Roger Barrington

Review of “Vincent River” at Jacob’s Market, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

 

(4 / 5)

 

Philip Ridley’s tense two-hander receives its first performance in Cardiff with the action relocated to the Welsh capital.

In-Yer-Face theatre associated playwright Philip Ridley is renowned for his uncompromising scripts and action, and nearly twenty years on from its Hampstead Theatre premiere, “Vincent River” still packs a punch.

In a famous review of 1994 of Ridley’s “Ghost from a Perfect Place” Michael Billingham, probably Britain’s most renowned theatre critic launched a rant on the gratuitous violence on display. In turn Billingham was criticised for not getting the point.

In “Vincent River” the explicit violence is only spoken about in a flashback”, and it is identified with lengthy soliloquys from Davey, (Aly Cruickshank) towards the end, more reminicent of another highly regarded Ridley play, “The Pitchfork Disney”.

As a gay man, Ridley often writes from his own personal experience, and this is shown in “Vincent River”, not only in terms of homosexual alienation, but in the character of Anita, (Victoria Pugh) who has been forced to relocate due to the unwelcome publicity in the aftermath of her son Vincent’s murder.

Davey has been stalking Anita for a while, anxious to offload something  that is weighing heavily on his mind. After plucking up the courage to confront Anita in her new flat,  and after an uncertain nervy start, the two of them engage in a feisty dialogue over the remaining 80 minutes. Ridley develops the character by both of them relating stories about their past –  Anita with Vincent and Davey with his trophy girlfriend Rachael and his dying mother.

The climax is memorable with Anita bawling a Primal Howl, (I wanted to write Primal Scream to honour a favourite band, but it is a howl not a scream), that will echo in the memory of the audience long after the end of the play.

The blinding light as Davey leaves Anita’s flat may indicate a kind of release from the revelations that the charged conversation had revealed, but there is no catharsis in this play. You can’t really expect this in a play where a gay young man dies from a frenzied, pointless homophobic attack.

The question is why is Davey feeling a craving to speak to Anita? He found the body and reported it in to the police, but isn’t he too personally involved. That’s what Anita is wondering.

Ridley’s naturalistic dialogue urges fine performances from the two actors, and he receives it here. Aly Cruickshank  who impressed me recently in Spilt Milk’s, “Five Green Bottles” provides another edgy performance, at times deserving the audience’s hostility and at others our sympathy.

Experienced actress, in all formats of performance,  Victoria Pugh offers at different  times an angry, grieving, sexy inquisitor a performance of subtly and emotional depth. Although, at times, when she showed anger and spoke more quickly, I did have a little difficulty understanding her. Mind this might be down to me, for in Aberdare, I do have some problems understanding my neighbours when they get agitated… which sadly is quite a regular occurrence!

Luke Hereford’s assured direction  complements the two actors, although I think he has a little work to do in the middle of the play, that dragged a little, but that could be down to first night blues. Also a strategic repositioning of empty bottles may be considered.

Composer Josh Bowles’s input worked well within a space that exudes a great atmosphere for such an intense play as “Vincent River”.

One problem that I have with this play, from a didactic standpoint,  is that audience members, whether gay or straight will already be sympathetic to the cause. I can’t envisage many homophobes parting with a tenner to watch this.

I shall finish with one sobering thought. It has been reported in The Independent newspaper last year, that in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, homophobic attacks increased by 147%.  The re-emergence of nationalism and far-right governments have a tarnished history with regard to minority groups and one only has to think about Nazi Germany who persecuted homosexuals as well as Jews, Gypsies and political opponents with a relish that new no bounds.

“Vincent River” is a thrilling intense drama that gets the treatment from No Boundaries Theatre that it deserves.

An interview that I conducted recently with director Luke Hereford about this production can be found here.

http://getthechance.wales/2018/09/11/preview-with-interview-of-vincent-river-at-jacobs-market-cardiff-19-21-september-2018/

The play uses pervasive language and covers mature themes and is deemed suitable for those aged over 14.

Its run ends on 21st September.  I understand that tickets are only available for the performance this evening, (20th September).

 

Roger Barrington

Review: The Awkward Years at The Other Room by Roger Barrington

Photo credits Kirsten McTernan

 

 

(3.5 / 5)

 

Matthew Bulgo’s somewhat uneven monodrama, relates the story of Lily, a twenty-something year old  girl trying to come to terms with her disordered existence.

I am having trouble making out the reason for the title. The Awkward Years in psychology refers to adolescence, that period in your teenage years full of angst and  difficulty communicating with your parents that many of us endure.

But Lily is not an adolescent. We discover that she has been employed as a swimming pool attendant for ten years and had also attended university. The sheer mundanessof this job, leads to her voluntary resignation after being confronted by her unrespected boss about her dozing off whilst on duty.  Lily is probably dozing off because of the somnolent repetitive nature of her job – she exclaims that in ten year, she has never had to rescue anyone.

When she dozes off, she dreams of drowning, thereby signifying her struggle for survival as a person. Maybe her outburst that she has never been called upon to rescue someone, means that she feels that she needs to save someone else from their plight.

Matthew Bulgo’s playlet, (running time 55 minutes) is at its best in the opening scenes where Lily relates her dissatisfaction after a bout of casual sex. “I thought about masturbation, but couldn’t be fucked” is one of a handful of funny lines. The playwright skillfully draws you in so that you like Lily and thereafter care about what she relates.

Rather like Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” the utterance of the title, The Awkward Years, triggers off a transformation in the nature of the play. It is at this stage where the play weakens, where a rather  dull segment ensues where Lily outpours her angst to the audience.  However Bulgo retrieves the situation  in the final tender scene.

One thing that has impressed me since Dan Jones took over as Artistic Director of The Other Room is that under his stage direction, he manages to solicit outstanding performances from his actors. Lauren O’Leary has to release a gamut of emotions as Lily. With her attractive native Irish lilt she delivers her lines at times ferociously, (like a character in a  Sean O’Casey play), at others with a comedic touch of excellent timing.  On the basis of this performance, she is clearly a young actress to keep your eye on in the future.

I’m not sure whether Dan Jones’s use of robotic gyrating to display scene changes quite works for me. It does provide striking imagery well made use of by Angharad Evans effective lighting, but seems to get in the way a little of the natural flow of the dialogue.

Although there are similarities to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag”, Matthew Bulgo has penned an intelligent and entertaining short play, enhanced by an outstanding performance by Lauren O’Leary, which is worth travelling a distance to see.

“The Awkward Years” continues its run at The Other Room, Cardiff until 29th September.

http://www.otherroomtheatre.com/en/whats-on/seasons/autumn-2018/the-awkward-years-by-matthew-bulgo/

Due to pervasive language throughout and mature themes, the play is intended for an adult audience.

 

Roger Barrington

Review: The Bromyard Folk Festival by Roger Barrington

 

(4 / 5)

The 51st  annual Bromyard Folk Festival recently took place and I spent a delightful afternoon at one of Britain’s major showcases of home-based talent in this perennial music genre.

Performing at this year’s festival were headlining artistes such as Oysterband, The Young ‘Uns and the guy I was fortunate to catch, Chris Wood.

The Festival site is located about a quarter of a mile outside the attractive Black and White styled buildings of the Herefordshire market town of Bromyard. Only being 90 minutes drive from South-East Wales, makes it easy accessible. The town itself holds many fringe events such as bands playing in the pubs and Morris Dancers performing in the Town Square. The overall effect is quintessentially English, and, even on a murky drizzly September afternoon was sufficiently edifying for even the writer’s Welsh gaze.

At the field where the paid part of the Festival is located, there is a veritable cornucopia of activities that welcome the attendee.

The main acts are housed on the Wye Valley Brewery stage, housed inside a large marquee. This is where I watched the superb songwriter/musician, Chris Wood.

 

 

 

 

Self-taught on the guitar and violin, he is inspired by the traditional dance music of France and Quebec. What impressed me most was his witty and clever lyrics, presented with a clarity of vocal annunciation that hammer home the song’s message, but in a quiet easygoing manner. It isn’t too difficult to understand why he has been twice awarded the BBC  Folk Singer of the Year. He has collaborated with  Billy Bragg,and Martin and Eliza Carthy and other folk-world luminaries and recently supported Joan Armatrading, not that, (in his own words), she requires any support. And if, in the unlikely occurrence that his musical career flounders, he could make a decent living as a stand-up comic such is his highly amusing delivery.

You also have a large bar marquee where acts perform and an outdoor stage, where I witnessed the prancing antics of a Morris Dancing troupe. There are also a number of related trade stalls and food vendors, a children’s play area and competitive events are held during the Festival’s four days.

I found there to be a highly convivial atmosphere present between the organisers and festival-goers.  Free car parking is provided in an adjacent field.

Already the 2019 dates are set for  5th-8th September 2019 and tickets will be available early next year. I am already looking forward to it!

 

Roger Barrington

 

Review The Flop at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

 

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Flop produced by Cardiff’s Hijinx  theatre company in association with Brighton’s Spymonkey arrived in Brecon fresh from a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The six-strong cast is equally split between  able-bodied actors and those with learning difficulties. This i s a feature of earlier Hijinx productions and on the basis of the seamless integration on show in The Flop, works brilliantly.

At the heart of this short play, is the physical theatre of Jacques Lecoq. This great French mimic and teacher, believed that performers should work in such a way that brings out the best in their talents rather than be directed to work to a standard form.  The end result should be one where the actors are liberated from realism and to provide a truly imaginative and creative forcefulness to their performance.

Spymonkey are a leading physical theatre company with an international reputation, having collaborated with household names such as Cirque du Soleil with their comedy routines in  Zumanity – Another Side of Cirque du Soleil which they presented in Los Vegas. Their style of  madcap buffoonery is clearly apparent  in this production.

The show is a dream for the student of theatre. It is fun to spot the many theatrical styles on display. Besides physical theatre, you have The Theatre of the Absurd, (check out the surreal giant hedgehog in the final scene), The Theatre of Cruetly,  Commedia dell’arte,  farce, pantomime and musicals. All packed into seventy minutes of High Jinx. Hijinx’s ability to break constantly break down “the fourth wall” and the introduction of audience participation that results from it, works a treat.

The story revolves around the mad trials by impotence that existed in Pre-Revolutionary France. Unable to provide an heir, the Marquis de Langey, (Iain Gibbons) is subjected to the ridicule of public exposure when having to prove his ability to achieve sexual potency. brought about by his wife’s (Jess Mabel Jones) Machiavellian aunt, (Hannah McPake). The latter also doubling up as the Judge in the subsequent trial.

It would be wrong to select any individual members of the cast for praise, as they are uniformly excellent in their roles. Ben Pettitt-Wade’s direction keeps the show’s relentless comedy running at a breathtaking pace. At 70 minutes duration, it is just about right, for a lengthier production may prove to be a little wearing on the audience.

The Flop continues it run in England and Wales through to mid-October. Full details can be found at

http://www.hijinx.org.uk/the-flop/

 

Roger Barrington

Preview with Interview of “Vincent River” at Jacobs Market, Cardiff 19-21 September 2018

 

Philip Ridley’s acclaimed one-act 2000 play, “Vincent River” tells the story of a mother whose son Vincent has been murdered in a homophobic attack. In the aftermath, she learns about her son’s homosexuality.

“Vincent River” stars Victoria Pugh (Hidden – BBC One, Rownd a Rownd – S4C) and Aly Cruickshank (Five Green Bottles for Spilt Milk Theatre and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival).

It i directed by Luke Hereford  (Sherman Theatre Director’s Programme).

I posed the following questions to Luke ahead of the performances next week in Cardiff.

Q1. What drew you to Directing “Vincent River”?

Philip Ridley is a writer who is instrumental to the shape of contemporary theatre, and played a huge part in making theatre available and accessible for a number of new audiences by addressing some often controversial issues that a staggeringly large number of audiences can directly relate to. Vincent River is one of those plays. Like lots of Phil’s plays, it puts taboo opinions and subject front and centre, and demands the audience to sit up and listen, through the means of darkly beautiful poetry. That is everything I look for in theatre.

Q2. The play is set by writer Philip Ridley in Dagenham, an area of longstanding homophobic prejudice. Do you retain the location or do you change it to Cardiff?

We have been lucky enough to have Philip Ridley’s direct support of our production. He actually suggested changing the location to Cardiff. He said he thinks it’s important to remind audiences that the events of this play aren’t exclusive to London, so we’ve decided to relocate it. We also think that there’s something especially chilling, for Welsh audiences, about hearing street names and locations that they recognise.

Q3. Coming out of Q2, due you think there is a homophobic problem in Cardiff above the average, and is enough being done to combat this?

I don’t know if it’s Cardiff-specific, but in the last few years, I have found in my personal life the occasional comment or word in public situations aimed at me – particularly if I am with my partner – that I haven’t encountered, probably since I was in High School. It’s not that I feel unsafe, but I think there is less encouragement – due to certain world leaders – to be accepting of everyone. In terms of combating it, I’d like to think that by making people aware of such casual marginalisation, and where it has the potential to lead, the play might help to at least continue conversations about modern day homophobia and prejudice.

Q4. What difficulties did you encounter when producing this play?

We are uncovering a lot of themes that we hadn’t anticipated might be present, which is a gift more than anything; there is a delicate balance in terms of being aware of when to draw out the right themes, but we have been very gifted with our actors. Victoria Pugh and Aly Cruickshank are just a joy. They are intelligent and instinctive, and are vivid storytellers, which is exactly what this play requires. I feel so privileged to be working with them.

Q5. Philip Ridley is a pioneer of “In-yer-face” theatre, which emerged in British theatre in the 1990’s. “Vincent River” being first performed in 2000 to critical success. Do you think that this “brand” of theatre is as vital twenty years on, and how do you think our next Brit-style theatre will develop out of it? Or will it go in a different direction?

I think it’s clear that the shock factor of In-Yer-Face theatre has certainly subdued, but actually, it makes these sorts of plays pertinent in a very different way. I saw Shopping and F***ing at Lyric Hammersmith, just two years ago; it’s a play with themes of prostitution, sexual abuse, drug use, consumerism – to name a few – and seeing it in the age of Amazon and Netflix, when everything is instantaneous and transactional, the play had a very different feel to what I imagine people who saw it at the Royal Court in the late 1990s would have felt*. Something like Vincent River continues to remain pertinent, because fundamentally it’s about hate. Sadly, for that reason, I imagine there will always be a level of relevance within the play, and right now it feels particularly urgent.

*I saw this production, as I did Sarah Kane’s “Blasted” in its first week and they certainly left a massive impression on me.

Q6. Jacob’s Market in Cardiff, the venue of your production, is an unusual choice. Is there any reason for this?

Well, we wanted somewhere that was almost site-specific. I originally viewed to perform it in a living room, or someone’s basement, and then I found the Basement in Jacob’s sort of by accident. It instantly felt like the kind of space that Philip Ridley would write, and it all slotted together perfectly. You really have to see the space to know what I mean!

Clearly, “Vincent River” is as important a play now as it was nearly 20 year ago, and the promise of an interesting pace to view it,  makes it even more appealing.

Jacobs Antique Market is located in West Canal Wharf, a few minutes stroll from Cardiff Central Railway Station.

Tickets available online.

END

Roger Barrington

 

News: Bromyard Folk Festival 6-9th September 2018

From the 2017 Festival

Cosmotheka-by-John-Wright

 

 

 

Keith Donnelly by John Wright

 

 

 

 

 

Bar Folk People

 

 

 

Children’ Entertainment

 

 

 

 

Ceilidh Dancing by John Wright

 

 

 

 

https://www.bromyardfolkfestival.co.uk/

How to Get there

From M5, use junction 7 ( Worcester South) and follow A44 signs for Leominster around new southern Worcester by-pass. Follow A44 for 12 miles to Bromyard. Take first turning into town – see detailed map below. From South Wales – Hereford then A465 to Bromyard, West/ North Wales – Leominster then A44 to Bromyard.

Leave Bromyard town centre on the B4203 signed to Stourport – the site is 1/4 mile from the town centre, on the right – sharing the entrance with Bromyard Town Football Club.

For GPS use HR7 4NT.

 

END

Roger Barrington

Review of “In the Fade” watched at Chapter by Roger Barrington

 

(4 / 5)

Fatih Akin, is a writer/director with a social conscience, and “In the Fade” is another example that explore this theme. Born in Germany to Turkish immigrant parents, his ethnicity isn’t ever too far from his much acclaimed work.

I first came to notice Akin, in his brilliant 2004 film, “Head on” which told the story of two Turkish immigrants who bond together after ending up in the same Hamburg psychiatric hospital. Compared to the acclaimed 1995 Mathieu Kassovitz film, “La Haine” it provides a ferocious mix of rage and humour, which is typical of many of Akin’s films..

Although, there isn’t much humour in “In the Fade”, which examines the impact of the violent Neo-Nazi campaign of murder and terrorism against the Turkish community in Germany, that was at its height around 15 years ago.

After a tragic act of terrorism, Katja Sekerci, (Diane Kruger) tries to comes to terms with the aftermath of losing her husband and only child. She turns to drugs to try and alleviate her immediate sense of loss, and these are discovered when police arrive to interview her as a witness. The amount is negligible, (only a misdemeanour), but this comes back to haunt her later at the trial she has to endure.

Katja noticed a likely perpetrator who had parked her bicycle outside where he husband, (who was minding their young son), worked. Being able to provide an excellent description, the suspect and her husband are arrested and detained.

At the subsequent trial, Katja’s usage of drugs is used to discredit her reliability as a witness, and her victim husband, who had earlier spent four years incarceration for dug-dealing, also has his character besmirched, although he had qualified himself up whilst in prison, and had successfully set up his own business.

It was a scandal that “investigators assumed that the victims and their families had skeletons in their closets simply because of where they came from,” Akin told the German news agency dpa. “Having a Turkish, foreign background myself, I felt that this was a personal issue. This could have happened to me.”

The film is separated into three sections. The interaction between Katja and her husband and young boy – a happy relationship. Akin skillfully contrasts a relaxed and happy Katja in a Turkish Bath, at the same time that the act of terrorism that shatters her existence is taking place.

The second section deals with the resultant trial of the two suspects and the ordeal that Katja has to endure in the courtroom, not only with having to face the man and wife Neo-Nazis alleged to have carried out the atrocity, but having to listen to a harrowing account of her little boy’s devastating injuries. She wasn’t even able to see her family’s remains – the sympathetic investigating police officer says, that they are only body parts now – no longer human.

The final part, set in Greece, because there appears to have been collusion between a Greek far right sympathiser and the two Neo-Nazis, is about Katja’s revenge. The powerful and emotional final scene will haunt you long after the conclusion of the film.

German actress Diane Kruger, rarely performs in her native language, having starred on Hollywood  blockbusters such as “Inglorious Basterds” and “National Treasure” . Ms Kruger is exceptional in this performance, exemplifying a woman dealing with grief and anger to perfection. She dominates this film, and appears in nearly every scene. It is no wonder that she won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival 2017 for this role.

“In the Fade” has won a host of awards including Best Motion Picture in a Foreign Language at the 2018 Golden Globes. Fatih Akin was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Fesitval for this film.

“In the Fade” is a compelling crime drama/thriller elevated with an exceptional performance from the central character.

It might be well to reflect in these uncertain times with Brexit, that for many who voted to leave the EU based on the idea of the UK being overrun with migrant workers, that, this ideology, in fact is largely racist , and the bottom rung of a latter that reaches to acts of hatred from members of the Far-Right depicted in this film. We should learn to accept people for what they are, rather than how they live their lives, how they dress themselves and what they believe in.

Country: Germany, France

Language: German with English Subtitles

Time: 106 minutes

Cert: 18

The film was watched at Chapter, but has now completed its short run.

END

Roger Barrington

Review of Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru at the WMC by Roger Barrington

(4.5 / 5)

 

It may seem a little incongruous to have a review about the Welsh National Eisteddfod  in English, but, I’m afraid that my best endeavours, (strike that – my lack of endeavour) fifty years ago, meant that I just managed to avoid being unclassified for my O’Level Welsh language examination.

In fact, I think the last time that I attended an Eisteddfod, I was actually taking part in it! I came third, (out of three) in the piano competition. I recall the adjudicator, a Mrs Ogwen Thomas  if my nightmarish memory serves me correctly,, summed up my playing by saying that it took her a while to recognise the piece I was playing.  So, there ended my budding concert recital career!

Being Welsh, you are always aware, when being out of your native country, of being The Other. Having lived two-thirds of my life to date outside of Wales, I have exploited that, both to my advantage and disadvantage.  So, I looked forward to attending the Welsh National Eisteddfod, which, this year is being held at and around the WMC in Cardiff, with great anticipation.

I was also a little apprehensive due to my concern about missing out on most of the activities, due to my lack of understanding Welsh.

My fears were allayed due to the presence of a desk in the foyer, that has free instant translators into English. However, this only works in The Pavilion, (Donald Gordon Theatre), but as all the major action occurs here, this is not a huge problem. And the instant translation works well.

In the three hours I sat here, I watched a huge diversity of competitions – vocal, recitation, instrument duo, instrument solo and dance. Of course, music transcends the difficulties of language, so I found this to be the most enjoyable events.

The talent on display was, at times, breathtaking. In the instrumental duo, I watched two cute little ten year old girl harpists in competition against two Royal College of Music student duos – twice their age! Naturally, they came third, but to be pitted against two highly accomplished duos from the RCM, and not be embarrassed, is an outstanding achievement – especially as one of the girls lives in Lampeter and the other in Cardiff, making practicing together a little awkward.

In the Blue Ribband event for under 16’s events, I saw four wonderful young musicians. Naturally I was drawn to the pianist, a twelve year old girl from Pontyclun, who played Scarlatti and then Bartok. Two vastly different pieces, and her maturity not only in technique, but also expression was awe-inspiring. A brilliant alto saxophonist, and a cellist who again played contrasting pieces, together with a talented trombonist completed the finalists. At the time of writing, I do not know who won this competition, but it was certainly going to be a tough decision by the team of adjudicators.

Monologues are translated into Welsh as well, so you can understand fully what is being said.

Added to all this, there are a number of other venues to visit, both inside and outside the venue.

There are a vast number of stalls present again, providing a real festive environment.

I took a look at the Welsh Books Council stall, and despite my intention not to add to my already burgeoning book collection, I came away with “The Hill of Dreams” by Welsh author Arthur Machen. The opening line goes, “There was a glow in the sky as if great furnace doors were opened”. Well, I can equate the glow to the Eisteddfod and the doors blown wide open, are those to my Welsh soul.

I invite you to rekindle your sense of Welsh identity, because, one thing that is clearly apparent is that the future of our culture is in assured hands.

Tickets, (remarkably good value for money), can be obtained at

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2018-2019/DonaldGordonTheatre/TocynDydddayticket/?view=Standard

NB. There is an abundance of events you can attend free.