Category Archives: Theatre

Top Tunes with Rachel Trezise

Photograph of Rachel credit Jon Pountney

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

I’m a novelist and playwright, probably most well known for the Dylan Thomas Prize-winning short story collection ‘Fresh Apples.’ My plays include ‘Tonypandemonium’, ‘We’re Still Here’ and ‘Cotton Fingers’ which will be touring parts of Ireland and the UK this year.

In 2007 my nonfiction book about the Welsh music scene ‘Dial M for Merthyr’ was published. Somewhat bizarrely, Guns ‘n’ Roses bassist, Duff McKagan listed it in his autobiography as one of his all time favourite music books.

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 Girl from Chickasaw County’ box set was released in September last year, commemorating the legacy of country music singer Bobbie Gentry. There are eight CDs in all so I’m still digesting it. My mother was a huge country and western fan. She played Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bobbie Gentry, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty and Tammy Wynette throughout my childhood. Gentry was always my favourite. I was about nine when I really started listening to the lyrics and realised the songs were all short stories. I’ve had a lifelong obsession with ‘Fancy’, a song about a girl called Fancy who’s mother sells her into prostitution: ‘I might have been born just plain white trash but Fancy was my name.’

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 Appetite for Destruction – Guns ‘n’ Roses – Guns ‘n’ Roses have been my favourite band since the age of around thirteen. They are my coming-of-age soundtrack. People have often asked me how I can be a feminist and love songs famed for so much misogyny.

I’ve tried to answer this question in an essay titled ‘Nothing for Nothing’ published in ‘Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women And The Women Who Love Them’ edited by Rhian E Jones and Eli Davies.

2 Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes – I listened relentlessly to this album while I wrote and rewrote my first novel ‘In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl’. I quoted a lyric from one of the songs on the flyleaf. The themes in it are guilt, alienation, childhood trauma and adult inadequacy. They are also the themes in my novel. At the time I was listening mostly to Metallica, Pantera and Megadeth. A female singer-songwriter, and piano music in particular was quite a departure for me.

3 The Holy Bible – Manic Street Preachers – The Manic Street Preachers were the first Welsh thing I was proud of. Growing up in the 80s, Welsh culture was all about Max Boyce and Aled Jones, then here was this intelligent working class band telling the real story of the boredom and alienation I knew growing up in a south Wales destroyed by Thatcherism. By extension, the Manic Street Preachers made reading literature something to be proud of rather than slightly embarrassed by. I still listen to this album every few months.

4 The Clash – Combat Rock – Whereas country was my mother’s thing, my brother who’s ten years older than me was always listening to UK punk: The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Generation X et al. Via him I discovered one of my favourite bands, The Clash. Combat Rock is a controversial choice but it includes my favourite song ‘Straight to Hell’ which talks of the immigrant experience and the death of industry in Northern England, but was mostly considered their ‘American album’ because it dealt with the aftermath of the Vietnam war, the hypocrisy of the American dream and referenced Taxi Driver. The Clash have always been relevant and seem everyday to grow more so.

5 The Future – Leonard Cohen – It’s difficult to choose one Leonard Cohen album but I’ve gone for ‘The Future’ which includes the song ‘The Future’ which is how I discovered Cohen via the movie soundtrack for ‘Natural Born Killers’ produced by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor.

Cohen said once that the demographic of people who like his songs could be called ‘the broken-hearted.’ I do go to him when I’m sore and looking to be mended. I listened to his early albums a lot after my mother died for example. I have the much-celebrated ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’ lyric from ‘Anthem’ tattooed on my arm to remind me that however imperfect I am, I am enough. It works sometimes.

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?

IfwhiteAmericatoldthethruthforonedaytheworldwouldfallapart by Manic Street Preachers. I haven’t stopped thinking about this song since Trump got into power.

Review Lose Yourself, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff by Kevin Johnson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The latest play by Welsh Playwright Katherine Chandler has three separate intertwining monologues, from three characters, that is far more than the sum of its parts.

Nate is an aging footballer who knows his career is ending but can’t, or won’t, mature. Even with a wife and child at home, he’s still got an eye for the good life, the champagne and the girls. 

Josh is a teenage footballer with an injury that could end his career before it starts, denying him an exit from a life he’s desperate to leave. All he wants is a way out, and Meg, the girl he loves.

Yaz doesn’t want a career, just a job at the cosmetics counter, but the competition includes girls with degrees, and she’s only got an NVQ and some street smarts.

The three come together on a Saturday, all have one thing in common, a desire, a need, to forget all their troubles and lose themselves in the night out to end all nights out. But this one might not end well for everyone.

There is so much to enjoy in this play, such a feast of words that it’s almost a poem. A Labour slogan here, a Jean Paul Sartre quote there, all the while pulsating with rhythm and rhymes: “Her and she and me. We.”, “Giggling and wiggling, and I’m grinding and winding…grounding and pounding”, “Tequila! No more. One more. No more now”.

It’s earthy, bawdy, visceral, and vital, all of these and more. Chandler brings the characters to life and lets their words flow into each other, as they try to escape the fate that, deep down, they suspect they’re doomed to.

The recent conviction of cricketer Alex Hepburn gives the piece a timeliness, especially with the rise of the #MeToo movement and the Weinstein scandal. An accounting of such behaviour is long overdue, and here she explores why men feel so entitled.

The cast take the script and, realising what a gift it is, run with it. Aaron Anthony as Nate gives us an elder that is more immature than the others, a balancing act that he carries off with a swaggering aplomb.

Tim Preston makes us hope for a Josh who is strangely insightful for his youth, even as he betrays himself with an uncharacteristic act of madness.

Gabrielle Creevy, in her first professional stage role, creates a Yaz that is both street-smart and innocent. A girl who goes into a situation with her eyes open, yet never at any point is guilty of being an accomplice. There are three great performances here, but I would say she just edges ahead with a sensitive portrayal.

Director Patricia Logue keeps the play pacy and rhythmic, using Carla Goodman’s set to great effect. It’s a simple but atmospheric one that brings the play to life, especially with the aid of Andy Pike’s lighting and Sam Jones sound.

This is not an easy play, but it takes an ugly situation and imbues it with such beauty that even the expletives are poetic. Chandler has a reputation for going to dark places, but light needs to be shined on these most of all. 

When we ask why so many feel this is the only way to be, Josh explains how the choices for most are ‘dole, drugs or die young’.

There needs to be another option.

Lose Yourself plays at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff until the 25th May.

Becoming Oneself on Stage. Robinson. The Other Island. Behind the Curtains, Part 3 By Eva Marloes

Production photograph by Jorge Lizalde

Robinson. The Other Island, the latest production by director Mathilde Lopez, fuses Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe with Michel Tournier’s version of the story in Friday.

Robinson is stranded on an island for 28 years, Bianca, played by Luciana Chapman, is alone in her flat reading about Robinson. Defoe’s and Tournier’s stories of Robinson come together in Bianca’s reading. In turn, Bianca, as a reader, identifies with Robinson, gets angry at Robinson, and feels sympathy for him. The multiple layers of theatre reminded me of Pirandello’s layers of reality. We watch a story that has a story within itself and discover that we are part of it. This is made possible by the ingenuity of John Norton’s binaural in-ear mics that takes the audience into the heads of the actors

We are Robinson experiencing the loneliness of the island, but also Bianca who reads about Robinson in her own loneliness, and spectators who discover their own loneliness by being isolated through headphones.

Robinson is a reflection on loneliness. It cuts deep into human experience and fragility. It is universal; yet it is conveyed through the particularity of the characters and the actors. Robinson Crusoe is a 17th century man with a colonial mindset, Bianca is a 21st century woman in Cardiff. Luciana Chapman, who plays Bianca, is a 25-year-old Dutch-American black woman living in Cardiff. As a black woman, she feels anger at Robinson’s misogyny and racism. She feels disgust at Robinson having sex with the island. As a human being, she sympathises with his isolation. She tells me,

“He speaks so lightly about slavery, about the ‘negros’ … it closes up my throat, makes me feel very angry, I have tears behind my eyes. You have to tell yourself that it was a different time. I find it very difficult. … Yet, when he speaks about thrusting his penis into a mossy crevice, the woman in me cringes and finds it disgusting, but as a human being thinking of that as a need for contact, something everyone craves, all of a sudden it becomes a beautiful moment. He’s really making love to that piece of earth. It sounds weird, but it’s pure emotion.”

Luciana says that today she cannot be made into a slave as in the past, but there are still people who see her as an object, sometimes as a woman she’s seen as a sexual object, sometimes as a black person she’s seen as not human. Luciana, as a black woman, experiences Robinson from her own particular identity; yet, as an actress, she needs to go beyond that and connect with her own character. Luciana tells me that she’s ‘an involuntary method actor,’ her character often slips into her own life. She says,

‘I was in Tesco and I found an orchid and I absolutely fell in love with her. I never bought a plant in my life and all of a sudden now I’m in a play that is all about plants and my character has her own plant, I, as Luciana, find this plant and take it.’

Acting allows one to go beyond the characters we create for ourselves in our daily lives. It lets free all those parts of us that are out of place, silenced, or simply not required. That, I believe, is why Luciana finds theatre ‘real’ for her and freeing. It is not deceit or mere representation, but the acting out of personas who are passive inside of us. She says,

‘In a weird way, theatre is real for me. Yes, I’m acting but when I’m doing it right there it is all real. It’s a play but it’s real. I’m really going through the emotions, I’m really feeling them. … The character comes alive in me. … Certain characters and plays bring out other aspects in me and I blow out those types of aspects, but it’s always a part of me with a different name.’

Acting allows experiences and the expression of feelings to be lived within a structured framework. The actor might be vulnerable as they tap into their own emotions, yet the set lines, movements, and space provide safety. Luciana tells me,

(Acting) is when I feel most free because I find real life really confusing, because things always happen and no one tells you how to deal with it, there isn’t really a booklet on how to deal with things. But in theatre you study things for so long you know what’s coming and you can wholly have that emotion safely in that moment and people seeing it. That’s beautiful.’

Acting is never a lonely experience. It presumes an audience. In theatre, the physical presence of the audience makes the feelings the actor feels and seeks to convey a shared and intimate experience.

‘I love that I can feel something and have people feel it with me. I’m removed from people … but it’s so extremely intimate because they’re all watching you. I feel like I’m around people in a safe way. I love the attention … I love making people feel things.’

Luciana becomes Bianca on stage, who becomes Robinson by reading the book. At one point in the play, she stands tall on the stage and commands the ‘Governor’s coat’ be fetched and brought to her. She wears the coat, as Robinson did in asserting his colonial power over the island. While Robinson does so in broken sentences, giving his back to the audience, Bianca exudes strength; yet when she confronts Robinson and tries to hit him, she sees him in all his vulnerability and gives up. Luciana says,

‘There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re a victim. Everyone needs much more vulnerability. Then we can console each other.’

Bianca experiences anger and pride, loneliness and compassion. It is in the portrayal of contradictory feelings that we glimpse our shared experience of being human.

The Sound of Robinson, The Other Island, Behind the Curtains, Part 2 By Eva Marloes

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

(l-r Matt Wright, John Norton, Give It A Name) Photo by Jorge Lizaldo @ Studio Cano

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

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Eva Marloes

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 the audience.

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.’

Jack Drewry image credit Kitty Wheeler Shaw

This technique 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 disorientation.

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.

For more on spatial audio, please check BBC Academy h

Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – Patrick Downes

Review:  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour® Dreamcoat – Wales Millennium Centre 14 May 2019

You’ll surely know the story of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour® Dreamcoat. If not…. where’ve you been? It’s a retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph, his eleven brothers and the coat of many colours.

From its origins in the late 60s to its revival in 1991 with Jason Donovan (then Phillip Schofield), this new touring production of Joseph certainly stands the test of time. It’s been one of my favourite musicals and that was only through listening to the 1991 cast recording, over and over. So, that aside. How does this fair?

Jaymi Hensley as Joseph is certainly a little powerhouse of a vocalist which belies his pop background of XFactor and Union J. 

Trina Hill as the Narrator guides the audience through with a voice of great stature for someone so diminutive, and Andrew Geater as Elvis, err, Pharaoh manages to steal the second act.

Special mention though to the other cast/ensemble as I can’t remember the previous tour in 2016 being so rounded like this, as for the children – on stage throughout both acts, just brilliant! There’s more to what you may know of Joseph and it’s certainly worth a few hours of your time seeing it on this current tour.  A perfect entry into the world of musical theatre for anyone of ages 8 – 98

I think you should not “Close every door” and just “Go go go” see Joseph!

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is on it’s UK Tour at at Wales Millennium Centre till 18th May 2019

Reviewer: Patrick Downes

® Technicolor is a registered trademark of the Technicolor Group of Companies

Review Jospeh and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Rhys Payne

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Musical fans often snub Joseph for being like a school production but I challenge any musical fan to watch Jaymi Hensley in the title role and not be blown away. This production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Wales Millennium starred Jaymi Hensley as Joseph and at first, I was apprehensive. Jaymi is famously known for being one of the members of the English pop band Union J and sometimes, in my opinion, they cast famous pop stars just for them to be a famous face and to sell more tickets. However, this was not the case. Jaymi excelled at this role and really helped elevate the show. His acting helped perfectly balance the campiness and seriousness of the show with his exaggerated facial reactions to the audience and emotional portrayal of being reunited with friends. His singing was flawless. He posses an operatic style voice which at first I thought would be distracting but it actually helped showcase Jaymi’s talented without being distracting. In fact, I would say that this show contained the greatest rendition of ‘Any Dream Will Do’ that I have ever heard. My only issue with his singing was that at the end of the performance there was a ‘sing-a-long’ section and because Jaymi was such a fantastic singer that it made it somewhat difficult to sing along but that is a minor detail. With Jaymi’s inclusion of riffs and high notes that I think were added just for him, it helped elevate this show from its school production roots (which was what Joseph was written for) to high quality, West End ready level.

One of the problems I had from the first time I saw Joseph last year was the almost nonsensical setting of this musical. In last year’s version, we jump from the Wild West with “One More Angel” to France with “Those Cannan Days” and while this was fun to watch it did confuse me somewhat. With this year’s production however the staging and lights were used to suggest a theme rather than a location. Rather than being set in France for “Those Cannan Days” there was simply a illuminated Eiffel Tower on the background of the stage , which obviously was not supposed to look like a real-life in-person version of the tower, which served as a reminder of a French theme rather than stating this is where they are. The other thing that confused me the first time I saw this show was the character of Pharaoh as he appeared to be an Elvis impersonator. It was only after this year that I realised it was a play on the moniker of “The King.”

This year the pharaoh, played by Andrew Geater, was amazing. He looked similar to Elvis, he had his mannerisms nailed down and his impression was fantastic. The brothers in this musical are a vital part of the narrative as without them Joseph would not have ended up in Egypt. Within the show, the brothers also added to the comedy and fun of the show but also had fantastic choreography especially in Potiphar’s song titled “Potiphar” where they performed an intricate dance routine with poles which they used to create key objects in the song which was great to watch. All of the brothers were excellent dancers who combined the seriousness and campiness of each number. However, during “Benjamin’s Calypso” the brothers dressed and performed as calypso dancers. Some of the dancers did look a little uncomfortable with this dance number but it was barely visible, apart from this, they were fantastic. They were hilarious and great to watch. Something that was really interesting to see was the portrayal of Potiphars wife. She appeared on stage dressed as a ‘flapper’ and danced accordingly which was a really nice touch as within the story she is supposed to be ‘free spirited.’  At the beginning of the production during “Jacob and Sons” there is supposed to be inflatable sheep on the top of the stage however they did not inflate as they were supposed to and the members of the production had to sort them out. This was a small distraction for the audience.

Overall, I think the choice of costumes and colours worked perfectly together with the narrator in black and silver (with stars across her top) and the brothers, for the majority of the show, plain block colours. The use of colour reached its climax in the iconic image where Joseph is stood with the multi-coloured coat spread out across the stage. The posters and advertising for this show reflected the use of colour by using the raining drops of the rainbow which encapsulated the drama, colour, and the fun of the show. The designers of the advertisements must have thought about this and should be applauded. The show blended the tradition and history of Joseph while at the same time making it modern and the best performance of Joseph I have ever seen. I rate this production at 4 and a half stars.

Behind the Curtains, Part 1: Robinson, The Other Island By Eva Marloes

Robinson, the latest creation of director Mathilde Lopez and John Norton, artistic director of the company Give It A Name, is taking shape in the Stiwdio, the large room part of Chapter Arts Centre. Robinson is as much a sound exploration as a textual engagement with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Michel Tournier’s Friday. Defoe’s book, published 300 years ago, is a dreary propaganda for colonial exploitation, while in Friday, or The Other Island, written in 1967, Tournier explores the relationship between our ideas of civilisation and of noble savagery. In the hands of Mathilde Lopez, Robinson is a parable of solitude, which is conveyed through an innovative use of sound, designed by John Norton.

Director Mathilde Lopez

I sit down and I am given headphones. Every member of the audience will wear them. I hear the waves of the sea, the tweeting of birds, Caribbean music, and Bianca, played by Luciana Chapman, reading, but not in both ears. The headphones and mics are binaural, to recreate how our ears perceive sound. I hear Bianca speaking softly in my ear as if I were reading a book. I hear birds tweeting and a mosquito buzzing around my left ear evoking a tropical island.

The stage, for the time being, consists of three tables stuck together lengthways cutting the space in two. This will later be replaced by pallets filled with various materials, including cans and empty plastic bottles. The actors perform on the tables and around them. They’re still finding their feet. The text is not finalised, the action still to be worked out, and the cues set. The play is in becoming. I’m witnessing the creative process, which, under Mathilde’s direction, is playful and cooperative. Mathilde often laughs. She laughs at what the actors come up with, she laughs at herself. She makes suggestions, gives indications; she never raises her voice, never criticises. It’s always ‘shall we do this,’ ‘can you do this,’ and ‘thank you.’

A big black box arrives. There’s dough inside. Mathilde has fun taking it out of the box and playing with it. Her happy and excited face is like that of a child. Luciana punches the dough while John, who plays Robinson and is an experienced bread-maker, kneads it. John wants to throw the dough to Luciana. She’s afraid of missing. She doesn’t. Mathilde encourages the game. She thinks that Luciana should drop the big blob of dough on the table. Luciana has put the big blob of dough on her face. Mathilde laughs and says, ‘It’s a bit Elephant Man.’ Turning to sound tech Jack, Mathilde asks for a recording of John as Robinson saying, ‘Can you put the soporific John?’ I stand next to them. It’s intimate and warm in a very cold room. I listen to Luciana reciting her piece. Mathilde, John, and I listen while playing with the dough. It’s like children playing quietly while their mother tells them a story.

This story is one of solitude, colonialism, capitalist ethic, and freedom. It begins with Mathilde’s love for Tournier’s work. In Friday, Robinson has sex with the island and even with the child of the island. Mathilde has focussed on solitude and the antidote to solitude: reading. ‘When you read, it has your voice.’ In Robinson, Bianca reads the book Robinson Crusoe directly into our ears, as if it were our voice. The solitude of reading a book is ‘not the solitude of watching telly,’ she tells me. In reading we use our voice, our rhythm, we are part of the book. ‘Your voice becoming a book is an enormous, physical exercise in compassion,’ says Mathilde. By saying the words in the book, we get closer to the characters and understand them. ‘It’s much harder for actors to remain oblivious to the suffering of the character they’re playing because they’re saying those words.’ Reading is thus a way to open ourselves to others, practise empathy, and participate in the humanity of others.

Robinson is alone on the island for 28 years. We participate in his solitude, but we’re also horrified by his misogyny, racism, and colonial attitude to nature.  The novel Robinson Crusoe is a ‘twisted inheritance,’ tells me Mathilde. Facing up to the slavery and colonialism of the novel, makes you deal with where we’re from. In Mathilde’s play, the passages on slavery are not sanitised. They are kept and dealt with. Bianca gets angry and plays Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey on the Moon, which in 1970 denounced American social inequality and racism and that is still relevant.

Today, in a world of extreme inequality, where the relentless pursuit of economic growth is threatening our planet’s very existence, Robinson’s obsessive work on the island mirrors our belief of constant activity as a value. ‘It’s morally right to do a lot,’ says Mathilde. The myth of self-reliance of Robinson is but a fig-leaf for exploitation of the land and of the labour of others. Robinson ‘has to do all the time because he’s terrified of living.’ In Tournier’s Friday, when Friday appears and makes all his goods explode, there is a shift in Robinson. He cannot go on in the same way. He no longer imposes ‘civilisation’ on the island.

Robinson’s ‘civilisation’ rests on slavery and the unsustainable use of nature. He looks at the world and the island as a good, as Mathilde explains, just as when we look at one another in terms of what we can get out. ‘Nothing has a value in itself. Everything is a means. The island is only a means for him throughout … Freedom starts at the point when things stop being simply means.’ Nature and human beings are value in themselves. At a time when we might feel discouraged at world governments’ inaction in tackling climate change and inequality, it might be tempting to despair. As Robinson reminds us, despair is a sin. Mathilde says, ‘bad fortune happens, but your own reaction to it is your responsibility.’

Review Louder is not Always Clearer, Jonny Cotsen by Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Jonny Cotsen is sat at a desk with a laptop open in front of him. Music is on, he walks to the mic at the centre of the stage, he nods to the beat, opens his mouth, nothing comes out. Jonny is deaf and the hearing world has barriers to him. In his show, Louder Is Not Always Clearer, he takes us into his world. Jonny’s world is a world of rhythm and movement. He owns the stage with his humorous and dynamic presence.  He seduces the audience with movement, sound, and words, some said, some written. Louder Is Not Always Clearer makes you experience with your body the difficulty of communicating across the deaf and hearing world.

Jonny grew up in a family that sought to minimise his disability. His parents always referred to his disability in terms of being ‘of partial hearing,’ never ‘deaf.’ Jonny’s show is a journey to own the term ‘deaf’ and to demystify it for all of us. As Jonny shows us his efforts at learning the sounds to be used in words, like ‘pa,’ ‘oo/ee,’ ‘th,’ ‘sh,’ ‘th,’ it feels like Ionesco’s La Cantatrice Chauve. Paradoxically, the slightly absurdist style of the first part of the show communicates effectively the impossibility of communication. We drown in sounds. We are overwhelmed.

Jonny lets us into his world with pathos and humour. He gives us funny ‘impressions’ of hearing people being condescending, patronising, and impatient. The show succeeds at making the audience experience the frustration, awkwardness, and loneliness of not being able to hear in a world of hearing people. I would have liked Jonny to take it further and explore the complexity of human communication, what is taken for granted in the words we use, our miscommunication, and bad communication. In the age of texts and emojis, of social media, and of multilingual people, deafness can shine a light on how we connect and disconnect with each other.

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In the 300th anniversary of the publication of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Robinson. The Other Island offers a multilayered way to rethink the book. Director Mathilde Lopez and John Norton, Artistic Director of the company Give it a Name, blend Robinson Crusoe with Michel Tournier’s Friday and convey a somber mood through an original sound experience, devised by John Norton and Jack Drewry. The play unfolds in our heads as we listen to the sounds, words, and music with headphones. Robinson is more than a play; it is a shared and intimate experience of reading and reflecting on solitude.

The Robinson Crusoe of Robinson. The Other Island (played by John Rowley) suffers a maddening loneliness alone on the Island, but lonely is also Bianca (played by Luciana Chapman), who reads Defoe’s and Tournier’s books. Bianca is alone in her flat, eating microwavable meals, trying to work out how to fix a leaking tap, hiding from her father, and yet seeking a connection with him. As Bianca reads about Robinson in our ears, it is also us who experience loneliness. Isolated from other members of the audience by headphones, yet establishing a connection with them as we watch and listen together. The drama is at times broken by the lively and funny interventions of book clubbers talking about Robinson Crusoe into the mics of Robinson and of Bianca. It is effective, although on opening night there were perhaps too many voices, rather than the one or two during rehearsals, thus losing intensity.

Robinson Crusoe’s misogyny, racism, and colonialism are not brushed under the carpet but take centre stage. They are tackled with humour, puzzlement, and even violence. At the words ‘I bought me a negro slave,’ Bianca gets angry in her anger she becomes Robinson. She orders to fetch the Governor’s coat (Robinson’s), smokes, and reads the horrendous passage where ‘negroes’ are things, tools of work, lesser humans. The colonial racism is juxtaposed with Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Whitey on the Moon,’

The 1970’s that contrasts the power of white man colonising the moon while black people have no money to pay the doctor’s bill. Bianca takes up a plank of wood and attacks Robinson breaking into the world she is reading about.

Bianca and Robinson interact only slightly. It is a dance of two lonely people seeking connection and forgiveness. Robinson is shown in his humanity: lonely, resourceful, exploring and observing the island, fighting against his destiny, and begging for forgiveness. A soft music creates intimacy. Bianca and Robinson sit together playing with dough like children and like children the audience listens to the voice reading the book. In the week when Jean Vanier, the founder of the community L’Arche, died, Robinson reminds me of his teaching on loneliness:

‘Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart. … It is because we belong with others and see them as brothers and sisters in humanity that we learn not only to accept them as they are, with different gifts and capacities, but to see each one as a person with a vulnerable heart. We learn to forgive those who hurt us or reject us; we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt.’

Robinson is a meditative piece that stimulates thought and nudges us slightly towards compassion.

The production plays at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff and then tours.

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Rhys Payne

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Robinson: The Other Island, performed by the ‘Give It a Name’ theatre company at Chapter Arts Centre in Stiwido Seligman, follows two people who are stranded in two completely different worlds. This stage play is based heavily on the Novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe which was done in an intriguing and exciting way.

The first thing I noticed when I entered was the studio was that there were headphones on all the seats which at first made me apprehensive as I thought the use of headphones would be a distraction but in fact, it actually really helped with the creation and development of the play itself.   The concept of this play was that Bianca played by Luciana Trapman wanted to escape the modern world through the ‘portal’ of the pages of the three-hundred-year-old book. At the same time, Robinson Crusoe played by John Rowley is trying to escape the island which was clear within the play itself.

Rehearsal images by Jorge Lizalde

The two contrasting characters, the modern day young woman and the shipwrecked old man, provide the perfect contrasts which allowed the audience to easily follow the story and portrayed the area, date, and context of where each ‘part’ was taking place which was cleverly done. As an audience member, we can see the staging being built in front of us which only added to the immersive-ness of the play. The company had engineered the headphones so the audio is split between the left and the right ear which means you can be apart of both of the ‘worlds’ at the same time. While we could hear the calming reading of the book from Bianca in one ear we could also the sounds of the stranded island (e.g. sea noises, voices, etc.) This was done to illustrate the fact that when a person reads a book it helps build a visual picture of what is being described in the book. Due to this the audience is an external third party, we can see Bianca reading the book and the story being created in front of us. This was a really ingenious concept from the director Mathilde Lopez. As a literature fan I could easily recognise and relate to this. The use of headphones made this play unique, modern and contemporary.

Robinson Crusoe was clearly shown as a shipwrecked man and was based on the description as described in the book. The character did look as if he could have been shipwrecked and his voice suited the role perfectly. The character, however, did have some problems. The first time we encounter the character was at the beginning of the play when he delivered a speech about laws and legislation of the new island. However, this speech was done on top of a step ladder into a microphone, which was done facing away from the audience. It may be a personal opinion but having a speech done away from the audience and not being able to see the actors face is confusing for the audience especially considering the headphones make it had to locate where the sound is coming through. After this, we walked across the stage to collect props which sort of detached the character from this the deserted island. The stage could have done with an exit from one side of the ‘stage’ to the other. As Robinson, walking across the stage distracted the audience that could have been avoided. This collecting props was a problem throughout the play. As the prop table was sort of on stage we could hear all the rustling and banging which broke the calmness and soothing-ness of Bianca’s voice.

The actress who played Bianca had a very calming voice. The almost whispered tone was really soothing through the headphone which was really nice for the audience. Her voice was almost ASMR like which was very nice. However, this character was very relatable. She was portrayed almost like a teenager who experiences the struggles of the modern world. Due to this she does use swear words which clashed with the ASMR voice used while reading. This was a little confusing but the actress used two distinct voices for reading (which was the ASMR style voice) and a normal conversation voice she used when chatting to her father etc.

A really nice touch was that when her phone was ringing we could actually see the screen on her phone that told us someone was ringing which was really cool and helped to add to the realness. In conclusion Robinson: The Other Island was an intelligently designed show which was contemporary, unique and unlike another play I have seen before. If you are interested in plays and wonder how theatre can evolve in the future then I advise you to watch this production, it is not to be missed! I give this play 4 out of 5 stars as it showed me a side of theatre I never knew existed!