North West Theatre Arts Company – Live, love, dream, believe

It seems an age ago but, on Thursday 12th March this year, I went to see Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at NWTAC’s theatre on Lightbowne Road. Not for the first time, they took me by surprise.

I was late, distracted by news of the spreading virus, so I grabbed a drink at the bar and went to find my seat; through the doors and stopped – the entire auditorium was completely different.

Gone were the tiered rows of seats. The ‘stage’ was positioned in the centre rather than at the far end of the building. Seating was arranged around the edges, creating a true ‘theatre-in-the-round’.

The usher led me to a ring-side spot that put me inches from the performers, who were taking their positions. When the lights went down I could pick out the faces of my fellow audience and catch their expressions.

From start to finish there were clever connections to Manchester. Reflecting on the similarity between our own Piccadilly Gardens and the court of Athens, where Shakespeare opens his play. Queen Titania’s ‘cohort of fairies’ were portrayed as our famous worker bees.

They buzzed through their performance and I was mesmerised.

As ever, the acting was superb. The young performers slipped into character with ease and professionalism; engaging the audience, drawing them in. And, as the play unfolded, the stage was transformed into flower-covered woodland in front of our eyes as if by magic.

Two hours flew by. Before we knew it, we were leaving the theatre into the chilly night air. We left the dreamy world created by Prab Singh’s team behind us. Lockdown began just days later and, against all expectation, dragged on for months.

NWTAC has 10 years’ experience of adapting to change. It’s made them resilient. Their doors were closed but not all the ‘lights’ went out. Almost straight away they launched a series of on-line activities; fitness sessions with choreographer Katie Gough called ‘Dance Along with NWTAC’. Musical Director, Beth Singh, began ‘Story Time with Beth’ reading out Roald Dahl books. And on Friday evenings she ‘wowed’ us with her ‘Lockdown Live’ concerts.Rehearsals continued remotely for the theatre’s students using the on-line meeting platform, Zoom. The empty theatre was re-painted and steam cleaned in readiness.

In August, term-time resumed in line with government guidelines and a month later NWTAC re-opened its doors to the public to perform Factory Fest, a show originally scheduled for May…and I had a ticket!

Once more I arrived to find a transformed auditorium, only this time to make it Covid secure. Socially distanced tables had replaced the tiered seating, with waiter service only taking orders from the bar. Temperatures were checked prior to entry and all the doors were open so you could go straight to your allotted table without touching a thing. Masks were mandatory. Even the performers kept within their peer groups to avoid mixing.

Factory Fest was a full on indoor festival concert, a dizzying compilation of hits and routines, all brilliantly performed. Harmonies, choreography, variety, comedy. New students performed for the first time alongside the more experienced and together they knocked our socks off. Lockdown and six grim months had gone by but it was worth the wait; for the second time this year all thoughts of Coronavirus were left behind.

So many industries have been hit hard in recent months, performing arts is just one of them. We need it though, now more than ever and it needs us.NWTAC are continuing to work on projects including ‘The Sound and Soul of Hitsville Mowtown’ to be staged in November and the pantomime ‘Puss in Boots’ throughout December. This weekend, for two nights only on 16th and 17th October, Beth Singh will perform live at the theatre.

Keep an eye on social media for updates and, if you missed them first time around, you can still access Dance Along, Story Time and Lockdown live through NTWAC’s Facebook page.

Tickets for this weekend and future shows can be booked by calling the box office on 0161 207 1617.

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Zooming in on North Manchester Fitness

Back in March, when lockdown began how long did you think it would last? I thought 6 weeks, honestly.

I got off to a reasonable start; a good walk each day, a few exercises, that sort of thing. But, as the weeks became months, I flagged.

North Manchester Fitness, on the other hand didn’t. With regular classes on hold they’ve kept in touch with their members through two WhatsApp groups.

Normally, Lorraine Platt leads weekly walking sessions and heads up most of the Pilates classes. They’re not exclusively for the over 50’s but it’s fair to say that many of those attending are in that age-group, so lockdown has been especially restrictive for them.

From the early days, Lorraine routinely shared, on WhatsApp and email, exercises that members were familiar with and could safely do in their own homes.Towards the end of May, she began holding small classes on the meeting platform ‘Zoom’. It was challenging to get everyone tuned in but, two months on, it’s in full swing and so successful that it may continue well into the future.

Lorraine’s one amazing lady. I first met her in 2017 and produced a write-up for Another Music about one of her groups. I suffered a broken ankle the following year. Then, at a chance meeting, she encouraged me to take up Pilates believing it would help with my recovery. She was right.

Pilates concentrates on three main physical aspects – ‘balance’ ‘core’ and ‘flexibility’. The overall health benefits are wide-ranging. Here are just some of them….

  • increased muscle strength and tone, particularly of your abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks (the ‘core muscles’ of your body)
  • balanced muscular strength on both sides of your body
  • improved stabilisation of your spine
  • improved posture
  • rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances
  • improved physical coordination and balance
  • safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries
  • increased lung capacity and circulation through deep breathing
  • improved concentration
  • increased body awareness
  • stress management and relaxation

NMF’s achievement in continuing to connect with their members goes way beyond maintaining good physical fitness though.

“There is a social element to the group too,” says Lorraine. “So many new friendships have been made through NMF.  It is lovely to see, especially in this time of isolation.

I am so pleased to see how the Zoom sessions have taken off.  Zoom was a word we had hardly heard of 3 months ago.  Now we’re all becoming experts.”

Sharing experiences, photographs, jokes and ideas, the members have helped each other stay positive. They’ve dropped off food supplies, swapped books, CD’s, DVD’s, even spare wool, sent good wishes and flowers to anyone with anything to celebrate and offered support to those suffering illness, bereavement or just the blues. It doesn’t stop there. They’ve knitted blankets, hats and bootees for newborns, ordered, paid for and delivered luxury hand creams to NHS hospital staff, rallied support and sponsored a local charity in desperate need… the list goes on.

Behind the scenes, the North Manchester Fitness team have been working on the best, safest way to restart the rest of their activities. Walking in Boggart Hole Clough is a likely candidate. Some of the regulars on a winter’s day, pre-lockdown

In the meantime, Pilates by Zoom suits me…and, no excuses, Lorraine can see if I’m flagging!

Information about North Manchester Fitness activities including Hiitstep, marathon training, sprints, and more can be found on their website, just click here. Or follow them on Facebook.

Ready for the off!

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Street Life: Wish you were there?

Post-war, it was the likes of George Formby with his ‘little stick of Blackpool rock’, and the Huggett family in ‘Holiday Camp’ (1947 film) that revived appetites for the seaside.The choice for folk like us was: a holiday camp, a boarding house or caravan. Most of my first holidays were spent at Butlin’s. The camps were to Moston as Narnia was to the real world. Compared to the post war drabness at home, the fresh and brightly painted chalets seemed modern and sophisticated. I slept in a bunk bed and ate three course meals served by a smiling, uniformed waitress – never mind that she dispensed the soup from an earthenware jug rather than a tureen.Without it running away with the spending money, children could swim, play crazy golf or enjoy one of the numerous activities organised to keep them entertained. Also for ‘free’, my parents had the choice of a variety show, or indulging their passion for dancing to an excellent band, in one of the lavish ballrooms.

A week before any holiday, our solid dark blue suitcase was dusted off. Its dimensions and wooden banding meant, in a poor light, it could be mistaken for a transatlantic steamer trunk. With two of us sitting on the lid, the case could be persuaded to close on the family’s entire holiday wardrobe. My dad might have been short, but he was strong, and until we got a set of strap-on wheels, he hefted that Leviathan everywhere. Looking like an East End family on the way to pick hops, the rest of us trailed in his wake with our worldly essentials (buckets, spades and comics) poking out of shoulder bags.For men in particular, holidays meant freedom to wear comfortable clothing of their own (or their wife’s) choosing. My granddad’s normal work attire was trilby, suit and tie. His version of holiday chic was what he called ‘a jockey cap and duster jacket’. Dad favoured coloured shirts, shorts and sandals. If it wasn’t actually raining, I seem to recall spending most days in a pea green, elasticated swimming costume, plus canvas shoes that were permanently full of sand.

Travelling to a holiday destination meant a train, coach or (best of all) a ferry. Our most ‘novel’ journey was to Wales during a rail strike. In order that nobody would miss out on their precious week away, every vehicle, no matter its age, was pressed into service. The ancient coach we travelled in was just about adequate on the flat, but when the going got steep, the able bodied had to disembark and walk. In case the bus escaped back downhill if the engine stalled, the men carried large stones to place behind the wheels.Without doubt, my best travel memories were of the Isle of Man ferry. You could sit on deck or lie about in the saloon on a day bed with tasselled, sausage shaped cushions.

Two incidents, the stuff of family legend, occurred on the crossing to the IOM. The first was when a seagull let go its enormous ‘bomb load’ on great grandma Polly’s best black hat. Years later, granddad and I left to check on the lifeboats, prior to going below for an inspection of the engines. After discharging our duties, we returned to find my sister, then aged 4, tucking into an ice cream. It had been bought to stop her screaming, following dad’s attempts to extract her head from one of the port holes without amputating her ears in the process.

From our sea front boarding house in Douglas, we only had to cross the road to get on to the sands. For a couple of pennies, you could travel 1.6 miles on a horse-drawn, ‘toast rack’ tram. We took buses all over the island, but once I mastered reading, the nearby beach shop kept me happily occupied. Some part of each day would find me perusing the extremely saucy and non-PC McGill postcards. For evenings, there was a cinema next door, and a theatre within walking distance.Last year, in the name of security, I was treated to an airport body search. Suddenly it made those uncomplicated childhood holidays look positively idyllic – if you don’t count sunburn, insect bites and sand-filled underwear, that is.

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