Archive | October 2018

Rich Pickings on Turtle Bay Huddersfield

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Unlike my last trip to Huddersfield I had a fairly easy journey from Leeds this time, though I did have to ask a passenger with two seats for one to give way. Turtle Bay is very conveniently situated for Lawrence Batley Theatre so it is an ideal pre-theatre venue.

We are always on a learning curve and I was surprised to find out that the draught beer at Turtle Bay, Red Stripe, has been produced since 1928 and is the Jamaican’s beer of choice. My creative partner, Mel Chantler, had been stuck in traffic on the way here so was relieved to have a Caribbean Craft Lager, a tipple exclusively brewed by the Turtle Bay chain.

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Seafood platter

Whilst the starters all sound lovely I made an executive decision to have the sharing seafood platter. This consists of curried fish roti flatbread, chilli squid, crispy panko whitebait, sweet corn fritters, mango mole, herb mayo and super green salad. The fish tastes incredibly fresh and the squid and whitebait benefits from a delicious sauce. Not only is the platter beautifully laid out it also has each dish complementing each other.

And while we are on the subject of seafood we should begin to look at Mel’s main. She opts for whole shell-on king prawns, mango, sweet potatoes, tomato, garlic, ginger, Caribbean spices, steamed rice and roti flatbread plus a side of Caribbean slaw. The prawns are a delightful mouthful and the combination of spices is simply incredible.

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Main courses

Meanwhile I really fancy a meat feast so choose the prime cut aged sirloin steak with spicy jerk, coconut callalo and spiced fries. Although a tad too rare for my liking (and yes, I should have known to request well done) the steak and its foodie friends are sumptuous and real quality meat. I have never had callalo before and this really set off the tastes of the steak to a tee.

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Cocktails and dessert

With so much delightful food to savour time is pressing so the manager Naomi allows us to come back after the Motionhouse dance show at the nearby Lawrence Batley Theatre for pudding and cocktails. Some of you may recall from previous food and drink reviews of mine that I am searching for the ultimate sticky toffee pudding and, indeed, Turtle Bay does exceedingly well in this department.

Then, of course, it would be simply rude to visit Turtle Bay without trying a cocktail. What with Halloween and all that coming up I select the Beachcombers Zombie with Cockspur rum, dark rum & Woods overproof, absinthe, grenadine, lemon & pineapple juice. Luckily it didn’t send me into a trance but it was the ideal end to a wonderful evening. As Mel is driving she chooses the mocktail Reggae Sunsplash, with raspberry, coconut syrup and grapefruit crush – simply lush!

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This is a restaurant with a real atmosphere and ambience. The service makes you feel you are visiting an old friend and the layout is ideal for couples or small parties to indulge in a bit of decadence. And a little piece of the Caribbean in Huddersfield (and elsewhere in the chain’s other outlets) can’t be a bad thing. Highly recommended.

Click here to find your nearest Turtle Bay!

Review by Rich Jevons

Photos by Mel Chantler

Rich Pickings on Antler’s Lands

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Lands is a Bush Theatre and Antler co-production devised by director Jaz Woodcock-Stewart, in conjunction with performers Leah Brotherhead and Sophie Steer. It is essentially a very simple idea: we see Leah at work in carefully assembling a jigsaw puzzle while Sophie is busy bouncing away on a trampoline. But this belies the real questions of the piece: What is their relationship to each other? Why are they each, in their different ways, so obsessed and engrossed in their activities?

In terms of the former we never really know. But what we do experience is the slight nagging irritation of Sophie’s bouncing becoming a form of extreme annoyance to Leah. This is when things start to get really interesting. Leah refers to her actions as if she were a drug or gambling addict. And as such takes on the role of getting her off it.

She tries all sorts of different ways to do this from encouragement to psychotic coercion. We still identify with both characters, but more and more this is pushed to the limits, the boundaries become blurred. Without being a spoiler this coercion is taken to its logical conclusion with a tragic, if undefined, ending.

The denouement then is a passionate speech by Leah – always the more vocal of the two – about society at large. This ranges from yoga teachers to 9/11, emotions to clearly stated facts. It is the climax of a show that always perplexes rather than pleases. It benefits from incredible feats from both performance, Sophie in her athleticism and Leah more in her display of feelings. Painful but cathartic!

Reviewed by Rich Jevons at Slung Low’s HUB (Holbeck Underground Ballroom), Leeds

John Bird’s Private Passions

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Big Issue founder John Bird has gone from washing dishes in the Houses of Parliament, to return there as a life peer. He was born 1946 in a Notting Hill slum in a family that was made homeless when he was five, and at seven he was taken into care. Much of his teens were spent in reform schools, and he has slept rough and been in prison.

His life has turned around into fighting for social justice and particularly for homeless people. He founded the Big Issue in 1991 with Gordon Roddick and now nearly 30 years on the publication has had over 200 million copies sold and become a multi-million pound social investment enterprise helping some 92,000 vendors earn nearly 120 million pounds.

Speaking to BBC Radio 3’s Michael Berkeley, Bird said: “No-one has ever really been improved by a handout. Whereas a means of earning your own money so you can then move away from poverty is my obsession and that’s how my life turned around.

“I was a heavy user of drink and sometimes drugs and I was begging and stealing. When I actually got the chance of making legal money, even though I was still harming myself, I wasn’t harming anybody else.”

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Big Issue Founders John Bird and Gordon Roddick Credit: PA Images via Getty Images

Many years later when Gordon Roddick gave Bird the money to start the Big Issue he was obsessed with giving people the chance to make a legitimate income. Of his own upbringing Bird said: “With my mother, you gave her a pound and it would burn a hole in her pocket. She had to get out there and spend and I inherited that.

“I’m now married to a wonderful woman whose family come from India and they are Sikhs and know how to look after money. Now I can actually pay my way, whereas before I was broke Bird.

“Unfortunately my father every now and then would explode and get very aggressive with me and my mum and that was a very unfortunate part. But he was carrying a load of people. The further away from my childhood the more you reminisce about the good things and you park up the bad things.”

Looking back to his time in reform school Bird said: “I’d been through a number of other [institutions] like remands and assessments and I’d done a short sharp shock where they just beat ten colours of .. whatever .. out of you.

“And then I was in another boys’ prison and I came out and I was put in this reformatory and it was about reforming. If you wanted to climb Everest they’d do their best to help you so long as you didn’t go robbing old ladies afterwards.

“The whole idea of the reform system was the fact that you would be given the blessing of education. I got into art, painting and drawing, and with that I got back into music. The arts are a great leveller, you don’t have to be a great reader or a great thinker but it can lift up your skills and abilities. I want elitism for everyone!”

And of the penal system Bird added: “Prisons are a great opportunity for sorting out people who have slipped through the educational and intellectual net earlier. It certainly happened with me and many friends of mine. They’ve used the custodial system for its benefit.

“What I find so extraordinary now is that we’ve got this really weird belief that we’ve got to cut the costs. So you drop the amount of staff and no sense of ‘we’re going to help you’ and no sense of the recognition of the mental health problems that bring you into prison in the first instance.

“And also if you haven’t got mental problems [already] you will get them when you go into prison and you will get them when you hit the street. .. You’re in a zoo and unless you reinvent the box then all we’re doing is just urinating to the wind!”

Finally, talking of his current position in the House of Lords, Bird said: “I am a champion of the poor. I park up my politics, I talk to the great and the good and I do everything that I can to make sure that we can educate ourselves out of this current crisis. So I get to raise the issue of social enterprise and rather than building jails so that people make a profit out of it why don’t you give it to a social enterprise?”

John Bird appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Private Passions on the 14th October. Click here to listen to his musical choices on the show.

Rich Pickings on Leeds Playhouse’s Europe

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Robert Pickavance as Sava, Jo Mousley as Katia and Joe Alessi as Fret in Europe. Photography by The Other Richard

Europe takes place in the same Pop Up theatre and with the same ensemble as the recent excellent production of Road see Rich Pickings review. Set in an un-named country David Greig’s simple but effective script focuses on how we can overcome our personal tragedies and traumas.

It was inspired by Greig’s interrail trip around Eastern Europe some 20 years ago where he saw mass displacement due to the region’s conflicts. He also noted the varying values of money in different states and the show has particular contemporary relevance given the current Brexit controversy over the Northern Ireland to Eire border.

We see Sava and Katia, father and daughter (played with great skill by Robert Pickavance and Jo Mousley), dossing out on a train station waiting room bench. At first this most perplexes the stationmaster Fret (Joseph Alessi) but he eventually befriends Sava as a fellow with an equal amount of obsession with the progress of the railways.

Also at the station is Adele (Tessa Parr) who dreams of other more romantic countries beyond the border she reads about or see on television . While Morocco (the dapper Darren Kuppan) is a wheeler-dealer who exploits the borders as an opportunity to make money.

For Adele’s misogynistic racist husband the border protects ‘us’ from ‘them’ and blames foreigners for losing his factory job. And he incites his mates Billy (Lladel Bryant) and Horse (Alex Nowak) into rallying round his fascistic cause.

Despite the show’s obvious bleakness there is a black humour throughout and there is hope, as seen in Adele and Katia’s touching lesbian love scene and their subsequent elopement by train.

As ever James Brining’s direction is masterful and incisive while Amanda Stoodley’s set and costume design really are of great benefit to frame the social realistic performance. One final note has to be the incredible sound design by composer David Shrubsole which ranges from faint birdsong to belly-churning bass for the passing of trains.

Another tour de force in an Autumn season that sees the Leeds Playhouse alive and kicking despite their refurbishment.

Review by Rich Jevons at Leeds Playhouse on 16 October.

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Cast and creatives at the Europe aftershow. Photo: Kerry Anne Mcghee

Rich Pickings on Tin Can People’s Katie & Pip

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Rob Gregson and Charlotte Berry from Tin Can People adopt various roles in the telling of this poignant and moving narrative that aims to raise awareness about diabetes. This includes looking at the future for Katie, a 15 year-old with Type 1 diabetes, and her dog. It explains the symptoms of a hypo and hyper, including dry mouth and headaches, and how these high and low blood sugar levels can be life-threatening.

All three human performers wear dog masks at some point and Rob acts out doggie antics. And in one of many theatrical breaks, to allow Katie to cope with her blood sugar levels, Kit Kats and Buttons are given out to the audience. Ironically, although I was having a hypo with my own Type 2 diabetes I didn’t end up with any of the chocolate treats – again maybe revealing the taboo and invisibility of the condition otherwise I would have been more demanding!

Pip is a self-trained medical alert assistant border collie. This is the first time I’ve seen a live animal on stage since a Catalan version of Carmen in the naughty noughties. The only really notable thing about the stallion in that show was that it pooped in the stage!

Pip though really is the star of the show, especially with his plastic squeaking bone that he plays fetch with for at least ten minutes! Particularly hilarious are when a plethora of tennis balls flood the stage with Pip slightly overwhelmed in choosing which one to play with.

Most importantly though he can detect by smell when Katie’s blood sugar levels become dangerously high or low.

The climax comes when Katie falteringly closes with a speech that hardly leaves a dry eye in the house.

Review: Rich Jevons at Holbeck Underground Ballroom, Leeds on 14th October.

Photo: David Wilson Clarke

Rich Pickings on English Touring Theatre’s Othello

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Victor Oshin as Othello and Paul McEwan as Iago.

English Touring Theatre’s Othello is a co-production with Oxford Playhouse and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory. It remains true to the Bard’s tale of prejudice discrimination and fear while also adding more modern touches.

Richard Twyman directs with clarity and precision in an ensemble that really pulls out all the stops to create an atmosphere of paranoia and panic. Victor Oshin in the title role plays a secret Muslim general facing Turkish invasion.

He is first seen in an Islamic wedding with the petite Desdemona played by Kitty Archer with naivete and submission. Othello is a complex and often disturbed character who lashes out at those he loves after cunning trickery surrounds him.

Paul McEwan’s Iago is suitably duplicitous and cynical, plotting Othello’s downfall right until the end. While Philip Correia as Cassio is brave and heroic and, unlike Iago, blameless in his relationships with both the Moor and his wife.

Matt Graham’s neon strip lighting is very effective and designer Georgia Lowe’s sparse set is occasionally furnished with modern-day props to give the play more accessibility and variety.

Composer and sound designer Giles Thomas’ contribution is sometimes subtle, at others intensely vibrant. As the production builds up to the climax of mass murder our intrigue is heightened and, even for those who know the text, is utterly believable and thrilling.

At this Lawrence Batley Theatre performance the younger members of the audience remained quiet as to hear a hushed whisper with only the odd wolf-whistle and chuckle to disturb the quiet.This is Shakespearean acting at the top of its game that with high production values makes for a most absorbing evening’s theatre.

Reviewed by Rich Jevons on 11 October at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield. See English Touring Theatre website for tour dates.

Photo: Helen Murray

Rich Pickings on Jax Bar & Tapas

 

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Much as I love travelling to Huddersfield, at peak time this is a bit of a nightmare as you crushed in like sardines in a packed train without a seat. So I was most relieved to be able to go straight to the quiet haven of Jax Bar & Tapas. And even more relaxed when my waitress Kat suggested a wheat beer, absolute bliss!

The comprehensive menu is divided up into four sections: meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan. So myself and partner for the evening Mel Chantler opt for one tapas from each section.

Particularly nourishing and tasty are the beef & pork meatballs in JAX’s tomato sauce with truffle oil and Parmesan shavings. They have a slightly spicy aftertaste but not too much, just tangy on the tongue.

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The swordfish and baked Camembert tapas.

But my personal favourite has to be the swordfish skewers, marinated in a soy, garlic and sesame dressing with crisped lemon rocket. The freshness of the fish is simply spectacular and it is set off by the tiny tomatoes too.

And one total surprise for me, and a totally new dish that I haven’t come across in years of reviewing, is the whole baked Camembert with garlic and rosemary, served with red onion marmalade and olive bread. The melted cheese is actually quite chewy and has a rich and delightful taste.

While I think Mel’s favourite was the vegan option, sweet potato and butternut squash croquettes with a chilli infused oil. Due to my delicate constitution I had to pass on the chilli but even so they were absolutely luscious and proves without a doubt that vegan dishes are not boring or bland.

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Kat and George making our cocktails!

And then to finish off this wonderful visit to Jax comes a cocktail that is really the icing on the cake. I choose the vodka-based Jax Pornstar which comes replete with a shot of prosecco to sharpen your palette. While Mel has El Diablo, a real fruity little number, consisting of El Jimador, Reposado, Chambord, Passoa, raspberry syrup and lime topped up with ginger ale.

The decor is also delightful and the service prompt and friendly. Simply a brilliant bar to take in before going to the nearby Lawrence Batley Theatre.

Thanks to: Josh and Janine at Jax.

Review: Rich Jevons

Photos: Me Chantler

Book now: http://jaxhuddersfield.co.uk/ at 57 King St, Huddersfield HD1 2PZ, email hello@jaxhuddersfield.co.uk or phone 01484 519881

Rich Pickings on Red Ladder’s Mother Courage and Her Children

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Red Ladder’s 50th anniversary production takes place in a freezing wreck of a warehouse in a promenade performance that keeps the audience literally on their feet, though some respite in the odd occasional bench is included.

The community chorus is mingled in with the spectators who are ushered from scene to scene and the result is incredibly immersive and intense. They perform catchy musical compositions by Chumbawamba founder Boff Whalley to great effect.

Brecht’s setting is in the 17th century 30-year religious war as opposed to the more obvious rise of fascism and the almost inevitable world war that ensued.

Pauline McLynn who plays the lead role is famous for her part as Mrs Doyle in Father Ted but also has an impressive background in serious theatre including Sheffield Theatre’s Beckett classic Happy Days. Her role could be seen as a parasite on the war that surrounds her but we do feel for her due to her gritty determination and plucky perseverance throughout. Indeed she absolutely fears the declaration of peace as the end of her dirty business and thus her purpose and profit. So everywhere she goes her cart is in toe, and initially her family too before their tragic end.

Brecht’s pacifist play focuses on the effects of war on ordinary people as opposed to the usual stories by generals and majors. This is achieved not only by an excellent ensemble performance but also noises off-stage that entrap us in the midst of the conflict.

Red Ladder’s Artistic Director Rod Dixon is masterful in his handling of both cast and creatives. And it is an astute and frequently hilarious translation by Lee Hall. There is contemporary resonance with the current climate regarding immigration.

Other great acting comes from d/Deaf performer Bea webster as Mother Courage’s daughter Katrin; Luke Dixon as sexist scoundrel Cook; and T.J. Holmes as hypocritical coward Pastor.

The ensemble, often in several roles, really hit home the anti-war message with a style that suits Brecht’s notion of epic theatre, though no signs or banners here. The use of masks is particularly effective and makes the military roles even more alienating, and thus giving us one one Brecht’s favourite techniques.

The ending is left open, with Mother Courage pulling away at her cart alone, to where and why no-one knows.

Review by Rich Jevons.

Photo: David Lindsay.

Performances of Mother Courage and her Children take place at Albion Electric warehouse, South Accommodation Road, Leeds, LS10 1PR until 20 October.

Book via www.redladder.co.uk or call Leeds Playhouse on 0113 213 7700.

@redladdertheatr #mothercourage2018

Rich Pickings on Opera North’s The Merry Widow

The Merry Widow - Franz Lehar - Opera North - 29th September 2018

Hanna Glawari - Maire Flavin
Count Danilo - Quirijn de Lang
Baron Zeta - Geoffrey Dolton
Baroness Valenciennes Zeta - Amy Feston
Camille de Rosillon - Nicholas Watts
Bogdanovitch - Nichola

Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow becomes an Edwardian period piece set in Paris 1905 in this excellent Opera North revival. It is full of timeless tunes and benefits from Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s and Giles Harvergal’s English libretto which is extremely accessible and direct.
Soprano Máire Flavin sings Hanna Glawari with great skill, the widow from the fictitious country of Pontevedra whose wealth is sought after by numerous would-be lovers. Geoffrey Dolton plays Baron Zeta, the Pontevedrian ambassador in Paris who wants Hanna to keep her cash in the home country by marrying a compatriot in order to avoid his country’s economic downfall.
But alongside her own country’s suitors come a plethora of French admirers which really sets the cat amongst the dogs. So love is very much in the air throughout, though sometimes with dubious motives.
Baritone Quirijn de Lang is a terrific Danilo, a previous lover of Hanna’s who now refuses to marry her for her money. Leslie Travers’ Art Nouveau set is simply exquisite. And there is cutting edge and precise choreography by Stuart Hopps with dancing that includes the can-can at Maxim’s
Full of wit and humour this is ultimately an escapist’s dream, brimming with a sense of fun and frolics. You leave really knowing this is a show with a feel-good factor beyond our highest hopes and deepest desires.
Reviewed by Rich Jevons at Leeds Grand Theatre on 29 September 2018. See www.operanorth.co.uk for tour dates.
Photo: Robert Workman