Category Archives: Theatre

Critics panel meets to short list for Theatre Critics Wales Awards.

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The TCWA panel met yesterday at Media Wales, Cardiff to discuss and decide upon the short list for the second Theatre Critics of Wales Awards, will take place on Saturday 25th January 2014 at Sherman Cymru.

Organised  by Response Wales, the TCWA’s will once again celebrate the range and diversity of the performing arts in Wales Jan-Dec 2013, as voted for by the critics. This years awards will include a public vote for best production in the English Language and in the Welsh Language which will be hosted by Media Wales and Golwg.

Nominations in all categories remain open until Dec 22nd 2013.

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Theatre Critics of Wales Awards panel meet to discuss nominations.

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The second Theatre Critics of Wales Awards, will take place on Saturday 25th January 2014 at Sherman Cymru.

Organised  by Response Wales, the TCWA’s will once again celebrate the range and diversity of the performing arts in Wales Jan-Dec 2013, as voted for by the critics.Members of the panel will meet this Friday to discuss the nominations, nominations remain open until the 22nd of Dec.

The  panel includes;

  • John Roberts               The Public Reviews
  • Sam Pryce                     Young Critic
  • Mike Smith                   Freelance Journalist
  • Sarah Finch                  Young Critic
  • Karen Price                   Media Wales
  • Adam Somerset           Theatre Wales Website
  • Pat Roper                      3rd Age Critic
  • Chelsey Gillard            Buzz Magazine
  • Gary Ramond              Wales Arts Review
  • Lowri Haf Cook           BBC Radio Cymru
  • Chris Howell                3rd Age Critic
  • Mark Rees                    South Wales Evening Post
  • Mark Thomas              Plastik Magazine
  • Charlie Hammond      Young Critic
  • Othniel Smith              British Theatre Guide
  • Michael Kelligan         Theatre Wales Website
  • Phil Morris                   Wales Arts Review
  • Elin Williams               Young Critics
  • Rachel Morgan            Young Critic
  • Brain Roper                  3rd Age Critic
  • Sioned Williams          Barn
  • Jaqui Onions                The Public Reviews

Review ‘Sue, The Second Coming’ Chapter Arts Centre “It is Sue-perb” Young Critic Sam Pryce.

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Photo Kirsten McTernan.

Sue – the lonesome, piano-plonking Christian – is back with a vengeance. In this, her ‘second coming’, she beckons us into her tastelessly-decorated living room, hands us a shot of eggnog and provides a festive freakshow armed with a piano, a soaring falsetto and a mini orchestra of deadpan, back-up Sues. After a cult-following developed at her Edinburgh Fringe show, My Name Is Sue, Sue is on tour to bring her unhinged joviality to audiences across the UK.

In a menacing medley of darkly funny ballads, Sue (embodied by the buttock-clenchingly hilarious Dafydd James) waxes lyrical on such subjects as the unfortunate vanishing of Macaulay Culkin, the lamentable tragedy of the Manky Goat and her intoxicated liaison with a dodgy Father Christmas.

In true seasonal spirit, the audience participates too in The Nativity According to Sue, in which Sue awaits the arrival of a new messiah from the very depths of her womb. Unsettled audience members are pulled up on stage to play wise men, lonely shepherds and the angel Gabrielle (‘Dreeeams can come true!’). It is Sue-perb.

The brilliantly disturbed minds behind this are Dafydd James and Ben Lewis, who, along with their indubitably talented company (Megan Affonso, Elena Pena and Francesca Simmons), have created something startlingly original that bears significance to almost nothing ever seen before in the comedy world. Although character comedy and comedy songs may be mediums that are considered to be one-dimensional, the company manage to blend in bracing musical interludes with a character exceedingly developed who has the (albeit slim) possibility of existing in the real world.

Sue Timms is a comic creation that has the potential to become something eternal in the comedy world. I know whose house I’m going to for Christmas dinner.

Review Script Slam, Sherman Cymru, Young Critic Sam Pryce

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Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre is turning forty, can you believe? And it doesn’t look a day over twenty-one. Since life is meant to begin at forty, the theatre has themed this year’s Script Slam around anniversary material symbols – paper for one year and ruby for forty, and so on. If, like I was, you are unfamiliar with the Script Slam palaver, it’s essentially a competition stretched over three nights, each night hosting three short and original plays from local playwrights. À la X Factor, each play is then critiqued by a panel of theatrical aficionados who ponder its profundity and its extendibility before the audience decides via show of hands. And it’s all very casual – I mean, the actors have their scripts in the hands, for one thing. However, I should say that the acting is consistently excellent from Sara Harris-Davies, Gareth Milton and Hugh Thomas – all of whom interpreted the pieces with accomplished panache.

The panellists in question on the first night were: Sherman Cymru’s Associate Director, Roisin McBrinn; Associate Producer of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, Michael Salmon; and Wales Arts Review’s Senior Editor, Gary Raymond. Every night also boasts a different director and Tuesday’s director was the brilliant Matthew Bulgo, one sixth of Dirty Protest, who you may have seen in I’m With The Band. Well, I did, anyway.

The first play of three was Neil Walden’s GM – a quaint piece about a jeweller in search of the gold he shall use for the Queen’s 40th anniversary wedding ring. It was humorous in places and the characters well-honed but I could source no meaning behind it. Perhaps it was simply following the brief. This led it to receive from the audience no favouring hands. But who knows? I could’ve misinterpreted it completely. Walden’s no stranger to misunderstanding of his work. He once won an award for horror writing for what he thought was a comedy.

The second came from previous Script Slam winner, Neil Bebber. He brought us Together – not literally; that’s its name. This play brought us a wonderfully detestable couple who had been bound to each other for forty years and couldn’t wait until death could finally part them. Through acerbic remarks to and fro, we discover the sexual escapades and liaisons each party had indulged in throughout their relationship. It’s a savagely funny play with echoes of Pinter-esque wit but a truly original tone. My hand thrust up for this one. In the air, of course.

And the last was A Very Modern Office by David Harris – a delightful, faintly absurdist story about change and its effects. A man goes about his business in what he believes to be his lifelong office where he works with paper and paper alone. At least until a young temp visits. He then discovers the world outside his office is rapidly changing – his office is now a storage room, paper is dying a dreadful death and books are being listened to instead of read. Quite a thought-provoking one, this; made me think quite severely about paper.

‘And the winner?’ you ask. Neil Bebber’s Together took the, erm… Well, the accolade. There wasn’t actually a prize, unfortunately. But there we are. Something for the CV, eh?

Review Parallel Lines, Dirty Protest “brimming with ferocious intensity and unflinching controversy” Young Critic Sam Pryce.

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Dirty Protest have got their filthy (but ever-so-skilful) hands on Katherine Chandler’s fearlessly written and deeply felt play, Parallel Lines, which won the inaugural Wales Drama Award last year. And, as is the case whenever Dirty Protest put on something, it’s brimming with ferocious intensity and unflinching controversy. Directed with daring nerve by Catherine Paskell, this is a play with a wicked sting in its tail.

The narrative follows the parallel lives of fifteen year-old, Steph (played exceptionally with sexually-charged audacity by Rachel Redford) and her teacher, Simon (Gareth Pierce; equally superb). The divide is established through Signe Beckmann’s split stage – on the left (subtly political, perchance?), Steph and her mother’s grubby kitchen, worktop contaminated by empty mugs and unwashed dishes; and on the right, the spotless, chic-er kitchen belonging to Simon and his wife, Julia (a suitably overwrought Lisa Diveney) who are two middle class teachers too preoccupied with their jobs to consider each other’s infidelities. Steph and Simon’s lives collide when an accusation is made but everything is kept delectably ambiguous, at least until the earth-shattering conclusion.

Chandler writes with unabashed obscenity during the tumultuous rows between Steph and her mother, whose tragicomic nuances are embodied by the brilliant Jan Anderson. During monologues, however, the writing style becomes somewhat poetic; for example, in describing Steph’s deepest emotions, Chandler applies beautiful expression that retains adolescent uncertainty as well as something quite lyrical and emotional. It has an air of experience about it.

This is yet another triumph for Dirty Protest. It is comforting to be in the knowledge that theatre so courageous and yet so authentic is being made right now. Here is a theatre company whose consistence trumps any I know of working in Britain today, and Parallel Lines is another gleaming badge for their already glittering lapel.

Review Eat, Pray, Laugh: Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Young Critic SamPryce

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After 58 star-studded years as Australia’s foremost character comedian, Barry Humphries, now 79, is bidding his ‘possums’ farewell, hanging up the lilac wig and cat-eye glasses – as well as the outlandish costumes of his other characters – with this glittering extravaganza. Humphries shows no sign whatsoever of age as he dons different personas within the space of a scene change. His stage presence remains as commanding as ever and he has no trouble in squeezing plenty chuckling from his audience. However, whilst his performance had few faults, some of his material has perhaps yellowed over time.

The majority of the first half comprises a humorously unhygienic cookery show from the embodiment of political incorrectness that is the nose-picking, crotch-scratching, spit-slinging Sir Les Patterson. Some devoted fans foolishly chose front row seats and despaired when they were soaked by Sir Les’ soaring saliva. The comic material from Sir Les Patterson is as vulgar as ever – e.g. a bulging prosthetic penis that’s frequently rubbed against his glamorous assistants, regular racial slurs (i.e. calling his Chinese assistant a ‘slant’ and a ‘slopey’), farting profusely, etc. It seems as though his ‘blue’ side had slightly dated comedic connotations, but then it’s forgivable since the character is meant to be that crude. That’s the beauty of being a character comedian – one can hate the character but not the comedian, since that’s what the comedian wanted in the first place.

A brief visit is made by Les’ brother, Gerard Patterson (a new character), a predatory, paedophilic priest whose jokes mainly consist of euphemisms towards the young male assistant of his. The audience are then slightly baffled by a sketch from Sandy Stone, a rather obscure Humphries character from the late 50s (I think). With Sandy Stone, Humphries delivers an Alan Bennett-esque soliloquy from an elderly deceased man that’s meant to showcase Humphries emotional side but unfortunately, the monologue is so ill-fitting with the rest of the show that it loses its poignancy leaving the audience desperately looking for laughs. Bad move there, Barry.

He redeems himself though – and massively so – with his monstrously funny creation who needs no introduction. Arriving in sequined ballgown on a huge glittering elephant, Dame Edna Everage (whoops, there’s her introduction) is a character that we’re all going to miss dearly. Her familiar audacity and ferocity is all the more endearing and she’s especially vicious when she targets audience members. The portrayal of Dame Edna does not even feel like one; she seems to be her own person. Humphries’ virtuosic ability to transform into her is totally unfathomable which proves that she is completely timeless and will survive as one of comedy’s most iconic creations.

So, a flawless farewell this isn’t. But a fond one, it is. Humphries returns onstage at the finale in tuxedo and trilby and gives his final bow in classic showbiz style, confirming his identity as ultimately, a hugely talented showman. A standing ovation is compulsory.

Review: Tonypandemonium by Rachel Trezise ” Scenes explode in-yer-face, up-yer-nose, down-yer-trousers, behind-yer-back, on-yer-lap” Park and Dare Theatre, Treorchy, Young Critic Sam Pryce

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National Theatre Wales have taken refuge in the ornate auditorium of the Park & Dare Theatre and have brought a season of dazzling, groundbreaking productions and showcases of new Welsh writing to the presumably bewildered residents of Treorchy (no offence to any Treorch-ites). And guess who’s written a play especially for the occasion? Rachel Trezise – a startlingly original (and Welsh) writer, winner of the EDS Dylan Thomas Prize and all-round DNA lottery winner, who is Welsh. Here, she has brought us Tonypandemonium – a scintillating tour-de-force displaying the turbulent but ultimately love-driven relationships between mother and daughter. To everyone who saw the title and smiled, this play is for you. And if you didn’t smirk at the title, well, go and see it anyway.

Our protagonist Danielle, clad in punk attire and armed with a tattoo needle, paints the skins of locals in her tattoo parlour with her own, wryly autobiographical artwork. However, when Danielle is told of her alcoholic mother’s diagnosis with cirrhosis of the liver, she is plunged back into her past and is forced to recall her entire tumultuous relationship with her. The audience are the recipients of this Proust-esque recollection, subjected to a succession of progressively vicious mother-daughter showdowns culminating in their mutual realisation of the attention and affection they desire from each other. Peppered amongst these ritual rows are a thread of past lovers that Deborah – the stumbling, vodka-swigging, Shirley Bassey-belting mother – had charmed. The finished product is a virtuosic display of Trezise’s versatility in writing, switching deftly from riotous moments of Welsh smut to raw scenes of drama, as well as a hugely exhilarating theatrical experience.

Staged in (or just about) the round, the audience never know where to look next, which is all the more exciting. Scenes explode in-yer-face, up-yer-nose, down-yer-trousers, behind-yer-back, on-yer-lap; it feels as though we’re inside this girl’s head. We are the spectators of Danielle’s jumbled, discordant memories. The set is an amalgamation of ladders, armchairs, microwaves and hospital beds that embodies the unstable psychological conditions of the characters’ mindsets and their experiences. Crying out for each other’s attention, the characters grab a microphone and deliver a clip comeback, riling the others to chat back in a manner that sounds shockingly similar to an ordinary Welsh family home.

The cast are just as phenomenal as the play. Tamara Brabon, Molly Elson and Sarah Williams maintain the feistiness inherent to Danielle as they span through the decades, strutting irreverently across the stage demanding our attention. Adam Redmore has the shoulders shaking with laughter as Deborah’s lover Tommy Sexton, giving progressively phony anecdotes of his encounters with rock stars. The real star, though, is Siwan Morris’ Olivier-worthy portrayal of the promiscuous, brittle, intoxicated mother, Deborah. Siwan Morris is an utter sensation and does the material the justice it deserves, and then some.

Get yourselves up and over the Bwlch to see Tonypandemonium. It’s a total riot.

Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest “two hours of ruthlessly engaging electroconvulsive entertainment” Young Critic Sam Pryce

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Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Reviewed by Sam Pryce

 Under the innovative directorial eye of Nerys Rees, this throttling production of Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name is much more unsettling than usual. With the addition of a surging mechanical soundtrack and disquieting lighting, the well-worn narrative has been successfully revived proving its timeless significance and its powerfully disturbing premise.

The oppressed and browbeaten patients of a psychiatric ward are given a newfound confidence when McMurphy saunters onto the scene. Believing he can get away with feigning insanity to escape the isolation of a prison cell, McMurphy realises his error when his insolence is challenged by everyone’s favourite literary battleaxe, Nurse Ratched. Determined to start a revolution against Nurse Ratched’s crippling regime, a rebellion is stirred amongst the previously docile patients in what promises to be a fascinating, explosive exploration of madness and the notion of sacrifice. In this production, director Nerys Rees toys with the idea of McMurphy being a saviour to the inmates, seeing as his irreverence helps to eliminate their inhibitions. When McMurphy eventually receives electroconvulsive therapy, he is splayed across a crucifix emphasising the concept that McMurphy sacrifices himself for the lives of the patients.

Whilst the entire company gave intelligent and disconcertingly believable performances, there were a few that deserve extra praise. Andreas Constantinou boasts all the audacious bravado required for a loveable McMurphy, coupling razor-sharp wit with a genuine desire to help his unhinged acquaintances. Darren Freebury-Jones injects visceral emotion and a sensitive rawness into his performance as Chief Bromden, Dale Matthews’ Billy Bibbit is adorable as ever and Scott Patrick causes copious cackling as Martini. And who could fault Delyth Mai-Coleman’s ruthlessly sadistic and brazenly sexualised Nurse Ratched? With pre-show improv in the foyer thrown in, the audience is able to get up-close-and-personal with insanity with the patients are let loose to wander, pester and interact with the evening’s spectators, creating a discomforting air even before the audience have taken their seats

As worn-out a tale as Cuckoo’s Nest may be, this production breaks the barriers and subjects its audience to two hours of ruthlessly engaging electroconvulsive entertainment. This is theatre that stops the audience coughing.

Award wining writer Rachel Trezise supports Bridgend Young Playwrights.

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Dylan Thomas prize wining author Rachel Trezise ran the first Writing Squad playwriting workshop in the Zone in Bridgend last Saturday. Bridgend Writing Squad are being supported by Rachel to create a series of ‘plays for voices’ which will be performed at the Park and Dare theatre Treorchy. The Writing Squads plays will form part of a weekend of activity curated by Dirty Protest called ‘Dirty Gifted and Welsh’ a celebration of Wales’ flourishing new theatre writing scene. The Writing Squad will then go and see a performance of Rachel’s new play for National Theatre Wales called Tonypandemonium and will write a review of the production.

Rachel is also going to run workshops for the Writing Squad in RCT.

Workshop are free to attend and run 10-12 each Sat at the Zone, 46-48 Dunraven Place, CF31 1JB

The workshops are supported by Literature Wales and Bridgend Art and Community Development Department.

For further information contact guy.odonnell@bridgend.gov.uk

Critical Communities

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I recently organized ‘Response; Arts Criticism in the Digital Age’ a series of workshops and conversations at the WMC and RWCMD, participants shared their views on a variety of issues, including the on-going relationships between arts critics, venues, producers and artists, critical responses to Welsh venues’ work, the star rating system, arts criticism in the Welsh language, and the future role of the arts critic.

We had a great day of debate and discussion at the WMC on the Saturday; I have posted some of the discussion topics below. We are in the process of looking at ways to follow up many of these areas. If you have any views on the topics please do get in touch.

Tom Beardshaw of Native HQ ran a social media workshop at the RWCMD on the Sunday. Participants were tasked with making a response to the World Stage Design Festival. The workshop participants utilized a range of online platforms to create a variety of responses to the subject matter; most of these feedback methods wouldn’t have been possible utilizing traditional hard copy print methods.

Young Critics Chelsey, Charlie and Elin used Pinterest as a response method, the video app Vine was embedded into their pins on Pinterest, as well as links to their own individual blogs.

http://www.pinterest.com/elin0391/wsd2013/

3rd Age Critic Leslie Herman Jones created a response blog on NTW, Leslie posted some really interesting thoughts on new and traditional response methods to the arts and a possible focus on the ‘young’ at the expense of the more experienced.

http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/profiles/blogs/response-t…

3rd Age Critic Barbara Michaels learnt how to create a tumblr blog during the Response workshop.

http://www.tumblr.com/about

During the workshop. Barbara was really interested in the opportunities online offers to critics,”by the use of online resources being able to interact with those responding to the critic’s comments – which was virtually impossible under previous methods of publishing in a newspaper or magazine – the critic’s role in the 21st century gains both in value and status”

http://barbiesbuzz.tumblr.com/

 

Jacqui Onions Administrator for Hijinx theatre and critic for the http://www.thepublicreviews.com/ , responded with a series of brilliant videos to WSD 13 and fully immersed herself in the exhibition creating her own art cart!

http://www.hijinx.org.uk/general-news/2013/09/17/hijinx-at-response…

http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/profiles/blogs/critical-feedback-to-the-response-event

 

Megan Childs and Moon Noh from Theatre Iolo used video and photography to create a specific response to the Willow Theatre, The Willow Theatre, designed by architect Tim Lai and theatre designer Brad Steinmetz, both of Columbus, Ohio, USA was voted as the winning design of the sustainable temporary theatre space and was built for the event.

http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/profiles/blogs/a-sustaina…

 

Notes from Response event.

Specialist Art form reviews

     Lack of specialist critics in Opera, Ballet, Contemporary dance.

     Fear of covering something out of your area of expertise or in a different language.

     Specific art form critics training

     ACW Revenue funding agreement

“Engage in Critical debate to Raise standards and develop your art form/s and sector/s”

Further discussion with ACW, RFO’s

     Artists intimidated by Critics and vice versa

     Specific discussion as regards disability arts, a lack of training and support opportunities.

The Audience

     A constructive relationship with audiences and companies

     Commercial aspect advertising selling papers

     Give the audience an online voice

Venues/Companies

     The role of the critic to support marketing audience development

     The relationship with venues and companies trust /respect a well-resourced

process

     Insight into the developmental process of work

Careers/Training

     Expectation Vs. Guidance

     Are people scared of being honest?

     All talk no action

     No support

     Outreach

     Platforms to be heard.

     Paid V volunteer work frustrating /dead ends

     Develop and build your own identity and voice

     Personal website but your own work out there D.I.Y.

     Diversify

     No clearly defined career path

     How to pitch and brand yourself.

     Use the Young Critics/Young Person title as a way to develop a community

     Funding for training and support networks/a collective

     Frameworks need to evolve and will

     Approach people you admire and respect for mentoring

     If you can’t get paid for your work at least gets something else, skill share, editing of your work, etc.

     Free training available from the Welsh government?

     Centre for Community Journalism Cardiff University

     Welsh Arts Criticism, The people with the skills are there but blogging doesn’t pay

     Arts criticism in Wales is an unsustainable profession

     Wales Arts Review very important, editing of reviews with critics huge help

     The role of schools education literacy what can be done in schools to raise critics profile, Arts in Education review       ACW?

     Collaboration with young people

     NUJ?

The Future

     Need to nurture critics in Wales, the idea of a national critic National press Wales Supporting future voices

     How many people do critics influence

     Should critics be engaging in online discussion

     Describing the cultural value of Wales’s artistic output

     Star ratings develop a more nuanced breakdown

     No full time professional jobs collapsing business model

     The role of the critic in supporting emerging companies

     Getting the information out there.

     Space to publish the reviews

     See alternative platforms

     Oral criticism

     Visual criticism

     A way to review in more depth and consider a variety of factors

     A Critics Code, David Adams?

     Status of critics

     A welsh Critics Circle

     Join the International Association of Theatre Critics

     A network for critics like the writers Antelopes group.

     A range of voices is positive

     Developing Wales global critical response

     The role of the critic in raising the standard of art forms

     Developing audience confidence

     Do you need to look hard for insightful criticism in Wales

     Different methods of reviewing online

     How to get more young people involved

Welsh Language

     Lack of a North Wales critics and reviews in the Welsh Language

     Fear of covering something out of your area of expertise or in a different language.

     Welsh language specific grammar, formal written language issues

     Difficult to get a national review of our work as were based in a rural area.

     How can we get more children to review our work, specifically Open Doors Festival 2014

     Objectivity of Critics in Wales everyone knows everyone else esp. in Welsh Language