Fenella Fielding | River Mersey fireworks | Dawn Penn | Grayson Perry | Sing-a-long-a Sound of Music

Dawn Penn
| District | Thursday November 2

First there was ska: the breakneck, sweat-flecked dance sound of mid-1960s Jamaica. Eventually there was reggae, the endlessly mutating drum-and-bass driven sound that conquered the world during the 1970s. But in between there was rocksteady, a wound-down, loping groove on which sat some of the most heart-rending melodies produced during Jamaica’s late-1960s musical heyday.

And you can’t talk about rocksteady without giving Dawn Penn’s classic You Don’t Love Me a run out. Originally released in 1967 when she was just 15, the track was re-recorded in a speedier guise in 1994 when it bestrode the world as You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No), recharging a reggae career that continues to smoulder in pleasing fashion. You can catch her at District, 61 Jordan Street, L1, this month. 

Rachmaninov’s Third: World’s Toughest Piano Piece?
| Philharmonic Hall | Thursday November 2

With a publicity pitch that makes it sound more like a prize title fight than a classical music concert, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra invites pianist Boris Giltburg (pictured) to join them in taking on Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3, aka “the world’s toughest piano piece”. 

Will Rachmaninov’s masterwork leave our man quivering in a corner, or will he take to the stage floating like a butterfly and stinging like a B flat? 

Also on the bill is the UK premiere of Gabriela Ortiz’s Suite From Hominum and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6.

Making Himself Claire: Grayson Perry’s Dresses
| Walker Art Gallery | From Saturday November 4

“When I walk into a room, I want people to look at the dress and not me,” says Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry. Considering the candy-coloured confections he often chooses to wear, he is unlikely to be left disappointed.

Perry has been cross dressing since he was a child, but not for him the budget blouses or discount dresses sold in Primark and H&M. His alternative persona, Claire, typically wears a range of eccentric styles from Little Bo Peep frills to psychedelic robes, with outrageous hair and make-up to match.

The Walker’s exhibition of past and present Perry outfits includes a range of dresses designed by students at Central St Martin’s art school in London, as well as the party frock from beyond the looking glass that he wore when collecting his Turner Prize in 2003.

Do You Mind If I Smoke? Memoirs of Fenella Fielding
 | Unity Theatre | Saturday November 4

Celebrity memoirs that come with a book tour attached don’t always set the heart racing. Listening to inexpertly read-aloud passages straight from the printed page isn’t necessarily the most scintillating way to spend your time, and the accompanying signing session can be more rough-and-tumble production line than a satisfying way to meet your heroes.

For Fenella Fielding, however, we’ll suspend our cynicism. The octogenarian actress (her Unity appearance comes just a couple of weeks before her 90th birthday) has the kind of voice about which people would once have said, “I’d listen to her reading the telephone directory”. 

Although “I’d listen to her reading my iPhone contacts,” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, her smoky, seductive murmur should still give plenty of aural pleasure when she regales Liverpool with tales of actorly carry-ons from a long-lost, much-loved era of classic TV and film.

River of Light Fireworks
 | River Mersey | Sunday November 5

We’ll admit it, we’re a little nervous about recommending this one. Whereas the old Sefton and Newsham Park bommy night fireworks were reliable enough (if a little blink-and-you-miss-it, given that there was no actual bonfire), last year’s River of Light replacement on the Mersey was... and there's no other cliché for it… a bit of a damp squib.

With the pyrotechnics dwarfed by the Mersey’s grand vista, some much-moaned-about viewing problems and issues with traffic and crowds, the resulting social media storm might have left the council reverting to normal park-based service instead.

But no. “Lessons have been learnt,” they insist, and this year, Titanium Fireworks (whose other big displays include New Year’s Eve in London) have been commissioned to do things differently.

So choose which bank of the Mersey you prefer, pick your spot, and keep your fingers crossed. But if it’s more of a budget banger than a galaxy of stars, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Future Aleppo
 | FACT | From Thursday November 9

No experimental art project is complete these days if it doesn’t require the donning of a virtual reality headset. Fortunately, FACT’s new show does indeed demand the wearing of this modern-day update of the View-Master, and thus its position on art’s official cutting edge is assured.

Future Aleppo is a new VR film which allows users to explore attempts by a Syrian teenager to recreate the fallen city and its landmarks as paper models. Using VR, “photogrammetry” (no idea either) and 3D modelling, the project immerses viewers in Mohammed Kteish’s  bid to preserve his decimated city even as the Syrian conflict blows it apart.

With the real Aleppo in ruins, it seems likely that travelling through Kteish’s paper model – delivered to Liverpool via virtual reality – may prove to be a surprisingly poignant experience.

People, Places & Things
 | Playhouse | Tuesday-Saturday November 14-18

The Headlong theatre company is a regular visitor to Liverpool Playhouse, and its often starkly conceived, stylised treatments of new plays and classics can be stunning. For instance, their version of 1984, which visited the city in 2013, was an exceptionally vivid, exhilarating take on Orwell’s tale.

However, it’s an approach that doesn’t always guarantee great results. Earlier this year they brought a rave-mangled version of Shaw’s Pygmalion to Liverpool, a show that was far too self-consciously quirky to ever hit the heights. So it will be interesting to see where People, Places & Things sits on their triumph/tragedy spectrum.

It certainly promises plenty, with fine artistic credentials supported by a clutch of enthusiastic reviews. Written by Duncan Macmillan (who adapted that strobe-snapped 1984) and directed by Jeremy Herrin (responsible for, among other things, the stage version of Wolf Hall), the show is a study of a woman and her many addictions. 

And if previous Headlong shows are anything to go by, expect her torment to be an uncomfortable ride.

Sing-a-long-a Sound of Music
 | St George’s Hall Concert Room | Friday November 17

You’ve seen the Concert Room in St George’s Hall, yes? You know how beautiful it is, right? A circular Victorian confection in cream and gold, it’s a venue worthy of the very best.

However, sometimes the best just isn’t enough. And on those occasions, you may as well fill your Victorian confection with faux nuns, lonely goatherds and all manner of fancy-dress fiends belting out The Sound of Music’s greatest hits.

Taking the Rocky Horror template of riotous audience participation but replacing all those fishnets and garters with nuns’ habits and alpenstocks, this cinematic sensation has been touring since 1999. What you get is the full Technicolor classic on the big screen, but instead of being urged to stay silent, audiences belt out the songs in full voice. 

According to the blurb, “It’s the perfect night out for family trips, hen parties, office outings and anyone who has ever shed a tear during Edelweiss”. Family trips and hen parties?

Er, OK…

The Hartlepool Monkey
 | Unity Theatre | Friday-Saturday November 17-18

In the fields of both politics and the arts, the tale of the Hartlepool monkey has proved to be a surprisingly fertile myth.

The story has it that when a chimp in French uniform was washed ashore during the Napoleonic Wars, the Hartlepool locals put it on trial fearing it was a French spy. It was this legend that resulted in the election of H’Angus The Monkey as mayor of Hartlepool in 2002, and it has now spawned a new play described as “an adventure story for sea dogs and landlubbers, children and adults alike”.

Written by Carl Grose, whose new adaptation of The Tin Drum recently opened at the Everyman, and featuring puppetry by Gyre & Gimble, who worked on the original production of War Horse, the show promises to be a spirited retelling spiced with sea shanties and fun.

Killing Moon: 35 Years of The State | One Fine Day, Cotton Exchange, | Saturday November 25

Let’s face it, anniversaries in general are ridiculous. Why 35 years is more significant than 34 years is beyond logic. And nightclub anniversaries are even more daft. The urge to celebrate a vanished party venue long after your own partying skills have started to fade is the kind of thing that young people (quite rightly) can only laugh at.

And yet... it’s so tempting isn’t it? Because those much-missed nights at Korova or Cream or The Cavern are still burnt into your soul, and wouldn’t it be great to get the old gang back together and relive it just one more time?

So if, back in 1982, you were of an alternative dance persuasion, and you remember the Letter to Brezhnev, Frankie Goes To Hollywood glory days of The State (watch The Tube's very early footage above), this is your chance to do it all again.

DJs Andy Carroll and Mike Knowler, from the old skool and from now, provide the music. And if any young people have a good laugh at you as you enter, just remember: in 35 years, they’ll be doing exactly the same.