The latest film Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis is an interesting and very amusing ‘what if?’ idea about everyone in the world forgetting about the songs written by The Beatles, apart from one man.
That man is Jack Malik, aspiring musician, who’s tried to make it big for over ten years and failed. Now the key to success is in his hands, the ‘poison chalice’ of fame and money is offered to him, but is he ready to pay the price for it when the price is his integrity, his self-respect and his true love?
Of course he is!
What follows is a funny, charming and well-made film, which makes some good points about how art becomes ‘product’, and how success changes people. There’s also some touching moments that avoid overt sentimentality (just), while still being very moving. Including one scene towards the end that’ll make you misty-eyed, but more on that I cannot say. You’ll know it when you see it.
There’s also a nice running joke about other things that have disappeared along with Lennon & McCartney’s music, and a decent cameo from Ed Sheeran. You can’t say fairer than that.
Boyle shows a visual flair, enhancing a script that is polished Curtis, giving it a more universal feel than the usual middle-class London scene, and it’s all the better for it. But it does have flaws.
Hamesh Patel is endearing as Jack, even though his motivation seems muddled at times. While Lily James as his longtime friend/love interest doesn’t really have a lot to do. And her surprise visit to Jack in Liverpool is so confusing to him (and us) that it makes you sympathetic as to why Jack never realised her true feelings.
There’s a good supporting cast, such as Sanjeev Baskhar as Jack’s dad, but Kate McKinnon is wasted as the stereotypical greedy agent, whose sole aim seems to be to buy up all of Malibu. I’ve yet to see her in a role that does justice to her talent.
The ending is also a little odd, and a good cameo from Sarah Lancashire hints at an interesting plot line that is never developed.
However, despite promising more than it delivers, there’s plenty to enjoy here. The film has an innovative idea at its heart, and the real star of the show is the music of the Beatles. Seen in one go, so to speak, you realise just how wonderful the songs are. Who can blame Jack when he decides to ‘re-discover’ them?
Hi Phil, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I am a professional Theatre Director , I work Internationally. I also work as a visual artist.
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. To start off what are you currently listening to?
I am listening to the songs of Irving Berlin. I’m about to direct Noel Cowards play BLITHE SPIRIT at Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall, Suffolk. The production runs from Tue 23rd July 2019 – Sat 31st August 2019.
The play is set in the 1940s so I’m immersing myself in the music of the period. I use music in my work all the time. I often direct shows created by actor/musicians.
In the Autumn this year we will be remounting the National Theatre Wales production of PEGGY’S SONG by Welsh playwright Katherine Chandler and starring Christian Patterson. This is one of a series of plays by Welsh writers in response to the anniversary of the NHS and the unique vision of the glorious Nye Bevan.
The play centres around a character who is a volunteer within the NHS. A volunteer DJ who, by his very being, proves that music can be a healer and how music is essential to our existence because unlike tablets it can touch, disturb and mend our soul. To know more. Come and see us on tour this Autumn. Its a great night out!
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?
1 BLUE Joni Mitchell This is the record of my teenage years
2 EVERYTHING MUST GOManic Street Preachers. I directed Patrick Jones play of the same name that used the music of the Manics
3 TAKE THAT GREATEST HITS….because!!!!!!
4 LADY IN SATIN Billie HolidayI have everything that Billie ever recorded
5 WEST SIDE STORYOriginal Soundtrack The greatest musical of all time
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?
STRANGE FRUIT Billie Holiday A beautiful song that perfectly brings together form and content. Amazing. Never ceases to move me
Hi Patrick great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hello I am a writer living in South Wales. I write plays poetry and film scripts. I have hadd and left or lost 20 jobs before finally going full time writing in 1998. I have three beautiful sons Ethan, Evan and Elian who are my guiding lights. My work includes the plays Everything Must Go, Unprotected Sex and Before I Leave which I am currently adapting into a feature film.
My books include Fuse, Darkness is Where The Stars Are and just published by Rough Trade Books My Bright Shadow and spoken word albums Tongues for A Stammering Time, Commemoration, Amnesia and new work Renegade Psalms in collaboration with John Robb released in September on Louder Than War Records.
I am currently writer in residence with The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales and take words to neglected sections of the community. I live small. I think skies.
Music has always played an important part in my life and writing. I obsessively collect albums, still listen to my vinyl collection and create a playlist for every play I create. Music was always playing in our house as kids from Abba to Demis Rossous to Neil Diamond. It gives me happy thoughts to think of those summer evenings with Sweet Caroline blasting through the 6 ft long grampophone player in our living room! I play guitar badly but throw in a fuzz box and a flange pedal and no one knows the difference.
favourite lyrics would be ;
“All that rugby puts hairs on your chest.
What chance have you got against a tie and a crest.’
Rifles The Jam
likes to believe
In the freedom of music
But glittering prizes
And endless compromises
Shatter the illusion
The Spirit of Radio Rush
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?
The Membranes ‘What Nature Gives Nature Takes Away”
Godspeed you Black Emperor “ Luciferian Towers”
Hole ‘ Live Through This’
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?
1 A Farewell To Kings by Rush – bought from a friend in school when I was 15, as needed to find my band and wanted to fit in! It was £2.50 which was a lot then. Started my journey into heavier music and to follow the band themselves. Opening track A Farewell to Kings just burst through my speakers and I was lost and found. When I saw it was recorded in Rockfield in Wales I talked my Dad into driving out there to see if we could find the studio. We didn’t! I just wanted to be Alex Lifeson! The guitar sound, lyrics to Closer to The Heart, the epicness of Xanadu and the gatefold photo just connected with me somehow. I still listen to it now.
2 The Indigo Girls The Indigo Girls Certain albums have a strange quality that makes them timeless yet acutely of the moment. I first heard this when I lived in Chicago in 1989. I had left Wales to write the great American novel, was madly in love and spent days wandering the Windy City streets in search of Kerouacian inspiration. Didn’t last forever as such wonder never can but it was a beautifully exciting visceral time. My American wife (though no one knew we were married as we had tied the knot in secret so I could stay in the country ( sorry U.S Immigration) and we carve a life together) liked the Indigo Girls and this had just come out. So it reminds me of another life another place- happy in my neon loneliness, my little apartment by the train tracks, coffee shops, cats, minus 20 Winters, huge pizzas and slam poetry nights in downtown Chicago. I loved their acoustic sound and the lyrics were so personal and human.
forward to 2017 and a complicated love
affair which was destined to fail and I
turned to these songs to give me hope and to help to salve the sadness. Driving
along the M4 listening to Blood and Fire which seemed to be written for the
“I am looking for someone, who can take as much as I give, Give back as much as I need, And still have the will to live. I am intense, I am in need, I am in pain, I am in love. I feel forsaken, like to things I gave away.”
I get shivers just thinking about that song. So, 32 years apart but those songs timeless yet indelibly etched upon my mind.
3 U2 ‘War’ Special on many levels. 1983. I was 18 just finished my A Levels and had surprisingly passed with 3 ‘B’s” and about to go to Swansea University. My Mother and Father had promised to buy me a guitar if I passed so me and my Dad drove to Cardiff ( quite a rare thing in those days – big shopping trip and my Dad never liked shops!) I will always remember it was a cloudy overcast Summer day. The Fender acoustic was £75 ( bloody fortune when I think of it now) and my parents had saved £80 so there was a fiver left over and my Dad said if I wanted anything for University. I had been taping songs from the radio off the album so got the real thing. Oh that stark black white and red cover. The lyrics inside. Gatefold sleeve. A work of art in itself. Before memes, hashtags, likes and trolls just four people in a room making music.
New Year’s Day. Sunday Bloody Sunday. Drowning Man.
It got me thinking about politics, about loss, about
how we treat each other and about how
can I get my hair cut like Bono! And of course The Edge’s shimmering guitar
Still have it and still listen to the full album no skipping on CD. ‘A world in white gets underway”,
An album that resonates on the personal level as it reminds me of parental love and struggle and on a more political societal level it awoke my interest in writing about how the world works and fails.
4 Setting Sons The Jam Had always loved The Jam. Always remember Going Underground straight into at number 1 double A side in 1979 as I was in hospital with a shattered elbow feeling low and that song lifted me.
The cover, again pulled me in. It looked epic. Sad but strong. Those faces. There was a little record shop in Blackwood, Martin Luther’s- it was where the cool people would hang out on a Saturday, flipping through the racks and then walking down the high street with the plastic bag that signified you had been there AND bought something! Then talk about it in school on Monday. This album reminds me of those days. Saving up for weeks to buy an album after taping the single from the Charts on Sunday. School discos on a Saturday night that would invariably end up with the hard kids who didn’t go to the school but would find a way in and cause a massive fight and the night would finish early because of blood and smashed glass. So Eton Rifles reminds of not so much class war but tribal gangs rucking against each other on a Saturday night when alI I wanted was to slow dance with a girl I had been fancying but too scared to ask out, for 3 months! Little Boy Soldiers, Burning Sky and of course Eton Rifles painted this battered landscape of late 70’s Britain. Wasteland and Saturday’s Kids connected to my own working class childhood. 10 songs that educated and entertained me for many a lonely rainy night in Blackwood. I recently bought the deluxe edition which has Going Underground on it. The missing piece finding its home on one of the most perfect albums ever made.
5 Lou Reed ‘Magic and Loss’ I came to Lou Reed late in life. So this 1992 offering didn’t reach me till a few years ago. Again something about the cover spoke to me. It features the musician dressed in black upon what could be a road or a coffin with the text in Red. Looks like Winter. With a stripped back sound and many lyrics spoken it is a monument to two of Reed’s friends who had recently died. Personal yet easily accessible and universal in tone the 14 tracks act as a sort of concept album- linked by the magic and the loss. I would just put it on and drive the A470 that links North and South Wales during a period of my life where I was confused, angry and experiencing my own searching for magic in losing. His voice reaches in and pulls out your stomach. No hit singles on there just brutal truth. ‘Sword of Damocles’ which opens with spine tingling cello, tells of cancer treatment-
‘to cure you they must kill you’
one of the most beautiful tracks, tells of
the sea as keeper of souls
Well the coal black sea waits
for me me me
The coal black sea waits forever
The waves hit the shore
Crying more more more
bleak yet beautiful work of sonic art. It helped me feel unalone at a very
difficult time and gave me strength to carry on and look to the future out of
the detritus of the present.
Shelley said ;
“Our sweetest songs are those of saddest thought.”
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 think it would be ‘Eton Rifles’ by The Jam. Still so relevant now. A perfect fusion of melody anger and hope.
Considering they had never played together before, Gareth Bonello, Georgia Ruth and Toby Hay seemed like a long-established trio. Their first gig as a three-piece was certainly an enjoyable one. Coming together from Cardiff, Ceredigion, and Rhayader respectively, these three folk musicians brought real warmth to what was a pretty wet night in Bangor. With songs inspired by land, place and people, this concert, as part of Pontio’s Cabaret series, was a gently inspiring, fairly lucid affair. Transforming Theatr Bryn Terfel into a downtown night club, the ambient lighting and tight staging made this a really intimate experience. It felt refreshing, relaxed, and played well to a hushed and attentive audience.
Taking the form of a songwriters round, the evening began
with Bonello, who performed a straight-up folk number before handing over to
Hay. The highly-accomplished guitarist began with a short piece, inspired by
home, before providing us with a wonderfully atmospheric version of his song ‘Starlings’.
Hitting such high, soft and delicate notes on the guitar, the addition of Ruth’s
harp and Bonello on the harmonium created an incredibly visual sound that hung
in the air long after the last note was played. It was then over to Ruth for a
performance of her song ‘Terracotta’. Its hauntingly beautiful tones struck me as
being very reminiscent of 9Bach’s ‘Anian’,
and was just as good. It was then the turn of Bonello again for a performance
of his song ‘Pen Draw’r Byd’ before we returned to Ruth for what was, for me,
one of the highlights of the night. Watching Ruth’s fingers gliding gracefully
across the strings of the harp during ‘Clychai Aberdyfi’ was mesmerising. And
with Bonello keeping a steady beat on duitara and then double bass respectively,
and Hay strumming gently on the guitar, it made this a song to savour, both
visually and aurally. To finish the first half, Bonello played a song written
as a tribute to his grandmother, who used to pick cockles down by the local
river. The low notes of the double bass and deep echo of the electric guitar,
along with the yellow lighting, created a truly evocative scene of a river at
sunset. It made ‘Merch y Morfa’ a beautiful tune with which to close before the
The second half opened up with Bonello performing ‘Y Deryn Pûr’
before handing over to Hay for another double header. Asked by his fellow
singers to choose a traditional folk song from his home county to perform, a
lack of forthcoming material meant that we were treated to two originals by Hay
himself instead, both inspired by his local landscape. The first, ‘Radner Lily’,
was gorgeously performed under glowing lightbulbs hung from the ceiling. The
gentle grace of the electric guitar and accompanying harp led to a delightful
skip into the second song, ‘Water Breaks Its Neck’, from Hay’s forthcoming
album. Ruth then performed ‘Week of Pines’ from her latest album to rapturous
applause and cheering from the audience – a clear fan favourite. Bonello then
treated us to two tunes written specially as part of his PhD on the duitara.
This Indian folk instrument proved a fascinating listen on both ‘Maid Marian’
and ‘Diamonds’, the former’s medieval associations really evoked by the sound
of this four-stringed cousin of the guitar. It was then back to Hay for a
performance of an as-yet-untitled song that I recognised from his recent gig at
Focus Wales. It was excellent then, and with the addition of the double bass
here, it was by far another standout moment of the night.
To finish, Bonello, Ruth and Hay took to the forefront of
the stage to perform off mic. With only the harmonium for company, once Bonello
had found the right vocal range, the three performed a gorgeous final number
that was received extremely well by the audience. It rounded off an impressive
night. They left the audience wanting more. Any nerves they may have been
feeling did not show. There was no sense of awkwardness or any hint that this
was their first time performing together. And after such a positive reaction,
my guess is that it won’t be the last. Keep your eye out for future dates. I’d
be surprised if there isn’t more to come.
Rocketman is a drama/biography about the life of Elton John and his rapid rise to mainstream fame. The director of this film Dexter Fletcher, managed to perfectly blend the flamboyant , over-the-top campiness of Elton’s life with the seriousness of his battle with mental health and addiction which I imagine took a while to plan and execute appropriately. It was fun-filled and joyous but also emotional with serious message to all the viewers watching.
Elton John was played by Taron Egerton who performed an excellent and tasteful tribute to the icon and I was pleasant surprise by the performance skills that Taron possessed. Having known Egerton from Kinsmen where he played a ruffian who becomes part of a secret resistance force, known as the kinsmen, but his role in this was the almost complete polar opposite. If I was Taron , I would have been very afraid when given this role as it deals with real-life , close to the bone issues such as addition and mental health issues and being able to do these scenes and making them as realistic as possible would have been very daunting. Also being a straight man and having to act as the wonderfully camp homosexual Elton must have been difficult. I feel as if when doing an impression of someone you have to be very careful to not make it an over the top caricature but at the same time it needs to contain as many as the mannerisms and characteristics of the person you are imitating which I personally would not be able to do. Taron did a spot on tribute of Elton which was incredible to watch and he deserves mountains of praise for doing it so well. He was able to perform the showman Elton as well as the often hidden dark side of Elton excellently.
The costumes in this film were incredible. The designer must have spent hours and hours trying to recreate some of Elton most iconic looks while also making them as modern as possible. One of my personal favorites is the sequined baseball outfit that look flawless and looked as if it took hours to make. Another one of my favorites was the opening and closing outfit of the big red costume. This outfit , I believe was meant to point to deeper aspects of Elton’s character. When he wears it in the beginning , he talks about his drug addiction , mental health issues, sex addiction and his anger management problems and at this point the costume is meant to signify him as an almost evil character who is in a really dark place. I think it suppose to resemble the devil which allusion to him living it what he would describe as his own personal hell. Towards the end of the film the same costume is used but the is an exaggeration of the use of feather is the outfit. On top of this the song, “I’m still standing is playing’ which is an up beat song about getting through dark times, I think this costume was supposed to signify an Phoneix who famously raise from he ashes and in many stories bring new life. This was the show the audience that since then Elton has been sober and turned his life around and so the use of the mythical creature is apt.
Despite this film being
about Elton John’s life it deals with issues that affect everyone at one time
or another. One of the main messages of the entire story is accepting yourself
and who you are. Elton through his life dealt with many people who wanted to
change him or wanted him to suppress who he really was (including himself) and
he eventually become the Elton we all know and love today but ignoring all
these negative comments. One of the most iconic lines in the whole film is “why
should other people care about you when you don’t even care about yourself?”
which is obviously a way to remind people that they need to love themselves
before other people can love them which is incredibly empowering and is
obviously a concept that Elton himself felt strong about.
In general , this film
was phenomenal. It blended fun musical numbers with serious real life issue
effortlessly as well as educating viewers of the issues and struggles Elton
dealt with behind the curtain. It is a fascinating watch with incredible
costumes, a talented cast and superb acting. I would rate this production 5 out
of 5 stars. This is a film that you have to watch especially if you ever heard
any of Elton John’s songs (and that’s most people) so don’t miss out because
you’ll regret it!
Focus Wales in one of the nation’s premier music showcase festivals. Held in Wrexham, it brings together some of the best people in the music industry for three days of talks, meetings, and, of course, musical sets. The best of both emerging and more established talent from Wales and beyond featured on various stages around the town centre. Headliners on Friday night, 9Bach were excellent, as per usual. But apart from these giants of the Welsh folk scene, who else stood out? Here are my personal ‘ones to watch’ from this year’s festival:
Hailing from Snowdonia and currently studying in Leeds,
Hannah Willwood and her band created the most incredible sound during their
set. Blending jazz, folk and indie, her music is at once familiar yet fresh and
unique. With resonances of an earlier era, it is a sound that intrigues,
mesmerises, and captivates. This girl is going places.
If I had to pick a winner for Best Performance at this
year’s festival, I would award it to Katie Mac. The singer-songwriter from
Huyton played an absolute blinder from start to finish. She delivered such an
enthralling set that I became completely absorbed in the experience. Here was a
prime example of quality songwriting overlaid with some incredibly accomplished
He proved popular with the Old Bar No.7 crowd. And it wasn’t
just his interaction with the audience that made this performer standout. Take
a listen to Albert Jones and you will find a vocal that is incredibly soulful and
wonderfully versatile. Comparisons with James Morrison are inevitable. But to
try and pin down his sound is much more difficult. Whether blues, country, folk
or pop, it seems that Jones can turn his hand to anything. A really engaging
What a stonker of a set from The Dunwells. Full of energy, enthusiasm and real excitement, every
song seemed to be a crowd-pleasing anthem. They not only succeeded in winning
over a raucous, increasingly drink-fuelled crowd. They managed to encourage
some well-judged audience participation that only added to the feel-good
factor, rounding off the festival (for me at least) in style.
If God Were a Woman / Beta Test
The inaugural Focus Wales Short Film Festival had an excellent shortlist of eight films. All independent, all made to a high standard, my personal front-runners were If God Were a Woman and Beta Test. The former is a provocative and thought-provoking spoken word from Evrah Rose, made all the more so by the choice of director Joe Edwards to film in a derelict Church. The latter is an American production that is very much in the mould of Black Mirror. It sees Eric Holt enter into a simulated world to relive some of his favourite memories. But then a glitch in the programme leaves him facing much darker stuff.
The immersive sounds of Robinson. The Other the Other Island capture the struggle with loneliness of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the sensual writing of Michel Tournier’s Friday with softly spoken pages from the book, water dripping, waves, and a mosquito buzzing in your ear. What makes this rendering of Robinson original and innovative is the sound system used that mimics human hearing through binaural recording and the sense of urban isolation as the audience listens to the play through headphones. The architect of the sound world of Robinson is John Norton, artistic director of Give It A Name
John says ‘hello’ to the recorder on my phone. He’s disappointed that there are no sound waves. He is an actor, director, sound designer, and has spent many years as DJ. He writes audio drama and experiments with sound. Married to theatre director Mathilde Lopez, he often designs the sound world for her plays, as he did, in collaboration with Branwen Munn, for the recent Les Misérables.
This time, John has created a three-dimensional sound experience with binaural mics for the play Robinson. The Other Island, bringing voices, sounds, and music directly into the ears of each audience member
Binaural recording aims to reproduce human hearing. Each of
our ears perceives sound differently. We hear a sound coming from one direction
first with the ear closer to the source of the sound. Binaural recording is fed
into headphones making possible to hear different sounds in each ear and the
location of their source. A sound can come not only from the left or the right,
but also top, bottom, front, or behind the listener. This technique allows a
three-dimensional experience of sound. Usually, binaural recording utilises two
mics inside a ‘dummy head’ that replicates an average human head. For Robinson,
John has used in-ear mics to get the experience of the actor into the ears of
John researched immersive sound for theatre after being granted an Arts Council Wales, Creative Wales Award in 2012-2013. He tried different techniques, but was taken in particular by the possibilities of binaural. He tells me, ‘What I really loved about binaural is that it really is how we hear. I got very excited.’ After the research period, he ‘played around’ with in-ear binaural mics for various projects. The choice of in-ear mics, instead of dummy head recording, offers the advantage of hearing what actors hear in their ears. He explains, ‘What I like about having an in-ear mic is having the internal perspective of the actor live. What you will never have with the dummy head is when Luciana (Luciana Chapman plays Bianca in Robinson) swallows the water, you hear it as if it’s inside your own head. For me that’s just another level of crazy intimacy that I was intrigued by. That’s one of the reasons why we went for that for this show.’
Enthusiastic of the technique is also Jack Drewry, composer, sound designer and theatre maker, who is sound designer and tech on Robinson. Jack tells me that the use of movable in-ear binaural mics is what is most innovative and exciting of Robinson’s sound experience. He says, ‘The use of wireless transmission through the ears is the immersion into the actor, the Reader’s (Bianca) world. That’s the thing that is new and exciting. What happens if you choreograph the sound around the actor as the microphone? The actor becomes the microphone. Whatever happens around the actor you hear from the actor’s perspective, you hear what they’re hearing.’
captures the solitude of urban life amidst contrasting noises. John says, ‘We felt that putting the audience in headphones is a really good image
of contemporary solitude. If you look at the bank of audience you can easily
mistake them for commuters on a train, in their own headphones. There’s
something interesting in isolating each audience member while they have shared
experience.’ Robinson immerses you in the solitude of a man stranded on
an island for 28 years and of a young woman living alone in a city. The
loneliness of Robinson Crusoe leads him to have auditory hallucinations,
something John experienced as a child. I realise that the chaotic music of the
book club moments in the play may suggest that sense of auditory
The soundscape in Robinson not
only serves to immerse the audience in the actor’s perspective, but it also
creates a sound world, the environment where the actor is placed. The sounds
are suggestive of Bianca’s flat and of Robinson’s island. For the latter,
mostly Caribbean music has been used to evoke the image we often have of an
island. In addition, John tells me, environmental sounds, such as the traffic
outside the flat and the waves of the sea, help listeners tune their ears to
sounds. Gentle sounds, such as rustling or crinkling sounds, are also used in Robinson
to elicit in some listeners a tingling sensation through ASMR, or autonomous sensory
meridian response. Robinson is an all-round sound experience.
Jack tells me that ‘normally sound
supports the action; it’s not front and centre. In this project the sound world
is a big part of the show and the actors are always feeding into it. It’s much
more of a magnifying glass of my design that it has ever been. In this project
the sound from the mixing deck doesn’t go to speakers but to everyone’s ears,
directly streamed into the audience.’ As I watched and listened to the show, I
noticed sounds made by Robinson came from the back to my right although he was
in front of me on the left. The experience of the eyes doesn’t necessarily
match that of the ears. For some, this might be a little too confusing, however
Robinson is not a traditional play but a meditative experience that at
times is best felt with one’s eyes closed.
‘If I Can Shoot Rabbits, I Can Shoot Fascists,’ is the strapline of the first play by PowderHouse in association with the Sherman Theatre and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. It comes from the Manic Street Preachers’ song ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next,’
This in turn is inspired by the involvement of Welsh volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. The play Shooting Rabbits seeks to evoke the experience of a young Welshman travelling to Spain to fight against fascism in the 1930s while seemingly hinting at a similarity between fighting the authoritarian oppressor in Spain and the strife of Irish, Welsh, and Basque nationalism, given a new life by Brexit. Such an unwieldy subject matter could only fail on stage, especially when it is conveyed through a stream of consciousness dramaturgy that leaves the audience confused. Nonetheless the play succeeds in capturing the ambiguity of any proclamation in the name of ‘the people.’
Shooting Rabbits co-directed by Jac Ifan Moore and Chelsey Gillard begins with a Northern Irish actor auditioning for a role in Wales. The casting director asks him to do a ‘more Irish’ accent, meaning one that is from the Republic of Ireland. The director expresses sympathy with the Irish, ‘Solidarity with you,’‘Wales stands with you,’ ‘Your people.’ The ‘solidarity’ is borne of the alleged ‘shared struggle’ against the ‘neighbours across the borders.’ The actor, played by Neil McWilliams, launches into a tirade questioning the very premise of ‘the people.’ Who are his people? Republicans, Nationalists, the IRA, Unionists, the DUP? The reduction of the heterogeneous reality of a country to one group betrays not just an ignorant and condescending attitude, but one that delegitimises whoever does not fit the image of the country, a country that is always an ideal, never a complex reality. This is nowhere more evident than in the impassioned and seductive speech of Francisco Franco performed by Alejandra Barcelar Pereira in Spanish. It appeals to the defence of the country and faith in the country, but it is a country that repudiates all those who do not abide by the script.
The appeal to ‘the people’ is a dangerous weapon that is wielded against the very people it professes to protect. ‘The people’ erases people as a heterogeneous empirical reality, disregards and delegitimises theirs diversity, their different perspectives, lifestyles, values, customs, and, above all, their overlapping identities. This is what the European Union aims to promote: unity in diversity. That is why Catalan, Basque, Scottish, and Welsh nationalist movements, to name a few, are often supportive of the EU. Thus, the EU does indeed undermine the nation state, conceived as a unitary and homogeneous entity, by giving voice to communities inside nations and across them. Today, the EU is embattled, but the crisis is not a battle between fascism and liberal democracy; rather it is more the result of established structures and politics being out of step with contemporary society and economics. That is why it is risky to draw any comparisons between today’s crises and the 1930s, as Shooting Rabbits seeks to do.
Shooting Rabbits is at its best when it exposes the naivete of the romantic ideal of fighting against fascism and of claiming to represent a ‘people.’ The young Welshman in 1930s Spain does not know what to do and begs to be told what to do. In front of the horror of the civil war, the volunteers of the International Brigade repeat that it was not meant to be this way. The play makes fun of political divisions and polarisations that create enemies. It is evocative and exhilarating. It is acted beautifully in Spanish, Basque, Welsh, and English by Alejandra Barcelar Pereira, Gwenllian Higginson, and Neil McWilliams, and it is supported by the music performed live by Sam Humphreys. It is also a missed opportunity. Shooting Rabbits flounders due to a superficial historical analysis and a stream of consciousness structure that disorients the spectator instead of bringing clarity.
Before watching ‘The Bodyguard’, at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff I was very excited. The songs are many of my favourites and so I knew it would be an enjoyable performance, but this show did not disappoint. At first, I thought it would be similar to Motown in which the songs are great and popular, and people would sing along to, but the narrative is somewhat less important, but I could not have been more wrong. In fact, I would consider ‘The Bodyguard’ as one of the best all-round productions that I have seen. Having some of my ‘guilty pleasure’ songs included in this production was the icing on the cake. The last time I saw Alexander Burke in a production was in ‘Sister Act,’ which I felt she didn’t suit but this powerful ballad-based character was a lot more suited to Alexander and her singing style.
The production’s opening was a striking shadow-projected scene, which had loud sound effects, which caused audible gasps from the audience. This was a fantastic way to grab audience attention in the first few minutes of the show. It was easy to spot that this scene would be book-ending the whole production and a similar scene would take place at the end of the show. This is the first time, in my experience, that this type of structure is used which made me keep the image in my head to see how the plot would lead to it again in the end. This meant the entire time I was thinking about this opening scene, which was not a distraction in any sense but would be considered an effective opening scene. The opening number however was flawless. The production values of staging, light and pyros was superb and the dancing was incredible. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I instantly drew comparisons of the character ‘Rachel Marron’ both are super successful artists, costumes show similarities to one another and the ‘performance’ of their songs (especially this one) were of the highest quality. However, I believe that this performance topped the Beyoncé performances I have seen live and this number could have easily been a show in itself. It would not have been out of place as a concert/performance in somewhere like the 02 Arena. The one small drawback to this number was, Alexander Burke, who played Rachel Marron, is an incredible singer and actor but her dancing is the weakest of the three (all of which are obviously of a high level but her dancing is not quite as good as the other two) which could be noticed through the big dance numbers such as this one and also during the opening number there was a short scene of dialogue which took place. Due to everything that was happening on the stage (lights, dancers, music etc.) I missed a lot of this dialogue which was clearly not what the directors would have wanted. The bold opening scene and awe-inspiring opening number contrasted each other perfectly and ‘set the scene’ for the rest of the production. This show alternates between these amazing, popular songs and tense dramatic scenes, which the opening sequences set up for the rest of the show beautifully.
Many of the supporting characters in this production were very relatable and believable which is important for productions like this. The young boy who plays Fetcher was an incredible dancer, which was shown in one of the dance rehearsals scenes towards the beginning of the musical. He was amazing and I would say upstaged some of the other dancers. They used the young boy to perform lifts and flips which obviously would have been easier due to the size of the actor. Although, during this scene the character crawled through a table which I believe did not quite fit the rest of the choreography, but this is a minor detail. This character would have primarily involved to provide an ‘awww’ factor as he is the young son of Rachel who gets caught up in the events of the stalker. This did build the sympathy toward Rachel and ‘hatred’ toward the stalker. The stalker (played by Phil Atkinson) was a key character although he is barely on the stage, even when he wasn’t on stage his presence could still be felt. When he was on stage when he is silent and is in almost darkness, which was an extremely effective way to build tension, and it is only in act two that he speaks. The whole presentation (including casting) of this character was perfect and this character-built fear from the audience. Although it was a bit strange that this character spent a lot the time without a top on.
One of the most enjoyable scenes in the whole show was a
karaoke scene not because of dramatic staging, of phenomenal singing or
whatever it was just a fun scene. It opened with three girls drunkenly singing ‘Where
Do Broken Hearts Go’ it was really funny and I felt like I have seen the same
scene in real life. A group of girls singing a popular song like that in
karaoke while ‘butchering’ the song, but the difference was in this show these
actresses were doing it intentionally. This seemed to be a common theme in this
production. Later in this scene, Frank Farmer, the bodyguard (played by Benoit Marechal)
goes onto karaoke to take on Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ which I
have personally been tempted to do but never have had the guts to due to the
power of the song. However, Frank combated this by ‘talking’ the song, which
had the whole audience rolling in laughter. Which was really nice to see the
softer side of frank. This scene was ended by the iconic song ‘I Have Nothing’
which was beautifully sung by Alexander. Which was obviously sang to and about
Frank as we found out they have an attraction between the two of them.
The final scene of this act was in a club. It revolved
around Frank and Tony Scibeli, the security guard (played by Craig Berry)
protecting Rachel from any potential threats in the club. In this scene the spotlight
illuminates the stalker. This meant my eyes were following the stalker’s track
around the stage, which only added to the tension and drama. IThis scene looked
more like it took place in a nightclub due to the flashing lights and music
rather than a normal club but apart from this the scene was well staged and
The beginning of Act Two had a big dance number to the song
‘I’m Every Woman’, which is a song I know very well. The dancers in this scene
were excellent and the acrobatics were a spectacle to watch. However, at
certain points in the number there were movements that were supposed to be done
at the same time and were actually out of time with one another. But I really
enjoyed this opening, as its ‘over-the-top ness’ was a perfect way to regain
the excitement after the intermission. There was a few people in the audience
singing along with the music which I personally find great as it shows they are
enjoying the song etc., but I know some people are against this, so this is
In one scene the staging changed from a luxurious mansion to
a log cabin. I really liked the concept of the staging as a log cabin suggest
warmth and safety, which was exactly what it was supposed to do within the
story. The contrasts between these two setting also helped shift the focus from
Rachel and her fame/money etc. to family. This is added to be a heart-warming
rendition of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ between Nicky Marron, Rachel and Fletcher.
Fletcher however did struggle with this song as it is a complex rhythm and
strange vocals but as he was a child this was somewhat ignored. The lights and
effects were continued to be used to make the Stalker actually terrifying as he
appears from nowhere at points and disappears quickly after.
Probably the biggest and best number in the entire
production is the classic ‘I Will Always Love You.’ This song was kept right
until the end to act as an emotional tribute to everything that happened
throughout the narrative. As the earlier ‘rendition’ by Frank in karaoke, was
comical this final number was show stopping. The staging, costume and lights
worked perfectly to add to the emotional nature of the song and Alexander’s
vocals were outstanding. She did change some of the vocal trills from the original,
which were fantastic. During this song there was a montage projected onto the
stage of the Rachel and Frank and their story so far. I found this to be
somewhat distracting from the song and could have done without it, but the
montage was not a cheesy and unnecessary it was heartfelt and emotional. After all this
happened the entire cast sung ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.’ This involved
solos from different members of the cast, including the Stalker (which was a
nice inclusion in my opinion), dance sequences and ‘party’ lighting. This was
when the audience were encouraged to sing and dance. The two songs (I Will Always
Love You and I Wanna Dance with Somebody) obviously contrasted each other and
helped cement the pairing of drama and fun.
This production was well thought out and planned. Everything from music, lighting, costumes to props used all worked perfectly together, which was really nice to watch. The production aspects of the show were fantastic and one of the best I have seen. Alexander Burke’s portrayal of the iconic role is on par with Whitney’s (which is high praise) and this a show not to miss.
I was unsure of what to expect when I sat down to watch Mark Morris’ Pepperland at the Wales Millenium Centre. It’s practically criminal not to know and love the Beatles in at least some tangential way, or not to have one go to song to draw out as your favourite. But I wasn’t watching with the nostalgia of many of the audience who had been there the first time, who could see themselves in the chorus of screaming fans in the opening scenes. I’m also generally unfamiliar with the dance genre and haven’t watched professional dance shows in years. But I thought that the show would be the perfect splash of colour to brighten up characteristically unpredictable Easter behaviour.
The opening scene sealed my unease, with Ethan Iverson’s inventive score somewhat undermined by unearned hints of darkness. The theremin was a particular point of contention for this show. Personally, I adore this unconventional instrument, especially in the rightfully iconic Ed Wood theme. However, It’s an instrument best used sparingly.
When placed artfully in pieces like the ‘Penny Lane’ dance, it was unexpected but refreshing. However, there were moments where it threatened to drown the score and the audience with it, through no fault of the talented performer. The show seemed to have that sort of tone problem throughout. While sombre notes in the orchestration sometimes clashed welcomely with the candy cane cheer of the costumes, more often than not they felt misplaced and unearnt in regards to the dancers, who were performing – wonderfully as always throughout the production – dances that didn’t meet the new tone to the music.
Again, when it worked it worked, but there were only brief flashes where it did. Some of the transitional dances were overly repetitive, but the technical prowess of the dancers can’t be faulted. Whatever the audience felt about the score or singing – and we’ll come to that later – the dancers had them all immediately onside, providing the audience with plenty of laughs alongside genuinely warm applause.
Despite their obvious prowess during the more cheerful numbers – especially my favorite of the set, ‘Penny Lane’, they were equally as impressive, if not more, when performing more tender and sombre scenes. The romantic dances especially were things of beauty. They represented a tender sixties fairytale where race, gender, sexuality and time meant nothing. Love and light were all, even when the lights dimmed and love faded. The show managed to give it’s very basic staging maximum impact. The ebbs and flows of lights and colour flexing to the music. Of particular note was the way that Iverson drew out the Beatles’ Indian influences to their most lavish conclusion.
The singer, however, was met with mixed reviews. Not doubting his vocal talents, he simply didn’t seem to fit the production. The dancers and their costumes indicated something more joyful which would take itself less seriously. The score was theatrical but often confused. Vocal talent and power alone can’t replicate charm, and the operatic style seemed like just another confusion added to the pile. The singer would have benefited from a show which approached its tone with more intent, or allowing himself some lapses in technical skill for raw emotion. In those brief moments where he did falter, his singing became much more powerful.
Perhaps the best way of summarising this show is ‘if you’re here for a beatles sing-along, that’s not going to happen.’ This mild, half unknowing derision of the audience suggests that this show has ambitions beyond its color palate, and has left fans outside of the review circuit – including my plus one – feeling rather cold, while it enjoys status as a critical darling. Still, the genuine love that emanates from the company’s every dance move – and the Beatles themselves as an evergreen subject matter – were enough to keep some lonely hearts more firmly on its side.
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