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Review: Cheer at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Cheer by Kitty Hughes is a dystopian, anti-panto where Christmas is controlled by the elite and briefly experienced by the poor through the Christmas drug, ‘cheer’.

We follow Jules (Alice Downing) on a journey of exploring her own morality. Jules sells illegal Christmas licenses, seeing herself as a Robin Hood figure, but operating more like Sports Direct, TK Maxx or one of those Gucci knock-off labels. Offering cheap alternatives to allow the poor to join in on the rich people’s rampant consumerism. Enabling and in essence supporting the elite.

When Todd (Cory Tucker) enters, Jules is forced to recognise her hypocrisy as someone who understands the oppressive system, but merely profiteers off the desires of the poor.

 

One thing Kitty Hughes does well in the script, is neither character is particularly likeable. Jules is clearly exploitative and, despite being relatable in many ways, flawed. We would all like to say, “I’m not like that,” but ultimately if you can afford Christmas, you undoubtedly will relate in some way to her moral conundrum.

One main criticism has to come with Todd’s character. He doesn’t really have a story and is more of an event in Jules’ story. A statement in itself. But one that is potentially problematic. He goes in wanting one thing and comes out with it and despite recognising the over-consumption and greed of it all, he still wants to participate. And that is his position going in. He doesn’t learn a lot and really, at its heart this is a story about the moral dilemma of left-wing, middle class person. A conversation urgently needed in theatre, so good that it’s being had here. But perhaps a stronger working-class character, with more of a story would make this production more powerful.

It’s a play that explicitly talks about class, in a way that really isn’t very dystopian at all. Some people can’t afford Christmas, this is simply a reality. But also, it’s a script you can interpret in various ways. General classism, how the “first” world treats the “third” world in terms of aid, or even migration. The play feels a lot more real than a lot of dystopian pieces that speak in metaphor or allegory. This is more literal and stronger for it.

The script certainly gets a little lost in repeating itself. It seems to drag and with less of the playful style Big Loop usually adopt, 85-minutes does seem too long to tell this story. Especially as it feels as though you could pack this into an hour very easily. That said, the scenes themselves are well written, and you don’t get bored. But in terms of a script, it could be planned and plotted better.

Not Duncan Hallis’ most playful piece of direction, he shows that he can handle a heavy piece without compromising his style too much.

Perhaps one of the main downfalls of this production is, it sometimes feels like we’re split between Hallis’ imagination and Hughes’ political conscience. Sometimes it gets a little cluttered and the drama gets lost.

However, this conflict of style isn’t always a negative. The direction sometimes distracts from the deeply political text in a way that makes the message sink deeper. For example, when the two characters are arguing about their backgrounds, an exchange that is packed with political language, it’s a complete mess.

But a mess in a good way. It seems real. There’s a lot of frustration in this argument and the two characters are not exactly in the mindset in that moment to string together coherent political points. It comes from the character’s heart in a way that we don’t really see elsewhere, particularly from Todd, in the production. And so despite the political language, the manic actions and energy make it seem as if they’re just shouting and rambling, despite making thought-out political points. There’s a complete contradiction between what we see and hear that works really well.

The combination of styles is really good and a writer-director team I’d like to see more of. It just would have been nice to see some more weird, wacky or surreal moments from Hallis’ mind at times.

Alice Downing shows a lot of depth in her complex character. She exploits a brilliant use of facial expressions and body language to portray her character’s inner emotions.

Cory Tucker doesn’t have the same amount of character depth to play with, but does a good job of depicting what is there for his character. In particular, Tucker’s attention to detail in certain moments, the first time he tries gingerbread or the first time we see him on ‘cheer’, stand out. Considering there’s not much depth to his character, Tucker does a good job of letting us know the important moments for Todd.

The set design from Ceci Calf is really nice. The classic bookshelf/cupboard the best bit, but it’s just generally a nicely decorated set. The lighting design by Garrin Clarke compliments the production well. Lights changing and flashing when characters are on ‘cheer’ and a projection of a crazy Father Christmas onto the set in particular stand out.

The sound design from Matthew Holmquist shows a great use of music in particular. A bit of a throwback to earlier in the year when Cardiff Boy, which Holmquist directed, took over The Other Room. Again we see the influence of Holmquist’s mix of music to emphasise what’s happening on stage.

Generally, the productions is enjoyable and funny, as well as deeply political and thought provoking. A protagonist with a clear moral dilemma that isn’t solved by the end is left at a satisfactory conclusion encouraging the audience to discuss further after the show. And isn’t that exactly what theatre should be about?

Cheer is a bleak outlook on the world and Christmas, but has messages and themes that really should be spoken about further than just in the theatre. It’s a brave production that won’t fail to get a reaction from anyone.

Cheer at The Other Room.
Running November 27th – December 15th
Produced by Big Loop Theatre Company
Written by Kitty Hughes
Directed by Duncan Hallis
Starring:
Alice Downing as Jules
Cory Tucker as Todd
Creative Producer: George Soave
Designer: Ceci Calf
Lighting Designer: Garrin Clarke
Sound Designer/Composer: Matthew Holmquist
Stage Manager: Kitty Hughes
Assistant Producer: Yasmin Williams
Assistant Director: Alanna Iddon
Arts Placement: Natasha Grabauskas
Set Construction: Jack Calf
Promo from Sean Cox Design
Photography from Tess Seymour Photography

Review: Ravel’s “L’heure espagnole” by Mid-Wales Opera at RWCMD by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

 

Mid-Wales’s bold production of “L’heure espagnole” strikes home on every note.

Musical director Jonathan Lyness, who also plays piano, has arranged the score for a reduced orchestra, of only four musicians, including himself. The objective is to be able to take the production to smaller venues, that wouldn’t be able to house a larger orchestra. It works a treat as the four musicians, all of a high standard, provide a superb balance to the singing, wondering why Ravel didn’t write it in this way.  Mind you, I wouldn’t like to take on a composer, renowned for his orchestration ability.

“L’heure espagnole” is a one-act comédie musicale first performed at the magnificent    Opéra-Comique  in Paris on 19th May 1911,  and is based upon a play presented seven years earlier.

Libretto is by Franc-Nohain after his play.

Considered to be highly improper at the time, the story is based in 18th-century Toledo, Spain,  where bored Concepcion wife of clockmaker Torquemada, entertains her lovers every Thursday for an hour, whilst her husband leaves home to regulate the town’s clocks.  The resultant chaos after mule-driver Ramiro arrives at the shop to have a watch repaired just at the wrong time, is typical of high-farce.

Ravel’s Spanish score with its mechanical cuckoo clock and ticking metronomes in the prelude, in part disguises the fact that Ravel intended the opera to be more Italian buffa than French operette. 

The singing is uniformly excellent and all the actors display impressive comedic acting skills. All young singers, they represent a wealth of emerging talent and are building up impressive cv’s.

The costumes add to the visual comedy. Concepcion (Catherine Backhouse – mezzo soprano) scarlet woman as she is, dons a costume of that colour.

 

 

Nicholas Morton, (baritone) as Ramiro has carrots draped around him, representing his occupation as a muleteer conveying vegetables. I particularly liked his hat with two carrots protruding upwards like ears, thereby resembling the features of the animal he is working.

 

 

Anthony Flaum, (tenor)  as Gonzalve, Concepcion’s poet lover, dressed in a white suit, indicating the purity of his love in poetry.

 

 

Then there is stout banker Don Inigo Gomez, (Matthew Buswell – Bass-baritone) daubed in his jacket with banknotes attached.

 

 

Finally, we have the unfortunate husband Torquemada, (Peter Van Hulle – tenor) with his cloak of many clock faces.

 

 

Director/Designer has put together  truly marvellous set, that you can see from some of the mages on display here. The enlarged clock face, big enough to represent the concealment of the lovers, (in the plot hiding in grandfather clocks), are a revelation. It is a rich warm looking design and it embellishes the plot to perfection.

It is impossible to fault this production. It dazzles and pleases  and its English translation is funny and witty. I can thoroughly recommend this and urge anyone interested in opera, (and even those who are merely curious) to pay the modest admission price to see such a high standard production.

The performance that I attended was BSL supported.

Unknown to me, when I made my travel arrangements. if this wasn’t sufficient entertainment, there is a second half that consists of Spanish flavoured arias and showpieces. Sadly, I was unable to watch this, but if it is half as good as “L’heure espagnole” it will be well worth seeing.

 

 

 

Roger Barrington Continue reading Review: Ravel’s “L’heure espagnole” by Mid-Wales Opera at RWCMD by Roger Barrington

Review The Island, Fio by Hannah Ladd

The Island presented by Fio

Directed by Abdul Shayek

Performed by Joe Shire, Wela Mbusi

In this two hander between John (Joe Shire) and Winston (Wela Mbusi), we see two prisoners serving sentences for “crimes” at the infamous prison of Robyn Island. We see the two characters battle with the injustice of their situation. This is expressed through them attempting to put on the play Antigone. This is a clever choice of play for these prisoners to present as it talks about the injustice of Antigone’s sentence that completely echoes John and Winston’s suffering. We hear their stories and the terrible happenings in South Africa at the time of apatite.

Wela Mbusi and Joe Shire 

I think Fio has selected a clever choice of play here as it is a true reflection on what can happen in a country if we don’t address problems with Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality. In today’s current climate these discussions are more and more important to be having. Putting on such work is a reminder of the progress we made but still how far we have to go. It makes us not forget about things that can be so easily forgotten.

Joe Shire and Wela Mbusi are the heart of the production, their chemistry on stage and energy kept my engaged throughout this piece, particularly in some of the more humorous parts of the production. There were moments of magic between these actors that made me invested in this story.

At points the production was a little long and maybe could be shaved down, but overall this is an important piece of theatre to see. I enjoyed very much.

I was lucky enough to see the production in the community of Pill in Newport an incredibly diverse working class town. The fantastic thing Fio manged to achieve at this event was a full capacity audience with the room bursting at the seams. With 83 members of the public coming out to see this production. Making this piece of theatre a community event as a posed to just a show. Fio  invited an audience that quite possibly wouldn’t feel theatre is the place for them. But simply having some food a raffle and some other production related activities made this event something to be inspired.

Hannah Ladd

Review of Joe Orton’s “Loot” at the Coliseum Aberdare by Roger Barrington

 

(2 / 5)

 

I’ve never really been attracted to Joe Orton’s work. I recall seeing revivals of  Entertaining Mr. Sloane and What the Butler Saw staged in London during the 1990’s and watching the filmed version of Loot on it’s original run in 1970 and a common denominator in all these black comedies for me was that they were just not very funny, annoyingly over-verbose and outdated.

So with a degree of trepidation, I ventured to my local Coliseum Theatre in Aberdare, to see Black Rat and Blackwood Miners Institute Co-production of “Loot” which is touring venues in Wales until the 10th November.

The plot revolves around two young criminals, Hal (Rick Yale) and Dennis (Gareth Tempest) robbing a bank located next door to the funeral parlour where the latter is employed. Needing to hide the proceeds of their crime quickly, they decide on hiding it in a cupboard in Hal’s house initially, and then inside the coffin of his recently deceased mother lying in state in the same room prior to the funeral. Throw into the mix a psychopathic nurse Fay, (Sarah Jayne Hopkins), with an eye for grabbing the inheritance through marrying the newly widowed McLeavy, (John Cording) and a borderline loony police detective Truscott, (Samuel Davies), and you have the ingredients of ensuing mayhem.

 

 

The premise is promising, but is let down by its unnaturalistic dialogue and relentless attempts to be witty that leave you shell-shocked and disinterested after a very short time.

Another problem is that the main character Truscott, an obvious caricature of Sherlock Holmes, meerschaum pipe to boot, is patently unfunny.  Orton created the part with Kenneth Williams in mind, and I can envisage that actor improving the part, However,  for other actors without the unique talent of  Williams’s  affected style of delivery, it is a thankless task.

Fay is an Irish nurse and the most memorable character in the play. Devoted totally to the accumulation of wealth, she has managed Mrs. McLeavy, (an obviously silent role played by Julie Barclay) to change her Will in her favour. Previously married seven times, all her deceased husbands have died violently and now she has her claws into McLeavy.

McLeavy himself, the most moralistic character is a devout Roman Catholic who at first chooses not to believe that his son Hal is a bank robber.  He is torn between paternal responsibility and his religious conviction.

Hal, a product of his parents’ upbringing is incapable of lying, and this does lead to some slightly amusing moments. His friend and co-bank robber Dennis is a ladies man with an eye for snatching Fay, an attractive target as she had nefariously accumulated a degree of wealth.

Orton is targeting the accountability of the police force, exemplified through the sneaky and violent behaviour of Truscott. Orton, as a gay man at this time, (1960’s), had a history of bad experiences at the hands of the police and The Law and had an axe to grind. Famously, he was imprisoned for criminal damage to library books. His severe prison sentence probably down to his sexual orientation. He also has a go at the Roman Catholic Church  and middle-class society.

Orton reminds me of an earlier generation John Lydon, (Johnny Rotten of The ex Pistols) in his relentless quest to shock. He was always running into difficulties with the censors, and Loot was a case in point. However, what passed as shocking and controversial back in 1965 when the play was first performed, is passe sixty years on. I can remember the 60’s well enough and references to events and the way of thinking at that time does bear resonance, but I wonder how a group of schoolchildren that were present in the audience would find any degree of connection.

As for the production team, they make a pretty good attempt at making this redundant play accessible. All the actors have a decent body of work behind them and are collectively strong. The pick being Sarah Jayne Hopkins’s Fay – a lively portrayal with great vocal variation.

Director Richard Tunley creates a brilliant opening to introduce the characters, relying on a protective hospital screen doubling up as a cinematic screen to show an extract taken from a 60’s B-movie bank heist. It then is used for the concealing and exposure of the characters in an inventive way. This certainly caught the audience attention and I looked forward to more examples of this to come. Alas, that was not to be, and the remainder of the play is directed in a traditional way and is the worse for it.

Sean Crowley’s design is also traditional and somewhat perfunctory – religious icons, cupboard, bed, radio, room lamp and table and chairs.

This production makes a valiant attempt to resurrect a moribund play, but overall, you feel it should be resigned to accompany Mrs McLeavy in the centrestage coffin and buried in the cemetery of extinct drama. I can’t help wondering, whether Joe Orton’s work would still be exalted by some if he hadn’t died so young and brutally.

 

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

Review La Traviata, WNO, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff BY Barbara Michaels

 

(4 / 5)

 

After the epic production of War and Peace, which opened Welsh National Opera’s 2018 autumn season, the ever-popular La Traviata – Verdi’s most performed and well-loved opera – comes as something of a relief. The fact that this is a second time round revival of WNO’s original co-production with Scottish Opera in 2009, with a more recent revival just four years ago, proves the point.

Basically a love story, with the doomed love of Parisian courtesan Violetta for the young bourgeois Alfredo Germont centre stage, the themes – thwarted love, duty and tragic death– are still relevant today, as they were back in the mid-nineteenth century, when the opera received its first performance in Venice. Wisely, McVicar has chosen to keep to the traditional, with a sumptuous period setting whose opulence fairly reeks of decadence, represented in voluminous black drapes sweeping across the stage at opportune moments. This effective device works well– unfortunately the same cannot be said of the onstage activity inserted before the overture.

With twos sopranos, both of whom are experiencded in the role, singing the role of Violetta on different dates sprinkled throughout the run, David Poultney, in his final year as artistic director of WNO, could hardly lose. Making her debut on the Donald Gordon stage at the Millennium, Armenian singer Anush Hovhannisyan, who previously sang the role with Scottish Opera, proved once again what a fine voice she has. Her pure soprano, coupled with her acting ability, makes her an ideal choice for the role – heart-wringing in the final scenes. Opposite her, as Violetta’s lover Alfredo Germont,.Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang, has a strong voice and, while needing to display a stronger persona in scene two of Act II, nevertheless shows empathy with the role, coming into his own in the tragic ending and in his duets with Hovhannisyan throughout. .Interestingly, both these singers represented their respective countries in the 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in which Wang reached the main prize final.

Roland Woods’ sonorous baritone lends gravitas to the role of Germont pater, while Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, who hales from mid-Wales, is appropriately lively as the party girl Flora. Conductor James Southall’s interpretation of Verdi’s wonderful score is magnificent, as is the choreographing of the masquerade,by Andrew George and revival choreographer Colm Seery with some wonderful jumps and grands jetės executed superbly by the dancers.

An opportunity for the always reliable WNO chorus to shine and for the ladies to enjoy wearing the elegant gowns of the era, with their low cut bodices and the bustles favoured at that time, although the latter was a somewhat over-generous embellishment to Violetta’s gown in Act I , while in the second half the trousers of Alfredo’s suit appear over-long. Minor details – but why not get them right?

Overall, though, a revival that has stood the test of time.

Run: Various dates throughout October and November, ending November 23rd.

Music: Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

Director: David McVicar

Revival Director: Sarah Crisp

Artistic Director: David Poultney

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

 

Review Lord of The Flies, A Theatr Clwyd and Sherman Theatre production by Karis Clarke

 

(5 / 5)

 

Director:  Emma Jordon

Adapted by Nigel Williams

From the second I jumped out of my seat when the lights went down in the theatre I was hooked! Unfortunately I had entered the theatre with a  pre conceived idea – that I wasn’t going to enjoy this production. … because of the very thing that was creating all the hype, the all female cast. I though the gender / feminist card would be thrust down the audiences throat as hard as that of the casting of a female Dr Who! I was wrong. For the first few minutes I fought hard with myself, looking for flaws – but honestly the play just won me over.

James Perkins design was simple but effective, multi layered and stylized – it didn’t need anything dramatic the play was so well crafted it could have been performed on a empty stage.   Tim Mascoll’s clever use of light, shade and silhouettes, added to the sinister savagery consuming the Island and gave depth to the set.

The all female cast were young, playing young children / teenagers –  not an easy task – it can be very easy to over act and it looks ridiculous,  underact and the importance of the childhood is lost. This cast was spot on  – Each one showing the transition from girl to woman to savage as well as portraying Golding’s symbolism .  Piggy  rationality, Rhalp civilisation, Simon innocence, Jack, savagery, Roger evil. Each one gave a well rounded performance each one being allowed to deliver moments of humour amid the unfolding horror.

Piggy was sublime and was a treat from beginning to tragic end – the likability of Gina Fillingham’s performance only heightened the pathos felt for the unheard, unlikely heroine.  This was a stark contrast to the  hatefully personality beautifully portrayed by Kate Lamb as Jack. The timing and interaction of all the girls was strong, credit to movement director Liz Ranken who utilised the bond of the cast none more so than with –  Lowri and Mari Izzard as sisters Eric and Sam who were faultless. It was the timing and rhythm of the play that enabled the girls to work themselves into the halftime frenzy  – creating highs and lows in pace and emotion allowing the audience to catch up with the events unfolding on the stage.

It was disturbing, as a female to watch the sisterhood destroy itself –  the  book depicts the symbol the boys waiting to be destroyed by the Beast aka man- this takes on a whole different meaning when you think of teenage girls on the brink of womanhood being petrified by the beast of man!

Most of us are familiar with the story of The Lord of The Flies and the demise of  the boys left to their own devices in a world with no order – but to see females descend into the chaos of evil starting at innocent name calling and teasing, ending in death was bitter. I watched the play with my teenage son – who thought “the play was brilliant – but would have been more believable with boys as girls wouldn’t behave that way”

I disagree, as I have been a teenage girl and could fully  buy into the ugliness that transpired. With this I learned two things – casting isn’t important the quality of the acting is and boy, girl, man or woman we are all victims of humanity, with a frailty of sanity on a  knife edge between good and evil.

Once again a 5 Star production in this coproduction from Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre and Mold’s Theatr Clwyd who are back where they belong  – leading the way in North Wales Theatre.

Lord of the Flies can bee seen at Theatr Clwyd until the 13 October. The production then play at Cardiff’s  Sherman Theatre from Wed 17 Oct 2018 – Sat 03 Nov 2018

 

 

Review of “Vincent River” at Jacob’s Market, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

 

(4 / 5)

 

Philip Ridley’s tense two-hander receives its first performance in Cardiff with the action relocated to the Welsh capital.

In-Yer-Face theatre associated playwright Philip Ridley is renowned for his uncompromising scripts and action, and nearly twenty years on from its Hampstead Theatre premiere, “Vincent River” still packs a punch.

In a famous review of 1994 of Ridley’s “Ghost from a Perfect Place” Michael Billingham, probably Britain’s most renowned theatre critic launched a rant on the gratuitous violence on display. In turn Billingham was criticised for not getting the point.

In “Vincent River” the explicit violence is only spoken about in a flashback”, and it is identified with lengthy soliloquys from Davey, (Aly Cruickshank) towards the end, more reminicent of another highly regarded Ridley play, “The Pitchfork Disney”.

As a gay man, Ridley often writes from his own personal experience, and this is shown in “Vincent River”, not only in terms of homosexual alienation, but in the character of Anita, (Victoria Pugh) who has been forced to relocate due to the unwelcome publicity in the aftermath of her son Vincent’s murder.

Davey has been stalking Anita for a while, anxious to offload something  that is weighing heavily on his mind. After plucking up the courage to confront Anita in her new flat,  and after an uncertain nervy start, the two of them engage in a feisty dialogue over the remaining 80 minutes. Ridley develops the character by both of them relating stories about their past –  Anita with Vincent and Davey with his trophy girlfriend Rachael and his dying mother.

The climax is memorable with Anita bawling a Primal Howl, (I wanted to write Primal Scream to honour a favourite band, but it is a howl not a scream), that will echo in the memory of the audience long after the end of the play.

The blinding light as Davey leaves Anita’s flat may indicate a kind of release from the revelations that the charged conversation had revealed, but there is no catharsis in this play. You can’t really expect this in a play where a gay young man dies from a frenzied, pointless homophobic attack.

The question is why is Davey feeling a craving to speak to Anita? He found the body and reported it in to the police, but isn’t he too personally involved. That’s what Anita is wondering.

Ridley’s naturalistic dialogue urges fine performances from the two actors, and he receives it here. Aly Cruickshank  who impressed me recently in Spilt Milk’s, “Five Green Bottles” provides another edgy performance, at times deserving the audience’s hostility and at others our sympathy.

Experienced actress, in all formats of performance,  Victoria Pugh offers at different  times an angry, grieving, sexy inquisitor a performance of subtly and emotional depth. Although, at times, when she showed anger and spoke more quickly, I did have a little difficulty understanding her. Mind this might be down to me, for in Aberdare, I do have some problems understanding my neighbours when they get agitated… which sadly is quite a regular occurrence!

Luke Hereford’s assured direction  complements the two actors, although I think he has a little work to do in the middle of the play, that dragged a little, but that could be down to first night blues. Also a strategic repositioning of empty bottles may be considered.

Composer Josh Bowles’s input worked well within a space that exudes a great atmosphere for such an intense play as “Vincent River”.

One problem that I have with this play, from a didactic standpoint,  is that audience members, whether gay or straight will already be sympathetic to the cause. I can’t envisage many homophobes parting with a tenner to watch this.

I shall finish with one sobering thought. It has been reported in The Independent newspaper last year, that in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, homophobic attacks increased by 147%.  The re-emergence of nationalism and far-right governments have a tarnished history with regard to minority groups and one only has to think about Nazi Germany who persecuted homosexuals as well as Jews, Gypsies and political opponents with a relish that new no bounds.

“Vincent River” is a thrilling intense drama that gets the treatment from No Boundaries Theatre that it deserves.

An interview that I conducted recently with director Luke Hereford about this production can be found here.

http://getthechance.wales/2018/09/11/preview-with-interview-of-vincent-river-at-jacobs-market-cardiff-19-21-september-2018/

The play uses pervasive language and covers mature themes and is deemed suitable for those aged over 14.

Its run ends on 21st September.  I understand that tickets are only available for the performance this evening, (20th September).

 

Roger Barrington

Preview with Interview of “Vincent River” at Jacobs Market, Cardiff 19-21 September 2018

 

Philip Ridley’s acclaimed one-act 2000 play, “Vincent River” tells the story of a mother whose son Vincent has been murdered in a homophobic attack. In the aftermath, she learns about her son’s homosexuality.

“Vincent River” stars Victoria Pugh (Hidden – BBC One, Rownd a Rownd – S4C) and Aly Cruickshank (Five Green Bottles for Spilt Milk Theatre and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival).

It i directed by Luke Hereford  (Sherman Theatre Director’s Programme).

I posed the following questions to Luke ahead of the performances next week in Cardiff.

Q1. What drew you to Directing “Vincent River”?

Philip Ridley is a writer who is instrumental to the shape of contemporary theatre, and played a huge part in making theatre available and accessible for a number of new audiences by addressing some often controversial issues that a staggeringly large number of audiences can directly relate to. Vincent River is one of those plays. Like lots of Phil’s plays, it puts taboo opinions and subject front and centre, and demands the audience to sit up and listen, through the means of darkly beautiful poetry. That is everything I look for in theatre.

Q2. The play is set by writer Philip Ridley in Dagenham, an area of longstanding homophobic prejudice. Do you retain the location or do you change it to Cardiff?

We have been lucky enough to have Philip Ridley’s direct support of our production. He actually suggested changing the location to Cardiff. He said he thinks it’s important to remind audiences that the events of this play aren’t exclusive to London, so we’ve decided to relocate it. We also think that there’s something especially chilling, for Welsh audiences, about hearing street names and locations that they recognise.

Q3. Coming out of Q2, due you think there is a homophobic problem in Cardiff above the average, and is enough being done to combat this?

I don’t know if it’s Cardiff-specific, but in the last few years, I have found in my personal life the occasional comment or word in public situations aimed at me – particularly if I am with my partner – that I haven’t encountered, probably since I was in High School. It’s not that I feel unsafe, but I think there is less encouragement – due to certain world leaders – to be accepting of everyone. In terms of combating it, I’d like to think that by making people aware of such casual marginalisation, and where it has the potential to lead, the play might help to at least continue conversations about modern day homophobia and prejudice.

Q4. What difficulties did you encounter when producing this play?

We are uncovering a lot of themes that we hadn’t anticipated might be present, which is a gift more than anything; there is a delicate balance in terms of being aware of when to draw out the right themes, but we have been very gifted with our actors. Victoria Pugh and Aly Cruickshank are just a joy. They are intelligent and instinctive, and are vivid storytellers, which is exactly what this play requires. I feel so privileged to be working with them.

Q5. Philip Ridley is a pioneer of “In-yer-face” theatre, which emerged in British theatre in the 1990’s. “Vincent River” being first performed in 2000 to critical success. Do you think that this “brand” of theatre is as vital twenty years on, and how do you think our next Brit-style theatre will develop out of it? Or will it go in a different direction?

I think it’s clear that the shock factor of In-Yer-Face theatre has certainly subdued, but actually, it makes these sorts of plays pertinent in a very different way. I saw Shopping and F***ing at Lyric Hammersmith, just two years ago; it’s a play with themes of prostitution, sexual abuse, drug use, consumerism – to name a few – and seeing it in the age of Amazon and Netflix, when everything is instantaneous and transactional, the play had a very different feel to what I imagine people who saw it at the Royal Court in the late 1990s would have felt*. Something like Vincent River continues to remain pertinent, because fundamentally it’s about hate. Sadly, for that reason, I imagine there will always be a level of relevance within the play, and right now it feels particularly urgent.

*I saw this production, as I did Sarah Kane’s “Blasted” in its first week and they certainly left a massive impression on me.

Q6. Jacob’s Market in Cardiff, the venue of your production, is an unusual choice. Is there any reason for this?

Well, we wanted somewhere that was almost site-specific. I originally viewed to perform it in a living room, or someone’s basement, and then I found the Basement in Jacob’s sort of by accident. It instantly felt like the kind of space that Philip Ridley would write, and it all slotted together perfectly. You really have to see the space to know what I mean!

Clearly, “Vincent River” is as important a play now as it was nearly 20 year ago, and the promise of an interesting pace to view it,  makes it even more appealing.

Jacobs Antique Market is located in West Canal Wharf, a few minutes stroll from Cardiff Central Railway Station.

Tickets available online.

END

Roger Barrington