Category Archives: Theatre

Review Roberto Zucco, August O12, Chapter Arts Centre by Hannah Goslin

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Production Photograph by Jorge Lizalde – studiocano.co.uk

In the midst of sparkly confetti and placed in a traverse corridor shaped stage, we were invited into the play of Roberto Zucco; a serial killer known for his murders of his father, mother, a police officer and a child.

From the above brief synopsis, we would expect that the play by Bernard-Marie Koltes would be an emotional impacting play, veering on the disturbed and the almost uncomfortable. And to a point, this is correct. August 012 have taken the play and ventured into this concept, but with a twist. Two hours of something so heavy could turn an audience away, but with the comical factor and the impressive staging concept, not to mention the fantastic acting by all cast members, Roberto Zucco changed into a play with a range of emotions, from fear, to excitement, to hilarity.

The production as a whole reminded me of an alternative universe. There were hints of what we can relate to in modern age in characters and in the scenes, but with occasional glimpses into historical stereotypes, such as the American style 1940’s detective. The use of bright colours in costumes and props such as blood that is spilt in contrast to some more plain and plaid areas added to this concept, reminiscent of the comic book style of film genres such as ‘Sin City.’ This came with inventive ideas which I cant mention here as they may be a spoiler for the production! but rest assured these moments  accompanied by lighting and sound effects were a real highlight of the work. The ‘Little Chicago,’ filled with its lust of prostitution and crime ,vibrant with colour and stereotypical of such places. It felt as if we were in a strange different world, where the norm was not possible.

This take on a real life story however, could make you forget that this is indeed based upon a true serial killer. The actor playing Roberto, Adam Redmore brought this back. For very controlled movement, facial expressions and overall persona, it could only take a very skilled actor to accomplish. With the hectic nature of some characters in their farce take, this cool and collective character almost seemed like the most normal of them all. And of course, the accompanying actors tended to take on several roles, an impressive feat I would say. Not only did they manage to make us forget that they were playing different characters, their physicality and attitude to the different parts was astonishing and well accomplished. Not one character could be said to have outshone as they all showed their very well trained skillset.

The contrast of recorded music as well as an in person choir was a lovely idea and did add something different to the piece. The choir sat on high staging behind the audience around the room, at times taking part as very minor characters. While this was a good addition, as well as the shining talent in the audience with impromptu speaking and movement parts, it felt that more time was taken on the main actors rather than  work on the choir. Eye contact at times that were from their own inquisitive personalities I felt broke some of the atmosphere, with fumbling attempts to get onto the staging drawing attention away at times and ‘character’ breaking when finding some of the action comical themselves. To me personally this at times, spoilt the well-executed action on stage.

REVIEW: August012’s Roberto Zucco – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff by Sam Pryce

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We all have a morbid fascination with serial killers. How can someone be that fearless and disturbed to commit such an act of forethought malice over and over again? In this 1988 absurdist play from French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltѐs, the notion that a killer is in fact influenced by the hypocrisy and corruption of others is explored via the real life Italian killer Roberto Zucco – infamous for first killing his parents before moving on to police officers, women and a child. Certainly not your usual protagonist, but what is especially unsettling is that you find yourself empathising with his character the most. That’s when a play has really done its job.

Such a provocative, audacious idea must be conveyed in an engaging enough way for its audience to listen and this company doubtlessly flourish. Under Mathilde Lόpez’s always revelatory direction, this production terminates your grasp of sanity from the moment you walk through the door. Much like Tonypandemonium in its impulsive, even primal spontaneity, no scene has a set beginning or end and, despite the traverse staging, the entire space is used. What erupts is an exhilarating if disorienting experience. With all those rapid head movements, it’s a bit like being at Wimbledon.

Yet another inventive aspect of this production comes in the form of a choir whose soaring voices underscore the piece adding fluidity to the act and a somewhat ethereal atmosphere. It gives Zucco’s story the feel of a great operatic tragedy.

The cast are boundless in their abilities. All hang-ups are lost, which is customary if you’re working with Lόpez. With Roberto Zucco being the only concrete character, the more-than-mutable supporting cast must resort to shifting personas in the space of seconds. Bethan Mai foams and fizzes with mischievous allure and emotional instability. Joanna Simpkins, with her arresting glare, delivers the text fiercely with vigour and verve. John Norton transcends gender and nationality to assume progressively ludicrous guises and, as a result, gains a lot of laughs. And, last but not least, Adam Redmore as the eponymous assassin is cleverly the most vulnerable, with a killer’s vacant gaze, blameless in a troupe of flippant coppers, manipulative mothers and incestuous siblings.

Of course, the best performances come from the (un)lucky audience members who, curiously, always oblige to joining in, whether they have lines to say or a chair to give. Lunacy is omnipresent and openly encouraged.

Explosive and uncompromising, Roberto Zucco shocks, excites, tickles and disturbs. The gusto never dips and the mood never dampens. Kill for a ticket. Sit in the front row. Leave your inhibitions at home.

 

PREVIEW: August012’s Roberto Zucco – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff by Sam Pryce

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Roberto Zucco – natural or nurtured killer? That question, among others, is the sort of thing this production of Bernard-Marie Koltѐs’ final play shall attempt to answer. Not only is it sure to answer this, but I expect it will encourage its audience to pose many questions as well with its boldly original style, courtesy of the expertise of director Mathilde Lόpez. It opens tonight (Wed 9th July) at the Stiwdio venue of Chapter Arts Centre, but the company were generous enough to let me to sit and scribble in the dark while they had their tech rehearsal. And I can tell you: even the rehearsals are as erratic and exhilarating as the production itself.

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Firstly, a word about the play. Written in 1988 by absurdist Bernard-Marie Koltѐs and translated by Martin Crimp, it appears to follow the life and murders of the real life Italian serial killer of the same name, charting his familial and romantic life along the way. Alas, it’s not as factual as you may think. While the storyline is generally accurate, it is the primitive dialogue and ferocious characters that are the most striking.

Director Mathilde Lόpez says, ‘I love the language. It switches so quickly from something almost Shakespearean to an American gangster movie.’

And she’s succeeded in injecting that almost manic conversion from comic hysteria to tenderness through several mediums that you’ll have to see for yourself. A lot of the questions I had prepared were somewhat irrelevant when I saw how the play worked. I realise that it’s not as much about Zucco himself, rather how he’s driven to it.

Discussing it with Lόpez, however, gave me a huge insight into what’s below the surface of Zucco. ‘He is almost like Jesus, in a way,’ she says. ‘The play is a kind of crucifixion. He himself is not an evil character; he is only made to do these things because people want him to. You know, a girl asks him to kidnap her and he does,’ muses Lόpez, intermittently popping a Skittle into her mouth.

She adds, ‘Zucco is also the only character with a name, which is interesting. The others are just called Mother, Sister, Girl, and so on.’

I notice too that Zucco, played expertly with disconcerted shyness by Adam Redmore, seems the most timid of all the characters. It, therefore, is a play about how perhaps we are not born evil but made that way.

The context of it being written in the 80s adds yet another layer for analysis. Since the playwright was a homosexual, the hostility he faced is reflected in his work. ‘Koltѐs wrote this when he was dying of AIDS,’ she continues. ‘So there’s a lot about secretion and filth and the sort of dirty desires of humans, which is how it was seen then. And yet, the actual subject of AIDS isn’t mentioned once.’

Watching Lόpez work is a privilege in itself. She changes seats regularly to ensure everyone has a good seat, occasionally adjusting the positioning of the actors accordingly. Sporadically and without warning, she barks mid-scene instructions or adjustments to actors – ‘Louder’; ‘Too far’; ‘Cry more.’ And the actors obey her every word and carry on, simply because, very often, she’s right. Lόpez, like any artist, is obsessively meticulous in all aspects of the performance – the speed of a crossfade, the tone of a voice, even the direction of a bucket of blood. All chaos is organised. Such carnage requires scrupulous direction.

 

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Every actor seems an artist in their own right too and perhaps that is the reason for Roberto Zucco feeling so dazzlingly volatile. Adam Redmore and his supporting cast (made up of Bethan Mai, Joanna Simpkins and John Norton) are equally brilliant showing no sign of exhaustion from these rehearsals, abandoning all the usual barriers of age, class and gender. They are empty vessels for the quirks of minor characters to fill. I was still unsure of what was to come even after watching scenes replayed over and over again so that a light or a noise was in the right place at the right time. It’s a real feat of the imagination. People, like Zucco, should kill for a ticket to this. (Don’t actually do that.) I know I am dying to see Thursday’s finished product.

 

Roberto Zucco is at Chapter Stiwdio, Cardiff from Wed 9th to Sat 19th July 2014.

 

Sam Pryce

Review Sweeney Todd Everyman Theatre by Young Critic Lois Arcari

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Everyman theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd was just the type of treat Mrs Lovett’s pies were, with their dark ingredients. As the scene was set, drizzle adding to the atmosphere of Victorian gloom, I couldn’t imagine what I was in store for.

David Stephens as Sweeney was magnificent, getting into the obsession and rage of the character with a captivating voice, whilst still playing the dark humour well too, even adding in one or two Jack Sparrow slips as with Depp in the film version; every moment with our principal character on stage a treat.

Other great performances come from Joan Hoctor as Mrs Lovett, balancing all aspects of her character well, with a singing voice that adding her accent without it ever overtaking the songs, which can happen in some performances, providing most of the laughs for the audience, even as the second half of a dark duo. Sondhiem was a genius for making someone who is, on paper loathsome so sympathetic, even with her eviller revelations, and Hoctor showcased that well.

Other characters played notably were Olivia Hopper’s  Joanna, managing to play her descent into madness on top of what would otherwise be a stock romantic character and the beggar woman played by Sarah Chew, both entertaining and disturbing as the more traditional mad woman whose songs drive the action of the second act.

Pirelli was a scene stealer, and when the audience see his fate we can’t wait to see Sweeney’s gruesome plan unfold, and the beadle was a classic pantomime style villain that was fun to see prowl around.

The ensemble cats were also brilliant, their harmony for the Ballad of Sweeney Todd powerful and pitch  perfect, and the costumes were, as the Victorian theme demands, absolutely gorgeous.

The show had very few slip ups, all forgiveable – while the judge’s actor, Clive Riches got under the disgusting skin of the character, his part of  his duet brought the other  half of the performance, from Sweeney himself down a tad, though he was fine when he sang solo.The role of  Anthony’s played by  Joe Wiltshire Smith performed well, but didn’t make me think his character was any more than the traditional romantic, conversely for such a well-worn character type probably the most insane of all the madmen and women of the show.

A final misstep was the bookending of modern characters looking into the story, though perhaps it was meant to symbolise how intriguing the character is despite the age of the setting and folk story, but it really only took the audience’s mind off a world the cast had done so well to establish.

All in all, it was an exciting, atmospheric performance abuzz with energy; eyes glued firmly on the main stars performances, lavishly acted and staged, a brilliant performance of a dazzlingly ominous iconic show.

Review Mametz National Theatre Wales by Young Critic Hannah Goslin

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Mametz

National Theatre Wales

Great Llancayo Upper Wood, Usk

In the heart of Monmouthshire, donned in my favourite pac a mac and waterproof footwear, I entered Mametz, by National Theatre Wales, amongst the trees and rolling hills of Great Llancayo Upper Wood, Usk.

This awe inspiring production was based upon a memoir by Llewelyn Wyn Griffiths of his time in WWI with the attempt of taking over the Mametz wood. The writer of the play, Owen Sheers stumbled upon a grave on 20 british soldiers in the Mametz woods and wrote a poem based upon this image. The combination of these two ideas created this production – Mametz woods soon reconstructed in Usk.

With a star infused cast including the Welsh comedy drama, Stella’s actors Catrin Stewart and Michael Elwyn , the performers were all on top form. Evoking every reaction, from fear to joy, sadness and grief to brief comedy and much more, we were brought through a rollercoaster of emotion felt by the soldiers and families of the time. This natural yet surreal production gave opportunities for the performers to stretch their talents. This ranged from double upped acting, to movement and freeze frames, showing that between the well established to the relatively new performers, there was no comparison through the sheer professional nature and inspiring acting skills.

The staging of this show was absolutely magnificent. When reading the press release, a 2 hour show with no interval originally seemed daunting and accompanied by the warning of footwear, I feared that this promenade performance would be more of a trek. Oh how I was wrong. With four separate staging areas that we were welcomed into, there were opportunities to sit , stand, some under cover and others in the woods. The one day so far in this beginning of Summer, we had rain but this gave more atmosphere and more of an experience of trench life; it almost seemed difficult to imagine such a hard-hitting piece to be covered in anything but a rain pour.

Walking to the first area, the large grass hill showed us two soldiers passing messages. By running over the hill and out of sight, we felt amongst the war land and wondering if we would ever see this boy again. And they were just boys. A cast of young faced actors put in perspective the reality of the age of the WWI soldiers. We were forced between iron walls, imitating a trench and with performers dressed from current soldier attire and through the eras to our new time frame, giving a feeling of time travel.

Mametz actors patrol trench National Theatre Wales

Photograph: Dimitris Legakis

Two barns were converted into, firstly, a French pub which brought a sense of location to the piece, and then a longer set amongst a trench. Here we saw the lives of each soldier, with the side of an old brick barn lit up through the windows, illustrating time back home. Behind the trench that we were faced to, the walls opened up to show the wood behind, where many images were created to , at times, give a surreal nature such as the injections of memory of an older soldier, reminiscing on the scene, to the warfare itself. We, ourselves were forced into a soldier’s nature, eventually walking through this to an amazing lightened field, where we followed the soldiers into battle; the commanding officer shouting at us like one of the men. Fear was felt like the soldiers from this interaction but was a fantastic way to move the audience.

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The final scenes were carried out in the wood with giant portrait photos on the trees and staging of the soldiers. Forced to walk through the soldiers that just opened up to us in the barn being murdered and writhing in pain was thought-provoking and a shock to the system. NTW did not spare any risk in this production and that was a breath of fresh air.

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I couldn’t help but give a standing ovation to this piece and through my tears, be in such awe. As a performer and theatre creator myself, it can be difficult at times to really become struck by a piece. War Horse last week gave me this feeling, but Mametz escalated this feeling for me. Productions such as this are why I love the theatre and why I perform and create my own theatre which aspires to be as inspiring and beautiful as this.

Preview Everyman open air festival by Young Critic Lois Arcari

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The sun, as it often chooses not to, is shining over Wales, with people country-wide crossing their fingers for a summer just as extraordinary as this unusual event.

Perhaps that could be found with the return of the Everyman open air festival in Sophia Gardens, the biggest of its kind in Wales, hoping to entertain thousands with their four productions; the opening one being the  iconic Sondheim musical Sweeney-Todd from 4-12th of July promising to disgust and delight in equal measure, as the macabre descends into the summer heat.

The next show in the season is a showing of three Blackadder II episodes, promising cunning afoot from Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson’s classic characters, and lots of laughter from the captive audience from the 15-21ST of July.

The turn of the shrew will play from the 25th of July to 2nd of August, showing one of ultimate playwright Shakespeare’s most famous and well-loved romantic comedies.

Family fun will swim onto the scene with a performance of little mermaid Jr from the 26th of July to the 2nd of August, with the beloved characters and unforgettable musical numbers sure to shoal in the crowds, and have both children and adult’s toes tapping.

The productions will all be numbered and undercover, so even if our weather goes with the age old tradition of the summer downpour, it won’t put a damper on the performance and atmosphere.

The tickets for all are £12-£16 with the exception of The Little mermaid junior, which can be purchased at £7 a standard ticket or £25 for a family ticket.

Whether it’s a long, lazy summer, or you’re looking for the perfect live entertainment in amongst routine, the Everyman festival is sure not to just bring entertainment, but experience,  and one that looks to be engaging and inspiring.

If you’d like more information, you can contact the Everyman festival through their twitter or Facebook pages, their own website at www.everymanfestival.co.uk or call the box office at 0333 6663366.

Review War Horse, National Theatre, Wales Millennium Centre, Young Critic Hannah Goslin

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War Horse

National Theatre

Wales Millennium Centre

19/06/2014

Please note as an employee of the Wales Millennium Centre, the following review is my critical response as a member of Young Critics.

In modern day Wales, we became transported to pre First World War Devon on the Donald Gordon Stage at the Wales Millennium Centre. The story of War Horse sees the relationship between a boy and a horse his poor farmer father buys, landing the family struggling for money. The show sees the progression of both Joey the horse from young to old, with his love and devotion to his rearer, young boy Albert and the struggling life they both encounter when war breaks out. Joey is sold and transported throughout the lands during war and Albert strives to find him and bring him back home.

The stage professed a simplistic staging, beginning with only a large screen in the shape of a ripped piece of paper, hanging across the stage. This screen shows animations throughout the piece, from setting scenes including a Devon village to trench life to dates and places to put the scenes in context. Additional staging including door and window frames and bunting added a subtle element. The production is given a earthly and rural colour through lighting and costume, adding to the time setting. Folk music with fantastic solo and ensemble work is used throughout, with accompanied music for crescendos, helping to set the scenes and atmosphere.

This subtleness is soon evident as to its use when a beautiful folk song climaxes to the change of Joey from a baby to a grown horse, leaping from the back darkness of the stage and lit up in all its glory. The puppetry alone is astounding. The Puppeteers have caught every movement and inflection that these creatures posses. At times of crucial narrative, small glances at the horses throughout the show can show that even small movements such as their breath and small twitches are performed fantastically. Puppetry does not only stop here – the use of flying birds, large crows, a comical and purposefully annoying geese and even people are all executed with great knowledge of how these creatures move and react, as well as how the puppets of humans react well at the appropriate moments, such as being blown off a horse to the ground. How these puppets have been put together is also mind boggling – the urge to create horses with hair and other elements have been completely ignored and this is fantastic – this adds to the overall aesthetics of the piece but also give a wordless impact on the audience.

As if this wasn’t amazing enough, as, it could be possible just to watch the puppets for an entire show, the acting is also fantastic. The contrast of the Devon folk to the soldiers, even to other human encounters such as a French mother and daughter and the German army are all executed well and with obvious differences. These differences help the characters in their emotions and situations, at points even bringing an element of sympathy to the German side, arguing with our own historical background and what we see in British and American movies. Each characters interaction with the horses shows human compassion and lets you also fall in love with these creatures. However, Albert and other characters with significant changes of accent were, at times, difficult to decipher. Whether this is due to trouble with articulation through accents, the theatre space or both, some sound and vocality was lost, leaving gaps in the storyline.

Favourite parts (a part from the puppets) of the show were created with sound, music and lighting at amazing moments. Slow motion, freeze frames and such were complimented by these elements and gave the piece a sense of grandeur and the feeling of something really special. With not a single dry eye in the house (including my sobbing self!) at the (good) rollercoaster of emotion that is War Horse and ending with a standing ovation, this production is everything and more you want from such a fantastic storyline and theatrical piece.

Review As You Like It, Taking Flight Theatre Company by Young Critic Hannah Goslin.

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As You Like It

Taking Flight Theatre Company

Thompson Park

18/06/2014

In this beautiful weather that Cardiff has been blessed with recently, the beginning of outdoor theatrical activity is very much welcomed. The first example of this so far sees Taking Flight Theatre Company taking over Thompson Park to bring us a Shakespearian favourite.

In the sun spots of the park, we are treated to a story about the daughter (Rosalind) of a banished Duke and her love at first site meeting with a gentleman called Orlando. The Duke’s brother has a sudden change of heart and banishes Rosalind, soon with her cousin Celia in toe. The women decide to run away to the forest where Rosalind’s father lives in exile. In the meantime, Rosalind dresses as a man and Celia takes on a new persona also. In a chance meeting, Orlando and Rosalind meet, and still dressed as a man, Rosalind plots to help Orlando with his intentions to woo her. Many encounters of confusion arise in this comical plot and Rosalind can be the only one to rectifies the situations.

Taking Flight began the show with audience interaction. Throughout, this was used but in subtle ways, whether this be a glance or use of audience for prop or even referrals to them. In this promenade performance, these subtle actions worked well to compliment the audience in the action and invited us to be involved. This even began with pre-show interaction in what was set out as a shabby circular staging area. Minimal set and props were used through the show, which was very appropriate as the acting was given space to stand out. The surrounding park area was effectively used as the stage, with a great use of levels in the trees and upon valley parts, pathways and hills.

The company brought a bit of personalisation to the piece with the actors use of musical abilities – the performers played a range of instruments and performed their own written songs for the production. This helped to break scenes and move the audience as well as provide elements of comedy. The folksy sounds also gave the performance a lovely summer feeling as well, especially in such a lovely setting.

For a substantial sized company, the use of doubled up characters was still effectively possible. Those who played more than one part were given a change of costumes, all costumes of which were of fantastic, bohemian quality, and easily managed to change characters. At times, it was a mystery to whether the actor was the same as the change of performances were so convincing. For a Shakespearian comedy, the facial expressions, gestures and movements were conducted in exaggerated fashion as would have been in the writers age, but not too much as they would have had to compensate for lack of light – all actors managed this with enough emphasis to bring comedy and to put across the narrative well.

Hijinx theatre company also had a fantastic involvement in the production. The joining of the two companies involved performers from Hijinx in both performative ways as well as ushering. This involvement evidently meant a great deal to those involved who enjoyed the comedy and to share a piece of the music and dance elements. A sign interpreter was also used which was great to see, opening many more possibilities; she was also integrated into the performance itself rather than a separate entity, including the final song’s dance moves, elegantly gesturing sign language to illustrate the song, and this was taught to the performers to create a lovely, happy and comical crescendo.

Overall, this show is fun filled and a great way to introduce Shakespeare to the young. In such great weather, Thompson Park is a great place to see this production and the company use this well to also introduce you to this great space. If wishing to attend, I would only say to not bring a lot (including deck chairs and such) as this promenade performance will move you quite a bit and did see a few audience members carrying much around with them, but plenty of safe access is possible for wheelchairs, despite this.

 

 

 

Review Rock Pool Sherman Theatre by Hannah Goslin

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Rock Pool

Inspector Sands and China Plate

Sherman Theatre

30/05/14

In the Sherman’s second theatre, we delved under the sea where we were treated to a blown up version of sea life. The blue light and sound of bubbles and water immersed us into a tranquil and yet excited state; urged to sit as close to the action as possible, children were sat on cushions on the floor and a mixture of adults and children further back, in usual seats in this modernised amphitheatre.

Rock Pool is a tale of Crab and Prawn, who, through a freak storm are thrown together from the ocean to a small rock pool where they are forced to bond together. In this small space, Crab becomes hungry very often, resulting in trying to eat Prawn who reluctantly shares her lunch with Crab to salvage herself. Through this, they play games and live life, waiting for another wave to take them back home.

The production used basic lighting in the form of white washes and this becoming dimmed for night-time – spotlights were also used along with a big splash sound and the use of stools to climb upon to signify when they both look out the top of the rock pool towards the sea. This simplicity was really effective for a children’s show, focussing of the animated acting in front of us instead of fancy light effects.

The characters of Prawn and Crab were very well executed – Prawn (Lucinka Eisler) a tall, well postured character, came across as a geeky, intelligent and pristine figure, dressed in a combination of stripy pink, grey and white clothing, a see through rain mac and a fun, pink head-piece. Eisler kept her posture very strong and upright, with small arms with fiddly fingers to emphasise a Prawns legs. Crab (Giulia Innocenti) was in smaller statue and contorted herself into a ball-like figure. Wearing a red helmet which she banged when talking about how hard she was, this was nicely followed with a comical ‘ouch’ in return and red gillet to beef her out. In comparison to Prawn, she was a less intelligent and less knowledgeable creature. Innocenti’s movements were squat, sideways, with crab like hands, a posture which she managed to keep throughout. With this contrast, they were able to bond with teaching one another and having fun through the process. Both actors worked well as a team, with over exaggerated facial expressions and almost melodramatic movements, they brought the piece to life. They also professed very good improv skills to interact with the audience and play upon suggestions given.

Comedy was provided throughout for both adults and children. Examples of these being, Crab’s attempts to eat Prawn with BBQ tongs – the moment when water is desperately needed to stop Prawn from cooking in the shrinking rock pool, resulting in lots of water play, splashing the nearby audience with this as well as the constant use of human objects and items to bring more understanding to the audience, helping with a comical moment of Crab’s boredom where she dresses and acts like a ‘lady’.

The bitter-sweet ending where Crab and Prawn return to the sea, yet whose friendship is now torn apart by reality gave us a sense of sadness and but hope with knowing that anyone can bond for even a split second. We are revived after this by a song and dance at the end; a technique we were also treated throughout with the lovely singing voices of both actors, showing their collaboration and budding friendship again in their own small ‘rock group.’

For a children’s show, I found myself laughing and enjoying every moment, along with many other adults whose, perhaps, like myself, childhood’s were revisited.

Review: Equus – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff by Sam Pryce

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Review: Equus – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Reviewed by Sam Pryce

In this bare-boned, minimalist production, the ideas and themes of Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play of a boy’s profound worship of horses are put to the forefront. The play is not upstaged by any ostentatious dance interludes nor shadowed by innovative set pieces. This company provide a stripped-back, viscerally passionate performance of a play rife with psychological depth and emotional complexity.

Although one can delve into an intricate analysis of the motives of each character, the plot is fairly simple when laid bare. Martin Dysart, an initially cynical psychiatrist, is given the task of taking on Alan Strang, a 17 year-old boy who blinded six horses with a metal spike. On probing Strang’s intentions, Dysart is bewildered to comprehend him when learning of his conflicted familial life – a Marxist father fully informed of the world’s injustice and a devoutly religious mother eager to teach Strang the enriching security of ‘worship’, something that Dysart envies. As Strang becomes more and more frank as the sessions progress, the psychiatrist begins to contemplate his own sanity and realises the tragedy of his sexless marriage and absence of compassion. What emerges is a fascinating, multi-faceted and disturbing study of the human mind.

With a play so rich in emotion, it requires some accomplished actors. Passionate, powerful performances are given by the two leads: Steven Smith magnificently depicts the anguished, troubled genius of Dysart while Henry Nott superbly unsettles with his cold stare racked with perturbed purity. Under Thomas Hockey’s direction, the relationship progresses from firstly icy and distant to fervently parental. Other notable performances are given by Paul Fanning and Trish Gould as Strang’s taciturn parents, Trish Murphy as the concerned magistrate, Angharad Hodgetts as the seductive stable-girl, Alexander Wilson as a few comical characters and James Sidwell as the subject of the boy’s infatuation, portraying equine splendour with startling accuracy.

Equus can be seen to explore themes ranging from religious corruption to repressed sexuality, even the coming-of-age and adolescence. And yes, all these themes may sound slightly intimidating, but the emotional stamina of the cast, the meticulousness of the direction and the nuanced choreography ensure a gorgeously disturbing experience. It’s a splendid revival and surely one to see before the week is out.

And just to close, with all that shouting, let’s hope the actors’ voices don’t get too hoarse! (Sorry, I had to.)