Theatr Clwyd, Friday January 24th 2020. Review by Richard Evans.
Suspense, intrigue, who will get their revenge?
This is a new play, written, directed and lead by Richard
Jones and produced by Phoenix Theatre Company from Mold, and requested by the
Rotary Club. It was first performed last
May at Theatr Clwyd and reprised this week.
Full marks for bringing a new script and showing the
ambition to stage this play. It made for
an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, which while being a very wordy script
held my attention to the end. I
particularly enjoyed the characterisation.
As the play was set in Hollywood in the 1950’s it spoofed the major film
stars of the day very well, adding a nice touch of humour.
I also thought the live music added much to the play. The band, J. Edgar and the Hoovers was simple yet highly effective. A three piece unit played a mixture of covers of 1950’s standards and original compositions tailored to suit the mood and the characters.
This was a comic murder mystery revolving around a major
Hollywood film producer who had a mega salary and an ego to go with it. He had got to the top with a mixture of
grandiose gesture, manipulation, blackmail and cruelty such that he incurred
hate in the other characters. This was
played realistically by Richard Jones and while the first act was dominated by
him, this suited the bombastic nature of the character and fitted the story
line well. Having gained many enemies on
his rise to the top, there was no shortage of people willing to bop him off!
The second act saw the introduction of Sam Shade, detective,
a spoof of Humphrey Bogarts film noir character convincingly delivered by John
Kinsey, despite the slightly odd distraction of singing ‘Rawhide’ shortly after
his entrance. This seemed out of kilter
with the rest of the play. The
denouement had a suitable twist at the end, allusive of some of the best that
Hollywood produced in the 1950’s and also adding great comic value.
Perhaps I am wrong, I gained the impression that the first
act, which was short at 40 minutes long ended too early, omitting one scene that
had to be delivered at the start of the second act to avoid effectively writing
out one of the characters.
I found the script very word heavy and the storyline
repetitive at times yet there was much to enjoy about this play. It was great to see allusions to other films
or series like Back to the Future and Miss Marple. The use of Jimmy Cagney’s ‘You dirty rat’ was
great showing the script was cleverly constructed and humourous.
The topic matter is indeed relevant to what has taken place
in Hollywood down through the years. However,
I thought the intros in the first act were laboured and could have been
incorporated into the following scenes showing the interaction with the lead
and the rest of the characters. Having
said this, the acting by all involved was professional and delivered really
Bearing in mind this is an ambitious piece of theatre,
performed by an amateur group albeit with a long pedigree it was a very good
evening’s entertainment. Of course it
could be honed and refined, but I did not see anyone leave disappointed and the
play left the audience with a warm, feel good factor.
4 stars out of 5, 4 rather than 3.5 because of its
In an exciting first for Wales, Taking Flight Theatre Company have
announced that thanks to support from BBC Children in Need, the Ashley Family
Foundation and Wales Millennium Centre, they have opened the first youth
theatre in Wales specifically catering for D/deaf and hard of hearing young
The project has been developed in response
to feedback from young people who had seen Taking Flight’s professional theatre
work. With its emphasis on being inclusive both in regards to casting and
audience experience, people frequently asked the company if there was any way
that they could start a youth theatre to nurture young D/deaf and hard of
hearing talent. In 2015 Taking Flight ran two Deaf-led summer schools and the
feedback was that 100% of participants wanted to be able to attend a youth
In January 2018, the company ran taster
sessions at WMC which drew children from Carmarthen, Aberystwyth and
Machynlleth. Again, 100% of children and families wanted ongoing provision. As
a result of this enthusiasm, Elise Davison and Beth House, who started Taking
Flight in 2008, decided to apply to BBC Children In Need to see if they could
attract funding to create something really special.
Creative Producer, Beth explains:
“The youth theatre is such an important and
exciting development. We are regularly contacted by families desperate for this
project to start. We have been talking to young people for so long about a
youth theatre, it is brilliant to finally be able to put the plans into action.
We have so much feedback gathered during
previous projects that will used in planning sessions. We also have a Youth
Advisory group; young Deaf and disabled people aged 14+ who input into all of
our outreach with young people.
The course content will be designed by the
leader alongside input from participants – focussing on areas they want to
develop through creative consultation with group; empowering them to take
control & steer the project as it develops.
meet once a week at The Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay at various times
(dependant on age group) and all sessions are led by both Deaf and hearing
staff, in BSL and English. Each week we’ll be playing games, making new
friends, gaining confidence, learning new skills, being silly and having lots
of laughs! The brilliant thing is that the sessions are free as the youth
theatre is funded by BBC Children in Need and the Ashley Family Foundation.
We have high
expectations, working towards sharing events- with the young people working
both as performers and in backstage/ technical roles. Deaf creative industry
professionals will be brought in to run specific sessions such as Visual
Vernacular for performance, physical comedy, puppetry. Each summer and Easter
there will be a weeks’ “residency” (non- residential) for the older groups
where participants will receive intensive training with sharings at the end of
the week. We will also run field trips for older participants to theatre events
run by leading lights in Deaf theatre such as Deafinitely Theatre & The
Deaf and Hearing Ensemble that will inspire and motivate our young
participants. It’s exciting stuff”.
Taking Flight make bold, unusual theatre productions
that place D/deaf and disabled performers centre stage. Their work tours
Wales and beyond and they often find themselves in geographically isolated or
rural places, performing in woodlands, castle grounds, community centres or
shopping arcades as well as traditional theatre venues & schools.
The youth theatre launch comes at a very busy time for the company,
who have completed two successful tours of England with their critically
acclaimed productions ‘peeling’ and ‘You’ve Got Dragons’ as well as expanding
their work in the area of Access Consultancy.
Artistic Director and company co-founder Elise Davison explains:
“Having developed our own practice over
10 years, we’ve become the “go to” organisation in Wales for advice,
information or inspiration on integrating access & working with inclusive
casts. We’ve worked alongside & supported companies like Likely Story, The
Atrium, Bath Spa University, Cascade Dance Theatre, University of Wales Trinity
St David’s and Mess up the Mess.
Alongside our recent performance of Kaite O’Reilly’s
critically acclaimed play ‘peeling’ at TheaterFestival
Grenzenlos Kulture in Mainz; I was asked to take part in an industry ‘speed
dating’ event where people from throughout the theatre industry in Germany
could ask me questions and learn about Taking Flight’s journey, gaining advice
on how our practices can be incorporated and adapted to fit their
organisations. I’m glad to say it wasn’t as scary as it sounds! I am really
proud to be able to tell the world about what we have been doing in our little
part of Wales”.
You’ve Got Dragons actress Stephanie Back, who is Deaf, is the group
leader for Taking Flight Youth Theatre, she is supported by an assistant, Anna,
who is hearing. Stephanie welcomed the new initiative:
“A Deaf Youth Theatre in
Wales can only provide a wealth of opportunities and benefits for all involved.
It was through theatre that I found my own Deaf identity, I found how I wanted
to communicate to the world and I found the strength to fight for who I was as
a Deaf woman to be accepted in society today. It brings young D/deaf people
together, reduces isolation and teaches invaluable theatre skills which are
otherwise not readily accessible to the D/deaf youth of today”.
rarely see a true representation of society on stage – Taking Flight have
worked tirelessly to challenge this under representation. For over 10 yrs we
have been placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage. We have been
frustrated by the lack of positive role models on our stages, especially in
Wales and have worked hard to change this.Taking Flight Youth Theatre
will be developing and investing in the talent of the future. We can’t wait to
Flight Youth Theatre sessions are held at Wales Millennium Centre on Saturdays
during term time. To book a place with Taking Flight Youth Theatre, or for
further information, email email@example.com
I am sure that many of us would dread to know what the contents our minds would look like if they were to come into reality. Those odd dreams, the nightmares and the fears.
Peeping Tom’s Child brings all of these to the forefront in a bizarre continuous performance staged in a pretty normal looking forest clearing. Taking the fears and dreams of a child, what we encounter for the next hour or so is not only comical but at times quiet frightening and confusing.
By no means is this a negative comment.
With a little feeling of inspiration from the likes of Antonin Artaud’s theory of Theatre of Cruelty and a touch of Bertolt Brecht’s Alienation effect, we are intrigued by and at times disgusted at what we see. For the few, this is too much but for the many, once you are invested, there’s no leaving until the end.
Engagement comes in the anticipation of the next scene. Seamless in delivery, and with seemingly no obvious scene changes (although, of course there is, but they meld into one another so well, you can hardly tell) we encounter bizarre character’s with little relation to one another; scenes that we couldn’t even imagine in our wildest dreams, and they form together to give real laughter, uneasy laughter and real “WTF” moments that are nothing but brilliant.
There are ranges of physical theatre throughout the piece – bodies push the boundaries of what we understand they are capable of; like liquid, at times mechanic, without fear and flawless. One cannot help but be in awe of the performer’s capabilities and inspired by how graceful and yet at times fearless their movements can be.
Child is really something special. Not for fans of contemporary or traditional theatre, but certainly something that everyone must try for the sheer courage and impossible creativity it exudes.
In an apocalyptic world, who would you turn to for help? You Stupid Darkness! shows us the extent of our harm to the World, but in the darkness, there is a light, with a group of volunteers offering their listening skills.
Our stage is set in a call centre/general office set up, while dilapidated from the ranging weather conditions of the destructive World outside, it is like any we would normally see. And when our volunteers come in, it would be hard to think that, once their gas masks come off and the door is closed on the wind, the snow, the gas, that this is set at any time but a usual, current day in England.
Throughout the play we see the volunteers take calls, make tea, eat doughnuts, bide time during the quieter times but ultimately get to know them individually and their growing friendship. Full of comedy, we easily connect with the character’s and laugh at the daily menial issues.
But entwined within this, there are times of sorrow, of pain, where their happy persona’s for the calls goes away and they are people in need of help and to talk themselves. We easily relate to this, showing that no matter the development of the World, we are all still scared, all facing family or other problems and that we can only adapt.
The performers are completely flawless – there is a real feeling to them; their character’s are well defined, they are perfected and they interact with one another with ease, making us feel as if we are looking through a 1 way mirror into their office.
As we get to know them more, we get to know the state of the World more; parts of the building begins to fail and fall, making us jump, and there is a slight uneasy feeling at this possible reality, while the 4 volunteers get on as if it is nothing.
You Stupid Darkness! is heartwarming, but also quite frightning in topic. While making a point on a climate/global level, we also learn a lot about friendship, love and enjoying the little things in life.
You want to make a show but you don’t know what about. So where do you start? What are you tools? But even better, what if the show was about making a show?
Bunny Productions, with performers Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence invite us to experience their thought process, their research data, which heavily includes verbatim suggestions and thoughts from the public. At times, this can be a risk, and as Bunny find out, there are a range of ideas and comments culminating in some comical but drawing a topical conclusion.
As a disabled actress, Hammond has been working in the industry for many years, seeking roles for her talent and not for her disability. Due to pain management, Hammond has an automatic wheelchair, one she is able to leave whenever she likes to. But, while the pair wanted to make a show not about disability, this seemed to be the only way to go when a public cannot get past the chair.
We learn important lessons about stereotyping with both performers, and learn about them in their reality: Hammond comes across as if like she is always up to mischief while Spence is the more demure, goody two shoes. We soon learn in life this is the other way around, but we can see that the industry and how we as an audience perceive what we see on stage and screen is often firstly aesthetics, and at times this can unjustly be what disabled artists encounter daily.
Bunny have this wonderful rapport on stage. Bouncing off one another, there is clearly a basis to the show, perfected for the stage but you also feel as if their undying trust for one another lets them have fun with the details, and while in a normal production, it would be perceived as ‘corpsing’, their break away from perhaps the ‘script’ just adds to their charm and their partnership.
The show is full of comedy, using multimedia to at times enhance this, giving it a more stage element than us being invited to chat; but this doesn’t distract from us feeling welcome, as part of their on stage presence and almost like friends. And while comedy is a huge factor, we are soon hit with the hard facts. Information of the deaths and problems disabled persons have faced with benefits being withdrawed, is a punch to the gut after laughing and smiling for 45 mins, but it is needed and really hits home all their points they have culminated and projected to us.
Still No Idea is a lot of fun, a lot of food for thought and very much a show we need in the current climate.
3) http://getthechance.wales/2019/03/02/review-how-to-train-your-dragon-3-by-sian-thomas/. End of an era! I loved this series when I was in my early teens and kept a close hold of it all the way until the end. I cried when I saw it in the cinema, at the end, when Hiccup and Toothless went their separate ways and then saw each other again a good number of years later. An amazing film about people and creatures and their relationships. Also, visually stunning. Animation is a top tier medium.
Personal: I finished my first year of university this year, and did so well in my classes that the university gave me a cash prize. There was a chance for people to win £1000 by getting a really good mark for their first year, and I had no idea about it until I received an email saying I’d won. Which was amazing news! It made me really proud of my both my actual work and my work ethic from the first year. It was a big academic confidence boost!
With such a cornucopia of goodies on offer theatre-wise during the past year, it isn’t easy to single out just three. For my money, two of these have to be musical theatre productions: Kinky Boots and Les Misérables, both staged in the Donald Gordon Theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre.
First on my list has to be Les Misérables. Cameron Mackintosh’s production, first staged
almost a decade ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Les Mis,
once again proved what a sure-fire winner it is. Grand theatre at its best, top
of the tree for music, lyrics, storyline et al.
A privilege to watch, all presented by a multi-talented cast, among them
Welsh actor Ian Hughes as a nimble-footed Thenardier who brought the audience
to its feet on opening night with his uproariously funny rendering of Master
of the House.
Closely followed, I must admit by Kinky Boots which
was, start to finish, a joy to watch. So
much more than “Just another musical,” it has at its heart a subject which nowadays
is treated in most cases empathetically but which was by any means the case
only a few short years ago. I refer to
transgender. Kinky Boots tackles this head on, with the
occasional heartbreak mixed with the fun and verve which is characteristic of
this amazing show, all dished out by a superb cast.
On to number three – also at the WMC, home of Welsh National
Opera who once again proved what a top-notch company they are with their new
production of Bizet’s Carmen. An operatic sizzler with wonderful
music, the story of the torrid but doomed relationship of the gypsy girl Carmen
and her solder lover is given a contemporary twist by director Jo Davies which
works brilliantly, with the added advantage of French being the native tongue of
mezzo soprano Virginie Verrez in the title role. With the mesmeric Habanera in
Act I, wonderful music and at times gut-wrenching libretto, this Carmen is
proof – if, indeed, proof was needed – that a new slant on an old favourite can
And now to the best “Cultural experience.” I am going to go off piste here, for to my
mind it has to be the film Solomon and Gaenor, given a twentieth
anniversary screening at Chapter with the film’s writer/director Paul Morrison,
producer Sheryl Crown and leading lady Nia Roberts on stage afterwards for a Q
and A. The Oscar-nominated and BAFTA
award-winning film, with dialogue in Welsh, English and Yiddish, set in the
Valleys back in the time of the Tredegar riots, tells the story of forbidden
love between a young Jewish peddler and a young girl from a strict Chapel going
Pinpointing how attitudes have changed, despite still – as Morrison commented during the discussion afterwards – having a way to go, Solomon and Gaenor, shown as part of the Jewish Film Festival, is riveting from start to finish in a drama that is upfront and unique in its presentation.
2019 was a brilliant year for Welsh theatre, a real
abundance of riches across the stages of Cardiff. American Idiot started off
the year with a bang, Peter Pan Goes Wrong brought comedic chaos, and Curtains
brought the kind of vintage charm you can only usually find among the bright
lights of Broadway and the West End. Narrowing it down is a tricky task, but
there were a few shows that stood out among the rest for me…
#3: The Creature (Chapter Arts Centre)
In what daily seems like an increasingly unkind, apathetic world, The Creature was a beam of hope in a dark time that didn’t shy away from trauma or tragedy but which held with it the promise of a better future – if we fight for it. It seemed perfectly tailored to me and my research interests – a modern take on the criminal justice system via a pseudo-Frankenstein adaptation, it hooked into my soul and still hasn’t let go. I’m eagerly anticipating the future endeavours of this fantastic creative team.
#2: Cardiff Does Christmas – Cinderella (New Theatre) and
The Snow Queen (Sherman Theatre)
The Christmas shows this year were the best I’ve had the privilege of seeing in quite some time. Cinderella was the show that reignited my long-dormant love of panto and saw the season in with festive cheer, while Sherman Theatre’s The Snow Queen was brimming with Christmas magic and a sweet tale of friendship, courage, and the fight against seemingly-insurmountable odds – a message we could all use about now.
#1: Hedda Gabler (Sherman Theatre)
It’s become increasingly apparent to me that the Sherman is
the soul of contemporary Welsh theatre – consistently producing creative,
fascinating and timely plays ‘rooted in Wales but relevant to the world’, as AD
Joe Murphy said of his artistic vision. Their staging of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler was
an utterly stunning adaptation that haunts me to this day – and Prof Ambreena
Manji and I were blessed to be able to bring our Law and Literature students to
the production as we’re studying the text this year. You know it’s a roaring
success when the students want to write their coursework on Hedda!
Reviewing for Get the Chance has been my cultural highlight, which includes being continually in awe of the kindness and generosity of the Sherman, New Theatre and Chapter: the future of Welsh Theatre is in good hands indeed!
Losing Home, My 2019 Highlight, Les Misérables, Eva Marloes
As 2019 comes to a close, so vanishes the last hope of stopping Brexit. It is decided. Parliament has agreed our ‘divorce’ from the EU. Some feel elated, some relieved, some dejected. The morning after the 2016’s referendum, some people in Britain woke up and felt stripped of their very identity. The EU question was never about rules and regulations, trade agreements or sovereignty; it was about identity. In the political debate, only the Leave side appealed to identity. The European identity of many Remainers was and still largely is neglected. This is what makes Mathilde Lopez’s interpretation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables so poignant. It gave voice to the emotional attachment to the EU some people have always felt or have begun to feel once that belonging came under threat.
The beauty of Lopez’s take on Hugo’s masterpiece lies in interweaving the ‘small’ lives of individuals with the ‘big’ events of history. It is personal and political. It speaks of today by reaching into the past. With Les Misérables, Lopez brings together the battle of Brexit with that of Waterloo. It is a tragi-comedy that makes the lives of ordinary people part of history. Amidst the blood of Waterloo, the crisps devoured while listening to the referendum results, and the summer music of holiday-makers, we experienced the banality and significance of the Brexit decision.
The play was fun and moving. It was original, innovative, and thoughtful. It wasn’t perfect and wasn’t the best show I’ve seen in 2019 (that should go to WNO’s Rigoletto), but it was the most significant of what the country is going through. By mixing the escapism of the holiday feel with the horror of Waterloo and the shock of people watching the referendum results coming in, Les Misérables captures the closeness and distance we feel when caught in events of historical significance.
In one night, something changed radically. For European citizens in Britain, Brexit has created insecurity about their status, brought extra costs to get documentation that might allow them to stay, and has made them vulnerable to attack and insults. They don’t belong. The nostalgic identity the ideologues of Brexit have conjured is too narrow and homogeneous for some British people too. They too don’t belong. As Britain seeks to close its borders and refashion a nationalistic identity, some of us have lost their home.
In my review of Lopez’s Les Misérables, I wrote that the play appealed to faith, hope, and love. It was an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Hugo described Waterloo as ‘the beginning of the defeat.’ As the first phase of Brexit concludes, it is tempting to use Hugo’s words for Brexit as the defeat of the dream of an inclusive and welcoming society, but it is not over. Nostalgia is incapable of meeting the challenge of the present, let alone of envisioning a future. That is for us to do. It is for all of us to imagine our future and rebuild our home. It begins now.
(My behind the scene article on the production Les Misérables can be found here)
Bodyguard at The WMC
The biggest and boldest production I have ever seen with music that has become iconic.
Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre Company
A fantastic piece of theatre thy showed the true meaning of inclusivity while also showing an unique art form of puppeteering.
A fantastic and modern piece of theatre that literally gave a voice to someone who doesn’t have one.
Pavilion, Theatr Clwyd
A sharp and witty ode to small town Wales, Emily White has produced a great piece of engaging drama out of the mundane, the everyday. With recognisable characters brought to life by a hugely talented cast, this represents an excellent debut for a Welsh writer whose talent is sure to be noticed.
Writer Fflur Dafydd continues to demonstrate why she is one of Wales’ foremost scriptwriters with this intriguing mystery drama. Her intimate characterisation and weaving narrative kept viewers gripped right to final moments of its eight-part run.
A really important and culturally significant film, providing a fascinating insight into the Welsh language music scene. Huw Stephens deserves huge credit for spearheading it. I urge you to see it if you can’.
Cotton Fingers, NTW by Rachel Trezise and On Bear Ridge, NTW by Ed Thomas, both at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Having returned from University in Brighton this year, it was brilliant to see the Sherman Theatre flourishing as much as it was when I left Cardiff 3 years ago. The detail that went into Cai Dyfan’s set design for On Bear Ridge was incredible to witness. His level of craftsmanship, often only found in commercial and west end theatres, was a delight to see on a smaller, regional stage.
Meanwhile, a more stripped back Cotton Fingers let its script do all the talking and was skill-fully delivered by actor Amy Molloy.
Shout out must go to Katherine Chandler for her play Lose Yourself, also at the Sherman Theatre. Although I did not review this play, it was definitely one of my highlights of 2019. Gut-wrenching for all the right reasons, its finale left the audience silent. I’ll never forget heaviness in the air at the end of play felt by everyone in the audience who just experienced something very important together.
Personal cultural event of 2019: Slowthai at Glastonbury – never before have I been so instantly hooked on an artist I’ve never listened to before. The way he riled up the crowd with his boisterous, unapologetic stagemanship was incredible to witness and I haven’t stopped listening to him since.
Christmas Carol, Theatr Clwyd
A thoroughly enjoyable interactive performance that communicated much of what Dickens intended yet had a lightness of touch, an impish humour and a sense of occasion that made it well suited to a Christmas show.
I walked into Kinetic Theatre Arts performance of Ghosts knowing very little about the story. I obviously knew it was based on the movie which involved Patrick Swayze and I was familiar with the iconic pottery with a ghost scene but apart from that, I knew nothing. So I was really excited to watch this production and it did not disappoint. In fact, this show was one of the most professional feeling amateur shows that I have ever seen. Every single person who was involved in this show clearly worked extremely hard to make sure everything was perfectly ready for the audience to watch.
The lead character of Sam Wheat is a massive role to take on especially in this musical as it was played in the movie by the legend Patrick Swayze, on top of this in the musical it is a very difficult part to perform as the vocal ability required is very high but Jack Williams (who played this character in Kinetics performance) did seem fazed in the slightest. He was boldly confident throughout, stayed in character constantly while on stage, his singing was amazing and he also appeared to have a great relationship with all the other cast members which was clear to the audience through the dynamics on stage. He clearly has a bright future ahead of him and is some to look out for as I know he will make it big someday. The only issue I have with this character is not based on Jack’s portrayal but rather a creative decision. There was a guitar on stage which was used for the song ‘Unchained Melody’ and while I understand the importance of guitar playing in this song it was quite distracting for the actor to be mining playing the guitar. This is not an issue with jacks acting as he tried very hard to make this look as realistic as possible but it was clear it wasn’t him playing which was very off-putting for the audience.
Molly who was Sams love interest in this story was played by Sophie baker who blew everyone away with her incredible singing. She posses an extremely strong powerful voice and was able to manipulate the audience’s emotions perfectly. One of the stand moments for this character appeared in the song “With You” which was a pure showcase of Sophie singing talent. It was beautifully performed and had many audience members very close to tears. Despite the power of Sophie’s voice, she was also able to balance the more vulnerable and weaker side of character excellently. Jack and Sophie clearly have great chemistry as there two characters gave a realistic and believable performance as a couple which was fantastic to watch. There duet ‘Here Right Now’ was impeccable. The voices blended beautifully together to deliver this emotionally charged song in a way that it was heartfelt and felt real to the audience which is obviously very important for any performer.
Sam and Molly’s closest friend in this story is a character called Carl who was played by Taylor Morris who is also an extremely talented performer. Taylor has a kind and lovable air to him which he utilised in this character perfectly and made the shocking revelations even more impactful. The partnership of Taylor and Jack was clearly very strong and they have wonderful chemistry with their friendship clear to see on the stage. Their two voice combined beautifully in songs which they appeared together and they are I excitedly wait for another production was these two stars in the making get to work together again. Taylor managed to portray both sides of the character perfectly as well as having the internal plucky desperation that fitted his character to a tee. This role played on every one of Taylor’s strengths and he seemed to excel in a darker role than I am used to seeing him in. With this in mind, I am excited to see where he ends up and look forward to seeing him play some more sinister roles specifically in the future.
The highlight in this show was Oda-mae who was played by Rhian Holmes. I have to be honest at first I was apprehensive of the iconic role (originally played by the remarkable Whoopi Goldberg) being adapted to fit the cast available but Rhian’s portrayal was OUT OF THIS WORLD! The creative team who developed the scene in which Oda-mae makes her big entrance absolutely nailed it. This scene did everything it needed to and more. From the inclusion of two sparkly dresses support actresses (Taylor-Paul and jasmine Muscat) to the choreography, costumes to Rhian’s actual physicalisation of the character everything was just so spot on. This character goes on a journey from the audience perspective from a clear fraud and theft to a loveable character by the end of the story and this is done, I believe mostly through her songs. Songs such as ‘Out of Here’ and ‘Do you Believe?’ were excellently performed by Rhian who had the audience laughing through with her quick wit and sarcastic nature as well as demonstrating here wonderful singing. Rhian is clearly a very talented and professional performer as there was a small mistake with a prop and instead of her letting that put her off, she simply continued the scene, swiftly turned her back to the audience when the prop was in use which many people in the audience would not have noticed something was wrong which goes to demonstrate Rhian quick thinking and professionalism. Ignoring the performance side of this character he best thing about Rhian’s portrayal was that she was evidently enjoying her time on stage and was having fun in the role. She had a sensible sense of joy and fun which was the icing of the top of this wonderful cake.
Lewys Ringham’s portrayal as the hired hand/thug Willie Lopez was extremely good that it was actually unsettling for the audience when he appeared on stage. He provides one of the most shocking moments in the entire show which had an audible gasp from the audience. My only qualm with this character is that is was clearly written for a Mexican influenced actor with the vocabulary and vernacular clearly demonstrating that but instead in this version, Willie spoke with a Brooklyn accent which obviously adds to the threading nature of the role but was a bit surprising to listen to. The subway ghost in this production was played by Ethan Davies who also gave a very aggressive and intense portrayal of the character. Due to the costume and characterisation, this roles did give off Neo (from The Matrix franchise) vibes which actually worked excellently. His song ‘Focus’ was very entertaining to watch while also being very tense which is very difficult to do and show Ethan’s talent for performing. In general, the entire show contained a superb ensemble who clearly worked just as hard as and felt just as valued as the lead roles.
I was surprised at how an amateur production can feel so professional and nail all the technical aspects of this massive show. The opening set of a newly discovered room was incredible. It was everything it needed to be to demonstrate a room while looking artistic and stylish. This amazing set did, however, make some of the other backdrops of the scene a little disappointing but the standard raised again during the official based scenes. The set used for the scenes that take place in a train was beautiful and allowed the actors to have a space to perform complex fight scenes while the audience can clearly see they took place in a train. This was again incredible to see. The actual death of the characters were somewhat confusing. After they died they were carried off by mysterious men in black which were cleverly done but the actual deaths were unusual. Each person had a sort of body double (although they looked nothing like the person they were supposed to represent) and when a character died the body double has become a dead body and the original actor would become a ghost. While I understand why this was done and I personally can’t think of a better alternative, this was very confusing to follow for the audience. We also had someone who was evidently missing a prop at the beginning of act two and while they didn’t appear dazed and they continued the number anyway, it was clear a prop was missing which did look strange from the audience perspective.
In general, this is an incredible show that had a truly professional feel, and Insanely talented cast and obviously an insane team working behind the scenes. There isn’t many amateur productions that I have seen where the cast receive a standing ovation from every member of the audience. I would rate this show 4 and a half stars and would recommend everyone to watch ghost before it departs and keep an eye out of Kinetics next production as they are not to be missed!
A Christmas Carol, a real cracker or just plain humbug?
Would this presentation stay true to Dickens’ novella? Would it be accessible to children or would they be rather sucking on a bag of humbugs by the end? These two questions were answered in a resoundingly positive way as the cast and crew at Theatr Clwyd rose to the challenge with aplomb.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable interactive performance that communicated much of what Dickens intended yet had a lightness of touch, an impish humour and a sense of occasion that made it well suited to a Christmas show. The script, an adaptation by Alan Harris incorporated plenty of Dickensian language and picked up many of the paradigms that pervade this well known story. These included the heartless materialism that Victorian London exhibited alongside the powerless struggle against deprivation experienced by the poor.
The cast was a mixture of professional and community actors and while all the professionals stood out, there was no perceivable divide between the two elements and they communicated a real sense of enjoyment plus feelings of teamwork and unity. This places the production firmly in the footsteps of community and promenade productions such as the Great Gatsby and Mold Riots. It has been great to see such creativity and ambition coming from the Theatr and it is exciting to see so many local people so eager to take part in this type of production.
The play used two adjacent settings in the theatre, one space transformed into a street market where the audience mingled freely with the cast. Audience members were given a token to exchange for a sample of local produce and this set the tone for the interactive nature of this production. Being so close to the action immerses you into the experience and builds empathy for the characters. However it was hard to imagine it was a cold December day when the place was so hot!
The second space staged the visitations of the three Christmas ghosts to Ebenezer Scrooge, played excellently by Steven Elliot. The transformation of Scrooge from a money grabbing miser who showed little sympathy for the human condition to one shocked into generosity of spirit was plain to see. In another subtle layer, the play explored the reasons why Scrooge was so miserly. Had he not been neglected as a child, would he have been so surly?
The sets, light and sound created a gently intimidating atmosphere that was appropriate for a production open to children. My only problem was that when an actor had their back to you it was hard to hear them. The first transition between the two rooms felt slow and slightly awkward, but the second seemed much smoother and served to transform the mood successfully from Scrooges depressive night adventures to an optimistic Christmas Day.
The bleakness and intensity of those ghostly confrontations was broken up with a few pantomime style games that helped maintain concentration for people young and old. It was good to see even quite young children taking part. Yet despite considerable phase and change in the play it did not lose its pace or rhythm and those interactive activities did not detract from the story, rather they were worked seamlessly into the production.
This play to me was most enjoyable. I particularly liked the performance of Bob Cratchit (Matthew Bulgo) and of Tiny Tim (Lewis Lowry) who brought a stubborn optimism to contrast the materialistic ignorance of Scrooge. As with many stories, it is great to see the underdog triumph in adversity especially when celestial help was required. It has made for a most pleasant addition to my Christmas celebrations. Christmas Cracker or mere humbug? I saw a bag of unopened humbugs by the door as I left.
I hadn’t realised how much I had needed Red until I went to see it. Although primarily a show for young audiences (Age 7+), this is a show that will entice and delight from the get-go. Inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, audiences are drawn into the wonderful world of Amazon-esque delivery couriers Jones and Groves. The two playfully navigate the mysterious woods as they struggle to deliver a special package to a cottage well off the beaten track. Along the way they encounter a curious ‘tree dweller’ chap called Peter.
Actor Connor Allen (who some regular theatre goers might recognise from the Sherman’s ‘Bird’ production) is a great addition to Hazel Anderson and Ellen Groves (who brought us the stunning production ‘The Giant That Had no Heart In His Body’). There is something so watchable and endearing about Allen’s vulnerability on stage that makes him a delight to watch. It’s also wonderful to see more creative brilliance from Director Hannah McPake, co-founder of Gagglebabble whose previous show Wonderman I had enjoyed so much.
Don’t expect big fanciful sets and props here, the magic of this show is the pictures they paint with the stripped-down set. Scaffolding becomes a tree, a cottage and a bush, pool noodles become spider legs, an old Ikea bag turned inside out doubles as a dung beetle costume. There is wonderful interplay and energy between the cast, who riff off one another and egg each other on.
Audience members are given a ‘special briefing’ on the way in. We are now pigeons and some audience members become involved in the ‘special mission’ itself. We coo throughout the performance and at one point, we all stand up and perform some aerobics. This isn’t just a show about delivering the package and the link with Little Red Riding Hood is almost secondary to the real story of the play. That our fear of the unknown is almost primal, handed down to us by parents or others. The day after the election results (when this play opened), this feels almost intuitively timely.
“Why are you scared of wolves?” one of the characters asks.
Was it the claws and the fangs and the fact they want to eat little children?
As the contents of the package are revealed, the play asks us to ponder the possibility that actually WE are the wolves, that wolves are within us all. Wolves, forests, new places, scary quests that test you and your bravery. All these can be monstrous until and unless you face your fears.
It’s subtle and clever storytelling that weaves stereotypes, myth and legends with the whimsical, silly and imaginative.
They do so incredibly well to blend all elements together in a way which will envelope you until you feel like you’re up on the scaffolding with them.
The quips, gags and clowning that Hazel Anderson and Ellen Groves add to the mix are spectacular. There are no groans or polite chuckles here. Expect gutsy belly laughs and un-self-conscious comments/suggestions shouted out from the little ones in the audience. It feels brilliantly intimate and homespun, like as if your mad aunties are doing a turn in the living room and Nan’s been on the sherry again.
Little audience members will love the montage routine, circus skills, dream beavers and jazz badgers. It’ll all make perfect sense once you have stepped into the forest. Oh…if you can’t find it on the ‘magic map’ that looks like Antarctica, it’s near Tesco Express.
Better than pantomime, with better gags and more imaginative costumes – this is a first-class family experience and definitely not to be missed.
Pantomime is such a fantastically British art form; a sarcastic blend of slapstick, farce and musical comedy that feels inextricably interwoven with the festive season, brimming with daft jokes for the kids and innuendo for the adults. But panto and I haven’t always been on the best of terms. Our conscious uncoupling resulted from the traumatizingly formative pantomime experience of my youth where everything was too loud, too overwhelming, and too upsetting because one of the ugly stepsisters hit on my grandpa – while my grandma was sitting RIGHT NEXT TO HIM. None of us went home filled with Yuletide joy that night – witnessing ‘Allo ‘Allo’s Sue Hodge try to chat up a close family member does slightly dull your enthusiasm for the medium, it turns out – and I’ve never been to another panto since. Until now…
As luck would have it, it’s another iteration of Cinderella that’s got me tentatively dipping my toe back into the panto pool. Decreed by this production as ‘the Fairy Godmother of all pantomimes’, Cinderella is the ultimate Christmas classic, a story so familiar you could probably shout out the lines in your sleep – and this new production is filled with enough glitz, glamour and giggles to remind you why it’s one of the ultimate feel-good fairy tales. I entered the theatre with not a little trepidation and brought backup in the form of my grandpa (not the one Sue Hodge tried to pick up; pretty sure that one’s off panto for life), and left it singing, laughing, and wishing for an encore!
Musical director Michael Morwood’s scintillating New Theatre orchestra makes a joyful noise (their rendition of Pure Imagination, a recurring musical motif, is utterly magical) and the production values are uniformly amazing, from the incredible sets and visual effects to the gorgeous costumes and choreography. Pantos tend to keep up to date with the music of their time – remember S Club 7’s appearance in that Aladdin panto ITV used to rerun every Christmas in the early ‘00s? This reviewer fondly does – and Cinderella has its fair share of modern(ish) tunes on its slate from the likes of Beyonce, the Jonas Brothers, Shawn Mendes and Pink, as well as some campy classics by Shirley Bassey and Gloria Gaynor.
The cast is stellar across the board, but it’s Gok Wan as the Fairy Gokmother (!) that’s maybe the most perfect, meta casting choice of all – because who better to play the ultimate fairy tale makeover guru than the man who taught a nation how to look good naked? Have no fear: there’s no nudity here, as the cast are fabulously costumed to Wan’s high standards. Wan leads the show with effortless charm, wrangling some sense out of the wacky proceedings and making a grand entrance into every scene via sparkly explosion or flying moon. He also accidentally lobbed a bunch of toilet rolls into the audience during a deliciously chaotic rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas, which is the kind of quality ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ goof you just don’t get in your bog-standard (pun intended) end-of-year production.
Phil Butler is amazing as the lovably lovelorn Buttons, pining unrequitedly for Teleri Hughes’ lovely Cinderella. Butler channels the keenly controlled mania of Lee Evans (a compliment I wouldn’t give lightly), playing especially well off of his co-master of ceremonies Gok Wan, and had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Butler’s delivery transforms every line into a zinger – I was responsible for the loudest guffaw when Buttons claimed to be in his mid-thirties (alarming evidence that I’m turning into my grandma who, when we saw 12 Angry Men at the New Theatre some years ago, watched Tom Conti walk onstage and proclaimed in the loudest stage whisper in the history of theatre, ‘That’s not Tom Conti, is it? My God, he’s looking old!’)
Hughes’ Cinders and Rob Wilshaw’s Prince Charming don’t have the meatiest material but they perform their roles beautifully and lay claim to the loveliest duet, a surprisingly emotional version of Shawn Mendes’ If I Can’t Have You. They also get to flex their comedic chops during a hilarious cover of Beyonce’s Listen, a poignant ballad broken up by a jealous Buttons repeatedly asking Cinderella ‘Who’s that bloke?’ Dale Evans particularly stands out as Dandrini, the Prince’s best friend, who seems like the lovechild of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender and who shares with Wilshaw an exciting cover of Jonas Brothers’ Sucker and belts out an epic solo version of Pink’s Get the Party Started, backed by the excellent ensemble dancers. (Regan Gascoigne and Nathan Skyrme were on particularly lively form).
But let’s be honest: this show belongs to the ugly stepsisters, and Ceri Dupree and Mike Doyle as the winkingly-named Tess and Claudia own the stage whenever they strut onto it. Doyle, an award-winning comedian, returns here for his seventh consecutive year as the New Theatre’s panto stalwart; a performer hasn’t got this much joyous mileage out of a Welshily-drawled ‘alriiiiiiight’ since Nessa Jenkins, and he wears the ever-living hell out of the eye-poppingly inventive costumes – designed by Ceri Dupree, who also plays the Tess to his Claudia. Dupree, an international cabaret star, is the show’s secret weapon, countering Doyle’s outrageous bawdiness with an elegantly deadpan aloofness – and by God he knows how to wear a gown. The revolving runway of their increasingly garish costumes is a gag that never gets old – at various points Doyle dresses in outfits that variously evoke a bee, a lampshade and set of traffic lights, and early on in the show the sisters emerge from the stage garbed in what I can only describe as nightmarishly horticultural French and Saunders cosplay. Their Shirley Bassey-off alone is something you have to witness with your own eyes.
I’ll try not to spoil too many of the jokes here because watching them unfold live is a delight you should experience for yourselves – and (thankfully for this introvert) audience participation is limited to your standard ‘OH NO IT ISN’T’ fare, not the ‘dragging someone onstage’ nightmares that have haunted my dreams in the run-up to this performance. I was especially delighted to see so many Welshisms in the show that gave it a personal feel: from Buttons’ snarky asides about Ely and Butetown to the prince inviting such nobles as Megan of Mynachdy to the ball, it’s wonderfully tailored to Welsh audiences.
Cinderella was the show which reignited the snuffed flame of panto love in my heart, and for that I’ll forever be grateful. It’s total escapism; a show brimming with joy, jokes and genuineness that made me forget the worries of the world for two hours, and it’s the ultimate family show because it absolutely has something for everyone. ‘The word for it is magical,’ my grandpa declared after it ended, and I couldn’t agree more: not only will you go to the ball, you’ll have one too!