Category Archives: Theatre

Review HOOD, Sherman Youth Theatre by Eifion Ap Cadno

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I avoid front row seats. As an actor, I have looked into the audience to see encouraging smiles and familiar faces, to find my friend fast asleep. I too am prone to drifting off, only to wake with a start and gasp. So, I was a little apprehensive taking my front row seat for Sherman Cymru’s youth theatres production of HOOD.

I needn’t have worried.

As part of National Theatre Connections, Katherine Chandler’s  new play will be performed around the UK by a multitude of youth theatre companies, with Sherman’s Group 3 kicking it off.

It is the story of an impoverished, dysfunctional family. The mother has run off with another man; the father, devastated, never leaves his armchair but escapes reality through drink, lies, and The Waterboys. The five teenage children are left to fend for themselves as Hood, the eldest, tries to keep them together and retain a modicum of normality.

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Apparently forty minutes long was the specification for this piece. However, it sailed past that and dropped anchor beyond an hour. Things are twice as good, half as long, and the text would benefit from further editing.

Certain repeated jokes wore thin quickly: for example, that the mother ran off with a “vegetarian”, and that this should be so ridiculous was funny the first, perhaps even the second time, but there it could have ended. Although that he is later caught licking bacon, wonderful!

Some of Katherine Chandler’s strongest writing was the quickest: when Naz asks John if he’s travelled, he replies “I’ve been to Anglesey”; and I was equally interested in the silent Muz, played by the engaging Phoebe Ward.

The stark and striking set, designed by Bethany Seddon, consisted of a few items of furniture, scrubbed blackboard walls and two doors on either side. Above, a small chorus of young hoodies open and close the play from the balcony.

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This bare set is brought to life with strong lighting design by Ace McCarron and Michael Yellop, as the cast invade, covering the floor with litter and the walls with writing which preludes the script to come. Surprisingly hypnotic, there is something very exciting about watching others write on such a scale. Later, water is thrown against this chalky canvas, creating a great splash effect, before it’s all scrubbed clean.

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Director Phillip Mackenzie and Sound Designer Sam Jones have chosen a strong soundtrack that really affects the mood and quality of the action onstage. Soft, resonant Hang is contrasted with the heavier, deeper sounds of Burial. Much of the music is familiar to me having previously worked with Phil, but there is good reason he returns to it – I couldn’t help but seat-dance a little.

As a director, he is known for his use of the ensemble in his physical theatre. I have been a part of this ensemble, and so cannot claim to be wholly unbiased, but it is my first time in the audience at one of his productions.

From the start there is a tangible physical charge, the chorus engaging in a restrained yet bold series of gestures and shapes.

The peak for me came at the height of a crescendo, where amidst all the noise Muz, mute until now, finally breaks down and screams, silently at first. A genuine, tingly-all-over-shiver-down-spine moment.

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Once the worst of the teenagers’ fears – that they could be taken into care – are over, to avoid what otherwise might be too happy an ending, the characters dance elatedly before falling down in a collective fit of spasms. Never has a collective fit of spasms made for an assuredly happy ending.

Aside from these more intricate moments, Phil hands the responsibility and ownership of the text over to the young cast.

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Aged 16-17, these actors form a strong company and are an asset to the Sherman. The talent of all of the creative’s involved in this production meant that not once was I conscious I was watching a youth theatre piece rather a true ensemble piece of contemporary theatre at Sherman Cymru.

I feel a special mention should be made of Mali O’Donnell for her confident, considered performance as John.

For anyone interested in joining this youth theatre, more information can be found here http://www.shermancymru.co.uk/youth-theatre/

 

All photograph by Nick Allsop

Review Made In Dagenham Adelphi Theatre by Hannah Goslin

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Many in London are talking about Made in Dagenham. Set close to London in Essex, it’s only a short tube journey to find the real town yourself. But was bringing it to the West End the best idea?

The story sees a group of women during the 1950’s working for the car manufacturer Ford. Some of their husbands, including the main character’s (played by Gemma Arterton) working side by side with them in the factory. This fictional tale comes from the film in 2010 and highlights the inequality of women in the work place and how a lack of equal pay shows the continued discrimination of women.

As someone who has not seen the film, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting; and yet I still am not sure. As a musical, there are catchy songs and liberating ones; as a feminist, the story appealed to me and I so wanted to like it. Moments I enjoyed were the mixture of comical to fiercely independent songs, highlighting the stupidity of the government and women’s empowerment. There were character’s that were exaggerated stereotypes or parodies of public figures and they gave a chuckle and a giggle at interludes in the storyline.

However, it seems this production couldn’t make its’ mind up. It either had to be comical, or hard-hitting but it failed to be able to do both. While I didn’t find myself bored, I still expected there to be more. The director took a nice approach in bringing characters into the audience with spotlights, but without any real interaction with the audience, not even eye contact, this seemed a little futile.

My disappointment finished at Arterton’s performance. As a great fan on hers in many films, I was excited to see her on stage, in the flesh. However, with her character being quite plain and the more serious of the group of women, she struggled to stand out. The performances of exaggerated characters unfortunately overshadowed her and her great talent.

Over all, this happy-ended revolution of women and what we continue to strive for is feel good and nice to walk away from. But it is only nice, and not as astounding as one was expecting.

Review Scottsboro Boys Garrick Theatre by Hanna Goslin

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The tale of the Scottsboro Boys is a tough story to believe. Based on true events, this musical looks at the story of the falsely accused southern black young men of a rape on a train. The satirical play shows the injustice and the apartheid in southern America… something that seems strange for a musical, no?

Cleverly, the writers of this performance have hit on a range of events of this era (1930’s onwards) of this appalling discrimination. Setting the group of black performers to perform their story as a minstrel show, we begin to see how mistreated these humans were. There’s an element of comedy but more of a focus on the ridiculous nature of views of this time and with this in mind, these accomplished performers produce a stunning and hard-hitting performance.

Instead of using a range of cast to perform the parts of the ‘white folk’, a handful of the performers used small costume changes and prop additions to highlight the change, but mostly this is shown in their over-acted and almost parody of these characters. Somehow, to see these parodies would sound unfitting for such a tough story, but it fits correctly to humiliate the wrong opinions, the poor reflection of  human nature and the insolence of these characters.

The Scottsboro Boys portrays a sad reality, with no happy ending. The musical numbers pull at the heart-strings and make you hate the white people who were wrong. And somehow, this seems a perfect way to bring this story to the forefront of the public. With a standing ovation and tears swept from the corners of many in the theatre, this performance is not only different but a daring addition to the West End.

Review The Play That Goes Wrong, Mischief Theatre at the Duchess Theatre By Hannah Goslin

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In the spacious Duchess theatre, The Play that Goes Wrong is a production exploring more than what it says on the tin!

The narrative created by Mischief Theatre is of an amateur company putting on a murder mystery play, but unknown to them, everything goes wrong. This begins as the theatre’s ushers open the curtains, letting us audience into our seats where two frantic ‘crew’ members are looking for a run away performer – the dog.

Many events go wrong from parts of the set coming apart, missing actors and forgotten scripts, ending in a huge climax of mishaps. This particular performance felt accomplished; with a group of school kids in the theatre, actors managed to easily interact with us with the use of improvisation and while we knew this was a scripted play, there was a great sense of these actors’ abilities to digress from the script and still manage to show professionalism and skill.

These latter attributes also manifested themselves in how well rehearsed the play is in relation to the safety of quite dangerous stunts, performed by the actors. While able to mix with each other and the set without injury, they still manage this and perform with humour and still in their characters.

The Play that Goes wrong at no point goes wrong in achieving their goal. With elements reminiscent of productions I’ve seen by Forced Entertainment, while not trying to Brecht-ify the audience, we are felt included in the humour and clumsiness that is this mishap of a murder mystery.

Following this show, Mischief Theatre will be performing one-off shows at the Duchess with ‘Lights, Camera, Improvise’ where this talented company will perform with a hint of forum theatre, using audience suggestions to influence what they produce. By seeing how well they can improvise, I am especially excited to see more from this talented company.

Review Blasted Sarah Kane The Other Room By Kaitlin Wray

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Credit: Pallasca Photography

The Other Room presented Sarah Kane’s blasted with all the brutality and intensity that was to be expected. Even though it was quite a small room they didn’t play down the acting at all which created a wave of uneasiness throughout the audience; especially the people sat in the front row. However how can you play down getting your eyes eaten out? It was definitely not a light hearted theatre trip out on a Friday night, yet if you think you can stomach it, its definitely a performance you don’t want to miss.

Due to the language content and the actions presented in the play, I was apprehensive about watching this performance. However, the talent of the actors and the carefully thought out directing choices by Kate Wasserberg made it hard hitting yet done tastefully presented at the same time.

It was dark comedy at its finest and I doubt I’ll ever see another show like it. The one liners by Christian Patterson playing Ian were perfectly timed,so that the audience couldn’t help but burst out laughing but then feel guilty for doing so after. Christian played the character Ian remarkably well, making us loathe him at the start but then finding ourselves sympathising with him towards the end of the production. Louise Collins, playing Cate, is an incredible actress and the role of Cate showcased that exceptionally. Simon Nehan playing the solider provided a lot of humour as well, especially with his broad Welsh accent. The conversation between the soldier and Ian had a lot of great emotion that provided a lot of hard hitting stories of the soldiers past. The relationships between each character on stage was so strong and powerful all the time that it provided humanity when there was none. The love Ian and Cate had for each other despite the action brought real sadness to the piece, every time they hugged or kissed after a fight it was so believable that it was heart wrenching. All three actors showed bravery to take on these roles where other actors would have turned them down in a heartbeat. What’s more is that they took them on tremendously well providing a real insight to the work of Sarah Kane.

The music, composed by Nick Gill provided not only contextual aspects within this performance but also paralleled with the emotion in the scenes. The use of simplistic tranquil piano scoring against the electronic music worked well with the dysfunction of the play. This created an oxymoronic feel to it which I believe enhanced the sympathy towards the characters in the play even more. The music showed the brutality of being at war and what it can do to people. The album is available to listen to on Nick Gill’s website, www.nickfuckinggill.com.

Overall, Kate Wasserburg should be commended for making Sarah Kane’s ‘Blasted’ work well on stage with the action being in such close proximity with the audience. This is a performance that is integral to go and watch if you call yourself a ‘theatre-goer’ as it’ll provide an experience you wont get with anything else. This play isn’t for everyone but if you think you’re strong enough to handle the content then you need to get down to Porter’s pub and step into the Other Room where you’ll be transported to a whole new wavelength.

Review Blasted Sarah Kane The Other Room by Sam Pryce

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The infamous work of Sarah Kane is always uncompromising and unflinching, arresting audiences from start to finish and confronting them with the horrors of the real world. Never could it been more‘in-yer-face’ than in this newly built pub theatre at Porter’s – the Other Room. Seating only around fifty people, one would assume that such an extreme play as Blasted would need somewhere a little bigger. However, the intimate space proved far more effective in challenging audiences with the potent imagery and powerful messages that lie at the dark heart of Sarah Kane’s unforgettable play.

In a lavish hotel room somewhere in Leeds, a mismatched couple enter. The audience may expect a bog-standard two-hander about relationships. From the obscene opening line though, it’s clear that this play eschews all boundaries. Excuse any spoilers. We are introduced to Ian (Christian Patterson), a repulsively crass, middle-aged tabloid journalist, and Cate (Louise Collins), a young woman who, by the end, is raped, abused, gives birth to a baby that dies, then eaten, all the while suffering epileptic fits. Later, we discover the violence and unease exists not only in the hotel room. Escaping from an apocalyptic war outside, a brutally sadistic soldier (Simon Nehan) arrives and inflicts similar pains upon Ian as Cate suffered. The play’s structure fragments, abandoning words and instead showing humans in their most pathetic, vulnerable and despicable states. Within these bleak and sickening closing scenes, here, the moments of pure clarity emerge. In the atrocious acts committed by Ian and the Soldier, a shred of humanity catches the light in a world of darkness. The brilliance of Sarah Kane’s writing is her ability to humanise even the most disgraceful characters.

The accomplished trio of actors demonstrate consistent and impressive performances. Louise Collins’ portrayal of Cate goes through an intriguing development. She begins as mentally unsound and vulnerable with the exuberance of a little girl, before hardening and growing despite her trauma. In the final tableau, Cate’s last act of kindness to Ian is incredibly moving and deftly directed by Kate Wasserberg, whose interpretation of Sarah Kane’s enigmatic writing is pitch-perfect.

Simon Nehan excels as a comically Welsh Soldier, who soon becomes wracked with suffering and malice in equal measure. Not to say the comedy detracted away from the harshness of the play; the comedy was impeccably handled. Indeed, often Kane writes some hilarious one-liners in amongst the suffering. Christian Patterson gives a stellar performance as Ian, switching from brutality to vulnerability within seconds – a fearless actor with a striking presence.

With a cleverly designed set and Nick Gill’s beautifully tragic score, there is very little, if anything, to criticise in this production. Only that, if you have a weak disposition, see it at your own risk. There are moments when the tension is at a heart-stopping level. But that is no flaw, quite the opposite in fact.

In short, a thrilling, deeply affecting revival of an eternally relevant play. Cathartic and exhilarating, this play leaves you in a similar state to the title and is a promising start to The Other Room’s ‘Life in Close Up’ season.
‘Blasted’ is at The Other Room at Porter’s Cardiff until 7th March.

Review Blasted, Sarah Kane, the Other Room by Eifion Ap Cadno

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The Other Room has undergone a transformation and after a certain amount of hype, has opened its floodgates with the aim of producing a torrent of new Welsh plays, as well as a foundation of post-1950 classics. The first of these is Blasted.

The bus journey home after seeing Blasted – my first live Sarah Kane play, having read them all – was an interesting one. Unsure of how I felt I started projecting my feelings onto the world around me. A large boxer dog was wailing loudly fairly continuously for a few minutes, before a man approached it with his own, smaller, more placid dog held under his arm, like a gun. He held his dog close to the boxer so that they could sniff each other for a while before he returned to his seat. The boxer fell silent, its anxiety eased.

I felt like that boxer. I wanted to howl with it. I needed someone to sniff, to connect with, and to understand.

Blasted is not a good play, nor an enjoyable play: those are simply the wrong words. It is one heck of an experience however, and you will feel something, whether that’s disgust or arousal, horror or empathy.

This is Sarah Kane’s first play, and when it opened at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1995 it was called a “disgusting piece of filth” by Jack Tinker of the Daily Mail. This opinion was shared by many.

However, many critics backtracked in subsequent years, such as The Guardian’s Michael Billington who said “I got it wrong”. Since her suicide in 1999 – leaving five plays and one short film behind – she has gained further reverence posthumously.

Blasted manages to pile horror upon horror. It is only by going to such dark extremes that certain philosophical ideas come to light, and a moral is found. What makes one death worse than another? A life more valuable? To paraphrase one of the lines: your arse is not special.

In the face of abjection, each character has their own defence mechanisms; their way of rationalising the irrational. It is a wonderfully complex exploration of human interaction and broken, vulnerable minds.

Louise Collins plays the innocent Cate, and manages to straddle the chasm between waif and harbinger-of-doom. She gives us and Cate her all, complete with tears, snot and unnerving blackouts. From the moment she steps fresh-faced and wide-eyed into the room, to the pallid, red-eyed bowing at the end, she undergoes a slow catharsis throughout the play. A brutal transformation and performance.

In contrast, Christian Patterson is the foul-mouthed, capricious Ian – a tabloid journalist paying for the two’s stay in a hotel in Leeds. He is every bit the antithesis of Cate, who he manipulates and hurts in order to appease himself. Christian bares all; despite his character’s anger and bigotry, he allows us to see the hurt and the fear. There is humour too, which bobs to the surface when desolation sits like oil.

If Ian is the great white, Simon Nehan gives us the Megalodon as the Soldier. He is vicious and feral; yet for all his barbarism he too is darkly comic. He executes the bloodiest and most heinous acts that society is too ashamed to call its own. Blasted is arguably an anti-war play; it certainly shows war to be the worst of humanity. Within a character that is extreme and highly symbolic, Simon mines little personal nuggets of truth and reason.

Director Kate Wasserberg has no doubt spent a long time with the actors, pushing them to places which had me squirming in my seat and neurotically twirling my pencil. A feeling of tension prevails throughout.

The production benefits from a commissioned soundtrack by composer Nick Gill. Piano, marimba, whisperings and static haunt and fill the darkness between scenes.

The Other Room really is small: with just 44 seats the audience are in the hotel room in Leeds, which despite being expensive looks unsettling from the start. A large and oppressive painting evocative of the River Styx hangs above the neatly-made bed, contrasting with angelic white curtains that surround the venue’s fire escape. There is a smoky whiff of The Royal Court.

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Kane said of the theatre “I keep coming back in the hope that someone in a darkened room somewhere will show me an image that burns itself into my mind”. Last night, completely by chance, a cloud of dense white smoke curled behind Ian and the Soldier, and formed what I thought was a ghost. I was simultaneously horrified and praising of the production values. It soon dissipated and I realised my mistake, but I am thankful The Other Room provided such a personal and uncanny experience.

To return to my bus journey home: I sat beside a man listening to heavy metal and thought how anxious and stressed I would be listening to that- why on Earth does he?

Then I realised, Blasted is heavy metal.

As part of The Other Room’s ‘Life in Close Up’ season, it runs until March 7th; tickets are available from their website www.otherroomtheatre.com.

I recommend getting along and seeing what this budding new theatre has to offer.

Review by Eifion Ap Cadno

Production photo by Pallasca Photography

Review Richard III Omidaze Productions, WMC by Kate Chadwick

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The atmospheric roof space at the Wales Millennium Centre was the perfect choice for director Yvonne Murphy in which to stage this promenade style performance of Richard III.
I must admit, I was a little apprehensive of both the all female cast and the prospect of standing for what is when performed as written a three-hour play. However, when I entered the space and the performance began these thoughts were lost from my mind.
The dark, cold metallic world created the production team was an appropriate setting for this plays themes of greed, power, murder and madness. The plot itself for someone who doesn’t know the play very well can be quite confusing and it cannot be expected of every audience member to understand every scene or speech from the play. However, the plays focus on Richard’s power hunger murderous journey towards power and ultimately death was clearly transferred across to the audience. The promenade style of performance added to this idea of Richards murderous journey, although for shorter audience members (such as myself) the view of the stage in some scenes was quite restricted. However, the clear delivery and energy given to the language still made scenes enjoyable.
The cast of 8 strong female performers made Shakespeare’s words leap off the page, their strong performances giving the language of arguably Shakespeare’s most famous history play new energy and meaning. To avoid confusion, it would have maybe have been a better choice to use a few more female actors to differ between characters, however the performers characterisation of each separate character created interesting interpretations, in particular I enjoyed the performance of Ana-Maria Maskell as Lady Ann and the presentation of the two young princes.
I am currently studying Richard III in university and therefore have been introduced to many of the interpretations of the character from Ian McKellen to Laurence Olivier. Without a doubt however, Mairi Phillips portrayal of charismatic, power-hungry and threatened king was my favourite. The performance did not lack any character because it wasn’t played by a man, Phillips played the character just as well as any man could (and undoubtably better). She demonstrated the charm and the greed of the character perfectly and the emotional climax of the character towards the end of the production showed the incredible range and talent of this actress.

This all female Omidaze production of a play made up of mostly male characters created a brilliant comment on an ancient world ruled by powerful men that in today’s current social climate of worldwide conflict made the play as relevant as it would have been at Shakespeare’s time, as well as demonstrating the need for more female focused plays to be written and produced. This production was incredibly exciting from start to finish and I hope to see more productions such as this coming from the company.

Review Arabian Nights, Sherman Cymru by Kaitlin Wray

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Arabian Nights, a perfect show for the whole family at Christmas time. Directed by Rachel O’Riordan was a show filled with endless energy and inventive inputs. This production is Rachel’s second at the Sherman Cymru Theatre and it is just as recommendable as the first- Romeo and Juliet.
This show presents themes of devastation, hope, forgiveness and love. It teaches us life lessons and the way not being able to forgive causes internal turmoil. Shahrazad, played by Elin Phillips is a headstrong, courageous girl, hoping to save the King’s mind (Ashley Alymann) who loathes all women. Due to his late-wife’s deceitfulness, every night he marries a daughter and then executes them the next morning. Shahrazad, with her magic of storytelling tries to get rid of all the pain and hatred the King has through the use of her enchanting stories.
There were eight actors on stage, all immersing themselves in different roles in the stories of One Thousand and One Nights. If they weren’t playing a character they were a part of the set which created a well timed unified performance. Their presence on stage was captivating and each one proved they were diverse performers. Even though there was a highly Eastern feel to the performance they snuck in the Welsh accent which provided a lot of comical entertainment, especially from Alun Saunders. I was also very happy to see the return of Anita Reynolds from Romeo and Juliet whom was just as amazing in this performance as she was in the last.
The aesthetics of the performance are something the designer, Hayley Grindle, should be proud of. The set was exemplary to the performance and the lighting choices, by Kevin Treacy were innovative. It included about a hundred light bulbs hanging down creating a starry night and a wonderful arabian atmosphere. The music, directed by Gareth Wyn Griffiths gave us a contextual insight and showcased that some of the performers weren’t just talented actors but skilled at playing musical instruments.
This show is filled with fun moments that had all generations in fits of laughter. Make time this Christmas and go to see this show with the whole family. It’s one not to be missed and will provide entertainment for all.

REVIEW Beauty & The Beast, Ballet Cymru by Tanisha Fair

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Ballet Cymru’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is really one to go and see.

The way that Beauty played by Lydia Arnoux dances really helps you understand the ballet with no words but her facial expression to movement it is all quite beautiful and elegant. I also loved the music that  gave the production a forest like atmosphere and at some points tense feeling, the Beast played by Mandev Sohki made the iconic character come to life. The Beasts costume created a towering imposing monster from the  wearing  of stilts gave him height and created an awkward and stubbing effect that helps Beauty fall in love with him and helps him to dance. The characters in the play like Beauty’s sisters, brothers and friends helped the scene changes they changed into dancing candles this made the play dynamic and different. The costume design was stunning and delicate my favourite outfit would have had to have been Beauty’s sisters red dresses I love the way that they moved when the sisters danced.

The scenery of the play was very simple but also interesting, I really liked how they initially showed Beauty’s house having a fire-place and then the outside snowflake background. Another thing that I thought was a good part of the ballet was when before it stated they had the rose from Beauty and the Beast projected on the screen, this begins to explain the story  of the fairy tale and how children will believe anything that you tell them. In my opinion I think the production is  brilliant and well worth going to see.