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Kim Cattrall as Cleopatra (Photo: Stephen Vaughan)

Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall and seasoned actor Jeffery Kissoon lead an excellent ensemble cast in the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse production of William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

The tragedy is re-worked and modernised through the direction of Janet Suzman, who herself was noted for giving past memorable performances as Cleopatra.

Cattrall, of course, gives the production a big billing due to her star status and is very captivating over the three hours and ten minutes running time. In the programme notes, Cattrall said she was inspired by Suzman to become an actress. In return, she gives the director an encouraging performance that is likely to develop with real appeal.

Cattrall’s Cleopatra – the Queen of Egypt who Mark Antony (Kissoon) lusts after – is sexy, teasing, commanding and funny. She is supported by her handmaidens Charmian (Aïcha Kossoko) and Iras (Gracy Goldman), or her ‘women’ as she calls them, who – at a click of her fingers – answer her every beck and call in her palace in Alexandria, even leading up to her suicide.

Kissoon gives a performance of note as Antony but is far from convincing as one of the most powerful rulers of the world. He moves awkwardly around the stage but his delivery of Shakespeare’s language is poetic.
Standing out from the supporting cast is Martin Hutson as Octavius Caesar, who is dressed in a pinstriped suit during the first act and military outfit during the second act. Hutson plays Antony’s fellow triumviri like a leading lawyer taking his stance at a court room bar, with every word carefully expressed.

Peter McKintosh’s set is also equally captivating and simple with a metal bridge splitting the action. For instance, silver lanterns are raised and lowered to create Cleopatra’s Egyptian palace while a good dose of smoke is used for the creation of battle scenes.

In summary, the production may not be to everyone’s liking but praise must be given to Cattrall for coming back to her place of birth to take on such a challenging role.

The above review was used for Whatsonstage.com

Liverpool supporters after the Istanbul win in 2005 (photo: Dave Evans)

The board of a group Liverpool FC supporters said they have enough funds in place to underwrite a full share issue and to buy a stake in the club.

The move has been welcomed by two Anfield greats, John Aldridge and John Barnes, both long term supporters of ShareLiverpoolFC.

The aim is for Liverpool to emulate the model of European clubs like this year’s Champions League finalists, Bayern Munich, where fans own 80% of the club. The announcement follows the appointment by ShareLiverpoolFC of a financial advisory committee. The organisation is also in the process of restructuring its current board to bring in individuals with experience in corporate finance and sports business.

Former Liverpool striker John Aldridge, who is a ShareLiverpoolFC board member, said: “I’m delighted ShareLiverpoolFC is now able to push on and issue the share offer. We’ll need a tremendous response from the fans but I think millions of them are desperately worried about the current situation both on and off the field. At last, they’ve got a chance to actually to do something about it. Our fans have brought us ‘back from the dead’ in matches many times before: think only of the ‘miracle’ of Istanbul. They can do it again – this time at the heart of the club itself.”

Ex-Liverpool midfielder John Barnes, a long-time ShareLiverpoolFC supporter, added: “It’s excellent news to hear fans will get the opportunity to pool their money and buy a stake in the club, whether it’s a majority stake or just a significant piece of the action, all under stringent financial regulation. No one who has ever played for Liverpool can be in any doubt that these fans are the football club: the unique, core ‘brand’, as they call it these days, of LFC. If they are it, why shouldn’t they own it too?”

Liverpool FC’s American co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, announced in April this year that they will be selling the Premier League club after they appointed Martin Broughton – chairman of British Airways – as chairman to help them find a buyer. Liverpool FC currently has debt of around £350m and Broughton said that any new buyer must commit to building a new stadium for the club.

ShareLiverpoolFC said it has over 35,000 registered supporters and its current pledges alone could raise up to £40m in order to acquire a stake in the club.

Dr Rogan Taylor, a founder member of ShareLiverpoolFC, said: “ShareLiverpoolFC board will now look to specify a date for a share issue later this summer. This is a serious and rigorously professional undertaking and we believe our core aspiration is both desirable and deliverable. This is our time. It presents the best – and perhaps the only chance – of fans gaining control or at the very least a significant equity stake in the club they love and support.”

The ShareLiverpoolFC plan involves a minimum investment of £500 to buy a share in the company seeking to own equity in the club. The share is not-for-profit; one fan: one share, and confers the right to stand for election to the board and the right to vote in any elections.

Meanwhile, according to the Daily Mirror, co-owner Hicks has allegedly prevented at least two offers for Liverpool from happening, due to his £800m valuation of the club. The report is also claiming Barclays Capital, which has been charged with selling the club, is growing frustrated with the American’s stance in negotiations.

As well as issues off the field, Liverpool FC offered Rafael Benitez a severance pay-off package, reportedly a sum of £3m, for him to leave as club manager with immediate effect. The Spaniard left five days ago amid a mix response from the supporters.

Liverpool FC legend Kenny Dalglish, who is an Academy ambassador at the club, and Christian Purslow, Liverpool’s managing director, are leading a search for a new manager to replace Benitez, who famously won the Champions League in his first season with the club in 2005.

Leona Lewis at the Liverpool MOBO launch (photo: Dave Evans)

The Music of Black Origin Awards, known in short as the MOBO Awards, will be held in Liverpool in October.

Multi-platinum selling artist and MOBO ambassador Leona Lewis joined MOBO Awards founder, Kanya King MBE, today to announce Liverpool as the host city for the 2010 ceremony.

Last year’s event in Glasgow was the first time in its 15-year history it has transferred out of London.

Leona Lewis said: “I’m the proud owner of two MOBO Awards and am delighted to be here in Liverpool as a MOBO ambassador to help commemorate their 15th year. I think Liverpool is the perfect choice for this year’s MOBO Awards.”

In 2010 the annual BeMOBO Award will be given a regional focus. Established five years ago to recognise the work of an organisation or individual that has made a major difference to local, national or international communities, the BeMOBO Award has been received by winners such as Anti Slavery UK, The From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation and War Child UK.

This year the BeMOBO will be awarded to an organisation or individual based in the North West of England. Nominations for this Award will be submitted directly to MOBO and the shortlist will be selected by Kanya King, a Liverpool City Council representative and a MOBO advocate. The final winner will then be voted for by the MOBO community.

King said: “We are all very excited about celebrating MOBO’s 15th birthday in Liverpool and bringing the Awards to this vibrant city recognised for its outstanding contribution to music, culture and creativity. We have some incredible plans for this year’s event and we’re particularly looking forward to working with the City and implementing the BeMOBO Award as a regional initiative for the first time to honour some of the region’s unsung local heroes.”

The confirmation of Liverpool as host city comes as welcome news, following the campaign by one enterprising 17 year old, Ben Osu, who has campaigned on Facebook to bring the event to the North West – and has now been rewarded for his efforts.

Cllr Joe Anderson, leader of Liverpool City Council, added: “Liverpool is delighted its bid to be the host for the 2010 MOBO Awards was a winning one and I’ve no doubt the city will host an unforgettable celebration of music. Staging high profile events like the MOBO Awards, or bidding to be England’s first UNESCO City of Music, is all part of our ambition to build on the legacy of European Capital of Culture and to internationally showcase what Liverpool and its diverse music scene has to offer. I’ve no doubt the MOBO Awards in Liverpool will be a huge success and being in October they will also add a special dimension to our Black History Month celebrations.”

The nominations for this year’s awards will be announced early September.

The annual awards will this year be celebrating its 15th birthday at the Liverpool Echo Arena on Wednesday 20 October.

A ticket ballot for the 2010 awards opens today which runs throughout the month of June. Full details of how to enter for a chance to buy tickets are available on the MOBO Awards website

Daniel Kitson

Yorkshire-born Daniel Kitson is a funny looking chap who amuses you before he even starts to reminisce about his love of a home he once lived in.

Walking on to the open stage, dressed in trousers and shirt, he sits on a chair surrounded by suitcases ready to share to the audience his affinity to a three-storey flat in Crystal Palace, located at 66a Church Road.

His appearance has changed slightly from when he last visited the Everyman theatre. His bushy long beard has been reduced to stubble, but his distinguishable thick framed spectacles remain.

He speaks with a slight lisp but chooses every word with precision and his delivery is perfect, while his language is brilliantly rehearsed and a delight to listen to.

His solo performance essentially tells a love story – one about him and 66a Church Road – and the people he loves or has loved, who spent time with him in the flat.

Through his detailed descriptions we hear about his friends, Dave and John, the latter being his mate who he stayed with for nine months prior to moving into 66a Church Road. Kitson said ‘any common decency would be two weeks’, but he lived at his friends’ home for nine months. He had to move.

Kitson is lit up by a ceiling light as he explains his first day moving into 66a Church Road – as he is throughout – and occasionally stands to emphasise either his encounters with his cockney geezer landlord or descriptions of rooms within his home.

Kitson uses small models built within the suitcases to show how his flat looked which is a superb technique but it is slightly flawed as they are too small for those sitting at the back to see. However, when his story is broken up by a number of pre-recorded anecdotes one suitcase is lit up to show a model of his living room, another the front of his flat.

His short pre-recorded anecdotes further describe his memories of the flat and the people he shared it with, thus he recalls a time spent with his dad and mate listening to sports commentator John Motson, and another a time when making ham sandwiches for his mates and his torment over whether he should serve them with avocado or not.

Kitson’s performance is very polished. He packs so much into just over an hour, although he has you hooked on every word.

Eventually he tells us he has to leave the flat despite a last attempt to buy. But the flat has changed. Gone are the rotting sash windows he adored. In are the modern double glazed windows that open with handles. His relationship has ended and with this realisation he moves on.

The above has been used for Whatsonstage.com

A cast of eight Royal Court regulars make an appearance (photo: Dave Evans)

Fred Lawless delves deep into the stereotypes affiliated to Liverpool in his new comedy play A Fistful of Collars, mixing fashion with crime and scenarios that fall onto the brink of the absurd.

Set in a dry cleaners in Wavertree, two sisters Eileen (Eithne Browne) and Pat (Pauline Daniels), along with employees Leona (Lindzi Germain) and Billy (Lenny Wood), find themselves in a tricky situation once they take the decision to turn the business into a dress hire shop.

The plan all seems simple and straight forward but they can’t avoid the one single problem facing them. Landlord Curtis Jones (Jake Abraham) wants to increase the rent and uses his sexy assistant Sally (Suzanne Colins) to bother the cleaners for it.

The comedy is brought through the rubbery expressions of Wood as the thick yet not-as-stupid-as-you-think character Billy, and the fantastic Daniels whose comic timing is razor sharp.

The cleaners and Billy are soon the talk of the city and attract one particular customer who is very familiar, not only in Liverpool, but also for her love of fashion: Coleen Rooney.

The wife of football star Wayne does not, however, make an appearance in this play but is played by the young actress Charlotte Harrison making her professional debut, who spends a majority of her time on stage with a clothing bag placed over her head.

The cleaners accidentally kidnap Mrs Rooney, who has come back to collect her favourite Stella McCartney number now being repaired having been worn and nearly hired by Curtis’ assistant Sally. Collins as Sally certainly grabs the audience’s attention – particularly the male attendees – as she spends most of her time on stage in her underwear revealing every angle of her fabulous figure.

The cleaners have knocked Sally out with some gas spray in order to get the dress back to Coleen, but in the meantime they have also captured a Policeman (Alan Stock) sent by Coleen who finds the cleaners in possession of a gun and bag of cash belonging to Sally, who is tied up along with Coleen at the end of the first act.

Will Coleen return to Wayne and be reunited with her clothes? How will the cleaners avoid being prosecuted by the Police? Why has Sally got a gun and cash in her bag? Bob Eaton’s direction has the cast all battling for the spotlight as the answers to the above questions become revealed.

The action never moves from Mark Walters’ clever set which depicts the back of a dry cleaners shop with a steel-type frame keeping it together formed into the shape of a clothes hanger. Another clever technique used is a projection screen showing what is supposedly the back of woman’s dress which zips up and down for scene changes and between the ending of the first act and start of the second.

A catchy version of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ to the tune of ‘Coleen’ is thrown in to get the audience singing along, but Lawless can’t avoid the boring jokes associated to footballer Rooney relating to his facial features and incident with a prostitute. Nonetheless, they still get some laughs.

A Fistful of Collars ends in a rather predictable manner and entertains more so for its slapstick comedy rather than its plot substance.

The above review was used for Whatsonstage.com

John Peel, who died in 2004

Football and music will go hand in hand in Liverpool when the organisers behind the annual music festival Sound City hold a World Cup-style tournament in memory of the late Radio One DJ John Peel.

Twelve five-a-side football teams made up of celebrities, bands, and city dwellers will battle it out next month in The John Peel World Cup.

The idea was first initiated by Phil Hayes and Peter Hooton, who is a member of local band The Farm and the Liverpool supporters union, The Spirit of Shankly.

Hooton said: “The John Peel World Cup is a fantastic way to enjoy John’s great loves of football and music and the city.  The tournament is great fun but it’s also for a top cause and everyone takes it seriously once they’re on the pitch.  It’s certainly a laugh watching bands take a lump out of each other.”

Wirral-born music broadcaster Peel was a passionate supporter of Liverpool FC, who often discussed football matters on air, as well as homegrown bands and music. He died from a heart attack at the age of 65 while on holiday in Peru in October 2004.

For the third annual John Peel World Cup all proceeds from the tournament will go to the British Heart Foundation, which is the nominated charity for Peel’s family.

The event takes place on the afternoon of Wednesday 19 May at Powerleague Liverpool in Whittle Street from 1pm.

The John Peel World Cup is being held on the opening day of the Sound City music festival, with an evening celebration event planned at the o2 Academy in Hotham Street, where the winners will collect their medals onstage and bath in pink champagne as special guests The Fall provide the music.

Sound City is running for four days across 35 stages until Saturday 22 May. The line-up for this year’s festival includes Gil Scott-Heron, Paloma Faith, Ian McCulloch, Delphic, The Maccabees, Afrika Bambaataa, Speech Debelle, Wild Beasts, Field Music, Los Campesinos, The Blackout, Wave Machines, The Sunshine Underground, Hot Club de Paris, Ian McNabb and Chilly Gonzalez.

Gray Hughes and Chris Carney play the parts of Daniel and Robert respectively

Writer Chris Leicester has decided to open his new play in the city he resides and is delivering North West theatregoers an excellent evening of entertainment.

As well as entertaining, Slasher Kincade provokes thought, makes you question the corporate world and – if you’ve had experience of the modern workplace – familiarises you with some of the scenarios being created.

Leicester’s new play, which he is also directing, has been written during the ongoing doom and gloom of a worldwide recession, where cuts have to be made for those business advances.

And the overriding issue being shown in Slasher Kincade is greed vs compassion. One person represents one and another person the other.

Three actors, two chairs, and effective use of lighting and sound is all that is used to tell the story. Kevin Brannagan represents greed as the fat, arrogant boss Kincade and is menacing whenever on stage even by just a simple stare.

Chris Carney represents more of a compassionate side as Robert and steps up to Kincade to challenge his decisions, even though he does so somewhat unsuccessfully. Stuck between the two is Daniel (Gray Hughes), an employee who lacks in self-confidence and is the complete opposite to the more self assured pair of Kincade and Robert.

The main storyline running concurrently throughout the play is the build-up to an important convention speech Daniel has to deliver in order to save Robert’s new business from collapsing.

We become the audience which Robert and Daniel practice with and whereas Carney brilliantly shows Robert’s confidence in speaking – making eye contact with every single one of us – Hughes successfully shows the torture his character Daniel suffers as he becomes haunted by sounds of laughing which take him back to childhood days he’d rather forget.

The pair also fall into fantasy pretending to be in a car rally race – to highlight team work at its best – and also envisage being on a battlefield, where using their own initiative is required the most.

In a desperate attempt to get Daniel to overcome his fears, Robert suffers an unfortunate injury. We are left clutching to the hope Daniel can finally pluck up the courage and deliver his speech.

Slasher Kincade is a play that is cut back to the bare minimum where imagination runs riot. A brilliant evening of live entertainment and theatre at its rawest best.

The play is appearing at The Forum Studio Theatre in Chester, before it returns to the region in the summer at the Liverpool Unity Theatre after a stint in London.

*The above review was used for Whatsonstage.com

Ricky Tomlinson starred as Jim Royle in the Christmas Day special of The Royle Family (photo: Dave Evans)

So what did you watch on the box this Christmas Day past? Television was pretty garbage overall I have to say.

The BBC viewing figures for its festive schedule were reportedly 20% down on last year, so it’s going to be a long time until we see people tune into one single programme topping the much liked Only Fools and Horses or national treasure The Morecambe & Wise Show, which attracted 28 million viewers in Christmas 1977.

One programme I did watch, however, was one made right here in the North West. An hour-long Christmas Day special of The Royle Family.

The drama was aired on BBC 1 at 9pm during Christmas Day in 2009 and, according to Wikepedia, attracted viewing figures of 10.2 million.

The Royle Family is made by Jellylegs Productions for the BBC on behalf Granada Television and is written by Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne.

Both writers have connections to the region with Cash being from Stockport and Aherne having been raised in Wythenshawe, Manchester.

For the one off Christmas Day special, titled ‘The Golden Egg Cup’, the cast, which includes Cash and Aherne with other North West born actors Ricky Tomlinson, Sue Johnston and Ralf Little, together with the production crew for the drama, spent two weeks filming in one of the three sound stages located within The Pie Factory based at Media City UK in Salford Quays.

The Pie Factory is owned and managed by Peel Media and was opened in January 2007. The facilities were used for the making of the last Christmas Day special of The Royle Family in 2008, titled ‘The New Sofa’.

The former cavernous warehouses now accommodate three sound stages taking up over 15,000 sq ft and also incorporate a full costume department, make up rooms, dressing rooms, green rooms and office space.

Sinead Greenaway, CEO of the Peel Media group, said: “It is the second year running that The Royle Family Christmas special has been shot at The Pie Factory and we were overjoyed to welcome the cast and crew back. The facilities provided a great space for the production to build the renowned set for a show that has become a highlight in the Christmas viewing calendar.”

The Royle Family might not be to liking of everyone but it’s fantastic to see a drama, made in the North West and using local talent, occupying arguably the best prime time viewing slot.

But even more impressive is the availability of facilities currently within the region to make programmes of this calibre, ones that collect BAFTA awards as The Royle Family has done in the past.

Five days prior to The Royle Family being aired, another comedy drama was being broadcast on rival channel ITV1.

Using the same Media City UK facility, The Fattest Man in Britain, written again by Caroline Aherne but with Jeff Pope on this occasion, was made early last year.

Greenaway added: “The Pie Factory sound stage used for The Fattest Man in Britain is a fantastic space for production companies and advertising agencies, because it has its own private entrance, green room, dressing room and make-up room. We are delighted that the crew decided to film here.”

The one-off 90 minute drama, inspired by a true story, attracted plenty of media coverage with actor Timothy Spall being seen twice his normal size on the Salford set in the lead role of Georgie Godwin, dubbed “eighth wonder of the world.”

The Fattest Man in Britain also starred Oldham-born Bobby Ball of Cannon and Ball fame, as Godwin’s agent and sidekick, Morris Morrissey.

Music by Manchester-based artist Badly Drawn Boy was also used in the drama, which certainly was a high profile production for The Pie Factory so lets hope for more of the same this year.

The Pie Factory forms part of the £500m Media City UK complex, which will be home to around 5,000 workers, students, residents and visitors when the first phase opens.

The BBC will move nearly 2,500 staff to Media City UK from 2011 onwards, including five departments currently based in London. The keys to the first of three buildings for the BBC were handed over in mid-October last year.

For more details on Media City visit the Place North West website

Karen Gill and Alexander West (photo: David Munn)

An on-stage tribute was made to the legendary former Liverpool Football Club manager Bill Shankly to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his arrival to Anfield.

Accepting his newly awarded title of honorary citizen at the city’s BT Convention Centre was his grand-daughter Karen Gill.

Speaking on her grandfather’s behalf, she said: “It’s a great honour to except this title and I wish my granddad could be here to accept it himself. He would have loved and been thrilled about it. The family would like to give the award to the Liverpool Museum because we believe it was the people of Liverpool which made him the great man we all love and miss. Thank you from all the Shankly family.”

The presentation was held prior to Andrew Sherlock’s combined live theatre and video production, The Shankly Show.

Sherlock, who has written and directed the play, approached Cllr Mike Storey, Lord Mayor of Liverpool, with the idea. He added: “It has always rankled with Liverpool fans that we should have had at least two footballing knights, Sir Bill Shankly and Sir Bob Paisley, so on this special anniversary I asked the Lord Mayor if we could honour our own with a special award for Shankly – not just for what he did for LFC but for all football fans and for the life, passion and energy he brought to the city he made his home.”

The Shankly Show was commissioned last year as part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations.

Scottish actor Alexander West has revised the role of Shankly in the one-man show for two nights, performing in front of the great man’s family members and former Liverpool footballers, as well as the people of the city.

Ayrshire-born Bill Shankly was Liverpool manager from 1959 until 1974. He died seven years later.

To read my review of the production, visit Whatsonstage.com here

Dan Starkey and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Well, what can I say, Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of John Buchan’s comedy spy thriller The 39 Steps is a jolly good show.

It’s thoroughly charming from the moment Dugald Bruce-Lockhart introduces himself as the runaway – although entirely innocent – Richard Hannay, right until the close when the audience is covered in seasonal snow (it was artificial but seemed real).

As she has done in London’s West End, Maria Aitken has managed to direct an awfully slick, humorous and highly entertaining production based on an original script by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon.

But the performances of the talented cast of four were executed rather splendidly. Katherine Kingsley deserves an award for her ability at seducing the pants of any male to walk into a room, or in this instance, on the stage. Dressed in a figure hugging black number which emphases every aspect of her fabulous figure, as Hannay’s accomplice Pamela she’s sexy, vulnerable but also reluctant to the hero’s charms.

Kinglsey switches character and also plays the demanding yet fatal Annabella Schmidt and her performance as the Scottish wife of a farmer, Margaret, generates some sympathy from the watching audience.

The actress does not change roles as often as Richard Braine or Dan Starkey, however. These two fine actors play a plethora of parts and produce comical timing at its best. Starkey steels the show with his amazing ability at storing facts when playing Mr Memory and scenes where he’s a woman are as hilarious as they are believable. His timing with Braine is fantastic in the Flying Scotsman scene when the two play a number of roles from a newspaper seller, policeman, to train passengers.

Bruce-Lockhart as Hannay, with pencil moustache and dressed in tweed, manages to carry all the charisma and charm needed for the part but also keeps the plot ticking along nicely by updating the audience with all that is happening.

However, the use of props by all four members of cast is certainly a clever ploy by director Aitken. When Hannay and Pamela are caught by the supposedly under cover detectives (played by Braine and Starkey), there’s a really funny moment of chairs being quickly assembled to make up the vehicle and a steering wheel thrown to add the finishing touch.

But, without giving too much away, the great thing about The 39 Steps is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s just a rather splendid night of entertainment I’d say!

*The 39 Steps runs at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 16 January 2010. The above review was used for Whatsonstage.com

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