Category Archives: Theatre

Review Dick Whittington: The Puuurfect Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto Theatr Clwyd by Donna Poynton

(5 / 5)

Theatr Clwyd, Mold have long held the baton in North Wales for the ‘cult’ panto and Dick Whittington: The Puuurfect Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto is certainly no exception. Suddenly, panto got cool!

Upon entering the auditorium, we are greeted with a partly open stage where it becomes clear that the band will be on view throughout the show. However, once the action begins, we see that the cast, are in fact, also the band; Tommy the cat goes from cartwheeling around after rats to playing the drums and Alice Fitzwarren is one moment seen swooning after Dick Whittington and the next rocking out on electric guitar! The small cast of ten are constantly on stage, unless they’re darting off for a quick costume change!

 

The costumes are fabulous; well thought out and often traditional but with hints of punk! King Rhydian the Rat’s costume reminds us of rock musician Adam Ant, and his minion rats, Scratch and Sniff, don large green wigs and wear tartan! Special mention must go to Sarah the Cook’s delightful Dame costumes which always provide a giggle upon entrance!

 

The writing offers the usual ‘oh no he isn’t’, ‘oh, yes he is’ type interactions as well as plenty of boos, hisses and an audience soaking! The most memorable gag, well deserving of a mention, is one in which Wally Fitzwarren is attempting to prepare his crew (Tommy the Cat, Dick, Alice, Harriet and Sarah the Cook) for their ship’s voyage. What ensues is a concoction of great physical comedy involving mops and a simple yet very effective ‘copy everything I say’ skit! Superb timing and snippets of the cast simply enjoying themselves as themselves with more underlying adult humor than your average panto! Also refreshing is the use of the Welsh language, heard plentifully throughout the production as the plot is brought from London to Mold, allowing the audience to feel more engaged with the action.

This production includes a stellar cast with phenomenal vocals, wonderful musicianship and a brilliant repertoire of songs including Bat (Rat) out of Hell, Nutbush City Limits, I’m Yours and In the Navy! It’s impossible to single out any cast member as all are truly fantastic in their own right. It’s always a tonic to witness a production which doesn’t need celebrity names to sell out and be a huge success!

The production runs until the 19th of January at Theatr Clwyd.

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

November 23rd 2018-January 19th 2019

Writer: Chris Patterson

Writer in Residence: Alex Murdoch (supported by Gladstone’s Library)

Director: Zoë Waterman

Assistant Director: Francesca Goodridge

Casting: Kay Magson CDG

Design: Adrian Gee

Musical Director: Tayo Akinbode

Choreographer: Will Tuckett

Technical: Mark Howland, Matthew Williams, Alec Reece, Edward Salt, Cassey Driver

Cast includes: Royce Cronin, Toby Falla, Phylip Harries, Daniel Lloyd, Alice McKenna, Peter Mooney, Lynwen Haf Roberts, Emmy Stonelake, Luke Thornton, Anna Westlake

Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes (inc. interval)

 

Preview: BOOT by Phill Brewer and Volition

Boot by Phill Brewer is a new play coming to Cardiff on Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th of December 2018. The debut production from new theatre company Volition, will be performed at The Atrium.

Set in Swansea, Boot follows an unnamed man trapped in a car boot who ponders over the events in his life that led him to this position. It’s a dark comedy that studies one man’s inner conflict and ambition in an ever changing world, presented as a mix between gritty realism and abstract physical performance.

Originally performed as a one man show at a sell-out performance in Matthew’s Yard, Croydon, Boot has since been developed by Brewer and reworked into an ensemble piece by Rebecca Riley (director).

The inspiration for some of the stories and scenes come from things that Brewer has witnessed in his time growing up in London. Some personal experience, stories from friends and general experience from the streets of London.

The aim of the piece is to present the story and let the audience decide for themselves the morals of the situations. Both Brewer and Riley say they want the audience to leave divided and talking about the show.

“BOOT is the perfect piece of writing to work on for me as the character is both the antagonist and the protagonist of his own story. His
battle is one of inner conflict, something that is universally relatable.” – Rebecca Riley, director.

The company, Volition, is made up of Phill Brewer and Rebecca Riley. Long-term friends who studied theatre together at Brit School of Performing Arts and Technology and now live in Cardiff.

The aim of the company is to provide a voice and platform for young people whilst creating theatre that is ambiguous, not making comment or judgement.

Rebecca Riley (centre) and Phill Brewer (right) with lead actor, Connor Hughes. Photo Credit Adam Robinson

 

 

 

 

There is a rebellious vibe about the company – but one that is very open to discussion and passionate about theatre as a means for discussion. Boot seems the perfect place for this exciting new company to start and the audience are key to their work so get your tickets here to be part of it.

BOOT performed at The Atrium, Cardiff
From December 11th-12th 2018
Presented by Volition
Written by Phill Brewer
Directed by Rebecca Emily Riley
Stage Manager – Zach Ashley
Cast:
Connor Hughes
Tasha Walton
Sergio Taddia
Tilly Jordan
Jose Pedro Fortuna.

Review: Cheer at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Cheer by Kitty Hughes is a dystopian, anti-panto where Christmas is controlled by the elite and briefly experienced by the poor through the Christmas drug, ‘cheer’.

We follow Jules (Alice Downing) on a journey of exploring her own morality. Jules sells illegal Christmas licenses, seeing herself as a Robin Hood figure, but operating more like Sports Direct, TK Maxx or one of those Gucci knock-off labels. Offering cheap alternatives to allow the poor to join in on the rich people’s rampant consumerism. Enabling and in essence supporting the elite.

When Todd (Cory Tucker) enters, Jules is forced to recognise her hypocrisy as someone who understands the oppressive system, but merely profiteers off the desires of the poor.

 

One thing Kitty Hughes does well in the script, is neither character is particularly likeable. Jules is clearly exploitative and, despite being relatable in many ways, flawed. We would all like to say, “I’m not like that,” but ultimately if you can afford Christmas, you undoubtedly will relate in some way to her moral conundrum.

One main criticism has to come with Todd’s character. He doesn’t really have a story and is more of an event in Jules’ story. A statement in itself. But one that is potentially problematic. He goes in wanting one thing and comes out with it and despite recognising the over-consumption and greed of it all, he still wants to participate. And that is his position going in. He doesn’t learn a lot and really, at its heart this is a story about the moral dilemma of left-wing, middle class person. A conversation urgently needed in theatre, so good that it’s being had here. But perhaps a stronger working-class character, with more of a story would make this production more powerful.

It’s a play that explicitly talks about class, in a way that really isn’t very dystopian at all. Some people can’t afford Christmas, this is simply a reality. But also, it’s a script you can interpret in various ways. General classism, how the “first” world treats the “third” world in terms of aid, or even migration. The play feels a lot more real than a lot of dystopian pieces that speak in metaphor or allegory. This is more literal and stronger for it.

The script certainly gets a little lost in repeating itself. It seems to drag and with less of the playful style Big Loop usually adopt, 85-minutes does seem too long to tell this story. Especially as it feels as though you could pack this into an hour very easily. That said, the scenes themselves are well written, and you don’t get bored. But in terms of a script, it could be planned and plotted better.

Not Duncan Hallis’ most playful piece of direction, he shows that he can handle a heavy piece without compromising his style too much.

Perhaps one of the main downfalls of this production is, it sometimes feels like we’re split between Hallis’ imagination and Hughes’ political conscience. Sometimes it gets a little cluttered and the drama gets lost.

However, this conflict of style isn’t always a negative. The direction sometimes distracts from the deeply political text in a way that makes the message sink deeper. For example, when the two characters are arguing about their backgrounds, an exchange that is packed with political language, it’s a complete mess.

But a mess in a good way. It seems real. There’s a lot of frustration in this argument and the two characters are not exactly in the mindset in that moment to string together coherent political points. It comes from the character’s heart in a way that we don’t really see elsewhere, particularly from Todd, in the production. And so despite the political language, the manic actions and energy make it seem as if they’re just shouting and rambling, despite making thought-out political points. There’s a complete contradiction between what we see and hear that works really well.

The combination of styles is really good and a writer-director team I’d like to see more of. It just would have been nice to see some more weird, wacky or surreal moments from Hallis’ mind at times.

Alice Downing shows a lot of depth in her complex character. She exploits a brilliant use of facial expressions and body language to portray her character’s inner emotions.

Cory Tucker doesn’t have the same amount of character depth to play with, but does a good job of depicting what is there for his character. In particular, Tucker’s attention to detail in certain moments, the first time he tries gingerbread or the first time we see him on ‘cheer’, stand out. Considering there’s not much depth to his character, Tucker does a good job of letting us know the important moments for Todd.

The set design from Ceci Calf is really nice. The classic bookshelf/cupboard the best bit, but it’s just generally a nicely decorated set. The lighting design by Garrin Clarke compliments the production well. Lights changing and flashing when characters are on ‘cheer’ and a projection of a crazy Father Christmas onto the set in particular stand out.

The sound design from Matthew Holmquist shows a great use of music in particular. A bit of a throwback to earlier in the year when Cardiff Boy, which Holmquist directed, took over The Other Room. Again we see the influence of Holmquist’s mix of music to emphasise what’s happening on stage.

Generally, the productions is enjoyable and funny, as well as deeply political and thought provoking. A protagonist with a clear moral dilemma that isn’t solved by the end is left at a satisfactory conclusion encouraging the audience to discuss further after the show. And isn’t that exactly what theatre should be about?

Cheer is a bleak outlook on the world and Christmas, but has messages and themes that really should be spoken about further than just in the theatre. It’s a brave production that won’t fail to get a reaction from anyone.

Cheer at The Other Room.
Running November 27th – December 15th
Produced by Big Loop Theatre Company
Written by Kitty Hughes
Directed by Duncan Hallis
Starring:
Alice Downing as Jules
Cory Tucker as Todd
Creative Producer: George Soave
Designer: Ceci Calf
Lighting Designer: Garrin Clarke
Sound Designer/Composer: Matthew Holmquist
Stage Manager: Kitty Hughes
Assistant Producer: Yasmin Williams
Assistant Director: Alanna Iddon
Arts Placement: Natasha Grabauskas
Set Construction: Jack Calf
Promo from Sean Cox Design
Photography from Tess Seymour Photography

Frankenstein, Cascade Dance Theatre at Chapter Arts Cardiff

2018 has been quite the Franken-tastic year. With conferences a-go-go and a veritable funfair of Frankenreads events, the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s game-changing masterpiece has been quite fully, and rightfully, celebrated en masse. Having studied the book in-depth for thesis-y reasons over the past four years, I’ve consumed the story in myriad mediums from the filmic, to the televisual, to the orchestral, including a gender-swapped web series and that icky Sean Bean show loosely ‘inspired by’ Victor’s dodgy dealings with the (un)dead.

So I was thrilled at the prospect of Cascade Dance Theatre* translating the tale in their latest much-lauded production. I’d seen the Royal Opera House’s lavish stab at a Franken-centric ballet on TV a couple of years ago – but found their faithfulness to the source material resulted in a less powerful whole that, while visually spectacular, was ultimately undermined by the rushed, soap opera-esque ending. How, then, would Cascade fare with six performers, two musicians, and a single simple set?

Beautifully, as it turns out. Artistic Director Phil Williams (winner of Wales’ Best Male Dance Artist Award at the Wales Theatre Awards 2017) has carefully assembled an excellent adaptation that is small in scale but large in style and ambition, fulfilling the heart of Shelley’s tale in creative new ways. The ensemble is excellent across the board, with Stuart Waters as a suitably haughty, believably tormented Victor, and Jordi Calpe Serrats in an endlessly vibrant and deeply sympathetic turn as the creature. Their connection is compellingly ambiguous: there is no directly analogous relationship to theirs, meaning that Victor is in turns the creature’s God, father, masculine ideal, romantic interest and romantic rival. Their bond could have set a positive precedent for humanity; but their mutual violence to one another and people close to them renders them variously perpetrator and victim to the other until their battle concludes in bloodily Biblical fashion.

Although Frankenstein was written by a woman, and especially one with such a famous feminist mother, there is a curious dearth of female characters in the text that are afforded the same active roles and complexity as their male counterparts, being mostly passive recipients of male violence. It’s a lovely reversal, then, that the women of Cascade’s Frankenstein are the absolute highlight of an already-stellar production. Caldonia Walton shines particularly brightly as Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s far-superior fiancée; Walton imbues kindness, strength and a genuine warmth of character to what is often a thankless role, and lights up the stage whenever she graces it. And the tremendous trio of Anna Cabré-Verdiell, Desi Bonato and Luca Dora Bakos steal the show entirely – case in point…

…We open on a truly haunting image: the creature, encased in chrysalis-like bindings, being meticulously inspected by a trio of women whose white strobes cast the only light in a sea of darkness. At first, they seem like explorers; archaeologists hungrily inspecting the excavated remains of an ancient burial site. But as the drama unfolds, the trio’s more otherworldly nature is revealed; they seem at times to be angelic guardians, at others mischevious sprites, even mythological beings like the Graeae, the three sisters of Fate from Greek mythology, and their spiritual descendants in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Bonato, Bakos and Cabré-Verdiell (who doubles as the female creature) not only dance superbly, but inhabit multiple roles with ease and panache, and I felt at times that they acted as Mary Shelley’s muses, helping her to tell her story two hundred years later on that appropriately dreary night of November 2018.

The sumptuous performances are complemented and enhanced by the rest of the production’s creative endeavours, not least Hristo Takov’s atmospheric lighting, and Paul Shriek’s spectacular set and wardrobe design. The set is evocatively uneven, making the most out of jagged inclines and the morgue-like slab on which the creature is brought to life, and on which Victor ends as his creature started; the costumes are artfully-tattered and ethereally expressive with shades of Vivienne Westwood. All of which is tied up in a gorgeously Gothic bow by Jak Poore and Ben Parsons’ eerily emotive score, composed and performed live by the two on stage like Romanticism’s answer to Daft Punk.

There are scenes in this production so haunting and beautiful that I will never forget them, and are well worth the price of admission alone – you won’t believe how they perform the sending of a letter, but it’s an unexpected delight. The programme promised a more creature-centric narrative, and they definitely delivered – one scene follows his flight from a macabrely-masked mob who taunt and beat him. You totally feel the creature’s pain and the endless cycle of fear, frustration and rejection from which there seems to be no way out. And I’m not sure Mary Shelley would have envisioned her creature bumping & grinding at an Eyes Wide Shut-inspired rave, but Cascade makes it work (plus I think the rebellious Mary would have approved): a masked group writhe and worship at the monolithic neon altar of SHELLEY’S BAR, escalating in impressively incendiary fashion. And the dance between the two creatures, one living and one lifeless, was utterly breath-taking: Serrats and Cabré-Verdiell transform what could have been a deeply awkward encounter into the show’s emotional apex.

Not everything lands; having affectingly conveyed the creature’s birth, rejection, and loneliness without the need for words, it was jarring for Victor to suddenly start monologuing the ‘dreary night of November’ speech when we had literally just seen it happen before our eyes. The creative team should have had more faith in its superbly talented cast to convey the story through performance alone. If there had to be words at all, it would have been infinitely more effective if they were more sparingly used – though the creature’s first word being ‘father’ was an effective moment, Victor’s sporadic speechifying was not. And though Elizabeth’s letters were nicely presented, I still find the exposition a little clunky in an otherwise elegant retelling.

It was on a dreary night of November that the creature beheld the accomplishment of his toils; standing before the same slab on which he was birthed, on which now rests the bodies of his victims. He wraps them in the bindings that once imprisoned him, and retreats across the stage into darkness once more, all the while unfurling that umbilical cord-like tether, his last tie to humanity. It’s a fittingly melancholic end to a stunning production that I cannot recommend highly enough. Whether you’re a Frankenstein fanatic like myself, or if you have the most passing familiarity with the text, you’re sure to find Cascade’s adaptation wonderfully rewarding. It’s been touring around Wales since 1st November, but you should definitely catch one of the last two performances of this remarkable show either tonight or tomorrow (30th Nov/ 1st Dec) at Chapter Arts: https://www.chapter.org/frankenstein, http://www.cascadedancetheatre.co.uk/

 

*In co-production with Taliesin Arts Centre; supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Welsh Government and the National Lottery, with additional support from Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Ty Cerdd and Creu Cymru.

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

By: Lewis Carol

Adaption by Mike Kenney

Directed by: Rachel O’Riordan

(4 / 5)

 

Sherman’s Christmas shows are becoming one of my family’s staple events of the Christmas season. For the second year in a row, their main stage show has avoided an overly ‘Christmassy’ offering (last year’s production of ‘The Borrowers’ was one of our stand out shows from 2017) but despite this, they’ve still managed to inject a large dose of festive fun and frivolity in to the production.

Director Rachel O’Riordan has brought together an all-Welsh cast and it’s great to see some familiar faces who you may recognise from other stand-out productions from the last few years. Hannah McPake (who plays the Queen of Hearts) comes from the ‘Gagglebabble’ duo with Lucy Rivers, who also features in the show’s musical line up. Having seen both Wonderman and Sinners Club with Lucy and Hannah, you know you are in for an off-the-wall experience if they are involved.

I’d also recognised Elin Phillips as the Cheshire Cat/Caterpillar (who I saw in Tom Jones the Musical by Theatre Na n’Og), Alexandria Riley the March Hare/Tweedledum who was absolutely incredible in Fio’s production of The Mountaintop in Cardiff’s Other Room pub-theatre, Keiron Self (The Duchess) who also featured in last year’s Sherman Production of The Borrowers along with the hyperactively hilarious White Rabbit Joseph Tweedale.

It’s a familiar cast, but as an ensemble and with the innocence of Alice, played by relative newcomer Elian West, they had wonderful energy and chemistry. I was also glad to see Callum Davies’ debut as the Doormouse, having joined the cast through the Sherman Players and as one of the Sherman’s apprentice actors. It’s great to see new talent being supported by Sherman – and Callum was adorable as the mouse!

Firstly, mad props to designer Hayley Grindle and her team, who created a stunning chequerboard set, which was dazzling and disorientating at the same time! The intimacy of the space in Sherman creates such a lovely, cosy atmosphere and the set and props were clever and creative (the baby pig, the trap doors, the table legs, the ticking clocks, the tiny doors at the end of the corridor, the teacups, mushrooms and roses).

Writer Mike Kinney added his own flair to the show, which did not chain itself to the original book or Disney movie visuals, but found its own voice.

A Duchess with a valleys accent, Tweedledee and Tweedledum with broad Newport accents and a flavour of the Welsh language peppered in dialogue exchanges and songs brought a similar kind of relevance and familiarity that Christmas Panto-goers will know and love.

Having been a life-long fan of valleys Pantomime Dame Frank Vickery who sadly passed away this year, it was lovely to see Keiron Self mimicking the same kind of high-camp, neurotic valleys Mam vibe which always hits home with me!

The littlies in the audience also loved the huge presence and scary-as-hell crazy eyes of Hannah McPake as the Queen of Hearts. Francois Pandolfo’s turn as the hen-pecked, simpering and anxious King was simply brilliant. I hadn’t expected the show to include musical numbers and it added another rich layer to this lovely production, with the cast ensemble vocals (particularly in the ‘Alice’ intro song and refrain) so sweet-sounding and warming.

Another standout song which children will love (and you’ll see them mimicking it in the foyer afterwards, no doubt) was a song about Alice’s baby sister (who it turns out has a head of a pig). It’s possible you may also have the ‘Wah wah wah…’ song in your head for the rest of the evening.

I had two ‘mini-critics’ of my own with me, age 9 – and they are typically the harshest of critics and don’t pull any punches. What were their final thoughts?

“Why did Alice not have blonde hair?!” said one of the littlies, who was completely exasperated with this minor detail. I explained this was a theatre show – not a ruddy Disney movie. Things always change on stage.

“Still – everyone knows Alice has blonde hair…also, I thought the Wah Wah Wah song went on for ages.”

Riiiiiiiiiight – so what would your marks out of five be, I asked them both – dreading the answer.

“I’d give it 3.5 stars.” Mini Critic 2 said.

Sheesh! What about Mini Critic 1?

“Definitely a 4.5 – I thought the singing was lovely and they were really funny.”

Jeez, maybe the Queen of Hearts was right about kids! I also couldn’t believe that these two did not share my enthusiasm for the Jam tarts which the Sherman had so thoughtfully provided for their guests on opening night.

“Look kids – JAM TARTS…WOWWWWW!” It doesn’t take a lot to get me excited, I admit.

“Meh…don’t like Jam Tarts.”

I tried threatening them that if the Queen of Hearts heard their comments, she’d have their heads off but….

Kids today! You can lead them to a finely tuned production of Alice, but you can’t make them eat the Jam Tarts or get over the fact that Alice didn’t have blonde hair.

Ultimately though – we all agreed this was a great little show, which got us feeling very excited indeed for Christmas (oh, and I still have the Wah Wah Wah song circling my head!).

Go see it – you won’t regret it!

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre

The Sherman Theatre have finally let their Christmas show out into the world! This year, from Friday 23rd of November to Saturday 29th of December, you can catch Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland at the Sherman theatre. I was lucky enough to see the show on its press night to see how Rachel O’Riordan’s direction combined with Mike Kenny’s writing to bring Alice in Wonderland to life. I’ll be reviewing this whole production including the cast, characters, design and also the style of the adaptation. Continue reading Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre

Review: Humanequin at Wales Millennium Centre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(3 / 5)

Humanequin by Kelly Jones is a groundbreaking collection of three stories from young transgender people in South Wales. It is raw in its monologue format and informative in its direct approach.

The stories come straight from real life and that reality is enhanced by having three transgender actors on stage. The fact that Humanequin is the first transgender play, with an all transgender cast performed in Wales, makes it truly groundbreaking. And the production is stronger for it.

The thing with this production is, it isn’t necessarily about the theatrical quality, that I am reviewing here. It is much more about what we as an audience take away from it. This is about telling and normalising the stories of transgender for the people of Cardiff and wider society. So to start without mentioning that would be a disservice.

The direction of this production from Jain Boon could be stronger. There is some nice blocking and movement in this piece. And moments that are strong. But overall, it lacks the intensity necessary for a piece like this.

Sammy Woodward stands out as the actor with the most emotional range and they really feel in the moment with their character. Emily Joh Miller grows into her performance whilst Harry Bryant keeps a steady pace throughout. The three work quite well together, but there is that lack of intensity and chemistry between the three.

Georgina Miles’ set design is simple, yet effective. The most prominent pieces of set are some blocks and three metal grates that get moved around to change the setting. There is also a tree with tags for leaves. On these tags are written names of trans people who have been lost over the years. This tree is a really nice touch and whilst not actively used in the performance, watches over the actors and certainly adds a lot. The set is nothing extravagant, but effective in its job.

Chris Young’s sound design is really complimentary to the production with Ceri James’ lighting design representing the emotion of the piece well. The main criticism for these two is there isn’t enough. At times these aspects of design are really strong, but in others they are absent, in a way that doesn’t translate well.

As a cis woman, Kelly Jones takes on a big task of writing for a group of people we very rarely hear about. But, a task she handles well as far as the content goes.

It’s more Jones’ playwriting that lets her down. It’s not a bad script by any means, and as a piece that is ultimately meant to educate, it does a very good job. But as a compelling piece of drama it is lacking.

The three intertwined stories told as monologue is a form I personally love, but here it doesn’t work for some reason.

Characterisation also gets lost in an attempt to normalise the characters. Aspects of their personalities seem trivial. As well as this, some of the politics is very on-the-nose. Not an issue in itself, but again, it just doesn’t feel right here. It seems forced. Something that is maybe necessary for the piece, but needs to be worked into the production in a stronger way.

One decision made in the writing process that was really good, was to not make every story all “doom and gloom”. It would be easy to make this a sympathetic piece of theatre that looks at the struggles of trans people with the far too often real life consequences. And that reality is not ignored here. But neither is the reality that these are people. They act out, they do things that seem irrational at the time. But like any good playwright, Jones examines and explains them by the end of the story.

Perhaps in another performance context such as being held in a different venue, at an earlier time, in a school or university, as part of an education programme or whatever it is, this could be a fantastic production. And for people who know little about trans-issues, this would certainly be a very informative and emotional way to be introduced to these issues. So that must be commended. But, for the audience that, on the night I was there, seemed very clued up on these issues, it perhaps lacked the dramatic value that we go to the theatre for.

Not necessarily to be entertained, but to leave having found or felt something. And whilst for an audience without knowledge of trans-issues, this would be great. For those with that knowledge, it doesn’t offer much.

If this piece moves forward, the decision needs to be made whether this is an educational piece or a different form of theatre. Because both have their place and both are necessary for the growth of trans-theatre and the awareness of trans-issues in wider society. But this just feels like it’s biting off more than it can chew.

Humanequin is a strong, educational piece of theatre about the experiences of young transgender people in South Wales. Its flaws pale in comparison to its importance.

Humanequin by Kelly Jones
Performed at the Wales Millennium Centre
Presented by Mess Up The Mess Theatre Company, Youth Cymru and TransForm Cymru.
Performed by:
Sammy Woodward as Rae
Harry Bryant as Max
Emily Joh Miller as Meg
Directed by Jain Boon
Designer: Georgina Miller
Sound Designer: Chris Young
Lighting Designer: Ceri James
Stage Manager: Katie Torah
Technical Assistant: Dawn Hennessey
Producer: Jay Smith
Creative Assistant: Kay R. Dennis
Community Artist: Bill Taylor-Beales
Education Producer: Rachel Benson
Artistic Director for Mess Up The Mess: Sarah Jones

A response to Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”

Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”

We were very pleased to see some of the priority areas in the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”

In particular we were interested in Commitment 2 below

We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.

ACW then go onto make a series of intentions (below) for where they want to be in 2023 (5 years)

We will be able to demonstrate clearly that all our funding programmes promote and contribute to equality and diversity

There will be a narrowing of the gap between those in the most and least affluent social sectors as audiences and participants

We will develop the creative work of disabled artists by funding “Unlimited” commissions and developing a scheme similar to “Ramps on the Moon” operated by Arts Council England

We want to introduce a “Changemakers” scheme placing BAME and disabled people in senior executive positions in the arts

We want to see a doubling of the number of disabled people in the arts workforce

We want to see a doubling of the number of Black and Minority ethnic backgrounds in the arts workforce

We want to have introduced an Arts Council Apprenticeships scheme designed to provide opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds

We will have achieved a trebling of the number of BAME and disabled and on APW boards of governance

We have been in discussion with a number of colleagues in the arts sector in Wales to request a personal response to Commitment 2 and are pleased to share their responses below. Please do get in touch if you would like to contribute.

ACW are currently asking for responses to their Corporate Plan and future Lottery funding priorities from members of the public,  you can make an online response at this link .

Or attended one of the physical meetings. The public meetings associated with the consultation will take place at Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham (30 November), Volcano, Swansea (10 December), Riverfront Newport (7 January 2019), Aberystwyth Arts Centre (11 January 2019) and Pontio, Bangor (21 January 2019).

Further details are available on the Arts Council of Wales website. The consultation closes on 15 February 2019.

Carole Blade, Creative Producer

Coreo Cymru

During 2019, Bombastic and Coreo Cymru will be hosting Family Dance Festival, a 70-minute entertaining and interactive dance programme for families, presented free of charge in theatre foyers and outdoors during the Easter holidays. Piloted in 2017 and further developed in 2018, Family Dance Festival features three Wales-based professional dance companies and local youth groups at each venue plus taster workshops for all, framed within a bilingual (Welsh/English) context and supported with accessible shows and feedback systems.

Our 2018 programme delivered an accompanying training and seminar event to promote Audio Description, resulting in the first Welsh language audio described live performances. In 2019, we will also offer BSL interpreted shows and focus on developing an audience and appetite for these services by actively forging relationships with members of the blind and D/deaf communities. We will do this through visits to local support centres, clubs and groups, offering programme insight and critically supporting a dialogue, asking questions to inform our deliver methods and to reveal a wider view of general provision, requirements and needs. Working in collaboration with Creu Cymru’s Hynt and the local venue, we will gather data to support general approaches to accessible practice in Wales starting with visits to local clubs and later request feedback relating to their FDF experience.

We will again work with Audio Describer Ioan Gwyn, who benefited from FDF2018 bespoke training programme and toured with the company offering both Welsh and English language descriptions. We will also work with experienced BSL interpreter Sami Thorpe of Elbow Room, to support the text based work and our reach. Their understanding of the target audience and experience within the performing arts, coupled with our plans to consult with individual service users through visits to their respective clubs and groups, prior to the tour, will enable the means and structure for a quality service. Ioan and Sami will work with the Front Of House staff at each venue to ensure quality customer care of our accessible audiences, positioning themselves at the box office to welcome and familiarise. Where possible we will integrate Ioan and Sami into the actual performance to positively reinforce inclusiveness and will create specific feedback forms to inform delivery and methods.

Gareth Coles / Voluntary Arts Wales Director / Cyfarwyddwr Celfyddydau Gwirfoddol Cymru

The second commitment in the Arts Council of Wales’ new Corporate Plan recognizes that the challenge is to increase and diversify participation in the publicly-funded arts. But levels of participation in different forms of creative activity may actually be very high, as people practice their creativity in libraries, church halls, pub function rooms and on kitchen tables and bedroom desks. Voluntary Arts Wales estimates that there are around 4,000 community and amateur creative groups in Wales. But these voluntary and everyday creative activities may not benefit from public subsidy, and therefore may not regularly appear on the radar of public funders.

There is a rich and diverse ecology of the arts in Wales: an ecology that we believe includes amateur, everyday creativity as well as the professional arts, and in which all elements are interdependent and mutually supportive. An attempt to engage more people in the publicly-funded arts might start with an appreciation of the creativity that people choose to practice themselves. Rather than see a deficit of engagement in the arts, we might recognise the cultural assets and activities that already exist within communities across Wales, and build stronger links with the publicly funded arts.

 Diversifying governance

In 2016, Voluntary Arts conducted a project called Open Conversations to improve our understanding of creative cultural activity in Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities across the UK. We convened an Advisory Panel of experts in BAME creative activity, who made introductions, accompanied staff on visits, and met regularly throughout the project to discuss findings. Voluntary Arts staff and Expert Panel members conducted long, unstructured and informal conversations with practitioners across the UK. At the end of the project, we invited the Panel members to become Trustees of Voluntary Arts, and now 5 of our 11 Board members are from BAME backgrounds. As a result of this work, we became the first arts organisation to win a Charity Governance Award for Board Inclusion and Diversity.

We have also sought in recent years to celebrate the excellent work that exists in the voluntary arts sector to champion diversity, through our annual Epic Awards. Get the Chance was a recipient of the Celebrating Diversity award in 2017.

Increasing participation

Our Drawn Together project, a partnership with Coast Lines, has engaged over 2,500 people of all ages in producing over 5,000 observational drawings – creating a collective visual representation of Wales in 2018 (now on display in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff). The feedback shows that 96% of participants felt happier and more positive as a result, but the majority weren’t creatively active, or involved in any arts or community groups. We believe this worked because we took the project to places where people convene: in existing community groups, libraries, cafes, care homes, workplaces and schools. We worked with Big Issue vendors in Cardiff, residents living with dementia in a care home in Pembrokeshire, RNLI volunteers in Aberystwyth and farmers in rural Denbighshire. A majority of project participants now want to continue their creative practice.

Branwen Davies

Writer/Theatre Maker

I welcome this commitment. We all should. We all benefit from a wider diversity of people enjoying and taking part in the arts.It needs to be ever evolving and new energy and life bought in. We all have skills, experience and stories to share. Quite often I find we are ignorant or unaware of challenges facing others and it needs to be addressed and challenged and become second nature not a box ticking exercise.

In uncertain times socially and politically, especially where people feel threatened and surrounded by divisions and threats, the arts can play a pivotal role in confronting fears and open channels of communication. We are social animals. We need to seek each other out. We need to go knocking on doors and meet face to face and not rely so much on social media to connect.

I constantly bang on about the transformative power of the arts! It’s life-enhancing – music, theatre, images, installations, dance etc in all it’s glorious forms. They enable us to communicate, engage and express ourselves and that positive experience can spill out in to all areas of life. It gives us an emotional literacy and helps us try and make sense of the world and our surroundings. It infuriates me that music and drama and literature are constantly threatened within the education system and that there are less opportunities from an early age to engage and benefit. Mental health issues, anxiety and lack of confidence is on the rise in schools and I am in no doubt there is a direct link. The arts are essential to our wellbeing and the earlier we are exposed the better. It is also vital to ensure that there are opportunities for all ages and that it isn’t all focused on youth but continuous in to old age.

It has to start with a conversation – what are the complex needs of different cultures, genders and abilities in Wales? For a small nation our diversity and needs are huge! There is no one size fits all. What are the present weaknesses and gaps and challenges and how do we approach change and a new model of addressing and implementing things for the benefit of all? It’s essential to give a voice to those who aren’t usually given a platform and we must empower those who don’t think their story is of value. We also need to showcase and showoff what we can offer so that people are aware of the possibilities and the work that is and can be created.

The image of the arts needs to be changed so that people feel that they can take ownership and that it belongs to them. It’s up for the current gate keepers not to just welcome and implement an open door policy and a willingness to listen but to actually do the ground work and seek people out face to face. This connection and nurturing needs to be sustained. We have the talent, skills and expertise in Wales but we need, especially in times of funding cuts to pool resources and collaborate and communicate much better than we already do and to be in regular contact and communicate and share knowledge with each other.

My background is in playwrighting and one positive experiences I have had was ‘The Fresh Ink’ initiative with the Sherman Theatre where over a period of 10 weeks I visited St Teilo School in Llanedeyrn, Cardiff. I worked with a group of students who had never visited the theatre and who had little confidence or interest in writing. Allowing them to step away from thinking and writing academically, encouraging them to find their own voice and to take ownership of their language and rhythms of speech the students grew in confidence and produced extremely moving and passionate short plays that were then performed by professional actors at their school in front of their peers. Their reaction and their pride in their words and stories was empowering. For the first time some of them felt they had created something of worth and value and were proud to share it. The Sherman are currently running a playwrighting scheme for similar students to whom opportunities have been limited. The weekly sessions are free of charge and transport is provided. The students work will be performed at the Sherman in the spring.

 

 

Adeola Dewis

Artist, researcher, academic and TV presenter

I have just read the corporate plan. I feel little excitement although I think the targets are attractive. My main contribution to this goes back to the idea of getting out of offices and on to the streets, into community spaces without an agenda and seeing what one can learn.

This feels like wanting to do research and already knowing the answer. I think its problematic in its genesis.

Of course the key is the youth, the next generation but I also believe that bodies like the ACW already have a public image and in order to broaden its public perception (increase participation and attendance in publicly funded arts), honest work will need to be done from the inside, beyond inviting token BAME individuals to be on their board. This crucially involves getting to know who you are working with and for and perhaps getting your ‘targets’ from the people and what matters to them rather than the governments with their outward facing strategies.

I am struggling to articulate a coherent response to that as I believe the response would need to be rooted in research. What I mean is, we are talking about arts participation, but that is just ‘our’ arts. There are groups and communities making ‘arts’ and doing their thing that get washed over for various reasons. What is at the core of the desire to increase participation? What are ‘more diverse’ communities and groups already doing and how do we foster conversations that facilitate an equal space for voice and visibility and limits the threat of appropriation.

 

Bethan Marlow

Writer 

First of all, the fact that these goals and priorities have been set is fantastic because it means we’re really acknowledging that this is a problem. There are many, many people still feeling excluded from the arts (not just as audience members but as people wanting to work in it too) so having a goal to change that can’t be anything but a good thing.

How will it actually be achieved?…….. action. Action by all. Everyone, every single one of us currently working in the arts needs to assess our ways of working, our processes and avenues of finding collaborators and we need to really question how inclusive we’re been the past. And if we haven’t been inclusive, or inclusive enough, we MUST, must make change. From hiring to casting to finding audiences we must continuously ask ourselves whether we’re doing enough to make sure that ALL people feel invited. I sometimes feel like I’m the P.C police these last few years (I’m sure my co-workers feel it to!) because I have made a conscious decision to ask the difficult questions and speak up for those not in the room. And it’s not always comfortable. It makes people uncomfortable but the only reason we all feel uncomfortable is because we know there’s a problem. “Have we gone to all lengths possible to find BAME actors that can audition for this part?”, “Our focus should be on finding female musicians”, “have we considered Welsh learners for this part?” I don’t ask these questions to make people feel guilty, I’m doing it so that we can create active change so that we’re not guilty of being exclusive. We need to keep reminding each other of being inclusive until it becomes second nature.


Abdul Shayek

Director of Fio

I guess my major reflection on this has to be that whilst we have a statement being made by ACW which I believe is the right one. What seems to be missing is the response from arts leaders who have the resources to really make a difference. I guess unless a firmer and clearer picture is presented in terms of the sharing of power and resource, the inevitability is that this will remain words on a page. We, have to question how a sector which is led by same people will suddenly decide this needs to be prioritised just because ACW has said so, we need to go further and find other more innovative solutions where power is shared more equally?

Review The Nightingales, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

 

(3 / 5)

The setting is a church hall for William Gaminara’s witty new comedy The Nightingales, on tour before coming in to the West End. Gaminara has taken the concept of a local acapella group at their weekly rehearsal in said church hall. Despite a few missed chords and the like the group, under the direction of their Cambridge educated choirmaster Steven (played with empathy by Steven Pacey), the four singers who make up the group get on fine – until one day a newcomer, Maggie (Ruth Jones) arrives.

The role makes a welcome return to the stage for multi-talented Welsh actress Ruth Jones, who in 2014 was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list for her services to entertainment. The role of Maggie who upsets the apple cart in more ways than   one, is perfect for Jones, best known for playing Nessa in the popular BBC TV comedy Gavin and Stacey, Jones engages with the audience from the moment she arrives on stage; her timing is spot-on. At first garrulous but otherwise harmless, before long Maggie’s arrival puts the cat among the pigeons, proving to be the catalyst which results in the layers being peeled back to reveal what lies beneath the surface bonhomie.

This is particularly applicable to the relationship between the scholarly choirmaster and his wife Diane, played appealingly by Mary Stockley, while the other female in the group, Connie (Sarah Earnshaw) has aspirations to hit the celebrity spotlight. Earnshaw’s characterisation is good, but her voice a tad shrill at times. Completing the Capella group are the two male singers: Connie’s husband Ben (Philip McGinley) a down to earth sort of bloke with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, contrasting with the charismatic and sexy Bruno – a great performance by the likeable Stefan Adegbola .

Peppered with bon mots and clever ripostes, Gaminara’s slick dialogue, on opening night in Cardiff, rained down upon a packed and eager audience, appearing at times somewhat laboured, at others too fast for all the jokes to be appreciated. There was also occasionally a need for a couple of the cast to guard against turning their backs to the audience, or at least to speak more clearly when doing so. Having said that, in this co-production by Jenny Topper and Theatre Royal Bath, director Christopher Luscombe has handled Gaminara’s concept cleverly, grabbing the flavour and that unique smell of the village hall – at atmospheric set by Jonathan Fensom – to the extent that one can almost smell the dusty floorboards.

Some of the best moments are – perhaps not surprisingly – the songs, notably George and Ira Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me, raising a tear among the laughs, as is so often the case with good comedy. Which brings us to the question: although billed as comedy, as the play progresses into the second half and home truths are revealed we see behind the masks to the sadness – so true to life.

And therein lies the skill in this play by actor-playwright Gaminara.

Runs until Saturday 24th November at New Theatre, Cardiff.

Worth a mention are the programme notes which include several highly amusing cartoons relevant to a play about a village choir,

Playwright: William Gaminara

Director: Christopher Luscombe

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

 

Review Van Gogh on the Beach by Poetry House review by Tanica Psalmist

(4 / 5)

Van Gogh on the Beach is a tale of Vincent’s love, art and heart in Lost Angels written and performed by talented Jahmar Ngozi. Van Gogh on the Beach fuses together a blend of poetry, drama, dance and art, where the Great Vincent Van Gogh exploits, highlighting his infatuation for an enthusiastic, endowing sexually elevated women and of course his passion and gift for his artsy, God given gift.

The time period of Van Gogh on the beach is Set in Los Angeles during the buzzing, booming century of the 80’s/90’s, where they’re seen in the play rocking out vintage, classy and sleek dress wear and suits, smoking cigars and remaining optimistic when feeling drained from a bruised community, as they expand on the stigma of artists only associating with their respective peers. However, through all of that heat a cool breeze shifts the air as they seek a solution to the problem. Expanding into the era when the enlightenment of art was detached from anything that bound it, acknowledging that art  is an expression of anything you allow it to be.

Van Gogh on the beach is a fantastic, historical admiring play that’s full of energy, powerful words and heartfelt scenes. This play channels the excitement of jazz, spoken word, passion, romance and the importance of art.  The overall production is cultural, eloquent and historical as you travel through the journey of different lives that contain factual, fantasy and inspirational entertaining content. A well presented show, as Van Gogh on the beach is extremely engaging and exhilarating to watch.

Tanica Psalmist