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

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Humanequin at Wales Millennium Centre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Humanequin by Kelly Jones is a groundbreaking collection of three stories from young transgender people in South Wales. It is raw in its monologue format and informative in its direct approach.

The stories come straight from real life and that reality is enhanced by having three transgender actors on stage. The fact that Humanequin is the first transgender play, with an all transgender cast performed in Wales, makes it truly groundbreaking. And the production is stronger for it.

The thing with this production is, it isn’t necessarily about the theatrical quality, that I am reviewing here. It is much more about what we as an audience take away from it. This is about telling and normalising the stories of transgender for the people of Cardiff and wider society. So to start without mentioning that would be a disservice.

The direction of this production from Jain Boon could be stronger. There is some nice blocking and movement in this piece. And moments that are strong. But overall, it lacks the intensity necessary for a piece like this.

Sammy Woodward stands out as the actor with the most emotional range and they really feel in the moment with their character. Emily Joh Miller grows into her performance whilst Harry Bryant keeps a steady pace throughout. The three work quite well together, but there is that lack of intensity and chemistry between the three.

Georgina Miles’ set design is simple, yet effective. The most prominent pieces of set are some blocks and three metal grates that get moved around to change the setting. There is also a tree with tags for leaves. On these tags are written names of trans people who have been lost over the years. This tree is a really nice touch and whilst not actively used in the performance, watches over the actors and certainly adds a lot. The set is nothing extravagant, but effective in its job.

Chris Young’s sound design is really complimentary to the production with Ceri James’ lighting design representing the emotion of the piece well. The main criticism for these two is there isn’t enough. At times these aspects of design are really strong, but in others they are absent, in a way that doesn’t translate well.

As a cis woman, Kelly Jones takes on a big task of writing for a group of people we very rarely hear about. But, a task she handles well as far as the content goes.

It’s more Jones’ playwriting that lets her down. It’s not a bad script by any means, and as a piece that is ultimately meant to educate, it does a very good job. But as a compelling piece of drama it is lacking.

The three intertwined stories told as monologue is a form I personally love, but here it doesn’t work for some reason.

Characterisation also gets lost in an attempt to normalise the characters. Aspects of their personalities seem trivial. As well as this, some of the politics is very on-the-nose. Not an issue in itself, but again, it just doesn’t feel right here. It seems forced. Something that is maybe necessary for the piece, but needs to be worked into the production in a stronger way.

One decision made in the writing process that was really good, was to not make every story all “doom and gloom”. It would be easy to make this a sympathetic piece of theatre that looks at the struggles of trans people with the far too often real life consequences. And that reality is not ignored here. But neither is the reality that these are people. They act out, they do things that seem irrational at the time. But like any good playwright, Jones examines and explains them by the end of the story.

Perhaps in another performance context such as being held in a different venue, at an earlier time, in a school or university, as part of an education programme or whatever it is, this could be a fantastic production. And for people who know little about trans-issues, this would certainly be a very informative and emotional way to be introduced to these issues. So that must be commended. But, for the audience that, on the night I was there, seemed very clued up on these issues, it perhaps lacked the dramatic value that we go to the theatre for.

Not necessarily to be entertained, but to leave having found or felt something. And whilst for an audience without knowledge of trans-issues, this would be great. For those with that knowledge, it doesn’t offer much.

If this piece moves forward, the decision needs to be made whether this is an educational piece or a different form of theatre. Because both have their place and both are necessary for the growth of trans-theatre and the awareness of trans-issues in wider society. But this just feels like it’s biting off more than it can chew.

Humanequin is a strong, educational piece of theatre about the experiences of young transgender people in South Wales. Its flaws pale in comparison to its importance.

Humanequin by Kelly Jones
Performed at the Wales Millennium Centre
Presented by Mess Up The Mess Theatre Company, Youth Cymru and TransForm Cymru.
Performed by:
Sammy Woodward as Rae
Harry Bryant as Max
Emily Joh Miller as Meg
Directed by Jain Boon
Designer: Georgina Miller
Sound Designer: Chris Young
Lighting Designer: Ceri James
Stage Manager: Katie Torah
Technical Assistant: Dawn Hennessey
Producer: Jay Smith
Creative Assistant: Kay R. Dennis
Community Artist: Bill Taylor-Beales
Education Producer: Rachel Benson
Artistic Director for Mess Up The Mess: Sarah Jones