Eva Marloes

Review Roots, National Dance Company Wales by Eva Marloes

Roots is an engaging, diverse, and emotional production that marries Welshness with contemporary dance and gives life to art that is accessible without compromise on quality. Roots is the biannual production by the National Dance Company that brings dance to audiences around the world and around Wales. It makes its way into venues with little technical equipment and space, in towns and villages around Wales, to bring dance to new audiences. Roots succeeds equally in introducing new audiences to dance and in delighting dance enthusiasts. 

This year’s production features four very different pieces from four choreographers at different stages in their career and artistic maturity. Écrit, choreographed and performed by Nikita Goile is an emotional dance recounting a conflictual love relationship executed beautifully. Goile, a budding choreographer, combines an elaborate work of hands, inspired by Indian Bharata Natyam dance, with her lover’s silouette behind a curtain, and a more traditional duet form. It is effective in conveying the power imbalance between the two lovers, the hurt, and the closeness. The only weakness of the piece comes from its inspiration: the letters of Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera. Although they both had other lovers, Kahlo suffered from Rivera’s numerous affairs. In Écrit, Goile’s graceful and gentle movements do not capture the intensity of Kahlo. Having suffered from polio, Kahlo had very weak legs, underwent many surgeries, and had miscarriages. Kahlo’s suffering body was the source of her art and Kahlo used her body to reinterpret her MexicanidadÉcrit is at its strongest when Kahlo is forgotten and Goile is herself. Goile conveys a nuanced fragility, which contrasts with the powerful gestures and movements of Moronfoluwa Odimayo as her dominating lover. It is effective and moving. 

The second piece, Why Are People Clapping? is also by a new choreographer, Ed Myhill. It is an entertaining and funny piece that conveys the joy of dancing to the rhythm of elaborate clapping. In contrasts with the intimate piece Écrit, Myhill’s Why Are People Clapping? plays to the audience and for the audience. It begins with a tennis match with no actual balls or rackets, conveyed by only a single clap and well-timed movement. It is all so well tuned that you can almost see the ball hit the racket. The piece includes dancers in a semicircle taking turns to do and enjoy a solo to Steve Reich’s clapping music, followed by claps that bring order and dictate action, a catwalk, and a run through as many facial expressions as possible. I would have liked the tennis players in 1970s headbands and wristbands for a replay of Borg v. McEnroe, but Clapping oozes fun anyway.  

The third piece, Codi (rise up) is by emerging choreographer Anthony Matsena, who is finding his voice in a socially and politically aware dance infused with energy. Codi takes the audience underground, into the mines of the Welsh Valleys. There is a sense of suffocation, isolation, struggle, and helplessness. The small headtorches the dancers wear around their necks are used effectively to convey the darkness of suffering, of perishing, of being forgotten. Then, they rise up. They beat wooden rods to the ground and the energy rushes through the body. There is power in being together. Together, we can rise up. When I interviewed Matsena, he told me that once you recover, you still have the past hurt with you, like a ‘stain on the shirt.’ With soot on their clothes and faces, the dancers face the audience calling for attention. The past is not forgotten; it is there to give strength and purpose. 

Roots concludes with the longer piece Rygbi. Annwyl i mi, by Fearghus Ó Conchúir, the Artistic Director of NDC Wales. Rygbi captures the passion and synergy of players and fans of the game, which ripple across the whole of society in Wales. It is the national game that takes over cities altering time, colouring the pavements with people in red shirts, and getting us stuck in traffic. Rygbi does not borrow movements from the game, it extracts the essence of rugby and gives it a new form. The piece alternates duets, ensembles, and solos to guide us through effort, injuries, fatigue, hopes, victories, and defeats. The dancers-players touch one another and in that touch is being part of a whole, something bigger than oneself, that is made of each one’s individuality. Dancers, like players, rely on one another, know what the other can do, is likely to do, the other’s weaknesses and strengths. Like players, they create together. Rygbi is elegant and strong. It is a painting and it is theatre. Ó Conchúir takes us onto the pitch with colour, movement, and music. He makes us breathe the tension of the competition, feel the strain of the muscles, and sense the elation of victory. Rygbi uses the language of dance expertly to tap into our emotions, thoughts, and ideals, and creates a moment of shared passion and commitment. 

Roots is currently on tour. More information can be found here.

To Speak of Wales in Dance by Eva Marloes

Back from its recent international tour, National Dance Company Wales (NDCW) is now bringing contemporary dance across Wales with this year’s production of Roots. Two of the pieces, Rygbi: Annwyl i mi by Feargus Ó Conchúir and Codi by Anthony Matsena (who grew up in Swansea) explicitly reference Welsh culture and society.

Anthony Matsena

Rygbi portrays the shared effort of rugby players on the pitch, in triumph and defeat, while Codi (meaning uplift) explores how mutual support can lift up communities that have been suffering from economic and social deprivation.

The Roots tour aims to be understandable to audiences across Wales; yet it is not an exercise in pleasing an audience with familiar themes and symbolism. It speaks of Wales in the language of dance from the richness of the diverse backgrounds and experiences of NDCWales choreographers and dancers.

Feargus Ó Conchúir 

NDCWales Artistic Director, Feargus Ó Conchúir, brought up in the Ring Gaeltacht in Ireland, heads dancers and choreographers from Wales, England, mainland Europe and Singapore. In the companies recent international tour, they represented Welsh contemporary dance in Japan during the Rugby World Cup.

During its Welsh tour, Roots gets to the heart of Wales geographically, emotionally, and culturally. With performances in Mold, Cardiff, Blackwood, Ystradgynlais, Narberth, Aberdyfi, Caernafon, and Pwllheli, NDCWales shows a commitment to bring dance to diverse audiences in sometimes very small venues and confronting technical challenges. 

Aisha Naamani

Aisha Naamani, a Welsh and Lebanese dancer with NDCWales, tells me how important Roots is for her, ‘it’s my favourite tour because you go to these small places and even if its not a large audience, it’s hard, but they go away with a brand new experience.’ Ó Conchúir’s piece Rygbi was first performed at the Eisteddfod. This is the first time NDCWales has done so. It has brought dance to a new audience. Aisha told me, ‘I’ve never performed in front of so many different people … We’ve had more of a turnout of men coming to watch the show and people genuinely stopped and watched … We spoke to many people about the piece itself.’

By taking contemporary dance out of the studio and bringing it outdoors and in small venues across Wales, NDCWales is at the forefront of making and sharing Welsh culture and identity. It challenges monolithic views of Wales and articulates a Welsh culture that is at once rural and urban, local and cosmopolitan, and, above all, enriched by diversity. Cultural identity is a conversation, always changing and always carried out by different people. Fearghus Ó Conchúir tells me, ‘national identity is something that is constantly being created and recreated; it’s not something that exists and you reflect or don’t reflect. So for me our role as the National Dance Company is to be part of the conversation that continues to define and redefine what national identity is.’

Like dance, an identity is fruit of collaboration, of individuals giving their own interpretation, and of the public being part of that conversation. So national identity is constructed by people who imagine and reimagine a place and a culture. For Ó Conchúir, ‘Welsh identity is defined by people who are born here and have left, people who are born here and stay, the ones who have just arrived, the ones who are passing through, we all make a place, even people who have never been here and we are thinking about Wales and are helping to imagine Welsh identity.’ 

The work of interpretation of Welsh culture by artists shows that there isn’t a single unchanging identity, to which one needs to be loyal. There is no homogeneous and authentic Welsh culture, but a range of identities within Wales and making Wales. Ó Conchúir tells me, ‘there are all kinds of people living in Pwllheli. … If I had assumed that where I grew up in Ireland, which was an Irish-speaking area, with a very strong traditional culture. If everyone assumed that that was the only thing that applied there, then I wouldn’t have found a route to where I am now.’ 

Ó Conchúir, who studied ancient Irish literature, tells me that, in the ancient Irish myths, people moved continuously between Ireland and Wales. They were ‘popping over, like we go over to Newport, they go over and consult A seer or something or they go and see a warrior and come back, it just, reminds me that mobility and exchange and mixing has always been happening.’ 

It is in the mixing where art happens. Contemporary dance incorporates movements from different sources, be they different dance styles, sport, martial arts, everyday movements, and gives it a shape to explore what it means to be human. Contemporary dance is a plurality of styles, languages of movements, and inspirations held together by a shared structure. The dance emerges from the synergy of disparate elements, from dancers expressing their individuality while also making space for others, and from pushing physical and symbolical boundaries. Contemporary dance holds difference and is made through difference. It is the perfect metaphor and embodiment for those aspiring to a pluralistic country. 

‘Playing Ballet and Dancing Contemporary’ – Discovering Contemporary Dance with National Dance Company Wales by Eva Marloes

If you want to get an inkling of what contemporary dance is, you need to watch dancers not dancing. Ahead of a run, Rehearsal Director Pablo Sansalvador-Chambers asks dancers of National Dance Company Wales (NDCWales) to ‘space it,’ go through the movements to check where they are meant to be. The movements are only sketched. No need for focus. Tim Volleman, a dancer with NDCWales, scratches his newly grown beard and jokes making funny moves that are extraneous to the piece in front of Elena, another NDCWales dancer. They are not meant to dance, only to go through the moves. There is no acting, no presence, no intensity. Then the run begins. I watch and feel their muscles tensing up and contracting, their body stretching and twisting. That power, swiftness, energy I’ve come to recognise in contemporary pieces is back.

Contemporary dance has a strange quality to it. It doesn’t go for the graceful lightness of ballet, for clearly laid out patterns, for established and precise movements. It has a spontaneous quality, but it is not carefree; it is intense. ‘I think contemporary dance can get very serious,’ Aisha Naamani, one of the NDCWales dancers tells me. It is so serious that dancers need some comic relief at times, after a hard phrase or when they get things wrong. They do so by playing ballet. Ballet, that invisible ‘other,’ that parent who is always in the room and yet belongs to another space. It often creeps in as an aside, something that doesn’t belong and yet is part of one’s core identity. When it gets too tense, dancers ‘play ballerinas’ and release the tension.

All dancers of NDCWales have had some training in ballet; yet as they begin the ballet class led by Pablo, they blush and feel awkward. ‘If you mess your pirouette, everybody sees it,’ says Nikita Goile, dancer and choreographer of the piece Écrit, part of the Roots production now touring Wales. They do indeed. Unlike most piece rehearsals, Pablo begins the ballet class by drawing back the curtains and revealing the mirror. The class begins with gentle movement to slow piano music. It is not classical music but pop music in a piano version. This time, the ‘escape’ from the intense focus required by the ballet class is found in extraneous movements that are not ballet. Some dancers release the tensions by doing some martial arts or street dance, and blushing. As the music gets faster, the movements get faster, as the music gets more recognisable, the dancers sing. Some move to the rhythm of the music as a preparatory preamble to get into the required ballet movement. 

Ballet is ‘healthy, nutritious,’ says Tim, ‘it is structured, it gives you a good base, a rule. To be able to break the rule, you need to know what the rule is.’ Contemporary dance takes the established rule, the customary view, the narrative structure and subverts them. It wants you to see with new eyes. As Aisha explains, an element of contemporary dance is to ‘try to think of ideas differently, or explore different ways around a common thought, whatever that might be. Someone once said to me contemporary dance is this big umbrella, movement that doesn’t necessarily have a story all the time, it’s more about an experience and your interpretation of it.’ 

Contemporary dance can be very conceptual, sometimes too conceptual and abstract. I have heard dancers often complain about it. The NDCWales production Roots seeks to be accessible and engaging.

The piece Rygbi Annwyl / Dear by NDCWales Artistic Director Fearghus Ó Conchúir, expresses the mutual reliance, joy, and disappointment of the national sport; Anthony Matsena’s Codi speaks of the community spirit of the Welsh valleys; Nikita Goile’s Écrit is about the flows of personal relationships; Ed Myhill’s Why Are People Clapping? captures the playfulness of sport and dance.

Common to all the pieces is an energetic quality of movement. Energy is often mentioned. Aisha tells me, ‘You can have the same angle of an arm but how you get the arm to that place is going to have a different energy.’ She pauses and then continues, ‘I think it comes down to quality and what kind of, to put it with an image, if someone moves their hand, they’re pushing water or something heavy that gives a different quality and energy than moving through air. Quality creates different energy in the room.’ 

‘There are problems with contemporary dance,’ Pablo says, ‘the public come out and don’t understand anything or they don’t know why it was like that.’ The danger of abstraction and obscure symbolism lurks behind contemporary dance creations; yet there is something mesmerising about contemporary dance. For Pablo it’s ‘the realness, the physicality without the illusion that it’s pretty or untouchable. Classical ballet has to be flawless and exquisite. Contemporary dance can be all that but it is more organic.’ Contemporary dance seems to draw out life from dancers. The effort, pain, and intense emotion of it are laid bare for all to see. It is raw and unreservedly human. 

(This article is based on
Eva Marloes’ interviews with Aisha Naamani and Pablo
Sansalvador-Chambers as well as the observation of NDCWales rehearsals of Roots)

Roots opens today at Theatr Clwyd in Mold.

Mold Theatr Clwyd Thursday 7 November 2019, 19:45 BOOK

Friday 8 November 2019, 19:45 BOOK

Cardiff Dance House Tuesday 12 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Wednesday 13 November 2019, 13:00 BOOK

Wednesday 13 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Thursday 14 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Blackwood Miners Institute Tuesday 19 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Ystradgynlais, The Welfare Thursday 21 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Narberth, The Queens Hall Friday 22 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Aberdyfi, Neuadd Dyfi Sunday 24 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Caernarfon, Galeri Tuesday 26 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Pwllheli, Neuadd Dwyfor Wednesday 27 November 2019, 19:30BOOK

Review Hedda Gabler, Sherman Theatre by Eva Marloes

I couldn’t take it any longer and I left at the interval. I know I should have stayed but I couldn’t. Hedda Gabler was awful. The reviews are all ecstatic, but I only saw incongruous old-fashioned theatre. There is nothing of Ibsen, there is nothing of bourgeois anxiety, and nothing of women’s suppressed individuality in Chelsea Walker’s production.

Hedda Gabler, played by Heledd Gwynn, is here turned into a hysterical woman. She wears a loose evening gown in the middle of the day, bare foot, with a pixie style hair-do, shouting and fidgeting. Ibsen’s Hedda is not mad.

Hedda Gabler scandalised Norwegian and European society not because she was outrageous, but because everybody could identify with her. What makes it a classic is not the reverence we have of authors from a bygone era, but Ibsen’s shattering of our illusions of success and fulfilment, to reveal how those very illusions crush our thirst for meaning, freedom, and beauty.

Hedda Gabler is not a feminist or a frustrated woman, her profound rejection of social trappings echoes with all of us, across genders, race, and even class, because we all live within the bounds of social norms and expectations, which stifle us. Ibsen pointed an unforgiving light on the troubles of the bourgeoisie at the end of the nineteenth century, when the bourgeois class was at once at its height and already experiencing decadence. One could be forgiven for thinking that this work sits awkwardly today, at a time of a severely diminished middle class, which cannot even aspire to be called ‘bourgeois’. It lacks the sophistication, the imagination, and the audacity of the nineteenth century bourgeoisie. Yet, today’s struggling middle class, like yesterday’s bourgeoisie, battles with economic forces it has unleashed and cannot control. We have been reduced to cogs in the machine, yet the ideology of the machine is to make us believe that we are all individuals and can shape our destiny, if we only wanted it. Failure is our fault. We don’t want it badly enough. So tripped into guilt, we feel but loss and futility.

The Tesmans, Hedda and her husband George, are not doing badly. George, played humorously by Marc Antolin, is in line for a professorship and, unlike now when professors live in foodstamps, that would have meant financial security and social respectability. We don’t get a sense of that, thanks to a Ikea-inspired stage design, which consists of a white and minimal table, a bench, a chair, and a piano. The comments on Hedda’s liking for luxury fall flat and make one wonder whether anyone in the production read the script.

Hedda doesn’t like expensive furniture and clothes for its own sake, but because they signify beauty as much as acceptability. Hedda feels trapped by social conventions, but she cannot resist them. In this production, Hedda has pixie hair and walks bare foot in a loose silk gown, almost a nightie.Hedda Gabler is not a free woman, she is not a sixties’ swinging London carefree girl, a hippie or a sexy femme fatale. She is in prison. It is the prison of respectability, of appearance, of sense. She tells us over and over again that she is afraid of scandal, she is envious of Thea Elvsted, who leaves her husband in ‘broad daylight’ and can express herself by writing with Eilert Loevborg.

Turned into a 1960s rebel, Hedda’s firing a pistol and burning a manuscript are but whimsical pranks. There is no explosive fire in Hedda Gabler.

Dance Infused with Energy – Behind the scenes with Anthony Matsena by Eva Marloes

Contemporary dance is storytelling without narrative. It evokes emotions and thoughts through movement and rhythm. It is the body that speaks, over music, over story, over costumes. Something is said through movement. I watch dancer and choreographer Anthony Matsena trying ideas with Will Bridgland and Artemis Stamouli for his piece Codi, which is part of Roots, the autumn dance tour of National Dance Company Wales. He is going through only some small sections of the piece; yet, I get a sense of his energy-infused dancing style.

Born in Zimbabwe and raised in Swansea, Matsena has trained in street dance and contemporary dance first in his hometown Swansea and then London. He is now back in Wales to collaborate with the showcasing of Welsh dance talent with the National Dance Company Wales.  

Before the start, Matsena asks Will Bridgland and Artemis Stamouli how their body is, that precious instrument of expression, at once strong and fragile. During a movement, Matsena says: ‘your body is much heavier in this … don’t rush, take your time.’ It’s an exercise in stretching the body but always going with the body, not against it. This seem counter to some experimental contemporary dance that seeks to test the limits of the body in an attempt to break boundaries. Matsena’s dancing style has none of that. 

Matsena’s dance style is infused with energy. It is noticeable ever after watching him only briefly. The movement is fluid, broken up, tense, slow, and fast. He kicks with legs and pushes with his hands. In a duet with Stamouli, he picks her up, holds her, and turns her gently. It is a delicate and intense dance where every movement seems effortless and yet mindful. They are present in every move. 

Matsena began as a teenager with Hip Hop, Krumping, Street Dancing, and African Dancing. I ask him to what kind of movements he is drawn. He tells me he is drawn to ‘highly energetic movement, variations in velocity, speed, I’m drawn to phrases and movement that have high energy.’ 

I ask him from where he draws his movements. He tells me they come from ‘the curiosity of the different things the body can do,’ as well as a very eclectic training. He is fascinated by how other people move. In the first week with the dancers from National Dance Company Wales, Matsena worked on exploring their different ways of moving and approaching movement. He wanted ‘something that best shows their skills, their unique experience.’ ‘The hard thing is framing it,’ Matsena tells me, ‘it’s not about teaching them to dance but to find a frame that holds those skills.’

Dancers inform the piece and are engaged because the piece is partly theirs. Matsena did not want to impose how his body moves on them; rather he wanted to find a place where different styles can coexist and are distinguishable. Contemporary dancing rests on collaboration; yet it is also a deeply personal practice that strives for personal expression, for authenticity.  

‘If you’re being true to yourself, you will be authentic,’ Matsena tells me. ‘You need to use the tools that are true to you in order to transmit that idea. Then it will feel authentic. … Sometimes I don’t recognise what I’ve done but that’s because it’s new. If I set myself the task to find a new pathway, it won’t feel natural, it won’t feel authentic. … Krumping, Hip Hop, Street Dance, I know the foundations of these techniques, but if I try something new, it’s gonna feel not authentic until it’s authentic. When it sits in your body you feel it’s authentic.

Dancing in a way that pleases people, that will be liked, is not authentic. ‘Part of being a dancer is being conscious and aware, of what you are doing,’ Matsena says. Authentic dancing lies in using the dancer’s ‘unique way of viewing things to elevate them to extraordinary things, simple things.’ Simple things, like a tree, are transformed in a dance piece through the perspective of the artist and thus shift people’s perspective. A new dimension is added to everyday objects or actions.  

I ask Matsena what the unique feature of dance is within the arts. He tells me that in theatre words can be limiting because they define, dance is ambiguous and each person can come away with a different insight. Yet, dance, for Matsena, should be accessible. People should be able to relate to the meaning behind a dance piece. Dance bridges, when words fail us, it’s got this magical thing that gives this physical empathetic transmission between the audience and the performer, the things that we recognise but cannot articulate.  

Matsena is drawn to stories and pieces that can convey what it means to be human, particular and univesal. For Codi, Matsena sought to combine elements of African dance, street dance, and the sense of community of the Welsh valleys. Codi is about finding solidarity in community.  

The best thing to do this was to do something that is closely related to Welsh communities. ‘I was looking at the Mining industry. … Once collapsed, you want to find your way out to the surface. … I wanted to make people aware of the support system around them, opening people’s eyes to everything that is around them. It is not about everything is all right. When you recover you still have the stain on the shirt from before. … If we’re trying to crawl up, how do we do that? We shape it in a way that people can find each other.’

At home, in Wales, Matsena feels free and able to create art. ‘There’s this crazy energy and freedom I get when I’m home. I make better work when I’m here. There’s a lid that is lifted when I’m home.’ With Codi, he taps in the sense of community and place that is at once particular to Wales but also universal.  

Codi forms part of the National Dance Company Wales autumn Roots tour, further information can be found below.

Mold Theatr Clwyd Thursday 7 November 2019, 19:45 BOOK

Friday 8 November 2019, 19:45 BOOK

Cardiff Dance HouseTuesday 12 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Wednesday 13 November 2019, 13:00 BOOK

Wednesday 13 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Thursday 14 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Blackwood Miners Institute Tuesday 19 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Ystradgynlais The WelfareThursday 21 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Narberth The Queens Hall Friday 22 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Aberdyfi Neuadd Dyfi Sunday 24 November 2019, 19:30 01654767251

Caernarfon Galeri Tuesday 26 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Pwllheli Neuadd Dwyfor Wednesday 27 November 2019, 19:30BOOK

Review Macbeth, Watermill Ensemble by eva marloes

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Watermill Ensemble’s Macbeth is a rock ‘n roll and sexy production that finds favour with its public. Under the direction of Paul Hart, Shakespeare’s plays are given a cinematic flair and engaging performances. 

Macbeth, played competently by Billy Postlethwaite, enters the scene in combat uniform and blood on his face. The military setting gives a sense of comradery, aggression, and manliness. This makes more convincing Hart’s casting according to character rather than gender.  

The production moves away from the military world to plunge Macbeth into the criminal underworld. Macbeth’s castle is a seedy hotel. The neon sign ‘hotel’ leaves out the letters O and T to spell H—EL. In the style of a mafia boss, Macbeth hands out money from a bag to professional killers to get Banquo murdered. Accordingly, Lady Macbeth is the femme fatale of a mafia boss. Reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface without her grace, Lady Macbeth dons a red jumpsuit dress. The witches are in overly stretched mini dresses that conjures a brothel rather than ghosts. 

The jazzy music juxtaposed to the murder of Banquo is effective and striking. Music is protagonist in Hart’s productions. It creates the scene and provides commentary on the action. Sadly, not all the cast have the powerful voices of Billy Postlethwaite and Emma Barclay, here playing Lady Macduff. The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black lacks the necessary grit. 

Postlethwaite is a rough and tough army man. He has an animalesque energy. He is intense and captivating, but the tone of the production lacks subtlety making the soliloquies of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth a parenthesis in a Hollywood thriller. They are lustful, not sensual. They are all speaking verse comfortably but the excessive agitation puts the focus on action rather than atmosphere and meaning. 

Like Hart’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth gets stripped of Shakespeare. There is no tension between Macbeth’s murderous ambition and his guilt. Macbeth is blood-soaked from beginning to end. There is no discernible change or conflict, only a crescendo of paranoia. Emma McDonald is convincing as Lady Macbeth, but the supposedly sexy lingerie turns the tragedy into farce. Alas, for all its sound and fury, Hart’s Macbeth signifies nothing. 

Billy Postlethwaite – interviewed by eva marloes

I catch Billy Postlethwaite before he goes to rehearsals for a quick chat over the phone. He is playing Macbeth in Paul Hart’s production at the New Theatre, Cardiff. I ask him whether compassion plays a role in approaching a character like Macbeth. 

‘Everybody should have compassion and kindness, no matter who you are. In life, I try to do my best. In relation to Macbeth, he is someone who loses sight of those attributes while trying to gain something that he thinks he wants.’ 

It is hard if not impossible to identify with Macbeth, so how does an actor interpret the role? 

‘I look for the humanity in everybody I suppose. No one is inherently villain, so you try to work out what their motive is for doing what they are doing. People do villainous acts but they are not inherently evil. For Macbeth, it comes from a place of love, love for Lady Macbeth, for her, for what they have done together, for what they have lost. He is also a very ambitious human being. 

Postlethwaite tells me that he can recognise the love for another person and wanting to make that person happy as a driving force. He tries to ‘amplify’ emotions in his portrayal of Macbeth while making him a rounded human being. What distinguishes Macbeth is how love and ambition get twisted. 

‘Macbeth’s love for his wife and thirst for power are a powerful concoction of energy that he puts in murdering people. … That energy gets twisted.’ 

Postlethwaite’s interpretation of Macbeth is certainly energetic and intense. He tells me Macbeth is very draining. It is very physical. That physicality, in his voice as well as his bodily agility, gives Postlethwaite remarkable presence on stage. 

Billy Postlethwaite can currently be seen in Macbeth at the New Theatre, Cardiff,

https://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what’s-on/ws-macbeth/

Review A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watermill Ensemble, New Theatre by Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

The Watermill Ensemble’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an injection of fun, warmth, and colour. It triumphed at New Theatre with some in the audience giving a standing ovation. Loud and fabulous, it is the perfect production for all ages.  

All the cast give solid performances. Emma Barclay is wonderful as Bottom. Her voice stands out not only in power but in agility. The play’s eroticism is here blunt and humorous. This production aims to please and it does. It sparkles when it uses songs, such as I Put A Spell On You and Blue Moon, cabaret lights to frame the scene, and a contemporary ironic touch. The cast succeed in being funny without being caricatural.  

For all the fun, however, this take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream leaves Shakespeare out of the picture. The depth of the play is left untouched. I would have liked at least a nod to the plays’ darkness and symbolism. 

With A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we enter a world of doubles and illusion. The play within a play and the intermingling world of fairies and humans function as a house of mirrors that at once distorts reality and gives a truer picture of it. 

Sleep, the brother of death in Greek mythology, is used to access another reality, or, in post-Freudian terms, to travel deeper into our consciousness. The play is set in Athens, symbol of rationality, and in the woods, wild and dark. The rational day of humans is disrupted by the irrational night of the fairies.  

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is often disturbing in the imposition of patriarchal order, in the loss of autonomy of humans but also of Titania, Queen of the fairies, who is made into having sex with an ass. It is tragic and comic. It conjures a dream world that grants humans the ability to see beyond, to transcend themselves. The hero is Bottom, the holy fool who goes through a quasi-mystical experience.  

‘I have had a dream, past the wit of man to
say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go 
about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there 
is no man can tell what. Methought I was,—and 
methought I had,—but man is but a patched fool, if 
he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye 
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not 
seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue 
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream 
was.’ (Act IV, 1)

Review The Cunning little vixen, WNO by Eva marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen takes us into a magic and yet very real world of humans and animals seeking love. Mischief, irony, and melancholy are mixed in all the right doses. David Pountney’s production is full of spirit, excellent performances, an ironic libretto, and beautiful costumes to please all audiences. It is the perfect production to introduce children to opera.  

Janáček’s cinematic musical score, with a touch of Debussy, takes into a fantasy world where humans and animals are all at pains to find love. The Cunning Little Vixen is a fable on the cycle of life, yet it is no mere rustic idyll. It is infused with a sweet melancholia. The Forester, the Parson, the Schoolmaster, and the Poacher, all sigh for their lost youth and long-gone love. It is that youthful love that is now a dream, of which the Forester is reminded by the Vixen. Her mischievous provocations bring back that thirst for life and freedom.  

Aoife Miskelly, as the Vixen, excels in balancing the Vixen’s mischief, sweetness, and liveliness. Her crystalline voice combines beautifully with the seductive one of Lucia Cervoni, as the Fox, making for stunning duets. Claudio Otelli, as the Forester, gives a solid and skilful performance. Peter Van Hulle, as the Schoolmaster, and David Stout, as the Poacher, entertain and charm. The sober bass of Wojtek Gierlach, as the Parson, adds the right amount of melancholy. 

The revised version of the libretto by Jiří Zahrádka adds irony to the mix. The Little Vixen is a union leader and a feminist seeking to arouse the exploited hens against the patriarchal cock by appealing to their sense of sisterhood. She is a socialist revolutionary overthrowing the ‘lazy fat cat’ of a badger to get herself a home. The political nods, which may seem out of place in a fable about nature, are so well scripted to flow naturally. It is this irony that carries this opera into the 21st century. It could not be more topical.   

The production is currently on tour , further information can be found at the links below.

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

  • Fri 11 Oct7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£14 – £50Book

Theatre Royal Plymouth

  • Thu 17 Oct7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£15 – £54Book

Venue Cymru, Llandudno

  • Thu 31 Oct7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£17 – £45Book

Birmingham Hippodrome

  • Thu 7 Nov7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£22 – £56Where applicable, a 6% transaction charge may apply (excl. cash sales in person)Book

New Theatre Oxford

  • Thu 21 Nov7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£13 – £53Plus £3.65 ATG transaction feeBook

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

  • Thu 28 Nov7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£16 – £52Book

Review Rigoletto WNO by eva marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Welsh National Opera’s Rigoletto is gripping, moving, and topical. The soprano Marina Monzo’ triumphs as Gilda in a production with sophisticated performances, notably that of tenor David Junghoon Kim, supported by a vibrant orchestra, and powerful chorus.  

Set in Washington D.C., James Macdonald’s Rigoletto is perfect for the Trump and #MeToo era. The outside events and news make this production topical. The Duke of Mantua is here a womanizer President, decidedly more charming than Trump, but just as likely to treat women as things to take for one’s own pleasure. Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered in Venice’s La Fenice in 1851 although it was set in 16th century Mantua so that it could get the placuit of the censors.  

Rigoletto reflects a male world where men own women. It is not just the Duke who imposes his will, or better, caprice, on women, but also Rigoletto, who keeps his daughter, Gilda, effectively captive in order to protect her from the Duke and any other men. Yet, Gilda, at first a young girl who never leaves home apart from going to church, becomes herself by falling in love with the Duke and by dying in his place to save his life.  

By today’s standards, this is still a rather misogynistic view of womanhood and of purity. It reminds one of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Ubervilles (1891). Tess is purified by her sacrifice. Women exercise agency only by falling in love and dying for love. They live and die in function of another, the independent-minded need not apply. Carmen is a useful contrast in this case (also part of WNO’s repertoire). She affirms her independence and of course is killed for it, but at least she doesn’t die for somebody else. 

Mark S Ross as Rigoletto shines in some parts more than others, but gives a solid performance overall. David Junghoon Kim shows he is very much at home with Verdi. His powerful voice delivers La donna e’ mobile with great sophistication and his acting is convincing. It is Marina Monzo’, as Gilda, who steals the show with her dexterity and purity of voice. The WNO’s chorus is impressive and the orchestra, conducted by Alexander Joel, gives out a beautiful intensity that befits by Verdi’s music. 

Rigoletto represents the begging of Verdi’s mature phase. It broke free from previous rigid structures of arias separate from the action. It is still suspenseful and bold. That is why the constant interruptions from the Cardiff audience, far too keen to applaud as soon as a singer completes an aria, are completely out of place. This state of affairs, which plagues most operas, shows little appreciation of how much music relies on silence and how disrespectful it is to interrupt a scene. At Rigoletto, the audience fought the orchestra and stopped the singers, who patiently waited to continue the scene. This production was worth bearing with such irksome practice.