Gareth Ford-Elliott

Writer based in Cardiff. Founder of Eno Theatre.

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

Review: Cardiff Boy at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(5 / 5)

Kevin Jones’ monologue Cardiff Boy is a nostalgic jump into the 90’s with a story as relevant today as it was in the 90’s. A story of male friendship that explores toxic masculinity with a killer 90’s soundtrack.

Narrated by “the quiet one” of the group, the story follows a group of young Cardiff lads as we join them on a night out. The use of set, sound and lighting design really add to Jones’ descriptive and emotive piece, which is guided well by director Matthew Holmquist and actor Jack Hammett.

Jones’ writing in this piece has its strength in the language. Whilst the plot is fairly basic, it is the expression of the characters that really stands out. Jones uses a clever mix of comedy and archetypal characters to juxtapose the hard hitting moments of the play. This works very well and makes the play relatable, enjoyable whilst also saying something unique.

There’s more you want to know about the characters and paths that are left unexplored. But not in an unsatisfying way. Details such as the protagonist’s relationship with his father is touched upon, but quickly brushed over by the protagonist. A detail that could be explored, but the lack of clarity of which is harrowingly too real for many young men.

When the audience enter the space of The Other Room, we leave behind Porters, the pub within which the theatre resides. However, with Cardiff Boy, The Other Room literally feels like the other room of the pub, such is the strength of the set design.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

 

Sitting down you’re greeted by benches and chairs scattered throughout the room, with tables on which to rest your drinks. And as Hammett wanders between you and the other audience members, it is hard not to feel a strong sense of place.

This is heightened with the hanging photographs of 90’s Cardiff, which act as a sort of scrapbook of the protagonist’s photography collection. Photography and perception is used at various times by the protagonist to set the scene, with the city and locations generally described in great detail. Looking around at these fragments of Cardiff hanging from the ceiling, creates a very evocative feeling that makes it easy to get drawn in.

The directing of Matthew Holmquist is another strength of this piece. Not an easy piece to take on, such is the temperamental nature of the script. Without a brave director, that temperament could easily become a major flaw. But, the tone of the piece is handled brilliantly by Holmquist who allows the moments of emotion time to breath, without letting them take over.

Jack Hammett does a good job of portraying the protagonist and his mates as he bops around the room. In particular moments of vulnerability, which defines his “quiet” character, stand out. Ultimately a play about difference in men, Hammett does a great job in portraying this.

The use of sound is crucial to this play, and it doesn’t fail to impress. The soundtrack is obviously brilliant for anyone who enjoys 90’s music. Often used to comedic effect, the music, like the photographs, has a deeper meaning to the protagonist of the piece. Sound is also key in setting the scene and does so well.

The only issue for sound designer Joshua Bowles to work on would be that the level of the sound often drowns out Hammett’s voice. On occasion this works, for example in the club, where you can never hear anyone anyway, however, probably an occurrence too regular were that the desired effect.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

The use of lighting from Ryan Stafford is understated. Often going unnoticed until you try to see it, the lighting adds to the overall piece well. A tough play for lighting, as the stage is the entire room, Stafford manages to keep it effective without distracting. Even when there are flashing lights, you barely notice it because the music, direction and acting are all working together with the lighting to set the scene.

Perhaps this is the biggest compliment to Cardiff Boy and Red Oak Theatre as a wider company. A company that views the roles of the designers as importantly as the director, writer or actor. Something that is weirdly rare when you consider how well it has worked in Cardiff Boy and how vital these professions are to the theatre industry.

It’s good also to see that with this in mind, Red Oak are committed and passionate about developing young artists with a paid assistant director (Nerida Bradley) and assistant designer (Lauren Dix). A company no doubt restricted by a budget won’t always do this, so it’s nice to see Red Oak committing to young artists in this way.

Along with this, it is heartening for a piece that started at a scratch night, to grow into such a strong piece of theatre. Again showing Red Oak’s commitment to new work and new artists.

Overall, Cardiff Boy is a wonderful production. It’s hard to say anything stands out in this production as everything works so well together to achieve its aim. However, April Dalton’s design, assisted by Lauren Dix, is phenomenal and deserves recognition.

The play’s greatest strength is the team behind it because with another team, and another company, Jones’ emotive script could be easily forgotten.

Cardiff Boy by Kevin Jones
Presented by Red Oak Theatre
Running From: 30 October – 11 November 2018
Performed at The Other Room, Cardiff
Director: Matthew Holmquist
Cast: Jack Hammett
Designer: April Dalton
Lighting Designer: Ryan Stafford
Stage Manager: Joshua Bowles
Sound Designer: Joshua Bowles
Producer: Ceriann Williams
Assistant Director: Nerida Bradley
Assistant Designer: Lauren Dix

‘Street’ and ‘Izzy’s Manifestos’ from Spilt Milk by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Spilt Milk’s double bill of Street by Susan Monkton and Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones (23/10 – 26/10 2018) is their second production of the year, having staged the impressive Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith at the Cardiff Fringe in May. Along with various scratch nights, the company are a busy one, offering various opportunities for Cardiff’s creative scene.

And this double bill showcases exactly that. A work-in-progress piece from emerging writer and actor Susan Monkton, as well as a more polished piece from Kevin Jones.

The evening starts as any Spilt Milk night would, with a warm welcome at the door and an invitation to the bar, where lovely Kate and Leo from AJ’s Coffee House will serve you. The setting of AJ’s is intimate, cosy and always makes for a nice evening of theatre, this being no different.

Street by Susan Monkton  (3 / 5)

Street is only Susan Monkton’s second piece of writing that she has shared with the public, and with it being a work-in-progress, that has been taken into account for the review.

The play follows a young woman, Laura (portrayed by Ella Maxwell), as she walks home from a one night stand, only to be met with a bomb explosion on City Road in Cardiff. She tends to the wounds of Sammy, a young boy, before fleeing the scene. This causes guilt in her mind to circle, until a knock at the door from a police officer assures her that the boy is okay, and that she’s done nothing wrong. The opposite in fact, she is “my hero” in Sammy’s words.

Overall, it feels as though the writer has found a topic, but not really explored in depth the character or the situation. The point of the play, why the story needed to be told by this character and the writer’s aims aren’t really clear.

The police officer scene is fairly awkward, in part because the officer speaks over the sound system as a voice-over. But it also feels unrealistic for the officer to show up, bring her pair of shoes and comfort her.

Aspects like Sammy being revealed as a refugee is a detail that feels thrown in, unnecessary and really takes characterisation away from him. Almost to ramp up the tragedy, but ends up falling into the trope of white heroinism.

The setting of City Road is a multicultural area of Cardiff and in the national discussion of refugees and terrorism, it is impossible to get away from the topic of Islam. The connotations of these aspects of the play really need looking into as combined with the white heroism, it creates a potentially problematic play.

A play that focuses on the victims and tragedy of the situation could have more responsibility in considering the connotations of the setting, characterisation and main themes.

The opening monologue about Laura’s night out is a bit odd in contrast to the rest of the piece. However, it does portray Laura as someone ultimately not ready to be a hero. That continues to be a big theme throughout the play, but a theme that makes the protagonist fairly passive. Things happen to her rather than because of her actions.

There are some really strong moments of humour early in the play, which is definitely a strong area of Monkton’s writing having seen her previous work. There is also strong characterisation for Laura and some really emotional writing. The script shows real promise but it requires work and needs to be more careful in certain areas.

Ella Maxwell does an excellent job in portraying Laura, really throwing herself into the script, bringing out the humour when appropriate, but also handling the more emotional parts of the play really well also.

Street is directed with real care from Becca Lidstone with close attention to detail. Paced well with key points in the script really standing out. No doubt that some of Maxwell’s excellent work is down to this direction, not to take any credit away.

There were moments where sound effects used felt awkward which Lidstone and sound designer Nick Laws could work on. They seemed to be chucked in and rather than adding to the scene, distracted somewhat.

Overall it is worth going to see to give feedback on the script and for Ella Maxwell’s great performance. But certainly a play that needs work.

Street by Susan Monkton
Cast: Ella Maxwell as Laura
Directed by: Becca Lidstone
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones  (4 / 5)

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones was initially performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. However, has been developed and brought back as a brand-new production by Spilt Milk.

The play follows a young girl called Izzy, who, after her father’s death when she is fourteen, creates manifestos by which she lives her life. It is an unpredictable, hilarious, yet potentially heart-breaking piece of theatre.

I say potentially, as the script certainly doesn’t live up to it’s high potential. That’s not to say it’s not of a high quality. It is really funny and a strong piece of theatre. However, it ends abruptly and leaves you wanting more.

Before the play starts, Angharad Berrow goes around the room, in character, telling people that the play was about to start. This along with Berrow’s energy sets the tone for the play which moves very quickly, jumping from stage to stage of Izzy’s life.

Izzy is witty, excited, evil and brilliantly portrayed by Angharad Berrow. Not afraid to break the fourth wall, which works well as there are planned and unplanned examples of this, all of which Berrow handles very well.

The piece is well directed by Luke Hereford and despite lack of emotion in the character, Hereford finds other ways of displaying what is under the surface of the character. In particular, manipulating tone and pace to good effect. This really shows what a promising director he really is.

The main issue here comes in that there seems something missing at the end. Some emotion. Izzy spends the whole play (and previous years of her life) ignoring her father’s death and not grieving. When she finally lets herself think of her father, which she admits to the audience, there doesn’t seem to be a consequence of this. The story seems focused on Izzy reaching that point – but not on what that might mean for her moving forward. The ending is generally rushed and seems unfinished.

It’s hard to say exactly what it needs, but it needs some more care and to show more emotion in the conclusion. Just as the play feels like it’s getting somewhere, it finishes.

It was the only major issue with the play, but it was the difference between four and five stars. Other than that, it is a really enjoyable piece of theatre on all fronts and definitely worth seeing.

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones
Cast: Angharad Berrow as Izzy
Directed by Luke Hereford
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: ‘Just Say It’ from Susan Monkton by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Just Say It by Susan Monkton is a moving exploration of how miscarriage in pregnancy affects a relationship, which evokes raw emotion.

Another gem from the Cardiff Fringe Lab, as a work in progress the star rating is more judge on the potential of the piece and judging where it is in relevance to progress at the present. This review is very much for feedback as it is for the sake of reviewing.

The tone, pace and energy of this piece in the writing by Susan Monkton and directing by the team of director Chelsey Gillard and AD Cassidy Howard-Kemp, begin really well.

I had seen this piece scratched at an event by Spilt Milk Theatre in 2017 and I remember it well – as it stood out. I knew what to expect when going in. However, this production of Just Say It is longer and had improved. Not only are we still taken on the journey, despite knowing what is going to happen (more or less), there was more humour than I remember and it also connects much more. This shows the progress on the project as well as the ability to evoke emotion.

Some of this is bound to be down to it not being a scratch and more rehearsed – but the whole team really do a good job of taking us on that journey again, step by step. The test of any story is, when it’s repeated or if the audience have knowledge of the story, does it still have the same impact. And this definitely does.

Susan Monkton’s monologue is very well acted by Monkton herself. The focus of the play follows Bella as she falls pregnant with her lovable-idiot-boyfriend, Dave. They have a fairly standard relationship until an unplanned pregnancy springs itself upon them. Bella decides to keep it. Both Bella and Dave grow from hesitancy to excitement fairly quickly, which comes across as natural for this couple. They start preparing for the baby, in what they buy for the baby and emotionally preparing for parenthood and giving birth.

This all leads very well up to the point where Bella is told that she is to have a miscarriage. The scene where she finds out is very powerful and it is a brilliant climax to a brilliant piece thus-far.

It is after this scene where the issues in the script start to emerge. It becomes repetitive at times and starts to drag a little. The exploration of the relationship is interesting. It is clear this is not about miscarriage, it’s about a relationship that deals with it. But the strength in the scripts at the moment is in the lead-up to the miscarriage and doesn’t carry over to the second half.

Bella repeats herself a lot when talking about her feelings. This can be interpreted various ways. On one hand, she is falling into a sort of depressive state. She is not upset, as she says, and not angry. She’s feeling nothing. And this is really well represented. But on the other hand, it feels pushed down our throats in the writing.

Also, the play falls a little flat in the direction at this point after the announcement of the miscarriage. It is a big contrast to before this announcement – which is good. It shouldn’t be as upbeat as earlier. However, it doesn’t level out.

I want to emphasise, the second part is not boring, it is still quite well written, directed and acted. It just doesn’t meet the high expectations we have been brought before in the play. When a play dips slightly in quality, even if it’s not bad, it can feel like you’ve gone from brilliant to awful. When in reality this play goes from brilliant to okay; enjoyable but not as unmissable as the first half. Moving forward, this is definitely the area that needs work.

Having said that, the relationship is explored further by Monkton in the script and we start to see how a couple struggles with the loss of this child that they never physically had in their hands. It feels like lost memories that weren’t ever there. This is a really interesting part of the relationship to analyse and there is certainly more here to be explored. As previously stated, there is some repetition which is taking up space from other avenues to explore for the writer.

Generally throughout the piece director Gillard and AD Howard-Kemp explore the relationship well. The use of BSL interpreter Liz May is beautiful. Not only does it work within the context of the play, but it’s so nice to see a BSL interpreter not just stood on the side signing. Of course, sometimes there’s not a way to work the BSL into the piece. But here it was done so well and inclusively. A shame that Liz May fades into the background a little in the second half. But, this is still a lot more than a lot of shows do so it is definitely a step in the right direction. There is also the argument that a lot of the interaction between Monkton and May was comedic and the second half isn’t as comedic. But either way, this was a really nice touch.

Overall, it is a very strong piece. With a few tweaks in tone and a few redrafts can become an excellent piece of theatre.

Tonight, June 12th at 6.30pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Just Say It – Presented by Susan Monkton and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by and starring Susan Monkton.
BSL Interpreter: Liz May
Director: Chelsey Gillard.
Assistant Director: Cassidy Howard-Kemp.
Producer: Rhys Denton
Running time: 45 mins approx.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: ‘Misfire’ from Old Sole Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Misfire from Old Sole Theatre Company is relevant and shows real promise to be an excellent piece of theatre.

In the interest of clarity, I’ll start this review by saying I am good friends with the director Nerida Bradley, despite what she may tell you. That said, I believe in constructive, critical response and it is what I would want as an artist myself. You can either believe me or not.

I will also be reviewing this piece based on it being an R&D production and part of the Fringe Lab at the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival. So, the star rating is given on the basis it is R&D and the review is also acting as feedback.

This piece is here to further the discussion of the main theme of the play, toxic masculinity. It also takes inspiration from the exposé of the #MeToo Movement, exposing the likes of Harvey Weinstein.

The play is a monologue set up as anti-stand-up comedy. A stand-up comedy show that goes wrong if you will. We immediately get a sense of the character’s obnoxious nature during his entrance. Jon Parry plays Jake, a stand-up comic, who enters, demanding a drink at the bar. Unsuccessful, he goes to the stage and waits for the music, ‘The Entertainer’  by Tony Clarke, to stop.

Jake then proceeds to make some terrible jokes. “Next joke… Carrie Fisher died… Princess Leia’s gone.” This just isn’t funny – but the distasteful pleasure of the joke shows us a glimpse of this characters mindset and the dry delivery from Parry enforces this well.

The great thing about this play is, from the start of the play you really have no idea what is going to happen. You have no idea what Jake is going to do.

Jon Parry does a good job of portraying the stand-up comedian, who is drunk and stoned. The highlight of the performance comes when Jake has a gun in his mouth and tells the story of a congressman, Budd Dwyer, who shot himself in the head on camera. In this we also have a double-entendre of speaking about dying. The comic doesn’t reveal whether this is dying on stage as a comedian or literally dying. But to the relief of anyone who doesn’t like death endings, like me, he doesn’t kill himself, literally. And he dies on stage at the start of the play.

The writer James Neale does a good job of covering the subject on the scale of your average guy. However, the piece often lacks vision and ambition. The feeling that the stand-up comic could do anything is good, but needs to be met with sufficient vision and structure. It also feels like the boundaries could be pushed much more. In the post-show Q&A it was clear from a few of the audience members, that the script needs work in this sense.

Structurally, the script gets going into the theme very quickly, but then dies out a little. Not completely, but the most explicit stuff comes at the start. The piece doesn’t build particularly well. We need to be building to something. This is what the piece lacks more than anything. We don’t need to know where we’re going, but need to be taken on a journey.

The language used is good and we get a really good sense of the character. There are parts of the script which are very well written. But when you’re talking about toxic masculinity, it needs to push more.

The direction for this piece is good. Jon and Nerida worked well together to portray James’ script. The messy moving around the venue – AJ’s Coffee House – works well as it feels naturalistic.

We could see a more sinister approach at times, particularly when Jake talks about stalking girls and choking his girlfriend during sex. The relaxed nature works in that it shows these things as normal to the character. But the tone is often quite relaxed and with this, these significant moments only stand out in text and not in the performance. The tone and pace of these things could be played with.

Overall, I’ve given the play a star rating of four as I feel with a bit of work, when it gets to a place where it is ready to go on stage fully, it will be a very strong show. It was certainly a strong R&D performance and exactly what the Cardiff Fringe Lab is about.

The post-show Q&A was an interesting discussion – but it definitely became clear that there is more vision and potential not being explored in the text and in the rehearsal room to come from this play.

Also, very quick note. It’s really nice to see shows that are BSL interpreted – but sometimes this can’t be arranged for whatever reason. It was nice to see an apology for this on the freesheet. The more we can normalise BSL interpretation, even if we aren’t using it, the better.

Tonight, June 12th at 7.45pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Misfire – Presented by Old Sole Theatre Company and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by James Neale.
Directed by Nerida Bradley.
Starring Jon Parry as Jake.
Poster art by Miles Rozel Brayford.
Running time: 30 mins approx with 30 min Q&A about the play and toxic masculinity following.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott