Category Archives: Music

Top Tunes with Catherine Paskell

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

 Hi Guy, sure, I’m an independent theatre director. I’m from Cardiff and I run a new writing theatre company called Dirty Protest. We develop and produce new writing for performance, and that includes full length plays as well as our short play nights.

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’m currently celebrating Janice Long coming back on the radio. I used to listen to her late night Radio 2 show and at the start of this year, the BBC made a mistake taking her original programme off air to broadcast repeats and playlists. I can’t believe they replaced her with repeats. But, Janice and her original programming is back! BBC Radio Wales has given her her own show and brilliantly, she is choosing her own music playlists rather than having to stick to what she’s told. I love her, and she loves music – I have discovered new bands through her playing upcoming artists on air, as well as music I already love. I’m so pleased she’s back – and broadcasting from Wales!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rg266

In terms of artists, at the moment every day I’m listening to Lady Leshurr’s “Mode” EP – it’s so catchy and I like the comedy mixed with social commentary and the production is great. She brings me joy. There’s a really catchy track called “Juice”.

Weirdly, I’m also watching the “OJ: Made in America” documentary right now, so the two seem to go together, I keep shouting “I got the juice!”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08qldj6/storyville-oj-made-in-america-part-1

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?

McAlmont & Butler “The Sound of McAlmont & Butler”  This record came out when I was a teenager and it sums up that period of my life for me. I’m transported back to 1995 when I listen to it. But also, it’s a real album, in that I have to listen to it from start to finish, in song order. I don’t do that so much today because on a day-to-day level, I listen to Spotify and have thousands of songs I love playing on shuffle. I love the feeling of something I love coming on unexpectedly and I can have a boogie about. My culture of how I listen to music has changed. But this record for me sums up the artistry of the album as a long play listen. And David McAlmont has an incredible soaring voice.

The Mamas & The Papas “If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears” This was the first album I had. It was on cassette and I was in Primary School at Eglwys Newydd, Cardiff. I was enthralled with the sound they created and I went to Whitchurch Library and read a book all about hippies and 60s counterculture. I remember vividly the description of the drug-fuelled parties the Mamas and the Papas used to have and how they had a pool table covered in a drugs buffet. I imagined all the coloured pills and tabs, like very tiny pool balls. I think you’re always influenced by the music you grew up with and that was music my parents introduced me to, as well as contemporary musicians played on Radio 1. I feel lucky that I have a vast access to music, which my parents didn’t have when they were growing up – because I’ve got all the music that they listened to AND the music that’s created now. There’s just a much bigger treasure trove to dip into and discover. And I think this influenced my interests (I did an American Studies degree because I thought that was the most interesting way to become a theatre maker, by learning about the world and travelling to the States and training there). My favourite Mamas and Papas song is “Twelve Thirty”, it sums up what I love about them, it’s beautiful in its sadness and totally pure, with no cynicism.

“Now 30”  1995 was obviously a glorious year for music, well I think so! It was peak Britpop and we had loads of amazing albums that I still love, Pulp’s “Different Class” is one of my favourite albums of all time and came out that year.

Also, Oasis’ “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory”, “The Great Escape” by Blur, Supergrass’ “I Should Coco”, all of these big Britpop bands had landmark albums that year. But I’m picking “Now 30” because when I listen to it, I remember exactly what was happening to me and the world in that year. And also it’s a fantastic way to keep your nostalgia in check, when you remember that not all the music in 1995 was great. That’s the nature of a Now album. Which is a good thing I think. I’m wary of “oh things were better in my day” – that’s kind of what some people were voting for in Brexit. And we see things with these rose tinted specs. But “Now 30” reminds me that in the year we had such glories, we also had Sean Maguire turning his heel from EastEnders to pop singing and the Outhere Brothers releasing “Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)”.

Leonard Cohen “Songs of Love and Hate” When Leonard died last year, his was the artist death that really affected me. Leonard is my favourite artist of all time.

He’s been with me my whole life – apparently he was my birthing music! I saw him live and it was transcendental. I cried when he died and for weeks after. A few days after he had died, I went to an event in ITV Studios and whilst I was waiting, there was a huge wall of tellys tuned to ITV. And they had the news on. There was some sort of news piece about Leonard and I just sat there in the foyer weeping, when a production assistant came to collect me. Even now when I listen to his albums I have a tear. “Songs of Love and Hate” is another LP that benefits from listening from start to finish, to get the story Leonard is telling us.

“Diamonds in the Mine” is an extraordinary song. I love the quality of his singing and the words: a mix of comedy, drunken, angry growling, and a juxtaposition between grandiose and beautiful images, and the everyday. The last chorus makes me laugh and it’s quite shocking too: the way he sings the last “there are no chocolates in your boxes anymore” has such contempt to the way he spits it out. I think when people think of Leonard, they don’t think of that performative side to him. It sounds to me like the song sums up the end of the idealistic 60s. The album came out in 1971 when it was all crashing down. I think Leonard wrote it at a time when everything was also falling apart for him. And I kind of empathise with that sentiment. 10 years ago, it felt like there was a lot of hope. Now, with everything that’s going on in the world, and how the arts in Wales are developing, people feel caught between the natural optimism that artists have, wanting to imagine and create the world we want to live in, whilst we are caught in the reality of the way things are right now. Every time I listen to Leonard’s songs I discover something new, in the lyrics, in the cadence of his voice. All of his songs can morph to fit the time you are listening to them in. He’s always contemporary. I truly love him.

Erasure “Wild”  I am so excited that they are back with a new album. They are one of my favourite bands of all time, maybe because I listened to them when I was young and they have always been around making music that elevates me. I love Vince Clarke’s synths, I love Andy Bell’s voice. I love how when I went to Brazil to direct “Merchant of Venice” last year, the artists and producers also all loved Erasure, and we had a wonderful moment of all coming together through dancing to “Blue Savannah” from the “Wild” album. It’s soaring and uplifting and I love music for how it can bring people together in a shared experience, just like theatre.

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’ve already pre-empted this by talking about some tracks already, haven’t I! “Yes” by McAlmont and Butler. Because whenever I put this on, it’s positive and uplifting. It’s about being strong, about recovery. I love how grandiose the production is, from the first soaring strings it makes my chest burst. Yet the lyrics are very low key, “Yes I do feel better, Yes I do I feel alright”. I love the contrast because that feels very human, to feel a heightened emotion but not have the words to match.

 Thanks Catherine. What’s next for Dirty Protest?

Our next short play night is coming up on 8th June and it’s happening here at Outpost Coffee & Vinyl. It’s happening on Election Night and it’s our response to the general election. The theme we have asked 8 writers to respond to is “Here We Go Again” and it’s going to be a great night.

We also have a lot of Welsh language short play events coming up: we are working with Tafwyl here in Cardiff, as well as the Eisteddfod and Galeri in Caernarfon to stage these around the country.

Then this summer, we are working with the amazing Paines Plough to produce our new play, Sugar Baby by Alan Harris in the Edinburgh Festival as part of their Roundabout programme. Then come September, we start our year of celebratory year of events to mark our 10 year anniversary! We are really looking forward to that, it’s going to be brilliant and everyone can get involved, so it should be a year-long party!

http://www.dirtyprotesttheatre.co.uk/comingup/

 

An Interview with Campbell Lawrie, Paul Hamlyn Club Coordinator and Drama Class Supervisor at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

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

My name is Campbell Lawrie and I am the Paul Hamlyn Club Coordinator and Drama Class Supervisor at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. This is my ninth year with the company but have been working as the Paul Hamlyn Club Coordinator for the last three years.

The Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

http://www.citz.co.uk/about/paul_hamlyn_foundation/

So what got you interested in the arts ?
In first year of secondary school my English teacher thought drama and storytelling would help boost my confidence because at the time I was quite shy. Drama wasn’t a course that was offered at my school so my teacher helped me find courses across Ayrshire – where I’m originally from. As soon as I started performing I fell in love with bringing a story to life and witnessing the effect this can have on others. I was hooked after that and knew that I wanted to use theatre as a tool to change people’s lives.

You coordinate the Paul Hamlyn Club at The Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. Can you please tell us more about this initiative and your role?
The Citizens Theatre was very lucky to be one of five venues across Britain to be gifted a sum of money to identify and tackle the barriers that local, disadvantaged people may encounter when trying to access the arts.

Paul Hamlyn Clubs

My role is to coordinate the different strands of work we deliver in order to do this and also to create relationships with those affected. The role is very hands on. I regularly visit groups and their members in the local community and also welcome the individuals we engage with into the theatre and gain their feedback.

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation is funding the Paul Hamlyn Clubs to “Attract and build relationships with audiences from disadvantaged groups within their local communities.” How has your organisation approached this objective?
The Citizens Theatre was originally approached because of the amount of work we were already carrying out in the local community and across Glasgow. Using the gift we were able to refocus our efforts in attracting the local community to the theatre and there are currently four different strands of work under the Paul Hamlyn Club banner helping to achieve this objective. For those who live in Gorbals area of Glasgow, where the Citizens Theatre company has been based for the past 72 years, we offer heavily subsidised tickets to those who sign up to the Gorbals Card scheme.

http://www.citz.co.uk/about/gorbalscard/

The area is still one of the most heavily deprived areas of Scotland and ensuring our neighbours can attend our shows is our way of thanking those who have supported us over the years. We also run a Deaf Theatre Club working alongside Inkblot Collective to deliver an accessible programme for our Deaf audience and we work with two local schools to help engage a new generation of theatre goers.

http://www.citz.co.uk/Take_part/deaf_theatre_club/

The Paul Hamlyn Citizens is the fourth strand of work. This involves visiting local organisations and charities to discuss the barriers faced in accessing theatre and inviting them to join the PHCitizens to access tickets to shows throughout the year at 50p per ticket. Our PHCitizens ambassadors are always on hand during shows and events to answer any questions or queries those attending through the Paul Hamlyn Club may have.


Have your new audiences chosen to see any specific type of work at your venue?
We have learned that our new audiences are willing to engage with most types of work because they know they have nothing to lose through attending. Our new audiences see coming to the theatre as a social event more than anything and the shows, the free interval ice-creams, the post-show chats etc are all just added extras. There is an amazing atmosphere at Paul Hamlyn events as many stay behind to discuss the shows and this in turn helps create a larger community network. In saying this, comedies and musicals, especially if they are Scottish shows, prove to be more popular than most but Shakespeare, classics and new writing still appeal and have drawn in equally large numbers.

What impact has had this project in your venue had on the larger organisation?
The impact of the project can be seen across the organisation. Every department has been involved in its delivery in one way or another: backstage have provided talks and presentations, FOH ambassadors greet and welcome the wide range of new patrons who come through our doors and one of our box office assistants is even completing Level 3 BSL. Our community work which has been aided through Paul Hamlyn has also been recognised in helping secure some money for our Capital Project. Accessibility is always at the forefront of people’s minds and this has helped emphasise our stance that we are the Citizens Theatre – we exist for and because of Glasgow’s Citizens.

http://www.citz.co.uk/press/release/2.5_million_regeneration_capital_grant_fund_award_marks_new_milestone_in_ci/

In the current funding climate many venues and organisation have very limited budgets. Is it possible to share some of your learning that organisations could implement to support new audiences that doesn’t require large amounts of funding?
Funding obviously plays a huge part in making theatre accessible to all but small things like listening to your local community and sharing your resources/spaces with local organisations or individuals can help strengthen relationships. Finding out what your patrons want you to be and how else they would like to use the building is important in making the patrons feel comfortable in coming through the doors. An extension of this is having dedicated, friendly staff to welcome your new audience. We held an open day event, for example, to promote the theatre and our learning work to local, disadvantaged people.

We held workshops, talks and demonstrations throughout the building while outside a local band played and local organisations and businesses promoted their produce and work. The event cost very little because the local community were very generous in donating nearly everything we required and this in turn strengthened our network and individual relationships. I feel that a lot of the time people prefer putting names and faces to the organisation. Offering unsold tickets to your local contacts is also a good way to engage your new audience.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision In relation to your own project are you aware of any barriers for audiences to access cultural provision.
I think the barriers faced will vary greatly depending on where you are based. The Citizens Theatre is in a highly deprived area with an extremely diverse cultural background meaning we have encountered barriers such as language, affordability and childcare. Some people also feel intimidated entering a building they have only ever walked past or think it isn’t physically accessible. We have heard that a lot of people think theatre is elitist and “not for them”. Transport and programming also come up as common answers to what stops people coming along.
Thanks Campbell, finally some more personal questions. What excites you about the arts? What was the last really great cultural activity event that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

The cast of My Country with director Rufus Norris, gatherer Campbell Lawrie and some of the interviewees from Glasgow.

I genuinely get excited when a theatre show tackles social issues and politics head-on. Any piece of art that encourages debate or triggers a passionate response from its audience while also being entertaining has, in my eyes, achieved its goal. I was very lucky to have worked on the recent production of My Country by National Theatre. My role was to gather information from the Scottish people on their views on Brexit and the political climate following the Brexit vote. Listening to each person’s unique story on how they decided they were going to vote and knowing that snippets of these stories were going to heard by people all over Britain really excited me because the project, like the issue, encouraged debate but this time it was a debate between everyday people – not the media and not the politicians.

http://citizenstheatre.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/my-country-work-in-progress-divides.html

There is, on the other hand, one show that has stuck with me for ten years and remains my favourite piece of theatre – Headlong and Citizens Theatres production of Angels in America in 2007. I have no words to describe how that show made me feel but it did make me want to work at the Citizens Theatre. I guess in that way, that show changed my life.

https://headlong.co.uk/productions/angels-america/

http://www.citz.co.uk

 

Review Sister Act – Venue Cymru by Karis Clarke

 

4 Stars4 / 5

Click on the link below to listen to an audio review of this production by Karis Clarke.

 

This was my first outing to Venue Cymru and I wasn’t disappointed. Set on the stunning North Wales coastline the venue was alive with activity.  The atmosphere was light and expectation high as several audience members dashed around in habits!

Sister Act is the musical comedy based on the movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, and, unless you were living in a convent yourself back in 1992,  it is highly unlikely you don’t have some knowledge of the film. (It’s popularity has ensured a regular repeats on TV at least once a year since circa 1995).

The stage version, unlike the film is set in the diva disco era of the 70’s and features original music from  ALAN MENKEN,  and the general feel of the show has  Mowtown vibe that is more than fitting to the outstanding vocal talents of  the lead.

Alexandra Burke in a scene from Sister Act

But it’s not all about the star in this show.  Deloris Van Cartier is a fantastic character full of witty one liners, side ways glances and comical physicality that Alexander Burke pulls off admirably. However the ensemble made the show for me. The combined talents of the supporting cast were superior. Acting, singing dancing and playing a variety of musical instruments on set allowed for a fluidity which you can sometimes loose with  larger productions. However this cast owned the stage, literally, they knew every inch.  Their management of the stage movement is a credit to Revel Horwood’s direction.  The scene changes were flawless and were choreographed to perfection.

Credit should also be given to the set design, the main stay an impressive church interior yet with the cleaver use of lighting and props  it easily faded into the background and made the transition between church,  nightclub, street, police station and back to church with very little effort.

The musicality was, as one of the songs repeats, ‘Fab -U- Lous  Baby,’ unfortunately this was also a slight disappointment for me as none of the songs from the movie were featured. So although the end of the play saw the majority of the full house clapping and on their feet I am sure if “I will follow him” had been played the roof would have lifted. However the original score was witty, befitting and more than enjoyable.  It’s easy to see how Alan Menken has Oscars under his belt.

Stand out moments of the show were any time the “gangsters” featured. (They stole the show a little bit from the nuns).  …..Joe Vetch (playing Eddie the sweaty police officer who saves the day) singing “I could be that guy ……Sister Mary Robert played by Alice Stokoe, who had a stunning voice singing a very Disney esq type song called “The Life I Never Had”…….. and the scene when the Sisters stand together for Deloris.

All in all there was nothing not to like, the show delivered everything thing it promised. One particular moment I found touching was on the final bow Alexandra Burke broke the fourth wall and you saw her thank the audience.  She genuinely seemed to appreciate the standing ovation they received and this shone through as she skipped off stage laughing with co cast not as Deloris but as herself and within those few seconds, in my eyes I saw  true star quality.

So unless you have lead in your feet and no soul in your heart I defy you not to enjoy this 4 stars production. Unfortunately for North Wales the runs ends on May 27th but you can still catch performances around the UK up until the 3rd September check www.sisteractuktour.co.uk for more details.

Starring ALEXANDRA BURKE and Directed and choreographed by Strictly CRAIG REVEL HORWOOD, Set and Costume MATTHEW WRIGHT (based on TheTouchtone Motion Picture “Sister Act”)

Ward Thomas, Cartwheels Tour, The Ritz Manchester by Gareth Williams

Walking the streets of Manchester on Wednesday evening, it felt like any other visit to the city. With the exception of some TV cameras and a clear police presence, it seemed like business as usual for residents, commuters and tourists. Outside The Ritz, the popular music venue opposite Oxford Road station, heightened security meant that each individual was patted down on entrance. Inside though, it was standard procedure – find the bar, grab a drink, and wait for the music to begin.

There was plenty to be inspired by as a visitor to this city, coming less than 48 hours after a terror attack which left 22 dead and dozens injured at the MEN Arena. A spirit of defiance, to not let this savage brutality determine the way people go about their daily lives, was powerfully present, not just in the streets but inside The Ritz too. The decision of country duo Ward Thomas to go ahead with their planned gig here was met with widespread approval. They had postponed the Northampton leg of their Cartwheels tour 24 hours earlier, out of respect for those caught up in Monday’s bombing. Now, it was time to show solidarity with the people of Manchester, to stand together with them, and choose light over darkness and despair.

They opened with a song that, already powerful, took on a much deeper meaning in light of Monday’s event. Sung under ambient lighting, ‘Safe’ speaks of a place of rest, forgiveness and healing. It also features the incredibly moving statement, ‘You are not what happened to you’. It was the perfect song choice. It spoke right to the heart of this musical city. Here, on this night, were words of faith, hope, and love. Then, for a moment, this nightclub venue became a hallowed church: a minute’s silence to remember those who had lost their lives. Throughout the whole evening, as at this moment, the spirit of togetherness was extraordinary. The applause that rang out afterwards only echoed this further. It was all very moving.

After this emotional tribute, Catherine and Lizzy set about performing their planned set. Suddenly, there was a huge explosion of light and colour that hit the stage. In front of a black backdrop dotted with starry lights, the two sisters splashed great energy and enthusiasm over their country rock records. In contrast, their soulful ballads were marked with sweet harmonies and a simple spotlight. In both instances, the audience were full of applause after each song. It felt almost like a statement of intent. This was a celebration of this city’s musical identity. This is taking nothing away from Ward Thomas however. They deserve applause as artists in their own right. With ‘Cartwheels’, they have created a stunningly beautiful album. To become the first UK Country act to reach No.1 with their material is no fluke. These ladies really do deserve all the accolades that come their way. They write such powerful and emotional lyrics. They tell such great stories. There is a profound, and often universal, depth to their songwriting. And they can now add live performance to their ever-growing list of achievements. This concert, at least, was brilliant.

This concert was also inspiring. Ward Thomas played their part (as did Wildwood Kin, who were supporting them) but it was the audience who made this night special. Instead of staying away through fear, they turned up in their numbers. They responded in perhaps the best way one can to such a terrible, fear-inducing event. This simple choice of turning up, of coming together – this community spirit – sent a message. It was a message of hope, of solidarity, and a sign that love remains triumphant over hate. It was a real privilege and a great opportunity to be in the midst of such inspirational people. A moving and life-affirming night.

Review Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat by Jane Bissett

4 Stars4 / 5

 

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is a familiar story taken from the bible. It is the tale of a younger son, of a favoured wife, being elevated by his doting father and put above his eleven brothers. The brothers, already jealous of their younger brother finally are pushed to action and when their father Jacob gives Joseph the gift of a wonderful new coat and their outrage is complete. The brothers plot to kill Joseph and thus dispose of the problem. However, they fail to complete their plan as they cannot bring themselves to actually commit murder. The answer to this dilemma comes in the form of a travelling slave trader from Egypt and they decide to sell Joseph into slavery. On returning home the brothers tell their father, Jacob, that his beloved son has met with an accident and has been killed by a wild beast and they show him the bloody torn coat as evidence. Meanwhile Joseph has been sold into the household of an Egyptian noble where he works hard and becomes a trusted slave.

However, he catches the eye of the Noble’s wife and is soon accused of wrongdoing. His master has him thrown into prison from which there seems to be no escape. In prison Joseph becomes know for his gift of being able to know the meanings of dreams and this quickly comes to the notice of Pharaoh through his butler, a man who has first hand experience of Joseph’s ability. Joseph is summonsed to Pharaoh’s palace where he is given the task of explaining the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams. Clearly nervous, Joseph tells Pharaoh what his recurring dream means. Egypt will have seven years of bumper harvests followed by years of famine. When the dream comes to pass Pharaoh places his trust in Joseph and puts him in high office and he becomes a trusted Egyptian. During the famine the people are starving and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to try to secure food for their family. The last person they expect to see is Joseph and at first they do not recognise him. Joseph doesn’t make the reunion easy but the family of brothers are eventually reconciled and reunited with Joseph’s parents, so there is a happy ending.

Joseph is a roller coaster ride for the theatre goer of any age. From the moment to curtain rises the production is a vibrant mix of colour and sound to stimulate the senses. From the pens of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joseph is a triumph. They have successfully taken a biblical tale and transformed it into a secular story that bridges the gaps of time and its message has as much meaning now as it had when it was written. Its appeal spans the generations and this was evident by the diversity of the audience what ever their age, gender or religious belief.

Joe McEdderry, gave a convincing and captivating performance as Joseph, his energy on stage is infectious and his smile and demeanour grabs the audience from curtain up right to the last number when he and the cast received a richly deserved standing ovation.

Henry Metcalfe’s choreography was creative and inspiring with many unexpected twists in the tale and lead us to expect the unexpected on several occasions. The costume design was creative and complimented the performances of the actors against a backdrop of scenery which was uncomplicated and did not distract from the telling of the story which in parts had distinctly modern twists and turns and some unexpected characterisations.

The Narrator, Lucy Kay, linked the scenes and lead the viewer on an unforgettable journey of characters, places and far away lands. With the added voices of the children it is a magical experience in which the audience is absorbed into playing an active role and ends in a well deserved standing ovation.

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/DonaldGordonTheatre/Joseph17/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review Sister Act, WMC by Eloise Stingemore

 

5 Stars5 / 5

 

The smash hit musical production returned to the Centre with director and choreograph Craig Revel Horwood from Strictly Come Dancing at the helm. Who gave this tried and tested production that has gone through various permutations since the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film a real musical heart.

Sister Act tells the hilarious story of Deloris Van Cartier, a sassy nightclub singer in 1977/78 in need of witness protection after witnessing a murder. Deloris is hidden in the one place she won’t be found – a convent! Forced to wear a habit, and eat nothing but mutton, Deloris clashes with Mother Superior and begins to lead her fellow sisters astray, until she finds her calling in teaching them to sing.

Alexandra Burke really shines in the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier, each witty line or facial expression is delivered to perfection. However, it is when she opens her mouth to sing, we’re reminded of why audiences voted for her in there millions during 2008 X Factor. Burke’s voice never falters; her dancing is wonderfully expressive and comedic, it is her ability to make her audience laugh while ensuring their feet never stop tapping, makes her truly sensational as Deloris.

This show contains a fabulous group of musicians, who, instead of playing in the orchestra pit, take the role of various characters such as the trumpet playing Mother Superior played by Karen Mann. Who along with Burke are truly at the heart of this warm, funny and entertaining production but they are by no means the only ones. The whole cast displays a great deal of energy and enthusiasm and present as though they are loving life when signing Alan Menken original musical numbers including ‘Raise Your Voice,’ ‘Take Me to Heaven,’  and the show-stopping finale ‘Spread the Love Around.’

 From the first moment to the big finale, the show is wonderful. A perfect lead in Burke, a great cast as well as a superb script and songs have been combined perfectly by the director into perhaps the best show to grace the stage of the Centre in a long time.

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/DonaldGordonTheatre/SisterAct/

 

Review: Rent by Gemma Treharne-Foose

First things first, let’s get one thing clear – I am a steadfast ‘Rent Head’ and after this show – will remain so probably for the rest of my life and I make no apologies for this.

That being said, it’s been a whole 19 years since I was wowed (age 17 – yikes) by Jonathan Larson’s rock opera for a modern age. I wasn’t sure if the years had been kind to this production – would I even like it anymore? The show’s UK tour marks the 20th anniversary of the show.

Rent may have been billed as a parable of the modern age (inspired by Puccini’s opera La bohème), but it was also a snapshot of the 90s era, too: the cusp of the digital revolution, the internet age, the crude expansion of gentrification or ‘hipsterfication’ of previously bohemian neighbourhoods, the effects of AIDS on young communities following the 80s epidemic and scare stories. Maybe it would have lost some of it’s relevance? I had my reservations.

Back in 1998 at Shaftesbury Theatre in London, Rent was still very much in it’s infancy and was at the peak of it’s popularity, having won a shower of critical acclaim stateside (Pulitzer drama prize,four Tony awards, six Drama desk Awards, ‘Best Musical’ Awards and an Obie Award).

In ‘98, this was a show unlike anything else I had seen before. When I last saw it. I was an idiot teenager with a questionable taste in ridiculous infantile men. By the time I emerged from that theatre though, it shifted my view of the world.

But suddenly, my childish attempts to write poetry suddenly had context and purpose. I too wanted to dance on the table wearing spandex and hang from poles singing at the top of my voice like Mimi Marquez, go on protests like Maureen and befriend drag queens just like Angel Schunard.

In fact I did all of things…even though I couldn’t legitimately call myself a bohemian due to my love for global coffee chains. But even so – it didn’t even matter that my poetry was shit! I loved the way Jonathan Larson had pushed boundaries in the theatre world. I even went on to study Theatre and Media Drama and found my own little theatre circle…and my battered Rent CD (original Broadway cast recording) has accompanied me on all my journeys around the world since my 17th birthday.

So how to go about fairly reviewing a show that I have such a strong personal attachment to?

It may have been 19 years since I last saw Rent, but I can certainly see the differences (and improvements).

Lee Proud’s choreography was electric (fans of La Vie Boheme will love the table and chair dance), Angel’s acrobatic dance routine and of course the memorable ‘Tango Maureen’ – better and edgier than I remember at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Anna Fleischle’s set design includes multiple scaffolding layers on all sides and there nice touches – projecting Mark’s film on an old sheet, a trapeze, a pole, moving structures as vehicles for the characters, cages during the song ‘Contact’ – Maureen’s hilarious costume surprise during her protest song.

Rent is centred around a group of young struggling artists in New York’s East Village – they are fighting the property expansion and development which threatens to take over their performance space and remain true to their artforms and to themselves. I know how this sounds! And yes – over the years Rent’s edgy style (and way of incorporating social commentary into a musical) has been mercilessly parodied and skewered by the likes of Team America.

And yet! There are so many layers to unwrap and musical styles to bask in throughout this show…and try as I might even all these years later after seeing the first show in 1998, I couldn’t get through the first three songs without ruining my mascara and blubbing (I also snorted out loud…in front of some minor Welsh celebs in the audience. Oh well!)

It’s sometimes a mistake to get so accustomed to an original cast recording that you can’t imagine anyone else singing those parts. All these years, I had no idea I was loving the voice of someone who would later become the voice of a Disney character (Idina Menzel, the original cast member for ‘Maureen’ went on to become the voice of Elsa, much to the annoyance of parents worldwide who had to listen to ‘Let it go’ 1,000 times a day).

I wasn’t sure how Lucie Jones (an X-Factor contestant – pah!) would handle the role of Maureen. And I was entirely wrong to pre-judge her due to my dislike of the X-Factor because not only did Lucie Jones absolutely SLAY the role of Maureen, she brought out even more of a kooky side to her (and single-handedly inspired me to lose three stone so I can look as amazing as she did in that body stocking! Wow).

Ryan O’Gorman’s sweet portrayal of Collins was beautiful – and his silky baritone vocals not only matched the calibre of the broadway version of Rent but perhaps even went one step beyond it.

The interaction between Leyton Williams (who previously had the title role of London’s Billy Elliot) as the lovely Angel and Collins was a joy to witness – and Layton brought a whole new talent to Angel’s ‘Today for you, tomorrow for me’ routine with astonishing leaps, spins and flips….and all in outrageous heels and a cloak coat.

You might think Jonathan Larson’s energy and optimism in the music and lyrics may come across as syrupy and hammy….but lord knows we need this more in 2017 than we did in 1996 when Rent opened.

For me Rent’s underlying sadness is that for all it’s popularity and influence, writer/composer Jonathan Larson’s early death (age 35) meant that he never got to see any of the success and joy that this musical has brought to people over the last 20 years.

Even all these years later, Larson ‘s story remains relevant and engaging for modern audiences. We are what we own. We’re knee-deep in a culture of mindless McJobs and as Mark and Roger sing: ‘We’re living in America…leave your conscience at the tone’. In the age of deportations and walls and blind gun laws (let along the way the tide is turning against LGBTQ communities), I really do question humanity sometimes.

I don’t know how many terms Donald Trump has or how many years of damage our current generation has ahead of them, but though it all I’ll still listen that old Rent CD of mine and remind myself that ‘We’re Okay’.

Bruce Guthrie’s production and Cardiff’s warm and inviting reception to Rent’s songs show me that there are still good people in the world. And I know this because all of them were mooing, crying, laughing and on their feet by my side at the end.

I’m definitely not leaving it another 19 years before I see this show again!

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/DonaldGordonTheatre/Rent/?view=Standard

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Rent

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff)

Dates: 3-8 April

Book, Music and Lyrics: Jonathan Larson

Directed by: Bruce Guthtie

Director/choreographer: Chantelle Carey

Billy Cullum (Mark Cohen)

Ross Hunter (Roger Davis)

Ryan O’Gorman (Collins)

Layton Williams (Angel Schunard)

Phillippa Stefani (Mimi Marquez)

Lucie Jones (Maureen Johnson)

Shanay Holmes (Joanne Jefferson)

Running time: 2.5hrs (approx)

Produced by: Idili Theatricals Ltd / Theatr Clwyd

The Portrayal of Muslims In the Media, A Personal Response from Amina Elmi

 

Diversity in the media is already a huge issue that is still largely unsolved. As a Muslim, I have found that Muslims are often neglected from talks about diversity. This article aims to start a discussion on why this is and what needs to be done. Even the smallest gradual change will make a difference and will celebrate Britain as a multi-cultural nation.

In the media, we see Muslims play the role of terrorist number 3, speaking in a foreign tongue to intimidate the viewer. Many television shows and films are guilty of this. It’s tiring, stereotypical and only helps to further Islamophobia rhetoric. If that is the only version of Muslims people see, then it is no wonder that people harbour such negative views to a religion they know little about expect from what the media has shown them. Bigotry flourishes in this environment which is why change is required now more than ever.

As well as spreading prejudiced views, it is also giving the younger generation of Muslims the idea that they do not belong. With little to no representation it leaves young Muslims to perceive that the there is no play for them in the media industry. By excluding them, a whole narrative is missing, a unique perspective that won’t be shared. Yes, anyone can write a Muslim character or play one, but they will not be able to understand the unique British Muslim experience. It’s a whole generation of young people only seeing negative portrayals of themselves and accepting that’s how society sees them.

The solution? Muslims in influential roles such as directors and producers. Perhaps most crucially writers. Muslim writers have the ability to write from their own experiences that would resonate to not just Muslim viewers but to everyone. We have far more common than what divides us. If negative perceptions are tackled, then less people will be influenced by bigotry and unjustified hate. With the creation of more Muslim roles we could have more Muslim actors and actresses breaking into the industry.

However, we have seen an emergence of Muslim characters in the past few years. Riz Ahmed, whose career has exploded in the past year has grown from strength to strength. Raised in a Muslim family, he has starred in the Star Wars and The Night Of, the latter earning him a Golden Globe nomination. He is even an advocate of more representation. I highly recommended his speech to Parliament on the lack of diversity in Britain.

Watch Riz Ahmed warn Parliament about the danger of failing to improve TV diversity

Another example of positive Muslim representation, perhaps the most significant is Kamala Khan. A Marvel female Muslim superhero. It is difficult to get across how outstanding and crucial Ms Marvel (a.k.a Kamala Khan) is. She is the superhero the world needs right now.

I am envious of the young girls who get to grow up with a hero that they can see themselves reflected in. Yet I am more overjoyed that she exists and is inspiring girls all over the world.

However, this is a starting point. We need more positive Muslim representation in the media to overpower the toxic portrayals that are being shown today.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms._Marvel_(Kamala_Khan)

http://www.vox.com/culture/2017/2/2/14457384/kamala-khan-captain-america-protest-icon

  • Amina Elmi, @queenchester, Young Critic

Review The Red Shoes, Matthew Bourne Company by Sian Thomas

4 Stars4 / 5

 

I don’t know very much about ballet. In fact, this was my first time ever seeing one. I was completely swept away by the beauty and the elegance of it.

I did manage to follow the story. Although at first I was definitely a little lost. I did pick up the conflict between choosing passion or choosing love, and the eventual consequences that come to light as a result of the character’s decisions.

The dancing was gorgeous. Every single person on stage managed to look beyond elegant, and way beyond beautiful. The music alongside was amazing to see. Everything was so in sync and perfectly aligned, like the cat wasn’t well-practiced, but more like dancing to it was intrinsically within them and not something they had to even think twice about. Like I said, I don’t know very much about ballet. My eyes aren’t critical to the specifics of the dances, but I was unaware of mistakes and critiques in a borderline blissful way. I enjoyed something pretty and stunning. And I really, really liked it.

The setting was cunning, and extremely clever. There were things I didn’t expect to be used at all – like shadows, or smoke, the front of a train, audio of clapping – which I did mistake for the audience – and so forth. The ideas behind the production seemed big and well-thought out. Something daring but equally safe.