Wednesday, 11 December 2013

That Day We Sang, My Day in Manchester

Victoria Woods 'That Day We Sang' is an absolute delight and works perfectly in the round theatre surroundings of the Royal Exchange.

We'll come back to the show in a minute but I promised you the story of my day in Manchester so lets start at the beginning.

I set off on the 180 mile trip from Bristol to Manchester at about 10am on Monday morning. Thankfully traffic was decent and I arrived at my destination at about 2:30pm, 5 hours before the show was due to start.

Although I had plenty of time I decided to head to the theatre to collect my tickets from the box office. WOW, what a venue.

The actual building is HUGE. The ceilings are amazingly high and the architecture is just incredible. I don't think I've ever been anywhere quite like The Royal Exchange. It's a one off and well worth a visit even if you're not seeing a show.

The actual theatre is set in the middle of the main hall inside a glass arena and as I was collecting my tickets I could hear voices and music coming from inside so I walked over to take a look.

I'm glad I did because I was able to watch Faye and the rest of the 'That Day We Sang' cast rehearsing ahead of that nights final preview show.

You don't get a perfect view from outside but as it has glass walls there were numerous places I could see at least some of what was going on.

Now I'm always in awe of Faye but I think in this instance my nerves were even worse than normal because I wasn't prepared. I hadn't of course expected to see her practicing when I went in to collect my ticket and the thought I may get chance to say hello earlier than expected had me heading to the bar for a stiff drink.

I'd liken my nerves to those you get before you go on your favourite rollercoaster. You're buzzing with excitement and willing to queue for hours because you know you're going to love it, even though you're scared to death of the loop de loop or the vertical drop.

I'm not sure why I get so nervous because Faye really couldn't be nicer but to me she's a superstar and I guess fans of other celebrities feel much the same when they get to meet their idol.

Anyway, the stiff drink turned out to be a cup of tea, so I decided to get some fresh air by popping back to the car to pick up Faye's Christmas present which I'd left in the boot.

As it turned out I needn't have worried as I didn't get to speak to her until after the show.

I returned to the theatre feeling a little better and went back to watching rehearsals. The opportunity to watch them practice was an excellent unexpected bonus.

The hour or so leading up to the show was fairly uneventful so I'll jump forward now to 7:30pm and the show itself.

Unfortunately I'm no theatre critic and my memory is not good enough to recall all the many magical moments from a truly wonderful play. However, I can assure you 'That Day We Sang' is a 5 STAR production and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who is visiting Manchester over the next 6 weeks.

Official press reviews are already appearing online echoing my opinion and I'll feature the first of these from the Manchester Evening News at the bottom of this write up.

This of course is Faye's Fan Blog so we're going to concentrate mainly on her performance as Edna, Ann and the waitress at the Berni Inn.

She may not have the lead role in this production but she is heavily involved. She not only gets to show off her superb acting - playing three different characters - but also has the opportunity to sing and dance. She even gets the chance to tickle the ivories. Is there no end to this girls talent?

Her main part is probably as Edna who assists at choir practice, joining in the songs and playing the piano. I can't remember too much about Ann if I'm honest but I think my favourite scene of the show was probably the Berni Inn song where Faye plays one of 4 waiters who dance and sing while delivering dinner.

Faye is such a versatile actress who manages to excel in every role she's given. Her parts in 'That Day We Sang' are very different to Miss Elle Woods or Princess Aurora but her star quality still shines through.

This play is blessed with some of the best actors I have had the good fortune to see perform and special mention should go to the the children and the two leads Dean Andrews and Anna Francolini who are superb throughout.

I wasn't sure what to expect from 'That Day We Sang' but I loved every minute. It's the sort of show you can't help but enjoy. A beautifully written Mancunian love story with plenty of humour, great songs and superb acting, which saw every member of the audience leave with a smile on their face. Many of which headed straight to the box office to book tickets for a return trip.

Afterwards I finally got to chat with Faye. My nerves hadn't completely gone as I'm sure she could tell but I was now able to speak which at least made conversation possible.

Faye was as lovely as ever and is really enjoying being part of this play and having the opportunity to perform at the Royal Exchange for the first time. Christmas at home in Manchester is also a notable bonus.

She was able to tell me some SUPER exciting news regarding a possible future role but I'm afraid I can't release any details just yet. However, watch this space because as soon as I get the green light I'll tell you all about it and trust me, you won't be disappointed.

We talked about numerous things which of course included Christmas and she thanked me for her presents which have a link to her time as Liesl in 'The Sound of Music'.

I even got to meet the guy with the easiest job in the world, her agent. Seriously though, I think Waring & McKenna do a great job because although there is no doubt Faye is immensely talented, it is a highly competitive business and she has been lucky enough to have some fantastic roles.

All to soon it was time to say goodbye but I'm already looking forward to my next trip to The Royal Exchange to see the final show of 'That Day We Sang' on January 18th. Hopefully I'll get to have another chat with superwoman too.


Here is the Manchester Evening News review I promised you:

Review: That Day We Sang @ The Royal Exchange Theatre

Deanna Delamotta enjoys Victoria Wood's Christmas gift to Mancunians.

Victoria Wood smiled or laughed heartily throughout That Day We Sang, her Christmas gift to Mancunians; a play about them, for them.

But that was OK because her fellow audience members needed no encouragement from Bury's comedy queen who, together with the Royal Exchange's artistic director Sarah Frankcom, has sprinkled stardust over this big-hearted love story that premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2011.

But it was good to see Wood in town to feast her eyes on her improved play with songs (rather than full on musical) that looks better and sounds better but that essential ingredient, that slice of life comedy remains the main draw.

The 'background music' is preparations for a concert in 1929 when 250 members of the Manchester School Children's Choir went to the Free Trade Hall to record Purcell's Nymphs and Shepherds with the Halle.

But proceedings are dominated by Wood's witty writing that has propelled her to the status of national treasure. And this play reminds you that this woman was making hilarious observations about northerners when Peter Kay was still in short trousers. Here she has some wonderful vessels from which to pour out her humour including Sally Bankes, who almost steals the show with her two roles.

First as the Hyacinth Bouquet-esque suburban housewife Dorothy Brierley, who thinks she's continental because she's got a continental quilt; who is appalled by the idea of serving ham and tomato sandwiches when she has promised nibbles as that would look 'very headscarf and curlers'.

Together with hubby Frank (excellent performance by James Quinn, who also has two roles) their idea of being bourgeois is plating up a box of mint Matchmakers for their guests, dining at the Berni Inn with three tier black forest gateau for pud.

Bankes is equally good at playing blousy buxom secretary, Pauline, who's jealous of PA Enid's superior job, she of the 'leatherette planner'.

Pauline's a hopeless slimmer who would rather eat double egg and chips at the Golden Egg than cottage cheese in stark contrast to Enid, slim uptight Enid, (another great performance from Anna Francolini).

Despite her buttoned up prim exterior, Enid has been having it away with her foul-mouthed (well just foul really) boss (played by James Quinn).

Decades of disappointment has forced her to settle for Bournvita and iced gems ...until she meets Tubby Baker (a sensitive portrayal by Life on Mars and Last Tango in Halifax's Dean Andrews).

Tubby, once an angel voiced choir boy, (superbly played by William Haresceugh, ably abetted by cute and tuneful choristers) is now a 50 year old insurance man, with a paunch, who Enid meets when Granada reunites choir members 40 years later in 1969.

 This show will leave you yearning for a bowl of Angel Delight or a slice of Black Forest gateau as well as savouring a poignant love story stuffed with jokes, nostalgia and Manchester memories.

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