Living Pictures have proved that all you need to make great theatre is an intriguing story, a team with great attention to detail and one actor with awe-inspiring charisma.
13 June, 7.45pm
Taliesin Arts Centre
01792 602 060
18 June, 7.30pm
01286 685 250
05-06 July, 8.15pm
Tobacco Factory, Bristol
0117 902 0344
10 July, 7.30pm
Y Ffwrnes, Llanelli
0845 226 3510
03-25 August, 4pm
Venue 13, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
07075 161 620
Salt, Root and Roe
Theatr Clwyd Cymru
Sherman Cymru, Theatre 2
8th May 2013
The run down house of elderly twin sisters Anest and Iola seems to rise up out of the sea and if the stories are to be believed they themselves were found in a lobster pot by their father who was half merman!
This feeling of Welsh fairytale runs deep through Tim Price’s beautifully written play and it gives the sense that the twins are somewhat ethereal and otherworldly. Indeed we soon find out that they do not have long left in this world, having decided to take their own lives to release themselves from the torture of Iola’s ever-worsening dementia.
Early moments did (for me) feel somewhat melodramatic but soon a beautifully directed rhythm of highs and lows really captured the sense of Iola’s good days and bad days. Sara Harris-Davies sensitively and convincingly played Iola, skilfully navigating both the tender and the violent aspects of the septuagenarian’s illness. Combined with the tender love pouring out of Betsan Llwyd’s Anest the pair were genuinely heartbreaking and certainly had the audience in tears on more than one occasion.
One of the only things keeping the pair alive is their tie to Anest’s daughter Menna (Catrin Aaron) who rushes to their Pembrokeshire home as soon as she receives a letter from Iola telling her niece that she plans to kill herself. Tragic Menna already has a lot to deal with; she seems to suffer with crippling obsessive compulsive disorder centred on a fear of germs. Her desperation to rekindle her Welsh origins and reignite the older women’s passion for life whilst dealing with her own demons was moving and made an initially cold woman human and relatable.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom; whenever caring local policeman and family friend Gareth (Brendan Charleson) entered he seemed to bring a ball of positive energy with him despite having his own problems at home. His chemistry with Menna was wonderful to watch as the two slowly grew more comfortable in each other’s company.
In what is already a charmingly slow-burning play unnecessarily slow furniture changes sucked any pace from proceedings. Although this suited the gentle nature of the dialogue it was frustrating when the stage was left empty with only off-stage murmurings to keep you engaged.
Having said that, the words and the acting were so expertly crafted that the production did not once lose the audience’s attention. It was refreshing to see a contemporary play that dealt head-on with one of the most controversial topics of healthcare today. Not only did it provide a heartbreakingly honest portrayal of old age but it also had an obvious and well reasoned pro-euthanasia stance without being pushy or overtly political. Here were two old women who could be any Welsh Mamgu trying their best to come to terms with human frailty.
Photo Catherine Ashmore.
Bumbags, Curtain-cuts and Ecstasy!
Mercury Theatre Wales
Chapter Arts Theatre
2nd May 2013
Bum-bags, curtain-cuts and ecstasy, add in a hypnotic rave track and you have the perfect ingredients for a night out in 1993!
Mercury Theatre completely transformed the theatre in Chapter, removing the seating and replacing it with a bar, DJ booth, a seated “chill-out zone” and dance platforms. The black walls, laser projections, film clips of clubbers and heavy soundtrack really made it feel as though we had been let into a top night spot.
The bouncer on the door frisked some of the men, while the rest of us had a smiley face stamped on our hands and were given neon glosticks to get us in the mood to party. It was surprising how easy it was to be caught up by the music (not at all to my taste!) and soon most people were at least bobbing their heads in time to the beats, some were really going for it and could have fit in nicely with the cast.
Up on the platform beautiful and innocent Angel (Sian Davies) lets the music control her body as she writhes seductively unaware of the attention she is attracting. She has certainly caught Gary’s (Rhy Downing) eye – he looks on longingly, after trying to convince his mate Sean (Jason Marc-Williams) to take some “painkillers” to help his headache. Sean is there to see his girlfriend Donna (Holly Fry) , they live the typical Welsh valley’s life – get a job and settle down young, but is this enough for DJ wannabe Donna?
The inspiration for Donna’s goal comes in the form of DJ Johnny (Lee Mengo) who started out with a passion for music but somewhere along the way he got distracted by the women and the drugs. Linking all these characters together is Angel’s mother’s boyfriend – Steve (Jason May) a businessman proudly showing off the latest in technology – his huge mobile phone. He is also a casual drug dealer who just can’t stop using himself.
There was just enough narrative cleverly woven into the quieter moments of music but unfortunately quite a lot was lost due to microphone volume (possibly intentional, but seemed like an error). Cleverly choreographed movement scenes were slick and impressive, really expressing the feelings of euphoria that this kind of club culture is associated with.
Having seen this as a work in progress as part of the Wales Millennium Centre’s Incubator scheme I was pleased to see how much the work has come on. New video art by Holly Genevieve and music by renowned DJ Jimpy really enhanced the authentic club feel. On the other hand the dialogue and characters were still somewhat clichéd and certain plot points – a sudden (drug related?) collapse – were never fully explained or explored. Having said that more dialogue would have weighed down the fast pace and disturbed the immersive nature of the production.
The cast were excellent, not to mention unbelievably fit, to keep up that level of energy and give believable performances is no easy task. Special mention must go to Lee Mengo as DJ Johnny who bought an easy going, natural charm to his performance and Jason May as slightly past it Steve. As the oldest member of the cast Jason gave the most heartbreaking and convincing performance as a man trapped by his own addictions and fears, he was completely believable as a real hardcore clubber who doesn’t know when it’s time to just go home.
This really is a company to keep your eye on, here they have created a truly original and innovative piece of work that is sure to leave the audience with a smile on their face and a sudden desire to don their best shell suit and hit an underground rave.
The tour continues:
8th May – Aberystwyth Arts Centre
15-18th May – Volcano @229 High Street, Swansea
23rd May – The Riverfront, Newport
25th May – Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tydfil
For more on Mercury Theatre Wales –
For more reviews : www.HyperCriticReviews.blogspot.com
‘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.
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.
Love and Money
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.
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.”
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: www.wakingexploits.co.uk
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 : www.gagglebabble.co.uk
Gwyn Hall, Neath
Date & Time: 17th April, 7.30pm
Box Office: 0300 3656677 / www.nptartsandents.co.uk
Tickets: £9, £7 members, £5 students
St Donat’s Arts Centre, Vale of Glamorgan
Date & Time: 19th April, 8pm
Box Office: 01446 799100 / www.stdonats.com
Tickets: £12.50, £10.50 conc
University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Date & Time: 24th April, 7pm
Box Office: 01267 67 6669 / www.ticketsource.co.uk/tsd
Tickets: £6, £4
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven
Date & Time: 25th-26th April, 7.45pm
Box Office: 01646 695 267 / www.torchtheatre.co.uk
Tickets: £12/£10 conc/under 26s £7
Soho Theatre, London
Date & Time: 29th April-4th May, 7.30pm
Box Office: 020 7478 0100 / www.sohotheatre.com
Tickets: £10 Mon + Tues, £15 (£12.50 concs) Weds – Sat
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.