Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour® Dreamcoat – Wales Millennium Centre 14 May 2019
You’ll surely know the story of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour® Dreamcoat. If not…. where’ve you been? It’s a retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph, his eleven brothers and the coat of many colours.
From its origins in the late 60s to its revival in 1991 with Jason Donovan (then Phillip Schofield), this new touring production of Joseph certainly stands the test of time. It’s been one of my favourite musicals and that was only through listening to the 1991 cast recording, over and over. So, that aside. How does this fair?
Jaymi Hensley as Joseph is certainly a little powerhouse of a vocalist which belies his pop background of XFactor and Union J.
Trina Hill as the Narrator guides the audience through with a voice of great stature for someone so diminutive, and Andrew Geater as Elvis, err, Pharaoh manages to steal the second act.
Special mention though to the other cast/ensemble as I can’t remember the previous tour in 2016 being so rounded like this, as for the children – on stage throughout both acts, just brilliant! There’s more to what you may know of Joseph and it’s certainly worth a few hours of your time seeing it on this current tour. A perfect entry into the world of musical theatre for anyone of ages 8 – 98
I think you should not “Close every door” and just “Go go go” see Joseph!
Artist’s Festival (YAF) is a week-long, annual event run by The Other Room,
Cardiff’s only pub theatre. For the festival, the theatre invites between 35-50
participants from Wales’ emerging creative scene into their doors to gain
invaluable experience working with their peers.
initiative is open to actors, writers, directors and stage managers and aims to
provide an opportunity to explore their chosen discipline, encourage
collaboration and artistic risk-taking. The participants are shown the value of
hard work with an intense, but rewarding, week. They’re given the opportunity
to work with new, contemporary work. But the ultimate aim is for participants
to gain confidence, grow and keep creating beyond YAF.
starts with various workshops and talks from The Other Room’s staff and
industry professionals from a broad range of backgrounds. These workshops
include casting, starting and maintaining a company, arts council applications,
marketing, community theatre as well as sessions for skill-sharing and
networking. They also have specific workshops within their respective
disciplines with industry professionals.
The participants are then introduced to their companies, comprised of a group of actors, one director and one writer, and start working towards their end-of-week goals. Actors and directors present a performance of a given commissioned script and a dramatic rehearsed reading of their writer’s script. Writers write that ten-minute play whilst stage managers make it all happen.
The actors workshop this year was with Keiron Self and had a
specific focus on how an actor interprets text. The actors from YAF tell me
this was vital for the short rehearsal period they had. You don’t have long to
get to know your character, and it’s especially important in shorter pieces
where characters rely more on performance for characterisation.
Once the actors are in the
rehearsal room they have a couple of days to get off book before their first
performance. Something some saw as a somewhat daunting task, having never done
it in such a short space of time before. However, they realise it’s perfectly
possible and that the experience is vital for them moving forward. Especially
when preparing for auditions or working in the fringe environment where time to
learn lines is limited.
The performances at the end of the week come and go, but it’s
really about the experience of the week, of putting yourself out there and on
stage that seems to last beyond the week for the actors.
The directors had a workshop with Simon Harris, who focused
on doing text work before rehearsals and working with new writing. The
directors tell me this was great experience going in. Often their teaching has
focused on working in the room and once again, the workshop complimented the
direction process for the week.
The directors also have a production meeting with stage
managers where they set out their vision and discuss the possibilities. This is
something few of the directors had done before and again, it’s something that
really helps with their personal growth.
Directors also expressed the experience of being able to work
with a writer and have them in the room. Directing for rehearsed reading is something
that kept coming up also. Directing with a specific focus on displaying the
writing, which is different from directing the commissioned piece. Directing
both during the week is a valuable experience to take away.
The trust and support given to directors to control not one,
but two pieces of theatre, be placed in a room full of actors and deliver their
own vision is something the directors also spoke highly of. The support from
The Other Room’s artistic director Dan Jones and YAF producer Claire Bottomly was
a big part of the director’s experience.
As previously mentioned, the directors and stage managers
have a production meeting near the start of the week. For the stage managers
this is something none of them had done in this way before and is extremely
helpful moving into YAF.
The stage managers are very hands-on during the week. With the
support of a professional stage manager, in 2019 being Kristian Rhodes, they
effectively make the shows happen. Bringing the director’s visions to life by
sorting set, sourcing props and arranging lighting and sound. They’re present
in some of the rehearsal process and get to tech a run of the final
Overall, the experience is positive for the stage managers.
They’re constantly busy and feel like they’re just on the job. But, crucially,
have that support from a senior stage manager and The Other Room staff.
The writers start their week in a writing workshop with a
professional playwright. This year, and the year I did it in 2017, it was with
Matthew Bulgo. Bulgo is an excellent playwright and I can say from experience, very
good at leading a workshop. He focuses this one on structure and writing for
short-form, which is key for the week moving forward. All writers expressed how
helpful this was on many levels.
Bulgo also returns to offer feedback, which is also offered
by The Other Room’s staff throughout the week.
The writers spend the first half of the festival writing a
ten-minute play. Something that sounds quite scary at first, but from watching
the scripts performed at the end, easily possible to a good standard.
Writers then go into the rehearsal room on the Friday and Saturday
to see their scripts rehearsed. This is a new experience for some, as is what
happens in the afternoon on the Saturday when their scripts are performed in a
dramatic rehearsed reading.
The writers seem to be the most stressed during the week, but as a result the most relieved and happiest at the end when they see their work. It’s an intense but rewarding week and in some cases the writers take their scripts and develop them further.
Speaking to participants from all disciplines, it’s clear
they’re there for similar reasons. To make connections and friends, learn,
explore, grow, reignite a passion, re-motivate, progress ideas, bounce off
others, practice professionalism and a collaborative process in a supportive
By the end it’s clear the week has been valuable, often in
more ways than they realise. It gives participants a sense of pride if they
need it or helps to ground them if they’re more critical. To realise that not
everything has to be a masterpiece, and anything produced within a week won’t
be perfect. But that it can be done. It shows them that this can be done and
all it takes is a bit of hard work and the knowledge, which YAF provides, to do
When I did the Young Artists Festival in 2017, it didn’t seem
much different. The main difference is it seems more focused on creating an
environment of collaboration. Not that it wasn’t there in 2017. It’s hard to
really progress YAF every year, because it’s always been a really great week
for anyone involved. They’ve always been aware that people are different and
always tried to cater to everyone, making young artists feel comfortable in an
environment that, for many, is fairly alien – the world of professional theatre
As part of the Professional Pathways Programme at The Other
Room, trainee director, Samantha Jones, and trainee producer, Yasmin Williams,
are presenting their showcase production, Crave
by Sarah Kane.
I met up with them to chat about it before the run started which you can read HERE to find out more about the production process and the Professional Pathways Programme.
The Other Room opened in 2015 with Blasted, Sarah Kane’s first play. Fitting then that Jones and
Williams chose Crave which was a
turning point in Sarah Kane’s career. Both in her artistic style and her
It’s a turning point in their own careers and Sarah Kane has
always felt somewhat connected to The Other Room. A theatre that allows young
artists to take bold steps, as Kane was allowed to do by The Royal Court. That
is exactly what taking on Crave is
for Jones and Williams. A bold statement of, “this is what we can do.”
The writing is obviously excellent, and not really up for
review as such here. But it is worth saying, you won’t see many plays more real
and brilliantly written than this in your life. Almost every line is crucial
and despite running at 45-minutes, there are brilliant plays twice as long with
half the content. It truly is a masterpiece.
That said, the script can’t do the work on its own. If the
artists involved don’t rise to the challenge, the play will fail. Don’t be fooled,
the script is great but not an easy one to direct or act. It won’t carry itself
and is open to interpretation. With no vision, it’s just a bunch of words. Kane
makes those involved work for its brilliance. She wrote Crave for directorial interpretation, to be explored and played
with. This is exactly why Samantha Jones and Yasmin Williams chose it for their
As it is, the artists involved relish and rise to the challenge brilliantly.
Samantha Jones’ direction is sublime. Close attention is paid
to rhythm which highlights the script’s strengths. The tone is handled really
well helping Jones control the pace, which is done beautifully.
The decision to perform in traverse is a great one, not
allowing the actors anywhere to hide. Sometimes Crave is performed quite statically which really doesn’t seem to
work. Jones, however, brings the play to life with excellent physicality,
making the most of the small space. The playis breathing and vibrant in its direction, which compliments Crave perfectly.
All four performances are excellent. Its hard to pinpoint one as a standout as they all work well as an ensemble and stand-out as individuals. As the production is in collaboration with Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, all four actors are second year acting students and they do their college proud in this production.
Emily John explores her character and it really feels as we
get to know her throughout the play. She feels both strong and vulnerable at
the same time which is really powerful.
Callum Howells brings natural charm and humour to his role. His
character, A, is completely unaware of himself in a beautiful and disturbing
way, depending on the context. Not distracting from the production’s dark tones,
rather offering a break from it. His delivery of ‘that’ monologue is simply magnificent.
Johnna Dias-Watson feels ever-present in the production. Her
care in physicality stands out and you always feel her presence because of it,
and when you don’t, there’s a reason why. Playing a ‘mother’ figure, this works
Benjamin McCann also brings some humour to the production, but his character is much more aware of himself than Howells as A. His delivery towards the end of the play is particularly good. He feels natural and I have to say I personally resonated most with him.
Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson’s set design is lovely. Creating a claustrophobic feeling in the traverse set-up which allows space for the direction and acting to flourish. The lighting from Ryan Joseph Stafford is mystic and minimal, setting the mood well. Joshua Bowles’ sound design creeps through, mostly subtly, yet obvious in moments. None of the design is complicated but compliments the production allowing the play to flourish.
Crave at The
Other Room is an excellent production of Sarah Kane’s masterpiece exploring
what it is to love.
Ultimately, this production is very hard to put into words. I
left the theatre and felt completely different for two days. Even writing now, I
just don’t have the words to justify my feelings. It is a compliment to Kane’s
excellent writing, but the job of Yasmin Williams and Samantha Jones is to make
this play speak as loudly as it can. They have done that extremely well and
deserve the credit for what they achieved with Kane’s work.
Crave by Sarah Kane at The Other Room, Cardiff 30th April – 11th May 2019 Directed by Samantha Jones Produced by Yasmin Williams Starring: C – Emily John M – Johnna Dias-Watson B – Benjamin McCann A – Callum Howells Set Designed by Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson Sound Designed by Joshua Bowles Lighting Designed by Ryan Joseph Stafford Stage Managed by Millie McElhinney Deputy Stage Managed by Emily Behague Assistant Directed by Nerida Bradley
Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith debuted for the first time at the 2018 Cardiff Fringe Festival in the basement of Little Man Coffee Shop. After seeing it then, I remember saying, “this is the sort of work I’d expect at the Sherman.” And less than a year later, here we are.
It’s a strange experience watching this play for the second time. It relies so heavily on its audience not knowing the twists for its strengths, so for that reason I won’t be spoiling anything.
One thing that has changed is the ending, which is just as
frantic, but slightly clearer in a subtle way. This is the major improvement
along with the obvious production value that the Sherman’s excellent studio
The direction from Becca Lidstone is particularly interesting as she adapts from a coffee shop basement with a small amount of tech to a world-class theatre space. The step-up in production value is obvious – but the content of what was initially presented isn’t lost.
It does seem darker and more sinister than before. I’m unsure
whether that is because I know what is coming and pick up on the small details
or if it’s an artistic choice, but it works.
One thing that is noticeable is the cutting-down of humour. The first time there were more laughs and that could be down to the intimate space of Little Man’s basement. However, it comes across much more mature as the humour is controlled perfectly by Lidstone and doesn’t dominate as much as before.
Becca does a great job of starting the play at face-value and
allowing the subtext do its work, bubbling under the surface to create a darker
The transitions are full of dance and music which contrasts nicely to the dark undertones and creates a feeling of the 60’s. At times, though, this feels a little out of place, particularly as the play progresses.
Aly Cruickshank’s performance is excellent. With a name like
his, and the accent he puts on, you would think he’s a Scottish native. His
performance really stands out as he presents himself as likeable but holds a manipulative
presence that makes him so hateable.
Angharad Berrow is also utterly brilliant. Her performance is
less sinister than Cruickshank’s and comes across really naturally. Berrow
handles her character with great detail and performs delicately with moments
presented as normal that are truly horrific in the context of the play.
Tobias Weatherburn’s performance is really understated, cold and transformative from the person he is off stage. In particular, the way he handles Dave’s insecurities and desperation for acceptance from other men is phenomenal.
Olivia Martin’s performance is interesting. Her character, Maureen, is snide and laid back. She mostly holds the same dynamic throughout, but the moment she switches is even more powerful for this.
The set from Ceci Calf is really nice and naturalistic, taking us into the 60’s with simplicity.
Garrin Clarke’s lighting design is great. The single light that shines through the window, as if it were the moon, is particularly lovely and the changing of colours is seamless, creating the perfect atmosphere for the moment.
The sound design from Nick Laws is also strong, the use of
music in the transitions set the scene and there seems to be a slight
distortion in said music as the play progresses which is subtly superb.
The script by Joe Wiltshire-Smith is meticulously plotted and
paced with great dialogue, moments of humour and a subtle, dark undertone.
None of the characters are supposed to be likeable, which is important and a good choice, but they do need redeeming or relatable qualities. Dave stands out and is instantly recognisable with clear insecurities which Aly Cruickshank’s character, ‘Neddy’, exploits. Dave’s shielding of himself provides a brilliant and bubbling conflict with ‘Neddy’.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all of the
characters. This is where we come onto the main issues of the play. The
character of ‘Neddy’ and the purpose of the play.
Neddy’s process and mind are not explored enough, so whilst we see his manipulation of other characters mould slowly and sadistically, his actions by the end are not justified in his own twisted way. This leads to the ending falling somewhat flat and into the second issue.
Why has this piece been written? What does it offer its audience? What does it explore? It doesn’t offer clarity on the history, it doesn’t explore the issue nor the mindset of the characters and isn’t escapism. It’s not a character study and whilst it is well written, directed, acted and designed – after all is said and done there is no takeaway for the audience.
The conversations I had after the play ranged from talking
about the historical facts and questioning the purpose of the play. I’ve seen
technically worse plays that are much more ‘must-see’ because of what they
offer their audience.
Ultimately, this is an incredibly brave story that Joe Wiltshire-Smith has attempted to tackle for his first full-play. For Spilt Milk too. However, there just doesn’t seem to be a focus or point to the piece.
Some will disagree on this and say it doesn’t need a point or
to explore anything. But, that is what separates ‘good’ from ‘great’. A little
more focus and this could be an absolute stellar piece of theatre. As it is,
there’s just something missing.
Five Green Bottles is an enjoyable, brilliantly crafted piece of theatre only let down by a slight lack of purpose.
Bottles at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
9th – 13th April 2019
Written by Joe Wiltshire-Smith
Co-writer: Kirsty Phillips
Directed by Becca Lidstone
Assistant Director: Joe Wiltshire-Smith
Producer: Tobias Weatherburn
Stage Manager: Hadley Taylor
Production Design: Ceci Calf
Sound Designer: Nick Laws
Lighting Designer: Garrin Clarke
Set Assistant: Aleks Carlyon
Technical Assistant: Theodore Hung
Bottom is an auto-biographical play about Willy Hudson, a queer man exploring the overriding questions of, what it is to be a “bottom” or a “top”, why does it matter and whether “bottom” in bed means bottom in life?
It’s a coming-of-age story, a queer story, a gay story, a story about insecurity in many forms, about relationships and ultimately, a classic love-story. But really, who needs labels when you’ve got substance? And Bottom has substance in bucket loads.
Willy takes us on his quest for love from the moment he came out to the morning after his first sober date. He’s awaiting a text from his date which triggers him to explore various aspects of his life and why this text, as opposed to the others, is so important.
Before this, Willy has been partying and sleeping around, as a bottom, for his entire sexual maturity, if he’s not been at home masturbating. This is the first time he’s felt a connection and the first time he’s not needed drugs or alcohol. But there are problems, the dinner he cooked was burned, he couldn’t ‘get it up’, he hid in his bathroom and they didn’t have sex.
As the play develops, in its non-linear pattern, we learn about Willy’s sexual history – but what we’re really doing is understanding his quest for love. Willy isn’t looking for sex, but that is what he’s been taught, so that is what he gets.
Willy Hudson immediately establishes a relationship with the audience from the moment he enters wearing only a towel, looking for his clothes which are hidden underneath our chairs.
Hudson’s performance is honest, he feels like himself, it barely comes across as acting. It feels as only Willy could have played this part. Hudson deals with his past emotions critically and delivers a brilliant performance, channeling his inner Sasha Fierce.
Hudson’s honesty and self-reflection leads into his writing too, which is carefully constructed into a brilliant non-linear plot. This allows Hudson to stay true to his story, whilst also telling a theatrically intriguing story. The writing is beautiful, honest, well-structured and funny. There’s no way you’d guess this is Hudson’s debut as a playwright.
Director, Rachel Lemon, admits this was a hard show to direct, in the post-show Q&A. Hard because it’s so truthful to Willy, there were times where the best artistic choice changed Willy’s story somewhat. But, Lemon does a good job of maintaining a strong piece of theatre whilst telling Willy’s truth.
It is chaotic at times, Willy jumping all over the place with his non-linear plot. That chaos however is representative of Willy’s life in the story, so it works brilliantly, and Lemon’s direction ensures this succeeds.
Tic Ashfield’s sound design compliments the play perfectly. I’m no Beyoncé fan (sorry Willy, I prefer Rihanna), but the music choices are brilliant and are exploited at the right times for emotional effect. The inclusion of Beyoncé isn’t a weird gimmick that Hudson throws in as a fan, which was the worry going in. It fits.
You’ll do well to see a more important and relevant play than Bottom in Wales this year. Hudson doesn’t fall into the trap of negativity that surrounds so much LGBTQ+ theatre and media generally. He spoke about the importance of positive LGBTQ+ stories and how it was important to him that this was positive, in the post-show Q&A.
Yet, Hudson doesn’t shy away from tough topics and critiquing aspects gay culture either. He also speaks about fears of backlash that he’s seen other shows get. But says that at the end of the day, “it’s just a story and it is my truth.”
Not only for the LGBTQ+ community though, Bottom should be celebrated by everyone. In a time when the government are forcing a debate about the education of LGBTQ+ relationships, this couldn’t be more relevant or important. You could do a lot worse than take your kids to see this production. It is a play I needed to see at fourteen or fifteen and is equally important now.
It’s an educational piece, but not supposed to be. It doesn’t aim to teach, it’s just a story. This fact is just a reflection of where we’re at as a society.
I have personally never related so much to a piece of theatre. Yet, I’m not LGBTQ+. Hudson tells a human story, where the protagonist happens to be queer. He doesn’t simplify it to labels, he explores the human behind the labels within LGBTQ+ and wider society. This is so powerful and something we need more of.
Bottom it is a heartfelt, honest, funny and thought-provoking exploration of gay relationships in modern Britain. Miss it at your own risk.
Bottom is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over eight weeks. Tickets can be found HERE.
BOTTOM at The Other Room, Cardiff 27th – 30th March 2019 Written, Performed and Produced by Willy Hudson Directed and Produced by Rachel Lemon Sound Design: Tic Ashfield Movement Director: Jess Tucker Boyd Lighting Design: Lucy Adams Line Producer: Sofia Stephanou Dramaturg: Bryony Kimmings Associate Artist: Paris Rabone Graphic Design: Jimmy Ginn Photographer: Joe Magowan Videographer: Tristan Bell
Turbines by Sarah
McDonald Hughes follows six students (aged around 15-16) in a unit-classroom as
they deal with the stabbing of a schoolmate. This leads to Mia stabbing her
teacher in the first scene as the play attempts to explain why this happened,
exploring who these young people are.
The play suffers from the use of stereotypical characters who
possess little depth and writing that feels lazy. As though
students are chucked in a unit and that will justify the stabbing, but it doesn’t.
Even within their backstories, their presence in the unit is not justified.
As it is, the play feels it would be more interesting placed
in a standard classroom as the play currently comes across as a series of events
that are mostly irrelevant or insignificant, particularly given the moral
protection of the unit.
The flow is constantly interrupted, and it moves too fast
without allowing time to explore the characters. There are a few breaks that offer
potential such as Tina’s boyfriend breaking up with her or a flashback to the
start of Mia and Grace’s early friendship. But even these scenes show very
little emotional intrigue.
There is no overriding story, really, besides the two
stabbings. The backstories cover most of the play, but these are stereotypical.
Parents who argue, a young pregnancy, an ill mother, and so on. These
backstories are not unique, offer little significance and just when you’re
expecting something to tie it all together, they look at some turbines, say
they feel calm, and nothing happens.
Moving onto the turbines, the title of the play and the key
piece of symbolism provided. Trying my hardest to drag something out of this, I
would say that the turbines are meant to represent serenity and persistence in a
tough environment. A symbol that allows the students to express. The rotation
of the blades also possibly referring back to the cyclical nature of knife
crime. The symbolism is somewhat tacked in and unclear, with potential it’s
just not reaching.
multiple possibilities that can happen when the major event, the stabbing, occurs
and explores how that might affect their lives differently. It’s also unclear
which of these is the ending or if the writer wants there to be one specific
ending. Perhaps not an issue for where this piece was imagined to be but given
that it appears to try to question why this stabbing might occur, the lack of a
definitive ending is a problem.
I can see where this play goes wrong in the writing process,
as it has a singular focus at its core and fitting that to a cast of seven is hard.
It centres around Mia and everyone else is basically irrelevant. And if that is
the aim, then why bother with 90% of the rest of the play? There is potential
there for a good play about Mia. But it needs expanding, focusing and lots of
I just struggle to see how a play produced in collaboration
with Paines Plough could be quite this underdeveloped. My guess is that the
writer wasn’t afforded the time or support necessary for this piece to succeed.
I don’t think you can pin the play’s failures solely on such a talented and
Emily Ling Williams direction just falls a little flat. There are attempts at characterisation through the acting, some of which work, some don’t. The tone and pace are not handled particularly well, however this is quite hard as the story beats are all over the place. It’s a tough play to direct, but Williams stumbles to raise the bar for the production.
Rocky Hood’s lighting works well, very understated, but is one of few positives from this production. The sound design from Jack Lancelot Stewart is fine. It’s nothing exceptional and sometimes intruding, but decent overall.
Clare Johnson’s set is a little clunky and often gets in the
way, although does a good job of establishing location. The fans, representing
wind turbines, just look tacky and don’t work.
The performances from the cast of seven are all decent. But really, most of the actors don’t have much to play with. There are clearly attempts at characterisation made by the actors with the director. Amesh Edireweera’s mannerisms as Liam, Finnian Garbutt’s boyish immaturity as Reece and Nina Bloomgarden’s grace as Grace all stand out as expansions on the script.
Unfortunately, the school teacher, portrayed by Lilly Tukur,
Jack (Harry Heap) and Tina (Julie Lamberton) are all pretty much unsavable. The
performances are good for the most part, given what they had, but they really
Abbie Hern stands out as Mia. Her character has the most
substance and is the most explored. Hern rises to this and delivers a great
performance which is one of few shining lights in this production.
young people and their actions in what is an underwhelming production that can’t
be saved by its strong cast.
Turbines performed at The Bute Theatre, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama 19 – 21 March 2019 in Cardiff Transferring to The Gate Theatre, London, 2 – 5 April Written by Sarah McDonald Hughes Directed by Emily Ling Williams In Collaboration with Paines Plough As part of RWCMD’s ‘NEW’ Season Starring: Abbie Hern as Mia Nina Bloomgarden as Grace Finnian Garbutt as Reece Amesh Edireweera as Liam Julie Lamberton as Tina Harry Heap as Jack Lilly Tukur as School Teacher Production Team: Set & Costume Design: Clare Johnson Lighting Design: Rocky Hood Sound Designer: Jack Lancelot Stewart Assistant Production Manager: Alexandra Drescher-Elphick Stage Manager: Jessica Forella Deputy Stage Manager: Cara-Megan Rees
Assistant Stage Manager: Amy Hales Design Assistant: Rachel Merritt Technicians: Ella Cunnison, Kitty Dunning, Jamie Holden and Paul Kaiba Venue Technician: Evie Oliver Supervisors: Kristy Bowers, Rob Clarke and Laura Martin
As we enter the space at The Other Room, we are greeted by Betty Walsh (as Betsey) and Emilia Stawicki (Emily). They remind you that your alcohol is apple juice and, as the play starts, that you, the audience, are a group of ten-year-old girls, arriving at Camp Be Yourself. Also, to stay inside the red-markers because there isn’t (but might be) the threat of bears.
What follows is an organised and hilarious mess where two characters, Betsey and Emily, are exploring what it is to be an adult, whilst they’re supposed to be running a camp.
Delusions of grandeur, suppressed insecurities and the absence of a mother drive Betsey’s character. Whilst Emily is nervous, repressing emotion, unsure of herself and eager to impress.
The performances of both characters are hilarious and relatable. Both Walsh and Stawicki are great comedic performers, exploiting the use of facial expressions and mannerisms expertly. They both perform with conviction and full knowledge of their characters who are instantly recognisable, but leave room for growth.
Whilst a lot of that growth and conflict is subtle, it’s
presented clearly and naturally throughout. Everyone leaves the theatre sure of
who these women are, what issues they have whilst having a good laugh along the
The writing is more sophisticated than you might expect. It’s well-structured, the characters have real depth and there’s natural conflict which builds very convincingly.
The writing and performances from Stawicki and Walsh deserve huge credit for achieving this.
The fact that there is a non-binary character (Billie) referred to throughout the play may go unnoticed by some but definitely deserves a mention. It’s nice to have a non-binary character where their gender doesn’t affect the plot, they’re just a normal person and that’s okay.
The pop-culture references provide a fair amount of comedy throughout. The few references to Tiffany Trump, in particular, are great. The use of music too is really funny. Michael Sambello’s ‘Maniac’ used for a dance-break reminded me of American Pie, when they use the same song for a dance-off. That made me chuckle, along with the use of PTAF’s ‘Boss A** B*tch’, which I recognised from the first drum-beat.
It certainly helps that the references and comedy generally fit my personal sense of humour. Betty Walsh’s character in particular I liked. It reminded me of Ja’mie King from Summer Heights High or a female David Brent. My worry is that perhaps this won’t appeal to an older audience. But a lot of the comedy does come from tried-and-tested means, is fairly intellectual and very self-aware (even if the characters aren’t).
The play touches on various themes, such as; adulthood, sisterhood (in a friendship sense), motherhood, childhood (in particular, how that affects us later in life), responsibility and insecurity. What is really nice about this play is that it doesn’t try to answer any questions, it merely explores the characters and themes in a comedic way and leaves room for you to think further. Both characters have a lot of depth and we explore that through comedy rather than a dramatic exfoliation of their personal history. This works really well and is really satisfying and refreshing to see.
Yourself is a must-see, hilarious hour-long exploration of two very
different women and their ideas of adulthood.
Camp Be Yourself is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring
Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub
theatre over eight weeks. Tickets can be found for this and other upcoming
Spring Fringe shows HERE, with an ever-growing discount for the more shows you book.
Camp be Yourself at The Other Room, Cardiff 20 – 23 March 2019 Presented by Box. Theatre Company Created by Emilia Stawicki and Betty Jane Walsh Starring: Betty Jane Walsh as Betsey Emilia Stawicki as Emily
Reviled by many as one of Shakespeare’s more unpleasant
plays, and referred to by thespians as ‘The Scottish Play’ because of its
reputation for bringing bad luck to performances, Macbeth is open to a huge range of interpretations on account of
its deep psychological reference. Rufus
Norris’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s work balances this with an urban
modern setting that screams disruption and corruption in high places from start
For those unfamiliar with the play, Macbeth is a soldier
whose wife’s aspirations of greatness proof to be his downfall. Returning after a successful battle, he meets
a coven of witches who predict his speedy promotion and ultimate Kingship. On arriving home, Macbeth tells his wife, who
informs him that Duncan, the present King of Scotland, will be visiting and
staying the night – giving an ideal opportunity for the skulduggery which is necessary
i.e. the King’s murder. One killing leads to another as both the Macbeths become
victims of a bloodlust that lead inevitably to their downfall.
Played out against a forbidding darkly lit set which hardly
changes throughout, this production focuses on making Shakespeare’s work
compatible with contemporary times, with the obvious intent of the original text
becoming more accessible to present day youth.
In this, the National Theatre’s most recent version of Macbeth, it succeeds brilliantly. The parallel
with the knife crime so prevalent in today’s society is evident. The fights
are, at times, almost too realistic Costume designer Moritz Junge dresses the
soldiers including the main protagonists Macbeth and his rival Macduff in
combat uniform, while Lady Macbeth is seen in jeans and T-shirt. Set designer
Rae Smith uses a steeply sloping ramp for much of the main action in a stark
setting. Even the banquet in Macbeth’s
castle is an austere affair.
. BUT – there is a caveat. Some of the poetry and fluency of
the memorable speeches is lost, or drowned out by overloud music which adds to
a cacophony of sound in some scenes. And
did the three witches really have to climb poles? Having said that, the pluses
in this production by the prestigious National Theatre are many. Overall this
is good theatre, due in no small part to the acting of Michael Nardone, who
projects as a Macbeth in emotional torment yet unable to resist the possibility
of ennoblement and its accompanying riches and the blandishments of his evil
(soon to become deranged) wife, with disastrous consequences. Kirsty Besterman
plays Lady Macbeth as a malevolent sex kitten who has no scruples in using her bedroom
wiles to persuade her husband to embark on a wicked course that will lead to
his destruction. Norris tackles the wickedness head-on – literally. (Forgive
the pun – beheading is part of the on-stage action).
As for light relief: there
is not much of that around, but what there is gets its full due in the hands of
Deka Walmsley whose spot-on timing and comedic touch provide a most welcome
moment of lightness in this searingly dark tragedy, giving rise to appreciative
chuckles on the night reviewed. A welcome moment of respite from the relentless
discords of a brutish production that demonstrates that, while we may stop
short of beheading in today’s society and guns have replaced swords, in some
respects – you have only to consider the fighting in Afghanistan and Syria, for
instance – the similarities with our own times are all too apparent.
Just a Few Words explores the psychological and emotional impact of having a stutter. How that affects your everyday life and indeed, your love life. We follow our protagonist (Nye Russell-Thompson) as he struggles to tell the woman he loves how he feels.
I’d heard a lot about
this piece and my main worry going in was that the writing would be structured poorly.
This isn’t a worry that need be had. The writing from Russell-Thompson is
brilliantly structured as we follow the protagonist’s journey through his mind,
preparing what to say.
Just a Few Words is
frustrating at times as a slow-moving piece of theatre, deliberately so. This
allows the audience to imagine, if not feel, the frustration that can be felt with
a stammer. Not to pity but understand. You never feel sorry for the character
which is a real strength of the piece. He feels like someone going through
something which is presented as normal and relatable.
A one-man-show created
and performed by Russell-Thompson, you can’t help but notice how this is more
real to Nye than it would be to another actor. Even without the knowledge of
who he is. This is a credit to his abilities as an actor, but also serves as a
note to organisations who don’t hire disabled actors to play the roles their
The debate about
stammering being a disability will continue, a debate I’m not qualified to
comment on and one this production doesn’t claim to solve. But what this play does
present clearly is that Just a Few Words is
stronger because of Nye’s personal performance. And it is the character’s
emotive story that is the main strength of Just
a Few Words.
The music and sound utilised in the production are excellent. From stuttering on an Otis Redding love song played on a record player in the beginning, to a grainy, static from said record player that runs for the entirety of the play. The sound is simple but adds a huge amount to the ambiance.
The minimalist set is great too. A record player in one corner, a table in another and the use of pre-written cards which act as subtitles for our protagonist’s thoughts that scatter around the stage complete the show and makes it everything fringe theatre should be.
Just a Few Words is an excellent and relatable portrayal of life with a stammer, blending a beautifully minimalist approach with powerful writing.
Just a Few Words is part of The Other Room’s
‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s
only pub theatre over eight weeks. Tickets can be found for the
upcoming Spring Fringe shows HERE, with an ever-growing discount for the more shows you book.
JUST A FEW WORDS performed at The Other Room 13th February – 16th February 2019 Presented by StammerMouth Created and Performed by Nye Russell-Thompson Stage Manager: Megan Randall
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
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.
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
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