Gareth Ford-Elliott

Writer based in Cardiff. Founder of Eno Theatre.

REVIEW: JUST A FEW WORDS at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Just a Few Words explores the psychological and emotional impact of having a stutter. How that affects your everyday life and indeed, your love life. We follow our protagonist (Nye Russell-Thompson) as he struggles to tell the woman he loves how he feels.

I’d heard a lot about this piece and my main worry going in was that the writing would be structured poorly. This isn’t a worry that need be had. The writing from Russell-Thompson is brilliantly structured as we follow the protagonist’s journey through his mind, preparing what to say.

Just a Few Words is frustrating at times as a slow-moving piece of theatre, deliberately so. This allows the audience to imagine, if not feel, the frustration that can be felt with a stammer. Not to pity but understand. You never feel sorry for the character which is a real strength of the piece. He feels like someone going through something which is presented as normal and relatable.

A one-man-show created and performed by Russell-Thompson, you can’t help but notice how this is more real to Nye than it would be to another actor. Even without the knowledge of who he is. This is a credit to his abilities as an actor, but also serves as a note to organisations who don’t hire disabled actors to play the roles their disabilities represent.

The debate about stammering being a disability will continue, a debate I’m not qualified to comment on and one this production doesn’t claim to solve. But what this play does present clearly is that Just a Few Words is stronger because of Nye’s personal performance. And it is the character’s emotive story that is the main strength of Just a Few Words.

The music and sound utilised in the production are excellent. From stuttering on an Otis Redding love song played on a record player in the beginning, to a grainy, static from said record player that runs for the entirety of the play. The sound is simple but adds a huge amount to the ambiance.

The minimalist set is great too. A record player in one corner, a table in another and the use of pre-written cards which act as subtitles for our protagonist’s thoughts that scatter around the stage complete the show and makes it everything fringe theatre should be.

Just a Few Words is an excellent and relatable portrayal of life with a stammer, blending a beautifully minimalist approach with powerful writing.

Just a Few Words is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over eight weeks. Tickets can be found for the upcoming Spring Fringe shows HERE, with an ever-growing discount for the more shows you book.

JUST A FEW WORDS performed at The Other Room
13th February – 16th February 2019
Presented by StammerMouth
Created and Performed by Nye Russell-Thompson
Stage Manager: Megan Randall

REVIEW: BLUE at Chapter Arts Centre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(5 / 5)

Blue is a powerful drama set by the Welsh, Carmarthenshire coast which centres around the Williams family dinner in the looming absence of a father figure.

The play starts when daughter Elin brings former teacher, Thomas, home to sleep with him. However, to Elin’s surprise her brother is in and her mother home early. A confusion over Thomas’ presence ensues and drives the play forward.

Thomas finds himself awkwardly caught in a family argument under tragic circumstances but is ultimately the trigger for improvement and progress amongst the family.

The writing from Rhys Warrington is brilliant. Meticulously paced and incredibly detailed, the script starts out light-hearted and funny but as it progresses, and delves deeper into the characters, we notice something isn’t normal. At no point does anything feel forced, the play flows naturally and develops with great care.

Blue is subtly political in talking about lack of funding for the NHS. But doesn’t stray from the importance of the characters involved whose lives are being ruined by these cuts.

It’s fair to say, Rhys Warrington is off to a great start with his first feature-length play and I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

The direction from Chelsey Gillard is simply stunning. Every aspect of the script is explored diligently. This play could have been easily mismanaged but Gillard controls it masterfully. Beautifully allowing performers time to draw scenes out and the design elements to set the scene. Chelsey Gillard is forging a name for herself as one of the pioneering directors of contemporary Welsh theatre and her achievement with Bluehas only boosted that claim.

The performances are exceptional from every performer. Sophie Melville is brilliant as Elin. Proving once again what a talent she is, Melville encapsulates the final stages of teenage angst with growing mid-20’s maturity brilliantly.

Gwydion Rhys plays Elin’s shy brother, Huw, expertly. His eyes lighting up the moment Thomas asks about Minecraft. A heart-breaking and simultaneously heart-warming moment as it’s clear this is the first time someone has taken an interest in his interests outside of his online alternate-reality. We can all relate in some way to Huw and Rhys’ portrayal is a testament to this.

Jordan Bernarde’s performance as Thomas is handled with as much care as the character is attentive to the others. We can sense Thomas’ awkwardness and even though we’re aware he’s really there to sleep with Elin, we see his kind-hearted nature too. It’s only when Thomas exits the play that you realise the impact Bernarde’s performance has on the production.

Choosing a standout performance is near-impossible, but if we are to do so, it has to be Nia Roberts in portraying the matriarch figure, Lisa Williams. Everything is perfect from Roberts in this performance. At the mention of her husband, everything about her character changes, from tone to body-language – perfect. This performance will standout as one of the best in Wales this year.

The sound design from Tic Ashfield is very understated and effective. The sound mostly soothes into the background, almost unnoticeable if you’re not looking for it – but is powerful and essential to the production.

Oliver Harman’s design is simple and functional. Detailed to what one would expect any living/dining room to look like, with nothing left to waste. The blue door is, in particular, a nice touch.

Ceri James’ lighting is an essential tool for setting the mood, which James does excellently. Subtly changing throughout and providing a nice alternative to blackouts between scenes which is specifically good. The slight blue tint in some of the lighting is also lovely.

It’s frustrating when a production leaves the design elements as an after-thought and whilst it’s very subtle in Blue, the design, on all fronts, contribute hugely to Blue’s artistic success.

It’s important to stress what a team effort this production is. Huge credit must also go to Rebecca Jade Hammond for creating and producing this piece, as well as all involved at Chippy Lane and Chapter in the making of Blue.

BLUE is a heart-breaking drama about a family split in their grief of a father figure who is both no longer present and not yet absent.

BLUE performed at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
World Premiere 5th – 16th February 2019
Running time approximately 90 minutes
Created and Produced by Rebecca Jade Hammond
Written by Rhys Warrington
Directed  by Chelsey Gillard
Cast:
Elin – Sophie Melville
Thomas – Jordan Bernarde
Lisa – Nia Roberts
Huw – Gwydion Rhys
Designer: Oliver Harman
Lighting Designer: Ceri James
Sound Designer and Composer: Tic Ashfield
Dramaturg: Matthew Bulgo
Co-Producers: Chippy Lane Production and Chapter
Stage Manager: Bethan Dawson
Production Assistant: Sophie Hughes
BSL Interpreter: Sami Thorpe
Photography: Kirsten McTernan
Marketing and PR: Chloe Nelkin Consulting & PR

REVIEW: Laurie Black: SPACE CADETTE at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(3 / 5)

Laurie Black is sick of humankind and decides to take us on her journey to be the first woman on the moon. A contemporary cabaret show that showcases Black’s musical and comedy abilities through her quirky, green alter-ego (who might not be an alter-ego).

Black takes us on her journey escaping Earth and encountering David Bowie’s alien spaceship (yes) before landing on the moon. The journey, which takes three-days but feels like an hour, is a fairly simple one as far as plot goes but exists to give context and thematic links to the main event of comedy and music.

Black’s music is a varied mix of genre that, for the most part, has a somewhat futuristic feel. She exploits the sounds of synths, piano and a small drum machine well on stage. But, it is Black’s enthralling voice which captures the audience the most. Not relying solely on her voice however, Black is also a great songwriter using witty pop culture references, the occasional political statement and comedic wordplay.

Mostly original music, there are some covers of popular songs in Space Cadette. Starman by David Bowie stands out as a strong point where the audience are encouraged to sing along with the “la, la, la”s. There are also covers of Radiohead, Muse and Leonard Cohen as well as a funny reference to The Proclaimers.

The comedy and storytelling that comes between the songs was usually good. Nothing to make you belly-laugh, but enough to keep you interested. It is fair to say also, that the comedy suffered due to the low turnout on the night. Some jokes are sleepers which will have you chuckling two-hours after the show as you walk home in the rain – which Black correctly predicts.

The stage set-up is simple. For the most part it’s just a microphone stand and a piano. This worried me at first, but as the show goes on, it isn’t an issue as Black keeps the attention on her. Except for one moment when she gets out her mini-moon that she passes around the audience.

There’s a lot of frustration in the show that gets channelled into humour and songs. On Black’s journey to the moon, we see further into her persona and whilst the outer-shell is hard, by the end we can tell she secretly loves us. There’s no particular agenda to the piece but an overriding theme of frustration at the current state of the world.

Space Cadette is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over the next eight weeks. Tickets can be found for Space Cadette and other Spring Fringe shows HERE, with an ever-growing discount for the more shows you book. If you can’t make the show, but like the sound of Laurie Black, you can find her music on most streaming services online.

Space Cadette is an enchanting, funny cabaret show from Adelaide Fringe 2018 winner, Laurie Black. An exploration to the moon that has so much to say about Earth.

SPACE CADETTE at The Other Room, Cardiff
5th February – 8th February 2019
Created and performed by Laurie Black
Technician: Garrin Clarke

Review: WOOF at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(2 / 5)

Please note this review contains references to sexual violence and detailed analysis of the productions plot.

WOOF by Elgan Rhys is a new Welsh-language (occasionally bilingual with English subtitles at every performance) play about two men, Daf and Jesse, who have different expectations of one another.

In a lustful first meeting we see the pair’s first sexual encounter and follow their romance along some ups and downs until their final “sexual” encounter and the fallout.

Woof portrays big topics such as open/polyamorous relationships and sexual assault both in the context of modern gay life. However, Elgan Rhys fails to really explore any of these topics in a way that does them justice.

One main reason why is because the characters are cliché “types” of gay men. One wanting marriage and kids, the other wanting an open relationship. But this is the extent of their individuality. Even the way they speak is basically identical and generic.

Because of this, despite the characters having clear goals, the motivations that drive them aren’t clear. For a play that relies so heavily on bubbling under the surface, we should be understanding the motivations.

Rape is used as a “turning point” and feels more like a plot point than a major life event in Jesse or Daf’s life. Things do change after this, but again, the motivations that drive these changes are invisible. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like we’re watching a play, we barely see how they’re feeling and when we do, it mostly comes through speech and feels unnatural.

Things happen, we get spoken to about them, and then the characters move on to the next stage of the plot. It feels like a draft of a script that has figured out its structure, but not found the character’s voices or even the characters themselves.

One positive is that we see real love from both characters to each other, even if they don’t always care for the other.

Elgan Rhys presents a lot in Woof and some people will really identify with it, because of the evocative nature of the topics presented. But it explores very little of these huge themes and how they affect the characters, which is where this play particularly falls down.

The tone of the direction from Gethin Evans doesn’t help solve this. It’s quite flat throughout. The odd scene or moment is well controlled by Evans. But the piece overall feels odd. The subtext isn’t portrayed well throughout the performance at all and the build-up to the rape scene, as well as the scene itself, is really poor because of this.

Whilst neither Aled Pedrick as Jesse or Berwyn Pearce as Daf do particularly badly in portraying what they’re given, neither really rise and meet the task either. There are great moments from both, however.

Jesse’s immediate reaction to being raped is horrifying. The confusion and fear are portrayed well – but this doesn’t hold and the performance of Jesse declines into mediocrity afterwards. Meanwhile, the performance of Daf peaks in more comedic moments – but struggles with the darker ones.

There are moments of good chemistry between the two, particularly in the first third of the play. A scene where the two characters exchange phone numbers is particularly nice. Some real chemistry which is lovely as well as being the first time we see real care and love in the two. But then, there’s a lot that feels unnatural. For example, whenever the characters talk about their relationship – which is the central conflict of the piece.

The set and design from Elin Steele is simple. Nothing out of this world but it works. It’s a similar story for Katy Morison’s lighting design too. Some moments that are good, the club scene in particular, but ultimately underused.

The sound by Sam Jones doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall production. An announcement of “Happy New Year!” on the sound system doesn’t fit the tone and music isn’t exploited nearly enough.

The design elements really could set the tone for the piece but instead, as happens too often, feel like an afterthought.

Now that we have critically assessed the play itself, there are some other things that desperately need to be addressed.

Firstly, the lack of trigger warnings was a huge issue. “Sexual content” does not equal “rape/sexual violence”. This desperately needs addressing by the Sherman in the remaining shows as this was incredibly irresponsible.

The tone on the night and marketing is out of place with the nature of the piece. Having feedback boards outside with various LGBTQ+ flags on it, was a strange contrast from portraying a toxic gay relationship and gay rape. Marketing it with the words “bold” and “gritty” are also out of place with what we see. This isn’t a bold play because it doesn’t challenge its audience.

In the programme notes, Rachel O’Riordan, former artistic director of the Sherman Theatre and the person who commissioned this play, said, “the play…will ask our audience to look at some uncomfortable truths.” This is true. It asks its audience to observe some uncomfortable truths but doesn’t challenge them by exploring those truths.

It seems that from start to finish, the whole theatre had the wrong attitude with this play, from top to bottom. From commissioning, to presenting, to marketing and warning its audience about the issues it deals with. It’s a presentation of something that may well be true, but not an exploration of the themes or characters.

There will be people who really enjoy Woof and it is worth seeing, in full knowledge of what it’s about.

WOOF is a dark portrayal of a toxic, yet loving relationship, between two male characters who are ultimately underdeveloped.

WOOF performed at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
31 January – 9th February 2019
Written by Elgan Rhys
Directed by Gethin Evans
Cast:
Daf – Berwyn Pearce
Jesse – Aled Pedrick
Designer: Elin Steele
Sound Designer: Sam Jones
Lighting Designer: Katy Morison

Review: BOOT by Phill Brewer at The Atrium by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(3 / 5)

BOOT by Phill Brewer, the debut production from Volition, is a chilling exploration of events in its protagonist’s story. Refusing to adopt a chronological form, Brewer’s style of monological storytelling perfectly matches the harsh world and erratic character he creates.

In essence, it’s a romantic tragedy that follows a man who, rightly or wrongly, can’t let his love for a woman go. He goes to extreme lengths to protect her physically and emotionally, sacrificing himself in the process.

A lot of people would portray this as a classic showing of toxic masculinity. With the violence, male entitlement and refusal to show weakness – it certainly can be interpreted that way. However, Volition’s aim is to represent a character’s voices, in their own words, and present them to an audience. Allowing the audience leave with their own opinions of that situation.

On the other hand, whilst BOOT has those classic tropes of toxic masculinity, the protagonist doesn’t gain from the situation. It’s a character who is as much a victim of circumstance, as he is of his own actions. Seeing it through his words, we see his perspective and reasoning, rather than simply blaming toxic masculinity.

You can read it in many ways, or merely as the story without the social-political views. It’s this viewing experience that separates Volition from various various other theatre companies. Often people ask, “what is the message?” Whereas for Volition it’s more, “what did you think?” It’s a really fresh take for modern theatre that seems to be obsessed with artist’s voices and messages – not that there is anything wrong with that, but certainly room for both.

The play starts in the boot of a car with the male protagonist and that is where it ends. The writing from Phill Brewer is smart in its aim to present the protagonist’s story in his own words, as in between the bumpy ride, we see the turbulent story that brought him to this position.

It starts at the right place, hits the right notes throughout and ends leaving you with the perfect balance of satisfaction and intrigue.

There is room for it to grow as a script. Generally some sharpening and a little addition of humour wouldn’t go amiss to help bring out the character. But overall it’s a really solid script with massive potential.

Written as a monologue, Rebecca Riley makes a good decision as director to perform this as an ensemble piece which brings the script to life really nicely. It’s paced well with the only real issues being minor blocking ones and, at times, an issue of tone.

The play starts at 100, with the protagonist freaking out. This just feels a bit intense to start and, whilst it makes sense, could do with some work as it somewhat kills the opening ten-fifteen minutes. Especially as we never really build back to that level.

The direction of the ensemble is really nice from Riley, who uses physicality beautifully to add to the piece.

The acting from lead, Connor Hughes, is strong. The moments of clear emotion are great, but Hughes does a good job of also showing what’s bubbling underneath. Because of this, it’s really easy to know what the character is feeling and everything from the script makes sense on stage.

The ensemble generally do a good job of bringing the piece to life and really help with the pacing of the script. There are a few instances of over-acting from the ensemble members, which may well be a directing issue, that sometimes takes focus away from the lead. But, overall a good addition to the production.

BOOT shows a level of lighting design I was not expecting coming in. The use of red lighting is really evocative, as well as the box light to represent the boot of the car. In this aspect, Zach Ashley did a really good job.

It is a shame there isn’t more explored in the sound design. This can be put down to lack of resources and time. However, often the noise of moving ensemble takes away from the show. More sound design could cover this and add something of its own. But generally, the design aspects are above expectation.

There is room for improvement with this production, especially in nailing the ensemble work, a little work on the script as well as incorporating the design elements that feel missing. But, on the whole this is a really enjoyable piece of theatre with a really interesting discussion to follow it.

BOOT has real potential, perhaps let down by the lack of time and resources afforded to it. A great script, visionary director and a solid lead make this a really promising debut from Volition.

BOOT performed at The Atrium, Cardiff
From December 11th-12th 2018
Presented by Volition
Written by Phill Brewer
Directed by Rebecca Emily Riley
Stage Manager – Zach Ashley
Cast:
Connor Hughes
Tasha Walton
Sergio Taddia
Tilly Jordan
Jose Pedro Fortuna
Photo Credit – Adam Robinson

Preview: BOOT by Phill Brewer and Volition

Boot by Phill Brewer is a new play coming to Cardiff on Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th of December 2018. The debut production from new theatre company Volition, will be performed at The Atrium.

Set in Swansea, Boot follows an unnamed man trapped in a car boot who ponders over the events in his life that led him to this position. It’s a dark comedy that studies one man’s inner conflict and ambition in an ever changing world, presented as a mix between gritty realism and abstract physical performance.

Originally performed as a one man show at a sell-out performance in Matthew’s Yard, Croydon, Boot has since been developed by Brewer and reworked into an ensemble piece by Rebecca Riley (director).

The inspiration for some of the stories and scenes come from things that Brewer has witnessed in his time growing up in London. Some personal experience, stories from friends and general experience from the streets of London.

The aim of the piece is to present the story and let the audience decide for themselves the morals of the situations. Both Brewer and Riley say they want the audience to leave divided and talking about the show.

“BOOT is the perfect piece of writing to work on for me as the character is both the antagonist and the protagonist of his own story. His
battle is one of inner conflict, something that is universally relatable.” – Rebecca Riley, director.

The company, Volition, is made up of Phill Brewer and Rebecca Riley. Long-term friends who studied theatre together at Brit School of Performing Arts and Technology and now live in Cardiff.

The aim of the company is to provide a voice and platform for young people whilst creating theatre that is ambiguous, not making comment or judgement.

Rebecca Riley (centre) and Phill Brewer (right) with lead actor, Connor Hughes. Photo Credit Adam Robinson

 

 

 

 

There is a rebellious vibe about the company – but one that is very open to discussion and passionate about theatre as a means for discussion. Boot seems the perfect place for this exciting new company to start and the audience are key to their work so get your tickets here to be part of it.

BOOT performed at The Atrium, Cardiff
From December 11th-12th 2018
Presented by Volition
Written by Phill Brewer
Directed by Rebecca Emily Riley
Stage Manager – Zach Ashley
Cast:
Connor Hughes
Tasha Walton
Sergio Taddia
Tilly Jordan
Jose Pedro Fortuna.

Review: Cheer at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Cheer by Kitty Hughes is a dystopian, anti-panto where Christmas is controlled by the elite and briefly experienced by the poor through the Christmas drug, ‘cheer’.

We follow Jules (Alice Downing) on a journey of exploring her own morality. Jules sells illegal Christmas licenses, seeing herself as a Robin Hood figure, but operating more like Sports Direct, TK Maxx or one of those Gucci knock-off labels. Offering cheap alternatives to allow the poor to join in on the rich people’s rampant consumerism. Enabling and in essence supporting the elite.

When Todd (Cory Tucker) enters, Jules is forced to recognise her hypocrisy as someone who understands the oppressive system, but merely profiteers off the desires of the poor.

 

One thing Kitty Hughes does well in the script, is neither character is particularly likeable. Jules is clearly exploitative and, despite being relatable in many ways, flawed. We would all like to say, “I’m not like that,” but ultimately if you can afford Christmas, you undoubtedly will relate in some way to her moral conundrum.

One main criticism has to come with Todd’s character. He doesn’t really have a story and is more of an event in Jules’ story. A statement in itself. But one that is potentially problematic. He goes in wanting one thing and comes out with it and despite recognising the over-consumption and greed of it all, he still wants to participate. And that is his position going in. He doesn’t learn a lot and really, at its heart this is a story about the moral dilemma of left-wing, middle class person. A conversation urgently needed in theatre, so good that it’s being had here. But perhaps a stronger working-class character, with more of a story would make this production more powerful.

It’s a play that explicitly talks about class, in a way that really isn’t very dystopian at all. Some people can’t afford Christmas, this is simply a reality. But also, it’s a script you can interpret in various ways. General classism, how the “first” world treats the “third” world in terms of aid, or even migration. The play feels a lot more real than a lot of dystopian pieces that speak in metaphor or allegory. This is more literal and stronger for it.

The script certainly gets a little lost in repeating itself. It seems to drag and with less of the playful style Big Loop usually adopt, 85-minutes does seem too long to tell this story. Especially as it feels as though you could pack this into an hour very easily. That said, the scenes themselves are well written, and you don’t get bored. But in terms of a script, it could be planned and plotted better.

Not Duncan Hallis’ most playful piece of direction, he shows that he can handle a heavy piece without compromising his style too much.

Perhaps one of the main downfalls of this production is, it sometimes feels like we’re split between Hallis’ imagination and Hughes’ political conscience. Sometimes it gets a little cluttered and the drama gets lost.

However, this conflict of style isn’t always a negative. The direction sometimes distracts from the deeply political text in a way that makes the message sink deeper. For example, when the two characters are arguing about their backgrounds, an exchange that is packed with political language, it’s a complete mess.

But a mess in a good way. It seems real. There’s a lot of frustration in this argument and the two characters are not exactly in the mindset in that moment to string together coherent political points. It comes from the character’s heart in a way that we don’t really see elsewhere, particularly from Todd, in the production. And so despite the political language, the manic actions and energy make it seem as if they’re just shouting and rambling, despite making thought-out political points. There’s a complete contradiction between what we see and hear that works really well.

The combination of styles is really good and a writer-director team I’d like to see more of. It just would have been nice to see some more weird, wacky or surreal moments from Hallis’ mind at times.

Alice Downing shows a lot of depth in her complex character. She exploits a brilliant use of facial expressions and body language to portray her character’s inner emotions.

Cory Tucker doesn’t have the same amount of character depth to play with, but does a good job of depicting what is there for his character. In particular, Tucker’s attention to detail in certain moments, the first time he tries gingerbread or the first time we see him on ‘cheer’, stand out. Considering there’s not much depth to his character, Tucker does a good job of letting us know the important moments for Todd.

The set design from Ceci Calf is really nice. The classic bookshelf/cupboard the best bit, but it’s just generally a nicely decorated set. The lighting design by Garrin Clarke compliments the production well. Lights changing and flashing when characters are on ‘cheer’ and a projection of a crazy Father Christmas onto the set in particular stand out.

The sound design from Matthew Holmquist shows a great use of music in particular. A bit of a throwback to earlier in the year when Cardiff Boy, which Holmquist directed, took over The Other Room. Again we see the influence of Holmquist’s mix of music to emphasise what’s happening on stage.

Generally, the productions is enjoyable and funny, as well as deeply political and thought provoking. A protagonist with a clear moral dilemma that isn’t solved by the end is left at a satisfactory conclusion encouraging the audience to discuss further after the show. And isn’t that exactly what theatre should be about?

Cheer is a bleak outlook on the world and Christmas, but has messages and themes that really should be spoken about further than just in the theatre. It’s a brave production that won’t fail to get a reaction from anyone.

Cheer at The Other Room.
Running November 27th – December 15th
Produced by Big Loop Theatre Company
Written by Kitty Hughes
Directed by Duncan Hallis
Starring:
Alice Downing as Jules
Cory Tucker as Todd
Creative Producer: George Soave
Designer: Ceci Calf
Lighting Designer: Garrin Clarke
Sound Designer/Composer: Matthew Holmquist
Stage Manager: Kitty Hughes
Assistant Producer: Yasmin Williams
Assistant Director: Alanna Iddon
Arts Placement: Natasha Grabauskas
Set Construction: Jack Calf
Promo from Sean Cox Design
Photography from Tess Seymour Photography

Review: Humanequin at Wales Millennium Centre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(3 / 5)

Humanequin by Kelly Jones is a groundbreaking collection of three stories from young transgender people in South Wales. It is raw in its monologue format and informative in its direct approach.

The stories come straight from real life and that reality is enhanced by having three transgender actors on stage. The fact that Humanequin is the first transgender play, with an all transgender cast performed in Wales, makes it truly groundbreaking. And the production is stronger for it.

The thing with this production is, it isn’t necessarily about the theatrical quality, that I am reviewing here. It is much more about what we as an audience take away from it. This is about telling and normalising the stories of transgender for the people of Cardiff and wider society. So to start without mentioning that would be a disservice.

The direction of this production from Jain Boon could be stronger. There is some nice blocking and movement in this piece. And moments that are strong. But overall, it lacks the intensity necessary for a piece like this.

Sammy Woodward stands out as the actor with the most emotional range and they really feel in the moment with their character. Emily Joh Miller grows into her performance whilst Harry Bryant keeps a steady pace throughout. The three work quite well together, but there is that lack of intensity and chemistry between the three.

Georgina Miles’ set design is simple, yet effective. The most prominent pieces of set are some blocks and three metal grates that get moved around to change the setting. There is also a tree with tags for leaves. On these tags are written names of trans people who have been lost over the years. This tree is a really nice touch and whilst not actively used in the performance, watches over the actors and certainly adds a lot. The set is nothing extravagant, but effective in its job.

Chris Young’s sound design is really complimentary to the production with Ceri James’ lighting design representing the emotion of the piece well. The main criticism for these two is there isn’t enough. At times these aspects of design are really strong, but in others they are absent, in a way that doesn’t translate well.

As a cis woman, Kelly Jones takes on a big task of writing for a group of people we very rarely hear about. But, a task she handles well as far as the content goes.

It’s more Jones’ playwriting that lets her down. It’s not a bad script by any means, and as a piece that is ultimately meant to educate, it does a very good job. But as a compelling piece of drama it is lacking.

The three intertwined stories told as monologue is a form I personally love, but here it doesn’t work for some reason.

Characterisation also gets lost in an attempt to normalise the characters. Aspects of their personalities seem trivial. As well as this, some of the politics is very on-the-nose. Not an issue in itself, but again, it just doesn’t feel right here. It seems forced. Something that is maybe necessary for the piece, but needs to be worked into the production in a stronger way.

One decision made in the writing process that was really good, was to not make every story all “doom and gloom”. It would be easy to make this a sympathetic piece of theatre that looks at the struggles of trans people with the far too often real life consequences. And that reality is not ignored here. But neither is the reality that these are people. They act out, they do things that seem irrational at the time. But like any good playwright, Jones examines and explains them by the end of the story.

Perhaps in another performance context such as being held in a different venue, at an earlier time, in a school or university, as part of an education programme or whatever it is, this could be a fantastic production. And for people who know little about trans-issues, this would certainly be a very informative and emotional way to be introduced to these issues. So that must be commended. But, for the audience that, on the night I was there, seemed very clued up on these issues, it perhaps lacked the dramatic value that we go to the theatre for.

Not necessarily to be entertained, but to leave having found or felt something. And whilst for an audience without knowledge of trans-issues, this would be great. For those with that knowledge, it doesn’t offer much.

If this piece moves forward, the decision needs to be made whether this is an educational piece or a different form of theatre. Because both have their place and both are necessary for the growth of trans-theatre and the awareness of trans-issues in wider society. But this just feels like it’s biting off more than it can chew.

Humanequin is a strong, educational piece of theatre about the experiences of young transgender people in South Wales. Its flaws pale in comparison to its importance.

Humanequin by Kelly Jones
Performed at the Wales Millennium Centre
Presented by Mess Up The Mess Theatre Company, Youth Cymru and TransForm Cymru.
Performed by:
Sammy Woodward as Rae
Harry Bryant as Max
Emily Joh Miller as Meg
Directed by Jain Boon
Designer: Georgina Miller
Sound Designer: Chris Young
Lighting Designer: Ceri James
Stage Manager: Katie Torah
Technical Assistant: Dawn Hennessey
Producer: Jay Smith
Creative Assistant: Kay R. Dennis
Community Artist: Bill Taylor-Beales
Education Producer: Rachel Benson
Artistic Director for Mess Up The Mess: Sarah Jones

Review: Shed Man at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(3 / 5)

Shed Man by Kevin Jones is a view into the head of a man who lives the most mundane of lives. He has a job, a wife, two kids and is building himself a shed. Sometimes, we all just need to build a shed and hide.

The script truly is a beautiful thing. The attention to detail is exceptional and the small nuances of the script are what makes it so powerful. There are funny moments, but a darker undertone – which is really becoming a defining feature of Kevin Jones’ writing and is extremely effective.

The script is the outstanding aspect of this production and it is an interesting view into the mind of a man who, on the outside, is extremely mundane.

The design team for this production is solid. Josh Bowles’ sound design is becoming a regular these last couple of years on the Cardiff scene and I’m all for it. Here, the use of music for transition works well and the rest of the sound portrays scene and emotion to good effect. The sound is nothing incredible, but it is not supposed to be.

Cory Shipp’s set is exactly what you’d expect and sets up this mundane world. A garden with a white fence, a shed and a few bits that get played with. It’s straightforward and again adds to that sense of mundane life. The lighting from Louise Swindell changes subtly, and again, is simple, yet effective. It compliments the nature of the script well, but again, is nothing groundbreaking.

Perhaps more could have been done on the design front, but then the whole production, lead by Siobhán Lynn Brennan, is directed in a very plain and realistic way. There is nothing overtly wrong with this, however it could do with something different. This is a script that could be interpreted in many ways, and because of that there is no clear answer to how this could change for the better.

As far as the acting goes, again, it does the job, there is nothing wrong with it and makes for an enjoyable performance. However, there is a clear choice from Brennan to keep this realistic, when the characters aren’t exactly realistic.

Brian (Benedict Hurley) is a man who, besides the first and last scene, is going through an anxious episode. Mother Pat (Siw Hughes) and boss Mr. Tatum (Joe Burke) are caricatures of real people existing in Brian’s head. Wife Emma (Chrissie Neale), whilst never appearing in Brian’s head on stage, is portrayed simply as a “nice wife” with no real depth. This all works in the hour of script. However, in its transition to stage something has been lost.

Pat and Mr. Tatum are fairly plain characters, showing no depth, little character motivation and little logic. But that is the point, because that is how anxiety works. Pat might be an overly clingy mother after the death of her husband, and Mr. Tatum may be an annoying boss who sends his employees on pointless tasks in real life. But in this hour of theatre, they are caricatures – and that is how it should be.

Benedict Hurley is the only actor really challenged by character depth and he handles it fairly well. However, there are moments that could have been driven home more. And more subtleties from the script that are there in words, but not action.

Generally, the character interaction, movement on stage and minor physical details could be worked on. There are moments that felt awkward. There seems a lack of physical characterisation which could really enhance this piece. However, if the director wants us to think everything happening on stage is real, until we find out it’s not, then Brennan succeeds.

It’s hard to say exactly what Shed Man ‘needs’ to step up a level. This script truly could be interpreted in many ways. Brennan is an exceptional director and the actors are great too. But something just isn’t clicking here.

The running time of sixty-minutes is fine. But perhaps a slightly shorter time that gets the point across and allows more space for the characterisation of Brian, the protagonist, and gives less time for the lack of characterisation of other characters to become exposed, would be more effective.

That said, this is still an enjoyable piece of theatre and the script alone makes it worth seeing. It is the type of production that some will like and some won’t. I fall somewhere in the middle. The mundanity is beautiful, and something that I believe is more dramatic than typically dramatic situations, if it is handled in the right way.

On another note, it is really heartening to see a company like Clock Tower performing in the Sherman. A beautiful company committed to new writing, who have produced some truly excellent work, deserve all the best. A fitting first company to be part of the Sherman’s new ‘Get it while it’s Hot’ programme.

Shed Man is a thoroughly enjoyable watch, brilliant script, not without its issues as a production.

Shed Man is an important play for 21st century Britain. The issue of mundanity is the biggest unspoken struggle. It is a “first world problem”, but any issue in any human’s head deserves to be spoken about. And nobody should have to build a shed to hide from the world.

Shed Man by Kevin Jones
Performed at the Sherman Theatre
Tickets: 13th – 17th November 2018
Presented by Clock Tower Theatre Company
Directed by Siobhán Lynn Brennan
Produced by Steven Bennett
Designer: Cory Shipp
Sound Designer: Joshua Bowles
Lighting Designer: Louise Swindell
Assistant Director: Umalkyhar Mohamed
Assistant Producer: Lauren Lloyd

Review: The Island at Oasis Cardiff by Gareth Ford-Elliott

The performance of The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona from Fio at Oasis Cardiff, a community centre for refugees and asylum seekers, was a beautiful way for anyone to get introduced to Fio.

It wasn’t a classic “theatre night”, but more a community evening that had a play at the end of it. There was food served originating from various different countries, the opportunity to have your photo taken and talk with other audience members and refugees from all over the world.

All this before Oasis World Choir, a choir of refugees, took to the stage to perform, inviting the audience to sing along. They performed a mix of pop songs and songs written by themselves. It was a real mix of cultures brought together by music and truly was a beautiful thing to witness. The general themes of the songs were about hope and unity.

As someone who grew up in a close-knit, music based community in West Ireland, it took me right back to that community feeling. But this was totally different, a group of people from all over the world, from various backgrounds.

Some of the music was brilliant. Some of it was a bunch of people having a sing-song, the choir and the audience which was fun. But there were some really beautiful individual performances from various members of the choir.

The Island from Fio

(3 / 5)

The Island follows two black prisoners, John and Winston, who rehearse and perform a theatrical version of the Greek myth of Antigone during their time on Robben Island in Apartheid South Africa. Based on a true story, the two prisoners use this play as a way to speak about the current state of affairs of their country. It is a story of brotherhood, jealousy, oppression and protest with an important message of equality at its heart.

The play, originally performed in 1973, has its issues. There is a lot of character building, but a lack of character motivation at times. Whilst there are moments of real importance, the energy of the play stagnates too often. The restrictions of censorship in Apartheid South Africa when this play was written is a reasons for this. Only touching on certain issues that couldn’t be explicitly spoken about in detail. Whereas for a modern audience, in full knowledge of the realities of apartheid, it maybe doesn’t hold the power it did in 1973.

That aside, it tells an important story of struggle against the state. A story that is as relevant around the world today as it was in 1973. You could tell similar stories about the prisons in the USA, Brazil, North Korea, Thailand and even in post-Mandela South Africa. And despite the lack of detail and skirting around the harshest of realities, when this production does suck you in, it is hard not to feel it.

Because of the possibility of telling this story anywhere in the current world, you have to question Fio’s choice to cover this time period. Why this piece? Why now? What is it saying that is new? The answer to that last question is, nothing. We are not getting anything new. If anything, this is a watered-down version of what happened.

However, it is important to learn from history. And Fio were not making this piece of theatre to say anything new. They were making it to speak about the past of South Africa and how we, as the UK, move forward with commonwealth nations considering the past we share. Fio are clear to state the UK’s complicity in South Africa’s apartheid period.

I must mention that it does feel wrong to criticise a script written in a state of censorship. If you’re familiar with Iranian film, an industry full of censorship, you will know how much allegory is relied on to criticise the state and how often details are left to interpretation. The Apple (1998), written and directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, takes the real life story of two young women locked up by their father, and combines that with the symbolism of an apple, a symbol of opportunity, temptation and “the fall of man”, to speak about sexism in the country.

Is it the pinnacle of filmmaking? No. But you don’t get screened at Cannes for nothing. And The Island didn’t win Tony Awards for its technical playwrighting. But more for what it meant at that time.

Less about Fio’s choice to stage it though, Abdul Shayek’s direction fluctuates as the play progresses. The parts that stand out in the script are expressed well in this production. Most of the play is handled with care and directed to good effect. But there are areas that stagnate, times where the energy drops and moments that seem to lack importance.

The design was the strongest aspect of this production. The set was simple, yet effective. Four metal poles holding up a caged ceiling. This set was utilised well by the actors and combined with sound and lighting design, works well together, particularly in dream-like sequences, to produce emotive design. In a space like the Oasis, effectively a sports hall, this is not an easy feat and they deserve credit.

Performances from Joe Shire and Wela Mbusi are both strong. Portraying a brotherly relationship that shows real love, yet also jealousy. The moments of intimacy are beautiful, however some moments of conflict early in the play seem forced. The movement from the performers at times is really strong, which movement director Andile Sotiya deserves credit for.

The Island from Fio split my opinion a great deal and I still can’t decide, in my opinion, whether Fio made the right choice in staging it. Aspects were brilliant, but other parts fell flat. On one hand telling stories about history is important. But on the other hand, was this the right play to put in front a 2018 audience in Wales? Especially viewing it on this night, sharing a room with refugees, I couldn’t help but want to hear their stories more than one I have heard a thousand times. Stories that affect the present. But then, what is the present if we ignore history?

Overall though, the piece was an enjoyable piece of theatre, both from a general spectators perspective and from a critics perspective. Plenty to talk about afterwards both artistically and politically. Not to mention, the event as a whole was really beautiful and made for a heart-warming evening full of hope.

The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona
Presented by Fio at Oasis Cardiff on November 9th 2018
Director: Abdul Shayek
Winston: Wela Mbusi
John: Joe Shire
Movement Director: Andile Sotiya
Lighting Design: Ryan Joseph Stafford
Sound Design: Dan Lawrence
Design Consultant: Becky Davies
Stage Manager: Jeremy Barnaby
Executive Producer: Shane Nickels
Producer: Nicole May
Assistant Stage Manager: Cait Gerry
Assistant Director: Yuqun Fan
Assistant Producer: Jasmine Okai
Community Engagement Officer: Naz Syed
Audio Description Consultant: Alastair Sil
Caption Consultant & Creator: Ben Tinniswood