Adam Hills–The Lowry, Salford 2nd October 2016

IMG_20161003_095439I’d been looking forward to this show from the second I got the tickets. I got them as a present for Mum. I like to find the right gift for her and it’s not always easy, but we watch The Last Leg together each week that it is on and when I saw that Adam was coming to my home town in the same month as mum’s birthday how could I not treat her, besides I wanted to go!

A quick word about the venue, I really love the Lyric theatre at The Lowry, it’s gorgeously purple and feels so comfortable. The staff are also always really nice. So, we took our seats and waited for the show to begin.

Support came from Ian Coppinger, a Dublin comedian who got in all the jokes about his 5ft 2 stature before anyone else could. He was really funny and his half hour slot felt a lot shorter than it was. I love it when the people on the stage are having as much fun as  the audience and he certainly seemed to be enjoying himself.  “Angry Milk” has already entered our list of in-jokes, and we’re already planning sherry for breakfast on Christmas morning!

20161002_205442_008After a short interval, it was time for Adam to take to the stage. Taking a deep bow to show off his red, white and blue hair (the result of a Paralympics-based bet) he was warmly welcomed, as were the Paralympians he pointed out in the audience notably the gold medallists Ellie Simmonds and Jody Cundy. This was the first time I’d been to a show of his, but I’d seen shows on TV and DVD so I knew the first quarter of an hour or so tends be him talking to audience members, before starting the “show”  as prepared. Tonight however, I think it was about 45 minutes, maybe even more before we got to the show bit.  Starting fairly normally with a girl in bunny ears being invited to the stage, where she then stayed for the whole evening the audience bit turned quite surreal. There was a prop arm that made it’s way from the balcony to be signed, the owner being missing an arm, but this one wasn’t his prosthetic. It was however eventually gaffer taped to him, during the creation of the boy band. The boy band segment was a request from an audience member who had seen it at previous shows and was “crashed” by a lady who came down from the balcony dressed as a clown (because the tour is called Clown Heart). In amongst all this there was a stalker from Scunthorpe, and a deaf audience member who was told to throw a bottle on stage to heckle if she wanted to, so she did when Adam was in the way of the sign language interpreter. And at various points a lot of this was described to a guy with vision impairment on the front row. As Adam confessed, this segment of the show is not usually quite this surreal.

When we actually got to the show bit, he talked about kids, parenting and the death of his father which ties in with his work for the Stand Up To Cancer events. Though it sounds a sobering subject it was dealt with a humour that never crossed into bad taste. Adam then introduced a film he made with a guy called Craig Combes. Craig was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer and chose to raise awareness for the condition by stripping off every Tuesday and posting a photo on the internet. The film was Adam recreating various famous photos with him for his Naked Tuesday project. At the end of the film, we were told that on diagnosis Craig had been given just over a year to live and that the film was a couple of years old. Then with obvious pleasure, Adam introduced Craig onto the stage, where, after his standing ovation, he did a short comedy set. Then Adam came back on for a song and a striptease with Craig before heading off to the foyer with buckets to raise money for a local charity as everyone left.

A show that was supposed to last around 80 minutes ran for just under two hours – three if you include the support act and the break. Throughout the show (including the support) Catherine King was on stage translating everything into sign language.  She got a very deserved round of applause as by the end of it she must have been exhausted. There was also a promise of lots of Gin and Tonics. I hope she got them!

As we left, Adam was in the foyer. I heard later that he stayed and signed autographs and posed for pictures with everyone who wanted one. What a guy! And they raised £1500 for local young carers.

Quite honestly, I think that’s the most value for money I’ve had from a show in a long time, and possibly the most fun I’ve had too. Mum laughed so hard she thought she’d bust a rib. As an added bonus tweeting about the evening resulted in a reply from Jody Cundy the next day, much to my delight. Mum had a further rib-tickling by watching the Happyism DVD the next day, I know this because I got a text message from her that read “Touch The Frog”

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I doubt anyone involved in the show will read this post, but just in case, thank you for a great night. Laughter is great medicine and sharing the experience only strengthens that. I’m already looking forward to getting home on Friday and sitting with a beer and my mum to watch the new series of The Last Leg.

 

One last thing, though you probably had to be there –

 

Twelve Angry Men – Lowry Lyric Theatre 28th March 2015 (Matinee performance)

From the moment we entered the theatre and took our seats the atmosphere was building.  There was a wash of sound playing low in the background, the sound of cars and general city hubbub.  Once everyone was seated the house lights dimmed and the effect of a train passing distracted us as the actors assembled on the stage in a jury box type formation. This was our first glimpse of the ensemble, Juror Eight already standing out by appearing in profile rather than face on as an off stage announcement sends them off to the jury room for their deliberations, swiftly moving the action to the main set.  This was a backdrop of windows in a main room furnished with chairs, a water cooler, benches and a large table. Stage left was the washroom area complete with working sinks, stage right a chair for the guard to sit in for the duration after locking our jurors into their claustrophobic setting.

The set was laid out really well with the large table rotating so slowly round in a full circle that you hardly noticed it happening until you suddenly realised that it was in a new position as the action continued. The lighting was also subtly done, with the main set lights dimming when the interactions were focused in the washroom.

After going to musicals for so long I was taken aback when the actors weren’t miked up. This was fabulous – there was no problem hearing anything that was going on with such a talented cast and it made the audience really concentrate and listen in silence, enraptured by the play unfolding around us.

The cast were all spot on. Obviously I had the film in my mind, but hadn’t seen it for quite a while (I confess I re-watched it when I got home later, just for comparison.)

Tom Conti was Juror Eight, the role made famous by Henry Fonda. His delivery was soft spoken at first making later outbursts all the more dramatic, and so very well timed. I was pretty thrilled to get to see him in action to be honest as I have always enjoyed what I’ve seen of his TV and film work. It all seemed to flow so very naturally that some of it almost sounded ad-libbed until I replayed the film and there it was, practically word for word. I was in awe of his skills throughout the performance.

Stepping into Lee J Cobb’s shoes as Juror Three was Andrew Lancel who I last saw on stage playing Brian Epstein so very brilliantly. Juror Three’s part builds to a wonderful and highly dramatic crescendo at the end of the play, with the seeds for this being planted fairly early in the first half.  The character is stubborn and adamant in his decision about the case, not easily swayed at all.  Andrew carries off all of the aspects of this character expertly. You really get annoyed at his pigheaded and bullish behaviour which makes his final scene, and changing his mind, all the more effective.

I didn’t really scrutinise the cast list much before going to the play so spotting Robert Duncan as Juror Four in the opening scene was a real treat. He was someone else who just made it all look so easy, as did Denis Lil playing the bigoted Juror Ten. His speech about how “these people lie” was very uncomfortable to listen to and I mean that as a compliment to the actor! The whole ensemble was brilliant and despite the claustrophobic  nature of the play there was an underlying sense that everyone seemed to be having a good time.

The 1957 film is high drama, yet this version allowed for laughs. It wasn’t played for laughs however, it’s not a humorous subject, but there were purposeful pauses while the audience reacted to the irony and hypocrisy in the speeches and attitudes of various jurors. These brief outbursts of laughter were the only sounds to punctuate the awed silence of the watching public. The interval and the end of the play heralded a sound akin to us all breathing out after realising we had been holding our collective breathe for so long. Everyone around us seemed impressed, especially with the effect of the moving table, and both the interval and the finale were greeted with warm and generous applause.

It’s a shame this touring production isn’t really coming anywhere close enough for another trip to see it. Live theatre is always magic, but live theatre done this well is simply breath-taking!  And if you think I’m gushing in this blog post, take pity on all those I have spoken to in real life about it, going over the tiny details in the direction and staging, the nuances of the performances and the emotions that all these things combined evoked.

The rest of the dates and locations where you can catch Twelve Angry Men can be found by following this link.