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Manchester International Festival 2021 / Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

On reading the words ‘Manchester International Festival’, you know you’re in for quite the experience. I mean, it’s not everyday you get the opportunity to attend a biennial international arts festival, during a pandemic, with a specific focus on original new work.

There is more free, outdoor public art than ever before and the city is alive with accessible, vibrant and exciting art. So with some degree of excitement, I made my way to Manchester last week, and here are some things I experienced.

First up, an impressive 42m (138ft) sculpture replica of Big Ben has crash landed in Piccadily Gardens. ‘Big Ben Lying Down With Books’ – the UK’s biggest participatory art spectacle in years – has been created by Argentine artist Marta Minujin and is covered in 12,000 politically-themed books. I fully immersed myself in this impressive and quirky statement on Brexit, disillusionment and democracy. Brilliant – and – free.

Marta Minujin’s sculpture is called Big Ben Lying Down With Political Books

The Arndale shopping centre, meanwhile, has been turned into a makeshift art gallery for Cephas Williams’ Portraits of Black Britain, which features giant banners showing high-achieving black Britons. Powerful stuff.

Playing to a socially distanced, masked audience may not be every singer’s dream but Arlo Parks gig at the cavernous Manchester Central was a performance of stunning tenderness.

Arlo Parks at Manchester Central

For the last six songs, Royal Northern College of Music string players joined Parks on stage to enrich the songs and add layers of heartfelt nuance. Parks – a 20-year old London singer-songwriter-poet bagged the Brit award this year for best new artist. She expresses herself with a rare lightness of touch on her remarkable debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. Pure joy.

Elsewhere, Cloud Studies at the seriously trendy Whitworth Art Gallery just out of town features clouds being considered by Forensic Architecture as toxic. This gripping exhibition explores the various ways in which the air – far from being neutral or free – is witness to a lopsided world.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the first phase of an investigation on environmental racism in an area known as ‘Cancer Alley’. In a US region heavily populated with petrochemical facilities, majority-Black communities, the descendants were historically enslaved on those very lands, today contain the most toxic air in the country.

Forensic Architecture’s Cloud Studies at the Whitworth Art Gallery.

MIF has also commissioned choreographer Akram Khan to produce a stylish and moving 17 minute short film. Breathless Puppets is a 17-minute animation co-created by Khan and animator, writer and director Naaman Azhari.

This brilliant animation utilises retroscope technology; basically whereby a live action is sketched over to give a constantly moving, line-drawn aesthetic. Breathless Puppets tells the story of a young man called Nicholas who wants to be a dancer, despite his family urging him to go into medicine. 

Manchester’s beautifully restored Central Library played host to ‘I Love You Too,” This project featured Eleven Manchester-based writers that collaborated with participants, putting their words to page and composing love letters that reflected and reinterpreted the individuals. Furthermore, together with the publication, the stunning domed Reading Room played host an exhibition of Wa Lehulere’s new sculpture, created especially for the space.

Conceived with the intention of creating a global love library, “I Love You Too” marked the beginning of a new series – one that’s set to become an international encyclopaedia of devotion.

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

I was delighted to snag a ticket to the raggedly charming “Bloody Elle” at the Royal Exchange. It has reopened with Lauryn Redding’s emotional, wild and honest ‘gig musical’. This gauche kitchen-sink theatre is smart in its portrayal of a queer love story. Right on.

Bryony Shanahan’s supple solo production makes the most of the in-the round setting of the main space – it feels like a epic late-night show at Roundabout at Summerhall during Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The songs are spry and melodic with a forthrightness that is refreshing.

Bloody Elle is a ‘semi autobiographical’ show that is simultaneously confessional, sprawling and occasionally indulgent.

It moves in the course of the evening from noise to quietness, from non-stop crassness to moments of musical tenderness and expressive gesture. Admittedly, it is all a bit drawn out, and could do with losing 30 minutes, but it is often a perky evening and during these Difficult Times, well worth the effort.

A very pleasant surprise. 

Manchester International Festival runs until Sunday 18 July

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical runs until 17 July

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British Theatre Is Facing A Covid Tragedy

July 2021. UK Theatres are in limbo. By now, of course, you know the latest facts, because you live in them. 

In no particular order, over 62% of British adults are now fully vaccinated. And 84% have had one dose.

A new production of Jersey Boys is set to begin at the Trafalgar theatre next month

But the Indian or Delta variant (which is ultra-infectious, so infectious that one person may infect up to six others) has resulted in the UK having the highest infection rate in Europe. New research suggests ‘scarily fleeting’ contact could infect, and that places with high jab rates are susceptible.

Fortunately, we now have one of the lowest death rates because of the astounding vaccine programme. Indeed, now stadiums, shopping centres and theatres have joined the “grab a jab” campaign in England in a bid to boost vaccine uptake.

However, even by late August, only 39 per cent of under-40s are set to have been fully vaccinated, opening a generational divide and zero chance of foreign summer travel should vaccine passports become a thing. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock may have resigned but his successor Sajid Javid has his hands full with an NHS struggling to cope with a vast backlog of operations, treatment and surging cases.

Either way, according to the latest official figures, more arts, entertainment and recreation businesses were still suffering last month than in any other industry.

Felicity Kendall & Sutton Foster in Anything Goes rehearsals

But the show must go on, right? Major West End shows including Anything Goes and The Lion King have started rehearsals, with more set to follow; contracts have been signed, audiences have rebooked tickets (as many as four times) and the consequences of another delay beyond July 19 are unthinkable.

The pandemic has exposed the Tory government’s insulting attitude to theatre: a mixture of apathy and hostility. Despite generating billions pre-pandemic, London theatre owners and impresarios for example, claim regularly they are now “on the brink of ruin”.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Howard Panter – owner of the second-largest operator, Trafalgar Entertainment, said the situation in the West End was “intolerable”.

In the meantime, tempers (and sanity) are fraying; Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Sonia Friedman launched legal action to force government to publish Events Research Programme pilot results.

A masked usher awaits The Mousetrap audiences

A stretch of the imagination that might have dumbfounded me pre-pandemic, but Lloyd Webber certainly seemed to be speaking from the heart when he went on LBC recently: “Public Health England officials don’t have a clue about theatre and how they’re operated. We’ve somehow been made a sacrificial lamb.”

Alas, the long awaited report – which was released promptly after a Court order – said there were “no substantial outbreaks” identified by public health teams and their surveillance systems around any of the events.

Unfortunately, it also demonstrated that the testing regime of the Events Research Programme was pointless and incompetent, meaning it clear the government is repeating their own mistakes at a colossal cost to everyone else.

But weary theatres still need insurance to safeguard against the possibility of Covid-based cancellation, however the pandemic means that the private market will not provide it. This would help thousands of freelancers return to the industry and reassure producers, venues and artists alike.


The major issue for theatres from the West End to Liverpool Everyman is that rehearsals, preparation and planning take months not weeks and often costs thousands and thousands of pounds, and the current question marks hanging around hospitality and entertainment venues are making such work impossible or loss-making. Regional theatres dependent on income from tours will lose the very shows that might help them survive.

Temperature checks outside a west end theatre

Of course, Slytherin Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden would refer to the generous £1.5bn culture recovery fund, even if the rescue funds left the actual freelance workforce – musicians, photographers, actors, artists, dancers, choreographers, designers out in the cold. In fact hundreds of cultural organisations have still not received promised funds leaving some worse off than when they applied.  

The delaying of Step Four of the road map is a final straw for many: confidence in reopening has been shattered, despite the vast sums invested in venues to restrict Covid transmission. The creative sector must now be allowed to cautiously trade their way – at full capacity – out of difficulties and contribute to our national recovery.

It is completely stupefying that we have spent 66 weeks being told to “take responsibility” and “use common sense” by a government religiously incapable of either.

Anyway, July 19 is yet another ‘not before date’ and this week came rumblings of future winter lockdowns amid warnings from scientists. So, don’t rule out another delay to the ‘cautious but irreversible’ easing of lockdown restrictions. In fact, don’t rule out restrictions being completely ditched before a murderous third wave, subsequent U-turn and more mutant strains.

Frankly I’m not sure we will ever reconcile the impact that Covid, Brexit and the ‘streaming economy’ are having on the sector in my lifetime.

Continuing to allow galleries, art centres, opera, communities, theatres and independent cinemas to wither away is an act of profound cultural vandalism.

A socially distanced audience at the London Palladium

Hell, if a whole generation of talent goes to the wall, no one wins, the whole country will be poorer for it.

Something’s got to change. Fast.

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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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From staplers to potatoes – it’s monster producer Scott Rudin

To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on that gut instinct of right and wrong, it is a timeless classic.

By way of a recap, Broadway producer Scott Rudin is accused of assaulting employees in a devastating new Hollywood Reporter exposé.

One of the most harrowing accounts involved Rudin, 62, smashing an Apple computer monitor on an assistant’s hand. Yup.

Scott Rudin

Scott Rudin

Meanwhile, to the audible shock of those who work in theatre, Rudin is also accused of throwing a glass bowl at someone from his HR department. It missed and shattered against the wall. Thank goodness.

For context, Rudin’s theatre projects extend into Broadway reopening, with a revival of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman.

Along with co-producers Sonia Friedman and Barry Diller, Rudin is due to bring To Kill a Mockingbird to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End in March 2022.

Admittedly, Rudin joins the long list of high profile industry figures who believe it is their right to abuse their power.

Some revelations to the story, though, have really bothered me.

Worse was to come: one of those who has spoken out is the brother of a former assistant to Rudin who tragically committed suicide. 

Just awful.

“Every day was exhausting and horrific,” a former assistant, who worked for Rudin from 2018–2019, recalled.

“Not even the way he abused me, but watching the way he abused the people around me who started to become my very close friends. You’re spending 14 hours a day with the same people, enduring the same abuse. It became this collective bond with these people.”

Bullying is a repeated pattern of abuse of power designed to dominate those perceived as inferior, as weaker. Side affects include depression, anxiety, panic attacks – it’s a major risk factor for mental health.

Also, a former assistant claims that Rudin “relished in the cruelty” and “hundreds and hundreds of people have suffered” from his behaviour.

Other details? He fired someone for having diabetes, threw potatoes at someone’s head and reportedly assaulted staff, sending colleagues to the hospital twice.

Needless to say, leading figures are betraying their status by not making a stronger stand against these shocking revelations.

Ultimately, this is not restricted or confined to Scott. This happens everywhere.

I have been through this kind of experience myself; as a child, I was assaulted, and it is one of the things that motivated me to speak out when things are not right. Unfortunately, my own career has never been short of abusers, monsters and egomaniacs.

As for the wider implications of this scandal for Broadway and beyond, it would be easy to get carried away. On the other hand, you certainly wouldn’t rule him out making some sort of return in due course.

In 2014, Page Six ran an article about Rudin: “The Man Known as Hollywood’s Biggest A-hole,”that alleged that Rudin had pushed assistants out of moving cars and fired assistants for bringing him the wrong muffin, mispronouncing names, and, at least in one instance, having to attend a funeral.

Unfortunately, Rudin is still today boosted by enablers who looked the other way or ignored these rumours, allowing accusations to remain an “open secret” for years.

In 2018, he was making history with Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill A Mocking Bird, which shattered an 118 year record by earning more than $1.5 million in one week.

For those wondering when things will die down, I spoke to a made-up theatre scientist who calculated that moment will come at the precise second that anti-Rudin coverage stops grossing more than Rudin productions in 2022.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

Like Kevin Spacey before him, it will be hard to believe the frightful bollocks about those “not knowing” spouted by rich and powerful colleagues. 

The industry silence about this alleged physical abuse and personality faults of Rudin are unforgivable, yet easily explained. They depend on him for their income. 

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Good Friday? Culture Recovery Fund – Round 2

God, I miss theatre.

Today, more than 2,700 arts organisations have been supported in the latest tranche of Culture Recovery Fund money, totalling £400 million.

Indeed, in his Budget in March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a further £300m for the fund, which is yet to be allocated.

The government said 70% of today’s funding was being distributed outside London.  The big plus point here was that more than 1,200 organisations received support from the emergency arts funding scheme for the first time.

The funding includes £81m in loans including £4.25m to Saddler’s Wells and £7.3m to The Lowry in Salford.

I hope you have been paying attention. Because the thing about this government is that it moved with the same speed and grace rescuing the cultural sector in 2020 as that container ship which got wedged in the Suez Canal.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said thousands of organisations had had help to “survive the biggest crisis they’ve ever faced.”

He added: “Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back – helping our cultural gems plan for reopening and thrive in better times ahead.”

Of course, it is still sinister that the government is forcing arts venues across the country to publicly sing its praises once again.

Slytherin Oliver Dowden at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Slytherin Oliver Dowden at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

I’m also obsessed with the fact that Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) which runs more than 30 UK venues, will receive almost £1m. 

Bizarrely, a number of organisations owned by extremely wealthy individuals will receive taxpayer handouts.

And last month five cases of fraud were discovered among Culture Recovery Fund applications that led to a number of award offers being withdrawn, a report by the National Audit Office claimed; some applicants were awarded funding “significantly in excess” of their income the previous year.

Anyway, let us not forget that theatres played an important role in communities everywhere pre-2020. More than 34 million people attend theatres in the UK each year, generating £1.28 billion in ticket revenue.

And lo. Theatres are allowed to reopen on May 17  for socially distanced performances – this will be a hugely welcome first step.

All eyes are on June 21 as set out in the UK Government’s roadmap, later this summer for all restrictions being dropped.  Let’s see.

But there is still the small issue of ongoing mutations, vaccine passports and testing. This will be key to reopening all of society.

However…

The idea of forcing people to show vaccine passports to enter theatres and concerts is likely to be counterproductive and is literally not a good idea.

Dowden said on Andrew Marr recently that more pilots would begin from the middle of April to look at things like ventilation, one-way systems and tests on how the virus spreads at indoor and outdoors.

PILOTS?!

At best, then, the success of the vaccine rollout and the better weather in the summer months will be vital factors.

The big institutions may today be safe, but the talented freelance workforce who set the stage alight are largely self-employed and have been hung out to dry.

Thanks, Oliver. Thanks for everything.

Full list of performing arts organisations given CRF money in round two

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Park Theatre’s Jez Bond: “Many freelancers have tragically left our industry and there is a lot of hard work ahead.”

Park theatre artistic director Jez Bond is busy looking at revisions of his business plan. “We have some formulating to do with our smaller space, Park90, that might enable us to bring in work that we may have previously turned down,” he says. “Historically there have been a lot of shows that we missed out on because they couldn’t have necessarily afforded to rent the space,” he continues. “So, we are trying to find out if there are new models that can crack that issue.”

Jez Bond

Park Theatre not only presents off west end theatre in the heart of London’s Finsbury Park, but is a creative community hub and has been a significant part of the redevelopment of the area. As a small charity with no regular government or Arts Council funding, the pandemic led to a devastating loss of income.

Fortunately, Park Theatre was awarded £250,000 as part of the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) to help face the challenges.

I have interviewed Bond before in 2017– he is not shy. He’s funny, opinionated and happy to talk about anything.

We are talking on the telephone in the week that Chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined his latest Budget. Measures include a £300 million addition to the Culture Recovery Fund and £150 million fund to help communities take ownership of theatres, pubs and sports clubs at risk of closure.

“We’re grateful for the actions of the Chancellor but let’s not make the mistake of assuming that it’s all rosy: many freelancers have tragically left our industry and there is a lot of hard work ahead,” says Bond.

What, I ask, are his thoughts on the explosion of digital productions? He pauses. ‘I’ve been very clear and up front that I have no passion for digital,” Bond says. “It is a means to end – but it’s not something that I have a particular passion for. Broadening the reach is a good thing but let’s not pretend that there is a new exciting way – let’s not pretend that that is theatre, we want to get back to live theatre.”

What has kept him going throughout the pandemic? “We thought we’d be dead in the water at some point,” he says.

“My drive was to say that we have 40-50 staff and we cannot let these people go during the pandemic. At a time when there was and is no prospect of getting another job. It is our duty to ensure that we protect those livelihoods. When we engaged with our donors and wider community it was evident how much Park Theatre means to everybody. It meant far too much to just let it all go. Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in.”

Park Theatre

Park Theatre

How would he describe his approach through the scenario planning, shifting sands and executive decisions? “I have erred on the side of rational caution, sensibility and logic: Reading the data and following what’s going on in other countries rather than doing what people think or want you want to say. Even recently, with the Prime Minister’s roadmap: I don’t see June being a realistic date for performances to take place at full capacity.”

Every year, it seems, the debate rages on casting well-known names from TV or film to generate ticket sales. With ticket prices looking set to stay high, and severely reduced public subsidy, there is surely an increased commercial imperative to cast stars.

Bond’s ability to knock out commercial hits is extraordinary – David Haig’s Pressure, The Boys in The Band starring Mark Gatiss, for example – he’s frank about how he feels about them. “It’s a vital part of what we do – being able to take a play and give it an extended commercial life aids us both financially and reputationally. I’m very proud of the work we’ve presented.”

According to Bond commercially successful shows rely on star power. “There has to be an understanding of why those decisions are made,” he says. “Theatres do not choose celebrities because they are mates with them. They do so because they sell tickets. If we do a new play by an unknown writer and an unknown cast, it could fly and it could get great reviews. However, if you cast Damian Lewis or Miriam Margolyes you ensure that you have a selling point and you know that you can take that significant financial risk.”

“If we were subsidised to take risk, then it wouldn’t matter. Let’s put it very clearly: it is about survival.”

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Our Voice – Arts Professional


Our Voice – an autobiographical theatre project for young Traveller girls-  is the most important thing that I have have done.

Despite the restrictions that the pandemic posed, we came together to deliver this female artist-led project and look forward to when we can create live theatre from these special stories together again. 

As theatre braces itself for the challenges ahead, it is time to talk about communities that we as a sector have excluded for too long.

Bryony Kimmings

Bryony Kimmings

The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster, has meaningful and long-standing relationships with local Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities. Our Voice is a programme funded by Lancaster University and is free to all who take part. It aims to engage with young GRT people and their families and highlight available learning and career opportunities for them.

Originally intended to be in-person participation activities, these lively virtual workshops have been taking place throughout the lockdowns. They utilise drama and storytelling classes to share the rich culture and distinct histories of young traveller girls, especially those with little engagement or confidence when it comes to culture….

READ MORE ON ARTS PROFESSIONAL 

 

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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

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Curve’s victory in Seyi Omooba court case is a victory for theatre

OUR economy is in the toilet, Britain’s hospitality industry is ruined and theatres are closed across the country, indefinitely.

In better news, Seyi Omooba – who was sacked over a Facebook post attacking homosexuality – has had her claim for discrimination, breach of contract and harassment rejected.

Omooba, 26, sued Leicester’s Curve Theatre and her former agents for £128,000 after being dropped from a stage performance of The Color Purple. She had been due to play the lead character Celie, a character in a lesbian relationship.

Today, though, Omooba lost the bone-brained employment tribunal against Curve and Global Artists. It has been a long time coming.

Turns out the performer was initially pursuing £128,000 in compensation from both parties, but revised her financial claim ahead of the final day of the hearing to a claim worth £71,400.

Compensation that, for reasons of stupidity and prejudice, aren’t ever going to come Seyi or her father’s way.

The panel also rejected Ms Omooba’s demands for compensation for loss of earnings, future losses and reputational damage as a result of her agency contract being terminated.

“There is no financial loss because she would not have played the part,” it said.

“If there is damage to her reputation, it was not caused by being dropped from the production but by an unconnected person’s tweeting… of her Facebook post and the outcry resulting from that.”

Chris Stafford and Nikolai Foster said in a statement today: “Unfortunately, we consider that Curve has been subject to a carefully orchestrated campaign from Seyi Omooba and Christian Concern, who have used the tribunal process – and our theatre – as an opportunity to further their case.”

“Our fight was in the name of Curve, but also to protect the integrity of the character of Celie – who was based on Alice’s grandmother Rachel- and all other Celies in our world,” they added.

It was the height of madness to contemplate this going her way. Omooba’s case had been supported by the legal arm of Christian Concern, a wing-nut organisation co-founded by her father, pastor Ade Omooba MBE. Curve were always shooting fish in a barrel with this lot, obviously.

Somewhere in the middle of this rainbow chase, however, we did discover Omooba kept her “red line” of not playing gay characters “secret” from directors. She also denied that appearing in a concert production the show in 2017 meant she was aware of the lesbian storyline in the show. God.

Christopher Milsom QC, representing Global Artists, described Omooba as “the author of her own misfortune.”

Of course, it is reassuring that Omooba lost.

Try to think of the positives though, and the knock-on effect of this victory for Curve; a line has been drawn and and the outcome has set a legal precedent.

Admittedly, the crumb of comfort here is that we can only hope that the courts never entertain such a case again.

The Color Purple – At Home streams until 7 March 

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Guest Blog – Matt Woodhead: “Through the Who Cares Digi Fund we are trying to raise £5,000 to pay for young carers to get the digital support they need.”

Throughout the pandemic most vulnerable households were left without access to web.

Matt Woodhead has launched the Who Cares campaign to tackle digital poverty amongst young carers. 

Reading reviews is basically a self-indulgent form of torture. The bad ones make me want to rip my own fingers off so I never have to write again. The good ones make me want to rip my own fingers off because I’m scared I’ll never write anything of worth ever again (the voice in my head – who by the way is Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote – tells me any good review is just a big fluke)

On Tuesday 9th of Feb, Who Cares (a play what I wrote) was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It’s adapted from 100 hours of interviews with a group of incredible young carers from Salford. The play follows a day in the life of Connor, Jade and Nicole as they try to juggle the drama of their teenage years with the challenges of caring for a loved one. Who Cares run on and off for 6 years. Everyone who has worked on the show is like family.

Who Cares Promo©The Other Richard

Who Cares Promo
©The Other Richard

I was making my morning coffee and toast (with the voice of Jessica Fletcher asking ‘Do you really need another slice of toast Matt?!’) when I got a ping on my phone. It was a review from British Theatre Guide… I left the toast in the toaster, opened the article and got ready for the finger ripping to begin…. But it never came… For once I was in no man’s land… The opening of the article read:

The longevity of Matt Woodhead’s play Who Cares? is both impressive and depressing. The fact the play remains relevant, however, suggests… the awareness-raising impact of the play has not achieved the primary objective.

Credit where credit is due (and as much as it pains me to say it) maybe David from British Theatre Guide had a point. 6 years has passed… has anything changed?! I spent the rest of Wednesday eating toast and watching re-runs of Murder She Wrote on double speed on YouTube to see if Jessica Fletcher could help me do some soul searching. Here are some things I learnt on that journey…

Angela Lansbury, Murder She Wrote

Murder She Wrote Lesson Number 1: If you want to change the world, you’ve got to get local. Jessica Fletcher changed lives in Cabot Cove.

Who Cares began its life by touring around youth zones and schools. At 7am each morning the team would rock up in an empty hall and work like hell to transform it into a theatre space. In the afternoon, year 8s and 9s – many of whom had never been to the theatre – would come and bear witness to the real life stories of Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige.

It is estimated that over 450,000 young carers in the UK are hidden. This means they are caring behind closed doors, unknown to anyone outside their own home. At the end of the tour, the show was seen by over 10,000 young people and over 200 teenagers were signposted to their local young carers service for support.

After we left these schools, we were blown away by stories of teachers who embraced a young carer culture into their schools. Support groups were started, designated young carer leads popped up – the legacy ran much deeper than just those 200 young people.

Murder She Wrote Lesson Number 2: You’ve got to go national, but change takes time. Jessica Fletcher spent many an hour cosying on up to the high and mighty in Cabot Cove. She shook things up and she got there in the end.

I’ll never forget when Who Cares was performed in the House of Lords. Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige stood up in front of a room full of hundreds of politicians in the Houses of Parliament and advocated not only for themselves, but for the rights of young carers across the UK. I thought seismic political change might come the next day but the harder lesson I learnt was that policy doesn’t just change over-night. It takes time.

Since then we’ve been working with professionals (teachers, lawyers, academics, NHS staff) to draft new legislation to present to the people who were moved by what they saw that day. Those politicians in Westminster haven’t heard the last from us yet…

Murder She Wrote Lesson Number 3: Everyone has a role to play. When solving a murder, Jessica Fletcher couldn’t just do it alone… The residents of Cabot Cove sometimes had to come together and help.

During lockdown, we have upped our efforts to support young carers. Hundreds of people have sent our open letter to Matt Hancock. We’ve worked with Salford Primary Care Together to create resources with young carers on how to care for a loved one right now. We’ve also launched a creative makers project which has been running for 3 months for over 30 young carers in Salford, Cheshire West, Kent and North Wales.

To coincide with Who Cares on BBC Radio 4, we are also proud to launch the Digi Fund. One in three young carers are from low income families and many don’t have access to technology like laptops and phones. These things are vital for young people accessing school work in the pandemic and to help them fulfil their caring role. Through the Digi Fund we are trying to raise £5,000 to pay for young carers to get the digital support they need.

If you are reading this article right now, wondering what you can do to support young carers, do donate. Any amount, big or small can change a young person’s life! Like the residents of Cabot Cove, we can make a change – if we do it together!!

Here endeth the gospel according to Jessica Fletcher

To conclude, I still think David maybe has a point – the longevity of this play is depressing. But there is hope. This play has changed lives in so many ways and our work isn’t done yet. We will keep banging the drum for young carers, we will keep hustling and we will effect change. And to quote queen Jessica Fletcher… ‘I could be wrong here… but I doubt it’.

Matt Woodhead is the Co-Artistic Director of LUNG and long-time Jessica Fletcher enthusiast.

Who Cares is co-produced by LUNG and The Lowry in partnership with Gaddum who support young carers in Salford.