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

(4 / 5)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review The Memo Big Loop Theatre Company by Kaitlin Wray

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(4 / 5)

If the aim of ‘The Memo’ performed by Big Loop Theatre Company was to do a great performance then they certainly nailed it.

The memo is an adaption of ‘The Memorandum’ written by Czechoslovakian writer Vaclav Havel. Even though the play was written in 1965 it is still captivating for a 21st century audience. Produced by Rachel Pedley-Miller and Directed by George Soave they definitely chose a great group of actors to perform Havel’s classic.

Even though it took a while to get a grasp of the story, once I was in it, I was fully immersed. James Sarson, playing the protagonist, Mr.Gross, kept us engaged throughout, even though he was meant to be top of the food chain in the company it was evident that he had no real authority. His antagonist, Ballas, was the complete opposite. Ballas, played by Tobias Weatherburn, portrayed the arrogance and power he has over Mr.Gross within the character. Tobias’ skill at improvisation when something in the scene didn’t quite go to plan added to the skill he has as an actor. Another element that added to the hilarity of the scene was that James exceeded Tobias in height.

The only other actor who had a single character to play was Rhys Denton who played George the ‘staff watcher’. From the beginning, Rhys was sat in the audience and when he spoke for the first time it was quite a shock. His voice was perfect for the roll and even though his character was minimal he still got many laughs from the audience. The other actors were all double casted and the difference between each character was incredible. Aaron Price playing Mr.Pillar was Ballas’ left hand man, or more like his lapdog. Following orders and saying nothing pretty much sums up ‘Mr.P’. The other character he played, Mr.Stroll, was completely unrecognisable from Mr.Pillar. His whole character had transformed from a shy, obedient follower to someone who owned the stage. This was the same with Elinor O’Leary’s characters, Hana and Maria. While Hana was uninterested, sarcastic and a lover of food, Maria was a caring and helpful character that just wanted to do right by everyone. The audience interaction within Lear and Thumb’s scenes, played by Melanie Stevens and Ash Cummings, was intense yet fun. The audience members that weren’t used to the idea of actors invading their personal space definitely got a bit of a shock. Both characters bounced off each other and the contrast in personalities was amusing to watch. Melanie’s accent for both Leah and Maria were on point, both completely different yet humorous and brought her characters out even more. Ashley’s secondary character, Savant, was the lad of the group, laughing outlandishly and thinking he’s top dog. The contrast from that character to Thumb’s geeky over-excited nature was a delight to see. This was a performance that truly highlighted everyones diversity and their skills as an actor.

The directorial choices in this performance was highly applaudable, the transitions between each scenes, the character choices and the relationships between the characters was subtly hilarious. The sexual tension between Mr.Gross and Ballas in certain parts was just the right amount creating another edge to the story line. Furthermore it was also all the little moments when the timing would be perfect or there would be funny quirks For example when Mr.Pillar would end up sitting on peoples laps.

The only thing that let this show down was the space. The performance was located in the basement of the Little Man Coffee Company in Cardiff. This room can get quite stuffy and is relatively small with uncomfortable seats. Therefore I believe it restricted how far the actors could take their performance and the overall enjoyment of the show. Nonetheless, I would still recommend the show to anyone and didn’t take too much away from the whole show.

Overall it was evident that there was a high amount of professionalism from the cast and crew which resulted in over a two hour show being highly thrilling throughout. Each actor knew their character inside out and it was inspiring to see. Looking forward to seeing what The Big Loop Theatre Company do next.

https://www.facebook.com/biglooptheatrecompany/

Review Moirai, Big Loop Theatre Company by Kaitlin Wray

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(4 / 5)

Moirai, a play that’s completely devised taking inspiration from Greek mythology. Through the use of physical theatre and narrative Big Loop Theatre Company create a beautiful performance that showed three girls resembling creatures who had the control over life, the measure of life, and death. The only props on stage where a box which had a spinning wheel inside with what seemed like an endless amount of string. The string represented everyones life and it was the creatures job to pull the sting, measure the string and then cut it. It started of light hearted yet there is a dark deep underlining meaning.

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The pre show music helped set the mood as it felt dystopian and out of this world. Before any dialogue happened two of the creatures showcase their boredom and waiting for something to happen, they perform a playful dance-like piece to resemble their characters. It was a clever way to open the show as the audience got to see an insight as to who they were. The great thing I enjoyed about this show was that it kept you guessing as to who they were or what they were doing until half way through. It then began to escalate and we find out exactly what sort of control they had. It was a brilliant well written play with great moments for each actor to shine, and shine they did.

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Allie Downing plays the creature that begins life, at the beginning we see sort of a child-like creature wanting attention when she’s bored. However when the one thing she cares about is threatened she does everything in her power to stop it. As an audience we really feel for Allie’s character and she does a wonderful job at portraying a character thats just lost everything.

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Ellen Thomas playing the creature that measures life, seems to be the leader out of the three. It is evident that the other two creatures respect her the most. From the beginning she seems completely head strong and wanting to just enjoy her job. However towards the end she reveals her true feelings and it’s quite emotional to watch.

Megan Swingler, plays the creature that represents death. It was her duty to cut the string. It is evident that she is frustrated and tired of cutting the string all day and is feeling overwhelmed. Megan plays a character who isn’t in her right mind and ends up taking a risk.

The collaboration of these three characters with their different personalities match really well on the stage. Their acting was incredible and overall it was a lovely piece to watch. It made me question the meaning of life and to think  “are we all just puppets”.

http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/big-loop