TITANIC: THE MUSICAL | Hong Kong, HKAPA Drama Theatre

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“We spent a really, really long time — much longer than any other show before — trying to work out the set design,” explains director Candice Caalsen, who is directing a cast of forty-two adults for the “Face Productions“ performances, and a cast of a hundred children aged 8-18 for the “Face Academy“ performances of this epic musical. “Of course, we didn’t want to make a boat, and then try and sink it. We’ve gone a bit more abstract.”

The five-time Tony award-winning 1997 Broadway musical approaches the historic tragedy of 1912 in a way completely different to the 1997 film. “We want to transport audiences to another era,” Caalsen explains. “It’s a real story, and all the characters are based on the real people who were on the Titanic, so every story you see is real. We definitely want people to go away feeling moved, and remembering such a historic tragedy.”

Both Face Academy and Face Productions rely on a cast of volunteers, but for the adult cast, at least, you can expect to see the lead roles played by trained professionals from all over the world, and all local Hong Kong talent.

There’s no live band (audiences will hear a fully customisable, “conducted” backing track with a bit of live keyboard), but both gigantic casts are going to blow the roof off in the ensemble numbers. Don’t miss the boat!

Book the “Face Academy” performances and the “Face Productions” performances online, playing 11 – 13 October 2019.

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PANAMAX (2019) | Apple Podcasts

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It’s safe to say that The Prickle are massive fans of Unleash The Llama. So as you can imagine, we all got rather excited to hear they’ve brought out a brand new podcast. Only one episode up so far but it’s absolutely hilarious. Subscribe.

The deranged, epic story follows two naïve millennials: arrogant conspiracy theorist Oscar Ayers and naïve IT-technician Lowell Blair. Travelling around Panama, the pair are mistaken for drug-lords, and drawn into the brutal world of the Panamanian cartels. Recording their experience on their smartphones, the pair are plunged into a maelstrom of mistaken-identities, backstabbing and conspiracy that takes them all the way to a showdown at the Turner Prize awards ceremony.

PanaMax finds hope in the direst of situations, even if those situations are a direct consequence of one’s own ignorance. This series takes the British tradition of odd-ball character comedies that deal with social outsiders and dubious familial patronage – like Withnail and I – and combines it with the ‘caught on tape’ candour of An Idiot Abroad and the narrative drive of Narcos and Breaking Bad to deliver a sitcom that is as thematically and formally relevant as it is entertaining.

This is Unleash The Llama’s first foray into the world of audio, but it’s perfect for their outlandish, over-the-top sensibilities. The first episode isn’t even half an hour — it’s too well-edited — but it’s absolutely crammed with insanity. Subscribe.

Subscribe to PanaMax on Apple Podcasts.

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SWIM COLLECTIVE: INSTANT HAPPINESS IMPROV JAZZ NIGHT | Hong Kong, Eaton HK, Terrible Baby

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How do you like your improv jazz? Completely mental? Then SWIM Collective is for you. It’s unusual for contemporary free jazz to feature a vocalist; three vocalists even moreso. But this is the ensemble’s strength and USP: a highly theatrical, human sound. An accompanying band of harp, keyboard, cello, percussion and electronics allows for a diverse range of expression.

Some of the vocal improvisation is straight out of the Toronto Blessings of the 1990s, a flurry of impassioned tongues, over dissonant spreads of expressionist harp and piano cluster-chords. Sometimes the singers merely coo gently; sometimes they are silent.

One of the most fascinating things about these through-composed, non-repeating, freely improvised pieces, is how the style slowly (sometimes imperceptibly) weaves in and out of free-rhythm effects and anchored, rhythmic, tonal grooves. The whole ensemble are really listening to each other and giving each other space, never trying to dominate the sound. Sometimes this leads to moments of complete silence.

Audience participation is highly encouraged. Everyone is given some tissue paper, and a lucky few are given some spoons. Being conducted in and out, at different volume levels, the sound of paper rustling and spoons clinking en masse is quite mesmerising, and the chance to be involved feels pretty special.

Follow SWIM Collective on Facebook.

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TJOE & NTBM | Hong Kong, Peel Fresco

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It’s hard to put into words how impressive and special this weekly jazz night is at this tiny live music venue near the party district around Central. Tjoe Man Cheung is a young jazz guitarist of exceptional skill, who, despite his unassuming demeanour, is clearly an excellent bandleader too. Moreover, he seems to know every dynamite musician in Hong Kong, so his “jam session” ends up being of a ridiculously high standard.

NTBM stands for “Not To Be Missed”, and this is apt. The actual “house band” line-up might be slightly different each Sunday evening, but whoever you get, you can be sure of a few pre-rehearsed tunes of outstanding quality, hovering around contemporary jazz-funk, to suit Tjoe’s guitar.

But the star attraction is the jam. Musician after musician, every audience member who joins the action is unique and phenomenal. There doesn’t appear to be any sheet music, even for the niche and complex numbers: just a quick murmur amongst themselves of the title and the key, and away they go, sounding tighter than a lot of pro bands. How is this possible? You may find a Japanese tap-dancer joins in with an improvised solo worthy of its own Broadway show, or an avant-garde vocalist improvises disquietingly around a classic, or a drummer changes tack and rocks out on a melodica (à la Jacob Collier).

Audience participation is very much encouraged. A couple of singers get up who are not first-rate, but relish the opportunity to perform. Little percussion instruments get passed around. It’s a steal at $100 HKD entry; although this entry fee is waived for latecomers who miss the main show. The bar is outrageously expensive (think $75 HKD for a Diet Coke) but still NTBM.

Check out all the live music at Peel Fresco online.

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HONG KONG LESBIAN AND GAY FILM FESTIVAL: OPENING PARTY | Hong Kong, Woobar @ W Hotel

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To celebrate the 30th anniversary year of the longest-running LGBTQ+ film festival in Asia, the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (HKLGFF) kicked off with two packed-house screenings and a dynamite party in Kowloon. All ticket holders to the opening screenings of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (How I Felt When I Saw That Girl) (2019) or Les Crevettes Pailletées (The Shiny Shrimps) (2019) were invited to the party, with free drinks sponsored by Finlandia and Jack Daniel’s.

Before the screenings, executive director Raymond Leung presented this year’s Prism Award to Angus Leung, on behalf of him and his husband Scott Adams, for spending the past five years battling local government to recognise their marriage in Hong Kong.

At Woobar, DJs Janette Slack and Melody Lane delivered a stream of feel-good club classics with the occasional remix. Short, live performances injected some fresh energy, too. KiKi house of Marciano brought their mixed-gender, PVC-clad voguing trio, which went down an absolute storm. Drag Jam did some fun lip-syncing and also posed for some photo opportunities with fans.

Although primarily geared up for a young, nightclub-going crowd, there was a glorious mix of ages, nationalities and styles, embracing Hong Kong’s diversity. A huge amount has changed over the past thirty years: 1991 saw the legalisation of homosexuality, and Hong Kong’s annual Pride parade started in 2008. But there is still no legal recognition of any same-sex relationships, and limited protection against discrimination. The fight for visibility continues.

Book online for all upcoming events, including the closing party on 21 September 2019.

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JEW…ISH | Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe 2019

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The Edinburgh Fringe is upon us! And here at Prickle HQ we could not be more excited about Unleash the Llama’s new show, a self-professed, “twisted millennial romcom that absolutely no one asked for”. This brand new two-hander sold out its London previews, and got the audience into quite a tizzy (see the video below).

JEW…ish is a pitch-black, romantic comedy about true love, politics, and two millennia of inherited trauma. TJ (Edie Newman) and Max (Saul Boyer) are in love; with amphetamines, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and ooh, Jeremy Corbyn. Occasionally even each other. There’s just one thing: Max is Jewish. TJ isn’t. He’s desperate to escape the tribe; she’s looking to sign up. What happens when you don’t identify with your identifiers, and you break out of the boxes you’re born into?

Unleash the Llama was founded in 2014 by Saul Boyer and Sam Rayner, with the goal of creating unique and ambitious comedy productions. Unleash the Llama were responsible for the hit 2014 Underbelly show Nougat for Kings (“hard to take your eyes off” – The Scotsman), the irreverent narrative comedy podcast: ‘PanaMax’ and the sketch show TüManz 2k18 which premiered at London’s Leicester Square Theatre in January 2018.

For JEW…ish, Boyer teams up again with Poppy Damon, having won awards for their writing together (Shortlisted for The RSC/Other Prize, Papatango, Cannes Series ‘In Development’ Award), with Kennedy Bloomer directing and Zoe Weldon producing.

Playing 1:30pm at the Gilded Balloon until 26 August 2019.

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TORUK: THE FIRST FLIGHT | London, O2 Arena

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Cirque du Soleil’s 2015 arena spectacular, based on James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), is coming to London. Still the highest-grossing film of all time at $2.8 billion, Avatar is about how, on the planet Pandora, a local tribe of Na’vi become endangered by the expansion of a mining colony. This contemporary circus show is a sort of prequel, set thousands of years before the events of the film.

In Avatar, Jake Sully becomes the sixth person to successfully ride a great leonopteryx, also known as a toruk: any rider is then named Toruk Makto. But who was the first Toruk Makto? Set around 837 BC, the show follows the journey of Entu, the first Na’vi to become a Toruk Makto, in order to save the Tree of Souls from being destroyed by a volcano.

Cirque du Soleil are globally renowned as the greatest circus on earth, and audiences can expect plenty of jaw-dropping acrobatic stunts. However, this differs from most Cirque du Soleil shows in that there is a narrative core. The show also has a large focus on puppetry, animating the wild and diverse creatures of Pandora: viperwolves, direhorses, austrapedes and turtapedes. The leonopteryx/toruk flies using reverse-string puppetry, with the puppeteer beneath the creature.

Toruk also features multimedia audience interaction, where audience members use a mobile app to to influence visual effects and interactive content during the performance. It’s Cirque du Soleil pushing their art to the limits: no wonder this has been such a global hit show for the last four years. Book now!

Take flight with the ancient Na’vi in London for seven performances only, 26 — 30 June 2019.

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AMÉLIE THE MUSICAL | London, New Wimbledon Theatre

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A new musical, based on the much-loved, five-time Oscar-nominated 2001 film, is embarking on an extensive UK tour. It’s already wowed critics at the acclaimed Watermill Theatre (Newbury), and now comes to south London. The musical originally ran for two months on Broadway in 2017, and has now been extensively reworked, following successful international touring to Japan and Germany. The songs are by Daniel Messé, including lyrics from Nathan Tysen, and a book by Craig Lucas.

Amélie is the story of an astonishing young woman who lives quietly in the world, but loudly in her mind. She secretly improvises small, but extraordinary acts of kindness that bring happiness to those around her. But when a chance at love comes her way, Amélie realises that to find her own contentment she’ll have to risk everything and say what’s in her heart.

Amélie is played by the delightful Audrey Brisson (The Elephantom, Pinocchio and Pericles (National Theatre), The Grinning Man (Bristol Old Vic) and more). Nino is played by musical theatre star and all round heart-throb Danny Mac.

Come and be inspired by this imaginative dreamer who finds her voice, discovers the power of connection and sees possibilities around every corner. Although times are hard for dreamers, Amélie is someone to believe in.

Amélie visits Wimbledon until Saturday 25 May 2019. £13 tickets are still available.

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PÉLLEAS ET MÉLISANDE | London, Playground Theatre

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Debussy’s celebrated 1902 opera, Pélleas et Mélisande, is the only opera he ever finished. Normally running (with intervals) at three hours, Opera on the Move’s new production has cut it down to 90 minutes straight through, with a cast of just six: three men, three women. Edited and rescored for two pianos by Peter Brook and Marius Constant, this is a dark tale, in which things are rarely as they seem.

Based on Maeterlinck’s inscrutable 1893 symbolist play, a stranger arrives in a strange land. Golaud (Benjamin Schilperoort) discovers Mélisande (Emilie Cavallo) in the forest. Enraptured and obsessed, he brings her home to be his wife. In this home of dying patriarchs, jealous minds and hopeless futures, it is not Golaud she sees, but his brother – Pélleas (Ben Thapa).

Directed by up-and-coming director Gareth Mattey, this new production embraces the surrealism of this fin-de-siècle masterpiece. True to the original, this scaled-down production will be performed in French with English surtitles.

London’s Playground Theatre in Latimer Road is the perfect place for Opera on the Move’s first fully staged opera, bringing together an international cast of singers and performers. Founded in 2018, Opera on the Move is a touring company based in London, who believe that opera is an exciting, engaging, and accessible art form, dedicated to bringing it to places it’s never been before.

Playing 8th and 10th May only. Book tickets online.

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THE SHED | A new venue with a mission

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We’re 18 months out from America’s next Presidential election and lecterns bearing the names of candidates with bold visions are 10 a penny. Familiarity with the sheer number of campaign launches that have been photographed, streamed and reported over the first 3 months of 2019 therefore lent some camouflage to just how heavily The Shed borrowed from the political playbook throughout its press launch this week. Then again, this is entirely apt for the plucky new cultural contender with civic, national and indeed global ambitions — the candidate’s name on the lectern this week was ‘The Shed’.

Putting its best foot forward, the launch of New York’s latest cultural institution ties in to three crucial areas of political success: policy, personality and philanthropy (cash money). The first of these dominated the podium section of the launch. The team at The Shed has carefully built an institutional philosophy that offers a framework for collaborating artists, a brand for New York’s audiences to latch on to and a yardstick by which success can be measured. To this end, it was set out that the venue is to give a sense of ownership and collaboration to the city it stands in and the creative contributors it welcomes. This is to be a venture that champions risk taking, curiosity and adventure. A beacon of innovation on the West Side of New York that reaches out to all of the boroughs as to fund creativity and facilitate exploration. There will be no high and low culture at The Shed, only culture — a message reminiscent of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ message that got so horribly mangled in the UK’s 2010 election. Speaking to this point specifically, Tamara McCaw —The Shed’s chief civic program officer— borrowed from Nina Simone to say that they aimed to ‘reflect and respond’ to the communities of New York City.

On personality, the backers of The Shed are hoping that their institution’s name and reputation becomes synonymous with the celebrated creative DNA of Alex Poots. The founder of Manchester International Festival has proven on more than one occasion that he has the trust (another popular buzzword throughout the launch) of artists, audiences, funders and administrators. Moreover, he’s demonstrated what alchemy can be achieved with this level of artistic belief. Speaking confidently without notes, Poots was compelling and clear about how he sees The Shed’s mission and is convincing on the topic. Perhaps one of the star qualities that would prevent him from running in an actual Presidential race but makes him the perfect candidate for this one is his European-ness. In fact, of the four artistic curators that sat in a panel during the launch of New York/America’s new arts centre, three were European (Emma Enderby and Hans Ulrich Obrist completing the group with Tamara and Alex). The Shed seem to be betting on this transatlantic skillset bringing international flare to the venture, not an uncommon leadership skillset pursued by New York’s established Anglophilic art centres such as The Metropolitan Museum and most recently Lincoln Center.

It was however left to the bonafide politician in the room to say the word that was being skirted around in all the artistic conversations, a word that underpins the ability to get to the point of launching any ambitious American candidacy. Mid-speech, Dan Doctoroff —Michael Bloomberg’s former Number 2— stumbled momentarily saying that it took ‘so money…I mean, so many people’ to pull this all off. It was a moment of accidental humour, a Freudian slip that was disarming in its brief, truthful nudity. It has taken so much money to make this all possible. It was $45million from Frank McCourt that got the ball rolling, a $25million gift from Ken Griffin that kept it on track and the priceless use of City Land that motivated countless other philanthropists, sponsors and supporters to generate an initial budget of over $500million. That’s the money that’s giving the Shed a chance to disrupt the US arts scene and put the wind up veterans such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and BAM. That’s the money that brought in the architectural invention of Liz Diller and David Rockwell to craft a positively European space capable of delivering a mission more akin to London’s Barbican or Southbank Centre. That’s the money that has filled their offices with superstars like Poots who can bring in super-duper stars like Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones to advice that they should bring in yet more star power, lending this clout to the newest addition to an already bulging cultural scene.

Every good political campaign needs a soundtrack; Bill Clinton harnessed the power of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop’ and Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ mantra was fashioned into a harmonised battlecry by will.i.am. To that end, The Shed’s quest for the hearts and minds of New York and the world beyond really gets going in the 5 shows that comprise Soundtrack Of America: tracing the family tree of African American music as performed by the next generation of that mighty organism (a concept devised by Poots and McQueen). Will it be the soundtrack to launch the sort of career that all at The Shed are hoping for? They’ve given themselves every chance of success, it only remains to be seen if the following years deliver the diversity of voters…I mean audiences from the cross-section of their immediate society (and the world) that they’ve so clearly set their sights on.

Explore the length and breadth of The Shed’s inaugural programme here.

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