Category Archives: Theatre

Review Beneath the Streets, Lost and Found, Hijinx & Punchdrunk Enrichment by Kaitlin Wray

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Punchdrunk theatre are known for physicalising emotions, feelings and scenarios with movement and body language creating contemporary narratives. Their collaboration with Hijinx theatre was stunning to watch. Hijinx and Punchdrunk theatre have collaborated together to create a purely immersive theatre experience. They have transformed the ‘secret’ space into a place fit for exploring. We were led through the doors in groups with a lead giving us an insight into the ‘business’. Then we were allowed to be free to explore to our hearts content (with a few stewards making sure we didn’t go off trail)

Each space had its own story to tell and also its own secrets. Finding out information was difficult but nonetheless every place had their own interesting qualities. The lighting was mainly used by old lamps and candles which added to the atmosphere. The smoke haze added to the eerie effect. The beauty of this performance is that if you went back to the same place there would be an entirely different scenario going on. However I’m not sure if it was my luck or just bad timing but I always seemed to miss an important bit of the story  as soon as I got there. There were some lucky individuals that got dragged off and had an even deeper insight to the secrets of the business. Then coming towards the climax of the show we all got ushered into the same  room where the finale took place. For me personally I have a lot of guesses to what the overall plot was but I will never know for sure.

The ambiguity is what makes this show individualistic for every audience member. It was exciting to listen to the conversations people had afterwards. This is a show that you might come away from with knowing exactly why everything was happening or come away knowing nothing. However it’s very interesting and a great piece to get lost into. It would be intriguing what it would be like to watch it for the second time.

Preview Everyman Theatre Company Open Air Festival by Lois Arcari

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To begin with Blackadder, as much as the classic, written by Richard Curtis, fondly remembered from Atkison’s well remembered turn as the titular character, and Tony Robinson’s zany Baldrick, is loved, so is the new tradition of the Everyman open air theatre company.

Last year’s open air festival gained rave reviews across the board, with talented actors, sharp scripts and scene stealing scenery that worked with the weather, time of day and naturally lovely setting of Sophia Gardens to create a memorable atmosphere throughout.

The regency version of the character holds the task of opening this much-loved festival; running until July the 4th. Praised by the ability of keeping the play as funny as before, taking a bold risk and paying it off as a real crowd pleaser.

After this institution of a comedy makes way for the new play, we are greeted by Sweet Charity, the story of taxi dancer, Charity, holding onto hope that her sleazy life can be traded for a new, romantic one, she falls for actuary Oscar, under the false pretence of being a respectable bank girl – how will he handle the truth in this musical romp, that features the iconic songs Big Spender and the Rhythm of Life.

Next is the turn of Shakespeare, with As You Like It. This comedy features the exiled Rosalind meeting her love, Orlanda in her disguise, with the complications of her gender swap played out in cutting cleverness, in a story whose appeal has stood the test of time.

From centuries to decades again, the festival is rounded out with what’s certain to be a hit with old and new alike, the junior production of Beauty and the Beast. The beautiful, instantly recognisable music against inventive costumes is a production of what many believe is Disney’s finest. With a remake due soon, and countless amounts of merchandise, and audience adoration, this is sure to be a finishing touch that will enchant audience’s.

Following from the resounding success of last year, with a brilliant new line up, and side shows on some  Sundays, such as the Forte sing alongs and free junior production of  Hamlet, this expansion of the always entertaining festival should find a spot in the time-table of any who love theatre and song.

For more information on the season check out;

http://everymanfestival.co.uk/#/list

 

Review The Waiting Room Arts Theatre by Hannah Goslin

 

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Arts theatre has created a great concept with some lunchtime theatre. Available for around 40mins in a lunch break, the top floor of this bohemian centre is transformed into a place for people to experience a journey in their break from the daily grind.

I chose to attend this with an interest to the Arts theatre that I had not yet attended and to experience this unique and very versatile idea.

The Waiting Room consisted of a small cast, with the narrative seeing the relationship and mystery of two strangers meeting in a dingy waiting room. We can only assume this is of a doctor or hospital waiting room, until it is revealed in speech of a comparison. This continues the mystery. The two character’s share a unique similarity, one that climaxes the plot. Without revealing this, I found that the narrative was interesting and kept us hooked with essentially a 40min chat. However, when revealed, the mystery isn’t as interesting or climactic as would first appear, struggling to compliment the first three quarters of the storyline.

The main two actors are wonderful, Beth Eyre and Mark Rush. A well spoken, rich woman who lives off money and a male sales assistant or ‘buyer’ for an department store. Both character’s were well executed and complimentary of the narrative. However, an additional two character’s in the form of the ‘receptionist’ or ‘assistant’ and the cleaner were introduced. Till the mystery ending, it seemed as if the receptionist had little purpose – with only 3 appearances and less than a few words spoken, unless an important asset at the end, it seems the main character’s could have directed their conversation to an un-answering body. The same was felt about the cleaner who I did not notice till pointed out; to the side of the room forever shining the Arts Theatre’s mural. It seemed that she was there for a sense of comic relief with a thick broad Scottish accent and laziness despite her comments of being the best cleaner. It felt unneeded and unnecessary and the break from the intense conversation did not gel well to the process.

Overall, The Waiting Room was an interesting concept. The narrative was interesting and the reveal gave an emotional sense, however there was a feeling that there was more to be given and something of great potential.

Review The Elephant Man Theatre Royal Haymarket By Hannah Goslin

 

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A story in itself that is legendary, The Elephant Man is a true tale that has been told throughout time. With legendary films starring John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins and other performances through time made on the famous man from the 1800’s, the new resurrection in play form has already graced the stage on Broadway; both with Hollywood star Bradley Cooper, it has now made a boom in London.

For those unknown of the story, John Merrick was a true figure in 1800 society who suffered physical deformities from birth. Beginning in the work house and later in the legendary Victorian side shows, when cast out by his carnival ‘partner’, a compassionate and intrigued medical physician, Frederick Treves, takes him in to the London Hospital for analysis. Becoming friends, Treves helps him with funding to live a normal life and give him the opportunity to enter into society, till his eventual death.

Beginning this extraordinary tale, the design of the set was minimal. There was not much need to change the scenes, just simple additions such as a table and chairs, a bath tub and the use of curtains. Lights were simplistic, and while the costumes were true to the era, it could be easy to fall into the trap of making this more realistic to the performances of the time. However, music and sound were used to highlight the beginning and other elements, creating an eerie atmosphere and something relating to the time period but also something modern – this relating to the stage set up once again in avoiding making this a 1800’s production.

What we are all waiting to hear is of the famous Bradley Cooper as Merrick. There is always part of me that is cautious and at times unwilling to like it when large stars take the leading role. While bringing in bums on seat and revenue to the industry, and of course, at times I have already been proved wrong with stars such as Imelda Staunton in Gypsy, it is also a wonder whether this is blocking the way of potentially more talented rising stars. However, like Staunton, Cooper is more than a welcome addition to the role. When someone is able to act as profoundly and incredibly as he does as Merrick, his already abundant stardom is instantly forgiven. With no special effects, lighting, costume or prosthetics to highlight Merrick’s deformities’, Cooper contorts himself from a ‘normal’ human figure, to the character, while Treves speaks from his medical examination of each body part. While some parts of the body as missing such has his enlarged head and sagging skin, this is forgotten as his contortion is so incredible that you can almost imagine it. With his progression to talking and learning the ways of life, Cooper’s British accent is perfection and even more so interesting with the infliction on the ability to speak that Merrick had – his different intonations famous for their unusual expressions.

It cannot be forgotten that the other performers are just as fantastic without the opportunity to completely transform their figure and voice. Alessandro Nivola as Treves shows a stiffness yet much compassion as the character and his love and care for Merrick is emotionally expressive. Next to Cooper, his performance could be understated, but the two actors bounce off each other in a way that we can only imagine the character’s friendship in reality. Patricia Clarkson, another American actress and one of my favourites brought her comedy and, like Nivola, the emotional friendship that the character gains with Merrick. It’s hard to hear the take on the negative character’s with such compassion shown in these positive ones. Only criticism that can be made of the production is the lack of projection of all characters. Not only those who formed articulate pronunciations, Cooper also struggles with Merrick’s affected voice. The large structure of the Haymarket gives struggle to this and at times, words are lost. Perhaps microphone’s are needed, but a personal argument of mine is unless it is for a purposeful effect, theatre needs to return to its’ original form and training of performers to allow their voice to reach their audiences.

The Elephant Man brings everything to the stage with the slight feeling of modernity. Cooper’s performance not only astounds in the sense of showing true acting talent, but the impeccable ability that the human body and one with exceeding talent is capable of. Not only emotional and heart wrenching, this performance also brings realism and truth of such a difficult story.

Life in Close Up: The Other Room’s First Season Overview by Rebecca Hobbs

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Life in Close Up: The Other Room’s First Season Overview

Now that The Other Room’s opening season has reached its close, Kate Wasserberg and her team can breath their first sigh of relief after a hugely successful critical and public response to three very unusual plays. Spatially, with just forty-four seats, it was an apt move to shape the first season around the intimate experience that The Other Room offers as the performance sits on top of you wherever you are situated. As a final round up to reflect on the ‘Life in Close Up’ season’s antics and audience appraisals, I had the opportunity to catch up with artistic director Kate Wasserberg and Alun Saunders, the writer of ‘A Good Clean Heart’ to address those niggling questions and observations that struck me during these performances.

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Sarah Kane’s Blasted (1995)

It was bold choice by Kate and the The Other Room team to open the season and the theatre itself with a play that is engulfed in controversial and challenging criticism. The late 90’s reviews had originally brandished Sarah Kane’s Blasted as a sordid and immature piece of writing that for all intensive purposes was written to shock. Despite many of these accusations being revised, launching the ‘Life in Close Up’ season with Blasted instantly stimulated debate and got people talking about what the The Other Room in Cardiff was doing. This was my first piece as a young critic and I had no idea what to expect. After briefly flitting over a Wikipedia synopsis, I initially struggled to grasp the script’s bizarre intentions. However, after seeing it performed as a play rather than reading out a list of violent gimmicks, it became clear that these online summaries are hugely damaging to the play’s reputation; the impact lies within the performance. Despite its controversial standpoint, The Other Room’s production was given a 4* rating by The Guardian and overall it excelled in its reviews from critics who were somewhat shaken but left in awe.

Blasted- A Close up with Kate Wasserberg (Artistic Director)

Q: Recently, with Sherman’s ‘Iphigenia in Splott’ and Chapter’s more ambitious programme, Cardiff theatre seems to have dropped the conservative barrier but a script of this intensity has very rarely been performed on Welsh soil. This was out of Cardiff’s theatrical comfort zone. You clearly had confidence in the script and the fantastic cast. Were you concerned about the play’s notoriety and about challenging the relatively safe expectations of theatre that Cardiff sits comfortably with or did you anticipate that this would fuel its success? Despite the fact that I cannot pretend to have necessarily enjoyed watching Blasted, it was an unforgettable experience and one that has successfully conjured a huge critical response.

 

Kate: I have always thought of Blasted as a really honest, heartfelt play. Of course I was aware that it is shocking in places and yes that was a conscious decision, to offer up something new. But the main motivation was not so much a response to the arts scene but as a way to attempt to articulate the world as I was experiencing it at the time, not as wholly dark but certainly with cruelty and pain and callousness out there, on the news. The critical response was really varied, and the first few reviews that came out, they really disliked the show and that was quite a raw experience – I can’t remember the last time I have felt so exposed, the cast were giving these incredibly courageous performances and we hadn’t had long to rehearse it really so I felt very protective. But that’s part of doing this play, and approaching it the way we did – head on with no deliberate style. It’s not for everyone and you have to accept that. Of course then more reviews came out and some people did really like it and that was lovely and the audience started to feedback to us and we grew in confidence, but all responses are perfectly valid and that rawness is part of the experience, I think.

 

Q: Initially, I struggled to distinguish what exactly had bothered me about the play which was odd because the shocking violent junctures are overtly clear and it surprised me that they were not my primary concern. It was the moments of sympathy embedded in the horror, Kate’s uncontrollable laughter and the desperate cry for help read through Ian’s eye contact during the rape. It was the fact that there is never an entire loss of humanity which as an audience member is what you crave in order to dismiss what you have witnessed. Were you specifically conscious about how these moments were going to be directed?

 

Kate: I think I was, yes. Our starting point as a company was to be as real as possible – to ask, but what if this really was happening? It sounds a bit trite to say it now but in a play that is known for being shocking, it was important for us that the people were complex and human and real. Christian, Louise and Simon were all totally fearless about allowing themselves to go to some very difficult places emotionally and that did take a toll on them at times, but I think they all felt like we were engaged in something quite special and it was worth the vulnerability they felt.

 

Q: I am sure, particularly with this play, you witnessed a whole spectrum of reactions as people came out of The Other Room. Is there a specific response that stands out to you?

 

Kate: It was a bit odd in previews – perfectly content, happy people came in and shaken, crying people came out and I genuinely thought, my god, what are we engaged in here? Why do that to people? But of course to be moved is wonderful, even when it’s dreadful. I remember a group early on who really laughed at the jokes, right through to the end, they were wonderful. And an actor friend of mine who literally couldn’t speak, she had to call me the next day. But that’s the play – that’s Sarah Kane and her brilliance. We just tried to do her justice really.

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Howard Barker’s The Dying of Today (2008)

After the hype of the first production, expectations were high for the second play in the series, Howard Barker’s The Dying of Today. Inspired by Thucydides’ account of the destruction of the Sicilian expedition during the Peloponnesian War, the play is constructed from that anxiety induced moment of inevitability, considering the worst case scenario in order to deduce how we process the phenomenon ‘bad news’. This was an equally challenging script for entirely different reasons. Barker’s play is stripped of distractions; its plot can be summarised by one line. To keep an audience attentive when the play is entirely based around a conversation with two people in such a mundane environment is a challenge for any director and two man cast.

The Dying of Today- A Close Up with Kate

Q:When I came to see this play, I distinctly remember that I still had half a drink left after the production came to a close. I was immediately drawn into the performance. It almost had a hypnotic effect on me and I think that had a lot to do with the narrative’s rhythmic pace and the fluidity of Leander Deeny and Christian Patterson’s interactions. How did you initially approach this script, was maintaining the momentum a high priority?

 

Kate: Definitely. We slowed right down in rehearsal to get the detail in but we always had our eye on pace and the confidence with which the ideas develop. It’s acrobatics in some ways, part of the joy is watching them leap from one idea to the next without stopping. Dneister (Leander Deeny) talks for seven minutes without stopping at the beginning of the play and that in itself; to talk ceaselessly and hold the attention of those listening, is a daring feat, especially when the ideas are so complex. Then the barber (Christian Patterson) joins and seems at first to be much simpler and slower but he very quickly builds his own pace and the whole show feels almost like a running race, exploding into physical action with the destruction of the shop.

 

Q: When the material that is being performed in front of you is as intense as Blasted, the space suddenly becomes very theatrically claustrophobic but for The Dying of Today, the chess board floor manipulates the size of the performance area and it feels deceptively bigger. Has it been a challenge to make the best of such a small space? In this case, what inspired the retro fifties salon? I loved the concept of the audience being the reflection of what we were watching as we sat waiting in anticipation for the news ourselves.

 

Kate: I definitely wanted the space to feel radically different for each show in the season and for it to be as exciting to walk into The Dying of Today as it was for Blasted, when the audience were seeing the theatre for the first time since the conversion. The 1950’s feel was about tying to distil the essence of a barber’s – a sort of reference that everyone would recognise. We tried to references various time periods throughout to stop the play feeling ‘set’ in a time or place but we also really wanted it to feel like a real shop, that was very important, that these enormous ideas unfolded in this very prosaic environment. But it had a bit of romance too, which was partly about searching for a bit of softness after the rawness of Blasted.

 

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 Alun Saunders’ A Good Clean Heart (2015)

The final play in the season was a newly commissioned bilingual work by Alun Saunders, a Welsh writer from Neath who trained as an actor at the RWCMD. A Good Clean Heart addresses a number of challenging questions about our cultural and personal identity but this is a truly unique piece of theatre for its ambitious and playful engagement with language. The play follows the story of two brothers raised in different cultures and familial environments; Hefin, adopted in Wales, well educated and a first-language Welsh speaker and Jay his older brother now living in London with his biological mother who they were originally taken away from. When Hefin is finally told on his eighteenth birthday of a sibling who has been reaching out to him, in a moment of spontaneity he initiates the long awaited meet where the pair struggle to come to terms with the years they have lost. Along with the discovery of his English roots, Hefin is introduced to his brother at a rather inconvenient time with the police waiting for an opportunity to bring Jay back in. The reunited family home is thrown into chaos where mother and sons are forced to make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.

A Good Clean Heart- A Close Up with Alun Saunders

Q: Firstly, llongyfarchiadau on the incredible success that you have had with ‘A Good Clean Heart’. You must be thrilled with its critical reception?

 

Alun: Diolch! Thrilled is definitely one of the words… It’s a pretty overwhelming thing pouring your heart into a play without actually knowing how people are going to react. Did I say ‘overwhelming’? I mean terrifying. I imagine even seasoned Writers find it scary putting their work out there for public consumption as they’re under a different sort of pressure – the pressure to ‘keep up the good work’. For me, writing my first full-length play, I wanted to see whether what I had to say, and how I choose to say it, had a place in that public arena. The public and critical reception has absolutely spurred me on to knuckle down and write more. I’m really grateful.

 

Q: When you were addressing the notion of identity, it came across as a very fluid concept. I loved the intricate ways that this was incorporated into the script with James Ifan and Dorian Simpson jumping into the role of their mother and her boyfriend, drawing out that play on identity crisis. Whilst a national identity is a necessary central focus of the script, were you conscious to avoid restricting the definition of identity?

 

Alun: Abso-blinkin’-lutely. Having done a good bit of research into how people felt (and how strongly they felt) about their own ‘national identity’, I got such a varied response – some people aren’t bothered at all by it, where some people feel that it absolutely defines who they are. The important thing for me is that people are unique; stereotypes exist, but always with an element of contradiction (I’ve actually been called “a boy full of contradictions” myself). Whilst we constantly try to ‘order’ and categorise other people in order to help ourselves sort the ‘friendly /attractive/ positive’ from the ‘unfriendly/unattractive/negative’, nobody can decide our identity except ourselves. It was important that the characters of Hefin and Jay had a strong identity – even if that changed during the play – and that the audience were allowed to come to their own conclusions.

 

Q: Finally, in addition to the demanding technical work needed to create that bilingual accessibility, there was also a lot of visual play on language to the point that the words were literally bouncing of the walls. Was the animation of language and the bringing language to life something you enjoyed physically constructing?

 

Alun: From quite early on in the development of A Good Clean Heart, Kate Wasserberg and  Mared Swain  the plays director and I had discussions about the technical possibilities of this play. It’s been such a huge collaboration of ideas and skills to bring what was eventually seen to life, and I just feel honoured that so many people’s hard work created this success. For my part, I needed to create characters which the actors (and subsequently, the audience) could believe in, and a story and dialogue to channel that. I was always conscious, whilst writing, of the technical possibilities, so I was interested to see how we could bring a letter, an email and an online chat to life on stage, but the focus was always on where the story was going. Especially by Draft 14…

 

Kate: Huge praise is due to Zak Hein, who designed the animation, including the subtitling. He worked with Mared to create an incredibly bold visual language for the play that made the bilingualism a joy and also made the show very youthful. I think it worked brilliantly.

 

Alun: As a Playwright, writing my first full-length play under Kate and Mared’s mentoring has been invaluable. I’ve been pushed to the limits (and beyond) of what I thought I could manage, but seeing the end result has been worth every last blistered typing finger, every tear and 4am coffee. Had I given up four or five drafts ago then my life may, theoretically, have been ‘easier’, but the play we’d have ended up with would have been much weaker for it. I’m really grateful to those whip-cracking slave-drivers for believing in me, and for pushing me to get where we all wanted – only then could we justify the whole team’s hard work. Now to decide where we take it next…

A Final Word on the Season’s success…

 Q: The Other Room has clearly hit Cardiff by storm, you must be very happy with the overall response to the first season?

 

Kate: Of course, we are and incredibly touched and grateful that so many people have supported the project – by coming to the shows, spreading the word and bringing people along. We are so proud to be part of this fantastic city and hope to continue to be worthy of our brilliant audience.

 

Q: What can we expect next, are there big plans in the pipeline?

 

Kate: We are putting the finishing touches on our next season and I’m deep into programming 2016. Some very exciting plans and a new way of working – we’ll keep you posted!

 

The Other Room will be hosting its first Young Arts Festival from 18-20th June where young talents will be showcased through a series of short plays written and performed by all those participating in the week’s festivities. For more information visit: http://www.otherroomtheatre.com/en/whats-on/current-productions/

 

A huge thank you to Kate and Alun for taking time out of their busy schedules for Young Critics.

 

 

Act For Change, National Theatre of Great Britain by Hannah Goslin

 

 

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Diversity in society is a huge issue to consider. Everywhere is trying to be more encompassing to disabled members of the public, there is more than ever a stamping out of racism and discrimination in all senses.

But why, while much of it is now law, does the arts sector, and notably for this blog post, the theatre, is it not the same?

Act For Change has been alive for around 1 year now, set up by performers who came from what would be known in society as ‘minority groups’. This relates to gender, race, sexual orientation, ability and so on. Its’ aim is to stamp these discriminatory habits even more out of the theatre world.

With testimonies, a Q & A challenging the NT Artistic Director, discussion from a panel and Q & A with the audience, ending on a video of more of those in the industry discussing the subject, AFC covered all basis. And made a real imprint in this industry.

Not enough is being done in encompass disabled performers. While across conference it was a valid consensus that there is an argument of whether the industry should make more theatre showing the stories of individuals in all these sectors or whether casting should be looking for sheer talent and not who they are. While it is a fine line, it seemed that less is being done for disabled performers. Not many are an option, and not much theatre looks at their stories.

A perfect quote I found from the night said, ‘If you want to tell a story you have to tell your own story’.

Different ethnicities, genders and orientations felt the same. Theatre is a way of breaking barriers and addressing taboos and why, on that note, should issues not be addressed that are found in these communities? But why also, are these communities not also celebrated in theatre more? Let’s be honest, many other cultures are more vibrant and exciting that the tweed, tea drinking, white, middle class stereotypes that are continuously produced on stage. Why do we not see this?

Many performers also felt that there was the issue of not being cast because of who they are. Where are the character’s that just happen to be gay? Or female? Or Asian? Does this really need to be such a vital factor? There are gay bankers, female lorry drivers, Asian actors! Why is it that people cannot focus on talent and not on the view of the person entering the room.

Conferences just like these are important to change opinions. Since the blunt interview with the NT artistic director, there has been a change where more theatre is now going to be brought to the NT with a basis on disabled stories and performers, what a difference this makes.

Theatre needs to be not only bring realism and for something for people to admire, but it does need to bring escapism. It needs to stop being run by the elite, and more representative of the people.

More info on Act For Change can be found here;

http://www.act-for-change.com

 

Review Bara Bread Theatr Gwalia Chapter Arts Centre by Rebecca Hobbs

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This week, playwright Carmen Medway-Stephens’ ‘Bara Bread’ starts its run at the Stiwdio at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

In little Lovenny, due to the passing of Nettie’s mother, the heart and soul of the village, Nettie (Sarah-Jayne Hopkins), is brought back to her childhood roots, a far cry from the city slick fast paced society she now knows. Left for her on the kitchen table is a book of recipes that her mother had put together as a parting gift with a note that reads ‘let us bake bread together’. As Nettie scatters her mothers ashes and makes the mother dough it becomes clear that her abandoned culinary skills are dusty. However, through feeding the mother dough, the bread maker’s answer to the alchemist’s ‘the philosophers stone’, a little magic is sifted into the mix and the understated kitchen table becomes an emblem of hope and honesty where the bread is broken, secrets are shared, barriers are brought down and relationships are rekindled. It becomes clear that the steps of making bread mirror the steps taken in our own lives.

This exploratory narrative of magical realism takes us back to the mode of storytelling where these women’s lives and challenging experiences are shared with one other. Womanism is a term that is rooted in black women’s culture but it is a phrase of solidarity and one that strikes a chord with Carmen Medway-Stephens’ script. The creation of these five women in a little Welsh corner of the globe interacting by creating bread together is the reflected image in Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple of the female community sewing the quilt together, fashioning a unified and supported life for themselves. There is Mair (Olwen Rees) who is discovered to be a larger than life female vicar whose path has faced many challenges, Lara (Saran Morgan), the village’s typical teenage disaster, an endearing young mum who spends her benefits on nappies and a night out in Swansea, Annabel (Michelle McTernan), the village ‘intruder’, botox blitzed and money grabbing and Maggie (Louise Collins), the widowed shepherdess, a recluse who has lost touch with her womanhood since her husband passed away. Despite appearances, as they open up to each other it is clear that life has consumed them all and as they sit kneading the dough together, (like the art of making a good loaf) they share, prove, nurture, feed their souls and grow together.

Alongside a subtle and sensitive soundtrack (with the exception of an unnecessary addition of ‘You raise me up’ at the end), Chris Morgan’s direction is intuitive and fluid; despite the simple home set-up it is a very challenging performance to choreograph. Watching these women physically create this process, you can almost smell the bread cooking. The interactions between these characters are fittingly comical and the concept of born and bred Welsh heritage is aptly personified but the narrative excels because of its strong cast. Michelle McTernan, Olwen Rees, Louise Collins, Sarah-Jayne Hopkins and Saran Morgan bring Carmen Medway-Stephens’ fresh and actively engaging script to life.’

Bara Bread’ raises your spirits, touches your heart and makes you hungry for more.

Review The Ladykillers, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

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The Ladykillers at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Original screenplay by William Rose

Adapted by Graham Linehan

Production by Everyman Theatre

Director: Marie-Claire Costly

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels, Third Act Critic

Rating: [3.00]

Murder and mayhem are the buzzwords for William Rose’s comedy-thriller The Ladykillers. For those fortunate enough to have caught a screening of the Ealing Studios 1954 motion picture, Everyman Theatre’s production of the adaptation by Grahan Linehan will bring back fond memories.   Who could forget the iconic performance by theatrical icon Alec Guinness as the crafty (and dotty) Professor Marcus?

Take an eccentric old lady living on her own with her parrot and add a gang of crooks masquerading as musicians who rent a room in which to plan a robbery and the scene is set for a series of mishaps. When the old girl, Mrs Wilberforce, discovers what they are up to there is only one solution – to bump her off before she turns them in. But that is not as simple a matter as it might seem – and neither, as it transpires, is the elderly widow who despite her old fashioned appearance might be more than a match for the bumbling ineptitude of the amateur criminals.

Characterisation and pace play a major part in putting on a play of this genre, where a great script full of humour should raise delicious giggles among the audience from start to finish. On opening night this sadly was not the case. It was not until a second half with increased momentum that the performance really got going and we were given a heartening glimpse of what the cast are capable of achieving. It is reasonable to expect things to improve later in the run, for Everyman Theatre has a good track record – their Oh What A Lovely War last year was tops.

As the “master criminal” Professor, Paul Fanning is believable although relying overmuch on twiddling his overlong scarf. Not quite dotty enough for this critic, although the Prof’s darker side is well presented in Act II. As for the rest of the gang, Steve Smith’s sharp suited Mafia-type Louis is spot-on and Arnold Phillips suitably military as Major Courtney. As Harry, the youngest of the crooks, Sion Owen settles into the role nicely in the second half.

Now we come to Mrs Wilberforce, played by Ruth Rees who admirably displays both the mobility problems of increasing age, limping around the stage as is suitable for one later described as Mrs Lopsided, and the finickiest of advancing age in another era. Nevertheless, Rees’s portrayal is still a tad too lively for the part – a few more wrinkles added in make-up might help. Loved the costume, though, particularly in the tea party scene and the posse of old ladies is fun – Lynn Hoare gets it just right as the gushing Mrs Tromleyton.

Full credit to the set designers for their clever use of every area of the stage and for props for some wonderful touches – wonky picture, grandfather clock et al, not to mention the interesting musical instruments.

Runs until Saturday May 23rd.

Review Iphigenia In Splott, Sherman Theatre by Beth Clark

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I give absolute credit to the author Gary Owen for connecting the two stories of current troubles with the historic tale of “The Sacrifice of Iphigenia” (17th century – greek mythology). The story depicts Agamemnon‘s sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia in order to save the army of Troy. Her name has been noted to mean “strong-born”, “born to strength”, or “she who causes the birth of strong offspring”.

‘Iphigenia in Splott’ was performed in the Sherman Studio theatre. It’s somewhat small and dark compared to the main theatre at the Sherman, but that made the performance more personal and intimate.The solo star of the show “Effie” appears on stage with absolute impact. The disoriented lights on the stage bellowed out and the audience is on edge. I for one was excited and was surprised as to how effective the monologue style of performance was!

Effie is angry, hyped, she’s shouting at us the audience, “You lot, sitting back, taking it easy, waiting for me”, I was shocked! “To – what? Impress you? Amaze you? Show you what I’ve got?” Then goes on to say, “well I’m afraid not!!” Effie seems like she doesn’t care what the audience thinks of her. “She knows what YOU think”, directing the statement to the audience, or as she’s telling the story; the people in the street who see her drunk in the morning, the people who cannot look her in the eye!!

I feel as if I am a person in the street as well as a person of the audience, it creates a three-dimensional presence. She continues to run herself down and  says “you think” of her using cringe worthy language that provokes shock throughout the theatre. She refers to “you lot” again, being the audience/slash people in the street, “every single one”, “you’re in my debt” “I’ve come to collect”. I was confused, in her debt?…The kind of threat like “your in my debt” is something you would not like to have said to you by some raging woman on the street, the character evokes feelings of fear and caution towards her with this don’t care, I’m in control attitude.

Sophie Melville (Effie) is a powerful actress with a strong stage presence and both Effie and Sophie both being powerful, have my full attention. After the first scene, I was asking myself questions and instantly wanted to know more. Why was Effie so troubled? And what has happened to her for her to display this hostile attitude?

Effie is unemployed and shares a flat in Splott, urban Cardiff, with her friend Leanne. She drinks and takes drugs and has a boyfriend that she does not speak very highly of called Kevin. She talks about her Nan. I notice that in the play at first instance and as from what I can remember she does not give any mention to her parents. Maybe a breakdown in her family structure as like so many others in her age group/area has got her in this position? Maybe? But I don’t think this is the only reason Effie finds herself in this position in life. I believe there has been a multitude of short comings for this young girl.

This strong-willed character talks about a woman on the street and there are scenes where she is shouting at the woman and talking about the roots in her hair. I thought this attitude was uncaring and selfish as she doesn’t know the woman’s struggle. It could be the mere fact that this woman couldn’t afford hair dye as she was on a low-income struggling to survive but Effie doesn’t care about these details, they are irrelevant to her at this time. You are given the impression of a wayward woman with a terrible attitude towards the community, but also a wayward woman who feels the community does not care for her, highlighted by Effie giving the audience the finger. My impression of Effie surprisingly is sure to change throughout and this probably happened to the majority of people who have had the pleasure of watching this play.

One of the statements Effie makes in the play is; “Disaster, It’s Monday morning, and I’ve got a brain functioning on full power. That’s not normal, it is not normal. And it’s definitely not safe”. I get the impression that Effie feels stronger drunk but it begs the question; why cannot she deal with her life sober like so many other troubled people of her age who are living subject to social depression? And why are the people on Clifton Street unable to look at her, as she says “Face on I’m too much for you to handle”. This play is shockingly raw, but the truth is Effie is correct, most of these people cannot face her.

Through Effie’s struggles she meets a man on a Cardiff night out called Lee, he was a soldier and she instantly falls in love with him. When she meets Lee you instantly see a change in her characteristics. The loud, brassy, carefree and what seemed selfish Effie becomes compassionate. As the play progresses we learn more of Effie’s life and the consequences or her relationship with Lee. We see in her actions ways in which the playwright Gary Owen links this contemporary tale of sacrifice with the Greek myth “Iphigenia”.

Effie is an intelligent young girl but she does not have the knowledge or education to convey herself articulately.  The consequences of this are a a tragic series of events occurs and we heartbreakingly see in front of us the struggles we all face in the economy and how spending cuts on the NHS and similar cuts can affect us more closely than we care to imagine.

A serious question that is at the heart of the play is  What happens to the people or young persons who get rejected from the system, who do not conform? Are they now lost in system and forgotten? Let’s hope not and let’s hope that there is a follow on play, highlighting positive moves in Effie’s life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play and can confirm that it has further inspired me to not judge people as you never know a person’s story or the struggles they face. ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ is a saying that most definitely springs to mind when thinking of the moral of this story. I can genuinely say I would definitely encourage more writing of this type at the Sherman Theatre.

Review Gypsy The Savoy Theatre by Hannah Goslin

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High up in the God’s, this wonderful theatre (The Savoy) is currently housing the renowned and critically acclaimed ‘Gypsy’ starring Imelda Staunton. With tickets selling fast, it was understandable that such a lengthy theatre in height was filling up every night, and so my interest continued escalating.

The story behind Gypsy is based upon true events of the Burlesque actress, Gypsy Rose Lee. Taken from her memoirs, the musical sees the hardship and struggle of Louise (later to become Gypsy) as the shadow of her performing sister, and her determined Mother, struggling to keep grips with her youth and dream of stardom. Events take place, where Rose and Gypsy happen to be in the right place at the right time to perform in the House of Burlesque, where Gypsy is created. This tale of triumph, difficult beginnings and relationships hits every nerve and every feeling.

The staging itself was beautiful and very clever. Scenes appeared and disappeared with a never ending back stage, floating into the shadows and were simple yet effective in illustrating the different areas. No expense has been spared on these ever changing scenes which are rarely used twice, to bring the sense of the character’s constant travelling. Lighting beautifully enhanced specific characters and areas, drawing your eye to the correct moment and to the specific details of the performance. Costumes were also relatable to the times and enhanced each character’s personality correctly. The end costumes of Gypsy, are astounding and lavish – what every vintage loving girl dreams of wearing (including myself!).

Of course, a review could not be written without mentioning Ms Staunton herself. And where could I start? Well known in the acting world, some may have seen her in the likes of Vera Drake and the more contemporary, Harry Potter- it is well known what a fantastic actress she is and the passion and creative skill she has for her characters and projects. However, to see her as Rose, the mother in Gypsy, is something different. Something spell bounding. To quote a patron I heard on the night:

‘I knew she could act but… I didn’t know she could do that! THAT was … something else!’.

Staunton has what myself was unknown of, and that is an incredible voice! Singing every song sent shivers down your spine; her final song, ‘Rose’s Turn’ raised every goose bump and every hair.

Laura Pulver, as Gypsy also brought an amazing depth to the show. Perhaps easy to be in the shadow of Staunton, she makes Gypsy her own and stands out in her own right. Known for shows such as Sherlock and Robin Hood, Pulver brings a completely difference essence to the stage than what you see on television. Her dramatic change from mousey Louise, slowly to sultry Gypsy Rose Lee is fantastic in her change of personality, look, body language and even change in her voice. She shows, simplistically but in a very talented way the growth in age and maturity of the character, so convincingly that it is hard to forget this truth when you feel as if you are growing with her.

If you do anything with yourself till November, make a date with Gypsy. The musical will take you under her spell as Gypsy Rose Lee was known well to do herself.