Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and a little bit of history

My knowledge of Shakespeare is limited. I studied Macbeth at school but that’s about it.

Apart from there being a storm at some point, I had no preconceived ideas about The Tempest. My expectations were high though, the two previous plays I’d been to at North West Theatre Arts Company (NWTAC) were excellent. I wasn’t disappointed.Never mind the howling wind, the amount of dialogue blew me away. There were some surprises along the way that kept the audience on its toes, as well as some very funny parts. The Arctic island really set the scene, the costumes were just right and the make-up was brilliant.

I had to admire the time and effort needed to translate the script into something that someone as dumb as me could understand.  It worked because these young talented actors gave their characters life, had great confidence and were thoroughly convincing.

The theatre is one mile from my house. One mile!  I have to pinch myself for not finding out about it sooner and they’ve been here for three years.As a company they’ve been around a while longer. I know this because I met Prab Singh (pictured), director and co-owner some months ago and he gave me some of the background.

“I started as a cast member at Abraham Moss Theatre and worked my way up to become the theatre manager. I loved it. Then the funding dried up so I asked if I could keep using the theatre in my own time alongside my job as an actor.

When the council closed the theatre down completely I teamed up with Mark Beaumont, who I’d met when we worked on The Witches of Eastwick, and we decided to set up our own company – quickly.

With no other space available, we held rehearsals in corridors, taking our shows, reviews and pantos on tour. The money from ticket sales went back into productions and, over time, we began to accumulate sets, props and costumes.

We were quite nomadic and it was hard.”

The route from being nomadic to landing in Moston took them from Abraham Moss, to a space at the Factory Youth Zone and then, of all places, to Harpurhey Baths.

“Our audience was loyal and our reputation grew. We had enquiries for hiring sets, props and costumes. If we didn’t have just what they wanted we had the ability to create, build or source it.”

When their time at the baths came to an abrupt end, they went in search of a new home; somewhere large enough to run classes, do rehearsals and put productions on all under one roof and it led them to 270A Lightbowne Road, Moston.

“It was big and empty. Like a blank canvass – just what Mark’s good at, visualising what can be done with a building space. I’ve been amazed at the level of interest and support. Local people turn up and just volunteer to help out.

It wasn’t part of the plan to start with but now we’re here in Moston we’d really like to stay.”

If the performances I’ve seen so far are anything to go by, I’d really like them to stay too.

… and if Shakespeare isn’t your thing, you might fancy their next project; ‘The Moviecals – Music from the Movies’. It promises to be a joyous evening of entertainment and I’m buzzing already. I’d book your seat early if I were you.

There’s more to NWTAC than meets the eye but that’s for another day. In the meantime click here for details of performances over the coming months. You can book on-line or call the box office on 0161 207 1617.

You can follow them on Facebook too and keep up to date with all that’s happening.

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Forever Manchester’s Birthday Bash 2019

Last Friday Forever Manchester held their Annual Birthday Bash. If you wanted to go but missed it, don’t worry, I reckon they’ll have another next year. But read on and you’ll hopefully get a hint about what to expect.It was a hell of a mix. A posh hotel, dress code smart casual, had quite a corporate feel; reception drinks, fabulous dinner, candelabras, cameras, speeches, awards, entertainment, DJ, the lot. I’ve been to corporate events in a previous life but this was different, much better. It was less formal, had a friendly, happy air and a great party atmosphere.The ‘boss’ gave a stirring speech and talked about philanthropy. Probably mentioned other stuff too but I’ve slept since then. The philanthropy bit stuck in my mind. To be frank and up until last Friday, I didn’t know what it meant. I like it though. It was relevant.

Awards were handed out to gleeful recipients cheered along by their mates. The lucky ones gave short acceptance speeches and posed for photos with Captain Manchester, a curious but handsome masked chap in tights and a cape.The entertainment was totally mixed, representing groups across the city. It started with The Greater Manchester Pipe Band from Cheetham Hill, then Indian classical dancers Salford Malayalee, street dancing from Xpress Urself of Bolton and Chorlton Ladies Choir (they sang, didn’t dance). One after the other on the stage or dance floor they treated us to great performances, closing with vocals from the singer Denise Johnson of Primal Scream.The evening is a celebration and an opportunity to raise funds. I had a go at Captain Manchester’s Magical Tombola (I’m sure that holiday prize had my name on it, but ah well). Then, a silent auction took place live on the big screens – a fascinating event to watch with amazing prizes that raised thousands.

When DJ Dave Haslam started his piece, everyone was ready for a good old knees up and we danced the rest of the night away.

The drink flowed and our taxi came all too soon. Apart from a wicked hangover the next day, what can I say; it was a rare treat and just great fun.

Forever Manchester is a charity that raises funds and supports community activity across Greater Manchester. This website, Another Music, is one of those activities. So you wouldn’t be reading this blog, or any of the other stories on here, if it wasn’t for them.

To find out more about the work Forever Manchester does and how you can get involved just click here. The website is full of great stories and you can have a go on Captain Manchester’s Magical Tombola too. You never know, there might be a holiday with your name on it!

 

“North Manc”

Walking along Chain Bar, Moston, just before 8:50am on Monday, 10 September 1962, was a bit scary. Having passed the dreaded 11-plus exam and selected a school (by opting for the same as most of my mates!), I was now arriving at my choice: North Manchester Grammar School for Boys, as it was then known.The front of the original buildings in October 1995, from the footpath (still there) that leads off Chain Bar, opposite Leyburn Road. The dining hall can just be seen behind the trees on the left.

For the last six years I had enjoyed the company of more or less the same classmates. Now I was entering the unknown, among mostly unfamiliar faces: all male, all dressed the same, and subjected to a much stricter regime. I did gradually learn to find my way around and get used to the school’s severely enforced rules. However, this isn’t really the place to recount the terrors and triumphs of seven years of senior school life, so I’ll just give a little background detail.

The school began as North Manchester Municipal High School for Boys in 1926, using the former Harpurhey Girls’ School on Beech Mount, Rochdale Road, as temporary lodgings until the new school on Chain Bar was completed. This was officially opened on Friday, 19 June 1931, by the Home Secretary, John Robert Clynes.

The buildings were of a modular design (also used at Burnage) and consisted of rooms surrounding a central grassed quadrangle, divided by the assembly hall. A playground on the western side, a large sports field at the rear and bicycle sheds on the east side, next to the footpath opposite Leyburn Road, completed the picture.Plan of the buildings as they were between 1961 and 1997.

A new library, converted from two classrooms, was opened in 1955, with further classrooms and laboratories added in 1957, inside one half of the ‘quad’. A separate dining-hall was also provided, originally accessed by a covered walkway across the playground.

The year before my arrival, a two-storey extension, known as the White (or New) Block was built above the playground, with ground-floor gymnasium, changing rooms and a metalwork room on the other side. For a time, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was also a sixth-form recreation room.West side in March 1997, showing the White Block over the playground, with metalwork room on left and changing rooms beyond. Bottom: school photo from March 1965; there were 777 pupils and 53 staff at this time.

The first headmaster was James Crawford Burnett, succeeded in 1948 by Richard Martyn Sibson, a strict disciplinarian who ‘reigned’ until 1965 and taught Greek, Latin and Divinity. He was a controversial figure, with a system of rewards (6d or 3d, old money, which he called ‘medals’ or ‘half-medals’) and punishments that included confinement in a large cupboard for hours, or strokes across the thighs with ‘Black Bess’, a thick leather strap. Most of the teachers were rather more benign, happily. During this time, the school was labelled as a Grammar School, with the motto ‘In veritate fortis’ (strong in the truth).Interior views: Corridor near Room 25 (with lower corridor on left), Room 30 (typical classroom), Room 16 (Physics lab) and Hall, on Reunion night. Many of the 1930s fixtures and fittings were still in use right up to closure.

In April 1965, Mr. Sibson retired (not entirely by choice, it was rumoured) and Ernest Robinson (former deputy) became acting head. Then in 1967 the school merged with the adjacent 1955-built Moss House, off Charlestown Road, and became ‘High School’ again, under the comprehensive scheme. Philip Slater became head of the combined school, the Chain Bar and Moss House sites now being referred to as the Upper and Lower schools. The latter had been co-educational, but the girls were gradually moved into the Girls’ High School on Brookside Road. During 1967-68, the Upper School lads were strictly forbidden from ‘fraternising’ with the lasses!

I left school in 1969 and, besides a brief visit in 1971, did not enter again until the school’s only Reunion, held on 1 December 1995 to mark the imminent closure of the Upper School, which gave way to a newly refurbished and extended Lower School.

The Chain Bar buildings, old and new, were demolished in April-June 1997 and the land left to settle until 2004, when houses and flats were constructed over it.The buildings during demolition on 9 May 1997. The tangled remains of the Biology lab, Room 8, are on the right and, in the centre, the floor of the greenhouse, Room 10.

In August 2009, boys at the erstwhile Lower School moved again, to the Co-op Academy off Victoria Avenue East, followed in 2012 by the girls from Brookside Road: both these sites have now also been cleared, and the name ‘North Manchester High’ has disappeared, except from the memories of those who once attended.The school in happier times, from the corner of Charlestown Road, hidden by cherry trees in full blossom in 1995. Inset: a similar view now. [Both photos by Steve Wilson].