Category Archives: Theatre

REVIEW: ‘HAIRSPRAY’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

4 Stars4 / 5

If you’ve toyed with the idea of seeing Hairspray on stage but doubted whether anyone could top Ricki Lake’s original 1988 portrayal of Tracy  – or indeed Nikki Blonsky’s 2007 film version, you really needn’t worry.

The new stage version of Hairpray brought to you by producers Mark Goucher, Matthew Gale and Laurence Myers will delight new and old fans from start to finish.

The show hasn’t lost an ounce of its popularity, having first swept the board at the Tony Awards on Broadway in 2002 and the more recent film version introducing a new generation of fans to the musical and original film.

Set in 1960s Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad dreams of  a starring role as one of the teenage dancers on the popular Corny Collins show – a cheeseball TV format of young beautiful things dancing and miming to the latest pop / rock n roll records.

Already at a disadvantage due to her shape, she encounters the realities of colour segregation rife in Baltimore and the US at the time. Only white teenagers were allowed to dance on the show, apart from ‘Negro Day’ every other Friday.

Based on real events with the real ‘Buddy Deane Show’, on which Hairspray was based, the story sees Tracy lead a group of friends to storm the TV studio and force the live broadcasting of integrated dancing, leading a protest against colour segregation and challenging preconceived ideas about women of shape at the same time.

The show is perfectly aided by a riot of technicolour staging and costume courtesy of TAKIS, while Drew McOnie’s superb vintage choreography will have your heart fluttering and your foot tapping.

But the story reminds us that for all the iconic fashions, bubble-gum scented nostalgia and fondness for the golden era of pop and rock and roll, black Americans were denied basic civil rights across America.

Such was the power and divisiveness of segregation, we see ‘seemingly nice’ young all-American kids suddenly spewing hatred and vitriol when the status quo is challenged.  Underneath the petticoats and the chucks and the varsity jackets and polite manners, there is suddenly spite and anger.

Hairspray is gently subversive, poking fun at the idiocy, prejudice and fear at the heart of  white America. What’s all the more cutting is the reminder that while the 60s may seem far away, the lurking presence of racism is rearing it’s ugly head again in the US.  

Two years ago I used Hairspray (the movie) as a vehicle to talk about civil rights and race in America in the 60s with my little girl.  Suddenly, it’s time to return to that ugly, awkward conversation.  We’re at a crossroads once again – because ‘nice guys’ in middle America are waving around swastika flags and white hoods.   

It’s not too hard to believe that the ‘nice polite white kids’ at the Corny Collins dance might have been the same kids lining up to shout abuse at kids entering the first integrated schools or kicking off at the lunch counters they thought were their domain when black protesters sat in ‘their place’.

So as an audience we laugh when Penny Pingleton’s Mum screams when she finds her daughter in bed with a black boy and shrieks ‘But what about the neighbours….the house prices!?’, when her deep-rooted instinct is to flinch/cower when Seaweed gives her a hug or when others gasp with horror as Tracy Turnblad admits she WOULD swim in an integrated swimming pool.

In some shape or form, we’ve all encountered the tropes and the stereotypes surrounding integration and mixed heritage relationships. We’ve rolled our eyes at the staggering lack of awareness even the nicest of people have, just like those kids at the hop in the ‘Nicest kids in town’ song in the first act.

I was overjoyed to once again see Layton Williams (in the role of Seaweed) at the WMC, who previously slayed in the role of Angel Dumott Schunard in RENT earlier this year. I’ve decided it is utterly impossible to take your eyes off him whenever he is on stage.  Former X Factor contestant Brenda Edwards was spellbinding as Motormouth Maybelle, with vocals that shook the rafters and I loved Annalise Liard-Bailey’s squeaky/dorky portrayal of Penny.  Ensemble cast member Graham Macduff was also hilarious in all his guises.  

As anyone who’s seen the 2007 film adaptation of Hairspray will tell you – you can never unsee the sight of John Travolta in a dress, but Matt Rixon and Norman Pace (of ‘Hale and Pace’) had a wonderful on-stage presence together and clearly enjoyed each other’s company

Hairspray recognises the ridiculousness of racism, blinds it with sequins and deafens these ugly faults with a soundtrack of rock n roll, pop, cha-cha-cha and motown.  

It calls racism out for what it is and still dares you to believe that the future will be different.  It’s hammy, it’s cheesy, it’s sweet and it’s a glitter bomb of cherry-cola scented joy.

An interview with Charlie Hammond from Me Me Me Theatre

The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently got the chance to chat to Charlie Hammond. Charlie spent time training in Cardiff and was one of our Young Critics. We discussed his career to date, Me Me Me’s current production ‘Clonely’ and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Hi Charlie can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Sure, I am an actor and theatre-maker based in the North-West. I create a lot of physical, visual, and chaotic performances. I borrow heavily from clown and physical comedy, and I have trained with various clowning and physical practitioners, in particular Philippe Gaulier, who is regarded as a leading practitioner in clown and performance training. His school is near Paris. I have also worked closely with director Cal McCrystal, who I learnt a great deal about directing and performance from whilst acting as associate director for Giffords Circus. Giffords are a traditional 1930’s style circus who create intimate performances which tour largely in the South-West of England.  Originally I studied English Literature at Cardiff University, and spent a large amount of my time being involved with the artistic community in Cardiff, including writing for the Young  Critics.

http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/profiles/blogs/young-critics-review-children-of-mine-by-charlie-hammond

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/theatre-news/review-its-family-affair-well-6140851

So what got you interested in the arts?

Just everyday culture really. Growing up my parents watching a lot of comedy, Red Dwarf, the Young Ones, that kind of seminal alternative comedy, and I absorbed a lot of that. And then the high school I attended had very good arts facilities and that really started my interest in performing, and I did a lot of singing in chamber choirs and a barbershop choir, theatre productions and musicals. I also always felt that the arts was actually something I always found challenging, where as more traditionally academic subjects like mathematics and science came a little bit easier to me.


Thanks Charlie, can you tell us about the work your company is taking to this Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

So, our show Clonely is a sci-fi adventure in existential crisis, a blend of bulls**t arthouse theatre with nonsense games and DIY props.
Our company, Me Me Me Theatre, strive to poke fun at the avant-garde, science fiction cinema, the audience, and crucially, ourselves. It’s a mixture of theatre, sketch comedy and audience interaction that blends together into a surreal and anarchic hour long show about space and being a clone.


Me Me Me is made up of myself, and writer-performer Jasmine Chatfield, who recently won a Northern Writers Award 2017, and produces and excellent art event in Manchester called FLIM NITE. We started working together this year, and have set out to make the kind of weird and funny work that we would like to see on stage. Closely runs Friday 4th to Sunday 27th August (Mondays off):, Laughing Horse Free Fringe at The Mockingbird, 2.45 (1 hr).

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/clonely
The festival features a huge range of productions and there is great deal of competition for audiences, why should audiences come and see your production?

To support the free fringe and new work. But if you are interested in weird comedy, with sci-fi elements which doesn’t take itself too seriously then you should watch our show. We are very proud of it, and really feel that it captures the best of free fringe. I mean and also the Scotsman gave us 4 stars, which we were pretty chuffed about, and called us ‘gifted physical comedians’, so there’s that as well!


What would you recommend seeing from this years festival?
Butt Kapinski’s film-noir show is one of the best pieces of clown which really plays into its concept and gets the audience on board. I love Red Bastard, and his new show Come Lie with Me is a very interesting and electric dissection of the rules of love. Jordan Brooke’s Body of Work is a fantastic show; it’s just transferred to the Pleasance Courtyard and is a masterpiece in audience manipulation. But that’s just the few I’ve been able to see.


What do the artists and companies do when they aren’t performing?
Anything to pay the bills! It differs from person to person. Most artists hold down a couple of days a week doing a steady job, some work full-time and balance creative opportunities on top of that. I am very fortunate as I currently work pretty much full-time as a performer, but I also run workshops and do various little jobs to make extra cash. But when I say full time a lot of that time is spent making work, which tends to be a labour of love.
And finally what’s the best Fringe show you’ve ever seen?

Couldn’t pin it down to one. You assign so much weight to a type of show you’ve seen for the first time. John-Luke Robert’s work has always been memorable for me, he was my first introduction into a very different type of comedy and show. The Alternative Comedy Memorial Society has always been one of my favourite shows to visit to see something totally different. I remember rating NTW ‘The Radicalisation of Bradley manning’ as a powerful and mesmerising performance. But then it might have to be A Young Man Dressed as a Gorilla Dressed as an Old Man Sits in a Rocking Chair for 56 Minutes and Then Leaves, which is exactly what is says on the tin as is for one-night only, and represents the fringe perfectly.

Review Llechi, Pontio by Gareth Williams

4 Stars4 / 5

 

Having missed it first time around, the chance to catch the restaging of Llechi seemed too good to miss. Originally performed as part of Pontio’s opening season, this eclectic mix of visual, musical and aerobatic art forms was a fascinating watch. It was engaging from start to finish, featuring a host of performers, all of whom played their part in making this a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating show. Despite its fluency in the Welsh language (with the exception of poet Martin Daws), I, a humble learner of the lingo, still managed to be entertained and entranced by the spectacle on offer. It was a delightful performance that offered plenty of emotion and a real sense of place.

Originally curated by alt-folk group 9Bach, the Welsh sextet returned to lead a talented cast in this fresh and innovative approach to storytelling. Taking us on a journey through the history, culture and traditions of the slate industry, this performance brought to life, in a new way, the story of local Welsh slate – the people, and the landscape. Full of experimental sounds and a mix of genres, it spans the centuries. This huge timescale is reflected in the song choices: from a spine-tingling rendition of Welsh hymn Dyma’r Gariad to the bass-fuelled beats of ‘90s rave music. There is no clash of musical styles here however. Instead, 9Bach have managed to create a very diverse yet complimentary soundtrack. The changes of tone, mood and tempo that take place throughout are at no point jarring. Instead, with help from the lighting, each transition is smooth and natural. It is something that could so easily have been a disaster. Here, though, it not only works well. It works incredibly well.

Alongside the musical prowess of 9Bach, choreographer Kate Lawrence and her team offered up some stunning physical performances in the air. It helped being seated on the lower balcony to watch these four talented dancers move across the auditorium. It was clear that many of their actions were reflecting the movements of quarrymen. But their pieces also featured an elegance that conveyed something of the local landscape too. Their graceful movements made for a mesmerising sight. But it also brought to mind, as a result, the ethereal and mythic quality of the mountains and the quarries. This was complimented perfectly, at one point in particular, by the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Lisa Jen Brown. Truly evocative, the backdrop of images that featured in the show were sometimes superfluous as a result. It was a strangely immersive experience.

I came away from Llechi desperate to buy the soundtrack. The music was wonderfully inspirational, eclectic and truly evocative of its Welsh setting. 9Bach have delivered a beautiful collaboration that is full of heart. It is a love story that awakens the senses and births a spirit of hope. It says that this land is not forgotten to another age. Instead, it evolves, becoming the place of the next generation who follow in the footsteps of their forbears whilst carving out new paths of their own. Sadly, the soundtrack isn’t available to buy (hint to anyone who may be able to change that.). Nevertheless, it will stick in my mind for a long time to come. Llechi is a truly memorable piece of contemporary Welsh art.

https://www.pontio.co.uk/Online/Default.asp

Review The Addams Family WMC

A nickelodeon remake of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’
In essence, you can categorise all performance criticism under two Cheryl Cole .circa 2008-11 X Factor, automated responses, ’you’re right up my street’, or ‘it wasn’t my cup of tea.’ ‘The Addams Family’ was not my ‘cup of tea’. It wasn’t even my dirty pint that I’d down – victim to peer pressure – on a Saturday night… but it was fun and harmless… unlike a dirty pint on a Saturday night.


‘The Addams Family’ gives you all that you’d expect – the characters’ dead-pan eccentricity, a fabulously ghoulish set, its beloved theme tune and numerous merchandise stalls to preserve its ever-inflating franchise. But it is niche exploited – the musical is farcical. Personally, I can’t quite accept that the self–contained world of ‘The Addams Family’ (on screen) – and the escapist voyeurism that it offers – can be exposed to a stage adaptation without making a mockery of the former.
‘The Addams Family Musical’ is basically a panto with an extremely high production-value, but, hell, sometimes a spiralling farce and a classic ‘dad joke’ will be perfectly suffice – for some – if you like that sort of thing… It’s a simplistic and worn narrative pardoned by pizazz!

Musical numbers were gloriously theatrical, and the voices of Samantha Womack and Carrie Hope Fletcher rang beautifully within the theatre. It was Fletcher’s portrayal of Wednesday Addams which is undoubtedly the highlight of the production. She has an inexpressible and innate draw; an attraction that defies an audience’s choice in the matter.


The set design by Diego Pitarch was innovative, transporting – it had a masterful subtlety to defining a scene with ease and interchangeability. Alistair David’s choreography, paired with the sheer vibrancy of the production’s costume and technical design, was a spectacle; combined, the chorus were an indispensable surge of energy.


‘The Addams Family’ is a spectacle, shallow, but a visual delight. If you’re looking for a show that the kids and grandma will enjoy look no further – just get yourself a vodka orange in the interval and you’ll find it just as funny as them.

by Lauren Ellis-Stretch

Review National Theatre Live: Angels in America Part 2: Perestroika by Danielle O’Shea


5 Stars5 / 5

You can read Danielle’ s review of part one at the link below

Review National Theatre Live: Angels in America by Danielle O’Shea


Extending on the theme of survival, the second part of Angels in America questions progress as a way for religion, society and humanity to survive.  Moving further from the domesticity seen in Part 1, hallucinations and prophetic visions become all the more common and fantasies, whether they be of Heaven or Antarctica. But despite this change in tone, emotions still run high due to discussions of more minor themes still relevant today such as healthcare and the justice system.


Overall, Perestroika is a deeper exploration of the themes of Millennium Approaches and it reveals that what is beneath the message of survival is one of hope even in the bleakest of times.
In its entirety, Angels in America is a magical, modern questioning of identity and change that takes the entire audience on a journey through dark and light times before leaving them with a message of overwhelming hope.

27th July 2017
Gwyn Hall, Neath
Running time: 4 hours 20 minutes with two 15-minute intervals
Author: Tony Kushner
Director: Marianne Elliott
Design: Ian MacNeil (Set Designer), Nicky Gillibrand (Costume Designer), Paule Constable(Lighting Designer), Robby Graham (Choreographer and Movement), Adrian Sutton (Music), Ian Dickinson (Sound Designer), Finn Caldwell (Puppetry Director and Movement), Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes (Puppet Designers), Chris Fisher (Illusions), Gwen Hales (Aerial Director), Harry Mackrill (Associate Director), Miranda Cromwell (Staff Director)
Cast: Susan Brown, Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, Amanda Lawrence, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Russell Tovey, Stuart Angell, Laura Caldow, Claire Lambert, Becky Namgauds, Stan West, Lewis Wilkins

Review Celebration, Emergency Chorus, Theatr Clwyd by Bethany Maculay

L-R Ben Kulvichit and Clara Potter-Sweet in Celebration, performed at NSDF 2017 by Emergency Chorus

4 Stars4 / 5

 

The initial moments of ‘Celebration’ are an obscure, wild, and dramatically unique combination of movement, dance and silly string. Ben Kulvichit and Clara Potter-Sweet exhibit both an outstanding mutual dynamic as well as a consistent youthful vivacity that was carried expertly throughout the (unfortunately brief) fifty-five-minute performance. I was so immensely impressed by their talents (varying from acting to accordion playing), that being reminded that they were merely students made me feel, in comparison, unaccomplished. I left the theatre feeling rather smug that I had witnessed an early performance of some potentially very successful future performers.

The production’s mixture of live music, electrifying dance and movement, as well as the profoundly effective drama, produced a poignant and evocative piece, that was nonetheless fun, vibrant, and an absolute pleasure to spectate. There was little pretence – most costume changes occurred on stage, and there was not a typically theatrical plot (really, it was rather Brechtian), but I felt consistently immersed in the poetic flow of each monologue and song, just as I would have done if this were a traditional piece. In fact, I am thoroughly relieved that these two young students so bravely dared to defy conventional theatre, and succeeded in delivering such an individual and positively eccentric performance. If this is where theatre is going, I’ll certainly continue to attend.

https://www.facebook.com/emergencychorus/

Celebration

 

The New Theatre, Cardiff – A Theatre Tour by Jane Bissett

As you step through the doors of the New Theatre, Cardiff you can feel the air of anticipation for what lies ahead. The warmth of the welcome, the buzz of the audience as they gather to enter the auditorium and witness the delights of being entertained by live performers. But what about all the supporting cast?

‘The Theatre Tour’ is a chance to see at first hand all the behind the scenes magic and  meet the people that make stars of the performers before our eyes.

Everyone who lives in Cardiff will be familiar with the exterior of the New Theatre as it has been a landmark in the city for over 110 years. This beautiful Edwardian theatre has changed little from the outside over that time but the interior has seen more changes and all of them improvements from performers and theatre goers alike.

As you walk through the doors with an air of expectation for the performance ahead you are absorbed into the very world of this wonderful old theatre and the people who are the beating heart that brings it all to life.

So for me, the chance of a behind the scenes tour of the New Theatre was not to be missed.

Visitors arriving for an evening at the New Theatre are always assured of a warm welcome by the front of house staff. So it was no surprise that when we arrived for our tour of the theatre we were met with genuine hospitality by the volunteer ushers, Colin and Linda who’s job it was to ensure we navigated the theatre in safety without getting lost or left behind.

Our host was Matt Smith, who has been involved with the theatre for many years and is somewhat of an expert when it comes to the history of the building and its previous owners.

We started our tour in the bar where Matt gave us an overview of how the theatre was built. The first owner, Mr Robert Redford and his wife Grace although not from Cardiff, held the city in high regard and Mr Redford worked for many years at another theatre in the city but felt that Cardiff needed a New Theatre, so he built one.

The foundation stone was laid by Grace in March 1906 and the theatre opened with its first production, William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in the December of the same year.

The foundation stone is now set in the wall of the ground floor bar alongside the ceremonial trowel which was given to the theatre in its centenary year after being held by the relatives of Robert and Grace who had emigrated to Australia.

At the stage door, we took the route of all actors and performers back stage to the dressing rooms. These were functional, ready and waiting for the next occupants to make them their own for the duration of their stay.

Dressing rooms are located over two floors and in keeping with the old traditions there are even fold down seats for the dressers to wait in the corridors for the arrival back to the dressing room of the actors (it is not considered etiquette for the dressers to be in the actors dressing rooms when they are not there).

It was then time to visit the ‘Fly Floor’ this is where all the scenery and effects are put onto the rope and pulley systems to ensure that they can be lowered and lifted into place at the correct time during the performances.

Del, who is now a ‘Technician’ but who started his career in the theatre as a ‘fly man’, clearly loved what he did (If he didn’t then he was the best actor of them all!). He gave us the opportunity to look back at times past and the hemp rope system which worked on the same lines as sails on a ship by ropes being locked off with a cleat system. Del demonstrated how the scenery would have been flown in and out being worked by a team of 13 burly men on either side of the stage and would have communicated through whistles and hand gestures.

Hemp rope tied off to a cleat.

The system used now is operated using counter weights. Sounding straight forward, it takes much skill and knowledge to get the backdrops and scenery where they’re meant to be, on time and seamlessly.

Exiting the Fly Floor you are on the level of the upper circle. This was a great location to be able to enter the auditorium and have an overview of the theatre. Being close to the ceiling it also gave the opportunity to take in the beautiful architecture that is so familiar but often overlooked.

The highlight of the tour was of course stepping ‘on stage’. There was no roar of the crowd, smell of the greasepaint or limelights but there was the chance to see how the lighting works, explore the role of the assistant director, and the chance to see the all important safety curtain from the other side as well as understanding how it works and why.

Standing on the stage, which is a 1 in 4 rake (this means that it slopes down towards the audience), with the house lights down and the stage lights up it was easy to see why the theatre is indeed a magical place for actors and audiences alike.

The last stop on this tour was at the back of the stalls in the control room where the mixing and control desks are. A sophisticated environment overseen by someone who admitted to coming to the theatre for work experience, and never really left, and having done various jobs has worked his way up.

The tour of the New Theatre leaves you in awe of everyone who works there and brings the touring productions to life.

Theatres and their staff are often referred to as a family, well family or now they certainly are a close knit team and are the unsung heroes behind all the magic and drama that we witness on the stage. From the lady (or gentleman) who mans the stage door to the fly man and the ever diligent fire officer who sits unseen at the side of the stage for every performance to ensure the safety of the actors, the audience and the theatre.

The beauty, history and heritage of this Edwardian theatre is only surpassed by the welcome of its staff. Their love of theatre and their dedication to their craft will continue to make our visits to The New Theatre, Cardiff, special, entertaining and magical.

For further details about forthcoming productions visit www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889.

An interview with Ben Atterbury, Associate Artistic Director, The Other Room

Hi pleased to meet you. Can you please give our readers some background information on yourself and your role in the arts in Wales?

Hi! My name is Ben Atterbury and I’m an English Literature graduate turned Digital Marketeer turned Creative Producer turned Associate Artistic Director (whatever that means, titles are a funny thing). I grew up loving theatre and, although not Welsh myself, I spent three brilliant years at University falling in love with Cardiff and decided to stick around for a bit afterwards; it felt like something was about to happen in the city and I wanted to be around and be a part of it. That thing happened a year later when I met Kate Wasserberg and Bizzy Day and started to help them set up The Other Room, where I still work, although I now run the theatre with Bizzy and our newly appointed Artistic Director, Dan Jones.

http://www.otherroomtheatre.com/en/
Can you tell us about the work your company is taking to this years Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

Seanmhair is a new play by the brilliant Welsh writer Hywel John. It is a play about a chance meeting between two children, Jenny and Tommy, on the streets of Edinburgh that brings about a terrible reckoning upon them both, which resonates and reverberates throughout both their lives. It’s a vivid and dynamic show about love, fate and blood beautifully performed by three incredible female actors who play the central character Jenny at different stages of her life, along with every other character in the story. It fuses epic romance with a kind of modern poetry and I’d never really read anything quite like it, so it’s brilliant to see it brought to life, first in Cardiff at our theatre, The Other Room, and now as it moves to Edinburgh!


How is work selected to go to the festival?

One of the most brilliant things about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is that if you have something that you want to take, you can take it. With the growth and expansion of things like the Free Fringe over the past 20 odd years the only barriers that exist now are practical; most financial. Bigger producers (Pleasance, Underbelly, Summerhall etc.) obviously have more selection barriers and they will programme the work they think is the best fit for their programme and their venue but ultimately, the only person who can select whether to be at the fringe or not is you!
Wales Arts International who have funded some of the companies this year state,

“The idea is to help the selected Welsh companies to present their work at the Fringe in the best possible way – with the best conditions – and, importantly, to connect with international promoters and programmers participating in the British Council Edinburgh Showcase.”

Why is their support important along with Arts Council Wales and British Council Wales?

It’s crucial. Without this support the huge financial risk that we are taking in mounting such an ambitious show in Edinburgh would be insurmountable. This investment in the arts (and it is investment) actively takes work made in and for Wales and places it firmly on the international stage at the biggest arts festival in the World. If we are to live in a country and a world that values and promotes culture, and I would prefer that we did, the support of organisations like Wales Arts International, the Arts Council of Wales and the British Council is of critical importance in affording us the opportunity to be daring, risky and ambitious in pursuit of making great theatre.
The festival features a huge range of productions and there is great deal of competition for audiences, why should audiences come and see your companies work?
Audiences should come and see our work because it features amazing performers telling a dark, gripping story in a beautifully designed space with really cool lights and sound. And the comfiest theatre seats in Edinburgh. In all seriousness, they won’t have seen anything quite like Seanmhair before, and the seats really are very, very comfy.
Welsh artists/Companies will be showcasing a range of art forms including theatre, new writing, site-specific work and contemporary dance. In your opinion is there anything that is distinctly Welsh which links them?

Unfortunately I can’t speak in absolutes here as not only have I not seen all of the shows, but I’m not Welsh myself. But I would question the idea of something distinctly Welsh that links the work itself; I think what does bind us is that spirit of all being Welsh companies, together, in Edinburgh, showing work that was made here at home. There’s a bond and a solidarity in that I think, that I’m really looking forward to strengthening over August.
What would you recommend seeing from the other Welsh/Wales based companies going to this year’s festival or perhaps the festival as a whole?


All of it! Obviously in terms of new writing and our own tastes we’ve got to give those Dirty Protest kids a shout out (they’ll be over at the Paines Plough Roundabout) but honestly, go explore! It’s what Edinburgh is all about. In a festival as a whole sense, I’ll definitely be booking in for The Wardrobe Ensemble’s Education Education Education and Barrel Organ’s new show, but that’s all you’ll get from me for now!


What do the artists and companies do when they aren’t performing?
Watch shows and drink beer. Although I’m really only speaking for myself on that one!
What’s the best Fringe show you’ve ever seen?

Oh that’s really hard! I’ve seen some of the best shows I’ve ever seen at the fringe. But one that’s always stayed with me was a show by Chris Larner called An Instinct For Kindness, it was a one man show about Chris taking his ex-wife (who he had remained great friends with) to Dignitas after she was overwhelmed by her multiple sclerosis. It was so moving, beautifully simple and passionate that yeah, I think it’s stuck with me ever since.

http://www.aifk.co.uk
Thanks for your time Ben.

 Listings  

Fri 28 July, 8pm & Sat 29 July, 3pm & 8pm

Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre

Tickets – www.otherroomtheatre.com

 2-7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-28 August at 4.55pm

Bedlam Theatre (Venue 49)

Tickets – www.edfringe.com

 

Review The Tempest, Taking Flight Theatre Company by the young people of Up and Coming Project, Merthyr Tydfil.

Shakespeare Made Fun!
I will admit that in 2016 I had the privilege of watching The Tempest at the Southbank Globe Theatre. One may argue that this would be the best way to experience Shakespeare and up until a viewing of Taking Flights production, I too was under this impression. However following this production my opinion has somewhat changed.


The production broke many of the rules of theatre. Instead of sitting in a darkened theatre, we the audience watched the play outside, toe to toe with the performers. It was also not stationary as we moved around the park to a different setting between each scene. The performers frequently broke the fourth wall and interacted with the audience, giving one the impression that they are intimately involved in the story: you may find yourself getting quite friendly with the characters. This is also aided by the smaller audiences, giving the play an exclusive “Just for You” feel.


However, having the play performed in this way did cause some minor inconveniences. Having to bring your own chair and then to move it around between each scene may feel a little tedious. Fumbling with an umbrella (for it was raining) was also not brilliant. The quality of the acting along with the quality of the play is enough to distract from these little hiccups, though. And really, isn’t that what we came out to see?


The production has a distinctly surreal 1920s vibe about it, keeping the atmosphere true to the original play. It’s cleverly integrated audio descriptions and sign language allow the world of Shakespeare to be open to the blind and deaf among us, something that is not necessarily offered in conventional performances. Younger audiences, as well as those who are not well acquainted with Shakespeare’s language will also find themselves at an advantage for the more difficult elements of speech are edited just enough to be understood, but carefully enough to retain their beautiful Shakespearian quality.


It’s not just the story that’s worth seeing: the musical performances demonstrate the performers’ vocal and instrumental skills with flawless performances in several genres from traditional Baroque to modern Rockabilly.


In conclusion this production is an engaging and delightful little show, accessible to all and a lot of fun. It is a perfect blend of traditional Shakespearian humour and modern quirkiness: there is definitely a whiff of ‘Carry On’ in there. Speaking for myself, I found myself smiling and engaged all the way through, as I’m sure did many others.

Ryan Crowley

Naturally I did know what to expect but I was very confused by the way the scenes transitioned from normal then into Shakespearean language. The weather was bad and there were midges too!

The sign language was integrated into the production naturally as was the audio description,

I wouldn’t personally recommend this show .

Jennifer Owen

 

Review: ‘Swarm’ Fio Productions by Gemma Treharne-Foose

5 Stars5 / 5

 

I don’t know about you but usually the mention of ‘immersive theatre’ brings about a slight sense of unease and dread. It’s a bit like when your team leader at work says there’s going to be a role playing exercise for the team.

I am also still slightly annoyed/scarred about the Antonin Artaud-style absurdist ‘theatre of cruelty’ workshop I was once subjected to at University. In that, audience members were herded into a room, plunged into darkness, doused with cold water and played a disturbing series of images projected onto a wall with a screechy soundtrack. I have distrusted and shied away from ‘immersive theatre’ ever since (and realised at that very point that I am definitely not a true thespian and should probably just leave it to the professionals).

A sign saying Refuge Here

However, when a topical play by a theatre company nominated by the Kevin Spacey Foundation as the Artist of Choice in 2016 puts on a play in your back garden (or down the hill from your house!), it would be really absurd not to get excited about it. Especially when this company’s last play ‘The Mountaintop’, about Dr Martin Luther King’s last night on earth, gave you goosebumps, sweats and bellyflips galore. This is a production company that knows exactly how to push your buttons and manipulate your emotions (and have you thanking them for it afterwards).

Local collaboration

Pop Bottle Mural in the Pop Factory, Porch

‘Swarm’ picks up on comments made by former Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2015: “You’ve got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life”.

Director Abdul Shayek unpicks this throwaway comment, holding a mirror up to society’s deep-rooted fear, misunderstanding and sheer distrust of refugees. He pulls the audience into the world of the refugee so they can experience first hand what it’s like to run and fear for your life, leaving everything and everyone you have ever known.

Jenkin Street in Porth

Following the success of the original show staged in Cardiff, where Production company Fio collaborated with members of Butetown football team (Tiger Bay FC), the show’s popularity struck a cord with audiences and the company received funding to work with more arts companies and local communities including Cwmbran and Merthyr.

The Pop Factory show in Porth was supported by ArtWorks/Valleys Kids and children and young people from the local community. The production includes multiple community cast members – most of them children, mixed in with professional actors. The concept of the play is that Wales is at Civil War and you – a refugee – are trying to gain admission to a camp as war rages around you and closes in. Interspersed with the drama and chaos of camp life are alarms and sirens, sounds of bombing and news clips where vox pops of the British publish spill their worries, concerns and venom towards refugees.

Life inside a refugee camp

‘Swarm’ at The Pop Factory

At first, audience members are ‘processed’ in a holding facility, before being ushered into a safe zone. You are marshalled into lines and examined medically for signs of illness before being taken to camp. Once in ‘camp’, you come face to face with children already sleeping and living at the camp.

The Doctors and volunteers split you into groups. You are taken through the emergency drill (an air raid-like siren frequently sounds – and you are to drop to your knees in silence as you are instructed), you fill in a form about your intended destination, a photograph is taken of you, you are shown how to wash your hands and given a toothbrush.

Processing the refugees…

All around you, there are all the visible, breathable remnants and signs of human life and cohabitation – a line of drying clothes, makeshift beds strewn across the floor, a central mat for children to draw and play cards.

There are ‘missing people’ signs everywhere. An exasperated, traumatised actor ‘Kaz’ is frantically looking for his daughter. As you mill around, you are approached by actors: “Are you alone? I hope you are safe here…you ought to be safe but….please be careful.” Children ask you “Do you need help? Do you want to write a message on the wall?” One little boy tells me he hasn’t seen his Mam and Dad for four and a half months. My eyes prick with tears despite myself. I am in Porth inside an old Pop Factory I could see from my Grandmother’s old garden in Glynfach. Yet in that moment I am in a refugee camp, stunned and shocked and appalled at my own privilege ‘in real life’.

Eyeball to eyeball with child refugees

Signs in the Refugee Camp

It is cramped, it is uncomfortable and you don’t know where to look because as in life – when you are face to face with awkward, ugly situations you look at the floor. Or the children. Just focus on the children, because despite everything, they endure, they go on, they play. Anything else in the room was just too much to take in. In the midst of sirens, potential raids, tempers flaring, actors crying – the children drew pictures and played cards with audience members and laughed. Their innocence is entirely disarming and exposing.

Camp food from Refugee Camp volunteers…

At one point the camp volunteers gave out bowls of food. There wasn’t enough for everyone, they said. You can only eat if you have been processed. One of the children (from the community cast) sidled up to me, watching me as I debated whether or not we were supposed to eat the food. “I haven’t actually eaten today…” she said confidently. One of the other kids, who sensed she was going off script nudged her and said ‘Shhhh, we aren’t supposed to actually take the food from them…!” “Take it!” I said. The other kids looked around to check for reactions from the theatre staff and watched her wide eyed. “I won’t tell anyone..” I winked. I sat there momentarily mesmerized by a kid playing a role of a refugee and still slightly unsure of my own role in the scene.

I was given a blanket by a volunteer who told me she’d lost contact with her brother – a rebel fighter – and clothes if I wanted them. I was given a toothbrush and I read the messages on the wall over and over. Towards the end, one of the actors ‘Kaz’ is faced with the choice of staying in the camp with his sick son or leaving the camp to search for his daughter 5 hours away. We don’t get to find out if they were reunited. What would you do? How would you react? The whole experience from start to finish – away from the tradition and comfort of proscenium arches and plush theatre seats – begs this question and drags the audience into the story.

Blanket and toothbrush given to me at the Refugee Camp

Theatre without the frills

Although it’s been 15 years since the ridiculous ‘theatre of cruelty’ workshop I went to, it turns out that far from plunging the audience into a nightmarish, annoying episode they’d rather forget – Artaud’s actual intentions were that theatre should ‘wake us up – nerves and heart’. And Fio certainly does that.

New Refugees waiting to be processed…

The great theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht advocated stripping away the distractions of traditional theatre and exposing the realities of the human condition. For him, theatre was a forum for political debate. There is plenty to draw upon in this production and Fio challenges the audience from start to finish, adding context and authenticity to the refugee debate via its strong cast and convincing staging.

Speaking to Director Abdul Shayek after the show, I asked him what dimension he thought the kids brought to the show.

“People empathise with children a lot more…if you had a cast of adults, it would have been a different show, we would have lost a lot of the innocence. And actually when you talk about war and the refugee crisis…it’s the young people who will suffer. They are the future. They are a metaphor in a sense. They are the future and the future is being messed up. Young people have the same dreams and aspirations and they want the same basic things in life, whether they live here or in Syria or Iraq. They want to play, be safe and be fed – they want love and care…’

No matter what your political persuasion or views on the subject, it is surely utterly impossible to turn away from a child. So when some of the individual stories from the refugees were being relayed and the children milled around, they stopped dead in front of audience members and did nothing but look at them – directly into their eyes. Saying nothing. Because really at that point there is almost nothing left to say. Your instinct is to help and to comfort and to forget your own motivations and ‘entitlements’.

Missing people at the Refugee Camp…

Away from angry mobs and nasty online comment threads and peacocking politicians and boozy pub bravado and scarcity mindset and privilege hoarders who don’t want to share, can you look a child in the eye and tell them their life means less and your opportunity and wealth means more?

This is a production that will heighten your senses and open your eyes to what it really means to be a refugee. Superb.

https://www.wearefio.co.uk


Type of show: Theatre

Title: Swarm

Venue: The Pop Factory

Date: 28th July 2017

Directed by:  Abdul Shayek

Produced by: Fio Productions, ArtWorks Valleys Kids and The Pop Factory