Roger Barrington

Report: Wales for Peace – Young Peacemakers Awards in Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Recently, I attended the Wales for Peace Young Peacemakers Award held at the Temple of Peace in Cathays Park, Cardiff.

Wales for Peace a 4-year Heritage Lottery funded project, based at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs.  According to their website their vision is “To inspire a new generation of internationalists through learning from Wales’ peace heritage… the individuals, communities and movements who have championed Wales’ peacebuilding role in the world, from the First World War to today”.

This event marked the second event of this type this week, because, due to the amount of travelling involved, this year’s awards were divided between venues in North and South Wales. On the 14th March 2018, the ceremony took place at Ysgol David Hughes in Menai Bridge, Anglesey, with the Cardiff event taking place a couple of days later.

I interviewed Jane Harries, the learning co-ordinator for Wales for Peace, shortly before the event commenced.

Jane Harries Learning Co-ordinator Wales for Peace

A project that particularly interested me was that undertaken by Ysgol Dyffryn Aman from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire.  Teacher Rachel Evans and pupils Catrin Brodrick (13) and Mason McKenzie (14) tell you about it.

Teacher Rachel Edwards with Catrin Brodrick and Mason McKenzie of Ysgol Dyffryn Aman

I left this event  greatly heartened by the energy and interest on display by young Welsh people and feel that the efforts of Wales for Peace, particularly with what is going on in the world today, should be supported and encouraged, as it spotlights Wales, (in what we should all be focused on), and that is a concerted effort in maintaining a peaceful existence on this planet.

My grateful thanks to all participants who assisted me in producing this report,  andin particular, to Jane Harries who under great pressure as organiser of the event, maintained a pacific attitude suitable for the place and occasion.

Continue reading Report: Wales for Peace – Young Peacemakers Awards in Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Review The Sleeping Beauty, Wales Millennium Centre by Roger Barrington

(4 / 5)

Music: Pyotr IlyichTchaikovsky

Choreography: Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, Peter Wright

Production: Peter Wright

Designs: Philip Prowse

Lighting: Mark Jonathan

Re-created by Peter Teigen

The Sleeping Beauty is probably the best classical ballet in the world. It has more famous tunes than any other, so with great anticipation I attended at the WMC to witness the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s lavish production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

The BRB has a long connection with this work. As long ago as 1949. the eminent ballet critic Richard Buckle was commenting on this, although he referred to a production by the Sadler’s Well Ballet , the company that evolved into the BRB in 1990. Today, together with the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet, the BRB completes the “Big Three” ballet companies in the U.K, so you know that a quality production will be  on show.

We all know the story. In the palace, the King and Queen await the christening of their only child Princess Aurora. All the fairies are invited to the ceremony and are to be godmothers to the princess. However, Carabosse, the ancient Fairy of wisdom, seems to have been on extended leave and hadn’t been seen for years, so she is not invited. The fairies, led by the Lilac Fairy, arrive and present their gifts, but then, spurned Carabosse and her gang of evil fairies turn up and lay a curse on the princess, saying that on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. All is not lost because the Lilac Fairy, although being unable to remove the curse, issues a counter spell whereby Aurora will not die, but fall into a deep sleep, even longer than the semi-comatose state that I find myself in after consuming a bottle of Malbec! In fact, the only thing that will awaken her up is that a prince who truly loves her will plant a kiss on her. Right on cue, at Aurora’s sixteenth birthday do, Caraboose, in disguise,  tricks her way into the celebrations and presents the poisoned spindle to Aurora, who captivated by something she hasn’t seen before, dances with it, but is then pricked with the potentially fatal poison and collapses. Step in the Lilac Fairy who reminds all present that the princess is not dead but sleeping, and deciding that everyone should have a good kip, places a spell of somnolence resulting in all present falling asleep. The story now moves on a hundred years when Prince Desire out hunting with his cronies is waylaid by the Lilac Fairy, who happens to be his godmother also, and she takes on the part of Cupid introducing the Prince to Aurora’s spirit.  Well the inevitable happens, and after a brush between Caraboose and the Lilac Fairy,  the Prince falls in love with the princess and the final act consists of their wedding ceremony.

The tale is adapted from Charles Perrault’s 1697 work, which, in turn was based upon an earlier story. It is essentially a tale of good and evil represented by the characters of Caraboose and the Lilac Fairy. In the ballet, each of them have their own leitmotif, and in case of any doubt of the audience, in this production Caraboose is dressed in black and the Lilac Fairy in white.

This production, created by Sir Peter Wright in 1984 for the Sadler’s Wells Company largely follows the original 1890 version, choreographed by the master of classical ballet,  Marius Petipa. In fact, such is the skill of this nineteenth century choreographer, many of the leading ballet companies of the world still base The Sleeping Beauty in their repertoire on Petipa’s version.

To stage The Sleeping Beauty is a logistical nightmare. By some way, the largest production that the BRB has in its repertoire,  the demands on the costume department are immense. Princess Aurora wears three different tutus, and as there are nine ballerinas performing this part over the course of the tour, that requires twenty seven costumes to begin with. In fact, it takes an articulated lorry to transport the costumes alone between venues. The dresses the Court Ladies wear weigh over six kilos and Caraboose’s gown double that. Some of the costumes are so wide, navigating through doors is a skill in itself. Due to the high expense making these costumes, they are continually being repaired, and many of those on view today originate from the 1984 production.

What struck me most about this production is how opulent it is. The beautiful costumes, the grandiose sets and the marvellous lighting. In particular, the second Act set in the forest where Prince Desire is hunting, has a mystical quality that transports you into this world of fantasy.

The role of Princess Aurora is said to be the most difficult in classical ballet consisting of steel point work, sharply accented spinning turns. First Artist Karla Doorbar acquitted herself well, managing to portray the beauty and grace of the princess.

The nomenclature of the Prince is a little confusing. In the programme playlist, he is called Prince Florimund, although in the 1890 production, he is called Desire. It is speculated that the name change came about in the 1970’s originating from the Royal Ballet’s production at that time.  In the role of Florimund/Desire, First Artist Max Maslen manages the soaring leaps and daring lifts with aplomb and complements Doorbar’s Aurora as exemplified in their majestic Pas de Deux in the final act.

First Artist Jade Heusen portrayed the evil Carabosse with suitable menace, whilst conversely, Principal Dancer Jenna Roberts looked the personification of all good things in the role of the Lilac Fairy.

The Prologue pas de six with the fairies was cutely performed and the various cameo appearances in the final act were well presented. I particularly liked the Kit Holder and Anna Monleon’s Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat.

However, it is the Panorama scene towards the end of the second act, that always moves me the most in versions of The Sleeping Beauty I have seen over the years. Tchaikovsky’s languid melody matched by Petipa’s beautiful choreography and heightened by the mystical set design by Philip Prowse and the lighting of Mark Jonathan, conjure up a feeling of emotion within me, reminiscent of a truncated version of  the Paris Ballet’s “The Kingdom of the Shades” from “La Bayadere”.

Finally, a special mention should be made of the wonderful rendition of Tchaikovsky’s score by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Paul Murphy, who provided a faultless performance. Their interpretation of the famous Waltz in the second act, didn’t fall into the trap of playing it too slowly that I have sometimes encountered in recorded versions.

All in all The BRB’s The Sleeping Beauty is an excellent production and well worth the modest ticket price. That is, modest for a production involving so many people, and I can thoroughly recommend it. It provides the perfect introduction to the world of classical ballet and it is heartening that I witnessed a number of young children at the matinee performance that I attended.

The Sleeping Beauty is a ballet with a Prologue and three acts lasting approximately two and three quarter hours including two intervals. It is suitable to all over the age of five.

At Cardiff’s  WMC it has two performances on the 17th March at 1430 and 1930. before moving on to the Theatre Royal in Plymouth.

Further details can be found at https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2018-2019/DonaldGordonTheatre/Sleepingbeauty/#TabOne

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Review Don Giovanni, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millenium Centre by Roger Barrington

(4 / 5)

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte

Mozart’s Don Giovanni performed by the magnificent Welsh National Opera tells the story of an arrogant sexual predator who uses his power and influence to entrap and overpower young ladies to succumb to his will. Sound familiar?

First performed in 1787 in Prague.  it had to wait a further thirty years before receiving its UK premiere. Mozart has often been referred to, in his operatic work, with comparison to Shakespeare, in as much as he can move you from tears to laughter at the blink of an eye. Don Giovanni,  is a black comedic version of the Spanish seventeenth play  “El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra” by Tirso de Molina, (1571-1641), which introduces the world to Don Juan, the legendary conqueror of over two thousand women.

Taking away all the trimmings, the story is a revenge tale, starting with a murder and ending with the protagonist getting his comeuppance. What accompanies the story are incidental occurrences to the main plot.

This WNO version, originally directed by John Caird, and revived under Caroline Chaney, has some rather incongruous sculptures  reminiscent of Rodin, that seem to have little connection to the story.  However, the sets are interesting and generally work well, The supernatural inclusion of ghostly figures is a success, but  it is the lighting that, in particular, impressed me. Lighting designer David Hersey has created some beautiful and atmospheric scenes, especially at the play’s climax when a Doric gate is lit up in red depicting the protagonist’s descent into Hades in Dantean imagery, which is both is exciting and memorable.

 

The quality of the singing is uniformly excellent, without quite reaching the realms of brilliance.

American soprano Emily Birsan playing the part of Donna Anna, marking her first appearance outside of the US. She possesses a pleasing controlled voice and her rendition of the duet with her suitor Ottavio,  “Fruggi, crudele fruggi”, (Cruel, why art thou near me?) is sung alternating between pathos when lamenting her dead father, and violence when expressing her need for revenge. Emily Birsan manages to maintain the dignity and elegance of  Donna Anna throughout.

 

 

English soprano Elizabeth Watts, was the recipient of the Song Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year in 2007. Having previously performed in the WNO’S production of The Marriage of Figaro, she plays Donna Elvira, a spurned ex-lover of Don Giovanni. Although  abandoned by Don Giovanni and seeks revenge, she maintains a misdirected belief that she can change her ex-lover’s mind and win back his heart. Ms Watts has a cultivated clear soprano voice and her beautiful singing is illustrated in the aria, “A, fuggi il traditor”, (The traitor means deceit!),   which is sung with great passion.

 

The third soprano, Zerlina is played by Devonian Katie Bray. Zerlina is a naive country girl betrothed to Masetto. Ms Bray manages not to make Zerlina too much of an innocent, and  manages to project the darker side of her personality. Her duet with Don Giovanni, ” La ci darem la mano”, ( Give me thy hand, oh fairest), with the Don utilising his most seductive charms is one of the most memorable scenes in the entire opera.

 

Masetto, Zerlina’s bethrothed is regarded as a country bumpkin by Don Giovanni, and unworthy to be her husband. British baritone Gareth Brynmor John plays the character with gusto showing the right level of outrage and anger projected at his rival Don Giovanni.

Don Ottavio, “Benjamin Hulett), is Donna Anna’s betrothed. Hulet possess a pleasing tenor voice. His highlight is found in the aria, ” Il mio tesore intanto”, ( To my beloved, o hasten,) when Ottavio decides that it high time the police are informed about Don Giovanni’s antics.

 

Hungarian bass Miklos Sebastyen plays the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s murdered father. His strong voice add the required gravitas to the role.

David Stout plays Leporello, Don Giovanni’s much put upon servant with great comic ability as well as possessing a fine bass voice. His duets with Don Giovanni are a feature of any production.  ” Eh! via buffone”, ( I’ll not believe thee), is particularly well done.

 

Irish baritone Gavan Ring in the title role, makes his debut with the WNO in this production. His acting skills come to the fore, rendering Don Giovanni as one of the great monsters in the world of opera, but without making him too unsympathetic to upset the balance of the story. He displays the Don’s arrogance and cruelty well, and manages to show heroism  when accepting his fate. It is a very charismatic  and energetic performance.

Conductor James Southall gets the best out of the musicians of the orchestra of the Welsh National Opera, although I felt that the overture was a little sluggish in places.

One minor quibble is in the climax, Don Giovanni after entering the gates to Hades is seen to be scampering off stage immediately afterwards. This detracts from one of the most electrifying climaxes in Opera, and is reminiscent of a similar complaint I made about the final scene of Tosca which I reviewed recently, also at the WNO. I would suggest that a greater attention to detail to rectify these distractions be paid in future.

I attended at the final performance of this production in Cardiff, but from the 7th March 2018, it tours England and ales. Futher details can be found at here

I cannot envisage a better scenario than to listen to the sublime music of Mozart backed by excellent singing and acting in a auditorium, to warm up the cockles of your heart on a cold winter’s day in Cardiff.

All photographs by Richard Hubert Smith

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

 

Review A Number by Caryl Churchill at The Other Room, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

A Number at The Other Room Cardiff

(3 / 5)

 

I have always struggled a little with the plays of Caryl Churchill and the Welsh premiere of A Number at The Other Room, Cardiff continues this trend. I find her admirable in her dramatic innovation but she never seems to engage me emotionally.

However, her reputation as one of Britain’s leading dramatists makes this presentation in Cardiff’s only pub theatre, a noteworthy event.

First performed at that bastion of post WW2 British theatre writing, The Royal Court, in its main auditorium in Chelsea, on 23 September 2002, this two-handed play, directed by Stephen Daldry, (whom many years ago I shared the experience of being locked out of the first act of a play at The Young Vic until the end of the first act – I think we must have been on the same Tube train!), starred Michael Gambon as the father Salter and Daniel Craig playing three of his sons.

The programme notes to production under review, describes the play as, “a fearless and affecting dissection of the relationship between father and son, A Number strikes at the heart of what it is to love unconditionally – and the tragic failure to connect”. Whilst this is true, I understand the play to be more about human identity, brought into moral and ethical questionability  through the instrument of cloning. A fundamental criticism of cloning is that it turns humans into commodities such as in this case, replacing a dead loved son. The cloned have a feeling of a lack of uniqueness inevitably resulting in a lack of identity.

The intellectual premise of the play is largely influenced by the philosophy of Ludwig Wittengenstein, whom the playwright has, in more recent times, returned to in her 2012 play Love and Information. Wittgenstein’s thesis is that a word, taken by itself, could have meaning without the existence of other  elements that determines its character. These entities, he states, may not be the same, but upon closer analysis can reveal a pattern of similarity, “a family resemblance”. Therefore, Wittgenstein allows us to speak in a meaningful way about things and people without reverting to essentialism – a belief that things have a set of characteristics which make them what they are, thereby providing the essence of Churchill’s  statement in A Number on identity.

The play is in five scenes, with the father Salter, a manipulative and deceitful man, and three of his cloned sons, all played by the same actor.

This production of  A Number is directed by  Ed Mannon and is performed by Brendon Charleson as the father Salter, and Stevie Raine as three of his sons.

Brendon Charleson

 

Stevie Raine

An enduring problem at The Other Room’s small space is set design. In the original production in the Royal Court’s main house, designer Ian MacNeil, (who together with Caryl Churchill won Evening Standard awards for this production), devised a blank set, a rectangular platform above the stage, devoid of decor other than two chairs and an table carrying an ashtray, thereby heightening the lack of context for Salter’s filial visitations.  For this production, designer Carl Davies, has designed a site-specific staging with a kind of thrust stage that runs the entire length of the space, bisecting the audience into two equal halfs facing one another in a semi theatre- in- the round way. This heightens the feeling of intimacy between the actors and the audience and works well. On the one end of the stage there is an easy armchair, with the entrance facing it at the opposite side.

Stage design

 

Brendon Charleson and Stevie Raines

Brendon Charleson, (who incidentally played in the first ever production at the Sherman Theatre), and comparative newcomer Stevie Raine do well in their roles, and their timing, (which is a very important part of Churchill’s writing style), was largely maintained.

The production is an admirable effort in introducing this important 21st century British dramatic  work to the Welsh public and deserves to play to good audiences, although, like me, you may come away feeling emotionally empty.

A Number runs at The Other Room, Cardiff until 3rd March 2018. For timings and tickets,  https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/otherroomtheatre

Duration: 1 hour without an interval.

Suitability: All (a few instances of persuasive language)

All photo credits Kiernan Cudlip

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

Review Tosca, Welsh National Opera by Roger Barrington

photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

 

(4 / 5)

 

An opera in three acts by  Giacomo Puccini

Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa after the play by Victorien Sardou

Cast:

Floria Tosca – Claire Rutter (Soprano)
Mario Cavaradossi – Hector Sandoval (Tenor)
Baron Scarpia – Mark S. Doss (Bass-baritone)
Cesare Angelotti – Daniel Grice
Sacristan – Donald Maxwell
Spoletta – Michael Clifton-Thompson
Sciarrone – George Newton-Fitzgerald
Gaoler – Jack O’Kelly

WNO Orchestra conducted by Carlo Rizzi

Production:

Original director – Michael Blakemore
Revival director – Benjamin Davis
Designer – Ashley Martin-Davis

Michael Blakemore’s 1992 WNO’s Tosca is revived in a scintillating production currently at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

Tosca is probably the first example of verismo, the operatic movement that followed literature in its change from romanticism to realism, and in its more extreme form. naturalism.  The tale set in set in Rome in June 1800, with the Kingdom of Naples’s control of Rome threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. It depicts jealousy, abuse of power, murder and suicide.

The three principal characters are Tosca, a celebrated soprano opera singer, Cavaradossi a painter and her lover, and Scarpia, the chief of police  who lusts after the Diva. The story is fast paced and exciting with its inevitable tragic conclusion.

British soprano Claire Rutter manages to convey the prima donna character of Tosca to excellent effect. Sudden mood swings, demanding and flamboyant behaviour  comically shown when her lover Cavaradossi’s portrait of the Magdalene resembles an imaginated rival. Her rendition of Tosca’s aria “Vissi d’arte”, a lament to God for having repaid her cruelly for her good deeds, demanded your sympathy and compassion.

Mexican Hector Sandaval, (not to be confused with his compatriot, the martial arts exponent), possesses a highly cultivated tenor voice and this was shown to good effect during the climatic final act with Cavardossi’s famous aria, ”  E lucevan le stelle”.

American Mark S Doss amply displayed the sadistic nature of  Scarpia, although at the conclusion of Act 1 with the sublime Te Deum, he lacks the power of Bryn Terfel or the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the same role. Having said that, this is the highlight of the production with Doss backed up by the chorus largely made up of local schoolchildren.

The orchestra of the Welsh National Opera under the baton of Carlo Rizzi played beautifully throughout and added to the high quality of the singing significantly.

I would like to see the WNO  the next time they perform Tosca, having a new production as Blakemore’s twenty-six year old production, is getting a little long in the tooth.

Another small blemish was in the final scene where Tosca dramatically jumps to her death from the parapet of the Castel Sant’Angelo, her head momentarily reappears thereby defying the laws of gravity.

Should you be looking for an introduction to Grand Opera, then Tosca with its riveting story-line and fast pace provide the basis of an experience that can open a new world of high art.

Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes with 2 intervals.

It plays at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay until 20 February 2018 and tickets can be purchased here

End

Roger Barrington

Photos

 photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

 

 photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

Roger Barrington

Review Dublin Carol, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

(4 / 5)

 

Recently crowned Regional Theatre of the Year, Sherman Theatre maintains its recent run of excellent productions with Conor McPherson’s play Dublin Carol.

So highly regarded after Conor McPherson’s smash 1997 play The Weir, the Royal Court Theatre in London, (known as The Writers’ Theatre), reopened with Dublin Carol after a lengthy closure due to redevelopment. First performed in February 2000, it later opened Off-Broadway almost three years later to the day, and both productions received widespread critical acclaim.

The play is set in three parts, all occurring on Christmas Eve. The design layout is prescribed in the playtext. An office, (which happens to be in North Dublin, where all Mcpherson’s famous early monologue plays are set),  is rather shabbily decorated with Christmas decorations that have seen better years. These decorations have been rather casually put up, reflecting upon the character of the man who inhabits this space in its lack of effort. Religious icons such as a crucifix and the presence of an advent calendar, with only a few dates left to be opened are prevalent as is a fairly nondescript one foot high artificial Christmas Tree. A small electric fire is found centre stage with a long flex loosely lying to a power point some distance away. A small kitchen area, filing cabinets and desk indicate that this is an office rather than someone’s abode, and the text soon reveals that it belongs to an undertaker.

This play  is a three-hander with the protagonist John appearing throughout. The first and third parts are played with a young man Mark and the middle featuring John’s estranged daughter Mary.

Comparisons are easy to make to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, also set on Christmas Eve. You can relate Mary to the Ghost of Christmas Past, as the dialogue between her and her father reveal the severe familial problems that have occurred in the past. Mark, who is also performing undertaking duties on a temporary basis to aid his uncle Noel, (Christmas), who is laid up in hospital. Mark is in a relationship with an air stewardess and in part three you find that  this is suffering from considerable strain with the young man wishing to break loose. Mark can be looked upon as the Ghost of Christmas Future, because John offers advice on the course of action to be taken by his young colleague.

However, McPherson isn’t a Dickensian disciple, and for that matter, neither is he a satirist. Unlike Scrooge who undergoes a transformation from miser to philanthropist, you are not going to see such a change in John over the course of a single day.

For John is an alcoholic, and one who finds an excuse for every miserable act he has committed in his life to date, influenced by drink. Conor McPherson, also, has suffered from a closer encounter with the “demon drink” than is too good for his health. However, it would be wrong to consider this play is about alcoholism, although it takes central stage. Also, it would be incorrect to surmise that Dublin Carol is autobiographical. In fact, a major health  breakdown caused by his excessive drinking  was suffered by the playwright after his his next play, Port Authority, (2001).  It is on record that subconsciously  in the playwright’s mind, Dublin Carol may have premeditated  the events of the following year.

The play, also has a character named Carol in it. She was John’s girlfriend when he was married, but was rejected due to her providing her liver with carte blanche authority to do what he liked. There were no conditions to their relations and ultimately John rejected her because he needs some sense of structure in his life, which Noel, the owner of the undertaking business,  who has taken him on, despite knowing about his problems with alcohol. John is a natural successor to the masculine self-pitying, ready to apportion blame on everyone except themselves, anti-heroes of McPherson’s earlier monologic characters.

John is played by Simon Wolfe with a ferocious intensity that seamlessly changes from high good humour to savage anger.

The two supporting actors, Welsh actress Siwan Morris as Mary and Julian Moore-Cook as Mark maintain highly creditable Dublin accents, alien to their natural speaking voice, and manage not to get swept away by Simon Wolf’s powerful study of John.

Robustly directed by Sherman debutante Matthew Xia, the design by Lily Arnold is assured and at times beautiful. In a memorable final scene, an illuminated wreath-like motto descends from above, “Endure to the End and be Saved” from the Gospel of St. Matthew. This provides the key to the open ending. Will John receive redemption in the end? The Advent Calendar, which ends on Christmas Day with the revealing of Jesus, also is about redemption.

In the end depending on your take on John, you will either care whether he does or not receive redemption.

 

file

Suitable for 14+ due to pervasive language throughout.

See Director Matthew Xia’s introduction to the play on Youtube below

Dublin Carol runs until 17 February at the Sherman Studio at 7.30 pm. Duration 80 minutes – no interval.

For tickets:-

http://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/dublin-carol/

End

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review Awful Auntie at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Birmingham Stage Company’s brilliant adaptation of David Walliam’s 2014 bestselling book Awful Auntie, captivates  both children and adults.

Following on from their sellout tour of another Walliam’s book. Gangsta Granny, the BSC is embarking on an eighteen-month tour of the UK which featured a run during the summer at The Garrick theatre in London’s West End.

Cast with David Walliams

The show, endorsed by Walliams, is faithful to the book, and is fast-paced and funny, with an ingenious set design.

The story has twelve-year old Stella Saxby awakening in a bed, and being unable to move any part of her body. Casting away the bedding, she reveals that she is covered head to toe in bandages. Her screams arouse her Aunt Alberta, who tells her that she has been in a coma for three months and that she and her parents were involved in a road accident, resulting in the death of both mother and father, thereby leaving Stella an orphan.

Awful auntie 1

However, Stella soon realises her awful auntie has a nefarious plan to wrestle the stately home Saxby Hall, that now belongs to Stella, into her hands, but doesn’t know where the deeds are hidden.

Auntie has a Great Bavarian Owl named Wagner, (Get it?), who acts as her henchman – or should that be henchowl? Stella encounters a ghost called Soot, a  sweep who succumbed to his burns when someone lit a fire when he was up the chimney. There is a crazed ancient butler named Gibbon and an Inspector Strauss who is called to investigate Stella’s suspicions about her auntie.

AWFUL AUNTIE CREDITS

Story adapted and directed by Neal Foster

Set and Costume Designer: Jacqueline Trousdale

Lighting Designer: Jason Taylor

Composer: Jak Poore

Stella Saxby – Georgina Leonidas

Aunt Alberta – Timothy Speyer

Gibbon – Richard James

Wagner – Roberta Bellekom (puppeteer)

Soot – Ashley Cousins

Detective Strauss – Peter Mistyyoph

The star attraction of this show is the set design.  Four revolving doors and staircases create an impression of travel through the mansion, and a reference should be made to the stagehands, who work hard to render seamless scene changing within the fast-paced story.

Composer Jak Poore’s jaunty musical rhythm is exactly right to complement the actions unfolding on stage.

The cast possess rich cvs of their previous stage and film work, and it is easy to see this by their acting expertise on Stage.

Georgina Leonidas, you may recognise from her film portrayal of Harry Potter’s fellow Gryffindor Quidditch player, Katie Bell, in both parts of the Deathly Hallows stories. She plays a believable twelve-year old, innocent initially but becoming more savvy as the story develops.

Stella and Auntie

Awful Auntie Alberta is played in grand pantomime dame fashion by Timothy Speyer who maintains staying in character without going over the top, with commendable skill and constraint.

Richard James’s Gibbon has some of the funniest scenes and on occasion reminded me of Groucho Marx in his movements.

Ashley Cousins plays Soot in a Cockney accent that is consistent throughout, together with a youthful vitality  to enable him to portray Stella’s aide, confidant and friend in a credible way.

Roberta Bellekom’s consummate puppetry skills enable Wagner to be at times a villain and at others a cute pet.

Peter Mistyyoph plays Inspector Strauss in a mysterious way. See this show and you will know what I mean.

Anxious Stella

All is put together by Neal Foster’s faithful adaptation and brilliant direction. David Walliams commends Foster for having a similar sense of humour, which results in his capturing the essence of the author’s work. He had previously directed the Gangsta Granny adaptation to universal acclaim.

This is a visual treat for children. A school formed a large percentage of the audience for the performance that I viewed, and there was not a restless child among them. They left excited and contended with what they had just watched.

At times, the humour is a little risque and there are a couple of scenes that young children of a nervous disposition might feel uncomfortable with.

A scene where auntie is trying to break down a door with an axe to get at Stella, is accompanied by “Here comes Auntie”, reminding us of the famous passage in Stanley Kubric’s The Shining.

Awful Auntie is a first-rate children’s show with an engaging story-line, excellently performed and a visual delight on stage.

Brecon is my hometown but I had moved away, many years before Theatr Brycheiniog emerged in 1997. This was the first full-scale production that I had ever seen there and  If this is the  calibre of work that they present , then I am looking forward to many happy returns in the future.

http://www.brycheiniog.co.uk/

The show concludes its Brecon run on the 10th of December and  resumes it’s nationwide tour in the New Year. Venues and dates can be found here:-

http://birminghamstage.com/shows/awful-auntie/tour-info

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roger Barrington

 

Review The Wind in the Willows, Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

(4 / 5)

 

“The Wind in the Willows” is the 2017 Christmas production at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, and offers a banquet of creativity to feast upon.

Kenneth Grahame’s inveterate didactic children’s novel of 1908, “The Wind in the Willows” has been adapted for the stage an enormous amount of times, especially at Christmas, and this is likely to continue.

A cursory glance at reason productions in Wales, by both professional and amateur companies, such as Black Rat Productions at The Gate in Cardiff, in 2010, Gwent Young People’s Theatre 2008 show at Abergavenny Castle, (that sounded like fun!),  to name just two.

“The Wind in the Willows”  follows the adventures of the anthropomorphic animals Mole, Rat, Badger, Toad, and their friends.

Kenneth Grahame’s idea was to promote moralistic themes that most parents would like their children to follow.

Themes such as showing hospitality as epitomised through the characters of Rat and Badger and conversely, criticising it through the  depiction of Toad. The Pastoral environment to be preferred over city life. The ugliness of industrialisation and the rapid developments in technology, shown in Toad’s infatuation of the motor car and, as a consequence,  his reckless driving, its ability to destruct the peace and tranquility of the countryside. This particular theme bearing a highly relevant resonance  to environmental difficulties facing the world a hundred years after the book was written.  A sense of adventure is another theme that pervades throughout the story. Toad’s road trips. Mole’s desire to explore the world beyond her own limited one, and even Rat’s temporary desire to have a life on the ocean’s waves. However, the joy of returning to the stability of the home is also a theme that Grahame promotes. Finally, the anthropomorphic characters in the story each have their own characters. Badger is the oldest, and consequently, the wisest, and the others respect him for that. Within the pecking order, next comes Rat, slightly younger but showing a certain degree of maturity, whereas Mole is a young man on the verge of making his way in society and excited about the prospect of doing this, but needing a firm hand of guidance to steer the path. Finally comes Toad, the spoiled brat used to getting his own way and lacking maturity.

“The Wind in the Willows”  Production Team

Credits

Gaolers Daughter: Rebecca Killick

Chief Weasel: Hannah McPake

Mole: Jessica Murrain

Badger: Zara Ramm

Rat: Dominic Rye

Toad: Keiron Self

Portly: Emma Cooney

Director: Lee Lyford

Writer: Mike Kenny

Lighting Designer: Kevin Treacy

Composer: Conor Mitchell

Musical Director: Gareth Wyn Griffiths

This is an energetic, funny and likeable production with a vast array of creative ideas on display, testament to the brilliance of Lee Lyford’s direction.

Beds on castors on a revolving stage with makeshift oars provide a degree of realism when depicting a boat on a river, or a boat crew swiftly passing through.

Bunnies on pogo sticks and the scene getting the largest laughter, (at least amongst the adults), is of a small remote control red sports car whizzing across an empty stage, and thereby fuelling the desire for the hopeless infatuated Toad to steal it. Then offstage you hear an almighty crash and the car returns with smoke emerging from it, shortly afterward followed by a dark blue police car in pursuit.

I also like the director’s use of physical theatre at times – it works very well.

Mike Kenny’s adaptation of “The Wind in the Willows” is faithful to the story and highlights the main themes well.

The first impression of the stage design is one of greenness. Thereby tying in with the environmental issues within the story. A disheveled Toad Hall has a winding staircase, stage left,  leading to a landing with five windows. Above which hangs a splendid candelabra. Below the landing space is a piano. The ceiling looks in a very sorry state and one expects daylight to be appearing any day soon. Large Green doors which play a very active role in the play are located stage left and right. The green painted central space has circular revolving stages within it. Bookcases and furniture have sheets draped over them, heightening the sense of desolation. A trapdoor is utilised centre stage.

The design of animal costumes is another highlight. When the unbearably cute young hedgehogs appeared in Badger’s home, many young children let out involuntary aahs!

Composer Conor Mitchell, introduced a number of catchy tunes sung and played during the performance. In fact, I heard an adult member of the audience, whistling the final song in the foyer post show.

 

The Cast

It would be unfair to single out any individual member of the cast as they are universally excellent in their roles. The cast portrays many other characters and animals other than those mentioned in the production credits above. Multi-talented, they also played a veritable orchestra of instruments. Cello, violins, triangles, banjo, ukulele and accordion, and probably others that I missed. All held together by the busy Gareth Wyn Griffiths on the piano.  They also possess fine voices to accompany the songs, both individually and in chorus.

Cast

I feel that  the annunciation by all actors was uncommonly fine. It doesn’t surprise me to find that Zara Ramm has a successful career narrating the audio books for the novels of Jodi Taylor in particular, and others. Ms Ramm, I have seen on stage before – twenty five years ago at the old Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond-upon-Thames in David Edgar’s “Saigon Rose”. This was 1992 and I remember the production well to this date, and the brilliance of the very young cast playing in an incredibly small, space. All I can say is that during the intervening twenty-five years, Ms Ramm has aged far better than myself!

Overall, this is a production of the highest level suitable for children of all ages and adults.  I saw a number of children as young as 3 or 4 in the audience, and towards the end, I glanced around and was amazed by the way the production had captivated them. Many of them leaning forward in their seats with their eyes glued to the stage.

My only criticism, (and it is a minor one),  would be at times the play is a little wordy, and slower paced, but, for that matter, so is the story, perhaps making this inevitable to drive the plot forward.

For adults, within “The Wind in the Willows”, there is enough on display to pass an enjoyable couple of hours in an innocent, wholesome theatrical environment, and, like me, I feel that you would emerge greatly encouraged by what you have experienced.  For children’s theatre is vital in nurturing  the desire and creating the need to the future adult theatregoer, and shows like this leave you optimistic for the future of our beloved industry.

If you are an adult without a child to take with you, and you feel a little self-conscious attending by yourself, then I suggest you should borrow one from somewhere. It’s that good!

For tickets and times please go to the link

Duration: 2 hours including a 15-minute interval

Suitability: All

The Judge

Roger Barrington

 

Review Death and the Maiden, Fio, The Other Room, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Death and the Maiden - 1

 

(3 / 5)

 

Fio’s timely revival of Chilean/American Ariel Dorfman’s seminal 1991 play Death and the Maiden reminds us that its message is still as vital now, as it was nearly thirty years ago.

Cast

Lisa Zahra as Paulina Salas (38 years old)

Vinta Morgan as Geraldo (her husband, a lawyer about forty five years old)

Pradeep Jey as Roberto Miranda ( a doctor, around fifty years old)

Directed by Abdul Shayek

Designer: Amy Jane Cook

Lighting: Ciaran Cunningham

Venue: The Other Room, Cardiff runs to 10th November at 1930 hours. Matinee performance on 4th November at 1500.

http://https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/otherroomtheatre

The plays runs for about 95 minutes without an interval. It features strong language and explicit dialogue of a sexual nature and of torture.

Plot of Death and the Maiden

Paulina Salas is a psychologically damaged early middle-aged woman whose husband Geraldo, has been appointed to a commission to examine human rights abuses during a period of dictatorship that their country has very recently endure. Now with the promise of democracy, the country is trying to adapt to the challenges that the past has endowed upon it.

Paulina was a political prisoner during the turbulent period of totalitarianism and was tortured and repeatedly raped by her captors, led by a doctor who played Schubert’s Death and the Maiden during her most violated experiences.

Geraldo brings home Roberto Miranda who has helped him after his car had sustained a flat tyre. Later, Roberto returns to make arrangements about helping his new friend the following day. Paulina, who was constantly blindfolded when in company of her cruel tormentor, recognises that her husband’s new acquaintance is the same doctor by his voice and phrases he uses.

Geraldo and Robert chat late into the night and it is apparent that a bond of friendship has developed between them. Due to the fact that it is the early hours of the morning when they decide to end their conversation, Geraldo invites Roberto to stay the night. Meanwhile, Paulina plots her revenge.

The Production Team

“Fio makes fearless theatre: work that tears down stereotypes and challenges injustice.”

This is the slogan for this Cardiff-based theatre company.

Fia’s earlier presentation, The Mountaintop has been critically acclaimed and has just finished touring at venues across Wales. It depicts Martin Luther King’s final night and the title refers to his famous last speech, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” on April 3rd 1968.

In 2018, Fio will commence a new project called Declaration, “Which will identify, nurture and develop both unheard voices in Wales as well as championing artists who have yet not had the exposure or recognition they deserve”. This looks like a very worthwhile and highly commendable enterprise.

The Production

The Other Room’s tiny acting space limits the productions they can produce their. In such a limited area, blocking is of more importance than usual, and the director does a fine job of this.

The design is limited to a table centrestage with two chairs, and a side table which has a number of props such as the gun and cassette recorder.

The use of lighting is excellent. The strip lights were used to dramatic effect by flickering when torture was being told about in graphic deal, thereby heightening the dramatic effect. In another situation, the lights switch off and on in accordance with Paulina’s countdown from 10 to one with the threat of shooting Roberto at the play’s climax.

Death and the Maiden is a very intense play and a wonderful opportunity for actor’s to show their range and versatility. The cast do well in this respect, although, at times I feel that, despite their efforts, it seems a little under-powered. However, there are memorable  instances where they collectively pull this off. Of the three players, Paulina is probably the most difficult character to get right. She conveys mixed messages and her methods of retribution are not those that one can easily come to terms with. I wonder how her character would have been portrayed if the play was written by a woman. Lisa Zahra holds up well in a part which because of the way it is written, places you on a hiding to nothing.

Lisa Zahra - Paulina

Death and the Maiden – Performance History

The play was given a first reading at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in The Mall in Central London on 30 November 1990. It had its world premier at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, (now the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs) on 4 July 1991 and, due to its immediate success transferred to the Main House on 31 October of that year.

The original cast were Juliet Stevenson in the role of Paulina, Bill Paterson as Geraldo and Michael Byrne as Roberto. Directed by Lindsay Posner the play transferred to the Duke of Yorks Theatre in the West End on 11 February 1992, with two cast changes. Geraldine James now played Paulina and Paul Freeman as Geraldo.

It was at this venue in late February 1992, that I saw this production. Twenty-five years on, it is still fresh in my memory, whereas nearly all other productions that I watched around this time, have been forgotten about, lost in the mists of time.  I recall it because I had never seen a play of such ferocious intensity and I have rarely seen another since then.

The Playwright

 

Ariel Dorfman

Ariel Dorfman was born seventy five years ago in Buenos Aires in Argentina. The family moved to Chile via the USA, and he attended the University of Chile and later became a professor at that institution. He became a Chilean citizen in 1967.

From 1970 to 1973, Ariel Dorfman was employed as cultural advisor to Chilean President Salvador Allende and he was due to be on duty, (but had swapped his shift with a friend}, the night of the Pinochet Coup. Known as Chile’s 9/11, September 11  doesn’t only have tragic connections to the United States.  Ariel was forced into exile and his works are known largely for their themes of tyranny and living in exile.

Ariel Dorfmann, since 1985 has been professor of literature and Latin American subjects at Duke University. He additionally holds American citizenship. His literature and work has given him the reputation of a defender of human rights.

The Play

In its ninety five  minutes running time, Death and the Maiden introduces a myriad of important themes within a  short period of time. It was  awarded the 1992 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play,

Although the country is unnamed, it is clearly seen to represent the period immediately after the end of General Pinochet’s, (Margaret Thatcher’s great friend), dictatorship. It expresses the difficulties facing a nation emerging out of a dark  period of totalitarianism into the clearer skies of democracy.

Prior to returning to the UK last year, I had been  residing for a long time in China. Many of the students that I taught related stores about their own families, usually their grandparents who lived through the Cultural Revolution. Difficulties such as having to come to terms with your neighbours who before might well have denounced you as not being a good Chinese person in the image of Mao’s China at that time.  So the issues are similar, but in this case, it was a case of one totalitarian system replaced by another. So I feel that this idea can work in many way. In the USA of President Trump’s presidency, it appears that the country is becoming increasingly divided over many issues. If this goes unchecked, then Post-Trump it could well lead to the situation found after Pinochet’s Chile, Mao’s China or a host of other places around the world today.

Incidentally, post 9/11, (American 9/11 that is), remember that torture of detained people suspected of terrorist links was legally justifiable by the overriding factor that it was carried out for the defence of that country.

The single theme that I would like to present concerns the battle between Justice on the one hand and Peace on the other. After years of authoritarian government, it is an inconvenient fact of life that many of the perpetrators of the previous regime still hold high position in government, finance and public affairs. Getting the balance, as represented by Geraldo in Death and the Maiden is an extremely challenging undertaking. As Paulina didn’t die in captivity, she cannot be investigated by the Commission, so is therefore devoid of any feeling of justification, or possibly revenge. This goes a long way in understanding her actions in the play. Her dilemma, and also the audience, is whether she should follow the weaker and compromised legal form of judicial enquiry, or to take more extreme measure to deliver a punishment that fits the crime.

By coincidence, on the very same day that I watched this production, President Trump (and arguably at a time when  judicial justice could be irreparably dmagaed by his timing), stated that the alleged  New York  terrorist who drove a truck into people on the 1st November 2017, deserved the death penalty. There is a line in Death and the Maiden,  “Some people don’t deserve to live”. Where have I heard that before recently?

This is by no means the only theme in the play. The inclusion of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” , (String Quartet No. 14) which represent High Art as degraded by the association in Paulina’s mind of her tortuous and humiliating experience is another.

In the end, nothing is resolved. The open ending which in my mind is the perfect one, is in place for you to consider the themes brought out in the play. Do we believe Paulina or Roberto? The role of Geraldo, who is disloyal to his wife, as mirrored by an earlier case of adultery, in an attempt to try and save Roberto’s life. There is plenty to think about.

Summary

Death and the Maiden is a wonderful play, which I hope convinces you that it is as important now as it was when written over twenty five years ago. Fio provide a solid production which is sufficiently good enough to do this difficult play justice. The play never has a dull moment and is pacey and enthralling. If you like serious drama which provides much to consider about what is going on in the world today, then I can unreservedly recommend this production at a great pub theatre venue.

http://www.otherroomtheatre.com/en/whats-on/current-productions/

Roger Barrington

Review: The Cherry Orchard, Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

 

The Cherry Orchard

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Sherman Theatre’s production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard is reimagined in Early 1980’s Wales and gets to the roots of the social upheaval of Thatcherism.

The Cherry Orchard Production Team

Written by Gary Owen from Anton Chekhov

Director: Rachel O’Riordan

Designer: Kenny Miller

Lighting: Kevin Treacy

Cast (with Chekhov’s equivalent characters in parenthesis)

Denise Black as Rainey (Lyubov Ranevskaya)

Simon Armstrong as Gabriel (Leonid Gaev)

Matthew Bulgo as Lewis (Yermolai Lopahin)

Hedydd Dylan as Valerie (Varya)

Morfydd Clark as Anya (Anya)

Richard Mylan as Ceri (Petya Trofimov

Alexandria Riley as Dottie (Dunyasha)

Introduction

The characters of Boris Simeonov-Pishchik – a landowner,  Charlotta Ivanovna  – a governess, Simon Yepihodov – the estate clerk, Firs – a footman, aged 87, Yasha, a young footman, A Stationmaster and a passer-by are all omitted.

On Saturday 3rd July 1982, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made a keynote speech at Cheltenham racecourse in the aftermath of the Falklands War. I remember it well – I was there. When I say, I was there, I should clarify this. At the time, I was a serving member of the Gloucestershire Constabularly, assigned to the equivalent unit known as the SPG in the Met Police, and, being the junior member of the team, I was given the responsibility to guard the P.M.’s car. If I knew then, what I know now, I might have been tempted to place a bomb under the chassis myself! I jest I hasten to add for I don’t want an unwelcome visit from Special Branch after this post goes live.

In this speech, Maggie says this:-

“We have instead a new-found confidence—born in the economic battles at home and tested and found true 8,000 miles away.

That confidence comes from the re-discovery of ourselves, and grows with the recovery of our self-respect.”

When Chekhov wrote his last play, he was near to death. It opened at the Moscow Art Theatre only six months before his demise in July 1904.  The play prophesied what was to come for Russia and this materialised in the failed 1905 Uprising in Moscow and  eventual success in the Russian Revolution of 1917. You didn’t have to be too much of a prophet to foresee this – the inevitable end of the social conditions existing at the time the play was written was there for everyone to see. The sheer size of The Cherry Orchard represented a microcosm of Russia.

Other Reimaginations of The Cherry Orchard

Gary Owen’s reimagined setting of Pembrokeshire in 1982 differs in that the people were actually living through the social upheaval that the Thatcher Years and inevitably, what came afterwards, although the extent of this change was not appreciated at that time.

There has been been a number of other revisions of The Cherry Tree through the ages, largely due to the political undercurrents of the play.

In 1977, Trevor Griffiths rendered Trofimov (Ceri) as a Marxist hero and the bourgeois characters, (Lewis and sometimes Gabriel) in a very negative light.

Earlier, in 1950, a production in New York  City had Helen Hayes (Lyubov Ranevskaya/Raina), presiding over a large plantation with all the servants as slaves).

In 1973 Public Theatre’s version was played entirely with black actors protesting against their exclusion from the classical repertory.

Janet Suzman’s 2000 production The Free State,  a reimagining of The Cherry Orchard was transplanted and full adapted to a post-apartheid South Africa.

As  perennial as the grass, The Cherry Orchard remains one of the most popular plays to be produced in the world. In fact, the Nottingham Playhouse are putting on a production starting later this week.

Gary Owen and The Cherry Orchard

Gary Owen’s reworking is a play for our time. The writing is clear and in some ways improves on the original. Chekhov wrote the play as a comedy, although, subsequently, many directors interpret it as a tragedy. In Gary’s play, the comedy is more transparent and the sometimes sly Welsh humour works a treat.

His Raina is a sot and, again, I think this works better than the traditional Lyubov Ranevskaya, whose actions, I have always found a little ambiguous at times.

His Anya maintains Chekhov’s idea of this character. The first production of The Cherry Orchard was put on at the Moscow Arts Theatre by its artistic director at the time, Konstantin Stanislavski. Chekhov disliked the way it was produced intensely and wrote a number of letters complaining about it, as was his way. In one he wrote,  Anya, I fear, should not have any sort of tearful tone… Not once does my Anya cry, nowhere do I speak of a tearful tone, in the second act there are tears in their eyes, but the tone is happy, lively. I think that Anya in Gary’s writing and the Sherman’s production, lives up to that ideal.

A problem that crops up, because of the time and setting of the play under review, is the relationship between Lewis and Ceri. In Chekhov’s original, Lopahin and Trofimov forge a rather curious alliance. Lopahin, the noveaux riche landowner and Trofimov, the class conscious socialist, would work together for the benefit of the new Russia. Whereas in Simon’s work, Ceri, (representing the Thatcherite property developer) and Ceri, (the on the dole socialist and pseudo-anarchist), never seem to have that level of a common sense of purpose.

The absence of the character Firs is regretful because it robs Simon’s play of probably the most poignant and meaningful scenes in his entire repertoire. At the end of the play, when the family vacate the property for the last time, there is a substantial delay before Firs, the 87-year old faithful servant trudges across the stage to rest wearily on a sofa. One gets the impression that he will never arise from it. Firs was known to be very ill and the family assumed that he had been taken to hospital, but, in fact he had been left behind. Chekhov was making a statement about people who pretend they care, but, in reality, only half-care at best. I think this would tie in with the callousness of Thatcherism beautifully which has carried on to this day.

The Story

Borderline alcoholic Raina has been forced  by her daughter Anya and adopted daughter Valerie to return to her ancestral property Bloumfield in Pembrokeshire. Raina had been living well beyong her means and racking up a huge bill at the Dorchester in London. Valerie, who had been running Bloumfield in Rainey’s absence had repeatedly sent her mother letters informing her of the dire financial position the estate was in. Raina had chosen to ignore these letters and the situation had become so parlous that the bank were now calling in the debt and the property is going to be auctioned.

Lewis, son of a lowly servant on the Estate, has now become quite well off and owns a construction factory. This is Margaret Thatcher’s Britain and he has a plan to save the situation by selling off Bloumfield to property developers.

Romantic interest is shown by Anya’s involvement with her ex-tutor Certi, an on-the-dole sometime volunteer teacher.

There is a great deal of social conscience on display. Thatcher’s idea of selling off council properties at a budget price, social mobility ,(Lewis from rags to riches), The Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which Ceri is considering to take advantage of to form a record label, providing that he can come up with a thousand pounds to start it off – offered as a gift by Anya and a loan by Lewis, who respects the entrepreneurial spirit behind the idea.

It’s all here. The dawning of a new age that we are all coming to terms with today.

The Production

The play is directed by the Sherman’s artistic director Rachel O’Riordan and has a crispness and clarity about it that reminded me of a production by Michael Grandage of Shakespeare’s  As You Like It that I was privileged to watch at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2000. So impressed by the production, I wrote to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, where it originated, and much to my surprise and delight received a lengthy email back from the director stating his belief that theatre should be clear in its intentions and have a clarity of purpose behind it. This is exactly how I feel about this direction.

A model train plays a significant part as well and is not explained until the final scene. Replacing Firs Pinteresque moment, a young boy runs on and picks up the train whilst shouting for his mummy. The ghost of Raina’s drowned young son, (and possibly the reason for her habitual drinking), has been abandoned. So the train represents the memory of her drowned boy.

Ms O’Riordan has collaborated with writer Gary Owen on previous occasions. Iphigenia In Splott was received as one of the most important theatre  productions of 2015 and Killology that transferred to the Royal Court earlier this year. The O’Riordan/Owen collaboration has to be one of the most dynamic and intriguing partnerships in British theatre today, and I look forward to future works from them both.

The production is beautifully cast, and there is not a weak link among them. It would be unfair to single one individual out as they are uniformly excellent.  I would like to say though that Denise Black’s Rainey, reminded me, in a good way, with the character of Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous .

The minimalist  design is an easy on the eye but seems a little sparse furniture-wise for landowners to live in.  A bookcase located stage left plays an important part in the action, as its craftsmanship is recognised in contrast to  today’s mass produced self-assembled substitute.

Rachel O'Riordan and Gary Owen

Rachel O’Riordan and Gary Owen

Alexandria Riley as Dottie

Alexandria Riley and Denise Black

 

Morfydd Clark and Richard Mylan

Hedydd Dylan and Matthew Bulgo

Denise Black

 Denise Black

Simon Armstrong

Simon Armstrong

Summary

Gary Owen’s work is an excellent new way of viewing a classic great play. The three hours performance time passed by in an instance and I can’t really fault this production, other than the couple of instances where the writer’s decision to take what he wanted from Chekhov’s play, could have been put to better effect.

It runs at the Sherman Theatre Cardiff main house until 3rd November 2017. For times and ticket information please refer to http://http://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/the-cherry-orchard/

Suitable for all ages. A little mild bad language.

Roger Barrington