Tag Archives: christmas show

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

(4 / 5)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

By: Lewis Carol

Adaption by Mike Kenney

Directed by: Rachel O’Riordan

(4 / 5)

 

Sherman’s Christmas shows are becoming one of my family’s staple events of the Christmas season. For the second year in a row, their main stage show has avoided an overly ‘Christmassy’ offering (last year’s production of ‘The Borrowers’ was one of our stand out shows from 2017) but despite this, they’ve still managed to inject a large dose of festive fun and frivolity in to the production.

Director Rachel O’Riordan has brought together an all-Welsh cast and it’s great to see some familiar faces who you may recognise from other stand-out productions from the last few years. Hannah McPake (who plays the Queen of Hearts) comes from the ‘Gagglebabble’ duo with Lucy Rivers, who also features in the show’s musical line up. Having seen both Wonderman and Sinners Club with Lucy and Hannah, you know you are in for an off-the-wall experience if they are involved.

I’d also recognised Elin Phillips as the Cheshire Cat/Caterpillar (who I saw in Tom Jones the Musical by Theatre Na n’Og), Alexandria Riley the March Hare/Tweedledum who was absolutely incredible in Fio’s production of The Mountaintop in Cardiff’s Other Room pub-theatre, Keiron Self (The Duchess) who also featured in last year’s Sherman Production of The Borrowers along with the hyperactively hilarious White Rabbit Joseph Tweedale.

It’s a familiar cast, but as an ensemble and with the innocence of Alice, played by relative newcomer Elian West, they had wonderful energy and chemistry. I was also glad to see Callum Davies’ debut as the Doormouse, having joined the cast through the Sherman Players and as one of the Sherman’s apprentice actors. It’s great to see new talent being supported by Sherman – and Callum was adorable as the mouse!

Firstly, mad props to designer Hayley Grindle and her team, who created a stunning chequerboard set, which was dazzling and disorientating at the same time! The intimacy of the space in Sherman creates such a lovely, cosy atmosphere and the set and props were clever and creative (the baby pig, the trap doors, the table legs, the ticking clocks, the tiny doors at the end of the corridor, the teacups, mushrooms and roses).

Writer Mike Kinney added his own flair to the show, which did not chain itself to the original book or Disney movie visuals, but found its own voice.

A Duchess with a valleys accent, Tweedledee and Tweedledum with broad Newport accents and a flavour of the Welsh language peppered in dialogue exchanges and songs brought a similar kind of relevance and familiarity that Christmas Panto-goers will know and love.

Having been a life-long fan of valleys Pantomime Dame Frank Vickery who sadly passed away this year, it was lovely to see Keiron Self mimicking the same kind of high-camp, neurotic valleys Mam vibe which always hits home with me!

The littlies in the audience also loved the huge presence and scary-as-hell crazy eyes of Hannah McPake as the Queen of Hearts. Francois Pandolfo’s turn as the hen-pecked, simpering and anxious King was simply brilliant. I hadn’t expected the show to include musical numbers and it added another rich layer to this lovely production, with the cast ensemble vocals (particularly in the ‘Alice’ intro song and refrain) so sweet-sounding and warming.

Another standout song which children will love (and you’ll see them mimicking it in the foyer afterwards, no doubt) was a song about Alice’s baby sister (who it turns out has a head of a pig). It’s possible you may also have the ‘Wah wah wah…’ song in your head for the rest of the evening.

I had two ‘mini-critics’ of my own with me, age 9 – and they are typically the harshest of critics and don’t pull any punches. What were their final thoughts?

“Why did Alice not have blonde hair?!” said one of the littlies, who was completely exasperated with this minor detail. I explained this was a theatre show – not a ruddy Disney movie. Things always change on stage.

“Still – everyone knows Alice has blonde hair…also, I thought the Wah Wah Wah song went on for ages.”

Riiiiiiiiiight – so what would your marks out of five be, I asked them both – dreading the answer.

“I’d give it 3.5 stars.” Mini Critic 2 said.

Sheesh! What about Mini Critic 1?

“Definitely a 4.5 – I thought the singing was lovely and they were really funny.”

Jeez, maybe the Queen of Hearts was right about kids! I also couldn’t believe that these two did not share my enthusiasm for the Jam tarts which the Sherman had so thoughtfully provided for their guests on opening night.

“Look kids – JAM TARTS…WOWWWWW!” It doesn’t take a lot to get me excited, I admit.

“Meh…don’t like Jam Tarts.”

I tried threatening them that if the Queen of Hearts heard their comments, she’d have their heads off but….

Kids today! You can lead them to a finely tuned production of Alice, but you can’t make them eat the Jam Tarts or get over the fact that Alice didn’t have blonde hair.

Ultimately though – we all agreed this was a great little show, which got us feeling very excited indeed for Christmas (oh, and I still have the Wah Wah Wah song circling my head!).

Go see it – you won’t regret it!