Tag Archives: Chapter Arts Centre

Review Jo Fong: An Invitation… by Renn Hubbuck

 

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I opened the door to the dance hall at Chapter Arts Centre, lots of unknown faces turned their heads and peered at me. There were two long rows of chairs facing each other with an aisle running down the middle. The one woman who was standing said ‘hello’ and I quickly chucked my bag on the floor and placed myself onto an empty seat. The standing woman faced away from me and carried on with her performance, if she had ever stopped. I had no idea what to expect but I was certainly intrigued.

The woman was attempting to dance. I say attempting because she would interrupt her movements, stop herself and start again, trying to achieve something, I wasn’t quite sure what, commenting on what she was doing all the while. It was unclear whether I was watching a wholly scripted piece or a workshop for dancers which was more spontaneous and organic. This blurring between reality and performance was clearly a theme they were playing around with. Comedy was created through her almost childlike frustration at the inability to fully let go. The audience was kept in suspense as we waited for the dance to flow.

‘Maybe you could do it like this’ piped up someone from the other side of the room. Jo Fong stepped into the space. Her energy was immediately captivating. Fong talked a lot about her energy, expressing how she was bringing it into the room and giving it to the audience. There was definitely a sense of the performer enthusing the audience; her movements were big and bold, she had something inside her which didn’t know how to get out. Again, there was that tension. It seems to be a comment on how people struggle to give in to their emotions, stopping themselves from being totally free. Fong at one point did this sporadic movement with her arm which she called the ‘contemporary arm’, stating it ‘wants to express itself.’ There was a battle for control over the body, limbs did not perform as wanted and had a mind of their own.

After advising the first performer on how she should move, a third dancer, Beth Powlesand, came up and took to the floor. They all seemed very natural in the space, making the most of the strip between the rows of chairs. The further it went on, the more I realised how much of it was staged, which didn’t diminish the piece as we were supposed to be aware of its constructed nature.

There was a key element which really made it a unique and original experience; the audience. The show was shaped by the audience as the performers were continuously responding to the people watching, to the energy of the room and incorporating it into the performance.

As people started to understand what the show was about and got more relaxed, there was a change in the power dynamic. One audience member controlled Powlesand like a puppet on a string, the dancer imitating her as she freely moved her arms. It was a fascinating development because we were no longer just watching the show, we were a fully-functioning part in it. I’ve always been very interested in audience interaction and the relationship between performer and viewer and the show explored this wonderfully. Laura Lee Greenhalgh, the woman who said hello to me at the beginning, noticed I was furiously writing notes and commented on it; she looked down at the paper and read aloud ‘who is the leader? Who is being lead?’ It seemed to create a strange electric current between her and Powlesand, who were mirroring each other, and they rapidly danced down the room together as though fired up by the observation.

Near the end of the show, Powlesland invited people to get up off their seats and follow her movements, they were now the puppets. Quite a few practically leapt out of their chairs and joined in with enthusiasm. Yet, I think one of the most memorable moments was when Fong said ‘do you think I’m going to sit on a chair and do nothing like you?’ and proceeded to give the most emotionally charged performance of the evening. Her movements became more aggressive and the tension that had been building up throughout finally came to a head. She shouted ‘I just want to get this out of my body!’ with an intensity that resonated. It’s the sort of frustration I think everyone can relate to; this sense of being trapped or being unable to feel totally uninhibited. It’s felt honest and that’s why it stuck with me.

The concept of the show for me was about breaking down barriers, not just between performer and audience but internal barriers too. It’s about trying to fully experience an emotion and letting it flow through your body without fear. However, there’s a conflict there because can you really achieve this if your are performing? It would interesting to ask Jo Fong and the other dancers whether they think they have ever had a moment of pure release while doing the show. We are constantly reminded that what we are watching is a construct while are also actively participating in forming the performance. Without the audience, the piece would not have been what it was but it can also adapt to whoever is watching. Thus we all become performers and like the three dancers, we are all in pursuit of freedom.

http://www.jofong.com/skills/audience/

 

Review Parallel Lines, Dirty Protest by Kiera Sikora

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Photo credit Kirsten McTernan Photography & Design 

Honesty is severe. We desire it and we require it, we recognise that it is some thing that we always need. But as soon as it’s not what we want, we despise it. We just can’t win, can we?

Dirty Protest bring to Chapter Arts Centre a fantastic 90 minute revamp of their already acclaimed ‘Parallel Lines’ which executes an impulsively precise look at how two colliding worlds affect each other. Playwright Katherine Chandler, through her freshly updated script, allows us to see how a longing for affection affects opposing worlds and the individuals in them in a very witty Welsh manner.

Nothing is hidden. These two worlds are projected right in front of you throughout the whole piece with the cast present on stage, before, during and after their scenes. There’s a clear sense of consistent colliding consciences.

Catherine Paskell’s very slick, precise, physical direction of the piece creates a fighting contrast with the stress, pain and uncertainty that the characters feel throughout. Their movements are thoughtful and are elegantly highlighted by Joe Fletcher’s sharp lighting design and equally supported by Dan Lawrence’s eerie sound scape, together creating a pathway into the minds of the characters and their sole situations.

The stage homes very little set, just a table and few chairs which echoes that idea of loneliness and lack of nurture. But the constant presence of this collision between these two very different lifestyles fills the stage with all that you need to feel their thoughts and experience their dilemmas. The characters’ complexity allows you to empathise with their situations while the careful pace of the piece allows you time to detach yourself from their spoken words, in order for you to see the paranoia that exists beyond the language.

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Photo credit Kirsten McTernan Photography & Design

Paskell’s vision lets us explore the baggage that comes with power, class and truth and how we react to uncertainty, isolation and our own versions of normality. The relationship between Jan Anderson as the wayward mother Melissa and Lowri Palfrey as her daughter Steph is one that you can’t help but enjoy and dislike they allow you to laugh and pity them, without asking for either reaction. While Gareth Pierce as Simon and Sara Lloyd-Gregory as Julia are the corrupted and obscurely humorous couple who implore you to recognise the devastation that follows accusations and doubt while also reminding us how important it is to say your P’s and Q’s and park your car considerably.

Throwing away the previous script and starting a fresh two years on with the challenge of it being as real and as relevant as before is a one that would take being beyond brave to do. But, I’ve got to be honest playwright Katherine Chandler and Dirty Protest did it!  The play is intense, indulgent and intuitive. It feels familiar and it embodies a social situation at a raw and original level.

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Photo credit Kirsten McTernan Photography & Design

So if you enjoy beautifully written Welsh wit and a story that you can believe then you know where to go. It’s honest, it’s funny and it’s inclusive best get going.

Dirty Protest’s first ever tour of ‘Parallel Lines’ continues at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff until 24th October. They then move onto: Pontardawe Arts Centre on October 28th, Aberystwyth Arts Centre on October 30th Galeri, Caernarfon on October 31st, Soar Centre, Treorchy on 2nd November Ffwrnes, Llanelli on 4th November. And finally, Theatr Hafren, Newtown on November 6th

You’d be crackers to miss it.

 

Review Dial M for Murder Alfred Hitchcock, Chapter Arts Centre by James Knight

 

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Dial M for Murder, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, one of cinema’s great misanthropes, is playing this week at Chapter Arts Centre. Playing as part of the “Ray Milland Season”, Milland born Reginald Truscott-Jones in Neath, took the name Milland after Neath’s Milland Road, which is now an industrial site come train station car park, oh the Hollywood romance.

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) a former tennis pro, blackmails an old university chum into murdering his cheating wife Margot. Grace Kelly plays the wife (notice how she first appears in the reddest of rouge dresses, blood and murder are immediately on the mind, notice actually how the colour red is used throughout to denote blood, Hitchcock manages to make a bloody film without any blood), whilst Robert Cummings plays American crime writer Mark Halliday, the man Margot has been carrying on with. The film is an intriguingly complex viewing experience; we want Milland to succeed yet Kelly to survive, we want Milland to be caught but would also revel in his escape, we want Kelly and Cummings to run off together yet we want Milland and Kelly to live happily ever after.

There are at least three reasons to see Dial M for Murder. Firstly, for Grace Kelly, for her tenderness, for her beauty, for her movie stardom, no one photographed her as brilliantly as Hitchcock, see Rear Window for the most beautiful close-up in cinema as she leans in to kiss Jimmy Stewart. Secondly, for Ray Milland, for the devil in his movie star blue eyes and the charisma to his dark scheming murdering plans. Finally, for Hitch himself, for his genius. Primarily for his combination of camera movement and montage, his masterful use of close-ups and inserts, how through a simple close-up of Milland’s hand he manages to convey all the film’s psychology and terror. There are two moments of obvious brilliance in the film, one where Hitchcock films Milland planning the murder from above with a bird’s eye camera, making it all seem like a deadly game of human chess, and secondly a one shot of Kelly as she makes a court appearance which is a sequence of pure visual artistry. Also be on the lookout for Hitchcock’s comedic touches which often go unnoticed in many of his pictures, most notably here in John William’s performance as the Chief Inspector. Lookout for his moustache twirls, his crumpled raincoat, the way he wrestles with Robert Cummings over Milland’s bank statements, but the most brilliant example of Hitchcock black comedy can be found in the little detail of who hands Grace Kelly the now infamous pair of scissors.

Dial M for Murder is a film that gets richer with each viewing. It’s pure Hitchcock which means that it’s pure cinema.

Dial M for Murder (PG)

USA/1954/101mins/PG. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. With: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings

At Chapter Art Centre

– See more at: http://www.chapter.org/dial-m-murderpg#sthash.18HADZga.dpuf

Tuesday July 7th – 2:30pm

 

 

Review Slow West Chapter Arts Centre by James Knight

 

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In Martin McDonagh’s 2008 film In Bruges, Colin Farrell turns to Brendon Gleeson and says, ‘Purgatory’s kind of like the in-betweeny one. You weren’t really s**t, but you weren’t all that great either. Like Tottenham.’ John Maclean’s Slow West is a Purgatory-esque new Western that doesn’t reinvent the genre, nor will it reboot it, but just like Spurs, it’s still entertaining.

Scottish filmmaker Maclean’s debut feature tells the story of sixteen year old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he travels west across nineteenth century Colorado in search of his one and only love Rose (Caren Pistorius), who previously left Scotland with her father. On the way he employs outlaw with a shady past Silas (Michael Fassbender) to safeguard his journey through the dangerous forests and vast open landscapes of the American West.

The history of the Western is essentially the history of movie star charisma. From Jimmy Stewart, to John Wayne, to Robert Mitchum, to Gary Cooper, to Clint Eastwood, to Henry Fonda, not forgetting a little dash of Walter Brennan here and there, the genre has always been a driving force for star quality and personality. Slow West however, is a lonely desert when it comes to charisma. As Silas, Fassbender makes no mistakes but then again he takes no risks, he doesn’t play a personality but instead a ghost, and an uninteresting one at that. But maybe he has no personality to give, which seems to be the modern trend with this recent batch of new movie actors where less is more seemingly because they have nothing more than less to give so less becomes less, i.e. Tom Hardy, Taylor Kitsch, and so on and so on. Smit-McPhee’s most notable performance to date alongside Viggo Mortensen in John Hillcoat’s The Road, is a film not to dissimilar in structure to Slow West, but whereas The Road is brutal and barbaric, Slow West is rather sophomoric in its nihilism and at times Disney in its visuals and cinematography (that is until a brilliant sequence right at the end of the picture when Maclean shows us one by one a conveyer belt of dead bodies, each framed thoughtfully and poignantly that will match anything in The Road).

Despite its flaws, the film is lean, brisk, and well-paced with a gentle but interesting rhythm. The film culminates in a well-directed shootout that’s littered with brilliant point of view shots from outlaws who hide out in picturesque cornfields, whilst before that there’s a wonderful sequence between Jay and Werner (Andrew Robertt), a nomadic writer researching Indian tribes, which stands out above everything else in the picture. Maclean also dresses the film with the odd moment of welcome surrealism with the score in particular sounding like something straight out of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man.

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The Western genre in its most classical sense, once the most popular of genres has become in recent times nothing more than a memory. What contemporary cinema gives us instead is not the Western in terms of setting, but a Western in terms of mood and tone, No Country for Old Men for instance, is essentially a modern Western even though it’s set in the South. The problem with Slow West is, it neither feels like a classical Hollywood Western, nor a contemporary one like No Country, there’s a distant lack of authenticity (for instance, filming took place in New Zealand instead of Colorado and this shows throughout), it is a film very much in Purgatory in that sense. With a misleading title the film is neither slow nor is it really a Western, but whatever it is, it’s pretty good nonetheless.

Slow West (15)

USA/2015/84mins/15. Dir: John Maclean. With: Ben Mendelsohn, Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee.

At Chapter Arts Centre until July 2nd

– See more at: http://www.chapter.org/slow-west-15#sthash.dmtmc3Hy.dpuf

Review This is How We Die, Chapter Arts Centre by James Knight

 

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Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas begins famously with, ‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’ Christopher Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die seems to carry on from where Thompson left off in this brilliant piece of spoken word black comedy theatre that will shudder you to your very core, and then shudder your core’s core, and then your core’s core core (if that’s even a thing, if it is then this play will find it and shudder it).

Bailey seems to appear on stage out of nowhere, he nods politely to the audience before sitting down at a desk which houses a microphone, a glass of water, a lamp, and Bailey’s script. Then an explosion occurs, an explosion of words that is. Bailey uses the microphone like a drum that he thumps and thumps with words that bounce off the microphone and splatter into the faces of the audience before punching their way into their souls. Through sheer physicality of his lips, tongue, and his bobbing head, Bailey brings his prose to life as spit flies, sweat flies, and emotions whiz. Reading mostly from his script, Bailey keeps his eyes down away from the audience, creating a distance, before carefully choosing his moments to eyeball the onlookers in order to land a joke or an emotional punch.

If you’re the romantic sort and wished you could’ve been there so see Allen Ginsberg read “Howl” in 1955, see Charles Bukowski read live in California, go back to the fifties to see Lenny Bruce perform his “Meaning of Obscenity” or “Religions Inc” bits, or have the desire to see William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch come to life before your eyes then this is the show for you. The musicality of Bailey’s almost word perfect performance conjures images of contemporary rap, but also the music of Tom Waits, in particular his song “Step Right Up”, but as if Waits’ music had been sucked into a David Cronenberg film and come out looking like the love child of David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Samuel Beckett’s Not I.

This Is How We Die is almost impossible to process, but maybe that’s its purpose, we will be forever trying to process it, forever trying to get to grips with it, maybe that is what makes it art. It deals mainly with the void and the space in between Bailey and the audience, after the performance Bailey took part in an impromptu Q&A session which in its formal reality seemed fake, there was an ugly space between him and the audience asking the questions, yet his performance on stage with all its fantastical absurdities seemed utterly real and utterly truthful.

This Is How We Die takes us into the blackness (both emotionally and literally via some genius lighting cues), engulfing us in the darkness of humanity. It is truly a battering of the senses where emotions pour out uncontrollably. With the final and resounding emotion being that of sheer amazement.

THIS IS HOW WE DIE

At Chapter Arts Centre – June 23rd at 7:30

Written and performed by Christopher Brett Bailey

Musicians: George Percy, Alicia Jane Turner, Christopher Brett Bailey, and Apollo

Dramaturg: Anne Rieger

Lighting Design: Sherry Coenen

Production Manager: Alex Fernandes

Producer: Beckie Darlington

Review Knife in the Water By James Knight

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In 1941 there was Citizen Kane (Orson Welles), in 1955 there was The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton), in 1959 there was The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut), in 1960 there was Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard), in 1969 there was Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper), in 1989 there was Sex, Lies, and Videotape (Steven Soderbergh), and in 1992 there was Reservoir Dogs (Quinten Tarantino), all great directorial feature debuts, but add to that list Roman Polanski’s 1962 maiden effort Knife in the Water, playing at Chapter Arts Centre as part of Martin Scorsese’s “Masterpieces of Polish Cinema” series.

The story of Knife in the Water is simple; a bourgeois sportswriter named Andrej, played by Leon Niemmczyk, and his wife Krystyna, played by Jolanta Umecka (making her onscreen debut, who Polanski discovered one day at a local swimming pool), pick up a hitchhiker known only as the Young Man (we never learn his name), played by Zygmunt Malanowicz, and take him with them on a sailing trip, with the vast majority of the film taking place on the boat. On paper this might seem like a smooth but forgettable little thriller but add in the Polanski touch and it evolves into an erotically charged psychological game of cat and mouse all with the accompaniment of Krzysztof Komeda’s masterful jazz score. Knife in the Water, alongside Chinatown (1974), the greatest neo noir detective film ever made, and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), possibly the greatest human horror ever made, have firmly established Polanski as a master of cinema. But unlike other filmmakers featured in this series, the likes of Andrej Wajda and Krzysztof Kielowski, Polanski’s films, especially Knife in the Water, are almost completely void of any political and social commentary. His films are a lot more interested in cinema, in the reality of a reflection rather than a reflection of reality (to steal Godard’s wonderful term). Knife in the Water does not take place in Poland but in Pol-anski-land.

In his autobiography, Polanski recalled the difficulties he and his crew encountered whilst shooting Knife in the Water, saying; ‘the yacht was quite big enough to accommodate three actors but uncomfortably cramped for the dozen-odd people behind the camera. When shooting aboard, we had to don safety harnesses and hang over the side.’ Yet from this confinement, Polanski manages to liberate the camera, almost creating a new set of cinematic rules in the process. The film is a technical marvel. It reminds me of another Polish film, The Night Train (1959), indecently also starring Leon Niemczyk, where the director Jerzy Kawalerowicz, also managed to create a technically impressive film despite having to shoot the entire picture inside a moving train.

Knife in the Water is a cinema first film, image and sound hold far greater precedent over dialogue which in the film is often meaningless and empty and carries no weight in the telling of the story (in fact the majority of the dialogue is dubbed, with Polanski giving his own voice to the character of the Young Man). Towards the end of the film when the sailing trip has come to an end, there’s a sequence where Andrej and his wife lock up the boat in harbour, they tie up the ropes, put down the sails, padlock the doors, all without one word of dialogue. On the surface it’s an innocent little sequence but look a little closer and you’ll see that Polanski manages to capture their whole marriage through raw image, sound and simple action, no dialogue, like a true master of cinema.

Like Polanski’s two most recent films, Knife in the Water deals with a limited cast, but whereas Venus in Fur (2013), and Carnage (2011) through their limitations become essentially filmed theatre, Knife in the Water is cinema and cinema only. It is ninety minutes of pure intimacy where we too feel like we’re on that boat with them. When it’s all over we realise that we’ve learned nothing concrete about the characters yet we somehow know everything that’s important. The film ends where it began, no one changes, no one grows, yet there’s a sense of a new beginning.

In one scene, the Young Man hangs over the edge of the moving boat and by hovering his feet over the surface of the water makes it look like he is in fact walking on water. Knife in the Water is such a cinematic achievement that whilst watching it, you can’t help but get the sense that Polanski too was walking on water.

Knife in the Water (PG)

Poland/1962/94mins/subtitles/PG. Dir: Roman Polanski. With: Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, Zygmunt Malanowicz.

At Chapter Arts Centre from June 28th – 30th

– See more at: http://www.chapter.org/knife-water-pg#sthash.jqBSid1t.dpuf

Review: Ashes and Diamonds Chapter Arts Centre By James Knight

 

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The first image we see in Andrej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds is that of a cross on top of a small chapel. The camera pans down to find three men laying on the grass next to the chapel, one of them is sleeping. An innocent little girl appears and asks one of the men to open the chapel door for her. A nice summery image for a pleasant summer’s day somewhere in Poland. Then in the distance a car approaches, the men rush to their feet, each brandishing machine guns and tell the little girl to get lost. Bullets fly, the car comes crashing to a halt, the driver falls out, machine gunned to death. The passenger makes a run for it, bangs on the locked door of the chapel, but he has nowhere to go. The three men machine gun him to his death, as he falls he bursts into flames at the door of the chapel. One of the three men then panics, ‘let’s get out of here,’ he wails, and we realise that we’re not watching super cool hitmen but real human beings caught up in civil unrest in Wajda’s most humanistic of films. Later, after the three men have fled we realise that they’ve killed the wrong people as their intended target arrives on the scene. A worker surveying the dead bodies then asks, ‘can you tell us how long people will have to die like this?’ Ashes and Diamonds is a film that asks the toughest of questions.

Presented as part of Martin Scorsese’s “Masters of Polish Cinema” series, the film features in Scorsese’s list for his choice for the ten greatest films ever made in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll. The film is a key component of Polish new wave cinema, one of the most stylish of national cinema movements and just like the French new wave which came hot on its heels, Wajda and his fellow filmmakers managed to expand on the cinematic foundations laid forth by the Italian neo realists in the mid 1940’s.

Ashes and Diamonds is essentially the third part in Wajda’s unofficial war trilogy, although enjoyment of the film is not dependent on viewing the previous two. In the previous two films, A Generation (1955) and Kanal (1957), which both concern themselves with the Polish uprising during the Second World War, there is, despite the bloodshed amongst the upheaval of human morality, a great deal of hope and idealism. But come Ashes and Diamonds, this hope has evaporated and instead been replaced with despair. Even in spite of the fact that the Nazis have surrendered which people hear about over a loudspeaker yet barely react to, there is no Times Square esque V-J Day celebrations here, because for the first time since the war started, people can now envisage their futures and they don’t like what they see. Fighting the Nazis united them in hope, but now the war is over and the only people left to fight is themselves.

Set over twenty four hours in 1945, the overriding narrative of the film deals with the civil conflict between the pro-Russian People’s Army and the UK backed Home Army. The film is both a war tale and a tragic love story whilst also having the feel of an American hang out movie. The star of the film, Zbigniew Cybulski, incidentally one of the three shooters we meet in the opening scene, was often known, thanks largely to this performance, as the Polish James Dean. He certainly has Dean’s coolness and playfulness, whilst his impulsiveness throughout the film conjures up the image of Dean jumping from roof tops in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden (1955). Cybulski’s performance, his actions, his facial expressions, manage to capture the melancholic nostalgia of the story and of post war Poland, he says things like, ‘nothing in this country is serious anymore.’ He meets a girl, the wonderful and beautiful Ewa Kryzewska, who works at a hotel bar who says things like, ‘I don’t want any goodbyes or memories to remember when it’s over.’ This is a film where every line of dialogue has meaning and significance.

On the surface at least, Cybulski is the star of the film, but the true star of Andrej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds is Andrej Wajda himself. The whole film is a one hundred minute masterclass in cinematic framing. In one scene, Wajda frames Cybulski’s collaborator in arms Andrej, played by Adam Pawlikowski, in a close-up as he talks on the phone inside a telephone booth, over his shoulder is Cybulski leaning on a bar, then behind Cybulski in walks Communist Commissioner Szczulka, played by Waclaw Zastrzezynski, the man who Cybulski and co were originally sent to kill. In one shot through expert framing Wajda manages to convey the entirety of the film’s emotions and conflicts with stark simplicity. Throughout the film Cybulski keeps coming face to face with his past, in one scene he sees the crying fiancé of one of the men he killed in the opening sequence. Cybulski stares at her and Wajda holds and holds Cybulski’s gaze in a close-up. There are no words spoken yet by dwelling on Cybulski’s face Wajda manages to convey all the actor’s emotions, it’s almost as if we can hear his thoughts. This is pure cinema.

The images in Ashes and Diamonds are so profoundly striking it is a film that could be watched and understood with the sound turned off. The film ends with an unforgettable sequence that you will carry around with you long after the final credits have rolled. It’s visual poetry from start to finish.

Ashes and Diamonds (12)

Poland/1958/104mins/subtitles/12. Dir: Andrzej Wajda. With: Zbigniew Cybulski.

At Chapter Arts Centre from June 7th – 9th.

– See more at: http://www.chapter.org/ashes-and-diamonds-12#sthash.2nExviZK.dpuf

Review The Ladykillers, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

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The Ladykillers at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Original screenplay by William Rose

Adapted by Graham Linehan

Production by Everyman Theatre

Director: Marie-Claire Costly

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels, Third Act Critic

Rating: [3.00]

Murder and mayhem are the buzzwords for William Rose’s comedy-thriller The Ladykillers. For those fortunate enough to have caught a screening of the Ealing Studios 1954 motion picture, Everyman Theatre’s production of the adaptation by Grahan Linehan will bring back fond memories.   Who could forget the iconic performance by theatrical icon Alec Guinness as the crafty (and dotty) Professor Marcus?

Take an eccentric old lady living on her own with her parrot and add a gang of crooks masquerading as musicians who rent a room in which to plan a robbery and the scene is set for a series of mishaps. When the old girl, Mrs Wilberforce, discovers what they are up to there is only one solution – to bump her off before she turns them in. But that is not as simple a matter as it might seem – and neither, as it transpires, is the elderly widow who despite her old fashioned appearance might be more than a match for the bumbling ineptitude of the amateur criminals.

Characterisation and pace play a major part in putting on a play of this genre, where a great script full of humour should raise delicious giggles among the audience from start to finish. On opening night this sadly was not the case. It was not until a second half with increased momentum that the performance really got going and we were given a heartening glimpse of what the cast are capable of achieving. It is reasonable to expect things to improve later in the run, for Everyman Theatre has a good track record – their Oh What A Lovely War last year was tops.

As the “master criminal” Professor, Paul Fanning is believable although relying overmuch on twiddling his overlong scarf. Not quite dotty enough for this critic, although the Prof’s darker side is well presented in Act II. As for the rest of the gang, Steve Smith’s sharp suited Mafia-type Louis is spot-on and Arnold Phillips suitably military as Major Courtney. As Harry, the youngest of the crooks, Sion Owen settles into the role nicely in the second half.

Now we come to Mrs Wilberforce, played by Ruth Rees who admirably displays both the mobility problems of increasing age, limping around the stage as is suitable for one later described as Mrs Lopsided, and the finickiest of advancing age in another era. Nevertheless, Rees’s portrayal is still a tad too lively for the part – a few more wrinkles added in make-up might help. Loved the costume, though, particularly in the tea party scene and the posse of old ladies is fun – Lynn Hoare gets it just right as the gushing Mrs Tromleyton.

Full credit to the set designers for their clever use of every area of the stage and for props for some wonderful touches – wonky picture, grandfather clock et al, not to mention the interesting musical instruments.

Runs until Saturday May 23rd.

REVIEW Oh What A Lovely War, Everyman Theatre by Barbara Michaels

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Oh What A Lovely War at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

By Joan Littlewood

An Everyman Theatre Production

Director: Jackie Hurley

Musical Director: Lindsey Allen

Choreographer: Richard Thomas

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Rating: [4.00]

Portraying the horror of the trenches and the politics behind World War I, Everyman Theatre’s production of Oh What A Lovely War joins the ranks of performances in memory of those who fell that have taken place all over Britain during the past centenary week.

Bringing to the stage once more Joan Littlewood’s iconic 1963 Theatre Workshop production, complete with Pierrot costumes and a backdrop of photographs from the war zones as well as staggering on-screen statements of the numbers lost in what was supposed to be “the conflict to end all conflicts” is an ambitious undertaking. Everyman Theatre rises superbly to the challenge, wisely choosing to present the piece as “A musical play,” rather than musical theatre, although where to draw the line between genres is never clear-cut.

All the more credit, then, to director Jackie Hurley for staging a performance of this profoundly moving piece of theatre, which at times gives rise to an audible intake of breath from the audience as the ever-increasing numbers of the soldiers who died are flashed on the backdrop, yet managing to present in tandem with this an upbeat element which gives a balance to the overall result.

How, indeed, could it be otherwise – despite the grim reality of the core subject matter – when you have a talented young ensemble cast that includes some excellent singers and dancers?   Songs that depict to a T both the era and mores of the time – from that of the title to familiar music hall song and dance numbers such as ‘I’ll Make A Man of You, ’ the foot-tapping ‘Row, Row, Row,’ and lump-in-the-throat ones such as ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ are memorable. Choreographer and nimble-footed dancer Richard Thomas has done sterling work here, as has Musical Director and on-stage pianist Lindsey Allen (despite grappling with a slightly out-of-tune piano.).

Change of mood is crucial and on the whole handled well, although occasionally erratic, as can happen on a small stage with minimal props. As the fighting escalates, military leaders thrash out the strategies of waging war, putting forward disastrous solutions that only prove them to be blindly oblivious to what is really going on, while the young soldiers who joined up with such youthful enthusiasm slowly come to realise that the “War games” are not at all what they expected.

As a sombre cloud hangs over Europe, the deafening noise of exploding shells brings a powerful sense of the grim reality of war.  Amid a number of poignant moments, the one that perhaps more than any tears at the heartstrings is Christmas Day in the trenches. The emotional impact of the sound of the German soldiers singing ‘Stille Nacht’ floating across No Man’s Land, followed by the exchange of gifts and fraternization between the two sides, is huge, giving rise – not surprisingly – to sniffs from some of the audience.

Focus of this production is, quite simply, to honour those who lost their lives while depicting the behind the scenes wheeler-dealing and obstinacy that resulted in such tragically large numbers of young men losing their lives.

In other words: War is a dirty business.

Runs until Saturday, November 15th, at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

 

Review Caitlin, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

catlin-02

 

Credit Warren Orchard

Choreography: Deborah Light, Eddie Ladd and Gwyn Emberton

Director: Deborah Light

Caitlin; Eddie Ladd

Dylan: Gwyn Emberton

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Rating: [3.5]

Based on the writing of Caitlin, the wife of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, this dance production tells of her life with the poet through the medium of a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous which she started to attend some twenty years after his death. Similar in style that of the one-woman show performed at the Sherman Theatre in 2003, it could equally have been named ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy.’

Caitlin’s recognition of the destruction wrought upon her life is portrayed in a series of dance moves, many of them violent in the extreme. In focussing on the turbulences of the Dylan marriage, director choreographer Deborah Light adheres closely to Caitlin’s own perception of her alcoholism and her life. The athleticism and technical skills of Eddie Ladd as Caitlin are showcased brilliantly, although there is a tendency to over- use of repetition, which can be tedious at times. One thinks of Ladd as a dancer but Light also allows her to speak, albeit briefly. Her speaking voice enthrals as much as her dance technique and makes a considerable contribution to Ladd’s characterisation. Her reiteration at intervals throughout that, while Dylan was a poet, “I could have been a dancer” adds poignancy to the overall projection of chaos, with dancers and furniture crashing around the stage for much of the time.

Ladd’s boundless energy is phenomenal, as is that of Gwyn Emberton, as Dylan. Many of Emberton’s dance moves require him to roll around the floor or balance precariously on a pyramid of stacked tubular and plastic chairs that teeter ominously. The said chairs are an integral part of the production, being used by the dancers use not only to represent actual objects – a baby’s pushchair, for instance – but also mood. There is no set, and these are the only props, barring a paperback book and four glasses of water with sweets in. Seated on some twenty chairs of the same ilk are the remainder of the cast (actually the audience), representing the members of the AA meeting which Caitlin is addressing.

In the year which marks the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth and the 60th anniversary of the iconic Under Milk Wood, it was inevitable that all aspects of his life would be explored in theatrical performances both nation and world-wide. His lifelong battle with alcoholism has been well documented; that of his wife Caitlin possibly less well so, In portraying this, and showing that while in some aspects it bound them together, Light’s production shows how eventually it destroyed not only their marriage but both of them.

Runs at Chapter for two more performance: Thursday October 30th at 6.30 and 8.30

Performances on Mon 3 + Tue 4 Nov at Volcano, The Iceland Building, 27-31 High Street, Swansea.