Guy O'Donnell

Hi I am Guy the project coordinator for Get The Chance. I am a trained secondary teacher of Art and Design and have taught at all Key Stages in England and Wales. I am also an experienced theatre designer and have designed for many of the theatre companies in Wales.

First Theatre Critics of Wales Awards

I am delighted to announce the first ever Theatre Critics of Wales Awards, which will be held at Sherman Cymru on Saturday 26th January, 2013.

Organised by the Young Critics Scheme based in Bridgend, the TCWAs will celebrate the successes of theatre in Wales each year, as voted for by the critics.

The shortlisted nominees in each category will be announced early December 2012, and we will update everyone regularly through an NTW Group (watch this space…) and our active Twitter account, as run by the Young Critics themselves!

This is a very exciting opportunity for Wales to celebrate the fantastic and dynamic work being produced by its theatre companies year in, year out.

Don’t miss out on the action!

Follow us @Young_Critics

The TCWAs are supported by… 

Review of the Utah Bride, By YC Fern Coslett.

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Set in the heart of the Welsh Valleys in the early 1990s the Utah Bride is a production written by Carmen Medway-Stephens and produced by 1.168 Theater Company. The production focuses on the turbulent relationship between a mother  and a daughter named Alice, throughout the play family is explored to create a thought-provoking narrative.

16 year old Alice is back from Utah after escaping the valleys four years previously to live the American dream with her Mormon missionary, her mother questions her motives for returning which I thought added stimulating anxiety.

The show starts and ends with a classic artist and a beautiful song by Dolly Parton, “Little Sparrow”. Its relevance to the play is blurred; I would have expected a Welsh soundtrack that would have established the setting of the production and would have made it feel more authentic.

The bright lights focused on the living room which established the setting for characters, I felt that the characters in the play were not sufficiently developed enough and were hard to connect and sympathize with. They were also over stereotypicalised as moments that touched upon their Welsh culture were much exaggerated such as the entire Welsh neighbourhood coming around to watch the birth of Alice in the back window of the house.I don’t think the narrative of the play was incredibly exciting as it did not  take the audience on a climatic journey this could be due to it focusing too much on the relationship between mother and child.

However, for an hour and 30 minutes the play is intriguing and I was interested in the world created, I felt this was down to the brilliant and emotional acting of Sharon Morgan and Sara Lloyd-Gregory. When the actors were taking their bows you could see that they were both still emotional from the scenes, and it shows how deeply they entered their roles.

One very positive aspects of the show that I highly enjoyed was how the audience took on a voyeuristic stance; you felt intrigued to be watching a very personal moment between a mother and daughter.

The Utah Bride written by Carmen Medway Stephens produced by 1.168 Theater Company.

At Chapter Arts Center, Cardiff Fri the 16th and 17th December.

Cracked – Young Critics Review

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Cracked ****

Dance House NDC Wales (in association with Cardiff Contemporary)

Created by Roy Campbell-Moore and Sue Williams

All good contemporary art is open to interpretation. Roy Campbell-Moore and Sue Williams’s collaboration, Cracked is no exception, posing a number of questions about the manifestation of sexuality and the relationship between man and woman.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s score from The NutcrackerCracked is a rebellion of the ‘fairy tale’. Instead, it explores the realities of relationships. The emotions and sexual tensions that we experience when starting a relationship, and the constant struggle for control.

We meet SHE as she dresses for a night out – picking clothes that accentuate her femininity and sexuality, a private moment adding her make up (which would have been a little more engaging with a larger mirror that reflected the mood and movement of the ritual), and then a full length check in the glass; a short dance that tests her outfit for suitability and sensuality, the tutu harking back to tradition and suggesting that, somewhere beneath the made-up exterior, every woman wants to be the fairy princess.

HE presents himself to us ready dressed, “effortless” in preparation for his evening. He responds to his own music with aggression and assurance; he WILL have a good night, and he WILL take what he wants from it. Though, beneath this demeanour of certainty and arrogance, there is a sense that it’s all a show.

In their meeting, there is a hesitance as they sit apart, not acknowledging the existence of the other until her small gesture of openness, willingness spurs him on, and he is suddenly all over her, falling (drunkenly) at her feet – using the most unromantic gestures to win her over. Their flirting and foreplay is a mix of desire and repulsion, though his main focus is the desire to have her, whether it is her will or not. The moment she feels sure of herself – confident enough to open herself up and give him a sense of her sexual self, he falls upon her, re-exurting his power and physical strength over hers.

A solo performance from SHE is re-empowering; she both embraces and rejects the traditional image of ‘woman’, and conveys her independence and the joy she feels in that.

The final scene between them is complex in theme if simple in design; a rope attached to the ceiling is incorporated into the dance. They each take turns manipulating the rope, though HE seems to hold it more often than SHE and is quickly frustrated and uncomfortable when it is wrapped around him, symbolising the male’s need to be in control, so that he can walk away at any time which, of course, he does, just when they have made a close and intimate connection.

Her final moment, alone is ambiguous. Is she happier this way, or is she devastated to have lost him? What’s wonderful aboutCracked is that the answer is different for everyone.

The use of the traditional, classical music that ordinarily evokes images of flowing white tutus and charming toy soldiers juxtaposes the harsher reality that is portrayed in Cracked, increasing the level of poignancy of each movement, each moment between the two dancers. And that reality is that there is no Prince Charming and, if there is, you might well be better off without him…

 

Before it Rains – Young Critics Review

 

 

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Before it Rains ***

Sherman Cymru 25th Sept – 6th Oct
Written by: Katherine Chandler
Directed by: Roisin McBrinn

A play with the potential to become a hard hitting classic…

Set between the bereft garden of a typical ‘Shameless’ style council estate and a deserted woodland, Before it Rains tells the story of a desperate-to-be-young mum Gloria and her struggling-to-fit-in son Michael, and how their lives are affected by the appearance of the emotionally and mentally scarred new estate delinquent, Carl.

The friendship between the lads is led entirely by Carl, who prays on Michael’s well embedded mental health issue to manipulate Michael’s thoughts and morals. This fires the main conflict of the story, as Michael’s loyalties are pulled on in a human tug of war.

Lisa Palfrey has fleshed out Gloria with Julie Walters style and humour, making the character both endearing and brash; Craig Gazey pulls heart strings and tickles the occasional funny bone with his dead-pan impression of a young man most certainly born on the autistic spectrum and Harry Ferrier does a good job of playing the stereotypical chav who takes things a leap too far.

There are moments where this kitchen-sink drama shows true grit, with laugh out loud lines and shocking actions, but the characters are not fully developed and the relationship between Gloria and Carl, in particular, does not hold enough tension to make the penultimate scene feel likely or as powerful as it should.

Before it Rains has a charm and harshness that hints at Chandler’s ability to create enigmatic characters with raw passion and realism; with further development, and perhaps a two act structure, it could be a GREAT play.

Catch it at the Sherman until Saturday 6th September, in Theatre 2, 8pm.
Tickets £14 | Concessions £12 | Under 25s half price
Suitable for 12+

Dance GB – Young Critics Review

Dance GB
Wales Millennium Centre, 28th – 30th June.Funny. Fluid. Agitating. Frustrating. Relaxing. Mesmerising. Stunning.

The diversity of each performance from Dance GB made for an exciting and dynamic experience that no list of adjectives could adequately describe.

Scottish Ballet’s Run For It was full of peaks and troughs, working through John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony which both juxtaposed and complemented the beauty of the dance. Dressed in Scottish blue lycra, beside and beneath a seemingly Athens inspired installation from Martin Boyce, Martin Lawrence’s choreography conveyed the strength and agility of Olympic athletes whilst still feeling completely light and fluid. Every movement was beautiful and strong, showing off the muscle and power of the dancers.

National Dance Company Wales’s Dream, choreographed by Christopher Bruce was a funny, quirky and reflective performance, capturing the essence of sport for the layman. The 50s costumes and use of Ravel’s Bolero evoked a warm nostalgia adding to the emotions tugged out through the characters and their journey through this narrative piece. By far the most character driven, Dream is the perfect crossover performance for potential dance audiences. Like a favourite song, I could watch it over and over.

English National Ballet’s And the Earth Shall Bear Again was a dark, dramatic dance that felt almost medieval, each dancer in ruffle armed slips moving against the harsh and industrial sounds of John Cage’s music. Itzik Galili’s choreography was stunning, with patterns of dancers creating multiple mirror image effects, or dancing alone, finding their feet – their own movements, watched or ‘caught in the act’ by others. Again strength and power heralded, along with trial and error; learning from the movements of others to create new ones. However, the whole performance felt drowned out by the volume of Cage’s piece which jarred and, with no let up, was a little much for my ears.

Dance GB is a fantastic opportunity to see what’s out there Dance wise in the UK. Discard your expectations and go with an open mind. It will be an evening well spent.

Cappuccino Girls – Young Critics Review

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CAPPUCCINO GIRLS
Written by – Mal Pope
Directed by – Kathryn Rice
The Evening Post Theatre, Swansea
The record breaking 22 week run ended 17th June, 2012.Sitting in the black and pink bedecked ‘bar’ of Swansea’s Evening Post Theatre, listening to some of my favourite rom-com soundtracks, a gaggle of women around me – this musical, in the final week of its record breaking 22 week run, already promises to be a night out any girl will love…

The three main characters of Cappuccino Girls are certainly familiar: Hillary – the ex-magazine editor turned housewife pining for her career; Demi – the shy, put upon mother in a difficult relationship; Connie – the wealthy party girl who can’t get enough of new men, despite the ring on her finger… If you’re thinking Sex and the City, don’t. You’re getting way too excited.

Cappuccino Girls follows storylines that are, to some extent, emotionally tugging, hitting home quite literally for mothers and wives who have let these roles bury who they really are underneath. Relevant, in this age of working, yummy mummies who are expected to have it all, do it all and stay a size 10. At times, I even found myself choking up, identifying with the characters on the glamorous looking stage.

The music, composed by Mal Pope, is mostly excellent, though definitely cheesy in places! Some notable numbers are ‘Men are like shoes’ and ‘Millionaire’, which added humour, glitz and were akin to what a girl would expect from a sparkly show like this. The first act ended with the poignant ‘How Did I Get So Small?’, sung by all three women, Cerian Bidder as Hilary showing a remarkable talent for pulling the heart strings and tear ducts with her surprisingly strong voice – this song was hard hitting and, at this point I thought we would really be in for an exciting second half, full of conflict and perhaps even intrigue, the narration from Eddie hinting that their friendship may not last through their troubles. I was disappointed when the story continued its steady pace, and the friendships went untested. Despite this, Claire Hammacott’s performance of the empowering ‘Today’s My Birthday’ was beautifully played out, adding another layer to Demi’s character at least, whose development was the most significant of the show.

The issues, however, are not developed enough to carry the whole performance, and the lack of tension leaves you feeling like there’s something big missing…or that you’ve just witnessed a musical version of a slow week on Corrie… In fact, the content was over-told, and the entire piece could be cut by at least 45 minutes whilst maintaining the same (if not creating a bigger) impact. Despite this, the direction of Kathryn Rice pulled out great performances from the female cast, and Connie’s story not being well constructed does not stop us seeing Catherine Morris’s talents.

The two male players take on numerous parts, Phillip Arran believable as each girl’s husband and Maxwell James doing a good job in all the extra bit parts. The variety of accents Arran takes on is problematic though, and the transition between one to another is not smooth, though ‘snaps’ to the man for stamina as there is hardly a moment when he is not on stage or acting as a voiceover!

For a show not in its first run, I was surprised to find that the sound design still needed some work, with radio mics too often fading in late, leaving gaps in dialogue and sometimes missing the start of songs.
The set design was wonderfully girly, the black and pink theme continued through from the foyer to the theatre space, and being sat in the café with the characters brought you close to them, enhancing the atmosphere created by the lighting and decor; a nice variation on the stuffier, large scale musicals where you never feel quite so ready to relax. (A waitress or two taking cocktail orders throughout the show would not have gone amiss!)

Mal Pope has successfully created a backdrop against which the lives of these women can cross, showing the 90% female audience that they are not alone with their problems in life and that, in typical chick flick style, it’ll all turn out well in the end…

Pornography YC review

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Directed by: Mathilde Lopez

Written by: Simon Stephens

Seen at: Chapter Arts Centre, 27th April

An intermingling of stories hinting at deep passions and perverse thoughts, Pornography allows us to glimpse the inner transgressive nature of a diverse selection of Londoners, during the summer of 2005.

The effective use of the senses really helped bring this piece to life and engulf the audience in the moment, with sounds not just coming from the background music, but from sex scenes issuing out of an older woman’s TV set, or the movement of staging which was, at all times, fully incorporated in the performance – also, importance placed on sections of the text as, within a monologue, the characters grab a microphone and emphasise their utterings. Blackouts, with hundreds of pieces of paper falling from the ceiling signalled high impact moments, and put the audience under the falling skies of London – made us feel the chaos the characters felt in their everyday lives, the 7/7 bombings far from their thoughts.

Each character seemed to be searching for something – chasing desire or simply relationship; to be beholden to someone. This encapsulated the loneliness of the city which, even during moments where characters shared scenes, was often emulated by their conversation: A brother talking of empty but beautiful museums; the sister (Dinah Olajire) spouting monologues about society that are empty of sentiment; the lecturer (Richard Elfyn), so in need of companionship that he bribes a student into his flat and attacks her; the widower (Sharon Morgan) who is so unused to conversing with people she physically shakes with fear when the postman rings the bell, but is drawn into contact with a stranger by following her nose to barbequed chicken; the teenage boy (Gwydion Rhys) who develops such an attraction to his maths teacher he stalks and eventually threatens to stab her; the mother who ruins her companies chances of winning a bid to inject some excitement into her life – perhaps her husband will notice her and her new gold sandals if she tells him she’s been fired; the suicide bomber who decides to leave his wife and children behind, but for what cause?

As the set is pushed and broken apart we see the lives of these characters spiral out of control with issues of incest, violence, sexual deviancy and destruction played out, leading to the climactic moment where the bomber takes his final journey through the city. The tumult of the music at this point drowned out much of what was said, and Jade Willis’s speech faded in insignificance against the sounds, but the foreboding sense of what was to come, and how it might further affect the lives of the characters we had, if briefly, grown to care for, was clearly conveyed.

Mathilde Lopez’s daring style makes this a dynamic piece of theatre, if a little ‘out there’ for those used to a more conventional theatre experience. With exceptional performances from Gwydion Rhys and Sharon Morgan who bring out some true human humour, along with Richard Elfyn, this is an interesting performance it would be a shame to miss.

Pornography is currently touring numerous venues around Wales, with their final performance in Abergavenny’s Borough Theatre on 19th May.

Little Dogs – Young Critics Review

image by farrows creative

Little Dogs ****
Patti Pavilion, Swansea
Directed by: Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett
Devised by: Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett and The Company

A sketch of the animalistic nature of Swansea night life…

A work of symbolism, Little Dogs plants little seeds of stories and ideas, related to the characters, but also related to the audience – the ideas you have about those kids who sprawl over the streets of Swansea (or any town) on a Saturday night, or stories that linger in your memory of the nights you spent in a similar fashion years before.

The Promenade style pulls you into and through the performance, your focus drawn to each small story by the characters, the lighting or the sounds projected from the ‘new’ – often evocative – set (designed by Tim Dickel).

The choreography was wonderful, blending seamlessly with the action and dialogue and each dance formed a different element of the evening out – from the main focus of the ‘mating ritual’ to the game playing with the law.

The story seeds planted don’t come to fruition, though there is a sense you are following Darren Evans’ character as he surveys and tries to be part of the group and their antics. The young cast are watched over by what seems to be the ‘nurturing’ figure of a grandmother (played by the graceful Siân Phillips); however, her two ethereal appearances added confusion to this meaning and, though a fan of ambiguity, there was perhaps a little too much ambiguity in this seemingly symbolic part of the performance pour moi.

My legs certainly could have stood another 20 minutes to gain a little extra in storyline, but this perhaps was the whole point: the night is never truly over; the ritual continues and the rubbish that issues from the mouths of young lovers enshrined in fake tan glamour and aftershave manufactured testosterone will be passed down through generations of Swansea’s Wind Street dwellers.

Whatever your age, however you remember your youth, you are bound to get something out of this truly exciting piece of theatre (though be sure to read the warning re. bad language, strobe lighting and nudity). The whole experience is enjoyable, with other notable performances from Katie Elizabeth-Payne, Jordan Bernarde and Remy Beasley, the ensemble cast will take you through a myriad of emotions, drawing you into and absorbing you in the world of Little Dogs.

You can still see Little Dogs with performances running until May 19th, 2012. Tickets are £15 (£10/£5 Concessions) and can be booked through Taliesin Arts Centre (01792 602060). There is a 15+ age guidance, so maybe don’t bring the kids!

Young Critics Review – The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning: Stunning Storytelling

 
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Talk about different!The experience starts as soon as you walk through the front doors of Cardiff High School; huddling in the stairwell before a girl with a walkie talkie directs you upstairs in small groups, to experience the journey to the auditorium – a well designed walk, where you are subjected to primarily unnerving sounds of war and army barracks, which contrasts dramatically with the adorned High School walls, proclaiming netball fixtures and displaying the colourful works of the current students.
General Admission took on a new meaning too, with the audience collecting their chairs from uniform clad soldiers, and choosing a ‘square’ to place it in allowing, to an extent, voyeurism to occur on the audience’s own terms.The set, designed by Chloe Lamford, was minimal. The perimeter of the stage was marked with four 12ft lighting rigs holding computer monitors at every angle that showed P.O.V. footage of a helicopter based sniper. The bleak images of the war torn town, coupled with the loud, intrusive hum of the craft, shouts from the combatants and the occasional ring of an evacuation alarm, set my nerves slightly on edge as I watched the rest of the audience take their seats and choose their viewing spots. This was the first hint of the multiplatform format engineered by Tom Beardshaw, in conjunction with Tim Price (Writer) and John E McGrath (Artistic Director).

The opening was a highly charged list of all the statements you can imagine might have been made about Bradley Manning since the Wikileaks “scandal” began – soldiers discussing the whistleblowing actions of a fellow soldier became a squabble between teenagers, trying to make their opinions heard. What followed was a dynamic, engaging, thought provoking performance that immersed me fully into the story of Bradley Manning, from his High School days in South Wales to his incarceration. Every moment appeared planned down to the second. Every movement, sound (Mike Beer), look, lighting sequence (Natasha Chivers), prop, word had specific meaning and intent. This was an intricately devised piece that made every second worthwhile. I could not pull my eyes from the action!

The six players were present within the auditorium at all times, using the shadows as ‘off stage’. More often than not the entire company was on stage, taking on multiple roles, showing real diversification. They slipped easily in and out of American accents, and all had a turn at ‘being’ Bradley Manning, giving the sense that Bradley Manning has become an idea – something we all have an opinion about; something we all share in one way or another. The ‘flashbacks’ to the High School History classroom gave the characters the opportunity to fully explore themes of martyrdom, of men being punished for their thoughts, whilst focussing on Welsh battles and uprisings. The stark contrast between the innocence of High School and the harsh horrors of life in the U.S. Army also helped evoke a true empathy for the main character, and an understanding of what may have influenced his life to land him in the situation he is still in now.

The performance was fluid, switching seamlessly between scenes, the monitors notifying the audience of when and where the story had moved to at each moment (Baghdad, New York, Haverfordwest) – though if you missed it, the costumes, lighting, set changes and accents all worked as indicators, without being too ‘obvious’.

The entire cast was superb, and extremely convincing in every role they took on. I thoroughly enjoyed each individual performance, and found Bradley’s story particularly compelling because of the different angles given to it by the multiple players. Matthew Aubrey and Harry Ferrier shared the majority of the part, and each contributed to the feeling I now have – that I in part know and understand Bradley’s problems. For me, this is stage play at its best.
Alongside the thought provoking issues and the electric dialogue, there were some very humorous moments, and one unexpected dance sequence that could have seemed absurd but, in fact, gelled perfectly with the plot point, emphasising the idea that, in the 21st Century, you can become a Superstar with one click of the mouse.

In order to interact with The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning in all its multiplatform glory, and just because it was that good that I already want to see it again, I’ll be watching the live streaming of the show on nationaltheatrewales.org/bradleymanning/ before the run ends on 21st April. I would highly recommend you do the same.

Young Critics Review – A Provincial Life

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A PROVINCIAL LIFE
Written and Directed by: Peter Gill
Sherman Cymru – Thu 01 Mar 2012 – Sat 17 Mar 2012A blue light shining on a solitary figure, against a back drop of 40ft high pine sections gave us the first glimpse of the blank platform from which NTW would tell the long, slightly erratic story of a young, wealthy man in 1890s Russia. Against his father’s wishes, Misail (Nicholas Shaw) decides to pursue happiness and worth by living the Provincial Life of a manual worker, rather than take up a vocation that will ensure his families prestige and money filters through to his generation.

The story unfolds in scenes broken up by set changes that, though fluid, and full of elegant props and costumes, almost become scenes in themselves due to the length of them. For me, these moments were mildly interesting, but mostly a waste of valuable stage time. However, it did help keep the pace steady and slow; something that seemed deliberate, as a reflection of life.

Though slow, the story was thought provoking, asking questions about what wealth matters when there are so many who live on the other side of money, a theme that is relevant today.

Shaw’s portrayal of a young man enduring constant inner turmoil from his inability to find happiness, no matter what path he takes his life down, is convincing. Unfortunately, no matter how convincing, it didn’t endear him to this theatre goer; I struggled to feel any empathy for him, no matter how many mini monologues were spouted about how unhappy and unfulfilled by life he was.

Luckily, these moments were often lent an element of Chekhov’s humour; John-Paul Macloed, playing Ivan – the odd and weedy country friend of Misail, provided many of these, which were executed perfectly and got the most reaction from the audience.

The female’s stories were, for me, far more interesting than Misail’s – while he’s busy moaning about how his father doesn’t want to know him because he has turned his back on their way of life, his sister Cleopatra is left alone with her father, and the usual lack of prospects of a woman in the 19th Century. A sickly girl, she deteriorates throughout the play, bursts of life and excitement amid the mundanity.

Other notable performances were Alex Clatworthy, playing Maria (the love interest), Mark Lewis as Victor Dolzhikov (the explosive Engineer), Sara Lloyd-Gregory as Cleopatra Poloznev, William Thomas as Andrey Ivanov (the Contractor and friend of Misail), and Lee Haven-Jones, playing Boris Blagovo (the revered Doctor).

On the whole, the performance was a little uninspiring, and would have benefited from an injection of action…and a few less sections of monologuing. But it looked beautiful, and there were some stellar moments that made up for the not so exciting ones. Provincial, indeed.

If you’re interested in seeing A Provincial Life, it runs until Saturday March 17th. Book now through Sherman Cymru.