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REVIEW: BLUE at Chapter Arts Centre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Blue is a powerful drama set by the Welsh, Carmarthenshire coast which centres around the Williams family dinner in the looming absence of a father figure.

The play starts when daughter Elin brings former teacher, Thomas, home to sleep with him. However, to Elin’s surprise her brother is in and her mother home early. A confusion over Thomas’ presence ensues and drives the play forward.

Thomas finds himself awkwardly caught in a family argument under tragic circumstances but is ultimately the trigger for improvement and progress amongst the family.

The writing from Rhys Warrington is brilliant. Meticulously paced and incredibly detailed, the script starts out light-hearted and funny but as it progresses, and delves deeper into the characters, we notice something isn’t normal. At no point does anything feel forced, the play flows naturally and develops with great care.

Blue is subtly political in talking about lack of funding for the NHS. But doesn’t stray from the importance of the characters involved whose lives are being ruined by these cuts.

It’s fair to say, Rhys Warrington is off to a great start with his first feature-length play and I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

The direction from Chelsey Gillard is simply stunning. Every aspect of the script is explored diligently. This play could have been easily mismanaged but Gillard controls it masterfully. Beautifully allowing performers time to draw scenes out and the design elements to set the scene. Chelsey Gillard is forging a name for herself as one of the pioneering directors of contemporary Welsh theatre and her achievement with Bluehas only boosted that claim.

The performances are exceptional from every performer. Sophie Melville is brilliant as Elin. Proving once again what a talent she is, Melville encapsulates the final stages of teenage angst with growing mid-20’s maturity brilliantly.

Gwydion Rhys plays Elin’s shy brother, Huw, expertly. His eyes lighting up the moment Thomas asks about Minecraft. A heart-breaking and simultaneously heart-warming moment as it’s clear this is the first time someone has taken an interest in his interests outside of his online alternate-reality. We can all relate in some way to Huw and Rhys’ portrayal is a testament to this.

Jordan Bernarde’s performance as Thomas is handled with as much care as the character is attentive to the others. We can sense Thomas’ awkwardness and even though we’re aware he’s really there to sleep with Elin, we see his kind-hearted nature too. It’s only when Thomas exits the play that you realise the impact Bernarde’s performance has on the production.

Choosing a standout performance is near-impossible, but if we are to do so, it has to be Nia Roberts in portraying the matriarch figure, Lisa Williams. Everything is perfect from Roberts in this performance. At the mention of her husband, everything about her character changes, from tone to body-language – perfect. This performance will standout as one of the best in Wales this year.

The sound design from Tic Ashfield is very understated and effective. The sound mostly soothes into the background, almost unnoticeable if you’re not looking for it – but is powerful and essential to the production.

Oliver Harman’s design is simple and functional. Detailed to what one would expect any living/dining room to look like, with nothing left to waste. The blue door is, in particular, a nice touch.

Ceri James’ lighting is an essential tool for setting the mood, which James does excellently. Subtly changing throughout and providing a nice alternative to blackouts between scenes which is specifically good. The slight blue tint in some of the lighting is also lovely.

It’s frustrating when a production leaves the design elements as an after-thought and whilst it’s very subtle in Blue, the design, on all fronts, contribute hugely to Blue’s artistic success.

It’s important to stress what a team effort this production is. Huge credit must also go to Rebecca Jade Hammond for creating and producing this piece, as well as all involved at Chippy Lane and Chapter in the making of Blue.

BLUE is a heart-breaking drama about a family split in their grief of a father figure who is both no longer present and not yet absent.

BLUE performed at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
World Premiere 5th – 16th February 2019
Running time approximately 90 minutes
Created and Produced by Rebecca Jade Hammond
Written by Rhys Warrington
Directed  by Chelsey Gillard
Cast:
Elin – Sophie Melville
Thomas – Jordan Bernarde
Lisa – Nia Roberts
Huw – Gwydion Rhys
Designer: Oliver Harman
Lighting Designer: Ceri James
Sound Designer and Composer: Tic Ashfield
Dramaturg: Matthew Bulgo
Co-Producers: Chippy Lane Production and Chapter
Stage Manager: Bethan Dawson
Production Assistant: Sophie Hughes
BSL Interpreter: Sami Thorpe
Photography: Kirsten McTernan
Marketing and PR: Chloe Nelkin Consulting & PR

REVIEW: Laurie Black: SPACE CADETTE at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Laurie Black is sick of humankind and decides to take us on her journey to be the first woman on the moon. A contemporary cabaret show that showcases Black’s musical and comedy abilities through her quirky, green alter-ego (who might not be an alter-ego).

Black takes us on her journey escaping Earth and encountering David Bowie’s alien spaceship (yes) before landing on the moon. The journey, which takes three-days but feels like an hour, is a fairly simple one as far as plot goes but exists to give context and thematic links to the main event of comedy and music.

Black’s music is a varied mix of genre that, for the most part, has a somewhat futuristic feel. She exploits the sounds of synths, piano and a small drum machine well on stage. But, it is Black’s enthralling voice which captures the audience the most. Not relying solely on her voice however, Black is also a great songwriter using witty pop culture references, the occasional political statement and comedic wordplay.

Mostly original music, there are some covers of popular songs in Space Cadette. Starman by David Bowie stands out as a strong point where the audience are encouraged to sing along with the “la, la, la”s. There are also covers of Radiohead, Muse and Leonard Cohen as well as a funny reference to The Proclaimers.

The comedy and storytelling that comes between the songs was usually good. Nothing to make you belly-laugh, but enough to keep you interested. It is fair to say also, that the comedy suffered due to the low turnout on the night. Some jokes are sleepers which will have you chuckling two-hours after the show as you walk home in the rain – which Black correctly predicts.

The stage set-up is simple. For the most part it’s just a microphone stand and a piano. This worried me at first, but as the show goes on, it isn’t an issue as Black keeps the attention on her. Except for one moment when she gets out her mini-moon that she passes around the audience.

There’s a lot of frustration in the show that gets channelled into humour and songs. On Black’s journey to the moon, we see further into her persona and whilst the outer-shell is hard, by the end we can tell she secretly loves us. There’s no particular agenda to the piece but an overriding theme of frustration at the current state of the world.

Space Cadette is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over the next eight weeks. Tickets can be found for Space Cadette and other Spring Fringe shows HERE, with an ever-growing discount for the more shows you book. If you can’t make the show, but like the sound of Laurie Black, you can find her music on most streaming services online.

Space Cadette is an enchanting, funny cabaret show from Adelaide Fringe 2018 winner, Laurie Black. An exploration to the moon that has so much to say about Earth.

SPACE CADETTE at The Other Room, Cardiff
5th February – 8th February 2019
Created and performed by Laurie Black
Technician: Garrin Clarke

Rebus: Long Shadows, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Rebus: Long Shadows is a new story written by critically-acclaimed author Ian Rankin and adapted exclusively for the stage by award-winning playwright Rona Munro. Starring Ron Donachie, Cathy Tyson and John Stahl, the story follows the titular DI, one of Scotland’s most famous fictional detectives, now retired, as he exhumes the faux pas of the past to find justice in the present.

Though I don’t claim to be a Rebus aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, I’ve enjoyed the various incarnations of the character, though for different reasons. DI John Rebus, played onscreen by John Hannah and Ken Stott, is the archetypal hard man, a gruff detective and former SAS soldier with PTSD and a serious drinking habit. Hannah’s Rebus was a youthful yet world-weary DI with a whole host of personal demons despite his fresh-faced looks. Stott’s Rebus, replacing Hannah in season 2, was a more convincing cynic given his age and natural gruffness. Both versions boast a bleak brutality, but Hannah’s inner monologue denoted a more internal, psychological approach, whereas Stott’s Rebus was more external and thus retained a greater sense of mystery and ambiguity.

Long Shadows’ Rebus seems to be pitched somewhere between the two, played here by Ron Donachie who portrays the character in the BBC radio dramatizations of Rankin’s novels. Donachie is a very genial stage presence, a lovable curmudgeon who is plagued by the ghosts of past. Rebus is not so much an analogue detective in a digital age as a displaced Diogenes trying to make it in millennial Edinburgh.

It was disappointing not to see Cathy Tyson as Rebus’ procedure-driven protégé DS Siobhan Clarke (played by Gayanne Potter/Claire Price in the series), but understudy Dani Heron does a great job as the jaded DS even if she doesn’t look old enough to have been working a case for a quarter of a century. Her banter with Donachie is one of the show’s highlights, as both actors ably conjure that catty camaraderie of a long-lived friendship. She also gets one of the show’s best lines when Rebus frets about ‘the way lassies dress these days’, by responding that ‘young women can’t be prisoners of their fathers’ fears’.

The cast is brilliant across the board, from Eleanor House and Ellen Bannerman as the ghosts of the victims Rebus failed to save – the former of whom also plays the dual role of (murdered) mother Maggie and (surviving) daughter Heather – and Neil McKinven masters multiple roles with charm and skill whilst making each one distinctive and memorable. However, the standout of this production is John Stahl as ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty, Rebus’ amiable nemesis. There’s a layer of artifice to every actor in the show except Stahl, who imbues an earthy authenticity into the vibrant, larger-than-life (in name and nature) character. Stahl’s deliciously imperious performance captivates from the second he steps onstage, slipping seamlessly from debonair to devilish in a way that could have be cartoonish in the hands of a less capable actor. His performance is worth the price of admission alone.

Rona Munro’s script is interesting and engaging, and
Robin Lefevre’s skilful direction guides the audience through the murky mystery. The surname Rebus originates from the phrase ‘Non verbis, sed rebus’ (‘not by words, by things’), a phrase which describes a form of heraldic expression used in medieval times that used symbols, pictograms and illustrations to represent new words/phrases. This was taken up by Sigmund Freud, who believed dreams could be (re)interpreted in a similar way. It’s a fitting name for a gritty detective who has to sift through reams of fakeries and facades to find the villainy behind the civil veneer.

The production has a number of discretely creative touches, predominantly Ti Green’s evocative set featuring a central curving staircase that takes us down into the lair of Rebus’ mind, and a set which functions interchangeably as a poky flat, a nightclub, a pub, and a swish penthouse suite. The Gothic touches of the ghostly apparitions (aided by Chahine Yavroyan and Simon Bond’s lighting) are effective as they berate and motivate Rebus, but their near-constant presence reduces their potency. This element might have been more effective if Rebus had been the lead investigator of the cases in question, which would have given a sense of urgency and regret, and a more compelling motivation beyond just a general obligation to justice.

As such, the mystery of who the true antagonist is falls a little flat, because it’s fairly obvious from the moment they appear. Relocating the crime drama to the stage already reduces the nuance of a book or film/tv show, which can include breadcrumbs in the background – a throwaway glance, a name on a file, a news report – whereas onstage everything is rather unambiguously right there in front of you. The scene at Cafferty’s swish apartment, while engrossing, goes on for far too long, and despite the talented female-driven creative team, DS Clarke is frustratingly side-lined by the narrative, and Eleanor House’s Heather (though intriguingly layered) is stopped mid-potential by the arbitrary ending. I would certainly be interested to see how her character develops, especially in conjunction with Stahl’s Cafferty, if we ever get a sequel.

Interesting and enjoyable, Rebus: Long Shadows is a compelling addition to the longstanding, multi-media mythos of its eponymous investigator. Playing at the New Theatre until Saturday 9th February, it’s well worth a watch, especially if you’re already a fan of Rankin’s crotchety copper.

Review: WOOF at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Please note this review contains references to sexual violence and detailed analysis of the productions plot.

WOOF by Elgan Rhys is a new Welsh-language (occasionally bilingual with English subtitles at every performance) play about two men, Daf and Jesse, who have different expectations of one another.

In a lustful first meeting we see the pair’s first sexual encounter and follow their romance along some ups and downs until their final “sexual” encounter and the fallout.

Woof portrays big topics such as open/polyamorous relationships and sexual assault both in the context of modern gay life. However, Elgan Rhys fails to really explore any of these topics in a way that does them justice.

One main reason why is because the characters are cliché “types” of gay men. One wanting marriage and kids, the other wanting an open relationship. But this is the extent of their individuality. Even the way they speak is basically identical and generic.

Because of this, despite the characters having clear goals, the motivations that drive them aren’t clear. For a play that relies so heavily on bubbling under the surface, we should be understanding the motivations.

Rape is used as a “turning point” and feels more like a plot point than a major life event in Jesse or Daf’s life. Things do change after this, but again, the motivations that drive these changes are invisible. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like we’re watching a play, we barely see how they’re feeling and when we do, it mostly comes through speech and feels unnatural.

Things happen, we get spoken to about them, and then the characters move on to the next stage of the plot. It feels like a draft of a script that has figured out its structure, but not found the character’s voices or even the characters themselves.

One positive is that we see real love from both characters to each other, even if they don’t always care for the other.

Elgan Rhys presents a lot in Woof and some people will really identify with it, because of the evocative nature of the topics presented. But it explores very little of these huge themes and how they affect the characters, which is where this play particularly falls down.

The tone of the direction from Gethin Evans doesn’t help solve this. It’s quite flat throughout. The odd scene or moment is well controlled by Evans. But the piece overall feels odd. The subtext isn’t portrayed well throughout the performance at all and the build-up to the rape scene, as well as the scene itself, is really poor because of this.

Whilst neither Aled Pedrick as Jesse or Berwyn Pearce as Daf do particularly badly in portraying what they’re given, neither really rise and meet the task either. There are great moments from both, however.

Jesse’s immediate reaction to being raped is horrifying. The confusion and fear are portrayed well – but this doesn’t hold and the performance of Jesse declines into mediocrity afterwards. Meanwhile, the performance of Daf peaks in more comedic moments – but struggles with the darker ones.

There are moments of good chemistry between the two, particularly in the first third of the play. A scene where the two characters exchange phone numbers is particularly nice. Some real chemistry which is lovely as well as being the first time we see real care and love in the two. But then, there’s a lot that feels unnatural. For example, whenever the characters talk about their relationship – which is the central conflict of the piece.

The set and design from Elin Steele is simple. Nothing out of this world but it works. It’s a similar story for Katy Morison’s lighting design too. Some moments that are good, the club scene in particular, but ultimately underused.

The sound by Sam Jones doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall production. An announcement of “Happy New Year!” on the sound system doesn’t fit the tone and music isn’t exploited nearly enough.

The design elements really could set the tone for the piece but instead, as happens too often, feel like an afterthought.

Now that we have critically assessed the play itself, there are some other things that desperately need to be addressed.

Firstly, the lack of trigger warnings was a huge issue. “Sexual content” does not equal “rape/sexual violence”. This desperately needs addressing by the Sherman in the remaining shows as this was incredibly irresponsible.

The tone on the night and marketing is out of place with the nature of the piece. Having feedback boards outside with various LGBTQ+ flags on it, was a strange contrast from portraying a toxic gay relationship and gay rape. Marketing it with the words “bold” and “gritty” are also out of place with what we see. This isn’t a bold play because it doesn’t challenge its audience.

In the programme notes, Rachel O’Riordan, former artistic director of the Sherman Theatre and the person who commissioned this play, said, “the play…will ask our audience to look at some uncomfortable truths.” This is true. It asks its audience to observe some uncomfortable truths but doesn’t challenge them by exploring those truths.

It seems that from start to finish, the whole theatre had the wrong attitude with this play, from top to bottom. From commissioning, to presenting, to marketing and warning its audience about the issues it deals with. It’s a presentation of something that may well be true, but not an exploration of the themes or characters.

There will be people who really enjoy Woof and it is worth seeing, in full knowledge of what it’s about.

WOOF is a dark portrayal of a toxic, yet loving relationship, between two male characters who are ultimately underdeveloped.

WOOF performed at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
31 January – 9th February 2019
Written by Elgan Rhys
Directed by Gethin Evans
Cast:
Daf – Berwyn Pearce
Jesse – Aled Pedrick
Designer: Elin Steele
Sound Designer: Sam Jones
Lighting Designer: Katy Morison

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

4 out of 5 stars (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 out of 5 stars (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 out of 5 stars (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 out of 5 stars (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