Who thought that this play would be about Harry Potter?
Well … yes, I did. However, when I discovered it was not, I was not disappointed but in fact, probably enjoyed it A LOT more than I would a Harry Potter play (no, I haven’t seen The Cursed Child yet).
While lacking in Wizards and Dragons, Living with a Dark Lord is full of comedy, heartfelt essence and a true family connection.
The play sees the story of 3 sisters celebrating their brother’s birthday – Sean has autism, and this leads him to not enjoy birthday parties as the loud lights and noises unnerve him. But this loving family still celebrate without him because, that’s true family love.
The three sisters are… real sisters. Sean is a real person. This is a theatrical story of their lives. And it is truly engaging, hilarious and the actresses are fully talented – how come the O’Sullivan’s got all the genes in their family huh!
Retelling the stories of their brother is heartwarming, it is at times sad, at times difficult yet full of fondness, love and oodles of comedy. The 3 bounce off each other, which, as sisters, you would expect. And this makes for a fantastic performance from all – I doubt that three strangers or ones not blood related could ping such comedy from one another and manage to show the true, yet theatrical essence of not only their family, but of themselves as individuals.
They looked at home – the props and staging felt necessary and they maneuvered around with ease and naturally. It helped give us a insight into their communication, but relate to us in our own families and how we react to the homes we own.
If this wasn’t enough, at the end of their first night, when the curtain (metaphorically) comes down from their performance, the three are rightfully very emotional leaving the stage, and somehow, this tops this performance as we know how real and meaningful it is to all of them.
Living with a Dark Lord is full of real family, real life, real love, and real comedy. If you aren’t into that then… well… you better get into it or you are missing out!
If you do not already know the story of Carmen, you will at least recognise the music.
Usually performed as an Opera, Carmen has been taken through lots of different twists and turns, in dance, in performance and the tale is retold in different places, in different ways. It is a versatile and, at times, relatable story.
For those who are unaware, Carmen tells the tale of the meeting of an elusive woman, and an (at the time) attached man. They fall in love but in the end, their love is too detrimental and Carmen grows bored, leaving Jose. With rage and jealousy, Jose returns, finding Carmen with another man and he decides that if he cannot have her, no one can.
The original Opera was set in Seville, Spain. This time around, at Sadler’s wells, we are transported to Cuba; rife with latin music, dance and attitude. It is fierce, sexy and full of drama and life – almost like a soap opera. We laugh, we cry, and we notice how ridiculous some of the dramatic storyline is.
Seeing Carmen at Sadler’s wells a few years ago, the premise was very different – set in a garage – a literal ‘Car-man’. It was full of dance, full of what we would expect from contemporary – showing all these fighting emotions through movement.
Whether I was assuming something similar, while set in a different part of the World, this time, Carmen La Cubana was in a way very traditional; there was plenty of singing, an almost Opera meets Musical theatre production with the same hammed up characters, fighting and ensemble dance.
While it was perfection in all emphasis of musical theatre, and could not be faulted in its execution, I think part of me wanted more dance – latin dance is so energetic and beautiful, it felt as if there was little room for this and it was just an after thought. When it did happen, it was beautiful and vibrant, it flowed well and left us in awe of their abilities, but there was a lot more emphasis on speech and the singing.
I did enjoy this, but maybe the fault is in me thinking more with a dance head, when attending a dance venue such as Sadler’s wells.
I was also undecided whether the narration should have had translation or not – on screens to the side and above, we had translation, which, with the speed of Spanish, was unable to keep up and I felt my eyes being drawn more to this than the stage. I felt perhaps if I did not have to read as well as watch, I would have been more invested in the on stage action. This is not to say it should be in English – far from it. While my Spanish ability has little to be admired, knowing the story, I would have liked the performance to tell me it; much like Carmen a few years ago, in only dance, did.
Overall, Carmen La Cubana is brilliant, beautiful and to all intent and purpose, perfection. But I felt a little disappointed with the lack of dance in the production, when Cuban dance is so energetic, beautiful and fantastic to watch.
In the simplistic black box at the top of The Lion and Unicorn, we are confronted by a minimalist set featuring upturned chairs and small balls.
Annie Cheung is a performing artist from Hong Kong, with her work dipping into a combination of therapy and theatre.
With DOTS, the main intriguing aspect of this production is the narrative. We see Cheung go through a series of emotions, stories, and feelings ; there’s a sense that this may be biographical but if not, and changed for dramatic effect, she still manages to pull at our heart strings, make our sides split and relate wholeheartedly.
Some of the narrative relates more to theatre and her struggle as an actress – asking whether The Stage and its uncertainties are worth it over the sturdiness of The Law Firm. A clever viewpoint of this is that she makes these as character’s themselves – she interacts and refers to them as if they were human, adding her husband’s business, or his ‘Mistress’, to the mix. It gives these more of a face, and the conversation is comedic and relatable.
And while her production is very much about the narrative, combating her mental health and the ups and downs in her life and industry, she manages to throw in physicality, using a chair as former partners when referring to her sex life, and moving around the small stage at great speed.
I would have liked to see more- while I love minimalist sets, and for a show to be all about the writing and the physicality, I do feel that DOTS could go even further, and maybe could develop into something even bigger.
DOTS really combats the mental health in the arts, but also manages to connect with anyone who has ever felt lost or struggling with where they are, at any time in their life.
One thing I did not feel for or during this show was, Pity.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am really into ‘theatrical experiences’ or ‘immersive theatre’. Something that I studied in my MSc and eventually would like to continue into a PhD, is the concept of creating an experience in Theatre, so that the audience feels included and forgets the outside world. But, just like with The Royal Court, architecture of standard theatre’s sometimes stops this from happening.
Beginning with starting from entering the back of the building, we encounter a temporary bar, an ice cream stand, and a brass band which we are encouraged to walk through. The neon green ground creates a hypnotic and almost another-world essence of a market square, and while we feel at home, we also feel as if we are in a different world.
Pity written by Rory Mullarkey and Directed by Sam Pritchard is a crazy and mad, roller-coaster of a ride – it encounters the most ridiculous but yet still questions important social and political aspects. Politicians are made satire, war is a satire – this little town encounters everything ridiculous and bad that could ever happen, and will never happen all at once in 24hours.
The characters begin one dimensional – they are comedic, and unlike anyone we know. But as life deteriorates, they become more relatable.
Without giving away too much, there are so many surprises, so many hilarious moments, that it’s really hard to contain any of your emotions. Yet through the chaos, it is so well constructed, so perfect and seamless, that you can’t help but have a smile and laugh constantly throughout.
It’s really hard to review this show for the pure fact it is unlike anything I have ever seen – the creation of the narrative is beyond anyone’s brain, and yet someone has created such perfection in such disaster.
Pity is, probably one of the best shows I have ever seen. It ticks every box for me, although I can fully admit, it is probably not for everyone – the way the story line and the creation, with it being so far out, may not appeal to the traditional. But, by gosh, is it bloody good!
It may seem a little incongruous to have a review about the Welsh National Eisteddfod in English, but, I’m afraid that my best endeavours, (strike that – my lack of endeavour) fifty years ago, meant that I just managed to avoid being unclassified for my O’Level Welsh language examination.
In fact, I think the last time that I attended an Eisteddfod, I was actually taking part in it! I came third, (out of three) in the piano competition. I recall the adjudicator, a Mrs Ogwen Thomas if my nightmarish memory serves me correctly,, summed up my playing by saying that it took her a while to recognise the piece I was playing. So, there ended my budding concert recital career!
Being Welsh, you are always aware, when being out of your native country, of being The Other. Having lived two-thirds of my life to date outside of Wales, I have exploited that, both to my advantage and disadvantage. So, I looked forward to attending the Welsh National Eisteddfod, which, this year is being held at and around the WMC in Cardiff, with great anticipation.
I was also a little apprehensive due to my concern about missing out on most of the activities, due to my lack of understanding Welsh.
My fears were allayed due to the presence of a desk in the foyer, that has free instant translators into English. However, this only works in The Pavilion, (Donald Gordon Theatre), but as all the major action occurs here, this is not a huge problem. And the instant translation works well.
In the three hours I sat here, I watched a huge diversity of competitions – vocal, recitation, instrument duo, instrument solo and dance. Of course, music transcends the difficulties of language, so I found this to be the most enjoyable events.
The talent on display was, at times, breathtaking. In the instrumental duo, I watched two cute little ten year old girl harpists in competition against two Royal College of Music student duos – twice their age! Naturally, they came third, but to be pitted against two highly accomplished duos from the RCM, and not be embarrassed, is an outstanding achievement – especially as one of the girls lives in Lampeter and the other in Cardiff, making practicing together a little awkward.
In the Blue Ribband event for under 16’s events, I saw four wonderful young musicians. Naturally I was drawn to the pianist, a twelve year old girl from Pontyclun, who played Scarlatti and then Bartok. Two vastly different pieces, and her maturity not only in technique, but also expression was awe-inspiring. A brilliant alto saxophonist, and a cellist who again played contrasting pieces, together with a talented trombonist completed the finalists. At the time of writing, I do not know who won this competition, but it was certainly going to be a tough decision by the team of adjudicators.
Monologues are translated into Welsh as well, so you can understand fully what is being said.
Added to all this, there are a number of other venues to visit, both inside and outside the venue.
There are a vast number of stalls present again, providing a real festive environment.
I took a look at the Welsh Books Council stall, and despite my intention not to add to my already burgeoning book collection, I came away with “The Hill of Dreams” by Welsh author Arthur Machen. The opening line goes, “There was a glow in the sky as if great furnace doors were opened”. Well, I can equate the glow to the Eisteddfod and the doors blown wide open, are those to my Welsh soul.
I invite you to rekindle your sense of Welsh identity, because, one thing that is clearly apparent is that the future of our culture is in assured hands.
Tickets, (remarkably good value for money), can be obtained at
The Mischief Theatre Company returned to Cardiff with a brand new show, Mischief Movie Night, which delivered calamity, insane capers, and much hilarity on an epic scale. What is different you may say to the company previous productions such as The Play That Goes Wrong that showed at the theatre in May – the audience is in the driving seat!
The cast is at the mercy of the audience and who must use their quick wit, creativity and sheer talent to create a performance based on the scenario you created for them in that moment. This is no small feat but The Mischief Theatre Company as demonstrated in the previous productions (Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robber) certainly pulled it off. The seasoned original cast members we know so well and have come to adore for their laugh out loud shows packed full with British humour and organised chaos, exceeded all my expectations with their new production.
Their objective is to create a feature-length film based on the genre, location and title provided to them by their audience completely on the spot, and getting you to laugh while they’re at it. A whole host of genres, mythical creatures and wishful fantasies where thrown at them, ranging from erotica to anima, fire breathing dragons and Wales winning the Six Nations. Oh boy did they deliver!
The Cardiffian Tales were born which saw Wales a divided land full of mythical beasts and creatures unite and defeat the evil ice king with a tree elf leading the charge and as a symbol of their new unity saw Wales rise up and win the Six Nations. One aspect of the show that I particularly liked was the live rewinds, plenty of pauses and even a fast-forward or two, utilised by the narrative using a figurative remote to cut out dead ends or repeat audience-hit jokes. The continuous slapstick and stupidity for a whole 75 minutes brought tears of laughter to the audience eyes and put smiles on their faces from start to finish.
Mischief Movie Night is improv theatre at its best! A masterpiece was created that night, which was brilliant, funny, interactive and truly a crying-with-laughter experience you will not forget.
I’m going to begin this review, simply with, what a lovely play.
I wouldn’t say it is extraordinary, ground breaking or shocking. But it is clever, interesting, and a new view on feminism and the Me Too movement.
Judy (Katherine Parkinson, of The IT Crowd) and her husband Johnny (Richard Harrington, Hinterland, Poldark) love the 50’s. So much so, that one day they decide that with what they have in earnings, they could live the life of a real 50’s couple. The wife as a stay at home housewife, and the husband bringing home the bacon. Their home is styled of the era; their clothing is of the time period; technology is barely visible in their lives. All in all, they have a perfect yet romanticised life.
As time continues, their lives break down, and there are cracks in this perfect life. Questions on morality and feminism becomes heightened, with Judy announcing she is a feminist as she chose this lifestyle. The lifestyle of keeping a home and her husband.
From a unusual childhood, with divorced parents, this seems like Judy’s way to make her life and her marriage perfect. But is a relationship all about the aesthetics?
The set is beautiful – a cut away house, we fully delve into the ins and outs of their lives, the bad and the good and still feeling as if we are intruding in their facade of a life. We are fooled, with how good the beginning premise is, that when she cracks out a laptop, there is a roar of laughter – is this some multi-dimensional world? No – it’s something even stranger; a couple living in the past.
Katherine Parkinson, is one of my favourite actresses. She adapts to any character, from The IT Crowd, to The Boat that Rocked and so on – this is no different. Every element of her acting is perfection – from her pristine housewife life, where even her walk is meticulous and precise, to a flash back to her as a finance manager, who is more laid back and carefree.
Richard Harrington, to our Welsh readers, is more well known for his starring role in Hinterland. Another well established actor, he takes on this doting and fun loving husband character, with gusto. When they become extremely emotional, it is natural and a triumph to acting relationships.
Home, I’m Darling, which had it’s debut at Theatr Clwyd, features two promising and excellent Welsh performers, (supported with the character, Alex, played by Sara Gregory). It is not only a wonderful play, showcasing welsh and english talent, but also surprisingly poignant for current climate in relation to feminism.
Cotswold Arcadians 2018 Shakespeare production, performed outdoors in the gorgeous surroundings of Hatherop Castle, is The Bard’s exquisite comedy, “Twelfth Night or What you Will”.
This tale of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and humiliation is regarded, by many, (including myself), as Shakespeare’s finest comedy.
Viola has been rescued from a storm at sea and lands on Illyria. She believes that her twin brother Sebastian has not survived the ordeal and has drowned. Disguising herself as a young man, she enters the service of Duke Orsino. The Duke belives himsellf to be in love with the highly desirable countess Olivia, and uses Viola, (now known as Cesario to act as a go-between to aid his courtship. Olivia, much impressed with Cesario, fulls in love with him. Cesario, in the meantime fulls in love with Orsino. Still with me? The matters are brought to their conclusion when Sebastian enters the confused threesome’s world and all is happily resolved.
Sub-plots involve some of Shakeseare’s most famous creations. Sir Toby Belch, (Countess Olivia’s kinsman), who is fervent i n his desire to live the heady time of “cakes and ale”, typical of the twelve days of Christmastide to its utmost. His silly friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Olivia’s fool Feste, (although he disputes his role himself), Maria, (Olivia’s gentlewoman companion), and Flavia, (a servant in Olvia’s household). combine to humiliate Malvolio, (steward to Olivia), because he is a prig and pompous fellow, full of his own self-importance. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” (Act II, Scene v), read out by Malvolio from a letter written by Maria, and thereafter used as his creed.
One of The Bard’s themes in this play is to bring attention to the controversial law regarding no female performers at this time being allowed on stage. Therefore, young boys tended to play women parts and this led to inevitable problems relating to sexual exploitation, homosexuality and prostitution.
Since 1991, Cotswold Arcadians have produced an annual Shakespeare production, which has been performed at Hatherop Castle for the past fifteen years or so. The Company has acquired a respected reputation within the amateur theatrical world, and has been recognised by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in its Open Stages project as a Company worthy of assistance, and this has been shown through members taking parts in workshops at Straford-upon-Avon.
Director Geoff Butterworth has set the plot in the 1920’s, the Jazz Age era. This is exemplified by period costume and a live band playing 1920’s hits. This isn’t the first time that I have seen a Shakespearean play adapted in this way. Back in 1992, I enjoyed David Thacker’s, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” which did exactly the same thing. It work’s well, although I felt that the frivolous nature of flappers and The Jazz age is a little at odds with the Yuletide setting of “Twelfth Night”. The hot summer evening didn’t help either, but, I would much prefer viewing in this climate outdoors, than a cold January night in a deep beak winter.
The grass stage lies between two temporary stands in a traverse style. On either side of the space there are two primitive doors, one of which has a raised balcony . The four-piece band is placed just off-stage.
The quality of acting is of a good standard and in some instances reaches a height that would grace a West End stage.
Samantha Swinford as Viola/Cesario, after a nervous start, grows into her role and is particularly good at displaying masculine gait and characteristics. I watched the first night of this production, and based upon her improvement as the play progressed, I believe that she will do full justice to this demanding role.
Olivia, (Lizzie Leach) and Maria, (Heidi Price), both possess fine voices for Shakespeare and are equally impressive.
Fabia, (Caz Shaw) delivers her lines with a deadpan voice, if she added a rural Berkshire accent, with her appearance, you could take her for a youthful Pam Ayres.
On the male side, I warmed to Tony Free’s, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. It is easy, (and indeed I have witnessed it in a RSC production), to overplay this part, and it must be tempting to do it, but in this case the balance is spot-on. Some of the best scenes are reserved for his interaction with cronies, Sir Toby Belch, (Dave Kilmister), and Feste, John Salter), both of whom are also very good.
Jonathan Vickers, as the humiliated and somewhat tragic Malvolio is excellent, both in his early pomposity and latterly as the affronted victim.
There are no weakness in the remainder of the cast who collectively pull off a highly accomplished performance.
Veteran director Geoff Butterworth keeps the action rolling along at a good pace and shows nicely judged delicate touches. I feel that he should reconsider the opening scene whereby Viola’s voice is largely rendered inaudible due to sound effects of the tempest. I feel that Viola’s voice should be amplified somewhat whilst the effects moderated to get a balanced result. I also felt that the actors’ voices were louder after the interval, and as it being an outdoor production, this greatly added to the enjoyment. The actors’ delivery of both prose and iambic pentameter are conscientiously delivered.
I am not sure whether the live band worked that well. It seemed to me to be an odd variety of instruments and may have been improved by just a soloist or duo. Piped music may even work better. To have a live band is ambitious, but you need it to work well, and to depict the Jazz era more realistically, I feel the playing needs more zest.
These issues aside, this is a worth presentation of one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays and together with its idyllic outdoor setting marks an enjoyable evening’s entertainment in the Cotswold, on a warm summer’s evening.
The performance runs for about 160 minutes including a 15-minute interval. It continues to run until July 28th.
You wait ages for a good play, and then two come along at once. Another of National Theatre Wales’ NHS70 plays, this time performed in the Mid-Wales town of Llandrindod Wells, a Victorian spa and market town.
The Stick Maker is Geth Roberts, an old sheep farmer working up the Elan valley, high above the market town of Rhayader. Famous for his hand-made shepherds crooks, and feeling the advances of time, he recounts stories of his family, and the part the NHS played in their lives.
From his grandfather’s death from tetanus, to his nephew’s work accident, and his own failing body, he speaks of his life working the hills and valleys with fondness, honesty, and humour. But now his eyesight is fading, and what good is a shepherd who can’t look after his sheep?
Peter Cox has created a wonderful character in Geth, and written a play full of humour, old-fashioned warmth, and truths. From Geth’s proud declaration that ‘I’ve alway paid my stamp’, to the harshness of losing his stillborn twin, this is no rose-tinted vision of the past, just a simple reminder of the lives of ordinary people before and after the health service was created.
The accent and dialect used are a tribute to the research put in by both actor and writer, and have had a very favourable response from the community portrayed. Sheep are ‘yowes’, a large flock is a ‘hep of sheep’, a shout of pain is a ‘bellock’. A clumsy new shepherd is ‘a young lumper’, while Geth himself is old but can still ‘nettle to it’.
Director Kully Thiarai skilfully marries the script with Llion Williams superb performance. Making the most of the jokes, he soon makes us warm to the gruff, plain-spoken farmer, whose belief that ‘a good shepherd looks after the whole flock, not one or a few’ parallels the underlying principles of the NHS itself.
That may seem like a simple observation, but with the constant attempts at privatisation, it’s one that needs making again and again.
National Theatre Wales have maintained a high standard over the last ten years, and if this play is anything to go by, those standards are actually getting higher.
Starring the original cast and creators of the critically-acclaimed The Play That Goes Wrong, Mischief Movie Night is yet another improvisational show, which this time involves improvising an entire movie onstage and off the cuff.
The central conceit of the show is that we, the audience, control the performance – it’s our suggestions for genres, titles and locations that dictate what goes on onstage, and the ensemble cast must employ their considerable talents to realise the barrage of random demands yelled at them from the stalls in the moment.
I have to admit that I was rather sceptical and a little scared as I sat down to watch my very first long-form improv stage show. You see, the fear of audience participation has haunted me ever since my first traumatic pantomime experience at age 5. And yet, five minutes in to Mischief Movie Night, I was merrily shouting out genres along with the rest of the raucous audience!
The true joy of the improv show is that every performance is unique – you will quite literally never see it’s like again, because each one depends on the whim and the wants of its particular audience on a particular night. So I can’t comment on the quality of plot or characters, because they are ever-changing – but to give you a little taste of what Mischief Movie Night may entail, last night’s performance ended up being a Disney film set in Pontpandy, which featured chainsaw juggling, police propaganda and an anthropomorphic lasagne who talked like Sylvester Stallone. You know, your standard Disney fare.
It’s no wonder that Mischief Theatre has become so nationally and internationally beloved – the ensemble cast is superb across the board, catering to every silly request and daft diversion that’s demanded of them. Dave Hearn, Henry Shields, Ellie Morris and Charlie Russell were particular standouts, and Harry Kershaw was responsible for one of the show’s most hilarious running gags about not getting above your station. Jonathan Sayer gamely leads proceedings as a Gruff Rhys Jones-esque master of ceremonies in whose vast library is contained, so he says, every film ever made. Sayer guides us through the night’s entertainment, wryly commenting on the increasingly chaotic proceedings and making progressively silly demands of the cast who enthusiastically attempt to comply.
Often, these things don’t go off with the precision of a studio picture – and that’s why they are so much fun to watch. Much like Starkid – purveyors of peppy parodies about everything from Harry Potter to Pangea – the joy of Mischief Movie Night is seeing the performers tackle big ideas equipped not with fancy sets and special effects, but with skill and imagination only. In many ways, the show possesses the same frenetic, joyful energy, cineliterate references and talented ensemble cast as Horrible Histories, a compliment I wouldn’t give lightly. And even with the random onslaught of events onstage, the team manage to bring things to a surprisingly coherent climax, in which twists are revealed and happy endings are tied up in a neat (if slightly battered) bow.
Mischief Movie Night is yet another feather in Mischief Theatre’s increasingly crowded and critically-acclaimed cap. The same creative team will be bringing The Comedy About a Bank Robbery to the New Theatre on its UK tour in the autumn, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next! Until that rolls around, do yourself a favour and see Mischief Movie Night – what could go wrong?
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