Category Archives: Theatre

Review Rip it Up, St David’s Hall by Barbara Hughes Moore

Dreamboats and Petticoats: Strictly stars tear up the dancefloor in Rip It Up

Having attended a fair few live shows featuring the Strictly cast, I can safely say that Rip it Up ranks among the best of them. Inventive, energetic and invigorating, Rip it Up was created, crafted and choreographed by fan favourite Strictly pro Natalie Lowe. Having recently left BBC’s flagship dance show after seven years (to the distress of many SCD fans, myself included), Natalie has shifted her considerable skill towards the theatre, being both the brains and brawn behind this 1950s-set dance spectacular. Joining her on tour are Strictly champions Jay McGuiness and Louis Smith, who lifted the glitterball with Aliona Vilani in 2015 and Flavia Cacace in 2012 respectively.

Directed by Gareth Walker, Rip it Up (named for one of the 50s songs it incorporates) follows the three principals and a slew of equally brilliant backing dancers as they shake, rattle and roll their way through some of the decade’s greatest songs – moving with ease from Elvis to Little Richard to Sam Cooke and Ritchie Valens. I’d forgotten how good these songs were, and how fabulous they are to dance to – but the considerable, combined talents of the Rip it Up ensemble brought it all back to me.

The show was split into different segments, each encapsulating a different type or trend of 50s music: rock ‘n’ roll, vocal harmony, blues, ballads, and Latin, as well as specific tributes to Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Little Richard and the Rat Pack. It was exhausting enough reading through the setlist, let alone watching the dancers perform to them! Natalie described the ensemble as the hardest working out there, and I certainly agree. Nothing was spared or suppressed – hearts and souls were bared on the dancefloor that night, and the audience was loving every second.

It was particularly gratifying to be a part of an audience that was as responsive to the show as I was – so often in modern theatre audience reaction is muted and formal, but just as the performers were giving every drop of energy and enthusiasm they had, so too were the people watching from their seats. Jay kindly acknowledged the audience response, thanking us for ‘making Monday night feel like Saturday night’. Well, Jay and the rest of the cast certainly made a rainy night in 2017 Cardiff feel like a summer’s day in 1955 NYC.

To enhance the feel of the time period, there was a brief TV montage interlude between each dance segment, showcasing some of the 50s’ cringiest commercials – including a toy advert for a truly bizarre sort of hula-hoop worn on the head called a ‘Swing Wing’, which was no doubt responsible for causing widespread whiplash during the decade. These were intercut with the ensemble’s pre-filmed cutesy interpretations of the era, as well as entertaining asides from the master of ceremonies, Leo Green, who also doubled as band leader and saxophonist.

Speaking of the music, the classic 50s hits were played with emotion and aplomb by a five-piece band, and what a joyful noise they made with so few. Along with Leo’s superb sax, we were treated to Ed Richardson on drums, Ian Jennings on bass, Jonny Dyke on keyboards and Matt White on guitars. I can’t stress how excellent the musicians were, including the two primary singers of the piece: Oliver Darling (who sported Buddy Holly glasses during his tribute) and Jill Marie Cooper, an exclusive treat for Cardiff audiences. They not only captured the spirit of the songs, but of the generation – although at times, they did tend to belt ballads that could have done with a softer touch. A small price to pay for the marvellous music overall – I would happily have paid to see the musicians and singers alone, but here they enhanced and accentuated the equally wonderful work of the dynamic dancers.

Natalie Lowe embodied the charm and elegance of the era, seamlessly slipping from Grace Kelly-esque screen siren to Elvis-like leather-clad rock ‘n’ roller, and countless other characters in between. She utterly evoked the ingenue of her introductory song, Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite (‘the finest girl you ever want to meet’). Her standout number was a beautiful ballroom show-dance to the Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody, as well as a cheeky jive to a medley of 50s jitterbug. Not to mention she was responsible for overseeing and choreographing everyone else, and ensuring that every part had a unique and different feel, facet and flair. Her exit is a loss to Strictly, but a magnificent gain for the stage, and I can’t wait to see what she has waiting in store for us next.

Supporting our superb leading lady were two highly capable, and yet incredibly different, leading men: Jay McGuinness, whose unique brand of cool, chivalrous charm embodied the era’s sweetness simmering beneath the surface; and Louis Smith, whose fiercely flirtatious brand of fun complemented Jay extremely well. They couldn’t be less alike, except in their attempts to vie for Natalie’s affections, alternately foxtrotting and jiving their way into her heart. For two Strictly champions who had both been unfairly criticised by the judges for their supposed lack of personality during their tenure, it was particularly satisfying to see Jay and Louis not only having improved since their deserved wins, but infusing their routines with so much character, confidence and flair. They fit in perfectly alongside the pros, and skilfully held their own alongside them.

Jay’s entrance was the most impressive by far. Clad in black from head to toe, he spun around in the shadows and de-hatted himself, giving the impression that he had appeared out of thin air. He certainly encapsulated the gung-ho gusto of his intro song, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire. He also demonstrated a wide range of theme, technique and emotion (as he had done on Strictly), performing with passion and panache in every style of dance from waltz to cha cha and an artsy modern number to Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable that evoked his winning show-dance. And, of course, his jive prowess were second to none, as it has been ever since he and Aliona’s Pulp Fiction tribute broke the internet. Jay didn’t just shine whilst dancing; he also graced us with lovely renditions of some of the staple songs of the 50s, including the incomparably classy Beyond the Sea and a sultry rendition of Sway. Out of all the Strictly champions, Jay has the greatest potential to take the West End by storm – singing, dancing, acting, what can’t he do? I hope his recent stint as the lead in Big! The Musical is the first of many in a long line of stage shows in Jay’s future.

Louis, last but certainly not least, leapt onto the stage to Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti; from start to finish he looked like he was having the most fun by far – and that’s really saying something in an altogether joyous production. Although Louis performed in Strictly alum Robin Windsor’s Keep Dancing tour at Cardiff’s New Theatre last year, and has improved even since through joining Rip it Up, he confessed he hadn’t been sure if he could or should carry on dancing in live productions. But after a great experience with Natalie, Jay and the gang (and some vehement audience encouragement), it (thankfully) looks as though Louis isn’t going to hang up his dancing shoes any time soon. He looked as though he lived every moment of every dance, and possessed the most vibrant personality and stage presence of the entire ensemble. His gymnastics skills always shone during his Strictly stint, but here he has honed his dance technique and performance into sophisticated and stylish perfection. He excelled in solo, partner and group dances, really capturing the mischievous, rebellious feel of the era and starring in some of the strongest set-pieces: a sulky, sultry number to Peggy Lee’s Fever was a particular highlight, as well as a geeky romance against the backdrop of Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World. Louis’ Strictly journey keeps evolving, and long may it continue – Cardiff will certainly be there to welcome him back to the stage in the future.

If ever a stage show was an ensemble success, that show is Rip it Up. Every single backing dancer performed to the same superb standard as the principals and musicians, and were given ample time to shine both alongside and separate from the three leads, yet another testament to the team spirit of the entire production. Though the set itself was sparse, the performers and costumes made up for the minimal production values (totally understandable on a tour budget). However, despite how impressive the three leads’ solo numbers were, I would have loved to have seen the three of them sharing the stage more often. Natalie, Louis and Jay appeared together to bookend each segment, but then split up to perform numbers in which they individually featured (accompanied by partners or backing dancers), but rarely with one another. Because of the rarity of their onstage collaboration, one of the standout numbers for me was Jay and Louis engaging in what I can only refer to as a ‘James Dean-Off’ in which the two Strictly champs did their damned-est to out-Brando each other in rolled-up jeans and white Ts. In a similar vein, I think there should have been a story running through the show (just as Vincent and Flavia often have in their live shows); in doing so, they could build on the natural flirtation between Natalie, Jay and Louis, and incorporate their love triangle into a more structured through-line. It would have added a narrative cohesion to the excellent dance numbers, rendering them not only exciting but necessary in advancing the plot and our leads’ love lives.

Overall, Rip it Up is a truly wonderful theatrical experience that I urge anyone with even the vaguest interest in dance, music, theatre, The Wanted or gymnastics to go to if humanly possible. It’s great to see familiar faces again, as well as discovering new ones, and I can’t wait to see where Natalie, Jay, Louis and company go from here – I only hope that they keeeep dancing

http://www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk/whats-on/dance/rip-it-up/

 

Review One Man, Two Guvnors, Black RAT Productions by Helen Joy

A slapsticky ribtickling romp through Mr Bean’s homage to the Italian original.

I love this theatre company. They make me laugh. Properly head back gasping for breath laugh. This multi talented bunch of actors and their production team are properly good.

I love the venue. I love the welcome. The busyness of the place. The swirly carpets and the polished wood and the atmosphere of years of local folk heading here for a night out. Marvellous.

And marvellous to take a glass of wine into the theatre and settle into your seat whilst the cast play their way through a series of ‘60s songs, washboard ‘n’ all. A band which reforms for set changes – how delightful, how clever to keep us all singing and clapping along.

Never afraid to look you in the eye, to include you in the action, to keep you alive with the threat of putting you too on the stage, it’s bright and buzzing throughout.

And the lead, Francis Henshall, is, quite frankly, fabulous! A tweedy oaf with a lust for food and a hunger for love, he draws us in, right in.

But he wouldn’t be half so good without his sidekicks.

Every character is perfectly overblown and overplayed. Exaggerated, exaggerating, they are funny and likeable and strangely believable. All very special in their own sweet Brighton rock kinda way.

Every seat is filled. Everyone is laughing. Everyone is having a very good time.

There is an energy to this production which drives through to the end.

Nothing unpredictable, nothing too challenging but what a wonderful slapsticking backslapping suitcase swapping utterly joyous night out!

Black Rat Productions is an extraordinarily talented company. There to be enjoyed.

 One Man, Two Guvnors is a play by Richard Bean, an English adaptation of Servant of Two Masters (Italian: Il servitore di due padroni), a 1743 Commedia dell’arte style comedy play by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni.

 Helen Joy for Get the Chance, 3rd Act Critics.

A Black RAT Productions, Blackwood Miners’ Institute and RCT Theatres co-production supported by Arts Council Wales

Cast

Gareth John Bale … FRANCIS HENSHALL
Lee Gilbert … HARRY DANGLE
Phylip Harries … CHARLIE CLENCH
Sarah-Jayne Hopkins … DOLLY
James Lawrence … STANLEY STUBBERS
Daniel Miles … ALAN DANGLE
Caryl Morgan … RACHEL CRABBE
Alice Strachan … PAULINE CLENCH
Chris Tummings … LLOYD BOATENG

Production Team

By Richard Bean
Based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni
With songs by Grant Olding
Directed by Richard Tunley
Designed by Anna Marie Hainsworth
Production Manager / Lighting Design Robin Bainbridge
Stage Manager Claire Roberts
Musical Director Rob Thorne

 

Review American Assassin by Jonathan Evans

 

1 Stars1 / 5

“Women in Refrigerators” is a terms that started in 1999, created by now famed comic writer Gail Simone. It was a response to an issue of Green Lantern where he comes home and finds his girlfriend has been murdered and stuffed into his fridge, this ignites a revenge story-line. The term means that women are killed, harmed and/or depowered simply for plot reasons. Why do I bring this up? Because this is the mentality of this entire movie. In-fact not just at the start, but another time near the end is a female character (this one serving little to no purpose) is killed off mercilessly with not a care or regret.

Our main character is a young man named Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) that has suffered the loss of the woman he just proposed to. Now that she was tragically gunned down he has resigned himself to hunting down terrorist, training himself day and night and having very little restraint when things become physical. This man is clearly unhinged and apparently that’s just when the C.I.A. want because they recruit him.

Michael Keaton is brought in as the rugged trainer that’s seen it all and knows it all. His talents as an actor are wasted in this movie and belong in a better one. I cant say whats worse, having a fine actor be in a bad movie and give a bad performance, or in  a bad movie and have the energy of a good performance wasted. I don’t know, either way is upsetting.

Further adding to the despicable makeup of the movie is its one-sided view of non-white, non-christian Americans. If you are not white then you are the bad guy and a scumbag (that word is used directly by our main character). The main antagonist is white however he has some layers to him, the other enemies that are non-white are bad through and through.

I cant tell you what the message of the movie is. Revenge is good? Revenge leaves you empty? Follow orders? Don’t follow orders and be your own man? But it doesn’t matter what it’s about because it’s foundation is an outdated, misogynistic plot setup and from there on it fans the narrow-minded drive about how to handle terror threats. Good performances cannot help sweeten this rotten meal of a movie.

 

Review Uncle Vanya, Theatr Clwyd by Donna Poynton

Uncle Vanya was first published in 1897 and had its premiere in Moscow in 1899, performed by the Moscow Art Theatre under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski.

The play focuses on the visit of an elderly professor and his young wife Elena to the rural estate which supports their city dwelling lifestyle. Two friends, Vanya-the brother of the professor’s late first wife and the controller of the estate and Astrov-the local doctor, both end up falling for the charms of Elena. Sonya, the professor’s daughter by his first wife, is hopelessly in love with the doctor but her feelings are unmatched. Tempers flare and drama ensues as the professor announces his plans to sell the estate allowing Vanya to spiral into a madness offering tormented bawling and even a gunfight!

This new production written by Peter Gill and directed by Tamara Harvey of Chekhov’s doom-tinged comedy is set in the round, allowing for the feeling of immersion as an audience member, particularly during each characters’ soliloquy. We feel we are let in on the action, surrounding the players; close emotionally as well as physically. Each scene cleverly switches from outside to in and we are treated to some glorious pieces of silent acting as the characters themselves subtly manoeuvre the set to allow transitions (for example we hear claps of thunder and rainfall and a handful of actors swiftly grab chairs and rugs to ‘save them from getting wet’). The design of the piece, in this way, is very simple and yet we could look so much further into its meaning. Throughout the entire production there is an overhanging tree which could have been placed simply to remind us where we are. Could it, on the other hand, be symbolic of the overhanging, inevitable destruction in the piece?

The destruction of man and oneself is reflected in the frequent discussions of the desolation of the Earth’s forests. We cannot fail to spot the implications that humankind may not be KIND at all and that the dissatisfaction in our lives comes not only from ones own failings but from the failings of others to encourage success and happiness. We see love in all forms; love for family (as much as we may often speak ill of them or even wish then ill!), the love of nature, love of home, romantic love and even love unrequited but it appears that love brings with it sadness, frustration, sorrow and even utter despair!

Despite this, the play provides many moments of humour-mainly gleaned from the excellent characterisation of the title character by Jamie Ballard who portrays Vanya with just the right amount of comedy and tragic poise. This production has been cast superbly but special mention must also go to Rosie Sheehy as Sonya who plays the innocence and the pain of unreturned love beautifully, to Shanaya Rafaat as Elena who we are able to empathise with despite her somewhat ignorant demeanour and Oliver Dimsdale as Astrov who is both physically and mentally handsome-the stage often brought to life with each appearance.

This production of Uncle Vanya allows the stunning properties of Chekhov’s text to be fully appreciated as part of an up to date design. Despite it keeping its original 1890s setting we are able to relate the themes of the piece to our modern lives.

“Rhondda Road” A new soap opera in the Rhondda by Ann Davies

So what do you think about soap opera in the Rhondda? Would it be full of soap adverts with an aria from a male voice choir entwined? Would it be in black and white or colour? This was no soap opera, this was diverse, this was real, raw and blisteringly true to present day issues!

“Rhondda Road” – was Treorchy’s very own LIVE soap opera safely in the hands of the Avant Cymru Theatre actors and its Director Shane Anderson, when its first live inaugural episode was presented on Tuesday, 12 September in the lounge of the Park and Dare Theatre.

As you entered “The Fourth Wall Café” you were invited to take your place at a café table, the owner hovered around clearing each table. Balloons decorated areas and a greetings banner was in the process of being aligned to the wall. We realised that a Birthday was being celebrated and realised that we were all invited. This was different.

The people began to talk – this was not eavesdropping, we were not busy bodies, we were there and their lives and emotions were being unravelled before our very eyes. It was interestingly engrossing to actually know what was going on, without being classed as ‘nosey parkers’.

Alex and Megan, partners in real life, run the café with their friend Ieuan. This day was the 13th birthday of Isabelle, Megan’s daughter. Alex, who has been attempting to build a relationship with Isabelle, has organised a surprise party for her, drafting in Ieuan, Seren, a part time waitress and young carer, and Charlotte, Megan’s half-sister to help with the preparations. Charlotte has already informed Megan that Isabelle is not coming, that there is something wrong, but won’t divulge any reasons. Abi, Isabelle’s best friend and Ieuan’s niece, has been given the duty of getting Isabelle to the café on time. Seren arrives late, having attended to her ailing Mother, she quickly attends tables placing cakes, serviettes and streamers on each one.

Alex’s emotions swing, as he exclaims that his offer for the café has been accepted. “It’s all we’ve ever wanted” he exclaims as he and Megan lovingly embrace; in his dreams they will marry and he will adopt Isabelle as his own daughter. Charlotte walks out in a huff as she witnesses their attentiveness.

Life is a rich tapestry and as such, other strands gel into the mixture. Ieuan is a struggling actor and is often seen using the café premises to prepare for auditions and devising ideas to attract people to the café. You suddenly hear a booming voice from behind you, and you literally jump out of your skin. ‘I am your Father’ is directed at the occupants of the café, as we watch Ieuan appear in all his ‘Star Wars’ attire, plus a bucket on his head. His announcement is almost prophetic.

Abi rushes into the café, Isabelle is not with her, and there are concerns that all is not as it should be as we await the arrival of the Birthday girl. Abi confides in her Uncle that Isabelle won’t talk to her anymore, whilst Ieuan quietly tells her to be there for Isabelle whatever is wrong.

Isabelle enters, as the streamers are popped, and Happy Birthday Greetings resound, but this girl is not in a celebration mood; she is distressed and unhappy and can take nothing in. In a quiet corner, Megan manages to prize the problem out of her, Isabelle is being bullied. The couple have to decide what course of action they will take next.

Ieuan has his own concerns as he prepares to cut the birthday cake. Liam, his homeless friend from Uni. arrives. Liam has stayed with Ieuan for what was only going to be a few weeks but has ended up staying for months. Ieuan instructs Abi to go home, he has run out of patience, there is a clash of opinions; enough is enough as Ieuan asks Liam to find other accommodation.

An older man walks into the café, looks around, senses the nervy atmosphere and sees the desolate Liam berating his own life, and offers him some consolation as they walk out together.

Seren, in the meantime, has her own problems; time is precious to her, her part time job and her caring responsibilities. Sometimes it proves too much, especially when she sees other girls her age not having the daily worries that she has to tend to. Life is further complicated by the attentions of love sick Ioan, who follows her around pausing for every word she speaks, whereas it is Charlotte who wishes to be by Ioan’s side.

The older man returns to the café, but this time his demeanour is not so serene and helpful. It is soon apparent that he is Megan’s Father, Sion. Megan, so strong and resilient, visibly shrinks under his stoic glare; remembering the damage he had inflicted on her during a traumatic childhood. Tempers flare and Megan attempts to guard her daughter from his grasp. Sion states that he has changed, he wants to be part of a family again, to get to know his granddaughter, but Megan stalwartly insists that this will never happen and leaves Alex and Sion alone.

Sion’s mannerisms change, there is no emotion, he is malevolent; his intentions are as clear as his final threatening words

I’ll be back, I’ve bought this café

That is how episode one ended. “Rhondda Road” showed life as it is wherever you happen to live, its concept and format is different and entertaining. You feel the emotions of the people performing, and in the final minutes, we saw such a difference in the character of Sion Andrews with his hurtful threats, that you almost wanted to cry ‘Boo! Hiss!” at the villain, connecting in every way.

It’s not black and white, it’s not colour, its Life and it’s RAW. It brings a format and a way of storytelling (or soap opera in this case) alive.

Episode 2 Tuesday, 10 October at 4 pm, Park and Dare Theatre, Treorchy

Review This Evil Thing, Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

 

4 Stars4 / 5

 

This didactic play tackles the controversial subject of conscientious objectors during World War One.

Conscientious objectors, or CO’s as the play’s devisor Michael Mears refer to them are those people who for various reasons refuse to fight or even engage in any activity that contributes to the promotion of warfare. These reasons may be religious, political or idealistic or a combination of more than one of these factors.

The most prominent character portrayed in the play is a man named Bert Brocklesby who was born and brought up near Doncaster as a Methodist but who had also interests in the Quaker and Baptist church movements. In fact, he eventually became a Quaker who are the religious group mostly closely associated with Conscientious objecting.

It is not the first recent play that focusses upon the CO’s during WW1. Both of these play examine CO’s within a regional basis, in contrast to “This Evil Thing” that examines a national set of affairs. In “Devils on Horseback”, a 2017 production by Goldsmith College, the trials of CO’s in Deptford are shown, based upon research of historians at the College. “England Arise” by Bent Architect portrays the activities of CO’s in Huddersfield. In fact, Yorkshire was a hotbed of co activity during WW1. This play has been criticised as feeling a little overlong, albeit the running time at 75 minutes is the same as the play under review here.

Positioning myself at the end of a crescent shaped set of rows at the Sherman Studio Theatre, I was easily able to notice my fellow audience member’s level of attention, for a play that demands it, and I am impressed by how riveted they were, which is testament to the engaging nature of this play. Mr Mears, at the end of the performance complimented the audience on their level of attention.

Michael Mears is a well-known and award-winning figure on the Fringe Theatre circuit for largely his one-man plays which he both writes and acts in. “Soup” another one-man play has won the Scotsman Fringe Award” which examines homelessness.

“This Evil Thing” was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2016, and was well received.

“A thorough and at times gripping account of an important subject.”

4 out of 5 stars – The Scotsman

“Mears is an animated and engaging presence throughout, his faithful delivery of others’ words accommodating many a naturalistic flourish. Entertaining as his show may be, his gratitude and outrage remain very much to the fore. This is important, vital polemic.”

4 Stars out of 4 Fest (Edinburgh Festival magazine)

In an interview for the Stratford-upon Avon Herald in January this year, Mr. Meyers was asked the question how he would describe this play.

He replied, “It’s the compelling and rather shocking, and also inspiring, story of the First World War conscientious objectors (CO’s) in Britain, which has rarely been told or even talked about. In this period of commemoration of the war there’s a lot of focus on the battles, but I knew there would be plenty of material on that and wanted to write about something else. My grandfather fought in the First World War and my father in the Second but I don’t seemed to have inherited the genes, I’m a pacifist — so it seemed appropriate to focus on that. The full interview can be found here.

I would entirely agree with this.

Image Simon Richardson

The design of the production is sparse in the extreme. Nine wooden boxes of different sizes, a wooden post and a bag amount to the set’s design. This minimalist approach works well, as due to the play’s physical nature, it allows Mr. Meyers to energetically move around the set. The boxes are used very creatively. For instance, they transform into a lectern, stretcher, bed, window, bench, representations of human figures in a military tribunal, coffin and even simulating gunfire by their sudden collapsing.

Image Simon Richardson

The play opens with a very effective use of lighting depicting a CO who was being punished by having to stand upon a box for hours upon end in a pit which has water lying at the bottom. The box protecting the prisoner from having to stand in the water. The only lighting on a totally dark stage coming from directly above. The play ends with the same scene. This very symbolic use of darkness and light can be interpreted in different ways which are not difficult to work out.

Over the course of the play’s seventy-five minutes, Mr. Meyers plays over fifty characters. An impressive feat, and I wonder whether the performer ever lapses into using the wrong voice, e.g, whilst playing a sergeant-major he slips into using a plummy public accent typical of a British army officer. His use of so many diverse voices and accents is one of the highlights of the play, as this compilation of scenes taken from the play illustrates.

The sentiment of the play is totally one-sided. Mr. Meyers is a committed pacifist and in a way, the play suffers from this one-dimensional view.

This is clearly depicted in the promotional flyer and poster.

The eponymous poster of Lord Kitchener pointing his figure towards all men able to fight, “Britons Wants You”, is mutilated by the red-cross, (symbolising blood), which intersect over the mouth, thereby gagging the message.

In a post-performance forum, I asked whether Mr. Meyers accepted that being a CO was essentially a selfish act. Naturally, he disagreed and the discussion was somewhat diverted into a matter of courage rather than the question I posed. My reason for implying this statement is that the CO’s were buoyed by their own strength of conviction, whereas his family were usually ostracised for his refusal to fight, with an inevitable implication of cowardice being the motivating factor. Contrast this to Junior Officers who suffered the highest casualty levels in WW1 over the men they led and their senior officers who were often protected well being the Front Line. Posing the question why these officers were prepared to die with almost an submissive inevitably, I suggested that largely it was due to protecting the family honour, thereby sacrificing themselves to protect the humiliation of cowardice from their loved ones.

Also, a scene where Bert Brocklesby refuses to peel potatoes because he was helping to prepare a meal for officers and men, on the basis that he would not help in any way the progress of war, I found to be trivial. However, I would concede that Mr Mears is only portraying the facts of a real life character, and others such as the eminent philosopher and later CND co-founder Bertrand Russell and Prime Minister H. H. Asquith also feature.

Mr. Mears is an engaging figure, both on and off stage. He is clearly fired up by the message he is bringing and totally committed to it. An interesting character in his own right, he is an active long-distance walker, which would aid his fitness level essential to his own brand of physical theatre.

This message is a worthy one. As to its relevance today is another matter. I cannot foresee, due to the technical advance of weaponry, a situation where conscription will ever be re-introduced. In today’s world, blessed by 75 years of involvement in international conflict on a national level, our attitudes towards CO’s has softened. The play reminds us that these men possessed a different type of bravery in swimming against the tide, and should be remembered with compassion and understanding for doing that.

On the performance I attended, the 100 seater theatre was just over half full. This is a sad reflection on the demands of theatregoers today. Many, it seems, see the role of theatre to be solely based upon entertainment factors, thereby omitting an essential aspect of theatre which should be to educate. The concentration ability in today’s world would appear to have been irreversibly damaged through instant revelation provided through technology. I compare it to 20-20 cricket as compared to a test match. Although, I will happily concede that there is a place for both, I fear that the relentless march of entertainment musicals, (whilst acknowledging their financial input often sponsors drama), may mean such important plays such as “This Evil Thing” will become a rarity.

Sherman Theatre is the opening venue of a two month tour which returns to Wales on :-

11th November 2017 Galeri Theatre, Caernarfon

24th November 2017 Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Full dates can be found here 

“This Evil Thing” performed and revised by Michael Mears.

Directed by Rosamunde Hutt

Performed at Sherman Studio Theatre Cardiff 25th and 26th September 2017

Review, Uncle Vanya, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 Stars4 / 5

Prepare yourself for an immersive experience in the Emlyn Williams Theatre as Uncle Vanya kicks off Theatr Clwyd’s Autumn season. Having experienced the wonderful space known as the Roundabout Theatre earlier in the summer, it was a pleasant surprise to walk into something very similar here. However, whereas the Roundabout relied simply on the cast and audience imagination, the design wizards at Theatr Clwyd, led by Lucy Osbourne, have produced some spectacular scenery, enhancing the audience experience further. Walking in through the entrance, it is like Alice Through the Looking Glass. You are stepping into another world, almost literally, as you make your way across the fairly detailed set to your seat, a magnificent tree branch overarching through the roof above. It really is something to behold. The atmosphere before curtain up only added to the anticipation. There was a certain buzz around the place. Like never before have I known this place to feel so alive.

I believe that director Tamara Harvey has made a very inspired decision in performing Uncle Vanya ‘in the round’. Throughout the play, the close proximity to the audience of the actors made for an intensity of drama and emotion that would not have been so keenly felt in a proscenium. It was, in some ways, a unique experience to witness the faces of these characters so closely and to see their emotions clearly. Even now, a day later, as I am writing this, I can’t believe that my memory is able to evoke Oliver Dinsdale (Astrov) in such detailed fashion. Was he really that close to me? Yes, and what a difference that familiarity makes, not only in the moment but in the recollection too.

It truly is an evocative experience. Being ‘in the round’ helps enormously to achieve this, but it is also enhanced in a number of ways. Firstly, the costumes are of such fine and exquisite detail, perfectly suited to the period in which Vanya is set. The props only compliment this further, to the extent that it often feels like you are watching through a lens, filming, with your own eyes, a television drama. The most beautiful piece on display is the map that Astrov (Dinsdale) rolls out across the dining room table. Its colours are so striking, so meticulously drawn, the sense of realism is startling. Osbourne and her team deserve a standing ovation for their work, never mind a round of applause.

This magnificent set would be nothing though without a group of actors to bring it to life. Leading the cast is Jamie Ballard as the depressed and downtrodden, yet very humorous, Vanya. Ballard injects much regret into his character that teases itself out in playful pessimism and childish boredom. It is so easy to fall for him as a character. His well-thought out arguments, witticisms and acute personal observations make him a very likable person. Ballard reminds me very much of Tom Hollander in the way that he fully embodies his character. He is not just playing Vanya here. He is Vanya. Whereas some productions would struggle to fill the void left by such a fine performance onstage, there is no danger of that here. When Ballard is absent, it is not particularly noticeable. This is testament not only to the quality of Peter Gill’s script, but to the supporting cast as well. In particular, I would like to pick out Rosie Sheehy whose performance, as Sonja, was achingly beautiful. You could not only see the unhappiness etched on her face, it was possible to feel it too such was the intensity of her presentation. To communicate so affectingly reveals the strength of her acting skill. She was simply superb.

Uncle Vanya has certainly left its mark on me. It is an experience that will stay with me for a while yet, I’m sure. It shows that this production is an affecting piece of theatre, and its immersive set and talented cast only serve to make it so. Tamara Harvey has delivered on many levels, taking Anton Chekhov’s original work and producing something fresh that does not feel over a century old. She has also helped cement ‘in the round’ as my preferred style for performance theatre. Uncle Vanya is definitely worth checking out.

UNCLE VANYA

Review We’re Still Here, National Theatre Wales by Kevin Johnson

Over a year ago Port Talbot steelworks were put up for sale by Indian owners Tata Steel, threatening not only thousands of jobs but the future of the town itself. What followed was a campaign to save the last part of heavy industry in South Wales by people from all walks of life.

Rachel Trezise

This story has now been turned into a play by Rachel Trezise, in collaboration with the National Theatre Wales and Common Wealth Theatre Company. Set in an old factory that was once part of the steelworks, this is promenade-style theatre, where you ‘wander through’ the play and it happens around you. There are seats if you need them, and good disabled access, but at around 80 minutes, the play is brief enough to endure, yet long enough to shock.

Sam Coombes (Lewis)

With a core cast of five including real-life steelworker Sam Coombes as Lewis, this is both spacious and intimate. The cavernous building is juxtaposed with the intimacy of the workers, who tell their stories, and confide their fears, amidst the jovial banter. Also roaming among the audience are actual retirees, who share true stories about the works, and the oft hidden cost.

Jason May (Rob), Siôn Tudor Owen (Mark) & Simon Nehan (Kevin)

In the interests of full-disclosure I should mention that I was born here, and as a local the steelworks have always been a big part of my life. As one of the actors says:’if you can smell sulphur in the air, somebody’s getting paid’. Both my parents worked there, so in a way it paid for my upbringing. Steel is in our blood here, and with so many accidents over the years, our blood is certainly in the steel.

Designer/Dylunydd Russell Henry, Choreographer/Coreograffydd Vicki Manderson, Directors/Cyfarwyddwyr Rhiannon White & Evie Manning

Co-directed by Common Wealths Evie Manning & Rhiannon White, music, song, comedy and monologues are used to create an enthralling and fascinating piece of theatre. Watching so many people coming to my ‘home’ to be entertained, gave me such a feeling of pride.

This threatened closure is the latest in a long line of body blows that have hit Port Talbot, brought home by the scene where the names of some of the 750 already made redundant are read out. A litany of damaged lives, counterpointed by the children the workers can’t see, ghosts from a lost future.

Sam Coombes (Lewis)

This isn’t sugar-coated either. At one point, in a gladiatorial arena of chairs shared by cast and audience alike, grievances are expressed with a violent passion. Characters turn on each other, unsure of the best course of action to take. One blames the union organiser, who then quietly reveals that his marriage has become a hidden casualty of the fight.

That’s a key element here: how long do you keep on fighting? When do you know when the cause is lost? What if all you have left is the struggle? The whole play roars a magnificent defiance at the world, but beneath that you can hear the scream of a wounded animal.

Ioan Hefin (Adrian) & Jason May (Rob)

If the steelworks closes it’ll be devastating to the town and its people, should that be allowed to happen? I’ll give the last word to Dic Penderyn, a local martyr hanged for rioting in the 1830’s, who’s last words on the scaffold are quoted in the play:

“O arglwdd dymma gamwedd, O Lord, what injustice.”

http://nationaltheatrewales.org/were-still-here

An interview with Emily Wilden creator of ‘Sunday Night Stories’

Hi Emily great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hi, I’m an actor and voice artist originally from Carmarthenshire. I studied acting at the Italia Conti Academy of Performing Arts and it was after graduating that my interest in voice over and audio editing started to develop. I began to record and edit my own work using home recording facilities. I enjoy performing and workshopping pieces from new writers and I’ve also worked with theatre in education and run workshops for children.

So what got you interested in theatre and the arts?

I had an interest in performance from a young age, but it wasn’t until I joined the Swansea Grand Youth Theatre that my passion for Theatre and the Arts started to grow and I decided I want to pursue acting as a career. Joining a youth theatre was a great opportunity for me to meet new people outside of school. It really built my confidence and brought me out of my shell; it’s something I would encourage all young people to do even if they don’t have an interest in being a performer, as it helps with confidence, and communication.

‘Sunday Night Stories’ is a project you have developed yourself which features stories/plays/poems by talented new writers. It provides a platform for new writers to get their work heard. Can you tell us more about this initiative please?

I started Sunday Night Stories after taking part in a few different new writing projects in Cardiff. I have always enjoyed taking part in new writing events and as I am also a voice artist I thought it would be an interesting idea to combine the two.

New writing events are incredibly rewarding and helpful for the writer, actor and director but I thought by recording the pieces and turning it in to a podcast/having an audio recording, you are opening yourself up to a much wider audience. Also, by having an audio recording you are able to listen back and make edits and also use it to showcase your work.

I really wanted to create a useful platform for all writers, no matter what qualifications or experience they may have so they can gain feedback and the exposure they deserve.

I’ve recently partnered up with writer Darius Nash for a Sunday Night Stories Special of Hamish and Bob, a radio play written by Darius about a young boy with autism and his dog. It’s going to be a challenging piece but we are really excited to develop and share it.

Hamish and Bob in development

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists/creatives?

I was lucky enough to be a workshop facilitator for Omidaze Theatre Company’s recent production of Romeo & Juliet, running workshops on Shakespeare and politics for primary and secondary school children.

Schools workshops for Omidaze Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet.

This really highlighted for me how little opportunity there is for children to experience theatre and the arts, whether it’s the cost, content, or just a lack of interest. During the workshops the children were excited to be getting up on their feet, performing, playing and actively working through and understanding (quite complex) text. It helped them use their imagination and recognise that theatre is for everyone. I felt this was incredibly important and is something that needs to be developed and offered more to children, helping them to explore all aspects of theatre and the arts.

There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based theatre companies, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?

After working in London and now Cardiff, I have found that there is a great support system available in Wales and a sense of community with Welsh artists in general, as there are lots of opportunities to create and it’s improving all the time. It would be great to see more workshops available for all aspects of performance, and for there to be more casting opportunities in Wales for Welsh actors.

Monologue Slam UK 2015 supported by NTW Team

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

As I previously mentioned I think it’s incredibly important to develop more opportunities for children to experience theatre, not only by going to see it but also through creating it themselves.

I also think it would be great to encourage more new writing projects in Wales, encouraging people who have the urge to write but maybe not the confidence to do so. There are so many great companies around at the moment producing work from new Welsh writers and I think it’s something we need to continue to encourage and develop.

What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

What really excites me about the arts in Wales is how welcoming and accepting everyone is to new ideas. There is such a sense of community, and you truly feel like everyone is willing to share, offer advice and help each other along, which is what being an artist and performer is all about and is the main reason I started this project. It’s really great to have such a range of writers share their work with me and let me give a voice to their stories; it just highlights how important community is in theatre and the arts.

Thanks for your time Emily

Website – www.sundaynightstories.co.uk
Facebook – @sundaynightstories
Twitter – @sunnightstories

Review Around The World In 80 Days by Jane Bissett

5 Stars5 / 5

By Jules Verne

Adapted by Laura Eason

Phileas Fogg is a mysterious and wealthy man who while at his London club wagers his life’s fortune that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.

Joining him on this mad cap and most impossible adventure is his loyal french valet, Passepartout. Leaving Victorian London behind they race against time and tide to fulfill their undertaking and to ensure that they return home in 80 days to the hour for Fogg to win the wager.

This production is a wonderfully funny romp around the globe with Fogg as our leader and Passepartout as our guide. From the exotic subcontinent to the American Wild West over land and sea there are laughs a plenty and audience participation. The fast moving pace leaves you almost breathless and it is impossible to believe that the 125 characters you see on the stage are only played by a cast of eight!

The energy of this magnificantly talented cast is inspiring as they move from trains to boats, across land and even travel by elephant!

There is also a daring rescue,four fights, three dances and two circus acts and they even manage a wedding!

The highly skilled performances for the non-contact fights including slow motion was punctuated by sound effects and comic timing which looked effortless. This was stage craft at its very best and the action just went on and on.

Director, Theresa Heskins, has achieved the impossible by bringing the world to the stage and the cast and creative team rose to the challenge of bringing it all to life by the use of stage, props, lighting and sound.

Whilst this was truly a whole cast performance, Michael Hugo as Passepartout was outstanding. He had the audience joining him on stage and off to great effect laughing at him, with him, and also at themselves.

This is a truly enjoyable show for which you need to take along your inner child and leave your inhibitions as home.

Prepare to go on a journey that will see you laughing your way around the world and leave you wanting more.

At the final curtain, when the cast returned to the stage the beaming smiles were a clear indication that they, the cast, had enjoyed performing as much as the audience had enjoyed the performance.

Around the World in 80 Days plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;

Tuesday 19 September – Sunday 24 September at 7.00pm

Thursday, Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2.30pm.

For further details or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889.