Tag Archives: fringe theatre

REVIEW: Five Green Bottles at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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 space offers.

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 tone.

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.

Five Green Bottles at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
9th – 13th April 2019
Written by Joe Wiltshire-Smith
Co-writer: Kirsty Phillips
Directed by Becca Lidstone
Starring:
Angharad Berrow
Aly Cruickshank
Olivia Martin
Tobias Weatherburn
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

REVIEW: BOTTOM at The other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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

Review: Camp Be Yourself at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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 way.

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.

Camp Be 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

REVIEW: SEE-THROUGH at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

See-Through is an amusing exploration of Claire Gaydon, a 29-year-old, Drama school graduate, “giving it a go” on the old YouTube. A semi auto-biographical play about boundaries online, oversharing and the relationship between a mother and daughter.

The play opens with Claire Gaydon singing ‘Gimme More’ by Britney Spears, (an excellent song choice), before she sits down, back to the audience and presents herself through a screen.

Early on, Gaydon establishes her character and tells us this is a true story with a few fabrications. The character finds her voice and begins establishing her channel. Starting out with generic challenges and funny videos with her mother. The more she shares, the quicker we learn that other content will get more views.

In particular, content where Claire overshares with titles such as “Sex and Weed”. The more she overshares, the more she knocks down the boundaries between her and the audience. Eventually, Gaydon goes too far and shares a very personal experience. Something she hasn’t even told her mother, who subsequently finds out through the video. This forces Claire to re-evaluate and reflect on her YouTube experience.

The performance from Claire Gaydon is strong. It’s obviously a personal piece, but one she is critical and self-aware about in her performance. Gaydon obviously enjoys the funnier moments of the script, but it is the more serious ones where her performance is strongest.

The writing is witty and amusing but doesn’t hold back on personal details of the character. Despite seeing the majority of the performance via a screen, we get to “see-through” to the emotion of the character behind the screen. This is something we don’t get in real world YouTube which works really well and is a really nice concept.

A worry going in was that the play would trivialise YouTube a bit, but it doesn’t do this. Another worry was that the use of technology would take away from the intimacy of the play. But if anything, it allows us to get even closer to the character. Gaydon just has fun with it and through a good use of technology delivers an interesting piece both in terms of its content and presentation.

There are moments that could be cut a little. Moments that drag, especially near the start, where Claire researches YouTube – which ultimately serves as a quick introduction to audience members who are not so familiar with the platform. We learn a little about the character through this, but really not enough for the opening minutes. This is, however, carried well by humour and is the only real blip in the production, and one which is ultimately understandable.

See-Through is not the most plot-heavy play, but its strength isn’t in the plot. There is a story that jumps around in terms of timeline, revealed through the screen chronologically. But this is more of a character-based piece which peaks as we eventually go behind the screen and see Claire writing a letter to her mother.

A real strength of the play is that it could go down with any age-group. Anyone “older” who is put off by the mention of YouTube really needn’t be. It’s objectively funny and enjoyable as well as having a deeper message and a story to tell which will resonate with almost anyone in some way.

The message is subtle and well crafted, which is a testament to the writing and performance of Claire Gaydon. It’s intimacy and excellent character work will have you thinking about it long after the production is over.

See-Through is a humorous, intimate and emotive play that explores the character behind the screen of an aspiring YouTuber.

See-Through 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.

SEE THROUGH performed at The Other Room
21st – 24th February 2019
Created, performed and presented by Claire Gaydon
Associate Directors: Jaz Woodcock-Stewart and Grace Gibson
Music by James Jacob
Video Editing Support: Joseph Brett
Stage Manager: Ben Lyon

REVIEW: Laurie Black: SPACE CADETTE at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Laurie Black is sick of humankind and decides to take us on her journey to be the first woman on the moon. A contemporary cabaret show that showcases Black’s musical and comedy abilities through her quirky, green alter-ego (who might not be an alter-ego).

Black takes us on her journey escaping Earth and encountering David Bowie’s alien spaceship (yes) before landing on the moon. The journey, which takes three-days but feels like an hour, is a fairly simple one as far as plot goes but exists to give context and thematic links to the main event of comedy and music.

Black’s music is a varied mix of genre that, for the most part, has a somewhat futuristic feel. She exploits the sounds of synths, piano and a small drum machine well on stage. But, it is Black’s enthralling voice which captures the audience the most. Not relying solely on her voice however, Black is also a great songwriter using witty pop culture references, the occasional political statement and comedic wordplay.

Mostly original music, there are some covers of popular songs in Space Cadette. Starman by David Bowie stands out as a strong point where the audience are encouraged to sing along with the “la, la, la”s. There are also covers of Radiohead, Muse and Leonard Cohen as well as a funny reference to The Proclaimers.

The comedy and storytelling that comes between the songs was usually good. Nothing to make you belly-laugh, but enough to keep you interested. It is fair to say also, that the comedy suffered due to the low turnout on the night. Some jokes are sleepers which will have you chuckling two-hours after the show as you walk home in the rain – which Black correctly predicts.

The stage set-up is simple. For the most part it’s just a microphone stand and a piano. This worried me at first, but as the show goes on, it isn’t an issue as Black keeps the attention on her. Except for one moment when she gets out her mini-moon that she passes around the audience.

There’s a lot of frustration in the show that gets channelled into humour and songs. On Black’s journey to the moon, we see further into her persona and whilst the outer-shell is hard, by the end we can tell she secretly loves us. There’s no particular agenda to the piece but an overriding theme of frustration at the current state of the world.

Space Cadette is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over the next eight weeks. Tickets can be found for Space Cadette and other Spring Fringe shows HERE, with an ever-growing discount for the more shows you book. If you can’t make the show, but like the sound of Laurie Black, you can find her music on most streaming services online.

Space Cadette is an enchanting, funny cabaret show from Adelaide Fringe 2018 winner, Laurie Black. An exploration to the moon that has so much to say about Earth.

SPACE CADETTE at The Other Room, Cardiff
5th February – 8th February 2019
Created and performed by Laurie Black
Technician: Garrin Clarke

‘Street’ and ‘Izzy’s Manifestos’ from Spilt Milk by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Spilt Milk’s double bill of Street by Susan Monkton and Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones (23/10 – 26/10 2018) is their second production of the year, having staged the impressive Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith at the Cardiff Fringe in May. Along with various scratch nights, the company are a busy one, offering various opportunities for Cardiff’s creative scene.

And this double bill showcases exactly that. A work-in-progress piece from emerging writer and actor Susan Monkton, as well as a more polished piece from Kevin Jones.

The evening starts as any Spilt Milk night would, with a warm welcome at the door and an invitation to the bar, where lovely Kate and Leo from AJ’s Coffee House will serve you. The setting of AJ’s is intimate, cosy and always makes for a nice evening of theatre, this being no different.

Street by Susan Monkton 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Street is only Susan Monkton’s second piece of writing that she has shared with the public, and with it being a work-in-progress, that has been taken into account for the review.

The play follows a young woman, Laura (portrayed by Ella Maxwell), as she walks home from a one night stand, only to be met with a bomb explosion on City Road in Cardiff. She tends to the wounds of Sammy, a young boy, before fleeing the scene. This causes guilt in her mind to circle, until a knock at the door from a police officer assures her that the boy is okay, and that she’s done nothing wrong. The opposite in fact, she is “my hero” in Sammy’s words.

Overall, it feels as though the writer has found a topic, but not really explored in depth the character or the situation. The point of the play, why the story needed to be told by this character and the writer’s aims aren’t really clear.

The police officer scene is fairly awkward, in part because the officer speaks over the sound system as a voice-over. But it also feels unrealistic for the officer to show up, bring her pair of shoes and comfort her.

Aspects like Sammy being revealed as a refugee is a detail that feels thrown in, unnecessary and really takes characterisation away from him. Almost to ramp up the tragedy, but ends up falling into the trope of white heroinism.

The setting of City Road is a multicultural area of Cardiff and in the national discussion of refugees and terrorism, it is impossible to get away from the topic of Islam. The connotations of these aspects of the play really need looking into as combined with the white heroism, it creates a potentially problematic play.

A play that focuses on the victims and tragedy of the situation could have more responsibility in considering the connotations of the setting, characterisation and main themes.

The opening monologue about Laura’s night out is a bit odd in contrast to the rest of the piece. However, it does portray Laura as someone ultimately not ready to be a hero. That continues to be a big theme throughout the play, but a theme that makes the protagonist fairly passive. Things happen to her rather than because of her actions.

There are some really strong moments of humour early in the play, which is definitely a strong area of Monkton’s writing having seen her previous work. There is also strong characterisation for Laura and some really emotional writing. The script shows real promise but it requires work and needs to be more careful in certain areas.

Ella Maxwell does an excellent job in portraying Laura, really throwing herself into the script, bringing out the humour when appropriate, but also handling the more emotional parts of the play really well also.

Street is directed with real care from Becca Lidstone with close attention to detail. Paced well with key points in the script really standing out. No doubt that some of Maxwell’s excellent work is down to this direction, not to take any credit away.

There were moments where sound effects used felt awkward which Lidstone and sound designer Nick Laws could work on. They seemed to be chucked in and rather than adding to the scene, distracted somewhat.

Overall it is worth going to see to give feedback on the script and for Ella Maxwell’s great performance. But certainly a play that needs work.

Street by Susan Monkton
Cast: Ella Maxwell as Laura
Directed by: Becca Lidstone
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones was initially performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. However, has been developed and brought back as a brand-new production by Spilt Milk.

The play follows a young girl called Izzy, who, after her father’s death when she is fourteen, creates manifestos by which she lives her life. It is an unpredictable, hilarious, yet potentially heart-breaking piece of theatre.

I say potentially, as the script certainly doesn’t live up to it’s high potential. That’s not to say it’s not of a high quality. It is really funny and a strong piece of theatre. However, it ends abruptly and leaves you wanting more.

Before the play starts, Angharad Berrow goes around the room, in character, telling people that the play was about to start. This along with Berrow’s energy sets the tone for the play which moves very quickly, jumping from stage to stage of Izzy’s life.

Izzy is witty, excited, evil and brilliantly portrayed by Angharad Berrow. Not afraid to break the fourth wall, which works well as there are planned and unplanned examples of this, all of which Berrow handles very well.

The piece is well directed by Luke Hereford and despite lack of emotion in the character, Hereford finds other ways of displaying what is under the surface of the character. In particular, manipulating tone and pace to good effect. This really shows what a promising director he really is.

The main issue here comes in that there seems something missing at the end. Some emotion. Izzy spends the whole play (and previous years of her life) ignoring her father’s death and not grieving. When she finally lets herself think of her father, which she admits to the audience, there doesn’t seem to be a consequence of this. The story seems focused on Izzy reaching that point – but not on what that might mean for her moving forward. The ending is generally rushed and seems unfinished.

It’s hard to say exactly what it needs, but it needs some more care and to show more emotion in the conclusion. Just as the play feels like it’s getting somewhere, it finishes.

It was the only major issue with the play, but it was the difference between four and five stars. Other than that, it is a really enjoyable piece of theatre on all fronts and definitely worth seeing.

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones
Cast: Angharad Berrow as Izzy
Directed by Luke Hereford
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott