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Review Mark Watson, Theatr Clwyd by Russell Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

To begin, Mark, unlike other comedians, does not have a warm-up act; he takes on the role himself as he likes to use this time to get the feel for his audience.

Mister Watson is not your usual joke-a-minute comedian, instead he takes a more subtle approach; his gags disguised along the way in what seem to be quite personal, relatable life stories.

He speaks warmly of his children and the difficulties navigating their childhood using audience participation from people who have experienced some of the same occurrences, with some hilarious outcomes. He also talks of his ex-wife and divorce in the same manner, again with very funny outcomes from the audience inclusion.

During the interval there are cards laid on for the public to ask Mark questions or make any statements they would like him to acknowledge, the outcomes of these cards and Mark’s reactions to them are ‘throw your head back and roar’ material.

To wrap up, Mark Watson was warm, friendly and exceedingly funny. He loves his audience and his time on the stage. I would recommend Mark’s show without hesitation.

Thanks, Mark, for a great night! I did not stop laughing!

University of South Wales, BA (Hons) Dance students review Awakening by National Dance Company Wales

Courtney Sellick

Awakening is a mixed bill reflecting on National Dance Company of Wales founding’s of different international choreographers. The showcase involved three works: ‘Tundra’ by Spanish choreographer Marcos Morau; ‘Afterimage’ by Brazilian choreographer Fernando Melo; and ‘Reveller’s Mass’ by Caroline Finn the Artistic Director and now Resident Choreographer of National Dance Company.

‘Tundra’ is a partnered piece that involves the dancers being in sync throughout the whole piece. It has a history of Russian folk dance, mass parades and revolution which is why the dancers stay connected. The costumes were also inspired by Russian folk dance for example the skirts at the beginning gives a mesmerising image of them floating across the stage.

In the piece ‘Afterimage’ the dancers sit at a small table using other dancers behind a mirror interrupting each other’s reflections whilst moving, like showing two types of reality all in one. Although this is the shortest piece, it gives out so much emotion. Using an illusion technique called ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ shows exactly what it states…the dancers looking like sprits coming in and out of other bodies on stage which was very bewildering but breath-taking to watch.

‘Reveller’s Mass’ is a religious fervour with explorations of communion and ceremony involving a long water bath with candles in the middle which explains Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ mentioned in the programme. Ed Myhill gave a terrific performance as the cult leader and actually ended up being quite funny at the end of the work. Each dancer has a curious character in which they all come together using charismatic and compelling choreography.

Kristiina Kalinina

It was an absolute pleasure to see “Awakening” at Sherman Theatre Cardiff by National Dance Company Wales. The audience enjoyed 3 works (“Tundra”, “Afterimage” and “Revellers’ Mass”).

As a partly Russian person, I was impressed with “Tundra”. The choreographer perfectly modifies some classical Russian Folk Dance movements and fits them into the work. The idea of staying connected was probably taken from Folk Dances as well, but dancers were using their whole bodies to stay connected, not only arms, which I find really interesting and  impressive.Not only movements were inspired by/ taken from Russian culture, but also costumes were created using some traditional Russian patterns. I am not sure if the music was Russian, but definitely had a Slavic motif. Apart from the connection with the Russian culture, I was in love with the lightning, a huge rectangle light and this play with the shadows gave me an unforgettable experience. I would recommend to anyone who is interested in bringing different cultures to contemporary dancing.

Danni Gordon

Tundra is a contemporary dance work that uses elements of Russian folk dance alongside an urban vocabulary. Marcos Morau’s bold style is robotically precise, trying to create something more human in that we used to work together, in terms of connections and community. These days we are all so disconnected. 

This was the first time I had seen Tundra being performed live within the show Awakening, with no background information on it before watching the performance I was extremely mesmerised at the way it was both executed and how the design went so well alongside it. Being in first year on the dance course at USW I’m just starting to watch more varied dance performances and realise how much diversity there is within the dance sector, Tundra giving me an excellent insight into new ideas and concepts. Tundra was a delight to watch and really shows the connection and trust the dancers have between one another, allowing the audience to really relate to both the beautiful costumes that relate so well to the Russian Folk dance and harmonised precise movements.  

I am glad I didn’t look at the background of Tundra before the showing of it as I feel it allowed me to have my own thoughts about the piece, before knowing the reasoning behind it. Having then looked at the programme notes it is clear what Marcos Morau wanted to explore and portray within Tundra. I think it is an extraordinary work that I would give a 5 star rating. 

Don’t miss this incredible work Tundra choreographed by Marcos Morau, it’s a must see.

Becky Johnson

The evening began with Tundra, a nod to Russian tradition with a whirlwind of optical illusions. This is the third cast I have now seen perform the piece and each have brought their own dynamic to it. This time it wasn’t the swift canons nor the captivating opening sequence that brought my intention. Rather it was, the unified presence of the performers on stage. They didn’t seem like one entwining body which other casts had achieved but instead as individuals stood at a united front. Each with their own way of moving but held together by their defiant gaze and unified approach. This seemed more reflective of the Russian Revolution in which the piece was created in memory of. However, I must admit part of me longed to be dumbfounded at the pure skill in which the choreography provides. But upon reflection, I must acknowledge how a piece adapts with age and more so when you know a magicians tricks it’s a lot harder for something to seem magical.

Despite that, Afterimage was a piece that really resonated with me. I had been to see the open rehearsals last summer so was aware of how the trick of Peppers Ghost worked. However, this wasn’t a necessary surprise needed to be impacted by the simplistic beauty of the movements and the story within the piece. The powerful relationships between the performers left you delving for more clues and causing each audience member to create their own story as to why. When in fact, there could be endless possibilities.  Something possibly more beautiful than what was happening on stage, was the pure amazement of the children sat behind me. Their squeals and gasps as different characters emerged and disappeared from the set. As well as their insistent debate of how the Company managed to achieve the magic that was occurring on stage.

The final piece was that of Revellers Mass, a farewell from Caroline Finn as Artistic Director of the company. The stage was filled with a community of characters each with their own story to tell. Once again Ed Myhill played the roll of the mastermind, a role he plays extremely well, and seemed the master puppeteer for the rest of the cast. The piece was one of those that you could watch multiple times and depending on your seat within the theatre your eyes would be drawn to different narratives throughout. Although I struggled to find sense of the ending, it provided a light hearted finish to what was a brilliant evening showcasing the skills and character of the new cast. I can’t wait to see them all grow as a company and to see what else that have in store for us.

Lizzie Chatfield

Bethany Lydon

As someone with a Roman Catholic upbringing watching Revellers Mass by Caroline Finn as part of NDCWales’ Awakening 2019, I could clearly recognise moments relating to the Christian Faith and I felt I was able to make so many connections with that performance! It was enjoyable and clever to have comedic moments where the audience actually laughed out loud! It’s not always you can watch a dance piece focusing around religion and laugh!! Would love to see this again.

Lucie Ainsworth

On Wednesday 1st May 2019 I got the pleasure of watching National Dance Company Wales at the Sherman Theatre in the spring tour of Awakening. The evening consisted of three captivating pieces, opening with Tundra choreographed by Marcos Morau, Afterimage by Fernando Melo and Revellers’ Mass by Caroline Finn.

When I originally watched Tundra for the first time I was already intrigued first of all by the opening section where the floor length skirts gave the illusion of hovering across the stage with ease, and then the simplistic movements, but performed within half counts of each other to look as if moving across the stage as one being. However seeing this performance for the second time for myself made it even more interesting to watch. Having learnt sections of the repertoire from two of the company members earlier on in the year was what made it even more engaging to watch. About to enter the professional industry means that when you watch this work and have had the chance to learn it, makes it feel more accessible and less daunting to think about graduating.

Afterimage was an interesting watch with its visual effects happening live on stage making it seem like there are two dancers dancing in each others space. I do think for this piece it would vary what your reaction may be depending on where you sit. I would be keen to see it again from a different angle to experience what I may notice next time.

Revellers’ Mass felt far more familiar to me as a piece based on what I have seen the company do so far. Similar to Finn’s other works in my opinion like Green House and Folk. The piece was lively and energetic and reminded me of when I saw then company for the first time back in September 2016. Although the company members have shifted and changed since i’ve been in Cardiff, it’s been lovely to see how each new member added in to the company brings something new to the dynamic of the works.

Rhiannon Stalley

National Dance Company Wales are a company that I really enjoy to watch in performance, as they always seem to exceed my expectations, and pull off everything I believe that they set out to do.

Awakening was made up of three works, Tundra by Marcus Morau, Afterimage by Fernando Melo, and Revellers’ Mass by Caroline Finn. Tundra is a piece that I have now seen twice, and is one of my favourite works from the company. The way the dancers come together to create such an incredible image has me captivated, and really takes me on the journey with them. Tundra is said to be “as mesmerisingly beautiful, as it is robotically precise.” For me I believe this is exactly how the piece portrays itself. Every time I have seen the work I have been put into a complete state of euphoria.

I really recommend watching all of the works performed in awakening, especially Tundra.

Zoe Mutter

I am currently a student at the University of South wales studying dance, I thoroughly enjoy watching National Dance Company Wales works at any showing or sharing they offer. On the 1st of May we went to The Sherman Theatre to watch Awakening. This showing included three amazing works created by Marcos Morau, Fernando Melo and Caroline Finn. Each work was completely different yet still flowed next to each other in the show.

The first work to been shown was Tundra, now this is the third time I have watched Tundra and it still gives me chills to this day. Watching the precision of 8 dancers moving in sync with each other on a bare stage is a remarkable thing, it’s something so aesthetically pleasing that I find myself being mesmerised. Watching Tundra as an open rehearsal to being performed and toured feels like I have seen it grow into bigger and better things performance by performance.

The second work to be performed was Afterimage. This piece completely captivated me in seconds. Going in fully blind to this piece I had no pre assumption or wants. It was 20 minutes of pure amazement, the use of an old “trick” really blew my mind, and to see it be used in such a well thought way with decorum and elegance was beautiful to watch. From beginning to end I couldn’t take my eyes of the stage, movement and dancers.

The final work was Revellers’ Mass the scenery, music, costume and movement took this piece from just a dance work to a truly fascinating performance. Just like all of the pieces I became enthralled by this piece. Its pace made it impossible to notice you’d been watching 7 dancers for 32 minutes. The movement felt like it took you on a story through the work, and the performativity displayed by all the dancers had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. Overall Awakening was a one of the most enjoyable and creative shows I have seen in a very long time, I would recommend for anyone to see these work. I will always be grateful to be able to watch this company and for letting me be inspired at ever show

Daniella Powell

Where do you get lost in a whirlwind of movement that is in a world of visual awe?

Whilst engaging in National Dance Company Wales’s Awakening tour which showed off a variety of three different dance works, Tundra; Marcos Morau, Afterimage; Fernando Melo and Revellers’ Mass; Caroline Finn it was evident that the dancers alone were in direct correlation not only with themselves, each other and the music but the use of lighting within those dance works seemed to contrast throughout by adding significant mood swings in to and from one scene to the next which made them all unite as one.

Tundra set the mood itself with the dynamic, electronic and cybernetic world as Morau described it as. How did Morau show this statement through movement and visuals? The strobe lighting and effect which pierced the audience’s eyes as these sharp energetic rigid small animistic gestures being performed contrasted this somewhat settle plain light with a series of layering gestures performed by the company making the work dynamic for the audience’s eye.

In contrast to this Fernando Melo’s piece (Afterimage) is the focus point of my review where I ask the question, what makes this performance? A male dancer dressed in a navy blazer and round neck t shirt sets the scene amidst the dull lighting and sits comfortably on a wooden chair with his arms laid out across the table that is placed to the right side of him. A series of arm gestures are performed with the introduction to the mirror that surrounds the scene which constantly reveals, hides and manipulates the movement of the dancer as Melo even spoke about this being a main priority to his work.

As the piece goes on, we indulge in a series of uncertainty as to which side of the stage the dancers are at, were they at the mirrored, or the fore front space? As we get absorbed into the layering effect that spears right the way back through the dull black back drops that captures a multi layering mirrors of that one person performing.

These idiosyncratic of the lighting and sound being used throughout the works that the company brought to the stage of their Awakening tour presented a variety of how dancers can captivate the audiences with not only their bodies connecting but their connection towards the musicality and visual effects.

“Captivating pieces, majestic and powerful dancers, who drew me in closely with the subtly in their movements”

Samantha Underwood

‘Spring Awakening’ performed by National Dance Company is one not to miss. As a student studying dance and a former Associate of the company it was inspiring to see the range of what contemporary dance could be in a professional context. During this performance the company performed three works ‘Tundra’, ‘Afterimage’ and ‘Revellers’ Mass.’

‘Tundra’ choreographed by Marcos Morau explores the theme of the Russian Revolution. The dancers predominately dance in unison and are frequently connected to one another. This can be said to reflect how a variety of different classes came together to revolt against Tsarist Russia. This work is full of intricate details and precise timings to form an overall specific image, because of this it is very clear to the audience when something goes wrong. However, during this show the dancers executed it with a fairly high level of dynamic precision. Their captivating performance alongside the set creates a tense environment for all who watch. As an aspiring dancer this work seems like a daunting challenge. The level of precision that is required to perform this work amazes me every time.

The second piece ‘Afterimage’ was choreographed by Fernando Melo. This work was a huge contrast to the previous work, a much more softer and subtle performance. The piece involved mirrors on stage to create the illusion technique Pepper’s Ghost. This effect allowed the dancers behind the mirror to appear and disappear at various points in the piece. The dancers in front of the mirror interact with the other dancers to look at social interactions and how different people communicate with one another. This piece was a reflective piece, there was no specific storyline so you could interpret the piece however you wanted to. This form of contemporary dance highlights the power of dance as a form of communication, the work could say something completely different to everyone else. This enables the audience to question what the piece means to them and why.

‘Revellers’ Mass’ was the final piece, choreographed by Caroline Finn. The piece was inspired by ‘iconic religious paintings,’ however while being based on these religious images the overall performance was a fairly light hearted piece that focused on a variety of different characters. The characters in this work portrayed a variety of emotions while once again showing how contemporary dance can be numerous things. The choreography alongside the engaging performance of the characters created a fully immersive piece and was the perfect way to the end the show.

‘Spring Awakening’ is an ideal performance for anyone who is interested in contemporary dance or anyone who is curious as to what it is. In these works National Dance Company Wales highlight how it can be precise, dynamic, reflective and characteristic.

Lucy Lock

National Dance Company’s Wales ‘Awakening’ was an elating evening of dance works filled with culture, history and compelling narratives.

Tundra uses visual illusions with body and costuming to create an overall bigger image and visual art. Dehumanising the dancers to appear robotic and as if they are a part of something bigger, working as one.

Afterimage uses two-way mirrors to create multiple versions of the dancers, adding layers for the audience to decide what the interactions between the dancers may be, whether they be an after image or in the forefront.

Revellers’ Mass is an elaborate production with intriguing and intricate interactions between performers with imaginative and expressive choreography. The piece includes light and dark moments and humour. The whole work had me on the edge of my seat trying to get a closer look to become more immersed in the narrative.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening and a well thought out programme of productions. All costumed impeccably, with innovative visual effects, props and wonderful accompaniment

Stephanie Jones

Awakening by National Dance Company Wales was a show that consisted of three dance pieces, Tundra, Afterimage and Revellers Mass.

In this review I will be focusing on the dance piece; Tundra. This piece is based off of Traditional Russian Folk dances, mass parades and revolution, but in a more modern context. This piece was created by Marcus Morau.

The first thing I want to talk about is their costumes. The costumes were colourful, patterned jumpsuits paired with plain white socks. I thought the costumes were bold and after watching some videos about traditional Russian folk dances I can see that they were trying to take some of the details out of traditional Russian costumes to put into their piece.

I really enjoyed this piece because it kept me engaged from the beginning. In the beginning it looks like the dancers are floating around the stage but they’re actually doing lots of really fast, little steps. After watching the videos of traditional Russian Dances I also saw that they were using some of the moves but in a different way. They stayed connected a lot in a line, just like they do in Russian Folk dances so they have tried their best to explore these movements and structures.

This is definitely a piece I would watch again. It is full of energy and all the dancers were coordinated. I especially liked how they used foam towards the end of the dance to make it look like snow. I would give this performance a five star rating.

Martha Dunbar

The piece that stood out to me the most from the three brilliantly executed works on this tour was Afterimage. Now I’m not sure whether that is because I have previously watched Tundra on stage and the rehearsals for Reveller’s Mass, but something in Afterimage resonated with me on a personal level.

The appearing bodies that seemed to be ghostly behind the body on stage created many enigmas for me throughout watching the piece which is what I really enjoyed about the watch. The multiple scenarios and relationships created allow the audience to connect and relate to their own past or even present situations. From the first sighting of the clever, thought through optical I connected very personally to every situation/relationship that I saw.

I can’t pin point what it is exactly about the creative imagery that was stuck with me for so long after watching the work, but the delicate precision of the dancer’s movements definitely made it an incredible watch. Having not known anything about the piece before seeing it the first time definitely wouldn’t hinder my decision to watch it again.

Emily Lloyd-Reed

The performance at the Sherman Theatre consists of three works which are broken up by two 20 minute intervals. The works are: Tundra by Marcos Morau which is 30 minutes, Afterimage by Fernando Melo which is 20 minutes, and Revellers’ Mass by Caroline Finn which is 32 minutes.

There is a mixed audience for these works as they are all very different. The programmes for Awakening provide a good amount of detailed information on the works, and it even provides us with insight to the things the choreographers have explored and thought of whilst creating them.

The first work, Tundra, is intense and serious but also feels that there are some playful aspects to it. The opening to this work is a single dancer in the space. This opening feels misplaced because the lighting is a red square in the centre and is dark at this point and the movement of the dancer isn’t clear because of it. However, this opening does give some cultural context of the work. The 8 dancers in the work appear as Russian dolls wearing patterned tops, long skirts and float around the space creating different spatial patterns. The dancers exit and re-enter the space without the skirt on, instead we can see they are wearing an all-in-one costume which is colourful and patterned. They do very precise and linked movements throughout, either in canon or unison. Marcos Morau says Tundra is inspired by “Russian folk dance” which is why “the dancers are chained and connected”.

Afterimage is a very clever work where the images of the dancers appear, disappear, and multiply. The programme says that Afterimage gives the audience scenes to help them create a “personal response” but “without providing a single narrative”. This work feels quite ghost like, especially by people doing movement in unison either side of the mirror, as it looks like the person behind the mirror is their ghost figure to the person dancing in front of the mirrors.

The set for Revellers’ Mass is a long table towards the back of the space which is a representation of the Last Super. We can see this table is filled with water as the dancers stand and perform on it. There are candles on the table which are lit by one dancer whilst church bells ring. This brings a religious aspect to the work. This is also done using mannequins, as they can be seen as religious figures/statues. The work begins to get wild towards the end where the dancers are dancing with the mannequins or limbs of them and are also splashing the water on the table. However, this calms down by a male dancer walking and standing centre stage whilst the song ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ by Edith Piaf is played.

Simultaneously, the other dancers are cleaning up the mess on the stage which was created by their wildness.

Fantastic to experience such a range of inspiring choreography and an articulate performance.

Review Pokémon Detective Pikachu by Rhys Payne

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

When I first heard they were making a Detective Pikachu film and that Ryan Reynolds was voicing Pikachu I was unsure if this was a movie I would enjoy. But instead of the traditional optimism and joyfulness of the classic Pokémon films, this film more focused on a darker more mysterious vibe to the film. The story revolves around a boy called Tim Goodman who is voiced by Justice Smith, whose father is involved in a mysterious car crash and Tim and his new detective partner Pikachu go on a quest to find the circumstance surrounding his father’s supposed death.

Instead of classic Pokémon films which are fun-filled and enforce positive feelings, this film was dark and discussed a possible murder/loss of a loved one. This is a nice touch because it reflects the audience. It is well documented that the toy story aged ‘Andy’ to be the same age as the people who watched the original film. For example, they timed the release of the films so that when Andy was going to university the people who were old enough to watch the original film were also going to university around the same time. When the original Pokémon films were released the target audience were children and so the positivity and joyfulness would have been appropriate and the main character in this film is twenty-one (similar age to myself who was a child when the original films were released) and also it dealt with the issue of losing loved ones which is a more mature issue that would be appropriate for the older audience which was a nice touch and a detail many people wouldn’t have noticed.

This film was a nice throwback to my childhood. Being a massive fan of the Pokémon games as a child, it was nice to see some of the original Pokémon in this show. However, bar Pikachu, Mewtwo, and ditto, most of the Pokémon were almost just cameos in the opening scene to life in ryme city. Most of the Pokémon were accurate animations but I was however disappointed in the animation of Snorlax. Snorlax is supposed to be a massive creature who is but this animation was not as big or scary as I thought he would be and as he is my personal favorite Pokémon  I was a little disappointed with this. But apart from this one the rest of the Pokémon were cool to see. Especially Pikachu himself.

The Pikachu animation was so cute and created many ‘awwwwh’ moments from the audience which was only added to be the selection of Ryan Renynolds to voice the character. The character suffered from amnesia and so couldn’t remember part of the Harry’s (Tim’s father) disappearance. We learn through the film that Pikachu was Harry’s Pokémon partner but he managed to get away from the incident. The flashbacks as Pikachu remembered new details added to the drama and helped create the tension of new details. This was great for the audience as it kept them on the edge of their seats. The climax of the story, towards the end, was the highlight of the entire film. The whole film contained unexpected twists and turns and the end was both incredibly emotional and unexpected. This caused a silence from the audience as they took in everything that had happened which means that the story was executed effectively.

This is a film that managed to provide a throwback to childhood while also creating a new and new image for the Pokémon franchise films. If you were a fan of any of the Pokémon ‘strands’ eg films, game or tv show, etc. then I would recommend that you catch this film before it leaves the cinema, I would rate this film as 3 and a half stars due to the blend of shocking drama and family-friendly themes.

Review Cotton Fingers, National Theatre Wales, by Sam Longville

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

‘Rich people have abortions, poor people have to have kids’ – Welsh writer Rachel Trezise delivers a timely monologue that tells the cruel yet common tale of Aoife, a young working class Northern Irish girl who under the state’s archaic abortion laws is forced to travel to Wales to receive her treatment.

The play is a matter-of-fact, non-sugarcoated telling of how Northern Ireland’s failure to align with the rest of the UK most harshly affects working class women, who have until recently often been unable to afford the trip across the Irish Sea, which is now funded by the NHS under new law in England and Wales.

Originally performed in West Wales (poignantly the location from where Aoife takes a ferry back to Belfast as part of her grueling 14-hour journey following the termination), Cotton Fingers is one of five ‘love letters’ to the NHS that formed National Theatre Wales’ NHS70 Festival, celebrating the NHS at 70 years old. Recent revelations off the back of Trump’s state visit this week have made Cotton Fingers evermore relevant as the tycoon turned US president licks his lips at the thought of putting the NHS on the table as part of post-Brexit deals. The play is a compelling case for why the NHS must remain free at the point of need as it unaffectedly showcases a section of society who most benefit from its service.

Amy Molloy as Aoife delivers an understated performance, befriending the audience from the outset and offloading her character’s thoughts and innermost feelings following the painful yet all-too-common journey she has been forced to take. She skillfully takes us through the harsh realities of her character’s situation as a young, working class girl, eager to regain control over her future. Trezise’s writing is candid and clear-cut, stating ‘this is truth of the situation women are facing in Northern Ireland’ and consequently asking ‘now what are we going to do about it?’

Designer Carl Davies produces a simple yet effective set. A grey brick wall backdrop and a set of matching airport waiting room-style chairs evoke a sense of oppression and entrapment when paired with Aoife’s grey, uniform-like attire. Meanwhile, a mirror floor slowly reveals itself throughout the play as Aoife travels across the space, unintentionally moving the dust-like particles off its surface. The mirror serves to entrap our character further in its surface, a strong metaphor for the oppressive space she finds herself detained in – by the cruel laws that keep her there.

The play tells a frank, yet emotive story of how Northern Ireland’s abortion laws hurt those in its poorest communities. However, hope remains a prominent theme of the play, a hope that very soon Northern Ireland will follow the Republic’s lead. As Aoife puts it herself, ‘very soon, we’ll be next.’

Cotton Fingers runs until Saturday 8th June at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

Review Cottonfingers, National Theatre Wales by Harriet Hopkins

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Cotton Fingers ticks a lot of the boxes you might expect it to, coming from Trezise; it’s gritty, honest, funny, poetic (the line “a dusty mushroom of fear growing inside my belly” is still circling my head), and the story feels real and raw – which it should. It’s the story of a 19 year old girl from born, brought up and living in Belfast when a quickie with her boyfriend finds her pregnant…and desperate not to be.

The backdrop (set design by Carl Davies) is basic but has impact; a brick wall, reflective floor and good lighting helps turn a row of plastic seats into a sofa, an aeroplane, the waiting room at a surgery, the GPs office, the bed Aoife shares with Cillian that sets the whole story in motion.


This simplicity carries through the story, too, as Amy Molloy gives us Aoife’s story straight up, no frills or overblown theatrics.

The back and fore between now and the past – snippets of Aoife’s childhood, of last Christmas with her mammy, and of what she thought she saw and knew about her deceased aunt Roisin – add flesh to Aoife’s life on a Belfast estate.

There were times when I felt like I wanted more – higher highs and lower lows, but the sometimes understated way this story unfolds is testament to life; things happen, and though they are dramatic and life-altering for that time, or for that individual, they barely ripple for other people.

Molloy’s performance is pretty raw at times, and my mascara was a mess by the time it was over. But I’d laughed too. A lot. (And not just at the sheep jokes.)


I can’t help but wonder what difference it makes to tell Aoife’s story in Cardiff. In Belfast, Derry-Londonderry and Dublin. Is the audience more relaxed outside of Ireland? Is there a tension in the air when an Irish audience sits down to watch a one-woman show about abortion?

Cotton Fingers leaves us with the message that the freedom to choose remains non existent for the women of Northern Ireland.

Aoife leaves with hope in her heart.

Cotton Fingers is on at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff until Saturday 8th June. If you miss it, you’ll need to hop over to Edinburgh to catch it at Summerhall, as part of the Fringe.

Review: Romeo a Juliet – Ballet Cymru, The Riverfront, Newport by Jack Hill

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Infused with that distinctly Welsh edge that sets this company apart from others, the opening night for Ballet Cymru’s 2019 tour of Romeo a Juliet was a breath-taking spectacle of love, loss, power and pain. Featuring choreography from Darius James OBE and Amy Doughty, alongside Prokofiev’s classic score, a number of new dancers to the company (and to Wales) joined the more experienced faces that will be familiar to followers of Ballet Cymru. This performance demonstrated the real depth of talent that the company attracts, nurtures, and advances.

In her premiere professional performance, dancer Danila Marzili embodied Juliet with infectious passion and grace, effectively conveying the playful and childlike elements of the character as well as the inimitable pain and heartbreak leading to her death. In her opening scene, Marzili and Krystal Lowe (portraying Juliet’s friend, her confidante, rather than her nurse) expressed such a tangible affinity with one another that, immediately, I was transported directly from Newport into Juliet’s chambers. The scene ends, along with Juliet’s childhood, as she is introduced to her arranged fiancé, Paris, danced energetically by Joshua Feist in his own premiere performance with Ballet Cymru.

Opposite Marzili as Juliet, Romeo was performed by Andrea Maria Battaggia. Battaggia is a skilful dancer who returned to Ballet Cymru this year from Ballet Ireland. Having portrayed the role in 2013, this performance demonstrated the reasons behind this reprisal in 2019. His strength and passion deliver the character’s impulsiveness, tenderness, and emotion with expert flair.

Two real stand-out performances for me were two characters that are usually side-lined as secondary in the story of Romeo and Juliet. Alex Hallas and Beth Meadway, portraying Lord and Lady Capulet, conveyed strength, coldness, wealth, and power through their bodies in such a way that every time they stepped on the stage, they owned it. The costumes adorning these two characters were highly effective at complementing their status. Meadway’s dramatic poise and striking elegance as Lady Capulet was phenomenal; only to be given more depth by the implied affection between her and Tybalt (performed adeptly by Robbie Moorcroft) and her subsequent breaking down into anguish and distress at his death. This performance makes it vastly clear that these dancers are also capable actors, with every performer fully embodying and embracing their roles on the stage.

Perhaps it’s cliché to mention, but I am unable to write a review of Romeo a Juliet without referencing the balcony scene. Expertly choreographed by James and Doughty, and skilfully danced by Battaggia and Marzili to express curiosity and the passion, this famous and relatable interaction proved hugely popular with the very diverse audience present in the theatre. The setting of this scene took my breath away; the projection of a grandiose window and the stage lighting to define the setting accompanied a simple yet effective podium to demarcate the balcony. For my daily work, I spend a lot of my professional time at the headquarters of Ballet Cymru in Rogerstone, Newport. From the first sighting of this balcony while the company were in early rehearsals, I had a real desire to go full-Romeo with, “but soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” but alas, my acting days were short-lived and I struggle to keep a straight face anymore!

Image credit Sian Trenberth

Minimalistic sets are indicative of the work of Ballet Cymru. Predominantly on the stage were moveable sheets of hanging chains which conveyed elements of wealth, grandeur, and battle. Designed by Georg Meyer-Wiel, this feature was highly effective in delineating space, serving as backgrounds for projection, and expressing the well-known building blocks of the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Meyer-Wiel also designed the dancers’ costumes, with some real stand out pieces (I couldn’t decide which I preferred: the powerful black costumes of Lord and Lady Capulet, or Friar Lawrence and his entourage dressed in leather). One small criticism, however, is that I feel Paris’ green- jacketed costume was too similar in colour to that of the Montagues, and perhaps would have been more prominent if it reflected those of the senior Capulets.

Every piece of work produced by Ballet Cymru that I have seen has had intrinsically Welsh notes running through. Led by Artistic Director and proud Newport local Darius James OBE, it would be surprising to see a show from this company that didn’t include at least a few nods to Welsh culture and heritage! Romeo a Juliet did not disappoint: the title itself, a nod to the Welsh language; the projection of underneath a Newport flyover during one of the fight scenes, open to interpretation but definitely Newport; the incorporation of traditional Welsh clog dancing in time with Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights/Montagues & Capulets… Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect of clog dancing mashed up with ballet (and neither were my parents, who were visiting from across the border), but when the dancers were clogging in reasonably good time with the music – masked in hoods that covered their whole faces – Lord and Lady Capulet entered, performing in a more classical ballet style befitting of their characters. The strength demonstrated by the dancers – particularly Robbie Moorcroft (Tybalt) – whilst clogging was palpable. It is this kind of flair that sets Darius James and Ballet Cymru as a real formidable force in Wales, because this scene worked. It was memorable; it was powerful; it was Welsh. And it worked.

Ballet Cymru, Artistic Director, Darius James OBE
Image credit Sian Trenberth

An integrally important responsibility of Ballet Cymru, and many other arts organisations around Wales, is to improve diverse representation within their audiences and share their art form with people who may never have entered a theatre, never mind seeing a ballet. Ballet Cymru’s Duets programme, which seeks “to support people to access dance, regardless of background, finances, race, belief, ability, and gender/orientation”, invited a number of its scholars (participants) from Moorland Primary School in Splott, Cardiff to perform the curtain-raiser at both tour dates in Newport.

Students from Moorland Primary School, Splott

Aptly named Romeo and Duets, the young people danced with skill (and to rapturous applause!) to Karl Jenkins’ Palladio, as performed by Escala. To complement this, complimentary tickets for the show and coach travel back to Cardiff were made available for the young people and members of their families. As a male adult beginner of ballet myself (I’m still aching from my second ever class as I write this!), it was refreshing to see how many boys were involved in this curtain-raiser.

It is always stimulating to see audience members experience something for the first time; four people sat on my row had never seen a ballet before, and were supporting their children in the Duets curtain-raiser. Ballet Cymru’s diverse audience, particularly when on home turf in Newport, creates a fresh and responsive feel amongst the audience which in turn connects them to the ballet they are watching. A real audience favourite was the ever flamboyant, provocative, and playful Mercutio (portrayed perfectly by Miguel Fernandes); a real excitement built up in the auditorium when he graced the stage with his presence, and almost tangible grief (at least on my row!) when Tybalt took his life at the end of Act II.

Ballet Cymru’s 2019 tour of Romeo a Juliet will continue across the UK throughout June and into July. In addition to this, in partnership with Wales Arts International, the company will be touring three cities in China throughout September 2019. Clearly, the sky is the limit for this dynamic, engaging, and passionate company and I’m excited, as ever, to see what Ballet Cymru has planned next!

Adolygiad O ‘Y Ferch gyda’r Gwallt Hynod Hir’ Gan Lleucu Sion

Ma’ hi’n dipyn i sialens creu drama i blant. Mae gofyn dal sylw, enyn eu dychymyg, a cheisio eu cyffroi, ond roedd cwmni  theatr ‘We made this’ yn barod am y sialens wrth greu y ddrama ‘Y Ferch gyda’r Gwallt Hynod Hir’.

Drama am waith tîm, cryfder merched a chyfeillgarwch sydd yma, gyda’r ddau brif gymeriad sef Rapunzel (Lara Catrin) a’r chyfaill newydd Daf (Owen Alun) yn mynd ar antur i achub cartref Rapunzel a’i mam (Tonya Smith), sydd ar fin mynd i ddwylo’r banc mawr cas.

Ar ôl poeni am fynd a phlant tair a deunaw mis oed i weld drama oedd yn para awr, diflannodd fy ngofidion yn syth wrth gerdded i mewn i weld set liwgar, hudolus. Roedd gofyn i ni eistedd ar y set, ar glustogau lliwgar ac roedd awyrgylch braf i’w deimlo yn syth. Roedd y set yn llawn planhigion, cwt gwenyn,  a llyfrau plant ac yn ystod y ddrama roedd yr hud i’w deimlo hyd yn oed yn fwy wrth i bethau ddod yn fyw, drwy ddefnydd o driciau sain a goleuo clyfar.   Roedd hi’n stori syml iawn, oedd yn hawdd i’r plant ddeall ac yn cynnig cyfleon i’r actorion gael y plant i ymuno yn yr antur. Ond mae hi’n bwysig nodi fod gan y plant reolaeth llwyr o faint o gymryd rhan oedden nhw eisiau ei wneud, os o gwbl, oedd yn ryddhad mawr fel mam i blentyn sy’n gallu bod yn swil iawn.  Roedd o wedi ei gyfarwyddo yn ofalus iawn, yn amlwg gan rhywun oedd a dealltwriaeth dda o blant.

Mae’n rhaid canmol perfformiadau’r tri actor. Llwyddodd y tri i hoelio sylw yr holl plant, drwy roi perfformiadau egnïol a deall anghenion y gynulleidfa. Roedd Tonya Smith yn arbennig, yn llwyddo i ddenu’r plant i’r byd o hud, ac yn annwyl iawn wrth gyfathrebu gyda’i chynulleidfa ifanc.

Roedd hi’n ddrama hyfryd, ac roedd hi’n deimlad braf gallu gweld y plant yn diflannu i fyd dychmygol, hudolus. Cerddodd fy merch o’r theatr yn teimlo ei bod hi’n gallu gwneud unrhyw beth, ac ar dan i ddod o hyd i’r thalent arbennig hi, yn union fel Daf a Rapunzel.

Becoming Oneself on Stage. Robinson. The Other Island. Behind the Curtains, Part 3 By Eva Marloes

Production photograph by Jorge Lizalde

Robinson. The Other Island, the latest production by director Mathilde Lopez, fuses Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe with Michel Tournier’s version of the story in Friday.

Robinson is stranded on an island for 28 years, Bianca, played by Luciana Chapman, is alone in her flat reading about Robinson. Defoe’s and Tournier’s stories of Robinson come together in Bianca’s reading. In turn, Bianca, as a reader, identifies with Robinson, gets angry at Robinson, and feels sympathy for him. The multiple layers of theatre reminded me of Pirandello’s layers of reality. We watch a story that has a story within itself and discover that we are part of it. This is made possible by the ingenuity of John Norton’s binaural in-ear mics that takes the audience into the heads of the actors

We are Robinson experiencing the loneliness of the island, but also Bianca who reads about Robinson in her own loneliness, and spectators who discover their own loneliness by being isolated through headphones.

Robinson is a reflection on loneliness. It cuts deep into human experience and fragility. It is universal; yet it is conveyed through the particularity of the characters and the actors. Robinson Crusoe is a 17th century man with a colonial mindset, Bianca is a 21st century woman in Cardiff. Luciana Chapman, who plays Bianca, is a 25-year-old Dutch-American black woman living in Cardiff. As a black woman, she feels anger at Robinson’s misogyny and racism. She feels disgust at Robinson having sex with the island. As a human being, she sympathises with his isolation. She tells me,

“He speaks so lightly about slavery, about the ‘negros’ … it closes up my throat, makes me feel very angry, I have tears behind my eyes. You have to tell yourself that it was a different time. I find it very difficult. … Yet, when he speaks about thrusting his penis into a mossy crevice, the woman in me cringes and finds it disgusting, but as a human being thinking of that as a need for contact, something everyone craves, all of a sudden it becomes a beautiful moment. He’s really making love to that piece of earth. It sounds weird, but it’s pure emotion.”

Luciana says that today she cannot be made into a slave as in the past, but there are still people who see her as an object, sometimes as a woman she’s seen as a sexual object, sometimes as a black person she’s seen as not human. Luciana, as a black woman, experiences Robinson from her own particular identity; yet, as an actress, she needs to go beyond that and connect with her own character. Luciana tells me that she’s ‘an involuntary method actor,’ her character often slips into her own life. She says,

‘I was in Tesco and I found an orchid and I absolutely fell in love with her. I never bought a plant in my life and all of a sudden now I’m in a play that is all about plants and my character has her own plant, I, as Luciana, find this plant and take it.’

Acting allows one to go beyond the characters we create for ourselves in our daily lives. It lets free all those parts of us that are out of place, silenced, or simply not required. That, I believe, is why Luciana finds theatre ‘real’ for her and freeing. It is not deceit or mere representation, but the acting out of personas who are passive inside of us. She says,

‘In a weird way, theatre is real for me. Yes, I’m acting but when I’m doing it right there it is all real. It’s a play but it’s real. I’m really going through the emotions, I’m really feeling them. … The character comes alive in me. … Certain characters and plays bring out other aspects in me and I blow out those types of aspects, but it’s always a part of me with a different name.’

Acting allows experiences and the expression of feelings to be lived within a structured framework. The actor might be vulnerable as they tap into their own emotions, yet the set lines, movements, and space provide safety. Luciana tells me,

(Acting) is when I feel most free because I find real life really confusing, because things always happen and no one tells you how to deal with it, there isn’t really a booklet on how to deal with things. But in theatre you study things for so long you know what’s coming and you can wholly have that emotion safely in that moment and people seeing it. That’s beautiful.’

Acting is never a lonely experience. It presumes an audience. In theatre, the physical presence of the audience makes the feelings the actor feels and seeks to convey a shared and intimate experience.

‘I love that I can feel something and have people feel it with me. I’m removed from people … but it’s so extremely intimate because they’re all watching you. I feel like I’m around people in a safe way. I love the attention … I love making people feel things.’

Luciana becomes Bianca on stage, who becomes Robinson by reading the book. At one point in the play, she stands tall on the stage and commands the ‘Governor’s coat’ be fetched and brought to her. She wears the coat, as Robinson did in asserting his colonial power over the island. While Robinson does so in broken sentences, giving his back to the audience, Bianca exudes strength; yet when she confronts Robinson and tries to hit him, she sees him in all his vulnerability and gives up. Luciana says,

‘There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re a victim. Everyone needs much more vulnerability. Then we can console each other.’

Bianca experiences anger and pride, loneliness and compassion. It is in the portrayal of contradictory feelings that we glimpse our shared experience of being human.

The Sound of Robinson, The Other Island, Behind the Curtains, Part 2 By Eva Marloes

The immersive sounds of Robinson. The Other the Other Island capture the struggle with loneliness of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the sensual writing of Michel Tournier’s Friday with softly spoken pages from the book, water dripping, waves, and a mosquito buzzing in your ear. What makes this rendering of Robinson original and innovative is the sound system used that mimics human hearing through binaural recording and the sense of urban isolation as the audience listens to the play through headphones. The architect of the sound world of Robinson is John Norton, artistic director of Give It A Name

(l-r Matt Wright, John Norton, Give It A Name) Photo by Jorge Lizaldo @ Studio Cano

John says ‘hello’ to the recorder on my phone. He’s disappointed that there are no sound waves. He is an actor, director, sound designer, and has spent many years as DJ. He writes audio drama and experiments with sound. Married to theatre director Mathilde Lopez, he often designs the sound world for her plays, as he did, in collaboration with Branwen Munn, for the recent Les Misérables.

This time, John has created a three-dimensional sound experience with binaural mics for the play Robinson. The Other Island, bringing voices, sounds, and music directly into the ears of each audience member

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Eva Marloes

Binaural recording aims to reproduce human hearing. Each of our ears perceives sound differently. We hear a sound coming from one direction first with the ear closer to the source of the sound. Binaural recording is fed into headphones making possible to hear different sounds in each ear and the location of their source. A sound can come not only from the left or the right, but also top, bottom, front, or behind the listener. This technique allows a three-dimensional experience of sound. Usually, binaural recording utilises two mics inside a ‘dummy head’ that replicates an average human head. For Robinson, John has used in-ear mics to get the experience of the actor into the ears of the audience.

John researched immersive sound for theatre after being granted an Arts Council Wales, Creative Wales Award in 2012-2013. He tried different techniques, but was taken in particular by the possibilities of binaural. He tells me, ‘What I really loved about binaural is that it really is how we hear. I got very excited.’ After the research period, he ‘played around’ with in-ear binaural mics for various projects. The choice of in-ear mics, instead of dummy head recording, offers the advantage of hearing what actors hear in their ears. He explains, ‘What I like about having an in-ear mic is having the internal perspective of the actor live. What you will never have with the dummy head is when Luciana (Luciana Chapman plays Bianca in Robinson) swallows the water, you hear it as if it’s inside your own head. For me that’s just another level of crazy intimacy that I was intrigued by. That’s one of the reasons why we went for that for this show.’

Enthusiastic of the technique is also Jack Drewry, composer, sound designer and theatre maker, who is sound designer and tech on Robinson. Jack tells me that the use of movable in-ear binaural mics is what is most innovative and exciting of Robinson’s sound experience. He says, ‘The use of wireless transmission through the ears is the immersion into the actor, the Reader’s (Bianca) world. That’s the thing that is new and exciting. What happens if you choreograph the sound around the actor as the microphone? The actor becomes the microphone. Whatever happens around the actor you hear from the actor’s perspective, you hear what they’re hearing.’

Jack Drewry image credit Kitty Wheeler Shaw

This technique captures the solitude of urban life amidst contrasting noises. John says, ‘We felt that putting the audience in headphones is a really good image of contemporary solitude. If you look at the bank of audience you can easily mistake them for commuters on a train, in their own headphones. There’s something interesting in isolating each audience member while they have shared experience.’ Robinson immerses you in the solitude of a man stranded on an island for 28 years and of a young woman living alone in a city. The loneliness of Robinson Crusoe leads him to have auditory hallucinations, something John experienced as a child. I realise that the chaotic music of the book club moments in the play may suggest that sense of auditory disorientation.

The soundscape in Robinson not only serves to immerse the audience in the actor’s perspective, but it also creates a sound world, the environment where the actor is placed. The sounds are suggestive of Bianca’s flat and of Robinson’s island. For the latter, mostly Caribbean music has been used to evoke the image we often have of an island. In addition, John tells me, environmental sounds, such as the traffic outside the flat and the waves of the sea, help listeners tune their ears to sounds. Gentle sounds, such as rustling or crinkling sounds, are also used in Robinson to elicit in some listeners a tingling sensation through ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response. Robinson is an all-round sound experience.

Jack tells me that ‘normally sound supports the action; it’s not front and centre. In this project the sound world is a big part of the show and the actors are always feeding into it. It’s much more of a magnifying glass of my design that it has ever been. In this project the sound from the mixing deck doesn’t go to speakers but to everyone’s ears, directly streamed into the audience.’ As I watched and listened to the show, I noticed sounds made by Robinson came from the back to my right although he was in front of me on the left. The experience of the eyes doesn’t necessarily match that of the ears. For some, this might be a little too confusing, however Robinson is not a traditional play but a meditative experience that at times is best felt with one’s eyes closed.

For more on spatial audio, please check BBC Academy h

Review Jospeh and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Rhys Payne

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Musical fans often snub Joseph for being like a school production but I challenge any musical fan to watch Jaymi Hensley in the title role and not be blown away. This production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Wales Millennium starred Jaymi Hensley as Joseph and at first, I was apprehensive. Jaymi is famously known for being one of the members of the English pop band Union J and sometimes, in my opinion, they cast famous pop stars just for them to be a famous face and to sell more tickets. However, this was not the case. Jaymi excelled at this role and really helped elevate the show. His acting helped perfectly balance the campiness and seriousness of the show with his exaggerated facial reactions to the audience and emotional portrayal of being reunited with friends. His singing was flawless. He posses an operatic style voice which at first I thought would be distracting but it actually helped showcase Jaymi’s talented without being distracting. In fact, I would say that this show contained the greatest rendition of ‘Any Dream Will Do’ that I have ever heard. My only issue with his singing was that at the end of the performance there was a ‘sing-a-long’ section and because Jaymi was such a fantastic singer that it made it somewhat difficult to sing along but that is a minor detail. With Jaymi’s inclusion of riffs and high notes that I think were added just for him, it helped elevate this show from its school production roots (which was what Joseph was written for) to high quality, West End ready level.

One of the problems I had from the first time I saw Joseph last year was the almost nonsensical setting of this musical. In last year’s version, we jump from the Wild West with “One More Angel” to France with “Those Cannan Days” and while this was fun to watch it did confuse me somewhat. With this year’s production however the staging and lights were used to suggest a theme rather than a location. Rather than being set in France for “Those Cannan Days” there was simply a illuminated Eiffel Tower on the background of the stage , which obviously was not supposed to look like a real-life in-person version of the tower, which served as a reminder of a French theme rather than stating this is where they are. The other thing that confused me the first time I saw this show was the character of Pharaoh as he appeared to be an Elvis impersonator. It was only after this year that I realised it was a play on the moniker of “The King.”

This year the pharaoh, played by Andrew Geater, was amazing. He looked similar to Elvis, he had his mannerisms nailed down and his impression was fantastic. The brothers in this musical are a vital part of the narrative as without them Joseph would not have ended up in Egypt. Within the show, the brothers also added to the comedy and fun of the show but also had fantastic choreography especially in Potiphar’s song titled “Potiphar” where they performed an intricate dance routine with poles which they used to create key objects in the song which was great to watch. All of the brothers were excellent dancers who combined the seriousness and campiness of each number. However, during “Benjamin’s Calypso” the brothers dressed and performed as calypso dancers. Some of the dancers did look a little uncomfortable with this dance number but it was barely visible, apart from this, they were fantastic. They were hilarious and great to watch. Something that was really interesting to see was the portrayal of Potiphars wife. She appeared on stage dressed as a ‘flapper’ and danced accordingly which was a really nice touch as within the story she is supposed to be ‘free spirited.’  At the beginning of the production during “Jacob and Sons” there is supposed to be inflatable sheep on the top of the stage however they did not inflate as they were supposed to and the members of the production had to sort them out. This was a small distraction for the audience.

Overall, I think the choice of costumes and colours worked perfectly together with the narrator in black and silver (with stars across her top) and the brothers, for the majority of the show, plain block colours. The use of colour reached its climax in the iconic image where Joseph is stood with the multi-coloured coat spread out across the stage. The posters and advertising for this show reflected the use of colour by using the raining drops of the rainbow which encapsulated the drama, colour, and the fun of the show. The designers of the advertisements must have thought about this and should be applauded. The show blended the tradition and history of Joseph while at the same time making it modern and the best performance of Joseph I have ever seen. I rate this production at 4 and a half stars.