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Article, Critics are Parasites


‘Critics are Parasites’

 Meet the Critics at the V&A organised by the Critics Circle 27/04/13

I coordinate the activities of the Young Critics, the new 3rd Age Critics group and helped set up the inaugural Theatre Critics of Wales Awards at Sherman Cymru earlier this year. I read with interest that the Critics Circle was organising a free event for anyone interested in a critical understanding of the arts and went along to learn more.

The morning session was chaired by Paul Gambaccini and comprised of a series of five panels consisting of three critics, one panel from each Critics Circle section, Drama, Music, Film, Dance and Visual Arts, the panellists talked about their relevant fields and answered questions. Critics present included Michael Billington, Mark Shenton, Jason Solomons, Barry Norman, Marine Vaizey, Claire Allfree, Jeffery Taylor, Libby Purves, Fiona Mountford, Richard Morrison, Guy Dammann, Erica Jeal, Sanjoy Roy, Donald Hutera, Simon Tait, Hugh Pearman and Sarah Crompton.

The morning session consisted of the different critic’s panels discussing their entry routes into the world of arts criticism, this being most frequently that of the journalist.

There were some interesting and provocative statements relating to the critical process with Barry Normans definition of the critic as ‘parasites’ appearing to resonate most strongly in the room.

Other statements included,

  • The critic must be honest to the audience.
  • Don’t bore the reader.
  • The opinion of the star struck critic is worthless.
  • Don’t be in awe of someone who earns their living from pretending to be someone else.
  • Critics shouldn’t be populist celebrities it’s a form in its own right.
  • Someone over 40 with considerable life experience and knowledge of their form is a better critic than that of a young person.
  • Be brave, failure is good.
  • Nobody wants to make bad work.
  • A review can be better if the critic understands the artist’s intention.
  • Good writing is rewriting.
  • The critic provides the match report.
  • Make the reader know what it was like to be there.
  • The critic is a professional member of the audience.
  • Without critics we risk the sound of one hand clapping.
  • The best critics are practioners, but not the best reviewers.

The second half of the session was chaired by Mariella Frostrup and devoted to the future of the critic and their trade. Topics for discussion included what might happen to criticism in the age of the blogger, the impact on the critic’s trade and the standards of the on-line amateur with opinions but no qualifications for holding opinions, the tweeter who tweets without thought, and of people who have no experience of life.

I felt this afternoon session focused primarily on many of the negative elements of the internet and the changes currently taking place in the world of arts criticism.

It was immediately apparent that the process of change currently taking place for many arts journalists is a very difficult process but I felt that many of the positive aspects of the internet were overlooked. This also seemed to relate to the opinion of some of the panellists and the Critics Circle themselves, they seemed to think  that for a critic to have a worthwhile opinion they need to have considerable life experience and to have an in-depth knowledge of their subject matter. Whilst I am sure this is true to an extent I feel this risks alienating a huge sector of new potential critic’s especially younger ones.

In my opinion the positive developments of ‘everyone is a critic’ alongside the internet has allowed a more inclusive voice to be heard regarding many art forms. There are a range of audiences/ages for much of the work created and I don’t feel its representative to only focus on the voices of older predominately male critics.

I feel that projects such as Young Critics, 3rd Age Critics, Wales Arts Review and magazine websites such as A Younger Theatre help to support a more honest, inclusive critical voice as opposed to the Critics Circle ideal critic

‘Which is not to say critics should be dinosaurs just that they should have lived a little.’



With these thoughts in mind the Young Critics have arranged the event below to continue the discussions in Wales


A series of critical conversations The Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Sat the 7th of Sep 10-4 pm.

Subjects for discussion at Response may include

  • Venue/producers presentation, an open forum to discuss the relationship with Arts Critics, venues, producers and artists.
  • Lack of critical commentary in an area, and what can be done/is being done to support work.
  • Looking beyond the traditional routes for criticism, how can engagement go further?
  • Producing venues from across Wales will be invited to attend these days to showcase their work and invite a critical response (this will be cross art form).
  • The notion of the “professional” critic in the age of blogging; a discussion with arts practitioners about the kinds of criticism (if any) which they find useful.
  • Arts Criticism in the Welsh Language (With a focus on work for younger audiences).
  • The future role of the Arts Critic.

If you have any suggestions for discussion topics or would like to present at Response please let me know.



Critic’s Circle article on their event.

Review Love & Money, Waking Exploits, Chapter Arts by Sarah Finch.


On Thursday 18th of April I attended Chapter Arts Center in Canton, Cardiff to view the production Love and Money.

Love and Money tells the story of relationships, heartache, sacrifice, obsession and money within the marriage of a young couple, David and Jess. Written by Dennis Kelly, we follow a young woman’s all too familiar addiction for material items with an expensive taste and the severe consequences that follow.

Love and money takes the audience on a roller coaster of emotions as we see the destruction caused by Jess’ craving to spend money, her husband David’s plummet into desperation trying to fix the overwhelming debt that has been caused and the eventual demise of the relationship.

The playwright cleverly uses scenarios such as online romance and favours from friends to gain empathy from the audience, the situations become relatable and we begin to question ourselves if we would also behave and react in the same way in which the characters do.

Whilst initially shocked at the predicaments our characters had to face I then began to wonder, what would I have done? Would I take the job? Would I have called the ambulance or would I have taken David’s route and helped Jess to end it all? It certainly left me with an internal struggle to which I’m still unsure the options I would have chosen.

Funny but tragic, Love and Money is thought provoking and leaves us with the idea of can money truly buy happiness? Or does it leave you with a broken heart, an empty bank account and a relationship with no trust.

Review, Love and Money, Waking Exploits, Chelsey Gillard.


Love and Money

Waking Exploits
At Chapter Arts Centre
11th April 2013

Almost hidden in the corner a small fish tank filled with its very own barcode striped set mirrored the stage. As the small goldfish swam aimlessly around it was impossible not to draw comparison between this small creature and the characters that are all trapped by their own compulsions, passions or self-imposed restrictions.

 Just like the goldfish David (Will Thorp) seems lost in his own world. As he communicates awkwardly via email with his new French lover he slowly reveals his wife’s tragic death and the role he played in it. Saddled by £70,000 of debt and an overwhelming shopping addiction his young bride, Jess, saw no other way out – neither did he.

Although Love and Money is a very wordy play, mostly consisting of monologues and dialogues, there was never a lull in the tension. Spiralling backwards in time Jess’s parents (played by the perfectly cast Rebecca Harries and Keiron Self ) share their horror at the huge monuments being built on the grave next to their daughter’s. Their love for their child is obvious but they can’t help but ask “why didn’t we help her?”  Finally settling on the answer “She’ll never learn if we always bail her out.”

 Occasionally dipping into surrealism the play asked a lot from the actors, especially Joanna Simpkins and Gareth Milton who both skilfully navigated a number of different roles. In a darkly comic nightclub scene sleazy ‘agent’ Duncan and seemingly naive office worker Debbie reveal the truth about the depths that people will stoop to in order to make quick cash.
 The stand out performance – in a show full to the brim with talent – came when Jess (Sara Lloyd-Gregory) entered and talked about her obsession with aliens, eventually revealing the paralysis she experienced when trying to decide between two different sets of forks. For her the compulsion to fill her life with material things seems to fill a void – but who or what this void was created by is only hinted at and each spectator is left to make up their own mind. Jess’s scenes in particular were complimented by Declan Randall’s multimedia design that gave the production a completeness and immersive quality.
In this close look at our society’s obsession with money and material goods there were no easy answers. In what could be a jumpy and hard to follow play Ryan Romain’s direction pulled all the viewpoints into a cohesive whole that was both interrogative and heartfelt.

Like the goldfish the play doesn’t really go anywhere due to the big shock of the narrative happening at the very beginning. Yet the energetic and completely engrossed cast carried the performance on waves of dark humour and heartbreaking honesty.

 Don’t miss out on this challenging and inventive production.

Tour dates and more info:

Review, The Bloody Ballad, Gagglebabble, Chelsey Gillard.

bloody ballad

The Bloody Ballad


At Volcano, Swansea

15th April 2013

Murder, incest, kidnapping and arson don’t sound like the perfect ingredients for a feel-good rockabilly music show yet Gagglebabble’s The Bloody Ballad is guaranteed to leave you with a huge smile on your face (and possibly a nauseous feeling in your stomach).

Meet Mary Maid (Lucy Rivers) and her band The Missin’ Fingers. Mary’s had a tough week and would like nothing more than to share her tale with you before the authorities catch up with her.

After a few warm up tunes – including a brilliant rendition of Johnny Cash classic ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ by guitarist Dan Messore and an astonishing drum solo from Tom Cottle – Mary tells all about ‘What my Daddy Done (in A minor)’ pun most definitely intended. Knowing her back story it doesn’t come as a surprise when Mary falls for the first man to show her real romantic attention – a mysterious, shifty yet charming wanderer Connor (Oliver Woods) who works his magic on the whole audience with his velvety vocals.

After a week-long whirlwind romance Connor betrays naive Mary and the consequences for him are not pretty at all. Mary may be young but she can sure look after herself – leaving a trail of blood and bodies behind her. Including the body of Connor’s psychotic, snakeskin wearing Mama played (with more energy than can be safe) by Hannah McPake.

Lucy Rivers is perfect as our ill-fated heroine, with a tortured look in her eye and a mean singing voice, a bit like True Blood’s Sookie Stackhouse but a lot more kick-ass!  By the end the stage is littered with severed fingers, a snake’s head and a whole lot of blood!

Drawing on clichés of 1950s Mid-West America – the isolated gas station, the mysterious wanderer, hillbilly culture – the cast get every bit of humour out of the brilliant script (also written by the hugely talented Rivers). The amount of musical skill on the stage is phenomenal, every member of the cast could play, sometimes multiple, instruments and all had brilliant bluesy vocals.

It’s so refreshing to see such a raw and passionate production that, although professional, doesn’t take itself too seriously. The performers’ love for the show was so infectious and it was an absolute crime that more people weren’t there to share the unforgettable experience!

Not only will the toe-tappingly good tunes replay over and over in your head but the great flair for simple storytelling will ensure the tragic tale of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks will haunt you for a long time.

A truly original and daring production that smashes through so many genres –part folktale, part Tarantino violence and part rock and roll gig – 100% unmissable!

This is THE best touring music show you will see.

Seriously get yourself a ticket for the tour then go see it again in Edinburgh!

For more on the company :

Tour details:

Gwyn Hall, Neath

Date & Time: 17th April, 7.30pm

Box Office: 0300 3656677 /

Tickets: £9, £7 members, £5 students


St Donat’s Arts Centre, Vale of Glamorgan

Date & Time: 19th April, 8pm

Box Office: 01446 799100 /

Tickets: £12.50, £10.50 conc


University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Date & Time: 24th April, 7pm

Box Office: 01267 67 6669 /

Tickets: £6, £4


Torch Theatre, Milford Haven

Date & Time: 25th-26th April, 7.45pm

Box Office: 01646 695 267 /

Tickets: £12/£10 conc/under 26s £7


Soho Theatre, London

Date & Time: 29th April-4th May, 7.30pm

Box Office: 020 7478 0100 /

Tickets: £10 Mon + Tues, £15 (£12.50 concs) Weds – Sat

Review Incubator, WMC by Fern Coslett


Incubator is a platform for new companies that allows them to develop their productions in the Wales Millennium Centre. I went to see a production called ‘The Violence of Summer’ by Sean Tuan John and Bert Van Gorp which is in development with the Incubator . Throughout the incubator period they have tried out various theatrical approaches to the themes of the outsider and deviant in society. Research into sociological ideas has been carried out through reading definitions of a deviant and criminal court cases to inform their work.

The stage lights up to reveal around 50 rubber pigs all laid out in a sequential order with two older men sat in garden lawn chairs. At the starting moment they have already got my attention, through all the enigma codes being conveyed such as ‘what’s with all the pigs?’ ‘Who are these men?’ I can’t help but be intrigued, and this is something which is great about the production. As the music kicks in these men begin to dance uncontrollably between these 50 pigs for the majority of the 55 minutes, in some parts they slow down and the music gets quieter which gives the show a good dynamic of pace. There’s one prevalent moment when the character speaks about his difficult childhood however it doesn’t tell me enough to really discover the truth of the narrative. The production is supposed to express ideologies about the ‘deviant’ in society and a major downfall of the production is that these ideologies aren’t conveyed enough in the narrative or characters.. The production aims to combine humour and dance however with a big topic that is sensitive to society such as ‘adult males that hurt children’ it doesn’t do it enough justice to make the humour credible.

On the other hand the play is good on how it challenges and is different to other productions with its aim to mix contemporary dance and humour. The production is clearly carried out by a company that are enthusiastic and they makes it much  more enjoyable to watch. Incubator is a great concept as it gives productions like ‘The Violence of Summer’ the tools and advice it needs to grow. I hope that through Incubator it’s narrative and ideologies are improved to be more clear to audiences.

Review Wasted by Kate Tempest at Sherman Cymru by Chelsey Gillard

wasted 2


By Kate Tempest

At Sherman Cymru, Theatre 2

23rd March 2013

Once in a while a production will come along that creates a huge buzz. When you miss a show like that you know that there’s usually no way you’ll ever get to see it. Luckily for those who missed it first time round Wasted came back for a second nationwide tour. If you missed it this time you really have missed out!

Three friends, who are maybe more than friends and maybe less, are forced to face up to all the opportunities they wasted because they were…..well, wasted. On the tenth anniversary of their childhood friend’s death they ask what went wrong and how can I make it right. But is the middle of a rave in South London really the place for these twenty five year olds to make a change for the better?

The pace of this short play is staggering, during the twenty-four hours we follow the three disillusioned Londoners no part of their lives is left unexamined. Why doesn’t downtrodden Ted (Cary Crankson)leave his Ikea loving girlfriend and get the job of his dreams? When will Danny (Bradley Taylor) realise his band is going nowhere? And how did Charlotte (Lizzy Watts) fall out of love with her calling to be a teacher?

Written by performance poet and rapper Kate Tempest, her theatrical debut is nothing short of amazing. Tempest has a way of bending words to make them fit into her beautiful urban poetry that never once sounds forced or insincere. In fact her down to earth and rhythmic approach to word play ensures the production is hard hitting, honest and true.

Naturalistic scenes in parks, cafes and clubs are broken up by bare-all monologues and stylised choral scenes directed straight at the audience that are worthy of any music stage. The actors do an absolutely stunning job of navigating the rhythms and layers of Tempest’s words, slipping effortlessly between their characters everyday life and the choreographed group sections.

As if there wasn’t enough to be entertained by already the innovative use of multimedia added yet another level to the polished show. A large screen provided clues to the setting of each scene; a neon sign telling us the cafe is open or a beautifully shot pub interior. During the powerful monologues the screen showed close ups of the actor’s face that were cleverly matched to the onstage lighting and added yet more emotion to the already intense words.

A beautiful symphony of words, music and technology. This is the kind of theatre that gets people excited, makes them talk and inspires them to make a change. The innovative combinations of media and poetry make this rather straightforward study of modern urban life something unmissable. Let’s hope they will be back by popular demand for a third outing soon!

A Paine’s Plough, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Roundhouse production, in association with the National Student Drama Festival and Latitude Festival.

For more about the show and producers Paine’s Plough:

For more on Kate Tempest:

Grimm Tales Theatr Iolo review by Katie Treherne

After studying Carol Ann Duffy’s work in school, I can say that my expectations were set high as I sat amongst an audience of restless young minds and excited adults alike.  I couldn’t wait to see how Duffy’s vivid imagination and blunt tone would play out on stage in comparison to the short poems I’d analysed so carefully.


The play featured four young, talented actors that sang and waltzed and even pecked their way across the stage, using the lack of props to their best of their ability as they gave two exemplary performances of the infamous tales, Hansel and Gretel and Ashputtel.

Needless to say, the children in the audience settled down quickly as the production began with the eerily soothing voices of Hansel and Gretel’s family, and they stared at the awe-filled children with big eyes, maintaining enough eye contact with each spectator as to include each and every person in the new world they presented.

Although the tale of Hansel and Gretel delivered a more melancholy side of Duffy’s imagination, the ending was sure to warm the hearts of every parent in the room, enough to prepare them for the big dose of fun the second half of the production was ready to lump on top of them, and, true to its name, Ashputter left in its wake a layer of ashes impossible to shake off after it’s spectacularly bright show.

At one point towards the end of show, a step-sister screeched mid-stage as she used a plastic axe to saw off the tips of her toes that she couldn’t fit into the slipper.  Although the guffaws of the children suggested they found the act funny, I’m sure some parents, as well as myself, found the incessant screaming and fake bloody rag more than a little bit alarming.  This was not a rare occurrence either, as body parts were chopped off on two occasions.

On the whole, Grimm Tales was an eye-opening, funny, and family-orientated production I wouldn’t hasten to recommend to a family with younger children, so long as the members were okay with a little bit of gore.

Grimm Tales Theatr Iolo by Malikah Saba



Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Theatr Iolo produced the magical stories of the Grimm Brothers which included the tales of Ashputtel which is the original Cinderella story, and Hansel and Gretel, which I saw at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff.

The production consisted of just four actors, who played all the designated roles simultaneously. This was by far the best show presented. It offered goriness, fear and appraisable imagination. It took a turn back in time; rather than showing the predictable show of lust, hope and forgiveness, it allowed for the younger audience to be revealed ever so gently to the disappointments and punishments of life. It had many memorising moments within the production, alongside many frightening parts, such as the birds pecking the eyes out of the two step sisters. Although the production was aimed at a young audience, it gave them the chance to relate to mature content. The gasps in the audience indicated that the audience was surprised each time the play took a new turning. It was a chance for the 21st century audience to see a combination of modern with traditional. The play elegantly summed up the original story of the Grimm Brothers with the appropriate level of obscurity.

Overall the production was a great success, as it intrigued the audience; it allowed the audience to search their imagination and come up with their own twists and outcomes of the play.

YC Review, Grimm Tales, Theatr Iolo.

Sherman Grimm

Grimm Tales Review – Cardiff Sherman Theatre 27th February 2013

 The production was put on by four talented actors who cleverly interlinked storytelling and performing when showcasing two of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales – Ashputtel and Hansel and Gretel. Everybody has seen and heard of the Disney take on these famous fairy tales but it was refreshing to watch a slightly different version of events. The cast acted out the original tales and kept the audience captivated throughout with special sound effects and music that brought the stories to life, with each actor playing different instruments throughout the shows. Although the set was basic without too many props, the performers used it in such a way that entranced viewers and allowed them to also use their own imaginations to envisage the events unfolding before them.

 The atmosphere in the room was enjoyable with many moments where the room gasped and laughed together at certain points in the stories. Arguably, having only four cast members is not ideal for most performances, but it really allowed the audience to concentrate and identify with the actors as they are performing and it meant that there was less distraction for them. They were able to focus on the original message of Grimm’s fairy tales without being bogged down by too much happening on stage at once.

The production was directed by Kevin Lewis and adapted by Carol Ann Duffy who evidently make a great pairing when creating shows suitable for a wide range of people. Children, adults and teenagers alike are able to enjoy this magical show which is especially great for families, keeping you entertained and involved throughout.

A highly enjoyable show where you often find yourself forgetting about everything else; and feeling eager to discover what happens next in the twists and turns of these tales.

Amy Sandford