Category Archives: Literature

Review Shazam! by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What world am I living in? If you wound the clock back to 2012 and say that there’s a new DC cinematic universe coming and Batman and Superman will be the disasters but Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and now Shazam! will be the winners of the bunch, I’d have looked at you like you were bonkers. Yet here we are, a movie about a beloved character from the comics that I’d thought would never get his own movie and if he did it would be forced through that dark or complex filter that DC movies seem to put most of their characters through. I am so happy this is not the case and we’ve got what we got.

Side note, this character was referred to as “Captain Marvel” for a long time, but due to legal reasons, it has been changed to Shazam which adds a whole lot of complications to it. I guess obviously if this movie was out and Captain Marvel that would lead to a very confused audience, both in the movie theaters and in the comic stores.

The setting is not of the dark gritty crime-ridden streets of Batman, the high tech science fiction of Superman, the mythological scale of Wonder Woman but a realm of magic, as in true fantasy magic, wizards, words, robes, and staffs. This gives the character and now the movie it’s own unique tone and personality to distinguish itself amongst its competition.

Our tale begins on a dark snowy night where a little boy is in the back of a car and his father is driving and elder brother is in the front.  The elder brother and father clearly get along and care very little for him. But suddenly the little boy is transported to a deep cave with statues and an old man with a long beard, covered in long robes and holding a staff. This old man is a wizard (Djimon Housou) that offers this little boy great power, but the statues (that represent the seven deadly sins) tempt the boy to take an evil eye, this was a test and he has failed so he is cast out. Back to his old, loveless relatives.

We are then taken to years later and a little boy is at a carnival with his mother, trying to win him a toy tiger. She can’t win the tiger but does get him a compass. While walking through the crowd the two get separated, the boy is taken in by the police and his mother never comes for him, he is alone. Skipping again to years later, now present day and the boy has grown up a few years into an early teenager and his name is Bill Batson (Ashner Angel), he’s been in and out of foster homes for years always looking for his mother. Now he is in Philadelphia and put into another home. This one of the Vazquez, who have adopted many foster children. One of which is Freddy (Zack Dylan Grazer) who requires a crutch to walk but certainly never lets that get his spirits down. 

Now in the present, the little boy in the car has grown up to become Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). he has been searching for years for a way to get back into that mysterious realm of the wizard, fortunately for him he has now found it and takes the dark power for himself, unleashing the seven deadly sins from captivity and upon the world. So now we have our villain!

So, in his desperation, Billy Batson is taken to the cave and offered the power f the wizard known as Shazam! The powers are mean to be bestowed on a person with a pure heart but Billy is simply a good enough person. So when he speaks the wizards name a bolt of lightning hits him and he is transformed into a full grown man in his very own super suit, light up logo, cape and everything.

It is the casting of Zachary Levi as Shazam that is the cornerstone for the movie’s success. He is so unashamedly a big kid, from his energy to his broad expressions you believe that there is a child working this adult body. 

This movie takes place in the winter and within the gray streets of a city, but it is the characters clothing that makes them pop. Each character has their main color, Billy is red, Freddy is blue, another is purple, another is green and the villain wears black. This is a color move and a stylized superhero one so naturally, people are color-coordinated.

So now that he has been granted the body of an adult and has superpowers what to do now? Test them out! In a montage set to Queens Don’t Stop Me Now where Billy along with Freddy test out his new body and see what its capable of. This sequence is for the audience to learn what powers Shazam has too as well as a simple serving of fun. These are children that have been handed these amazing abilities, of course, this is how they’d go about it.

This movie knows what it wants to be. It knows that it wants to tell a superhero story from the perspective of a child that isn’t taking this all too seriously so neither are the filmmakers. It knows to insert it’s tongue firmly in its cheek. However, this is probably the movie the be the most emotionally heavy, some filmmakers believe that dark equals emotional, it does not, something does not have to be dark it just needs to mean something of great importance to the characters and for you to be able to connect to it. If it’s all dark then it’s just unpleasant, but with the right amount of balancing between colorful and heavy emotional moments, then you have a truly whole experience.

As a fan of Superman and Batman, I am saddened by them getting poor treatment movies, but they have already had their good treatments and left their cinematic mark. It is time for new characters to get their time in the sun and for people to learn about their unique mythos and characters. I wholeheartedly embrace the renaissance of the underdog superheroes getting the treatment they deserve. This movie is fun, dark, emotional and well crafted, like an Ablin movie at their peak.

Review Pet Sematary by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Grief is a powerful emotion. It can cause the most crippling loneliness and make us seek out all possible alternatives to fill the gap that is left when a loved one is gone. But what would it take to bring something back and if they do come back, will they ever be the same? This is the main theme running through Pet Sematary, one of Stephen Kings most acclaimed and celebrated works.

Like nearly all horror movies this opens with a family, in a car, moving to a new home. There is the father Louis (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), son Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavourie) and cat Church, these are the Creeds. They are moving away from the city to Maine where life is less busy and simpler. They arrive at their new home and take it in along with the forest behind it, that is cut short when a speeding truck rushes pasts them.

One day while walking through the forest they hear a bang of some kind, then they see children walking inline, one has a little drum, they all have masks of animals on and one is pushing a wheelbarrow with a dead dog in it. They follow the children and see that a few trees have a spiral carved into them and they come to a place called “Pet Sematary” where the local children bury their departed pets. This is when we also meet Jud (John Lithgow). An old man that lives in the house next to them, he’s lived around here all his life and knows about some of the ancient traditions and lore of the land. He quickly becomes a friend to the family.

One day Jud needs to have a private word with Louis, Church has been killed in a road accident. They decided to keep it from Ellie deciding to tell her that he ran away. They go to bury him amongst the other pets but Jud says he knows a better place to bury him. So they climb a wall of trees behind the cemetery, walks through a swamp and climb up to a hilltop where he tells Louis to bury Church and mark it with stones. The next day Louis and Rachel tell Ellie about Church but she says he hasn’t run away, he came back yesterday, he’s in her closet right now, which indeed he is.

We learn that, for whatever reason, when you bury something in that hilltop they come back. There are ancient folklores about a creature called the Windego and other stories and theories but it doesn’t matter, the cat has returned, but not the same, more violent. And so begins the whole macabre affair and the ultimate sentence of the movie “Sometimes dead, is better.”

This is a world of old, dark trees, where mist rolls in and things can emerge and disappear within it, where much is primitive so crosses and signs are held together with knots. it invokes an ancient, ritualistic atmosphere to the whole movie. But keeps it’s shaping simple so they are easily recognizable and can become symbols for the movie.

King wouldn’t be so celebrated if his work didn’t have some kind of merit. He has produced his share of goofy or even not very good products but he is still undeniably a man of talent. He works best when he creates characters with deep emotional problems and a situation that highlights human insecurities and layers it with something supernatural. This is such a material.

As an adaptation, I cannot speak for because at the time of writing this I have yet to read the book. However, I don’t believe this is a detriment to my ability to review the movie. A product should be able to stand on its own, a novelisation of a play should be perfectly enjoyable as it is and not have to depend on its source material. This is a complete story as it is, there may be more details in the book and it may, in fact, be the more well crafted and better version of this tale or maybe the movie improves upon it, I don’t know but either way, it doesn’t matter.

Ironically I recently reviewed Us and wrote about how horror at its best is not like a hatchet but like a scalpel. Well, I would say that there are moments of shock within this movie and they did indeed make me jump with fright. This isn’t the worst thing but it won’t age the movie well, shocks work once and maybe two more times after initial watching but after that, you know what’s coming and can prepare yourself for them. What lingers with you in horror movie, or really just movies in general, is the buildup and the unseen and the feeling of dread and anticipation before anything happens. This has those and they rely upon what the characters have said, the sound and the unseen before something comes out of the dark and goes bang.

This is a horror movie with a chilling concept at its center, some creepy visuals and terrifying moments, other times when it just goes all out and yells at you with something gross on-screen. King fans will either like it or nitpick the way the material was handled. But from the acting to the production, to the sound and even the ideas that fester within you afterward, I say this is a solid piece of work.

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster, Battersea Arts Centre by Tanica Psalmist

The production Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster is triumphantly spectacular! featuring an abundance of sensory flows from different types of beatboxers’ who all ecstatically project an aura of an overwhelming system, which conveys power and pain. Compellingly taking our ears through motions as their voices effortlessly, vigorously exploit numerous of in-depth frequencies from low to high simultaneously. Several of the beatboxers fluidity hypnotised us through their radio waves, leaving memorisation as they mind-blowingly touched on elements affiliated with political, mental and emotional conflict.

The beatboxers collectively integrated upbeats. In beat we witnessed a fusion of music genres from their voices alone, whether it be House, Funk, Blues, Motown or Pop this crew had it down to the ‘T’. Their music chords impressively merged heavy deep drums, string instruments and much more.

Incorporating Mary Shelley’s original, which was reimagined with soundscapes, sonic trickery and songs. To the counts within their musical flow, their vocal chords went to the rhythms of 1,2,3,4 but automatically speeded up to their heartbeats chanting 2,4,6,8. This soon boomed to a higher frequency as they began harmonising, synchronising, fluctuating and exploiting various other musical genres. The energy in the space became immense, especially when the space effectively transitioned into the vibes of an electrifying gig. 

Frankenstein had six acts in this play, all playing to their individual strengths whether it be singers, rappers, poetic essences and of course beatboxers; Frankenstein had it all! This production visually moved brains, you could feel the creatives hearts race, pumping to the counts of 10, 20, 30, and 40. Their sounds enhanced colourful patterns of different worlds colliding; projecting cinematic sounds of life and power whilst they embraced an emotional energy, triggered by a world we all know so well, as we become witnesses to the power of monsters all around us, strengthened by voices empowering them. 

The light moods had sparkles, gloss and smoke, the colours resembled energy, fire and enjoyment. This factor helped increase vibrations of radio-waves as they got even deeper into how to make a monster. The artistic designs were radiating meaning you couldn’t help but glance with amazement! 

Overall, Frankenstein gives you high adrenaline. A breathtaking, unforgettable and exceptionally enjoyable production! A fantastic experience for all to see, featuring beat box battles, audience immersive orchestra and childrens participation! A must see meticulous show with a talented team, you will not be disappointed!

Review STORM.3 TOGETHER AND ALONE, National Theatre Wales by Harriet Hopkins

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Created by Mike Brookes

When booking to see a National Theatre Wales production, there is an expectation for something thought provoking, intense and different.

The STORM cycle is a series of multimedia works that aims to explore the themes of truth and testimony, it includes original texts, specially created sounds and novel physical-acts TOGETHER AND ALONE succeeded in including specially created sounds – the composition was eery and worked to punctuate the piece. It also drew on Simone de Beauvoir’s Pour une moral de l’ambiguite, a work that explores the varying ethical attitudes of people and how they relate to the idea of “freedom”.

TOGETHER AND ALONE presents, through 8 different people, a different view of freedom and what their freedom means to them.

It is an interesting concept showcased against a high-impact backdrop; the cast and audience all stranded together on a stage that could be the prow of a ship, or the floor of a warehouse, or a holding area for refugees. Strewn around are clear plastic bin bags rammed and bursting forth with clothes, as if people have packed to leave, or have donated to charity, or have left somewhere in a hurry. Two large screens display statements that seem like negative rewrites of inspirational quotes.

The spectacle of this, when entering and waiting for the action to start, boded well. But the reality, when things “got going” was that there would be no action. As tremendous as each actor may have been, it was impossible to enjoy their hard work – the words delivered were a series of self-reflective testimonies and as much character as the actors tried to put in it was stripped away by the overwhelming monotony of it all. Perhaps this was the point – we live in a world where we talk about, think about, tweet/insta/facebook/snapchat about ourselves; we are so preoccupied with ourselves and how we see ourselves within the world, and how we think and want others to see us, that we do nothing of real importance. (I understand this is a generalisation, just to make everyone clear…in case you think ill of me, because that’s not something I want…now should I put a winky face emoji here to make it clear I’m making a joke? Hmmm…)

Whether this was the point or not, it simply felt tedious. I was working so hard to take in the words, but the movement and interaction that was there (and, be assured, the actors did as much as they could), just wasn’t enough to fill the gaps of character and story; the total absence of energy meant that I missed all the substance, the nuances, the political leanings, because I was too busy worrying about how long it would take for my knee to start hurting from all the standing, and thinking about how it could be made more dynamic and engaging. Convincing myself that my lack of engagement must be a mental fog which, surely, must indicate the early onset of the menopause!

The monologues/statements the characters were making were extremely well written, but the voices (no matter what accent they were in) still sounded the same. Yet as standalone tracks they could have been truly engaging; in podcast form, for example, the audience could listen and explore at their own pace, if they had something to watch too, or something to do (fold clothes and bag them, perhaps). I appreciate this is easier said than done though and, as usual, NTW has staged something different and risky – unfortunately, the biggest risk for me is how alienating a piece of theatre like this can be.

National Theatre Wales presented STORM.3 TOGETHER AND ALONE at The Neon in Newport from 21st-23rd March so you can’t go and see it now but, to be honest, if you’re anything like me you’d have spent more time thinking about whether there’d be time for a glass of wine at Le Pub than being moved by the work, anyway.

Review THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING by Jonathan Evans

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Myths and fables are the cornerstones of great narratives. For, if no other reason, they are the oldest stories to survive the test of time. They are journeys and battles of good and evil and are basic but deep so you can throw almost any coat of paint on them you want and they still ring the same emotional core. Not all though have to be set in ancient times. An essence of a story can be picked up and put in almost any aesthetic or time period. Take Star Wars, for example, dark lords, a princess in peril, it takes place a long time ago in a place far, far away, its a fairytale with a science-fiction setting. The Kid Who Would Be King knows this and takes one of the oldest (as well as British) myths and puts it into our modern era with a few new twists and turns.

The tale begins by telling the tale. Literally, the movie opens with a storybook opening and seeing illustrations and narration telling the tale of King Arthur, how it was a time of chaos and dark forces were on the rise and the people needed leadership, so came a young boy named Arthur that pulled the sword from the stone and became king of the land. But his stepsister Morgana was warped by greed and jealousy and sought to take the throne for herself, so Arthur, along with his wizard Merlin battled her and then banished her deep within the earth, but she vowed to return when the land is sick and the people are divided. Then we pull out of the book and are now in modern times. 

We see a young boy named Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who is late for school (as it seems all leading children must be when they are the protagonist in movies). When he gets there his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) is being bullied by Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris), he refuses to let his friend be the victim and bushes back, resulting in all of them getting detention. 

You will notice that each character is given their own color and has a unique silhouette. Such detail is important to notice and give credit to because it helps make the character instantly visually recognizable. Which, in a movie where the characters are simple and there’s a lot of running about, is very important. 

While running away from the bullies after detention Alex runs through a construction site. While there he sees a sword sticking out of the pillar of a building, he pulls it out and takes it home. While there he and his friend translate (through the aid of Google) the engravings on it. It read that it will be pulled out by the king of the land, they say that this must be the sword in the stone, which they laugh at the thought of. But when a strange boy suddenly enrolls in their school and one night a flaming skeleton soldier enters Alex’s room, almost killing him, he starts to think that there is merit to some of this. 

This strange boy is in-fact Merlin (Angus Imrie), the great wizard himself. In the actual lore, Merlin would age backward so this decision has some logic and credibility by staying true to the original mythology. Though at times he does revert into his adult form and is then played by Sir Patrick Stewart, who both seems to naturally take to playing a mighty, booming wizard and is clearly having quite a bit of fun with the role. While he is in this state he brings great gravity and seriousness to the moments, as well as comedy, though what would you expect from Stewart. So begins the quest to train, assemble knights of the round table (that is foldable in one of their dining rooms) and defend the land against evil. It’s a classic tale that has been told again and again and holds up. What matters is if it brings something new to the table and how well it executes its concepts. As has already been made clear taking the myth and setting it in modern day is something but there are other examples of this, adding all the modern pop culture references is something though I feel these are more of a deterrent to the movie. They are just there for kids to hear and think “Hey they said that thing I like, yay!” It is something that adds no real substance to the material and will most likely date it terribly, though this is a movie for children and it never forgets that so maybe I’m being too hard on it.

Writer-Director Joe Cornish seems to have found his niche in modernizing fables. His first movie Attack the Block, which I greatly enjoyed, was essentially a fable, just told in modern London with Aliens thrown into the mix. He writes fast-talking, personality-infused characters, with plenty of humor sprinkled about and always stays true to the emotional core of the whole project. If you enjoy the work of Edgar Wright (who Cornish has been writing partner to for many projects), particularly his Cornetto Trilogy, then this is the type of humor, style, and a journey that will appeal to you.

If there’s a definite weak element to the movie it is the acting. These are not great child actors, they are the overreacting type you often get from child actors. When they are shocked or surprised their mouths hang open and eyebrows raise, when they are upset the eyebrows go down and they pout their lips. Though I must give credit to Serkis, who is able to convey pain just through an expression and without dialog. The best actor within the movie is Sir Patrick Stewart but that seems unfair to compare these children to this well-experienced master of his craft. 

I appreciate the incorporation of real problems with these characters. Some are insecure, or have to face truths about the world is harder than they’d like it to be. This grounds it and adds weight to the story, it makes the characters real in a way that goes beyond simply having them say what their favorite drink or color is.

This is one of the oldest stories ever told. About a land in need of a hero and a sword chooses the said hero, about dark forces and a group that unites to slay it. it stays true to that core and wraps it in modern day with the lingo and names so that the youth will find it easy to connect with. It does it’s job well and distinguishes itself while doing it. 

Review – Open Rehearsal, Les Misérables, August 012 By Eva Marloes

Please note this is a review of an open rehearsal which took place at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

All images credit Jorge Lizalde

This fun and moving adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables by Cardiff-based theatre company August012 juxtaposes the battle of Waterloo and the Brexit Referendum. The intention behind the historical and literary parallel is to insert our daily lives into a wider perspective, to juggle the big and the small, the significant and insignificant, the past and the present. Les Mis, not the musical (thank God not the musical!), is a whirlpool of sound, words, and movement, from which emerge a sense of loss and futility, an awareness of something different beginning in a Britain still hangovered from the Referendum, and compassion.

The scene begins with an account of the battle of Waterloo, cut by the recollections of Brits on holiday in Greece before the Referendum, and by the disbelief and shock at the result on the night. Away from formulaic narrative structure, Les Mis embraces a multilayered performance where music, words, and movement intersect and converge all around us. The music is spell-binding and plays a prominent role in guiding the audience into this tragi-comedy. It is a seductive and immersive experience that stirs the senses and brings awareness of wider significance.

The smell of grass, the thumping on the ground of the soldiers’ feet, broken by holiday-makers’ easy-going chatter and banter to the tune of Brazilian music in the sun-kissed beaches of Greece make the play at once seductive and moving. The charged atmosphere evoked by the battle is countered by the fun and ordinariness of the Referendum night. The parallel is sustained by local references to Cardiff’s roads and neighbourhoods. Napoleon is in Grangetown. Brussels is Ponty. Yet, the playfulness of Les Mis accentuates the brutality of Waterloo conveying a sense of awe, of something bigger than ourselves.

This heartfelt, engaging, ironic and exciting production articulates the current confusion, exhaustion, and ridiculousness of the aftermath of the Referendum. We don’t know what is going on. There is no neat comforting thesis, no tidy narrative, no solution, but a deliberate intention to throw off course. Les Mis plays with our confusion and our Brexit fatigue.

At a time when over a million people have marched for a referendum on the deal, over five million have signed a petition to revoke Article 50, and when Parliament keeps voting down May’s deal, Les Mis captures the never-ending saga, the incomprehensible going around in circles, and the complexity of the present situation. Brexit has severe repercussions for peace in Northern Ireland, for EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU, for Europe, and for Britain; yet its significance is drowned out in the daily drama deprived of substance. In all this, Les Mis wants its audience to wake up to the historical significance of our daily lives.

The play includes Nicola Sturgeon’s address to European nationals living in Scotland. In the endless noise produced by politicians on Brexit, European nationals in Britain are often forgotten and, at times, dismissed as ‘bargaining chips.’ Director Mathilde Lopez is a French-Spanish North African, who has lived and worked in Britain for 20 years and has a family with British composer John Norton. Matteo Marfoglia, who choreographs the dancers, is an Italian national who has worked in the Netherlands and has been living in Wales for the past six years. For both Mathilde and Matteo the result of the Referendum brought the pain of exclusion. All of a sudden, their identity, status, and very presence in Britain were questioned.

Les Mis gives a voice to that sense of disorienting loss Europeans felt. There is no anger, no preaching, no pedantic history lecture. The political and philosophical rhetoric at the end is perhaps not as punchy and inspirational as it could have been, but it is genuine and moving. There is an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Les Mis appeals to faith, hope, and love. In opposition to the outside political message of exercising control and erecting borders, Les Mis, fruit of artists with diverse cultural backgrounds and political stances, celebrates friendship across divides. It calls on all of us to show compassion to one another.

What would Hugo make of this take on his work and, perhaps more crucially, what would he make of his own dream of a United States of Europe? He might be confused and excited to see that a Union of European countries has taken shape. He might feel inspired and hopeful that it is not just a philosophical, political, or religious idea, but a reality, clumsy and complex, but one that is increasingly in people’s hearts. This production of Les Mis, with its exuberant rhythms, poignant words, and passionate movements, lets us hear the heart of Europe beating.

Les Mis can be seen at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

Behind the Curtains of Les Misérables By Eva Marloes

Up the ramps of steep metal stairs, in a room in the Loft, outside of the main building of Chaptert Arts Centre, the theatrical company August012 are rehearsing for their unique take on Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. The music begins. It’s a military tune. It’s 1815, the battle of Waterloo. The fighting, the casualties, the hollow victory. Then, at a stroke, it’s 2016, in Cardiff, the night of the EU Referendum. The battle of Waterloo and the battle of Brexit come together through a meeting and clashing of sounds, words, music, and dance making for an immersive sensory experience.

Rehearsal images credit Jorge Lizalde

The tragedy and horror of Waterloo is juxtaposed with the carefree and indulgent pleasure of holiday-makers in 2016 ahead of the Referendum and the comic coming to terms with the result. It is a kind of estrangement that seeks to bring awareness of the historical implications of Brexit through rhythm and fun. All the pieces, the description of the battle, the drums, the music, a man chocking on a Dorito, Farage, and soldier-dancers, come together with perfect timing. The creativity fuelling Les Mis comes from the collaboration of Director Mathilde Lopez, Choreographer Matteo Marfoglia, and Composers John Norton and Branwen Munn, the latter working from West Wales.

The coming together of French-Spanish, Italian, and Welsh talent with diverse national and cultural backgrounds makes gives an extra dimension to the careful multi-layered assembling of sound, words, and movement. It is the collaborative and supportive nature of these relationships that stands out as I watch the rehearsals. There is no hierarchy, no instructions, no neat division of labour, but a coming together to harness the talents and creativity of one another. Mathilde says, ‘We can do that,’ not ‘Can you do that?’ She is not imparting instructions, she listens to others and makes suggestions. The work emerges from this shared effort and fun. They’re working hard but they’re also having fun.

The atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly that I wonder how a comment from me might be received. I comment and I’m struck by Carwyn, one of the actors, turning to me and nodding. It is a listening environment, where each member of the company can make suggestions and is listened to. John Norton, the composer/DJ, is surprised I’m surprised. ‘This is theatre,’ he tells me, ‘If you want control, don’t do it.’ Unpredictable, brittle, never finished, theatre is always in the making. Precision is impossible, flexibility is key.

Mathilde likes the challenge that music and movement present to her as a theatrical director. She needs to limit herself to give space to John and Matteo. Her listening and collaborative frame of mind includes listening to actors and non-actors who participate in the production. When auditioning for the play, Mathilde asked them what they were doing on the night of the Referendum. The piecing together of different perspectives and experiences reinforces the nature of this production of Les Mis where different worlds coexist.

Choreographer Matteo Marfoglia tells me that the idea is to have two worlds side by side in the same space: the world of the actors and the world of the dancers. The two worlds do not interact. The dancers and the actors are on different journeys. The dancers, as soldiers, evoke with their movements and sounds the tragic sense of the historical dimension of both Waterloo and Brexit. Actors and dancers come in and out of the space interweaving the present with the past, connecting and disconnecting history with our daily lives.

Les Mis speaks to our own reality. It is this sense of the real and dance as a way to communicate real life that brought Matteo to Wales. Classically trained, Matteo first moved to Amsterdam and Rotterdam to become a contemporary dancer and, six years ago, he came to Wales to be part of the National Company Wales. He left classical ballet because it did not meet his thirst for something more authentic to human experience. He believes that contemporary dance allows the individual expression of emotions to come to the fore.

Matteo is training to become a ‘Gaga’ dance teacher. Gaga dance has been developed by Israeli dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharin. At its core, Gaga dance is about embodying the inward emotions of the dancer and how they connect with other dancers. The individuality of the dancer is expressed outward flowing into the shared consciousness of the group. ‘We feel the same emotions but we do so differently,’ Matteo explains, ‘We’re all connected through an emotion but this emotion is expressed in one’s unique and individual way.’

The emotional dimension of Les Mis is a pervasive sense of loss and futility contrasted with seductive pleasure and a hangovered awakening to the aftermath of the Referendum. As European nationals, Matteo and Mathilde experienced a deep sense of loss after the Referendum. They felt ‘under attack,’ as Matteo puts it. All of a sudden, they became foreigners, their presence questioned. Mathilde, who has been living in Britain for 20 years, is married to John and has British children who speak Welsh, felt the pain of exclusion, of being told to ‘go back home.’ She never needed to be formally British, she was part of British society, then Brexit struck.

Brexit has shown that being foreign is an identity that stays with you no matter how long you live in your ‘adoptive’ country, no matter of many changes you make, no matter how much you absorb of the local culture. The ‘in-betweeness’ that has characterised Mathilde’s life became problematic with Brexit. Europe allowed overlapping identities that don’t stop at national borders. Europe, for Mathilde, is the wider project of togetherness. It is complicated and Europe often does not live up to the dream. The way the EU functions right now doesn’t work for many countries, she tells me, but they don’t question being part of it. ‘It’s like moaning at your parents,’ Mathilde says, ‘you moan, you don’t kill them.’

The vote brought sadness to Mathilde and also anger. She found that anger was more ‘socially acceptable’ than sadness because it makes one look strong, but she found it tiring. She needed compassion. She plunged into reading classics, such as Steinbeck, Camus, and Hugo. Classics were her way to get her head around what had just happened and avoid a reductive perspective. ‘When you’re angry at the Americans, you read Steinbeck, when you’re angry at Italians, you read Dante,’ Mathilde explains. Literary classics allow her to go beyond the narrow contingencies of today’s events, put things in perspective, and nourish compassion.

For Mathilde, Les Mis is a personal journey from sadness and anger to compassion. Compassion is in the ability to listen to one another, work together, and produce a work that is accessible to all.‘Will my grandmother get it?’ Mathilde asks herself when writing. She wants something accessible, not limited to regular theatre-goers. She wants to be open to others, wherever they come from culturally, socially, and, of course, politically. Some members of the production voted Leave.

‘It is our duty to be compassionate,’ says Mathilde, ‘to find strength in accepting defeat, not despair.’ It is compassion that allows to overcome division, to appreciate human complexity, and find strength in togetherness. Mathilde finds compassion in being supported by Chapter Arts Centre, in working together with actors, non-actors, and dance students, getting inspiration from all.

Mathilde, Matteo, and John tell me working together requires humility, respect, and trust. As John tells me, ‘you need to sense the time when to follow someone else’s lead, when to defend one’s position, and when to let go of it.’ You need to abandon the need to take control. This deeply collaborative and inclusive production of Les Mis is fruit of mutual trust and compassion. It is what the UK needs now.

Review ‘The Return/Y Dychweliad’ Re-Live by Kiera Sikora

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Re- Live’s new theatre show ‘The Return/Y Dychweliad’ is a moving, courageous composition of sadness, truth, celebration and sacrifice.

It begins at St Fagan’s Museum entrance where we are taken on a welcoming walk to Oakdale Workmen’s Institute, listening to various accounts of the thoughts and memories of the people connected to Oakdale. They tell us of the beauty of ‘devouring books’ from the library which was a rarity then, the joy of choc-ice treats and how Oakdale invited a ‘thirst for knowledge’ in the Institute.

We then reach the Oakdale’s Workmen’s Institute where (after a lovely cuppa tea) we are thrown into a World War I Victory Ball in 1919. The bunting is up, the tea is flowing, the Bara Brith is out and we are entertained with song, story and striking truths of what it was to be a soldier, a friend, a woman and a mother during The First World War. We are shown the thrill of the beginning of war, and the heartache it created during a time when so much was unknown medically about the after affects of battle and sacrifice.

The piece moves through dialogue, solo performance, touching physical imagery and choral singing with a nod for the audience to join in on a few wartime tunes. And there’s the beauty of Re-Live right there. Yes, it’s a show, a performance, but it’s a cwtch too. A really important, poignant, ‘so glad to be home’ kind of cwtch. The cast open their arms to you, smile at you, pour their hearts out to you and allow you to feel something about how they feel and have felt. Re- Live’s mission is to work with communities and to tell stories and truths from their lives and ‘Y Dychweliad’ is a beautiful shower of these things. These stories, this history, the effect war has on people around us and still has to this day are subjects that we must talk about. If we don’t talk about these things, if we don’t remember the history of our times,  and the affects it has on us still- will they be lost? Will we learn? Will future generations know these wonderful, war time songs, even?

Karin Diamond and the team have created a gorgeous concoction of story, song, music and poetry and a beautiful memory for all that see the show. The production ends as fuelled as it begins, with a personal poem ‘Mother Wales’ written by one of the cast- which makes your heart beam. The thankful, heartfelt, emotional response at the post show discussion is unforgettable. Talks from the cast about their own experiences, and how much support we must continue to provide for our Veterans is integral.

One of the cast said ‘ Once you leave for war, and go over there, coming back is.. alien. You’re petrified. You come home. But you’re never the same.’ Reading through the Oakdale information book, one Veteran writes (of working with Re-Live) ‘The project has saved me because it’s given me something to look forward to, it’s given me a purpose again. It helps me control my anxiety too. This is the one place I can come where I know I won’t be judged.’

And that’s Re-Live. Sharing words and feelings from people, to people and for people. With the utmost care, gratitude and heart. ‘Keep the Homes Fires Burning’, indeed. 

‘The Return/Y Dychweliad’ runs from 14-16 March/Mawrth, 

Oakdale Workmen’s Institute, St Fagan’s National Museum of History/ Sefydliad Y Gweithwyr Oakdale, Sain Ffagan Amgueddfa Werin Cymru

Top Tunes with Adele Thomas

Credit Kirsten McTernan

Hi Adele, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I am a theatre and opera director. I am from Port Talbot originally and live in Cardiff now. I’m about to make my Royal Opera House debut with Handel’s Berenice

Credit Damien Frost

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to? 

I am obsessively listening to Berenice as I’m about to direct it! So my iPod is pretty much given over to that and to some of Handel’s other operas. It’s good to get a sense of where this piece fits into his wider body of work.

But the latest thing that I saw and was blown away by was a gig by Hen Ogledd. Their album, Mogic, has just come out and it’s just sensational. I’m a vinyl lover, so I’ll be listening to it on the record player! 

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why? 

Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles

I’m going to immediately preface this by saying that this is by no means The Beatles’ best album (for me, that’s Revolver) but it is the one that changed my life. I was struggling to fit in in my teens in a world of grey concrete and everyone in head to toe adidas block colour tracksuit and gangster rap. After one very late night of underage drinking, a friend took me back to his house and said “check this out”. He put the film of Magical Mystery Tour on and immediately my entire world opened up. The colour, the surreality, the clothes and, of course, the music! I became obsessed with the backwards tapeloops, the kaleidoscope camera, the technicolour kaftans. I binned the tracksuit and immediately became a 60s throwback. That one encounter opened up everything to me: art, counter culture, the music scene, a whole world of new friends. And I can still quote that film word for word. 

His ‘N’ Hers – Pulp 

When my school mates did all start listening to Oasis and Blur I was firmly in the 3rd camp: I was a massive Pulp fan. Different Class is the album that cemented them as working class hero for the wierdo amongst us, and This is Hardcore saw them reach the pinnacle of their orchestral ambition, but His ‘N’ Hers is my favourite. It captures something very real about being an outsider in the 90s: when charity shops were packed full of incredible 60s clothing for pennies, the seedy glamour of the beachside dirty weekend B n Bs along Mumbles road, sticky indie clubs and lager and lime. It’s an album that celebrates the trashy, sexy, the working class. Jarvis Cocker is still my hero and nothing makes me dance and cry at the same time like “Do you Remember the First time”.  

Work and Non-Work – Broadcast 

I wrestled between this and Dots and Loops by Stereolab (which is a masterpiece) but Broadcast just pips them for me. Warp records seemed to be the coolest thing on the planet, and Broadcast’s music touched a nostalgic nerve for a period I didn’t even know.  Their music seemed to be the subconscious by product of an alternative past: the mulch creepiness of Dario Argento’s fits, the sun saturated photography, the trippy wierdness of Public Information films. This album is incredibly beautiful and cinematic: every song on it lends itself to a film that has never been made. And perhaps the thing that pushes Broadcast’s work up the list for me is the tragic death of their singer and heart of the group Trish Keenan. She was a fashion icon and a poetic mind who went too soon. 

The Hissing of Summer Lawns – Joni Mitchell

One night my boyfriend and I were driving very late down a pitch Black Country lane and we were listening to a radio show of Prince’s favourite songs. Suddenly this piece came on and it was so overwhelmingly beautiful, so totally perfect that we had to stop the car and just sit there in the dark listening. That song was Edith and the Kingpin from this strange and haunting album by the one and only Joni Mitchell. Poetically, every listen glistens with new meaning and her use of language is so incredible. “The helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof/ Like a dragonfly on a tomb”. Exquisite. Especially coming at you through that pure voice. 

Wozzeck – Berg

I discovered that I wanted to direct for stage when I sat down and watched Richard Jones’s production of Berg’s complex and terrifyingly hard opera based on the Buchner play. That production tore away any concepts I had of what theatre could be. The world on stage was so strange, so complete, and the performers were incredible musicians and amazing actors (Christopher Purves’ performance in that was one of immense human detail. All while singing some of the hardest music you’ve every heard over a full orchestra). Now I’m finally directing opera, this production is still the benchmark for me of what can be achieved. It’s really worth listening to: yes the music’s complex, but the tragedy of the story is brilliantly served here. Please note the version Adele describes is not available online. Instead we present The Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, The Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera, Conducted by Bruno Maderna, Directed for television by Joachim Hess. Set design: Herbert Kirchhoff Costumes: Helmut Jürgens Recorded 1970, Hamburg State Opera.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?

I’m going to chose Babies from His N’ Hers because I think it shows how complex pop music can be. Melancholic, strangely profound: it captures the sense of teenage boredom on a rainy Tuesday evening between school and… But it also never fails to get everyone on the dance floor, and it builds into a euphoric, semi-spiritual exorcism of raw sexuality and kitchen sink drama. I can’t listen to this without dancing!

Review Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, Rocket Theatre Group by Helen Joy.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

It is a cold and snowy night in St Hilary. I drive up to the village hall. All is quiet. I tap on the door.  It creaks open…to expose a whole community packed into a warm space – already chatting and laughing and drinking tea. A blast of hot air and frivolity. An absolute treat to be amongst such a friendly bunch all ready to enjoy themselves. And enjoy ourselves we do.

You always think you know Oscar Wilde = that you are au fait with every quip and quiver but no, we all know so little of this clever writer, this scribe of human quirks.

Lord Arthur performed by Martin Harris is positively steaming with aristocratic lunacy – a Bateman come to life, facing out his audience and batting down his batman. Ah, Middlewick performed by Chris Bridgman. Valet, butler, gentleman’s gentleman,player of many parts. Subtle, farcical, multi-talented, the perfect foil.

They do not falter.

We are laughing from the off. We are relishing the peculiar gratification of recognising a line, a title, a character. And then it starts to take a tricky turn. We are being included. Not just eyeballed but persuaded onto the stage. Stage? A chair, a fireplace, a table and a stool just within the curve of our seating. A painting of Lady Savile, young Sybil in fine Edwardian garb, overseeing all of us. And we are suddenly nervous. 

Cries of, Oooh I’m glad to be at the back, go out. We egg on our comrades to join in with that curious mixture of jealousy and relief. It is expertly handled. Hilarious! Properly one of the funniest theatrical experiences to be had. The temperature starts to climb. The macabre nature of the tale unfolds and we accept not only the dark side of our humour but the apparent ease with which the upper class is seen to accept its position outside of the law. Lord Arthur and Middlewick start to play with our sensibilities and we are sucked in. We are all in the clutches of the palmist.

D’you think authenticity is what they’re after in St. Hilary?Clearly not! We want more Lady Clem.

A slightly clunky trip to Venice requires us to take a break and enjoy wine and ice cream while the snow falls outside and the temperature rises inside.

In our cups, we rise to the panto atmosphere and settle into the second act with enthusiasm. Lord Arthur, driven to a carefully controlled distraction by his failure to commit murder, pushes on with Middlewick riding shotgun to the story telling. We are roaring with laughter and starting to wonder how it all will end. 

And end it does. A sorry damp little ending, perhaps a bit like life itself. 

And we are released into the cold, a lot warmer and a little wiser to the power of suggestibility to the gentler mind. It’s all been such nonsense…

There was an Old Person of Ems
Who casually fell in the Thames;
And when he was found, they said he was drowned,
That unlucky Old Person of Ems.


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