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Review Gaslight by Rhys Morgan

 

Gaslight by the local author Eloise Williams really appealed to me as soon as I heard about it, because although I’ve lived in Cardiff my entire life I had, up to that point, never read a novel which utilised this amazing city as its prime setting. I’m personally a big fan of novels set in dense urban cityscapes as I love the idea of the city itself becoming a character in its own right, almost like an overpowering monster that shapes and distorts the lives of the novel’s human inhabitants. And I wasn’t at all disappointed by Gaslight on this front; it managed to portray Cardiff as a city at once both beautiful and vile, whilst simultaneously offering a character-driven narrative replete with personal struggle.

 

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Eloise Williams

 

Set within and around the dingy backstreets of Victorian Cardiff, the plot of Gaslight centres on a young girl named Nansi and her desperate search for her mother who, as she’s been led to believe, abandoned her at a young age. Nansi has been taken in by a man named Sid, the owner of Cardiff’s Empire Theatre, who has provided her with a roof over her head in exchange for her working on the stage as well as performing burglaries for him. As the latter line of work may hint at, Sid is a rather villainous character, who treats Nansi and his other employees with complete contempt, and is only really concerned with profit and success, which are borne out of his own megalomaniacal derangements. However, Sid has made a promise to Nansi to help find her mother with the aid of a private detective once she has earned sufficient amounts of cash from her stage performances and burglaries, but, as you’ve probably already guessed, this offer isn’t quite what it seems on face value.

 

Gaslight really is an enjoyable read: it comprises short, sharp and clear sentences, but at the same time its use of local vernacular reminds you that it’s firmly situated within Cardiff, innit. This is only accentuated further with consistent references to Cardiff’s historic hallmarks, such as Temperance Town, Bute Park, Tiger Bay, and even the South Wales Echo. They’re all there! In addition, it weaves gritty descriptions of the city’s poorer classes into the narrative, for examples coal workers covered in black, thievery, murder, underage drinking and child homelessness. There are also some really nice descriptive metaphors within the prose; “[t]he dark is so thick you could chew it” and “[t]he silvery light makes the china-blue walls glacial”, for example, really stood out for me.

 

I found the character of Nansi to be a really endearing one; throughout the novel she faces many hardships, and there are times when it seems as if she’s hit rock bottom, but despite all of this, her determination and her willingness to do good for others never really leaves her. On the other hand (and without spoiling anything), I did find the final encounter (along with its plot twist) a little bit rushed; it seemed as if too many revelations were being presented all at once, and I thought these could have been spread more evenly throughout the novel. Moreover, I didn’t find myself all that convinced by the relationship between Nansi and her mother—it seemed a bit underwhelming and again, a bit rushed in terms of its writing.

 

Image result for eloise williams gaslight

Gaslight’s cover

 

Eloise Williams certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but she is drawing on that classic ‘coming-of-age’ format that will appeal to a lot of readers, particularly younger ones. Much like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I actually feel as if I would have enjoyed the novel more if I’d read it as a teenager, because I would have been able to identify with the central character a bit better, who is after all of that age herself. Overall, Gaslight is a solid novel which offers elements of comedy and tragedy in equal parts, and although it does have its flaws, it’s well written, entertaining, and very easy to read, so it’s probably worth your time.

 

By Rhys Morgan

Mae’r Flamboyant Bus Tour Wedi Derbyn Y Golau Gwyrdd Ar Gyfer Gŵyl Y Gwanwyn.

Mae’r Flamboyant Bus Tour Wedi Derbyn Y Golau Gwyrdd Ar Gyfer Gŵyl Y Gwanwyn.

Dim ond bws sydd angen arnynt yn awr. . . .

Mae’r 3rd Act Critics a Get The Chance yn falch i gyhoeddi y byddant yn trefnu Gŵyl y Gwanwyn a’r Flamboyant Bus Tour sy’n cael eu hariannu gan Age Cymru y Gwanwyn hwn!

Meddai Leslie R. Herman, Cynhyrchydd Y Digwyddiad a’r 3rd Act Critic, “Mae’r Flamboyant Bus Tour yn adeiladu ar lwyddiant y Salon Hot Tub ar gyfer Gwanwyn 2017. Rydym yn cael cryn lwyddiant ac yn cynhyrchu digwyddiadau sy’n herio’r hen ystrydebau wrth heneiddio. Dim ond bws sydd eisiau arnom yn awr!”

Bydd y cyllid ar gyfer Gwanwyn yn fan cychwyn i’r digwyddiad ond er mwyn mynd un cam ymhellach a rhoi’r digwyddiad gwych hwn ar y ffordd, bydd angen i ni ganfod mwy o gyllid er mwyn ariannu cost llogi bws awyr agored am rai oriau.

Dywedodd Emma Robinson, Swyddog Datblygu’r Celfyddydau a Chreadigrwydd ar gyfer Gwanwyn; “Rydym wrth ein bodd yn cefnogi’r prosiect hwn; rhywbeth sydd ychydig yn wahanol ac a fydd yn cwestiynu’r hyn yw heneiddio creadigol gan roi cyfle i unigolion fynegi eu hunain yn y ffordd y maent am wneud hynny. Mae Gwanwyn yn bodoli er mwyn dathlu henaint fel cyfle ar gyfer adnewyddiad, twf a chreadigrwydd a bydd y digwyddiad hwn yn gwneud hynny. Os allwch helpu, dewch i gyfranogi!”

Mae’r digwyddiad wedi’i ysbrydoli gan Flamboyant Bus Tour , The Advantages of Age yn Llundain, sef ei digwyddiad mwyaf llwyddiannus yn 2017. Denwyd sylw’r wasg a’r cyhoedd o weld grŵp mor lliwgar o unigolion, oll yn 50+ yn teithio drwy strydoedd Llundain.

Yn arwyddocaol, yr oedd y digwyddiad yn Llundain yn drobwynt ar gyfer Advantages of Age, nad oedd, hyd hynny wedi cael cyfle i ddod â’i aelodau at ei gilydd yn y fath fodd o’r blaen. Roedd y daith fws yn gymorth i aelodau gydnabod eu bod yn rhan o un gymuned. Yn ystod y daith fws, ffurfiwyd sawl cyfeillgarwch. Mae aelodau’n parhau i gynnal gweithgareddau poblogaidd sy’n dathlu’r gred ar y cyd y gall mwynhad ysbrydol gael ei fwynhau, beth bynnag yw’ch oedran!

Mae trefnwyr digwyddiadau The 3rd Act Critics a Get The Chance am roi cyfle i bobl hŷn yng Nghymru fynegi eu hunain yn eu ffyrdd unigryw eu hunain. Nod y Flamboyant Bus Tour yw bod yn hwyl, yn ystyrlon a chofiadwy. Bydd y bws yn teithio ynghanol dinas Caerdydd ar brynhawn Sadwrn ym mis Mai. Bydd yn teithio ar hyd llwybr penodol er mwyn sicrhau’r gwelededd mwyaf posibl a bydd cyfle i gyfranogwyr dynnu sylw atynt hwy eu hunain ar hyd y ffordd. Bydd y Flamboyant Bus Tour hefyd yn gyfle i herio naratif y cyfryngau ynghylch tyfu’n hŷn ac yn gwahodd cyfranogwyr i ymateb i’r cwestiwn – A yw Heneiddio’n Ffurf Gelfyddydol?

Mae’r 3rd Act Critics a Get The Chance yn rhan o’r rhwydwaith Spice Time Credits. Am bob awr y bydd unigolyn yn cyfrannu at ei gymuned neu i wasanaeth, bydd yn ennill un Credyd Amser. Gall Credydau Amser gael eu defnyddio i wneud gweithgaredd sy’n awr o hyd ac sy’n cael ei ddarparu gan amryw o bartneriaid corfforaethol a chymunedol.

Dywed Anne Marie Lawrence, Rheolwr Rhanbarthol Spice Time Credits De Ddwyrain Cymru; “Mae Spice Time Credits yn falch iawn o allu cefnogi’r Flamboyant Bus Tour ar y cyd â’n gwaith ar Heneiddio’n Egnïol gan ddathlu’r ymglymiad gwych y mae pobl hŷn yn eu gwneud i’n cymunedau ledled Cymru ”

Mae trefnwyr digwyddiadau The 3rd Act Critics a Get The Chance yn awyddus i gydweithio ar y prosiect hwn â sefydliadau sy’n cefnogi dinasyddion hŷn. Mae’r angen am gyllid ychwanegol a nawdd ar gyfer llogi bws yn gwbl hanfodol i lwyddiant y digwyddiad hwn. Apeliwn felly ar gwmnïau bysiau a gweithredwyr bysiau am eu nawdd caredig.

Am ragor o wybodaeth ac os oes gennych ddiddordeb i gefnogi’n gwaith, e-bostiwch Leslie Herman lrhjlrhj@gmail.com

The Flamboyant Bus Tour Gets The Green Light From Gwanwyn

Image Advantages of Age’s Fabulous and Flamboyant Bus Tour, London 2017

The Flamboyant Bus Tour Gets The Green Light From Gwanwyn

Now, they just need a bus…

The 3rd Act Critics and Get the Chance are pleased to announce that they will be organising the Gwanwyn Festival Age Cymru-funded Flamboyant Bus Tour this Spring!

3rd Act Critic and Event Producer, Leslie R. Herman, comments, “The Flamboyant Bus Tour builds on the success of our Hot Tub Salon for Gwanwyn in 2017. We are on a roll, producing creative events that challenge the clichés about aging. Now, we just need a bus!”

The funding from Gwanwyn will kickstart the event, but in order to go the extra mile and get this fabulous event on the road, funding to cover the hire-cost of an open-top bus for a few hours is needed.

Emma Robinson, Arts and Creativity Development Officer. Gwanwyn, comments:-

‘We’re delighted to support this project; something a little different that will pose the question of creative ageing and provide the opportunity for people to express themselves in the way they want to.  Gwanwyn exists to celebrate older age as a time of opportunity for renewal, growth and creativity and this event will provide exactly that: if you’re able to help, please do get involved!’

Image Advantages of Age’s Fabulous and Flamboyant Bus Tour, London 2017

The event is inspired by Advantages of Age’s Fabulous and Flamboyant Bus Tour in London, which proved to be their most successful event of 2017, and which drew attention from the media and the general public who were encouraged to see such a wonderfully colourful group of men and women aged 50+ as they travelled through the streets of London.

Significantly, the London event proved to be a turning point for Advantages of Age which, until then, had not had the opportunity to bring together their members in such a way. The bus tour helped members recognize that they were part of one community. During the bus tour friendships were formed. Members continue to hold popular activities that celebrate a collective belief that spirited enjoyment can be had at any age!

The 3rd Act Critics and Get the Chance event organizers want to give older people in Wales the opportunity to express themselves in their own unique way. The Flamboyant Bus Tour aims to be fun, meaningful and memorable. The bus will tour Cardiff City Centre on a Saturday afternoon in May. It will travel along a set route to ensure maximum visibility and participants will ‘strut their stuff’ along the way. The Flamboyant Bus Tour will also be an opportunity to challenge the media narrative about getting older, and invite participants to respond to the question, Is Ageing an Artform?

3rd Act Critics and Get the Chance are part of the Spice Time Credits network, for every hour that an individual contributes to their community or service, they earn one Time Credit. Time Credits can be spent accessing an hour of activity provided by a range of corporate and community partners.

Anne Marie Lawrence, Spice Time Credits, Regional Manager, South East Wales, comments, “Spice Time Credits are delighted to be supporting the Flamboyant Bus Tour in conjunction with our work on Active Ageing and celebrating the fantastic contribution that older people make to our communities all across Wales” 

The 3rd Act Critics and Get the Chance event organisers are keen to collaborate on this project with organisations that support older citizens. Vital to the success of the event is our need for additional funding and sponsorship to hire a bus, with a particular shout out to bus companies, coach operators for sponsorship in kind.

For more information and if you are interested in supporting our work, please email Leslie Herman, 3rd Act Critic and Event Producer lrhjlrhj@gmail.com

Review Black Panther by Jonathan Evans

“You don’t feel as real if you don’t see yourself reflected in the media. There’s something very powerful about seeing yourself represented.”

-Dwayne McDuffie

 

(4 / 5)

Black Panther is here to make up for lost time. It is not the first Superhero movie to have a black lead, that goes to Steel, but we are now ten years into these MARVEL cinematic movies and now they have enough capital and are allowed to explore other characters that are nonwhite people. It is here with a mission. It is here to give the spotlight to characters and actors that aren’t Caucasian, to represent black culture in both Africa and America and deliver a message of legacy while proceeding forward.

In Captain America: Civil War one of the standout characters was Black Panther himself. Chadwick Bowesman embodies this character with his physicality and majesty with how he walks into a room or a fight and owns everything. This is a time where monarchy is a tricky subject, I wont throw my opinions in here but I do believe he is an engaging likable character so if people are able to pin down their beliefs for the sake of the movie I believe they’ll be very appropriately entertained.

The country in Africa in which T’Challa reins is Wakanda. It is a city that has reached the pinnacles of modern technology. The buildings stand and pieces of modern art, shining bright underneath the sun and with high-speed trains that go from the skyline to the deep caves of the land itself.

The movie also comes with a generous colour pallet. Many different, vivid colours are onscreen making it visually stimulating. In Wakanda the sets have colder colours or blues and whites and a characters costume has yellows, reds or green to make them pop, it is an effective way to make the people and surroundings instantly identifiable.

Director Ryan Coogler has already built an impressive resume for himself. His directorial debut was the  poignant Fruitvale Station, then followed by the sublime Creed. So he is able to handle delicate moments of emotion and fight scenes. Something that I believe helps to sell the fight scenes is the sound, they have convincing punching sounds so when a punch or a kick lands you believe it. Coogler has made two very strong movies on a low scale and now he’s proven he can handle a blockbuster, this is a man with a promising career.

The cast is ninety percent black, being that most of it takes place in Africa this just seems like a logical move but we’ve seen studios whitewash stories that should include non-white people but they’ve found a way. I foresee people complaining about the filmmakers having an agenda and pushing it onto the audience, there have already been other examples of this. For that I say of course, yet if the cast was comprised of white men nobody would cry fowl, it is a case of people needing to rethink about representation.

Adding again the immersion of black culture in the movie is the soundtrack by Ludwig Goransson and Kendrick Lamar. Its fast paced and even spiritual at times, using Hip-Hop and African instrumentals which distinguishes itself from the other MARVEL movies as-well as most other blockbusters that come out.

This movie, like all the other ones, comes with a serving of jokes. Visual ones, one liners etc. I am fine with this because I believe that superheroes should be fun, they can be other things but if they’re not fun something has gone terribly wrong. But I do take issue with that T’Challa seems to have changed to someone that is much more chatty. When we saw him before he was the dry, stoic one, are these movies incapable of having longer sequences of silence?

Michael B. Jordan plays Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (yeah that’s a pretty on-the-nose name). He clearly has an agenda that will link him with T’Challa, the writing clearly tells us that he’s quite intelligent and Jordan brings his great physicality to the role where he is able to sleekly handle guns and perform hand-to-hand combat effortlessly making him a physical threat and the cherry on-top is his  tooth-filled grin that he has when walking into a fight, saying that he will take some malicious enjoyment out of this.

The plot holds a few surprises but none that will really shake you up during the experience. They do many clever things with the the technology and visuals and there are moments of laughter and the action is high concept but you also feel the impact. The movies true strength is in immersing itself in black culture and representing it before the mass audience.

Jonathan Evans

 

Review A Number by Caryl Churchill at The Other Room, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

A Number at The Other Room Cardiff

(3 / 5)

 

I have always struggled a little with the plays of Caryl Churchill and the Welsh premiere of A Number at The Other Room, Cardiff continues this trend. I find her admirable in her dramatic innovation but she never seems to engage me emotionally.

However, her reputation as one of Britain’s leading dramatists makes this presentation in Cardiff’s only pub theatre, a noteworthy event.

First performed at that bastion of post WW2 British theatre writing, The Royal Court, in its main auditorium in Chelsea, on 23 September 2002, this two-handed play, directed by Stephen Daldry, (whom many years ago I shared the experience of being locked out of the first act of a play at The Young Vic until the end of the first act – I think we must have been on the same Tube train!), starred Michael Gambon as the father Salter and Daniel Craig playing three of his sons.

The programme notes to production under review, describes the play as, “a fearless and affecting dissection of the relationship between father and son, A Number strikes at the heart of what it is to love unconditionally – and the tragic failure to connect”. Whilst this is true, I understand the play to be more about human identity, brought into moral and ethical questionability  through the instrument of cloning. A fundamental criticism of cloning is that it turns humans into commodities such as in this case, replacing a dead loved son. The cloned have a feeling of a lack of uniqueness inevitably resulting in a lack of identity.

The intellectual premise of the play is largely influenced by the philosophy of Ludwig Wittengenstein, whom the playwright has, in more recent times, returned to in her 2012 play Love and Information. Wittgenstein’s thesis is that a word, taken by itself, could have meaning without the existence of other  elements that determines its character. These entities, he states, may not be the same, but upon closer analysis can reveal a pattern of similarity, “a family resemblance”. Therefore, Wittgenstein allows us to speak in a meaningful way about things and people without reverting to essentialism – a belief that things have a set of characteristics which make them what they are, thereby providing the essence of Churchill’s  statement in A Number on identity.

The play is in five scenes, with the father Salter, a manipulative and deceitful man, and three of his cloned sons, all played by the same actor.

This production of  A Number is directed by  Ed Mannon and is performed by Brendon Charleson as the father Salter, and Stevie Raine as three of his sons.

Brendon Charleson

 

Stevie Raine

An enduring problem at The Other Room’s small space is set design. In the original production in the Royal Court’s main house, designer Ian MacNeil, (who together with Caryl Churchill won Evening Standard awards for this production), devised a blank set, a rectangular platform above the stage, devoid of decor other than two chairs and an table carrying an ashtray, thereby heightening the lack of context for Salter’s filial visitations.  For this production, designer Carl Davies, has designed a site-specific staging with a kind of thrust stage that runs the entire length of the space, bisecting the audience into two equal halfs facing one another in a semi theatre- in- the round way. This heightens the feeling of intimacy between the actors and the audience and works well. On the one end of the stage there is an easy armchair, with the entrance facing it at the opposite side.

Stage design

 

Brendon Charleson and Stevie Raines

Brendon Charleson, (who incidentally played in the first ever production at the Sherman Theatre), and comparative newcomer Stevie Raine do well in their roles, and their timing, (which is a very important part of Churchill’s writing style), was largely maintained.

The production is an admirable effort in introducing this important 21st century British dramatic  work to the Welsh public and deserves to play to good audiences, although, like me, you may come away feeling emotionally empty.

A Number runs at The Other Room, Cardiff until 3rd March 2018. For timings and tickets,  https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/otherroomtheatre

Duration: 1 hour without an interval.

Suitability: All (a few instances of persuasive language)

All photo credits Kiernan Cudlip

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

Breaking Out of the Box 4: ‘Wales: a Diverse Nation?’ by Emily Garside

The fourth ‘Breaking out of the Box’ symposium- a series of events to discuss the issue of diversity in Welsh Arts, took place at Theatre Clwyd on 16th February. Subtitled ‘Wales: a Diverse Nation?’ An access symposium’ the focus of the event centered on the question of how diverse are we, and what can we do to change things?

Opening the event was Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive, Arts Council Wales.  He spoke about the history of the Arts Council and Diversity- citing reports from as far back as the 90s into the issue.  He acknowledged the responsibility as  a publicly funded organisation towards diversity:

Capaldi also noted the need to do more to reach communities and the idea of ‘changing hearts and minds’. While this contribution from Arts Council Wales was welcome, and well intended it was let down by a lack of representation from the organisation throughout the day. The focus of the day around galvanising towards action, having an engaged representatives from the Development teams at ACW could really have helped the organisations present to make practical steps in their next projects towards diversity. We all know ACW funding is at the heart of the work made in Wales, and a level of practical support and real engagement on the day from the organisation would have made a huge difference to what could have been achieved. While Capaldi’s support was welcome, and his words supportive, it felt like a missed opportunity from ACW.

Following Capaldi, my own talk. Which focused on turning questions back on the audience to reflect on for the day.

Reflecting on the discussions already taking place, a call to keep talking and keep fighting through these issues

As hoped this provocation moved into an engaged discussion about the many areas that need addressing- from programming to the access needs of audiences.

Following a break we heard from Jamie Beddard, one of the UK’s leading disabled theatre practitioners,  Jamie talked through his experiences as a disabled performer.

Jamie’s experiences, and the video clips he showed of projects in England he’s been a part of showed that the sky literally is the limit for what can be achieved.

Jamie was part of a couple of amazing circus projects where disabled performers worked alongside able bodied performers with no  barriers or prejudice around what they were or weren’t expected to do. That this kind of work is possible can be an example for companies in Wales to aspire to.

Keen for the day to have some practical take-aways there were two workshops on accessibility led by Elise and Beth from Taking Flight Theatre Company. Elise took people through some simple steps to make a rehearsal room more inclusive, while Beth talked through making accessible marketing materials.

These practical elements were a really useful element of the day for the group-providing some tangible next steps that are relatively easy to incorporate and help slowly change the nature of diversity and accessibility.

Finally, the last two provocations of the day. Michele Taylor, Director for Change for Ramps on the Moon and critic Jafar Iqbal. Both proved to be a rousing call to action. Michele punctuated their talk with the repeated phrase ‘Seriously are we still talking about this?’ Sharing her frustration but also experience in creating active solutions through ‘Ramps on the Moon’ this was a non-nonsense call to get things done. And one which also called out well meaning sentiment with again, a call to concrete action.

Challenging all of us on everything from our choice of language to what we believe to be exclusivity Michele provoked passionate discussion about how we really enact change. There was also a clear desire from the room to mimic the ‘Ramps on the Moon’ initiative in Wales.

Finally Jafar Iqbal  talked about the lack of change we’re experiencing in Wales. Criticizing those at the top for a lack of action while others repeatedly shout for change.

Drawing on his own experience as a British Asian, Iqbal has often wondered if he’s in a room to ‘tick a box’ but is also conscious that he’s benefited from that in his career. And despite personally benefiting, being conscious that this approach isn’t good enough any more.

Acknowledging the recent controversies in Wales,  Iqbal talked about the need to change being felt across the sector, but a lack of action being taken. And actually giving us a fairly simple way to start solving these issues:

Further discussion in the room, following this final clear provocation was to that end- the time for talking (and social media debate) has passed and it’s time for action. The very clear notion however, was that this needs leadership. And that is something the movement for diversity in Wales is lacking. Not from those engaged in the arts, but from those organisations with the power and scope to be really influential in making change. And this remains a frustration.

Despite continued frustrations, it was a galvanizing and productive event. Connections between organisations developed during discussion and networking time and there seemed a real commitment to move forward from the event with a new sense of purpose.

Let’s hope that soon an event won’t be asking the question of Diversity in Wales but simply celebrating it instead.

The event was organised by Hynt, Creu Cymru and Taking Flight Theatre with support from Arts Council Wales. 

More information about Ramps on the Moon and the work they have done to date can be found on their website.

Emily Garside

Review The 15:17 To Paris by Kevin Johnson

In 2015 a lone terrorist boarded the train from Paris to Amsterdam carrying an AK-47, a pistol, 300 rounds of ammunition and a knife. Before he could do much damage he was tackled by several passengers, including three American friends on a European tour. This is the film based on that event.

First let me say that the incident itself was an amazing demonstration of the bravery of these passengers in attacking, unarmed, a Jihadist gunman. I am in awe of their courage.

Having said that, this film is incredibly bad.

There are pointers to a bad film: they open in January or early February, they’re usually about 90 mins long due to being edited down, and there are no press reviews before they open.

I knew all that beforehand, but I went in anyway. I’d now add a fourth pointer, if the film is based on a real incident and the characters are played by the ACTUAL people themselves and not actors.

The script is truly terrible, the mother of one of the heroes, upon being told by his teacher he may have ADD, replies ‘My God is bigger than your statistics!’, and that’s not even the worst line.

The narrative is all over the place, the three heroes lives are told in flashbacks that don’t advance the story, and the acting is really bad, apart from Veep’s Tony Hale as a gym teacher who seems to have wandered in from another film. A much better film.

The editing is all over the place, and the direction poor, except in the scenes showing the attack itself. What’s shocking is that the director is Clint Eastwood, who is much better than this.

I have never walked out of a film in my life (except for a Stallone film, but that was just to vomit) but I wanted to walk out of this after 10 minutes.

It’s bad, really bad, worst film not just of this year, but the last decade. I’m posting this review so that you won’t suffer, save yourselves, wait for it to come out on TV or Netflix and then don’t watch it. Trust me. Run away!!!”

Kevin Johnson

Review The Shape of Water by Jonathan Evans

 

(5 / 5)

 

The Shape of Water’s greatest accomplishment, beyond getting made, surpassing looking as great as it does on a mere nineteen and a half million dollar budget, exceeding it’s relevant themes of acceptance in this troubled time is it’s effectiveness in executing it’s truly bizarre premise that could so easily be ridiculous or plain weird. It most certainly succeeds in the other categories but the fact that it made a concept that if it was written down or told to you, you’d probably have to hold back a smile or may think about hitting the panic button.

Guillermo Del Toro has proven himself to be one of the great living filmmakers. His works are unique in concept, meticulously thought out and lovingly brought to life which makes all have elements of, if not entirely, masterpieces. What he does here is craft an adult fairy-tale by staying true to who he is and at the same time bravely treading unfamiliar ground.

The tale begins long ago in a place far far away (at least to some), the 1960’s in Baltimore. We see a room submerged in water and a voice tells us that they’re not even quite sure how to go about telling this story, seems appropriate. In the room floats a sleeping woman that wakes from her dream, she is Eliza Esponito, she is a cleaning woman in a government facility and is mute. She enjoys movies, music and lives her hum-drum life opposite her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) one day after another, until…

A water filled tank is wheeled into the facility, the water shifts and a noise can be heard from it, Eliza taps the glass and a webbed, clawed hand reaches out. What they have in there is a creature from the Amazon that is a hybrid of man and aqua creature. It was a struggle for Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) to get it there and he takes a noticeable bit of joy in taking a cattle prod to it. Eliza’s curiosity gets the better of her and she sees the specimen in it’s room. Where some would stay away or cower she offers it a boiled egg and when it roars she stays and looks at it directly.

Sally Hawkins has to be mute for the entirety of the movie, she does sign language which is accompanied with subtitles and sometimes has someone next to her to speak out what she’s signing. But the truest communication comes from her. Words couldnt due justice to the emotion she is able to convey through her eyes, a twitch/raising of the eyebrows and the un-comfort in the way she hides away. It is the truest mastery of the art of acting to convey all of the emotions her character goes through from fear, to humorous, to her heart breaking in-front of us.

The amphibian creature is one of the great monster creations that has ever been in a movie. It’s design is familiar if you’ve seen Creature From The Black Lagoon, or even Abe Sapien from Del Toro’s Hellboy, a humanoid with webbed joints and fins, but the detail that has gone into the painting and sculpture of it distinguishes it and elevates it to a masterpiece of a character. These days it would probably be an entirely C.G.I. but this is a practical creation of makeup and prosthetic’s (with a little C.G.I. to help). However, design and makeup can only take you so far, what truly brings it to life is the man underneath it all. Doug Jones has built his career on being under makeup and embodying all kinds of creatures. With this creature he has to be a curious child, a sad victim and a macho leading man. This marks the sixth time he has collaborate with Del Toro on a project and they are clearly one of the great actor director pairings.

Shannon is here as the tall, white, chiseled American man. If he was playing this role during the time it is based he would undoubtedly be the lead. Saving the poor helpless woman  from the terrifying foreign creature and serving as the ideal American specimen. However that idol was built on a lot a racism and narrow-minded Christian ideals of the time. So he is an exaggeration, though probably pretty accurate representation of what such a man would be like, racist, misogynistic and a narcissist to boot. He is the most absolutely detestable and frightening villain since Del Toro’s Captain Vidal in Pans Labyrinth.

Now for the part where it certainly becomes unconventional, the two begin to fall in love. Yes, most certainly a case of Beauty & The Beast. Unless every facet of the movie was on board and sincere to the premise then this would topple quickly and might just be regarded as one of the best shot absurd comedies. But through interactions and gestures we see two beings that are hated or unwanted from the world they find themselves in and by being together find they’re complete. The other characters certainly make a few moments about how this isn’t exactly normal, but when they see genuine love, who are they to deny it.

Alexandre Desplat composes a sweet, gracefully score that is infused in classic love songs of the time period. It is a warm score that played for that special someone that when you dance together, only the two of you work in that way. Also throughout are a few older gems that perfectly contextualize the theme and relationship.

Dividing the two perspectives are the two main colors of the movie, teal and red. Teal is coated throughout the facility and the cars and other pieces that are meant to represent the modern world, it is a new age and everyone is going crazy about the future. Red is used for romanticism and of course love. Like the clothes Eliza wears when she is so happy to be with the one that makes her feel complete, or the seats of the movie theater, a place she loves to go. Along with the rest are a plenty of other rich colors like amber, deep browns, cream and a few true blacks for contrast to make the image pop.

This, like La La Land and Baby Driver before it has love at it’s center. They area all movies that are about and were created through love. Movies that tell their tales about the pursuit and power of the greatest emotion we have and the three creators behind it that are so in love with movies themselves that pay homage to others that have inspired them but also make something entirely their own.

In the nineteen sixties in America they were all ready to head to that bright future, now we are living in it and an artist creates a work that shows the flaws in the past that at the same time highlight struggles we are dealing with now and has made something for all time. At it’s center is a tale about looking on something that others might cower at or hate but seeing the beauty and together love can overcome anything.

Jonathan Evans

 

Review The Sound of Music, New Theatre, Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

 

(4 / 5)

 

Everlastingly popular, and guaranteed to play to packed audiences – in the materialistic world in which we live the story of the tempestuous Maria, the young would-be nun who ends up marrying the naval commander Captain Von Trapp with a brood of children, is eternally popular. Not surprisingly, this Bill Kenwright touring production played to a packed house on opening night in Cardiff, despite Sound of Music having been staged here barely three years ago.

It is, course, the music which is largely responsible for making The Sound of Music unfailingly popular with both young and old: Songs such as The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music and the tear-jerking ‘Edelweiss’. Welsh soprano Megan Llewellyn’s powerful soprano is well suited to the Mother Abbess of the Abbey, capable of coping with a demanding part central to the story and the action. As for the nuns who form the choir – some wonderful singing although I would have preferred the show’s opening number The Nuns of the Nonnberg Abbey to have begun on a softer note.

Set in Salzburg at the end of the 1930s, with the rumblings of war closing in on Europe, the musical has its dark side, reminding us of the perils that faced those who did not agree with the Nazi regime when their country was overrun by the Germans. This element is projected in the dilemma facing the Captain and the danger he and his family face when he receives a so-called ‘invitation’ (in fact an order) to command a ship in the navy of the Reich.

Not easy for any actress to take on the role of Maria – Julie Andrews’ soaring soprano in the hit 1965 film is a hard act to follow. Lucy O’Byrne, who was runner up in BBC One’s The Voice in 2015 and appeared as Fantine in Les Miserables, was accorded rave reviews in the 2016 tour of Sound of Music. O’Byrne has a great voice and the seemingly boundless energy that the role demands, excelling in the musical numbers with the Von Trapp children.

Playing a central role in the story are those very children – and what a great band they are, from the ‘Sixteen, going on seventeen’ Liesl, played by Katie Shearman, to the smallest, Gretl. Which brings me to what stands out in this production – the choreography. Choreographer Bill Deamer has brought an added dimension to the role of Liesl with a balletic pas de deux danced exquisitely by Liesel and her pro-Nazi admirer Rolf Gruber, an edgy performance by Jordan Oliver.

As the naval Captain Von Trapp, Neil McDermott’s stiff upper-lip appears to preclude much in the way of facial expression, and at times he appears not altogether at ease in the role. It is not until Act II that McDermott’s strong baritone is heard to advantage in Edelweiss – a tear-jerker if ever there was one.

The cameo role of Max Detweiler, is tailor-made for Howard Samuel, who brings a touch of the Noel Coward to the role with a canny but warm-hearted Detweiler, unashamedly backing the winning side.

Gary McCann’s sets are in the most part faithful to the original, in particular the interiors of the Abbey and the Von Trapp mansion, although at times the hills between Austria and Switzerland are perhaps more reminiscent of, say, the Sierra Nevada.

Runs until Saturday February 17 at the New Theatre.

Book: Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse

Music: Richard Rodgers

Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II

Director: Martin Connor

Choreographer: Bill Deamer

Musical Director David Steadman

Barbara Michaels

 

Review Tosca, Welsh National Opera by Roger Barrington

photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

 

(4 / 5)

 

An opera in three acts by  Giacomo Puccini

Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa after the play by Victorien Sardou

Cast:

Floria Tosca – Claire Rutter (Soprano)
Mario Cavaradossi – Hector Sandoval (Tenor)
Baron Scarpia – Mark S. Doss (Bass-baritone)
Cesare Angelotti – Daniel Grice
Sacristan – Donald Maxwell
Spoletta – Michael Clifton-Thompson
Sciarrone – George Newton-Fitzgerald
Gaoler – Jack O’Kelly

WNO Orchestra conducted by Carlo Rizzi

Production:

Original director – Michael Blakemore
Revival director – Benjamin Davis
Designer – Ashley Martin-Davis

Michael Blakemore’s 1992 WNO’s Tosca is revived in a scintillating production currently at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

Tosca is probably the first example of verismo, the operatic movement that followed literature in its change from romanticism to realism, and in its more extreme form. naturalism.  The tale set in set in Rome in June 1800, with the Kingdom of Naples’s control of Rome threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. It depicts jealousy, abuse of power, murder and suicide.

The three principal characters are Tosca, a celebrated soprano opera singer, Cavaradossi a painter and her lover, and Scarpia, the chief of police  who lusts after the Diva. The story is fast paced and exciting with its inevitable tragic conclusion.

British soprano Claire Rutter manages to convey the prima donna character of Tosca to excellent effect. Sudden mood swings, demanding and flamboyant behaviour  comically shown when her lover Cavaradossi’s portrait of the Magdalene resembles an imaginated rival. Her rendition of Tosca’s aria “Vissi d’arte”, a lament to God for having repaid her cruelly for her good deeds, demanded your sympathy and compassion.

Mexican Hector Sandaval, (not to be confused with his compatriot, the martial arts exponent), possesses a highly cultivated tenor voice and this was shown to good effect during the climatic final act with Cavardossi’s famous aria, ”  E lucevan le stelle”.

American Mark S Doss amply displayed the sadistic nature of  Scarpia, although at the conclusion of Act 1 with the sublime Te Deum, he lacks the power of Bryn Terfel or the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the same role. Having said that, this is the highlight of the production with Doss backed up by the chorus largely made up of local schoolchildren.

The orchestra of the Welsh National Opera under the baton of Carlo Rizzi played beautifully throughout and added to the high quality of the singing significantly.

I would like to see the WNO  the next time they perform Tosca, having a new production as Blakemore’s twenty-six year old production, is getting a little long in the tooth.

Another small blemish was in the final scene where Tosca dramatically jumps to her death from the parapet of the Castel Sant’Angelo, her head momentarily reappears thereby defying the laws of gravity.

Should you be looking for an introduction to Grand Opera, then Tosca with its riveting story-line and fast pace provide the basis of an experience that can open a new world of high art.

Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes with 2 intervals.

It plays at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay until 20 February 2018 and tickets can be purchased here

End

Roger Barrington

Photos

 photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

 

 photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

Roger Barrington