Theatre reviews: We’re Not Going Back, Chewing the Fat and The Magic Flute

We’re Not Going Back, Bradford Playhouse, by Nick Ahad ****

Red Ladder Theatre Company's production of We're Not Going Back.
Red Ladder Theatre Company's production of We're Not Going Back.

Red Ladder Theatre has always operated with a sense of righteous anger about what is wrong the world. Be it tackling racism, sexism, the way we are running riot with the resources of the planet or the treatment of prisoners, a Red Ladder show will never allow you to sit comfortably in the dark of a theatre.

Which might make you think that entertainment is not high on the list when it comes to what it wants to provide with a show. Not when Boff Whalley is the man behind the play. The former member of anarchist pop group Chumbawamba has an incredible talent for writing ear worm songs that you will be singing weeks later after hearing them just once.

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In We’re Not Going Back he has also written a story full of heart that contains anger – but it is an anger that bubbles under the surface of the well drawn characters.

Victoria Brazier, Stacey Sampson and Claire Marie-Seddon are the three sisters who recount the year they spent striking alongside miners in 1984/85.

While the songs are catchy and the performances full of warmth, the latent anger at the unjust treatment of the women who stood alongside the miners is always there and it makes for a powerful piece of work, the message of which appears to be that we should never forget the sacrificies made and the terrible toll taken by the year-long miners’ strike.

Chewing the Fat, Stage at Leeds, by Nick Ahad *****

Selina Thompson has a very special gift.

The Leeds-based theatre maker has the ability to make an audience entirely relax. She is one of the warmest, most engaging performers you might ever hope to see on stage. She uses this to startling effect in her show Chewing the Fat, which explores what it means to be a big woman.

A one-woman show about being fat? It might sound like an indulgent piece of work, but is anything but. In sharing her story, bravely, unblinking and with an incredible lack of ego, Thompson achieves something special in allowing her audience go to dark places and examine their own insecurities.

Thompson uses her gift of making an audience comfortable, in a key turning point in this show. While she is celebrating her size, and who she is, it is all incredibly engaging. She then whips the mat from under the feet of the audience and makes the show almost impossibly difficult to watch when she shows us what it really means to be a compulsive binge-eater.

Thompson flips the whole thing on its head by taking you to the darkest part of her soul. On stage. It is breathtakingly brave, incredibly hard to watch and deeply moving.

The Magic Flute, Lawrence Batley Theatre, by Robert Cockroft *****

Here’s a Magic Flute that lives up to its name and gives the lie to those who lazily condemn opera as elitist.

The production was by Leeds-based Young Opera Venture which visits places that don’t have much opera and gives singers their first professional chance. The venues may be modest, the orchestra small and ticket prices low, but the standard of performance reaches the rafters.

Credit for that must go to its creators, Jane Anthony, who co-directed this engaging performance with Nina Brazier, and John Longstaff who conducted with such style. The orchestra, which shared the stage with the singers, set the tone with a crisp, spritely overture.

If it was a gamble to cast student Jonathan Cooke as Tamino, it was justified by his ardent lyricism and relationship with Pamina, a sweet-voiced Aiofe O’Connell. We shall hear more of the coloratura of Katy Kelly, and of the Sarastro profundo, James Fisher. But the show stealer was the endearing, brilliantly observed Papageno of Leeds-trained Philip Wilcox, a singer and actor of great promise.