Jane Bissett

FAT FRIENDS THE MUSICAL

(4 / 5)

Fat Friends The Musical brings fun, laughter, hopes, dreams and a range of talented voices to the stage of the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

Originally written for the small screen, Fat Friends effortlessly transfers to a stage musical with a timeless story of love and romance, centered around the all consuming trials and tribulations of diet goals, body image and the search for true love.

Created by the talented Kay Mellor, the characters of Kelly, Kevin, Betty, Fergus, Lauren, Val, Paul and Alan are brought to life once more and this time with song.

All Mellor’s characters are larger than life in every way and the hilarious story-line is both engaging and true to life. Far too often people put their lives on hold whilst they try to achieve their goals in dealing with weight and body image. Mellor shows us that this is a fruitless exercise and that life is for the living and quite often what you seek is indeed right under your nose, you just have to open your eyes and look.

Nick Lloyd Webber’s original music score partnered with Mellor’s lyrics give the characters voices to match the entertaining story-line. The powerful vocal performances add to the larger than life characters feel so familiar.

Jodie Prenger gives a credible performance as Kelly and her energy on stage is breathtaking. Kelly’s intervention in her mother’s television interview is the funniest thing I think I have ever seen. All the things we would like to say and do but society and convention prevent us. “Let it go!” However, be aware there are always consequences as Kelly discovers.

Sam Bailey plays Kelly’s mother, Betty, a seasoned dieter and a long standing member of the slimming club. She is married to Fergus and is very much the mother figure of the group taking Alan in hand over his diet whilst his wife is away.

There is also a hillarious fantasy scene which brought the house down. Feel assured that this really is a musical where you felt that the cast are enjoying the experience as much as the audience.

Natalie Anderson and Jonathan Halliwell are delightful as they portray Slimming Club leader, Lauren and Vicar, Paul. It is hard to watch as they struggle to overcome their lack of confidence, self-esteem and awkwardness. Their duets are wonderful and their chemistry believable, nevertheless you can feel the audience willing them to take the next step forward without looking back despite their social and cultural differences.

The Set and Costume Design is by the awarding winning designer, Bretta Gerecke and is outstanding. Centered around a row of buildings the exterior and interior of the dress shop is realistic and charming. Nick Richings lighting design is a triumph both with the neon foreground on the buildings but also bringing them to life. The clever use of the lighting in the background on the sky-line added atmosphere for both day and night.

The whole cast, including the talented ensemble of wonderful voices, gave a high impact, fast moving and hillarious night.

During the closing number ‘Love who you are’ it didn’t take much encouragement from the cast to raise the audience to their feet to join them in celebrating this triumph of a musical.

This is a musical to see in the company of friends, large or small, young or old, married or single. You will enjoy a entertaining time packed with fun and laughter, a guaranteed night to remember.

Review The Sound of Music by Jane Bissett

 

(5 / 5)

 

The Sound of Music is a musical masterpiece from the talented duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. Based loosely on the life of Maria Augusta Trapp and her journey from novice Nun to devoted mother. The Sound of Music has taken the drama which hangs on the story ‘The Trapp Family Singers’ (written by Maria) and has condensed it into a stage musical with a romantic rosy glow.

Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics are set to music by Richard Rodgers and between them they produced wonderfully descriptive songs that take us from an abbey, to the top of a mountain and capture family life in its simplicity. These songs have been sung by enthralled cinema and theatre goers worldwide for the last five decades.

Indeed, I found myself singing whilst working the following morning, tending sheep in a windswept field in South Wales. Perhaps not such a dramatic landscape as mountains of Austria in the summer, but uplifting all the same.

The story of the family is set in Austria in 1938 with WWII on the horizon. Maria is a young novice Nun who is sent by the Mother Abbess to the home of Captain von Trapp to act as governess and care for his seven children.

Without a mother the children crave the attentions of their father who in his grief has distanced himself from the children, their family home and the memories it holds.

The welfare of the children is Maria’s primary concern and she can see how much they need to regain the love of their father. All she wants is to see the children happy again. She teaches them how to sing and bring music back into their lives. Little does she know that the Captain is himself an accomplished musician and singer and when eventually he hears the children singing it breaks the spell of his unhappiness and allows him to rebuild his relationship with his children whilst unwittingly falling in love with their governess.

Lucy O’Byrne gives an outstanding performance as Maria as does Neil McDermott as Captain von Trapp and for me, much more believable that Christopher Plummer ever was, maybe it was the beard.

Megan Llewellyn was a truly realistic Mother Abbess, kind, compassionate, and wow, what a voice!

The nuns were outstanding, their voices breathtaking and the children adorable in every scene. It was easy to imagine their lives being improved by the arrival of a much needed mother figure who would love them and bring their family back to life.

The set design was a triumph. The audience was transported from the Abbey to the Von Trapp residence effortlessly. The sets were vast and visually beautiful providing an atmosphere that extended well beyond the boundary of the stage. The vastness of the scenery and the skillful way in which it was brought to the stage added to the audience being effortlessly transported from place to place. Although the New Theatre is not the size of a West End stage, for the visual effect and the performances, it was for this production.

It would be unjust to single performers out as this was a whole cast production of talented individuals who together made us believe that we were there.

The audience were so engaged with story and the performances that I am certain that I head an audible ‘boo’ for the Nazi Officer!

Although unseen the orchestra gave an awe inspiring performance of musical talent. The balance of instruments and voices were perfect and crated a world of musical pleasure that elevated the entire show to completely fill the auditorium.

It was no surprise at the end of the performance when the audience rose to their feet before the curtain call and gave the entire cast the standing ovation that they so clearly deserved.

This really is a ‘must see’ production. I was only disappointed that it was not like the film shown in the 1960’s when you could remain in your seat and see it all over again.

The Sound of Music

The New Theatre Cardiff

Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 February 2018

Evenings 7.30pm

Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday Matinees 2.30pm

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

Review The Band, The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Jane Bissett

(5 / 5)

WOW!   Where to start?

Having never been a fan of Take That, or indeed boy bands in general, I was a little apprehensive as to what lay in store when entering the Wales Millennium Centre for the opening night of ‘The Band’.

The night was memorable and the performance totally unmissable!

For the first time in Cardiff, this wonderful new musical by Tim Firth hit all the right notes and pushed more emotional buttons than the audience could possibly have prepared themselves for.

A delightful mix of dialogue and song, the story follows teenage friends, Rachel, Heather, Debbie, Claire and Zoe, as they share their love of music and the same boy band.

The girls are full of life, funny with a deep friendship that binds them together. They share their inner most thoughts and aspirations. Rachel declaring that she wants to marry all the members of the band and Debbie agreeing to be her bridesmaid.

Debbie wins tickets to a concert in Manchester and the girls set off on their big adventure seeing the band, missing the last train home and having to make it part way home on the bus.

This musical is a coming of age story that every teenager has experienced even if musical tastes do change you never forget your teenage loves.

The two greatest sensory markers in our lives are music and smell, they have the ability to transport us instantly to another time and place whilst bringing to the forefront our greatest and most precious memories.

Move on 25 years and Rachel has moved away and the girls have all lost touch. Then Rachel wins a radio competition for tickets to see the band at a concert in Prague and the only thing on her mind is getting the girls back together.

Having made contact the girls (now 41yrs old) meet at the airport and fly out togther on another adventure. Their experiences and revelations in Prague serve to cement their friendship and to change their lives again.

The soundtrack of the girls lives are the songs of Take That, they punctuate the story in a way that gives it depth and meaning.

Five to Five, the boy band chosen through the talent show ‘Let it Shine’ gave an inspiring performance by almost being in the background. There is no doubt of their musical talent and the vocals were seamless and outstanding.

All credit goes to the Creative Team, too numerous to mention individually, who staged and produced this remarkable new musical, one that I am sure will endure for many years to come.

The stage craft of every cast member drew us ever closer to the action. We laughed, we cheered, we shouted, we sang, and some of us even cried.

At the end of the performance the entire auditorium was on their feet, waving lit mobile phones and generally going wild. I can honestly say that this was an experience like no other and despite myself, like everyone around me I just wanted more.

THE BAND plays at Wales Millennium Centre;

Tuesday 9 until Saturday 20 January

For further details about the show visit www.wmc.org.uk or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920636464

Review Wait Until Dark, New Theatre, Cardiff by Jane Bissett

(4 / 5)

As I made my way to the Theatre on a dark and wet November evening I was unaware of the theatrical experience that is Wait Untill Dark would have on my walk home – in darkness…..

WAIT UNTIL DARK is a cautionary tale set in the mid 1960s. About a young photographer (Sam) who in agreeing to assist a fellow passenger on an aircarft flight from Amsterdam sets in motion a chain of events that will affect his household in a way he could not fore tell nor indeed understand.

Human beings are either able to embrace darkness or have an inate fear of it. There is something about the isolation of being in the dark which enduces our inner fears of the things we cannot see or understand.

This story centres on Susy the newly married wife of Sam. Susy is blind and learning to live her life in darkness following an accident.

As the story unfolds we watch as a small gang of vilains are trying to discover the whereabouts of a missing doll which has been used as a carrier for drugs.

The gang mistakenly believable Susy knows the whereabouts of the doll although is unaware of its value. They set in motion an elaborate plan to retrieve the doll by deception and fear.

Using a tried and tested method of operation the gang gain access to the basement flat and conduct their search with the assistance of Susy who now believes her husband is in danger and if the doll is discovered in his possession he maybe under suspicion of a murder of the woman who originally asked him to take care of the doll.

Despite her blindness Susy soon becomes aware of what is happening as she hears and senses the strange behaviour of the men and is suspicious of their real motives.

With the assistance of her neighbours daughter she sets out to change the power balance to her advantage and to keep herself alive until her husband can get home.

Although set in the 1960s this story could have taken place at any time and in any context and is the stuff that good thrillers are made of.

All the action takes place in a basement flat and the set design was true to the time period in which it was set. A mention must be made of the use of the stair case and we can only commend the cast on their fitness levels as they negotiated the stairs all evening.

Katrina Jones portrayal of Susy was outstanding, a smart woman, in love with her husband and astutely aware of her surroundings. Indeed it was only at the curtain call that it entered my mind that Jones was actually blind.

Shannon Rewcroft gave an amazing performance as Gloria (age 12), so much so that it became believable that she was 12.

The gentlemen of the cast brought the play to life and Tim Treloar’s performance as the gang mastermind ‘Roat’ sent a shiver up the spine.

The whole atmosphere of the play hinged on the set design, lighting and sound and to this end I must commend David Woodhead, Chris Withers and Giles Thomas for bringing to the stage the visual and audio experience that left us all wanting more.

During the final act, as the story reached it climax, the effects on stage not only heightened the scenses of the audience but pulled them further into the action that was taking place in front of their eyes and the tension was almost tangible.

Playwright Frederick Knott’s (1916-2002) legacy to the theatre was believable drama where he set the scene and delivered a thriller that has stood the test of time.

Director Alistair Whatley gave us an evening of sheer pleasure and this amazing cast brought the play to life to create an unforgettable evening of thrilling theatre at its best.

WAIT UNTIL DARK plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;

Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 November 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.

Review Deathtrap, New Theatre, Cardiff by Jane Bissett.

DEATHTRAP

By Ira Levin

(2 / 5)

Deathtrap is the age old story of a man who wants more than he has and is prepared to go to any lengths to gain it.

The action takes place at the home of playwright Sidney Bruhl’s home that he shares with his wife of 11 years, Myra.

We see Sidney, a man who has not written a successful play for a number of years receives a manuscript from a aspiring young playwright. This is the opening of a plot that will change the course of the lives of Sidney and Myra in ways that we, the audience, will not have imagined.

The story covers four weeks in the life of Sidney Bruhl where he, Sidney, plans and plots to create a better life for himself at any cost.

The three main characters played by Paul Bradley (Sidney Bruhl), Jessie Wallace (Myra Bruhl) and Sam Phillips (Clifford Anderson), despite all being well known to us in former stage and television roles, were believable and I particularly liked Wallace’s portrayal of Myra Bruhl.

Despite not being familiar with the story and not having seen any other adaptation I didn’t find it as thrilling as I had anticipated. There were a lot of question marks about the relationships between the characters which were never addresses in either dialogue or behaviour except for the ending of act one. This isolated engagment between characters didn’t actually appear to have any relevance to the storyline and left the audience somewhat confused. Perhaps it was meant to shock? Either way it really didn’t work.

That said, the outstanding performance for me was Beverley Klein. She gave a wonderful performance as Helga ten Dorp, the Bruhl’s psychic neighbour. Her portrayal of ten Dorp single-handedly brought the thrills, drama and humour to the stage and was a delight to watch.

The set design worked well and the lighting created an atmosphere for day and night that worked particually well. The sound was spot on and certainly on cue for the moments we all jumped out of our seats! It would be unfair to elabarate further as it would certainly create a spoiler for anyone going to see the play.

Scene changes were prompted by the showing of vintage thrillers on screen in black and white which worked to great effect and enhanced the experience. The video design which was by Duncan McLean gave a sort of scrap book feel to the presentation and perhaps gave an insight to the mind of a thriller writer, their inspiration and method of work?

DEATHTRAP plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;

Tuesday 10 October – Saturday 14 October at 7.30pm

Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday Matinees at 2.30pm.

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

Review Around The World In 80 Days by Jane Bissett

(5 / 5)

By Jules Verne

Adapted by Laura Eason

Phileas Fogg is a mysterious and wealthy man who while at his London club wagers his life’s fortune that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.

Joining him on this mad cap and most impossible adventure is his loyal french valet, Passepartout. Leaving Victorian London behind they race against time and tide to fulfill their undertaking and to ensure that they return home in 80 days to the hour for Fogg to win the wager.

This production is a wonderfully funny romp around the globe with Fogg as our leader and Passepartout as our guide. From the exotic subcontinent to the American Wild West over land and sea there are laughs a plenty and audience participation. The fast moving pace leaves you almost breathless and it is impossible to believe that the 125 characters you see on the stage are only played by a cast of eight!

The energy of this magnificantly talented cast is inspiring as they move from trains to boats, across land and even travel by elephant!

There is also a daring rescue,four fights, three dances and two circus acts and they even manage a wedding!

The highly skilled performances for the non-contact fights including slow motion was punctuated by sound effects and comic timing which looked effortless. This was stage craft at its very best and the action just went on and on.

Director, Theresa Heskins, has achieved the impossible by bringing the world to the stage and the cast and creative team rose to the challenge of bringing it all to life by the use of stage, props, lighting and sound.

Whilst this was truly a whole cast performance, Michael Hugo as Passepartout was outstanding. He had the audience joining him on stage and off to great effect laughing at him, with him, and also at themselves.

This is a truly enjoyable show for which you need to take along your inner child and leave your inhibitions as home.

Prepare to go on a journey that will see you laughing your way around the world and leave you wanting more.

At the final curtain, when the cast returned to the stage the beaming smiles were a clear indication that they, the cast, had enjoyed performing as much as the audience had enjoyed the performance.

Around the World in 80 Days plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;

Tuesday 19 September – Sunday 24 September at 7.00pm

Thursday, Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2.30pm.

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

Review The Wipers Times by Jane Bisset

 

(4 / 5)

 

By Ian Hislop and Nick Newman

Based on a true story from World War I, The Wipers Times is an insight as to life and amazingly laughs in the trenches.

Following the discovery of a printing press and indeed paper during an advance, Officers’ Captain Roberts and Lieutenant Pearson decide instead of allowing it to be smashed and pieces used to bolster trenches that they would use it to produce a publication and bolster the moral of the men instead.

The publication, The Wipers Times, quickly gained notoriety and a following in the trenches which in the dreadful and soul destroying conditions the men were in must have been a tonic in itself.

There is something typically British in the way that the men went about ensuring that the Times was printed no matter what and despite disapproval by the senior officers it became something for the men to look forward to and for the editorial team and production team something to lift spirits and keep going for.

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman must be commended for the wonderful way that they have brought this story not only to the stage but also into the public consciousness. Roberts and Pearson were real people who certainly made a great contribution to the moral of the troops and did by the vehicle of their publication encouraged many soldiers to write.

Hislop and Newman take little credit for the written material of the play. Instead they let the content of memoirs of the men who were there and the Wipers Times tell the story for them.

The set was atmospheric and with minimal and slick scene changes were accompanied by the men singing war time song, which were actually poems that has been published in the Wipers Times set to music.

James Dutton and George Kemp gave credible performances as Roberts and Pearson, that said Officers’ are only as good as the men they command and the cast brought the soldiers from the past to the stage to warm our hearts and to believe that in the face of adversity their strength of character and determination was what got men through these most dreadful of time.

Dora Schweitzer (designer), James Smith (lighting), and Steve Mayo (sound) are to be commended for an exceptional job of giving us a true feel of life at the front line which was believable and bearable.

War of course is not clever, not funny and is certainly not a holiday destination. In the blackness of war The Wipers Times was an antidote to the reality of the horrors surrounding them and the awfulness of everyday life. In true British style humour is what keeps us going and the more inappropriate and condemed by the ‘establishment’ the better we like it.

At the beginning of the evening I felt a little uncomfortable in even considering the war to be funny but as a true brit it wasn’t long before I, along with a packed auditorium, was laughing and indeed wanting more.

After the war Roberts and Pearson returned to civilian life and to occupations they were both familiar with.

The Wipers Times is their legacy of life and laughs in the trenches. The discovery of the printing press was by chance but the production of the paper was a concious decision to try to make best of things and to improve the mens’ moral.

It is thanks to Hislop and Newman that these two men will be remembered and after far too long Roberts and Pearson were recognised by the Times broadsheet newspaper when they published obituaries for the men.

Us Brits are a strange breed and our humour often does not transfer to other nations well. However, amidst the laughter, we must be thankful for all those men who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the freedom to laugh at the things we do.

And to people such as Messrs Roberts, Pearson, Hislop, Newman and all the anonymous men who have produced humour in uniform, we salute you.

The New Theatre, Cardiff – A Theatre Tour by Jane Bissett

As you step through the doors of the New Theatre, Cardiff you can feel the air of anticipation for what lies ahead. The warmth of the welcome, the buzz of the audience as they gather to enter the auditorium and witness the delights of being entertained by live performers. But what about all the supporting cast?

‘The Theatre Tour’ is a chance to see at first hand all the behind the scenes magic and  meet the people that make stars of the performers before our eyes.

Everyone who lives in Cardiff will be familiar with the exterior of the New Theatre as it has been a landmark in the city for over 110 years. This beautiful Edwardian theatre has changed little from the outside over that time but the interior has seen more changes and all of them improvements from performers and theatre goers alike.

As you walk through the doors with an air of expectation for the performance ahead you are absorbed into the very world of this wonderful old theatre and the people who are the beating heart that brings it all to life.

So for me, the chance of a behind the scenes tour of the New Theatre was not to be missed.

Visitors arriving for an evening at the New Theatre are always assured of a warm welcome by the front of house staff. So it was no surprise that when we arrived for our tour of the theatre we were met with genuine hospitality by the volunteer ushers, Colin and Linda who’s job it was to ensure we navigated the theatre in safety without getting lost or left behind.

Our host was Matt Smith, who has been involved with the theatre for many years and is somewhat of an expert when it comes to the history of the building and its previous owners.

We started our tour in the bar where Matt gave us an overview of how the theatre was built. The first owner, Mr Robert Redford and his wife Grace although not from Cardiff, held the city in high regard and Mr Redford worked for many years at another theatre in the city but felt that Cardiff needed a New Theatre, so he built one.

The foundation stone was laid by Grace in March 1906 and the theatre opened with its first production, William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in the December of the same year.

The foundation stone is now set in the wall of the ground floor bar alongside the ceremonial trowel which was given to the theatre in its centenary year after being held by the relatives of Robert and Grace who had emigrated to Australia.

At the stage door, we took the route of all actors and performers back stage to the dressing rooms. These were functional, ready and waiting for the next occupants to make them their own for the duration of their stay.

Dressing rooms are located over two floors and in keeping with the old traditions there are even fold down seats for the dressers to wait in the corridors for the arrival back to the dressing room of the actors (it is not considered etiquette for the dressers to be in the actors dressing rooms when they are not there).

It was then time to visit the ‘Fly Floor’ this is where all the scenery and effects are put onto the rope and pulley systems to ensure that they can be lowered and lifted into place at the correct time during the performances.

Del, who is now a ‘Technician’ but who started his career in the theatre as a ‘fly man’, clearly loved what he did (If he didn’t then he was the best actor of them all!). He gave us the opportunity to look back at times past and the hemp rope system which worked on the same lines as sails on a ship by ropes being locked off with a cleat system. Del demonstrated how the scenery would have been flown in and out being worked by a team of 13 burly men on either side of the stage and would have communicated through whistles and hand gestures.

Hemp rope tied off to a cleat.

The system used now is operated using counter weights. Sounding straight forward, it takes much skill and knowledge to get the backdrops and scenery where they’re meant to be, on time and seamlessly.

Exiting the Fly Floor you are on the level of the upper circle. This was a great location to be able to enter the auditorium and have an overview of the theatre. Being close to the ceiling it also gave the opportunity to take in the beautiful architecture that is so familiar but often overlooked.

The highlight of the tour was of course stepping ‘on stage’. There was no roar of the crowd, smell of the greasepaint or limelights but there was the chance to see how the lighting works, explore the role of the assistant director, and the chance to see the all important safety curtain from the other side as well as understanding how it works and why.

Standing on the stage, which is a 1 in 4 rake (this means that it slopes down towards the audience), with the house lights down and the stage lights up it was easy to see why the theatre is indeed a magical place for actors and audiences alike.

The last stop on this tour was at the back of the stalls in the control room where the mixing and control desks are. A sophisticated environment overseen by someone who admitted to coming to the theatre for work experience, and never really left, and having done various jobs has worked his way up.

The tour of the New Theatre leaves you in awe of everyone who works there and brings the touring productions to life.

Theatres and their staff are often referred to as a family, well family or now they certainly are a close knit team and are the unsung heroes behind all the magic and drama that we witness on the stage. From the lady (or gentleman) who mans the stage door to the fly man and the ever diligent fire officer who sits unseen at the side of the stage for every performance to ensure the safety of the actors, the audience and the theatre.

The beauty, history and heritage of this Edwardian theatre is only surpassed by the welcome of its staff. Their love of theatre and their dedication to their craft will continue to make our visits to The New Theatre, Cardiff, special, entertaining and magical.

For further details about forthcoming productions visit www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889.

Review Shirley Valentine by Jane Bissett

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.

Playwright 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.

Review The Graduate, New Theatre, Cardiff by Jane Bissett

(4 / 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/