你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,
Chinese New Year had reached Manchester and the great city delivered a colourful display of culture. It has done so for many a year and shall forever more do so. This year a giant dragon filled St Ann’s Square and activities spread over the city. The Almighty Sometimes provided an afternoon’s entertainment. The Royal Exchange Theatre have always been a bold and open-minded kind of theatre. They are open to all and test waters that others wouldn’t even think about it.
The Almighty Sometimes, as penned by Kendall Feaver, had been converted from though to words to a stageplay excellently. Katy Rudd, as director, and her team dropped a monster of a show into the arms of the watching. Tackling both language and the use of medication to chemically castrate those who battle their imaginations and thoughts, this production had sharp-edged teeth. Norah Lopez Holden is a beautiful actress, and her character Anna has a mind more wide and dreamy than most. The actress sucks you into her head and the character is someone you attach to, instantly. A Mancunian spin and by local actress Julie Hesmondhalgh (who you soon forget as playing Hayley from Coronation Street) and Mike Noble’s nasal tones as Oliver support a cast with actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster portraying Vivienne – the child psychiatrist.
Lucy Carter’s lighting, the simple set design by Rosanna Vise and striking sounds by Giles Thomas enhance Vicki Manderson’s movement directions. The dialogue, much as the original script, is gripping. It plucks strings on the heart if the banjo and jabs away drumbeats using smashing drumstick movements. Every ounce of sweat was bled dry from the cloth of the ensemble and towards the interval I felt tears run. They ran again, at least twice. The labelled main character Anna draws you in and tortures you in a way as bipolar as beauty and the beast could only be. It hurts. It makes you love. It kicks out. It embraces you. Such torture and cuh pleasure. I f**king hate this show. I love it equally. Ever imagined being someone desperate for independence? And I mean painfully desperate. The spot by wit’s end identified as critical and inconsolable. That bursting recklessly easger point of extreme anxiety? Anna will take you there. Not only that but the complexities of mother, friends and lovers – even the so-called experts of mental health will all be sliced apart and left to questions. There is a spectrum that is so diverse – so broad – it will leave you without words, and just raw emotions. It will not leave you cold. Julie Hesmondhalgh has leapt from Accrington to the electronic screens, but on stage she is hypnotizingly charismatic and soon has you forgetting the New Order t-shirt. Her young daughter on stage, Norah Lopez Holden, is eloquent, powerful and engaging. She radiates passion in every line and action. Her Hispanic looks, with a Mancunian twang fade away as each line jabs out like a boxer’s right hook. She is exactly the reason I never attempted drama at secondary school, because I could never do what she does. Living overseas, in a reasonably western-free area, means I may not see another theatre production, of that calibre, in a while but I am more than inspired to hunt them down on that showing. Thank you for such a distressing yet astonishing experience. It was part-ballet, part walking on broken glass. It was close to home. Very.
The train from Manchester Airport to Barrow-on-Furness was cancelled. Instead it would head off from Manchester Piccadilly. This being an annoyance, an alternative route with delays was found, via Carlisle, instead of via Barrow-on-Furness. After a long while of scenery out of the window, the fourth train of the day rolled into Parton, a village north of Whitehaven. Here I’d catch up with Dan, Vanessa, Alex and Damian.
Catching up Dan, Vanessa, Damian and Alex proved to be a great experience. Between walking the four-year old twins to school, talking, playing and polishing off some rum, exploration of the local area was also called for. The Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport offers crazy golf, engaging talks, a variety of British marine tanks, a working conservation lobster hatchery and staff that know their marine biology. The layout is good for a few hours sandwiched around a walk alongside the historic Marport marina, harbour and promenade. This was certainly a place for families to visit! The centre has a café and there are numerous pub grub options in a short walking distance. A walk around Ennerdale Water, far off from Bassenthwaite Lake (the only actual lake in the Lake District) and wanderings around Whitehaven town centre also allowed for relaxation – although climbing mountains in high heels isn’t normally fun.
Abbot’s Hall Hotel is a Christian Guild property. The décor is dated yet classic and relaxing. The furniture and fittings follow a similar mould. The grounds are pleasant and it hosts a wonderful indoor heated pool. The café and restaurant are ample with nearby restaurants in Grange-over-Sands. Kents Bank train station is outside the gate, less than two minutes stride away. Beyond the treelines and up a windy road Kents Tower can be reached, offering wonderful views of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District’s southern mountain range. One night here was not enough. However, it proved a pleasant contrast from a trip to London the next day.
That London was the next stop on the tour of England. A quicker than expected passage across the famous London Underground gave an arrival at Broughton. Crossing just three streets and walking a few hundred yards allowed for safe arrival at Zoly Apartment (23 Tabard Street), as found on Booking.com. London awaited. The simple apartment needed an electronic code for the front door and a different one for the room. The facilities were modern and included an electronic tablet notepad filled with lots of useful bits and bobs. A kitchen and a good bathroom made for probably my favourite place that I have stayed in London, ever, apart from Paul Thomas’ place after an ill-fated journey from Norwich to Manchester, via That London.
Dinner at Nando’s on the banks of the River Thames, gave wonderful archway views from Southwark looking northwards. Underneath Blackfriars Road bridge, tucking into spicy chicken wings, wedges and a host of sides made for a comforting dinner, two nights out of three spent in That London. The Clink Street location is close to the historic Golden Hinde, London Dungeons and many other attractions. The location really is something.
Royal Observatory Greenwich followed by dinner at Nando’s and a speedy passage to Piccadilly Circus to enjoy The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Firstly, the Criterion Theatre is a gem, sank beneath the streets of the City of Westminster. On entering from Piccadilly Circus, you grab your tickets at a quaint ticket booth before tip-toeing downstairs beyond the top tiers of the theatre seating, and then into the lower circle. Beneath are the stalls and the stage. The horseshoe-shaped theatre seats a little shy of 500 spectators. It opened in March 1874 as a concert hall and soon was converted to a theatre. Long gone are the dangerous gaslights and in their place is a modern interior with occasional hints at the venue’s first usages. Names of composers line the walls on the staircasing. Henry J. Byron, W.S. Gilbert, and other such playwrights who commanded the use of an initial letter have perfomed at this charming venue. In World War II, it was even a BBC safe and recording studio! Secondly, the production of The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is an absolute delight. Packed full of wit, charm, comedy – and a rich dialogue with fine vocals and production of the highest calibre. The Mischief Theatre have won awards – and toured the world for good reason. They are.
The final day or so in Manchester involved shopping, a birthday lunch for Dad and packing a stupendous amount of luggage (mostly gifts).
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再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye