and hosted by Sheridan Smith, Musicals: The Greatest Show featuredMichael Ball, Nicole Scherzinger and more belting West End classics with a couple of songs from recent British hits Six and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Not awful and still available on BBC iPlayer. 

Musicals: The Greatest Show – Layton Williams

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester’s latest digital offering is a multiple-choice cabaret featuring 14 musical performers. Conceived by Ryan Carter, The Secret Society of Leading Ladies is a clever concept; there are a possible 150 combinations in which to see a five-song concert. Available until 7 March.

The Old Vic has revealed two commissioned monologues created to mark International Women’s Day on March 8: Putting A Face On by Kiri Pritchard-McLean and Regina Taylor’s Aisha (the black album). Available on YouTube for free. 

Adam Kashmiry plays himself in excellent play Adam, the story of a transgender man who sought asylum in Scotland. Now, the BBC has teamed up with National Theatre Scotland for a specially crafted recording as part of the BBC Arts Lights Up for New Culture in Quarantine season. Following its BBC Four premiere, Adam will be available on BBC iPlayer.

The Whip, Juliet Gilkes’s resonant play about 19th-century slavery-abolition legislation, has had a new audio recording commissioned by the RSC. On YouTube until 16 March.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett and director by Tamara Harvey is a starry digital adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic with Gray depicted as an “influencer”. Streams 16-31 March.

Last year’s virtual celebration of the work of Stephen Sondheim, Take Me To the World is still available on YouTube – why not watch it again on Steve’s birthday, Tuesday  22  March. I’ll drink to that!

By the way, the original 1980 Broadway production of the Stephen Schwartz musical Pippin –  directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse  –is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

If you have a show streaming during the month of March or suggestions for my blog get in touch – this will be updated weekly. Cheers! E: mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com

Look Ahead: Theatre streaming in February

The Color Purple – Concert company

Here is a list of shows that are streaming throughout February – some good stuff, I’m sure you will agree.

In all the Seyi Omooba shambles you may have missed that Curve in Leicester’s special concert version of musical The Color Purple musical is being streamed from 16 February – 7 March. 2,000 free tickets are also available to NHS staff. Nicely done everyone.

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch is streaming new comedy, Sharon ‘n’ Barry do ‘Romeo & Juliet’, on Zoom from February 25 until March 6. We could all do with a laugh.

Until The Flood

The Traverse Theatre near-verbatim 2019 production Until The Flood contains ugly truths about race in the United States. Dael Orlandersmith’s absorbing play is free and currently available on the theatre’s website. Go!

Alison Carr’s audio play We step outside and start to dance is available as a download – it is free and comes as an BSL interpreted and captioned film. And to think they say theatre can’t push boundaries and remain accessible.

Northern Ballet are currently releasing pay what you can digital content fortnightly until 19 March. Now you know.

Featuring a breakneck performance by Joseph Potter, Philip Ridley’s monologue – originally seen at Southwark Playhouse – We Are Tramp’s piece The Poltergeist is now available to stream. Catch it online until 28 February.

In Lolita Chakrabarti’s new play Hymn two men meet at a funeral and their lives become entwined. The Almeida’s production, starring Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani, will be live-streamed instead, watch from 17 until 20 February.

Shook

Shook

Samuel Bailey, a writer of considerable talent, was all set for his play Shook to transfer to Trafalgar Studios before the viral plague put a stop to that.

His Papatango new writing Prize-winning piece had its world premiere at Southwark Playhouse in 2019 and has now been filmed and available to watch online from 5 – 28 February.

Tron theatre’s captivating series of experimental audio dramas are being released weekly as podcasts, do check them out.

Slava’s Snowshow

Slava’s Snowshow

From 18 February, Original Theatre are releasing a four-part monologue series starring Jon Culshaw, Matthew Kelly, Jemma Redgrave and Adrian Scarborough. Available until 31 July.

Riz Ahmed’s 30 minute live music show – commissioned by the Manchester International Festival – The Long Goodbye: Livestream Edition – is available to stream right now, in fact and until 1 March, and very enjoyable it is too.

Oh, while I remember, the magical Slava’s Snowshow is steaming on BroadwayHD from 8 February. A glorious spectacle of balloons, paper and clowning around.

Any excuse for a bit of Stephen Sondheim – there is another chance to see Chichester Festival Theatre’s Celebrating Sondheim Concert – it is re-streaming on 22 March – Steve’s birthday no less – this concert stars Clive Rowe, Jenna Russell and Hannah Waddingham & more. On demand until 25 March.

And finally, don’t despair if you’re not with a loved one on Valentine’s Day: Evan Hansen himself Sam Tutty is starring in Romeo & Juliet in a clever filmed production of Shakespeare’s tragedy – set in the aftermath of an actual pandemic, runs 13-20 February.

If you are streaming a show or concert and have any other recommendations please do get in touch.

E: mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com

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Look Ahead: Theatre streaming in January

You might say “Carl why haven’t you put a list together of all the shows that are available for virtual viewing, are you having another meltdown” and, yes, fair point but what can you do in The General Circumstances Of A Global Pandemic.

Anyway, below is a list of the best pre-recorded or live shows available to stream during lockdown 3 (you’re welcome)

Lazarus

David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s musical Lazarus – the stage sequel to The Man Who Fell The Earth starring Michael C Hall – is streaming this weekend (8 – 10 Jan) and timed to mark Bowie’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of his death.

Lazarus

Very few people saw it in 2015, due to the shortness of the run, secrecy of the process, and the size of the venues at the New York Theatre Workshop and Kings Cross pop-up production.  I did, and it is really quite terrific.

Disney+

There is a whole area of Disney+ dedicated to musicalsa 160-minute live recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original stage production of musical Hamilton is still on the streaming service. For now…

(Fun fact: if you’re new to O2 or upgrading, you can get 6 months of Disney+ for free – hurrah).

National Theatre at Home

Our Royal National Theatre has launched a pay-for-plays streaming service – it costs £9.98 a month or £5.99-£7.99 per play. The NT’s 2020 panto, Dick Whittington, is available from 11 January for six weeks and new plays are added to the collection each month.

Note: National Theatre at Home would be a lot better with Follies on it. 

Bush Theatre

The Bush’s experimental trans monologue Overflow (Jan 18-23) by Travis Alabanza (Burgerz) streams digitally.

Now you know.

Digital Theatre 

Digital Theatre has more than 100 world class theatre experiences to watch, Funny Girl, starring Sheridan Smith, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production of Into The Woods and more.

Funny Girl

You can rent productions from £7.99 each or sign up for unlimited streaming for £9.99 a month.

The Shows Must Go On! YouTube Channel

Free weekly shows and concerts: The Shows Must Go On! is still going. Loads of random crap ends up being streamed for free on this channel. However, just occasionally an absolute classic does land. See: 42nd Street just before Christmas.

Don’t forget to donate if you watch too, obviously.

BBC iPlayer

I mean, Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, Uncle Vanya and Northern Ballet are all on the BBC’s free streaming service. Do some digging around and pay your licence fee, citizens.

Bristol Old Vic – at Home

Bristol Old Vic has a live streamed productions and archive productions coming up including ‘Sherlock in Holmes – an online murder mystery’. You can Buy a Season Pass for just £12.99 which features a “rare bootleg capture” of the Bristol production of musical The Grinning Man is available until 28 February.

The Old Vic

The London theatre is re-streaming two productions from its In Camera initiative including Faith Healer (20-22 Jan) starring Michael Sheen and Lungs (27-29 Jan) featuring Matt Smith and Clare Foy. Both shows are available from a tenner.

Sky Arts

Last year, Britain’s only television channel dedicated solely to culture, Sky Arts, became free for everyone. Hurrah.

Rose

To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Martin Sherman’s Rose, starring Dame Maureen Lipman, will be free to watch on Sky Arts (27 Jan). The channel is available to Sky, Virgin Media and Talk Talk TV customers.

The Case of the Hung Parliament 

This online Sherlock Holmes whodunnit by Les Enfants Terribles and the virtual reality company LIVR, TCOTP is an immersive alternative to traditional boardgames. (27 Jan-17 Feb).

Nottingham Playhouse Christmas shows

After the year we all had, we certainly deserve to keep the Christmas cheer going a little longer.

Alas, you can watch the Playhouse’s panto Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk for ages 3-8 for £10 and £20 respectively – on demand until 16 January.

 

Sunset Boulevard 

Leicester Curve’s digital concert production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of 1950 film Sunset Boulevard – smartly staged and lavishly produced stream – starring Ria Jones and Danny Mac has been extended by a week and will now be available to stream online until 17 January. It is the best of the bunch of streaming musicals right now.

Shakespeare’s Globe’s digital platform: Globe Player

Twelfth Night

There are more than 130 professionally filmed plays to rent (£5.99) or own (£11.99) from the Globe’s streaming platform. Highlights include Emma Rice’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and a hypnotic Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry.

There we have it.

If you are streaming a show or have any other recommendations please get in touch.

E: mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com

I will be publishing these blogs regularly, so.

Cheers!