A Christmas Carol at North West Theatre Arts Company

Winter’s not for me. Much rather stay in my cosy Grinch cave. Instead I’m at NWTAC’S theatre on Lightbowne Rd. Brrrrr. It’s an icy wind blowing up my pants so I slip inside, get straight to the bar, glug my wine, toss the glass over my shoulder and saunter to my seat.

Ebenezer Scrooge, my distant relative, is star of the show. Got to show willing. Bah!

Curtain goes up to reveal a truly miserable street housing his dark, dismal abode. It’s misty, spooky even – perfect. I manage to withhold my glee until the man himself appears on the stage. My heart wells up to find he’s as miserly an old geezer as a miserly old geezer could be. Wonderful! I nod, smugly, at my fellow audience.

Then, before you know it, singing and dancing. What’s up with these people? I tried to put my fingers in my ears. Tried to stop them. But they just kept doing it. Singing…and dancing? Utter ruination. Bah!

Then it happened. I started to chuckle. Once I start to chuckle that’s it. Game over.

The ghosts of Christmas Yet Come, of Christmas Past and Christmas Present were universally brilliant. So funny they blew my socks off. The supporting cast were superb and the whole show expertly put together.

Acting, singing and dancing aside it’s the attention to detail that never fails to impress. The costumes were perfect from the top hats and floppy bedtime caps, down to the buckled shoes and soft leather boots. Sound effects and special effects created the perfect atmosphere for each scene. Bright colourful lights danced with the razzmatazz, spot lights caressed the tender duets and soft shadows enhanced more sombre moments.

Make-up turned Gareth Maudsley’s face into an old Scrooge’s so well that you didn’t give his true age a second thought. His deliverance of the role was fabulous. Even I felt sorry for him. Briefly.

As usual, the NWTAC team put their own clever spin on this traditional Christmas play. The story telling was up-beat and perfect, sending a message that applies as much today as it did when Dickens first penned it.

Two or so hours passed in no time. I didn’t want it to end.

“Some people are just born with jazz hands, aren’t they?” someone said as I chuckled my way out into the night.

I admired my long green hairy sprouting fingers. Ah, they must mean me.

Details of this and upcoming productions at NWTAC are on their website here. You can sign up for their newsletter or follow them on Facebook.

Also, keep an eye out for them over the coming weeks. They’ll be performing at the Moston Community Annual Event at Moston Green (outside St Dunstans Church) on 30th November and leading carols at Failsworth Lower Memorial Park on 10th December.

Street Life: Remember, remember the 5th of November

If the 1605 plotters had made the attempt on the life of James I with a dagger, would it still be commemorated 400 years later?

Round our way, Halloween came a poor second to logging and ‘penny for the guy’. Enterprising lads shone torches into back yards and gardens, looking for discarded furniture and old wood. The occupant of the house would be approached and politely asked if they wanted it removing. Too curt a refusal could result in the ‘liberation’ of said article, along with a section of garden fence.

The brick back yard air-raid shelters had a flat roof that was ideal for keeping wood out of sight of rival loggers. An alarm system consisting of a string of strategically placed tin cans was supposed to alert one of the gang whose bedroom overlooked the back yard – a triumph of hope over experience if ever I heard one.My recall of actual bonfires in Moston is rather sketchy, but fireworks are another matter. Dad chose ours individually and I spent days sorting through the collection stored in the biscuit tin under my bed (what’s Health and Safety?).

Rip-raps were my favourite and, along with Snowstorms, Golden Rain and other tamer fireworks, cost about three halfpence (approximately half a decimal penny). Pin wheels, rockets and sparklers varied in size and were generally more expensive. Roman candles could cost as much as a shilling (5p each).

My specific bonfire memories come after our move to New Moston in 1956. Because of its close proximity to Failsworth and Chadderton, the Manchester ‘penny for the guy’ and Oldham’s ‘cob o’ coaling’ co-existed in New Moston. Collecting with a guy was a static activity while ‘cob ‘o coalers’ went door to door chanting…

“We’ve come a cob ‘o coaling, cob o’ coaling, cob ‘o’ coaling, we’ve come a cob o’ coaling for bonfire night.”

The sleeves and trouser legs of old clothes were tied with string and stuffed with screwed up newspaper. With a mask and hat on a pillow case head, you had your guy. My dad was allocated new uniform trousers once a year, so Guy Fawkes often met his doom wearing a third best pair of GPO issue pants with red piping down the seams.For reasons best known to city planners, our large back garden formed a cul-de-sac completely enclosed by those of all the neighbours. It was so far from the house, mum couldn’t chance hanging out washing if it looked like rain. The only way to reach ‘our back’ was via a long, narrow unmade path, snaking around 5 or 6 other gardens. The result of this anomaly was that from 1957 onwards, we hosted the street’s communal bonfire.

A couple of dads would be deputed to let the pooled fireworks off at a steady rate. Most adults brought themselves a kitchen chair to sit on but one memorable year, someone donated an old leather-cloth three piece suite. We took turns sitting on it until it was the only combustible item left. Then the furniture went onto the fire with Guy Fawkes sitting on top.There was always a plentiful supply of things to eat. If you took your own basin, you could help yourself from the large brown jugs of black peas seasoned with salt and vinegar. And there was no shortage of parkin and treacle toffee, both home-made and shop-bought. The obligatory sooty, half raw potatoes were fished out of the ashes, and an unspoken conspiracy proclaimed them delicious.

Trousers were not our family’s only contribution to the proceedings. Dad brewed ginger beer from one of those strange plants in vogue at the time. The bubbling demi-john had to be racked off regularly, and the larder soon filled up with various vintages that were universally vile. But judging by bonfire consumption rates, less discerning palates than mine appreciated it.

For some inexplicable reason, the sticks from rockets, spent firework cases and sparkler wires held a strange fascination for the kids who dashed out to collect them on November 6th. 

The annual aftermath of bonfire night was a week of damp, evil smelling smog. Naphtha flares that can only have added to the pollution, burned at the junctions of major roads. It was black as night by half past two and children were sent home from school early. Buses crept along at a snail’s pace. And rather than waiting for the designated stop, passengers ‘decked off’ the open, rear platform at the nearest point to home.

It’s many years since I was at a communal street bonfire, but as a gesture toward the tradition, I shall be making black peas and parkin, as usual.

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Happy 10th birthday NWTAC

I’ve seen some excellent performances by North West Theatre Arts Company (NWTAC) but ’10’ is special. It’s a compilation of hits, scenes and dance routines celebrating the decade since they were formed.The show kicked off with the full company belting out Reet Petite to an energetic dance routine. It’s a great way to start because it does two things. First, it grabs the audience. Second, it breaks the ice for the cast. That’s important for the newest members of NWTAC theatre school, especially if it’s their first time in front of a live audience.

Nerves dispelled, they slipped in and out of subsequent numbers as if they’d whipped the ruby slippers off Judy Garland when she wasn’t looking.

A further 47 numbers followed – 47! Blockbuster show stoppers, dances, romantic duets, rock songs, the lot. I was delighted to hear some from my favourites from shows like Phantom of the Opera and Joseph and the films Oliver Twist, Annie and Grease.

The cast delivered with confidence and commitment and when the Musical Director herself took to the stage you could see why. Beth Singh treated us to a medley of songs from ‘Little Voice’ with true quality.

It’s difficult to pick individuals out as they were all so good but ‘Summer Nights’ performed by Phoebe Sutherland and Owen Omoruyi-Garcia was awesome and deserves a special mention. Phoebe had Olivia Newton John down to perfection. Also Solomon Asante-Owusu and Elton Amoateng (and ‘the boys’) performed ‘Mysterious Girl’ cheekier than Peter Andre ever did. And Queen’s ‘Somebody to Love’ by Jonny Molyneux and Poppy Evans was amazing. I could go on.

There were lesser known songs (to me at least) too. ‘Taylor the Latte Boy’ by Grace Donohue was one. Both the lyrics and Grace’s portrayal were hilarious. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to see The Book of Mormon at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. ‘Hello’ (i.e. the doorbell song) was exactly as I remember it and had us all in stitches.

You may think that the varying range, different tempos and emotions would result in some awkward transitions. Not so. Our host for the evening Jonny Molyneux has great stage presence and that special gift ‘comedy timing’. Sticking mostly to script he facilitated the changes in mood with expertise, sharing with us the story of NWTAC over the past 10 years with an expression and wit you can only marvel at.

Two hours passed by in a flash and ’10’ ended with a stirring rendition of ‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables. The cast were emotional and awesome in equal measure. We swept to our feet to give them a wholly deserved standing ovation.

One year ago I stepped through the doors of NWTAC theatre, chatted for a couple of hours with Prab Singh (Director), was introduced to Mark Beaumont (Stage Manager) and given a guided tour of the building. They’d taken over what used to be the Tizer depot on Lightbowne Road 3 years earlier and transformed the space into a full on theatre.

I’ve been back many times since. Laughed, clapped, cheered and cried.

Happy 10th birthday to everyone at NWTAC. May you keep returning to the stage, singing, acting and dancing your hearts out for many years to come.

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