Category Archives: Theatre

Pornography YC review

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Directed by: Mathilde Lopez

Written by: Simon Stephens

Seen at: Chapter Arts Centre, 27th April

An intermingling of stories hinting at deep passions and perverse thoughts, Pornography allows us to glimpse the inner transgressive nature of a diverse selection of Londoners, during the summer of 2005.

The effective use of the senses really helped bring this piece to life and engulf the audience in the moment, with sounds not just coming from the background music, but from sex scenes issuing out of an older woman’s TV set, or the movement of staging which was, at all times, fully incorporated in the performance – also, importance placed on sections of the text as, within a monologue, the characters grab a microphone and emphasise their utterings. Blackouts, with hundreds of pieces of paper falling from the ceiling signalled high impact moments, and put the audience under the falling skies of London – made us feel the chaos the characters felt in their everyday lives, the 7/7 bombings far from their thoughts.

Each character seemed to be searching for something – chasing desire or simply relationship; to be beholden to someone. This encapsulated the loneliness of the city which, even during moments where characters shared scenes, was often emulated by their conversation: A brother talking of empty but beautiful museums; the sister (Dinah Olajire) spouting monologues about society that are empty of sentiment; the lecturer (Richard Elfyn), so in need of companionship that he bribes a student into his flat and attacks her; the widower (Sharon Morgan) who is so unused to conversing with people she physically shakes with fear when the postman rings the bell, but is drawn into contact with a stranger by following her nose to barbequed chicken; the teenage boy (Gwydion Rhys) who develops such an attraction to his maths teacher he stalks and eventually threatens to stab her; the mother who ruins her companies chances of winning a bid to inject some excitement into her life – perhaps her husband will notice her and her new gold sandals if she tells him she’s been fired; the suicide bomber who decides to leave his wife and children behind, but for what cause?

As the set is pushed and broken apart we see the lives of these characters spiral out of control with issues of incest, violence, sexual deviancy and destruction played out, leading to the climactic moment where the bomber takes his final journey through the city. The tumult of the music at this point drowned out much of what was said, and Jade Willis’s speech faded in insignificance against the sounds, but the foreboding sense of what was to come, and how it might further affect the lives of the characters we had, if briefly, grown to care for, was clearly conveyed.

Mathilde Lopez’s daring style makes this a dynamic piece of theatre, if a little ‘out there’ for those used to a more conventional theatre experience. With exceptional performances from Gwydion Rhys and Sharon Morgan who bring out some true human humour, along with Richard Elfyn, this is an interesting performance it would be a shame to miss.

Pornography is currently touring numerous venues around Wales, with their final performance in Abergavenny’s Borough Theatre on 19th May.

Little Dogs – Young Critics Review

image by farrows creative

Little Dogs ****
Patti Pavilion, Swansea
Directed by: Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett
Devised by: Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett and The Company

A sketch of the animalistic nature of Swansea night life…

A work of symbolism, Little Dogs plants little seeds of stories and ideas, related to the characters, but also related to the audience – the ideas you have about those kids who sprawl over the streets of Swansea (or any town) on a Saturday night, or stories that linger in your memory of the nights you spent in a similar fashion years before.

The Promenade style pulls you into and through the performance, your focus drawn to each small story by the characters, the lighting or the sounds projected from the ‘new’ – often evocative – set (designed by Tim Dickel).

The choreography was wonderful, blending seamlessly with the action and dialogue and each dance formed a different element of the evening out – from the main focus of the ‘mating ritual’ to the game playing with the law.

The story seeds planted don’t come to fruition, though there is a sense you are following Darren Evans’ character as he surveys and tries to be part of the group and their antics. The young cast are watched over by what seems to be the ‘nurturing’ figure of a grandmother (played by the graceful Siân Phillips); however, her two ethereal appearances added confusion to this meaning and, though a fan of ambiguity, there was perhaps a little too much ambiguity in this seemingly symbolic part of the performance pour moi.

My legs certainly could have stood another 20 minutes to gain a little extra in storyline, but this perhaps was the whole point: the night is never truly over; the ritual continues and the rubbish that issues from the mouths of young lovers enshrined in fake tan glamour and aftershave manufactured testosterone will be passed down through generations of Swansea’s Wind Street dwellers.

Whatever your age, however you remember your youth, you are bound to get something out of this truly exciting piece of theatre (though be sure to read the warning re. bad language, strobe lighting and nudity). The whole experience is enjoyable, with other notable performances from Katie Elizabeth-Payne, Jordan Bernarde and Remy Beasley, the ensemble cast will take you through a myriad of emotions, drawing you into and absorbing you in the world of Little Dogs.

You can still see Little Dogs with performances running until May 19th, 2012. Tickets are £15 (£10/£5 Concessions) and can be booked through Taliesin Arts Centre (01792 602060). There is a 15+ age guidance, so maybe don’t bring the kids!

Young Critics Review – The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning: Stunning Storytelling

 
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Talk about different!The experience starts as soon as you walk through the front doors of Cardiff High School; huddling in the stairwell before a girl with a walkie talkie directs you upstairs in small groups, to experience the journey to the auditorium – a well designed walk, where you are subjected to primarily unnerving sounds of war and army barracks, which contrasts dramatically with the adorned High School walls, proclaiming netball fixtures and displaying the colourful works of the current students.
General Admission took on a new meaning too, with the audience collecting their chairs from uniform clad soldiers, and choosing a ‘square’ to place it in allowing, to an extent, voyeurism to occur on the audience’s own terms.The set, designed by Chloe Lamford, was minimal. The perimeter of the stage was marked with four 12ft lighting rigs holding computer monitors at every angle that showed P.O.V. footage of a helicopter based sniper. The bleak images of the war torn town, coupled with the loud, intrusive hum of the craft, shouts from the combatants and the occasional ring of an evacuation alarm, set my nerves slightly on edge as I watched the rest of the audience take their seats and choose their viewing spots. This was the first hint of the multiplatform format engineered by Tom Beardshaw, in conjunction with Tim Price (Writer) and John E McGrath (Artistic Director).

The opening was a highly charged list of all the statements you can imagine might have been made about Bradley Manning since the Wikileaks “scandal” began – soldiers discussing the whistleblowing actions of a fellow soldier became a squabble between teenagers, trying to make their opinions heard. What followed was a dynamic, engaging, thought provoking performance that immersed me fully into the story of Bradley Manning, from his High School days in South Wales to his incarceration. Every moment appeared planned down to the second. Every movement, sound (Mike Beer), look, lighting sequence (Natasha Chivers), prop, word had specific meaning and intent. This was an intricately devised piece that made every second worthwhile. I could not pull my eyes from the action!

The six players were present within the auditorium at all times, using the shadows as ‘off stage’. More often than not the entire company was on stage, taking on multiple roles, showing real diversification. They slipped easily in and out of American accents, and all had a turn at ‘being’ Bradley Manning, giving the sense that Bradley Manning has become an idea – something we all have an opinion about; something we all share in one way or another. The ‘flashbacks’ to the High School History classroom gave the characters the opportunity to fully explore themes of martyrdom, of men being punished for their thoughts, whilst focussing on Welsh battles and uprisings. The stark contrast between the innocence of High School and the harsh horrors of life in the U.S. Army also helped evoke a true empathy for the main character, and an understanding of what may have influenced his life to land him in the situation he is still in now.

The performance was fluid, switching seamlessly between scenes, the monitors notifying the audience of when and where the story had moved to at each moment (Baghdad, New York, Haverfordwest) – though if you missed it, the costumes, lighting, set changes and accents all worked as indicators, without being too ‘obvious’.

The entire cast was superb, and extremely convincing in every role they took on. I thoroughly enjoyed each individual performance, and found Bradley’s story particularly compelling because of the different angles given to it by the multiple players. Matthew Aubrey and Harry Ferrier shared the majority of the part, and each contributed to the feeling I now have – that I in part know and understand Bradley’s problems. For me, this is stage play at its best.
Alongside the thought provoking issues and the electric dialogue, there were some very humorous moments, and one unexpected dance sequence that could have seemed absurd but, in fact, gelled perfectly with the plot point, emphasising the idea that, in the 21st Century, you can become a Superstar with one click of the mouse.

In order to interact with The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning in all its multiplatform glory, and just because it was that good that I already want to see it again, I’ll be watching the live streaming of the show on nationaltheatrewales.org/bradleymanning/ before the run ends on 21st April. I would highly recommend you do the same.

Young Critics Review – A Provincial Life

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A PROVINCIAL LIFE
Written and Directed by: Peter Gill
Sherman Cymru – Thu 01 Mar 2012 – Sat 17 Mar 2012A blue light shining on a solitary figure, against a back drop of 40ft high pine sections gave us the first glimpse of the blank platform from which NTW would tell the long, slightly erratic story of a young, wealthy man in 1890s Russia. Against his father’s wishes, Misail (Nicholas Shaw) decides to pursue happiness and worth by living the Provincial Life of a manual worker, rather than take up a vocation that will ensure his families prestige and money filters through to his generation.

The story unfolds in scenes broken up by set changes that, though fluid, and full of elegant props and costumes, almost become scenes in themselves due to the length of them. For me, these moments were mildly interesting, but mostly a waste of valuable stage time. However, it did help keep the pace steady and slow; something that seemed deliberate, as a reflection of life.

Though slow, the story was thought provoking, asking questions about what wealth matters when there are so many who live on the other side of money, a theme that is relevant today.

Shaw’s portrayal of a young man enduring constant inner turmoil from his inability to find happiness, no matter what path he takes his life down, is convincing. Unfortunately, no matter how convincing, it didn’t endear him to this theatre goer; I struggled to feel any empathy for him, no matter how many mini monologues were spouted about how unhappy and unfulfilled by life he was.

Luckily, these moments were often lent an element of Chekhov’s humour; John-Paul Macloed, playing Ivan – the odd and weedy country friend of Misail, provided many of these, which were executed perfectly and got the most reaction from the audience.

The female’s stories were, for me, far more interesting than Misail’s – while he’s busy moaning about how his father doesn’t want to know him because he has turned his back on their way of life, his sister Cleopatra is left alone with her father, and the usual lack of prospects of a woman in the 19th Century. A sickly girl, she deteriorates throughout the play, bursts of life and excitement amid the mundanity.

Other notable performances were Alex Clatworthy, playing Maria (the love interest), Mark Lewis as Victor Dolzhikov (the explosive Engineer), Sara Lloyd-Gregory as Cleopatra Poloznev, William Thomas as Andrey Ivanov (the Contractor and friend of Misail), and Lee Haven-Jones, playing Boris Blagovo (the revered Doctor).

On the whole, the performance was a little uninspiring, and would have benefited from an injection of action…and a few less sections of monologuing. But it looked beautiful, and there were some stellar moments that made up for the not so exciting ones. Provincial, indeed.

If you’re interested in seeing A Provincial Life, it runs until Saturday March 17th. Book now through Sherman Cymru.

Recent YC reviews Rachel Williams

Last Christmas | Theatre Review

Sherman Cymru
12 December
★★★★★

Christmas with a difference has landed at the Sherman: amongst the brightly coloured lights and floating snowflakes, stands one man: devoid of renditions of ‘He’s behind you’, emotions run high and hangover’s hit hard when reality rears its head and the spirit of Christmas is floundering. Matthew Bulgo’s debut play Last Christmas explores the idea of finally growing up and realising happiness isn’t just about escaping the past, but embracing the future. Tom faces the ghosts of the Christmas past to head into his future.

There is a unique take on a seemingly clichéd topic in Last Christmas: Tom escapes the backwards, boring Swansea life for the lights and highs of London as a film maker, but after a while the drudgery of paying the bills and an ordinary office job seeps back in. The character’s and the detail of Swansea are vivid: Lanky, Spanner and Bins are that much more alive than the likes of London character’s ‘Suz’ and the Intern. If ‘ambition is critical’ enough for people to leave, Last Christmas highlights the fact that they end up leaving something behind: true friendship and family – what did Tom’s dad really think at the end? Was he proud? It is Tom’s journey home where he comes to realise, through a haze of alcohol that he need not have worried: he has after all begun to become his father.

A one man show is difficult to pull off but the combination of talent brought about by Dirty Protest’s collaboration with Clwyd Theatre Cymru creates an intimate piece full of emotion and passion. Siôn Pritchard’s skillful acting and comic timing is fantastic: he portrays this ordinary man in such a way that everyone can empathise with on different levels and his portrayal of those in his story is pitched perfectly, each personification adding to the depth of the story. Matthew Bulgo’s use of language and imagery is superb: he has brought a character – who could easily have slipped into a one dimensional life – into a multi-dimensional, full colour existence. Filled with stomach creasing rants that flow with ease into dark, grief filled moments that brings tears to the eyes. Kate Wasserberg has used her skill to mould these two talented elements of actor and writer into a seamless and striking piece of theatre.

Last Christmas was a captivating hour of theatre and joy to watch, filled with the mixed blessings that Christmas brings for so many and the joy for others.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Adventures of Sancho Panza – Theatre Review

The Adventures of Sancho Panza
Riverfront Theatre, Newport
9 November

★★★★

The Adventures of Sancho Panza is a modern twist on the Don Quixote classic, drawing the real and fictional worlds together and the Don is no longer centre stage. With an unusual opening scene, Sancho Panza and his mother are attending the funeral of their father and husband, it is after when Sancho cannot get his mother to read with him and he reads alone, that his imagination takes over, bringing the Don himself to life and launches Sancho into his adventure.

It is an adventure full of glorious battles that simultaneously get more creative and ludicrous as the journey goes on, from fighting a lion to a singing competition with another knight. The comic element to the show is a huge factor and the audience are often in stitches: Gareth Clarke’s comic timing as Sancho is impressive, appearing almost instinctive, the same with Andrew Tadd – whose cheeky aside’s to the audience are perfect.
The set is striking yet simple – all in white it is transformed from kitchen to castle, waterfall and country road with ease and some ingenious use of props: the Don’s horse is actually a double base and Sancho’s donkey a Violin. Roles of paper have versatile uses, from Knightly capes to waterfall’s and caves. The cast climb all over the furniture, turning a table into a horse drawn carriage.
Involving the audience in a rendition of Robbie Williams’ Angels was a stroke of genius:  I had to concentrate very hard to join in, as I fought not to break out into a fit of laughter.

My only note would be that the piece felt like it faltered slightly: the pace started to wind down about two thirds through, rather than continue at a pace, almost if an interval might be needed somewhere. As it moves past this it does regain its momentum as Sancho is granted is own island to govern and the comedy continues.

The musical talent of the cast is brilliant: Maxwell James is handy with his guitar throughout. His rendition of the opening “There’s a million other places I’d rather be than here…There’s a million other people in the world I would rather be” is heartrending as we watch the funeral procession unfold. He plays challenging Knight in the Don’s (Gareth Wyn Griffiths) sing off. Wyn Griffiths is brilliant as the chivalrous, kind but occasionally daft Don.

Closing back in on reality, Sancho’s mother finds him reading out in the cold, his imagination having run its course and together they are able to work through their grief and Sancho’s questions of ‘Why?

A masterful, heart-warming and touching piece it is well worth seeing.

The Adventures of Sancho Panza is on tour again in 2013.

Info: www.hijinx.org.uk/ Hijinx as a theatre company are dedicated to creating accessible theatre for all the family and to the inclusion of actors with special needs.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Theatre Review

Fri 2 Nov

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
 
It is one thing to remember how funny a show an be, it is another to bear witness to a production that goes one better and every enunciation, tumble and action is comic perfection. In this production of Shakespeare’s farcical fairy tale every comic nuance possible is put to work, creating a hilarious, adventurous and magical performance. Theatre Mwldan and Mappa Mundi have revisited a partnership with Torch Theatre for this production, an enterprise that has again worked wonders.
Transported from ancient wooded Athens to 1940’s Britain, this Midsummer Night’s Dream is a new commentary on changing times where love wins out over stubborn class divides as Lysander –transformed into an American – fights for Hermia with the now straight laced, Englishman Demetrius. Air raid sirens sound and silent films play, setting the scene before the cast launch into the text – dressed as the soldiers, land girls, wardens and the glamorous upper class.
The plebeians  of St Athans Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (SAADOS) are the perfect comic bumbling relief to Oberon and Titania’s dark, sinister fairyland where unrequited love and false chivalry abound as the human’s fall victim to Puck’s shambolic meddling. Their inexplicable rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe making the perfect comic mockery of amateur theatre Liam Tobin’s Bottom and James Peake’s Flute stumble over lines, over act the scenes and produce ridiculous prop’s – Llinos Mae’s Snout suffers as the SAADOs rendition of the ill-fated wall. Mathew Bulgo’s plays Quince, forever attempting to improve his amateur actors and forever failing – only to give up in complete irritation.
With such a sizable but incredible talented ensemble cast it is difficult to pick the shining star: they all shone. Yet Joanna Simpkins was truly impressive as Helena: heartbroken and desperate her pursuit of Demetrius plays out with such physicality the audience is at once with her in sympathy and laughing at the hilarity if it and it starts again as the roles reverse  and she is pursued by both Demetrius and Lysander after Puck’s meddling. Francois Pandolfo as Puck is simultaneously menacing and enticing – flitting about the stage he is the willing villain of Oberon’s jealous plan and his appearance amongst the audience adds to the dreamlike quality of the show, becoming the dream’s storyteller.
A remarkably simple set works well with the lighting, enhancing the dark, dreamy world. Multi-media use at the beginning and end: delivering Puck’s final lines is eerie and perfectly placed to close down the dream and let the dreaming audience awaken.
A Midsummer Nights Dream is on tour until 8th December.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Llwyth – Theatre Review

23 Aug 2012

Y Llwyfan, Carmarthen

★★
On a night when communities come together in brilliant catharsis – Wales has lost the rugby – four friends are living their own moments of catharsis as they move through their own night of fighting, reminiscing and revelations.
Llwyth takes its inspiration from the Gododdin – a tale of warriors and men from several tribes bound together as a community by loyalty for their King and their country against a common enemy. Over a year they trained during the day and feasted and drank at night before marching on their foe and wiping out seven times their number. Weaving the lyrical, poetic language of this sixth century poem into the play, writer Dafydd James handing Aneurin (Simon Watts) beautifully crafted monologues that he performs with conviction and perfectly pitched acting.
This play isn’t just about being gay or about gay life in Cardiff, it digs deeper into a world of universal insecurities, friendships that last – no matter what and that sense of belonging many of us earn for. Rhys (Paul Morgans) is turning 30 and faced with boyfriend Gareth (Michael Humphreys) supposed inconsistencies and throughout the night they fight out their differences. Gavin (Joshua Price) is that innocent teenager starting out in life, a mix of naivety and that rush to experience life. Dada (Danny Grehan) is the aging ‘queen’, father and storyteller of the group, having already lived and experienced life. Aneurin is a struggling writer, lost amongst his ideas and fighting against his past – unable to face up to his emotions and the recent death of his mother.
Humour has a huge presence in the dialogue, breaking up the tension at the most perfect moments. The Eisteddfod gets a lambasting and faces of the media get their mention as comparators to the character’s themselves and as part of their life stories.
Written predominantly in Welsh there are splashes of English and Wenglish: a vision of truth of today’s culture in Wales and even though it is English that is predominantly heard every day it adds another element to the play. As much now as in the sixth century this is a land of languages and cultures, of tribes that exist separately yet come together for a common cause.  There are surtitles available in English, but with the superb acting and physicality of the cast, the harmonic choral singing of the choir and soundtrack and the skilful use of the stage and props through Director Arwel Gruffydd Llwyth captivates the audience enough to forget about the surtitles.
A distinctly Welsh play, Llwyth is not necessarily owned by Wales, it will travel and it has proved that – receiving rave reviews at Edinburgh’s Fringe and through its invitation to the Asian Arts Festival in Taipei.
A play to make you laugh, cry and what to join in dancing, Llwyth is a genius piece of writing: tender, heart-rending, laugh out loud funny and exciting. I promise you will find it hard to fault it and will absolutely love it.
Llwyth is at Sherman Cymru for its last set of performances 12-14 September before it heads to the festival in Taipei.
Info: http://www.shermancymru.co.uk/

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Y Storm – Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru – Eisteddfod 2012

Y Storm
National Eisteddfod Wales
8th August 2012

★★★★

Ystorm is Gwyneth Lewis Welsh language translation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A tale full of power, jealousy and revenge:  Prospero was the Duke of Milan but his love of the dark arts and his library led him to invite his brother Antonio to share the power. Antonio then conspired with the King of Naples Alonso to usurp Prospero and send him to a far flung island. It is Gonzalo who allows Prospero to take supplies and his books. It is on this island that the story starts, where Prospero has used is powers and servant Ariel to shipwreck his enemies on his island where the lets them wander, tormented by dreams and spirits. Ferdinand is split from his father Alonso and thinks him dead but at sight of Miranda (Prospero’s daughter); Ferdinand falls madly in love and submits to Prospero’s servitude to prove he loves her. It is Prospero’s aim to regain his Dukedom and teach his enemies the lessons they deserve yet it is Prospero who also learns lessons – to treat his enemies with honour and to be the better man.
Directed by Elen Bowman Ystorm is part of the World Shakespeare Festival, in conjunction with the London 2012 celebrations.
As a first language English speaker and admittedly only Welsh language learner, I walked in concerned as to how much I was going to understand but within moments the performance took over and entranced the soul.
The continual movement and use of the whole space as the cast mingled in amongst the audience added another level to the performance. The surtitles were good for keeping up where the story was when you couldn’t quite remember the next part but the non-fluent audience did not have to rely on them – just listening to the language was a pleasure.
Members of the acclaimed Citrus Arts are part of the cast, lending their unique physical brand of circus theatre to the performance, using the tent scaffold to its full potential, as spirits flying around the sky (with aerial equipment) and adding a carnival atmosphere to the scene (using fire and floor equipment) when Prospero uses his powers to conjure up a fantasy for Miranda and Ferdinand and Ariel calls forth the Gods of the land.
Ariel is a character trapped by the lure of freedom and Meilir Rhys Williams plays him perfectly, he is at once the unearthly, playful mischievous spirit and the loving servant. Along with his team of spirits the choreography was fantastic, playing with the human characters minds – working around them as if invisible with perfect timing and grace.
The performance space – a purpose built tent – was a warm sandy island in the middle of an ocean of mud, replicating the remote island Prospero was cast out to and transports the audience into the Shakespearean world as they took their seats on tiered platforms around the tent.
Trinculo (Hugh Thomas) and Stephano (Siôn Pritchard) were the perfectly pitched comic relief against the more powerful, emotional turmoil’s played out by the larger characters with their brilliantly timed drunken antics and petty greed putting their own instant gratification above all else. When they come across Caliban hiding from Prospero they turn him into a willing drinker as he happily submits to being their servant not Prospero’s. Caliban’s character also provides a different angle to the story: after all he is the original inhabitant of the island – given the role of the brutish uncivilized slave he is another innocent in the equation, used harshly by Prospero for his own ends.
A brilliant show I would definitely recommend and I look forward to further productions by Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru.
Y Storm is at the United Counties Showground, Camarthe 18-21 September and
Faenol Estate, Bangor 2-6 October

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Act One’s King Lear: Edinburgh Fringe Preview

Cardiff’s Act One head for Edinburgh’s Fringe:

Sun 12-Sat 18 August

The Monkey House, Edinburgh
(originally for Buzz Mag)

The Edinburgh Fringe is a pivotal point in the theatrical calendar and Cardiff University’s very own Act One drama society are heading up there to perform, taking performances ofWuthering Heights, The Institute andKing Lear. Nearing the end of their intensive rehearsals I caught up with Piers Horner, Co-director of King Lear.
This King Lear has a substantially cut script – to fit into their 1 hour 15 minute and to make it more absorbing and engaging to a modern audience: Piers admitted it had been a challenge to retain a concise script, make a production that is far more accessible and to hold people’s attention, but also keep the essence of the play and not detract from it.

A post-apocalyptic interpretation, its intensified violence is blended with the text’s raw power and the original Shakespearean language. Piers explained the idea of a crumbling society, where Lear himself is a crumbling figurehead – losing power to his two callous daughters whilst the third daughter is banished and powerless to help. Gloucester, part of the only remaining sub-plot, is corrupted by his illegitimate son Edmund, forcing his elder son to flee.

To Piers heading up to the Edinburgh fringe is incredible and hugely exciting, particularly as they only ever envisaged it as a main Cardiff Act One production and to be there on showcase with great companies in an event where anything can happen is incredible. Performing in The Monkey House they have a prime afternoon spot away from the larger evening performances.

For those lucky enough to be heading up to Edinburgh in August @LearFringe2012 is their Twitter tag.
Tickets: £7.50. Info: www.edinburghfestivals.co.uk

Latest Incubator YC review

Exciting New Companies Share Their Work at WMC

Incubator 12
Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio
Once again the Weston Studio welcomed an audience in to sample some of the work that the Wales Millennium Centre has been supporting over the last few months. The Incubator scheme offers support for artists and companies to develop new work and helps to facilitate a performance for the public and arts professionals who can offer their feedback and advice on what they have seen.
This time round two theatre companies shared their work in progress:
Mali Tudno Jones: The Gretel Files
This reimagining of the classic children’s tale of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ finds Gretel and the Wicked Witch joining forces to find out who stole the secret gingerbread recipe that the Witch had been guarding for MI7 – the government body in charge of all fairy tale creatures.
Having received an email prior to the performance requesting phone numbers and twitter hash tags the audience knew they would be in for an interactive multimedia experience. Texts and tweets were sent to the audience through the night and the audience tweeted back photos of any clues they found on their investigations around the centre.
The aim of the evening was to test this innovate approach to multimedia storytelling. Although it was great fun to receive texts telling you that you are now a secret agent you do have to wonder if the age group (small children) that the show is aimed at will have smart phones with the technology to access Twitter. Of course their parents may well have the necessary equipment but it isn’t quite the same personal approach.
The storytelling element of the show was really enjoyable with intelligent writing that children would enjoy but also had one or two jokes for the grownups. The companion website was also good fun with character profiles that you could investigate before the show.
With a bit more development on the technology side to make sure the website and twitter pages are up to date and easy to us, this could become a must see show for younger audiences. Definitely a concept that has great potential not only in children’s shows but for any new theatre.
Actors: Kirsty Bushell, Christopher Naylor, Joannna Van Kampen, Sara Lloyed
Writer and Project Manager: Mali Tudno Jones
Director: Stephen Casey
Media: Natalie Clements
Mercury Theatre Wales: SPANGLED
This brand new devised piece about Welsh clubbing culture in the 1990s also aimed to fully emerge their audience in the experience. This time their multilayered approach began by welcoming the audience into the club, giving them glow stick and stamping their hands to say they had paid the entrance fee. If you had a jacket it was taken into the ‘cloak room’ by the chatty attendant and it wasn’t long before you were approached and asked if you needed “any pills for the night?”
Pounding club music, trance-like visuals and film projections soon made you feel like you had somehow stumbled to the town centre and found yourself in a retro club. You were surrounded by beautiful young girls dancing on raised platforms and young men off their faces trying to rave.
The story unfolded through a series of short scenes between the characters and monologues delivered directly to the audience. These characters came about through research into real-life experiences of clubbers, DJs, promoters and youth groups.
With a bit of a polish on the choreographed elements and a more choosy approach to dialogue, this could be a very touching and original production. At the moment the concept is absolutely incredible but some of the story lines were very predictable (but perhaps that says more about my relationship with club culture!).
Reminiscent of NTW’s ‘Little Dogs’ but with a lot more narrative. I for one will definitely be going to see this show when it emerges fully formed in the Spring.
Overall it was yet another enjoyable and successful night for Incubator. Both companies are ones to watch and I’m sure that two great new shows will soon be taking Wales by storm.
Actors: Beth Lindsey, Gareth Potter, Matthew David, Danielle Fahiya, Lee Mengo, Simon Mullins
Writers: Lynn Hunter, David Prince, Bethan Morgan
Director: Bethan Morgan
Music Consultant: Jimpy

In Water I’m Weightless Young Critics Review

NTW’s 1st Cast of Deaf and Disabled Performers Deliver a Knockout

In Water I’m Weightless
National Theatre Wales
Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio
4th August 2012
“Impairment, gives you an edge – you have to work harder.”
This is certainly true of the ensemble in NTW’s first show to present a cast composed entirely of deaf and disabled performers. In a big “up yours” to all the people who stereotype, patronise and try to hide the differently able, these five performers smash all boundaries and come out triumphant.
A complete feast for the senses this mash up of speech, sign language, dance, projection and music was sometimes frustratingly chaotic but always engrossing. To see disabled performers such as Nick Phillips dance to punk music with more energy than a hyperactive five year old dosed up on sugar completely shattered any prior expectations.
Innovative use of live film and creative staging ensured that this piece didn’t at all rely on the fact it had such an unusual cast. Images of endoscope scans and soldiers accompanied Karina Jones’ touching comparison between her body and a war zone.  This was right on the brink of cutting edge theatre and the performers showed they are just as capable as any “normal” person.
The fragmented monologues and conversations gave quick glimpses into what it is like to live with a disability or impairment. A section entitled “Things I’ve lip read” added a touch of dark humour, “At least she won’t nag”, “It’s a shame more women aren’t like her.” Whilst this highlighted a lot of major issues and concerns without ever asking for sympathy – quite the opposite in fact – I wanted more narrative, to dig that little bit deeper.
A rare moment of silence, broken only by occasional wordless exclamations as Sophie Stone performed a monologue entirely in sign language gave the audience a true sense of what it is like to be the outsider, to be side tracked and not be catered for. Mat Fraser joked that he once played a criminal in a police education video, but he couldn’t be put in the cells as the station didn’t have facilities for wheelchairs.
John E. McGrath directed these inspirational performers in such a way that Kaite O’Reilly’s script came across as blunt, unflinching truth – even though they were not their stories or their words. As Stone commented in the after show talk, they are just like any other actor, it is their job to find a truthful presentation of the words they have been given.
And just like other actors this cast had to deal with last minute changes as one member of the cast, Mandy Colleran, was unfortunately injured the day before opening. This added challenge to chop and change the show at the last minute was met face on and the finished product was sleek and undiminished.
This outstanding night of theatre was beautifully topped off with an inspirational monologue powerfully delivered by David Toole. Addressed to “gems of the genome” and “medical marvels”, this rousing speech flowed rhythmically to punch home the production’s political and social message of equality and the right to own your own body.
Certainly not perfect but just incredible.
In Water I’m Weightless transfers to the Southbank Centre, London 31 August – 1 September – 0844 875 0073
For more on NTW visit: www.nationaltheatrewales.org
For more reviews please visit: www.hypercriticreviews.blogspot.com
Posted by at 22:12

Re-Live, Abandoned Brothers, YC Review

Brave Veterans take to stage to raise awareness of PTSD

POSTED BY  ⋅ JUNE 18, 2012 ⋅ LEAVE A COMMENT
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Re-Live: Abandoned Brothers
Chapter Arts Centre
14th June 2012

Every actor gets nervous before a performance. What if you forget your lines, what if a particularly moving scene threatens to overwhelm you, what if the audience don’t react in the way you expected? These fears are even more immediate for the ‘performers’ in Re-live’sAbandoned Brothers. Not trained to perform on the stage but trained for combat in our military services, these brave war veterans bared all onstage to try and raise awareness of the crippling illness that has dominated their lives for years – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These two real veterans stood in front of a sell out audience with just their wife and aunt there beside them for support. Occasionally a whispered reminder from wife to husband would help keep the performance on track. A hand placed lovingly on an aunt’s shoulder to guide her back to her chair evoking more emotion than the most convincing actor. It was clear that although these men had seen horrific things during their service tours these women still see equally as horrifying things in their own homes. A suicidal husband, unable to sleep, dosed up on sedatives, with night sweats and an alcohol problem. There is very little support available out there for these broken men and even less for their families who are often torn apart by this cruel illness.
It was hard to believe as one of the men told us he had not been outside for more than twelve months before the Re-live support group was set up. A natural born performer, witty, charming and charismatic, a strong and emotive singer. It was difficult to imagine this man home alone, with only a bottle of Jack for company.
The two men’s stories were expertly woven together with linking music provided by an acoustic guitar played live on stage whilst a projection screen showed pictures of the men’s past or art they had created as an outlet for their anxiety. Additional stories were included via voiceovers, these were just as moving as we heard from more men and women affected by PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when someone is exposed to a traumatic event that their brain cannot process properly. They are forced to re-live the original trauma through flashbacks or nightmares. Other symptoms can include difficulty staying or falling asleep, anger, hypervigilance, avoidance of any stimuli that may be associated with the original trauma, becoming emotionally numb and depression. It is easy to see why so many sufferers turn to substance abuse and why their relationships fall apart leaving them alone and helpless.
In a post show talk more veterans with PTSD took to the stage and what followed was an illuminating and worrying debate. When asked who these veterans felt abandoned by; the forces, the government, society or the NHS?; the answer was hard to swallow. They felt abandoned by all four. As soon as they are diagnosed with PTSD the forces effectively wash their hands of any involvement with the veteran and leave the funding for their care to charities. The government are to blame for instigating the violence that they are forced to re-live. Society withdraws from them, afraid and ignorant. And often the NHS doesn’t have a clue how to treat them. There is nothing on their records to say they are a veteran so often a diagnosis can take months and misdiagnosis happens all too often. When they finally get to see a psychiatrist they are told they have “ten minutes”. How can you convey all of the horror of war and the subsequent years of suffering in ten minutes?
At first I was not going to review this production. It is not theatre in a traditional sense but more storytelling and I didn’t know where to start. I originally saw the performance as research for a role I am playing myself and didn’t feel comfortable reviewing real people who have been brave enough to re-live their trauma for a curious audience. Having had a few days to fully comprehend what I witnessed I feel obliged to write something of these inspirational men and women to continue raising awareness. Someday soon hopefully this awareness will turn into action. These broken families need more support, more understanding and more help. In England there are four residential centres for PTSD sufferers to go and share their experiences and receive treatment, in Wales there are none. Their biggest fear is the “tidal wave” of PTSD suffers that will hit Britain after the end of ‘The War on Terror’. Our soldiers continue to fight long after they have left the battle field and sometimes the condition can lay dormant in their minds for years.
I have been humbled by these courageous veterans and their relatives. Not just because they have had the guts to get on stage and share their harrowing trauma but because each one of them said that they would go back and serve their country time and time again despite the hell they continue to live in. I genuinely wish them the best of wishes for the future and I hope one day they will find some peace. Thank you Re-live for bringing this massively ignored problem into focus.

For more on the inspirational work Re-live do please visit: www.re-live.org.uk
For more info on PTSD visit the page on the The Royal Collage of Psychiatrists Website.

For more reviews please visit: www.hypercriticreviews.blogspot.com

Bradley Manning YC Review

NTW’s Brave New Political Drama

POSTED BY  ⋅ MAY 2, 2012 ⋅ LEAVE A COMMENT
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The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning

National Theatre Wales

Watched via live stream

Performance at Connah’s Quay High School, Flintshire

28th April 2012

Bradley Manning is the new kid at school and “it’s your job to make sure his head doesn’t get flushed down the toilet until at least Thursday.” In NTW’s brave new production it always feels like Bradley is the new kid; scared, lonely and a little bit odd.

As only Tim Price’s third play the writer has taken on a tough and possibly legally challenging story. Based on the true events in the life of US soldier Manning’s life, this piece of fiction seeks to ask why would he allegedly release 250,000 secret cables and logs about the Iraq and Afghan wars to WikiLeaks?

Computer Geek

Manning is currently awaiting trial in the US after spending ten months in semi-solitary confinement at Quantico. But it is the ten years before this that Price is interested in; when he spent time in Wales with his mother, worked dead end jobs to try and fund a college education and eventually joined the army because after four years service they will pay for his tuition.

Another Dead End Job

Played throughout by all six of the very strong cast Bradley is never a fully sympathetic character. As we see him struggle with his sexuality, apparent issues with cross dressing and the divorce of his parents he always comes across as difficult and a little bit whiney. Having said this you can’t help but feel protective of the young boy entrusted with military secrets well out of his depth.

NTW are known for their unusual choices of performance venue and this production was no different. The action took place in school halls across Wales including the one that Manning attending during his time in the country. This was not the only performance outlet, in an attempt to create a ‘hyper-connected’ theatre event the live performances were streamed online to a dedicated website for anyone to watch free of charge.

Although this was a highly innovative and inspired idea that enhanced the impression of constant surveillance it wasn’t 100% successful. The usual online issues of firewalls, dodgy wireless connections and system failures left some audience members disappointed. Hopefully these glitches won’t put NTW off doing this kind of thing again; it really gave a different feel to the performance although nothing can compete with seeing the action live.

Constant Surveillance

 

In places the performances were genuinely touching (although perhaps stretching artistic license) especially as we see Bradley being put in the shoes of Welsh revolutionaries in history class. Other scenes were simply mind blowing as heavy metal introduced us to FOB Hammer, Bagdad and Lady Gaga provided the score for Bradley’s feeling of freedom as he copied the relevant files over to re-writable CDs.

Throughout it was thought provoking. In a talk with his father to ask for help with college fees his father asks “Do you want to be a man and join the army or do you want to be gay and work at Starbucks?” In reference to the army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to homosexuality.

The episodic structure gave glimpses into all the institutions that have let Bradley down all the way through his life. These transitions were seamlessly navigated by director John E. McGrath with the aid of Natasha Chivers’ superb lighting design. Brave, bold and what NTW is all about!

In the end we are left with the question “Is it Bradley’s actions or ideas that threaten?”

The Ensemble

 

 

All these people really deserve a mention and a huge congratulations:

Cast: Matthew Aubrey, Harry Ferrier, Gwawr Loader, Kyle Rees, Anjana Vasan, Sion Daniel Young

Writer: Tim Price

Director: John E. McGrath

Designed by: Chloe Lamford

Lighting design: Natasha Chivers

Sound Design: Mike Beer

Multi-Platform Design: Tom Beardshaw

 

Review and photos by Chelsey Gillard

Exclusive photographs taken at the social media call at Cardiff High School

 

For more information on why Tim Price chose to write about Manning read his interesting and informative blog on the Guardian website.

For more reviews please visit: www.hypercriticreviews.blogspot.com

Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker (REVIEW)

Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker (REVIEW)

POSTED BY  ⋅ MAY 31, 2012 ⋅ LEAVE A COMMENT
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Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker  

Presented by Belarus Free Theatre and Fuel

Sherman Cymru, 30th May 2012

It is easy to see why Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker  won the Fringe First Award last year. A powerful blend of the personal and the political, this is raw and innovative theatre.

Devised as a companion piece to New York in 1979, it is based on a text by punk writer Kathy Acker which investigated the development of society through the prism of sexuality. Performed by actors from Belarus Free Theatre and set in the eponymous capital city of Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, Minsk 2011 is a provocative celebration of sexual expression. Many members of the revolutionary theatre company have been imprisoned, lost their jobs, or forced into exile, and this is certainly a rebellious production.

Through a fusion of theatre, dance, performance art, video installation and folk songs, the memories of the city are brought to life by the talented performers. Many scenes are based on true stories from 2011. Prostitutes sentenced to hard labour for their “crimes” are forced to clear the snow off Minsk’s streets in the harsh Winter. A young actor’s first experience of detention. A fatal bombing in Minsk’s Subway. These heartbreaking events pulsate with life.

The recurring theme of sexuality culminates in a mesmerising moment where a woman strips naked, is covered in ink, and “printed” on paper. It recalls a teenage girl’s experience of having her prints taken by police while detained in Minsk. By cataloguing her in this way, the authorities were trying to turn her into a mere object and dehumanise her. But she symbolically tears the paper, asserting her identity and the power of her own body.

Minsk 2011 is a performance of contrast and contradictions. At times this was a touching love letter to Minsk, at others it was more like a “sext”— provocative and tantalising. Minsk is both a lament for a repressive city that  has lost its way and a daring tribute to the freedom that can be found there through sexual expression. The city itself feels like a seductive character in its own right.

Despite being an impressive and engaging production, Minsk 2011 was not without flaws. Performed in Russian, I found myself glancing from English surtitles  to the performance which was at times distracting. I occasionally missed what was happening on stage whilst trying to keep up with the text. However, having the actors perform in their own language did give a sense of authenticity and rawness to the piece

At times I felt the production was over dressed. I would like to have seen a few more moments when the actual stories were centre-stage and allowed to speak for themselves, instead of sometimes being over-shadowed by the (albeit impressive) action on stage. Moments of simplicity and silence were powerful but under used.

Ultimately, the audience is left with a faint trace of hope for Belarus. Near the end, one character observes that when winter comes in Minsk snow falls and covers the city,  hiding all that went before it. A blank canvas and a fresh start.

But I cannot help thinking: if I was in the dictatorship Belarus now, I would probably be put in prison just for writing this review.

Review by Bethan James