Luke Seidel-Haas

Review: Archetypical, The Gate Arts Centre by Luke Seidel-Haas

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★★★☆☆

Devised by students at University of Wales Trinity St David’s, Archetypical is a promenade performance which aims to tackle 21st century representations of women by exposing the historical archetypes by which women were defined – The Saint, The Martyr, The Witch and The Whore. Powerfully performed by Niamh Provan and Syamala Skinner, the piece is an engaging, humorous and thought provoking look at the female form. Archetypical a part of the “Fringe Labs” thread of Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival, meaning it is a work in progress and will be reviewed as such. Any criticism will aim to be constructive to allow the company an opportunity to improve their work.

Starting off in the main bar area of The Gate, Niamh and Syamala enter the space and abruptly stand on their heads. Legs open and in the air, the pair chastise each other  for not being able to close their legs and not be able to pose in a “ladylike” manner.  Before long we are whisked away by Syamala who invites us upstairs to view a house viewing. Escorted upstairs and into the main auditorium of The Gate, we are then introduced to the property for sale – Niamh. Syamala describes each part of Niamh’s body as if it were a house, using innuendo laden metaphors. The meaning behind this is clear – we are being shown the ways in which women’s bodies are reduced to their mere functions such as their ability to bear children or run a household.

As the piece progresses we see in turn a catwalk, an auction house and a witch hunt. Each is presented by the two performers with structured interactions between themselves and the audience. Often these segments are absurd and funny – a section in which the audience bids for Syamala’s body parts is ludicrous. Yet it suddenly hits home that the auction is highlighting the objectification of the female body and the complicity that people have in this. As a promenade piece of work it works relatively well – arguably the show is not site specific as it could be easily adapted to a variety of different spaces and does not necessarily integrate fully into the specifics of the space. The show may well have worked just as well in the single performance space of the main Auditorium. Having said that, both performers were adept at shepherding and interacting with the audience in the welcoming yet firm style needed to ensure the audience go where needed.

The movement of both performers was engaging and confidently executed, and generally fitted well with the text used. At times these could have been further integrated by combining movement and text in a more fluid manner. While this may have been a challenge based on the movements the performers were , the use of recorded audio could have added further layers to the piece. Each section of the piece was cleverly structured and the use of humour allowed  the audience to engage on a lighter level with the themes, perhaps before realising the meaning behind it. Archetypical cleverly weaves themes of female objectification, submission and the saint/whore dichotomy into a well performed and dynamic piece. An interesting concept, brimming with potential for development and powerfully executed by both performers.

Archetypical

Physical Theatre/Dance

The Gate Arts Centre

14th June 2018

Directed by Thania Acaron

Performed by  Niamh Provan and Syamala Skinner

Part of the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival – more information and tickets here.

 

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Luke Seidel-Haas

Review: Voices of Protest – Festival of Voice, Wales Millennium Centre by Luke Seidel-Haas

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★★★★★

 

The Festival of Voice is a biennial international arts festival, described as an opportunity to “hear and be heard”. Featuring events scattered all over the capital city, the main hub of the festival takes place at the Wales Millennium Centre, featuring a hugely diverse program of events. These range from rock and pop music, to cabaret and musicals to live art. The aim, according to artistic director Greame Farrow, is for the “Festival to become internationally renowned and on a similar scale to Edinburgh. I would love to close the streets of Cardiff for the weekend and fill them with voices for free,”. It was with great pleasure that I was invited to attend the opening night of the festival which featured Billy Bragg and Nadine Shah in an event called Voices of Protest.

At this point I have a slight confession – I had never heard of Nadine Shah before this point, and was only vaguely familiar with Bragg’s work through his Left Field Stage at Glastonbury. That being said, I felt this was an excellent opportunity to go into an event with a completely open mind and no presuppositions. Between collecting my tickets from the box office and the main event, I had a chance to explore the rest of the Festival of Voice hub. The main foyer of the WMC has been given a bit of a makeover, with a live DJ playing, and interactive art works strewn around. Outside the building, sandwiched between the WMC and the Piermaster building was a collection of delicious looking street food stalls. These included a Wood Fired Pizza stall, Fresh Pasta, a coffee kiosk and a bar, as well as a pop up Kitchen ran by Oasis, the refugee and asylum seeker organisation. Eventually I settled on a Turkish inspired stall called Murray May’s Rolling Kitchen which was selling proper charcoal grilled kebabs served in pittas. This was absolutely delicious – if you get a chance to get down to the hub I can’t recommend their food enough.

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Enough about the food – on to the music. Settling down in the beautiful surroundings of the Donald Gordon Theatre, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Slightly later than billed (since when to musicians take to the stage on time anyway), Nadine and her band arrived and launched right into things. Brooding and dark, Shah’s voice is undeniably excellent. Rich and soulful, she has a unique tone which is likely in part to her strong North-Eastern accent which she doesn’t attempt to disguise or Americanize when singing. Featuring the traditional rock lineup of guitar, bass and drums, Shah’s band also included a keyboardist and saxophonist which contributed to the full tone of the outfit.

In an event called Voices of Protest, it is clear why Shah’s blend of music hits the mark – the content of her songs range tackling fascism and Islamophobia to refugee and immigrant rights. As a self confessed second generation immigrant (born in South Tyneside to a Pakistani Father and part Norwegian Mother), Shah stops her set at one point to remind the audience of the valuable contribution that immigrants can and have made to this country. And yet while the content of her songs is intelligent, powerful and provocative, Shah is clearly happier to let her songs do the talking – at one point she confesses that shes “rubbish at this talking stuff”, and will leave that to Bragg.

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After a brief interval in which sets are changed, Billy Bragg takes to the stage to rapturous applause. Aged 60, Bragg is clearly still full of energy and passion for politics. Despite claiming in his most famous song that “I don’t wanna change the world”, his songs have a clear message to people – get involved, educate yourselves and campaign for what you believe in. In comparison to Shah’s rich full sound, Bragg stands alone on an almost bare stage with just his guitar and the occasional backing by colleague CJ on electric or slide guitar. Yet Bragg’s enthusiasm and warmth manage to fill the auditorium, and as he discusses the meaning behind each song it is clear that the majority of the audience are becoming more and more alert to the messages behind what he’s saying. Highlights include Handyman Blues, an ode to men accepting that they don’t have to adhere to stereotypical notions of masculinity, a cover of Bob Dylans The Times They Are A Changin (Back) but with the words re-written after Trump’s inauguration, and of course his final encore song New England.

Despite his earnest and heart-felt political opinions, Bragg never comes across as preachy or condescending. At one point he stops the show to discuss an event that happened at his last gig in Cardiff at the Tramshed, where a heckler asked Bragg why he was drinking from a disposable plastic bottle. Bragg showed us (and indeed that very heckler, in attendance tonight) that he had learnt from this and now uses a Gig Swig reusable bottle while encouraging other musicians to do the same. It is this type of genuine activism and openness to being challenged that makes Bragg an excellent champion of left wing causes. While not the greatest singer or guitar player, Bragg’s strengths lie in his excellent song writing. Poignant lyrics, which open your eyes to the possibility of and need for change, are an excellent way of reminding people what can be done together. Bragg confesses in the gig that music cannot change the world – but what it can do is give you an outlet to inspire others to change things in other ways. The motto of the Bragg curated Left Field at Glastonbury is “recharge your activism”; after this evenings powerful opening to the Festival of Voice it would be difficult not to feel rejuvenated. Inspiring and thought provoking, Voices of Protest is an excellent evening’s entertainment featuring two different but equally galvanizing artists.

Voices of Protest

Live Music

Donald Gordon Theatre, Wales Millennium Centre

7th June 2018

Billy Bragg & Nadine Shah

Part of the Festival of Voice – more info and tickets here

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Luke Seidel-Haas

 

Review: Bummer and Lazarus, AJ’s Coffe House by Luke Seidel-Haas

Bummer and Lazarus by Big Egg Theatre

★★★★☆

 

For those not in the know, or without access to Google, Bummer and Lazarus seems like a strange title for a play. Named after two stray dogs who during the 1860’s roamed the streets of San Francisco, the pair were prodigious rat-catchers and the stuff of local legend. Here, Big Egg Theatre company imagine what it would be like if these animals were completely anthropomorphised and stuck in a cellar and desperate to get out. The show also comically poses existential questions about existence and the notions of time, thought and matter itself.

Bounding into the intimate space of AJ’s Coffee House are actors Jack Harrison and Dave Reeson as the titular dogs. Bummer appears old and curmudgeonly, yet acts with near infinite patience with the hyperactive but intellectually challenged Lazarus. The dogs have a problem – they somehow have found themselves trapped in a cellar with no food, and Bummer needs to hunt and eat before they both starve. Beyond this simple premise lies 45 minutes of intense cerebral discussion between the two, who fire off lines as quickly as machine gun fire. The show is exhausting yet exhilarating in equal measure.

The physicality of both actors is excellent, with Lazarus bounding around the stage manically and knocking off things like an excitable puppy who is keen to explore. Bummer on the other hand is much more measured, limping around the stage (likely due to an old battle scar) and calming Lazarus down. Their conversation lurches hilariously between the mundane and the profound, often within the space of a few lines. Lazarus is keen to understand everything and asks Bummer questions in quick fire which he is able to answer with varying degrees of success. A rapid explanation of particle physics is a mind boggling highlight of wit and delivery. The writing is clever, keen to remind us that they are dogs and not to allow them to move on or really gain any new understanding of life.

As a production, Bummer and Lazarus seems to take inspiration from Samuel Beckett’s work – Waiting for Godot in particular. It’s existential themes and cyclical nature feel similar in nature to Vladamir and Estragon’s infamous wait. It certainly feels like it is not the first time Bummer and Lazarus have found themselves in such a situation, and likely not the last. Occasionally the shows feels like it is stuck progressing at the same break-neck speed, leaving little space for changes in tone or mood. Yet the delivery of the lines at such a pace is flawless and leaves you racing to keep up with the thoughts of the canine duo. Humorous and full of wit, Bummer and Lazarus is an engaging examination of existentialism; through the eyes of a dog.

 

Bummer and Lazarus

Theatre/Comedy

AJ’s Coffee House

5th June 2018

Written by Jack Harrison

Performed by Dave Reeson and Charlie Norburn

Produced by Big Egg Theatre

Part of the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival – more information and tickets here.

Check out Big Egg’s website for more info about upcoming shows.

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Luke Seidel-Haas

 

 

Review: Just a Few Words, Little Man Coffee Co. by Luke Seidel-Haas

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★★★★☆

Telling someone that you have feelings for them can be difficult enough at the best of times. Your palms go sweaty, your mouth dries up and you get butterflies in your stomach. Now imagine how much harder it would be if you have a speech impediment like a stutter or stammer. The more you try to get your words out, the more your mouth clamps up. This is the premise of Stammermouth‘s production of Just a Few Words. First performed at Edinburgh Festival in 2015 where it was nominated for the Total Theatre ‘shows by an emerging artist’ award, this show aims to raise the awareness of stuttering and ways in which it can be overcome.

Performed in the blank studio space downstairs in Little Man Coffee Co. in Cardiff city centre, the set is stripped back to the absolute minimum. In one corner is a record player which plays static and judders backwards and forwards across the same lines (insert joke about sounding like a stuck record here), and in the other corner is a pile of cue cards. These cards act partly as a simple way of communicating meaning, but at times also start to almost feel like a secondary character in the play, urging actor Nye Russell-Thompson to try to find the words he needs. The space is an excellent choice, as the minimalistic setup allows you to concentrate entirely on the words and on Nye’s captivating performance.

Self depreciating, honest and open, Nye demonstrates an incredible level of vulnerability. While he is playing a fictional character with the aim of telling someone he loves them, it is clear that much of the content is based on his own lived experience. Intimate and at times raw, the play feels simultaneously universal and highly personal in nature. As the play progresses we are invited to try and simulate what having a stammer would be like. Initially eliciting a few awkward laughs, Nye’s sincerity in trying to show us even a snippet of his experience is illuminating and allows us to feel the utmost sympathy for his situation. Functioning as a dark comedy, Just a Few Words invites us to laugh with Nye, never at him.

Many of us take it for granted that we are able to communicate fairly easily using the spoken language. Just a Few Words is an excellent and thought provoking reminder of the challenges that can arise from making ourselves understood, as well as the techniques used to help reduce or overcome stuttering. Performed with a captivating vulnerability by Nye Russell- Thompson, Just a Few Words is a simple yet spellbindingly effective account of one persons struggle to make themselves heard.

Written and performed by Nye Russell-Thompson

Produced by StammerMouth

Little Man Coffee Co. 3rd June 2018

Part of the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival – more information and tickets here

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Luke Seidel-Haas

 

 

Review: Everything Changes, AJ’s Coffee House by Luke Seidel-Haas

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★★☆☆☆

 

Billed as a fusion of storytelling between Celtic and Zimbabwean cultures, Everything Changes is a collaboration between professional storyteller Bevin Magama and founder of Weeping Tudor productions James Ellis. Taking place in the cosy setting of AJ’s Coffee House on City Road, this show is part of the “Fringe Labs” strand of this years Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival – that means that it is ” either totally new, or [a] work-in-progress. This will be a platform from which they can make their first leap into the public eye, and develop their work”

As the show begins, James and Bevin enter the space to the rhythmic sound of a beating drum. Scattered on the floor around the stage are various instruments and props, of both African and European derivation, from the African Mbira to the Triangle. Bevin is resplendent in a colourful Dashiki style top and baggy pantaloon style trousers, while James’ costume also appears to be inspired by African clothing, but with a western twist. His top is similar in style to Bevin’s, but in a denim style, and instead of pantaloons he wears a navy skirt. Using a storytelling structure, both Bevin and James take it in turns to tell stories inspired by their own background and culture. We hear diverse stories such as the Welsh myth of Twm Siôn Cati, the Zimbabwean story of the Snake who crossed the river, and the myth of St Telio – patron saint of Cardiff.

Theses stories clearly demonstrate the very different storytelling traditions of both Celtic and Zimbabwean cultures. While James’ sections are poetic monologues performed with a simple sincerity, Bevin is much more animated, utilizing the call and response technique of audience participation, and allegorical storytelling style more common in in the African tradition. While Everything Changes promises to be a fusion of stories, these two traditions feel like they exist entirely separately within the theatrical space. Both James and Bevin sit entirely still while the other tells a story – there is no interaction or combination of storytelling whatsoever. There is also a strange difference between the two performers; Bevin is clearly an experienced storyteller who is captivating and dynamic, whiles James seems less confident of his oration.  As an experimental piece of work still in progress it is absolutely fine for you to read your lines off a script – however disguising this by hiding your phone away on a music stand to read off is a disservice. It may have been more effective to own this decision, to put the script into a storybook which you are then telling the audience.

A highlight of the piece is the title section Everything Changes; a story about the impermanence of everything. Told while playing the Mbira, the monologue is beautifully enhanced by the dreamlike quality of the instrument. Other uses of instruments meanwhile feel a little more tacked on, with the instruments used in James’ stories adding nothing to the overall effect. Perhaps more sucessful would be to combine both storytellers together, with one telling the story while the other provides a soundscape behind it. Similarly, the ending of the piece, while cleverly experimental, jars with the tone of the rest of the production. This involves James opening the curtains to the venue, allowing us to see out onto the bustling main road and for them to see in to the venue. James then walks out, across the road and out of sight. As an ending this is totally unexpected and an interesting concept, but bears absolutely no relation to the rest of the show.

As a concept the idea of the show is an interesting one – the collision of cultures and storytelling traditions has the potential to be a way of celebrating both cultures while demonstrating clearly both their similarities and their differences. Sadly the execution in this piece is lacking, and the piece feels like two storytellers separately exploring the narratives of their own culture, rather than an exiting fusion of the two. A great concept with some entertaining moments, but ultimately delivered only half baked.

Everything Changes

AJ’s Coffee House May 31st-June 1st 2018

Part of the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival – more information and tickets here

Luke Seidel-Haas