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: SECOND STAR TO THE RIGHT BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

(4 / 5)

A Hijinx production really is a fabulous way of kicking off your Christmas celebrations. Following the success of The Snow Queen in 2016, Second Star to the Right by Llinos Mai is a re-telling of a familiar old tale. There’s a new dynamic this time. This story features three very modern, overstressed, selfie and health and safety-obsessed adults in place of children.

This time the Neverland newcomers are descendants of Michael, Jane and Wendy. As they navigate their way around the island, they learn to stop being so uptight and to dance, fly and synchronised-swim their cares away. Arthur – played by Simon Balmforth brings plenty of chuckles as he obsesses about the injury risks and dangers in Neverland and Blue Richards playing the part of Joe shines as a preening peacock – and he’s desperate to get back to his phone signal, hair wax and moisturiser. Alice meanwhile (played by Nia Ramage) is irritable and completely focused on getting to her meetings back in the city.

Created by Odyssey, a community group of disabled and non-disabled actors established by Hijinx Theatre Company, Second Star is more than ‘just’ a pre-Christmas show.

This year’s production is a celebration of a much-loved cast member Martin Vick, a long-standing performer with Hijinx for 15 years who sadly passed away in 2016. Martin had previously performed in Peter Pan and Wendy, travelled the world a special Olympian and more recently had performed with the award-winning Meet Fred, Directed by this production’s Artistic Director Ben Pettitt-Wade.

Odyssey theatre company is a community group brought together by Hijinx theatre company and don’t just create and devise imaginative theatre, they also run training academies to enable disabled actors to perform at a professional level. They’re the only company in Wales to do this. I was delighted to see Sara Pickard as the Captain in this show, having come across Sara in a professional capacity many months before.

The designer Kitty Callister and her assistants have created visually effective props and costumes – mixtures of slick modern black lines, whimsical multi-coloured bohemian and stripy sea dog gather under a star-kissed sky on window panels. Lost boy paint fights are depicted with handfuls of confetti and fairies are created via twinkling fairy lights. Its simple but creative, fitting the stripped back and intimate surroundings of the Weston Studio.

Attending a Hijinx show feels like you are part of the family, in on the joke and its informal nature is a great draw for families. This is theatre as it should be. Unselfconscious, approachable and completely inclusive.

The cast of actors have a wonderful synergy. Director Jon Dafydd-Kidd clearly has created an environment where actors of all abilities feed off one another’s energy, helping each other with the odd line and encouraging one another, just as Martin Vick had during his time with the company.

 

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    Review: How to Win Against History by Gemma Treharne-Foose

     

    (5 / 5)

    If you’ve never heard of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey or Henry Cyril Paget – that’s exactly what his family intended to happen when they erased him from their family history by burning every photograph and possession relating to his life.

    Based on true story, this completely original production pieces together the charred remains and distant memories of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey – a cross-dressing dandy who inherited the keys to the kingdom in Victorian Britain, but lived fast and died young.

    At one time the richest man in Britain, he rejected the duties of his title to live an outrageously opulent and controversial life, putting on elaborate plays, building over the chapel on the family estate to build a theatre and tour Europe with his ‘Electric Butterfly Orchestra’ – with himself as the leading artist, of course.

    This is a fabulously foppish flight of fancy that will have you belly laughing from lights up until lights down.

    The Marquess of Anglesey was an unapologetic narcissist, who if born in more recent times would no doubt be the subject of a gaudy commercial deal, a magazine spread or a reality TV series. But although the production pokes fun at the story, it is never cruel.

    How to Win Against History is a high-camp, high energy extravaganza, subverting the almost homoerotic goings on within public schools, the aristocracy and the Empire.

    Starring Seiriol Davies who plays (or should I say ‘slays’) as Henry Paget, this show chasses, minces and shimmies its way through his back story, shining a light on the social awkwardness of Victorian times, the absurdity and pomposity of theatre and the sheer hilarity of being a square peg in a round hole.

    Matthew Blake plays the part of Paget’s right hand man – the Victorian west end actor Alexander Keith and the pair have incredible chemistry and comic timing. Every movement, sigh and flick of the hand is played up and milked for laughs.

    Imagine a show featuring Lawrence Llywelyn-Bowen’s lovechild on acid at Mardi Gras, mashed up with Monty Python, Downton Abbey and Ru Paul’s Drag Race. That wouldn’t even come close to how remarkable this is.

    Despite the madcap silliness and outrageousness though, it’s a show with substance and heart. Seiriol Davies has created something quite heartfelt and poignant, the music and lyrics are sharp and clever and the incredible vocal performances of the trio on stage meander from genre to genre.

    You really want Henry Paget to win and the way audiences are responding to this production shows that in the end – he has.

    Some lights are too bright to ever be distinguished.

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      REVIEW: ‘SLAVA’S SNOW SHOW’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

      (4 / 5)

       

      Slava’s snowshow is completely original and unlike anything you might have seen before,  although it may be triggering for those with a serious clown aversion (thanks to Stephen King and his fondness for drain-based terror!).

      Polunin’s production straddles the traditional theatre show, mime, the avant garde, the clowning niche and pure spectacle.  The resulting concoction is one that surprises, delights and tickles the audience.  Balloons crop up here and there. A rocking horse, stars and a moon, a music box, a swing. Beautifully designed props and scenery by Ivan Yarapolskiy and Dmitry Khamzin pick at your childhood memories (and at times – your nightmares!).

      Slava’s snowshow does not have a narrative or a beginning, middle or an end. It’s actually hard to know where the vignettes and sketches will lead, but beneath the playful care-free demeanour of the show, every step, breath and look is careful, choreographed and deliberate.

      An insignificant nod of a head, a wink, a snail’s pace trudge across the stage – the movements toe the line between tenderness and tragedy, laced with clownery and foolishness.

      This production deliberately disrupts the frenetic pace and convention of many modern productions.  It crosses the barriers between the audience and the action on stage and playfully invites adults to re-enter the colourful imaginarium of their youth.

      You will instantly lower your guard, becoming absorbed in the wonder of the physicality and comic energy of the clowns the and sheer absurdity of the vignettes. But Slava’s snowshow truly succeeds in speaking to your inner child – and the sheer simplicity of this patchwork of comedy is effective and stunning.

      The theatrical inspiration may have come from Chaplin, from Ukranian dramaturgs like Gogol and from street theatre and pantomime – but the language of Slava Polunin is completely universal.

      The on stage action is part-dream, part-fantasy and complete spectacle. Polunin’s aim was to fuse together the tragic and the comic and create a kaleidoscope of colour, events and sound. His intention was to revitalise the way modern audiences respond to clowning…the result is more personal, more intelligent and intriguing than anything you might  have experienced at a birthday party or witnessed on cheesy Saturday night TV.

      The scenes created on stage are wonderfully inventive – a bed becomes a boat, a coat stand becomes a person and curtains become snowy rocks.  The action on stage spills out into the audience frequently.  Slava’s clowns walk over the backs of audience chairs, a giant cobweb is passed over the heads of the audience and without spoiling any surprises – there is carnage in the theatre at the end of the show. I feel sorry for the people brushing that up!

      Even if clowns really aren’t your cup of tea – this is unmissable.

      4 stars

      ***

      Type of show: Theatre

      Title: Slava’s Snow Show

      Venue: Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff)

      Dates: 17-21  October

       

      Created and staged by Slava Polunin

      Stage Technician: Ivan Yarapolskiy

      Sound Technician: Alexey Lavrentyev

      Light Technician: Alexander Iakolev

       

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        Review ‘Oz With Orchestra’ by Gemma Treharne-Foose

        (3 / 5)

         

        I kicked myself for a few reasons last Sunday. The first of which, I came to discover, was not doing my research on major events in the city the same day I headed out to watch ‘Oz with Orchestra’.  The event at St David’s Hall clashed with the Tour of Britain final meaning my plans for a leisurely jaunt down the A470 to enjoy some pre-show family entertainment were almost scuppered by a 1hr 50m traffic jam.  We certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore.

        Once I’d managed to make it through the rain and in to St David’s Hall, I was pretty much over the worst of my traffic jam rage. It was going to be fine, it was Wizard of Oz! Plus there were some jolly looking souls dressed up as Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Lion. My 8 year old was delighted to take part in a treasure hunt and there were other activities to keep kids entertained, though she deemed herself to be far too mature to enjoy a singalong with the WNO to the best hits from the movie. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them sing ‘over the rainbow’.

        The other reason I kicked myself was because the event would have been a great opportunity to don some sprarkly shoes or a wee bit of festive cheek glitter. I suppose a 36 year old with a rainbow painted on her face would have been a step too far, though.

        Seeing the volume of little kids and the size of the space, I wasn’t sure how well the film audio of ‘Wizard of Oz’ and a live 63 piece orchestra would work or if this could sustain the attention of very small children.

        I’ve never seen any cinema classics accompanied by an orchestra but was amazed to see the orchestra pick up every cue, every dramatic effect with ease. Such was the level of intensity and emotional impact of this well-loved family classic, I was in tears in the opening bars (sucker!).  The tornado scenes were simply stunning – deafening crescendos, buzzing bases and whistling brass and percussion created a beautiful musical backdrop for the cinematic mastery on screen.

        This was such a lovely and fresh addition to this cinema classic and Grant Llewellyn’s direction helped ensure that there was a synergy between the musical soundtrack and the duologue on screen.  The film and the music are so timeless, so sentimental and impossible to top and the orchestra was an ideal introduction for my little girl to enjoy this kid of musical performance.

        I thought the WNO and venue did well to engage with families at this event and I’d take my little girl to see WNO again in a heartbeat.

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          REVIEW: ‘HAIRSPRAY’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

          (4 / 5)

          If you’ve toyed with the idea of seeing Hairspray on stage but doubted whether anyone could top Ricki Lake’s original 1988 portrayal of Tracy  – or indeed Nikki Blonsky’s 2007 film version, you really needn’t worry.

          The new stage version of Hairpray brought to you by producers Mark Goucher, Matthew Gale and Laurence Myers will delight new and old fans from start to finish.

          The show hasn’t lost an ounce of its popularity, having first swept the board at the Tony Awards on Broadway in 2002 and the more recent film version introducing a new generation of fans to the musical and original film.

          Set in 1960s Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad dreams of  a starring role as one of the teenage dancers on the popular Corny Collins show – a cheeseball TV format of young beautiful things dancing and miming to the latest pop / rock n roll records.

          Already at a disadvantage due to her shape, she encounters the realities of colour segregation rife in Baltimore and the US at the time. Only white teenagers were allowed to dance on the show, apart from ‘Negro Day’ every other Friday.

          Based on real events with the real ‘Buddy Deane Show’, on which Hairspray was based, the story sees Tracy lead a group of friends to storm the TV studio and force the live broadcasting of integrated dancing, leading a protest against colour segregation and challenging preconceived ideas about women of shape at the same time.

          The show is perfectly aided by a riot of technicolour staging and costume courtesy of TAKIS, while Drew McOnie’s superb vintage choreography will have your heart fluttering and your foot tapping.

          But the story reminds us that for all the iconic fashions, bubble-gum scented nostalgia and fondness for the golden era of pop and rock and roll, black Americans were denied basic civil rights across America.

          Such was the power and divisiveness of segregation, we see ‘seemingly nice’ young all-American kids suddenly spewing hatred and vitriol when the status quo is challenged.  Underneath the petticoats and the chucks and the varsity jackets and polite manners, there is suddenly spite and anger.

          Hairspray is gently subversive, poking fun at the idiocy, prejudice and fear at the heart of  white America. What’s all the more cutting is the reminder that while the 60s may seem far away, the lurking presence of racism is rearing it’s ugly head again in the US.  

          Two years ago I used Hairspray (the movie) as a vehicle to talk about civil rights and race in America in the 60s with my little girl.  Suddenly, it’s time to return to that ugly, awkward conversation.  We’re at a crossroads once again – because ‘nice guys’ in middle America are waving around swastika flags and white hoods.   

          It’s not too hard to believe that the ‘nice polite white kids’ at the Corny Collins dance might have been the same kids lining up to shout abuse at kids entering the first integrated schools or kicking off at the lunch counters they thought were their domain when black protesters sat in ‘their place’.

          So as an audience we laugh when Penny Pingleton’s Mum screams when she finds her daughter in bed with a black boy and shrieks ‘But what about the neighbours….the house prices!?’, when her deep-rooted instinct is to flinch/cower when Seaweed gives her a hug or when others gasp with horror as Tracy Turnblad admits she WOULD swim in an integrated swimming pool.

          In some shape or form, we’ve all encountered the tropes and the stereotypes surrounding integration and mixed heritage relationships. We’ve rolled our eyes at the staggering lack of awareness even the nicest of people have, just like those kids at the hop in the ‘Nicest kids in town’ song in the first act.

          I was overjoyed to once again see Layton Williams (in the role of Seaweed) at the WMC, who previously slayed in the role of Angel Dumott Schunard in RENT earlier this year. I’ve decided it is utterly impossible to take your eyes off him whenever he is on stage.  Former X Factor contestant Brenda Edwards was spellbinding as Motormouth Maybelle, with vocals that shook the rafters and I loved Annalise Liard-Bailey’s squeaky/dorky portrayal of Penny.  Ensemble cast member Graham Macduff was also hilarious in all his guises.  

          As anyone who’s seen the 2007 film adaptation of Hairspray will tell you – you can never unsee the sight of John Travolta in a dress, but Matt Rixon and Norman Pace (of ‘Hale and Pace’) had a wonderful on-stage presence together and clearly enjoyed each other’s company

          Hairspray recognises the ridiculousness of racism, blinds it with sequins and deafens these ugly faults with a soundtrack of rock n roll, pop, cha-cha-cha and motown.  

          It calls racism out for what it is and still dares you to believe that the future will be different.  It’s hammy, it’s cheesy, it’s sweet and it’s a glitter bomb of cherry-cola scented joy.

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            Review: ‘Swarm’ Fio Productions by Gemma Treharne-Foose

            (5 / 5)

             

            I don’t know about you but usually the mention of ‘immersive theatre’ brings about a slight sense of unease and dread. It’s a bit like when your team leader at work says there’s going to be a role playing exercise for the team.

            I am also still slightly annoyed/scarred about the Antonin Artaud-style absurdist ‘theatre of cruelty’ workshop I was once subjected to at University. In that, audience members were herded into a room, plunged into darkness, doused with cold water and played a disturbing series of images projected onto a wall with a screechy soundtrack. I have distrusted and shied away from ‘immersive theatre’ ever since (and realised at that very point that I am definitely not a true thespian and should probably just leave it to the professionals).

            A sign saying Refuge Here

            However, when a topical play by a theatre company nominated by the Kevin Spacey Foundation as the Artist of Choice in 2016 puts on a play in your back garden (or down the hill from your house!), it would be really absurd not to get excited about it. Especially when this company’s last play ‘The Mountaintop’, about Dr Martin Luther King’s last night on earth, gave you goosebumps, sweats and bellyflips galore. This is a production company that knows exactly how to push your buttons and manipulate your emotions (and have you thanking them for it afterwards).

            Local collaboration

            Pop Bottle Mural in the Pop Factory, Porch

            ‘Swarm’ picks up on comments made by former Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2015: “You’ve got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life”.

            Director Abdul Shayek unpicks this throwaway comment, holding a mirror up to society’s deep-rooted fear, misunderstanding and sheer distrust of refugees. He pulls the audience into the world of the refugee so they can experience first hand what it’s like to run and fear for your life, leaving everything and everyone you have ever known.

            Jenkin Street in Porth

            Following the success of the original show staged in Cardiff, where Production company Fio collaborated with members of Butetown football team (Tiger Bay FC), the show’s popularity struck a cord with audiences and the company received funding to work with more arts companies and local communities including Cwmbran and Merthyr.

            The Pop Factory show in Porth was supported by ArtWorks/Valleys Kids and children and young people from the local community. The production includes multiple community cast members – most of them children, mixed in with professional actors. The concept of the play is that Wales is at Civil War and you – a refugee – are trying to gain admission to a camp as war rages around you and closes in. Interspersed with the drama and chaos of camp life are alarms and sirens, sounds of bombing and news clips where vox pops of the British publish spill their worries, concerns and venom towards refugees.

            Life inside a refugee camp

            ‘Swarm’ at The Pop Factory

            At first, audience members are ‘processed’ in a holding facility, before being ushered into a safe zone. You are marshalled into lines and examined medically for signs of illness before being taken to camp. Once in ‘camp’, you come face to face with children already sleeping and living at the camp.

            The Doctors and volunteers split you into groups. You are taken through the emergency drill (an air raid-like siren frequently sounds – and you are to drop to your knees in silence as you are instructed), you fill in a form about your intended destination, a photograph is taken of you, you are shown how to wash your hands and given a toothbrush.

            Processing the refugees…

            All around you, there are all the visible, breathable remnants and signs of human life and cohabitation – a line of drying clothes, makeshift beds strewn across the floor, a central mat for children to draw and play cards.

            There are ‘missing people’ signs everywhere. An exasperated, traumatised actor ‘Kaz’ is frantically looking for his daughter. As you mill around, you are approached by actors: “Are you alone? I hope you are safe here…you ought to be safe but….please be careful.” Children ask you “Do you need help? Do you want to write a message on the wall?” One little boy tells me he hasn’t seen his Mam and Dad for four and a half months. My eyes prick with tears despite myself. I am in Porth inside an old Pop Factory I could see from my Grandmother’s old garden in Glynfach. Yet in that moment I am in a refugee camp, stunned and shocked and appalled at my own privilege ‘in real life’.

            Eyeball to eyeball with child refugees

            Signs in the Refugee Camp

            It is cramped, it is uncomfortable and you don’t know where to look because as in life – when you are face to face with awkward, ugly situations you look at the floor. Or the children. Just focus on the children, because despite everything, they endure, they go on, they play. Anything else in the room was just too much to take in. In the midst of sirens, potential raids, tempers flaring, actors crying – the children drew pictures and played cards with audience members and laughed. Their innocence is entirely disarming and exposing.

            Camp food from Refugee Camp volunteers…

            At one point the camp volunteers gave out bowls of food. There wasn’t enough for everyone, they said. You can only eat if you have been processed. One of the children (from the community cast) sidled up to me, watching me as I debated whether or not we were supposed to eat the food. “I haven’t actually eaten today…” she said confidently. One of the other kids, who sensed she was going off script nudged her and said ‘Shhhh, we aren’t supposed to actually take the food from them…!” “Take it!” I said. The other kids looked around to check for reactions from the theatre staff and watched her wide eyed. “I won’t tell anyone..” I winked. I sat there momentarily mesmerized by a kid playing a role of a refugee and still slightly unsure of my own role in the scene.

            I was given a blanket by a volunteer who told me she’d lost contact with her brother – a rebel fighter – and clothes if I wanted them. I was given a toothbrush and I read the messages on the wall over and over. Towards the end, one of the actors ‘Kaz’ is faced with the choice of staying in the camp with his sick son or leaving the camp to search for his daughter 5 hours away. We don’t get to find out if they were reunited. What would you do? How would you react? The whole experience from start to finish – away from the tradition and comfort of proscenium arches and plush theatre seats – begs this question and drags the audience into the story.

            Blanket and toothbrush given to me at the Refugee Camp

            Theatre without the frills

            Although it’s been 15 years since the ridiculous ‘theatre of cruelty’ workshop I went to, it turns out that far from plunging the audience into a nightmarish, annoying episode they’d rather forget – Artaud’s actual intentions were that theatre should ‘wake us up – nerves and heart’. And Fio certainly does that.

            New Refugees waiting to be processed…

            The great theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht advocated stripping away the distractions of traditional theatre and exposing the realities of the human condition. For him, theatre was a forum for political debate. There is plenty to draw upon in this production and Fio challenges the audience from start to finish, adding context and authenticity to the refugee debate via its strong cast and convincing staging.

            Speaking to Director Abdul Shayek after the show, I asked him what dimension he thought the kids brought to the show.

            “People empathise with children a lot more…if you had a cast of adults, it would have been a different show, we would have lost a lot of the innocence. And actually when you talk about war and the refugee crisis…it’s the young people who will suffer. They are the future. They are a metaphor in a sense. They are the future and the future is being messed up. Young people have the same dreams and aspirations and they want the same basic things in life, whether they live here or in Syria or Iraq. They want to play, be safe and be fed – they want love and care…’

            No matter what your political persuasion or views on the subject, it is surely utterly impossible to turn away from a child. So when some of the individual stories from the refugees were being relayed and the children milled around, they stopped dead in front of audience members and did nothing but look at them – directly into their eyes. Saying nothing. Because really at that point there is almost nothing left to say. Your instinct is to help and to comfort and to forget your own motivations and ‘entitlements’.

            Missing people at the Refugee Camp…

            Away from angry mobs and nasty online comment threads and peacocking politicians and boozy pub bravado and scarcity mindset and privilege hoarders who don’t want to share, can you look a child in the eye and tell them their life means less and your opportunity and wealth means more?

            This is a production that will heighten your senses and open your eyes to what it really means to be a refugee. Superb.

            https://www.wearefio.co.uk


            Type of show: Theatre

            Title: Swarm

            Venue: The Pop Factory

            Date: 28th July 2017

            Directed by:  Abdul Shayek

            Produced by: Fio Productions, ArtWorks Valleys Kids and The Pop Factory

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

              (4 / 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 / 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 / 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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