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: CLUB TROPICANA BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

Club Tropicana 

Press Night: 13 Aug 

Wales Millennium Centre

After a long absence from theatre reviews this last year and with the media a toxic cesspit these days, I felt so ready to be entertained. Like, seriously entertained. I have been awaiting the next chance to review something lively and upbeat, like a demonic glitter leopard stalking her pray. Yes, I was so desperately in need of an escape from the grim reality of Britain in 2019, that when news came from our friends in the WMC of a spectacular 1980s musical that harked back to the cheesefest pop era of my childhood, it truly felt like a gift. 

So it’s quite appropriate that in order to share this therapeutic time-warp, I should invite along my older and let’s face it superior older sister. Even though we only really got to know one another when I was already in my twenties, I have always looked up to her. Not least because my earliest fleeting memories of her were when I was a little nipper and she was already in her teens. At this point in the 80s, Wham were still going full pelt and George Michael wasn’t gay yet. My sister had Wham and A-ha posters on her wall and her teenage bedroom was a treasure trove of jewellery – wowwwww, magazines – wowwww and hairspray – wowwwwww.

It was a warm fluffy 1980s memory, a defining moment. Perhaps even stronger than my memories of the more grim aspects of the 80s – miners strikes, recession and poll tax riots. But look – kids need a dream! They need icons! Which is why I once cos-played as Madonna with a friend when I was eight and we called for a boy we both fancied. Back-combed hair. Beads, lace gloves – and a black kohl beauty spot penciled onto our top lips. Papa don’t preach, it seemed appropropriate at the time. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea as an era, but Maggie Thatcher or not, the 80s was epic! 

This was my frame of reference for coming along to the press night for Club Tropicana – I was already buoyed by my love of cheese, the 80s and musical theatre. I must admit I had my reservations about Joe McElderry (X Factor) as lead, but I learned my lesson after judging former X-Factor contestant Lucie Jones before seeing her utterly slay in the role of Maureen in Rent. I was also skeptical about the use of ‘Love Island’ references in the musical’s marketing literature. I might like cheese and pop music but even I have my standards.

The premise of this family friendly show is that a budding young bride and groom get cold feet and take a hiatus ahead of their impending wedding only to – surprise! – find themselves at the same resort where the drinks are free and tans glow. The show is an unapologetic romp through some of the poppiest, cheesiest anthems of the 80s. I wasn’t sure to what degree these anthems could complement or dovetail with the storyline or how the proposed story would hold up…this is something I suffered I mean ‘struggled with’ with at Son of a Preacher Man in 2018. You can love the songs, but if a musical isn’t delivering on the storyline then it will fall on it’s arse. 

So what then of Club Tropicana? 

Let’s be frank. It won’t win any prizes for being clever or original. The characterisation (bar a few stand out examples) is challenged at times by a simple (to the point of dumbed down) script and carosel of smash hits that come so thick and fast, it’s dizzying. It was difficult for me to connect to the characters, some of whom felt like musical theatre stereotypes and perhaps lacking in personality at times. The story hardly allowed for any development of some of the supporting cast’s stories beyond a few lazy jokes.

Imagine Hi-De-Hi mashed up with Mrs Brown’s Boys and a splash of Alan Carr and Eldorado. There are jokes about sex, farting, diarrhoea, being sick. There is humping, there is more innuendo than a Carry On comedy, more ham than a Danepak factory. But while all this stuff may leave an extremely nasty taste in the mouth of the more sophisticated theatre-goer (like the couple in front of me who seemed to have gotten lost on the way to a Chekov play or the ballet and cringed and recoiled with any hint of smut), we were mosty all there to unwind, have fun and enjoy the tunes – like refugees from the toxic wastelands of 2019.

Joe McElderry is hard to dislike and he works his socks off to win over the crowd, he plays the part of super-camp holiday rep Gary and is great fun, getting the audience to their feet and joining in a locomotion-type dance from the get-go. His personality shines through and vocals are super strong. The choreohraphy, costumes and hair – all excellent – one highlight being that gravity-defying quiff on Christine’s sidekick Andrea (played by Tara Verloop).

There are some surprisingly lovely musical arranegements in the show, with a beautifully crafted accoustic version of ‘Take on Me’ being a standout song, performed by lead actors Neil McDermott as Robert and Emily Tierney as Christine. I hate to be predictable but in every musical there is a suporting cast member who lingers in the memory (perhaps unfairly sometimes, given the pressure and scale of task facing the lead role actors). They seem to have a presence that even surpasses the role they embody – carrying with them an effortless ability to shine, no matter how lame or stereotypical the role they play.

For this show, it’s Kate Robbins as hotel maid Consuela – a Spanish trope so tired, they had to bring it back out of retirement. But her physical comedy and impersonations of a raft of 80s stars throughout the show is the backbone of Club Tropicana. For all the dazzling choreography, pretty musical theatre performers and bright lights – you need someone who will cut through the noise and make you belly laugh. More than that though, her impressions of the vocals of Tina Turner, Madonna, Shirley Bassey and even Cilla Black are truly sensational.

In places Club Tropicana was clunky, and yes – it’s possible to eat up so much cheese you are quite tired of it and need to lie down afterwards, but it’s a show that is unashamedly for those of us who remember the 80s as a time when sitting on the floor doing the ‘Oops up side your head’ dance seemed like such innocent fun. It’s nostalgic and warm and you won’t even mind being part of a Butlin’s-style Spanish package holiday experience where you wouldn’t normally be seen dead.

Take your Mam or your mates, listen to Cyndi Lauper in the car on the way down….eat the cheese! You can always have a lie down afterwards….


REVIEW: ‘ADDAMS FAMILY: THE MUSICAL’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Anyone growing up in the late 80s and 90s will have a fond recollection of the original Addams Family TV series. Inspired by the creator of the Addams Family comic strip by Charles Addams, the family were a dark inversion of the idealised nuclear American family. What started out as a popular comic strip and TV show snowballed into a staple of iconic popular culture across the entire globe.

The Addams Family creative treatment has now expanded to encompass TV remakes, several films, multiple theatrical productions, and video games. The show has already toured extensively in the UK, with dates at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre, but this time Kinetic Theatre company bring a smaller version of the production to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The company, headed up by Artistic Director Kris Cowley is a training company for musical theatre for young people aged 16 and over – and has now been relaunched as Kinetic School of Performing Arts.

Their members are at differing stages of their theatrical experience, with many of them acting as mentors for other members to develop their confidence and skills. I overheard Artistic Director Kris Cowley tell another audience member in the interval that they had given one of the lead roles to twelve-year-old Lewys Rees, who was nervous about cutting his teeth on his first production while playing the part of Pugsley Addams, but was being supported and encouraged by his team.

It’s great to see new talent like this emerging from grass-roots groups and being given big breaks often not afforded to those without significant experience with established performing arts schools or academies. In this sense, companies like Kinetic do great work in opening up access to performing arts and removing the barriers people often face. It takes a lot of courage to hold your own at such a young age – but Lewys Rees had a promising voice, which I’m sure will put him in good stead for next year’s ‘Camp Rock’ musical being developed by Kinetic.

The synopsis for the show is good – kooky Wednesday Addams meets a rather conventional (some might say bland and boring) romantic prospect. Chaos follows when she asks her father Gomez to keep a secret about the real reason for inviting her boyfriend Lucas’ family – they are engaged to be married. As Lucas’ Mother and Father descend on the Addams family mansion, tensions build as the Beinekes encounter the macabre Addams family, their dead ancestors, family rivalries and inevitable fall outs when their two worlds collide.

The story lends itself well to a musical format and there’s a generous mix of upbeat songs from a variety of genres to move things along. The ensemble cast (dead ancestors) were superb in amplifying the story and musical directors Liz York and Emma Pawsey have done a stellar job in translating the musical score into strong blended vocals and punchy choreography on stage.

I loved the opening number ‘When you’re an Addams’ and the production is at it’s strongest during the whole-cast ensemble pieces. The segment when the two families sit down to dinner (‘Full Disclosure’) brought to mind Fosse-like choreography and a flavour of the Chicago movie song ‘Both reached for the gun’.

Now for the not so great bits. At such an early stage in their performance experience, the production does lack gloss and finesse in places. Lights seem late to come up after blackouts, the microphones on the actors’ faces pick up sound (breathing and talking) after the actors have left the stage. Gomez’ accent is a little…off….and can be distracting at times, nevertheless – Jack Davies is enviable in his delivery of personable Gomez, his comic timing is great and his execution during the ‘Happy/Sad’ song was sweet.

Georgia Tonge as Wednesday seems unsure of herself at times, yet her accent as Wednesday is impeccable and her vocals are generally good. For me, one of the standout characters was Fester (who I believe was played by Thomas Price the night I was there) – his zany antics and wiry, frenetic physicality bring great energy and pace to the show’s story. A truly charming presence on stage.

The star of the show has to be the poker-faced Zoe Martin who was simply brilliant as Morticia Addams. Sleek and sassy and with a ‘bitchy resting face’ to rival Anjelica Houston, her deadpan demeanor and withering put-downs were as sharp as a tack.

The routine between Zoe Martin and Jack Davies as a tangoing-couple during the song ‘Tango de Amor’ was fabulous. Well done lastly to the superb ‘dead relatives’ who did so much to bring life and zest to this production. My daughter (age 9) was watching you all like a hawk, noticing every facial expression and raise of an eyebrow.

“They’re really good actors, Mom!” she told me during the interval – she’s part of a performance group herself and always keeps a beady eye on the supporting actors in the background. I’d better bring her back to RWCMD to see Camp Rock next year – though I suspect in the meantime she’ll beg me to join Kinetic, because they’ve clearly made an impression on my little Miss!

Keep it up, Kinetic!

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

By: Lewis Carol

Adaption by Mike Kenney

Directed by: Rachel O’Riordan

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Sherman’s Christmas shows are becoming one of my family’s staple events of the Christmas season. For the second year in a row, their main stage show has avoided an overly ‘Christmassy’ offering (last year’s production of ‘The Borrowers’ was one of our stand out shows from 2017) but despite this, they’ve still managed to inject a large dose of festive fun and frivolity in to the production.

Director Rachel O’Riordan has brought together an all-Welsh cast and it’s great to see some familiar faces who you may recognise from other stand-out productions from the last few years. Hannah McPake (who plays the Queen of Hearts) comes from the ‘Gagglebabble’ duo with Lucy Rivers, who also features in the show’s musical line up. Having seen both Wonderman and Sinners Club with Lucy and Hannah, you know you are in for an off-the-wall experience if they are involved.

I’d also recognised Elin Phillips as the Cheshire Cat/Caterpillar (who I saw in Tom Jones the Musical by Theatre Na n’Og), Alexandria Riley the March Hare/Tweedledum who was absolutely incredible in Fio’s production of The Mountaintop in Cardiff’s Other Room pub-theatre, Keiron Self (The Duchess) who also featured in last year’s Sherman Production of The Borrowers along with the hyperactively hilarious White Rabbit Joseph Tweedale.

It’s a familiar cast, but as an ensemble and with the innocence of Alice, played by relative newcomer Elian West, they had wonderful energy and chemistry. I was also glad to see Callum Davies’ debut as the Doormouse, having joined the cast through the Sherman Players and as one of the Sherman’s apprentice actors. It’s great to see new talent being supported by Sherman – and Callum was adorable as the mouse!

Firstly, mad props to designer Hayley Grindle and her team, who created a stunning chequerboard set, which was dazzling and disorientating at the same time! The intimacy of the space in Sherman creates such a lovely, cosy atmosphere and the set and props were clever and creative (the baby pig, the trap doors, the table legs, the ticking clocks, the tiny doors at the end of the corridor, the teacups, mushrooms and roses).

Writer Mike Kinney added his own flair to the show, which did not chain itself to the original book or Disney movie visuals, but found its own voice.

A Duchess with a valleys accent, Tweedledee and Tweedledum with broad Newport accents and a flavour of the Welsh language peppered in dialogue exchanges and songs brought a similar kind of relevance and familiarity that Christmas Panto-goers will know and love.

Having been a life-long fan of valleys Pantomime Dame Frank Vickery who sadly passed away this year, it was lovely to see Keiron Self mimicking the same kind of high-camp, neurotic valleys Mam vibe which always hits home with me!

The littlies in the audience also loved the huge presence and scary-as-hell crazy eyes of Hannah McPake as the Queen of Hearts. Francois Pandolfo’s turn as the hen-pecked, simpering and anxious King was simply brilliant. I hadn’t expected the show to include musical numbers and it added another rich layer to this lovely production, with the cast ensemble vocals (particularly in the ‘Alice’ intro song and refrain) so sweet-sounding and warming.

Another standout song which children will love (and you’ll see them mimicking it in the foyer afterwards, no doubt) was a song about Alice’s baby sister (who it turns out has a head of a pig). It’s possible you may also have the ‘Wah wah wah…’ song in your head for the rest of the evening.

I had two ‘mini-critics’ of my own with me, age 9 – and they are typically the harshest of critics and don’t pull any punches. What were their final thoughts?

“Why did Alice not have blonde hair?!” said one of the littlies, who was completely exasperated with this minor detail. I explained this was a theatre show – not a ruddy Disney movie. Things always change on stage.

“Still – everyone knows Alice has blonde hair…also, I thought the Wah Wah Wah song went on for ages.”

Riiiiiiiiiight – so what would your marks out of five be, I asked them both – dreading the answer.

“I’d give it 3.5 stars.” Mini Critic 2 said.

Sheesh! What about Mini Critic 1?

“Definitely a 4.5 – I thought the singing was lovely and they were really funny.”

Jeez, maybe the Queen of Hearts was right about kids! I also couldn’t believe that these two did not share my enthusiasm for the Jam tarts which the Sherman had so thoughtfully provided for their guests on opening night.

“Look kids – JAM TARTS…WOWWWWW!” It doesn’t take a lot to get me excited, I admit.

“Meh…don’t like Jam Tarts.”

I tried threatening them that if the Queen of Hearts heard their comments, she’d have their heads off but….

Kids today! You can lead them to a finely tuned production of Alice, but you can’t make them eat the Jam Tarts or get over the fact that Alice didn’t have blonde hair.

Ultimately though – we all agreed this was a great little show, which got us feeling very excited indeed for Christmas (oh, and I still have the Wah Wah Wah song circling my head!).

Go see it – you won’t regret it!

WOW – Women of the World Festival, Cardiff by Gemma Treharne-Foose

If there was ever a time we needed a WOW festival, it’s in 2018. Women of the World celebrates women and girls and takes a frank and at times challenging look at the obstacles faced by women.

It’s a global movement akin to the ‘V Day’ celebrations I have been lucky enough to be a part of elsewhere in the globe. This would be the first ‘full-blown’ version of the festival to take place in Wales (between 24th-25th November) and the first bilingual version of the festival. Both V Day and Women of the World celebrations aren’t purely about one topic, one issue – this year’s WOW Fest held everything from workshops on fixing bicycles to polemical clowning and talks/workshops on homelessness, self-care, black women’s hair, boxing, movement and storytelling.

This is very much about helping women to discover something new, finding solutions and new ideas to tackle problems old and new. It’s not a conference or a symposium, but a place you come to meet, connect with others and be inspired to take part.

Founded in 2010 by Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director, Jude Kelly CBE, it’s the biggest gathering of women and girls around the globe, reaching over 2 million people in 20 cities across 5 continents. It cooks up a series of varied, entertaining and challenging talks, debates, live music and performance, activism and comedy, along with mentoring and pop up events to create an eclectic and localised version of the larger global movement.

The 2018 WOW experience in Wales took place at Chapter Arts Centre, a smaller but perhaps more homely venue than a previous version of the festival was held in 2016 – at the Wales Millennium Centre. This year’s version featured a line up including Gwenno Saunders, Charlotte Church, Sian Evans, Lula Mehbratu (The Digital Migrant), Sahar Al-Faifi, Sian James former MP, Gemma Price (Boxing Pretty), Anna Hursey, Shahien Taj OBE, Lucy Owen (BBC Wales) and LayFullStop.

The staff handling the festival were wonderful, everyone from the lively chap checking me in, despite my apparent lack of ability to talk and articulate sentences that day, the ‘caped crusader’ volunteers donning glittery WOW capes, who brought so much pep and joy to the proceedings and helping headless chicken types like me navigate their way around. Then of course the regular Chapter staff who do so much to make everyone feel welcome.

It’s a lovely open space, but intimate enough not to feel intimidating unlike the labyrinth-like WMC, in which even the most regular of customers can still feel a bit lost and overwhelmed. Due to my Thanksgiving celebrations that weekend (perhaps this had something to do with my not being able to speak when I arrived), I unfortunately missed the majority of the festival and arrived towards the end of the final day, around 3.30pm.

There was still lots to see, lots going on and there was no sign of anyone’s enthusiasm waning. There was a lively, energetic atmosphere in Chapter’s Café Bar and members of the ‘Only Menopause Allowed’ choir were getting ready to perform. I caught the majority of the moving accounts of women affected by the Grenfell and Aberfan disasters during a panel discussion in Chapter’s Cinema 1 space.

Hosted by festival founder Jude Kelly, this was a sensitive but ultimately eye-opening account of the experiences of the women at the centre of both tragedies. We heard the terrible story of a panelist’s sibling whose family were torn apart by the death of her sister who went to school on the last day of term over 50 years ago and never came home.

Her father had been Chair of the Aberfan Memorial Site and spent his entire life fighting for justice for families in Aberfan after the NCB decided that £500 was a sufficient amount to compensate for the lost life of a child. To add insult to injury, the victims were forced to pay from their own fundraising fund for the NCB to remove the slurry and waste that had killed and injured so many.

This was a sobering account of both tragedies, where the guest speakers spoke with grace, real compassion for the other panelists and determination to see justice for the victims. They were not giving up the fight – and 52 years later, the daughter of the Chair of the Aberfan Memorial site had taken up the baton from her father and continues to campaign.

The Grenfell representatives who’d come down from London to tell their story spoke of being side-lined by local authorities, abandoned by the Government and belittled by large global charities. Theirs was a story of women the world over – organisers, do-ers, campaigners, nurturers – being rendered voiceless by individuals and organisations that assumed they knew better.

Like Aberfan, the fundraising efforts in Grenfell were mishandled by outside forces. Donations which had poured in from the public disappeared without trace, no explanation given about their whereabouts. Families struggled to gain access to funds and slowly – another community lost faith in those who were meant to protect them, more than 50 years after this happened to a community over 200 miles away.

The kinship these survivors and campaigners showed on stage was clear and their dignity and fortitude was incredibly moving. After leaving the Cinema/discussion, it was clear that the content of the talk had clearly affected some audience members, who left the Cinema weeping or being comforted by friends and relatives.

With limited time remaining, I decided to explore upstairs in the hopes of catching an act which had caught my attention in the programme. LayFullStop (I’d never heard of her before) is a female hip-hop/soul artist from Manchester via Birmingham. Accompanied on Stage by Woddy Green, who she has collaborated with on a number of tracks, I was surprised that such a small and unassuming young girl could possess such an incredible sultry voice and ferocious bars.

She’s been honing her talents with well-known collectives Cul De Sac and Roots Raddix and has built a cult following since 2016. It’s been a while since I have been in the loop when it comes to music and musical trends and probably more than 20 years (or more!) since I actively bought hip-hop music or read about it in ‘The Source.’ Apart from attending a Biggie Smalls Memorial Concert in my late teens and listening to Snoop Dog on Spotify now and again, that’s about as far as my knowledge goes these days.

LayFullStop amazed me, I had only intended to pop in for a quick listen but watched her entire set from start to finish. If you’ve ever had a passing appreciation for Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill or Lil Kim, you will love her. This was an utterly refreshing musical style and approach for those who like me find the ‘style over substance’ direction of hip-hop and music in general, a bit distasteful, fake or even tiresome. Her sound is slick – and far from the blingy, flashy humble (or not-so-humble) bragging which tends to dominate hip-hop performed by men, LayFullStop lets the music do the talking, rather than her style.

Her tracks are a sweet fusion of silky jazz, nostalgic soul and UK hip-hop, delivered with wit and panache from a small but fierce Mancunian. It’s rare for artists to skip so effortlessly from punchy hip-hop to sweet singing voice, but more than that – her lyrics are gold, focusing not on the more material and shallow aspects you tend to find in popular culture, but of the life-enhancing elements we can all identify with: finding your inner voice and power, enjoying touch and sensual experiences as a woman, growing intellectually and spiritually.

This to me is true influence and I felt richer for being part of it…she’s been on repeat on Soundcloud since the weekend. Women: I urge you to listen to this phenomenal woman from Manchester.

When you listen to her singing ‘Intact (Cradle Me)’, ‘Kansas’ and ‘Bohemian Queen’ you will be fixing your crown and sitting up a little straighter before facing the world.

Even in such a small snippet, this festival was a tonic for the sisterly soul. Thank you LayFullStop and WOW Fest for giving me some courage and hope on a rainy, grey weekend – if this is what the future looks like, then we’re in good hands.

Festival of Voice 2018: My review highlights (Gemma Treharne-Foose)

2018’s Festival of Voice, produced by the Wales Millennium Centre builds on previous years’ attempts to unite communities and celebrate voice in all its forms, drawing upon Wales’ wide cultural and musical legacy. This would be my first experience of the festival and it really kicked off in style.

Over the course of a week, I’d be bowled over, discover something new and completely unexpected and leave my typical comfort zone of only watching (and reviewing) theatre. Festivals like these are a smorgasbord of new opportunities to learn something new and develop your palate for new art forms and genres of music.

We were introduced to the opening of the festival from the centre’s Artistic Director and team, before being joined by community and advocacy groups – true to the centre’s vision to be inclusive and accessible, but I did wonder how ‘accessible’ it really is that unless you are familiar with the set-up and already know that you can verify your ticket – the £8 parking ticket cost to park in the nearest car park and see a WMC show would be pretty inaccessible to most carers and people on PIPs and other benefits.

I also need to point out the ridiculous set-up of the toilets in the centre. There are disabled toilets, sure – but the two sets of heavy doors, teeny-weeny area to dry your hands and the smallest bins I’ve ever seen in my life are deeply irritating.

But I digress….enough of the nit-picking and on to the main event…

CARERS CHOIR, GIG BUDDIES AND BILLY BRAG, WMC

Underappreciated, underpaid and perhaps an unlikely group of people to assemble as a choir, the festival was opened by a multi-generational group of carers, who sang with real spirit and heart. Knowing the obstacles and challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, their positivity shone through and the audience were visibly moved by their version of ‘What a wonderful world’ and ‘Lean on me’.

After rapturous applause, it was time for the Gig Buddy crew to crash into the foyer, clutching signs, banging drums and stamping their feet. They had formed a group to protest the fact that the support they receive does not take into account the fact that they too want to access music and arts performances – and these of course fall outside the typical office hours of supporters and carers. In association with Learning Disability Wales and Hijinx Theatre Company, the protesters delivered a skit about the fact that for most people – not being able to go to gigs, movies and performances like everybody else is not only unfair but naturally they’re quite rightly pissed off about it.

This was a brilliant opportunity to showcase the ‘Gig Buddies’ initiative where volunteers are matched (via their interests) to people with additional learning needs and various disabilities who need a little extra support to access gigs and shows. Bloody brilliant idea and I’m hoping to sign up myself.

The main event for the opening of the festival was ‘Topical singer songwriter’ Billy Brag (he doesn’t like to call himself a political performer in case it puts people off!). I knew the name Billy Brag but barely any of his actual material. This would be a new experience, not least for discovering the awesomeness that was supporting artist Nadine Shah, a Tyneside lass whose basy, punky songs are accompanied by soulful vocals.

Her edgy songs draw upon current affairs, world injustices and the hurt and heartbreak of modern life. Performing songs from her 2017 album ‘Holiday Destination’, she gave a fierce and raw performance. The song Holiday Destination and its refrain ‘How you gonna sleep tonight’ is a polemical nudge and critique on the holidaymakers in Kos who complained of refugees on the island ruining their holidays.

Shah tells the crowd “We need immigration – we make food taste better, we make the place look better and we make music sound better, too!”.

Shah’s heritage is Norwegian-Pakistani, and her Northern accent and humour shines through in her work. Billy Brag is – just like Nadine Shah, a storyteller. In between his songs, he delights the audience with his insights, his banter and his stinging observations about what’s going on in the world. He is unapologetic about his views, honest about his flaws and endlessly witty about politics in general.

He skewers Trump in the finale song based upon Bob Dylan’s ‘Times they are a changin’, which was changed to ‘Times they are a changing-BACK’). He tells the audience he wrote the song in a rage in 2016 when Trump was elected. His stories and rambles include the fact that he was schooled the last time he was in Cardiff for using a plastic bottle on stage at the Tramshed. “I’m sorry…I learned from my mistake. The oceans are full of plastic and shit, we need to do something about it.” Since then he’s used a ‘Gig Buddy’ aluminium bottle.

Of the grumpy artist Morrissey, he tells us “What is happening? He’s turned into a bloody gammon!”. Brag’s songs are clever and his set is largely improvised. He plays a song after an audience member shouts out a suggestion – and his final song is the famous classic ‘A New England’.

The entire audience shouts back the lyrics and it’s electrifying. I couldn’t believe I haven’t been following this chap’s career. Where the hell have I been the last 37 years? He has a new fan in the Rhondda, that’s for sure. The opening acts in the foyer and the main concert in the Donald Gordon theatre were rebellious in spirit and sound.

LOVECRAFT (NOT THE SEX SHOP IN CARDIFF), WMC (Ffresh bar)

I don’t know where Carys Eleri has been hiding out but we all need to see more of her. I didn’t know what the show ‘Lovecraft’ was going to be about – something to with science and love, I gleaned from the flyer. But it’s so much better than the event write-up promises.

I can’t praise the producers and director of this show enough for their vision. As sets go, it’s pretty low-tech, a cabaret-style set up within Ffresh bar serves as the set and Carys is accompanied by two screens which form a kind of visual aid and powerpoint for this hilarious one-woman show. The production is a romp through the idiosyncrasies and absurdities of love. What’s the ‘science’ behind love and sex? You’ll get to find out – via Carys’ brilliant stories.

It’s outrageously honest… and completely mental. This show will especially appeal to any women in their thirties who feel the pressure and expectation that society thrusts (‘scuse the pun) upon them.

At times, this feels like you are catching up with one of your girlfriends from Carmarthen who is every bit as outrageous and filthy as you are – and you’ll love her for it. The science narrative is informative, but not the main point of the show. You’ll be drawn in to her off the wall stories, brilliant observations about her Mam (“Carys…can’t you put on a bra..?”) and the dirty and embarrassing secrets we might all experience growing up – ‘fanny gallops’, hallucinogenic trips in the back of a taxi being driven by a unicorn and waking up naked next to another girl. We’ve all been there, right?

The song ‘Tit Montage’ is the highlight of the show, perhaps of the entire festival – and in my opinion would be a credible entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.

The song ‘I brain you’ is pee-your-pants hilarious. If Carys Eleri was running for Prime Minister, I’d probably vote for her. I BEG you to see this show – its been to Edinburgh Fringe already and has attracted a steady stream of adoration from audiences at the Festival of Voice.

There is so much life left in this show – and I hope it tours again (I will be sure to gather as many of my filthy friends as I can to share the experience with). My only negative points are that I could have happily sat through another hour of it before it finished and I now want Carys Eleri to be my best friend/drinking companion even though she has no idea who the hell I am.

RHONDDA RIPS IT UP (WNO), New Theatre

After a somewhat lukewarm experience at my last opera, I wasn’t sure if I was an ‘opera person’. But anyone following the #MeToo movement, who calls themself a feminist or admires the women who took part in the recent ‘Procession’ in Cardiff to mark a hundred years since women obtained the right to vote REALLY shouldn’t miss out on this show.

Led by Emcee Lesley Garrett, this is a look back at the stuffy Victorian era and the legendary Margaret Haig (Lady Rhondda) – a politician’s daughter and activist who led the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The indomitable Margaret Haig was an outspoken radical who along with other women, was judged and ridiculed by the Asquith’s liberal government for her efforts.

Played by Madeline Shaw, Lady Rhondda is a fearless campaigner. Along with her friends Edith and Prid (played by Paula Greenwood and Meriel Andrew), the production satirises the ‘old boy network’ of both the government and society at the time and pokes fun at the uptight/prissy way in which women were expected to behave.

I had no idea opera could be this edgy or this level of hilarious. Everything from the choreography, the physical comedy of Garrett and other cast members, the originality of the songs and cheeky/camp way they are delivered is a treat for the audience.

The stand out scenes are the songs ‘My girl’s pussy’ (yes, really!) and the song about the fondant fancies, complete with all the flair and foppishness of the Edwardian music hall tradition. This is Women’s Institute crossed with #MeToo.

There are also guest appearances from the WNO community chorus (who deliver a rousing performance as fellow suffragettes) and a nod to Haig and Helen Archdale’s gay relationship, demonstrating the extent to which Lady Rhondda tore up the rule book and challenged convention, albeit discreetly. There is a telling scene in the show when Margaret Haig and her friend are on the train (with their bomb-making materials) and they overhear a man saying “Suffragettes! If that was my wife, I’d give her a darn good thrashing!”.

Queue a hilariously camp sequence with a bunch of ‘men’ thrashing each other’s behinds with rolled up newspapers in a homo-erotic fashion. Nowadays we’d call this toxic masculinity at its worst – back then, those kinds of attitudes were de rigueur.

I am no opera buff, but WNO have delivered a phenomenal tribute to Lady Rhondda and her contribution as a suffragette and business pioneer.

It was sensitive without being syrupy and witty without being cruel. Not everyone will get the satire, apparently – one audience member overheard in the loo commented she didn’t understand why ‘men were being made fun of’ and that she preferred the WNO community chorus to the production itself. For me, the main feeling I got was one of immense gratitude – that so many women like Haig faced violence, imprisonment and the scorn of society and for their dogged determination to change history for the better.

Their first victory was not a resounding success, the first bill allowing women to vote was only for women over 30 with property. There was plenty more to fight for – and with world events and pussy-grabbing presidents reminding us daily, some might say the battle is far from over. But as the legendary suffragette Emily Pankhurst once said:

“Never surrender….never give up the fight.”

GWENNO, WMC (Weston Studio)

A former member of indie band The Pipettes, Gwenno has already amassed a strong critical following and fanbase after the release of album Un Dydd Olaf in 2015 and Cornish language ‘Le Kov’ in 2018. Her dedication and tribute to Edrica Hughes at the Festival of Voice was a moving tribute to the poet and patchwork quilt artist Edrica Huws (1907-1999).

There was a packed house in the Weston Studio for the one-off performance, entirely created and composed by Gwenno, but this time with the support of a violinist and harpist (Angharad Davies and Georgia Ruth). The stage was dressed like a set – a lived-in parlour with an old-fashioned crib, a fireplace and the markers of domesticity from a time gone by.

At the foot of the large screen above the stage stood Gwenno’s mixing decks and computer, flanked by a triple harp and wooden toys – the musical set and hi-tec equipment is a curious accompaniment to the ironing board, clothes horse and lamp on stage, denoting the ordinary, humble life of Edrica. On the screen we saw vignettes of slices of history sketched and animated on the screen, accompanying the synthy electric-pop landscape being played and mixed live in front of us.

We saw suffragettes marching in 1907, weaving in and out of the war, a grimy London landscape of the humdrum existence of everyday life, love, relationships and duty stitched together with the dreamy melodies and an almost hallucinogenic quality to the music. I hadn’t known about Edrica’s work or story before. An ordinary wife and mother, she didn’t start expressing herself artistically until age 51.

She became a ‘patchwork pioneer’, breaking the rules and conventions of art and design in terms of subject, material, tone and texture to become a celebrated exhibitor and artist/poet around the world.

Animated by Tad Davies, the on-screen vignettes to not distract so much as heighten the experience for the audience and Gwenno’s gentle vocals, the poppy disco beats, baseline and meandering harp and violin are a thing of beauty.

Gwenno’s soundscape is punctuated by poetic whisperings, especially poignant and beautiful during ‘Anrhefn Pentyndod / The chaos of childhood’ and kooky and marvellous when she donned a cat mask for ‘Y Gath’ / The Cat in tribute to Edrica’s ‘Cat on an ironing board’ piece.

She is not a wild or attention-seeking performer in the sense of other unique artists (like Bjork for example) but she is completely enigmatic – a quiet genius in many senses. She creates riffs and spacey echoes using props – one song loops the sounds made by wooden toys and they are overlaid with a base-heavy disco beat.

It is weird and wonderful and strangely soothing. Edrica is a feast for the senses, the thinking person’s mind disco – and you’ll be richer for having witnessed it.

In between each song, the audience is almost deathly silent for a few seconds – not because the show is bad (because it was clearly bloody brilliant) but because they know they had witnessed something magical and weren’t sure what the rules were. Should we get up and dance? Applaud wildly? Edrica Huws broke the rules during her lifetime and Gwenno is doing the same.

5 stars 

Type of show: Music / Theatre / Opera / Performance Art / Poetry

Title: Festival of Voice Venue: Multiple Locations

Dates: 7-17 June

Produced by: Wales Millennium Centre (and partners)

Author: Gemma Treharne-Foose

REVIEW: ‘SON OF A PREACHER MAN’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

It helps when you see a show if you take along someone who actually remembers the era the show was set in. When I saw ‘Sunny Afternoon’ at the Wales Millennium Centre, my theatre companion (who happens to be my Mum) remembered the energy and the buzz of the musical revolution of the 60s.

Through them, you get to imagine what it was like – they are the ‘litmus paper’ for the legitimacy and authenticity of the storyline, the music, the fashion and the dancing. Sunny Afternoon captured the wonder, the outrage and the rebellion of the era – and even if you have no direct experience of it, you admired it and felt part of it. It was beautifully done without overly relying on nostalgia and famous songs. Although I didn’t know anything about Dusty’s life, I knew many of her songs through my mother and was hoping for a feel-good good show which would bring her original material to life – perhaps even a sense of nostalgia for my own childhood, where I spent many happy hours dancing in the kitchen and living room to my mother’s vinyl records.

Son of a Preacher man is clearly written to cater to the boomers and the sense of nostalgia they feel about their teens. The British public clearly still have a sense of loyalty and affection towards Dusty Springfield, whose memorable songs were the soundtrack to their youth.

My mother recalls seeing Dusty Springfield perform in Cardiff during her teens. In a nod to the rivalry (real or imagined) between Dusty and Sandy Shaw, Dusty came on stage wearing massive comedy feet – taking a pop at Sandy’s reputation for singing on stage while barefoot. Perhaps this is testament to Dusty’s rebellious spirit and humour. I hadn’t known until my Mother relayed it to me in the interval but Dusty’s real life was marred by a set of tragic and difficult events, from her early childhood in a children’s home run by Catholic nuns, to being in the closet then losing her eyesight at an early age.

The production doesn’t really pick up much on Dusty’s legacy or life story – this is a show punctuated by her musical repertoire plus a few additional tracks from the era. This production looks back wistfully at a more innocent time – spent in Saturdays in record shops, dancing, and dating.

The three central characters all have a connection with the ‘Preacher Man’s’ record shop. Somehow they all end up going back to find him – and find their histories and collective futures become intertwined. We blend in an out of the 60s back to present day, through the youngest character Kat (played by Alice Barlow), Michelle Gayle’s character Alison and Paul – who on the night I attended was played by Gary Mitchinson.

Audiences will surely remember Michelle Gayle, best known for playing ‘Hattie’ in Eastenders and releasing a number of hits in the 90s including ‘Sweetness’. Her role as Alison is a little awkward at times – she doesn’t really suit the character she plays.

Hats off though to two of the show’s stand out stars – the incredible Alice Barlow who played Kat – her vocals were incredible and she is magnetic on stage. Also, the charismatic Nigel Richards who plays Simon (The Son of a Preacher Man) had a beautiful baritone voice and great comic delivery.

It was easy to forgive some of the cliches of the script when Alice Barlow was performing. It’s a credit to the cast that they were able to rescue the credibility of the show with their fabulous ensemble performances and blended vocals. Michelle Gayle is far too fabulous for the role of Alison – but her vocal performance is still hitting the spot years after ‘Sweetness’ was released and she is an accomplished singer and dancer.

The jury is still out on how well the show straddles both the 60s flashbacks and present-day vignettes. We get scenes talking about Tinder interjected with a cheeseball 60s routine with an unhealthy dose of Dad-dancing. So much Dad-dancing! But perhaps I wasn’t the right demographic for this show. When I whispered to my Mum ‘Look at that Dad dancing!’ she said ‘That what it was like – it WAS hammy and cheesy.’

Perhaps best known for his attachment to the show as Director with a musical staging credit is Strictly Come Dancing’s outrageous judge Craig Revel Horwood. His flamboyant touches are evident throughout – and don’t always land in the way they are perhaps intended – the ‘Cappucino Sisters’ deviate between 60s dancing and the occasional twerk, bump and grind.

I’m going to be frank. The story was a little…underwhelming. A teacher falling in love with a teenage boy, a teenager falling in love with someone she saw on Tinder and a man who is still in love with a guy he danced with a few times in the 60s. It was weak and was held up (just about) from the talent of this great cast and fabulous on-stage musicians. For me (and I speak as a lover of the poptastic and the cheesetastic), I found certain elements a little cringeworthy. The show was overly wistful, the opening scenes with the smoke and the ‘I remember it…. I remember it….I STILL remember it…’ were overdone and made me fear for what was ahead.

Was it just me?

Apparently not, according to the criticisms I heard in the queue in the lady’s loo during the interval. You know you’re in trouble as a theatre producer when you hear a lady say to her friends “The music is brilliant, but the story! It’s like pulling teeth” and everyone else in the queue laughs and agrees.

Theatre producers should be made to listen to reviews of their shows in ladies loos – they could learn a thing or two and perhaps even improve it before they tour with it.

Musical theatre isn’t to everyone’s taste. Some complain that songs are shoehorned in, there are too many ‘filler songs’ and some even dread the moment an actor starts singing. With this production, I found myself hoping they would hurry up and get to the song. It’s hard not to enjoy the music and it’s done really well – it’s the saving grace of the production. But It’s such a shame the show didn’t quite hit the mark. It just doesn’t quite match up to the true legacy of Dusty Springfield – and she deserved better.

If you’re a die-hard Dusty fan, you need to take the show with a pinch of salt and keep a (very) open mind. If you go – go along for the ride, have a few glasses of vino and enjoy the music. The story is a bit of a stinking bishop, but who doesn’t love and look forward to a slice of cheddar or a Dairylea triangle now and again?

Son of a Preacher man is currently on tour and will play in Venue Cymru in Llandudno on May 29th-June 2nd. The production will then visit King’s Lynn Corn Exchange in Norfolk, Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen, Orchard Theatre in Dartford and Empire Theatre in Liverpool.

Review, Awful Auntie, Gemma Treharne-Foose

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Mini fans of Walliams will love this show brought to you by Birmingham Stage Company and there are plenty of the tried and tested ingredients of ‘children’s theatre’ that have become the staple: farts, tricks, screams, talking about pees and poos and generally making adults look a bit silly (of course!). It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but you either have the stomach for David Walliams or you don’t.

Walliams – and Director/adapter Neal Foster borrow from the familiar narratives of Dahl. At the centre of each story is the child protagonist who fights against and overcomes the unfairness of life and its complicated and often cruel characters.

Teachers, headmasters or even your own family members can be funny, but they often despise children and treat them terribly. So it’s all the more glorious when these beastly brutes get their comeuppance…

For those unfamiliar with the story of Awful Aunt, Stella (Lady Saxby) wakes up from a coma to find herself covered in bandages. She’s told she’s been in a coma for three months. When she enquires with her Aunt Alberta about her parents, she tells Stella they were killed in a car accident.

Alberta is desperate to find the deeds to Saxby Hall so she can become the new heiress to the family fortune. But it turns out there is more to the story than a crashed Rolls Royce. With the help of ‘Soot’, the ghost-boy at Saxby hall, Stella uncovers a disturbing truth – and tries desperately to stop Aunt Alberta turning her beloved Saxby Hall in to a tacky Owl Museum.

Awful Auntie brings to life the mischievousness of Walliams’ book and there are some sweet scenes between Stella and Soot. The two eventually discover they have more in common than they initially realise (but no spoilers!).

The epicentre of the whole production and plot line is orchestrated and led by Leonidas. Her unshakable energy, childlike innocence and optimism never falters – and she carries the hopes and wishes of the audience with her as she struggles to escape from the clutches of her dreadful Aunt.

Alberta really is awful, too – so awful that she fought with the Germans in the Second World War because ‘the uniform was better’.

Aunt Alberta’s voice and physicality is expertly depicted by Timothy Speyer. He’s like a cross between The Two Fat Ladies and Cruella De Vil and his plummy tones, tweed ensemble and battle-axe physicality are spot-on.

Gibbon’s confuddled turn as aging Butler (played by Richard James) tickled us pink. To paraphrase Soot (the cockney chimney sweep ghost) – he hasn’t got a Scooby Doo what’s going on, but you’ll chuckle watching him.

Set-wise, there’s a great use of twisting towers to depict different scenes and settings and the towers are eerily brought to life with clever use of lighting by Jason Taylor and Jaqueline Trousdale. What’s striking is the use of puppetry throughout the show – particularly for central character Wagner the Bavarian Owl, puppetted by Roberta Bellekom. The design of Wagner was great, but it’s difficult to replicate on stage the character of Wagner in the book who was by far more dastardly and devious.

The staging and changing of locations was good, notable scenes include the car on the ice at Saxby Hall and ghostly goings on in the kitchen. Soot (played by Ashley Cousins) gives a sweet portrayal of the ghostly chimney sweep, reminding you somewhat of Lee Evans/Norman Wisdom and together, he and Stella complement each other well.

The final scene before the interval finishes very abruptly and falls a little flat, the lights come up before you realise what’s going on. The script could have made more an effort to leave you hanging for the second half.

The actors do a stellar job of portraying the characters – and although my daughter and I liked the production, it won’t pack the same level of punch, sass and cleverness that you might find at a Tim Minchin production of Matilda, for example. For me, the script for the stage production made it harder to engage with and keep you on your toes.

That being said, this is a great little show – and I’d definitely recommend it for a day/night out with the kids.

REVIEW: ‘SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The New Theatre is billed as a top draw for Panto loving families and it was my first time to see what the New Theatre had to offer. I’ve been a Muni/Park and Dare Panto regular since a child and was used to a pretty raucous affair thanks to the likes of Frank Vickery, and his delightfully outrageous teasing and bitchy banter.

So despite being caught in an almighty downpour on the way to the New Theatre, my expectations were mixed for Cardiff’s premier pantomime venue. I knew it was going to be much blingier and higher budget than what I was used to but ticket prices aside, would it bring additional value?

I haven’t been a fan of Eastenders for years and (sorry Samantha!) my distaste for soaps and reality shows in general means I typically have low expectations for their actors and performers. I wasn’t sure how to feel when I found out that ex-Eastender Samantha Womack and real-life caricature of a preening prince (X Factor Famous Chico) would be top of the cast list.

But if you love Panto (as I do) or even have a begrudging respect for it as a traditional artform, you just have to go with it.

Samantha Womack as the Wicked Stepmother is bloody brilliant, she really is. Sorry for misjudging you Samantha! She was excellent at dissing the Cardiff crowd and there were plenty of us in the firing line. Her vocals are really strong, too – particularly during the famous Hocus Pocus movie version of ‘I put a spell on you’.

Thanks to choreographer Stephen Harris, the set list and routines were contemporary with an up to date song list. Kids will love the Ariana Grande opener, which gets you in the mood for the fun ahead.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, Chico still isn’t my cup of tea – but as A-grade cheddar goes, he’s great for the role. I’m not sure we need to see quite so much of his pecs throughout the show and (sorry to be a spoilsport) the whole Step Mother lusting after a younger guy and repeatedly groping him thing doesn’t sit well with me, but…that’s probably overthinking it.

Mike Doyle…not enough is said about how great an entertainer he is. He is completely underrated in the Welsh media, but his turn as ‘Betty Berry’ and Shirley Bassey is first class. Even if you’re not sure about Panto and minor celebs, you must see Mike Doyle rinsing Shirley Bassey and of course- completely getting away with it. Again, while his whole performance is pure hammery (if that’s even a word), he is a truly fantastic singer. He even reminds us at one point: ‘I was trained by Stan Stennett, love!’

There are plenty of local/popular culture references which audiences will love. Snow White last saw her Father get on a bus to St Mellons (never to return), the magic mirror comes from Argos, Alfie comes from the magical kingdom of Bridgend, the royal carriage comes complete with a car alarm (well it is Cardiff) and the people of Lisvane are ‘too posh to join in’.

Special mention also for the fabulous ‘Magnificent Seven’ and their incredible vocals, Mike Coltman for the beautiful costumes and the overall set design (keep an eye out for the wonder of the Snow White cottage).

I did notice a marked difference in general audience participation between the Park and Dare and the New Theatre. The audience on my night was a little flatter than I was used to. BUT! There is a lot of added wow factor in this New Theatre production. The way the set is dressed, the musical repertoire, the size of the cast and the quality of the costumes will blow you away. This is festive bling 2.0.

2017 has been an absolute shocker of a year, but this show is a guaranteed way to blow off the cobwebs and let the New Theatre shower you with sequins and glitter. Let go of your apprehensions and scoff down this Christmassy treat so sweet it’ll make your heart sing and your jaw ache from laughing.

REVIEW: SECOND STAR TO THE RIGHT BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

4 out of 5 stars (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 Richards brings plenty of chuckles as he obsesses about the injury risks and dangers in Neverland and Blue Balmforth 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.

 

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

 

5 out of 5 stars (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.