Category Archives: Musical

REVIEW The Snow Queen, Sherman Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

There’s nothing quite like a Sherman Theatre Christmas production to get you in the festive mood – and The Snow Queen, this year’s main-stage musical offering, is a sumptuous Yuletide treat for the whole family. Directed by Tessa Walker, the show adapts Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale about two young friends, Gerda and Kai, whose friendship is tested when Gerda hurts Kai, and goes on an epic journey to find him and make amends after he is lured away by the wicked Snow Queen.

Anni Dafydd as Gerda and Ed Parry as Kai

Reimagining the Danish fairy tale as an urban myth told to the children of the South Wales Valleys fits with the vision of the Sherman’s artistic director Joe Murphy in telling stories ‘rooted in Wales but relevant to the world’. The show has all the cosy feels of being told a great story on a cold winter night, not least because it seems to draw its framing device from The Princess Bride: in this case, it’s told to us and a stroppy little boy (Morgan Lllewelyn Jones) by his beleaguered babysitter (Grace O’Brien) as they wait out a snowstorm that has delayed the return of the boy’s mother. Having taken out the lights, the heating and the wi-fi, the blackout might as well have turned their sleepy town back to the Stone Age, and the boy isn’t in the mood for a story – but before long, the sitter’s initially irate listener becomes as enrapt as the audience as she weaves an epic tale told to her by her grandmother.

The story is indeed a captivating one, skilfully adapted by Conor Mitchell who pulls quintuple duty as writer, lyricist, composer, musical director and onstage pianist! Mitchell’s music is gorgeous – not all the songs work, though the best are up there with Frozen, which was incidentally inspired by Andersen’s story – but it’s his script that is particularly lovely: funny, sweet and sincere, it feels more universal in scope than Andersen’s, focusing less on faith and more on the power of inner strength, self-determination, and friendship; how kindness is not a commodity but a treasure that should be cultivated, cherished and shared, especially during a time in our world in which it may seem rare.

Jo Servi as the Crow and Grace O’Brien as the Sitter

The beautiful messages woven into Mitchell’s script are wonderfully brought to life by an excellent, enthusiastic and deeply creative cast. Anni Dafydd goes on an incredible journey as Gerda, at first a fun but entitled young girl, whose casual classism alienates her closest friend Kai (Ed Parry), and her subsequent quest to find Kai and make up for her mistake is an epic and emotional one. Given that he is the subject of Gerda’s crusade, Parry might not get many scenes as Kai, but he does get to chew the scenery as an adorkably befuddled prince and a sassy anthropomorphic geranium (if that description along doesn’t compel you to see this show, I don’t know what will!)

Along the way, Gerda meets a conveyor belt of eccentric characters, from Hannah Jarman’s bolshy Bandit Girl to Jo Servi’s delightfully irascible Crow (reminiscent of Bagpuss’ Professor Yaffle, with Servi fantastically animating a puppet designed and directed by Rachael Canning) to Julian the adorably heroic reindeer (brought to vivid, hilarious life by Callum Lloyd, who infuses the character with Disney-level charm through sheer skill and enthusiasm – how he managed to draw laughs, gasps and awwws from a lampshade, I’ll never know). Stephanie McConville’s Snow Queen has a glamorously insidious presence, but she appears a touch too infrequently, and her outfit could have been just a bit grander to match the larger-than-life characters that preceded her.

From left to right: Callum Lloyd (Julian the Reindeer), Morgan Llewelyn Jones (Sat), Hannah Jarman (Bandit Girl), Grace O’Brien (Sitter) and Anni Dafydd (Gerda).

Not only is the cast superb across the board – swapping between their roles as actors, musicians and puppeteers with ease – but the show is just beautiful to look at. Cecilia Carey’s inventive sets evoke myriad locations from an eternally-summery garden to an ice palace worthy of Elsa, the season-spanning vistas animated by the atmospheric sound and lighting design (by Ian Barnard and Katy Morison respectively), and Helen Rogers’ inventive costuming (the Bandit Queen’s ensemble is particularly eye-catching), not to mention the snow near-perpetually falling from the heavens. The Garden of Eternal Summer, ruled over by Rachel Nottingham’s slightly demented sorceress, is one of the most vivid locales, and also the setting of the show’s best scene which I can only describe as the Golden Afternoon song from Alice in Wonderland as reimagined by RuPaul’s Drag Race (featuring the above-mentioned sassy geranium, Jo Servi as a timorous wallflower and Stephanie McConville as an ultra-chic rose).

The Snow Queen is brimming with Christmas magic for the whole family, and it’s the perfect show to usher you into the festive season. In my experience, there’s nothing quite as Christmassy as a musical, and the Sherman’s production not only has Disney-calibre songs but a Disney-calibre story and message to go along with them. Not only will it inspire and entertain you, it will teach you that you have to experience the winters of your life in order to appreciate the summers. It’s not the shards of a magic mirror that make a person cruel – that capacity is within us all, but so too is the capacity for kindness, courageousness, and even a little bit of magic.

The Snow Queen is playing at the Sherman Theatre through 31 December.

Review Lovecraft (not the sex shop in cardiff), Carys Eleri- By Rhys Payne

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Walking into Fresh at the Wales Millennium Centre, I had no idea what to expect from the show titled Lovecraft. Strangely the thing that sprung to mind was that it is a sex shop (I have heard!) located in Cardiff which was a joke repeated many times throughout this show. However, this isn’t just crude and hilarious show but also carries a very important message about combatting loneliness which is an issue that affects many, many people even today.

This show was co-produced by Carys Eleri alongside Wales Millennium Centre themselves. Lovecraft (Not the sex shop in Cardiff) is a one women show that was ‘hosted’ as such by Carys herself. She was an incredibly awesome host as she possesses a very loveable and friendly personality which the audience instantly warm to. The material within the show was relatable to all ages (above about 16) as she discusses issues such as relationships, alcohol and social media which made every single member of the audience, despite their age, feel as if Carys was talking directly to them and talking about issues they may have ever experienced. This was very clever and helped to make the comical aspects of the show even more hilarious as it was all based on real-life experiences. She delivered these touches of humour moments excellently but also managed to carefully manipulate the mood the incorporate the more serious and important messages of the show such as relationships going wrong and loneliness etc.

This show does contain very strong language, mature themes and sexual references which means it is not appropriate for children and also young audience members may not relate to the messages of the show as much as more mature members of the audience would. Some of these ideas were portrayed through song which is, in my opinion, very unusual but in this case, it worked excellently. Obviously many of these songs were comical but Carys has an incredible voice and so it was actually marvellous to listen to the singing itself instead of just the lyrics. Carys is clearly a very talented performer and she managed to develop a way to showcase her skills excellently in this show without it seeming like she is showing off which was great. In fact, the album of the songs is available across all music streaming platforms so if you want to have a listen just search for Lovecraft and have a listen.

The combination of hilarity and musicality of this show makes it an excellent choice if you are looking for someone to watch of your next girls night as it would be a fantastic thing to watch with a group of friendship and you can even grab a bottle of wine in the bar to complete the evening.

What was also unique about this show was that towards the beginning the audience were encouraged to turn to the person next to them and give them a hug as a way to test the chemical reactions in the brain and also towards the middle of the show the audience were each given a piece of lint chocolate. Both of these things are things I have never experienced before and helped add to the uniqueness of this show.

All that I knew about this show is that it had been performed at the Adelaide fringe festival and it is clear this show has been designed accordingly. The ‘set’ is simply two screens and a microphone but Carys has a huge sense of stage presence which means that anything else would be a distraction. This makes the show very easy to transport and your around and one day I hope to see a huge nationwide tour of this production as it is a unique show that everyone (age-appropriate) needs to see. As well as being hilarious and musical it is also somewhat educational. It was billed as the ‘science musical about love’ like it at certain points teaches the audience about the chemicals involved in love and how they are caused etc. This was something I did not know before walking into this show as so it was an educational experience for me personally.

Overall this is an incredibly uniquely hilarious musical that is unlike anything I have ever seen before with a fantastically talented host and moments of education. If you are interested in a comedy musical journey through love then this is the show for you. I would rate this as 4 and a half stars out of 5 and would recommend it as your next girls night out show. This show will be in the Millennium on the 29th and there will be a special welsh version of the show on the 30th so I would encourage you to catch it if you can!

Review Les Misérables, Cameron Mackintosh, Wales Millenium Centre By Rhys Payne

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Many people have said that you can’t call yourself a true musical theatre fan unless you have seen Les Miserables and I have to be honest I watched the movie for the first time two weeks ago and while that was good, this production at the Wales Millennium Centre knocks spots off the classic film. The show managed to touch on many keys moments from the film for people who are only familiar to Les Mis through the film (myself included) but also managed to alter it enough as a stage show to be different to the other versions going around.

The thing about this show is that most people have heard of it or seen it and as there have been so many adaptations and versions the bar is already set very high. But still there manages to be a massive excitement about the show, inside the actual theatre you could feel the excitement in the air before the show even started and even during the interval. After the show, there was a massive buzz that every single person could feel. It says a lot about a show where every single person in the audience gives a standing ovation at the end. Like the film, this musical is an opera and so there is no dialogue in the entire show but instead, the whole thing is sung. This is obviously a fantastic way to promote this genre as many people say “I hate opera” but at the same time ignore musicals such as Les Mis and Jesus Christ Superstar as operas. Seeing an opera in mainstream musical ‘world’ is obviously great and it may encourage people to watch other operas when they can.

One of my criticism for the film is that the time frames are at times hard to follow (I enjoy laughing about this fact in the film, every time I looked at the screen Hugh Jackman was a different age) but this stage version managed to make this one setting easy to follow. When the opening show discusses the backgrounds of certain characters, there was a blackout with the title ‘Les Miserable’ spread across the backdrop sort of like there would be in a film etc. This was obviously done to signify that the opening scene took place before the main part of the story and allows the audience to take in key and important details that will reappear later in the show. I never thought that Les Mis would be a very tech-based show as I thought it was just about authentic drama and singing but the effects they used specifically in this production were incredible. Some key technical aspects to look for in the show were how they managed to excellently stage the gunshots with lights, how a certain iconic suicide is staged and the use of high-raise buildings on stage. These buildings were flawlessly used to help cover the scene changes that happened while other scenes were taking place which was a genius way to keep the show going while also being beautiful to watch.

Every member of the cast was fantastic in this production and a special appreciation needs to give to the ensemble of this performance who clearly worked very hard both acting and singing was to support the key characters. The choruses singing was amazing and really helped to add to the drama of the show. A lot of the pressure was set on the shoulders of Dean Chisnall who took on the role of Jean Valjean as this is one of the most important roles in this musical but Dean seemed to reveal in this pressure and turned out an excellent performance. His voice was incredible throughout but a highlight for me was ‘Bring Him Home’ which was so powerfully performed that many of the audience members were moved to tears. He also managed to portray the various stages of this character perfectly including the later part of his life which shows Dean’s range of acting ability.

Marius is the character which is Supposed in love and Pursuing the daughter of Jean Valjean. This character was played by the fresh-faced Felix Mosse who fitted the role perfectly. He has a massive sense of naivety, innocence and likability about him which is perfect for the love-hungry character. Also, Felix has a youngish appearance which worked really well with this character who is apparently a student. Not only this but yet again Felix was a very talented singer who performed songs such as ‘Empty Chairs, Empty Tables’ both incredibly heartfelt and beautifully. His duet of ‘little fall of rain’ alongside Frances Mayli McCain (who played Eponine) was incredibly emotional to watch and these two clearly have great chemistry on and off stage. Felix Mosse is an actor who I look forward to seeing in future productions as I believe he has a very bright future in the performing industry. Nic Greenshields, who played Javert was absolutely incredible. His physicalisation as Javert was perfect as it showed his sense of superiority over the rest of the villagers. His voice was that of an authoritative person but also he managed to blend to the desperation of the character beautifully. Nic clearly has a high level of professionalism and experience which he truest showcased in this role. The highlight of his character, however, was their singing inability. ‘Stars’ was out of this world! It was beautifully performed with a strong sense of power behind it. Nic excelled in this role and I cannot wait to see where he end up in the performing world as he clearly has massive talent.



The two gems in this performance were Thenardier and his wife (who were played Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh respectively) who delivered many of the comical moments in this show. There were hilarious throughout and didn’t miss a single joke which can be very difficult in musical. ‘Master of the House’ was an excellent number that was not only performed excellently but also involved an astonishing sleight of hand tricks which wowed even me. The quick movement of and stealing of objects was a marvel to watch and clearly they had worked hard to make this scene as smooth and flawless as possible which should be applauded. Also, the musical number ‘Beggars at the Feast’ was also performed by this double act which they performed excellently while wearing the most elaborate and over the top costumes I have ever seen.



Overall this was a near-flawless introduction into the musical world of Les Miserable and it is definitely a musical that I would watch again if I had the chance. This is a show that loves drama and delivers it by the bucket full throughout so if you are into that sort of show them this is definitely one for you. I would rate this show 5 out of 5 stars.

Review Les Misérables, Cameron Mackintosh, Wales Millenium Centre By Becky Johnson

An eclectic evening of wonder, passion and skill.

What an incredible first experience of the infamous Les Misérables. So much thought and care had been given to each and every part of the evenings’ performance. It was this specific attention to detail that really drew the audience into the world of pre-revolutionary France.

Firstly, the set, Wow! The set used a mixture of visual effects alongside moving structures to create an immersive experience for the audience. The onstage set, predominantly wooden, was etched with details. From small engraved phrases to the layering of different components. The visual effects truly brought the set to life by adding intricacies to things that would otherwise be forgotten. Such as the water rippling and the stars twinkling. But only ever so slightly, just enough for you to question whether it’s really there at all or just your mind playing tricks on you.

The lighting played such a crucial role within the piece. Alongside the projected visual effects, it would bring a sense of realism to what was occurring on stage. An image of the meeting of the revolutionaries comes to mind. The light seeping through the barred windows, reflecting off the faces of the Males whilst they walked through the shadows making small talk with one and another. It was also with moments like the gunshots, where a bright light would suddenly glare, making the plot more accessible to the audience.

Even in the way the actors spoke it was evident the clarity and precision in which they gave out their words. Those deemed more common were usually paired with a Northern accent and those of a higher class with a more queens English. The use of different accents and dialects allowed clarification for the audience but also context as to the stereotypes and opportunities in that era.

The use of detail was also not only evident in the voices of the performers but most predominantly in the ensemble. Each performer held their own character, with their own physicality and own storyline. One could easily get lost watching the ensemble, with so many options to engage with. It was often the more hidden moments happening in the background which would cause me to smile or question things more deeply.

It wasn’t usually the way in which the text was presented as to how your emotions were driven. The text tended to set the pace, which kept a high engagement for the audience throughout the piece. Instead, the orchestra were key to how you responded to what was occurring on stage. At the moments I received goose bumps, I realised it wasn’t from the solos. Instead, from the accompaniment and the resonant quality that it echoed around the theatre creating an atmosphere unlike no other.

Each member of the cast was incredibly talented and without one, the piece wouldn’t be the same. It is truly the fine details which make this piece so magnificent and I predict it’s one of those where regardless of the amount of times you watch the performance, you would be drawn to different characters and their own tales each time. There are limited tickets available for the remainder of the performances but if you do get the chance to go, you are certainly in for a treat.

Review Lovecraft (Not the sex shop in Cardiff) Carys Eleri by Lois Arcari

I usually like my comedy in darker shades, but if you’re looking for an irreverent comedy that’s packed with positivity and threaded with catchy musical numbers, Lovecraft (not the sex shop in Cardiff) is the perfect night out.

It all hinges on the winning charisma of Carys Eleri – a woman who wins over the audience even before the first word of her show. Introducing everyone with a genuinely warm hug, not even a cynic could be against this show as they wait for it to start. Her spoken comedy is brassy and fizzy. While there are only a few standout jokes once you leave the theatre – never to look at A&E Glangwilly the same again – her general aura of energy and enthusiasm sticks with you.

It truly is ‘something for everyone’ comedy. Using hugs and chocolate, plus general affability, Carys had the audience in the palm of her hand the whole way through. Even better, her broad range of jokes from shitty exes to loneliness and online dating meant everyone could relate to something. My personal favorite came when she described her alternative and decent ex. How he stood out in Camarthen, which ‘breeds rugby players like rabbits.’ He was:

‘‘absolutely not a rugby player. He wore eyeliner!’

I’ll always relate to that one!

Her musical numbers show a panache for parody and wordplay. While a few in the first act seemed a bit repetitive, they find their feet as more genre variation comes in. Carys luckily also gets the chance to show off her genuinely fantastic voice as the numbers progress. ‘I Brain you,’ ‘Magic Taxi’ and ‘Rat Park’ get points for the perfect balance of witty and catchy. The animation that accompanied them was basic but effective and had a few moments of great visual humour – like the unicorn’s cigarette horn.

If you’re missing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and wish that Rachel Bloom would have swapped some Hollywood malarkey for Valleys realism, this show is for you. There are a few humourless gripes to be had – the basic science, the repetition of some musical numbers – but Carys Eleri pulls off her one woman show with charisma and bellyaching comedy.

My one big gripe was with the central conceit. This was that the neuroscience of love can be replicated with friendship and community.

While it is in itself a positive message, and it’s humbling to know such an extroverted figure as Carys experienced loneliness, it is somewhat accidentally incomplete. In the valleys or anywhere poor and hard to get to, social isolation has been the catalyst for many a horrible relationship. While her takeaway is a great message for people with good friends to stop worrying about romance, many people only do because those friends can be so hard to find.

Still, even when your physical community is desolate or disappointing, millions find community through art. And a happy, slightly tipsy, and adoring community watched Lovecraft (not the sex shop in Cardiff) that night.

Review tic toc, Parama 2 by Helen Joy

Reminiscence is a tricky thing. It can border on the nostalgic if you’re not careful.


Those factory workers faced a lot of tough times and made a lot of tough decisions. But they laughed a lot too. They made life long friends. They forced some change. They probably sang a fair bit along the way as well.


I like a sing song, I’m very fond of a musical and I like a good story. I like characters I recognise and a history I know just enough about to give that story ballast.


Clearly, I am not alone. A whole audience agrees with me for sure. What a glorious romp! Parama 2 gives us an all singing, all dancing romp of a performance with every body on that stage playing to her natural strengths effortlessly and with joy.


Such witty pithy solos and duets with heart, a heart ripping trio trips us towards the end of an excellent saga.


I love it. I am watching everyone around me, sitting around candle lit, cloth covered club tables laughing, listening and sad for times past and people too. Touched by the factory workers, wondering how much has really changed and what this future holds. No woman is an island.


I am sitting with Olwen’s daughter, ‘that’s my mum, the one in the silly skirt’ and when she sings her ballad, we are both a little moved, a little teary.

It would be impossible to single any one actor out for particular accolade – each song matched their style, each scene matched their character, each laugh and each sigh was earned.


Please join this troupe, this band of friends, at their reunion and prepare to tap your toes and reminisce and glimpse behind the aprons of our past.

Seen: Friday, 1st November at Chapter Arts

Review Heaven on their minds, Calvary Baptist Church By Rhys Payne

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

This is the best concert-style show that I have ever seen in my entire life! This was an incredible show vocally but on top of this everything about the show was well throughout and planned. Ben Smith who organised this event had a very clear idea for the type of show he wanted and was able to execute this perfectly.

This show ran inside Calvary Baptist Church which firstly provided a beautiful backdrop for each singer. Secondly the whole premise of this concert was songs that had a connection to religion whether this was through lyrics or songs from musicals that have religious connections (eg Joseph, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar etc.) having a concept that ties together the whole show just makes for a consistent, easy-to-watch show that the audience can follow in a logical way. Ben had come up with a very clever theme for the that allowed a wide selection of songs to be sung as well as being relevant to the venue itself which is incredibly clever.

The name itself together tied the two ideas of ‘church’ and musical theatre as ‘Heaven on Their Mind’ is a song from the faith-based musical Jesus Christ Superstar which is again the entire concept of the show. I can’t express how impressed I am with Ben and the other organisers who managed to come up with this incredible branding and theme of the night as it is tremendously clever so they should be proud of this. Despite the importance of musical theatre in this night, it was made explicitly clear that this is not a musical theatre night. The show had a mixture of songs from popular shows that everyone would know to shows even the most theatre crazed people would struggle to name. Some people there would know all the musicals the songs are from as some would know none and so it was not a celebration of musical theatre rather the overall concept of the show being executed. Even those you had never heard of a musical would be able to enjoy the songs which made the show more accessible to a greater range of people.


The standard in this show was already incredibly high set from the opening number from Godspell and it seemed to just increase constantly as the show progressed. In a non-competitive way, each performer appeared to listen to the previous song and then try and top it which helped to keep the audience engaged. Every person was amazing and managed to play perfectly to their strength and so the person who chose the songs should be proud they were able to fit the songs to every singer so perfectly. This was like a west-end level show for the price of a local show, actually, this show was higher quality than many of the west-end professional shows I have seen. The talent was only aspirated as the focus was solely on the performer and their vocals. This show had no dancing, no props, no fancy lights and no MC instead the focus was just on the singers and so each person was able to fully showcase their ability and amazing talent. Even from a non-performance aspect, each individual was dressed in their smartest attire which helped elevate the event and made the audience feel as if they are witnessing an exclusive and high-calibre event (which they were.) I am not sure if this a part of a stated ‘uniform’ as such but if so, then this worked as it should have and gave the right effect to this effect while still making it visually accessible to everyone.


Ben-Joseph Smith, who is a recent graduate from the Welsh academy of music and drama, sang the opening solo of this show which was a beautiful city from the musical Godspell. This song was sung beautifully and he managed to blend the softness and intensity of the song in the most perfect way. Later on, we had a section from Les Mis where Ben sang a very intense version of Stars which again sounded incredible.


Simon Jennings, who is a pastor and worship leader based in Eden Church Penarth also graced the stage with his operatic and powerful voice. His Rendition of Close every door to me from Joseph and his amazing technicolour dream coat was incredibly moving and in fact, I was in tears by the end of it. Being able to create such strong feeling from this song is an incredible act and only goes to show Simon’s talent and ability. Simon also was involved in the Les Mis section were he sung Bring him Home which is perfectly in his skill set. His powerful voice worked perfectly within this song and he was able to easily achieve the range of this song. He also covered a song I didn’t know about titled ‘why God why’ from Miss Saigon which is a song that I now have to listen to more as it is so moving and relevant in today’s society.


The biggest highlight for me was the rendition of Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar which was sung by Ashley. Ashley is known for recently playing Jesus Christ in Everyman Cardiff’s open-air festival which is regrettably missed this year. To cover such an iconic and difficult song is a very big task but Ashley seemed to not even flinch at this mammoth song. I have listened to a wide range of people covering this song from local people singing a somewhat shaky version to Ben Forester in the arena tour to John Legend in the most recent adaptation but this cover was the best I had even heard. He blew spots off even the most established and professional performers who had taken on this role and he received a standing ovation from the crowd which is even more astonishing as it was the end of act one. Ashley visibly poured everything into this performance which led to an out of this world cover. This song on its own was worth more than the price of admission and now I am devastated that I missed JCS over the summer.

The opening group number from Godspell was a little shaky as people did look visibly uncertain about entrances and parts etc but it was so bad that it affected the show. In my personal opinion, the solos in this show we’re better than those in groups or duets etc as it allowed each person to fully showcase their skills and so possibly next time this should be the focus. Also, there were a few tedious links within this show to tie the theme of the show and the actual songs sang such as certain songs from Les Mis as it contains the words ‘God’ in them but this is a tiny issue that can be sanded out possibly in the next show.

Overall this is a phenomenal concert that demonstrated the skills and talents of each performer which led to a fantastic evening of performances. In all honesty, I would probably prefer to return to this event over many of the professional shows I have seen. The show itself was well thought out and constructed which was the ‘icing’ on the already ‘incredible cake’ which helped with constancy from the audience. If this show returns with a similar cast I would strongly recommend you buy a ticket as it an evening of West-end quality singing for a fraction of the price. I would rate this show 5 out of 5 stars and would give it 6 out of 5 stars if this was possible.

Review, Eye of the Storm, Theatr na nÓg at Pontio Arts Centre by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

My love affair with theatre began a few years ago with Under Milk Wood. Theatr Clwyd’s production of Dylan Thomas’ most famous work was a revelation, a conversion experience that has led me to take a seat for many a show since. Over the last year or so, such journeys have become less frequent. Life has a habit of evolving with time, and I think I lost a sense of what made theatre so special for me in the first place. Two plays have recently rekindled the fire within me. I do not think it a coincidence that both happen to be made and based in Wales. Along with Emily White’s Pavilion, Theatr na nÓg’s Eye of the Storm reflects the nation in which I live; the nation from which I claim part of my identity. I wonder whether a lack of representation has been a factor in my dulled appreciation of theatre. If so, these two plays have supercharged my passion for the medium back to life.

Set in a small town, post-mining community, Eye of the Storm draws numerous parallels with Pavilion. This includes a focus on young people and the theme of aspiration. Writer and director Geinor Styles chooses to tackle the challenges faced by this demographic through an excellent supporting cast that circle around the main lead, played by Rosey Cale. Cale gives a strong and quietly emotive performance as Emmie Price, an intelligent and practical teenager whose ambition to study tornadoes at an American University is severely tested by the circumstances of her present reality. Living in a caravan with her mum, who has bipolar disorder, Emmie must juggle her role as a young carer with the demands of school and household chores, along with negotiating the rent and constant electricity problems with inept park manager Mr Church (Keiron Bailey). It is a wonder that she has the time, let alone the inclination, to dream big. Yet Styles has created a dogged and determined young woman whose empowering presence makes her the perfect role model for those facing adversity. She represents what can be achieved if you pursue your dreams in spite of your present situation.

Geinor Styles

Eye of the Storm is an uplifting narrative that does not shy away from the difficulties of life but adds splices of humour throughout. The poise and astuteness of Emmie is beautifully contrasted with the lovesick innocence of Lloyd, the cartoonish physicality of Dan Miles making for a truly affectionate character. Along with Keiron Bailey, who is fantastically hilarious as class clown Chris, Miles ensures that laughter is never far away in this production. For all that it deals with bigger issues such as climate change and the effects of austerity, like Pavilion, the real joy of Eye of the Storm is in its shrewd observance of ordinary life. The characters on stage are recognisable, relatable; all the more so to a predominantly Welsh audience who see and hear something of themselves reflected, including in the witticisms and references that season the script with a particularly Welsh flavour.

The script is bolstered by an original soundtrack created by prolific songwriter Amy Wadge. Most recently known for her work on Keeping Faith, here the ethereal, soulful sounds that accompanied Eve Myles and co are nowhere to be found. Instead, country music provides the backdrop to the action on stage. And it complements the narrative really well, offering extra pathos to the character arc of Emmie in particular. ‘Emmie Don’t Say’ is my personal favourite track, not least because Cale and Caitlin McKee (Karen) duet with such gorgeous harmonies, creating a poignant and tear-inducing moment that also represents a neat summary of the character of Emmie. It is a song that will stay with me for some time to come.

Awarded ‘Best Show for Children and Young People’ at the Wales Theatre Awards, such an accolade could lead to some confusion over its target demographic. Indeed, if my motivation to see Eye of the Storm had not come off the back of meeting Rosey Cale in her other guise as an independent singer-songwriter, it is highly likely I would have overlooked it entirely, considering I’m now approaching thirty. It is certainly a show suitable for children and young people but do not mistake Eye of the Storm as a show written exclusively for this age group. It can be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone from 8-98. Indeed, overhearing the feedback as the audience filtered out at the end, it was overwhelmingly positive, from old and young alike. Coming off the back of Pavilion, it certainly made its mark on me. It reignited that spark which I had lost somewhere along the way, returned through seeing something of my own life reflected on stage. Eye of the Storm has been, for me, a reminder of the importance of representation on stage.

Click here for show dates and tickets.

gareth

REVIEW Curtains (UK Tour), New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

From the creators of Chicago and Cabaret, Curtains marks John Kander and Fred Ebb’s third musical with a one-word title that starts with the letter ‘C’ – and also the third jewel in a storied career that has graced us with some of the best musical theatre in history. Curtains features a starry, multi-talented cast, an enthralling mystery and simply some of the best theatre I have had the pleasure of watching in quite some time.

Originating in the US with David Hyde Pierce in the lead, this version is directed by Paul Foster, and written by Rupert Holmes, based on the original concept/book by Peter Stone. Drawing on the fourth wall-breaking, metatextual mischief of Kiss Me, Kate and The Producers, Curtains is set in late 1950s Boston and centres on the beleaguered cast and crew of the Broadway-bound Robbin’ Hood of the Old West (basically Robin Hood meets Oklahoma, a hilariously bizarre mix). When their lustre-lacking leading lady is murdered onstage on opening night, it’s up to detective Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford) to root out the true culprit – that is, if he’s not too busy turning his dreams of theatrical stardom into a reality.

Curtains The Musical ©The Other Richard

Though the mystery keeps you guessing right up until the end, it’s a show that’s more ‘musical’ than ‘whodunnit’, but that’s no bad thing when you have an ensemble as tremendously gifted as this one. The sheer power of the assembled cast is on full display in thrilling numbers like the captivatingly extravagant ‘In the Same Boat’, the chillingly operatic ‘The Woman’s Dead’, and the hilariously effervescent ‘He/She/They Did It’ (in which the company’s collective paranoia imagines each character to be the culprit in turn). Every single person is a triple threat and a triple delight, whether it’s gloriously hamming up their pleas of innocence or pizzazz-ing the hell out of a showstopping number. But it’s Jason Manford’s leading performance that anchors the show, and further proves his West End mettle after lauded turns in Guys and Dolls, The Producers and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

‘It’s curtains for you, pal!’ is something that Cioffi might be used to saying in his day job, but it also hints at his secret desire to become one of the ‘Show People’ who appear to be the prime suspects. His wish to waive the workaday in exchange for a life in the arts might remind you of one Leopold Bloom (a role Manford has played in the past) – but he’s far from The Producers’ mousy neurotic. Manford brings a Jimmy Stewart-esque everyman quality to this role and continues to impress as an all-round performer, with his characteristic comic timing, killer vocals and some terrific moves – even though the cast also boasts Strictly Come Dancing champ Ore Oduba, it’s Manford who gets the showpiece dance sequence!

Curtains The Musical ©The Other Richard

As songwriter Aaron Fox, Oduba is a revelation here, imbuing his character with classic elegance and Clark Gable charm. We already knew from his 2014 Strictly win that he could dance, but I was surprised and delighted to find out how wonderfully he could sing too! It’s a shame that (other than as part of the chorus line) he doesn’t get a showcase dance scene – but he melds excellently with the ensemble, and his songs (including the melancholy ‘I Miss the Music’) are some of the loveliest in the show. His chemistry with Carley Stenson’s Georgia Hendricks (Fox’s songwriting partner/wife) is fantastic, and Stenson is superb in the role – having already earned her West End stripes in a multitude of hits including Legally Blonde, Les Miserables, Shrek and Spamalot, Stenson rocks some of the show’s most exciting numbers, especially act one closer ‘Thataway!’

If that’s not already enough, there are also masterful turns by the brilliant Leah Barbara West as rising ingénue Niki Harris (who, on the strength of this performance, is surely destined for the role of Christine Daaé in the not-too-distant future), and Samuel Holmes as hilariously haughty director Christopher Belling, who lays claim to some of the finest sarcasm this side of Dr Perry Cox. But it’s Rebecca Lock as Carmen Bernstein, the delectably brusque producer of Robbin’ Hood, who truly steals the show every time she’s onstage. Lock is a powerhouse in the role, breathtakingly charismatic and possessing the timeless quality and sheer presence of theatre greats like Dolores Gray and Ethel Merman, especially in her magnificent solo number ‘It’s a Business’.

Curtains The Musical ©The Other Richard

This whole production is a creative marvel, gorgeously crafted from top to bottom. David Woodhead’s lavish sets are a spectacle in themselves, none more breath-taking than a striking evocation of the theatre rafters that you simply have to experience for yourself. The vibrant orchestra is incredible; a beautiful reminder that there is nothing quite like live music. Gabriella Slade’s costumes are utterly magnificent (the sheer amount of material in the ‘Kansasland’ dresses deserves an award – the way they move!), and Alistair David’s thrilling, innovative choreography evokes the joyous, pin-point precision of classic movie musicals – Frank/Niki’s love duet (‘A Tough Act to Follow’) on the stairs is pure Singin’ in the Rain, and the ‘Kansasland’ sequence is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers perfection; I, personally, can give no higher praise. It hasn’t aged well in some aspects – there’s a dance/song sequence featuring a Native American character that feels inappropriate (especially as she is portrayed by a white actress), and Bambi (Emma Caffrey) is kind of over-sexualised for laughs, so the script could do with a little updating in those respects.

It’s rare to see such a thoroughly brilliant and beautifully devised show of this calibre outside of Broadway or the West End, but Curtains ticks all the boxes. It’s a self-aware love letter to musical theatre that ribs the genre for its tropes and celebrates it for its virtues. Ultimately, the show isn’t interested in what the critics think – it views them in much the same way as M. Night Shyamalan circa Lady in the Water, but when they’re as deliciously snobby as resident killjoy Daryl Grady (Adam Rhys-Charles), who can blame them? – because what it truly cares about is entertaining its audience. With a classic feel and a show-stopping quality in every scene and song, it’s clear the curtain won’t be dropping on this superlative production for a very long time indeed.

Curtains is playing at the New Theatre, Cardiff this week before storming its way through the UK through next year. A genuinely unmissable treat.

Review And she, Bonnie and The Bonnettes by eva marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The perfect antidote to autumn blues, And She is a fun and moving exploration of our relationship with our mothers. It is a play, a musical, and comedy gig. Dressed in bright orange costumes, the talented trio Hattie Eason, Rebecca Glendenning and Cameron Sharp, re-enact the conversations they had and have with their mothers. They do so by intersecting dialogues, monologues, and pieces of life.  

The audience eavesdrops on the trio’s conversations with their mothers, their memories, their misunderstandings and excuses, and their drunken singing. And She strikes the right balance of comedy and drama. The mothers have gone through bad marriages, breast cancer, alienation and reconciliation with their child, have given up work to look after their children and care for grandma, and have dared wear sexy lingerie with a curvy body on stage. These mothers are great and ordinary. And She is distilled everyday life.  

The show is sophisticated without pretension; yet it is let down by songs that never really take off. The move from comedy to drama could be helped by a change in colours in terms of costumes and lights. This would help accentuate the more emotional parts. Bonnie and The Bonnettes celebrate their mothers in style and remind us that family relationships cannot and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Off to call mum.