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In praise of… Manchester

Our autumn tour of Simon Stephens’ LONDON closed in Manchester last month at the Royal Exchange Studio, our home from home in the North West. Having grown up just south of Manchester, our AD George lists his top tips if you’re visiting the city (having promised us they won’t all be pubs). 

The Northern Quarter

Amidst an increasing and rather thinly-veiled marketing trend to brand areas of cities ‘quarters’ (and increasingly ‘neighbourhoods’) , the Northern Quarter stands out as an exception. Independent shops, bars and restaurants cluster around Affleck’s Palace, just south of Ancoats and Picadilly station and before you reach Market Street and the Triangle. Importantly the area is home to  around 500 residents – it serves, and is supported by, a local community. Beautiful flats sit atop the shop fronts in converted warehouses and factories. Creative industries populate office block conversions. It’s telling that the area doubled as New York Village in the film remake of Alfie.

The Craft and Design Centre

Over 30 years old, and with a seal of approval from Elbow’s Guy Garvey, The Craft and Design Centre is home to around 30 photographers, potters, jewellery-makers, clothes designers and more who all sell their wares direct from their on-site workshops. A guaranteed one-stop shop for your Christmas list.

The Squares and Gardens

As you walk through the city centre, it’s not long before the street opens on to one of Manchester’s ten squares and three gardens. They’re at their best at this time of year when the ever-expanding Christmas markets take over their every square inch and become truly communal spaces. Manchester International Festival turn Albert Square in to their festival bar every two years.

The full list is Albert Square, St Peter’s Square, St Ann’s Square, Motor Street Square, Catalan Square, Stephenson Square, Exchange Square, Shambles Square, Crown Square, Great Northern Square, Cathedral Gardens, Piccadilly Gardens and Parsonage Gardens.

The Kings Arms, Salford

Whilst not technically in Manchester, a quick nip over the canal brings you to one of our favourite watering holes in the whole of the UK (come on – there was bound to be a pub sooner or later). We’ve written about The Kings Arms before. Aside from being owned by the legendary Paul Heaton, it serves as the setting for a large proportion of Fresh Meat who arrive to film on location on a weekly basis.

Grill on the Alley / Grill on New York Street

Admittedly part of a (nonetheless independently owned) chain, these are still two of the best restaurants in Manchester, as long as you are a meat-lover. Essentially upmarket diners, they serve beef from cows that for their life-spans have been consistently massaged and fed on beer. Call us suckers for a gimmick but if I’m going to eat cow I want it to have lived the kind of life I aspire to.

Beetham Tower

A brave piece of design, engineering and town planning, this hotel, restaurant and apartment block dwarfs the rest of the Manchester sky-line. The sheer scale and height of the tower in comparison to everything around it is awesome. Costing £150 million, it’s the highest building in Manchester, the tallest residential building in Europe and the 7th tallest building in England standing at 168.87 metres high, with a total of 47 floors and home to the Manchester Hilton Hotel, 219 luxury apartments and 16 penthouses. The café/bar  Cloud 23 is only half way up yet on a clear day offers panoramic views of Greater Manchester and beyond to the Peak District. They’ll tell you it books months ahead for afternoon tea but with a little bit of charm you can talk your way up there for a quick look around. It’s well worth the effort. The tower is used to beautiful metaphorical effect in Sarah McDonald Hughes’ COME TO WHERE I’M FROM, which you can listen to here.

Metroshuttle Free City Centre Bus Service

I don’t quite remember when this arrived on the scene but it is brilliant and every city should have one. Three routes get you to any corner of the city in under 10 minutes. For free. ‘Nuff said.

The Oast House

According to their website, “Oast Houses have their roots steeped in the traditions of beer making. Warm air from fired on the ground floor would rise through the building drying the hops scattered across the floors above ready for the Master Brewers to then begin their work”. The difference with this one is that it sits in the middle of the ultra-modern and ultra-sleek Spinningfields development and not a German field.

Old Trafford

As a United fan I’m biased, but this stadium is incredible.

Rehearsals begin for LONDON by Simon Stephens

With ROUNDABOUT up, running and open for business at Shoreditch Town Hall, rehearsals began in earnest at PPHQ yesterday for the eleventh production of Programme 2012 – Olivier Award-Winning Simon StephensLONDON.

The project incorporates Simon’s play SEA WALL – which was originally commissioned and produced by The Bush Theatre in a production directed by our Joint Artistic Director George – and its companion piece, T5, which was recently published alongside WASTWATER.

We are co-producing LONDON with our friends at Salisbury Playhouse and Live Theatre Newcastle, before touring to Brighton Dome, Manchester Royal Exchange Studio and The Tron Theatre Glasgow.

LONDON is directed by George and designed by Hannah Clark, with lighting from Malcolm Rippeth and Sound by Tom Gibbons.

The production stars Cary Crankson and Abby Ford (below).

As usual, you’ll be able to follow the rehearsals, opening and tour right here on the PP blog.

In the meantime you can get daily updates from @painesplough or by searching twitter for #LondonPlay and you can find links to book tickets here.

A Play, a Cake and a Pint?

Cake is becoming a bit of a theme around here – as he told us yesterday, Sean is adjusting well to life as the PP intern by embracing the abundance of cakes in the office. And two of this year’s three Play, Pie and Pint shows feature cake in a crucial role. Woe betide any diabetics who come to work for Paines Plough.

It seems like only yesterday I saw the first run through of DIG and started to get a sense of what a beautiful and affecting play it was going to be. In fact, it was just over four weeks ago. And one month, 4 cities, and 24 cakes later, it has drawn to a close.

L-R: Stewart Porter, Louise Ludgate and Simon Macallum - the brilliant cast of DIG.

Here’s what the critics from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Coventry had to say…

‘This tightly written play is gripping, funny and extremely moving… A thoroughly affecting piece of theatre.’ Edinburgh Guide ★★★★

‘Tight and emotionally-chargedAs it builds to its powerful conclusion, Dig deftly uncovers the emotions which lie hidden beneath the surface of our everyday lives; and the hope which can often be found growing there.’ Edinburgh Spotlight ★★★★

‘It’s a simple idea, but over the resulting 45 minutes a surprisingly large emotional terrain is covered by George Perrin’s production…Douglas’ dialogue is sharply written and well observed…Louise Ludgate’s climatic monologue, a desperate plea to save her marriage, is impossibly affecting’ Exeunt Magazine ★★★★

‘Incredibly gripping…intelligent, compelling and humorous…The script builds to a tender and emotional conclusion, portrayed brilliantly by a talented trio of actors. Overall, Dig was a fantastic experience and it would have been excellent even if I hadn’t had a hot pie and a glass of red wine to keep me company.’ The Student ★★★★

‘Dig is the sort of brash, confident and hard-hitting piece of theatre which makes you sit up. A perfectly crafted short.’ Annals of Edinburgh Stage ★★★★

‘Very moving, very incisive…For a 45 minute long play “Dig” packs a lot of punch.’ Lothian Life ★★★★

‘A small masterpiece…this rich and shattering slice of lunchtime drama’  The Scotsman ★★★★

‘From hilarity to chilling suspense, Katie Douglas’s script controls the atmosphere in the room precisely…This exploration of the emotional effects of an economic climate where job security is a fantasy asks tough questions, and asks them very well.’ Edinburgh Evening News ★★★★

‘The play, the pie and the pint are all thoroughly enjoyable, but best by far is the play – wonderful, deep and satisfying.’ Warwick Courier

If you caught DIG, we’d love to know what you thought of it.

And if you didn’t – there’s still time to grab your pie and pint and settle down in front of either YOU CANNOT GO FORWARD FROM WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW, at the Belgrade Theatre until Friday, or JUICY FRUITS – playing at the Manchester Royal Exchange this week and heading to Coventry next week.

What we’ve been seeing at the theatre

Thanks to our jam-packed festival season, we’ve been able to expand our theatrical horizons somewhat this summer. Between us, team PP have been soaking up shows at the Manchester International Festival, Galway Arts Festival, Latitude Festival and the Avignon Festival, as well as staying up to date with the best work on the UK’s theatrical calendar. We’ve got a fantastic line-up of shows to see before the end of the month, when we head up to Edinburgh to tackle that behemoth of theatrical beasts – the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Before we headed off on our various festival adventures, we were thrilled to catch THE ACID TEST by Anya Reiss at the Royal Court, REALISM by Anthony Neilson at Soho, RICHARD III at the Old Vic, DR FAUSTUS at The Globe, LUISE MILLER at the Donmar, ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, WHERE’S MY SEAT by Deirdre Kinahan, Jack Thorne and Tom Wells at The Bush,  FIXER by Lydia Adetunji & LITTLE BABY JESUS by Arinze Kene both at Oval House Theatre, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Wyndhams, BELONGINGS by Morgan Lloyd Malcom at Hampstead Downstairs, BUNNY by Jack Thorne at the Royal Exchange, THE PRIDE by Alexi Kaye Campbell at the Crucible Studio and Spymonkey’s LOVE IN at the Udderbelly.

Whilst in New York James and George managed to catch BOOK OF MORMON and 4,000 MILES by Amy Herzog.

At the Manchester International Festival, during a rather hectic week (of which there is more here), George managed to see Victoria Wood’s THAT DAY WE SANG as well as Bjork’s BIOPHILIA.

Dashing straight to Avignon from Manchester, George was fortunate enough to see what he has since described as one of the best piece of theatre he’s ever seen – a version of HAMLET, entitled AU MOINS J’AURAI LAISSE UN BEAU CADAVRE (AT LEAST I WILL HAVE LEFT A BEAUTIFUL CORPSE) as well as one of the strangest, LA PARANOIA. More on that to follow later this week.

In Galway James and Tara caught Enda Walsh’s astonishing MISTERMAN before dashing off to Latitude to meet up with the rest of the team to open Kate Tempest’s WASTED. Whist at Latitude we saw and loved Joel Horwood’s JEKYLL AND HYDE, the National Theatre of Scotland’s CRUNCH, Fuel’s ELECTRIC HOTEL, nabokov’s FAIRY TALES by Jack Thorne and Arthur Darvill, Whippet Productions‘ THE SPIES IN ROOM 502 by Jonathan Britten, Theatre Uncut’s short plays about the recent government cuts, and The Bush’s production of FLOODED GRAVE by Anthony Weigh, amongst many more. There’s loads about our weekend at Latitude here.

Back in London we’ve been to see THE CHERRY ORCHARD, LONDON ROAD, EMPEROR AND GALILEAN, DOUBLE FEATURE and ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS, all at the National, THE VILLAGE BIKE by Penelope Skinner at the Royal Court, FOR ONCE by Tim Price at Hampstead Downstairs, MIRROR TEETH by Nick Gill at The Finborough and Curious Directive’s YOUR LAST BREATH at The Pleasance.

We’re off to Edinburgh next month so please let us know of your recommendations by posting below or tweeting us @painesplough and we’ll try and add them to our schedule. Once we’re up there we’ll return the favour.

Ex-PP Artistic Director to run the Rep

We were thrilled to find out yesterday that ex-Paines Plough Artistic Director Roxana Silbert is to succeed Rachel Kavanaugh in heading up the mighty Birmingham Rep.

This is fantastic news for audiences and artists alike – Roxana is not only a superb director, but a brave champion of new talent. In her time running Paines Plough she commissioned and produced work by Dennis Kelly, Rona Munro, Sebastian Barry, Che Walker, Levi David Addai, Mark Ravenhill, Sean Buckley, Enda Walsh, Laura Lomas, Tom Wells, Steve Thompson, David Greig, Robin French, as well as producing innovative projects such as Wild Lunch, Future Perfect, LATER and the Rod Hall Award.

Since she left PP she has directed for the Globe, the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and the RSC, where she is currently an associate director. She joins Birmingham at an exciting time, with a brand new 300-seat space for new work due to open in 2013.

PP has a rich history of working producing with Birmingham Rep. In recent years we’ve worked together on Orphans by Dennis Kelly, Come To Where I’m From featuring Alia Bano, David Watson, David Edgar and Cheryl Payne, and on our upcoming commission of Kate Tempest.

We’d like to wish Roxana as well as all our friends at the Rep huge congratulations and best wishes for a sparkling future.

A Play, A Pie and A Pint – On Tour

A Play, A Pie and A Pint

A Play, A Pie and A Pint

Later this year we’re presenting three World Première productions with our good friends at Oran Mor in Glasgow. Brand new work by Katie Douglas, David Watson and Leo Butler will open in Glasgow as part of the lunchtime series A Play, A Pie and A Pint, before heading out on tour. Oran Mor is in the heart of Glasgow’s West End – a vibrant and eclectic corner of this gorgeous city, home to students, families and some of our favorite cinemas, delis and bars in the UK.

Oran Mor

Oran Mor

First stop after Glasgow will be Edinburgh’s new writing power-house, The Traverse. A Scottish home to much of Paines Plough’s work of the past few years (including 2010’s PPP series as well as Orphans, After The End, Long Time Dead and The Straits), the Traverse is also one of the top venues for the Festival Fringe each summer.

Traverse Theatre

Traverse Theatre

From Edinburgh we head south to Manchester for our fourth visit in twelve months to this beacon of the north. After a fling with the Manchester International Festival this July we’ll be back at our home from home in M2, the formidable Royal Exchange Theatre, in October.

Royal Exchange Theatre

Royal Exchange Theatre

Last stop on this tour is Coventry, where 79% of our audience for last year’s PPP series were first time visitors to the theatre. We were in Coventry for Come To Where I’m From in July last year where our four writers painted a vivid picture of a fascinating city. You can still listen to the writers reading the plays themselves here.

Belgrade Theatre

Belgrade Theatre

We’ll be posting updates on Katie, David and Leo’s plays on this blog as well as on our website over the coming months. In the meantime, let us know if you’ll be coming to share a pie and a pint with us in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester or Coventry this autumn.

And, if you’re already a regular at Oran Mor’s PPP, vote them pub of the year by following the instructions below. We’re sure they’ll reward you royally.

To vote Oran Mor the Sunday Mail pub of the year:

Call 0901 229 2817 and enter the code 10. Calls cost 26p plus network extras. Calls from mobiles may be significantly higher.

Or text SMVOTE01 followed by a space and the code 10 to 84080.Texts cost 25p plus your standard rate.

Lines will close at noon on Thursday, June 2, 2011.