Brave Veterans take to stage to raise awareness of PTSD
Re-Live: Abandoned Brothers
Chapter Arts Centre
14th June 2012
For more reviews please visit: www.hypercriticreviews.blogspot.com
NTW’s Brave New Political Drama
The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
National Theatre Wales
Watched via live stream
Performance at Connah’s Quay High School, Flintshire
28th April 2012
Bradley Manning is the new kid at school and “it’s your job to make sure his head doesn’t get flushed down the toilet until at least Thursday.” In NTW’s brave new production it always feels like Bradley is the new kid; scared, lonely and a little bit odd.
As only Tim Price’s third play the writer has taken on a tough and possibly legally challenging story. Based on the true events in the life of US soldier Manning’s life, this piece of fiction seeks to ask why would he allegedly release 250,000 secret cables and logs about the Iraq and Afghan wars to WikiLeaks?
Manning is currently awaiting trial in the US after spending ten months in semi-solitary confinement at Quantico. But it is the ten years before this that Price is interested in; when he spent time in Wales with his mother, worked dead end jobs to try and fund a college education and eventually joined the army because after four years service they will pay for his tuition.
Another Dead End Job
Played throughout by all six of the very strong cast Bradley is never a fully sympathetic character. As we see him struggle with his sexuality, apparent issues with cross dressing and the divorce of his parents he always comes across as difficult and a little bit whiney. Having said this you can’t help but feel protective of the young boy entrusted with military secrets well out of his depth.
NTW are known for their unusual choices of performance venue and this production was no different. The action took place in school halls across Wales including the one that Manning attending during his time in the country. This was not the only performance outlet, in an attempt to create a ‘hyper-connected’ theatre event the live performances were streamed online to a dedicated website for anyone to watch free of charge.
Although this was a highly innovative and inspired idea that enhanced the impression of constant surveillance it wasn’t 100% successful. The usual online issues of firewalls, dodgy wireless connections and system failures left some audience members disappointed. Hopefully these glitches won’t put NTW off doing this kind of thing again; it really gave a different feel to the performance although nothing can compete with seeing the action live.
In places the performances were genuinely touching (although perhaps stretching artistic license) especially as we see Bradley being put in the shoes of Welsh revolutionaries in history class. Other scenes were simply mind blowing as heavy metal introduced us to FOB Hammer, Bagdad and Lady Gaga provided the score for Bradley’s feeling of freedom as he copied the relevant files over to re-writable CDs.
Throughout it was thought provoking. In a talk with his father to ask for help with college fees his father asks “Do you want to be a man and join the army or do you want to be gay and work at Starbucks?” In reference to the army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to homosexuality.
The episodic structure gave glimpses into all the institutions that have let Bradley down all the way through his life. These transitions were seamlessly navigated by director John E. McGrath with the aid of Natasha Chivers’ superb lighting design. Brave, bold and what NTW is all about!
In the end we are left with the question “Is it Bradley’s actions or ideas that threaten?”
All these people really deserve a mention and a huge congratulations:
Cast: Matthew Aubrey, Harry Ferrier, Gwawr Loader, Kyle Rees, Anjana Vasan, Sion Daniel Young
Writer: Tim Price
Director: John E. McGrath
Designed by: Chloe Lamford
Lighting design: Natasha Chivers
Sound Design: Mike Beer
Multi-Platform Design: Tom Beardshaw
Review and photos by Chelsey Gillard
Exclusive photographs taken at the social media call at Cardiff High School
For more information on why Tim Price chose to write about Manning read his interesting and informative blog on the Guardian website.
For more reviews please visit: www.hypercriticreviews.blogspot.com
Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker (REVIEW)
Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker
Presented by Belarus Free Theatre and Fuel
Sherman Cymru, 30th May 2012
It is easy to see why Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker won the Fringe First Award last year. A powerful blend of the personal and the political, this is raw and innovative theatre.
Devised as a companion piece to New York in 1979, it is based on a text by punk writer Kathy Acker which investigated the development of society through the prism of sexuality. Performed by actors from Belarus Free Theatre and set in the eponymous capital city of Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, Minsk 2011 is a provocative celebration of sexual expression. Many members of the revolutionary theatre company have been imprisoned, lost their jobs, or forced into exile, and this is certainly a rebellious production.
Through a fusion of theatre, dance, performance art, video installation and folk songs, the memories of the city are brought to life by the talented performers. Many scenes are based on true stories from 2011. Prostitutes sentenced to hard labour for their “crimes” are forced to clear the snow off Minsk’s streets in the harsh Winter. A young actor’s first experience of detention. A fatal bombing in Minsk’s Subway. These heartbreaking events pulsate with life.
The recurring theme of sexuality culminates in a mesmerising moment where a woman strips naked, is covered in ink, and “printed” on paper. It recalls a teenage girl’s experience of having her prints taken by police while detained in Minsk. By cataloguing her in this way, the authorities were trying to turn her into a mere object and dehumanise her. But she symbolically tears the paper, asserting her identity and the power of her own body.
Minsk 2011 is a performance of contrast and contradictions. At times this was a touching love letter to Minsk, at others it was more like a “sext”— provocative and tantalising. Minsk is both a lament for a repressive city that has lost its way and a daring tribute to the freedom that can be found there through sexual expression. The city itself feels like a seductive character in its own right.
Despite being an impressive and engaging production, Minsk 2011 was not without flaws. Performed in Russian, I found myself glancing from English surtitles to the performance which was at times distracting. I occasionally missed what was happening on stage whilst trying to keep up with the text. However, having the actors perform in their own language did give a sense of authenticity and rawness to the piece
At times I felt the production was over dressed. I would like to have seen a few more moments when the actual stories were centre-stage and allowed to speak for themselves, instead of sometimes being over-shadowed by the (albeit impressive) action on stage. Moments of simplicity and silence were powerful but under used.
Ultimately, the audience is left with a faint trace of hope for Belarus. Near the end, one character observes that when winter comes in Minsk snow falls and covers the city, hiding all that went before it. A blank canvas and a fresh start.
But I cannot help thinking: if I was in the dictatorship Belarus now, I would probably be put in prison just for writing this review.
Review by Bethan James
Love and Loss through the eyes of the only Welsh Prime Minister
The wizard, the goat and the man who won the war
Richard Burton Theatre, RWCMD
2nd March 2012
To create a one man show about a politician who has been dead for 67 years that is still relevant to a modern audience would be a challenge to any writer or director. Thankfully D.J. Britton took David Lloyd George as his inspiration; the only Welsh speaking prime minister (although he was born in Manchester) whose private life and flirty charm make him an exciting and interesting man to study.
Brought to life by the utterly brilliant, BAFTA-winning actor Richard Elfyn, we got to see all the sides to the man the media called the Welsh wizard, the Goat (for his reputation as a flirt) and the man who won the war to end all wars.
On holiday in Antibes, France to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary to his wife (whilst sending his mistress back to England) this fictionalised portrayal of the great man was firmly rooted in fact. He was indeed there for his anniversary and he also had a mistress called Frances; but how he felt about these two women and how he juggled the two amid all his political duties is explored through Britton and Elfyn’s beautiful collaboration.
Elfyn danced around the bare stage, with only a bench for set. With minimal props, a walking stick became an umbrella, a golf club and even a beautiful young woman to dance tenderly with. He addressed the audience as the sea and touchingly pondered if it was the same sea that caressed the shores of his beloved home in Wales. His performance was so absorbing, so truthful and so engaging he even had the audience singing along to the Welsh classic ‘Myfanwy’ in a parody to the story that Lloyd George would get the members of his cabinet around the piano to sing at Number 10.
Richard Elfyn as Lloyd George (photo by James Davies)
It wasn’t all light-hearted though as he began to question himself. How could a man who claimed to be a protector of the poor, who established the beginnings of the welfare state, risk so much to gain more personal wealth? How could a womaniser claim to be a champion of non-conformist Christianity? Did he abandon Wales or did Wales abandon him? And how could one normal man from a small town in Wales deal with the guilt of losing of a child to a preventable illness?
This was a truly inspirational piece of theatre, perfectly crafted and brought bang up to date with witty asides about The News of the World and brothers competing in politics. Underneath all the showboating was a true sense of the man who did not care for a Union Jack but desperately longed for the Ddraig Goch of home. My only worry is that it is a Welsh piece at home in Welsh theatres and I’m not sure how it would travel, with its use of the Welsh language and patriotic passion that only those who have lived here can truly understand.
Lyrical and absorbing, quite how Elfyn kept the one man show so engaging I will never know. The role of ‘Hamlet’ is notorious for being challenging but in this production Elfyn had over twice as many words as the ill fated prince, and was certainly twice as likeable.
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
For more reviews please visit: www.hypercriticreviews.blogspot.com
The Wizard, the Goat and the Man who Won the War
Fri 3 March
I first saw this fabulous solo performance two years ago on the closing day of the Dylan Thomas Festival. In its infancy the showing was its trial premier performance and now, having taken in audience comments from that day an earlier reading at Llanystumdwy (Lloyd George’s home town) and taken it on tour the play has evolved from an informed, solid piece into a stronger, funnier more lyrical performance.
The same concept of a one man oratory on Lloyd George exists; a fictional telling of a great man’s life based on a framework of well researched facts, comparisons are not necessary as I walked out of this performance with the same spellbound feeling. “What went on in Lloyd George’s heart and mind, is of course, open to theatrical speculation” the programme explains, yet for a man faced with disapproval and scorn from his Welsh heritage and his standing in British politics and a known womanizer it might be easy to guess some of what pathways his thoughts took.
The first performance included a significant amount about his relationship with daughter Mair, his perfect image of the future and the belief’s they both hold about the other great British figure, King Arthur. The evolved performance has had the content on Mair reduced and introduced more about his Political and British life, weaving his grief for her into the wider WWI picture. Yet this does not detract from the passion, power and energy displayed, far from it in fact, it is simply that the narrative has changed tack slightly and Lloyd George’s love for the child is still strongly evident. He talks about events and people in his life; Mair, who died at 17, Frances his mistress and growing up as a child in Criccieth, fatherless. It soon becomes evident that his life is one large juggling act: between his wife and mistress; his Welsh identity and British image and his role as the people’s protector with his ever increasing wealth.
The cloth makers of Provence are the makers of his Union towel, commemorating his winning of WWI, but “Oh for a Ddraig Goch” he cries: what do the French know of a Ddraig Goch exactly? To Richard Elfyn’s Lloyd George, it is not he who has abandoned Wales, but Wales who has abandoned him, which to the real man may have been the truth.
The play is a mix of three languages with the English speech broken up by flashes of Welsh and French and whilst many in the audience may not understand the French or Welsh it adds to the atmosphere and the depth of the character before us.
Lloyd George would be at home in today’s political arena: a Liberal-Conservative coalition, political scandal, social reform and of course the press: an institution as prevalent to the politicians then as now, and it included The News of the World, a paper that has never changed its skins. Lloyd George’s actions alos exposed a corrupt system of peerages, something we are familiar with even now, having given newspaper proprietor’s Max Aitkin and George Rydell Lordships for a price. There are several political jokes, he notes Chamberlain leap frogged his elder brother to the top job, quipping “who in the world of politics would ever do that” a cheeky aside to the Milliband brothers.
What Elfyn undertakes for the show is a feat, for a one man show the energy hardly pauses and is kept at a high level throughout and the passion flows right though his oratory – keeping the audience entranced from the outset. With only a walking stick, towel and bench as prop’s he does extremely well to keep going – the stick a particularly useful tool, morphing from its traditional use to become woman in an his embrace as he dances, a golf club as he discusses the golf clubs and pointing at all sorts. He addresses the audience as the sea, his stage vantage point being the beach at Lloyd George’s favourite resort of Antibes, yet through that abstract viewpoint Elfyn involves the audience: making one woman blush and as if on cue the audience join in his rendition of Myfanwy. The singing a throwback to the knowledge Lloyd George gathered his cabinet around the piano and showed off his Welsh heritage.
For more of my review’s please visit http://paradeisosgwynfor.blogspot.com/
Heritage Vs Happiness
A Provincial Life
National Theatre Wales
National Theatre Wales have once again worked their magic to bring legendary director Peter Gill back to his home city of Cardiff to direct for the very first time. This re-working of Gill’s 1966 adaptation of Chekov’s short story gently tells the tale of Misail (Nicholas Shaw), a bourgeois young man, who wants to labour for his bread despite his privileged upbringing. Shunned by his father we follow him as he tries to build a life for himself and help those less fortunate in 19th century Russia.
Through their marketing strategy NTW have continuously pointed out the lavish set and costume design and it’s easy to see why – Alison Chitty’s design was superb. Huge bleached wood panels provided a blank yet imposing canvas that could be moved to suggest different spaces. Each scene was beautifully introduced by the chorus placing the furnishings of the rich or poor households in simple but effective choreographed sequences. These features perfectly framed the play as a whole and set the slow, almost dreamy state. The farmhands scything crops perfectly in time with Terry Davies’s haunting music was particularly poignant.
Performances from the 15 strong cast were impressive, in particular Alex Clatworthy as Misail’s unpredictable wife brought a real spark and energy to the production. Comic relief was delivered in the form of Misail’s rather odd collegue, Ivan (John-Paul Macleod). Lee Haven-Jones (Boris Ivanov Blagovo) and William Thomas (Andrey Ivanov) added true warmth and depth as Misail’s real friends.
Definitely a slow burner, if you are a fan of punchy dialogue and fast paced action this may not be the show for you. Although many of the themes are relevant to today’s youth, who are also striving for change, the production lacked a certain fire and passion that you would expect in a tale of revolution. Perhaps for a plot that emphasised the need to work for what you have it was a little too cerebral. This lack of gusto meant the end – although touching – fizzled out and was rather unsatisfying.
Although Misail sets out to help those less fortunate it is those very same people who are helping him by the end. This intelligent production forces you to ponder what is really valuable in this life – wealth and power or compassion and community?
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
Runs at the Sherman Theatre until 17th March
Box office Phone: 029 2064 6900
For more reviews please visit: http://www.hypercriticreviews.blogspot.com
The next step to social networking is building your own online community Tom Beardshaw, cofounder of NativeHQ, explains how National Theatre Wales created its very own social network
Tom Beardshaw who has supported the Young Critics Scheme has writen an excellent article on NTW’s use of social networking and the ning platform to develop its community.
Tom mentions YC in his article.
National Theatre Wales (NTW) was born in 2009 when social media was rapidly mainstreaming and a new generation was becoming so familiar with online sharing, discussion, collaborating and creating their own media that it was like a second language.
The task facing NTW, and other arts organisations on the verge of this social media wave, was to harness that enthusiasm for social sharing, and to make sure the new generation of arts, culture and heritage professionals were properly and actively engaged.
So with a vision for nurturing an open, participatory creative community in Wales, NTW asked our social media company NativeHQ to build a public online networking space using Ning’s social network platform and help the organisation use it effectively to build an engaged community with a culture of sharing and discussing NTW’s work and their own.
The National Theatre Wales Community has grown with a spirit of experimentation, including careful decisions about how social software shapes the way culture, art and relationships form. It has depended on the generosity and involvement of its members and the commitment of all the NTW staff, led by their communications team, to share their creativity, lead discussions and debates, form specialist interest groups and connect individuals to new opportunities for creative work.
Through hosting a space that enables everyone to talk to each other, whether in public, group or private settings, we have found a way for NTW to engage a young generation in its own development. By sharing and enabling discussion of its work, the people affected by its policies have a say in shaping them and allowing other companies and artists to do the same.
Early in the development of the company, the theatre held online discussions with the community about the work it should commission, with actors about casting policies, with writers on their approach to handling scripts and commissions, and with critics on developing their work to grasp the opportunities the web offers to involve anyone in the discussion of creative productions.
John McGrath, artistic director at NTW, was quick to highlight the importance of the social network and the success of the theatre. “I regularly find myself turning to our online community for inspiration and ideas,” he said. “The sense that there’s a real dialogue going on there encourages people of all ages and experience levels to get involved.”
And what have been the results? Well, one initiative that has emerged from all this activity is a Young Critics group, which enables 13-25 year olds to support each other as they try to enter the somewhat difficult world of becoming an arts critic. They visit live performances, then blog their responses to the community and their own website, inviting discussion with both audiences and the works’ creators.
From there, we made the platform accessible so that all members of the community are included and invited to post about their work, the work of NTW, or any aspect of Welsh or international theatre. Groups for actors, writers, directors, designers and creatives are hosted by key NTW staff, enabling focused, professional discussions and allowing anyone to create a connection with leaders in their field. Other Welsh theatre companies host their own groups in the network and regularly post events to the site, making it one of the most useful places to find outwhat’s on in Wales.
NTW has moved beyond the social media basics of Facebook and Twitter by creating its own network that can host numerous conversations and debates, and this is helping it tackle the problem of how to engage with a younger generation, by giving them a public voice in the theatre community, and encouraging them to use it.
Young theatre makers, artists and audiences in Wales are showing that in a culture that newly enables them to speak with seasoned professionals, they have a huge contribution to bring to the revitalisation and growth of creativity and debate in the arts.
PechaKucha Night Cardiff
The seventh ‘PechaKucha Night Cardiff’ was held in Chapter Arts Centre on Tuesday 24th January. Organised by local poet, writer and performer Mab Jones, this night is part of a worldwide phenomenon which sees over 1000 events take place in 400 cities each year.
For anyone who hasn’t stumbled across this ingeniously creative concept yet, PechaKucha Night started in Tokyo in 2003 as an event for young designers to showcase their work and network. PechaKucha takes it’s name from the Japanese word for “chit chat”, and the key to these events is their presentation format: participants show 20 images and talk about each one for 20 seconds. This simple idea aims to keep things moving at a swift pace.
The latest PechaKucha Night Cardiff was a collaboration with Literature Wales. It saw eight poets take to the stage to present their work and talk about their recent creative projects.
In the spirit of PechaKucha’s focus on the number ‘20’, I’m going to review each poet in 20 words:
Interesting opening about his father’s time in prison. Animated poetry reading about WW1 soldiers’ suffering. A bit over the top.
This presentation felt experimental and song-like. The poet played with different voices. Timing slightly off with slides, but bravely unusual.
Talented poet with excellent style and pace. It’s a poetic ode to the city (and lover?). Mesmerising artwork accompanied it.
Clearly a passionate and gifted writer, but this poetic attempt to make a pylon interesting failed to hold my attention.
This humorous “punk poet” got the audience laughing with his cheeky verse. Prince Harry’s Stag Do poem was a highlight.
A response to the May 2011 Japanese earthquake. This sensitive piece took the audience on an imaginative and poignant journey.
Four poetry readings from her recent book. Powerful writing on themes such as the environment and extinction, with well-selected images.
An amusing tongue-in-cheek ‘Boney M Studies’ lecture! People laughed, clapped and even danced in response. A lively and unique finale.
Overall, PechaKucha Night Cardiff provided a refreshing and accessible insight into the diverse poetry ‘scene’ in Wales today. And it wasn’t just me who was won-over. A group of men sitting behind me moaned and contemplated leaving at the start when they realised that only poets would be presenting. Yet by the end of the evening they were laughing and applauding as much as the rest of us.
This event was an entertaining reminder that poetry is at its best and most powerful when read aloud, rather than staying static in the pages of a book.
Visit Literature Wales’s YouTube Channel to see some of the poets in action.
For more information on future events, join the ‘PechaKucha Night Cardiff’ group on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter @pkn_cardiff.
Christmas hits City Road
Dirty Protest: Office Christmas Party
Various locations on City Road, Cathays
1st December 2011
Personally I feel the first of December is a little too early to be getting festive, but then I am known to my friends as ‘The Grinch’. Luckily for me Dirty Protest’s Office Christmas Party wasn’t all tinsel and cheesy pop songs, instead they showcased five intriguing new plays that tried to dig deep and find what really bothers us during the holidays.
After being welcomed into Cathays Conservative Club with the offer of chocolates and party blowers the first event proceeded in front of a packed audience. A Cold Coming focussed on Carrie, a bar tender whose evening has been disturbed by the arrival of a corpse and a pizza. Before his death the deceased asked Carrie to find a priest to read his last rights. In an odd yet convincing mix between dark humour and high drama three very different priests arrive, but all are too late. The relationship between the three holy men, although perhaps a little clichéd, was very amusing as they argued and discussed the benefits of holding a zumba class in the church hall. Although the heart of this piece was a debate around religion and forgiveness it never became too heavy or self-important. This was definitely one of the strongest pieces of the evening and it perhaps would have been better at the end of the night to bring the audience together for an exciting and intriguing climax.
The audience were then split into three groups and I had the pleasure of being part of the Dirty Elves for the evening. We were taken to CF24 hairdressers where we met Sabrina and her staff as they closed up shop before their Christmas party and one member of staff isFoiled after being caught stealing. This piece relied a little too much on the ditzy blonde and outrageously camp hairdresser stereotypes but this wasn’t too much of a problem as there was a lot of humour and given such a short performance time it helped the audience to connect to the characters instantly. Unfortunately in theatre sometime lines are dropped and cues are missed but in this performance it happened a little too often to be completely forgiven, Dirty Protest like working to tight deadlines and perhaps this section could have benefitted from a little more rehearsal time.
Next up was a trip to Ambala Indian Restaurant, which somehow still managed to serve customers as the performance, Mistakes Have Been Made, took place. In this one man show, the audience became the employees listening to the smooth talking yet untrustworthy manager giving his Christmas speech. It soon becomes clear that all is not well with the company, the recession has hit but the employees are hitting harder. With wide spread disobedience and malicious prank playing going on throughout the company, the management are worried. This script was brilliantly witty with a strong undercurrent of violence that cumulated in two “employees” bundling the Boss into the toilets and giving him a bit of a beating. This was definitely the piece that worked best within the restrictions of the evening; the audience didn’t feel like invisible voyeurs in someone else’s space and the plot was small but perfectly formed.
Within the cosy and atmospheric setting of Milgi’s yurt there sat a sad and lonely santa, who wanted to reach out to the woman he loves before he literally disappears. Before I Go was a melancholy piece dealing again with the effects of the recession and in some ways talked about the restrictions we put on ourselves because we are worried about what society will think of us. This script was intriguing and I was really willing it to grab hold and not let go but it never quite reached its potential. I don’t know if it needed to be longer or just more developed but there was never a moment that I really felt empathy for the tragic character John. Having said that I do think it was well acted by Sion Pritchard and I really can’t put my finger on the missing link.
The last performance for my group took place in a bus stop on City Road. Inside, the slightly disturbed Mary is waiting for a bus. At first she seems like a bit of a social outcast, a bit different, one of those people who like to be on their own. Soon it becomes clear she is completely off her rocker as she plots The Demise of Photocopy Boy. Poor photocopy boy is going to pay the ultimate price for flirting with this black widow. This piece took us into the region of the surreal and although the plot was a little unbelievable as a real life situation, Hanna Jarman played the role of Mary so well that you could really imagine her dark side breaking through the socially awkward exterior.
Overall the night was enjoyable, but I felt there was something missing. Logistics were handled well considering the massive audience numbers and the need to move between five different venues. All the plays were daring but some didn’t quite hit the mark. In some ways the event felt like we were seeing five plays in the development or prototype stage rather than fully formed performances. Despite my criticism I do have to applaud Dirty Protest for their innovation, they really are bringing theatre to the masses with accessible plots and unconventional venues. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do next, what will they change and how will they grow? Keep your eyes open because I really think this company are going to hit Cardiff with something spectacular in the near future.
Review by Chelsey Gillard
For more info on Dirty Protest click here.
For more reviews click here.
To see what the other Young Critics thought click here.