Jane Bissett

SHIRLEY VALENTINE

3 Stars

Shirley Valentine is a middle-aged housewife who talks to the wall. She is married to Joe and has been a faithful wife and mother. Stuck in the rut of an unfulfilled marriage of routine and domestic drudgery she longs for another life.

Shirley’s best friend Jane, who is unattached since she discovering her husband in bed with the milkman, seems to enjoy a carefree existence and is able to experience a world that Shirley can only dream about.

This however, changes when Jane books a holiday to Greece and not only invites Shirley but gives her the tickets so as to make her decision more difficult.

Of course Shirley wants to go but how does she tell Joe, a man who for the whole of their married life has considered their annual holiday to the Isle of Wight – abroad.

Whilst the holiday is only three weeks away, Shirley struggles with her desire to change her life and become Shirley Valentine once more and leave drudgery behind. As a wife and mother she is caught up in being the constant in the lives of her family and wonders if she should go at all.

Eventually, she decides that she cannot let this opportunity slip away, whilst also knowing that if she tells Joe he will throw a fit, talk her out of it and tell her how stupid she is being.

So confiding in the kitchen wall, to whom she constantly chats, she plans to accompany Jane to Greece.

With all her domestic plans in place, Joe’s meals cooked and in the freezer, her mother coming over to defrost and microwave for him, Shirley buys new clothes for the new her that will go to Greece.

On the day of departure Shirley leaves by taxi and her adventure begins.

Once in Greece Jane hooks up with a man and Shirley spends the first few days by herself. She enjoys the freedom of not being at the beck and call of anyone else and she spends her days exploring the island and soaking up the sun and culture and slowly but surely a new Shirley is reborn – Shirley Valentine of her youth has returned.

With the scales peeled from her eyes she sees the people around her in a new light. The holiday makers at her hotel and the local population, Shirley has gone ‘native’.

Her transformation is complete when she meets Costas, the owner of a local tavern, who helps her fulfill her dream of drinking wine by the sea in the country where the grapes are grown.

Promising not to take advantage of her, the following day he takes her out for the day around the islands in his brother’s boat. The experience is life changing for Shirley, bolstering her confidence in herself and her attractiveness.

On the day of departure, as they are stood in the airport check-in queue Shirley realises she cannot go back to her old life and with the shouts of Jane and fellow passengers following her “come back!” she walks out of the airport and away from her old life and into a new one as she decides to stay in Greece and ask Costas for a job.

When she gets to the tavern Costas is already ‘chatting up’ the next woman, but Shirley hasn’t come back for Costas she has gone back for herself, the youthful, carefree, adventurer who was buried deep inside and who has finally emerged.

Now working evenings at the tavern, Shirley has fielded several phone calls from Joe demanding that she come home. Now, he has decided that his only course of action is to go to Greece to bring her back. Shirley on the other hand has no intention of returning and is sure that Joe will pass her by before recognising her as the happy changed woman she has become.

Shirley Valentine is the creation of writer Willy Russell. She is a manifestation of the 1960/70s middle-aged woman who married young, brought up a family and supported her husband.

Playwrite Willy Russell was brought up in Liverpool surrounded by a family of strong women. At the age of 15 he left school to work at a womens’ hairdressers before returning to education and his career as a writer. It is clear that his observations of the women that surrounded him have had an effect on his writing as he has captured their essence as well as the secret dreams and aspirations of women of this time perfectly.

As a one-woman play Shirley Valentine is a triumph of female characterisation. As Shirley,Jodie Prenger skilfully develops her personality as the play unfolds and she tells her story. As she works her way around the kitchen and talks to the audience and of course the ‘wall’ you are drawn into her world and even the younger theatre goer gains a greater understanding of the life she leads and the life she dreams of.

It did feel as if it was a little bit of a slow burn, but this character could not have been rushed as she bared her soul and inner dreams before us.

Prenger’s portrayal of Shirley was a realistic and believable one. The audience was biased towards women, it has to be said of a certain age, who were empathetic to the character and her situation. The unsuppressed laughter at Shirley’s description of her life and encounters was encouraging as you realised that the audience ‘got it’.

Glen Walford has directed this production with the imagination and skill that you would have expected given her directing pedigree.

Although there are only two scene locations both felt familiar. The kitchen, the heart of the home, and the beach in Greece. I particularly liked the subtle lighting effects that gave movement to the sea it added to the atmosphere without distracting.

If there is one take away moment it has to be watching Prenger actually cooking chips’n’egg on stage, and as the lights dimmed for the next scene I couldn’t help smiling to myself as a male stage hand came on to clean the kitchen area. Something that her Joe would have been horrified at seeing, but then I wondered, would any of the younger women in the audience have even noticed?

Prenger did not disappoint as Shirley and received a well deserved standing ovation for giving us two hours of sheer pleasure.

Shirley Valentine plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;

Tuesday 27 June – Saturday 1 July at 7.30pm

On Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday there are performances at 2.30pm.

For further details about the show or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889.

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    Review The Graduate, New Theatre, Cardiff by Jane Bissett

    4 Stars4 / 5

    The stage production of The Graduate  is Terry Johnson’s adaptation of the 1967 screenplay for the film of the same name. The story of the Graduate was written by Charles Webb and was his first novel written at the age of 24. Whilst it is not considered directly autobiographical, Webb’s own life is very much reflected in what he wrote and he has drawn on his own experiences to portray the, what was then, young Benjamin Braddock.

    The play, set at the time it was written, gives us an insight into the world of the 1960s up and coming affluent American families and their aspirations for their offspring.

    In contrast Benjamin shows us a confused young man who having graduated is unclear of his route ahead. His parents want him to follow a career path that will lead him to a secure future both financially and socially, however, Benjamin does not view this life with such optimism.

    On the day of his graduation party he is propositioned by a friend of his parents, Mrs Robinson, a woman clearly bored in an unfulfilled marriage that denied her of a career and life before her life as a mother and housewife began and has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Shocked and knowing the close relationship between his parents and the Robinson’s he rejects her. Curious, bored and wanting to experience life Benjamin later begins an illicit affair with Mrs Robinson that lasts the summer. However, he quickly realises that he wants more from life and from a relationship.

    Behind the scenes Mr Robinson and Benjamin’s father have been matchmaking and have arranged for him to take the Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, on a date. Disinterested Benjamin takes her to a venue that he is certain she will not like and he isn’t disappointed. Benjamin and Elaine continue to date much to the disapproval of her mother, his former lover, and when Elaine finally returns to college Benjamin announces to his parents that Elaine Robinson is the woman he will marry.

    Benjamin then pursues Elaine, declares his love, only to be brought home by his father after the discovery of his affair with Mrs Robinson. As far as his parents are concerned his issues stem from his childhood and as a family they go to see a therapist.

    The discovery that Elaine is to marry spurs Benjamin into action and his timely arrival at the church stops the wedding…. does it have a happy ending? Only time will tell but Benjamin and Elaine do end the play by running away together.

    In Webb’s life his college romance with Eve Rudd (aka Fred) faced disapproval from her parents and despite numerous barriers put before them it went on to be a lifelong relationship that endured the tests of time and that of family life as they had two sons.

    This production was set at the time it was written and had a very retro feel to the set design and the way in which the scenes changed. There were some up-to-date touches with dream sequences being projected as a film in the background which I felt visually worked well.

    Jack Monaghan’s portrayal of Benjamin Braddock was very reminiscent of that given by Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film of The Graduate. His slow American accent accentuated the personality of Benjamin and indeed allowed us to consider his age and thought processing of the situations that he found himself in. Whilst in 2017 a young man of 21 is worldly wise we have to remember that this was certainly not the case in the families of the new up and coming affluent classes of American society of the 1960s.

    From the moment Catherine McCormack (Mrs Robinson) sets foot on the stage we see a bored middle aged woman who is desperately trying to cling on to her youth. Her marriage is unfulfilling and she has taken refuge in alcohol a poor excuse, even then, for her behaviour. As the story unfolds we see a woman who has lost control of her family and resents her daughter for having all the advantages she did not but who does not have the personality and enthusiasm for life that she considers young women of the liberated 1960 should have.

    All the cast members enhanced the main characters and gave credible performances in their own right. It was a thought provoking and enjoyable production and never before have I seen a bed with so much stage presence and a the ability to move seamlessly between scenes.

    The Graduate needs to be viewed in context to its time and place in history. From conversations around me, many of the audience had seen the film and clearly were enjoying this performance, the only thing that was missing was a Greyhound Bus.

    The Graduate plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;
    Tuesday 20 June – Saturday 24 June at 7.30pm
    On Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday there are performances at 2.30pm.
    For further details about the show or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889.

    http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what’s-on/the-graduate/

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      Review Not Dead Enough, New Theatre Cardiff by Jane Bissett

       

      5 Stars5 / 5

      NOT DEAD ENOUGH

      Review by Third Act Critic, Jane Bissett

      NOT DEAD ENOUGH – if ever there was a understatement for a title of a play this is it. This adaptation, although from a book of the same title, was a very much alive, fast moving drama which moved at a pace that ensured the audience was running alongside, wanting more but never left behind.

      Peter James is an acclaimed author of crime fiction and Not Dead Enough is the third book in a series of 13 featuring DS Roy Grace. As a writer of crime fiction James has researched extensively interviewing convicted murderers and has a great insight into the criminal mind and indeed that of the seasoned detective. As an avid reader I am always in awe of the person who has the ability and imagination to adapt a book for the stage but Shaun McKenna has this cracked. He has done an outstanding job of bringing the story to life in the most believable way and I am sure with the approval of the novelist, Peter James.

      All credit to an amazing Creative Team of; Director, Designer, Lighting, Sound, Production, Costume and Props who have created an environment before us of a Pathology Laboratory, a Police Station and an outside scene where it is as easily believable as the more sophisticated setting of the lab. In fact the staging of this production is the key to its ability to draw the audience into the world that James’ has created for us.

      It is difficult to talk about the story line without giving away too much. If you have read James’ novels then you will be familiar with DS Grace and know him already and you will be entranced as the James’ characters are brought to life before you.

      I guarantee this crime thriller will have you on the edge of your seat. Indeed at one point the gentleman sat next to me exclaimed out loud, in reaction to DS Grace searching for something, “It’s not in the box!” clearly this audience member was totally immerced in the investigation, as were we all.

      All productions have their leading roles however, in Not Dead Enough all the characters were of equal importance to the storyline and you would be easily convinced that they were police officers who had worked together for years not actors playing a role.

      However, that said I have to mention Gemma Stroyan who played Bella Moy and Gemma Atkins who played Sophie Harington.

      Stroyan gave us a confident portrayal of a female police officer which was seamlessly believable at every level, comfortable in her skin and confident in what she was about. I would like to think that maybe James would take her character in the future and promote her to the central character in her own novel(s).

      Atkins also gave a polished performance as Harington keeping us guessing about who she really was and what (if anything) she was really up to.

      During the interval the auditorium was alive with chatter and theatre goers were talking not only amongst themselves and also with neighbouring audience members as to what they thought was going on, who had done what and making predictions about how it was all going to conclude.

      Like DS Grace, I wanted to believe the main suspect, but how could we?! What was the evidence showing us? Who was safe? Who was next? WHAT WAS GOING ON?!

      It would be wrong for me to tell you more but be aware it is not over till it’s over and even then not all the questions will have answers.

      At curtain call the volume of the applause was only just that above the whistles of approval. This is an unmissable crime thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and wanting more all the way until the end.

      I for one will be looking more closely at James’ novels and perhaps it will be my summer reading for 2017.

      And for the record, on the way out people were still chatting and animated about what they had just seen.

      NOT DEAD ENOUGH plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;
      Tuesday 13 June – Saturday 17 June at 7.30pm
      On Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday there are performances at 2.30pm.
      For further details about the show or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889.

       

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        Review The Woman in Black by Jane Bissett

         

        4 Stars4 / 5

         

        The tale of the Woman in Black comes from the pen of the acclaimed author Susan Hill and I guarantee this stage adaptation, the legacy of the talented playwright Stephen Mallatratt, will not disappoint you.

        It is 27 years since this production was first taken from the page and brought to the stage and its longevity is testament to the art of storytelling and the drama of theatre. The ability to tell a gripping story is a thread which runs through time itself and is as deep seated in us today as it was when stories were passed down by the telling of  tales and before the Viking Sagas were written down. Every culture has its own myths and legends to draw on and before the advent of electricity and modern technological it was common for families to gather together in the evening, in the dark glow of the fireside to recount tales that would capture the imagination and transport them to times and places of both the past and the future.

        Susan Hill’s novella, The Woman in Black, is a Gothic tale of love, loss, fear and revenge. As with all ghost and horror stories it has an unexpected ending,  a twist in the tale, which sets us thinking and is the hook that makes us remember the story and gives us the ability to tell it to others again and again.

        At the start of the play, in scene one, we are introduced to the two characters, Arthur Kipps and an Actor who he has engaged to assist him in the telling of the story that changed his life and his future. It is clear right from the start the importance for Kipps in telling his story, as not only a warning to others but as a means of trying to exorcise his own demons. In the telling of this tale it holds up a mirror to us all to examine our own fears of what we know and believe and indeed what we do not.

        This is the story of solicitor, Arthur Kipps, recently widowed and who four years earlier had been sent from London to the coast to put in order the affairs of a recently deceased lady. The subsequent events of that journey will haunt Kipps and change his life forever.

        As a way to exorcise the spectre of the Woman in Black and indeed as a causionary tale, Kipps employs an actor with whom he shares his manuscript of the events that happened.

        In the play that unfolds before us we see the actor coach Kipps to perform all other parts other than his own and the story begins…..

        As a lover of Gothic Horror and Ghost Stories in general I really enjoyed this production. Both David Acton (Arthur Kipps) and Matthew Spencer (The Actor) gave wonderful performances which transported the audience out of the theatre and onto the marshes. We joined Kipps and the Actor, spell bound as they told of the events surrounding the Woman in Black, eventually revealing her tale from within Kipps chilling story.

        Both Acton and Spencer gave gripping performances as Kipps and the Actor in this two handed play in which you just got so much more that two chaps on a stage. The range of sound effects (Gareth Owen) and the dramatic and atmospheric lighting (Kevin Sleep) created a spellbinding backdrop on which the tale was told. There is no elaborate staging to distract you which means you are only limited by your belief in the tale and your own imagination.

        There was audience participation in the form of fear and gasps and I am not 100% sure I did not hear, at one point a lady scream or was that coming from the stage?

        This is a must see for anyone who loves a well told ghost story that will send a shiver up the spine. but be careful on the way home, you may not have left the theatre alone……

         

         

         

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          Review Dinosaur Babies, National Museum Cardiff by Third Act Critic, Jane Bissett

          5 Stars5 / 5

          If you want an adventure with history this summer then step back in time and visit the National Museum Cardiff to experience their wonderful new exhibition – Dinosaur Babies.

          The exhibits, many discovered in China, are on loan from the United States of America and have never been on public display in the UK before.

          As you immerse yourself in the lost world of the dinosaurs you will come face to face with many familiar dinosaurs and others not so. The breath taking skeletons are brought to life by the many wonderful colour illustrations by Luis V. Rey, who working alongside the palaeontologists involved with the research of these dinosaurs, has given us visual imagery for the creatures we are walking amongst and a clear depiction of what they and their environment may have looked like when they walked the earth.

          This exhibition has been specifically designed to be child friendly and it has certainly achieved its aim. There are a range of activities that engage the visitor whatever their age and the wealth of information is staggering.

          Dinosaur Babies will enthral, enlighten and educate, as you venture into the never before seen world of motherhood amount these fascinating creatures. There are nests, eggs and even embryos intact inside their shells, a sight that will awaken the curiosity in everyone, alongside a desire to learn more.

          The discovery of these dinosaurs in their many family groups has enabled scientists to build up a more comprehensive picture than ever before. They are able to establish a better idea and understanding of how these magnificent creatures lived in social groups and how they nurtured their young and now for the first time we are able to join them on this journey.

          For the younger visitors there is a range of activities that will suit any age, whether it is conducting your own mini archaeological dig to find fossils, dressing up as a dinosaur or creating an art work to take home as a reminder of what you have seen.

          This really is a great exhibition that caters for the whole family. Whatever your age or level of interest in dinosaurs, you are guaranteed to take away a wonderful Natural History Experience that you’ll be talking about all summer.

          This exhibition forms part of Wales’ Year of Legends and runs from 27 May – 5 November

          https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/9487/Dinosaur-Babies/

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            Review The Crucible, New Theatre Cardiff by Jane Bissett

             

            4 Stars4 / 5

             

            There is no colour or elaborate stage dressing on the set of The Crucible to detract from the sheer power of the story that unfolds in front of you. Written in 1953 The Crucible was Arthur Miller’s response to the society in which he was living. The political backdrop of American politics at the time was that of the ‘witch hunt’ for enemies of the state, Russian activists and sympathisers. It became difficult for people to exercise freedom of speech and expression without placing themselves in the spotlight for the scrutiny of the state and this was across the whole of society irrespective of gender, race, background, social standing or occupation.

            Arthur Miller

            Miller decided to use his skill and talent to address the political turmoil around him and unable to express the current situation he set his play in the 17th Century, a clear lesson from history from which we should take heed. The Crucible, is the dramatisation of the Salem Witch Trials (c.1692). The story centres around a relative new comer to the community, Rev. Parris, his daughter and niece and a group of young girls who form the nucleolus of the accusers for what became the most infamous Witch Hunts and trials in history.

            The cast were outstanding! A marathon rather than a sprint, with nowhere to hide, the Crucible takes the audience on an uncomfortable journey back in time to when America was young and communities were governed as much by religious belief as a foundation and form of social control as much as they were by the State. Religious leaders were often the glue that held communities together and the regular Sunday meetings, the opportunity to gather the people to them to enforce the social behaviours and norms of the people around them.

            When the Rev. Parris discovers his daughter, niece, and a group of girls in the woods, dancing (some naked) it triggers a chain of events that will change the lives of the people of Salem and surrounding areas even now to the present day.

            The opening scene shows us Parris’s daughter, Betty, seemingly lifeless in her bed. His niece, Abigail Williams, has recently been returned to him having been dismissed from the service of the Proctor family as being unsatisfactory. As the tail unfolds we discover that she had been dismissed by Elizabeth Proctor (Goody Proctor or Good Wife Proctor), thrown out on the road when she discovered that she had slept with her husband.

            The girls, unable to pass off their dancing as girlish fun, find themselves in a spiral of lies and deception that takes over the whole community and sets neighbour against neighbour and brings to the surface all the minor disagreements and before long, out of fear and revenge a ‘witch hunt’ is underway. The girls histrionics under questioning and in court sees them naming women within the community who have previously been held in high esteem as healers, midwives and good women. It is not long before the focus turns to the Proctor Household where one of the girls, Mary Warren, is in service. To the delight of Abigail, Elizabeth Proctor is arrested and although there is no foundation or truth in the accusation against her, all are powerless to assist her. She is manacled and taken away whilst her husband, John, tries to make sense of the madness that is unfolding in front of him.

            John Proctor along with others make pleas to the court but the Judge and bureaucracy serve to make matters worse and end with the arrest of the husbands along with their wives. In the court, Mary Warren fears for her own life when Abigail sets the girls against her and claims that Mary is controlled by the devil. Mary retracts her statement that tells of the girls lies and this serves to strengthen the cases again the other poor accused souls for whom the audience is under illusion that this will end in the massacre of entire communities, whose fate is to be hung for the crime of Witchcraft.

            The final scene was so powerful and the saying “There but by the grace of god (any god) go I” was never truer. The impassioned performances of the cast takes the audience on an uncomfortable journey of lies and injustices, persecution of all in society from the vulnerable, to those who dare to stand up for truth and justice. The audience could only watch in horror, powerless to help, as lies were told to set neighbour against neighbour, brother against brother, to remove members of their community with whom there had been grievances in the past. Some profited by the acquisition of land, others out of vengeance and spite, for some it was just the sheer terror that drove them to accuse others rather than allow the spotlight to fall on them.

            The staging of this production was bare and minimalist to reflect the everyday life of 17th century America. As the lights dimmed between scenes and the whole cast changed the set before us it made for an easy transition to the next location.

            I have seldom seen a production of such talent and skill. The power of the performances were breath taking, honest and believable. The actors have nothing but themselves and the passion of their performance. There are no props, just the sheer believability of the characterisation of each personality that was brought to life before us.

            Lucy Keirl as Abigail Williams gave a believable performance of a young girl who was governed by her hormones. She was a manipulator and leader for the other girls to follow and by the time they realised what they had done it was too late for any change of course and self preservation must endure.

            As we watched, Eion Slattery brought John Proctor into our lives and awoke our unconsciousness to the injustices that we are powerless to help. His relationship with his wife was an honest, if not uncomfortable one. His belief in her honesty would be his undoing as in her fear for her husbands life Elizabeth, played by Victoria Yeates, makes a choice that will condemn them both.

            When Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible he wanted to address the issues of early 1950s America and the political turbulence that was happening. However, this play has now brought us lessons from history that we should not ignore. It gives the audience the opportunity to examine themselves for what and who they really are and revisit the values of truth, honesty and integrity.

            This is not a play for the faint hearted, it is a three hours marathon of pure drama executed by an amazing cast of actors who gave the strongest performances you will every see for this play. I am certain had Arthur Miller been in the audience they would have had not only his approval but his admiration.

            http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what%27s-on/the-crucible/

             

             

             

             

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              Review Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat by Jane Bissett

              4 Stars4 / 5

               

              Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is a familiar story taken from the bible. It is the tale of a younger son, of a favoured wife, being elevated by his doting father and put above his eleven brothers. The brothers, already jealous of their younger brother finally are pushed to action and when their father Jacob gives Joseph the gift of a wonderful new coat and their outrage is complete. The brothers plot to kill Joseph and thus dispose of the problem. However, they fail to complete their plan as they cannot bring themselves to actually commit murder. The answer to this dilemma comes in the form of a travelling slave trader from Egypt and they decide to sell Joseph into slavery. On returning home the brothers tell their father, Jacob, that his beloved son has met with an accident and has been killed by a wild beast and they show him the bloody torn coat as evidence. Meanwhile Joseph has been sold into the household of an Egyptian noble where he works hard and becomes a trusted slave.

              However, he catches the eye of the Noble’s wife and is soon accused of wrongdoing. His master has him thrown into prison from which there seems to be no escape. In prison Joseph becomes know for his gift of being able to know the meanings of dreams and this quickly comes to the notice of Pharaoh through his butler, a man who has first hand experience of Joseph’s ability. Joseph is summonsed to Pharaoh’s palace where he is given the task of explaining the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams. Clearly nervous, Joseph tells Pharaoh what his recurring dream means. Egypt will have seven years of bumper harvests followed by years of famine. When the dream comes to pass Pharaoh places his trust in Joseph and puts him in high office and he becomes a trusted Egyptian. During the famine the people are starving and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to try to secure food for their family. The last person they expect to see is Joseph and at first they do not recognise him. Joseph doesn’t make the reunion easy but the family of brothers are eventually reconciled and reunited with Joseph’s parents, so there is a happy ending.

              Joseph is a roller coaster ride for the theatre goer of any age. From the moment to curtain rises the production is a vibrant mix of colour and sound to stimulate the senses. From the pens of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joseph is a triumph. They have successfully taken a biblical tale and transformed it into a secular story that bridges the gaps of time and its message has as much meaning now as it had when it was written. Its appeal spans the generations and this was evident by the diversity of the audience what ever their age, gender or religious belief.

              Joe McEdderry, gave a convincing and captivating performance as Joseph, his energy on stage is infectious and his smile and demeanour grabs the audience from curtain up right to the last number when he and the cast received a richly deserved standing ovation.

              Henry Metcalfe’s choreography was creative and inspiring with many unexpected twists in the tale and lead us to expect the unexpected on several occasions. The costume design was creative and complimented the performances of the actors against a backdrop of scenery which was uncomplicated and did not distract from the telling of the story which in parts had distinctly modern twists and turns and some unexpected characterisations.

              The Narrator, Lucy Kay, linked the scenes and lead the viewer on an unforgettable journey of characters, places and far away lands. With the added voices of the children it is a magical experience in which the audience is absorbed into playing an active role and ends in a well deserved standing ovation.

              https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/DonaldGordonTheatre/Joseph17/

               

               

               

               

               

               

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                Review Gaslight, New Theatre, Cardiff by Jane Bissett

                4 Stars4 / 5

                Gaslight is a psychological thriller and focuses on the behaviour and sanity of Mrs Bella Manningham. Jack Manningham, is a subtle and clever manipulator who is controlling his wife by questioning her mental stability Indeed it is he who has engineered her current fragile state of mind and preys on her insecurities using the knowledge that she is haunted by the facts that her own mother had what was termed a ‘weakness of mind’ and ended her days in the ‘mad house’. It is clear from the opening scene that she is a woman who is living with a roller coster of emotions, her behaviour is constantly being questioned by her husband.

                Whilst most evenings Jack Manningham is out pursuing his own ‘interests’ Bella is left alone in the house. Lonely and fearful and with items mysteriously being removed for which there is no explanation, she believes that there is someone else in the house. The dimming of the gaslight and footsteps from the rooms above at the top of the house, which her husband insists is not to be entered by any of the household and the doors remain locked, only serves to heighten her fear and anxiety.
                Bella’s eventual salvation comes in the form of a detective, Rough, who has an ongoing interest in both Bella’s husband and the house in which they now live. With the aid of Bella’s maid, Elizabeth, Rough visits the house to investigate the unexplained happenings, discover the truth and save Bella from both insanity and her husband.

                Rupert Young’s portrayal of Jack Manningham is skilful and disturbing. From the moment we first see him with his wife, the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. Jack clearly has an agenda in which his wife no longer serves a useful purpose so he plans to be rid of her. Young’s skill and ability to transform from a caring and compassionate husband to a calculating and manipulating bully make for uncomfortable viewing as he plays on his wife’s insecurities and her fear for her own state of mind.
                As a cad and a rouge Young’s performance was confident and calculating. His stage presence and arrogant posture made his character believable and that as a man living in a male dominated society he could do what ever he wanted without reproach.

                In contrast, Keith Allen, the man who we remember most in the mad and bad roles gave us a wonderful performance as the seasoned detective Rough. He brought the character alive from the moment he sets foot onto the stage, with a commanding confidence that makes the audience warm to Rough immediately. His delivery of Rough’s humour engaged the audience and his on-stage presence brought the play to life. During a scene when Jack Manningham return home early and unexpected there is almost a hint of a farce as Rough hides in a dressing room and just for a few moments we almost forget the dark subject of the play. Allen outstanding characterisation gives us a view into the compassionate and understanding side of Rough’s character as he endeavours to uphold justice and save Bella from a situation in which she has no control.

                The play was staged on a single set, the drawing room of the house, which was designed and lit beautifully creating a style of Victorian elegance which was in keeping with story telling. There was a particular attention to the lighting as the name of the play would suggest, Gaslight, and these were given by two elegant lights either side of a large over mantle mirror which also gave an additional perspective during the scenes where Jack Manningham was addressing his wife as his reflection could be clearly seen although his back was to the audience. The atmosphere of the set was also enhanced by the use of lighting outside the room, which we were to believe was from the street outside, casting shadows of the players against the back drop of the drawing room doors, and also from what has to be the most realistic fire I have ever seen on a stage.
                The costumes were as expected of the period in which the play was set and gave an overall feel of authenticity and drama which followed throughout the performance.

                The play is a tale of crime and domestic abuse. Jack Manningham believes in ultimate power and control over his wife. His behaviour is now recognised by society and the law as what is now referred to as ‘coercive control’. When Rough suggests to Bella that her husband is not all he seems and is creating the problems she now faces, she is resistant. Clearly a woman of low self-esteem she clings to what she knows, her role as the loyal wife to a man who loves and protects her rather that being able to accept that truth of the situation unfolding around her. Her need to be loved blinds her to the realisation of what her husband is capable until the end. It is only the maid, Elizabeth, who sees Jack Manningham for who he really is and it is her intervention that draws the story out to a successful conclusion.

                 

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