Karis Clarke

Review Black Mountain, Co produced by Theatre Clwyd, Paines Plough and Orange Tree Theatre by Karis Clarke

4 Stars4 / 5

 

Thursday 13th July 2017 Roundabout Pop up Theatre

Written by Brad Birch

Starring Hasan Dixon, Katie Elin-Salt and Sally Messham

Directed by awarding winning James Grieve Black Mountain is a disturbing physiological thriller that explores the darkest side of relationships. Set over a five day period, this one act play holds the audience in the middle of its white knuckle clenched palm. With a cast of three and brimming with expression the plays world premier was in  the grounds of Theatre Clwyd in Paines Plough, Roundabout Popup theatre. With a limited space, a couple of props namely a torch and (another item I shall not name for fear of ruining the plot) and extremely clever and well timed lighting, the focus was solely on the acting.  Thankfully the actors were all highly skilled and more than capable of delivering the multifaceted characterisations this play demanded.

 

I don’t want to give the plot away, as I think new stories are so few and far between in the theatre they should be cherished and discovered fresh by each audience. I will say from the get go the story had you guessing – why where they there ? What was their story ?  What was really going on ? The biggest question I had constantly going on however was – who’s side was I on? This type of dilemma I have a love hate relationship with. I admire writers who can produce characters who are so much more than the words on the page – and all three of these characters clearly are. We are never given the full story – just hints as to what has happened and with one word the characters / actors spoke volumes.  Speech was both passionate yet comic, weak yet strong, emotional yet pathetic – just as it is in everyday life .

The Roundabout pop up theatre is not a big space, although cleverly designed to seat a decent sized audience the actual stage space is small, fortunately for this play the close proximately to each other and the audience only added to heighten dramatic tension. I couldn’t help thinking how the play would work on a normal stage with props and staging I don’t think anything would be gained by setting the play differently, in fact I would suggest tension may be lost if the play had ran in a more naturalistic setting.

As it was, it certainly held jump out of your seat moments, if not jump out of your skin!

The Playwright Brad Birch

Well this dish had been well seasoned and cooked to a very high standard, my only reservation was the ending – without wanting to give anything away I would have been happier if there had been a final glimpse to just tie up the ending – a sprig of parsley –  just for clarification – but that does go against the grain of how the play ran – there was something along the vein of The Tales of The Unexpected about the story, you thought you knew what was coming, then you never, then you did, then what you thought half an hour earlier turned out to be right all along!

Overall this was a very enjoyable piece of theatre made all the more exciting by the fact it is being performed in a portable theatre that can literally be popped up at the road side if needed. (I support anything that involves theatre getting to the people or people getting to the theatre).

Black Mountain will be showing at Theatr Clwyd, Mold until 21st July and after then it will be touring various venues including Edinburgh Fringe before concluding at the Orange Tree Theatre in March 2018.

https://www.painesplough.com/play/black-mountain

For anyone who likes their drama with  a twist and sting in the tale this is a definite!

 

 

 

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    PopStarz, How Community Youth Groups Regenerate The Arts.

    “Pop Goes The 80’s” @ Rhyl’s Little Theatre, Sunday 29th June 2017

    The energy in the theatre as the full house audience waits for the curtain to rise can only be described as hyper.

    This is pretty standard for a Jaxx Martine Popstarz Academy show – because no matter what  – you know for the next hour and a half your heart is going to burst with pride, and be blown away by the amount of hard work, dedication and talent that has gone into this show. This is not down to luck, this is clever planning and hours of dedication given by the two principle teachers Paula and Steve Duncan .

    I am no stranger to this community group, I worked along with the Duncan’s four years ago in a local school on a performance workshop – the children involved were keen to have an outlet to express themselves  and there was nowhere locally for them to do it. Around the same time the Duncan’s were looking for somewhere for their daughter to attend a drama class and found the nearest one to be a 30 minute drive away – So The Duncan’s thought;

    “Why not try this ourselves, give our local children somewhere they can go….. if it works, it works out, if not it’s a bit of fun”

    Professional performers themselves, working the circuit as singers and presenters, they have the skills and experience needed to deliver quality workshops and an ability to bond with the children. Four years later the small group of 17 has now expanded with a growing waiting list. They have moved from performing  sharing sessions with parents to producing two shows a year in Rhyl’s Little Theatre, which despite it’s name seats a 190 plus audience.  They also perform in one off shows including “Got to Sing Got to Dance” which showcases the community youth groups from the local areas in and around North Wales joining together and performing in Rhyl Pavilion Theatre for the charity Happy Faces.  Paula has stated this was one of her proudest moments along side the children’s big production last year of a fantastic version of Willy Wonka.

    This year with the help of Steve’s impressive Marty Mcfly impression we were taken back to the 80’s

    The group sees children from ages 4 to 17 perform and the principles cater  for all age ranges ensuring all children appear on stage more than once – this is no mean feat…. and the show itself was well crafted, this was not just a handful of 80’s pop songs performed by some school children, this was a delightful trip down 80’s lane. Full of comedy, including sketches from TV shows, adverts and dance.  Naturally  there were  different levels of abilities, but,  this became part of the charm. For example the cuteness and humour factor was used with the younger children. Understandably four to seven year olds are not going to give flawless Broadway performances ….. but who could not enjoy watching 4 mini Ghostbusters in full kit being chased around stage by bum shaking, tongue pulling ghosts?

    The costumes were very realistic –  I wanted to rush home  read Smash Hits and pop on some lace gloves and plastic beads (Madonna). Other 80’s favourites included. White T shirts, red neckerchiefs (Bros)… Red cheerleaders (Hey Mickey) Green flared shirt high blonde pony (The shake and Vac Ad) Heely rolling, cartwheeling, old ladies (Super Gran)…. to name but a few…

    The confidence of the children was one of the things I took away from the night, there were several solos and duets, to stand on an empty stage and sing solo to a full house takes some doing  – this doesn’t just happen over night, this comes from having your talent nurtured , you don’t get that from reading a book or sitting on a computer. Each of the children performed to the best of their abilities all giving 100%.

    However, It would be wrong not to comment on some stand out performances as there were some truly beautiful pieces, Stevie Duncan, daughter of Paula and Steve singing Fame was effortless and faultless, Lucas King (an up and coming Peter Kay) singing Bad with a bevy of beauties, A mini Hi Di Hi skit and Flashdance as a duet featuring a set of dancers. Demonstrating without doubt that this little community group delivers and is  not your average Saturday club but is a little Performing Arts Academy. .

    I caught up with two of the cast back stage Lucas King and Ruby Howarth I asked Ruby why she enjoyed Popstarz, (pictured below)

    “I love the group, and Paula and Steve and all the  friends I have made. I love everything we do but most of all I love the confidence it has given me”

    Lucas has been with the group since it started four years ago and said’

    “I really enjoy all the auditions we get to do, singing and acting is great fun, I love being on stage. I have been on stage lots of times In the last show we did I played Grand Pa Joe in Willy Wonka which was really good because it was a funny part and I love doing comedy”

    For this particular production the hair on the back of your neck moment  came when the 95 strong group performed together in their finale “Man in the Mirror”  full of harmonies and emotion. You could see every child had had a blast on  stage, topped off by an tearful Paula thanking everyone and making a very valid point . Paula was 20 when she first sang on stage  – some of the children performing were babies.

    That filled me with a sense of hope especially as earlier in the week I had read a disappointing article on Theatre In Education.

    http://howlround.com/valuing-process-over-product-producing-theatre-in-educational-settings

    The article states how some community theatre groups and theatre in educational establishments would rather replace the children with professional actors or the children with more ability than the children with less   – how is that producing COMMUNITY THEATRE ??? I feel the whole point is it that it isn’t professional.  However it is the foundation for professional theatre, a place where talent can be found and grown.

    Thankfully Popstarz is not that type of group and it allows all the children to shine  – this group isn’t rare, but they are not common enough. Many areas have tailor-made theatre groups for children  some even follow set programmes, which could encourage the type of performance snobbery suggested in the above article . They are  often situated in towns or cities usually after school so access to these would typically need to be by car.  Schools and local authorities do encourage instructors to come into to give taster sessions but unless what is on offer to these children can be accessed on  their doorstep – what point is there?

    This is not unique, a recent study in Kings College highlights my views and suggests this type of regeneration is the way forward for art in the future, and this type of community group is, in my opinion, is where arts funding should be focused.

    A  recent Guardian Article states

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/30/excellence-arts-should-not-be-defined-by-metropolitan-elite?CMP=share_btn_fb

    “Only 8% of the population makes regular use of publicly funded cultural organisations, and this small minority is wealthy and white”.

    So are arts  grants working for the minority or the majority ? Are they opening doors to the arts? If they are they are still ensuring a guest list is being held – and if “your name isn’t down your not getting in.”

    Instead of being helped by traditional arts grants the likes of small groups like Popstarz have to look else where for support. Another example, The Little Theatre in Rhyl, where Popstarz perform , a delightful theatre that hires out to community groups for a minimal fee, yet the building its self is in need of dire repair – and where is it turning for help – begging for votes for the Jewsons Grant scheme! Popstarz were recently awarded a grant by a local Housing Association for the good work they have done in the community .They have to fight for everything…. it doesn’t stop them succeeding …. but imagine what they could do with funding!!

    Nick Wilson and Jonathan Gross report on a group of street dancers,  their story is similar to that of Popstarz.

    “Several of this group first encountered break dancing at school through an instructor brought in to run lunchtime sessions. This instructor connected the students to dance sessions provided free of charge by the local authority …… They had access to space, a friendly and supportive environment and informal mentoring from more experienced dancers.

    Some now earn income through teaching break dancing in schools, prisons and at children’s birthday parties; and one member of the group spent several years dancing full-time…..”

    Success brings success from performing in their little youth club space to performing on a professional stage. These children have been introduced  to the theatre. Showing them that the theatre is a place where magic happens, it shows them the stage from the wings  No one can tell you how that will make you feel, you need to experience it , how can you experience it if you are never given the chance ?

    Our future audiences, actors,  directors, playwrights etc, where are we going to find them and what voice will they have if they only come from one background ?  Perhaps more importantly the reason funding should be made easily accessible to community groups is because of what they are doing . Ensuring theatre survives, showing that the theatre is a place to love, out of these  children realistically maybe a quarter will continue with the arts in some form and hopefully some will continue to have successful careers as performers or may go on to teach the next generation of Popstarz. Whatever their story one thing is certain, almost all of them will hold a love for the theatre in some form and undoubtedly be an audience for the future – something that this generations theatre is sadly lacking.

    If you would like to know more about Rhyl’s Little Theatre or Jaxx Martine Popstarz you can visit their Facebook pages

    https://www.facebook.com/JaxxMartinesPopstarzAcademy/?ref=page_internal

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/929362840449463/?ref=group_header

     

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      Review Sister Act – Venue Cymru by Karis Clarke

       

      4 Stars4 / 5

      Click on the link below to listen to an audio review of this production by Karis Clarke.

       

      This was my first outing to Venue Cymru and I wasn’t disappointed. Set on the stunning North Wales coastline the venue was alive with activity.  The atmosphere was light and expectation high as several audience members dashed around in habits!

      Sister Act is the musical comedy based on the movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, and, unless you were living in a convent yourself back in 1992,  it is highly unlikely you don’t have some knowledge of the film. (It’s popularity has ensured a regular repeats on TV at least once a year since circa 1995).

      The stage version, unlike the film is set in the diva disco era of the 70’s and features original music from  ALAN MENKEN,  and the general feel of the show has  Mowtown vibe that is more than fitting to the outstanding vocal talents of  the lead.

      Alexandra Burke in a scene from Sister Act

      But it’s not all about the star in this show.  Deloris Van Cartier is a fantastic character full of witty one liners, side ways glances and comical physicality that Alexander Burke pulls off admirably. However the ensemble made the show for me. The combined talents of the supporting cast were superior. Acting, singing dancing and playing a variety of musical instruments on set allowed for a fluidity which you can sometimes loose with  larger productions. However this cast owned the stage, literally, they knew every inch.  Their management of the stage movement is a credit to Revel Horwood’s direction.  The scene changes were flawless and were choreographed to perfection.

      Credit should also be given to the set design, the main stay an impressive church interior yet with the cleaver use of lighting and props  it easily faded into the background and made the transition between church,  nightclub, street, police station and back to church with very little effort.

      The musicality was, as one of the songs repeats, ‘Fab -U- Lous  Baby,’ unfortunately this was also a slight disappointment for me as none of the songs from the movie were featured. So although the end of the play saw the majority of the full house clapping and on their feet I am sure if “I will follow him” had been played the roof would have lifted. However the original score was witty, befitting and more than enjoyable.  It’s easy to see how Alan Menken has Oscars under his belt.

      Stand out moments of the show were any time the “gangsters” featured. (They stole the show a little bit from the nuns).  …..Joe Vetch (playing Eddie the sweaty police officer who saves the day) singing “I could be that guy ……Sister Mary Robert played by Alice Stokoe, who had a stunning voice singing a very Disney esq type song called “The Life I Never Had”…….. and the scene when the Sisters stand together for Deloris.

      All in all there was nothing not to like, the show delivered everything thing it promised. One particular moment I found touching was on the final bow Alexandra Burke broke the fourth wall and you saw her thank the audience.  She genuinely seemed to appreciate the standing ovation they received and this shone through as she skipped off stage laughing with co cast not as Deloris but as herself and within those few seconds, in my eyes I saw  true star quality.

      So unless you have lead in your feet and no soul in your heart I defy you not to enjoy this 4 stars production. Unfortunately for North Wales the runs ends on May 27th but you can still catch performances around the UK up until the 3rd September check www.sisteractuktour.co.uk for more details.

      Starring ALEXANDRA BURKE and Directed and choreographed by Strictly CRAIG REVEL HORWOOD, Set and Costume MATTHEW WRIGHT (based on TheTouchtone Motion Picture “Sister Act”)

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         Doctor Who, Series Ten – Beyond the Arc! by Karis Clarke

        Please click on the sound file below to listen to this article or read the text below.

        Forget the Series Arc are we being taken around a full-blown circle?

         I am a forty something year old who has a childhood fondest for the Doctor, and as such I like to guess.

        Ever since the realisation of Bad Wolf, I have been fascinated by the story arc. Waiting for the episodes written by Russell T – and in later years Stephen Moffat trying to see if a glimpse of the story arc could be fathomed.

        Saturday night seemed to be the night for season ten. Written by Moffat and finally laying to rest the mystery of the vault, we had a brief reminder of how wonderful Michelle Gomez is as Missy, and whole universe of possibilities opened.

        The plot was complex and played second fiddle, as my mind wondered. It took the blind Doctor, Bill and Nadul (who every week is evolving into a deeper layered character, under played skilfully by Matt Lucas) into what transpired to be a video game for some withered monks who were basically playing a bizarre version of SIMS, except the final end game was how to destroy the earth. Luckily the Dr had managed to send himself a message via his sexy ray bands and by what looks like will be the hand of Missy – the day may be saved in next week’s episode. In the back of my mind I had seen this playout before, and unfortunately ever since Bill has arrived I have had that feeling.

        A new writer has emerged and with him cultural diversity is being rammed a little bit down our throats, but despite the colour of her skin and her fondness for the same sex, Bill is Rose, and the episodes we are watching are little more than enjoyable rewrites. Almost a by line, to pan out the season for the main event. ……..

        Which is what?

        I have no idea, but I have a whim. The trailer has been seen with The Master not Missy Master but John Sim. This could be a flash back or it could suggest degeneration and if the Master can degenerate then so can the Doctor. This had just been a thought until Saturday – On Saturday we saw the Doctor sacrifice something in his future regeneration to gain sight. Then there is Riversong’s  book which was last seen with one of her deaths in the library – David Tennant’s Library.

        I don’t know how, I don’t know when or where but I think this story will revisit the tenth Doctor, Rose the library and a story arc which will blow all other story arcs out of the stratosphere. Don’t forget who the new writer is, there is a lot to be said for 60 degrees of separation and a whole wonderful world upon worlds that these writers can play with.

         

         

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          Review The Importance of Being Ernest, Theatr Clwyd by Karis Alaina Clarke

          4 Stars4 / 5

           

          I must confess my knowledge of “The Importance of Being Ernest” is limited to a handful of overused quotes about ladies’ diaries and a handbag. So on one hand I had the anticipation of the unexpected but on the other the uncertainty of the unknown.

          From the second I took my seat I was no longer in The Antony Hopkins Theatre but transported back to Victorian times, the back drop giving the illusion of a period house, the set pieces minimal yet effective. Not a piece of furniture or prop wasted from the red leather sofa to the finely sliced cucumber sandwiches. As an additional trick to just drop you from your 21st century woes into the height of 19th century society no house lights dimmed and the entry of Nick Harris as the excellent if not scene stealing Merriman the Butler (and in later scenes Lane) was an unexpected start to the play. This instantly added to the feeling that I was just sat on the opposite sofa in the world of the play. This concept ran throughout, the cast all gave the impression they were at one point or another addressing the audience directly and letting us into their bizarre three act melodrama for the day.

          The story as a whole was, on the surface a mild farce with a poor plot centred around identity, a name and relationships…. on the surface. The real brilliance of the play lies within it’s ironic undertones and satirical speeches poking fun at society, marriage, relationships the upper class – and much more. The actors were craftsmen in as such as they delivered outstanding performances of beautifully timed comedy, especially Matt Jessop as John, and James Backway as Algernon yet they never failed to let the undertones of what needed to be delivered get across. The relationship between the two actors on stage was a delight and one of the main reasons I found the play enjoyable. Their movements on stage were perfect, timed to dance like perfection. The end of Act II in the garden saw James Backway land a shot at Matt Jessop with a muffin that I doubt he can replicate again!!! But it wasn’t just the men who stole the show, not to be out done the ladies held their own and the bitchy banter between Gwen Fairfax (Emma Denly) and Cecily (Robyn Cara) was a master-class in delivery.

          Of course the real star of the show is the writer Oscar Wilde this is without doubt his most famous play and understandably so. He writes of a world he was obviously part of and a world he was very sceptical of – we see in polite society, as it was called, that the higher up the social chain you were, the less polite one needed to be. Overall Victorian morals and views were different to todays, as a society we do not play by some of the rules in place some 100 years ago – however the majority of the play could be as relevant now as it was then and with a few tweaks this play would be a voice for today’s women, today’s illegitimate children, a voice against high society, it was in this area where I was at odds with the direction of the play as a whole. Although I found the set stunning, the garden with its 20ft plus high hedges even smelling of roses, personally I would have liked to see a modern take on the play. Yes, it’s important to keep tradition alive, yes the actors and the set and the director all did a fantastic job but Oscar Wilde was such a revolutionary writer, he was writing about topics in a way that were so ironic and so iconic that 100 years later we are still talking and quoting him and laughing at his plays…. Would he really want them played out in the same staid way? I can’t see that he would – I think he would be wanting directors to be using his words to incite the same outrage he did.

          Despite my enjoyment of the production it was disappointing to watch the play in a half full theatre, in the main it was a sea of older audience members and I had to ask …. Is that because this is a traditional performance of what is viewed as an old play for an older audience who love Oscar Wilde? I hope not. This production has received excellent responses and I know the theatre is undergoing physical changes at the minute. I am excited to see the direction this takes but if it continues to stick to the same programme I feel it will continue to have the same type of audience I was part of on Saturday afternoon. I am not going grey (yet), not necessarily an Oscar Wilde fan but I found this production a total blast from start to finish. It felt slightly on the longer side as it had 3 acts as opposed to the usual 2, however when you consider the extravagant set and the time it would take to get in and out of a bustle I am not surprised but it was worth the wait.

          Overall I would definitely recommend this for all audiences no matter what colour your hair! 4 stars out of 5

          Review by Karis Alaina Clarke

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