Roger Barrington

Review of 2023 at Chapter, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

 

 

Lisa Parry’s stunning new play, “2023” is enjoying a run at Chapter in Cardiff.

Back in 2005, legislation was passed by H.M. Government, that decreed that  a person who had been conceived through donated eggs or sperm, upon reaching the age of 18, have a right to know the identity of the donor parent. Hence the title 2023 because that is when this legislation will be tested for the first time.

There’s enough material here by itself to warrant a topic for dramatic work, but into the mix, Ms Parry throws in issues of D/deafness, parental homosexual relationships and the increasing influence  of technology and science that challenge our hereditary traditions of connection.

The opening scene on a park bench in Cardiff introduces Chris and John. This amusing scene is laced with sexual innuendo, and it quickly identifies the two guys as homosexual lovers.

Chris and John are debating on how to go about having their child through the services of a surrogate.

Enter Mary, recently eighteen and a product of the donor programme, who wishes to find her genetic parent, Chris. Mary is Deaf.

I should point out the distinction between referring to someone as deaf or Deaf. With the small ‘d” generally one refers to someone who mixes with hearing people, using sign language or lip-reading. Whereas Deaf people have a strong feeling of cultural identity and will feel part of a community in a stronger way.

Mary’s curiosity is fuelled by the fact that she is Deaf and wants to know whether her affliction was genetic and that she has deaf siblings, who were also brought up by hearing parents, in order for her to establish her bond of Deafness.

Lisa Parry’s script is crisp and lucid. Obviously well researched, she introduces a number of thought provoking issue into the play’s taught 95 minute framework.

 

It’s very much about connections. Familial, genetic, gay marriage, racism brought about from a strong feeling of nationalism, (very much an issue in these Brexit days) and d-Deaf issues.

Director Zoe Waterman provides a non-fussy touch that is just what is required. Lisa and Zoe are co-director of Illumine Theatre, who are presenting this play. It is obvious that together they produce harmonious and a unity of purpose to their work.

 

 

Kitty Callister’s  very white design which consists of  an Ikea type wall unit, and the most uncomfortable looking sofa that I have seen in recent times, complements the action perfectly. Eleanor Higgin’s Lighting helps to create an overall  image of antiseptical clarity.

The use of soundtracks from sci-fi movies also fits in well with the slightly futuristic feel.

Deaf actress Stephanie Back, according to the programme notes has a passion about access and inclusion in society. As Mary, she provides an extraordinarily good performance of charged emotion.

 

 

Supported by fine performances from Tom Blumberg as John and Richard Elis a Chris, who provide sensitivity and comedy in equal measures, this is a first-rate cast who do justice to the skillful writing and excellent production values.

 

Richard Elis

 

 

Tom Blumberg

 

 

“2023” provides a challenging and illuminating experience. I propose that it is in the running for best Welsh new play of 2018.

Continue reading Review of 2023 at Chapter, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

“Gramophone Artist of the Year” Rachel Podger in conversation ahead of Brecon Baroque Festival 2018

 

Ahead of the 2018 Brecon Baroque Festival, I had the chance to chat to it’s Artistic Director, Rachel Podger about what to expect this year and also about her own flourishing career as one of the world’s leading violinists.

 

Continue reading “Gramophone Artist of the Year” Rachel Podger in conversation ahead of Brecon Baroque Festival 2018

Review of “Exodus” at The Coliseum Theatre, Aberdare by Roger Barrington

 

(3 / 5)

 

I have an unusual degree of uncertainty on how to review Motherlode’s latest offering “Exodus”. I say this because the majority of people around me were regularly laughing out loud, whereas I could only manage a couple of chuckles throughout.

I think there are two reasons for this.

The first being I had difficulty understanding the actors at times. In fact, Gwenllian Higginson a Mary, I only tuned into during the final twenty minutes. It pains me to say this as Gwenllian attended my almar mater, Rose Bruford College.

But she wasn’t alone, as I had problems ith the other two speakers, and as many of the jokes are quick fire, they just evaporated into thin air around me.

Also, the play is set in Aberdare, and there are a number of in-jokes relating to it, that I just didn’t get.

The odd thing is that for the past eighteen months, I have lived in Aberdare.

Written and directed by Rachael Boulton, “Exodus” is the company’s second production.  It’s first, “The Good Earth” toured Wales and New York where it received a favourable review from The New York Times.

In 1865, a party of mostly Welsh people sailed on the “Mimosa” to start a new life in Patagonia – Y Wladfa. Aberdare was one of the places where colonists gathered prior to their embarkation. They left because of the social and religious problems in their own country.

Fast forward to today, and a party of four disillusioned daring Aberdare people decide to set off on their own adventure, piloting their plane to Cuba.

Along the way, they recruit, train and eventually head off into the sunset, using High Street Aberdare as their runway.

Along the way, there is much social comment, mainly uttered by Mary in lengthy monologues.

Where the production works really well is in it’s moments of physical theatre. By using clever lighting and a backdrop of a 5 square panelled window, with a scene of green hills and blue sky that cleverly illuminates the action – I particularly liked the blinding sun when the plane changed course.  The use of Karim Bedda’s, (Timmy) violin skills accompanying   the physical theatre also worked well.

The other two members of the cast, Liam Tobin as Raymond  and Bewwyn Pearce as Gareth strive hard for laughs and the whole cast performed energetically throughout.

A special mention is reserved for the innovative programme.

The play tours Welsh venues and moves on to London, where I’m certain it will go down well with exiles, needing a nostalgia boost.

There are many excellent components found in this production – I just wished that I enjoyed it more.

 

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

 

Review of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales Opening Season Concert by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

There are moments in my life when I can pinpoint the occasion when I became enchanted by a composer.

Many years ago, back in the days of the LP records, I happened to buy a compilation of tracks, one of which was “Finlandia” by Sibelius. He has since been my favourite composer.

Then, around 1971, I watched Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice” and Mahler’s breathtakingly beautiful Adagietto from his 5th Symphony as Dirk Bogarde is transported on a gondola across the Venice Lagoon resulted in that composer becoming a favourite.

But Ralph Vaughan Williams, a contemporary of both, has never really done it for me. Until last night!

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, in existence for over 90 years, kicked off it’s new season at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, with a first half devoted to RVW.

Beginning with “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”, a piece that, of course I am aware of, (it has repeatedly been placed at 3rd place in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame Poll), by the time it had concluded – around 17 minutes later, I could happily have left the concert, thinking I had had my money’s worth. Except that I hadn’t paid any money because I was reviewing!

Within the first minute, I was emotionally drained by the sheer beauty of the piece, immaculately played by the String section of the orchestra. The mellowness and intensity that the players brought to this composition was superb. Written in 1910, and revised in 1913 and 1919, you can close your eyes and imagine yourself back pre- WW1 on a summer’s day in the countryside – only four years before the world went mad

And if that wasn’t enough, it was followed by another RVW composition, “Songs of Travel”. Nine songs that again conjured up strong images of rural England sung by the world renowned baritone Sir Thomas Allen.

 

 

Sir Thomas, now aged 74, still has the vocal ability to render justice to the nine songs. In addition, his considerable acting talents allowed him to deliver the songs perfectly, stamping his own individual style of delivery – a talent that has him recognised as one of the great baritones of the world.

Upon arriving home, I just had to listen to the Fantasia again and followed it up with RVW’s “Pastoral Symphony” – I’m hooked!

After the interval, the crowd-pleasing, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky with amazing orchestration by Maurice Ravel, was the sole piece played. This composition for full orchestra, needs tight control and at times restraint, all leading up to the thunderous climax of “The Great Gates of Kiev”. I’m certain that many of us left the auditorium with Mussorgsky’s masterpiece ringing in our ears. Upon its conclusion, the rapturous reception of the audience matched the orchestra’s panache.

All of this under the baton of Japanese conductor Tadaaki Otaka.

Otaka San was principal conductor of BBC NOW from 1987 to 1995 and is now Conductor Laureate of the orchestra. He has a fondness for British music, and this is clearly apparent on the evidence of the orchestra’s performance last evening.

A truly memorable event, and a fitting concert to commence the BBC NOW season.

In December the orchestra tours China and visits my former home in Wuhan, Hubei. I will be urging my ex-students to turn out.

 

Roger Barrington

 

Review of “The Seagull” a film version of Chekhov’s play by Roger Barrington

 

 

(4 / 5)

 

 

Anton Chekhov’s famous play, “The Seagull” is given an airing by a stellar cast, in a straightforward and faithful adaptation by director Michael Mayer.

Chekhov set out to write a  comedy, and much of the framework of the story bears witness to this. Many of the principal characters are victims of unrequited love. Konstantin loves Nina who loves Trigorin, who kind of loves Irina who certainly loves him back. Masha loves Konstantin but Medvedenko loves her. You get the picture? Maybe not!

Any film adaptation of a great play, is, to some degree, on a bit of a loser, because the unique intimacy of the stage and its relationship with the audience, is key in such a tight play as this.

Having said that, if you take the film on its own values, then Michael Mayer has done an accomplished job.

The strength of the movie lies in its actors.

Annette Benning as Irina, an actress on the decline – both guilty of love and tenderness, but, chronically self-absorbed, is perfectly cast.  Having just started her seventh decade, she still has the sexiness to be believable as a fading actress, who can still reel in a younger man, and a famous writer at that.

 

Saoirse Ronan, the talented Irish-American actress, whose name always causes me difficulty to pronounce, has the right balance of sensitivity and determination to make Nina a sympathetic heroine.

For me the pick of the female protagonists, (in a competitive field) is Elizabeth Moss as the increasingly dissolute Masha, who realises that she is alive but only physically.  You wish that she had more scenes because she manage to steal every one she is in.

 

Of the male actors, I liked Corey Stoll’s rather laid-back  Boris Trigorin. I have seen stage actors overplay this character, to the extent that he becomes rather annoying. There is a bit of Chekhov in Trigorin, the acknowledged leading writer in Russia, and there is also part of him in Konstantin, ( Billy Howle)- the writer trying to find himself and make his name.

Good support is offered by stalwart Brian Dennehy as Sorin, Irina’s dying brother, and Jon Tenney as Doctor Dorn, who recognises talent in Konstantin’s writing.

Besides the acting, the lighting and cinematography are really good. It manages to retain the level of intimacy that I talked about at the start of this review.

 

 

The final meeting of Konstantin and Nina, is enhanced by the lighting, and renders it a profoundly moving scene, which is exactly what is required.

One small gripe is that I didn’t think it necessary to be quite as explicit at the end. The viewer is left in no doubt what has happened, but the offstage gunshot in the staged version, followed by Dorn and Trigorin leaving to sort out the mess works better.

“The Seagull” is a worthy adaptation of a theatre classic, that allows an audience who can’t get to see it on stage, an admirable substitute.

County: USA

Genre: Drama, Adapted from a play

Running time: 99 minutes

Cert: 12A

The film was viewed at Chapter Screen 1.

 

Review BlacKkKlansman by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

Spike Lee’s latest joint, BlacKkKlansman is based upon the book of the same name by Ron Stallworth who relates his amazing experience as Colorado Spring’s first African-American police officer, and his infiltration of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

At times hilarious, it never fails to be an engrossing and unbelievable story, even more so  as it is based upon real events.

Lee has reset the action to 1979 although in reality, they occurred seven years earlier.  With questionable fashions and afro hairstyles,  you can easily be mistaken for believing that you are watching a 70′ Blaxpoitation film.

 

 

 

Ron is at first assigned to the Records Department of the Colorado Spring P.D.  There he frequently encounters racial insults from his so-called colleagues, especially the out and out racist Andy Landers, (Frederick Weller), and consequently feels that he can be more purposefully employed undercover.

His initial assignment is to cover national civil rights leader Kwame Ture, (perhaps better known by his birth name, Stokely Carmichael), address at a local rally. There he meets Patrice who is the president of the black students’ union at Colorado College.

Later, Ron is horrified to learn that Ture who is being escorted back to his hotel post rally, had been threatened  by Landers, and Patrice sexually assaulted under the guise of police handling a situation.

Ron is then reassigned to the Intelligence Department where he notices an advertisement in a local newspaper  for recruiting new members to the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. It amazes me that a country that prides itself on individual freedom, has no “hate crime” legal definition that allows such an insidious organisation to be allowed to flourish in the 21st century.  Ron picks up the phone and amazes his colleagues in the room, by launching into a vitriolic tirade of abuse against black people. He is so convincing that he dupes the recruiter of his deeply engrained racialism. Ron states is ability to be so convincing stems from being fluent in both The King’s English and Jive.

The problem that lies ahead is how to deal with face to face encounters. Enter Flip Zimmerman, (Adam Driver) who trains himself to imitate Ron’s style of speaking and gradually ingratiates himself within the local chapter.

In order to expedite his membership, Ron phones David Duke, the KKK Grand Wizard. He so impresses Duke that they start a regular conversation over the telephone and the Grand Wizard, readily agrees to pass through Ron’s membership acceptance and promises to attend his ceremonial baptism into the Order.

 

 

 

Flip is Jewish and after the hatred of the Afro-American community, Antisemitism is the next important agenda for the KKK. Flip, through his involvement in the undercover assignment, for the first time becomes aware of his Jewish identity, and he too realises like Ron, that he is to some extent an outsider in the Land of the Free. A bond develops between the two of them as they infiltrate deeper and deeper into the KKK local chapter.

 

 

 

In many ways, Spike Lee’s film is one of contrasts. Kwame Ture and David Duke are both advocates of social reconstruction. Patrice doesn’t at first know that Ron is a cop, but, later, they both accept that their purpose is the same – to help their racial group emerge from the gutter of white dominance. However, Ron insists that it can only be achieved on the inside, exemplified by his role in the Colorado Springs P.D. and through his KKK infiltration, whilst Patrice believes it can only be obtained on the outside, through rallies, literature and other media instruments. When the real Ron is assigned to provide personal protection to David Duke at his fake counterpart’s baptism, (along with others), you have on the one hand, the KKK whooping it up and getting off watching D.W. Griffith’s technically brilliant but racially charged 1915 epic, “The Birth of a Nation”.  At the same time Jerome Turner, (Harry Belafonte), an elderly civil rights leader relates a story about Jesse Washington’s lynching in 1916 to an Afro-American gathering. But perhaps the most striking example of contrast is in the final shot, where an inverted Stars and Stripes slowly fades into black and white.

The casting is spot on. In particular, the two Ron Stallworths are outstanding. John David Washington as the real Ron is both immensely likable whilst being able to portray a steely determination in eradicating the evil of the KKK. Adam Driver as Flip, is, in my opinion, one of the best actors around at the moment. Check out his brilliant performance in the title role of Jim Jarmusch’s masterful 2016 movie”Paterson”.  His outbursts of racial tirades are superbly executed.

Spike Lee has an impressive portfolio of films that tackle social issues, (mostly against his own Afro-American community), behind him. “Malcolm X” (1992), “Inside Man”, (2006), “Get on the Bus”, (1996) among them, but BlacKkKlansman is the best film that he has directed for quite a while. Its lengthy 135 minutes running time passes by in a flash as the action and your interest never flags as you become enveloped within the two Ron’s infiltration. The film has received widespread acclaim and was awarded the Jury Grand Prize at this year’ Cannes Film Festival.

Lee keeps a controlled balance between moments of comedic brilliance and advocating a message of social injustice.

The KKK members come across as redneck dumbos who for all of their mental and racial inadequacies will shoot you in the head if you are Afro-American, Jewish, homosexual or any other minority group that doesn’t match up to their feeling of white supremacy.

David Duke, (Topher Grace) is a slightly different kettle of fish. His understanding of the situation is purely down to eugenics, in exactly the same way that members of the Nazi Government propagated their evil message. However, he doesn’t seem to have a personal hatred of Afro-Americans, borne out by his acceptance of the real Ron’s presence as his bodyguard, accepting his professionalism, and when he agrees for Ron to be photographed with him – something that our hero exploits to comedic effect.

For me, the final sequence that shows true life coverage of the  Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville, Virginia that occurred only a year ago is really hardhitting. This white supremacist rally, attended by David Duke, resulted in fierce clashes and the death of a counter-protestor in a vehicle ramming attack. The refusal of President Trump to solely single out the actions of the supremacists in a subsequent speech provides Lee to ram home the message of the natural association between far-right policy and racialism.

It is a salient reminder that the U.S., (and for that matter Britain) is a tinderbox waiting to explode and we ignore this message at our peril.

Country: USA

Genre: Biography; Crime; Comedy

Running time: 135 minutes

Certificate: 15 for bad language and racist dialogue and themes

The film was viewed at Chapter Screen 1 and is also widely available at nationwide cinemas throughout the country.

 

Roger Barrington