Category Archives: Theatre

Review: Shed Man at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(3 / 5)

Shed Man by Kevin Jones is a view into the head of a man who lives the most mundane of lives. He has a job, a wife, two kids and is building himself a shed. Sometimes, we all just need to build a shed and hide.

The script truly is a beautiful thing. The attention to detail is exceptional and the small nuances of the script are what makes it so powerful. There are funny moments, but a darker undertone – which is really becoming a defining feature of Kevin Jones’ writing and is extremely effective.

The script is the outstanding aspect of this production and it is an interesting view into the mind of a man who, on the outside, is extremely mundane.

The design team for this production is solid. Josh Bowles’ sound design is becoming a regular these last couple of years on the Cardiff scene and I’m all for it. Here, the use of music for transition works well and the rest of the sound portrays scene and emotion to good effect. The sound is nothing incredible, but it is not supposed to be.

Cory Shipp’s set is exactly what you’d expect and sets up this mundane world. A garden with a white fence, a shed and a few bits that get played with. It’s straightforward and again adds to that sense of mundane life. The lighting from Louise Swindell changes subtly, and again, is simple, yet effective. It compliments the nature of the script well, but again, is nothing groundbreaking.

Perhaps more could have been done on the design front, but then the whole production, lead by Siobhán Lynn Brennan, is directed in a very plain and realistic way. There is nothing overtly wrong with this, however it could do with something different. This is a script that could be interpreted in many ways, and because of that there is no clear answer to how this could change for the better.

As far as the acting goes, again, it does the job, there is nothing wrong with it and makes for an enjoyable performance. However, there is a clear choice from Brennan to keep this realistic, when the characters aren’t exactly realistic.

Brian (Benedict Hurley) is a man who, besides the first and last scene, is going through an anxious episode. Mother Pat (Siw Hughes) and boss Mr. Tatum (Joe Burke) are caricatures of real people existing in Brian’s head. Wife Emma (Chrissie Neale), whilst never appearing in Brian’s head on stage, is portrayed simply as a “nice wife” with no real depth. This all works in the hour of script. However, in its transition to stage something has been lost.

Pat and Mr. Tatum are fairly plain characters, showing no depth, little character motivation and little logic. But that is the point, because that is how anxiety works. Pat might be an overly clingy mother after the death of her husband, and Mr. Tatum may be an annoying boss who sends his employees on pointless tasks in real life. But in this hour of theatre, they are caricatures – and that is how it should be.

Benedict Hurley is the only actor really challenged by character depth and he handles it fairly well. However, there are moments that could have been driven home more. And more subtleties from the script that are there in words, but not action.

Generally, the character interaction, movement on stage and minor physical details could be worked on. There are moments that felt awkward. There seems a lack of physical characterisation which could really enhance this piece. However, if the director wants us to think everything happening on stage is real, until we find out it’s not, then Brennan succeeds.

It’s hard to say exactly what Shed Man ‘needs’ to step up a level. This script truly could be interpreted in many ways. Brennan is an exceptional director and the actors are great too. But something just isn’t clicking here.

The running time of sixty-minutes is fine. But perhaps a slightly shorter time that gets the point across and allows more space for the characterisation of Brian, the protagonist, and gives less time for the lack of characterisation of other characters to become exposed, would be more effective.

That said, this is still an enjoyable piece of theatre and the script alone makes it worth seeing. It is the type of production that some will like and some won’t. I fall somewhere in the middle. The mundanity is beautiful, and something that I believe is more dramatic than typically dramatic situations, if it is handled in the right way.

On another note, it is really heartening to see a company like Clock Tower performing in the Sherman. A beautiful company committed to new writing, who have produced some truly excellent work, deserve all the best. A fitting first company to be part of the Sherman’s new ‘Get it while it’s Hot’ programme.

Shed Man is a thoroughly enjoyable watch, brilliant script, not without its issues as a production.

Shed Man is an important play for 21st century Britain. The issue of mundanity is the biggest unspoken struggle. It is a “first world problem”, but any issue in any human’s head deserves to be spoken about. And nobody should have to build a shed to hide from the world.

Shed Man by Kevin Jones
Performed at the Sherman Theatre
Tickets: 13th – 17th November 2018
Presented by Clock Tower Theatre Company
Directed by Siobhán Lynn Brennan
Produced by Steven Bennett
Designer: Cory Shipp
Sound Designer: Joshua Bowles
Lighting Designer: Louise Swindell
Assistant Director: Umalkyhar Mohamed
Assistant Producer: Lauren Lloyd

Review Candid by Tanica Psalmist- Canada Water Theatre

(4 / 5)

Candid is performed and written by Aaron Lambert, the play foretells Aaron Lamberts internal story from when he was a boy developing in to a young man finding herself, feeling disconnected to society due to affiliated labels of homosexuals by judgmental critics in his community and around the world. We see how the fate of past homosexual artists, activists, leaders and playwrights was a gateway for him to not live up to expectations from society, but redeem strength  from their efforts to be an overcomer. His performance cultivates awareness of a captivating society that’s held within a social culture, easily lost and withdrawn from the torment inflicted in to young, homosexual black males, who may also be struggling to adjust to life, fitting into stereotypes.

Candid is a personal, emotionally engaging solo play. An autobiographical journey expressing discrimination, family acceptance, school struggles, judgments and how being a homosexual, black male provokes the fear of coming out even worse. This play is a testimonial in to what homosexual  individuals’ life can detect growing up unsupported, alone, feeling detached from home, social life and school feeing different and ashamed with deserted family members.

This production contained documented footage of various people speaking out on the matter via BBC documentaries and  radio host shows. Aaron smartly used the recordings to make remarks on past victims who have had their lives lost too soon through murder in the States, England and Jamaica.

Candid is fused with dance, projections, taboos and examining biblical scriptures which plays a part in the foundation of the matter.    This production is enticed with intimate real life moments and genuine emotions.

 

Tanica Psalmist.

Review Hoes, Hampstead Theatre by Tanica Psalmist

(5 / 5)

Hoes written by Ifeyinwa Frederick and directed by Lakesha Arie-Angelo is about three sensational, charismatic ladies who explore an exotic holiday out in Ibiza. You depict an exact insight into how it feels to be attractive, young, wild and free with a flamboyant nature; played brilliantly by Areatha Ayeh, Marieme Diouf and Nicola Maisie Taylor. Their holiday is a getaway from all stress, work related ties, repetition, relationship restrictions, family complications and disorientation. Hysterically anytime the character J was caught using her work phone, she needed to donate at least a quid, this was because she made an oath she wasn’t going to indulge in business related enquires until she arrived back home, so when she’s caught there’s cash to be handed over.

The character Bim makes it clear she’s on holiday to let her hair down, drink like there’s no tomorrow, take shots for breakfast, cure hangovers with more alcohol, party every night and cater to her thirsty vagina, as sex has no limits. As a female she declares there’s no shame if you want to enjoy the fun, erotic nature of sexual intercourse, be intimate with whomever you’re attracted to, and dress as provocatively as you please to flaunt your curves and your treasured assets.

Bim highlights that woman should embrace the divine beauty given to womanly Goddesses, and therefore shouldn’t feel ashamed to do as they please with their body. The audience had taken a strong liking to the character Bim as she is shamelessly hysterical, constantly throwing sexual innuendos, loud, and not afraid to speak her mind. Bim is an example of a confident, sassy alcoholic guru who’s a freak in the bedroom and straight class on the streets.

All three girls appear free spirited and high spirited twenty-four hours of the day, so it was concerning when occasionally character Bim would present characteristics of emotional disorder, anxiety, depression with abusive threatening swings at herself when she was solo in the room, unaccompanied. She would then suddenly transition, putting on a façade, smile impulsively, continuing to amuse and entertain simultaneously and disguise how upset, unsettled and anxious she internally felt when her friends were around, until they walk in on her startled by what they witness.

Hoes is a testament of resilience, exposure and the power of freedom. The production was set as a bedroom and smoothly transitioned to convey various scenes of them waking up from a night out with a hangover and getting ready prior to a wild night, fitting into dresses, pampering their faces and pre-drinking. All the scenes were extremely tight and epic, continuously spiralling new elements that were gripping, funny, relatable and incredibly moving.

Hoes is themed around women empowerment, mental health, value of single-hood and sisterhood, compassion, deeper understanding of self, feeling powerless, difficulties of being in a relationship and feeling you’re missing out and the crucial factors of support. Writer Ifeyinwa Frederick’s had mentioned her debut play focuses on the insecurities of women today. Elements within her playwright root from conflicting perspectives she has seen and identified, which encouraged her to elaborate on it. Hoes is a meaningful expression of minds and attitude existing in the nineteenth century, a very well put together and constructed play.

Tanica Psalmist

Review: The Island at Oasis Cardiff by Gareth Ford-Elliott

The performance of The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona from Fio at Oasis Cardiff, a community centre for refugees and asylum seekers, was a beautiful way for anyone to get introduced to Fio.

It wasn’t a classic “theatre night”, but more a community evening that had a play at the end of it. There was food served originating from various different countries, the opportunity to have your photo taken and talk with other audience members and refugees from all over the world.

All this before Oasis World Choir, a choir of refugees, took to the stage to perform, inviting the audience to sing along. They performed a mix of pop songs and songs written by themselves. It was a real mix of cultures brought together by music and truly was a beautiful thing to witness. The general themes of the songs were about hope and unity.

As someone who grew up in a close-knit, music based community in West Ireland, it took me right back to that community feeling. But this was totally different, a group of people from all over the world, from various backgrounds.

Some of the music was brilliant. Some of it was a bunch of people having a sing-song, the choir and the audience which was fun. But there were some really beautiful individual performances from various members of the choir.

The Island from Fio

(3 / 5)

The Island follows two black prisoners, John and Winston, who rehearse and perform a theatrical version of the Greek myth of Antigone during their time on Robben Island in Apartheid South Africa. Based on a true story, the two prisoners use this play as a way to speak about the current state of affairs of their country. It is a story of brotherhood, jealousy, oppression and protest with an important message of equality at its heart.

The play, originally performed in 1973, has its issues. There is a lot of character building, but a lack of character motivation at times. Whilst there are moments of real importance, the energy of the play stagnates too often. The restrictions of censorship in Apartheid South Africa when this play was written is a reasons for this. Only touching on certain issues that couldn’t be explicitly spoken about in detail. Whereas for a modern audience, in full knowledge of the realities of apartheid, it maybe doesn’t hold the power it did in 1973.

That aside, it tells an important story of struggle against the state. A story that is as relevant around the world today as it was in 1973. You could tell similar stories about the prisons in the USA, Brazil, North Korea, Thailand and even in post-Mandela South Africa. And despite the lack of detail and skirting around the harshest of realities, when this production does suck you in, it is hard not to feel it.

Because of the possibility of telling this story anywhere in the current world, you have to question Fio’s choice to cover this time period. Why this piece? Why now? What is it saying that is new? The answer to that last question is, nothing. We are not getting anything new. If anything, this is a watered-down version of what happened.

However, it is important to learn from history. And Fio were not making this piece of theatre to say anything new. They were making it to speak about the past of South Africa and how we, as the UK, move forward with commonwealth nations considering the past we share. Fio are clear to state the UK’s complicity in South Africa’s apartheid period.

I must mention that it does feel wrong to criticise a script written in a state of censorship. If you’re familiar with Iranian film, an industry full of censorship, you will know how much allegory is relied on to criticise the state and how often details are left to interpretation. The Apple (1998), written and directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, takes the real life story of two young women locked up by their father, and combines that with the symbolism of an apple, a symbol of opportunity, temptation and “the fall of man”, to speak about sexism in the country.

Is it the pinnacle of filmmaking? No. But you don’t get screened at Cannes for nothing. And The Island didn’t win Tony Awards for its technical playwrighting. But more for what it meant at that time.

Less about Fio’s choice to stage it though, Abdul Shayek’s direction fluctuates as the play progresses. The parts that stand out in the script are expressed well in this production. Most of the play is handled with care and directed to good effect. But there are areas that stagnate, times where the energy drops and moments that seem to lack importance.

The design was the strongest aspect of this production. The set was simple, yet effective. Four metal poles holding up a caged ceiling. This set was utilised well by the actors and combined with sound and lighting design, works well together, particularly in dream-like sequences, to produce emotive design. In a space like the Oasis, effectively a sports hall, this is not an easy feat and they deserve credit.

Performances from Joe Shire and Wela Mbusi are both strong. Portraying a brotherly relationship that shows real love, yet also jealousy. The moments of intimacy are beautiful, however some moments of conflict early in the play seem forced. The movement from the performers at times is really strong, which movement director Andile Sotiya deserves credit for.

The Island from Fio split my opinion a great deal and I still can’t decide, in my opinion, whether Fio made the right choice in staging it. Aspects were brilliant, but other parts fell flat. On one hand telling stories about history is important. But on the other hand, was this the right play to put in front a 2018 audience in Wales? Especially viewing it on this night, sharing a room with refugees, I couldn’t help but want to hear their stories more than one I have heard a thousand times. Stories that affect the present. But then, what is the present if we ignore history?

Overall though, the piece was an enjoyable piece of theatre, both from a general spectators perspective and from a critics perspective. Plenty to talk about afterwards both artistically and politically. Not to mention, the event as a whole was really beautiful and made for a heart-warming evening full of hope.

The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona
Presented by Fio at Oasis Cardiff on November 9th 2018
Director: Abdul Shayek
Winston: Wela Mbusi
John: Joe Shire
Movement Director: Andile Sotiya
Lighting Design: Ryan Joseph Stafford
Sound Design: Dan Lawrence
Design Consultant: Becky Davies
Stage Manager: Jeremy Barnaby
Executive Producer: Shane Nickels
Producer: Nicole May
Assistant Stage Manager: Cait Gerry
Assistant Director: Yuqun Fan
Assistant Producer: Jasmine Okai
Community Engagement Officer: Naz Syed
Audio Description Consultant: Alastair Sil
Caption Consultant & Creator: Ben Tinniswood

Review of Forget-me-Not at Pontypridd Museum by Roger Barrington

 

 

 

(4 / 5)

A timely reminder of the supreme sacrifice that people from the South Wales valleys made during World War 1 is reenacted at Pontypridd Museum.

Written and presented by Avant Cymru the company’s intention is to inspire the valley’ communities by recalling the past, to discuss the present and create the future.

Pontypridd Museum, itself currently showing a WW1 exhibition and its many links to the social history of the area, proves to be an ideal setting for performing this play.

The action begins by  Reverend Richards (Matthew Bool) conducting a service, which basically provides the opportunity to sing perennial favourite Welsh Hymns such as “Calon Lan” and “Cwm Rhondda” and the English hymn, “Abide with Me”. Accompaniment is provided by David Hutchings playing the fine organ in situ.  Thankfully there isn’t a collection. The Reverend then provides a brief firebrand sermon reminding the congregation forcefully and passionately about their responsibilities at this time of great social turmoil. He turns on young mother Catrin Williams who it seems had a boy aged thirteen attacking her moral behaviour,

The action continues at different locations around the museum. You witness the recruiting sergeant, (Yannick Budd),  and the issues that prevented some men from enlisting. The urging by Catrin that her son lie about being under-aged so that he could be safer fighting at The Front compared to the inevitable going down the mines.

The action moves downstairs to re-enact a scene at the Front Line, although I don’t think the men depicted would have lasted very long at that place, failing to keep their head under the parapet.

 

 

The scene is very loud which is as it should be because it was the incessant shelling and gunfire, (sounds that carried from the trenches to South-East England), that was the reason why many of the soldiers succumbed to neurasthenia, (shell-shock).

Emerging from the depths the final scene takes place at the local post office run by Emily Davies, (Cler Stephens) reveals the anxieties of families awaiting news of their loved ones from The Front.

The mixed professional and amateur actors play their characters with conviction and production values are high with realistic costumes and excellent sound.

I watched the performance in the well-behaved company of primary school children from two local schools. I noted that the boys were in their element when they were being drilled by the sergeant and at the scene at The Front, whilst the girls seemed a little nervous and distracted there but were more engaged with the Post Office scene. A nice touch was to present the entire audience with a red poppy at the end which you then pressed on to a board near the exit, so that you could pay your respects to your ancestors and remember all who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Patient research by the production team has revealed diaries and poems that were written by local soldiers and this provided a strong connection to the audience, by its Welsh flavour.

This hour-long play is a brilliant way to convey the terrible time that any war brings to local communities particularly to children. It’s intentions are magnificent and I cannot praise it enough.

 

Roger Barrington

Continue reading Review of Forget-me-Not at Pontypridd Museum by Roger Barrington

Sweet like Chocolate Boy review by Tanica Psalmist- Jack Studio theatre

(5 / 5)

Sweet like Chocolate Boy by Triston Fynn Aiduenu is a remarkable, animated and innovative play; containing infatuating and exhilarating factors exploited. The casts Andrew Umerah, Alice Fofana, Michael Levi Fatogun and Veronica Beatrice Lewis had all done a fantastic job playing various characters. They explored themes of love, racism, police intimidation, ghetto and posh differentiations and similarities, embarking on the stigmas attached when referred to as a bounty.

I managed to speak with the director Triston, to get an insight into the origin of the idea of having the casts play different roles. Fortunately, he touched on this element mentioning how it was based on him wanting different members of the audience to affiliate themselves with a particular character and see qualities that resonated. I then asked Triston why personal identification conveyed through characterisation was an aspect he explored. Triston replied saying that through people seeing traits that connected with them personally, it would not only be more relatable but also create a more realistic perception of a recognisable world we know and live in.

Sweet like Chocolate boy is an unapologetic production, examining aspects of real lie scenarios. The different dynamics shown is Black empowerment, spiritual connectivity and the importance of healthy bonds between the youth and parent’s with the effects of how not having that bond reciprocates negative effects on the mind and triggers emotional instability. The play also showed the dynamic of having domineering low-key racist friends and the consequences erupted through being too trusting of them.

The production touched base with the fundamental values of sisterhood, brotherhood, upbringing and the guidance from elders foretelling the pros and cons of how their impact stimulates the youth’s conscious mind and will wild out if not tamed. The incorporation of subtle physical theatre movements was used to express their internal nature, power and freedom; enchanting a sense of ease as well as mental, spiritual and emotional stability.

One of the interesting elements was the presence of a God, divine energy representative. She remained stood in front of boxes throughout the entire production which changed colours when reflecting differing moods or tension. The huge boxes surrounding her lit up to these beautiful, graceful colours, her role was transparent as she hovered her arms over the boxes, constantly moving her arms in a mysterious, majestic way. Her facial expressions reflected her thoughts allowing the audience to sense how she felt during a scene, highlighting all crucial moments.

Sweet like Chocolate Boy is daring and enticing. Each scene contains high energy fused with scenes that’s emotional and fundamental as a fabricated England is shown reflecting life living in an estate. This  play is extremely entertaining as it features scenes filled with sexual innuendos, soulful, remixed garage music encouraging the audience to sing along, making Sweet like Chocolate Boy brilliantly distinctive, enjoyable and hysterical to watch.

Tanica Psalmist.

Rock of Ages, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Direct from the West End, this Broadway smash-hit jukebox musical, featuring 80s’ glam rock classics from Whitesnake to Journey, transformed a rainy evening in Cardiff into a hot summer night on the Sunset Strip – and had everyone on their feet and singing their hearts out by the final curtain.

A quick proviso: I came to this production as a fan of the show; this will have been the third time I’ve seen it (fourth if you count the movie adaptation), and it holds a special place in my heart, being the first show I saw with one of my best friends in our undergrad days. Suffice to say I went to this production with my rose-tinted glasses firmly in place – though it also made me slightly predisposed to be critical of a musical I hold so dear.

So I’m happy to report that I adored this production! I forgot everything that was troubling me in the real world and just basked in its frenetic charm for two and a bit hours. Joyfully directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, the show is a funny, sexy nostalgia-fest featuring the rampantly rowdy riffs of The Final Countdown, Hit Me With Your Best Shot, and Cum On Feel the Noize to name but a few. I’m not always a fan of jukebox musicals, but Rock of Ages employs the right songs in the right places to tell an intentionally conventional story in a new, entertaining and outlandish way – and with a soundtrack that good, you can’t help singing along.

The ensemble is excellent across the board, with high quality singing and dancing and a real sense of fun from start to finish. Small-town girl Sherrie (Danielle Hope) and city boy Drew (Luke Walsh) make for a lovely central duo with great chemistry and amazing voices, who have their moments both as a couple (the epically melancholic High Enough) and individually – Hope performs an excellent, edgy rendition of Harden My Heart, and Walsh brings bravado and lovable naivete to a cracking version of I Wanna Rock. And Adam Strong, Sinead Kenny and Bobby Windebank turn what could have been throwaway characters into standout supporting roles.

But Lonny is the lynchpin of the show, the naughty narrator who guides us gleefully through the increasingly raucous debauchery. If Lonny doesn’t work, neither does the show – and the character’s passivity in the 2012 film version was one of the many reasons that adaptation failed. Luckily, Lucas Rush is the absolute highlight of this tour: a hilarious punk-rock Puck who runs away with every scene he’s in – the second act suffers primarily because he’s not in it much. Channelling Sam Rockwell and Starkid’s Brian Holden – complete with John Oates hair – Rush brings Prince-like pizzazz to the proceedings and steals laughs, applause and our hearts as the show’s mischievously metatextual master of ceremonies.

His common-law business partner Dennis Dupree is gamely played by Kevin Kennedy, suitably shambolic as the avuncular guardian of rock who runs the paradisiacal Bourbon Room. Vas Constanti pitches his delightfully OTT German businessman Hertz Kunemann somewhere between Young Frankenstein’s Inspector Kemp and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Baron Bomburst, and Andrew Carthy portrays his son Franz as a kind of Bavarian Pee-Wee Herman.

Glamorous and gregarious, Zoe Birkett keenly plays the sharp, more sinister edges of Justice Charlier while also making her a sympathetic, entertaining and simply sublime stage presence. She owns the stage with every note she sings, bringing epic gravitas and impressive pipes to Shadows of the Night and Any Way You Want It.

Easily the most knowingly grotesque version of the character, Sam Ferriday’s Stacee Jaxx is the Nosferatu of the Sunset Strip: creepy, predatory and unsympathetic, he makes for an effective antagonist and a compelling caricature of 80s narcissistic stardom, giving entertainingly offbeat renditions of Wanted Dead or Alive and I Want To Know What Love Is. This is ain’t Tom Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx, redeemed rocker and eventual family man – Ferriday’s Stacee might just make out with you and off with your soul.

This is a gloriously inclusive show, where everyone is celebrated and teased in equal measure – but sadly they shy away from giving the only queer couple their deserved romantic dues. Yes, Lonny and Dennis still manage to bring the house down with Can’t Fight This Feeling (complete with a spritely, balletic body double for Dennis), but the number didn’t quite reach the (comedic or romantic) heights of other productions for me personally.

The 80s are a comforting time, near-mythic in their modern-day romanticisation. It’s comforting to look back at that era of hyperbole with a knowing grin, giggling at the outlandish outfits and big hair and the songs with choruses that can never die. Rock of Ages isn’t afraid to stoop too low for a joke, and not all of them land – it’s an 80s-set show, so hardly a bastion of wokeness – but it ribs itself in this regard with a knowing comment, wink or nudge to the audience. That said, the German caricatures are a bit uncomfortable at times, and sometimes the show basks in the stereotypes of its era a little too indulgently – and it wouldn’t hurt to have a more diverse cast.

Given that the last Rock of Ages-related property I saw was the disastrous movie adaptation, it felt like coming home to see it reign onstage once again. The film totally missed the point of the show: as musical!Lonny says towards the coda, ‘the dreams you come in with might not be the ones you leave with – but they still rock’. In the movie, everyone got a happy Hollywood ending with recording contracts and stadium tours a-go-go; but the message of the stage show is that the truly fulfilling dream is not to pursue the superficial adoration of celebrity, but to find someone who gets you, accepts you, and loves you for you. Justice Charlier’s dreams had to be snuffed out so she could survive in a cutthroat world, and Stacee Jaxx may well have started out as a wide-eyed innocent like Drew before notoriety corrupted him absolutely. Fame is hollow – your friends and family are the best fans you could ever wish for.

The full power of the assembled ensemble is left in no doubts after a powerful performance of act one-closer and show calling card Here I Go Again, and an affecting version of Every Rose Has Its Thorn. And If you aren’t energised and inspired by the incredible, deservedly iconic Don’t Stop Believin’ finale, then you’ve either never had a dream or you ain’t got a pulse. Raucously raunchy and joyfully uncompromising, Rock of Ages is energetic escapism of the highest calibre that you should absolutely see at the New Theatre this week – just maybe don’t watch it with your mum…

Review of Cardiff Boy at The Other Room by Roger Barrington

 

(2.5 / 5)

I was almost a Cardiff Boy. My elder brother is. Unfortunately for myself, in a moment of extreme recklessness my family moved from Cardiff after my brother’s birth and so I became, a Brecon Boy… that was the start of my problems! I have always wanted to be a Cardiff Boy –  well, until last evening.

Kevin Jones’s monologue tells the story of an invigorated Testosterone  angst-ridden Cardiff teenager and is based partly upon his real-life experience.

Our protagonist is a sensitive artistic lad, existing in the hurly-burly of Welsh laddish behaviour, drunken binging and alpha male aggressiveness. I’ve experienced this myself, although in a slightly different capacity when as a leftish orientated serving police officer, I was out of alignment with the vast majority of my colleagues, united in preserving the status quo. For the sake of fitting in, sometimes I had to say things or act in a way that was naturally alien to me. So, I get our hero’s situation.

Being a typical teenager, he is struggling to find his place in society and lacks self-esteem. Instead he prefers to act as a voyeuristic photographer, surreptitiously sneaking pictures of his mates in varying states of sobriety. With numerous references to Cardiff locations, you are shown that the nature of your social interaction is largely dictated to by your environs.

It is a nostalgic play. Looking back to the 1990’s and in particular the popular music of that period, that reminds us how important that sensory pleasure can influence our life and our relationships with our friends.

The first part of the playlet is the best. Actor Jack Hammett provides a likable, engaging character and he energetically glides around the room engaging members of the audience with direct eye contact. He is able to do this due to the created space being a rather dingy bar setting with tables and chairs  located around – a kind of Aberdare’s Moulin Rouge. 

Surrounding the room are photographs pegged up – obviously our guy’s work. Lighting is used creatively and overall the direction and design work well enough.

However, where the play falls down is the decline into a more melodramatic second part which leads you to the ultimate destination; that it sometimes it takes a tragedy to discover the meaning and value of friendship.

The dialogue is fairly sharp and there are funny jokes within the script, but despite this and Jack Hammet’s likeable performance, upon reflection you realise that this is rather slight fare.

I must include a caveat here. The nostalgic setting of the 1990’s, (music, early reference to Princess Diana seeking a divorce etc), reminded me that I was in middle age when the action would have taken place. My own experiences of this nature occurred in the 1970’s. So I think I probably have a very different perspective of this play to the rest of the audience on the press night I attended.

This isn’t the first time that I have felt out of place in Caridff Fringe Theatre – the Festival back in the early summer is a case in point. It appears to me that the Cardiff Fringe Theatre scene is created by young people for a young audience. Being part of the London Fringe Theatre for twenty years, I cast my mind back to try to remember if it was the same there in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. I believe that it wasn’t like the situation in Cardiff although admittedly younger people were in the majority. Is it due to the fact that Fringe Theatre is populated by younger people with the energy and creative desire to showcase their work? When they get older, they replace their enthusiasm with a more prosaic approach to life dictated to  by the trials and tribulations of growing up, and of course, in many cases raising a family.

This site promotes diversity and all power to it. But, how about diversity in fringe theatre? I have witnessed many an exciting production of classic theatre works on the London Fringe Festival Theatre scene

 

Roger Barrington

Continue reading Review of Cardiff Boy at The Other Room by Roger Barrington

Review for The Laud of the Rings by Tanica Psalmist – Camden People’s Theatre

(4 / 5)

Josh Gardner’s unique story-telling production entails mix documentation and an anarchic approach to performance. Josh elaborates on privilege and migration through the use of absurd. A space where he isn’t afraid of breaking the fourth wall or going against theatre rules or maintaining his dry humour which not everyone gets but it seemed he purposely wanted to convey that aspect to his character. The Laud of the rings tells the tale of Josh wanting to save Europe by re-enacting Frodo’s journey to Mordor, travelling from Oxford to Istanbul dressed as a hobbit.

The Laud of the Rings is a captivating and provocative performance that follows desperate attempts to live out a fantasy world in a black wig, plastic feet and have an encounter with a Serbian border police officer, as reality and fiction collide in an epic re-make of The Lord of the Rings.

The production is very immersive, it became intriguing when he would climb into the audiences space to sit among them, get the audiences participation by choosing individually who to read out his scripts and jumping on to the stage to blow up a giant, plastic sphere with a noisy air compressor.

There’s episodes where Josh risks the use of being ‘disorganised throughout his performance’ and scatty with minor control on stage, especially as he leaves the theatre nowhere to been seen again, leaving the audience members no opportunity to properly applaud, some audience members went off to find him in the giant, plastic sphere rolling around outside.

Laud Of The Rings is slightly weird, funny and slightly unsettling. It can take a lot for you to laugh, grasp the concept of his character and relate to the emotions of his character sincerely. Josh for me is a man with a gift for deadpan humor, not knowing if he was being generally serious or not made his act original, as he wasn’t scared to be daring or challenging.

 

Review: Cardiff Boy at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(5 / 5)

Kevin Jones’ monologue Cardiff Boy is a nostalgic jump into the 90’s with a story as relevant today as it was in the 90’s. A story of male friendship that explores toxic masculinity with a killer 90’s soundtrack.

Narrated by “the quiet one” of the group, the story follows a group of young Cardiff lads as we join them on a night out. The use of set, sound and lighting design really add to Jones’ descriptive and emotive piece, which is guided well by director Matthew Holmquist and actor Jack Hammett.

Jones’ writing in this piece has its strength in the language. Whilst the plot is fairly basic, it is the expression of the characters that really stands out. Jones uses a clever mix of comedy and archetypal characters to juxtapose the hard hitting moments of the play. This works very well and makes the play relatable, enjoyable whilst also saying something unique.

There’s more you want to know about the characters and paths that are left unexplored. But not in an unsatisfying way. Details such as the protagonist’s relationship with his father is touched upon, but quickly brushed over by the protagonist. A detail that could be explored, but the lack of clarity of which is harrowingly too real for many young men.

When the audience enter the space of The Other Room, we leave behind Porters, the pub within which the theatre resides. However, with Cardiff Boy, The Other Room literally feels like the other room of the pub, such is the strength of the set design.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

 

Sitting down you’re greeted by benches and chairs scattered throughout the room, with tables on which to rest your drinks. And as Hammett wanders between you and the other audience members, it is hard not to feel a strong sense of place.

This is heightened with the hanging photographs of 90’s Cardiff, which act as a sort of scrapbook of the protagonist’s photography collection. Photography and perception is used at various times by the protagonist to set the scene, with the city and locations generally described in great detail. Looking around at these fragments of Cardiff hanging from the ceiling, creates a very evocative feeling that makes it easy to get drawn in.

The directing of Matthew Holmquist is another strength of this piece. Not an easy piece to take on, such is the temperamental nature of the script. Without a brave director, that temperament could easily become a major flaw. But, the tone of the piece is handled brilliantly by Holmquist who allows the moments of emotion time to breath, without letting them take over.

Jack Hammett does a good job of portraying the protagonist and his mates as he bops around the room. In particular moments of vulnerability, which defines his “quiet” character, stand out. Ultimately a play about difference in men, Hammett does a great job in portraying this.

The use of sound is crucial to this play, and it doesn’t fail to impress. The soundtrack is obviously brilliant for anyone who enjoys 90’s music. Often used to comedic effect, the music, like the photographs, has a deeper meaning to the protagonist of the piece. Sound is also key in setting the scene and does so well.

The only issue for sound designer Joshua Bowles to work on would be that the level of the sound often drowns out Hammett’s voice. On occasion this works, for example in the club, where you can never hear anyone anyway, however, probably an occurrence too regular were that the desired effect.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

The use of lighting from Ryan Stafford is understated. Often going unnoticed until you try to see it, the lighting adds to the overall piece well. A tough play for lighting, as the stage is the entire room, Stafford manages to keep it effective without distracting. Even when there are flashing lights, you barely notice it because the music, direction and acting are all working together with the lighting to set the scene.

Perhaps this is the biggest compliment to Cardiff Boy and Red Oak Theatre as a wider company. A company that views the roles of the designers as importantly as the director, writer or actor. Something that is weirdly rare when you consider how well it has worked in Cardiff Boy and how vital these professions are to the theatre industry.

It’s good also to see that with this in mind, Red Oak are committed and passionate about developing young artists with a paid assistant director (Nerida Bradley) and assistant designer (Lauren Dix). A company no doubt restricted by a budget won’t always do this, so it’s nice to see Red Oak committing to young artists in this way.

Along with this, it is heartening for a piece that started at a scratch night, to grow into such a strong piece of theatre. Again showing Red Oak’s commitment to new work and new artists.

Overall, Cardiff Boy is a wonderful production. It’s hard to say anything stands out in this production as everything works so well together to achieve its aim. However, April Dalton’s design, assisted by Lauren Dix, is phenomenal and deserves recognition.

The play’s greatest strength is the team behind it because with another team, and another company, Jones’ emotive script could be easily forgotten.

Cardiff Boy by Kevin Jones
Presented by Red Oak Theatre
Running From: 30 October – 11 November 2018
Performed at The Other Room, Cardiff
Director: Matthew Holmquist
Cast: Jack Hammett
Designer: April Dalton
Lighting Designer: Ryan Stafford
Stage Manager: Joshua Bowles
Sound Designer: Joshua Bowles
Producer: Ceriann Williams
Assistant Director: Nerida Bradley
Assistant Designer: Lauren Dix