Category Archives: Cultural Tourism

Are you a bit ‘sniffy’ about musicals?

Another blog in the series from our roving arts & culture reporter David Smith

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Well I am… or at least I was…  Over a family meal when the subject of musicals came up I dismissed them all with:  “I don’t like musicals!”  And then, of course, I had to start trying to justify my arrogant posture.  “Come on Dad, explain yourself; that’s a bit of a scattergun approach…”

“Well, most of the audience are ‘of a certain age’.”

“Like you?”

“Well  yes; you don’t see the theatre full of young people.  The narrative is always weak, characterisation thin and often you are lucky to find one memorable song.”

Have you ever felt like you are walking on ice and you can feel the ice cracking underneath you with each step you take?  That is exactly how I felt and waited for the broadsides to come.

“Wait a minute; you took us to see Joseph, Blood Brothers, West Side Story, Cats… I suppose Billy Elliot doesn’t appeal to young people either!”,  and the list went on.  “They may not have the characterisation of King Lear but those theatres were full of young people.”

Basics in Burnley produces a musical each year with a cast wholly of young people, and you encouraged me to audition for Burnley Youth Theatre‘s West Side Story, came another voice across the table.

“Then you won’t want to have one of the tickets I’ve bought for Sweet Charity at the Royal Exchange”, chipped in my wife Kay enjoying my discomfort.

“I give in…”

And so at the  weekend we went to see Sweet Charity.  What a show!

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Charity Hope Valentine is a ‘hostess’ dancer in a New York gents’ club.  She falls in love with clients – always the wrong one – believing everything they say, longing for the marriage proposal which her friend know will never come.

Kaisa Hammalund is terrific as Charity.  She fills the stage with a an energy and vibrancy which left me exhausted.  She engages so perfectly with her audience that we are all wanting her love quest to succeed… the underlying irony in the show is that there is no charity on offer.  It highlights attitudes to women, makes fun of the excesses of 60’s hippies… and more.

The whole cast is excellent I can hardly say that there are no memorable songs when I am still singing them in the car: Rhythm of Life, Hey Big Spender, If My Friends could See Me Now, There’s  Gotta Be Something Better Than This.

The direction from Derek Bond is brilliant.  There is a disco sequence which took me back to my 60’s disco days with all the moves I attempted exaggerated and presented like a Matthew Bourne piece of choreography.  The scene where Charity finds herself in the bedroom of a film star when his partner returns, hiding under the bed and under a covered tea-trolley is hilarious.  The stage craft making use of a minimalist set allows each individual member of the audience to be engaged throughout yet showing smooth transitions between scenes with clever lighting.

…and the music from a band visible on stage throughout is magical.  It is a show that had me laughing out loud, miming the songs and tapping the lady’s foot next to mine.

Go and see it, if you can (on at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 28 January).

I love musicals;  I can’t understand anyone who says they don’t… I’m off the see Strictly Ballroom at the West Yorkshire Playhouse next week… watch this space.!

 

 

Three days in Paris

Another blog in the series from our roving arts & culture reporter David Smith

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Day 1

Ten  years ago I was in Paris with Nick (MPA Creative Director) for the opening of the new Mac Val Gallery of contemporary French art in Vitry-sur-Seine.  Nick had been invited to make a presentation on the Panopticons project with a special focus on the Singing Ringing Tree.  I had volunteered to carry his bags.

With a couple of hours to spare, whilst Nick was honing his presentation, I visited the Picasso Museum in the Marais Quarter of Paris.  What a disappointment it was.  Many pieces were on loan, the museum was dull and the organisation of the collection left me uninspired.

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Last month I returned.  What a transformation.  Having been closed for a considerable time for refurbishment the Museum reopened 18 months ago with a new curator.  Picasso’s works are displayed in chronological order with sketches, paintings and sculptural works side by side.  It allows you to make a journey through the museum which follows Picasso’s creative process: carvings, engravings, sketches, photographs, ceramics, paintings and sculptures. The collection is huge; in fact, most of the works were given to France to settle his unpaid tax bills!

The Museum includes a roof top garden used to display some larger sculptures in a quiet, peaceful setting; perfect to sit, muse, rest your feet and take it all in…and I love this quotation from Picasso:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Day 2 morning

A visit to the Opera Garnier began my second day.  From the outside the building is stunning.  If you have never been you will know it as the setting for the Phantom of the Opera.paris - 2

Much of the lighting depended on candlelight which, of course led to blackened walls and ceilings.  In the 1960’s when the time came to restore the ceiling of the auditorium above the great chandelier – and yes it did actually fall down on one occasion in 1896 and killed a member of the audience! – they couldn’t afford the cost of restoration.  A French artist who was working on set and costume design for opera offered his services for which, I believe he was never paid…his name, Marc Chagall.  The ceiling is magnificent:

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 Day 2 afternoon

Have you ever shopped in Leeds and visited those lovely Victorian glass covered arcades?

Well; from the Opèra Garnier, I was led around ‘Les Passages Couverts‘ – 19th. century, glass roofed shopping galleries. They provide hidden corners of superb architecture full of cafes, antiquarian bookshops, shops for stamps, coins and art – a fascinating experience.

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Day 3

My final day took me back in the direction of the airport to Auvers-sur-Oise , the village where Van Gogh spent his last 70 days before his premature death.  During this  period he painted 70 pieces yet during his whole short life he sold only one painting – to his brother!  He died as he lived, in poverty.  In the village you can follow a trail: ‘In the steps  of Van Gogh’ which take you from the café where he rented a room, through the village to the church and finally to his grave where he and his brother lie side by side beside a field of sunflowers.  It is a very moving story and a moving journey.

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Revealing the Spodden Valley

This spring we are delighted to welcome a new but familiar face to the MPA team as Diana Hamilton gets to work as Project Manager for Spodden Valley Revealed This is our  major new project promising some transformational impacts for communities in the Whitworth area of Rossendale. Unfolding over three years,  Spodden Valley Revealed will explore the long timeline of human settlement there, through an engagement programme involving local people of all ages, and a range of exciting artist commissions.  The end result will be an innovative, linear heritage destination for local people and visitors to explore, adding rich content to the off-road cycling and walking route which will become the Valley of Stone Greenway.

Diana has worked around the North West, managing arts and public realm projects, for over 10 years. She is passionate about telling the stories of a place in a creative and engaging way and re-interpreting heritage for new audiences.

Previously, Diana led on the development of the Irwell Sculpture Trail, which stretches 33 miles from Salford to Bacup, putting together a 6-year plan to secure Arts Council capital funding for its redevelopment.  She has supported the creation of a brand new Sculpture Centre at the heart of the trail in Bury.  Most recently, she managed an experimental public art programme across five new interchange sites for Transport for Greater Manchester, including temporary commissions, digital trails and events, testing a new way for working for that organisation.

Diana has worked across many other cultural events, opening up unexpected spaces such as a medieval tower and shopping space for Barnaby Festival, and local churches, parks and an armoury for Bury Light Night.  For Station Stories, she partnered with Manchester Literature Festival to create a live storytelling event at Manchester Piccadilly station, taking an audience in headphones on a journey of six newly commissioned stories, told by an unknown storyteller in the throng of commuters.

This depth of experience and breadth of imagination, combined with her knowledge and understanding of the North West, mean that Diana is brilliantly well equipped to take forward our unique vision for Spodden Valley Revealed.  With Diana getting to work now, we are delighted to be getting started on this fantastic project.

You can contact Diana via email for more information on Spodden Valley Revealed.

Diana Hamilton - Project Manager for Spodden Valley Revealed - March 2016

An Unexpected Find…

Another blog in the series from our roving arts reporter David Smith

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I love country churches and churchyards: stumbling across the textile banners created by the local community in St. Mary’s Church, Conistone in Wharfedale or discovering the memorial to J. B. Priestly in St. Michael & All Angels, Hubberholme, with its mystery of a disappearing altar table which reappeared in the local pub, The George!

Well, I’ve been on a walking holiday in the Alps. The problem with walking in the Alps is that every walk involves going up!  “Have a look at the village of Plateau d’Assy; the village is unremarkable but the church is worth looking at …” a guide told me.  Tired of walking up, I took the bus down… and what a find!

Église Notre Dame de Toute Grâce, Plateau d’Assy is high on the Chamonix valley-side with unobstructed views across to Mont Blanc. That in itself is special. But as soon as the church comes in view you can see that it too, is going to be special.

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A small village, a small church built in the style of an alpine chalet but once inside its rich wooded, warm interior it is full of delights and surprises: from Matisse to Chagall!

It is a staggering display of paintings, sculptures, stained glass, ceramics and mosaics from artists who were thought to be at the top of their field at the time.

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Consecrated in 1950, the decision to commission secular artists to provide pieces for the church created a storm, resulting in some pieces being removed before being eventually returned. The crucifix below was removed for over 20 years before being restored.

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As you can see, the crucifix, created by Germaine Richier, presents a tortured figure on the cross which challenged the established sentimental portrayals of Christ on the cross. It was criticised as ‘an insult to the majesty of God’. It does, however, present a moving image of suffering.

The ceramic mural by Marc Chagall was his first work specifically designed for a church and the forerunner of many more from the great cathedral in Rheims to the tiny All Saints in Tudely, Kent.

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So, if you happen to visit the Chamonix Valley, take a walk up the north side of the valley to Plateau d’Assy…or better still take the bus!

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Further information on Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce du Plateau d’Assy can be found on:

Sanctuary for Sacred Arts

Wikipedia

Burnley at the Heart of Europe

It may not be very fashionable to be a ‘good European’ at the moment but Burnley is certainly playing its part in Europe.

The Council of Europe, a body of 47 nation states (not to be confused with the European Union), has awarded Burnley ‘le Diplôme européen’. The award has been made for its work in improving relationships between the people of Burnley and other European countries, in particular the people of its twin town, Vitry-sur-Seine, close to Paris. Indeed it was the only town in the UK to receive the award. Only 12 were offered to towns from 47 countries across Europe.

It was great too, to see that a part of the application was arts based, and related to Mid Pennine Arts!   It was possible to go back and highlight Nick Hunt’s well received presentation on the Singing Ringing Tree and the Panopticons to a huge cross-section of arts organisations from across Europe, South America and the United States at the opening of a new gallery for contemporary art from the whole of France, the Mac Val, in the Val de Marne department of northern France.

Included too was the award from the European Greenways Association (EGA) in Nancy, northern France, received at the award ceremony by Helen Yates. If you remember, the award was for MPA’s work supporting the transformation of a disused railway line into a greenway for local people in Padiham: walkers and cyclists. Mercedes Munoz, Director of EGA said: “…by removing barriers to everyday walking and cycling, greenways bring communities closer together.”

Mention was made of a visit by arts workers in Spain to Burnley’s Youth Theatre. The visit, organised by Arts Council England, offered presentations (from Nick for MPA and from Curious Minds) on Burnley’s commitment to public art, arts in the community and arts education in schools.

Of course the bid covered the work of Burnley’s Twinning Association: organising ramblers visits to and from France, 20 weeks of French lessons for its members, and welcoming 31 guests from Vitry into the homes of local people in April this year.

The Council too, has also contributed in hosting study visits over the last five years from groups of social workers, voluntary associations and students from Germany, France, and Norway. At the same time officers from the Council have actively participated in conferences and award ceremonies in Berlin, Slovenia, Gerona, Bilbao and Vilnius in Lithuania..

…and there is a huge amount going on in our schools!

Well; the European Diploma was collected on behalf of Burnley Council at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg by an honorary MPA staff member… David Smith!

Burnley (Lancashire) - Axel E. FISCHER Germany, Jean-Claude Frécon,  President of the Congress of the Council of Europe Burnley (Lancashire) - Axel E. FISCHER, Allemagne, Jean-Claude Frécon,  Président du Congrès du Conseil de l’Europe

Our Maxine…at the Royal Exchange

Maxine Peake as Hamlet

The good will for Maxine Peake amongst a northern audience at Manchester’s Royal Exchange this autumn was palpable. We love her as one of our own.

Hamlet at the Royal Exchange was a rare treat. Despite the advance hype about Hamlet being played by a woman, within moments I found myself gender blind. Maxine’s first appearance is visually stunning: her short, beautifully cut blond hair, her blue North Korean styled trouser suit. She stands out as she should, as being different from the rest of the Court; set apart.

What is different about this production is the deliberate choice to play it as a domestic tragedy. Something is lost in cutting the menacing outside presence of the threat of war, invasion and the contrast with another Prince who has lost his father. But let’s judge this production on what is presented…

John Shranel playing Claudius the King, Hamlet’s step-father, is great. He is totally convincing in his authority, menacing and strong enough to take drastic action when he realises the degree of threat that Hamlet presents to send him to his death in England…or so he thinks. Gertrude is an elegant queen, out of her depth in understanding what is going on around her.

We are gender blind too, to the roles of other ‘male’ characters being played by women. Claire Benedict’s Player King is as good as I have seen (this is my fifth Hamlet) and Michelle Butterly’s gravedigger brings an immediate freshness to the role with her scouse wit.

The stagecraft at the Royal Exchange is always interesting because of the demands it places on director and cast in engaging the whole of the audience – in the round and on three levels. Sarah Francom deals with it brilliantly. I loved the bareness of the set simply because it makes you concentrate on the language. It makes us all in the audience work hard so that we feel a part of the production.

Maxine Peake provides us with a slow-burning opening Hamlet, gathering power and convincing authority especially on her return to Denmark from England. Although at times her voice lacked power, Hamlet’s intelligence, the strength of her emotional commitment, her disgust at the reach of corruption to the highest levels is never questioned. A Hamlet to be remembered.

A film version of this production will be available in cinemas in March 2015.  Find out more here.

David Smith

 

David on Tour: Part Two – Not everything goes to plan!

Editor: The continuing adventures of David Smith during his week in Brighton…

 

iwm-branch-nav-lambethI’d seen an interview with the artist Mark Neville on Newsnight about his photographic exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London.  Fantastic publicity you could only dream of for your exhibition.  Mark Neville was commissioned to spend two months with 16 Air Assault Brigade in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as a war artist.  Neville was taken out on two hour patrols during which soldiers were seriously wounded.

From the Brighton train it is only a brisk walk from Victoria Station.  Arriving for the 10 o’clock opening there were already lots of people arriving to pick up their timed tickets for the World War One Galleries.  But we weren’t going there. Arriving on the third floor I asked two assistants where the exhibition was. Neither knew who Mark Neville was nor that there was a photographic exhibition on the floor.  Hmmm….

Finding the Gallery with Mark Neville written large over the entrance we found seven striking photographic portraits.  What was striking and disturbing was the youthfulness of the British soldiers – teenagers; juxtaposed with Afghan children.

You can see them for yourself here.

Look at Firing Range or Supplies for 2 Scots Regiment.  Then try: On patrol in Sangin.

Firing Range - Mark Neville

Firing Range – Mark Neville

There were three films to see as a part of the exhibition. We sat in the dark waiting… nothing.  Off to see the nearest assistant who said he would call a technician.  We sat again in the dark waiting… nothing. I went out to find another assistant who said she would call a technician.  We returned to the dark, waiting… nothing.  Other visitors arrived but just moved on when they realised that there was nothing to see.

Now for the main information desk three floors down, besieged by Sunday visitors.  I explained our problem.  The assistant kindly phoned for help whilst I was there.  We visited another exhibition: Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War whilst we waited.  We returned to the Mark Neville exhibition to find an assistant flicking on and off a remote control; it was now 11.30am.

“It won’t work he said authoritatively.”  We gave up and moved on… This never happened in the Gallery at Mid Pennine!!

I can’t believe that no-one had checked that everything was working at the start of the day.  Was it working the day before, or the day before that?  Had anyone noticed?

Let’s hope it will come to IWM North on the Salford Quays!

David Smith