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‘Street’ and ‘Izzy’s Manifestos’ from Spilt Milk by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Spilt Milk’s double bill of Street by Susan Monkton and Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones (23/10 – 26/10 2018) is their second production of the year, having staged the impressive Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith at the Cardiff Fringe in May. Along with various scratch nights, the company are a busy one, offering various opportunities for Cardiff’s creative scene.

And this double bill showcases exactly that. A work-in-progress piece from emerging writer and actor Susan Monkton, as well as a more polished piece from Kevin Jones.

The evening starts as any Spilt Milk night would, with a warm welcome at the door and an invitation to the bar, where lovely Kate and Leo from AJ’s Coffee House will serve you. The setting of AJ’s is intimate, cosy and always makes for a nice evening of theatre, this being no different.

Street by Susan Monkton  (3 / 5)

Street is only Susan Monkton’s second piece of writing that she has shared with the public, and with it being a work-in-progress, that has been taken into account for the review.

The play follows a young woman, Laura (portrayed by Ella Maxwell), as she walks home from a one night stand, only to be met with a bomb explosion on City Road in Cardiff. She tends to the wounds of Sammy, a young boy, before fleeing the scene. This causes guilt in her mind to circle, until a knock at the door from a police officer assures her that the boy is okay, and that she’s done nothing wrong. The opposite in fact, she is “my hero” in Sammy’s words.

Overall, it feels as though the writer has found a topic, but not really explored in depth the character or the situation. The point of the play, why the story needed to be told by this character and the writer’s aims aren’t really clear.

The police officer scene is fairly awkward, in part because the officer speaks over the sound system as a voice-over. But it also feels unrealistic for the officer to show up, bring her pair of shoes and comfort her.

Aspects like Sammy being revealed as a refugee is a detail that feels thrown in, unnecessary and really takes characterisation away from him. Almost to ramp up the tragedy, but ends up falling into the trope of white heroinism.

The setting of City Road is a multicultural area of Cardiff and in the national discussion of refugees and terrorism, it is impossible to get away from the topic of Islam. The connotations of these aspects of the play really need looking into as combined with the white heroism, it creates a potentially problematic play.

A play that focuses on the victims and tragedy of the situation could have more responsibility in considering the connotations of the setting, characterisation and main themes.

The opening monologue about Laura’s night out is a bit odd in contrast to the rest of the piece. However, it does portray Laura as someone ultimately not ready to be a hero. That continues to be a big theme throughout the play, but a theme that makes the protagonist fairly passive. Things happen to her rather than because of her actions.

There are some really strong moments of humour early in the play, which is definitely a strong area of Monkton’s writing having seen her previous work. There is also strong characterisation for Laura and some really emotional writing. The script shows real promise but it requires work and needs to be more careful in certain areas.

Ella Maxwell does an excellent job in portraying Laura, really throwing herself into the script, bringing out the humour when appropriate, but also handling the more emotional parts of the play really well also.

Street is directed with real care from Becca Lidstone with close attention to detail. Paced well with key points in the script really standing out. No doubt that some of Maxwell’s excellent work is down to this direction, not to take any credit away.

There were moments where sound effects used felt awkward which Lidstone and sound designer Nick Laws could work on. They seemed to be chucked in and rather than adding to the scene, distracted somewhat.

Overall it is worth going to see to give feedback on the script and for Ella Maxwell’s great performance. But certainly a play that needs work.

Street by Susan Monkton
Cast: Ella Maxwell as Laura
Directed by: Becca Lidstone
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones  (4 / 5)

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones was initially performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. However, has been developed and brought back as a brand-new production by Spilt Milk.

The play follows a young girl called Izzy, who, after her father’s death when she is fourteen, creates manifestos by which she lives her life. It is an unpredictable, hilarious, yet potentially heart-breaking piece of theatre.

I say potentially, as the script certainly doesn’t live up to it’s high potential. That’s not to say it’s not of a high quality. It is really funny and a strong piece of theatre. However, it ends abruptly and leaves you wanting more.

Before the play starts, Angharad Berrow goes around the room, in character, telling people that the play was about to start. This along with Berrow’s energy sets the tone for the play which moves very quickly, jumping from stage to stage of Izzy’s life.

Izzy is witty, excited, evil and brilliantly portrayed by Angharad Berrow. Not afraid to break the fourth wall, which works well as there are planned and unplanned examples of this, all of which Berrow handles very well.

The piece is well directed by Luke Hereford and despite lack of emotion in the character, Hereford finds other ways of displaying what is under the surface of the character. In particular, manipulating tone and pace to good effect. This really shows what a promising director he really is.

The main issue here comes in that there seems something missing at the end. Some emotion. Izzy spends the whole play (and previous years of her life) ignoring her father’s death and not grieving. When she finally lets herself think of her father, which she admits to the audience, there doesn’t seem to be a consequence of this. The story seems focused on Izzy reaching that point – but not on what that might mean for her moving forward. The ending is generally rushed and seems unfinished.

It’s hard to say exactly what it needs, but it needs some more care and to show more emotion in the conclusion. Just as the play feels like it’s getting somewhere, it finishes.

It was the only major issue with the play, but it was the difference between four and five stars. Other than that, it is a really enjoyable piece of theatre on all fronts and definitely worth seeing.

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones
Cast: Angharad Berrow as Izzy
Directed by Luke Hereford
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: Laurie Black Live by Sian Thomas

Seeing Laurie Black: Live was so much fun. Straight away it was easy to tell it was a show perfect for me. Though I could sit quietly in the background and mind my business, I still felt lovingly included and seen. It began relatable and topical and brilliantly on my wavelength.

Her songs had a very specific feel to them. An almost gothic or witchy vibe (which I personally find a lot of fun; I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of aesthetics although I haven’t really lived them) that also rang with a lot of emotion I didn’t expect to find but was glad I was shown, anyway. I kept an interest in them overnight (I’ve found only really good shows do that to me. Sometimes they just end, sometimes I just go home. Other times I keep it in a corner of my mind, look it up online for a little bit longer, dedicated a little more time to finding things out about this. With this show I looked up some other music, I saw the kinds of things sold in the merch store, and I thought ‘yep. This show’s the winner’.). I’m happy to say I’ve found some new songs to listen to.

The participants portion of the show was good! I’m glad I didn’t have to do it myself and I was glad I felt alright blending into the background and just having the opportunity to watch on and see what other people thought, which was really nice! That and, it was more enjoyable watching other people have fun on stage.

The make up was great. It was glow in the dark. Which I didn’t expect to adore, but I did. I thought it was a really nice touch with the rest of the flashing lights and the way the windows of AJ’s Coffee House were blocked out. For an apocalypse show, I thought it was a nice and extravagant detail; the kind of extra mile you definitely couldn’t go if the world was really ending unless you really, really tried.

Laurie Black herself was affable and fun, definitely undeterred in her show, unstoppable in how she created laughs, a supportive and laid back atmosphere, and unquestionably a wonderful performer. It’s always nice to watch people just be themselves on stage, unafraid to swear or mess up or anything else. It was almost cathartic to watch; I wish I could have related. Although I definitely related to some other points during the show – I think those were enough.

This event was the one to mark the end of the fringe festival, so I’m pleased to say I attended to watch it go out with a bang. I’ve had an immensely wonderful time seeing all these different kinds of shows and going to all these different kinds of events. I wait with bated breath to find out what’s coming next year, and I hope I get to experience the same wonderment and awe for my third year in a row. These last two really have been something special; I’ve had fun with the people I’ve gone with and I’ve been able to see shows I wouldn’t have otherwise ever known existed.

I’m voting for Laurie Black: Live for my favourite show, this year. A close second was Camp Be Yourself. Although it will forever remain that the Open Mic Poetry Night is my all time favourite free fringe event, Laurie Black: Live was most definitely my favourite show this year. None of them left quite the lasting effect as this one had.

Sian Thomas

Review: ‘Just Say It’ from Susan Monkton by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Just Say It by Susan Monkton is a moving exploration of how miscarriage in pregnancy affects a relationship, which evokes raw emotion.

Another gem from the Cardiff Fringe Lab, as a work in progress the star rating is more judge on the potential of the piece and judging where it is in relevance to progress at the present. This review is very much for feedback as it is for the sake of reviewing.

The tone, pace and energy of this piece in the writing by Susan Monkton and directing by the team of director Chelsey Gillard and AD Cassidy Howard-Kemp, begin really well.

I had seen this piece scratched at an event by Spilt Milk Theatre in 2017 and I remember it well – as it stood out. I knew what to expect when going in. However, this production of Just Say It is longer and had improved. Not only are we still taken on the journey, despite knowing what is going to happen (more or less), there was more humour than I remember and it also connects much more. This shows the progress on the project as well as the ability to evoke emotion.

Some of this is bound to be down to it not being a scratch and more rehearsed – but the whole team really do a good job of taking us on that journey again, step by step. The test of any story is, when it’s repeated or if the audience have knowledge of the story, does it still have the same impact. And this definitely does.

Susan Monkton’s monologue is very well acted by Monkton herself. The focus of the play follows Bella as she falls pregnant with her lovable-idiot-boyfriend, Dave. They have a fairly standard relationship until an unplanned pregnancy springs itself upon them. Bella decides to keep it. Both Bella and Dave grow from hesitancy to excitement fairly quickly, which comes across as natural for this couple. They start preparing for the baby, in what they buy for the baby and emotionally preparing for parenthood and giving birth.

This all leads very well up to the point where Bella is told that she is to have a miscarriage. The scene where she finds out is very powerful and it is a brilliant climax to a brilliant piece thus-far.

It is after this scene where the issues in the script start to emerge. It becomes repetitive at times and starts to drag a little. The exploration of the relationship is interesting. It is clear this is not about miscarriage, it’s about a relationship that deals with it. But the strength in the scripts at the moment is in the lead-up to the miscarriage and doesn’t carry over to the second half.

Bella repeats herself a lot when talking about her feelings. This can be interpreted various ways. On one hand, she is falling into a sort of depressive state. She is not upset, as she says, and not angry. She’s feeling nothing. And this is really well represented. But on the other hand, it feels pushed down our throats in the writing.

Also, the play falls a little flat in the direction at this point after the announcement of the miscarriage. It is a big contrast to before this announcement – which is good. It shouldn’t be as upbeat as earlier. However, it doesn’t level out.

I want to emphasise, the second part is not boring, it is still quite well written, directed and acted. It just doesn’t meet the high expectations we have been brought before in the play. When a play dips slightly in quality, even if it’s not bad, it can feel like you’ve gone from brilliant to awful. When in reality this play goes from brilliant to okay; enjoyable but not as unmissable as the first half. Moving forward, this is definitely the area that needs work.

Having said that, the relationship is explored further by Monkton in the script and we start to see how a couple struggles with the loss of this child that they never physically had in their hands. It feels like lost memories that weren’t ever there. This is a really interesting part of the relationship to analyse and there is certainly more here to be explored. As previously stated, there is some repetition which is taking up space from other avenues to explore for the writer.

Generally throughout the piece director Gillard and AD Howard-Kemp explore the relationship well. The use of BSL interpreter Liz May is beautiful. Not only does it work within the context of the play, but it’s so nice to see a BSL interpreter not just stood on the side signing. Of course, sometimes there’s not a way to work the BSL into the piece. But here it was done so well and inclusively. A shame that Liz May fades into the background a little in the second half. But, this is still a lot more than a lot of shows do so it is definitely a step in the right direction. There is also the argument that a lot of the interaction between Monkton and May was comedic and the second half isn’t as comedic. But either way, this was a really nice touch.

Overall, it is a very strong piece. With a few tweaks in tone and a few redrafts can become an excellent piece of theatre.

Tonight, June 12th at 6.30pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Just Say It – Presented by Susan Monkton and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by and starring Susan Monkton.
BSL Interpreter: Liz May
Director: Chelsey Gillard.
Assistant Director: Cassidy Howard-Kemp.
Producer: Rhys Denton
Running time: 45 mins approx.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: Everything Changes, AJ’s Coffee House by Luke Seidel-Haas

Image result for everything changes weeping tudor

★★☆☆☆

 

Billed as a fusion of storytelling between Celtic and Zimbabwean cultures, Everything Changes is a collaboration between professional storyteller Bevin Magama and founder of Weeping Tudor productions James Ellis. Taking place in the cosy setting of AJ’s Coffee House on City Road, this show is part of the “Fringe Labs” strand of this years Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival – that means that it is ” either totally new, or [a] work-in-progress. This will be a platform from which they can make their first leap into the public eye, and develop their work”

As the show begins, James and Bevin enter the space to the rhythmic sound of a beating drum. Scattered on the floor around the stage are various instruments and props, of both African and European derivation, from the African Mbira to the Triangle. Bevin is resplendent in a colourful Dashiki style top and baggy pantaloon style trousers, while James’ costume also appears to be inspired by African clothing, but with a western twist. His top is similar in style to Bevin’s, but in a denim style, and instead of pantaloons he wears a navy skirt. Using a storytelling structure, both Bevin and James take it in turns to tell stories inspired by their own background and culture. We hear diverse stories such as the Welsh myth of Twm Siôn Cati, the Zimbabwean story of the Snake who crossed the river, and the myth of St Telio – patron saint of Cardiff.

Theses stories clearly demonstrate the very different storytelling traditions of both Celtic and Zimbabwean cultures. While James’ sections are poetic monologues performed with a simple sincerity, Bevin is much more animated, utilizing the call and response technique of audience participation, and allegorical storytelling style more common in in the African tradition. While Everything Changes promises to be a fusion of stories, these two traditions feel like they exist entirely separately within the theatrical space. Both James and Bevin sit entirely still while the other tells a story – there is no interaction or combination of storytelling whatsoever. There is also a strange difference between the two performers; Bevin is clearly an experienced storyteller who is captivating and dynamic, whiles James seems less confident of his oration.  As an experimental piece of work still in progress it is absolutely fine for you to read your lines off a script – however disguising this by hiding your phone away on a music stand to read off is a disservice. It may have been more effective to own this decision, to put the script into a storybook which you are then telling the audience.

A highlight of the piece is the title section Everything Changes; a story about the impermanence of everything. Told while playing the Mbira, the monologue is beautifully enhanced by the dreamlike quality of the instrument. Other uses of instruments meanwhile feel a little more tacked on, with the instruments used in James’ stories adding nothing to the overall effect. Perhaps more sucessful would be to combine both storytellers together, with one telling the story while the other provides a soundscape behind it. Similarly, the ending of the piece, while cleverly experimental, jars with the tone of the rest of the production. This involves James opening the curtains to the venue, allowing us to see out onto the bustling main road and for them to see in to the venue. James then walks out, across the road and out of sight. As an ending this is totally unexpected and an interesting concept, but bears absolutely no relation to the rest of the show.

As a concept the idea of the show is an interesting one – the collision of cultures and storytelling traditions has the potential to be a way of celebrating both cultures while demonstrating clearly both their similarities and their differences. Sadly the execution in this piece is lacking, and the piece feels like two storytellers separately exploring the narratives of their own culture, rather than an exiting fusion of the two. A great concept with some entertaining moments, but ultimately delivered only half baked.

Everything Changes

AJ’s Coffee House May 31st-June 1st 2018

Part of the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival – more information and tickets here

Luke Seidel-Haas