Category Archives: Music

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

By: Lewis Carol

Adaption by Mike Kenney

Directed by: Rachel O’Riordan

(4 / 5)

 

Sherman’s Christmas shows are becoming one of my family’s staple events of the Christmas season. For the second year in a row, their main stage show has avoided an overly ‘Christmassy’ offering (last year’s production of ‘The Borrowers’ was one of our stand out shows from 2017) but despite this, they’ve still managed to inject a large dose of festive fun and frivolity in to the production.

Director Rachel O’Riordan has brought together an all-Welsh cast and it’s great to see some familiar faces who you may recognise from other stand-out productions from the last few years. Hannah McPake (who plays the Queen of Hearts) comes from the ‘Gagglebabble’ duo with Lucy Rivers, who also features in the show’s musical line up. Having seen both Wonderman and Sinners Club with Lucy and Hannah, you know you are in for an off-the-wall experience if they are involved.

I’d also recognised Elin Phillips as the Cheshire Cat/Caterpillar (who I saw in Tom Jones the Musical by Theatre Na n’Og), Alexandria Riley the March Hare/Tweedledum who was absolutely incredible in Fio’s production of The Mountaintop in Cardiff’s Other Room pub-theatre, Keiron Self (The Duchess) who also featured in last year’s Sherman Production of The Borrowers along with the hyperactively hilarious White Rabbit Joseph Tweedale.

It’s a familiar cast, but as an ensemble and with the innocence of Alice, played by relative newcomer Elian West, they had wonderful energy and chemistry. I was also glad to see Callum Davies’ debut as the Doormouse, having joined the cast through the Sherman Players and as one of the Sherman’s apprentice actors. It’s great to see new talent being supported by Sherman – and Callum was adorable as the mouse!

Firstly, mad props to designer Hayley Grindle and her team, who created a stunning chequerboard set, which was dazzling and disorientating at the same time! The intimacy of the space in Sherman creates such a lovely, cosy atmosphere and the set and props were clever and creative (the baby pig, the trap doors, the table legs, the ticking clocks, the tiny doors at the end of the corridor, the teacups, mushrooms and roses).

Writer Mike Kinney added his own flair to the show, which did not chain itself to the original book or Disney movie visuals, but found its own voice.

A Duchess with a valleys accent, Tweedledee and Tweedledum with broad Newport accents and a flavour of the Welsh language peppered in dialogue exchanges and songs brought a similar kind of relevance and familiarity that Christmas Panto-goers will know and love.

Having been a life-long fan of valleys Pantomime Dame Frank Vickery who sadly passed away this year, it was lovely to see Keiron Self mimicking the same kind of high-camp, neurotic valleys Mam vibe which always hits home with me!

The littlies in the audience also loved the huge presence and scary-as-hell crazy eyes of Hannah McPake as the Queen of Hearts. Francois Pandolfo’s turn as the hen-pecked, simpering and anxious King was simply brilliant. I hadn’t expected the show to include musical numbers and it added another rich layer to this lovely production, with the cast ensemble vocals (particularly in the ‘Alice’ intro song and refrain) so sweet-sounding and warming.

Another standout song which children will love (and you’ll see them mimicking it in the foyer afterwards, no doubt) was a song about Alice’s baby sister (who it turns out has a head of a pig). It’s possible you may also have the ‘Wah wah wah…’ song in your head for the rest of the evening.

I had two ‘mini-critics’ of my own with me, age 9 – and they are typically the harshest of critics and don’t pull any punches. What were their final thoughts?

“Why did Alice not have blonde hair?!” said one of the littlies, who was completely exasperated with this minor detail. I explained this was a theatre show – not a ruddy Disney movie. Things always change on stage.

“Still – everyone knows Alice has blonde hair…also, I thought the Wah Wah Wah song went on for ages.”

Riiiiiiiiiight – so what would your marks out of five be, I asked them both – dreading the answer.

“I’d give it 3.5 stars.” Mini Critic 2 said.

Sheesh! What about Mini Critic 1?

“Definitely a 4.5 – I thought the singing was lovely and they were really funny.”

Jeez, maybe the Queen of Hearts was right about kids! I also couldn’t believe that these two did not share my enthusiasm for the Jam tarts which the Sherman had so thoughtfully provided for their guests on opening night.

“Look kids – JAM TARTS…WOWWWWW!” It doesn’t take a lot to get me excited, I admit.

“Meh…don’t like Jam Tarts.”

I tried threatening them that if the Queen of Hearts heard their comments, she’d have their heads off but….

Kids today! You can lead them to a finely tuned production of Alice, but you can’t make them eat the Jam Tarts or get over the fact that Alice didn’t have blonde hair.

Ultimately though – we all agreed this was a great little show, which got us feeling very excited indeed for Christmas (oh, and I still have the Wah Wah Wah song circling my head!).

Go see it – you won’t regret it!

A response to Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”

Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”

We were very pleased to see some of the priority areas in the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”

In particular we were interested in Commitment 2 below

We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.

ACW then go onto make a series of intentions (below) for where they want to be in 2023 (5 years)

We will be able to demonstrate clearly that all our funding programmes promote and contribute to equality and diversity

There will be a narrowing of the gap between those in the most and least affluent social sectors as audiences and participants

We will develop the creative work of disabled artists by funding “Unlimited” commissions and developing a scheme similar to “Ramps on the Moon” operated by Arts Council England

We want to introduce a “Changemakers” scheme placing BAME and disabled people in senior executive positions in the arts

We want to see a doubling of the number of disabled people in the arts workforce

We want to see a doubling of the number of Black and Minority ethnic backgrounds in the arts workforce

We want to have introduced an Arts Council Apprenticeships scheme designed to provide opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds

We will have achieved a trebling of the number of BAME and disabled and on APW boards of governance

We have been in discussion with a number of colleagues in the arts sector in Wales to request a personal response to Commitment 2 and are pleased to share their responses below. Please do get in touch if you would like to contribute.

ACW are currently asking for responses to their Corporate Plan and future Lottery funding priorities from members of the public,  you can make an online response at this link .

Or attended one of the physical meetings. The public meetings associated with the consultation will take place at Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham (30 November), Volcano, Swansea (10 December), Riverfront Newport (7 January 2019), Aberystwyth Arts Centre (11 January 2019) and Pontio, Bangor (21 January 2019).

Further details are available on the Arts Council of Wales website. The consultation closes on 15 February 2019.

Carole Blade, Creative Producer

Coreo Cymru

During 2019, Bombastic and Coreo Cymru will be hosting Family Dance Festival, a 70-minute entertaining and interactive dance programme for families, presented free of charge in theatre foyers and outdoors during the Easter holidays. Piloted in 2017 and further developed in 2018, Family Dance Festival features three Wales-based professional dance companies and local youth groups at each venue plus taster workshops for all, framed within a bilingual (Welsh/English) context and supported with accessible shows and feedback systems.

Our 2018 programme delivered an accompanying training and seminar event to promote Audio Description, resulting in the first Welsh language audio described live performances. In 2019, we will also offer BSL interpreted shows and focus on developing an audience and appetite for these services by actively forging relationships with members of the blind and D/deaf communities. We will do this through visits to local support centres, clubs and groups, offering programme insight and critically supporting a dialogue, asking questions to inform our deliver methods and to reveal a wider view of general provision, requirements and needs. Working in collaboration with Creu Cymru’s Hynt and the local venue, we will gather data to support general approaches to accessible practice in Wales starting with visits to local clubs and later request feedback relating to their FDF experience.

We will again work with Audio Describer Ioan Gwyn, who benefited from FDF2018 bespoke training programme and toured with the company offering both Welsh and English language descriptions. We will also work with experienced BSL interpreter Sami Thorpe of Elbow Room, to support the text based work and our reach. Their understanding of the target audience and experience within the performing arts, coupled with our plans to consult with individual service users through visits to their respective clubs and groups, prior to the tour, will enable the means and structure for a quality service. Ioan and Sami will work with the Front Of House staff at each venue to ensure quality customer care of our accessible audiences, positioning themselves at the box office to welcome and familiarise. Where possible we will integrate Ioan and Sami into the actual performance to positively reinforce inclusiveness and will create specific feedback forms to inform delivery and methods.

Gareth Coles / Voluntary Arts Wales Director / Cyfarwyddwr Celfyddydau Gwirfoddol Cymru

The second commitment in the Arts Council of Wales’ new Corporate Plan recognizes that the challenge is to increase and diversify participation in the publicly-funded arts. But levels of participation in different forms of creative activity may actually be very high, as people practice their creativity in libraries, church halls, pub function rooms and on kitchen tables and bedroom desks. Voluntary Arts Wales estimates that there are around 4,000 community and amateur creative groups in Wales. But these voluntary and everyday creative activities may not benefit from public subsidy, and therefore may not regularly appear on the radar of public funders.

There is a rich and diverse ecology of the arts in Wales: an ecology that we believe includes amateur, everyday creativity as well as the professional arts, and in which all elements are interdependent and mutually supportive. An attempt to engage more people in the publicly-funded arts might start with an appreciation of the creativity that people choose to practice themselves. Rather than see a deficit of engagement in the arts, we might recognise the cultural assets and activities that already exist within communities across Wales, and build stronger links with the publicly funded arts.

 Diversifying governance

In 2016, Voluntary Arts conducted a project called Open Conversations to improve our understanding of creative cultural activity in Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities across the UK. We convened an Advisory Panel of experts in BAME creative activity, who made introductions, accompanied staff on visits, and met regularly throughout the project to discuss findings. Voluntary Arts staff and Expert Panel members conducted long, unstructured and informal conversations with practitioners across the UK. At the end of the project, we invited the Panel members to become Trustees of Voluntary Arts, and now 5 of our 11 Board members are from BAME backgrounds. As a result of this work, we became the first arts organisation to win a Charity Governance Award for Board Inclusion and Diversity.

We have also sought in recent years to celebrate the excellent work that exists in the voluntary arts sector to champion diversity, through our annual Epic Awards. Get the Chance was a recipient of the Celebrating Diversity award in 2017.

Increasing participation

Our Drawn Together project, a partnership with Coast Lines, has engaged over 2,500 people of all ages in producing over 5,000 observational drawings – creating a collective visual representation of Wales in 2018 (now on display in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff). The feedback shows that 96% of participants felt happier and more positive as a result, but the majority weren’t creatively active, or involved in any arts or community groups. We believe this worked because we took the project to places where people convene: in existing community groups, libraries, cafes, care homes, workplaces and schools. We worked with Big Issue vendors in Cardiff, residents living with dementia in a care home in Pembrokeshire, RNLI volunteers in Aberystwyth and farmers in rural Denbighshire. A majority of project participants now want to continue their creative practice.

Branwen Davies

Writer/Theatre Maker

I welcome this commitment. We all should. We all benefit from a wider diversity of people enjoying and taking part in the arts.It needs to be ever evolving and new energy and life bought in. We all have skills, experience and stories to share. Quite often I find we are ignorant or unaware of challenges facing others and it needs to be addressed and challenged and become second nature not a box ticking exercise.

In uncertain times socially and politically, especially where people feel threatened and surrounded by divisions and threats, the arts can play a pivotal role in confronting fears and open channels of communication. We are social animals. We need to seek each other out. We need to go knocking on doors and meet face to face and not rely so much on social media to connect.

I constantly bang on about the transformative power of the arts! It’s life-enhancing – music, theatre, images, installations, dance etc in all it’s glorious forms. They enable us to communicate, engage and express ourselves and that positive experience can spill out in to all areas of life. It gives us an emotional literacy and helps us try and make sense of the world and our surroundings. It infuriates me that music and drama and literature are constantly threatened within the education system and that there are less opportunities from an early age to engage and benefit. Mental health issues, anxiety and lack of confidence is on the rise in schools and I am in no doubt there is a direct link. The arts are essential to our wellbeing and the earlier we are exposed the better. It is also vital to ensure that there are opportunities for all ages and that it isn’t all focused on youth but continuous in to old age.

It has to start with a conversation – what are the complex needs of different cultures, genders and abilities in Wales? For a small nation our diversity and needs are huge! There is no one size fits all. What are the present weaknesses and gaps and challenges and how do we approach change and a new model of addressing and implementing things for the benefit of all? It’s essential to give a voice to those who aren’t usually given a platform and we must empower those who don’t think their story is of value. We also need to showcase and showoff what we can offer so that people are aware of the possibilities and the work that is and can be created.

The image of the arts needs to be changed so that people feel that they can take ownership and that it belongs to them. It’s up for the current gate keepers not to just welcome and implement an open door policy and a willingness to listen but to actually do the ground work and seek people out face to face. This connection and nurturing needs to be sustained. We have the talent, skills and expertise in Wales but we need, especially in times of funding cuts to pool resources and collaborate and communicate much better than we already do and to be in regular contact and communicate and share knowledge with each other.

My background is in playwrighting and one positive experiences I have had was ‘The Fresh Ink’ initiative with the Sherman Theatre where over a period of 10 weeks I visited St Teilo School in Llanedeyrn, Cardiff. I worked with a group of students who had never visited the theatre and who had little confidence or interest in writing. Allowing them to step away from thinking and writing academically, encouraging them to find their own voice and to take ownership of their language and rhythms of speech the students grew in confidence and produced extremely moving and passionate short plays that were then performed by professional actors at their school in front of their peers. Their reaction and their pride in their words and stories was empowering. For the first time some of them felt they had created something of worth and value and were proud to share it. The Sherman are currently running a playwrighting scheme for similar students to whom opportunities have been limited. The weekly sessions are free of charge and transport is provided. The students work will be performed at the Sherman in the spring.

 

 

Adeola Dewis

Artist, researcher, academic and TV presenter

I have just read the corporate plan. I feel little excitement although I think the targets are attractive. My main contribution to this goes back to the idea of getting out of offices and on to the streets, into community spaces without an agenda and seeing what one can learn.

This feels like wanting to do research and already knowing the answer. I think its problematic in its genesis.

Of course the key is the youth, the next generation but I also believe that bodies like the ACW already have a public image and in order to broaden its public perception (increase participation and attendance in publicly funded arts), honest work will need to be done from the inside, beyond inviting token BAME individuals to be on their board. This crucially involves getting to know who you are working with and for and perhaps getting your ‘targets’ from the people and what matters to them rather than the governments with their outward facing strategies.

I am struggling to articulate a coherent response to that as I believe the response would need to be rooted in research. What I mean is, we are talking about arts participation, but that is just ‘our’ arts. There are groups and communities making ‘arts’ and doing their thing that get washed over for various reasons. What is at the core of the desire to increase participation? What are ‘more diverse’ communities and groups already doing and how do we foster conversations that facilitate an equal space for voice and visibility and limits the threat of appropriation.

 

Bethan Marlow

Writer 

First of all, the fact that these goals and priorities have been set is fantastic because it means we’re really acknowledging that this is a problem. There are many, many people still feeling excluded from the arts (not just as audience members but as people wanting to work in it too) so having a goal to change that can’t be anything but a good thing.

How will it actually be achieved?…….. action. Action by all. Everyone, every single one of us currently working in the arts needs to assess our ways of working, our processes and avenues of finding collaborators and we need to really question how inclusive we’re been the past. And if we haven’t been inclusive, or inclusive enough, we MUST, must make change. From hiring to casting to finding audiences we must continuously ask ourselves whether we’re doing enough to make sure that ALL people feel invited. I sometimes feel like I’m the P.C police these last few years (I’m sure my co-workers feel it to!) because I have made a conscious decision to ask the difficult questions and speak up for those not in the room. And it’s not always comfortable. It makes people uncomfortable but the only reason we all feel uncomfortable is because we know there’s a problem. “Have we gone to all lengths possible to find BAME actors that can audition for this part?”, “Our focus should be on finding female musicians”, “have we considered Welsh learners for this part?” I don’t ask these questions to make people feel guilty, I’m doing it so that we can create active change so that we’re not guilty of being exclusive. We need to keep reminding each other of being inclusive until it becomes second nature.


Abdul Shayek

Director of Fio

I guess my major reflection on this has to be that whilst we have a statement being made by ACW which I believe is the right one. What seems to be missing is the response from arts leaders who have the resources to really make a difference. I guess unless a firmer and clearer picture is presented in terms of the sharing of power and resource, the inevitability is that this will remain words on a page. We, have to question how a sector which is led by same people will suddenly decide this needs to be prioritised just because ACW has said so, we need to go further and find other more innovative solutions where power is shared more equally?

Review: Cardiff Boy at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(5 / 5)

Kevin Jones’ monologue Cardiff Boy is a nostalgic jump into the 90’s with a story as relevant today as it was in the 90’s. A story of male friendship that explores toxic masculinity with a killer 90’s soundtrack.

Narrated by “the quiet one” of the group, the story follows a group of young Cardiff lads as we join them on a night out. The use of set, sound and lighting design really add to Jones’ descriptive and emotive piece, which is guided well by director Matthew Holmquist and actor Jack Hammett.

Jones’ writing in this piece has its strength in the language. Whilst the plot is fairly basic, it is the expression of the characters that really stands out. Jones uses a clever mix of comedy and archetypal characters to juxtapose the hard hitting moments of the play. This works very well and makes the play relatable, enjoyable whilst also saying something unique.

There’s more you want to know about the characters and paths that are left unexplored. But not in an unsatisfying way. Details such as the protagonist’s relationship with his father is touched upon, but quickly brushed over by the protagonist. A detail that could be explored, but the lack of clarity of which is harrowingly too real for many young men.

When the audience enter the space of The Other Room, we leave behind Porters, the pub within which the theatre resides. However, with Cardiff Boy, The Other Room literally feels like the other room of the pub, such is the strength of the set design.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

 

Sitting down you’re greeted by benches and chairs scattered throughout the room, with tables on which to rest your drinks. And as Hammett wanders between you and the other audience members, it is hard not to feel a strong sense of place.

This is heightened with the hanging photographs of 90’s Cardiff, which act as a sort of scrapbook of the protagonist’s photography collection. Photography and perception is used at various times by the protagonist to set the scene, with the city and locations generally described in great detail. Looking around at these fragments of Cardiff hanging from the ceiling, creates a very evocative feeling that makes it easy to get drawn in.

The directing of Matthew Holmquist is another strength of this piece. Not an easy piece to take on, such is the temperamental nature of the script. Without a brave director, that temperament could easily become a major flaw. But, the tone of the piece is handled brilliantly by Holmquist who allows the moments of emotion time to breath, without letting them take over.

Jack Hammett does a good job of portraying the protagonist and his mates as he bops around the room. In particular moments of vulnerability, which defines his “quiet” character, stand out. Ultimately a play about difference in men, Hammett does a great job in portraying this.

The use of sound is crucial to this play, and it doesn’t fail to impress. The soundtrack is obviously brilliant for anyone who enjoys 90’s music. Often used to comedic effect, the music, like the photographs, has a deeper meaning to the protagonist of the piece. Sound is also key in setting the scene and does so well.

The only issue for sound designer Joshua Bowles to work on would be that the level of the sound often drowns out Hammett’s voice. On occasion this works, for example in the club, where you can never hear anyone anyway, however, probably an occurrence too regular were that the desired effect.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

The use of lighting from Ryan Stafford is understated. Often going unnoticed until you try to see it, the lighting adds to the overall piece well. A tough play for lighting, as the stage is the entire room, Stafford manages to keep it effective without distracting. Even when there are flashing lights, you barely notice it because the music, direction and acting are all working together with the lighting to set the scene.

Perhaps this is the biggest compliment to Cardiff Boy and Red Oak Theatre as a wider company. A company that views the roles of the designers as importantly as the director, writer or actor. Something that is weirdly rare when you consider how well it has worked in Cardiff Boy and how vital these professions are to the theatre industry.

It’s good also to see that with this in mind, Red Oak are committed and passionate about developing young artists with a paid assistant director (Nerida Bradley) and assistant designer (Lauren Dix). A company no doubt restricted by a budget won’t always do this, so it’s nice to see Red Oak committing to young artists in this way.

Along with this, it is heartening for a piece that started at a scratch night, to grow into such a strong piece of theatre. Again showing Red Oak’s commitment to new work and new artists.

Overall, Cardiff Boy is a wonderful production. It’s hard to say anything stands out in this production as everything works so well together to achieve its aim. However, April Dalton’s design, assisted by Lauren Dix, is phenomenal and deserves recognition.

The play’s greatest strength is the team behind it because with another team, and another company, Jones’ emotive script could be easily forgotten.

Cardiff Boy by Kevin Jones
Presented by Red Oak Theatre
Running From: 30 October – 11 November 2018
Performed at The Other Room, Cardiff
Director: Matthew Holmquist
Cast: Jack Hammett
Designer: April Dalton
Lighting Designer: Ryan Stafford
Stage Manager: Joshua Bowles
Sound Designer: Joshua Bowles
Producer: Ceriann Williams
Assistant Director: Nerida Bradley
Assistant Designer: Lauren Dix

Review Passion, NDCWales/Music Theatre Wales by Judi Hughes

 

 

Photo credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;

Wales Millennium Centre, 23 October 2018

Review by Judi Hughes

(4 / 5)

 

Passion is a work for voice and body, dance and opera, written by French composer Pascal Dusapin. Written in 2008 it is based on the Orpheus legend. This production was created in collaboration by NDC Wales and Music Theatre Wales.

Directors: Michael McCarthy & Caroline Finn

Conductor: Geoffrey Paterson

Him: Johnny Herford (Baritone)

Her: Jennifer France (Soprano)

Design: Simon Banham

Lighting design: Joe Fletcher

Sound: Sound Intermedia

Dancers: Cyril Durand-Gasselin, Nikita Goile, Ed Myhill, Julia Rieder, Malik Williams, Queenie Maidment-Otlet

Vocal Ensemble: EXAUDI

Ensemble: London Sinfonietta

To give some context to this review, I decided to see Passion for several reasons: I like the work of NDC Wales, I have seen some of Caroline Finn’s choreography and feel I like and appreciate the way her mind works; I have seen several pieces by Music Theatre Wales and like the alternative aspect that they bring to their work; I have seen some great dance with live music and more recently I have begun to appreciate opera. A contemporary performance that puts all these things together seemed to be something I shouldn’t miss.

Grateful to the programme for some useful advance information, I was armed with the basis of the story based on the Orpheus legend and the roles that the characters played. I was a bit disappointed with the publicity for the show, which gave no indication of the splendidly staged production that I was about to see.

I sat in the audience waiting for this opera dance to begin and when it began I thought, ‘how is this going to work then?’ Slowly and step by step all the elements grew together and what seemed to be impossible came together to make the whole.

The lighting & design were amazing and essential parts of this production. All the elements of dance, opera, live music, vocals and soundscape worked together and were enveloped by it. The blue ladder was so engaging that it was almost another character and watching the production scene by scene became like seeing a series of beautiful paintings over and over again.

At first the ‘others’ seemed surplus but gradually they were woven into this complex collage, responding to the music and soundscape, giving rhythm and life to the work. The sounds of an intake of breath were haunting, nightmare-like and helped to create the atmosphere of the imagined underworld.

The quality of choreographer and skill of the dancers worked seamlessly alongside the male and female opera singers. Both had strong voices and whilst I couldn’t always make out the words, their interpretation and vocal agility was wonderful to hear. Together they told this tale of lost and dying love, dramatic and ethereal in their presentation.

The stunning imagery created by the set and lighting designers, especially commissioned for this project are absolutely central to the work. Production images by Clive Barda are available on the Music Theatre Wales website: http://musictheatre.wales/productions/passion

‘Lighting always plays a big part in the emotional dramaturgical path…the set is absolutely beautiful. Simon’s work is such a joy to light because it has this wonderful contrast in texture and colour…’ Joe Fletcher, Lighting Designer on Simon Banham’s design.

All credit must go to what must have been an incredible amount of hard work from all of the performers, creators and collaborators. I was unexpectedly riveted to the story they told and absorbed in the whole aspect of the show.

The production is currently touring and can next be seen at

LOWRY, SALFORD

Tuesday 6 November

THEATR CLWYD, MOLD

Saturday 10 November

La Cenerentola, WNO Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff  by Barbara Michaels

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Cinderella story with a twist, Rossini’s Cenerentola has all the magic of the fairy-tale –and more. The composer’s sparkling score, with the lightness of touch that characterisesso much of Rossini’s work, lifts it up even further. This revival by the WelshNational Opera , first performed back in 2007, cleverly uses a clutch of talented Italian singers performing the central male characters, giving extra appeal when touring to European cities.

This is comic opera at its best. Cenerentola keeps most of the ingredients of the fairytale with which we are familiar, with one notable exception. There is no glass slipper.

Instead we have a sparkling bracelet – two, to be exact. – the reason being that when the opera was conceived, in Rome back in 1817, it would have been considered bad form to show a lady’s ankles on stage.

Act I opens with the Cinderella of the story, here named as Angelina, slogging away at the housework, in the crumbling castle overun by mice where she slaves away trying to cope with the demands of her two ugly sisters Clorinda and Tisbe and trying in vain to get some sign of affection from her self-important stepfather Don Magnifico – portrayed with gusto by Fabio Capitanucci. His evident enjoyment of the role, coupled with a sonorous bass, makes this singer a perfect choice for the part.

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught has a voice of exceptional depth and clarity which calls forth our sympathy as she is vilified and hassled by Clorinda (Aoife Miskelly) and Tisbe                                                                                                                                         (Heather Lowe), both of whom give great performances as the two throughly nasty stepsisters who make Angelina’s life a misery. The arrival of Alidoro (Wojtek Gierlach),officially the Prince’s tutor and mentor but actually a kind of wizard in place of the traditional fairygodmother, disguised as a beggar, hints at the chnages to come. Angelina’s kindness convinces him that she is the bride for his Prince Don Ramiro (Matteo Macchioni). Macchioni’s pleasant tenor blends well with Erraught in their duets, but with the change of identity – his valet Dandini (Giorgio Caoduro) masquerading as the Prince andvice versa – it is the latter whose performance in Act II is of particular note.

Set against a minimalist backdrop presided over by a giant fireplace centre stage, WNO’s revival is notable for its attention to detail – watch closely in order not to miss any of this.

The stepped stage could be hazardous but at Sunday’s performance any possible pifalls were dexterously avoided, not least by the team of dancers that make up the pose of mice that is a feature of this production, swishing their tails and gesturing on stage throughout. So enchanting are the make-believe rodents and so expert their delivery of revival director and choreographer Xevi Dorca’s great choreography that they are at times in danger of diverting our attention from the main action as the story unfolds.There is a cleverly portrayed storm, an overturned coach, and much more to excite as Dandini and the Prince change back to their true persona and Anglina/Cinders dream comes true.

A happy-ever-after ending – although it is rather a shame that Rossini’s Cinders is still in her kitchen dress when she marries her Prince. She does wear a sparkling tiara, but a bridal gown would have been nice. Other costumes – among them those worn by WNO’s legendary chorus – are colourful yet traditional in some respects, so why not keep this one?

There are underlying themes – good triumphs over evil, etc etc – but this pantomimic take on Rossini’s popular comedy is fun and overall should not be taken too seriously.

Now touring

Music: Gioachino Rossini

Libretto; Giacopo Ferretti

Director: Joan Font

Revivial Director/Choreographer: Xevi Dorca

Barbara Michaels 

Review, Kitty MacFarlane, Record Journal Live, Gwaenysgor Village Hall by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

On a cold Autumn evening, I ventured through the country lanes of North East Wales to the village of Gwaenysgor. It seems a very innocuous place to attend a gig with one of folk music’s brightest upcoming stars. Yet the small village hall, nestled in a corner just off the main road, was the perfect setting for an evening with Kitty MacFarlane. No sound system. No microphone. No fancy stage lighting. This was just Kitty and her acoustic guitar.

Hosted by the Record Journal Live, this wasn’t your average concert. In many ways, this was the epitome of a gig organised and run by people who are passionate about bringing live music to the local community. There’s something quite special about wandering in and finding your name written on a piece of paper, ready to be ticked off; being handed a cup of tea in a random mug that’s been poured out of a stainless steel teapot; entering into a hall whose tables and chairs have had to be laid out beforehand. No technology. No paid bar staff. Just a warm and friendly atmosphere into which MacFarlane’s gentle vocals and whimsical guitar chords beautifully contribute.

Beginning with ‘Only Human’, MacFarlane proceeded with a delectable mixture of stories and songs. It was a fascinating insight into both her songwriting process as well as her wider world. From it, I sensed a deep affinity with nature. There was clearly a deep connection to her local area too – the Somerset Levels. To be given a context to songs like ‘Man, Friendship’, written in response to the 2014 floods, a picture of which adorns the cover of her debut album, gave them an extra dimension. Told with light humour and gentle passion by MacFarlane meant that they became ever more compelling too. Such light humour peppered most of her anecdotes. Her passion was especially evident when it came to ‘Glass Eels’. Introducing the song, she recounted how she’d spent a day with some wildlife conservationists, studying these fascinating creatures. Such an experience clearly left its mark on her, her continuing interest in eels all too evident and somewhat infectious too. It gave a real insight into the careful crafting that has gone into each of her songs. Every one featured in this set had a tale to tell, and was sung with tender conviction.

One of the most captivating moments in this set came during her rendition of David Francey’s ‘Saints and Sinners’. With the guitar placed to one side, this was Kitty MacFarlane truly unplugged. If it wasn’t enough to enjoy the sole sound of her melodious voice, once the familiarity of the chorus had been claimed by the audience, they joined in with her to create a finish to the song that was truly transcendental and awe-inspiring. It perfectly encapsulated the emotion of the whole evening.

Kitty MacFarlane is as warm and welcoming offstage as she is on. She has received huge commendations for her debut album Namer of Clouds, and rightly so. It is a superb record that deserves your listening ear. In some respects, the twee surroundings of a local community hall is exactly where you expect her to be. To hear her live is a real treat. To be in such an intimate environment when you do is a bonus. The Record Journal has tapped into something here. They’ve kept it sweet and simple. On this occasion, it suited MacFarlane’s performance perfectly. Stripped back and laid bare, this was folk at its finest. A concert that was well worth attending.

Click here for tour dates and further info.

gareth

Audio Information on The Last Five Years by Leeway Productions

Leeway Productions supported by Wales Millennium Centre, and in partnership with Blackwood Miners Institute presents

THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Written and composed by JASON ROBERT BROWN ­­­­­­­­
A hit both off-Broadway and internationally, The Last Five Years comes to Wales for the very first time.

This ground-breaking production combines an emotionally powerful score with sign language and beautiful movement by award-winning deaf choreographer Mark Smith.

This intimate musical charting New Yorkers Cathy and Jamie’s passionate five-year relationship is an affecting tale of love found and lost. By turns funny and poignant, with catchy tunes and a clever chronological twist, The Last Five Years will keep you riveted from beginning to end… or should that be from end to beginning?

Supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Welsh Government and the National Lottery.
Every performance of The Last Five Years is accessible to D/deaf, deafened and hard of hearing audience members, with open captioning and integrated sign language to be enjoyed by all.

For full tour dates and booking information, visit www.leewayproductions.com

 

Leeway Productions â chefnogaeth gan Ganolfan Mileniwm Cymru, ac mewn partneriaeth â Sefydliad y Glowyr Coed Duon

THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Ysgrifennwyd a chyfansoddwyd gan JASON ROBERT BROWN

Ar ôl llwyddiant eithriadol oddi ar Broadway ac yn rhyngwladol, daw The Last Five Years i Gymru am y tro cyntaf erioed.

Cyfuna’r cynhyrchiad arloesol yma sgôr ddirdynnol gydag iaith arwyddion a dawnsfeydd hardd y coreograffydd byddar mawr ei glod, Mark Smith.

Mae’r sioe gerdd onest yma am gariad a thorcalon yn dilyn hynt Cathy a Jamie, cariadon o Efrog Newydd, gan daflu golau ar bob cam o’u perthynas pum mlynedd tanbaid. Gan blethu’r doniol a’r teimladwy, gyda chaneuon bachog a chronoleg stori glyfar, bydd The Last Five Years yn eich cadw chi ar flaen eich sedd o’r dechrau un hyd at y diwedd… neu dylwn ddweud o’r diwedd i’r dechrau…

Mae pob perfformiad o The Last Five Years yn hygyrch i aelodau cynulleidfa sy’n drwm eu clyw neu’n fyddar, gyda chapsiynau agored ac iaith arwyddion yn rhan annatod o’r sioe.
Cefnogwyd gan Gyngor y Celfyddydau Cymru, Llywodraeth Cymru a’r Loteri Genedlaethol.

Y Daith: www.leewayproductions.com

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

 

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

 

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

Party at the Park Cardiff, 28th August 2018 by Barbara Hughes-Moore

I was lucky enough to attend Party at the Park last week, a fantastic festival which featured a superb line-up of beloved stars of the 1970s and 80s at Bute Park, Cardiff. With more fantastic musical acts than Depot 2018, and none of Burning Lantern‘s Queue-Gate drama, Party at the Park 2018 is the best festival I’ve had the pleasure of attending.

Now to the acts themselves: Big Mac’s Wholly Soul Band started off the musical line-up with a brassy bang, getting the party started with energetic renditions of Living in America, Get On Up and Proud Mary.

Next, we were treated to a vibrant set by Odyssey, a group responsible for some of those best floor-filling dance hits in living memory; of that dynamic discography, we were blessed with electric renditions of Native New Yorker, Inside Out, Don’t Tell Me Tell Her, and perhaps the most iconic of an exemplary back catalogue: Going Back to My Roots.

Next up was T’Pau (aka Carol Decker), who came on to perform such hits as her joyfully synthy bop Heart and Soul, the Frankenstein-inspired power ballad China in Your Hand, and melancholic new song Run. Carol Decker’s powerful, effortless voice has never sounded better, and she had such a wonderful, natural rapport with the audience and her fantastic backing singer/ tambourinist.

Special guest Tony Hadley, of Spandau Ballet fame, performed a brilliant set that incorporated some of his greatest hits with some lively new material, backed by a tremendously talented band. As with Carol Decker, Hadley’s stadium-sized pipes have never sounded better, belting out new hits like the James Bond-esque Take Back Everything and the nostalgia-infused Tonight Belongs to Us. But there was little that could match the nostalgic heights of Gold and True, two of Spandau’s finest songs, and the near-spiritual sound of the crowd belting out every lyrical inflection, as one.

The festival closed with headliners Al McKay’s Earth Wind & Fire Experience, reuniting the band’s past members to honour the legacy of Maurice White, the group’s co-founder and co-frontman who sadly passed away in 2016. The band who brought us Boogie Wonderland, Shining StarSeptember and more brought down the house – the quality of the live music was stunning, with every singer, dancer and musician at the very top of their game.

On a non-musical note: there were at least four bars situated onsite, and a number of street food stalls that kept the queues relatively small and fast-moving. They even had a fun fair and a VIP area; and, in addition to the tent that housed the main stage, there were two other disco tents playing piped music. These were all good additions, but they often drowned out the music from the main stage unless you were right near the front.

Party at the Park 2018 in Cardiff was a roaring success – from the sheer number of high quality acts on the billing, to the ready availability of food and drink of all sorts on offer, and the beautiful location of Bute Park – roll on next year’s festival!