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Review The Marriage of Figaro, WNO by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Mozart’s beautiful arias are performed with dexterity and spirit by an excellent cast who is able to convey the levity, depth, and social criticism of The Marriage of Figaro. The strong performances are supported by the formidable WNO’s choir and orchestra conducted with brio by Carlo Rizzi.  

The choice of scenario and early 18th century costumes indulge the fancies of the audience for a delightful farce where love is a game. We laugh at the jokes and smile at the subterfuge. That sense of play and adventure that pervades the opera might fool the audience into thinking that the Marriage is theatre that has little to do with reality; yet the apparent lightness allows a radical critique of class and gender.  

Based on Beaumarchais’ La Folle Journée (1784), Lorenzo Da Ponte penned a revolutionary libretto, which shines a light on the lives of ordinary people. It is servants who are the protagonists of the opera. We get into their bedrooms, literally, and hear their perspective on their social status. Figaro is about to get married to Susanna and the two ponder their situation in life as servants. At any moment Figaro can be called and sent away by his master, the Count d’ Almaviva, while Susanna is subject to sexual harassment from the Count.  

The choir of servants sing to the Count in gratitude for giving up his ‘droit de seigneur’, his right over his servants to spend the nuptial night with the bride. Although there is no evidence of such a practice, the reference emphasises the lack of rights servants had vis-a-vis their lords.  It is sadly poignant today, not only in the aftermath of the #metoo movement, but also at a time when labour, including professional labour, is exploited and rights have been eroded by moving to increasingly precarious work. 

In the opera, the women are conscious of their weak social status and use marriage to gain independence. They play with the men’s sexual desire pretending to be unfaithful. Susanna exposes Figaro’s lack of trust, the Countess makes the Count reckon with his unfaithfulness, while the peasant girl Barbarina blackmails the Count to marry Cherubino and thus improve her social status.  

The twists and turns are not merely for comic effect, they make the characters face themselves, their weaknesses, desires, and values. The Countess, interpreted by the superb Anita Watson, is afflicted by her husband’s philandering. By making her husband face up to his unfaithfulness, the Countess makes him realise that there is no happiness in chasing women. The Count finds redemption in being forgiven by the Countess. 

In this well-performed production, Soraya Mafi (Susanna), Anita Watson (Countess), Leah-Marian Jones (Marcellina), Anna Harvey (Cherubino), and David Ireland (Figaro) ensure a perfect balance of merriment and depth.  

Review: What The Dolls Saw, House of Macabre, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Coined as Horror Comedy, What the Dolls Saw from House of Macabre is just that – full of twists, turns, comedy and crazy characters, this is 1 hour of a real treat for theatrical minds.

With an all female cast, the story sees the tale of a family of women on the wake of their late patriarch – the father of three girls, an adopted grand daughter and the wife left behind. All with their unique style, character and personality, this family holds a deep and dark past, not investigated, and yet now seems like the right time to do so.

With their father as a late famous doll maker and their mother a dramatic retired actress, it’s no wonder that this story verges on the comical and flamboyant but yet eerie and spooky.

The characters are well developed: we love and hate the mother who is mad as a hatter, glamorous and blunt which causes plenty of comedy; the daughters are lovable, fun and we believe their loving sisterly relationship implicitly and the granddaughter, who is mute, does well to convey amazement at this dysfunctional family.

With the bumps in the night, use of atmospheric music and lights not only from the set but use of torches (well known in spooky stories), we are often on edge and unable to see the twists in the story.

What The Dolls Saw is nothing but an enjoyable experience. As one who is a total wimp when it comes to horror, there is enough to keep my heart beating and make me jump but not so much that I have to run for the door. And when i’m not gripping onto my seat, I am laughing and smiling at every moment.

Review: Gobby, Jodie Irvine, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Have you ever felt entirely alone? Too loud for a room? Like you do not fit?

Gobby is a one woman play about self discovery, about changes in young adult life and finally being okay with who you are.

Set within the premise of 5 different parties, Bri (like the cheese but not because it is spelt differently) finds herself lost and alone in the aftermath of a destructive relationship. Her friends, that she ignored during this period, now don’t want to know her, and Bri struggles with this reality, and her own loneliness.

This narrative feels like something we can all relate to – bad relationships, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging. The play is written as an inner monolgue, occasionally breaking away with the use of props (balloons with party hats on top) or a mild change in stance and addition of a stereotyped accent to bring in other characters. The characters are funny at first, and the over the top expressions of them help differentiate the story line. It becomes more subtle when the story becomes more serious, which is a clever maneuver, keeping us engaged.

While staged as a retelling of Bri’s life, often Jodie Irvine (our only performer) addresses her feet when speaking to us. At times this is endearing and adds to the awkwardness of the character, but eventually we want to make eye contact with her more – evidently with her obvious skills as an actress, she has reason to be more confident in her performance and we desperately want her to bring this to the stage.

We also believe that much of the outbursts and way Bri feels is due to a past relationship. But little is explained about this and we come to a point where nothing will do but knowledge, for us to be able to connect to the character. The rest ranges from comical to climactic releases, and so despite the lack of story, we are surprised at every turn.

Gobby is a passionate play about liking oneself and discovering who you are after trauma. It’s about growing up but also growing into yourself and so becomes a real coming of age tale that many in their early 20’s need to see to know that it will be alright in the end. We just want Irvine to be more confident in her well devised production!

Review: Since U Been Gone, Teddy Lamb, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Donned in neon pinks, greens and blues. we enter the room to subtle yet catchy indie meets electronica music, played by a gorgeous person in the corner. Long hair and a dress and shoes to kill, we already know we are in for something special.

This person isn’t Teddy Lamb, but their partner in crime, providing the soundtrack to this one person play. Lamb tells the story of their friendship with someone that was all consuming. They touch on aspects of mental health, death and grief but also coming to terms with and discovery of who one is.

Lamb is energetic, engaging and a lot of fun to be with. Addressing us as if we were their late friend, they reminisce on their time together, on their feelings and thoughts and actually how one’s mental health can drastically affect your own. Lamb makes us feel included in the story, makes us feel like their friend and there is a real sense of trust between us and Lamb with them sharing their life with us.

While full of emotion, darkness and open-ness, there is also light, comedy and a fabulous nature to the storytelling. Constantly with a soundtrack, this dramatic telling of their personal history draws us in on every level; especially bringing in trademark nods to us millennials and our childhoods.

Since U Been Gone is heart wrenching, heart warming, comical and beautiful. While Lamb continues to a focus on personal discovery that only a few would understand, we still relate to developing as a person, to certain emotions and feelings and come away feeling like part of an extended family.

Review: Child, Peeping Tom, London Mime Festival, Barbican Theatre By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

I am sure that many of us would dread to know what the contents our minds would look like if they were to come into reality. Those odd dreams, the nightmares and the fears.

Peeping Tom’s Child brings all of these to the forefront in a bizarre continuous performance staged in a pretty normal looking forest clearing. Taking the fears and dreams of a child, what we encounter for the next hour or so is not only comical but at times quiet frightening and confusing.

By no means is this a negative comment.

With a little feeling of inspiration from the likes of Antonin Artaud’s theory of Theatre of Cruelty and a touch of Bertolt Brecht’s Alienation effect, we are intrigued by and at times disgusted at what we see. For the few, this is too much but for the many, once you are invested, there’s no leaving until the end.

Engagement comes in the anticipation of the next scene. Seamless in delivery, and with seemingly no obvious scene changes (although, of course there is, but they meld into one another so well, you can hardly tell) we encounter bizarre character’s with little relation to one another; scenes that we couldn’t even imagine in our wildest dreams, and they form together to give real laughter, uneasy laughter and real “WTF” moments that are nothing but brilliant.

There are ranges of physical theatre throughout the piece – bodies push the boundaries of what we understand they are capable of; like liquid, at times mechanic, without fear and flawless. One cannot help but be in awe of the performer’s capabilities and inspired by how graceful and yet at times fearless their movements can be.

Child is really something special. Not for fans of contemporary or traditional theatre, but certainly something that everyone must try for the sheer courage and impossible creativity it exudes.

Review: Still No Idea, Bunny Productions, Southbank Centre by Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

You want to make a show but you don’t know what about. So where do you start? What are you tools? But even better, what if the show was about making a show?

Bunny Productions, with performers Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence invite us to experience their thought process, their research data, which heavily includes verbatim suggestions and thoughts from the public. At times, this can be a risk, and as Bunny find out, there are a range of ideas and comments culminating in some comical but drawing a topical conclusion.

As a disabled actress, Hammond has been working in the industry for many years, seeking roles for her talent and not for her disability. Due to pain management, Hammond has an automatic wheelchair, one she is able to leave whenever she likes to. But, while the pair wanted to make a show not about disability, this seemed to be the only way to go when a public cannot get past the chair.

We learn important lessons about stereotyping with both performers, and learn about them in their reality: Hammond comes across as if like she is always up to mischief while Spence is the more demure, goody two shoes. We soon learn in life this is the other way around, but we can see that the industry and how we as an audience perceive what we see on stage and screen is often firstly aesthetics, and at times this can unjustly be what disabled artists encounter daily.

Bunny have this wonderful rapport on stage. Bouncing off one another, there is clearly a basis to the show, perfected for the stage but you also feel as if their undying trust for one another lets them have fun with the details, and while in a normal production, it would be perceived as ‘corpsing’, their break away from perhaps the ‘script’ just adds to their charm and their partnership.

The show is full of comedy, using multimedia to at times enhance this, giving it a more stage element than us being invited to chat; but this doesn’t distract from us feeling welcome, as part of their on stage presence and almost like friends. And while comedy is a huge factor, we are soon hit with the hard facts. Information of the deaths and problems disabled persons have faced with benefits being withdrawed, is a punch to the gut after laughing and smiling for 45 mins, but it is needed and really hits home all their points they have culminated and projected to us.

Still No Idea is a lot of fun, a lot of food for thought and very much a show we need in the current climate.

Review : Some Like It Hop Hop, Zoonation, Peacock Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

A tale as old as time, Some Like It Hip Hop by Zoonation is a story about mistaken identity, crossed wires, love, loss and family. Taking themes from Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot and Shakespeare’s, Twelfth Night, this story is not like any other – of course, it has Zoonation’s comical, emotional and energetic style.

Verging on a cross between Street/Hip Hop dance and physical theatre, this piece sees little vocal additions to the performance except for a narrator. Emotions, actions and events are all played out physically, and this in itself is well formed, slick and smooth. The physicality looks so easy, so gentle but any one who has previously danced knows the extreme energy, the muscle and the technicality that goes into even the smallest of moves.

The character’s all do a great job of bringing the feelings into their general persona – this being reflected in their facial expressions, in every movement and the whole performance is well polished.

While I did enjoy this, and it arose a sense of longing for the days where I danced like this, it wasn’t my favourite of all the Zoonation productions I have seen. There is an essence of a similar theme with their storytelling – mostly always with a narrator, the character’s being quite stereotyped e.g. the nerdy guy who incidentally was the same nerdy guy in their Alice and Wonderland piece and it feels a little predictable when you have seen them a few times previously.

None the less, Zoonation’s pieces are always entertaining, fun, astonishing with skill and a definite good night out. If you like a little boogie after at your seats, or being very involved vocally throughout, then this is for you.

Review: On Bear Ridge, National Theatre Wales, Royal Court Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Set in the isolated mountains, this small cast encounter the almost apocalyptic world of a small rural town in Wales. Where everyone has left due to violence and lack of supplies, John Daniel (Rhys Ifans) and Noni (Rakie Ayola) endeavour to stay put, with their memories and their lost lives.

On Bear Ridge is a simple play, full of dialogue and not much need for anything else. There are some theatrical tricks implemented to add to the on-stage feel, and give it that National Theatre Wales (NTW) and Royal Court feel, but the main magic comes from the detailed narrative and fantastic acting.

As expected, Ifans is brilliant. With this being my second time seeing him on stage, I can already see complete differences from his role on the National Theatre Stage as a dying King, to this countryside man who is slowly losing everything. The accents are of course different, but how he holds himself, his emotions and the pure comedy he effortlessly eludes are different and brilliant. With such a big name in a production there’s more to draw upon and compare to other work, but along with the other actors, they all gel and bounce off one another effortlessly and triumphantly – creating an overall equal success on stage.

Ayola’s character fits perfectly with Ifans’s. They work well together and make the characters fit like puzzle pieces. While this feels slightly science-fiction as a narrative, yet also possible in our world, their relationship is very real, very loving and it’s clear that their character’s are meant to be as one.

On Bear Ridge is emotional, heartbreaking, wonderful and hilarious. A world that could easily be imagined, could easily be reality, we feel a part of a small family, and feel every bit of grief, every bit of happiness and every bit of love that these characters exude.

Access in the Arts. Are things are getting better or worse?

Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”

After the publication of the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all” we interviewed a range of arts professionals in November 2018 to discuss the intentions of Arts Council Wales and suggest ways that their ambitions may be best realised.

A year one from this article we spent time broadly discussing the aims of the Corporate Plan and what change (if any) has occurred in the sector. The questions we asked elicited a personal response from everyone involved. We are publishing our first response below from X who has requested that we publish their response anonymously.

Hi X Can you tell us about yourself please?

Sure, I’m a performer, facilitator, theatre maker and all round professional idiot based in South Wales.

What was your personal pathway into the arts?

 Quite roundabout really! I’m from quite a privileged background and going in to the arts was considered “a waste” and the best way to end up unemployed and homeless, in my parents view. I received a lot of threats from them over the years about what would happen if I pursued it and was heavily pressured to attend a “good” University, which I dutifully did – St Andrews in Scotland. However through a combination of undiagnosed (at the time) mental health issues, lack of support network and the 2008 financial crisis I ended up unemployed and homeless anyway. So it sort of seemed silly to let worries about that stop me pursuing a career I wanted. Once I was back in a more stable living situation I took out a career development loan and went back to uni in 2013. And to give my parents their due they did assist in the paying back of said loan once I graduated.

Do you think your class; gender or ethnic background has impacted on your education or career?

 Massively. Firstly it was a barrier, which is weird when I think about it now. The arts is almost solely the playground of the middle/upper class so for there to have been a social stigma around pursuing it from the very middle/upper class background I had seems odd. For the record I went to private school in Edinburgh, almost entirely white etc etc. However I absolutely wouldn’t be in the position of where I am now where it not for my colour and class – I’m very aware of the fact that overcoming the hurdles presented by my period of homelessness (complete with arrest and criminal record as the whole thing coincided with one of many mental health breakdowns I’ve had, this being the first and the one that led to me getting a formal diagnosis) is down to my privileged background. My colour kept the charges and sentence from being too serious and my parents wealth allowed for a decent lawyer and eventually for me to easily re-enter formal education without accumulating a large debt. Basically although I have faced pretty large barriers I’d be an idiot if I didn’t also acknowledge they’d be a hell of a lot worse were it not for the fact I come from a nice comfortable rich white family. It’s just a shame none of that makes you a particularly nice person.

What have you found to be your personal barriers to accessing the arts and being able to develop a sustainable career? Is a sustainable career even possible?

My age, weirdly enough. Lots of schemes and things for newer artists are aimed at those under 25 (or at a push under 30). I’m 34 and was 28/29 when I graduated so by the time I’d found my footing professionally and started to accumulate experience to qualify I was too old for a lot of things! I mean the obvious one is my mental health, which crops up in all sorts of ways. As you’re freelance you have to stay on top of opportunities and time consuming forms, and I struggle with focus a lot so a form that might take a neurotypical person a day could easily take me a week. Then there’s the lack of any sort of confidence in myself that requires friends to read over forms for me and to reassure to its OK to send and I don’t sound strange, or weird, or crazy, or stupid. I guarantee that my responses to this will have been read over by several people before I send them to you even though I’m just writing about my own experience! It’s not exclusive to the arts but the lack of support as a freelancer is kinda hard. One barrier I come up against loads is information not being easy to find or clear: application deadlines (one application I did recently didn’t have the deadline anywhere online, google brought up ones from last year as the site hadn’t been updated, even employees got it wrong when I phone and asked), even questions and criteria (why ACW ever thought an application to look at an application form was a good idea I don’t know). Basically what I’m getting at is with any sort of mental health illness or disability every day tasks are already pretty overwhelming and tiring. Make your application as pain free as possible and information applicants need easy to find and clear. Be so upfront and clear, more than you might think you need to be. So many companies don’t even use contracts when working with freelancers, not even bothering to set out expectations of the role you’re doing and what you can expect from them in terms of support.

Man it really feels like I’m just listing every day annoyances and I suppose they are. But I guess that’s the point, these things are an irritant but or someone with my type of access issues they can be insurmountable. Even a phone call can take a whole day of build up, support and coaching. So do your best to make sure as few of these sorts of things are in the way. While I’m here, and this is from my days training to help long term unemployed people back in to work, I may as well mention that the more specific your person specification role the better, people can literally just work their way down and say how they fit each section, which helps with structuring cover letters and so on. The most accessible and person friendly job advert is one that asks for a CV and cover letter with clear person specification, in my opinion. Your person spec is your companies order, my CV is the whole shop and my cover letter is the sales assistant showing you how I stock exactly what you’re looking for. So the clearer your needs the better!

Do you feel comfortable within your personal arts environment or is the different class, gender, ethnic background or privilege of colleagues something that impacts on you?

Honestly I constantly feel like an outsider and like I don’t belong. I’m also very aware that’s a common symptom of BPD regardless of working environment but it’s one of the many buggers of mental illness that being aware of a thing as having come from it doesn’t stop you intensely feeling the thing.

Are things are getting better or worse?

In the arts or in general? In the arts I think it varies from company to company. Some companies are very understanding and adaptive and will offer things like Skype interviews for people with difficulty travelling etc. But then Welsh arts as a whole also knows really well how to seem austere and close ranks when it wants to.

On a personal level and in general I’d say getting worse. It’s been ten years since I received a formal diagnosis for an illness that kills 1 in 10 people that have it. There was little support offered to begin with and what little was there has been withdrawn and whittled away as time goes on. They’re currently referring mental health patients to the drug and alcohol services in the Vale of Glamorgan, for example, as they have free counsellors and don’t turn people away. I received a secondary diagnosis of PTSD at the start of the year but because it’s not from military service I don’t currently qualify for support under the NHS. I personally can’t think of many life threatening illnesses that are just left to get worse over time and people left without treatment but in the case of severe mental health disorders we do. It’s hard to remain cheerful or hopeful about that. And considering the great big Brexit Elephant in the room it’s hard to see it getting better any time soon.

In the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all” there are a series of Commitments which they aim to realise by 2023. Commitment 2 states; “We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.”

Do you think the key areas above will be delivered and why?

It certainly seems like a positive change. They seem open to listening and have made real, genuine efforts to change, which is often the hardest step. It won’t be right first time but an arts council that is open to listening and agile enough to be reactive and make changes as needed, even if it means things next year look different to this year. Part of being reactive also means having new, radical staff and life coming in to their building regularly. The world changes so fast and so often I don’t think any position should be for longer than a few years, let alone more than a decade. They expect us as artists to respond to and integrate the world in to our work, I think we can expect the same from them.

How do you think ACW would be able to best realise their intentions?

A kinder, more welcoming application process and corporate headquarters. They want to meet with artists before they apply so make them feel welcome in the space and by the people they meet. Technically we’re all artists and capable of great things and as residents of Wales we all technically qualify for ACW funding. It’s their job to make hard decisions on a case by case basis, not create an application and corporate structure that makes people question their value as artists in the first place. Everyone’s a bloody artist, making art is a beautiful, soulful and human experience. ACW should be facilitating that ethos.  Let’s face it whatever your access barriers (gender, sexual identity, race, disability) you’ve probably had a bad time of it with traditional corporate structures and attitudes. So why any group that wants to be more welcoming, especially in the arts, would want to mimic this set up is beyond me.

From your personal lived experience what needs to change?

A friendlier face, if people are made to feel like they don’t belong from the moment they make contact, even if its done with the best of intentions of ensuring only “serious” applicants access public money, they usually just won’t engage. Which means plenty of people who should get support and funding don’t. A clearer application process that also allows people to feel like it’s ok to get it wrong and ask questions also helps, previously it felt like there was a lot of assumed knowledge and had you not access to that knowledge then you weren’t a serious artist and remained an outsider.

REVIEW: THE STORY by TESS BERRY-HART at THE OTHER ROOM by Gareth Ford-Elliott

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Story by Tess Berry-Hart centres around X (Siwan Morris), a person “of the people” returning to their homeland after a year volunteering in “occupied territories”, helping refugees. X is being held under suspicious circumstances by V (Hannah McPake) who, under many different guises, interrogates, questions and advises X.

As much as this is a story about criminalising those who help others – it also explores the violence of language, manipulation of tone and deconstructs the ideas of a story and truth in the world of “justice”. It is this that truly stands out in Tess Berry-Hart’s writing.

There is so much to like about Berry-Hart’s writing. It is technically very strong. The language is brilliant, at times beautiful, at other times horrifying. The slow-burning story is amplified by excellent psychology within the characters.

David Mercatali’s direction is strong. Mercatali deals with the slow-moving story well, pacing the play in a manner that constantly makes the audience think and second-guess. The tone also shifts in an interesting and subtle way.

The acting performances are strong all round. Hannah McPake’s subtle diversity in her different “characters” as V is phenomenal, whilst Siwan Morris’ defiance as X is extremely moving. Luciana Trapman as The Storyteller also does a great job delivering powerful vignettes that are projected onto parts of the set.

Set up with promenade staging, Delyth Evans’ design is simple, yet effective. The long, narrow stage gives a real sense of entrapment that enhances the production. Combining with Katy Morison’s lighting which is mostly understated, but flickers and flashes at key moments. Tic Ashfield’s sound design completes the design elements in a very strong way. Somewhat unnecessarily, but effectively, bringing in glitches on voiceovers to distort the messages we’re hearing. This drives the audience’s curiosity to the mention of “the voice”.

This is potentially subjective, but The Story’s main issue is that it’s not challenging enough. There’s not enough emotion and the lack of a real story with a build really takes away from the potential power of this play. It feels quite safe and relies on an echo chamber for an audience. An audience who already think and feel how the play wants you to think and feel about the messages and themes.

It also doesn’t go deep enough into the topics it tackles. Far from a dystopian world – this is the reality of what we are currently living in. The dystopian feel takes away from that realism.

The disappointment comes from the clear potential of the play. It’s on the verge of being something brilliant, just falling short.

The Story offers a lot to reflect on in its content and enjoy in its production but doesn’t reach its potential through failing to truly challenge its audience.

The Story at The Other Room, Cardiff
8th October – 27th October 2019
Written by Tess Berry-Hart
Directed by David Mercatali
Siwan Morris as X
Hannah McPake as V
Luciana Trapman as The Storyteller
Design by Delyth Evans
Sound Design by Tic Ashfield
Lighting Design by Katy Morison
Video Design by Simon Clode
Assistant Director: Samantha Jones
Stage Manager: Rachel Bell
Production Manager: Rhys Williams
Season Fight Director: Kevin McCurdy
Fight Choreographer: Cristian Cardenas
Choreographer: Deborah Light
Production Photography: Kirsten McTernan
Associate Director: Matthew Holmquist
Casting Director: Nicola Reynolds
BSL Interpreter: Julie Doyle
Set Builder: Will Goad