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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

 

Review: ‘Jurassic Kingdom – Where dinosaurs come to life’ by Eloise Stingemore

The dinosaurs have been let loose and have arrived at Cardiff’s, Bute Park.

The beautiful grounds of one of Cardiff’s most loved parks has been turned into a prehistoric world this summer, where over 30 interactive, life sized replicas rome the grounds. Brave explorers come face to face with a 26m long Diplodocus and the notorious Tyrannosaurus Rex, all of which come to life before your eyes, with their tails, eyes, heads and arms moving and making you jump with their raging roars.

In the education marque one can watch a 30-minute viewing experience produced by the BBC, which plays on a large projection screen and documents the dinosaurs time wandering the earth right up until the ice age.

One aspects of this attraction aside from the dinosaurs themselves which are fantastic, is the excavation, which will keep mini-dinosaur palaeontologists entertained for hours as they dig for bones.

There are a herd of street food and drink vendors for when the gang gets peckish or thirsty. A retail marquee sells a range of educational and entertaining branded merchandise so dinosaur-lovers can remember their experience.

This is the first outdoor dinosaur experience of its kind in the UK and a truly entertaining and educational experience for children of all ages.

The event is open daily from 10am to 6pm with last entry at 5pm. When selecting tickets you will be asked to select a time slot and entry is at hourly time slots from 10am to 5pm. Once inside the event visitors can stay as long they wish but it will close at 6pm.

Tour dates be found here: http://www.jurassickingdom.uk

Review, DOTS by Annie Cheung, Camden Fringe, The Lion and Unicorn by Hannah Goslin

 

(3 / 5)

 

In the simplistic black box at the top of The Lion and Unicorn, we are confronted by a minimalist set featuring upturned chairs and small balls.

Annie Cheung is a performing artist from Hong Kong, with her work dipping into a combination of therapy and theatre.

With DOTS, the main intriguing aspect of this production is the narrative. We see Cheung go through a series of emotions, stories, and feelings ; there’s a sense that this may be biographical but if not, and changed for dramatic effect, she still manages to pull at our heart strings, make our sides split and relate wholeheartedly.

Some of the narrative relates more to theatre and her struggle as an actress – asking whether The Stage and its uncertainties are worth it over the sturdiness of The Law Firm. A clever viewpoint of this is that she makes these as character’s themselves – she interacts and refers to them as if they were human, adding her husband’s business, or his ‘Mistress’, to the mix. It gives these more of a face, and the conversation is comedic and relatable.

And while her production is very much about the narrative, combating her mental health and the ups and downs in her life and industry, she manages to throw in physicality, using a chair as former partners when referring to her sex life, and moving around the small stage at great speed.

I would have liked to see more- while I love minimalist sets, and for a show to be all about the writing and the physicality, I do feel that DOTS could go even further, and maybe could develop into something even bigger.

DOTS really combats the mental health in the arts, but also manages to connect with anyone who has ever felt lost or struggling with where they are, at any time in their life.

 

 

Review of “Twelfth Night” performed at Hatherop Castle by Roger Barrington

 

(3.5 / 5)

 

The Venue – Hatherop Castle

 

Cotswold Arcadians 2018 Shakespeare production, performed outdoors in the gorgeous surroundings of Hatherop Castle, is The Bard’s exquisite  comedy, “Twelfth Night or What you Will”.

This tale of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and humiliation is regarded, by many, (including myself), as Shakespeare’s finest comedy.

Viola has been rescued from a storm at sea and lands on Illyria. She believes that her twin brother Sebastian has not survived the ordeal and has drowned. Disguising herself as a young man, she enters the service of Duke Orsino.  The Duke belives himsellf to be in love with the highly desirable countess Olivia, and uses Viola, (now known as Cesario to act as a go-between to aid his courtship. Olivia, much impressed with Cesario, fulls in love with him.  Cesario, in the meantime fulls in love with Orsino. Still with me? The matters are brought to their conclusion when Sebastian enters the confused threesome’s world and all is happily resolved.

Sub-plots involve some of Shakeseare’s most famous creations. Sir Toby Belch, (Countess Olivia’s kinsman), who is fervent i n his desire to live the heady time of “cakes and ale”, typical of the twelve days of Christmastide to its utmost. His silly friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Olivia’s fool Feste, (although he disputes his role himself), Maria, (Olivia’s gentlewoman companion), and Flavia, (a servant in Olvia’s household). combine to humiliate Malvolio, (steward to Olivia), because he is a prig and pompous fellow, full of his own self-importance. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” (Act II, Scene v), read out by Malvolio from a letter written by Maria, and thereafter used as his creed.

One of The Bard’s themes in this play is to bring attention to the controversial law regarding no female performers at this time being allowed on stage. Therefore, young boys tended to play women parts and this led to inevitable problems relating to sexual exploitation, homosexuality and prostitution.

Since 1991, Cotswold Arcadians have produced an annual Shakespeare production, which has been performed at Hatherop Castle for the past fifteen years or so. The Company has acquired a respected reputation within the amateur theatrical world, and has been recognised by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in its Open Stages project as a Company worthy of assistance, and this has been shown through members taking parts in workshops at Straford-upon-Avon.

Director Geoff Butterworth has set the plot in the 1920’s, the Jazz Age era. This is exemplified by period costume and a live band playing 1920’s hits. This isn’t the first time that I have seen a Shakespearean play adapted in this way. Back in 1992, I enjoyed David Thacker’s, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” which did exactly the same thing. It work’s well, although I felt that the frivolous nature of flappers and The Jazz age is a little at odds with the Yuletide setting of “Twelfth Night”. The hot summer evening didn’t help either, but, I would much prefer viewing in this climate outdoors, than a cold January night in a deep beak winter.

The grass stage lies between two temporary stands in a traverse style.  On either side of the space there are two primitive doors, one of which has a raised balcony . The four-piece band is placed just off-stage.

The quality of acting is of a good standard and in some instances reaches a height that would grace a West End stage.

Samantha Swinford as Viola/Cesario, after a nervous start, grows into her role and is particularly  good at displaying masculine gait and characteristics. I watched the first night of this production, and based upon her improvement as the play progressed, I believe that she will do full justice to this demanding role.

Olivia, (Lizzie Leach) and Maria, (Heidi Price), both possess fine voices for Shakespeare and are equally impressive.

Fabia, (Caz Shaw) delivers her lines with a deadpan voice, if she added a rural Berkshire accent, with her appearance, you could take her for a youthful Pam Ayres.

On the male side, I warmed to Tony Free’s, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. It is easy, (and indeed I have witnessed it in a RSC production), to overplay this part, and it must be tempting to do it, but in this case the balance is spot-on. Some of the best scenes are reserved for his interaction with cronies, Sir Toby Belch, (Dave Kilmister), and Feste, John Salter), both of whom are also very good.

Jonathan Vickers, as the humiliated and somewhat tragic  Malvolio is excellent, both in his early pomposity and latterly as the affronted victim.

There are no weakness in the remainder of the cast who collectively pull off a highly accomplished performance.

Veteran director Geoff Butterworth keeps the action rolling along at a good pace and shows nicely judged delicate touches. I feel that he should reconsider the opening scene whereby Viola’s voice is largely rendered inaudible due to sound effects of the tempest. I feel that Viola’s voice should be amplified somewhat whilst the effects moderated to get a balanced result. I also felt that the actors’ voices were louder after the interval, and as it being an outdoor production, this greatly added to the enjoyment. The actors’ delivery of both prose and iambic pentameter are conscientiously delivered.

I am not sure whether the live band worked that well. It seemed to me to be an odd variety of instruments and may have been improved by just a soloist or duo. Piped music may even work better. To have a live band is ambitious, but you need it to work well, and to depict the Jazz era more realistically, I feel the playing needs more zest.

These issues aside, this is a worth presentation of one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays and together with its idyllic outdoor setting marks an enjoyable evening’s entertainment in the Cotswold, on a warm summer’s evening.

The performance runs for about 160 minutes including a 15-minute interval. It continues to run until July 28th.

Continue reading Review of “Twelfth Night” performed at Hatherop Castle by Roger Barrington

Review For All I Care, National Theatre Wales by Kevin Johnson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Last night I saw For All I Care, part of National Theatre Wales’ NHS70 Festival. Written by Alan Harris, it’s a one-woman show about Clara, a girl on the fringes of society, suffering from mental illness, and Nyri, a nurse struggling to keep her life, the NHS and Clara together.

Yet again I was amazed by the talent we have in Wales. Harris has that rare ability as a writer, making a serious point one moment & making you laugh the next. In Clara we have a girl who is slipping through the cracks of the system, in Nyri we have a woman desperate to save her. Both characters are fully fleshed out, but they are brought to life by Alexandra Riley, a young actor who seems to get better with every role. She gives Clara a streetwise innocence, making you warm to her. She then switches to show Nyri, a nurse & Mam, made of steel and love. I’ve seen Alexandra Riley in four different roles now, and she was good in all of them, but always as part of a cast. In this play it was just her going solo, and what a marvellous thing it was to see her stretch her wings and take flight.

Go see for yourself, thank me later.

Venue 1, Georgetown, Tredegar NP22 4LD. Details on NTW website. There is a minibus from Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, to the venue & back. The final two shows are today 5pm & 8pm.

The venue itself is owned by the community and they’ve done an excellent job with it. One woman told me how the kids go there after school for dancing and singing lessons, often doing their homework upstairs.

We are told by the ‘Powers That Be’ that the arts are not essential, and we can’t afford them. Looking at that place last night, the hard work that’s gone into it, and the pride that woman showed me in front of her grandson, you can see what a lie that is.

The arts are essential.

Review: ‘Misfire’ from Old Sole Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Misfire from Old Sole Theatre Company is relevant and shows real promise to be an excellent piece of theatre.

In the interest of clarity, I’ll start this review by saying I am good friends with the director Nerida Bradley, despite what she may tell you. That said, I believe in constructive, critical response and it is what I would want as an artist myself. You can either believe me or not.

I will also be reviewing this piece based on it being an R&D production and part of the Fringe Lab at the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival. So, the star rating is given on the basis it is R&D and the review is also acting as feedback.

This piece is here to further the discussion of the main theme of the play, toxic masculinity. It also takes inspiration from the exposé of the #MeToo Movement, exposing the likes of Harvey Weinstein.

The play is a monologue set up as anti-stand-up comedy. A stand-up comedy show that goes wrong if you will. We immediately get a sense of the character’s obnoxious nature during his entrance. Jon Parry plays Jake, a stand-up comic, who enters, demanding a drink at the bar. Unsuccessful, he goes to the stage and waits for the music, ‘The Entertainer’  by Tony Clarke, to stop.

Jake then proceeds to make some terrible jokes. “Next joke… Carrie Fisher died… Princess Leia’s gone.” This just isn’t funny – but the distasteful pleasure of the joke shows us a glimpse of this characters mindset and the dry delivery from Parry enforces this well.

The great thing about this play is, from the start of the play you really have no idea what is going to happen. You have no idea what Jake is going to do.

Jon Parry does a good job of portraying the stand-up comedian, who is drunk and stoned. The highlight of the performance comes when Jake has a gun in his mouth and tells the story of a congressman, Budd Dwyer, who shot himself in the head on camera. In this we also have a double-entendre of speaking about dying. The comic doesn’t reveal whether this is dying on stage as a comedian or literally dying. But to the relief of anyone who doesn’t like death endings, like me, he doesn’t kill himself, literally. And he dies on stage at the start of the play.

The writer James Neale does a good job of covering the subject on the scale of your average guy. However, the piece often lacks vision and ambition. The feeling that the stand-up comic could do anything is good, but needs to be met with sufficient vision and structure. It also feels like the boundaries could be pushed much more. In the post-show Q&A it was clear from a few of the audience members, that the script needs work in this sense.

Structurally, the script gets going into the theme very quickly, but then dies out a little. Not completely, but the most explicit stuff comes at the start. The piece doesn’t build particularly well. We need to be building to something. This is what the piece lacks more than anything. We don’t need to know where we’re going, but need to be taken on a journey.

The language used is good and we get a really good sense of the character. There are parts of the script which are very well written. But when you’re talking about toxic masculinity, it needs to push more.

The direction for this piece is good. Jon and Nerida worked well together to portray James’ script. The messy moving around the venue – AJ’s Coffee House – works well as it feels naturalistic.

We could see a more sinister approach at times, particularly when Jake talks about stalking girls and choking his girlfriend during sex. The relaxed nature works in that it shows these things as normal to the character. But the tone is often quite relaxed and with this, these significant moments only stand out in text and not in the performance. The tone and pace of these things could be played with.

Overall, I’ve given the play a star rating of four as I feel with a bit of work, when it gets to a place where it is ready to go on stage fully, it will be a very strong show. It was certainly a strong R&D performance and exactly what the Cardiff Fringe Lab is about.

The post-show Q&A was an interesting discussion – but it definitely became clear that there is more vision and potential not being explored in the text and in the rehearsal room to come from this play.

Also, very quick note. It’s really nice to see shows that are BSL interpreted – but sometimes this can’t be arranged for whatever reason. It was nice to see an apology for this on the freesheet. The more we can normalise BSL interpretation, even if we aren’t using it, the better.

Tonight, June 12th at 7.45pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Misfire – Presented by Old Sole Theatre Company and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by James Neale.
Directed by Nerida Bradley.
Starring Jon Parry as Jake.
Poster art by Miles Rozel Brayford.
Running time: 30 mins approx with 30 min Q&A about the play and toxic masculinity following.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott