Monday, November 23, 2015


Written & directed by Craig Hepworth
The King’s Arms, Salford
Until 24th November 2015


Ascension is the latest production from Manchester fringe trailblazers Vertigo Productions, and is not for the faint of heart. Or those averse to full frontal nudity. Or BDSM. Or S & M. Or murder. Or blood. Or sex. Or animal cruelty. Or bottoms. Or…, actually, I think I’d better stop there, as I’m guessing that you’ve got the picture by now. Yes, this one’s got it all, folks. Something to offend everybody. Well, those who delight in being offended, that is. Craig Hepworth has set his new stage play in modern day America, but takes his inspiration from the notorious Leopold and Loeb case of 1924. Described as ‘The crime of the century’, the infamous murder of a teenage boy, by a pair of self-obsessed, rich young things with superiority complexes (they actually considered themselves ‘Supermen’, after overdosing on Nietzche) became an international sensation. Leopold and Loeb considered themselves above the law, and set out to prove how clever they were by meticulously planning and executing the murder of an innocent 14 year old (they failed. Spectacularly). Hepworth’s script takes the basic theme of deluded personalities seeking to impose their will on others, and fashions a quite terrifying tale of two souls descending into madness, and destroying everybody they come into contact with.
The two central performances are flawless. Richard Allen and Ryan McMyler play a gay couple, Richard and Nathan, superglued together in a violent, depraved, and mutually destructive sadomasochistic relationship. Nathan is the dominant partner; portrayed with frightening intensity by the livewire McMyler. His adoring, and supremely subservient lover, Richard (a deceptively controlled Allen) gets the brown end of the stick whilst suffering an endless barrage of slaps, punches, cigarette burns, and rough sexual assaults. From the very beginning, it is Richard who is the stronger man, and Nathan who we see gradually losing his mind. Noir-ish flashbacks detail the characters’ individual backstories – Nathan is a spoilt rich boy, delighting in abusing animals, while Richard is the mild-mannered kid suffering bullying at school. Video excerpts of the men’s’ lives are shot in a beautifully noir style, reminiscent of the nightmare imagery of film-maker David Lynch. The whole story zips by in a pacey, movie-esque style, with no fat to be trimmed. I’m not entirely convinced we needed to have the story set in the US, but maybe that’s just a personal thing (it could have been even more terrifying, particularly for a Salford audience, to have it set in the north of England). Director Hepworth indulges writer Hepworth, and has an ensemble of mask-wearing, supporting characters play out a variety of scene-setting pieces utilising dance, mime, and physical theatre. Almost every character is semi-naked throughout, which gives the play a raw, edgy atmosphere, particularly when the actors lend their bodies for use as tables and chairs by the two leads.

As I said, not for the faint hearted.

Monday, November 02, 2015



Written by Sean Mason
Directed by Peter M George
The Seven Oaks pub, Manchester

Until Wed 4th Nov

Reviewed on 28.10.15

Humpty’s Bones is the latest production from the always intriguing, always entertaining, and always adventurous Sytheplays Ltd. Local legend Sean Mason has adapted Simon Clark’s creepy short story for the stage, and the relatively small upstairs room at the Seven Oaks pub is the perfect venue to frighten the collective pants off any punter venturing there on a misty Autumnal evening. Claustrophobic, wood-panelled, ancient-looking d├ęcor, and a truly foreboding atmosphere. Perfect for a Halloween treat. It’s a very Nigel Kneale-esque story of inquisitive folk messing around with ancient and still-bearing-a-grudge supernatural entities. On this occasion, a grave is disturbed in a back garden, and a collection of bones are being examined by a dim-witted amateur archaeologist, Heather Laird (played by an impish Lauron Stirrup). The skeleton’s head is missing, and things just don’t add up. Enter our young heroine, the wonderfully-monikered Eden Page (a delightful Catryn Philbin) to stir things up, annoy the locals, and provide some much-needed distraction for Heather’s cranky, sexually frustrated, and boorish husband Curtis (Andrew Marsden). There’s a League Of Gentlemen aspect to this gruesome little piece, and, at one point, I half expected Pat Brocklehurst’s mad old bat Ada Hezzle to be unmasked as Steve Pemberton in drag. The old hag’s cryptic warnings and crazed mutterings fail to deter our lovely Eden from getting involved with stuff she shouldn’t get involved with, and so events spiral towards an eruption of murder, ghoulish activities, and eventual blood-chilling horror. Marsden’s Curtis is a frightening creation, like a psycho scarecrow lashing out at all and sundry, desperate for the touch of a good woman (or any woman, really), and batshit crazy enough to ignore the werewolf-like creature literally at his front door, preferring instead to focus his narrow-sighted attentions on the less than impressed Eden. Full marks to Greg Hulme’s moody and unsettling music, and Peter M George’s full-bloodied direction and sound design (with Sytheplay’s Daniel Thackeray). Be warned – don’t mess with the dead, ‘cos dem bones is gonna walk around. Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones!