Eifion ap Cadno

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Review A Good Clean Heart, The Other Room by Eifion Ap Cadno

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Normally at this point I have the show’s programme at my side, hastily scribbled notes filling the pages. These are what I refer to when writing a review.

This time however the programme is unusually pristine.

Once the lights dimmed and the action began my notes stopped. I gave myself over to the story of two brothers separated from an early age.

An actor and musician, playwright Alun Saunders’ has an excellent grasp on narrative.

It is Hefin’s eighteenth birthday, and today he finds out he is adopted and has a brother, Jay, who has been trying to make contact for some time now. The play is a mostly unbroken journey through this revelatory day in the lives of Hefin and Jay, raised in Wales and London respectively.

Spoken in both Welsh and English, the cohesion is admirable as we flit between brothers, languages and countries. We are transported in an instant out of a Welsh classroom into the streets of London and back again. The sense of place could easily be shattered, but “when” is so clearly defined two worlds exist on stage in harmony.

A bilingual play, Alun explores the relationship between language, culture and identity. Do we protect them, or do they protect us? Alun asks “what happens and how do any of us react when the rug is pulled from under us?” I could relate to Hefin when in Welsh class he cursed in English; and in London he’d fall into Welsh. We hold onto the things that define us, but they shift all the time.

If you, like me, don’t speak Welsh, do not worry! This was never an issue: the translation of both languages is projected as subtitles onto the set. It was interesting to read these and have the Welsh-speaking audience members react to the delivery of the spoken word.

Designed by Erin Maddocks, the set features a metallic frame playground, a swing and two rubber tyres. The floor is covered in wood chippings – funny how wood chippings can conjure up so many memories. It looks harsh, industrial and unforgiving, but is endlessly malleable. Every location is clearly defined as my imagination is invited to fill out empty spaces and populate the stage. But wherever we are taken and however the brothers interact with the set, it remains rooted in childhood. Its juxtaposition with adulthood is powerful. The two brothers, aged eighteen and twenty-five, often feel like – and sometimes become – children. It is unnerving to witness things that shouldn’t, but nonetheless do, belong in the playground.

The lighting and video design by Katy Morison and Zakk Hein respectively is effective, helping realise and define each new world. Projections throw graffiti, Facebook messages, emails, and handwritten letters against walls. Blurred, evocative footage sends us hurtling around on red double-deckers. The simple use of a phone’s torchlight on a dark stage pushes us into the hidden recesses of a room. One particularly special moment saw the brothers in a whirlwind of light and sound in a short-lived, slick chase scene.

Sound Designer Dyfan Jones opens the play with pumping dance music – one note I did manage was “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat”. It feels more like a soundtrack to a Welsh teenage boy’s life than an actual creed. The music we choose shapes our identity, and it is a joy to hear Dizzee Rascal’s “Bonkers” sung first in English, then in Welsh.

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Dorian Simpson (Jay) and James Ifan (Hefin)

The two performances are spellbinding. James Ifan and Dorian Simpson play Hefin and Jay respectively, but also narrate and perform all other characters. Dorian is especially skilful at capturing the essence, behaviours and movement of others. James takes us on his rollercoaster of emotion from start to finish; and the two have an irresistible confidence and together they will melt your heart and charm your socks off.

Director Mared Swain ensures none of the humour in Alun’s writing escapes – it is a surprisingly funny play about adoption. She orchestrates a complex, technically sophisticated production, and pulls all the right heartstrings.

The third and final instalment in The Other Room’s ‘Life In Close-Up’ season, A Good Clean Heart is a highly sensitive and enjoyable exploration of identity, fraternal love, and what it means to be someone new.

As if they hadn’t done enough, the good people at The Other Room gave everyone a Chomp bar on the way out. It was Chomplimentary.

On until May 16th, be sure to pick up your ticket from their website www.otherroomtheatre.com

Do not miss this!

Photos by Pallasca Photography

Review: Review Howard Barker’s The Dying of Today at The Other Room, Eifion Ap Cadno

Review: Howard Barker’s The Dying of Today at The Other Room, Eifion Ap Cadno

As the auditorium lights go down, tongue sits in cheek and I wrack my brains trying to work out the song playing…

It’s “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos. It complements the set beautifully. I have always been terrible at placing decades and fashions, so I’ll play is safe and call it retro. Fashionably old.

A glass Coca-Cola bottle wouldn’t look out-of-place.

The Dying Of Today - Christian Patterson and Leander Deeny   (credit Pallasca Photography)

This is The Other Room’s second production, following their inaugural Blasted. The set is structurally the same. Where the ill-fortuned painting was, there now exists the similarly fated window of our barbershop where The Dying of Today unfolds.

There are further parallels. As in Blasted, we the audience are privy to a private narrative while the world outside begins to fall apart, soon to spill into the room.

Now, the catastrophe is the collapse of the Athenian empire. After a short-lived period of peace with the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta, the great naval power threw everything at Syracuse in Sicily. Defeat followed defeat which followed defeat, and few returned to tell the tale.

Supposedly a foreigner, while being shaved, spilt the disastrous beans to the barber. This play is that rumour. The British playwright Howard Barker, while revered abroad, remains largely unheard of in the UK, despite having a biblically proportioned oeuvre.

I thank The Other Room for my first foray behind Barker lines. The set design really is quite brilliant. The shop’s mirror is hung on the fourth wall; The Barber and Dneister often stare out at fixed points in the audience who are effectively on the dark side of a one-way mirror. The black and white chequered floor is a perfect enlargement of the chessboard sat in the corner: one which the two characters play their sometimes methodical, occasionally vociferous war of attrition upon. A small detail, I love the two certificates hung on the wall: the medical, surgical connotations are apt.

Both actors give strong, engaging performances. Christian Patterson, who played the unappealing Ian in the aforementioned Blasted, now dons the white barber’s apron. There remains a dangerous streak of caprice. He is powerful, both vocally and physically. He is also very big. Leander Deeny contrasts this perhaps, but is no less a presence. Sprightly and playful, he is incredibly endearing even while revealing doom and gloom. His vulnerability excites. Interesting fact: Deeny was beefy Chris Evans’ skinny body double in Captain America: The First Avenger.

The Dying Of Today - Leander Deeny (credit Pallasca   Photography)

Their real performances however, shine through in their relationship with each other. On reflection it is difficult to extricate the two individuals from what is a very well performed two-hander.

Director Kate Wasserberg has really tightened the grip on Barker’s words. I have yet to look up half the ones I scrawled down on my programme in confusion. Fortunately this vocab-fest in her capable hands is not as daunting as it could be. The comic timing is delectable.

I am still unsure about the play. Initially I felt it was simply a cynical exploration of human nature. I realise it is not so simple. Again, like Blasted, it is draped in despair, making it difficult to see the good. It becomes apparent who the real victim is, good does prevail; and I like that. I agree with Natasha Tripney who, writing for The Stage, commented “the play as a whole lacks emotional weight and feels distant, surface-skimming”. I struggled to connect with either character; I didn’t pity The Barber’s personal loss as he so readily contextualises it. Disaster makes a philosopher of him. Perhaps, like Brecht’s Epic Theatre, we are encouraged to think about the state of things. I’m just not sure what that is.

You can read Dominic Cavendish’s review of its initial production at The Arcola here www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/drama/3562856/The-Dying-of-Today-at-the-Arcola-review.html

On until April 11th, I am excited by this second, successful production at The Other Room. It is close, intimate theatre: where the sounds of the bar to the left and the bins on the right remind you of the city.

Don’t miss out- tickets are available from their website www.otherroomtheatre.com

Review by Eifion Ap Cadno

Photography by Pallasca Photography

An interview with the Blasted Cast and Director by Eifion Ap Cadno

As promised here’s my interview with The Other Room Artistic Director and Blasted director Kate Wasserberg and Blasted cast members, actors Christian Patterson (Ian), Louise Collins (Cate) and Simon Nehan (Soldier).

Why Blasted?

Kate: It’s two things really. I wanted to open The Other Room with a play that really used the intensity of the space, where being so close felt dangerous and exciting. And I wanted to interrogate our relationship with foreign wars. I find it very hard to watch the news since having my two children. It’s as if the distance between my life and those events has collapsed. And that’s what Blasted does – it collapses the distance. That seems to me to be a very humane thing to do, despite the violent things that happen in the play.

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Artistic Director of the Other Room and director of Blasted Kate Wasserberg

Why do you think audiences still need to see this play?

Simon: It’s still relevant because of the base human actions in the play. It strips humans down to being animals I think. Acts of aggression and sexual encounters in the animal kingdom just happen, often without consent, which is what happens in the play. It’s a hard watch because people refuse to believe we have these instincts and are capable of these actions. Some of us are. The real drama of the play comes from the human guilt of these actions and a kindness to look beyond them.

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Simon Nehan (Soldier)

Christian: It’s a game changer. In the same way as John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger changed the face of theatre in the fifties, Sarah Kane did the same thing in the nineties with Blasted. The play is twenty years old but still reads like a new play… that is very rare. I think audiences should see plays like Blasted because it evokes, provokes and demands a response. You may love it, you may hate it, but you’ll definitely have an opinion and a reason why.

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Christian Patterson (Ian)

Louise: My line “looks like there is a war on” for me is when I feel war inside. I have been violated and so my view on the world has been too. If we carry on abusing each other on a personal level then we will always be at war.

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Louise Collins (Cate)

What were your thoughts before rehearsals?

Christian: When Kate offered the part to me I bought the script and read it for the first time. If I’m honest I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I laughed out loud, I was very moved, but above all I was deeply shocked. I couldn’t stop reading… and it was for that reason I decided to accept the part. I knew it was going to be challenging but ultimately I hoped it would be rewarding… and it most certainly was.

Louise: I was thrilled. I knew what an honour it was to be in The Other Room’s opening production. Fear equalled that thrill as this phenomenal play demands facing the bleakness and darkness of humanity which in my day to day life I try to avoid.

Simon: My first thought was how are we going to stage it? How graphic are we going to be? There are so many technical parts to the play and we only had three weeks to pull it off.

What’s it been like working with the cast?

Kate: They are all actors I have worked with before but never all together. They are amazing. To do this play for real, to go out there every night and really be in that place and never fake it – that is an extremely rare and astonishing thing. Plus they are all very funny and generous people so it was lovely to work with them.

What’s it been like working with director Kate Wasserberg?

Louise: I am so grateful Kate gave me the opportunity to play Cate. I’m lucky. The acting industry can be full of ego and profile but she sees things in me I don’t even know are possible and that’s the beautiful relationship between an actor and director.

Simon: I’ve worked with Kate before this project in Clwyd Theatr Cymru. Kate is a real actors’ director. She leaves you to put it on its feet and nudges or pulls you (if needed) in the right direction. You really feel like you have an input into the process and that it’s a collaboration.

Christian: This was my fourth play with Kate. I don’t think I could do for others what I can do for Kate. She never casts me in an obvious part…most directors wouldn’t consider me for Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross, Casimir in Aristocrats, and certainly not as Ian in Blasted. She really challenges me. When the phone rings and it’s a job offer from Kate I know to strap myself in and trust her implicitly.

How do you think set, lighting and sound have shaped this production?

Kate: We were incredibly lucky with the team. Max Jones and Ruth Hall designed the set and it’s an extraordinary achievement in that space – a design that reveals itself as the play goes on and is a character in its own right. Tom White’s lighting is bold and beautiful and Dyfan Jones did fantastic work on the sound design. The composer and playwright Nick Gill wrote an album in response to Blasted especially for us, which we used throughout. The tender and poetic view the music takes of the play had a huge effect on me and I really tried to find that tenderness in the scenes.

The Other Room is a small venue; with only forty-four seats what challenges has it posed?

Kate: It’s forty-seven actually! The seats were the last thing to go in so we didn’t know until the last-minute exactly what the capacity might be and were pleasantly surprised. The challenges are generally more about budget than space – obviously with such a small house ticket sales don’t add up to very much. The biggest impact was only having three weeks rather than four to rehearse. It meant we opened the show very raw, very early. That was terrifying. But we pulled it off I think.

Simon: It’s wonderful to play such an intimate space particularly with this play because it’s so in your face. You can see the whites of our eyes, but we can see the whites of yours. Every uncomfortable shuffle in a chair, hands over eyes or mouths, or groans we see and hear. Makes for an interactive experience.

Christian: I love being close to an audience in the same way I love being close to the actors as an audience member. When you perform in two thousand seater theatres like Drury Lane you need to be more expansive to ensure every audience member is getting near enough the same experience. But when you are up close and personal I try to connect with the other person on stage more and leave the connection take care of itself. It’s very similar to acting for camera.

Louise: It’s intense just like the play, and requires you to be totally committed and connected. That’s why it’s perfect Blasted has opened The Other Room.

Can you tell me the toughest moment of this process?

Louise: Coming in carrying the baby from the war zone… I did a lot of research to get myself to a place of truth. I find it incredibly difficult to take on the news and what’s really happening out there.

Simon: For me it wasn’t a moment, it was the whole rehearsal process. It’s a hard play. Not just in its staging but actually doing the characters justice. It would be so easy just to play how nasty and cruel these characters are. You have to find out why and how they behave this way. It doesn’t matter how evil your character is – finding that one percent of good in them is what gives them depth. Trying to discover this was my toughest challenge in rehearsals.

Christian: Learning to trust the changes in location in relation to where you and the other characters are. It was quite difficult to find a through line so I stopped trying to find one. Instead I played each scene as a play and started again in the next as if the previous one never happened. That worked for me. It’s like watching an illusionist… I know it’s not real but I don’t need to know how it’s done. It was all about submitting to each scene for me.

How do you feel coming out the other end of this production?

Christian: This is a weird one. After the first preview Simon and I sat in the theatre for nearly forty-five minutes. I just couldn’t move. I felt teary. I felt nervous. I felt surges of adrenalin coursing through me. I was exhausted. I thought what are people going to make of this?

Simon: We were too apprehensive to go into the bar to see people’s reactions.

Christian: Most of the time you have some sort of idea how a production will be received but with Blasted I had no idea whatsoever. I learned to embrace feeling slightly weird after the play. Now the run has ended I feel bereft. It has changed me as an actor and as a person. It made me feel brave and I will always cherish that.

Simon: It gets easier the more you do it. You try to go through the mill in the rehearsal room so that by the time you get on stage you can switch it on but more importantly when it’s finished to switch it off. You can’t take this play out of the room with you.

Louise: Everything has to end, but I will be very sad to say goodbye to my character Cate. She carries such hope and sees the positive. I will miss The Other Room too. Every now and then you have a gem of a job that stays with you for life.

Your next production, Howard Barker’s The Dying Of Today, will open at The Other Room on March 24th and is already in rehearsals; what can prospective audiences expect?

Kate: It’s a funny and moving play, about a very odd but (I think) very true idea – that we are compelled to share bad news when we hear it; and that on some level huge tragedy thrills and excites us in a way that joy never can. Christian Patterson plays a barber who has this stranger (played by Leander Deeny) come into his shop and announce he has The Worst News Ever. That’s the starting point. I love Howard Barker’s writing, it is unashamedly clever but there is deep passion there too. We are having a really good time working on it.

What do you think The Other Room has to offer?

Louise: Honest, creative and thrilling work.

Christian: There is no other space like it in all of Wales. It will provide high end theatre for years to come. For me, being a part of the inaugural season is a genuine privilege. In years to come I will still be saying “I did the very first production there”. That means the world to me.

Simon: The Other Room is the most exciting project that has happened in Welsh theatre for years. Cardiff has been crying out for a theatre like this. There is nowhere you will see a more intimate performance. The team behind the project are amazing and Porter’s bar is the perfect venue for it. I look forward to supporting them and hopefully working them again.

Kate: I hope The Other Room offers a great night out. We aim to make world-class theatre in our little space, and we are in a really cool bar so you can take your drink in! The work is bold and modern, and so far audience responses have been amazing. It’s been an incredible opening, and I really hope we continue to grow and to welcome more people to share our work. Thank you!

Article by Eifion Ap Cadno

 

Blasted a return visit and second time thoughts by Eifion Ap Cadno

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Production photo by Pallasca Photography

Those who saw The Other Room’s production of Sarah Kane’s Blasted might not understand this:
I saw it twice.

You can read my initial review here https://theyoungcritics.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/review-of-the-other-rooms-production-of-sarah-kanes-blasted/

Invited to see it again, I’m tasked with talking about its development. I’m currently reading Pat Barker’s Regeneration which explores our ability to squirrel away traumatic and unpleasant experiences to a store of bad nuts never to be touched again. Could this be a bad nut?

Last time I sat in the back row. This time, the second, almost the same level as the cast. This alone gives me a very different perspective. The white curtains along the right wall remind me of the fatal veil in Harry Potter, which you only pass through once. Thankfully there wasn’t a fire, as these curtains cover the fire escape.

There are more voices in composer Nick Gill’s soundtrack. I wonder if this is true; if I’m noticing more; or if I’ve finally cracked.

Ian’s first line “I’ve shat in better places than this” elicits no laughter. Of course, between two shows there are many subtle differences in the delivery of lines and their reception. But for one of my most intimate theatrical experiences to date, I held Ian’s terrified gaze as he was raped by the Soldier. I felt helpless, but comforted myself with “It’s only theatre!”

A reminder of this came after the blast. A spotlight blinds the audience, masking the back-wall as it falls away, revealing a great big hole strewn with tattered painting and remnants of the bathroom behind.  There is silence. Smoke fills the room. Considering The Other Room is the size of a moderate lounge, they tackled this coup de theatre with gusto. However, just before I get too carried away, someone – in full view – carries a large rectangular piece of set out the back. If anything, this is endearing. A small breath before being plunged back into the cold depths of Kane.

While the set is adjusted – an unwritten scene played out in the shadows – Nick Gill’s soundscape takes over again. With more rainwater than I recall, I nod along and smile. This is beautiful! I almost don’t want the lights to rise.

This is the difference in my viewings. The first was a blanket experience. I was smothered in dread, violence and occasionally pricked with a rogue duck feather of hope. This time, everything is a little clearer and more distinct.

Perhaps this is helped by the audience. Previously, I sat amongst other critics and The Other Room associates who presumably had some idea of what was in store (a bad nut). Now, I can see my own expression reflected, heightened in the gurns of others; hands cover eyes and mouths; a woman retches beside me. Soon, she is uncontrollably sobbing. She thanks her friend for comforting her while on stage a desperate Ian thanks Cate – what symmetry!

The show also appears to have taken its toll on the actors. At the end Ian is shown in various acts of depravity and degradation. Between these, I watch actor Christian Patterson pick himself up in the darkness, and move into position for the next. He looks to have aged.

The cast have since pinned down even more nuances in the text. I made further connections and felt the subtext breathing down my neck. It was the first show I have initiated applause at: I wanted to free the actors.

Shortly after, those in the audience who haven’t wandered off into the night are invited for a post-show talk with the aforementioned Simon Kane. I imagined him to be sharp-featured and brooding. Not quite what I was expecting, he reminded me of an old school friend. After Blasted, he had me chortling at his casual description of “Ian ‘avin’ a shit, Ian ‘avin’ a nightmare, Ian eatin’ a baby”.

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As manager of her estate, it sounds like Simon was initially quite protective over his dead sister’s plays, allowing few companies to take them on. For those he did, he monitored their directorial choices, ensuring “daft decisions like making the Soldier a woman” didn’t happen – I wish I’d asked why he thought that specifically –; often taking an active part in rehearsals. However, as time’s progressed he has relaxed. He realises “they’re plays, not novels. They’ll go through different filters”.

Mentioning Daily Mail theatre critic Jack Tinker’s comment that Blasted is a “disgusting piece of filth”, Helen Perry, Radio Drama Producer at the BBC, asks “How do you explore horrible themes without showing horrible things? Does that make sense?”

Simon replies with a short “No. I don’t know what to say”. However, he soon fires up with another film allusion: he mentions Quentin Tarantino’s films. In Reservoir Dogs “there’s cool music as someone’s having their ear cut off but Blasted doesn’t glamorise violence.”

He talks about their family’s reaction to Sarah Kane’s plays. Their father, a journalist for the Daily Mirror who’s “not far from Ian in some ways”, didn’t like Blasted until it was slated. Their mother can’t reconcile herself with it. They don’t see it any more.

Most interestingly he relates how their granddad, who served in the war, approached Sarah and said “I know how these things have happened. I’m worried how you do”.

Simon says (I couldn’t run from that forever) “She doesn’t make this stuff up”.

Read more about Sarah Kane, Blasted and its inspiration in this article written by playwrights Simon Stephens and Laura Wade http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2010/oct/24/sarah-kane-blasted

Now The Other Room’s first production has ended, roll on the next: Howard Barker’s The Dying of Today will be on 24th March – 11th April. Another British playwright, his plays are acclaimed and produced extensively abroad but have received little recognition here on home turf. Evidently this little theatre wants to produce plays that are in some way unexpected.

More information and tickets for productions can be found on their website http://www.otherroomtheatre.com/en/

Review HOOD, Sherman Youth Theatre by Eifion Ap Cadno

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I avoid front row seats. As an actor, I have looked into the audience to see encouraging smiles and familiar faces, to find my friend fast asleep. I too am prone to drifting off, only to wake with a start and gasp. So, I was a little apprehensive taking my front row seat for Sherman Cymru’s youth theatres production of HOOD.

I needn’t have worried.

As part of National Theatre Connections, Katherine Chandler’s  new play will be performed around the UK by a multitude of youth theatre companies, with Sherman’s Group 3 kicking it off.

It is the story of an impoverished, dysfunctional family. The mother has run off with another man; the father, devastated, never leaves his armchair but escapes reality through drink, lies, and The Waterboys. The five teenage children are left to fend for themselves as Hood, the eldest, tries to keep them together and retain a modicum of normality.

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Apparently forty minutes long was the specification for this piece. However, it sailed past that and dropped anchor beyond an hour. Things are twice as good, half as long, and the text would benefit from further editing.

Certain repeated jokes wore thin quickly: for example, that the mother ran off with a “vegetarian”, and that this should be so ridiculous was funny the first, perhaps even the second time, but there it could have ended. Although that he is later caught licking bacon, wonderful!

Some of Katherine Chandler’s strongest writing was the quickest: when Naz asks John if he’s travelled, he replies “I’ve been to Anglesey”; and I was equally interested in the silent Muz, played by the engaging Phoebe Ward.

The stark and striking set, designed by Bethany Seddon, consisted of a few items of furniture, scrubbed blackboard walls and two doors on either side. Above, a small chorus of young hoodies open and close the play from the balcony.

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This bare set is brought to life with strong lighting design by Ace McCarron and Michael Yellop, as the cast invade, covering the floor with litter and the walls with writing which preludes the script to come. Surprisingly hypnotic, there is something very exciting about watching others write on such a scale. Later, water is thrown against this chalky canvas, creating a great splash effect, before it’s all scrubbed clean.

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Director Phillip Mackenzie and Sound Designer Sam Jones have chosen a strong soundtrack that really affects the mood and quality of the action onstage. Soft, resonant Hang is contrasted with the heavier, deeper sounds of Burial. Much of the music is familiar to me having previously worked with Phil, but there is good reason he returns to it – I couldn’t help but seat-dance a little.

As a director, he is known for his use of the ensemble in his physical theatre. I have been a part of this ensemble, and so cannot claim to be wholly unbiased, but it is my first time in the audience at one of his productions.

From the start there is a tangible physical charge, the chorus engaging in a restrained yet bold series of gestures and shapes.

The peak for me came at the height of a crescendo, where amidst all the noise Muz, mute until now, finally breaks down and screams, silently at first. A genuine, tingly-all-over-shiver-down-spine moment.

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Once the worst of the teenagers’ fears – that they could be taken into care – are over, to avoid what otherwise might be too happy an ending, the characters dance elatedly before falling down in a collective fit of spasms. Never has a collective fit of spasms made for an assuredly happy ending.

Aside from these more intricate moments, Phil hands the responsibility and ownership of the text over to the young cast.

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Aged 16-17, these actors form a strong company and are an asset to the Sherman. The talent of all of the creative’s involved in this production meant that not once was I conscious I was watching a youth theatre piece rather a true ensemble piece of contemporary theatre at Sherman Cymru.

I feel a special mention should be made of Mali O’Donnell for her confident, considered performance as John.

For anyone interested in joining this youth theatre, more information can be found here http://www.shermancymru.co.uk/youth-theatre/

 

All photograph by Nick Allsop

Review Blasted, Sarah Kane, the Other Room by Eifion Ap Cadno

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The Other Room has undergone a transformation and after a certain amount of hype, has opened its floodgates with the aim of producing a torrent of new Welsh plays, as well as a foundation of post-1950 classics. The first of these is Blasted.

The bus journey home after seeing Blasted – my first live Sarah Kane play, having read them all – was an interesting one. Unsure of how I felt I started projecting my feelings onto the world around me. A large boxer dog was wailing loudly fairly continuously for a few minutes, before a man approached it with his own, smaller, more placid dog held under his arm, like a gun. He held his dog close to the boxer so that they could sniff each other for a while before he returned to his seat. The boxer fell silent, its anxiety eased.

I felt like that boxer. I wanted to howl with it. I needed someone to sniff, to connect with, and to understand.

Blasted is not a good play, nor an enjoyable play: those are simply the wrong words. It is one heck of an experience however, and you will feel something, whether that’s disgust or arousal, horror or empathy.

This is Sarah Kane’s first play, and when it opened at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1995 it was called a “disgusting piece of filth” by Jack Tinker of the Daily Mail. This opinion was shared by many.

However, many critics backtracked in subsequent years, such as The Guardian’s Michael Billington who said “I got it wrong”. Since her suicide in 1999 – leaving five plays and one short film behind – she has gained further reverence posthumously.

Blasted manages to pile horror upon horror. It is only by going to such dark extremes that certain philosophical ideas come to light, and a moral is found. What makes one death worse than another? A life more valuable? To paraphrase one of the lines: your arse is not special.

In the face of abjection, each character has their own defence mechanisms; their way of rationalising the irrational. It is a wonderfully complex exploration of human interaction and broken, vulnerable minds.

Louise Collins plays the innocent Cate, and manages to straddle the chasm between waif and harbinger-of-doom. She gives us and Cate her all, complete with tears, snot and unnerving blackouts. From the moment she steps fresh-faced and wide-eyed into the room, to the pallid, red-eyed bowing at the end, she undergoes a slow catharsis throughout the play. A brutal transformation and performance.

In contrast, Christian Patterson is the foul-mouthed, capricious Ian – a tabloid journalist paying for the two’s stay in a hotel in Leeds. He is every bit the antithesis of Cate, who he manipulates and hurts in order to appease himself. Christian bares all; despite his character’s anger and bigotry, he allows us to see the hurt and the fear. There is humour too, which bobs to the surface when desolation sits like oil.

If Ian is the great white, Simon Nehan gives us the Megalodon as the Soldier. He is vicious and feral; yet for all his barbarism he too is darkly comic. He executes the bloodiest and most heinous acts that society is too ashamed to call its own. Blasted is arguably an anti-war play; it certainly shows war to be the worst of humanity. Within a character that is extreme and highly symbolic, Simon mines little personal nuggets of truth and reason.

Director Kate Wasserberg has no doubt spent a long time with the actors, pushing them to places which had me squirming in my seat and neurotically twirling my pencil. A feeling of tension prevails throughout.

The production benefits from a commissioned soundtrack by composer Nick Gill. Piano, marimba, whisperings and static haunt and fill the darkness between scenes.

The Other Room really is small: with just 44 seats the audience are in the hotel room in Leeds, which despite being expensive looks unsettling from the start. A large and oppressive painting evocative of the River Styx hangs above the neatly-made bed, contrasting with angelic white curtains that surround the venue’s fire escape. There is a smoky whiff of The Royal Court.

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Kane said of the theatre “I keep coming back in the hope that someone in a darkened room somewhere will show me an image that burns itself into my mind”. Last night, completely by chance, a cloud of dense white smoke curled behind Ian and the Soldier, and formed what I thought was a ghost. I was simultaneously horrified and praising of the production values. It soon dissipated and I realised my mistake, but I am thankful The Other Room provided such a personal and uncanny experience.

To return to my bus journey home: I sat beside a man listening to heavy metal and thought how anxious and stressed I would be listening to that- why on Earth does he?

Then I realised, Blasted is heavy metal.

As part of The Other Room’s ‘Life in Close Up’ season, it runs until March 7th; tickets are available from their website www.otherroomtheatre.com.

I recommend getting along and seeing what this budding new theatre has to offer.

Review by Eifion Ap Cadno

Production photo by Pallasca Photography

Young Critic Eifion Ap Cadno Responds to Sanja Iveković’s Women’s House (Sunglasses)

 

 

 

 

 

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Eifion recently participated in the lunchtime series of events as part of this years Artes Mundi exhibition, Eifion performed his response at Ffotogallery,  Penarth.

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I wrote the short story “Look After” in response to Sanja Iveković’s project Women’s House (Sunglasses) in which she has appropriated iconic images of women modelling sunglasses for famous brands including Gucci and Dior. On these, she has superimposed text: names, nationalities, ages and stories of various women who have suffered abuse at the hands of their partner or parents, and have found help and courage in women’s shelters. Personally I found myself either linking the two and seeing the models as the abused women, or, separating the two entirely, they would lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Models show us things, often explicitly, whereas abuse is all too often covered up.

While I appreciated the use of both image and text, and its presentation as a magazine upon a bare table, the stories themselves prompted me to respond. In one the husband locks his children in a closet and threatens he will “cut their mother’s throat, cut her to pieces, put salt on her, and eat her if they told her about the other women” he brought back to the house. Written mostly devoid of any artistic embellishment, they jar, horrify and amaze; and soon they seem to all follow a pattern. Abuse. Fear. Courage. Change. However, some break this pattern, and the woman is left without the hope for a new beginning.

Domestic abuse tends to be covered up and ignored; it is often too late when it is addressed. My response is simple. An amalgam of a few of the women’s stories, it – hopefully -captures the cry for help and the refusal. The sunglasses are threaded in too: each of the policemen she encounters wears them, symbolising authorities turning a blind eye. Even the “Hand of the Government” is faceless.

While there is some artistic license, “Look After” is a true story. Some of it is distorted or heightened but it happened. I hope it prompts you to visit the Ffotogallery, Turner House in Penarth where Sanja’s work is being shown until February 21st. For a more sensory experience, a brilliant music and video installation by Ragnar Kjartansson and co. is also there until then.

Thank you,

Eifion Ap Cadno

 

Look After

There was a knocking.

Thump, thump.

Nicola leapt up from her chair in the corner, ran past her grinning husband and threw open the door.

‘Thank you so much for coming, please help me’ said Nicola. Two policemen stood at the top of the steps, wearing sunglasses so Nicola couldn’t see the colour of their eyes.

‘Is your husband here, madam?’ said the one on the left.

‘We would like to speak with your husband, madam’ said the other.

‘Yes. No. I mean yes, he is here, but please take me and my daughter away from him’

‘I understand madam. If we could just speak with your husband then I’m sure we can sort this all out.’ They smiled at her, but behind the pitch-black sunglasses their eyes were cold. She turned and looked back into the house. Through the doorway in the hall he could be seen laughing from his armchair; just beyond in the kitchen their daughter stood in the darkness, her white dress and face shimmering as a ghost. “I’ll come back for you, I promise!” cried Nicola, and pushed past the two officers.

Puddles were forming and her feet were sore when she came to a standstill. The streets had seemed empty up until now, so when headlights appeared through the rain she darted into the road, throwing her hands forward. The car stopped. Slowly the driver’s window wound down to reveal two suited officers. Despite the night-time and dark interior of the vehicle they both wore sunglasses that matched their uniforms – sharp and stylish. ‘What can we do you for lady?’ said the driver. ‘You shouldn’t be out at this time of night’ added the passenger, ‘you’ll find trouble, all on your own’.

Nicola stooped down low to the driver’s face, to make her grief seen. ‘Please, help me, my husband is at home with my daughter, he has hurt us both. He has hurt us. Look’, and here she lifted up her arm. Blood ran down her side from a deep cut between her ribs.

‘You should get that seen to lady’ said the driver, ‘someone might think you’re vulnerable and take advantage. There’s a hospitable nearby but why don’t you go home to your family, they’ll look after you.’

The window wound up, the car pulled off, and Nicola was left alone once again, the puddle at her feet incarnadine.

A short while later, the drenched mother, desperate for attention, stumbled into the foyer. Now the unnatural groove in her rib no longer ached, it was the blinding white light she could not stand.

‘Welcome to the Hand of the Government,’ came a recorded and distant voice over the tannoy, ‘here to serve and to punish. Please speak your business now.’

‘I need help’ whimpered Nicola.

‘I’m sorry, please repeat that’

‘Help’

For some time there was no response. Nicola fell to the wall, and slowly slumped into the floor, smearing a trail of blood behind. The tannoy sparked into life once more.

‘We have taken a reading of your person and have matched your official profile and background with your identity. Nicola. Thank you for taking the time to visit us this evening. From your parentage and education we have come to the conclusion that you can look after yourself. We ask you to return home to your family, they will be worried for your safety. Goodbye.’

No sooner had Nicola pulled herself out the doorway when a pair of black boots, meticulously laced, brushed her fingertips softly. Looking up, she saw a large, suited policeman staring back down at her. In his sunglasses her reflection could be seen, a pale representation of a human being.

‘You are under arrest for the murder of your daughter. You have the right to remain silent.’

Review The Everyman Theatre’s: The Taming of the Shrew by Eifion Ap Cadno

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As I took my seat, number D37, and planted my buttocks firmly between those of my neighbours’ – you must assert your presence in these situations – I noticed a finely attired young man in the front row. He was dressed as if ready for Sunday Service. Consequently, the ease with which he conversed with his attractive female neighbours surprised me. In Row D we remained British and had proceeded to keep ourselves to ourselves (cheek chafing aside). Understand I am fairly normal in the sense that I do not lick my elbows in public nor attempt to flirt with anyone for fear of accidentally marrying them. This somewhat geeky Casanova just had to be a cast member masquerading as one of us. And sure enough he was: he sprang up and promptly blurted something out, possessed by prose!

His fellow thespians joined him on stage and together they whisked us away to the magical land of Tony’s chip shop, Caroline Street – colloquially known as ‘chippy alley’. The modern-day scene replaces Shakespeare’s own induction. The original works as a device, setting the vast bulk of the play The Taming of the Shrew as a play-within-a-play. Unique in that of all his thirty-seven plays it is the only one to do this. Either Shakespeare was simply testing things out at this early stage in his writing career or it has an intended purpose. Siding with the latter, I believe it was to encourage the audience to view the controversial content that follows with a critical eye. Alternatively, their rather extensive use of modern, “non-Shakespearean” language, the local setting and fairly – cough – contemporary costume was presumably to highlight the play’s ongoing relevance. Instead it alienated me from the on-stage antics: ‘this isn’t Shakespeare!’ a little voice cried in my head, my jowls wobbling. Arguably this alienation lent me the aforementioned critical eye anyway, only in a clumsier manner.

Fortunately Lucentio and Tranio, played by Matt Lody and Richard Atkinson (aka ‘geeky Casanova’) respectively, soon appear with blank verse in tow. It is to be expected some text will be lost with alfresco theatre, even if actors are miked up. However, I lost many of Lucentio’s lines to the open air. Oddly enough, disguised as a Latin teacher his character spoke clearer. Confidence I say! Speak loud, speak clear, we want to hear you! Despite this, the performance managed to communicate the plot physically with effective and economical use of the space; and facial and corporal gestures galore. Should you not catch a few lines, watch the adjacent actor’s reaction and the meaning will be apparent.

Baptista Minola (played by John Atkinson) enters with his two daughters: the younger, beautiful and mild Bianca (played by the beautiful and mild Alys Pearce) and the shrew of the title, Katherine. They are followed by Gremio and Hortensio, each vying for the young sister’s hand (and dowry) in marriage; but here’s the rub – Bianca can’t marry until someone makes Kate a wife, a seemingly impossible task. Accompanied by a particularly effeminate Grumio – seeing Chris Williams in a dress will please many – Petruchio will attempt to tame the shrew.

From here on in we are treated to a picnic of puns, quips and musical numbers. Many have speculated whether Shakespeare intended the play to be ironic or sincere, satirical or misogynistic. This performance encompasses all these in fairly equal measures. As part of the rehearsal process the cast shared their opinions regarding the woman’s role within marriage. Comprising of a father and son, a young couple and new and old old friends of all ages, there was undoubtedly differing views. This comedy will draw in a varied audience of all backgrounds and while it poses a big question, you need to find your own answer.

There were some directorial choices that jarred with me. While many of the characters would indulge in a beer or an inconspicuous swig from a hipflask, Petruchio seemed not to touch the stuff. Usually he is shown as a drunk, a reveller, however here surrounded by alcoholics he seems positively sober and even reasonable; almost the ‘hero’ of the play, lacking the vices to warrant the ‘anti-’. Throughout the play there are some excellent comedic performances: Sarah Bawler as Katherine manages to squeeze the laughs out of every line. However, she never seems much of a match for James Pritchard’s domineering, charismatic Petruchio. The comedy is dropped in the last scene for an earnest delivery of Kate’s speech championing the play’s view of marital harmony: a providing husband complemented by a loyal, subservient wife. It is partially directed to the audience as if an instruction to all women. I felt uncomfortable but it is an uncomfortable speech and transformation. If all sat well something would be very, very wrong!

Further comedic commendation to Phil Jones whose timing and clown-like Pedant had everyone laughing, impressive considering the character isn’t normally funny! He also shared the role of Curtis with Luke Cooper who shuffled about with a hunch to rival Igor’s. The splitting of a character between two actors is twofold with Birdie Smith and Serena Lewis finishing each other’s sentences and delivering an extremely entertaining musical performance as Biondello, Lucentio’s second servant, a minor role made marvellous and very endearing. Toby Harris’s Hortensio is wonderfully unpleasant – in the best possible way – when undercover as a music teacher, despite having as much musical talent as one half of Jedward. Some of his lines were lost amid an exaggerated Italian accent but the comic payoff was worth it. I also liked Paul Fanning as Gremio: though not a particularly funny performance it was evident he enjoyed his character, making it easy for me to do the same.

As for the open-air stage, it is very relaxing to see and feel the night draw in around you and the play. The darkening sky – black by the second half – worked superbly for the scene where Petruchio declares the sun the moon. Director Rebecca Gould rightly embraced the moonshine and decided to set the scene at night. This changing of light is highly symbolic of Kate’s transformation: as her independence is slowly stripped away and the contestable message strengthens the world darkens – a special effect like no other.

For those of you who like your Shakespeare pure, be warned: this has plenty of pop as mixer. With musical hits including Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ getting the Two Biondello’s treatment, it continues the tradition of music in Shakespeare only with less lute (not a bad thing).

Despite my few criticisms, as an amateur theatre company I commend The Everyman’s brave choice of play and thoroughly recommend it to all.

The Taming of the Shrew runs until 2nd August, tickets are £12-£16 (£2 off for under 18s).

For more information and to book tickets on-line visit the Everyman website: www.everymanfestival.co.uk or call the box office on 0333 6663366

Review by Eifion Ap Cadno

A short interview with cast member Phil Jones

How was it rehearsing with the cast of the Everyman Theatre?

Phil: It was really wonderful. It’s a small cast and everyone gets on really well. A lot of us knew each other from previous Everyman productions and outings. We had a lovely director, Rebecca, who was calm and patient with everybody and nurtured a great atmosphere.

What did you make of the modern interpretation of the play?

Phil: When we first heard about it we weren’t too sure but bit by bit it’s come together and even in the very last moments the induction was being tweaked and altered. It creates a link with the people that are watching us, it shows Shakespeare doesn’t need to set in ‘ye olden dayes’, it can be modern and very lively. It’s very fun to be a part of.

What about the question of the woman’s position in a relationship?

Phil: Our aim was always to show the two main characters as quite compatible in some ways. Some relationships thrive on being tempestuous. They’re both sparring partners really, they bounce off each other. It is tricky though, there are some lines that make modern audiences wince a little.

Do you think Kate was tamed in your production?

Phil: No they’ll blow up again! They’ll go on a massive weekend to Brighton and have a massive argument! I’m gonna get a beer now.

A short interview with cast member Alys Pearce

How was it working with the cast?

Alys: Is this on record? Yes? Oh okay. Ummm. It’s been like a rollercoaster of lollipops and tornadoes but fun ones like in Wizard of Oz.

Were these difficult tornadoes?

Alys: It’s a very difficult subject in the play to tackle and everyone has different points of view. So for us all to agree on one point of view and how to deliver it was a challenge. Our director didn’t say ‘this is how I want to do it’, it was very much a group decision. We sat down and had lots of conversations. We all have our own subjective reactions to Kate’s speech at the end.

Is your character, Bianca, happy in the end?

Alys: Yes because she has a pretty rich husband.

Pretty rich or pretty and rich?

Alys: All of the above. It’s a plus that he’s pretty. I feel so weirdly nervous doing this!

How’s working with Rebecca Gould been?

Alys: She gives a lot of the responsibility to the cast. She’s a very free director and she can let you do your own thing which is sometimes nerve-wracking. You’ll think ‘what do I do? Is this okay??’ but you have to make your own decisions. She’s a good guide.

Are you happy with tonight’s opening performance?

Alys: I’m so so thrilled, I felt a proper buzz tonight. I was completely uncertain to the last minute but I’m happy with how it’s been received. People seemed to clap and laugh and stuff, no one cried or threw bananas. There were moments when people booed, like during Petruchio’s ‘this is a way to kill a wife with kindness’ speech which was brilliant because James Pritchard handled it with a great ‘who’s gonna speak against me’ attitude. Ultimately I hope it’s accessible!

The Everyman Festival Forecast by Eifion Ap Cadno.

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Will it be sunny? Will it be overcast? Will it rain? These three questions, while perhaps a little trite and unnecessary – ‘what’s the weather like?’ would suffice – will never be truly answered in Wales. Travel to the Mediterranean, the North or South Poles (take your pick) or the Amazon and you will have your meteorological answers, but will you have your fix of sultry Shakespeare?

The biggest of its kind in Wales, The Everyman Festival – having already delivered the bloody goods in a highly commended production of Sweeney Todd – is currently thigh-high in the boots of Blackadder II, raking in a mass of glowing reviews. The question is: can they rake in more?

Opening on 25 July and running until 2 August, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew certainly promises big things – and I don’t just mean Petruchio’s ego – with an excellent cast and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s own Rebecca Gould sat in the director’s chair.

Lucentio loves Bianca, Bianca loves Lucentio; Bianca’s father Baptista declares she’ll not marry until her elder, venomous sister Katherine be wed. Unfortunately it seems dear Kate’s only redeeming quality is her great big, enormous dowry – steady on. Will the charismatic but penniless Petruchio prove the charmer, or shall her sting find his tail? Cue a battle of wit, words and willpower; a whirlwind of disguises and a domestic that will end in tears, or in kindness.

If your theatrical appetite still isn’t sated, then have no fear: the show runs until 2 August so you can see it repeatedly! For those little drama divas whose cravings bite deep, andGo Productions’ Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. runs in tandem from 26 July. You and all the family will be transported to an underwater world – especially if it rains – where Ariel the beautiful mermaid Princess will be waiting to take you on a bright, musical adventure.

And remember folks, Blackadder II is still on until Monday 21 July. Fans and newcomers alike can be sure to find comedy gold in them thar episodes Bells; Potato;and Beer. Here’s a review http://www.buzzmag.co.uk/uncategorized/blackadder-ii-stage-review/

There is an on-site Festival Bar and should the heavens open all seats are sheltered so you can remain dry and merry, watching the cast members slog it out for your entertainment. Last year I had the privilege of seeing their cracking Midsummer Night’s Dream performed at sea, such was the power of the deluge. With slips, trips and brollies, believe me it only adds to the show!

Further Information

Tickets for Blackadder II and The Taming of the Shrew are £12-£16 (£2 off for under 18s). Tickets for Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. are £7 each or £25 for a family ticket for four people.

For more information and to book tickets on-line visit the Everyman website: www.everymanfestival.co.uk or call the box office on 0333 6663366

Eifion Ap Cadno