Category Archives: Theatre

YOUNG ARTISTS FESTIVAL at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

The Young Artist’s Festival (YAF) is a week-long, annual event run by The Other Room, Cardiff’s only pub theatre. For the festival, the theatre invites between 35-50 participants from Wales’ emerging creative scene into their doors to gain invaluable experience working with their peers.

The initiative is open to actors, writers, directors and stage managers and aims to provide an opportunity to explore their chosen discipline, encourage collaboration and artistic risk-taking. The participants are shown the value of hard work with an intense, but rewarding, week. They’re given the opportunity to work with new, contemporary work. But the ultimate aim is for participants to gain confidence, grow and keep creating beyond YAF.

The week starts with various workshops and talks from The Other Room’s staff and industry professionals from a broad range of backgrounds. These workshops include casting, starting and maintaining a company, arts council applications, marketing, community theatre as well as sessions for skill-sharing and networking. They also have specific workshops within their respective disciplines with industry professionals.

The participants are then introduced to their companies, comprised of a group of actors, one director and one writer, and start working towards their end-of-week goals. Actors and directors present a performance of a given commissioned script and a dramatic rehearsed reading of their writer’s script. Writers write that ten-minute play whilst stage managers make it all happen.

Actors

The actors workshop this year was with Keiron Self and had a specific focus on how an actor interprets text. The actors from YAF tell me this was vital for the short rehearsal period they had. You don’t have long to get to know your character, and it’s especially important in shorter pieces where characters rely more on performance for characterisation.

Once the actors are in the rehearsal room they have a couple of days to get off book before their first performance. Something some saw as a somewhat daunting task, having never done it in such a short space of time before. However, they realise it’s perfectly possible and that the experience is vital for them moving forward. Especially when preparing for auditions or working in the fringe environment where time to learn lines is limited.

The performances at the end of the week come and go, but it’s really about the experience of the week, of putting yourself out there and on stage that seems to last beyond the week for the actors.

Directors

The directors had a workshop with Simon Harris, who focused on doing text work before rehearsals and working with new writing. The directors tell me this was great experience going in. Often their teaching has focused on working in the room and once again, the workshop complimented the direction process for the week.

The directors also have a production meeting with stage managers where they set out their vision and discuss the possibilities. This is something few of the directors had done before and again, it’s something that really helps with their personal growth.

Directors also expressed the experience of being able to work with a writer and have them in the room. Directing for rehearsed reading is something that kept coming up also. Directing with a specific focus on displaying the writing, which is different from directing the commissioned piece. Directing both during the week is a valuable experience to take away.

The trust and support given to directors to control not one, but two pieces of theatre, be placed in a room full of actors and deliver their own vision is something the directors also spoke highly of. The support from The Other Room’s artistic director Dan Jones and YAF producer Claire Bottomly was a big part of the director’s experience.

Stage Managers

As previously mentioned, the directors and stage managers have a production meeting near the start of the week. For the stage managers this is something none of them had done in this way before and is extremely helpful moving into YAF.

The stage managers are very hands-on during the week. With the support of a professional stage manager, in 2019 being Kristian Rhodes, they effectively make the shows happen. Bringing the director’s visions to life by sorting set, sourcing props and arranging lighting and sound. They’re present in some of the rehearsal process and get to tech a run of the final performances.

Overall, the experience is positive for the stage managers. They’re constantly busy and feel like they’re just on the job. But, crucially, have that support from a senior stage manager and The Other Room staff.

Writers

The writers start their week in a writing workshop with a professional playwright. This year, and the year I did it in 2017, it was with Matthew Bulgo. Bulgo is an excellent playwright and I can say from experience, very good at leading a workshop. He focuses this one on structure and writing for short-form, which is key for the week moving forward. All writers expressed how helpful this was on many levels.

Bulgo also returns to offer feedback, which is also offered by The Other Room’s staff throughout the week.

The writers spend the first half of the festival writing a ten-minute play. Something that sounds quite scary at first, but from watching the scripts performed at the end, easily possible to a good standard.

Writers then go into the rehearsal room on the Friday and Saturday to see their scripts rehearsed. This is a new experience for some, as is what happens in the afternoon on the Saturday when their scripts are performed in a dramatic rehearsed reading.

The writers seem to be the most stressed during the week, but as a result the most relieved and happiest at the end when they see their work. It’s an intense but rewarding week and in some cases the writers take their scripts and develop them further.

Speaking to participants from all disciplines, it’s clear they’re there for similar reasons. To make connections and friends, learn, explore, grow, reignite a passion, re-motivate, progress ideas, bounce off others, practice professionalism and a collaborative process in a supportive environment.

By the end it’s clear the week has been valuable, often in more ways than they realise. It gives participants a sense of pride if they need it or helps to ground them if they’re more critical. To realise that not everything has to be a masterpiece, and anything produced within a week won’t be perfect. But that it can be done. It shows them that this can be done and all it takes is a bit of hard work and the knowledge, which YAF provides, to do it.

When I did the Young Artists Festival in 2017, it didn’t seem much different. The main difference is it seems more focused on creating an environment of collaboration. Not that it wasn’t there in 2017. It’s hard to really progress YAF every year, because it’s always been a really great week for anyone involved. They’ve always been aware that people are different and always tried to cater to everyone, making young artists feel comfortable in an environment that, for many, is fairly alien – the world of professional theatre making.

Review Awakening, National Dance Company Wales By Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

It is with trepidation that I venture in writing a review of my first ever contemporary dance show, Awakening, a three-piece programme produced by National Dance Company Wales. All the three dance pieces have a distinctive style, show a desire to engage with ideas, and are executed skilfully. Watching the show was an interesting experience that left me intrigued, puzzled, and annoyed. I was intrigued by the attempt at using movement to convey visual effects, puzzled by the overall concern for concept, too often fuzzy, to the detriment of emotion, and annoyed at the diminished role of music, especially in the first two pieces, which but conveys a dystopian atmosphere, instead of being integral part of the performance.

The first piece, Tundra, begins with a captivating image of a dancer in a cone-shaped costume in a red light and an otherworldly voice. The stage is plunged into the dark and the figure disappears. As the stage is lit again by a white light, a group of dancers in white and blue cone-shaped costumes appear. They move together as a group and glide beautifully across the floor. This is perhaps the most striking part of Tundra, albeit relatively short by comparison with the main part of the piece, which consists of dancers in a colourful costume moving together as one. Their legs and arms touch to form one continuous shape and move on the stage like a snake. The choreographer, Marcos Morau, found inspiration in Russian folk music and dance, yet the cone-dress seemed much closer to the Korean traditional dress, while the main ‘snake-like’ performance reminded me of the Chinese dragon dance. The performance is smooth and elegant but the parts are disjointed and the music fails to convey any emotion.

Tundra is followed by Afterimage by choreographer Fernando Melo. The piece plays cleverly with mirrors and light to create the illusion of figures appearing and fading away like ghosts. The illusion effects are inspired by the technique of Henry Dircks and John Henry Pepper, which used light and glass to create ghostly appearances. In Afterimage, the dancers dissolve, often into one another, through multiple reflections. The piece is an exploration of different perspectives that never meet. It is well crafted, interesting, and performed gracefully; yet it feels too concerned with a visual effect conveyed through movement rather than dance. Like Tundra, it is too conceptual to convey emotion, and not aided by the dystopian music.

After the second interval, two women came and sat next to me. They could not make anything out of the first two pieces, ‘too symbolical,’ one said; yet they were enthusiastic about the third piece, the Revellers’ Mass. It is easy to see why. The Revellers’ Mass has a narrative, elaborate costumes, prominent music, and a tinge of humour. The piece begins with a male voice speaking Georgian and a priest lighting candles on a long flat surface. The sacred is alternated with the profane. The flat surface becomes a table and the sacred atmosphere turns into a wild party. At one point, the dancers at the table are reminiscent of the Last Supper, yet the reference serves little purpose and is a far cry from the biting irony of the Last Supper in Louis Bunuel’s Viridiana. Choreographer Caroline Finn is perhaps overambitious in seeking to capture ‘ritual and etiquette, and ceremony, as well as primal human behaviour.’ The conflation of ritual, etiquette, and ceremony is irksome and the contrast with partying as ‘primal human behaviour’ highly problematic. Revellers’ Mass is nevertheless entertaining and ends humorously with drunken revellers being dragged across the floor to the notes of Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien.

As a novice, Awakening has been an interesting and thought-provoking experience. I acknowledge my preference for emotional engagement when it comes to all art forms; yet the three dance pieces have opened a door to a way of experiencing art that has left me curious notwithstanding the frustration. The show has perhaps succeeded in raising questions, the most important of which might be ‘does art need emotion to be art?’

REVIEW: CRAVE by Sarah Kane at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

As part of the Professional Pathways Programme at The Other Room, trainee director, Samantha Jones, and trainee producer, Yasmin Williams, are presenting their showcase production, Crave by Sarah Kane.

I met up with them to chat about it before the run started which you can read HERE to find out more about the production process and the Professional Pathways Programme.

The Other Room opened in 2015 with Blasted, Sarah Kane’s first play. Fitting then that Jones and Williams chose Crave which was a turning point in Sarah Kane’s career. Both in her artistic style and her critical reception.

It’s a turning point in their own careers and Sarah Kane has always felt somewhat connected to The Other Room. A theatre that allows young artists to take bold steps, as Kane was allowed to do by The Royal Court. That is exactly what taking on Crave is for Jones and Williams. A bold statement of, “this is what we can do.”

The writing is obviously excellent, and not really up for review as such here. But it is worth saying, you won’t see many plays more real and brilliantly written than this in your life. Almost every line is crucial and despite running at 45-minutes, there are brilliant plays twice as long with half the content. It truly is a masterpiece.

That said, the script can’t do the work on its own. If the artists involved don’t rise to the challenge, the play will fail. Don’t be fooled, the script is great but not an easy one to direct or act. It won’t carry itself and is open to interpretation. With no vision, it’s just a bunch of words. Kane makes those involved work for its brilliance. She wrote Crave for directorial interpretation, to be explored and played with. This is exactly why Samantha Jones and Yasmin Williams chose it for their showcase production.

As it is, the artists involved relish and rise to the challenge brilliantly.

Samantha Jones’ direction is sublime. Close attention is paid to rhythm which highlights the script’s strengths. The tone is handled really well helping Jones control the pace, which is done beautifully.

The decision to perform in traverse is a great one, not allowing the actors anywhere to hide. Sometimes Crave is performed quite statically which really doesn’t seem to work. Jones, however, brings the play to life with excellent physicality, making the most of the small space. The playis breathing and vibrant in its direction, which compliments Crave perfectly.

All four performances are excellent. Its hard to pinpoint one as a standout as they all work well as an ensemble and stand-out as individuals. As the production is in collaboration with Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, all four actors are second year acting students and they do their college proud in this production.

Emily John explores her character and it really feels as we get to know her throughout the play. She feels both strong and vulnerable at the same time which is really powerful.

Callum Howells brings natural charm and humour to his role. His character, A, is completely unaware of himself in a beautiful and disturbing way, depending on the context. Not distracting from the production’s dark tones, rather offering a break from it. His delivery of ‘that’ monologue is simply magnificent.

Johnna Dias-Watson feels ever-present in the production. Her care in physicality stands out and you always feel her presence because of it, and when you don’t, there’s a reason why. Playing a ‘mother’ figure, this works perfectly.

Benjamin McCann also brings some humour to the production, but his character is much more aware of himself than Howells as A. His delivery towards the end of the play is particularly good. He feels natural and I have to say I personally resonated most with him.

Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson’s set design is lovely. Creating a claustrophobic feeling in the traverse set-up which allows space for the direction and acting to flourish. The lighting from Ryan Joseph Stafford is mystic and minimal, setting the mood well. Joshua Bowles’ sound design creeps through, mostly subtly, yet obvious in moments. None of the design is complicated but compliments the production allowing the play to flourish.

Crave at The Other Room is an excellent production of Sarah Kane’s masterpiece exploring what it is to love.

Ultimately, this production is very hard to put into words. I left the theatre and felt completely different for two days. Even writing now, I just don’t have the words to justify my feelings. It is a compliment to Kane’s excellent writing, but the job of Yasmin Williams and Samantha Jones is to make this play speak as loudly as it can. They have done that extremely well and deserve the credit for what they achieved with Kane’s work.

Crave by Sarah Kane at The Other Room, Cardiff
30th April – 11th May 2019
Directed by Samantha Jones
Produced by Yasmin Williams
Starring:
C – Emily John
M – Johnna Dias-Watson
B – Benjamin McCann
A – Callum Howells 
Set Designed by Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson
Sound Designed by Joshua Bowles
Lighting Designed by Ryan Joseph Stafford
Stage Managed by Millie McElhinney
Deputy Stage Managed by Emily Behague
Assistant Directed by Nerida Bradley

Review Saethu Cwningod/Shooting Rabbits, PowderHouse by Eva Marloes

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

‘If I Can Shoot Rabbits, I Can Shoot Fascists,’ is the strapline of the first play by PowderHouse in association with the Sherman Theatre and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. It comes from the Manic Street Preachers’ song ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next,’

This in turn is inspired by the involvement of Welsh volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. The play Shooting Rabbits seeks to evoke the experience of a young Welshman travelling to Spain to fight against fascism in the 1930s while seemingly hinting at a similarity between fighting the authoritarian oppressor in Spain and the strife of Irish, Welsh, and Basque nationalism, given a new life by Brexit. Such an unwieldy subject matter could only fail on stage, especially when it is conveyed through a stream of consciousness dramaturgy that leaves the audience confused. Nonetheless the play succeeds in capturing the ambiguity of any proclamation in the name of ‘the people.’ 

Production Images credit Studio Cano

Shooting Rabbits co-directed by Jac Ifan Moore and Chelsey Gillard begins with a Northern Irish actor auditioning for a role in Wales. The casting director asks him to do a ‘more Irish’ accent, meaning one that is from the Republic of Ireland. The director expresses sympathy with the Irish, ‘Solidarity with you,’ ‘Wales stands with you,’ ‘Your people.’ The ‘solidarity’ is borne of the alleged ‘shared struggle’ against the ‘neighbours across the borders.’ The actor, played by Neil McWilliams, launches into a tirade questioning the very premise of ‘the people.’ Who are his people? Republicans, Nationalists, the IRA, Unionists, the DUP? The reduction of the heterogeneous reality of a country to one group betrays not just an ignorant and condescending attitude, but one that delegitimises whoever does not fit the image of the country, a country that is always an ideal, never a complex reality. This is nowhere more evident than in the impassioned and seductive speech of Francisco Franco performed by Alejandra Barcelar Pereira in Spanish. It appeals to the defence of the country and faith in the country, but it is a country that repudiates all those who do not abide by the script.

The appeal to ‘the people’ is a dangerous weapon that is wielded against the very people it professes to protect. ‘The people’ erases people as a heterogeneous empirical reality, disregards and delegitimises theirs diversity, their different perspectives, lifestyles, values, customs, and, above all, their overlapping identities. This is what the European Union aims to promote: unity in diversity. That is why Catalan, Basque, Scottish, and Welsh nationalist movements, to name a few, are often supportive of the EU. Thus, the EU does indeed undermine the nation state, conceived as a unitary and homogeneous entity, by giving voice to communities inside nations and across them. Today, the EU is embattled, but the crisis is not a battle between fascism and liberal democracy; rather it is more the result of established structures and politics being out of step with contemporary society and economics. That is why it is risky to draw any comparisons between today’s crises and the 1930s, as Shooting Rabbits seeks to do.

Shooting Rabbits is at its best when it exposes the naivete of the romantic ideal of fighting against fascism and of claiming to represent a ‘people.’ The young Welshman in 1930s Spain does not know what to do and begs to be told what to do. In front of the horror of the civil war, the volunteers of the International Brigade repeat that it was not meant to be this way. The play makes fun of political divisions and polarisations that create enemies. It is evocative and exhilarating. It is acted beautifully in Spanish, Basque, Welsh, and English by Alejandra Barcelar Pereira, Gwenllian Higginson, and Neil McWilliams, and it is supported by the music performed live by Sam Humphreys. It is also a missed opportunity. Shooting Rabbits flounders due to a superficial historical analysis and a stream of consciousness structure that disorients the spectator instead of bringing clarity.

Review Calendar Girls, The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Calendar Girls, The Musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth is currently playing at The Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. This production isn’t just about women stripping for a calendar, it’s about sisterhood, it’s about friendship, and it’s about togetherness. 

I personally need to demolish the idea that these shows that include characters taking their clothes off are just about stripping. Like the Full Monty, both stories are heavily embedded with political, moral and general life issues. But with that in mind, this play is definitely targeted towards an older audience. This is obviously due to the fact that the characters involved are older women who are part of a Womens Institute and this show has very little movement throughout the whole show. In fact, I was one of the few youngest people in the audience but there were some things I can take away from this show.

To start with this show is set in Yorkshire with the staging reflecting Yorkshire countryside with hills in the background. This set didn’t change much throughout the show which did cause some confusion. Obviously, it is supposed to be set in the countryside but without the set changing, the cast put chairs on the stage to represent the Womens Institute meeting room so to the audience it looked as if these women were meeting in the middle of a field. 

They could have done with a small build on the stage of a meeting room or something similar, as a lot of the story took place in this hall. I believe that this show would work perfectly in a more intimate venue such as the New Theatre. Personally, I have an issue when there are raised platforms on the stage in musicals as the audience are already looking up to the stage and so putting the cast even higher up is often unnecessary also the actually raised pillars are often left undecorated which becomes an eye-sore. All of this show took place on a raised stage and it was never really explained, in terms of the story, what the lower part of the stage was supposed to be.

Unfortunately it was very obvious to the audience that this was Calendars Girls opening night as many small things went wrong during this production.  Firstly, towards the end of act one, there is a scene in which Ruth, played by Julia Hills, carries a huge box of scones to the spring fair. Many of the scones actually fell out of the box and onto the floor which meant the other cast members had to pick them up. This was a distraction from the plot which wasn’t particularly needed also in this same act in a scene the spotlight started, almost randomly racing across the top of the stage which again distracted the audience from the story. I think through we can accredit this to opening night nerves which is understandable and also they were only tiny errors.

This show was supposed to be and is a very relatable show. In my opinion, the whole premise of the show is to empower the audience by showing a group of normal everyday women who grow in confidence to create the calendar. With this is in mind, the play was designed in such a way to make this concept as obvious as possible. The cast was not meant to be fantastic singers or incredible dancers, there were very few staging or props and the dialogue was done in a type of conversational speech that people would recognise. For the audience, the cast was supposed to be just like them and if they can feel empowered so can they. This effect was only added to by the inclusion of a Danny, played by Danny Howker, who is a teenage boy. I, also as a teenage boy, found it really easy to relate to Danny, Especially in the scene in which he appears drunk. When everyone first drinks alcohol they do go overboard which is exactly what this character did. So not only were there characters that the older generation to relate to but also the younger generation. This worked perfectly for relatability but meant that some number were lacking. In Act Two there is a really funny song titled “I’ve Had a Little Work Done” which is sung by Celia, played by Lisa Maxwell, which is written as a typical musical number which should have been a big chorus number with a chorus line but it did not. I do understand why they didn’t include all this (to keep the relatability of the musical) but it meant this number fell a little short of what it seemed to want to do.

Despite all this when the entire company came together for songs such as “Yorkshire” and “Sunflowers of Yorkshire” they were amazing. Their voices complemented one another and the harmonies were incredible. It was just in some individual solos that the nerves could be seen. This supports the idea that the play is all about friendship. On our own, we may struggle but together we are stronger. This musical was really funny and made everyone feel good about them by specifically empowering the older women in the audience. In Act One the song “Who Wants a Silent Night?” sung by Marie, Judy Holt was really entertaining and fun. This song made the whole audience want to get up and dance. This was a continuous thing through the whole musical; the cast appeared to have a lot of fun on the stage which made it a lot more enjoyable to watch. A highlight of the entire musical was Jessie, played by Lesley Joseph and her song “What Age Expects” this was a relatable, heartfelt and at times comical song that Lesley performed perfectly.

In General, Calendar Girls was an uplifting musical that had the audience laughing for the majority of the songs. I, however, may have missed aspects of the show due to my age but there was defiantly some elements of the characters that I associated with.

Review, Orpheus Descending, A Theatr Clwyd/Menier Chocolate Factory Co-production by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The set design may be far more sedate than in her last production, Home, I’m Darling. But the cast assembled by director Tamara Harvey for her latest offering Orpheus Descending spark off one another with electrifying chemistry. One wonders what she does during the rehearsal process that nurtures such strong unity among cast members, and produces such creative energy that then flows out on stage, with amazing results.

Tamara Harvey

In this adaptation of one of Tennessee Williams’ lesser-known plays, Lady and Val might be advertised as the two main characters. But it is very much an ensemble piece, with the most absorbing scenes being those in which a whole host of players feature. Spread across the stage, the dialogue zips from one to another, bouncing around like an entertaining ball game. The script is so sharp and punchy. And the dialect coaching given by Penny Dyer and Nick Trumble only enhances it further. It makes for a very immersive play – the protrusion of the stage to the front row, and the use of the aisles either side of the auditorium, intensifying this experience.

Not to say that there aren’t some amazing individual performances however. Laura Jane Matthewson brings such a delightful humour to her character Dolly Hamma that her mere presence on stage brought a smile to my face. Seth Numrich’s turn as traveller and musician Val is full of charisma. His guitar skills might not be up there with Val’s hero Lead Belly, but Numrich nevertheless has the unenviable ability to own a stage without ever overshadowing his fellow cast members. He is an excellent match for Hattie Morahan, playing opposite him as Lady. Morahan brings a powerful sense of independence to the role that is both frustrated by her marriage to Jabe (Mark Meadows) and teased out through her developing romance with Val. Morahan’s performance grows steadily throughout the play, becoming one that, in many ways, defines the second half.

I reserve special praise for Jemima Rooper, who is nothing short of excellent as Carol Cutrere. The rebel, the rouser; the misfit and the mistress in this portrait of small-town life, Cutrere is such a fascinating character. She is made so by Rooper, who grants her such a vast expanse of unashamed openness that I could only wonder at how Rooper manages to retain a slight air of mystery about her. Yet she does, in spite of her character’s exhibitionism; there remains a hidden depth to her even as her vulnerability and brokenness are so apparent. If Morahan is the star of the second half, Rooper is most certainly the star of the first.

Tamara Harvey’s production makes you wonder why Orpheus Descending has not been produced more regularly. It is perhaps because Harvey has the ability to nurture, and the skill to mine, the best of performances from her actors. In other hands, perhaps it would not be as gripping or as interesting. But it is here, largely because of the evident chemistry that exists between the cast members. One can only credit Harvey with developing that. And it is this which draws out the extra quality that sees such great individual performances, which combine beautifully to create such an excellent overall production.

Click here for more info

gareth

Review Mata Hari’s Laughter Harem by Lois Arcari

Hosting a monthly comedy act with niche and alternative themes – dipping into the historical with Mata Hari’s harem and Franco’s dictatorship – Hoodenanny is a small club that’s sure to leave a big impression.

Sticking loosely to the theme with Flora Wheeler’s performance as Mata Hari and Emily Smith’s Marlene Deitrich, we were ushered in from the cosy but characteristically costly pub (with event tickets themselves a bargain £3, or £6 for VIP gifts shown below) we were then ushered into a cutting and chaotic night of burlesque and comedy.

The VIP goodies, inside and out

Aaron Hood, founder and MC, was impeccable at compering the night, managing to both steer and steal the show without taking away from any of his performers. Using the clown horn he was so besotted with, Hood ushered us in to the themes of debauchery, mental illness and dark humor that weaved through most of the performers on the night.

As much as his cynical wit landed with razor sharp precision, Hood deserves to be commended for his organisation and dedication. Not only is he a well established member of UEA’s own Headlights comedy club, but he’s fully comitted to his vision of alternative comedy.

“A safe and friendly space for edgeiness.”

At the time of reviewing, he’s also creating a Fringe showcase in Bury St Edmunds. This is a man with too much frantic talent to waste.

First up on the roster was Sussana T Jones, well known throughout Norwich as the singing comedian who’s appeared as up and coming talent on BBC Radio and Director of UEA’S side-splittingly Silly “Game of Thrones: The Pantomime.”

She started with her staple routine, singing a parody of teenage youtube musicians called “My eyeliner.”

Then she brought out a new song especially for the night – about dating as a nerd. Filled with zany puns and enough references to stuff a TARDIS, this was a great start to the night. It provided an odd proto-breather for the heavier – but slightly sharper material – to follow.

Helen of Norwich and Aaron Hood

Second up was Helen of Norwich, who opened her set with some deadpan comments about her age.

Despite her self deprecation, she brought the audience immediately on board. She deployed her experience with the NHS and CBT – though not quite the type we were expecting, and thrived on a comedic style that was personally honest but full of comedic midirection.

Her nervousness was at times palpable – fitting for a set based on anxiety – but her minor struggle with confidence in no way undermined her as a performer. Her understated brand of subtle but sparkling dark humor held its own amongst much louder and more acerbic comedians. This proves she’s a comedian to watch out for.

Ciara Jack also based her set around mental illness, but expanded politically to joke about immigration on class. A lovably brash performer, she shone when using characters and impressions.

Pope Lonergan was a stand out of the night. A booming comedian with riotous jokes, he sealed and intensified the theme of dark humor. Again drawing on incredible personal anecdotes – how did he get to them, let alone survive the tale? – His anarchic sincerity was a real delight. He also posed a question that will now stay on Norwich’s lips forever.

“What would YOU do if you broke a woodlouse’s pregnancy sack?”

A night of big questions Indeed.

The evening ended on a high note with a burlesque performance by Zinnia Rose, who captivated the audience with sultry dance moves to Beyonce and Shakira’s beautiful night. Despite being referenced consistently, I felt this act might have felt more cohesive if the Mata Hari theme was expanded throughout the night.

However, the sacrifice of theme did nothing to hinder such a brilliant night – and the upcoming theme, “Austistic Anarchy” seems much more likely to be woven throughout the night. (With many of the club’s performers having autism themselves and referencing it in their sets.)

Overall this was a truly dynamic night and has established Hoodenanny as an almost unrivaled gem in Norwich’s comedy crown. With an inclusive and energetic vibe, performers with great careers ahead and all for less than a pint at the bar, I’d encourage everyone to make the trip down and have a hoot at Hoodenanny.

Review Bump/Bully by Kevin Johnson

BUMP BY KELLY JONES
18/4/2019

Raw, unfinished and incredibly gripping.

Joanne, a journalist, auntie and ‘lioness’, tells us about her nephew, Bump, and how she was prepared to take on the whole world to protect him from everything, except for the one thing she never saw coming…


Kelly Jones is a young playwright from Dagenham, who writes with a gritty fondness for her birthplace, and does it well. Her prose is sometimes a little too much, both in a less-is-more style, and also by telling stories we might not want to listen to but really need to hear.

The effects of Fundamentalism, Iraq, Credit Crunch, Austerity and Brexit on the 21st century generation are examined,
dissected and displayed. The murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016 by a right-wing Brexiter gives an unfortunate authenticity to this
drama. Joanne is fleshed out beautifully by Hannah McPake and deftly directed by Jennifer Lunn. Together they give us a
window into a new, fairly unknown world.

Like Shaun Edwards with the WRU, Kelly is an English talent Wales needs to hang onto, because if Bump is anything to go by,this is the start of a talented career.

Her prose is, like nature, ‘red in tooth and claw’, and its rhythms almost touch on the poetic. I look forward to seeing
her future work.

BULLY BY TOM WENTWORTH

The companion play to Bump, written by Tom Wentworth and
performed by Ben Owen-Jones, this is hard, harsh and unapologetically truthful.

Eddie is a lad, a keen rugby-player, and no stranger to the club scene. Then a tragic accident changes everything. He has to reassess his life, and how that impacts those around him…
Bitter, vile and uncompromising, this is not pretty, but it gives us a realistic view of what it is to be disabled, and how that
doesn’t confer automatic sainthood on anyone. 

Eddie is no hero, and his resentment grows at being expected to be one. In fact one of his few saving graces is his stubbornness and refusal to conform to such a stereotype. As he says ‘survival is being selfish’. He isn’t just physically disabled, Eddie is also emotionally disabled, but he never comes to terms with it, and that leads to further tragedy. Like Bump, this isn’t sugar-coated, and all the better for being so. The direction of Abigail Pickard Price and the performance of Ben Owen-Jones give us a person who we pity but we’d cross the street to avoid. As Eddie says “if I’d had my legs blown off in Iraq, you’d all want to shake my hand”.
Instead, we just shake our heads.

The weakness here is the almost relentless scatalogical language, and the bleakness. Eddie is not a likeable person, andthis tests the audiences patience. But like Bump, these are things that need to be said, and they are said well.

Preview: CRAVE by Sarah Kane at The Other Room

As their showcase production of the Professional Pathways Programme at The Other Room, Yasmin and Samantha are presenting Crave by Sarah Kane, at The Other Room running between April 30th and May 11th 2019.

I met up with Director Samantha Jones, Producer Yasmin Williams and Assistant Director Nerida Bradley to chat about Crave, Sarah Kaneand the Professional Pathways Programme.

Why Crave? Why Sarah Kane? Why Now?

Being completely technical, for the Professional Pathways Programme I think this is exactly what we needed. There are no limitations, no rules, no guidance and that’s exactly what we needed from a script as a challenge and a gift.

When next are we going to get the opportunity to stage whatever we want with no limitations – Sarah Kane, obviously. It’s exactly the kind of work we’d like to see more of in Cardiff. The way it plays with form, but also what it says and what it means to people.

The Other Room opened with Sarah Kane and this play was an artistic turning point for her career. So, it just felt right, being the first Professional Pathways Programme at The Other Room and a turning point in our careers, to stage this play.

There are loads of reasons why this play is relevant now, but really what’s so great about Sarah Kane is that she’s so real she’ll always be relevant and so will Crave.

What does Sarah Kane mean to you as artists and people?

As an artist she’s bold and experimental. Her work is full of anger, but doesn’t fall into the trap of angst or the box people tried to put her in. She’s angry but it still feels feminine without the work needing to be about femininity. Just feminine through the way she uses language. Everything in the text is earned and the artists involved in her plays have to raise their game to her level.

As a person, she doesn’t make you feel judged, she just makes you feel and reflect. She can make you feel anything with her words. When I first read one of her plays, I had to read the others and read them all in one sitting. She’s just great.

What’s your aim with this piece?

Is it enough to say truth? Sarah Kane said, “I write the truth and it kills me,” so it’s important to stay true to that.

But also, Crave is written in a way that allows us to play and experiment. She was bold and experimental in writing this play, so we need to be the same in presenting it too.

It’s about what it means to be a human, the loneliness that comes with that, what love is, etc. We all have different perspectives and feelings in regard to this play, as I’m sure you will when you see it. Everyone will feel different things as the play is so true it relates to everyone individually. We want the audience to reflect and feel something about the themes, but more importantly about themselves.

Samantha Jones, director, speaking to actors.

Sam, considering how open the script is to a director’s interpretation, how are you approaching Crave as director?

Crave is a play that is always moving and changing as you work on it, so it’s more of a facilitation process, rather than direction and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s key working with Nerida, not only as one of the best assistants around, but as someone who loves Sarah Kane and understands the text in a way that is different, but just as brilliant, to me. The whole team, including Yasmin and the actors, the same. The moment someone puts their stamp on Sarah Kane is the moment the it dies. So, everyone in the room has a voice.

Yas, with the everchanging, undefined nature of the script and production process, how are you approaching Crave as producer?

One of the great things about the Professional Pathways Programme is that this is the first full-show I’ve produced on my own, and I’ve been trusted to do so. The experience has sort of confirmed my theory that nobody really knows what a producer is and it’s an everchanging role in theatre. But given me confidence in knowing that’s okay. There is no set of rules for a producer as the job changes so much from show-to-show.

Part of what makes producing Crave so great, is that I have to be involved in the creative discussion to do the job. It might be easier to produce if things were more set in stone, but as the piece is constantly moving forward and growing I need to stay on my toes and get involved in the room. It’s very hands on and it needs to be as I have to stay connected, artistically, to the production.

How have you found the past year at The Other Room as part of their Professional Pathways Programme?

The Professional Pathways Programme has been a great way to step into the world of professional theatre making. Building new relationships, especially with each other as this year has just made us want to work with each other more in the future. Opportunities to work with new writing with things like SEEN and Spring Fringe Script, working with Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama have also been super beneficial.

Learning how a theatre building works and runs, beyond the shows, has probably been the biggest thing to learn. And now getting to work on whatever play we want, being able to produce it and put it on for a full-run is the perfect way to end the year. Overall, it’s been an invaluable experience for both of us.

Nerida, as you’re on arts placement at The Other Room and assistant director on Crave, how have you seen Yas and Sam grow over the last year?

They were always capable of doing this. But they’ve just had the chance to prove it. They’ve not just done the job but really added to the discussion and put their ideas forward. In particular they’ve absolutely smashed the year in transforming SEEN and working on Spring Fringe Script amongst other things. It’s just so great that they’ve been given the opportunity and platform to show what they can do as well as learn and move forward.

Actors rehearsing the script.

Crave runs at The Other Room in Cardiff between April 30th and May 11th 2019. Presented in collaboration with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and The Other Room’s Professional Pathways Programme. You can read more about the production and the Professional Pathways Programme HERE.

Crave by Sarah Kane at The Other Room, Cardiff
30th April – 11th May 2019
Directed by Samantha Jones
Produced by Yasmin Williams
Starring:
C – Emily John
M – Johnna Watson
B – Benjamin McCann
A – Callum Howells
Assistant Directed by Nerida Bradley
Set Designed by Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson
Sound Designed by Joshua Bowles
Lighting Designed by Ryan Joseph Stafford
Stage Managed by Millie McElhinney
Deputy Stage Managed by Emily Behague

Review Bully, Unsolicited Theatre, WMC By Rhys Payne

Bully was a one person play performed in Ffresh at the Wales Millennium Centre. It was written for Unsolicited Theatre by playwright Tom Wentworth.  This was a work in-progress reading which makes this play difficult to review. This play follows the story of Eddie a gay rugby player who becomes disabled during an accident. He becomes angry and frustrated and takes this out on the people closest to him.

The character of Eddie was played by an actor who was a wheelchair user and so this served as a visual reference that Eddie is disabled. Due to prior knowledge and experience this made the character justified in his anger as he was confined to his chair which was discussed heavily through the play. This production was raw, somewhat realist and very emotional. As this play was a work-in progress reading and had no staging and props (excluding the wheelchair itself) the focus should have been on the acting or performance of the play, instead it was focussed on the script and its story. But unlike Bump I seemed to focus on the page turning of the script. This script reading became very obvious as it was held by a metal arm attached to the wheelchair and sometimes appeared in front of the actors face. This took the focus off the actor and onto the paper script itself which was something I did not think should happen but understandable with it being a work in progress.

This play was told by a friendly and approachable character in a wheelchair. His mannerisms and speech patterns made me feel as if this character was somehow related to me. We have all experienced a uncle or family friend telling us a story about when they were young and doing silly things to try and warn us against it. As this story was about something that happened in the past it felt like one of these stories. On top of this the story contained many funny lines which made the audience chuckle which only added to the relatability of the character. The section of the play where Eddie discussed being in the crash and being in the hospital was very vivid and realistic. To the point where I could image myself experiencing the accident while the words were being said it created a clear imagine of the hospital in my head.

This production was a lot less moving and emotional than Bump which may have been to the actor moving across the stage, while this did allow for change of topics and a chance for the audience to understand what had happened and to add to the realism of the piece. At times it created unnecessary pauses and forced my attention to the captioning (where parts of speech were missed out and certain words were incorrect, which would have caused problems for people who needed them.) The thing that confused me most about this production was why was it called ‘Bully?’ On Unsolicited Theatres website it states the character becomes a bully while being disabled and them becomes bullied. I think this concept was missed in the production. The events at the end of the play are somewhat like a bully but I felt as if it appeared more as a loss of anger then something he would do respectively. But this may have been due to the fact I felt a connection to the actor and so unconsciously refused to accept him as a bully, which is a sign of good writing. Either way, Bully is a hard-hitting play that gives an insight into how it feels to become disabled which made for a very interesting watch.