(4 / 5)
Please be aware, the content of this review reflects the adult nature of the play.
The interview excerpts of Sir Matthew Bourne are copyright New Adventures Production.
If I have inadvertently used any other copyrighted material, please let me know – I shall be happy to acknowledge the owner or remove.
Matthew Bourne’s ballet, “Cinderella” is currently playing at the WMC until 7th April.
It provides a scintillating experience of creative development of a familiar story. Set in the London Blitz of WW2, this is not a gimmick, but a version that works on every level.
Cinderella is pretty much as you would expect, wicked step-sisters in tow, but there is no Fairy Godmother. Instead you have a male character called The Angel who guides Cinderella for good and bad in order that she fulfills her destiny.
Instead of a handsome prince, you have Harry the Pilot. The RAF, recent victors in spoiling the Luftwaffe’s attempt to pave the way for the Nazi invasion of Britain, were the glamour boys of the Armed Forces. Actually. they were known as The Brylcreem Boys due to the way they used the cream to obtain a smooth look with hair in total control.
The Ball scene, is re-invented in the real life venue of the Cafe de Paris, which was a venue where chic young people met and danced the night away, irrespective of whether there was a air-raid being enacted overhead. On the 8th March 1941, the club received a direct hit, killing and wounding over a hundred people.
The dancing is as polished as you would expect from a Matthew Bourne work. He is the director and choreographer and together with his lighting designer Neil Austin and set and costume designer Lez Brotherston, conjour up a magical two and a half hour show of countless memorable visual delights.
Music is recorded, but played by a specially commissioned orchestra, over 80-strong, named the Cinderella Orchestra, and it is played in Sensurround which makes you feel that they are present.
Prokofiev’s music is delightful and all the sums add up to a wonderful work of creativity.
Irrespective of whether you like ballet or classical music, there is enough theatricality in this show to last you a very long time, and I unreservedly recommend it.
Photographs by Keiran Cudlip
All But Gone is the second production of the Lovesick season at The Other Room in Cardiff. It marks the debut direction of the Other Room’s new artistic director Dan Jones, and if this astonishing show is anything to go by, it will make this venue, not only one of the most exciting in Cardiff but in Wales as a whole.
For a fringe venue to put on a new play by established playwright Matthew Trevannion of this quality is an outstanding achievement.
The action begins with Kai, (played by newcomer Callum Hymers with great emotional control for a young actor), burgling pensioner Owen’s house. Owen who had previously noticed Kai acting suspiciously at a neighbour’s premises is waiting for him – shotgun pointed at the intruder. After putting the Fear of God into him, Owen slowly reveals a sympathetic side, and realising that Kai is famished, offers a sandich and sends him on his way. But not before Howell, (Daniel Graham who brilliantly plays the character alternating between gentleness, manic antics and uncontrolled rage) enters the scene from upstairs and recites a soulful passage of poetry. However, he appears not to notice kai before returning to where he came from.
In fact, only Owen interacts with Kai throughout the entire play, even though he is often present in scenes with the other characters.
This puzzling question is the beginning of what becomes a highly complex play. If Kai isn’t actually a person then hat is her and what does he represent?
Does the illegal entry through the kitchen window, mirrored in the final scene by Howell represent an intrusion into Owen’s impaired memory . As the play develops, it becomes obvious that the action takes place with Owen as a younger man and where he is now. But how reliable is his memory for he seems to be undertaking a decline of his mental facilities and entering a state of senile dementia?
The other characters are also marvelously observed. Nicola Reynolds plays Olwyn, matriarchal head of the family where Owen is living. She plays the archetypal Welsh Mam to a tee and has the funniest lines. There is a lot of humour in this play despite its poignant subject matter.
Her daughter Bev, (Erin Phillips) is a kindhearted Welsh girl of the kind we all know and love. Her brother is Howell who has already been introduced.
Everyone in this production seems tailor-made for the characters they portray which is a testament to their acting abilities. A special mention has to go to Wyn Bowen Harries, a veteran actor on the Welsh TV and theatre scene. His control, especially vocally is superb and you can’t help looking at his character sympathetically.
The play touches upon a number of themes as well as dementia – confused sexuality and lost opportunity.
The set design is perfect for a small space. A table and kitchen unit wwith window back centre and stairs leading upwards. A porch and outer door lead to the street. Carl Davies miraculously manages to make the set appear much larger than it actually is.
Joe Fletcher’s lighting provides scenes of great intimacy.
In fact, this is a flawless production, and if I could, I would be awarding it four and a half stars out of five.
This is a truly thought provoking play about a thought disintegrating subject matter. This production deserves a transfer to a larger venue after it ends its run here.
Due to the strong language throughout, and adult scenes and subject matter, this play is for mature audiences only. It runs at The Other Room in Cardiff until 14th April and I would urge you to view it.
Please follow the link below to check ticket availability.
Image credit Kirsten McTernan(4 / 5)
“When each of you in this room were born, there were 6,000 languages spoken on the planet. Now, a language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules. A language is a flash of the human spirit. It’s a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind, a watershed, a thought, an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities”.
So says my friend Wade Davis in a TED speech in Monterey in 2003.
This premise is largely what drives the excellent Theatr Gwalia’s “Inheriting Gods” that has now finished its short run at Chapter in Cardiff.
Writer C.M. Stephens links the Wampanoag language to the Welsh by interacting a Valleys tourist Rhiannon, and an indigenous descendant, English name Shaw, within a Cape Cod setting. Once they sort out their national identity, they find that they have an awful lot in common. In finding out about each other’s language and culture, they reach a state of transcendence where they discover their own.
Playwright C. M. Stephens
Both my paternal and maternal lines originate in Somerset. My Barrington line found themselves in Brecon in the 1870’s and remained for the next one hundred and twenty five years. Why Brecon? Well my great great grandmother, was a typical female Welsh export at this time, a servant in Weston Super Mare. She came from Llanspyddid outside Brecon and this obviously prompted their emigration. My mother’s family landed up in Cardiff in the 1890’s.
Inevitably, both families married Welsh folk so I have the usual Davies, Williams and Powell lines on my family tree. When examining the 1901 Census, my great grandfather, James Davies is recorded as a Welsh speaker., but like so many families, this was not passed down to his children. Brecon, being located close to the English border is not a particularly Welsh speaking town and despite learning the language in school for many years without distinction, I now know only a basic number of Welsh words, but am unable to string sentences together. This mirrors Rhiannon in the story.
Shaw a descendant of the indigenous people has been Americanised. Cape Cod, where most of the action takes place has a large Wampanoag settlement at Mashpee. Other reservations are found on Martha’s Vineyard. In fact, each year, a powwow takes place, a weekend of dancing, drumming and musical performances celebrating the People of the First Light. This year, the three day festival starts on 6th July. I guess it is the Wampanoag equivalent of our Eisteddfod.
The Wampanoag language is unusual in that it was, at one time extinct, but has been revived since the 1990’s. Even more so than Welsh, it struggles to survive being immersed within the English speaking communities. Also, like Welsh, it has its own varied culture and way of life.
The play touches upon many subjects besides language loss. The Wampanoag were the people who greeted the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth Rock on November 11th 1620. Ms Medway-Stephens makes the point that I used to debate with my Chinese students in their American Literature class when studying William Bradford’s controversial contemporary account. The point being that each year American’s celebrate the fact that the good earth provides nourishment on Thanksgiving Day, whilst simultaneously and mostly unintentionally, wiping the faces of the indigenous people’s whose land they stole in the same soil.
Of course there is a common denominator in that both races were exploited by the dreaded English, another point the writer is anxious to make. To be fair to our neighbours over the other side of Offa’s Dyke, it as not only the English who colonised America, as the ill-fated Darien Scheme instigated by the King of Scotland clearly shows. I’m sure us Welsh did our bit – well Patagonia springs to mind.
The name Rhiannon, the Horse Goddess of that great work of Welsh literature, the Mabinogion is also brought into the narrative. There is also much attention paid to Shaw’s anglicised name.
Then there are the Welsh politicians who went on hunger strike to successfully plead the case of having a Welsh language television station.
The burning question to be addressed may be an uncomfortable one for us Anglo-Welsh. That is, how Welsh can you actually be without speaking the language of your nation; without reading its literary heritage in its mother-tongue; without singing the beautiful songs that have been passed down over the ages?
If there is a more important Welsh play in the English language written in this or any other year, I would very much like to see it.
My only criticism is that I feel it is under-developed as it stands. Lasting only sixty five minutes, the issues and others not mentioned here, don’t get sufficient time to be explored fully. I recall seeing Robert Lepage’s seminal play, “The Seven Streams of the River Ota” in both it’s workshop production and its triumphant seven and a half hour epic presentation at the National Theatre a couple of years later. I can see “Inheriting Gods” developing in a similar way. By having twenty to thirty minute vignettes exploring the issues referred to for both the Welsh and Wampanoag themes bound together by the central premise.
The two characters played by Saran Morgan and Charlie Jobe are both likeable. Scenes are divided by videos and photographs of both Cape Cod and Wales. Accompanied by an assortment of songs in both English and Welsh, I think this worked really well. The set seems to be some kind of stockade, although it may represent the reservation or even the traditional architecture of Wampanoag huts.
The play has now ended its short run, but I hope to see it re-emerge, perhaps somewhere along the lines I have suggested here.
Finally, to slightly change one of the central anthropological questions, what it is to be human and alive. Carmen Medway-Stephens poses the question, what it is to be Welsh and alive.
More information about the Wampanoag People
NB. This review contains strong language and adult themes within the context of the subject matter of this play.
The immediate problem I face with this review is how to name it.
Its correct title is The Motherfucker with the Hat, but in polite circles it is either called, “The MotherFxxxxr with the Hat or The Mother with the Hat. Being fairly polite myself, I shall refer to it as the MotherF with the Hat.
This play markes the first collaboration between Glasgow’s Tron Theatre and Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre. Having seen Tron Theatre productions previously in Scotland and in London, I was aware that I was in for a challenging hard-hitting show, that is not so much “In Yer Face” theatre as slapping you around the face drama.
The MotherF with the Hat is a Tony Award nominated play by esteemed New Yorker Stephen Adly Guirgis. This playwright is often mentioned in the company of such American icons as David Mamet and Tracy Letts, so you know he is right up there with the American cream. That’s cream not Dream as there is little to associate the content of this play ith that national American ethos.
Written in 2011, the play premiered at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on April 11th of that year to mixed reviews. Much of the adverse criticism was aimed at the portrayal of Ralph D by Chris Rock as many critics were a little underwhelmed with his performance.
The play was a bit of a financial flop, largely due to the problem I highlighted at the start of this review. In the more Puritanical American world, it as difficult to market because you couldn’t even call the play by its name. A dig at American Puritanism is referenced in the script when a potential bout of bed-hopping leads to an exclamation from Jackie, putting a halt to Victoria, his sponsor’s wife’s advances, “I mean what are we – Europeans or some shit?” Made me feel quite proud (to be European).
MotherF with the Hat made its British premier at the Lyttleton Theatre on 10th June 2015, to almost universal praise. This Tron/Sherman production marks its Scottish and Welsh debut.
The play is a five-hander and begins with Veronica tidying up her bed in preparation for a visit from boyfriend Jackie, who has just been released from prison and who is trying to start living a decent life, beginning with finding a job. Veronica is a cocaine-sniffing attractive girl nicely played by Welsh actress Alexandria Riley, who recently appeared in the acclaimed Sherman production of “The Cherry Orchard”. Her single room located in a residential hotel in Times Square is a bit of a mess. Empty bottles and full ashtrays and clothes scattered untidily on the floor.
When Jackie enters and they start conversing, it is obvious by the tone of the conversation that they are going to get down to a bit of rumpy-pumpy. Whilst Veronica prepares herself by taking a shower, (offstage), Jackie strips down to his briefs, ready for action and gets into bed. He then espies a man’s hat lying on the coffee table. Suspicions arise and Jackie wants to know who the motherfucker with the hat is. He sniffs the bed imitating an anteater hoovering up its prey trying to identify whether any sexual activity had recently occurred which he wouldn’t have been a part of.
Jackie played by Francois Pandolfo is probably the central character in the play and he does well playing the paranoid Puerto Rican New Yorker.
Other characters are Jermaine Dominique as Ralph D., Jackie’s sponsor. I found his Machiavellian excuses for behaving badly very funny. His wife, Victoria, played by American actress Renee Williams has just had enough of her husband’s antics. The final character Cousin Julio, (Kyle Lima), is a macho individual, being a kind of mix of a masseur and notary public. He also has connections to the Mob.
The acting is fine throughout with just a couple of lapses with the New York accent. For me however, the star quality of this production is Kenny Miller’s set design.
On three split levels, each representing a character’s abode, at the bottom you find Veronica’s hotel room in Times Square – probably a run-down establishment. The middle level represents Ralph D’s and Victoria’s Hell’s Kitchen place. An area of NYC largely associated ith actors and a has a prominent gay quarter. At the top, you have Cousin Julio’s minimalist Feng Shui abode in gentrified Washington Heights. This arrangement is no accident as it depicts an ascending order of prosperity.
The play depicts betrayal, guilt, infidelity and addiction but has an abundance of dark humour within it.
With so much going for it, why did I find myself constantly checking my watch for the final twenty minutes, with the production only lasting ninety minutes? Maybe it is because I found it rather one-paced – there isn’t much variety in it. The naturalistic dialogue is sparkling and has a cadence to it that almost makes it sound lyrical at times, but it overwhelmed me in its intensity.
Having taught for many years in China, I became aware that Chinese audiences always judge the merit of a movie based upon its resolution, and being Chinese, it should have a moralistic quality to it. I found the play rather slight, and I liken the spectacle to travelling up to London for a day’s sightseeing and spending all your time travelling around the circle line.
Can I recommend this play? Well, I guess it comes down to home being where you hang your hat, (sorry about that). If you are at home watching an amusing, profanity driven play which offers little hope but doesn’t make you think too hard, then you should love this play.
Due to profanity throughout, adult themes and brief male nudity, I suggest that this play is meant for adults only.
The show runs at the Sherman Cardiff, having already completed its Glasgow run, until 31st March 2018.
Tickets are available from Sherman Theatre
Mid-Wales Opera’s Eugene Onegin is a hugely commendable effort that provides quality singing to venues that are not usually associated with opera productions.
Putting on opera is an expensive operation and that invariably results in high ticket prices to compensate for it. In order to make it financially viable, then productions are usually found in major cities and at dedicated venues such as Glyndebourne and Bayreuth.
Tchkaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is an opera based upon Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel. Unusually, Tchaikovsky wrote most of the libretto in addition to the music and managed to retain much of the poetic nature of this great Russian work. The opera is highly esteemed within Russia bringing out the nationalistic quality of the nation in both literature and music.
The story is quite simple. A pretty rustic girl Tatyana, whose family are landowners, is introduced to Eugene Onegin, a pompous and haughty young man, whose friend Lensky is betrothed to her sister Olga. Tatyana is immediately attracted to Onegin and later that evening writes an impassioned letter to him outlining her feelings. This has a negative effect on Onegin who informs Tatyana that her passions have been met by a stony heart.
Later, Onegin and Olga flirt openly to tease Lensky, but take it too far, with the result that the affronted lover challenges his great friend to a duel at dawn the next day. This is accepted and the two act out their ritual resulting in the demise of Lensky.
Five years pass, and at a magnificent ball in St. Petersburg, Onegin notices the now sophisticated Tatyana on the arm of Prince Gremin whom she has married. Onegin is struck by her beauty and grace and tells Tatyana that he had made a huge mistake in rejecting her previously, and expresses his love for her. Tatyana, admits that she still loves Onegin, but will not leave her husband thereby honouring her commitment to her marriage. Onegin is left in abject despair realising that he has forever lost his true love and feeling the guilt of killing his best friend.
Pushkin’s work would have been well known to Russians, which is why Eugene Onegin is not described as an opera per se, but as Lyric Scenes in three acts and seven scenes. Although the text would generally follow the source, departures from it are made but as the story is so well known it wouldn’t greatly matter and the lyric scenes would act as a reminder.
Eugene Onegin was first performed in Moscow in 1879.
Naturally, when working within a shoestring budget, compromises have to be made. The design sets in this production are rather bland and do not convey any feeling of it being Russian in essence either in the rural setting nor, by contrast, showing the opulence of the St. Petersburg in-crowd. In fact, in the final act which is set at a ball within the house of a rich Russian nobleman, and is supposed to be a sea of light, only three rather undernourished candelabras are on display. The only scene that works in terms of design is that which depicts the duel that has a silvery look and together with the dry ice conjours up a feeling of dawn. The peacefulness of that time of the day being interrupted by the devastating sound and consequences of gunfire is well realised.
Tatyana is played by young British soprano Elizabeth Karani. It is refreshing to see young artists playing characters of roughly their age throughout this production. No need to apply copious amounts of makeup on display w hen mature “big names” take on the role of youthful protagonists way beyond their age, resembling something akin to a character out of traditional Chinese opera. Ms Karani is at her best during her lengthy letter scene in scene to of act one. She portrays the passion that Tatyana is expressing in her letter to Onegin with both power in her singing and movement in her acting.
British baritone George von Bergen plays Eugene Onegin. He sings well enough but in portraying Onegin as a stiff-necked haughty individual, he comes across as being wooden. Maybe the direction is at fault here. His head is so much up his own backside, it is difficult to envisage Tatyana falling for him at first sight. It is not surprising therefore that he says that Lenska is his only close friend. In the final scene, he does show his passion in a memorable duet with Karani’s Tatyana and it is a pity that he doesn’t show his evident acting ability prior to that. I feel there is a need to readdress the balance on how von Bergen portrays Onegin, who, after all, is the central character of the opera.
The supporting cast and chorus are excellent. Welsh bass Sion Goronwy as Prince Gremin, received the greatest applause of the performance for his aria comending the virtues of Tatyana, his wife to his old friend Onegin. Tenor Robyn Lyn Evans as Lensky sings a sad aria “Shall I survive the day that’s dawning?” with great pathos and regret prior to his fateful duel with Onegin.
Music provided by Ensemble Cymru under the baton of Jonathan Lyness, play well but again are subject to the production constraints, which limits their size and consequently the sound produced. Tchaikovsky is one of the great Romantic Classical composers and the orchestra associated with this genre demands a weighty brass and wind section which had to be matched by a corresponding number of players in the string section. There are times here I think the sound produced is a little unbalanced with the wind section in particular, overpowering the string section.
Despite my quibbles, one can only commend the ambition and enterprise of Mid-Wales Opera in bringing this work to venues such as my hometown of Brecon. There is a huge amount to admire in this production and the ticket price is so low for an ensemble cast of this size and quality, it is a minor miracle in itself. It may not be Covent Garden or La Scala, but it is way better than I imagined it would be and I can endorse my support and look forward to the next Mid-Wales Opera production with great anticipation.
Photographs courtesy of Mid-Wales Opera