Tag Archives: Theatre

Are you going… to the ‘Burnley Buggers’ Ball? You are invited!

About three years ago we had a visit to Mid Pennine Arts from a researcher who was working with the LGBT communities in Manchester and Liverpool.  One of the issues he raised was how important Burnley was in the history of the LGBT movement nationally – a surprise to us all!

But what emerged from his visit was not the just the importance of the occasion to gay rights but for the civil rights of each member of our community.

He told the story of an attempt led by the late Alan Horsfall, in the early 70’s to establish a club, a meeting place for young gay members of the local community.

buggars-ball-image2As you might expect the search for a place to house the club for young people was met with hostility and many refusals until a room in the old Co-operative Society Building on Hammerton Street was found. The offer was to be withdrawn later.

The desire to set up a club was met with fierce opposition in the town from local churches, local people and councillors – it was one of our councillors, I believe, who said that “we’ll have no buggers’ ball in Burnley’!  To explain the need for the ‘club’ and what it would offer, a public meeting was called at Burnley Central Library.  Despite support at a packed meeting the bid to set up a club failed.

buggars-ball-image3Later in the 70’s another story of defiance surfaces.  A local bus driver, Mary Winter, was sacked for wearing a Lesbian Liberation badge at her workplace.   Her union refused to support her – just think of the power of the unions in the 70’s!  Mary, with support from women’s groups around the country staged a demonstration close to Burnley’s Bus Station.  Her bid to get her job back failed.

So… what is the relevance of these two stories which ended in failure?  Well, we are very familiar of a world now where ordinary people feel that they can stand up and protest against ‘the establishment’. This is exactly what Alan Horsfall and Mary Winter did when they placed a marker for the advancement of minority civil rights in Burnley more than 40 years ago.

Two playwrights, Stephen Hornby and Abi Hynes, have drawn these threads together to write two new plays which will be presented at Burnley’s Central Library.  Later they will go on to be performed in Manchester and Liverpool.

The Burnley Buggers’ Ball and Burnley’s Lesbian Liberator in Burnley’s Central Library on:

  • Saturday 18 February – 12noon
  • Saturday 18 February – 2pm
  • Saturday 25 February – 12noon
  • Saturday 25 February – 2pm

Each performance last approximately one hour and 15 minutes.   Tickets are free but you need to book via Eventbrite.

Read more about the productions on Inkbrew Productions’ Facebook page and in The Guardian.

You are all invited!

David Smith


(Images courtesy of Inkbrew Productions.)

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


Black Roses – The Killing of Sophie Lancaster

David, our Coordinator for Creative Learning spends an evening in Manchester at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Black Roses – The Killing of Sophie Lancaster

The Royal Exchange Studio in Manchester; two actors; poetry from Simon Armitage, words from Sophie’s mother Sylvia Lancaster; a simple cleverly designed set: a heart breaking true story from Rossendale.

Sophie Lancaster was twenty years old.  Together with her boyfriend Robert Maltby they encountered a group of youths in Stubby Lee Park in Bacup.  Both were attacked.  Sophie was killed.

Simon Armitage’s poetry gives a voice to Sophie. It could easily have been played with intense emotion by Rachel Austin but it is not. Rachel allows the emotion to come from the words themselves and they are immensely powerful.

Between the poems, are layered the words of Sophie’s mum as she recounts her story of Sophie, her goth daughter, and that fateful night.  She is played brilliantly by Julie Hesmondhalgh as she struggles to understand.

This is theatre at its most powerful; the arts at work slapping you in the face to make you take notice: a crime of hate.

We are kindly creatures, peaceful souls,

But something of our life aggravates theirs,

Something in their lives despises ours.

The difference between us is what they can’t stand.”

…and the black roses?  They are the bruises on Sophie’s body,  ‘the bitter  bruises of self-defence’.

Pull the curtains around.

Call the angels down.

Now let me go.

Now carry me home.

Now make this known.”

We left the theatre in silence, not a word spoken, even on the bus home to Burnley.

The Sophie Lancaster Foundation

My Top Ten Days Out in the North West

With the New Year upon us, I thought it would be good to start with the top ten places I would like to visit this year.  Having only managed to visit one of these last year, I am determined to tick these of my list in 2012. Ranging in prices, location and experience, this list provides a selection of outings to suit all tastes and budgets. A few do have end dates so make sure you visit those first! All these suggestions are suitable for adults and children alike.

1. Clitheroe

Clitheroe is great day out not only does it offer a large variety of unique and boutique shops there is also a fantastic selection of cafés, bars and restaurants to enjoy that well earned afternoon tea! There are many walks that begin in Clitheroe which you can find out more about here.

You will also find in Clitheroe, the Platform Gallery which provides a unique market place for handmade crafts from across the UK.  You can visit the craft exhibitions, buy stunning gifts in the Craft Shop or take part in workshops and educational opportunities.  For further information and opening times visit the website here.

Clitheroe Castle Keep is also host to TAKEN, a sound installation by contemporary classical composer Ailís Ní Ríain. Inspired by the story of the Lancashire witches, TAKEN allows the visitor to imagine how the 12 individuals may have felt during their last four months in captivity whilst awaiting trial. December is an excellent time to visit with the cold, windy, icy weather adding to the experience.  Find out more about TAKEN here and on our blog.

2. Panopticons

Have you visited the Panopticons yet? Designed to attract visitors into the countryside to enjoy the stunning landscapes that this delightful area has to offer. There are four Panopticons altogether each situated on a high-point site commanding spectacular views.

Colourfields, in Blackburn’s Corporation Park, allows you to enjoy a panoramic view of the park below, with the town beyond and distant views out towards Lytham, Southport and Fleetwood.

Singing Ringing Tree is situated on Crown Point above Burnley, look north for a superb view of Pendle Hill or east for a glimpse of the Cliviger wind turbines on the Yorkshire border.

Atom, nestles on the hillside high above Wycoller village, there are breathtaking views of the Pendle landscape all around, including the historic settlement of Wycoller, now a conservation area.

Halo is the centrepiece of a former landfill site on Top o’ Slate above Haslingden. You can enjoy commanding views of the Rossendale Valley, Greater Manchester and into Hyndburn, Burnley and Ribble Valley.

For more information, visit http://www.visitlancashire.com/panopticons/. You can also download various maps and guides for walking around the Panopticons and other areas of interest here

3. The Greenway – Padiham & Preston

The Greenways are perfect for an afternoon walk or cycle with the family; constructed along disused railway lines they provide a safe, beautiful and alternative way to discover the countryside.

The Preston Greenway was constructed along the formally disused railway line that formed part of the Bamber Bridge to Preston extension of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The greenway links Penwortham, Bamber Bridge and Preston City Centre and forms part of the National Cycle Network.

The Padiham Greenway was created on a disused railway line that runs between Rosegrove and Padiham in Burnley. The Padiham Greenway has been developed as part of a longer route between Great Harwood and Burnley which is designed to create an off-road trail that connects people to facilities and open spaces in and around the towns that flank the route.

4. Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk via Burscough.

The Chapel Gallery is situated in the lively town of Ormskirk. Their diverse programme brings some of the most inventive contemporary fine art and craft from across the UK to the region, while also supporting locally based artists in the development of their careers. There are plenty of activities to keep young minds absorbed and with an on site Café and Contemporary Craft Shop, the gallery is the perfect place to visit on a day out. Ormskirk itself offers a variety of shops and cafés and an afternoon can be easily spent wandering around the town.

On route to Ormskirk why not stop off in Burscough and visit Gallery on the Wharf, the new permanent home for the Art and Craft Guild of Lancashire. As 2011 marks the silver anniversary of the Guild, the gallery opening in February makes it an exciting year for everyone. There is a wide variety of work on offer including ceramics, furniture, textiles, jewellery, glass, art, photography and turned wood from original designs all displayed in the unique setting of Burscough Wharf. Visit the website for more information.

 5. Brockholes

Brockholes is a new kind of nature reserve, an unreserved reserve owned and managed by The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside. There’s lots to see and do at Brockholes, you can hunt out the floating Visitor Village which houses a restaurant, shops and Welcome Centre or explore the family-friendly hides, walking trails and play area.  A fantastic free day out accessible by car and public transport. Visit the website for more information.

6. TATE Liverpool

See the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at Tate Liverpool till 29th January. The first exhibition of its kind to explore how Lewis Carroll’s stories have influenced the visual arts, inspiring generations of artists. The exhibition will provide insight into the creation of the novels and the inspiration they have provided for artists through the decades. Alice in Wonderland  offers  visitors a rare opportunity to view Carroll’s own drawings and photographs, alongside Victorian Alice memorabilia and John Tenniel’s preliminary drawings for the first edition of the novel.

7. Museum of Lancashire

Find out the history of Preston’s Guild in 2012 with a visit to the recently refurbished Museum of Lancashire. They have a lot to offer and admission is completely free! Whether your interests lie in Preston or the wider heritage of Lancashire, the Museum of Lancashire gives you a great introduction to all things Lancashire. With displays, interactives and activities aimed at different ages, there really will be something for all of the family to enjoy. Why not top off your visit with a relaxing coffee and cake in our Gateway café.

8. Cedar Farm

Cedar Farm nestling in beautiful countryside is surprisingly situated just 15 minutes from junction 27 of the M6. Providing an inspirational and creative shopping experience, the wonderful array of unique shops, selling contemporary crafts, clothing, home furnishings and mystic gifts is complemented by a group of creative working artists; here visitors have an opportunity to purchase artwork made by some of the most talented people in the region.

The cafe@cedarfarm, serves delicious freshly prepared food and the Coffee Roastery are both award winning places to eat and drink.

With regular exhibitions, free parking, a children’s playground and farm animals to feed, it’s a perfect place to spend an hour or two. Although, if you want to spend longer, you can book onto one of the courses or have a pamper day at the beauty salon.

With opportunities to feed the variety of animals and drop in to Pots of Fun to paint a pot, in between coffee and cake and wander round the unique shops, Cedar Farm makes a great afternoon out for the family or adults alike.

 9. Valley of Stone.

The Valley of Stone is a project which celebrates the quarrying and stone working heritage of Rossendale.  From the late 18th century to the time of the First World War quarrying was a major industry in Rossendale, employing thousands of men. The Valley of Stone project tells the story of this great industry, conserves remains, provides a programme of guided walks featuring Rossendale’s stone working heritage and celebrates this heritage through a number of arts-based activities. You can read more about Mid Pennine Arts’ involvement and the sculptures we commissioned in Lee Quarry here.

Why not visit these sculptures and take the family and your bikes along for an active, cultural and historical day out all rolled into one!

10. BFG at the Dukes.

One of Roald Dahl’s most popular children’s stories, The BFG which follows the adventures of Sophie a little girl with a big heart and she’s going on a whizzpoppingly wonderful adventure this Christmas, as she meets the Big Friendly Giant and sets off on an unbelievable journey.  From her sleepy orphanage, to magical Dream Country and beyond, join Sophie in this brand new production promising excitement, just a touch of danger and larger than life characters. In a faithful adaptation of the classic story, The Dukes brings this heartwarming tale of friendship and bravery to the stage with amazing puppetry, masses of fun and plenty of surprises along the way.

Visit the Official Roald Dahl Website, which is packed with information and games as well as up to date news from the World of Roald Dahl.

The BFG is on till 7th January. Why not make a day out of it and visit Lancaster home to the Storey Gallery and Gallery23

One of my many New Year resolutions is to organise more days out and actually do them – something I have been guilty of these last few years!

Please let us know if you visit any of the above and what you thought by leaving your comments below.


Author: Rebecca Fitton

A belated reflection on Manchester’s International Festival: ‘The Life and Death of Marina Abramović’…a personal view….

A belated but fascinating theatre review by David…

image from www.citylife.co.uk

Why would you want to observe your own life and death in public in the theatre and take a central role in the performance?

Well; the Manchester International Festival called and off I went to my beloved Lowry – no irony there: when you are a Salfordboy and know what was there before and what the Lowry vision has done for the city, you cannot but love the place.

‘The Life and Death of Marina Abramović’ was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I can say with all due modesty that I have seen a lot of theatre. I am so naïve that when I bought my ticket – no-one else would come with me…did they know something I didn’t…I thought from the title that Marina Abramović was dead.  How wrong I was.

In the late 50’s and 60’s a controversial strand of European theatre emerged called the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. So controversial that it caused riots in some of the theatres where plays were performed. The high point was Samuel Becket’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ an enormously influential play written in French by its Irish playwright who then translated it back into English for English speaking audiences.  One of the strains that these ‘Absurd’ plays placed on the actors was physical discomfort and pain: buried in sand, standing in dustbins, sitting in the same chairs for hours…. It was a movement which seemed to come to a dead end.

A later development in European theatre has been ‘physical theatre’ which as its name suggests places great physical strain on the actors – I saw an adaptation of Kafka’s short story. ‘Metamorphosis’ where the actor metamophoses into a beetle before your eyes and behaves exactly like one scurrying up walls and across the stage floor…

Where is all this going you may well ask…well; it’s helping me work out what ‘Marina Abramović’ is about…stay with me….

You will know something about the surrealist movement in art and the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the absurd…you will, perhaps, have seen some images of Salvador Dali…if not, there is an exhibition of René Magritte at Tate Liverpool running throughout the summer.

This play draws on the all three: the absurd, surrealism and physical theatre.  If that was not enough it uses a Greek-like chorus, draws on film and photography.

So; 388 words after I started what was it about?

It explores the life of the performance artist Marina Abramović.  It is as though Marina is using ourselves, the audience as a sort of catharsis in sharing the pain she has experienced in her relationships, particularly with her mother and her father.  The play digs deep into her psyche presenting us with visually striking images – some so striking they are still with me – images so disturbing some people walked out; others crazily comic.  The play opens with three corpses on stage with three dogs sniffing around scattered human(?) bones.  Other images so surreal they still make no sense to me: an elephant swimming under water, a triptych film of a man shaving, a film of a single eyelash over an eye – have you seen the opening of Buñuel & Dali’s  Un Chien Andalou?  I closed my eyes on each sequence waiting for something terrible to happen…it didn’t but that was the sense of expectation that was building…

But there is brilliance within….

The whole piece was held together by a brilliant performance by Willem Dafoe, at moments reminding me of Beetlejuice or the Joker in Batman, at others like Winnie in Becket’s Happy Days, buried up to his chest in mounds of newspaper cuttings of Marina’s life, reading extracts dispassionately like Krapp’s Last Tape’. His detached narrative style became a thread which held the whole performance together.

And then there was the music and performance of the Serbian singer Svetlana Spajić adding a moving melancholic, mournful thread which brought an intensity of passion I have not heard before in the theatre.

…and what of Marina herself?  It strikes me that there is a certain arrogance in a play which invites me to share with her the unremitting pain of her life and death whilst she is still alive; that suggests she feels such a weight of her own importance that the performance ends with a kind of messianic resurrection; that she feels that she cannot stand aside from the drama but must play a part in it herself. Why not it’s her life? No; it isn’t; it’s a play, a representation of a life; it’s not real…and who is the weakest actor in the play, the weakest singer?  You’ve guessed:Marina.  She just couldn’t let go.

I’m glad I went.  Was it performance art or play?  I’m still working it out.