An evening with Ken Loach at Derby Quad

Ken Loach’s film the Navigators may be a decade old, but the themes of redundancy and uncertainty clearly resonated with the audience at Derby Quad’s special screening this week.

Set in Sheffield in the mid-1990s, it tells the story of a group of railway workers whose industry is being privatised. Loach is known for his rich characterisation and social realism and this film is no exception: we see the banter of the railway workers, the real choices they have to make and the relationships they have with their families and with each other.

It’s also a highly political film. We are invited to laugh at the absurdity of corporate jargon creeping into the previously state-run railway industry and we are also shown the potentially devastating consequences of privatisation, particularly when safety is compromised to save money.

Watching this film in Derby, it is almost impossible not to see parallels with the ongoing problems at the city’s Bombardier plant. Earlier this year, the firm was forced to shed 1,400 jobs after losing out on the £1.4billion contract to German-based Siemens. It goes without saying that this will have a terrible effect on the workers, their families and the local economy.

The screening also included a Q&A with Ken Loach, along with a short film he made as part of a collaborative project called 11’09”01 – September 11. This project saw 12 directors create short films in response to the September 11th attacks in New York. Loach was heavily criticised for his contribution, presumably because it was seen as anti-American at a time when American patriotism was king.

Loach decided to depict the 1973 coup d’état in Chile which also happened on September 11th. The military coup led to the downfall of President Salvador Allende and a period of unrest. With help from the Americans, Pinochet took power and imposed his brutal regime on the Chilean people until 1990. This short film is told through the eyes of a Chilean musician who escaped to London and it is an incredibly powerful elegy about a period of history which is often overlooked.

Ken Loach (picture by Graham Lucas Commons)

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Relive your memories of Hyson Green flats at Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard

The Hyson Green flats did not last long but during their brief lifetime, they become something of an urban landmark in the city and home to a thriving community. Built in 1965, the complex included 593 individual flats and maisonettes and its distinctive modernist design meant that it stood out in an area that is largely made up of Victorian terraces.

The flats were demolished in 1988 to make way for Asda but many former residents look back on their time there with great fondness.

There will be an opportunity to discover more about life in the Hyson Green flats at a new exhibition which opens at Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard on Saturday.

On the Flats is a local history project run by the Partnership Council, a charity working in Hyson Green. More than 40 volunteers have spoken to ex-residents to find out more about their memories of the flats and the exhibition also includes a film with interviews and archive footage such as old television news clips of events surrounding the flats.

Residents have contributed a host of items to the exhibition, for example a slab of concrete and a street sign which were salvaged when the flats were demolished. The exhibition also details the role the flats played in the Nottingham riots in 1981, as well as the impromptu blues parties that were held.

The exhibition runs until 15th January.

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Sound it Out is a funny and moving portrayal of men and their records

There is no major plotline in Jeanie Finlay’s new film, Sound it Out. The documentary, which opened at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema on Thursday night, profiles the lives of staff and customers at a well-loved independent record shop called Sound it Out Records in the north-east town of Stockton-on-Tees.

The fact that there is no neat storyline in this film is one of its strong points. Hollywood and ‘reality’ TV would have us believe that people and places can fit easily into stereotypes but this is a portrait of real people with all their complexities; it is at times laugh-out-loud funny and at other times heart-achingly sad. There is no dramatic ending – as Jeanie tells the audience at the end of the film, the shop did not close and everything carries on as before.

In the film, we meet music fanatic Tom, who owns Sound it Out Records and at times says he feels more like a social worker. Regular customers give us an intensely personal insight into their own record collections and their lives. They are all incredibly open and frank about what their collections mean to them. For many of them, music is utter escapism from a humdrum life in a town where there are very few job opportunities. In some cases, music has proved life saving – one of the young men said that it stopped him taking his own life while for another, it has kept him out of trouble.

These lives are set against the backdrop of a former industrial town, where Jeanie herself grew up. The high street – which is incidentally the widest in England – is populated by empty shops, bargain basement stores and run-down charity shops. Sound it Out Records is a refuge for many people; the town may feel like a cultural desert and the recession might have further damaged the already fragile economy but the shop is hugely important to the area. It’s a place where you can pay for your records on tab, watch an artist perform live or just pop in for a coffee and a chat – and it’s something you just don’t get with iTunes.

Sound it Out is currently on a UK tour. If you want another screening at Broadway, email the team there.
For further details visit  the Sound it Out website or follow on Twitter @sounditoutdoc or visit Facebook.

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Calling all vinyl junkies: Sound it Out opens at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema

When I first moved to Nottingham almost a decade ago, there were a respectable number of independent record shops. Like independent book shops, they are not just places where you buy a physical product: they are a place to meet like-minded people, find out what is going on in the city or stumble upon something you have never heard before.

But over those 10 years something changed. Pete Townsend this week blamed Apple and the rise of digital downloads; or you could point the finger at supermarkets where causal music fans can now pick up the latest releases. Or if you are a real musical connoisseur, you could say that online record shops offer much more choice than a shop ever could. Whatever the cause, record shops, like independent book shops, are now as rare as hen’s teeth. It’s easy to get nostalgic about something that has become the victim of market forces (think Woolworth’s) – but for many people, going to record shops and discovering music is something bound wit their youth and who they now are.

This idea is the subject of a new documentary portrait by independent Nottingham film maker Jeanie Finlay called Sound it Out, which will premiere at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema tomorrow. It is a film about Teesside’s last surviving vinyl record shop, Sound it Out Records and the huge role music plays in the lives of everyone connected to it.

Jeanie grew up three miles away from Sound It Out Records and it helped to shape her love of music as well as a life-long minor obsession with vinyl. Now she recognises that Sound it Out Records is an endangered species; over the past five years, more than 500 independent record shops have closed down so Jeanie and her filmmaking team wanted to capture what makes the shop so important to its loyal customers.

She says: “Sound it Out is an intimate film about a small shop on a small street in a small town where I grew up. Sound It Out Records helped to shape my love of music and when I decided to sell my record collection to help fund my wedding, Tom who owns the shop was horrified. I decided at that point there was a real story to tell about Tom’s shop and it’s a story that’s about so much more than vinyl.”

Sound it Out opens tomorrow (Thursday) at Nottingham’s Broadway before going on a national cinema tour. The event includes a Q&A with Jeanie Finlay along with performances from bands that feature in the film, guest DJs and other events. For details visit the Sound it Out website, follow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sounditoutdoc or Twitter @sounditoutdoc.

Photo by Jeanie Finlay

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The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: A lesson from history at Nottingham Playhouse

My German teacher at school used to say that Bertolt Brecht did not want you to sit back at the theatre and eat a packet of Malteser’s while immersing yourself in the play.

Being a passive member of the audience is not an option with Brecht. He pioneered a theatrical technique called Verfremdungseffekt (alienation) which reminds us that we are watching a dramatic production so we must make moral and intellectual judgements rather than be swept away by sentimentality.

This is certainly the case with The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which opened at Nottingham Playhouse this week. Characters, who had white painted faces, step outside the narrative; a cigarette is lit up in front of the fire safety curtain and the central character Arturo Ui enters from a door at the back of the theatre.

Despite these dramatic techniques, this is one of Brecht’s more accessible plays. It is set in during the Great Depression in 1930s Chicago when mobsters and corrupt businessmen ruled the city.

But beneath its Hollywood veneer, this is a dark satire on Hitler’s rise to power. It is the tale of Arturo Ui, who starts out as a lowly criminal and ends up holding a cast iron grip over the city’s vegetable trade with his protection rackets.

Brecht, who wrote the play while exiled in Finland in 1941, leaves us in no doubt of his intentions. Each character correlates to a person from the Nazi era and every event is one that has actually taken place, for example the warehouse fire trial is the Reichstag fire trial. We are also told via electronic signs about the historical event before the fictional one is played out, once again leaving us in no doubt that these events really happened.

The script, which is a new translation by Stephen Sharkey, was brought to life brilliantly by the cast members, including Giri (played by Mike Goodenough), who depicts a thug-like Goering with remarkable skill and the stately but corrupt Dogsborough who was played by Eliot Giuralarocca and represented President Hindenburg.

Meanwhile, Ian Bartholomew was captivating as Arturo Ui. He was at once powerful and pathetic, comic and unnerving. He body language was spot on and he really came into his own when he delivered his final speech. In this scene, a Nazi film reel forms the backdrop while Ui, elevated high on a lectern and surrounded by terrified looking people, addresses the audience. It is a chilling reminder us that we have all been complicit in his rise to power. As with Hitler, it is not that the people supported him; rather it was the fact that we were passive enough to allow it to happen.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is on until 12th November. For tickets click here. Follow on Twitter #arturouri.

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Klaus Weber: Suspended animation at Nottingham Contemporary

This weekend sees the launch of a new exhibition by German artist Klaus Weber at Nottingham Contemporary.

Born in Sigmaringen and now working in Berlin, Weber’s work explores our ideas about what is natural and what happens when this is disrupted. The new exhibition includes a life-sized moving figure of a man running off the roof, a sun mirror, artificial rain and a tornado made from a hoover. At this show, entitled If You Leave Me I’m not Coming, you will not be looking at paintings on a wall but sculptures occupying all the space in the gallery – and I mean all the space. For example, the cartoon-like ‘running man’ will launch himself from the gallery roof and be suspended in mid air. The sculpture has a motor in its chest which drives the pistons to make the man’s legs move.

There is also a giant wind chime, measuring four-and-a-half metres. It will be tuned to the ‘tritonic’ scale, which was banned during the Middle Ages because it was believed to summon the devil. Meanwhile, Weber’s ‘bee paintings’ have been created by bees themselves; during their first cleansing flight of the year they excrete on white surfaces, in this case on canvases.

Alongside Weber’s solo exhibition, there is a second exhibition at curated by the artist himself. The show, entitled Already There, is a collection of 200 objects and art works loaned from collections at Tate, the Science Museum, The Ashmolean, University College London and the Bode Museum in Berlin.

Describing the objects as the ‘foundations’ of his art works, they include tools used by pre-historic man; Bronze Age animal sculptures; a bird cage from a lunatic asylum; an armadillo skeleton; brain coral and Regency anatomical models complete with lift-out organs. The objects will be displayed alongside loans from Tate, chosen by Weber, dating back to 1661 and some of the artists include Louise Bourgeois, William Hogarth and Gilbert and George.

The new exhibition opens on Saturday and run until 8th January. Entry to Nottingham Contemporary is free.

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A new perspective at Lakeside’s Djanogly Art Gallery: There’s more to Lowry than pictures of matchstick men

Salford’s MediaCity is the new home of the BBC and, with its futuristic glass buildings and sleek architectural design, it is a world away from the industrial landscapes depicted by L. S. Lowry.

The towering factory chimneys have now been replaced by huge office buildings, miserable-looking people have been replaced by creative types and the city is lit up rather than bathed in a stagnant smog.

Lowry’s world is preserved at the excellent Lowry Arts Centre at Salford Quays and public interest in his work has not diminished over the years; his depictions of communities and places of work hark back to Britain’s industrial past, which for better or worse, is fast becoming a distant memory.

This autumn, Djanogly Art Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre will be hosting a new exhibition of Lowry’s work, from the industrial landscapes of the 1920s to some of his lesser known works when he became interested in representations of figure groups and individual figure painting. Known for his representation of concrete subject matters, this exhibition, which opens on 16th November, is also an exploration of the abstract.

The 1930s proved to be a dark time for Lowry: he had lost both of his parents and was experiencing a growing sense of isolation. It led to him producing an extraordinary series of paintings which also reflect the sense of national foreboding about the impending war. In contrast to the busy street scenes of his earlier paintings, the ones from this era contain scenes of empty, industrial wastelands and portraits of blank, ravaged faces.

By the time the war ended, Lowry was no longer required to look after his invalid mother and began travelling around the UK. The result was pictures of the wild landscapes of the Lake District, Yorkshire Moors and Derbyshire, along with a series of sea paintings. Alongside the impressive paintings, this collection also includes a number of pencil drawings, from rudimentary sketches on the back of an old envelope to sophisticated drafts for his paintings.

Entry to Djanogly Art Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre, University of Nottingham runs until 5th February. Entry is free.

 

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Lincoln Comedy Festival: Teutonic jolliness with Henning Wehn

There is a probably reason why self-styled ‘German Comedy Ambassador’ Henning Wehn probably wouldn’t cut it as a stand-up in his native country. While some of his fellow countryfolk might nod their heads when he talks about the Greek bailout, I don’t think they would be too happy clapping along with a Hitler Youth song – which is precisely what Wehn asked us to do when he appeared at Lincoln Drill Hall on Saturday evening as part of the Lincoln Comedy Festival.

But this is England and we have still not shaken off that little matter of The War. Indeed, Henning says that his comedy routine is safe because we will always teach future generations about ‘those 12 years’ when Hitler was in power. He tells us that when he performed at Comedy 4 Kids and asks the youngsters what they know about Germany, one little girl pipes up, ‘naughty Hitler’.

Stereotypes abound in Wehn’s routine (efficient, hard-working Germans versus drunken, kebab-eating Brits) but he is also not afraid to be political and his observations are extremely astute. In one memorable part of the show, he describes his utter bemusement at performing at a Jongleur’s comedy club to some blokes on a stag do dressed as Smurfs, women on a hen do and someone celebrating their birthday surrounded by balloons. Everybody else is just there because ‘Tracy from HR’ told them to be.

With Wehn, nothing is off limits, whether it’s the Pope, Hitler or the rise of China. At times he is very politically incorrect – not in a Bernard Manning sort of way but anyone expecting Michael McIntyre will be in for a shock. But it’s clear this is all tongue in cheek and despite his claims of Teutonic superiority (ironic of course), he is also brilliantly self-deprecating; something that sits well with us Brits.

Henning Wehn is currently touring his No Surrender show. For details click here.

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Calling all budding directors: Free workshop at Nottingham Playhouse

Aspiring directors will be able to pick up a host of helpful hints at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday at a free workshop.
The Direct Access workshop, organised by the JMK Trust, will give you an opportunity to explore the craft of theatre making in this practical introduction and takes place between 11am and 5.30pm.
The JMK Trust was set up in memory of promising director James Menzies-Kitchin, who staged his first production at the age of 26. He died suddenly in 1996 at the age of 28.
To book a place visit www.jmktrust.org/workshops-and-events or email jo@jmktrust.org.

 

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Vivid depiction of D. H. Lawrence in Phoenix Rising at Nottingham Playhouse

When Paul Slack finished his one-man show Phoenix Rising at Nottingham Playhouse on Friday evening, there was just one person on the stage. I am stating the obvious here – but such was his stage presence and command of his characters that at times, it felt like there was more than one performer.

The play, written by Campbell Kay, chronicles Lawrence’s early life in the  Nottinghamshire mining town of Eastwood. Set in a sparsely furnished room on Ile de Port-Cros, France, we see Lawrence two years before his death as he looks back on his childhood – his friendships, family, school life and early career, all of which shaped his literary career.

For those of us who know Nottinghamshire well, the play evoked the landscape perfectly. We see how Sherwood Forest and the legend of Robin Hood fired the imagination of the young Bertie (as he was known as a boy) and that he believed the collieries were a blight on the landscape. Lawrence’s childhood was not without its problems; his father was a drunk, he lost his beloved brother to pneumonia and he was an outsider who preferred to read and play with the lasses while the other boys in his class could not wait to finish school and go down’t pit.

Despite this, his childhood memories are infused with a warmth and gentle humour and perhaps what strikes you most of all is how ordinary Lawrence is. Of course, he went on to become of the most celebrated figures in the Modernist movement – but at this point, he is taking his first nervous steps into the literary world and is somewhat bemused by American poet Ezra Pound. At an event organised by writer and editor Ford Madox Ford, he recites one of his poems in a Nottinghamshire dialect with his back turned to the audience which I found both comical and endearing.

The success of this production comes both from Kay’s beautifully written text and Slack’s engaging performance. He moved seamlessly between different voices and really engaged us in the narrative.

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