Tag Archives: Cardiff

REVIEW: RUTH RENDELL- A JUDGEMENT IN STONE, NEW THEATRE BY JAMES BRIGGS

4 Stars4 / 5

On Tuesday 4th April Cardiff’s New Theatre become a hub for wannabe sleuths as it welcomed the classic Murder Mystery play A Judgement In Stone by the prolific writer Ruth Rendell.  Ruth Rendell is very highly regarded among Murder Mystery fans all over the world and much like Agatha Christie she has continued to grow in popularity even after her passing.

Ruth Rendell is very well known for writing very differently to other crime writers due to her focus being more on the psychological reasoning and effect with a murder opposed to looking in depth at the characters and their motives. This was shown largely in the play as the motive and act of the murder chilled me to the core!

Without giving away too much about the story the play opens with a crime scene set in the divine country mansion of the Coverdale family comprising of the murders of a father, mother, son and daughter. As the story unfolds before the audience on stage as does one of Rendell’s signature writing techniques with the inclusion of the ‘Class divide’. At the time of setting and writing the play the ‘class divide’ between the working class and upper class was at it’s biggest. With other shows made at the time such as Blood Brothers by Willy Russell also showing this divide. As the show progresses although the plot is a Murder Mystery one cannot help but pick up on the class references in the show.

Ruth Rendell creates exquisite characters who all have a different story to tell (and a different motive to kill). The first characters the audience encounter are the two central characters of the play Detective Superintendent Vetch (played by Andrew Lancel) and Sergeant Challoner (played by Ben Nealon). Both men are your typical ‘Coppers’. It is at this time the audience meet Eunice Parchman played by Sophie Ward who is the house keeper.

Following on from this the play very cleverly follows a Non-linear narrative and jumps from the present to the past. The audience meet the family and their individual personalities start to show. The family as shown in the picture below on the settee are Melinda Coverdale, George Coverdale, Jacqueline Coverdale and Giles Mont.

We also meet three other characters also shown in the picture Eva Baalham, Joan Smith and Roger Meadows who is played by BLUE star Antony Costa.

I simply must also mention the wonderful set designed for the show as it was amazing. It was very reminiscent to that of The Mouse Trap and had a wonderful sense of grandeur to it, really helping to set the scene for the audience. I highly recommend you watch this play especially if you are a Murder Mystery fan but WILL YOU SOLVE THE CASE?

A Judgement In Stone is currently playing at the New Theatre until Saturday 8th April so make sure you get your tickets here- http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what’s-on/a-judgement-in-stone/

Review: Lakme, Swansea City Opera at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

4 Stars4 / 5

Absolutely beautiful – the colours of India, the sentiments of its time, the tragedy of love over birth – exquisite.

It makes me cry. I have loved the music from this rarely performed opera for years and years. It is absolutely beautiful. And the characters are all visually believable – both leads are young and lovely looking, their voices ardent as their passion. No one is miscast, no one is out of place.

It is as gentle and as curiously English as a Wildean play but with the underlying expectation of tragedy teasing us along the way. It is Madam Butterfly meets Passage to India. I wonder whether I may feel less or more affected were it sung in the original French and conclude a handsome, manly colonialist colliding with a hidden jewel of a local lass will sound the same in any language where it is sung with conviction.

The clash of backgrounds, religions, family and commitments is very predictable and the terrible messy tragedy of it all plays out predictably too. Delibes opera is based on Pavie’s story. But this is a predictable tale prettily told, beautifully visualised and fabulously well sung.

The Flower Duet between Lakme and Mallika is exquisite, Lakme’s Bell Song heart-achingly lovely with the sopranos comfortably balanced by the tenor of Gerald and the bass-baritone of Nilakantha.

The set feels a little clumsy initially but its simplicity allows us to concentrate on the opera and enjoy the music, the period costumes and the sublime singing. How lovely it is to revel in Lakme performed as it might have been at the turn of the last century.  

But yet again, I leave a performance wishing I could take it home with me somehow – I want to listen to it all again and again and I can’t – I want to take Lakme home with me, fill my house with her voice, send it out into the darkness of the night so others can hear her, feel her hope and her sorrow, scent the flowers in her garden, scream at her not to take the poisonous datura…

I am left bereft.

 Beautiful

 

 

Helen Joy for Get the Chance, 3rd Act Critics.

 

7 March, 7.30pm

Prices

£15 -22
Concessions: £2 off
Under 25s: Half price

More information

By Léo Delibes
Director Brendan Wheatley

Pre-show talk: 6.15pm

Running time: 135 minutes (20 minutes interval)

http://www.swanseacityopera.com/productions/lakme/

Tour dates: http://www.swanseacityopera.com/productions/lakme/

 

Review Lakmé, Swansea City Opera, Sherman Theatre by Barbara Michaels

 

3 Stars3 / 5

 

The opera Lakmé is possibly best known for the popular Flower Duet, composed by Delibes as a showcase for sopranos and performed in Act I by Lakmé and her maidservant Mallika. Lakmé is the daughter of Nilakantha a Brahmin Priest, and the story, set in British-governed India in the 19th century, centre around the love story of Lakmé and a British officer, Gerald. Nilakantha has been forbidden to practice his religion by the British and, full of hatred for the occupying force combined with an obsessive patriarchal love, vows revenge. When he discovers Lakmé has become attracted to Gérald, Nilakantha sets a trap for the soldier and knifes him. Lakmé hides Gérald in the forest and nurses him back to health, but his officer friend Frederic appears to remind him that he has been posted elsewhere. Duty calls – with tragic consequences.

All photographic credits Guy Harrop

The atmosphere of British India comes to the fore in the picnic scene in Act I with the two Army officers, their English girlfriends and governess, with a neat cameo role by New Zealand mezzo-soprano Rhonda Browne as the governess Mistress Bentson, permanently clutching her black Gladstone bag as if it were her saviour.

Romanian born soprano Madalina Barbu’s delicacy of appearance are ideal for the role of Lakmé. Barbu has performed in a number of demanding operatic roles,but does not cope well with all the high notes in the Act II aria Bell Song – a long-time favourite with coloratura sopranos – which is a pity given the high standard of other solo arias and in particular her duets with Gérald (Luke Sinclair). However, Barbu’s diction is not always clear, especially in Act I. Sung in English, it should not be a problem but surtitles would have helped.

As Gérald, Sinclair’s rounded tenor is first class, outstandingly so in his solo arias and duets with Barbu. His interaction with Mark Saberton’s Frederic is also good. As the Mr Nasty of the piece Nilakantha, Håkan Vramsmo bestrides the stage with lofty disdain and a powerful bass, while in the role of Nilakantha’s slave Hadji, Bo Wang gives a neat and well timed performance.

As both director, artistic director and set designer Brendan Wheatley has his work cut out. With the exception of the colourful market scene in Act II, Wheatley’s minimal set is just that, resulting in much of this opera’s Oriental ambience and emphasis on the natural beauty of flowers and trees being lost. There is not a tree or flower to be seen, unless you count the solitary lily thrown on stage in the final act.   Surely, Mr Wheatley, you could have run to a token miniature tree or so, and maybe a flowering bush? A local garden centre might be pleased to offer them gratis in return for a programme mention. For greenery, Wheatley relies heavily on the lighting to engender atmosphere, and full credit to lighting director James Thomas for doing his utmost to comply.

With its melodic score and passionate themes of love and persecution, this is opera to tug at your heart strings and this production by Swansea City Opera does that on all fronts. Considering the restrictions of opera on a shoestring – the company was rescued by funding from the Arts Council after Swansea withdrew their support – all credit to them for staging a most enjoyable performance. However, despite manful efforts, the small orchestra struggles to cope with the richness and delicate orchestration of Delibes score.

Home

Lakmé, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Music: Léo Delibes

Libretto: Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille

New English Translation: Bridget Gill

Director: Brendan Wheatley

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

 

 

REVIEW ANTON AND ERIN SWING TIME, ST DAVID’S HALL BY JAMES BRIGGS

“I’m puttin’ on my top hat, Tyin’ up my white tie, Brushin’ off my tails” to welcome the fabulous Strictly Come Dancing duo Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag. On Sunday 19th February a packed crowd at the St David’s Hall was treated to an afternoon of high class ballroom dancing from two of Strictly Come Dancing’s most famous dancers.

I must say I was extremely excited before watching this show as I am a big fan of Strictly Come Dancing and really love ballroom dancing so for me this show was a dream. The brilliant dancing duo was accompanied by a whole host of other dancers who were just as brilliant. The three male dancers easily kept up with the style of Du Beke and they were Scott Coldwell, Luke Field-Wright and Adam Lyons. The ladies dancing within the show were equally as brilliant and gave the same grace as Erin Boag. The brilliant ladies dancing were Hayley Ainsley, Victoria Hinde and Francesca Moffat.

Alongside the brilliant dancers within the show there was also a fabulous orchestra namely that of the London Concert Orchestra. Anton Du Beke himself joked about how he would have had the Welsh Concert Orchestra only they were too expensive. The London Concert orchestra was conducted by renowned conductor Richard Balcombe. The orchestra accompanied a very special guest singer for the show Lance Ellington who is one of the singers on the show Strictly Come Dancing. His voice was brilliant and worked very well with the music chosen for the show. He even joined in with some of the dances and certainly showed how massively talented all of the performers are on Strictly Come Dancing.

All of the brilliant dances were choreographed and directed by Nikki Woollaston who has worked on productions such as 42nd Street at the Theatre du Chatelet and many other tours with Anton Du Beke.

All in all Anton and Erin put on a fabulous show that really is a joy to behold. With such magical dance numbers and brilliant performances it really is a show not to be missed. So if you have chance to watch this amazing duo performing grasp it and just “face the music and dance”.

Tickets for the tour around he UK are available via – http://www.antonanderin.com/_blog/The-Anton-And-Erin-Blog/post/swing-time—our-2017-tour/

Review : La Cage Aux Folles, New Theatre By James Briggs

5 Stars5 / 5

Cardiff’s New Theatre was packed to the rafters with a dazzling array of glitter and sequins last night for the first performance of La Cage aux Folles. The musical adaptation of French playwright Jean Poiret’s script is largely recognised as one of the greatest modern musicals. The stage production, directed by Martin Connor, is a throwback to the old glamour and glitz associated with the French Riviera but also has a very key message in the story.

One of the leading characters, Georges, is played by the US TV and Broadway actor Adrian Zmed who greets the audience with a heartfelt welcome to La Cage. There was something a little different about this cabaret, however, in the form of all the main performers in the cast being men dressed as women.

‘La Cage’ is a drag cabaret club in the heart of Saint Tropez, run by Georges and his very flamboyant husband Albin who is played by West End actor and former Eastenders star John Partridge. As the audience are waiting for Albin’s arrival on stage we are first greeted by the appearance of his on-stage alter ego Zaza. John Partridge creates an impressive character as he struts across the stage in a robe and a pair of high heels. He wins over the audience from the beginning and really gives the part his all.

The story unfolds when Georges and Albin’s son, Jean- Michele, (Georges’ from a previous relationship) arrives to tell his father that he is engaged to Anne, the daughter of a French politician who is well-known for his conservative views. Jean- Michele played by Dougie Carter drops a few bombshells on his dad. Including that of breaking the news to Albin that he can’t be there when the parents come over for dinner at their home.

Albin is horrified when he hears the news and his disappointment leads to a spine tingling performance from John Partridge of the musical’s most iconic number ‘I Am What I am’. Georges and Albin soon make up and it’s easy to like the two contrasting co-stars who have a brilliant on-stage chemistry with each other which could be compared to that of Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in the ITV series Vicious. The arrival of Dindon, the French politician, and his apparently conservative wife raised the bar once again on the entertainment as Albin comes up with a hilarious plan to meet the in-laws to be.

John Partridge’s performance as Albin and Zaza is absolutely superb and while the audience cheered and got to its feet for the entire cast, the largest applause and cheers were saved for him. During the performance John Partridge fell down some of the stairs on stage but being the true professional he is, kept in character and even made a joke about it. He carried on with the rest of the show and came on for the second act. Following the show John Partridge had to go to A&E and I really have to applaud him for being so professional and continuing with the show despite being in pain.

All of the cast were amazing and really very talented especially during the tap dancing scenes in which the male dancers very skillfully danced in high heels and gowns. A special mention must also go to Samson Ajewole who played Jacob and was exceptionally funny. He delivered a very strong performance and was one of the stars of the evening. As too was Marti Webb who played Jacqueline and created a very likeable character for the audience.

The stage sets used during the show were simply divine. All of the scenes in the show were very well thought out and the sets changed seamlessly. My personal favourite set design of the show was that of the stage at La Cage. The show saw a theatre stage constructed within a stage which is shown in the picture below and worked really well as it gave the audience the perspective of watching a whole different theatre on stage.

La Cage Aux Folles is a brilliant and moving, feel-good production that will be guaranteed to leave you smiling as you walk out the theatre doors and taking a whole new look on life. I urge everyone who get’s the chance to see the show to go as you will not regret it!

La Cage Aux Folles is currently on a UK tour so make sure you visit the New Theatre website in the link below and book your tickets before its too late.

http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what’s-on/la-cage-aux-folles/

 

Review : Michael Flatley’s ‘Lord Of The Dance: Dangerous Games’ by James Briggs

5 Stars5 / 5

This weekend Cardiff has had the luck of the Irish as Michael  Flatley’s worldwide phenomenon  ‘Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games’ has played in St David’s Hall. The tour is one of the biggest the UK has ever had and has currently been seen by 60 million people in 60 different countries on every continent. All of the stops are pulled out in this Irish Dancing Extravaganza with dancing that is simply mesmerising.

I have been looking forward to watching this show for a long time and being a tap dancer myself can appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into this form of dancing. I knew from the opening sequence alone we would be in for a good night. As the first half of the show begins the audience are greeted with a projected Michael Flatley and a giant clock alluding to the opening of the show.

The cast are very well cast and all of the characters within the show work well as a dance unit. The perfectly balanced ensemble of male and female dancers help to give depth to the story and in the dance sequences when they are all in a line and coordinated it really is something to admire. Their collective talent is unbelievable and there are moments where your jaw is in your lap watching their feet move almost as too fast to comprehend.  The  main lead Lord of the Dance was played by James Keegan and the Dark Lord was played by Zoltan Papp.

The show seemed to have a variety show feel to it with all of the acts being very diverse. They all managed to hold attention of the audience due to their frequent costume changes and the cleaver projections that portrayed Ireland as an Idyllic place filled with Unicorns and rainbows. The plot follows a little Spirit with a magic flute who battles against evil to save Ireland from being taken over by evil cyborgs. Along the way the Spirit meets different dancers as well as a Black Swan like love triangle that threatens to turn the head of Ireland’s saviour, the Lord of the Dance himself. The show culminates with a big fight for the title of Lord of the Dance.

You can’t help but have a big smile on your face when the full ensemble cast fill the width of the stage at St David’s Hall and with their legs kicking and tapping in perfect sync. The show’s best section and what will always be their most iconic is the ‘Lord of the Dance’, and the skill of the cast is amazing in which they gave four Encores at the end of the show of that very dance which was met with a standing ovation from the whole audience at St David’s Hall.

If you’re a fan of this type of dancing and the Irish music and culture this show is without a doubt the show for you to attend next. It provides a 5-star evening of entertainment with lots of ups and downs within the story. In my opinion this show is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime as it will enthral you.

For more information about the tour of the Lord of the Dance please visit the official website to see where the tour will be heading next. http://www.lordofthedance.com/

Review: ‘Sunny Afternoon’ by Gemma Treharne-Foose

5 Stars5 / 5

 

So it’s January, everyone is detoxing, skint after Christmas and bruised after Brexit, Trump and a string of celebrity deaths in 2016. I can hand on heart say that if you are suffering from SAD or have lost all hope for the year ahead, you need to find the sun behind those clouds and get your butt down to WMC pronto to see ‘Sunny Afternoon’, the touring production running until Saturday 21st, before it shuttles off elsewhere.

Even if you are not a fan of The Kinks or a fan of musicals featuring the back catalogue of certain bands (let’s not even mention ‘Viva Forever’ here!), you will be hard pressed to find a more inclusive and entertaining musical in 2017.

A real kick in the 60s!

The soundtrack to your Mam and Dad’s wild years, the show focuses on four working class lads riding the crest of the wave of the ‘British invasion’ in the 60s – the meteoric highs and the crushing lows.  Natalie Gallacher/Pippa Ailion’s casting of Ryan O’Donnell and Mark Newnham as brothers Ray and Dave is a triumph – the pair have sensational synergy and energetic friction on stage and O’Donnell’s sweet vulnerability shines through his entire performance.

Newnham is unmissable as outrageous rebel Dave, everything from his swagger, his cockney banter and his swinging from the chandelier in a pink dress had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

The most famous of the Kinks’ songs were cleverly deconstructed and re-packaged, allowing us to delve further into the back story to possibly the most influential riffs and tunes ever written.  The scene where Ray and Dave are trying to perfect the edgy baseline to their hit song ‘You really got me’ is pure magic, reverberating through your chest and rattling around your rib cage.

There are some delicious comic lines, especially from the plummy stockbrokers-turned-agents Robert Wace and Grenville Collins, who groomed the four for stardom, even coming up with their name, with the help of another agent Larry Page.  I couldn’t help laughing out loud when one of them says in a voice that may remind you of certain Harry Enfield characters: ‘Now…let’s talk about it over a nice plate of kippers’.

You’ll laugh when Ray’s Dad (played by Robert Took) complains about ‘wearing out shoe leather’, about the house prices in Muswell Hill (£3,500 – with a £500 deposit!)…and you wonder what the hell Mr Davies would make of the prices in Muswell Hill these days. This is nostalgic but not cloying, sentimental but not syrupy.

There are multiple sharp observations and throwaway comments referencing other 60s bands and celebrities. When the managers find Ray in a depression in bed with Rasa his wife, one of them quips: ‘You wouldn’t find John Lennon lounging around in bed with his wife!’.  Later on, when the band are on tour in America and are uneasy about the guns and violence there, their manager assures them ‘You’re a pop star! You’re not important enough to shoot!’.

A blueprint for future musical trends

The real pleasure for those not born in the 60s is the discovery of music you didn’t know existed – for my parents’ generation, it’s all familiar territory.  But if you only know a handful of the old (and most famous) of songs by the Kinks, you get to unwrap a new gift.

Aided by the clever studio/house/concert hall design of the stage by Miriam Bluether and the choreography by Adam Cooper, watching ‘Sunny Afternoon’ will transport you back to the excitement, the optimism and the feeling of being on the cusp of something completely original and unchartered.  

From the time THAT guitar riff kicks in, you understand exactly what it is your Mum has been harping on about all these years. It’s hard to imagine how utterly new, how extraordinary this must have felt for teenagers in the 60s, to go from stale crooners in suits to long haired rebels with rock guitars.  

The Kinks were the masters of social commentary which would foreshadow the later emergence of musicians and bands of my generation: the blueprint for American garage and rock bands like grungy Nirvana in the 80s and the Britpop boom in the 90s.  I hadn’t realised it until last night but ‘A well respected man’ was clearly influential for Damon Albarn and his crew with Blur’s hit ‘Country House’.

Delightfully rebellious, clever and heartfelt

Credit must be given to the wonderful pacing, characterisation and story for the musical by Ray Davies himself.  It’s clearly a personal and heartfelt snapshot of an incredible moment in history.  The result is rebellious, clever and heartfelt and I witnessed something I hadn’t yet seen at the Wales Millennium Centre: an entire audience on their feet, no awkward seat lurkers in sight. Inhibitions were gone and for a moment I felt like we were watching the real Kinks.  I was genuinely sad to leave the theatre and re-emerge into 2017.

My Mum, who had accompanied me (and by the end was a bawling mess) had enjoyed every last morsel of the show. I asked her why she was crying, she said: ’I remember it – I remember it all!’.  If only to see what your parents saw, feel how they felt and see how bloody awesome the fashion and sounds of the sixties actually were, this is an absolute treat of a show.  

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Sunny Afternoon

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre  

Dates: 17 – 21 Dec (Touring show)

Directed by:  Edward Hall

Music, Lyrics, Original Story: Ray Davies

Choreographer: Adam Cooper

Sound: Matt McKenzie

Musical Director: Barney Ashworth

Cast:

Ryan O’Donnell (Ray Davies)

Mark Newnham (Dave Davies)

Richard Hurst (Larry)

Tomm Coles (Grenville Collins)

Joseph Richardson (Robert Wace)

Lisa Wright (Rasa)

Garmon Rhys (Pete Quaife)

Running time: Approx 3 hours (with interval)

Produced by: Sonia Friedman Productions and Ambassador Theatre Group

REVIEW AGATHA CHRISTIE’s ‘THE MOUSETRAP’ BY JAMES BRIGGS

4 Stars4 / 5

When looking at Murder Mystery stories it is extremely rare to find someone as talented and well-loved as Agatha Christie. On the 25th November 1952 Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’, opened in the West End and has been running ever since, meaning the play is celebrating its 60th Anniversary. To celebrate this momentous  occasion the production company have taken the show on tour around the UK allowing a whole new audience to watch and enjoy.

Being an avid fan of Dame Agatha Christie I was very keen to watch this play as I wanted to see how similar the play would be to some of her most well-known work such as Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. I must say that the play certainly does not disappoint and holds all of the key Agatha Christie characteristics to make it recognisable and familiar. Everything about ‘The Mousetrap’ seems very familiar as though we’ve read the story before. The play is set in a country house with oak-panelled walls with hidden back stairs and linking passages. It is the sort of house someone can leave the room by one door and reappear through another so you can never be too sure of where every character is. A snow blizzard takes hold and all of the roads soon become blocked to add to their problems the telephone is not working and on the radio there is a story about a murderer on the loose.  The house is full of the usual range of Cluedo style characters that have never met each other before. Is there a chance that one of these people could be the murder? All of the characters have their own secrets and as you would expect from an Agatha Christie mystery, the story is full of twists and red herrings.

Some of the cast of 'The Mousetrap'

Three of the play’s characters Sgt Trotter, Mr Paravicini and Miss Casewell. 

The characters are extremely well-defined and all very different and eccentric in their own ways. The cast of the play work really well together. Anna Andresen and Nick Barclay create a fitting partnership for Mollie and Giles Ralston showing well their nerves about their first attempt at running a Guest House. Sarah Whitlock portrays brilliantly the straight-talking, no-nonsense Mrs Boyle. Whom I thought had similar characteristics to that of Miss Marple as portrayed by Dame Margaret Rutherford. Amy Downham gives us a very secretive and mysterious Miss Casewell leaving the audience with many questions as to whom she could be. Gregory Cox is wonderful as Mr Paravicini and somehow seems to have created the character similar to that of Hercule Poirot. Oliver Gully is fantastically mad as Christopher Wren positively bursting with energy. Tony Boncza is ever so the retired Army type as Major Metcalf and Alan Magor played the part of Police Sergeant Trotter, a very good portrayal of a typical Agatha Christie detective putting all of the clues together and drawing all the attention of the audience.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple two characters created by Agatha Christie.  

I simply must mention the divine set that was created for the play which was made in such a way that it felt homely and inviting for the audience. The use of lamps on stage bought a sense of comfort for the audience and also an element of reality. The large wooden panels with the period furniture  gave the audience a wonderful setting for the story to play out.

The UK tour trailer for ‘The Mousetrap’.

I highly urge everyone to see ‘The Mousetrap’ whether you are an Agatha Christie fan or not. It is a wonderful ‘who done it’ mystery that is guaranteed to get you trying to solve the case. With endless twists and turns the audience are kept on the edge of their seats. But you must remember that EVERYONE is a suspect!

The Mousetrap is currently on a nationwide tour and tickets are available via this link –http://mousetrapontour.com/

 

Review Macbeth/Merchant of Venice WNO by Helen Joy

wno-macbeth-main

3 Stars3 / 5

Macbeth – an operatic trip

I saw, no, I experienced, no, I what? I tripped. A singing trip through Shakespeare’s tragedy.

I have no idea where to start. What words can do justice to this bizarre and jarring production. This crippling tale of the power of suggestion, the excuses of politics.

The women. Boy. What women.

Lady Macbeth: opulent, passionate, the voice of an angel with the presence of a god. ‘I wouldn’t mess with her’ I overhear. I wouldn’t. Magnificent. An audience is besotted.

The witches: awful, writhing, peculiar, calling like sirens; sexy, funny, raunchy. Wonderful choral singing. Quite wonderful.

The men don’t come close. With Macbeth simpering at his wife’s side and Duncan striding around in turquoise, they were a motley crew. Hard roles to sing, emotionally challenging to act and in unusual surroundings; but then there is a duet between Macduff and Malcolm to die for.

Visually, this is a difficult work to like. Colours clash. The period is unclear. The costumes ugly. Elements are comic – are they supposed to be? Those around me in the audience aren’t sure so the odd titter at an odd moment feels inappropriate. This is Macbeth after all.

The lady next to me closes her eyes. This is a beautiful opera to hear. To see? I’m not so sure. It is very, um, challenging.

I chat with others afterwards: we agree that whilst it has been a most peculiar evening, we expect we will remember it for a long, long time; it has been an entertainment. What are we here for, if not to provide entertainment? So, a huge thank you to all involved for something quite exceptional.

Running time: Approximately 2 hour 55 minutes with one interval

10, 15, 17 & 24 September 2016

Conductor Andriy Yurkevych
Director Oliver Mears
Set & Costume Designer Annemarie Woods
Lighting Designer Kevin Treacy
Choreographer Anna Morrissey
Video Designer Duncan McLean

Macbeth Luis Cansino
Lady Macbeth Mary Elizabeth Williams / Miriam Murphy
Macduff Bruce Sledge
Banquo Miklós Sebestyén
Lady-in-Waiting Miriam Murphy

Sung in Italian with surtitles in English and Welsh.

Co-production with Northern Ireland Opera.
Supported by WNO Partners.

ne619_wno-birmingham-web-images_1800x900_merchant-990x495

Merchant of Venice – an operatic orgy

4 Stars4 / 5

This Edwardian extravaganza of a strong story is sung with passion, grace and wit.

Shakespeare would have loved this epic play revived with such clarity and lust for life.

He would’ve loved the stylish eroticism, the flirtations, the overt sexuality of characters hard-pressed against the rugged back of trade. The wimpish Antonio, the love-lorn Bassanio, the women running rings around their men again and again.

Shakespeare’s reputation for relaying the crudeness of man losing to the manipulation of women intact. Portia and Nerissa transforming from girls in town to legal hotshots, the real heroes of the piece. Swapping their dresses and hairpieces for robes and wigs, they must resemble men to use the intelligence of women!

Portia is clear, her voice rings out and we hang on her words. Antonio sings like a bird, beautiful, girlish, self-denying. He lends his money selflessly, he offers his flesh willingly. The scales glisten invitingly.

Shylock is a world apart. He is arresting. He is pathetic. He is the Shylock I see in my head when I read the play. He carries his faith on his shoulders like a giant and he falls under its weight.

This is a difficult tale to tell. Shakespeare forces us to see the trouble caused by bigotry and racial hatred; Tchaikowsky makes us hear it.

This is a sumptuous performance. It is a romp, an orgy and a lesson. ‘My first opera’ says a friend, ‘I love it, it makes me think, it makes me gasp’.

So, what do these productions have in common?

Opera often convolutes and exaggerates a storyline but here, it finds a way through the morass of Shakespeare which is clear and refreshing. It brings characters to life with a pathos I had not expected and with a love for the complexities of the human spirit. Italian for Macbeth, English for Merchant of Venice: the language of the sung word gives depth and feeling where the spoken word cannot.

There is humour, colour and vivacity throughout. The men sink into the shadows of the women as perhaps Shakespeare intended. His leads are visceral, deadly, massive: Lady Macbeth and Shylock are the meat on the bones of these tales.

They contrast and whilst Macbeth often feels disjointed, ugly, unhappily humorous in parts; Merchant of Venice is a comely blend of the bawdy, the raw and the difficult.

See them both, see what you think.

Donald Gordon Theatre

Welsh National Opera:
The Merchant of Venice

André Tchaikowsky | UK Première

16 Sep – 30 Sep 2016

Tickets: £7 – £43 (£8.50 – £44.50*)

Running time: Approximately 3 hours 10 minutes (including 1 interval)

16 & 30 September 2016

Conductor Lionel Friend
Director Keith Warner
Designer Ashley Martin-Davis
Lighting Designer Davy Cunningham
Movement Director Michael Barry
Associate Director Amy Lane

Shylock Lester Lynch / Quentin Hayes
Antonio Martin Wölfel
Lorenzo Bruce Sledge
The Duke of Venice Miklós Sebestyén
Bassanio Mark Le Brocq
Solanio Gary Griffiths
Salerio Simon Thorpe
Gratiano David Stout
Jessica Lauren Michelle
Portia Sarah Castle
Nerissa Verena Gunz

Sung in English with surtitles in English and Welsh.

Supported by the Getty Family as part of British Firsts.

Co-production with the Bregenzer Festspiele, Austria, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music programme & Teatr Wielki, Warsaw.

Review Clear-Cut 6 M.A.D.E. – by Amelia Seren Roberts

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Origami Reinkarnasjon performed by Simon Gore and Jack Rees

Traditional Sephardic lullabies, liberated CCTV Footage and choreography merging Jane Eyre with the tunes of PJ Harvey are among the diverse acts at Clear-Cut 6 programme of experimental performance arts.

The audience clamours for position in the gallery space at M.A.D.E; spectators gather at the back and the edges of the room, whilst others nestle amongst the many cushions and pallet boxes laid out for our comfort. The atmosphere is one of anticipation, but also of fun and togetherness. After reading through the programme at the beginning of the evening, I find myself curious about each of the seven experimental acts in turn. Clear-Cut is an event unlike anything I have attended before, and the diversity of the audience and acts alike is immediately apparent. The evening is a showcase of video works, dance, spoken word, performance, visual arts, new music and more. To experience this diversity of performance in a single event is impressive. It’s something of a one-stop culture stop.

Where genres collaborate and collide”, Clear-Cut 6.

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Will Salter, host of the evening and Dada performer

Will Salter is our animated host; himself performing Dada poetry at intervals throughout the evening to great effect. His verbal explosions punctuate the spaces between acts, and mischievously disrupt the audience should they grow too comfortable. Dada retains a long history with experimental performance related to (or in denial of) the fine arts, which makes the presence of the genre particularly appropriate on this occasion.

Our agenda for the evening is jam-packed, prompting fears that we might not achieve all seven acts. In actuality, the evening is well-structured whilst maintaining a casual and friendly atmosphere.

Marega Palser merges literature, illustration and popular music in, ‘Jane Eyre, The DarkSide...’ Initially inspired by Paula Rego’s illustrations of the novel by Charlotte Bronte, Palser’s performance really is a highlight of the evening. The artist said of the inspiration for the work, “each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting…” Palser describes the piece as, “a thought in progress…” and the work curiously encompasses elements of the unknown. The piece reveals something of an internal conflict, which ultimately dictates movement, yet there is undeniably confidence in the madness.

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 ‘Jane Eyre, The DarkSide…’ performed by Marega Palser

IdentiTTy’ by Arnaldo James and collaborators is a film which asks more questions than are answered. “Does ethnicity or origin come through when skin tone is homogenised? Is morphology reflected by environment? Can identity be conveyed through dance and abstract non-verbal storytelling?“ The potentially fluid and reactionary nature of cultural identity is explored in this choreographed video work. Referencing Japanese Butoh and Creole traditions alongside more indigenous Trinidadian movement the piece claims to examine, “the similarities that occur in different cultures through movement and music”. The piece is visually stunning.

Nicholas Morgan & Margot Przymierska perform as the collective, ‘Parallel Lines’. In, ‘That’s the family you have’ Nicholas and Margot divulge separate yet intertwining stories, “improvising around box-set narratives and the immediate, subjective experiences of our own lives, collapsing characters, time & space, fiction & reality”. Their simultaneous telling of the circumstances surrounding the funeral of a relative, alongside an audio description of moments from the popular series ‘Game of Thrones’ captivated the Clear-Cut 6 audience and was at once sensitive and hilarious.

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 ‘That’s the family you have’ performed by ‘Parallel Lines’,  Nicholas Morgan & Margot Przymierska

Meanwhile, above the performance space, the gallery plays host to a film and sculpture installation by contemporary artist, Merran Singh Dubb. ‘Temple of Consciousness’ explores the relationship between the declining condition of the natural environment and the similarly marred spiritual condition of humankind. “It is evident that we are destroying the planet but ultimately, we are destroying ourselves”. The installation thoughtfully presents imagery representing spirituality alongside the elemental extremes of natural disaster and climate change.

To close the event, ‘Trio Ladino‘, consisting of Angie Kirby, Bethan Frieze and Eloise Gynn are a trio of musicians and vocalists performing adaptations of Arabic and Sephardic traditional lullabies. The trio describe their sound as, “ancient melodies fused with more contemporary musical perspectives, anchored by lullaby-like themes and romantic narratives”. The performance is a calming and captivating conclusion to the Clear-Cut programme.

On reflection, improvisation and experimentation were certainly the order of the evening with every act proving both valuable and unique. The atmosphere was at the same time informal, friendly, supportive and progressive. Clear-cut is unlike anything I have seen and I will be attending from here on!

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 ‘Trio Ladino’ performers Angie Kirby, Bethan Frieze and Eloise Gynn

For a taste of Clear-Cut, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeQJ4MaIVtU

https://www.facebook.com/CardiffMADE/

Image credits to Glyn Owens and Sarah Vaughan-Jones.
Special thanks to M.A.D.E Gallery, Sarah Vaughan-Jones and all contributors and performers for the organisation of this event.

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