Gemma Treharne Foose

Communications/PR/Digital. Copy Writing. Valley Girl. Siarad Cymraeg. Japan fan. Roller Derby. Feminist. Cake maker. Lover of all things glittery and theatrical. Mam. Wife to an American. Views personal.

REVIEW: ‘THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

4 Stars4 / 5

 

Five years after Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ opened at the National Theatre, the 2017 production at the Wales Millennium centre did not disappoint.

Haddon’s Whitbread Prize-winning novel has made a staggeringly successful leap from popular book to stand out theatre adaption and it’s fair to say no one could have quite predicted the way audiences would take central character Christopher Boone to their hearts.

Christopher (lover of mathematics, space and detective novels – who just happens to have Asperger Syndrome) has stumbled upon a serious crime in neighbour Mrs Sheers’ garden.

Although he has never before left his street unaccompanied, the crime triggers an investigation led by Christopher himself – in between dealing with a death, a family separation, writing a book for the first time and an unforeseen journey to London which will be his most terrifying challenge yet.

Although Mark Haddon never intended for Christopher’s character to become typical of all people with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), the beauty of the book – and even more so in this play, is the level of forensic insight into some of the behaviours, motivations and traits of people on the spectrum.

The story unpicks everything we think we know about conditions on the spectrum – and in actual fact exposes some harsh truths about us as a society and how needy, shallow, patronising and ignorant we are of the needs of others. As Haddon stated in 2012: ‘Curious is not really about Christopher at all. It’s about us.’

This is a production about the imperfections and the ugliness of family – and of facing our fears. It shows us the inevitable fallout when our ideas of perfection and truth don’t match up with reality. Life is chaotic and messy – and instead Christopher finds solace and security in the permanence and predictability of patterns.

We see Christopher struggle to cope with the nuances and complications of everyday life while making sense of the confusing world around him. When things don’t go to plan, we see Christopher unravel and the environment/pool of people around him react as they try to contain his outbursts and meltdowns.

The set (beautifully designed by Bunny Christie) centres around a cube which comes to life with pulsating digital animations, square doors and stools which double as doors / cupboards / chairs / TV screens. Patterns, logic, word scrambles, number confetti and laser illustrations are punctuated with visceral sounds, white noise, echoes and musical riffs by Ian Dickinson as Christopher battles through the changes around him.

Lead Scott Reid (who plays Christopher) is incredible and I wasn’t aware of the level of movement and choreography that would feature in the production. For Christopher, life is a ‘dance’ of repetitive routines, motions, and constantly shifting movement and at its most intense and confusing, he is lifted, bounced and twirled by the ensemble cast. During one moving scene, he walks along the wall when he describes his wish to be an astronaut.  Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett (part of Physical Theatre outfit ‘Frantic Assembly’) have really managed to elevate the story even more through their energetic movement and choreographed vignettes.

For some productions, the combination of digital display, choreography and a grand musical score doesn’t always marry well – you struggle to follow or invest fully in all aspects of the staging or the story and they can compete against one another. But there is true mastery here, a dynamite synergy between cast, production and set – and the scenes set in Swindon and London train stations are a sheer punch in the gut for audiences.

In this production, Director Marianne Elliott has skillfully recreated the panic and the fear of sensory overload as well as the sheer beauty of an unfiltered, orderly mind like Christopher’s. There is purity and calm in the systematic and Christopher’s observations, literal interpretations and understanding of the world provide plenty of funny moments for the audience.

Curious does not talk down, belittle or over sentimentalise ASD in a way which some mainstream depictions of ASD do and Stephens’ final scene between teacher Siobhan and Christopher leaves the audience with one final question which asks more of them and their attitudes as much as anything else.

This was a tender and sweet production – a powerful start to the production’s 2017 run at the WMC. Oh, and if you see it – you can look forward to a truly wonderful final surprise for Christopher at the end. What is it? Well, now…that would be telling!

PS – if you have already seen this production or like me have multiple members in your family with ASD and you’d like to understand why they do some of the things they do, I really recommend reading ‘The Reason I Jump’ – a real-life account from 13 year old Naoki Higashida who has Autism.

Type of show: Theatre

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time  

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff)

Dates: 2-6 May

Writer (Original Book): Mark Haddon

Play adaptation: Simon Stephens

Directed by:  Marianne Elliott

Lighting Designer: Bunny Christie

Video Designer: Finn Ross

Movement Directors: Scott Graham / Steven Hoggett (Frantic Assembly)

Sound Designer: Ian Dickinson (Autograph)

Running time: 2hrs 30min
Produced by: National Theatre

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    Review: Rent by Gemma Treharne-Foose

    First things first, let’s get one thing clear – I am a steadfast ‘Rent Head’ and after this show – will remain so probably for the rest of my life and I make no apologies for this.

    That being said, it’s been a whole 19 years since I was wowed (age 17 – yikes) by Jonathan Larson’s rock opera for a modern age. I wasn’t sure if the years had been kind to this production – would I even like it anymore? The show’s UK tour marks the 20th anniversary of the show.

    Rent may have been billed as a parable of the modern age (inspired by Puccini’s opera La bohème), but it was also a snapshot of the 90s era, too: the cusp of the digital revolution, the internet age, the crude expansion of gentrification or ‘hipsterfication’ of previously bohemian neighbourhoods, the effects of AIDS on young communities following the 80s epidemic and scare stories. Maybe it would have lost some of it’s relevance? I had my reservations.

    Back in 1998 at Shaftesbury Theatre in London, Rent was still very much in it’s infancy and was at the peak of it’s popularity, having won a shower of critical acclaim stateside (Pulitzer drama prize,four Tony awards, six Drama desk Awards, ‘Best Musical’ Awards and an Obie Award).

    In ‘98, this was a show unlike anything else I had seen before. When I last saw it. I was an idiot teenager with a questionable taste in ridiculous infantile men. By the time I emerged from that theatre though, it shifted my view of the world.

    But suddenly, my childish attempts to write poetry suddenly had context and purpose. I too wanted to dance on the table wearing spandex and hang from poles singing at the top of my voice like Mimi Marquez, go on protests like Maureen and befriend drag queens just like Angel Schunard.

    In fact I did all of things…even though I couldn’t legitimately call myself a bohemian due to my love for global coffee chains. But even so – it didn’t even matter that my poetry was shit! I loved the way Jonathan Larson had pushed boundaries in the theatre world. I even went on to study Theatre and Media Drama and found my own little theatre circle…and my battered Rent CD (original Broadway cast recording) has accompanied me on all my journeys around the world since my 17th birthday.

    So how to go about fairly reviewing a show that I have such a strong personal attachment to?

    It may have been 19 years since I last saw Rent, but I can certainly see the differences (and improvements).

    Lee Proud’s choreography was electric (fans of La Vie Boheme will love the table and chair dance), Angel’s acrobatic dance routine and of course the memorable ‘Tango Maureen’ – better and edgier than I remember at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Anna Fleischle’s set design includes multiple scaffolding layers on all sides and there nice touches – projecting Mark’s film on an old sheet, a trapeze, a pole, moving structures as vehicles for the characters, cages during the song ‘Contact’ – Maureen’s hilarious costume surprise during her protest song.

    Rent is centred around a group of young struggling artists in New York’s East Village – they are fighting the property expansion and development which threatens to take over their performance space and remain true to their artforms and to themselves. I know how this sounds! And yes – over the years Rent’s edgy style (and way of incorporating social commentary into a musical) has been mercilessly parodied and skewered by the likes of Team America.

    And yet! There are so many layers to unwrap and musical styles to bask in throughout this show…and try as I might even all these years later after seeing the first show in 1998, I couldn’t get through the first three songs without ruining my mascara and blubbing (I also snorted out loud…in front of some minor Welsh celebs in the audience. Oh well!)

    It’s sometimes a mistake to get so accustomed to an original cast recording that you can’t imagine anyone else singing those parts. All these years, I had no idea I was loving the voice of someone who would later become the voice of a Disney character (Idina Menzel, the original cast member for ‘Maureen’ went on to become the voice of Elsa, much to the annoyance of parents worldwide who had to listen to ‘Let it go’ 1,000 times a day).

    I wasn’t sure how Lucie Jones (an X-Factor contestant – pah!) would handle the role of Maureen. And I was entirely wrong to pre-judge her due to my dislike of the X-Factor because not only did Lucie Jones absolutely SLAY the role of Maureen, she brought out even more of a kooky side to her (and single-handedly inspired me to lose three stone so I can look as amazing as she did in that body stocking! Wow).

    Ryan O’Gorman’s sweet portrayal of Collins was beautiful – and his silky baritone vocals not only matched the calibre of the broadway version of Rent but perhaps even went one step beyond it.

    The interaction between Leyton Williams (who previously had the title role of London’s Billy Elliot) as the lovely Angel and Collins was a joy to witness – and Layton brought a whole new talent to Angel’s ‘Today for you, tomorrow for me’ routine with astonishing leaps, spins and flips….and all in outrageous heels and a cloak coat.

    You might think Jonathan Larson’s energy and optimism in the music and lyrics may come across as syrupy and hammy….but lord knows we need this more in 2017 than we did in 1996 when Rent opened.

    For me Rent’s underlying sadness is that for all it’s popularity and influence, writer/composer Jonathan Larson’s early death (age 35) meant that he never got to see any of the success and joy that this musical has brought to people over the last 20 years.

    Even all these years later, Larson ‘s story remains relevant and engaging for modern audiences. We are what we own. We’re knee-deep in a culture of mindless McJobs and as Mark and Roger sing: ‘We’re living in America…leave your conscience at the tone’. In the age of deportations and walls and blind gun laws (let along the way the tide is turning against LGBTQ communities), I really do question humanity sometimes.

    I don’t know how many terms Donald Trump has or how many years of damage our current generation has ahead of them, but though it all I’ll still listen that old Rent CD of mine and remind myself that ‘We’re Okay’.

    Bruce Guthrie’s production and Cardiff’s warm and inviting reception to Rent’s songs show me that there are still good people in the world. And I know this because all of them were mooing, crying, laughing and on their feet by my side at the end.

    I’m definitely not leaving it another 19 years before I see this show again!

    https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/DonaldGordonTheatre/Rent/?view=Standard

    Type of show: Theatre

    Title: Rent

    Venue: Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff)

    Dates: 3-8 April

    Book, Music and Lyrics: Jonathan Larson

    Directed by: Bruce Guthtie

    Director/choreographer: Chantelle Carey

    Billy Cullum (Mark Cohen)

    Ross Hunter (Roger Davis)

    Ryan O’Gorman (Collins)

    Layton Williams (Angel Schunard)

    Phillippa Stefani (Mimi Marquez)

    Lucie Jones (Maureen Johnson)

    Shanay Holmes (Joanne Jefferson)

    Running time: 2.5hrs (approx)

    Produced by: Idili Theatricals Ltd / Theatr Clwyd

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      REVIEW: ‘SINNERS CLUB’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

      “A clever and interesting production fronted by an incredible musical talent…”

      3 Stars3 / 5

      Fresh from the magic and wonder of ‘Wonderman’ at the Tramshed in 2016, ‘Rock and Roll Theatre’ production company Gagglebabble are back: this time at The Other Room, a pub theatre making a mark in Cardiff as an edgy hub of experimental, cutting edge theatre.

      Partnering with Theatr Clwyd, a company keen to push the boundaries with their productions, this ‘gin-soaked blood and guts’ production kicks off The Other Room’s ‘Outliers’ season.

      Exploring the dark underbelly of human nature, the production aims to tell the story of Ruth Ellis the last woman in the UK (originally from Rhyl) to be hanged.

      Lead actor, singer, musician and composer (phew!) Lucy Rivers is the first writer in residence for Theatr Clwyd and she, along with band ‘The Bad Mothers’  have created an interactive stop-start ‘live recording session’ experience. 

      From the start the scene is set, the audience are ushered into the tiny smoky space, resembling a living room-come-recording studio.  We witness the preparation for the session, the banter between the band and the studio manager’s voice directing the session.

      The space is deliberately compact; audience members will feel at times they are eyeball to eyeball with the singer.  It feels intensely personal and almost uncomfortably  intrusive and this potency and crossing of the boundaries is actively encouraged and played with throughout the piece.  

      Audience members help deliver lines, help Rivers with costume changes and even help her take off her boots.  Later, another audience member is given a musical instrument to play and the band pass around a bowl of turkish delight after Rivers has a bit of a wobble and the ‘recording session’ takes a break.  

      A very loose chronology unfolds of the life of Ruth Ellis. But where her story and the story of other women untangle themselves didn’t really become clear to me. At times I wasn’t sure whose story was whose and details of the different stories clashed or contradicted themselves. Was this Ruth’s story or someone else’s?  I never claimed to be the quickest off the mark and my brain may have been fried by 9 hours of office time beforehand but…I struggled a bit. 

      There was one passing line in reference to Ruth Ellis being from Rhyl, but the production focuses on human relationships in the main.  I would have enjoyed a bit more detail / exploration of Ruth’s identity as a Welsh woman and her ‘trial by press’, though there are extracts and snippets of pictures/clips here and there in the audio visuals and soundtrack.  Her experience could have been anywhere but it could have been interesting to pick up on these elements, too.  

      Between the compelling and beautifully crafted musical score, Katy Morison’s lighting, the costume changes, the sound effects, asides and audience jokes, the mini in-between scenes, the projections and the video, it might be difficult for some audience members to follow in places.  

      The play does very successfully embody the spirit of a true recording session – at times you feel as though you are in an actual drama or at a jazz club, but I can’t hand on heart say I felt like I truly appreciated or understood the true character or true story of Ruth Ellis.

      I think what the production does manage to do well is to use Ruth Ellis as a posterchild/an example of the wronged woman, the rebel, the slut, the non-conformer, the loose woman.  She embodies the fear, distrust and objectification of women.  Women like Ruth Ellis are interesting not only because of the crimes they have committed but because they have deviated so very far from the gender-specific norms and usual trajectory of the ‘wife and mother’ that is part of the status quo even now.  

      We all have wickedness and weaknesses within us, this was a theme throughout Sinners Club.  These themes are wonderfully weaved into the songs, supported and lifted by The Bad Mothers, who help add richness and depth to the experiences in the play with their moody riffs and melodies.

      How well Sinners Club translates the ‘voice’ or experience of Ruth Ellis, I can’t truly say, but one thing that was the absolute driving force of this production was the sheer un self-conscious magnetism and watchability of Lucy Rivers, who commands the attention of everyone in the room at all times.

      This was not quite the play to watch after a long day at work or if you have any sort of aversion to strobe lighting (I had to close my eyes tightly as my eyes couldn’t take it!), BUT this really is a clever and interesting production fronted by an incredible musical talent.  

      For most people this will not feel like the type of  lazy ‘switch off and smile’ theatre you might have grown comfortable with – this is theatre that challenges you and forces you to question what it is you’re watching, to ask questions of it and yourself.  This is something Gagglebabble are really good at producing and based on what I have seen so far – the ‘gig-theatre’ approach is never dull or routine.  It is basically a theatre version of a bag of Revels.

      This was an amazing start to The Other Room’s ‘Outliers’ Spring 2017 season and now that this tiny theatre with a big presence has won ‘Best Theatre of the Year’ at the 2016 Stage Awards and a clutch of other prizes at the Welsh Theatre Awards, I really can’t wait to see what comes next. Expect more great things from these guys…

      Type of show:   Theatre

      Title:   Sinners Club

      Venue:   The Other Room, Porters (Cardiff)

      Dates:   7th – 24th February (PN 9th Feb)

      Writer/Composer:   Lucy Rivers

      Directed by:  Titas Halder

      Singer:   Lucy Rivers

      Band:   The Bad Mothers

      Lighting Designer:   Katy Morison

      Sound Designer:   Sam Jones

      Video and Projection:   Nic Finch

      Running time:   1hr 45min (approx)

      Produced by:   Gagglebabble / Theatr Clwyd / The Other Room

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        Review: ‘Sunny Afternoon’ by Gemma Treharne-Foose

        5 Stars5 / 5

         

        So it’s January, everyone is detoxing, skint after Christmas and bruised after Brexit, Trump and a string of celebrity deaths in 2016. I can hand on heart say that if you are suffering from SAD or have lost all hope for the year ahead, you need to find the sun behind those clouds and get your butt down to WMC pronto to see ‘Sunny Afternoon’, the touring production running until Saturday 21st, before it shuttles off elsewhere.

        Even if you are not a fan of The Kinks or a fan of musicals featuring the back catalogue of certain bands (let’s not even mention ‘Viva Forever’ here!), you will be hard pressed to find a more inclusive and entertaining musical in 2017.

        A real kick in the 60s!

        The soundtrack to your Mam and Dad’s wild years, the show focuses on four working class lads riding the crest of the wave of the ‘British invasion’ in the 60s – the meteoric highs and the crushing lows.  Natalie Gallacher/Pippa Ailion’s casting of Ryan O’Donnell and Mark Newnham as brothers Ray and Dave is a triumph – the pair have sensational synergy and energetic friction on stage and O’Donnell’s sweet vulnerability shines through his entire performance.

        Newnham is unmissable as outrageous rebel Dave, everything from his swagger, his cockney banter and his swinging from the chandelier in a pink dress had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

        The most famous of the Kinks’ songs were cleverly deconstructed and re-packaged, allowing us to delve further into the back story to possibly the most influential riffs and tunes ever written.  The scene where Ray and Dave are trying to perfect the edgy baseline to their hit song ‘You really got me’ is pure magic, reverberating through your chest and rattling around your rib cage.

        There are some delicious comic lines, especially from the plummy stockbrokers-turned-agents Robert Wace and Grenville Collins, who groomed the four for stardom, even coming up with their name, with the help of another agent Larry Page.  I couldn’t help laughing out loud when one of them says in a voice that may remind you of certain Harry Enfield characters: ‘Now…let’s talk about it over a nice plate of kippers’.

        You’ll laugh when Ray’s Dad (played by Robert Took) complains about ‘wearing out shoe leather’, about the house prices in Muswell Hill (£3,500 – with a £500 deposit!)…and you wonder what the hell Mr Davies would make of the prices in Muswell Hill these days. This is nostalgic but not cloying, sentimental but not syrupy.

        There are multiple sharp observations and throwaway comments referencing other 60s bands and celebrities. When the managers find Ray in a depression in bed with Rasa his wife, one of them quips: ‘You wouldn’t find John Lennon lounging around in bed with his wife!’.  Later on, when the band are on tour in America and are uneasy about the guns and violence there, their manager assures them ‘You’re a pop star! You’re not important enough to shoot!’.

        A blueprint for future musical trends

        The real pleasure for those not born in the 60s is the discovery of music you didn’t know existed – for my parents’ generation, it’s all familiar territory.  But if you only know a handful of the old (and most famous) of songs by the Kinks, you get to unwrap a new gift.

        Aided by the clever studio/house/concert hall design of the stage by Miriam Bluether and the choreography by Adam Cooper, watching ‘Sunny Afternoon’ will transport you back to the excitement, the optimism and the feeling of being on the cusp of something completely original and unchartered.  

        From the time THAT guitar riff kicks in, you understand exactly what it is your Mum has been harping on about all these years. It’s hard to imagine how utterly new, how extraordinary this must have felt for teenagers in the 60s, to go from stale crooners in suits to long haired rebels with rock guitars.  

        The Kinks were the masters of social commentary which would foreshadow the later emergence of musicians and bands of my generation: the blueprint for American garage and rock bands like grungy Nirvana in the 80s and the Britpop boom in the 90s.  I hadn’t realised it until last night but ‘A well respected man’ was clearly influential for Damon Albarn and his crew with Blur’s hit ‘Country House’.

        Delightfully rebellious, clever and heartfelt

        Credit must be given to the wonderful pacing, characterisation and story for the musical by Ray Davies himself.  It’s clearly a personal and heartfelt snapshot of an incredible moment in history.  The result is rebellious, clever and heartfelt and I witnessed something I hadn’t yet seen at the Wales Millennium Centre: an entire audience on their feet, no awkward seat lurkers in sight. Inhibitions were gone and for a moment I felt like we were watching the real Kinks.  I was genuinely sad to leave the theatre and re-emerge into 2017.

        My Mum, who had accompanied me (and by the end was a bawling mess) had enjoyed every last morsel of the show. I asked her why she was crying, she said: ’I remember it – I remember it all!’.  If only to see what your parents saw, feel how they felt and see how bloody awesome the fashion and sounds of the sixties actually were, this is an absolute treat of a show.  

        Type of show: Theatre

        Title: Sunny Afternoon

        Venue: Wales Millennium Centre  

        Dates: 17 – 21 Dec (Touring show)

        Directed by:  Edward Hall

        Music, Lyrics, Original Story: Ray Davies

        Choreographer: Adam Cooper

        Sound: Matt McKenzie

        Musical Director: Barney Ashworth

        Cast:

        Ryan O’Donnell (Ray Davies)

        Mark Newnham (Dave Davies)

        Richard Hurst (Larry)

        Tomm Coles (Grenville Collins)

        Joseph Richardson (Robert Wace)

        Lisa Wright (Rasa)

        Garmon Rhys (Pete Quaife)

        Running time: Approx 3 hours (with interval)

        Produced by: Sonia Friedman Productions and Ambassador Theatre Group

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          Review ‘The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body’ by Gemma Treharne-Foose

          giant

          4 Stars4 / 5

          There’s a reason why people are reluctant to sit in the front row.  Expect to be picked on, called out or even become part of the show!

          This was my first time to see a family production at Chapter apart from their regular family film Saturdays – a favourite of mine and my little ‘mini me’ Lili, age 7.  This was also the first time for Lil to accompany me on a trip to see a show I was reviewing.

          We are greeted in the theatre by Dot (played by Hazel Anderson) and Aggie (Ellen Groves), who immediately strike a chord with the kids in the audience.

          The set is whimsical and dreamy, there are washing lines with wind chimes and floaty plastic bags gently blowing in the breeze. There are fishermen’s nets lit with icy blue fairy lights. There is an ethereal and robotic soundtrack, creating the feeling that we are definitely somewhere else.

          I’m not sure if we are in an inventor’s workshop or an art studio. I know that just watching those floaty bags swishing in the dimly lit studio immediately put me at ease despite there being around a hundred kids behind me – and this is a rare feeling for me!

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          Anderson and Groves play the part of Dot and Aggie, two ladies with a special mission: to collect and gather as many stories as possible from their dream platform on the sky. It’s been a couple of hundred days since their last story was gathered.  Somewhere along the way and I have no idea where, as engrossed as I was in the story – they swallow an item that makes them become storyTELLERS instead of story gatherers.

          They set upon a mission to meet a giant, who needs his heart back so that all order can be re-instated. The story is based on an old Norwegian tale, which it turns out is a lot more complicated and multifaceted than this pared-down devised creation.

          In this story, Dot and Aggie beg, steal and borrow from everyday items and old nick-nacks to move the story along. Stories are ‘hoovered up’ in disco-lit tubes and deposited in tin cans, crows are created with a tatty umbrella, miniature characters are created using a sponge and a tin can. The giant is conjured up using a couple of white bed sheets and some poles with rubber gloves on the end.

          This is no-frills theatre, but with pure champagne ideas. It is imaginative and fun to the core, but what makes this a production really worth watching is the sheer exuberance and hilarity of Anderson and Groves.

          It’s clear they have cleverly crafted this tale, injected it with a few madcap extras and sprinkled a whole load of Christmas fun on top.

          The improvised asides and lines come thick and fast, there are mishaps on stage (arms fall off the little characters, costumes getting tangled up) and the energy and fun of the two during the performance is completely contagious.

          This is not a kid’s play where the actors talk to you in a high pitched voice and coddle your special little snowflakes.

          These two have sass and plenty of it. The comic interaction of this duo reminded me of French and Saunders, with a side order of Victoria Wood and a sprinkle of ‘Smack the Pony’.

          I loved the joshing and piss-taking of traditional character types: ‘Me? Jump in this well? But I am a mere delicate waif maiden with a very floppy hand’. ‘Gee miss’, Dot’s character hams up with a strange gruff American twang, ‘Haven’t you ever heard of feminism’?

          Kids in the audience belly laughed and roared, cheered on by the characters who played along brilliantly with all the interruptions. When the giant’s arms got tangled up on stage, I went up and tried to assist as best I could before giving up and sitting down.

          The whole thing could have gone tits up from there, but they managed to recruit an ‘adult man’, who helped them untie the Giant’s arms and move the story along. ‘I’m glad we are filming THIS performance’, one of them quipped.

          I always listen intently to others in the audience for snippets during the intervals/intermission. One Mum commented she thought some of the audience interaction bits (breaking the 4th wall, etc) were unnecessary in parts. I think the only lame ducks were some of the cheeseball ‘Dad jokes’ – ouch. But then you need some Dad jokes in a kid’s show I suppose – tradition and all that! 

          fullsizerender

          Keen to recruit a new mini reviewer, I’d asked mini me after leaving the show ‘Do you want to do a video review so all the other Mums and Dads can find out about the show and you can tell the actors what you thought?’ ‘Noooooooo!!!!’ she said firmly.  That was the end of my dream for my ‘Mommy and me live theatre review channel’.

          However, I did persuade her that a written review would also be very welcome.  This struck a chord with her and she was keen to share her thoughts and her 5 star rating. She was delighted to be called out in the show – ‘What did you eat for breakfast?’ Ellen Groves’ character Aggie asked her.

          ‘Pancakes’, she responded. Later in the show, Aggie (dressed as the hilarious Giant) asks kids in the front row ‘Have a guess where my heart is buried…?’ before interrupting them and bellowing back ‘NO!’

          She then turned to Lili and said ‘Oi…pancakes…what do you think?’ So Lili signed her note this evening ‘Love, Pancakes’. This may have been Lili’s first review but it was also a love letter from a theatre fan girl in the making.

          When she got home, her first words when she saw her Dad were ‘DAD – You seriously missed out!’  Maybe next time, little one (and Dad can help hold up the giant’s arms!)

          From Lili (hand-written review pictured above):

          Wow! What a great show!!! I loved the creation.  I hope you do more shows like this. It was soooooo good. You acted great.  It was sooooo funny. The puppets were wonderful. I want to see it again! I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year, from ‘Pancakes’. (5 stars)

          Type of show: Theatre

          Title: The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body

          Venue: Chapter Arts Centre

          Dates: 19 December (Touring show)

          Devised by:  Hazel Anderson & Ellen Groves

          Directed by:  Hazel Anderson & Ellen Groves

          Cast: Hazel Anderson (Dot) & Ellen Groves (Aggie)

          Running time: Approx 1.5 hrs (includes interval)

          Produced by Likely Story

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            Learning How to ‘Entrepreneur’ Via Roller Derby, The Arts And An Internet Marketing Guru by Gemma Treharne-Foose

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            Gemma with the Internet Entrepreneur and founder of ‘Frontline Marketing Live’ – Jon Pemberthy

            A couple of things have happened this year and I’ve found myself in an unprecedented situation due to a number of strange unrelated events. I’m not sure how I got here and I’m kind of terrified. Terrified though in the way that you feel before the big drop on a rollercoaster. You can’t stop the ride because you’re already buckled in, but you have to see it through anyway.

            First of all, I’m a girl from humble roots in Tonyrefail – a town on the cusp of the Rhondda famous for a heroin epidemic in the 90s. My parents have all at some point been recipients of the welfare state (or ‘benefits’). I was the first of my siblings and cousins to go to University and obtain a degree. I’ve ticked all the boxes and travelled the world, got a steady job in a large public sector organisation, bought a car, etc. etc.

            But I’ve kind of found myself bobbing along un-merrily for the last eight years. I always thought I would at some point leave my steady respectable job to live on a house boat, or join a commune and grow organic radishes, perhaps. Then before I knew it I’d joined the beige blob and found myself with a mortgage, a child and two dogs. And I was back in the Rhondda! What happened?

            Entrepreneurship was about as familiar to me as quantum physics. And a bit of a dirty word. Something other people dabbled with. My Dad named his dog Karl Marx, for God’s sake! There was no chance for me and I would never be interested in trying to set up my own business. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’.

            I later diagnosed myself as suffering from ‘ambition paralysis’ for the last eight years.

            But then…back to this series of completely unrelated but strangely fortuitous events:

            1.) My husband left the public sector and went to work for ‘The Empire’ (AKA ‘The Private Sector’)

            2.) I started training with a local Roller Derby team – I found a little niche right in the valleys where having an attitude and a dirty mouth was not only celebrated but encouraged. A better fit for me than the PTA, I soon found.

            3.) I found myself writing theatre reviews and in the process, picked up a pen and wrote for JOY for the first time in around 10 years.

            4.) I became involved with a social enterprise where I was given theatre tickets in exchange for writing reviews. I started to build up a bank of reviews and take part in collaborative events for people in theatre and the arts.

            5.) My husband introduced me to colleagues and they ask me (or challenge me) to take on some of their clients. These two gents are self-made entrepreneurs (also from the Rhondda) and encourage me to give it a go. I almost talk myself out of a job because I am so used to belittling my accomplishments.

            6.) I started an intensive 12 week programme for budding entrepreneurs at the Welsh ICE centre and meet like-minded individuals who are baby-stepping it all the way to independence.

            7.) I attended a marketing event hosted by one of the UK’s top internet entrepreneurs and forced myself to *gulp* ‘network’ (God, I hate that word) and ‘PR myself’. I felt like I needed to wash afterwards, but it was actually FINE!

            8.) I finally figured if I could take a body blow from aggressive derby girls on skates, I could learn to cope with the rejection of someone not liking the copy I produce.

            9.) I’m now baby-stepping it to increased independence and am now working one full day a week establishing my business.

            10.) I have absolutely no idea where this will lead but I’m enjoying the view.

            I gave a pitch to a room full of people two weeks ago and presented my business in public for the first time. This in itself was a challenge for me. I might have worked in PR for 8 years and have rather a loud voice but I am not a fan of presenting. I really was blown away by the feedback (although one of the panel members during the pitch said the ‘business’ part of her brain was screaming ‘Plans! Where are her PLANS!?’).

            I have never thought of myself of an expert in anything, really. But people have always told me I had some useful skills. I think girls especially are taught to hold back for fear of not being ‘an expert.’ I became a master of chilling in the back seat and letting others lead for the longest time.

            Am I now comfortable with describing myself as an aspiring entrepreneur? Well no, that’s not changed overnight, but I’m meeting the right people and attending more and more events where I meet others on a similar journey.

            2016 has been an absolute stinker of a year, for the most part. But for me, it’s been the year where a small theatre in Cardiff, a collection of Roller Derby ladies and an entourage of Internet Entrepreneurs in a hotel in Marble Arch forced me out of my comfort zone and gave me the confidence to do something new.

            Article originally posted by Gemma at the link below

            https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/learning-how-entrepreneur-via-roller-derby-arts-guru?trk=hp-feed-article-title-publish

             

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              REVIEW: ‘SNOUT’ SHERMAN THEATRE BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

              4 Stars4 / 5

              This was my second time to attend a ‘Play, Pie and a Pint’ at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff and once again it did not disappoint. This low-cost evening is a great option for those looking for bite-size and accessible nights at the theatre. Perhaps in anticipation of the subject material in the play, there was a vegetarian pie option. Thankfully, no pork pies were on the menu!

              Snout is the latest new product from Sherman Theatre and Oran Mor’s partnership and is a new script from the writer Kelly Jones: winner of the BBC Wales Drama Award in 2014.

              Those with a penchant for pork – beware! Snout is a play that does not beat around the bush when it comes to broaching the subject of animal welfare. The central three characters are pigs – Coco, Lacey and Viv , skilfully represented by Claire Cage, Michele Gallagher and Sally Reid.

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              We are led through their backstories from within a cramped, dirty lorry and as the tension and claustrophobia sets in, it slowly becomes clear that Viv is keeping a secret that even she doesn’t want to face. Far from a day out ‘at the fete’ there is a far worse fate awaiting them at the other end of the journey.  As the panic and the fear becomes palpable – there is scrapping and squealing via a tense soundtrack courtesy of Andy Cowan, squabbling and bickering between Coco and Lacey and desperate praying and bargaining from Viv. There is something horrible brewing for these three little pigs.

              Director Kenny Miller could so easily have played up the ‘pig’ image: via masks, curly tails or cutesy ears. But the three characters clothes and regular appearance only serve to humanise them and make the audience acknowledge what is about to happen to them.

              ‘How would they feel if it was them – their children?’ one of the characters says. We realise how pigs and pork are so firmly embedded our popular culture, our vernacular and our food choices: greedy pig, pig ugly, pig ignorant, bringing home the bacon, looking ‘porky’.

              There are some really grim passages where Viv describes how her sister Annie was taken away, how the meat is butchered, prepared, consumed and sometimes even sexualised and fetishised. As an audience member, I felt almost complicit in the suffering of Viv, Coco and Lacey and the theatre space and sheer proximity to the cramped box feels claustrophobic for you too.

              There are tender moments played out following Lacey’s electric shock after a panicked escape attempt. I could not take my eyes off Sally Reid (who plays Coco), whose spiky and awkward demeanour is softened as we progress in the play.

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              The play shines a light on the sheer hypocrisy and selfishness of meat consumption and meat for fashion purposes and for me certainly, threw up a few questions. Why do I care so much about whether my chicken is free range, but not my pork? Why do I crinkle my nose at the thought of eating veal, but not suckling pig? Why is tripe revolting to me but not belly pork? I know that pigs are intelligent animals, so why have I never thought about whether they know what’s awaiting them at the end of their trips to the slaughterhouse. Do I really care about animals if I have this knowledge and do not act upon it?

              I had my reservations about whether or not the play would be preachy or overtly anti-meat eating, but it was to character-led for that. What Kelly Jones’ script does manage to do well is to make you question yourself, to step outside your frame of reference and pre-conceived thoughts.  I can’t tell you if Coco, Lacey and Viv made it….but I can tell you that my enthusiasm for ‘meat free’ Mondays has tripled since seeing the play. And I will lay off the bacon for a while, I think…

              Type of show: Theatre
              Title: Snout (A play, Pie and a Pint)
              Venue: The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
              Dates: 8-12 Nov
              Author: Kelly Jones
              Director: Kenny Miller

              Ross Kirkland / Chris Reilly: Lighting Designer
              Andy Cowan: Sound Designer
              Jonathan Scott: Designer
              Gemma Patchett: Assistant Designer
              Claire Cage: Coco
              Michele Gallagher: Lacey
              Sally Reid: Viv

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                REVIEW: ‘THE MOUNTAINTOP’ FIO BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

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                4 Stars4 / 5

                I was curious to see how Katori Hall and Fio would execute a piece of theatre with Martin Luther King Jr. at the front and centre. How can you successfully honour a man like Luther King without bordering on the syrupy and sentimental – and how do you cast light on the many human flaws and weaknesses that all of us (even the greatest) have without dishonouring the memory of a one of the greatest leaders of our time?

                I must confess, having seen Cape Town’s Opera’s Mandela Trilogy in Cardiff when it was playing, I kept wondering during all the jubilant celebrations about his human flaws too – rightly or wrongly. It’s a really tall order for theatre-makers and they have to tread so carefully. Separating the man from the legend is an uphill struggle, I’m sure.

                Essentially, it’s hard to summon up the true spirit of a real person when you only focus on the greatness. Human foibles are what make us real – and Luther King wasn’t without his moments of weakness. It is these things that make the difference between gushing tributes and a bold and honest look at such a recognisable and enigmatic man as Martin Luther King Jr.

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                ‘The Mountaintop’ transports us back to Room 306 at The Lorraine Motel in Memphis during Luther King’s final hours on the fateful day of his execution in 1968. Dr King has been canvassing for support for the rights of sanitation workers Tennessee. He is tired and paranoid and restless. We see him scan his room for bugs from the FBI.

                Played convincingly by Mensah Bediako, we watch as Luther King strikes up a passing friendship with hotel maid Camae, played by RWCMD graduate Alexandria Riley. The interplay between the two is wonderful. Camae’s playful and frank observations about America’s race neuroses provide many moments on light relief and Riley beautifully plays the part of a woman with an incredible voice and something to say – challenging Luther King’s assumptions and observations with wit and panache. The friction and tension between the two is real – but why is she here and who is she?

                There’s an underlying hint (and our own assumptions lead us to believe at first) that there’s a romantic motive for Luther King wanting Camae to stay with him. We know he is waiting for something…something even he’s not sure of. The stormy thunder, projections and lighting courtesy of lighting designer Jane Lalljee and Video Designer Zakk Huein produce a nerve-wracking tension and quiet energy to the piece, leading up to the final crescendo of Luther King’s last rallying cry. The final sequence and soundtrack by Dan Lawrence is a thing of beauty.

                The Mountaintop reminds us that although it may be more than 40 years since Luther King was assassinated, the fear, ugliness, the sheer wilful ignorance and blindness of the human species is as powerful as ever. The vote for Brexit, the re-emergence and emboldening of right wing political parties across Europe…and now here we are at the precipice of doom, hoping that America votes with it’s head in October. Ugliness still prevails. Luther King’s opening line ‘America’s going to hell!’ is as relevant in 2016 as it was in 1968. Have we even moved on, really?

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                Luther King is tortured by the death of Larry Payne – a 16 year old teenager killed during a sanitation worker march, a few days before his own death. ‘I will never forget that name’ Luther King says. But Larry Payne’s death has now been surpassed by so many other senseless deaths – Rodney King, Michael Brown, Eric Garner. Unarmed black men killed by so-called protectors of peace. How can we prevail when we are governed by the politics of fear?

                And yet…and YET, as this stunning play reminds us – positivism and hope somehow remains. In the moments of darkness, there is light. We must fight back We must endure and go on. The Occupy protests, The Arab Spring, the Black Lives Matter movement all serve to remind us – we’re still here, we’re hopeful. Maya Angelou’s words are ringing in our ears and are hinted at in the heart of this production: ‘You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I rise’.

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                This is the kind of powerful theatre that will evoke a raw and visceral reaction – and there are plenty of these moments, leaving your heart fit to burst and your belly doing flips. Riley’s fiery speech (wearing the suit and shoes of Luther King), the absolutely phenomenal segment where Camae and Dr King look to the future and catch glimpses of the wonders and the ugliness yet to come as well as Bediako’s final rallying cry, standing on that pulpit.

                The powerful and emotional reaction you will no doubt encounter watching ‘The Mountaintop’ really is testament to Katori Hall’s incredible script. This is theatre that will pack a punch, leaving you sweating, crying and completely rung out. There are no other words to say than ‘Wow.’

                Type of show: Theatre

                Title: The Mountaintop

                Venue: The Other Room, Porters (Cardiff)

                Dates: 04 October – 15 October, PN 5th October

                Writer: Katori Hall
                Director: Abdul Shayek
                Producer: Shane Nickels
                Stage Manager: Katie Bingham
                Lighting Designer: Jane Lalljee
                Sound Designer: Dan Lawrence
                Video Designer: Zakk Hein
                Cast: Mensah Bediako & Alexandria Riley

                Running time: 1hr

                Produced by Fio in association with UWTSD, NTW, No Fit State, Theatre Royal Stratford East, WMC, UCAN.

                 

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                  REVIEW: ‘KILLER CELLS’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

                   

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                  3 Stars3 / 5 “Heartfelt and raw ”

                  Killer Cells is one of those plays that comes with some level of uncomfortable awareness for audience members. Having read the synopsis and marketing for the play, you know you are in for a potentially difficult watch.  Valleys theatre company Avant, who are carving out a name for themselves as crafters of challenging, up-close-and-personal theatre, did just that tonight.  They did not shy away from the stigma of the topic of miscarriage and they have clearly experimented with a number of new approaches to tackle the subject.

                  The production took place on one of the Park and Dare’s smaller spaces, creating a more personal feel, audience members were faced with clinical blue lights, a gurney and a medical trolley.  We follow the experiences of a few women, their partners and the medical staff who deal with miscarriage and the after effects every day.

                  We see what happens when the banal aspects of our everyday lives – jobs, planning weddings, going out and meeting friends – all  pale into insignificance when we are faced with the limitations and challenges foisted upon us by our own bodies and biology. We take for granted that within us there may be hidden factors at play, completely beyond our control that can cause so much suffering and pain.

                  Avant have attempted to demystify and shine a light on the hidden heartache of miscarriage. The play shows how we live our lives and our dramas via our phone – obsessing over every pregnancy milestone, reaching out to others, communicating our news and our heartache when pregnancies don’t go to plan – a screen on stage plays out the texts, the internet searches, the statistics we are warned about, the dangers we read about.

                  How well these vignettes and mini on-screen dramas featuring other characters work with the action on stage, I think is still being worked out as Avant develop and experiment with the script and artistic/presentational elements.   The audience were invited at the end to give feedback and help shape the play and speak to the cast and it is really lovely to see this kind of collaboration and inter-mingling with the audience. This is what small venues like the Park and Dare do best.

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                  The on stage cast gave some tender and evocative performances and all had an individual strength about them. The fragility of Rachel Pedley-Millar’s character, the warmth of Yannick Budd playing both a nurse and a father, Darius Nash’s chilling depiction of a clinical practitioner perhaps over-medicalising what is a deeply troubling time for parents.

                  The stand out scenes for me came via Hannah Lloyd, when her character experienced a traumatic ectopic pregnancy.  Those screams I think will haunt my dreams forever.  There’s a gripping drawn-out scenario where two doctors are trying to find a vein on one of the women who has been through multiple miscarriages. As Emma Macnab’s character is poked and prodded and patched up with multiple needles (while simultaneously trying to hold it together), it feels almost intrusive to watch.

                  There is some clever language at play as Doctors use medicalised language and labels to explain a life-changing and devastating situations – the removal of the baby is described as ‘clearing the mass’. We are introduced to the world of hCG levels, Hughes Syndrome and Endometriosis.

                  All these names will no doubt be familiar to a shocking 1 in 5 women who experience a miscarriage, yet the taboo of silence and mystery all around it is pervasive. While this type of topic may not be everyone’s cup of tea for a night out at the theatre, I’m really pleased to see community theatre companies like Avant not being afraid to tackle difficult subjects and push the boundaries. Killer Cells is a bold and honest look at the reality of miscarriage, I look forward to seeing how the play develops – and I’ll definitely be looking out for their shows in the future.

                   

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                    REVIEW: THE GOOD EARTH, CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE 20TH SEPTEMBER 2016

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                    Black grit, sunshine and avocados: what makes a ‘life in the valleys’ play? 

                    I am always slightly filled with dread and anxiety when I see any show which is based in the South Wales Valleys. Firstly there’s the debate about where the ‘valleys’ begins and where Cardiff ends. Cardiff dwellers seem to assume that ‘the valleys’ starts somewhere north of Llandaff, while also lumping in Bridgend and much of Swansea as well – well we all sound ‘Welshy’ don’t we?

                    My childhood friend is insistent to the point of violence that our home town (Tonyrefail, in case you’re interested) is categorically technically in ‘the valleys’ and absolutely and most definitely outside the perimeter of the ‘Rhondda’. This is important (ol’rite?!). What she has against the Rhondda I don’t know. You’d swear it had a negative reputation or something!

                     The problem with ‘valleys plays’ 

                    Back to my earlier point about ‘valleys plays’, depending on the producers – the accents in some plays may range from broad Llanelli to Mid-Merthyr and back again.  You may get a mash up of Stella (Sky) meets Hi-De-Hi meets Frank Vickery. And well, how can I say this politely? Sometimes we sound a bit….thick. I know, I know…I might be projecting my own negative prejudices and assumptions here…it’s an issue for me and I’m getting help. But I’m really not sure whether the ‘simple’ depiction of some of the characters is meant to be a source of comedy or whether this appears to be an attempt to broadly tar us all with the same brush. There is a danger of lazy stereotyping which I’m hyper aware of. Unfortunately, this was my starting reference point even before going in to the play.

                    As you may have picked up I probably have a chip on my shoulder the size of a Christmas ham where all this is concerned.  It’s often not comfortable viewing for me. And I’m going to be frank, I found the first 10 minutes of ‘The Good Earth’ a hard watch as I tuned in to the story…the accents, the blocking and the furniture scraping across the stage.

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                    Tidy little melodies 

                    Musically, the cast gelled wonderfully and I adored the additions of the Welsh hymns and lullabies interspersed with the scenes. The song ‘Mae gen i dipyn o dy bach dwt’ (Translated as ‘Tidy little house’) was a perfect song for the backdrop of the play, which appears to be based on a real story.  Villagers in a mountainside village are threatened with being moved from the community they love and have lived in for generations. We see a family and their extended friends and family battling the local authority (and each other) as they fight it out.

                    We’re introduced to all the people ‘all living in a big long street’ – all ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’…one by one.  It all sounds very lovely and cosy. I cringe at the mention of seeing sheep from a window. (Really? Most kids don’t see a single bloody sheep til they visit Folly Farm when they’re 10!). But bit by bit, the innocence and sweetness of little Jackie (played by Gwenllian Higginson) wins me over and helps me lower my defenses.

                    Vol-au-vont observations… 

                    There are some really crisp references and superb lines which echo and crystalise life growing up in the valleys (for me anyway). Ever been ‘bastard cold’ or ‘bastard tamping’? Mam Dina describes her situation as ‘Bastard hard’…and of course you always know Mam’s gonna blow when there is a ‘bastard’ before the next word! You will of course be familiar with vol-au-vonts, which has been standard fayre in the valleys since the seventies and remains so to this day. In fact people go to funerals mostly to eat vol-au-vonts at the wake. True story.

                    I adored the little scene where Dina puts on a spread and is cross-examining poor Gwen with her preparation technique. There’s an uncomfortable pause as Gwen described putting ‘a touch of black pepper’ on the vol-au-vont as a finish. ‘A bit much that is, Gwen’ came the response.  I had the same type of experience when I tried to buy an Avocado in Porth a few months back – the cashier in Morrisons looked at me with pity and distrust as I described how I was going to make Guacamole with it.

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                    There’s an interesting scene with James (played by Mike Humphries) as he gives an impassioned speech to the local authority representatives… People here don’t want jobs given to them that don’t benefit the community, how can they be grateful for poor housing, they need help and there are no public services and the community is crumbing. It’s an all too familiar story and one for which there are few solutions, particularly where the South Wales valleys are concerned.  I’m always interested to see attempts to re-write this story, this bleak fate of ours. And I want to hear from the dissenting voices too. Why was it that Gwen wanted to leave the village? For me, there is no romance for me in always sticking with the old – but maybe I’m missing the point.  I choose to look to the sky in the valleys, not focusing at the bleak bits and obsess on the tragedy of the past all of the time.  This is what I’d like to see more of in Welsh theatre. We are more than our past – and this doesn’t mean we are being discourteous or lacking in respect for those who toiled and bore the brunt of an unfair system.
                    What about the avocado-buying types? 

                    Ultimately, I’m wondering when there have ever been jobs that haven’t exploited the working man, whether coal mining, factories or McDonalds Drive-Thru’s. A whole generation is now in the position of being ‘the working poor’ or possibly part of a family that have never worked. Our communities are not as they were. We’re moving on…slowly. We’re even buying avocados now! But seriously…this play contrasts wildly with what many of us find in our own streets – there are no Mams scrubbing the steps anymore, we don’t know our neighbours names and it’s not the thought of leaving that frightens us, it’s staying in one place forever.The opening song in the play sings about the grimness and the blackness from Merthyr to Blaenau to Rhondda. That sets the scene really. Try finding the sunshine when you’re battling with these assumptions (maybe that’s why my school friend gets so tetchy about NOT being from the Rhondda). She now lives in Chippenham, so I doubt people look at her funny when she buys avocados.

                    This wasn’t the most uplifting of plays, but it throws up a million questions that will keep you pondering long after you’ve seen it – do our roots really matter, do they define who we are, is a house just a house…and do you like ‘fruit compost’ with your cheesecake? (Possibly one of the best lines of the night!).

                    Duration: approx 1hr 20min, no interval 

                    Director: Rachael Boulton
                    Musical Direction: Max Mackintosh
                    Co-produced with Motherlode and RCT Theatres, in association with Chapter, Wales Millennium Centre and Blackwood Miners Institute, supported by Arts Council of Wales.
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