Lois Arcari

Writer in her 20s and aficianado of the "fine city" of Norwich and its arts and culture scene.

Review Lovecraft (Not the sex shop in Cardiff) Carys Eleri by Lois Arcari

I usually like my comedy in darker shades, but if you’re looking for an irreverent comedy that’s packed with positivity and threaded with catchy musical numbers, Lovecraft (not the sex shop in Cardiff) is the perfect night out.

It all hinges on the winning charisma of Carys Eleri – a woman who wins over the audience even before the first word of her show. Introducing everyone with a genuinely warm hug, not even a cynic could be against this show as they wait for it to start. Her spoken comedy is brassy and fizzy. While there are only a few standout jokes once you leave the theatre – never to look at A&E Glangwilly the same again – her general aura of energy and enthusiasm sticks with you.

It truly is ‘something for everyone’ comedy. Using hugs and chocolate, plus general affability, Carys had the audience in the palm of her hand the whole way through. Even better, her broad range of jokes from shitty exes to loneliness and online dating meant everyone could relate to something. My personal favorite came when she described her alternative and decent ex. How he stood out in Camarthen, which ‘breeds rugby players like rabbits.’ He was:

‘‘absolutely not a rugby player. He wore eyeliner!’

I’ll always relate to that one!

Her musical numbers show a panache for parody and wordplay. While a few in the first act seemed a bit repetitive, they find their feet as more genre variation comes in. Carys luckily also gets the chance to show off her genuinely fantastic voice as the numbers progress. ‘I Brain you,’ ‘Magic Taxi’ and ‘Rat Park’ get points for the perfect balance of witty and catchy. The animation that accompanied them was basic but effective and had a few moments of great visual humour – like the unicorn’s cigarette horn.

If you’re missing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and wish that Rachel Bloom would have swapped some Hollywood malarkey for Valleys realism, this show is for you. There are a few humourless gripes to be had – the basic science, the repetition of some musical numbers – but Carys Eleri pulls off her one woman show with charisma and bellyaching comedy.

My one big gripe was with the central conceit. This was that the neuroscience of love can be replicated with friendship and community.

While it is in itself a positive message, and it’s humbling to know such an extroverted figure as Carys experienced loneliness, it is somewhat accidentally incomplete. In the valleys or anywhere poor and hard to get to, social isolation has been the catalyst for many a horrible relationship. While her takeaway is a great message for people with good friends to stop worrying about romance, many people only do because those friends can be so hard to find.

Still, even when your physical community is desolate or disappointing, millions find community through art. And a happy, slightly tipsy, and adoring community watched Lovecraft (not the sex shop in Cardiff) that night.

Review ‘Some Pink Star’, Sophie Essex, review by Lois Arcari

Sophie Essex is a powerhouse of Norwich poetry. Often seen promoting events on the Norwich Poetry Group on Facebook, and manning the monthly Volta open mic nights at the Birdcage Pub. I eagerly awaited the chance to see her poetry stand out on its own. Her new chapbook ‘Some Pink Star’ explores the physical embodiment and embroilment of relationships. She uses sparse, purposefully disintegrated poetry to muster up a sense of confusion, and ‘bruises’ her poems with dark themes blithely explored. Manipulation, coercion, romantic apathy and disgust sitting alongside more ‘docile love’ (as described in Bubblegum, one of the best poems in the collection.)

Her writing shines when she lightly employs the contrasts in her work. The use of colloquial language in the middle of more philosophical writing gives an earthier, characterised feeling to poems that might otherwise remain too stylishly vague. Essex knows how to construct such short poems well, but there are moments where it seems she’d be better served by a larger variation in length. 

While Vanilla Sky is frustratingly brief, Violet Volcanoes, just a page over, uses its form to perfect effect. 

The brevity is best employed to make her heady metaphors pack more weight, anchoring them in something real. Otherwise they can sometimes overlap each other too voraciously. It’s hard to separate what differentiates the better dreamy poems from the ones that leave your ‘head in the clouds.’ But the difference is palpable. Another problem is that sometimes the sexuality seems a little too on the nose, the contrast between sugary sweets and sex too sickly a simile. But again, when grounded in her techniques of repetition and invoking the so called ‘real world’, they shine. 

These poems also have an oral texture, reciting themselves in your brain as you read them. There’s a great well of potential, especially with the longer form poems that manage to sustain the delicate balance of liminal and localised. Also worth mentioning is the sheer insight into human character she manages to serve. While the collection seems to have a more thematic than narrative thread, the human aspect to the poems manages to be both relatable and insightful.

All in all, however, it’s a collection of brilliant, often piercing lines – which aren’t always best served by the poems around them.

Review Mata Hari’s Laughter Harem by Lois Arcari

Hosting a monthly comedy act with niche and alternative themes – dipping into the historical with Mata Hari’s harem and Franco’s dictatorship – Hoodenanny is a small club that’s sure to leave a big impression.

Sticking loosely to the theme with Flora Wheeler’s performance as Mata Hari and Emily Smith’s Marlene Deitrich, we were ushered in from the cosy but characteristically costly pub (with event tickets themselves a bargain £3, or £6 for VIP gifts shown below) we were then ushered into a cutting and chaotic night of burlesque and comedy.

The VIP goodies, inside and out

Aaron Hood, founder and MC, was impeccable at compering the night, managing to both steer and steal the show without taking away from any of his performers. Using the clown horn he was so besotted with, Hood ushered us in to the themes of debauchery, mental illness and dark humor that weaved through most of the performers on the night.

As much as his cynical wit landed with razor sharp precision, Hood deserves to be commended for his organisation and dedication. Not only is he a well established member of UEA’s own Headlights comedy club, but he’s fully comitted to his vision of alternative comedy.

“A safe and friendly space for edgeiness.”

At the time of reviewing, he’s also creating a Fringe showcase in Bury St Edmunds. This is a man with too much frantic talent to waste.

First up on the roster was Sussana T Jones, well known throughout Norwich as the singing comedian who’s appeared as up and coming talent on BBC Radio and Director of UEA’S side-splittingly Silly “Game of Thrones: The Pantomime.”

She started with her staple routine, singing a parody of teenage youtube musicians called “My eyeliner.”

Then she brought out a new song especially for the night – about dating as a nerd. Filled with zany puns and enough references to stuff a TARDIS, this was a great start to the night. It provided an odd proto-breather for the heavier – but slightly sharper material – to follow.

Helen of Norwich and Aaron Hood

Second up was Helen of Norwich, who opened her set with some deadpan comments about her age.

Despite her self deprecation, she brought the audience immediately on board. She deployed her experience with the NHS and CBT – though not quite the type we were expecting, and thrived on a comedic style that was personally honest but full of comedic midirection.

Her nervousness was at times palpable – fitting for a set based on anxiety – but her minor struggle with confidence in no way undermined her as a performer. Her understated brand of subtle but sparkling dark humor held its own amongst much louder and more acerbic comedians. This proves she’s a comedian to watch out for.

Ciara Jack also based her set around mental illness, but expanded politically to joke about immigration on class. A lovably brash performer, she shone when using characters and impressions.

Pope Lonergan was a stand out of the night. A booming comedian with riotous jokes, he sealed and intensified the theme of dark humor. Again drawing on incredible personal anecdotes – how did he get to them, let alone survive the tale? – His anarchic sincerity was a real delight. He also posed a question that will now stay on Norwich’s lips forever.

“What would YOU do if you broke a woodlouse’s pregnancy sack?”

A night of big questions Indeed.

The evening ended on a high note with a burlesque performance by Zinnia Rose, who captivated the audience with sultry dance moves to Beyonce and Shakira’s beautiful night. Despite being referenced consistently, I felt this act might have felt more cohesive if the Mata Hari theme was expanded throughout the night.

However, the sacrifice of theme did nothing to hinder such a brilliant night – and the upcoming theme, “Austistic Anarchy” seems much more likely to be woven throughout the night. (With many of the club’s performers having autism themselves and referencing it in their sets.)

Overall this was a truly dynamic night and has established Hoodenanny as an almost unrivaled gem in Norwich’s comedy crown. With an inclusive and energetic vibe, performers with great careers ahead and all for less than a pint at the bar, I’d encourage everyone to make the trip down and have a hoot at Hoodenanny.

Review Pepperland at the Wales Millennium Centre by Lois Arcari

Review of Pepperland at the Wales Millenium Centre by Lois Arcari

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

I was unsure of what to expect when I sat down to watch Mark Morris’ Pepperland at the Wales Millenium Centre. It’s practically criminal not to know and love the Beatles in at least some tangential way, or not to have one go to song to draw out as your favourite. But I wasn’t watching with the nostalgia of many of the audience who had been there the first time, who could see themselves in the chorus of screaming fans in the opening scenes. I’m also generally unfamiliar with the dance genre and haven’t watched professional dance shows in years. But I thought that the show would be the perfect splash of colour to brighten up characteristically unpredictable Easter behaviour.

The opening scene sealed my unease, with Ethan Iverson’s inventive score somewhat undermined by unearned hints of darkness. The theremin was a particular point of contention for this show. Personally, I adore this unconventional instrument, especially in the rightfully iconic Ed Wood theme. However, It’s an instrument best used sparingly.

When placed artfully in pieces like the ‘Penny Lane’ dance, it was unexpected but refreshing. However, there were moments where it threatened to drown the score and the audience with it, through no fault of the talented performer. The show seemed to have that sort of tone problem throughout. While sombre notes in the orchestration sometimes clashed welcomely with the candy cane cheer of the costumes, more often than not they felt misplaced and unearnt in regards to the dancers, who were performing – wonderfully as always throughout the production – dances that didn’t meet the new tone to the music.

Again, when it worked it worked, but there were only brief flashes where it did. Some of the transitional dances were overly repetitive, but the technical prowess of the dancers can’t be faulted. Whatever the audience felt about the score or singing – and we’ll come to that later – the dancers had them all immediately onside, providing the audience with plenty of laughs alongside genuinely warm applause.

Despite their obvious prowess during the more cheerful numbers – especially my favorite of the set, ‘Penny Lane’, they were equally as impressive, if not more, when performing more tender and sombre scenes. The romantic dances especially were things of beauty. They represented a tender sixties fairytale where race, gender, sexuality and time meant nothing. Love and light were all, even when the lights dimmed and love faded. The show managed to give it’s very basic staging maximum impact. The ebbs and flows of lights and colour flexing to the music. Of particular note was the way that Iverson drew out the Beatles’ Indian influences to their most lavish conclusion.

The singer, however, was met with mixed reviews. Not doubting his vocal talents, he simply didn’t seem to fit the production. The dancers and their costumes indicated something more joyful which would take itself less seriously. The score was theatrical but often confused. Vocal talent and power alone can’t replicate charm, and the operatic style seemed like just another confusion added to the pile. The singer would have benefited from a show which approached its tone with more intent, or allowing himself some lapses in technical skill for raw emotion. In those brief moments where he did falter, his singing became much more powerful.

Perhaps the best way of summarising this show is ‘if you’re here for a beatles sing-along, that’s not going to happen.’ This mild, half unknowing derision of the audience suggests that this show has ambitions beyond its color palate, and has left fans outside of the review circuit – including my plus one – feeling rather cold, while it enjoys status as a critical darling. Still, the genuine love that emanates from the company’s every dance move – and the Beatles themselves as an evergreen subject matter – were enough to keep some lonely hearts more firmly on its side.

Review Performance at The New Theatre by Lois Arcari


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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Director James Williams was placed, alongside the producers at Arts Active Wales, with the admirable but ultimately unenviable task of threading together a week’s worth of workshops, carried out by young people who had never before met, together into a show worthy of the New Theatre.

Despite the insularity that is always a potential threat to any of these types of projects, they always expand outside their form – making it a real shame this performance, perhaps weighed down by the somewhat awkward virtue of its name, wasn’t a tad more well marketed. What the Sherman NT Connections festival did so well with interpreting set theatre pieces this project did for new material.

There were, of course, lots of layers of interweaving. The more complex ideas with the weaker ones, the reasonably large age gap of performers aged 14 – 25, and of course the disciplines of circus, design, dance, art, music and the spoken word. The poetry, overseen by Literature Wales was one of the highlights, although a few themes might’ve meandered, and there were moments where politics seemed a little indelicately transposed onto some performers. Having sat in on the workshop, any chinks in the material were minute distractions against the obvious double edged sword of the time frame, and the integration of every workshopped piece into the whole.

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The ensemble for ‘Performance’ 2016

Community Music Wales where also very active in the show but where better executed and more memorable when used as a backbone for the other artforms. The Art and Design elements were the most sporadically used but well done; a Dali like background to an intense, exhaustive dance piece the most effective example. Impressive puppetry was also used, although the flashy teddy bear, turned Gothic by the lighting, would best be appreciated of those who, unlike this critic, have not been subjected to the ‘wonders’ of FNAF by younger family. No Fit State’s Circus performances showed the two most obvious flavours, a humorous but slight juggling gag to trapeze, but there will be no world in which the mastery of the latter doesn’t inspire some kind of awe.

All the elements worked well together, but Earthfall Dance had a monopoly on the night. Contemporary dance is one of those things all too easy to get wrong, viewed by the general public with cynicism, and even sometimes within the arts with a gentle wryness. In this show, it was stunning, performed by the trained dancers, with natural acting talent alongside passionate energy. It whipped up the most natural commentary and narrative of the night whilst seeming absolutely effortless. As always, simplicity was king and queen alike. Even though others without dance experience were involved, they too seemed totally natural. Whether swift and pulsating or tender and subdued, it was perfectly executed.

Overall, the pieces which were meant to form more of a cohesive story than a thematic connection were too brilliant not to hinder the more standalone pieces which would otherwise be fine if unengaging but it rather accurately depicted the current arts scene, whilst showing plenty of scope for new forms of talent. The difficulty in reviewing this was that any flaws are part of its form and therefore, any commentary can’t seem too constructive, but trying to bring young talent out of its usual spheres and into the general stage is an admirable thing. It was never going to be perfect or show any calculated insight, but it was certainly vibrant and showed plenty of the organic kind. Very much worth keeping an eye out for next year, but keeping it in context is essential for the ride.

Director: James Williams

Producer: Arts active
Assistant producers/collaborators: Literature Wales, No Fit State, Earthfall Dance, Community Music Wales, Criw Celf
Running time: 1 hr 20 mins

 

Review National Theatre Connections Festival 2016 by Lois Arcari

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Sherman connections is an annual festival centred around making strong links with young talent, raising the profile and awareness of theatre companies and their rising stars to general audiences, the theatre and themselves. The three day festival, only one of which I was privileged enough to attend, was packed full of short productions such as Simon Armitage’s Eclipse, presented by the Everyman Youth theatre and Lucinda Coxon’s What are They Like, as performed by WGYTC.

Although I could only catch two of the nine productions featured in the festival; the diversity of plays and the thorough rehearsal of their excellent young casts was evident in both.

There were also opportunities to participate in an extensive range of workshops.
These workshops really made the atmosphere of creative buzz and talent checking even further heightened; some generally constructive such as a review workshop with Jafar Iqbal of the Western mail, others shedding light into current issues in the arts such as inclusivity. A particular highlight for attendants was the one off workshop from Matthew Bulgo.

It was a great opportunity for bolstering support of local Welsh talent, and its place in the Sherman’s packed catalogue cements its place as one of the most active theatres in Cardiff; doing all it can to heighten not only its already well regarded profile, but that of fresh talent and Welsh arts in general.

Although it’s main onus did seem to be on connections within the youth groups; seeing new talent in a space evidently very invested in the future of theatre with so much packed into its tight schedule seems a must for fans of the Sherman, and anyone interested in looking out for the future landscape of Welsh Theatre,

Romeo And Juliet Everyman Theatre Cardiff

Romeo and Juliet, Everyman Open Air Theatre, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff,
Author: William Shakespeare
Directors: Mark Modzelwski and Jack Paterson
Cast: Mickey Howe, Helen Randall, Jon Barnes, Aisha Cecil, James Pritchard
Running Time – 2 hours

 Photos courtesy of Keith Stanbury

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet couldn’t be a more polarizing play – that controversy, and of course it’s impenetrable brand, the reason for its longevity, despite the criticisms it’s been subject to throughout the ages. It also means every adaptation, no matter how well done or brightly framed, will have a clear divide between its fans and its skeptics, much like its own warring houses.

It immediately reminded me of Everyman’s 2014 production The Taming of the Shrew, which also played with a modern framing. In that case, it seemed disjointed and unconnected, this play’s firmer stance something I was glad of. An early warning sign was the wrapping of garish warning tape around the gorgeous set, itself an understated stage that easily turned from crumbled history to a modern ruin in the mind’s eye. Any foreshadowing in the archetypal tragedy seems dangerously close to being too loud for too little reason. Then, I turned thoughts to Last year’s As You Like it set completely within its time, which seemed less frantic to be thoughtful, its simplicity its making.

The scuffle between the houses was presented in a haze of echoed dialogue, each line chanted rather than spoken, chaotic drumming and West Side snapping fueling the anger. It was no doubt intended as a display of raw energy, but mine surely weren’t the only ears strained by a jarring start. A question common to the staging was that of cleverness or (with all such words improperly conveying the fact every polarizing part was played with conviction of delivery) clumsiness. Aggression dominating over clarity and a sense of unease are fitting for the play, but it felt a little rushed, easy to think about but harder to feel for – the presentation of the raw feeling ironically calculated.

Another of these dichotomies was the fact that Paris is shown sauntering through the warring families, often an agent of the discord the one to bang the makeshift drum of the stage – this could give the often slight role adaptations afford him gravitas, but there is too little of him otherwise to give weight to the staging.

Whilst experimentation is always welcome, the elements seemed jarring and improperly integrated, a few, small things that, in never fully being justified spoiled the flow. Costuming was fine, but slightly awkward with our leads, owing a tad too much to Danny and Sandy. The thing that dominated over everything, making niggles more off-putting, was that the overall transference to the modern day seemed slightly arbitrary – a live performance in the beautiful Sofia Gardens is certainly not the slickly edited City from Luhrmann’s fondly remembered film, and whilst it could be left to interpretation in another play, the fraught world of our times providing myriad examples of arbitrary, baseless conflict, the other small jarring features meant either that these less important things should have had some justification, or that this time leap needed more obvious suggestion.

The acting was certainly the best element.

Mikey Howe presented himself as a likable actor, but not as a Romeo stripped of the blandness which pervades even the best of his adaptations. He more often solicited motherly feelings of exhausted affection and useless foresight rather than showing us a passion we might forgive naivety more for. Mercutio was played memorably by Jon Barnes, remembered fondly from last year, the acidic chemistry between him and Asha Cecil’s flint like Tybalt alluding to something more complex and engaging than the titular love. Helen Randall’s Juliet was stunning, and did her best to convert us to her convictions with not just a sweet, but quietly intelligent and witty character, her superb delivery highlighting the odd dichotomy that one of Shakespeare’s most characters most scolded for their lack of better judgement has some such clever lines, full of wordplay and conviction. Another highlight was James Pritchard’s warm and fatherly Friar – although the general depiction of such is always odd, considering despite his gentle ways, he is the piece’s accidental murderer.

The anger was the most visceral, best felt emotion of the play, each character, Tybalt to the Montagues doing their best under rage, although such venom by the ensemble made Romeo’s anger seem a little paler than the devastation of the second act required.

Said second act was free from trips over the awkward trappings of the first allowing for a much smoother experience, beautifully and purposefully lit, each actor at their finest in this hour.

A fun, but at later thought somewhat frustrating decision was that to possess the apothecary by the devil – gleefully sadistic at first glance, and a synchronization of the ensemble used to much more coordinated and singular effect, you then realized how much trouble it presented. Shakespeare, here to Lear to his famous sonnets, was always interested in the conflict between the power of the damnation of God (and the Gods) and man, and how the devil is a part of both self-corrupting man and the omnipotent Lord who shows such little benevolence in his works.

This is the essence of the general trouble – that the productions experiments just don’t have a solid enough foundation to be felt more than gimmicky, when the more general elements are is all wonderfully done. Ironically, and somewhat sadly, when focused more on style than the unsure statements there was much more substance. In short, it’s a commendable performance with a lot to chew on regardless of whether you enjoyed such elements, but I’m afraid it may be looked with kinder eyes by those who love the lovers, and not those skeptical of the star crossed.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

ENDS

Review Into The Woods, Everyman Theatre Cardiff by Lois Arcari

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

As the sun descended upon the set, previously lovely but a little bare, gloriously entwined with the trees yet sans any beanstalk motif, took on a new depth and spatiality. Now it was one with the story, the characters, the enthralling play – the whole thing blossoming in the darkness. In the second act, every element came together for a brilliant, bombastic finish, Sondheim’s ever darkly twinkling musical and the always excellent Everyman team.

The musical will always be a relevant one, but what I think makes it so durable, from when Bernadette Peter’s first blew onto the stage, to the gleefully ironic Disney adaptation, is that it warns of wishes whilst not mandating the often so elusive action. The tone is sublime, true and timeless. As we see the ordinary tales of Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and The Beanstalk and more deconstructed for perhaps the first time in a mainstream way, the show will always be a looking glass for both the individual and the world around them. It has a perfect formula, which gives any players the odd situation of only being able to damn it with an almost impossible faintness, which Everyman most certainly did not.

The reliably brilliant atmosphere highlighted the dramatic tension, with the ensemble on brilliant form, and any kinks in what was the opening night were duly ironed out save one or two small problems with the mikes. The puppetry, which had been lovely but simplistic at the start, was utilised in a genuinely shocking and exciting moment, gone in a flash, the impact amazing.

One of the best to bloom through the show was Meredith Lewis’ Cinderella, with natural empathetic acting and a clear but tense voice always hanging on the edge of something, uncertain in crescendos. Her command of her vocals was probably always going to increase as the production went on, as the uncertainty of dreams turns into calloused but dependable reality.

To me, the true standout players had to be Laura Phillips, the Baker’s Wife. Her warmth, comedy and realism all made the ill fated woman perfectly likeable, her shadow looming over thus ever more painfully, and Darcy Welch, Little Red, who managed to blend the sweetness and tinge of childish cruelty in little red without either rendering the other implausible. The Wolf was the scene stealer he was meant to be, and he two princes were played with winning aplomb. Cinderella’s, played by Lewis Cook was perhaps the best, an undercurrent of whatever sincerity could be bred into such a prince making him less one note, the dominant individual ‘agonies’ of the play amplified by the smaller, subtler ones. The people that never had the chance to be a different version of themselves, the cruel prescriptiveness of the archetypal fairytale, it’s inevitable truth, and the mournful, glorious fact that no one is exempt from human fallibility.

A beautifully done production, the costume design as ever needs a mention.Whilst all costumes suited the production, the standout had to be the Witch’s hunched form, her apparent ugliness only truly shown in strangeness. The mask, meant for the furrowed lines of age, truly looked almost venetian, and her hair, odd, matted pink, again added a sense of false attributions, as she looked powerful, bizarre and captivating. The Witch herself was nice, was good…but, for those of you who know the booming song, not quite right. The acting and singing from Jo Herco Thomas were both lovely, but in a company with a baseline of brilliant talent her voice failed to dominate as her physical presence did, as she played both her anger and her tenderness a little too softly, never seeming committed to either. By no means a bad performance, it still seemed a little lukewarm for the iconic character.

This is a musical which will always retain its power. Both the overt and the quiet have their warnings reflected best when subtleties and set pieces bounce off one another. From the ambient tenseness to the beaming wit and of course Sondheim’s near perfectly written songs, this is a play for all to see if chance as in the play both our darkest and our finest magic, permits them.

Into the Woods

Everyman Theatre Sophia Gardens Cardiff
24th June – 2nd July

Book : James Lapine.

Music and lyrics: Stephen Sondheim.

Director: Jonathan Tunick.

Musical Director:: Rob Thorne.

Design: Bethany Seddon Stage Manager: Ranynore Phinnemore, Deputy Stage Manager: Dunyasha Barrow. Design Assistants- Rosie Motion, Dominic Page, Alison Sheppard, Kay Harry.

Puppet making: Bethany Page, Pascale Morrison-Derbyshire, Aimee Walting, Jen Callow

Band:Rob Thorne Jnr, Ray Dizon, Robin Hames, Jonathan Mainwaring, Simon Carter.

Costume and Makeup: Kelly Ellis, Rosie Berry, Michelle Cast: Laura Phillips, Matthew Preece, James Rockney, Darcy Welch, Meredith Lewis, Jo Herco-Thomas, Sarah Bawler, Daniel Ivor Jones and David Stephens.

Barker, Sophie Langford

Running Time: Just over two and a half hours.

Review NT Connections Sherman Cymru by Lois Arcari

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NT Connections is an annual festival which develops strong links with young talent, raising the profile and awareness of youth theatre companies and their members. The three day festival, which took place at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff (only one of which I was privileged enough to attend) was packed full of short productions such as Simon Armitage’s Eclipse, presented by the Everyman Youth Theatre and Lucinda Coxon’s What are They Like, performed by West Glamorgan Youth Theatre Company.

Although I could only catch two of the nine productions featured in the festival; the diversity of plays and the thorough rehearsal of their excellent young casts was evident in both.

During the day there was also opportunities to participate in an extensive range of workshops. These workshops really made the atmosphere of a creative buzz and talent checking even further heightened. Some generally constructive such as an insight into review writing workshop with critic Jafar Iqbal of the Western Mail, others shedding light into current issues in the arts such as inclusivity. A particular highlight for attendants was the one off workshop from playwright Matthew Bulgo.

It was a great opportunity for bolstering support of local Welsh talent, and its place in the Sherman’s packed catalogue cements its place as one of the most active theatres in Wales .The venue doing all it can to heighten not only its already well regarded profile, but that of fresh talent and Welsh arts. Seeing new talent in a space evidently very invested in the future of theatre with so much packed into its tight schedule seems a must for anyone interested in looking out for the future landscape of Welsh Theatre.

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http://connections.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Review Constellation Street The Other Room by Lois Arcari

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A set of four intertwining monologues dividing tight – and tightly packed – spaces in a pub theatre tucked underneath the train stations – literally hidden gem.

Hardly a setup for convention.That, for the audience, is sublime.

The set design by the obviously talented Amy Jane Cook, catches you immediately, as you’re led through Constellation Street. The sets, three internal sets each toe the line between intimacy and claustrophobia just as the street itself does; a fifth character illuminated by its cast, the staging, and the experience theatre the play provides. The multiple sets were all done brilliantly but didn’t take the balance off the play itself. The outside platform fits perfectly; the noise of Cardiff against its backdrop illuminating rather than distracting; a brilliantly designed set up that draws subjective meaning without ever prompting it unsubtly.

This set up perfectly captures the mix of realism and delirium imbued in the play; the smallest pieces of the everyday evolving into a smooth hallucination between reality and melodrama. The play is flawlessly cast, each delivering their characters believably, and essentially, ambiguously. Each monologue in itself invites a wealth of interpretation, and the contradictions between them made for a more interesting whole; turning to pin point lies and honesty, or if indeed, they are even mutually exclusive at all. Distrust and uncertainty were the stars of the script, crawling under the skin the most effectively.

Tonally, the play was dark without nihilism, realism providing the comedy. Narratively, it could veer dangerously close to artifice; interweaving of monologues a little predictable at times, but with the cast and this experiential, experimental play nevertheless not straying from its basis in character, its brevity seemed at once a loss and a basis of its charms and wit. In its intimacy, the stories packed weight, but, because of its root in subjectivity were not always as deeply felt. We are dragged into the confusion, loss and grief of the characters, rooted in their street but projected through to any other. Although narratively slick, the close web of all the characters seemed to displace it from an every town, an idea the play needs to pack the punches it delivered, more lastingly for its audience.

One idea in particular, maybe from just seeing three of four monologues, was that one interesting idea seemed left to flounder. Parts were resonant, parts were shocking;but although technically brilliant, it never seemed to project itself onto the outside world. Perhaps, I must concede, the intention for us ‘invaders’ on the street.

It’s not that there was style over substance, but merely that the substance is felt harder to relate to in an outside context because of the stylistic excellence. As a piece of event theatre with the atmosphere of a clandestine treat, it is a must-see, but it’s genuine emotional resonance, or at least the extent of its power, is an ambiguous thing; as hard to track as the characters it writes of.