Wednesday, 28 October 2009

In Review: Mixed Up North

Mixed Up North


Above: Rose Leslie, Asif Khan, Lorna Stuart and Stephanie Street in Mixed up North. Photo: Ian Tilton

Out of Joint Out of Joint and the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Director: Max Stafford-Clark


Performing at The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster, LA1 1QE

Verbatim plays may not be everyone's idea of good theatre, but they can often be eye-opening (and disturbing) in the way plays based on the playwright's own words are not. Robin Soans' Mixed Up North is based on interviews with people from Burnley, which is also where it is explicitly set. There is no intention of subtly integrating aspects of these interviews into a convincing storyline. Rather, Mixed Up North starts with a series of accounts of actual, personal experiences which intersperse Bella's (Kathryn O'Reilly) attempt to organise a dress rehearsal of a production by a youth theatre group whose aim is to bring teenagers from different cultural backgrounds together. (One problem - which is addressed - in practice this group (run with care and dedication by Judith Amsenga's Trish) extends mainly to Asian boys and white girls.) When the main actor Javed (Tyrone Lopez) walks off the set, it is decided that the dress rehearsal will be replaced by a question-and-answer session: a vehicle for the often shocking interview data. There are no apologies for what might seem like this 'contrivance', and presumably both audience enthusiasts and practitioners of verbatim theatre see this as characteristic of the genre. Indeed, the script is highly self-referential. After an account of sex in 'mixed relationships', Aftab (Asif Khan) says "But none of this is in the play" and Sarfraz (Kashif Khan) echoes "None of this is in the play." And at the end, Tamsin (Lorna Stuart) says: "I think for our next project we should build a play just using what people say in real life".

Kashif Khan and Asif Khan in Mixed up NorthThis makes for extraordinary and sometimes uncomfortable theatre (the audience sitting in The Rake of the Dukes Theatre is positioned as 'friends' watching the failed dress rehearsal and question-answer session). Nevertheless (or perhaps because of it), it is mesmerising. The 13 actors, mainly graduates of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, create a dramatically coherent production, and the several highly sensitive 'cameo' pieces (at least one for almost all the cast members) are beautifully played: if I had to single out one, it would be Tamsin's (Lorna Stuart's) story about her sister in Act 2. And there are no answers, only questions. There is nothing didactic about what we hear. After the Councillor Roy (Matthew Wait) walks out of the question-answer session (ironically, in some ways, as what he wants for Burley is not far from what the community workers and young people also want), the group challenge each other: "You said ...", "I meant ....", "That was then ....", "What's so great about mixed relationships?"

This is a touring production which has already performed in Bolton, Northampton, Leicester, Southampton, Clitheroe, Turton and Nelson (as near to Burnley as the production could get). If you miss it at the Lancaster Dukes (see below for details), there are two more opportunities: the Liverpool Everyman (Nov. 3-7) and Wilton's Music Hall in London (Nov. 10 - Dec. 5).

Jane Sunderland

• There will be a Post-Show Talkback Session with cast and Max Stafford-Clark on Thursday 29th October

• Performances starring Celia Imrie as Trish: Saturday 31st October 2pm and 7.30pm (see news story)


Dates and Times

Thu 29 Oct 7.30pm

Fri 30 Oct 7.30pm

Sat 31st Oct 2.00pm & 7.30pm

Prices £14.00 / £11.50 / £10.50

To Book: phone 01524 598500. Web: www.dukes-lancaster.org

Mixed Up North Trailer

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Top Classical Pianist Plays Lancaster

Costas FotopoulosInternationally renowned pianist and composer Costas Fotopoulos will perform works by Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov at a recital in Lancaster Cathedral early next month.

London-based Costas works internationally as a composer and arranger for film, the stage and the concert hall, and as a concert, ensemble and jazz pianist. He appears frequently on radio (in 2007 he provided a piano improvisation to sections of Gordon Brown's latest Budget Speech, in the silent film style, Radio 4) and is highly sought after as an accompanist for silent film screenings.

He has scored numerous short films, including Nape of the Neck (2004, directed by Martin McDonnell), which was selected for the Raindance, Greenwich and Clerkenwell Film Festivals, and has also worked as an assistant to film composer Trevor Jones (In the Name of the Father, Mississippi Burning etc.), preparing synthesizer demos and short scores for orchestration.

His debut piano solo album, featuring works by Rachmaninov as well as his own Toccata, was released in February on the JCL Records label.

The concert programme will also include Two Ghost Rags by William Bolcom and Fotopoulos' Toccata and Fotopoulos will be performing on the Cathedral’s Bechstein concert grand piano, a recent gift to the Cathedral of Mr Frank Watson.

• Costas Fotopoulos in Concert: Friday 6th November 2009. The concert will begin at 7.30pm and tickets are £10 (concessions £8) and are available from Lancaster Tourist Information (tel: 01524 32878) or the Cathedral Events Co-ordinator (tel: 01524 384820 or email: events@lancastercathedral.org.uk).

• Lancaster Cathedral online: www.lancastercathedral.org.uk

Monday, 26 October 2009

Bins, Boxes and Fines

Local councilors have organised a public meeting to discuss how to improve waste collection and recycling activities in terraced streets with back alleys.

The Bulk Ward Green Party has organised a public meeting on Wednesday 4th November at 6.30pm in the Gregson on Moor Lane in Lancaster, to give residents an opportunity to discuss problems they are having with bin and box storage and worries they have about threats of being fined for leaving bins in back alleys.

The local press has featured several stories about recycling bin issues, and the explosion of collecting boxes for different types of waste has met with criticism, especially from people with small yards "taken over" by the system.

The City Council officer in charge of the waste collection and recycling system, Mark Davies, will be present to answer questions from residents.

The County Council was asked to send an officer to the meeting to answer questions about back alleys and highways because these are the responsibility of the County Council. County declined this request.

“This meeting has been organised to give residents an opportunity to ask questions and discuss ways forward that will improve recycling efforts," says one of the organisers, County Councillor Sam Riches, "and avoid confrontation with residents over threats of fines.

"I'm delighted that the city council has provided a senior officer to help with this discussion but disappointed that County declined.”

Suspected cocaine seized in Ryelands raids

Police have seized a quantity of suspected cocaine after carrying out drugs raids on the Ryelands estate in Lancaster.

Officers swooped on the addresses in Ryelands Road, Austwick Road and Tarnsyke Road at 6.30pm on Friday to execute warrants, sexing suspected cocaine and drug dealing paraphernalia.

As a result of the high profile police activity, seven people were arrested on drugs related offences.

Following the raids, officers carried out reassurance work in the local community.

“Drugs and drug dealing have a detrimental affect on our neighbourhoods and will not be tolerated," said DS Mark Stephens of Lancaster Police.

"We want residents to know that if we have evidence or intelligence about drug dealing in their area then we will act on it and those who are involved will be dealt with.”

Cocaine can command a high price on the street: the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit figures for 2008 suggests high-quality ‘Peruvian’ can command £50-£60 per gram while low-quality ‘Budget’ cocaine (under 20% purity) fetches £25-£40 per gram). In February, the Daily Telegraph reported the most common price for the drug was £40 per gram.

• Anyone with information about drugs or drug dealing should contact police on 0845 1 25 35 45 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Herbal Medicine to be Outlawed?

New European Union regulations require all those who practice herbal medicine to be authorised persons and therefore state regulated practitioners from 2011, but Britain's the Department of Health consultation on implementing the Pitillo report is considering the rejection of state regulation of herbal practitioners, to both their dismay and the thousands who swear by their work.

This move - which could effectively outlaw herbal medicine - is 'entirely contrary to what the steering group had been set up for' according to Professor Michael Pitillo who led the working group feeding into the consultation.

There are a large number of herbal practitioners working locally who could be threatened by these proposed changes. The DoH consultation ends on 2nd November.

An online petition to the Prime Minister, which closes today, is asking him to intercede on practitioners behalf to ensure properly trained and qualified practitioners are allowed to become "authorised persons" and continue the delivery of herbal medicine.

"Outlawing herbal medicine will have serious adverse effects on the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people who use herbal medicine in the UK," says a spokesperson. "It will put practising herbalists out of work. It will render degree qualifications in herbal medicine worthless."

"After almost 10 years of commitment to this important step in the public interest there is now a very real possibility that the Government will not proceed with statutory regulation," state the Herb Society, Britain's leading society promoting the understanding use and appreciation of herbs in their response to the consultation. "Instead, the Government is now considering options which will drastically reduce public access to high quality herbal remedies and threaten an important public protection against inferior and sometimes dangerous products.

"Not only will it mean I've wasted the last five years getting a degree in herbal medicine," one aspiring herbalist told us. "It also means that you will no longer have the choice if you wish to use herbal medicine."

• Sign the Petition: petitions.number10.gov.uk/herbal-ban

Folk in November at the Robert Gillow

graham3.jpg


Here's the line up of folk music at Lancaster's Robert Gillow pub for November courtesy of local musician about town, Tony Cooke, which includes appearances by the superb Graham Robinson, pictured above.

Thursday 5 November: Simon Nicholls

Simon lives in Rugby and is a singer and guitarist of great repute who makes regular tours of Great Britain. A set from Simon will typically contain both traditional and contemporary songs in the folk idiom, together with pieces borrowed from the world of rock music. He is an all round entertainer and a perfect accompaniment to a pint or two.

Thursday 12 November: Graham Robinson


Originally from Jarrow on Tyne but now living in Colne, Lancashire, Graham Robinson’s playing reflects the styles of the early blues masters - particularly the east coast, syncopated styles of Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Blake. Other major influences include Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Bill Broonzy, and Fred McDowell.

A typical performance will include impassioned renditions of songs from the above artists played with energy and conviction on a very old Stella and National resonator guitars.

gren_bartleyw.jpgThursday 19 November: Gren Bartley

A "phenomenal guitarist and singer", Gren Bartley is deeply rooted in old folk and blues traditions whilst stamping his own style on the genre. Whilst the first thing you'll hear is his virtuosity on guitar, it's his mature vocals and poetically crafted lyrics that ensure the longevity of this young musician's career. His first full solo album “Carry Her Safe” is a collection of original songs and tunes, played on guitar and banjo. His second CD e°g° with fiddle sensation Tom Kitching, led to a record deal with folk stalwarts Fellside Records.

He's often compared to the likes of Richard Thompson, Nic Jones and Kelly Joe Phelps - an emerging talent not to be missed.

music_pete_morton.jpgThursday 26 November: Pete Morton


Pete Morton is, quite simply, the best songwriter in the UK today, who has been performing to audiences worldwide for over two decades with his unique and involving style of songwriting and traditional singing. His songs are an unruly mix of humour, politics, religion, love and social comment, wrapping their way around the folk tradition. His stageshows are intense and dynamic, with the national Guardian pronouncing him “not only impressive but a revelation... totally original” and fRoots magazine saying he is “... amongst the best the British roots music scene has produced in living memory.”

Pete has recorded seven albums of original material and one brilliant album of traditional English songs.

For more events at the Robert Gillow, visit the pub's official web site

Thousands of Locals Still Not Registered to Vote

Time is running out to make sure that you are registered to vote, and the current postal strikes mean the Council is doing everything in its power to reach those who haven't registered, before it publishes its new Electoral Register on 1st December.

While the majority of households in the Lancaster district will be included on the register, the Council says there are still 7,500 properties that have not responded to letters from the council asking them for their details.

Final reminders are being sent out this week to those people who have not yet registered and replies must be received by 15th November to make sure you’re included on this year’s register.

As well as allowing you to vote, the Electoral Register is used to help determine credit ratings. People who are not on it could therefore find that they cannot apply for a loan, credit card or mobile phone.

Because of industrial action affecting the postal service, people are being urged to use the freephone telephone service (0808 161 7649) or internet registration service (www.register-online.co.uk) to confirm existing details.

Anyone who needs to change the details of who is registered at their property and is concerned that their reply may not arrive in time should phone the registration helpline on 01524 582905.

After the register has been published, people can still apply to be added, for example when they move house, and forms can be obtained from Lancaster or Morecambe town halls, by phoning 01524 582905 or via the internet www.lancaster.gov.uk/elections.

• If you are not sure if you have registered, or you want any help with registering, telephone the council’s registration helpline - 01524 582905.


Hard Times Ahead for Council, Leader Warns

coun_stuart_langhorn.jpgLancaster City Council's leader Stuart Langhorn has warned the area faces more cuts to its services as public finances tighten.

Writing on the new Council leader's blog, Langhorn notes that nationally the public finances are coming under "extensive scrutiny".

Despite having already made cuts to its budget over the past two years, with the loss of several services, local government funding looks set to be under even more pressure.

"Whatever the outcome of the next General Election all the majoor political parties agree that there will need to be big cuts to the public finances," he warns, "and local authorities such as Lancaster City Council will not be immune."

The Council is already preparing the worst, with a draft budget for 2010/11 due to be discussed in December by the council’s Cabinet, as well as looking at the prospects for the following two years.

"We know we will not be able to continue doing everything we currently do and many of the options we discuss are sure to be controversial," says Langhorn.

In advance of this, he's appealing to local people to tell the council what services they feel are important to them, by attending one of a number of workshops that are planned to take place at various venues across the district early next year, or visiting one of a number of town centre exhibitions that are also in the pipeline that will offer a snapshot of Council Services.

The results of the consultation will help the Cabinet recommend a budget to Council.

"The times ahead will not be easy," says Langhorn, "but I hope that by all working together the council can continue to provide a good range of services."

• You can register for these workshops by sending an email to consultation@lancaster.gov.uk giving your name and contact details. Alternatively you can contact the council’s consultation officer by telephoning 01524 582268.

Recycle your Bicycle!

With Lancaster a designated Cycling Town and as more and more people in the Lancaster district catch the cycling bug, there's bound to be a greater demand for good quality bikes but at a low cost.

If you've got an old bike sitting in the garage and want to make a bit of space or are planning on replacing yours with a new one this Christmas, why not let Lancaster City Council's Cycling Town Team help you sell it or donate it to local people who want to give cycling a go?

Bikes and accessories can be advertised free of charge by posting the relevant details on the message board at www.celebratingcycling.org. Similarly, requests for bikes and parts can also be posted here.

Alternatively you can donate your bike to local recycling charity Pedal Power, who'll take most bikes off your hands, refurbish them and sell them on at low cost to local people.  

For more information, give them a call on 01524 65328.

Bogus workman cons Lancaster pensioner out of £1,100

Local police are warning residents to be wary of cold callers after a bogus workman conned a pensioner out of £1,100.

The 75-year-old woman was in the process of having some work done on her home in the Primrose area of Lancaster and was waiting for a genuine builder to arrive. A man then knocked at her door at around 1.30pm on Saturday 17th October and asked if she needed any jobs doing. The pensioner told him she had a builder coming, at which point the man claimed to be working for him and demanded the outstanding money for the job.

The man, described as white male, of stocky build, with a north west accent, then left in a white van, driven by a second male.

“This is a despicable crime, targeting an elderly lady in her own home," commented PC Martin Wilcock, Lancaster police. "I would urge anyone with information about this incident to get in touch with us.

“I would advise relatives and neighbours of the elderly to keep an eye over them and stress the importance of not handing over money to people who call at the door unexpectedly.

“If you have any doubts over the person calling at your door then close it and dial 999.

• Contact police on 01524 63333 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

City Council Joins the 'Twits'!

Lancaster City Council has launched two new digital services to keep the public up to date with its latest news and information.

The council has joined the ‘micro blogging’ site Twitter, on which it will be posting its latest news.

People can follow the council’s ‘tweets’ at www.twitter.com/lancastercc. (We look forward to reading "We're stopping local companies circumventing the results of a planning inquiry")

Coun Stuart Langhorn, leader of the council, will also be publishing a regular blog on the council’s website at www.lancaster.gov.uk/leaders-blog. There's not a lot on it right now, however, and the page doesn't yet seem to have an RSS feed, which makes it lees user-friendly than we'd like her at virtual-lancaster

“Repeated surveys have shown that people want the council to provide them with information on how we spend their money," explains Coun Langhorn.

“We are continually looking for ways in which we can do just that and these two new digital services are both excellent opportunities to get the message across.

“I hope that people will take this opportunity to find out more about the council and also give us their comments and feedback on the services we provide.”

In addition to the new Twitter and blog sites, the council is still updating its website, www.lancaster.gov.uk, and there are an increasing number of ‘do it online’ services on offer – such as paying council bills or finding schools, recycling points or roadworks.

One useful feature we've recently discovered is the ability to check for planning applications in your area, although it would be more useful if you could set up an alert to tell you when planning applications were available to view.