Tag Archives: Unity Theatre Liverpool

An alternative to panto

I love Pantomime – it is awful but fantastic at the same time, if that makes any sense – but if looking for an alternative this break, perhaps these two theatrical treats may tempt you.

First, The Frozen Scream is a collaboration between the Wales Millennium Centre and Birmingham Hippodrome. The Welsh performances are over but it will run in Birmingham in January. The piece is co-written by Christopher Green and Sarah Waters, adapted from a tale by CC Gilbert.

frozen scream

I was fortunate to catch this production in late December. The proviso was to wrap up warm and wear sensible shoes. The hardest part of having seen this production is that I cannot really say too much about it, I now do not want to spoil the enjoyment, so I cannot reveal its secrets. My lips must remain frozen!


All I can say is it is camp and self-aware, a chilling evening’s entertainment. It is an experience that I would highly recommend. A beautiful glacial ornament, I hope remains frozen and complete in the memory box of my mind. Beware the Ice!

The second alternative is back on my home territory of Liverpool: Rumpelstiltskin.


The Unity at Xmas never fails to impress. Through the years, a festive trip with my niece and nephews has become part of our annual yuletide celebration. Indeed, I buy tickets in lieu of toys or the latest fad. Funnily enough, experiences can sometimes be more enjoyable than fancy dressed festive wrapped gifts.

The Red Shoes, The Pied Piper, The Snow Queen, Hansel and Gretel, and traditional tales that are timeless and severely dark. I encourage anyone who has not read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to do so. At times they are shocking in their brutality. With this year’s offering, there is a simple set of hay that is used to create props, furniture, even a castle turret. The abolishment of the fourth wall means the audience are involved with the action at all times, with one kid even playing the part of a Bishop and marrying the King and Queen.

Rumpelstiltskin, a dark fairy tale that spins theatrical gold. A piece of real theatre, fabulous cast, fabulous set, fabulous lighting and an excellent score. I normally have an aversion to singing kids’ stuff, Frozen, well, freezes me… but the opener of the second act was magnificent, like a Grimm Brothers version of Cabaret. My three-year-old nephew’s first trip to the theatre and he was mesmerised. Result!

If these two dynamic productions do not appeal to you, there is always pantomime…

Oh no, there isn’t!

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‘Opera for Chinatown’ by The Sound Agents

The Sound Agents are artists specialising in oral history, funded by Heritage Lottery (HLF) to record the oral history of Liverpool Chinatown.


Liverpool Chinatown is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. It has the largest arch outside of China and is probably the smallest Chinatown in the world. The streets are steeped in history. People from all over the world stayed in boarding houses in Nelson Street on their way to America. Some stayed thinking they had arrived in America when they docked in Liverpool, making Chinatown a unique cosmopolitan area.

The Agents – John Campbell and Moira Kenny – have written a play based on the stories they have been recording about the Blue Funnel Sailors, the forced Chinese repatriation and the Liverpool Chinese children who featured in the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

The piece of theatre is called ‘The Curious Disappearance of Mr Foo’ and will be at the Unity Theatre Liverpool on 21 June. (Starring Tina Malone and Simon Wan. Directed by The Sound Agents.)

Currently the creative collective are exhibiting photographs, audio and artefacts from the oral history in the Open Eye Gallery alongside Bert Hardy, Martin Parr and UK-based photographer Jamie Lau. The exhibition Ebb and Flow is a visual chronicle of Liverpool Chinatown, an audio-visual survey of the history and changes, from 17 May – 22 June.

Sound Agents Sans Cafe

Working with Iliad and Liverpool City council they are also creating a photographic installation on three Georgian Terraces in Duke Street for the end of May.

Opera for Chinatown 3

The terrace’s artwork is called ‘Opera for Chinatown.’ The Sound Agents’ overall aim is to set up a site-specific Chinatown Museum in Liverpool. They have a particular mantra,

We do not believe in failure.

When working in Chinatown the artists employ local people and are keen to provide opportunities and experience to showcase women in roles traditionally reserved for men – thereby promoting the proverb, ‘women hold up half the sky.’

Opera for Chinatown 7

Pictured are Blue Funnel Shanghai sailors, Mr Yue, Mr Lau and Mr Woo.

Opera for Chinatown 10

Their pictures appear on the building.

Opera for Chinatown 13

I asked the Agents, what is the most interesting Chinese phrase that you have picked up? To which they coyly replied,

Better not repeat it. We hang around with retired Chinese sailors.

All pictures by kind permission of the Sound Agents

This post was updated on 6 June as the director of the Unity Theatre play changed

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Festive footle

John Maguire brings you an alternative Christmas story…

No Santa Claus, no reindeer flying on magic dust, no Christmas tree and no brightly wrapped parcels, Paul Auster’s Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story is an unconventional tale for the holiday season. A welcome relief from the yuletide overload!

auggie wren

In a modern world brimming with commercialism to the point of annoyance, the retina is force-fed a blizzard of stock images, roasting meats, joviality and merriment from October (sometimes even mid-September) onwards. A load of festive footle some may say!

Yet there can be an undercurrent of melancholia to the whole festive holiday, packaging itself neatly as perfect family unity and love for all. To put it plainly, anyone is bound to fail if measuring their world against the idealised lives bombarded and shoved in our faces through the electronic plasma 36 inch teat that flashes advert after advert in the corner of the cold dark living room.

The commercialist campaign appears to have spread to the theatres too. This year Liverpool is stuffed with Pantomimes like a gargantuan three bird roast. You may shout ‘he’s behind you’, but you wouldn’t really be able to tell, as there are so many Dames and token stock stereotypes fighting for ticket sales. The winter darkness is illuminated, bedazzled by a number of coloured lights with musical numbers blasting out from the stores and markets making the grey streets look like a perpetual MGM musical. It may detract from the double-dip recession and debts a-piling for the time being, that is until the hangover from hell in 2014.

Perhaps it won’t be the hair of the dog that’s needed then but the whole hound. You can almost hear the licking of the lips of the companies like Wonga and the rest, ready to claim their succulent prize after the New Year fizz has indeed fizzled out.

Alas, there are thankfully alternative variations of festive celebration, take The Pogues romantic tune, Fairytale of New York, for example. And there are dynamic theatres like The Lantern Liverpool with Take a Hint’s ZAGMUTH and The Unity’s collaboration with Action Transport Theatre, THE PIED PIPER, to offer a creative antidote.


An hour of time well spent over the holiday period would be to dip into Paul Auster’s utterly charming, opuscule fable, Auggie Wren’s Xmas Story.
Paul Auster was born in 1947 and studied at Columbia University, spending four years in France. A true Renaissance writer, he pens novels, poems, screenplays and translations.


Auster was challenged to come up with a short story to be published in The New York Times on Xmas day. Thus, the Auggie Wren story was born and it begins with the age-old artists’ dilemma, ‘the writer’s block’. How to write an unsentimental Christmas story? He confesses this challenge to his friend, the proprietor of a local cigar shop in Brooklyn, Auggie Wren, who boldly brags,

A Christmas story is that all? If you buy me lunch my friend, I’ll tell you the best Christmas story that you ever heard. And I guarantee every word of it is true.

Auggie Wren not only personifies the savvy New York spirit but that of all those type of characters with a passion for life. His cunning adaptability and survival instincts varnish his character with a verisimilitude that is emblematic of NYC, (and indeed Liverpool) he is a somewhat everyman figure.

As long as there’s one person to believe it, there’s no story that can’t be true.

And Auggie delivers an unsentimental but heartfelt tale, involving a lost wallet, a blind woman living in poverty and a Christmas dinner. It all gets turned upside down and nothing is what it seems. What’s stealing? What’s giving? What’s a lie? What’s the truth and how much of a story is real and how much is not?


The tale features in the cult classic SMOKE with Harvey Keitel playing Auggie Wren.


Paul Auster’s phenomenal simple story echoes the sentiment uttered in that other great American writer DR SEUSS in How The Grinch Stole Christmas,

Maybe Christmas the Grinch thought doesn’t come from a store.

grinchThis little tale embodies the true spirit of what Christmas should be and the values that should not just be for one season but a state of mind.

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