Mixed Up North – reviews

“Robin Soans has edited his material with extraordinary skill so it glides between tragedy and farce, between horror and humour, with an inner dramatic vibrancy that still retains the untidiness of real life. Max Stafford-Clark’s direction is judiciously brilliant… If Mixed Up North comes within 50 miles of your home, surge forth and feast your senses. This is a cultural treasure.”

Lloyd Evans, The Spectator

 
“Sometimes a play comes along that just nails you to your seat with passion and makes you look at an issue with new eyes. Mixed Up North is one of them.

“Thought provoking, well acted, perfectly cast, up-to-the-minute, relevant, lewd, foulmouthed and frequently hilarious, this is surely one of the best plays about the clash between white and Asian culture in modern Britain… A fabulous, important play”

Nick Spoors, Northampton Chronicle & Echo

CRITIC’S CHOICE | 4 STARS

“It’s not only journalists and government officials who have been crawling over Burnley since the “disturbances” in 2001. The playwright Robin Soans has also been interviewing the locals in order to create this revealing piece of verbatim theatre for Out of Joint. His discoveries are set within the context of those participating in a multicultural theatre project, bringing young people together (although neither Asian girls nor white boys choose to take part) under the guidance of Celia Imrie’s harassed, good-hearted Trish.

“During a chaotic dress rehearsal, skilfully choreographed by the director Max Stafford-Clark, the flippant, funny and sometimes disturbing views of both participants and leaders are forcefully expressed by a lively cast. Some of the confessions are so powerful that they threaten to break out of the rehearsal structure. Soans believes that the cause of the riots has more to do with the collapse of the mills than racism. He may well be right, but his failure to represent the BNP on stage makes his argument feel untested.”

Jane Edwardes, The Sunday Times

4 STARS

“Bracing, combative and oddly joyous… Beautifully directed by Max Stafford-Clark, it’s a verbatim piece by the best of verbatim authors, Robin Soans… Highly recommended”

Paul Taylor, Independent

“Celia Imrie’s tremendously entertaining performance would, on its own, make this show worth seeing. But as it happens, every member of the cast is a delight to watch… Max Stafford-Clark gives a masterclass here: his direction is fresh, funny, spontaneous and he makes you feel that this is theatre that really matters.”

Kate Kellaway, The Observer

“Outstandingly cast and acted… This new play, vigorously directed by Max Stafford-Clark, is going to raise these issues with a new, younger audience, if Wednesday’s delighted young crowd is anything to judge by”

Claudia Pritchard, Independent on Sunday

“Max Stafford-Clark’s gifted young cast bring real power to first-person accounts… disorganised, didactic yet always lively – and, at a time when immigration is so high on the government’s agenda, burningly topical.”

Benedict Nightingale, The Times

4 STARS

The 2001 race riots that scorched the old Lancashire mill town of Burnley proved an inspiration for playwright Robin Soans. Mixed Up North is a sharply-written drama-documentary about a mixed race youth group in Burnley, post 2001, trying to rehearse an entertainment based on a Bollywood chat show. But little is achieved, much to the anguish of the youth workers, after the arrogant star flounces out.

What we are then left with is an often moving series of mini dramas as the white and Asian teenagers laugh, shout, argue, bec ome angry, even snog – and start to question their lives.

The old Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End is a bit crumbly but with great atmosphere. Somewhat surprisingly’s the perfect setting for this self-analysis: Jonathan Fensom’s set has given it the genuine look of a run-down school gym .

The young cast have caught, often with a sharp, head-on accuracy, the erosion of life in a town where low-esteem among the young prevails, where tension exists between the races and where local authorities merely mouth platitudes and promises. Celia Imrie, a familiar and always welcome face whether on stage, screen or television, is at her sparkling best as Trish, the ever-optimistic youth leader. Her occasional asides to the audiences are delivered with witty aplomb. Kathryn O’Reilly, who only graduated from drama school last year, is the worn-out director Bella, a pivotal role which she delivers with considerable panache. Her expression of exasperation when all around seem to be collapsing is so familiar to anyone who has tried to direct a play. There are also some fine character vignettes. Lisa Kerr is superb as the lippy, eye-rolling, nasty-piece-of-work Kylie and Rose Leslie is tender as the shy Wendy. But one young actor memorably stands out. Muzz Khan is near-perfect as the lanky, occasionally bolshie Uday. Perhaps it is because he grew up near Burnley that Muzz brings such realism to his part. Or maybe it is simply a formidable acting talent. Whatever the reason – and I think it is sheer talent – he gives a genuine picture of an Asian lad in a land of racial anger.

Under the sure direction of Max Stafford-Clark this clever often very funny play makes some profound points – although whether making live theatre paves the way to racial togetherness is questionable.

However most of the audience of schoolchildren in the performance I saw were a mix of races. And they really loved it.

Paul Callan, Daily Express

“David Thacker’s debut season for the Bolton venue starts with a real coup. Legendary director Max Stafford-Clark and Out of Joint’s previous ventures with writer Robin Soans have produced thought-provoking and passionate blasts of political theatre. This world premiere examines the divisions and fissures in contemporary Burnley at ground level, and (a recurring theme of Stafford-Clark’s work) celebrates the redemptive power of art.

“Social worker Trish (Celia Imrie, sharing the role with Judith Amsenga) and youth theatre director Bella (Kathryn O’Reilly) are hosting the debut performance of the StreetYY theatre company, a community project focused on social and racial integration. The least of their problems is reluctant leading man Javed (Tyrone Lopez), erratic lighting operator Colin (Matthew Wait) or stroppy Kylie’s (Lisa Kerr) mouthy outbursts. With we, the audience, as guest visitors for the evening, there are doubts as to whether the play will go ahead at all.

“Soans’s verbatim work is always focused, sharp and elegant, and this brilliant piece of writing asks some difficult questions, and refuses to answer them with cliche or pat solutions. Rather, this is an urgent protest howl, presenting an audience with a raft of ideas for debate. Jonathan Fensom’s brilliant design places us immediately in a bare community centre, and makes ingenious and full use of the Octagon space.

“Stafford-Clark’s work is, as always, intelligent, accessible and rigourous. He skillfully marshals a dozen principle characters in fast-moving scenes, and expertly choreographs the complex action. Never losing sight of the roots of the project, this feels more like an admiring fan letter to the town of Burnley, than a worthy piece of agit-prop.

“The acting is, for the most part, superb, and it’s a credit to the company that the individual characters’ voices aren’t lost in the mix. Stephanie Street is superlative as the angry and passionate Aneesa. Matthew Wait is brilliantly matter-of-fact as Colin, and presents an impressively complex vision of bureaucracy in social worker Roy. There’s good work, too, from Kashif and Asif Khan.

“As for star name, Celia Imrie (who played Trish on the night I attended), she has a plum role and is a commanding stage presence with her expected wry comic timing, though her accent and demeanour suggest someone altogether more prissy. Shades of her previous creations also seem to creep into her body language and facial expressions.

“Structurally, Mixed Up North is a little uneven, as the second act seems to belong to a separate play altogether, and the audience’s empathy for the protagonists of the first half ebbs away. Also, some of the acting seems to smack of working class youths filtered through a middle class vision, and can, at times, appear a little shrill.

“Overall, though, this is a brilliant evening’s entertainment, and a triumph for both the Octagon and Out of Joint. If you fancy being challenged and uplifted, as well as being asked to think about problems that exist on all of our doorsteps, then a visit to this gem of play is a must.”

Matthew Nichols, Whatsonstage.com

“The girls speak movingly of sexual abuse and the unexpected intricacies of arranged marriages, the boys of racial insults and the prickly allure of violence. The material is sensitive, and there are moments of arresting power. There’s also some ebullient comedy… Strong performances from Celia Imrie as Trish and Stephanie Street as her assistant Aneesa.”

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

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