Category Archives: Theatre

Review Double Dipp Date Night at The Sherman Theatre by Sarah Finch

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“Love is blind…until you turn the lights on”

It’s Friday night, which means it’s Date Night!
On the 10th of July in the foyer area of The Sherman Theatre, my ‘date’ and I were asked to slap on a name tag and take a seat ready for an hour of comedy gold presented by Double Dipp! We mingled with the rest of the audience and before I could take any more in we were thrown into the mix of three dates; an inappropriate venue, speed dating and a couple trying to spice up their relationship.
Whilst the all too relatable subject matter of the performance kept the entire room laughing throughout, I felt it was the chemistry between actors, actors and audience that made the show. It was those moments that had those real, hilarious stomach cringing truths that either you or ‘someone you knew’ had been involved in and the perfect delivery that kept those laughs coming.
Double Dipp have managed to create a brilliantly timed show that starts with a bang and keeps that high paced energy going through until the end, from observing the audience I can safely say this was a massive hit especially with the older generation of viewers that I had anticipated would tut and frown as oppose to the raucous outbursts of laughing that they did.
Well done to the Double Dipp Team, Louisa Marie Lorey and Geraint Jones, your supporting cast and to Chelsey Gillard on your directorial debut! Comedy can be seen as a risky, hit or miss business but considering the loud applause and standing ovations received, people will definitely be waiting in anticipation for Double Dipp’s next bout of hilarity.

Catch Double Dipp’s debut show Pick n Mixx at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 17th-22nd August.

Review Everyman Sweet Charity by Lois Arcari

 

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Everyman have done it again; with a feel good, bubble-gum musical, with subtle intelligence and integrity in a candy wrapper.

Charity herself could verge into the territory of annoying with her relentless optimism, but the subtle grit of her allows for her buoyancy without ever giving the audience a cavity. Charity is played vivaciously, and her joy is as infectious as the songs. The big number, Big Spender was brilliant and brassy; a real crowd pleaser, to be honest every song was well delivered, and every dance expertly choreographed. The one weak note in the soundtrack, however, is one of the most well-known songs – while The Rhythm of Life is sung with as much power and passion as any of them, it didn’t seem as polished, and sometimes tripped over itself. By no means a bad song, it had moments of the trademark excellence, but felt mostly underwhelming. Still, the lesser known songs, and the entire soundtrack save that shone. The actor portraying Oscar had brilliant comedic timing, and won the audience over in his first appearance, while Charity’s best friends gave great supporting performances.
Overall, this was a real big winner of a show, whipping up a delight for the near packed audience.

Preview Date Night Double Dipp Sherman Cymru by Louise Apperley

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Young Critic Louise Apperley was lucky enough to sit in on a preview of Date Night earlier this week at Sherman Cymru 

The comedy Date Night is a light-hearted comedy which dives into the complexity of the characters and their humorous relationships in three different dating scenarios.

The scene is set as the three different date nights take place. Firstly the sleazy bar with crude entertainment (no place to take a lady). Secondly a very gay and very fabulous bar for very fabulous men looking for love, which I couldn’t ‘bear’ to finish. The final date is at a theatre where the play is so annoyingly contemporary that the couple of watching may be put off for a long time , as the story develops we find out that the husband  may never want to leave his house again due to pure embarrassment. You need to watch it to find our more!

The set is cleverly thought out. All that we see are some chairs and a few props to create a fully functional set that successfully achieves the look of a date night. Three different locations are displayed through the world of the play allowing you to be immersed in’ the characters lives and hilarious relationships.

The comedy was an excellently performed, by a strong cast that worked well together. The brilliantly written dialogue with its quick and witty humour really carried this show. The characters pull the audience in, never really taking a serious tone, or if it ever did it was quickly shut down by the writers quick humour and the occasional faulty zipper! The comedy displayed really carried this show, I really wanted to learn more about these hilarious characters.

I would definitely recommend this play but maybe not to anyone who could get easily offended due to the threat of a faulty zipper!

Review Beneath the Streets: Lost and Found Hijinx & Punchdrunk Enrichment by Sarah Finch

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Before starting this review I would like to congratulate the collaborators Hijinx and Punchdrunk Enrichment on arguably the most incredible and engaging immersive, site specific performance that I have ever had the pleasure of participating in, a bold statement that I hope this review provides justification for.

“We’ve all lost something: glasses, keys, memories, love, loved ones, our way…Are these things gone forever or have they found a home elsewhere? Hidden in Cardiff is a world of lost things. In the shadows, behind closed doors, we await you”

On Wednesday the 1st of July I joined a steadily growing queue outside the Maldron Hotel in Cardiff to see Beneath The Streets: Lost and Found. An exciting buzz of anticipation was rippling through the audience and before long a briefing on what was to come was delivered, along with mandatory dust masks. The buzz was now turning into excited curiosity as we were  led to the front doors of Jacob’s Antiques Market.

Upon entering the space I was immediately drawn to the attention of detail that had been used. Given that I am familiar with the regular layout of Jacob’s Antiques Market I was extremely impressed with how the design team and stage carpenter had utilised the space given to create this incredibly beautiful maze spanning two floors. I will admit I had trouble finding my way around for the first 15 minutes. Everywhere you went you were met with a corner, a drape or darkness! Opening doors to nothingness, dim lighting that cast shadows over performers and beautiful decorations adorning different sections of this new world.

My particular favourite was a pyramid made from pages and pages of books in the section of lost words, the impressive set design continued as I found myself being led by an actor into a dark room lit with a few candles, to be told a tragic love story, only to find him conversing through a non-existent mirror with his lady-love. An extremely clever trick that left myself and the other audience member, that had been lured to the ‘other room’, in complete shock. Upon discovery of the lower lair I came across sets of actors telling different stories, all looking for something or finding something. Ascending to the upper we were greeted with corporate scenes, scientists, products, offices and even a small exhibition. Eventually a message sounded over the tannoy asking that all staff report to a meeting on the upper level, the audience then witnessed the delivering of an elixir which had side effects on every staff member. The staff began to engage with the audience, but in a different way than before – this was then our signal to be led out.

I feel that words simply cannot describe how beautiful, thought-provoking and magical the experience was. Every actor was superb, it was inspiring to see the relationships between characters and the chemistry felt in each situation, credit is due to all that participated. The set and costume designs were outstanding and considering how much effort had gone into stage production I felt this really complimented the actors and helped to bring the performance to life.

As an actor that has performed in immersive theatre I applaud with admiration each and everyone that performed in this flawless production, immersive theatre is the most exciting of theatre forms that I hope all actors enjoyed delivering to their audience. With the element of lost and found I can speak from personal experience when agreeing that I did lose myself here because I was so completely engaged with this perfect production, I will definitely be the first in line for tickets when Hijinx and Punchdrunk Enrichment honour the people of Cardiff with another outstanding show.

Review Dial M for Murder Alfred Hitchcock, Chapter Arts Centre by James Knight

 

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Dial M for Murder, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, one of cinema’s great misanthropes, is playing this week at Chapter Arts Centre. Playing as part of the “Ray Milland Season”, Milland born Reginald Truscott-Jones in Neath, took the name Milland after Neath’s Milland Road, which is now an industrial site come train station car park, oh the Hollywood romance.

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) a former tennis pro, blackmails an old university chum into murdering his cheating wife Margot. Grace Kelly plays the wife (notice how she first appears in the reddest of rouge dresses, blood and murder are immediately on the mind, notice actually how the colour red is used throughout to denote blood, Hitchcock manages to make a bloody film without any blood), whilst Robert Cummings plays American crime writer Mark Halliday, the man Margot has been carrying on with. The film is an intriguingly complex viewing experience; we want Milland to succeed yet Kelly to survive, we want Milland to be caught but would also revel in his escape, we want Kelly and Cummings to run off together yet we want Milland and Kelly to live happily ever after.

There are at least three reasons to see Dial M for Murder. Firstly, for Grace Kelly, for her tenderness, for her beauty, for her movie stardom, no one photographed her as brilliantly as Hitchcock, see Rear Window for the most beautiful close-up in cinema as she leans in to kiss Jimmy Stewart. Secondly, for Ray Milland, for the devil in his movie star blue eyes and the charisma to his dark scheming murdering plans. Finally, for Hitch himself, for his genius. Primarily for his combination of camera movement and montage, his masterful use of close-ups and inserts, how through a simple close-up of Milland’s hand he manages to convey all the film’s psychology and terror. There are two moments of obvious brilliance in the film, one where Hitchcock films Milland planning the murder from above with a bird’s eye camera, making it all seem like a deadly game of human chess, and secondly a one shot of Kelly as she makes a court appearance which is a sequence of pure visual artistry. Also be on the lookout for Hitchcock’s comedic touches which often go unnoticed in many of his pictures, most notably here in John William’s performance as the Chief Inspector. Lookout for his moustache twirls, his crumpled raincoat, the way he wrestles with Robert Cummings over Milland’s bank statements, but the most brilliant example of Hitchcock black comedy can be found in the little detail of who hands Grace Kelly the now infamous pair of scissors.

Dial M for Murder is a film that gets richer with each viewing. It’s pure Hitchcock which means that it’s pure cinema.

Dial M for Murder (PG)

USA/1954/101mins/PG. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. With: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings

At Chapter Art Centre

– See more at: http://www.chapter.org/dial-m-murderpg#sthash.18HADZga.dpuf

Tuesday July 7th – 2:30pm

 

 

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.