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An interview with Artist Jeannie Clarke

Hi Jeannie, so what got you interested in the arts?

I have been drawing and painting ever since I was a child – and I went to a Grammar school where the only subject I excelled in was Art – so it was inevitable that I would go on to try to make a career in the Arts somehow!!

You are fairly new to drawing and painting contemporary dance, can you tell us more about your work in this area?

For a time my professional work was centred around racehorses – As a child I was obsessed with drawing and painting them and especially the way they moved. I have always been interested in the human figure too – not particularly portraiture but the figure itself, especially in movement.

Only a year ago I was invited to a National Dance Company Wales, Open Rehearsal in London where the company were rehearsing for a show that night – that was my introduction into seeing dancers at work and I have been trying to capture my response ever since!

How has your relationship with National Dance Company Wales developed?

Well, I think I am hooked! Since that first encounter with the dancers I have worked almost exclusively on studying the way they “work”, whether they are resting or rehearsing and have been fortunate to be able to come to Cardiff and spend some days with them in the studio sketching and photographing and in particular I am building up a body of work depicting their production of “Rygbi” which I hope to exhibit next year, fingers crossed…The dancers themselves are hugely enthusiastic and supportive of what I do and are genuinely intrigued to see what I produce. As for me, I am completely in awe of what they do – obviously!!

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for artists?

Hm… for artists? I haven’t personally hit any barriers in that sphere. I was a teacher in mainstream education many years ago before I left to pursue a career in commercial art. but I am sure that my own involvement with the art world has placed me in a bubble which has shielded me from exposure to barriers and I am sure they DO exist.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?

For some years after I left mainstream art teaching, I worked with children and young adults who had special needs and varying disabilities (as they were then called)… Our art and creativity sessions were a joy! Hugely beneficial but hugely underfunded and undervalued and certainly would get money!!

What excites you about the arts ?

Wow, where to start!……how much space have I got?….Lets put creativity, in whatever form, back into peoples lives! … Its transformative and life enriching…..

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

You mean apart from watching the dancers from National Dance Company Wales almost flying across the stage so beautifully and bringing me to tears……it don’t get much better than that!    

National Dance Company Wales are touring Roots to venues across Wales this autumn.

Mold Theatr Clwyd Thursday 7 November 2019, 19:45 BOOK

Friday 8 November 2019, 19:45 BOOK

Cardiff Dance HouseTuesday 12 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Wednesday 13 November 2019, 13:00 BOOK

Wednesday 13 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Thursday 14 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Blackwood Miners Institute Tuesday 19 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Ystradgynlais The WelfareThursday 21 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Narberth The Queens Hall Friday 22 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Aberdyfi Neuadd Dyfi Sunday 24 November 2019, 19:30 01654767251

Caernarfon Galeri Tuesday 26 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK

Pwllheli Neuadd Dwyfor Wednesday 27 November 2019, 19:30BOOK

REVIEW Curtains (UK Tour), New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

From the creators of Chicago and Cabaret, Curtains marks John Kander and Fred Ebb’s third musical with a one-word title that starts with the letter ‘C’ – and also the third jewel in a storied career that has graced us with some of the best musical theatre in history. Curtains features a starry, multi-talented cast, an enthralling mystery and simply some of the best theatre I have had the pleasure of watching in quite some time.

Originating in the US with David Hyde Pierce in the lead, this version is directed by Paul Foster, and written by Rupert Holmes, based on the original concept/book by Peter Stone. Drawing on the fourth wall-breaking, metatextual mischief of Kiss Me, Kate and The Producers, Curtains is set in late 1950s Boston and centres on the beleaguered cast and crew of the Broadway-bound Robbin’ Hood of the Old West (basically Robin Hood meets Oklahoma, a hilariously bizarre mix). When their lustre-lacking leading lady is murdered onstage on opening night, it’s up to detective Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford) to root out the true culprit – that is, if he’s not too busy turning his dreams of theatrical stardom into a reality.

Curtains The Musical ©The Other Richard

Though the mystery keeps you guessing right up until the end, it’s a show that’s more ‘musical’ than ‘whodunnit’, but that’s no bad thing when you have an ensemble as tremendously gifted as this one. The sheer power of the assembled cast is on full display in thrilling numbers like the captivatingly extravagant ‘In the Same Boat’, the chillingly operatic ‘The Woman’s Dead’, and the hilariously effervescent ‘He/She/They Did It’ (in which the company’s collective paranoia imagines each character to be the culprit in turn). Every single person is a triple threat and a triple delight, whether it’s gloriously hamming up their pleas of innocence or pizzazz-ing the hell out of a showstopping number. But it’s Jason Manford’s leading performance that anchors the show, and further proves his West End mettle after lauded turns in Guys and Dolls, The Producers and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

‘It’s curtains for you, pal!’ is something that Cioffi might be used to saying in his day job, but it also hints at his secret desire to become one of the ‘Show People’ who appear to be the prime suspects. His wish to waive the workaday in exchange for a life in the arts might remind you of one Leopold Bloom (a role Manford has played in the past) – but he’s far from The Producers’ mousy neurotic. Manford brings a Jimmy Stewart-esque everyman quality to this role and continues to impress as an all-round performer, with his characteristic comic timing, killer vocals and some terrific moves – even though the cast also boasts Strictly Come Dancing champ Ore Oduba, it’s Manford who gets the showpiece dance sequence!

Curtains The Musical ©The Other Richard

As songwriter Aaron Fox, Oduba is a revelation here, imbuing his character with classic elegance and Clark Gable charm. We already knew from his 2014 Strictly win that he could dance, but I was surprised and delighted to find out how wonderfully he could sing too! It’s a shame that (other than as part of the chorus line) he doesn’t get a showcase dance scene – but he melds excellently with the ensemble, and his songs (including the melancholy ‘I Miss the Music’) are some of the loveliest in the show. His chemistry with Carley Stenson’s Georgia Hendricks (Fox’s songwriting partner/wife) is fantastic, and Stenson is superb in the role – having already earned her West End stripes in a multitude of hits including Legally Blonde, Les Miserables, Shrek and Spamalot, Stenson rocks some of the show’s most exciting numbers, especially act one closer ‘Thataway!’

If that’s not already enough, there are also masterful turns by the brilliant Leah Barbara West as rising ingénue Niki Harris (who, on the strength of this performance, is surely destined for the role of Christine Daaé in the not-too-distant future), and Samuel Holmes as hilariously haughty director Christopher Belling, who lays claim to some of the finest sarcasm this side of Dr Perry Cox. But it’s Rebecca Lock as Carmen Bernstein, the delectably brusque producer of Robbin’ Hood, who truly steals the show every time she’s onstage. Lock is a powerhouse in the role, breathtakingly charismatic and possessing the timeless quality and sheer presence of theatre greats like Dolores Gray and Ethel Merman, especially in her magnificent solo number ‘It’s a Business’.

Curtains The Musical ©The Other Richard

This whole production is a creative marvel, gorgeously crafted from top to bottom. David Woodhead’s lavish sets are a spectacle in themselves, none more breath-taking than a striking evocation of the theatre rafters that you simply have to experience for yourself. The vibrant orchestra is incredible; a beautiful reminder that there is nothing quite like live music. Gabriella Slade’s costumes are utterly magnificent (the sheer amount of material in the ‘Kansasland’ dresses deserves an award – the way they move!), and Alistair David’s thrilling, innovative choreography evokes the joyous, pin-point precision of classic movie musicals – Frank/Niki’s love duet (‘A Tough Act to Follow’) on the stairs is pure Singin’ in the Rain, and the ‘Kansasland’ sequence is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers perfection; I, personally, can give no higher praise. It hasn’t aged well in some aspects – there’s a dance/song sequence featuring a Native American character that feels inappropriate (especially as she is portrayed by a white actress), and Bambi (Emma Caffrey) is kind of over-sexualised for laughs, so the script could do with a little updating in those respects.

It’s rare to see such a thoroughly brilliant and beautifully devised show of this calibre outside of Broadway or the West End, but Curtains ticks all the boxes. It’s a self-aware love letter to musical theatre that ribs the genre for its tropes and celebrates it for its virtues. Ultimately, the show isn’t interested in what the critics think – it views them in much the same way as M. Night Shyamalan circa Lady in the Water, but when they’re as deliciously snobby as resident killjoy Daryl Grady (Adam Rhys-Charles), who can blame them? – because what it truly cares about is entertaining its audience. With a classic feel and a show-stopping quality in every scene and song, it’s clear the curtain won’t be dropping on this superlative production for a very long time indeed.

Curtains is playing at the New Theatre, Cardiff this week before storming its way through the UK through next year. A genuinely unmissable treat.

Review Macbeth, Watermill Ensemble by eva marloes

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Watermill Ensemble’s Macbeth is a rock ‘n roll and sexy production that finds favour with its public. Under the direction of Paul Hart, Shakespeare’s plays are given a cinematic flair and engaging performances. 

Macbeth, played competently by Billy Postlethwaite, enters the scene in combat uniform and blood on his face. The military setting gives a sense of comradery, aggression, and manliness. This makes more convincing Hart’s casting according to character rather than gender.  

The production moves away from the military world to plunge Macbeth into the criminal underworld. Macbeth’s castle is a seedy hotel. The neon sign ‘hotel’ leaves out the letters O and T to spell H—EL. In the style of a mafia boss, Macbeth hands out money from a bag to professional killers to get Banquo murdered. Accordingly, Lady Macbeth is the femme fatale of a mafia boss. Reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface without her grace, Lady Macbeth dons a red jumpsuit dress. The witches are in overly stretched mini dresses that conjures a brothel rather than ghosts. 

The jazzy music juxtaposed to the murder of Banquo is effective and striking. Music is protagonist in Hart’s productions. It creates the scene and provides commentary on the action. Sadly, not all the cast have the powerful voices of Billy Postlethwaite and Emma Barclay, here playing Lady Macduff. The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black lacks the necessary grit. 

Postlethwaite is a rough and tough army man. He has an animalesque energy. He is intense and captivating, but the tone of the production lacks subtlety making the soliloquies of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth a parenthesis in a Hollywood thriller. They are lustful, not sensual. They are all speaking verse comfortably but the excessive agitation puts the focus on action rather than atmosphere and meaning. 

Like Hart’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth gets stripped of Shakespeare. There is no tension between Macbeth’s murderous ambition and his guilt. Macbeth is blood-soaked from beginning to end. There is no discernible change or conflict, only a crescendo of paranoia. Emma McDonald is convincing as Lady Macbeth, but the supposedly sexy lingerie turns the tragedy into farce. Alas, for all its sound and fury, Hart’s Macbeth signifies nothing. 

Billy Postlethwaite – interviewed by eva marloes

I catch Billy Postlethwaite before he goes to rehearsals for a quick chat over the phone. He is playing Macbeth in Paul Hart’s production at the New Theatre, Cardiff. I ask him whether compassion plays a role in approaching a character like Macbeth. 

‘Everybody should have compassion and kindness, no matter who you are. In life, I try to do my best. In relation to Macbeth, he is someone who loses sight of those attributes while trying to gain something that he thinks he wants.’ 

It is hard if not impossible to identify with Macbeth, so how does an actor interpret the role? 

‘I look for the humanity in everybody I suppose. No one is inherently villain, so you try to work out what their motive is for doing what they are doing. People do villainous acts but they are not inherently evil. For Macbeth, it comes from a place of love, love for Lady Macbeth, for her, for what they have done together, for what they have lost. He is also a very ambitious human being. 

Postlethwaite tells me that he can recognise the love for another person and wanting to make that person happy as a driving force. He tries to ‘amplify’ emotions in his portrayal of Macbeth while making him a rounded human being. What distinguishes Macbeth is how love and ambition get twisted. 

‘Macbeth’s love for his wife and thirst for power are a powerful concoction of energy that he puts in murdering people. … That energy gets twisted.’ 

Postlethwaite’s interpretation of Macbeth is certainly energetic and intense. He tells me Macbeth is very draining. It is very physical. That physicality, in his voice as well as his bodily agility, gives Postlethwaite remarkable presence on stage. 

Billy Postlethwaite can currently be seen in Macbeth at the New Theatre, Cardiff,

https://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what’s-on/ws-macbeth/

Review A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watermill Ensemble, New Theatre by Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

The Watermill Ensemble’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an injection of fun, warmth, and colour. It triumphed at New Theatre with some in the audience giving a standing ovation. Loud and fabulous, it is the perfect production for all ages.  

All the cast give solid performances. Emma Barclay is wonderful as Bottom. Her voice stands out not only in power but in agility. The play’s eroticism is here blunt and humorous. This production aims to please and it does. It sparkles when it uses songs, such as I Put A Spell On You and Blue Moon, cabaret lights to frame the scene, and a contemporary ironic touch. The cast succeed in being funny without being caricatural.  

For all the fun, however, this take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream leaves Shakespeare out of the picture. The depth of the play is left untouched. I would have liked at least a nod to the plays’ darkness and symbolism. 

With A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we enter a world of doubles and illusion. The play within a play and the intermingling world of fairies and humans function as a house of mirrors that at once distorts reality and gives a truer picture of it. 

Sleep, the brother of death in Greek mythology, is used to access another reality, or, in post-Freudian terms, to travel deeper into our consciousness. The play is set in Athens, symbol of rationality, and in the woods, wild and dark. The rational day of humans is disrupted by the irrational night of the fairies.  

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is often disturbing in the imposition of patriarchal order, in the loss of autonomy of humans but also of Titania, Queen of the fairies, who is made into having sex with an ass. It is tragic and comic. It conjures a dream world that grants humans the ability to see beyond, to transcend themselves. The hero is Bottom, the holy fool who goes through a quasi-mystical experience.  

‘I have had a dream, past the wit of man to
say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go 
about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there 
is no man can tell what. Methought I was,—and 
methought I had,—but man is but a patched fool, if 
he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye 
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not 
seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue 
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream 
was.’ (Act IV, 1)

REVIEW Watermill Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

The Watermill Theatre’s tour stops in Cardiff this week with a double bill of polar-opposite Shakespeare plays on alternate nights: Macbeth, which will be playing on Wednesday, Thursday (matinee) and Saturday, and its tonal opposite, A Midsummer Night’s Dream which will be playing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (matinee). I was delighted to see the performance of the latter, and to experience how Watermill – whose past triumphs include The Wipers Times, Crazy for You andMurder for Two – reconceptualised one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The creative team is brilliant across the board, and even though the pacing can be a bit uneven at times, the infectious energy of the cast, Paul Hart’s direction and the excellent second act more than makes up for it, with the ten actor-musicians gamely switching roles, instruments and costumes. Relocating the drama to Edwardian times maintains the original’s frenetic sense of fun, even if the period doesn’t add a huge amount to the original Athenian setting. (I wonder if it would have worked even better if set in the modern day, as with their staging of Macbeth).

Katie Lias’ production design beautifully shifts from dilapidated Edwardian theatre to the neon-lit faerie realm, aided by Tom White’s ethereal lighting. The music is worth the price of admission alone, with the cast performing gorgeous renditions of classic songs like ‘Cupid, Draw Back Your Bow’, ‘Blue Moon’, and ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’. (Yes, the song choice can be a bit on the nose, but it works – trust me). The harmonies are delicious, especially in the haunting performance of Laura Mvula’s ‘Sing to the Moon’, the culmination of this ensemble’s considerable skill – and the show’s major moment of pure magic.

Our central lovestruck quartet – Lysander (Billy Postlethwaite), Hermia (Lucy Keirl), Helena (Robyn Sinclair) and Demetrius (Mike Slader) – are fairly thinly-drawn on the page, so your investment in their plight relies almost entirely on the actors’ charisma. Luckily, the four are more than up to the task, especially when Puck’s meddling turns their romantic squabbling up to eleven – coming to a crescendo with Hermia/Helena’s quippy sparring and the hysterical ‘macho-off’ between Lysander and Demetrius (the way they treat a bit of playground-style shoving as the most violently masculine mode of attack is maybe my favourite moment in the whole play – think ‘Agony’ from Into the Woods).

Postlethwaite gives easily the best performance in a brilliant ensemble. Effortlessly charming and captivating from the moment he saunters onstage, his Lysander is dynamic and compelling; his physicality pitched (at least from where I was sitting) somewhere between Kylo Ren and Kevin Kline in his prime. He makes the archaic dialogue sound natural and contemporary, and there’s a spark to his delivery that isn’t present elsewhere in the show. On the basis of his work here, his turn as Macbeth is sure to be mesmerising.

The lively chemistry between the main quartet carries them through wave after wave of romantic contrivances. Robyn Sinclair is a standout in every musical number, but her excellent artistry is undercut slightly by poor costume choices and overwrought affection for the rather insipid Demetrius. While Hermia and Helena are perpetually thankless roles, Sinclair and Keirl approach their perennially-perplexed paramours with panache. (Hermia for example insults Helena’s ‘beanpole’ frame despite the fact that the actresses are the same height. It’s a small but conspicuous issue which demonstrates that performing the play as writ doesn’t always work).

The closest the play comes to exploring the contentious gender politics at its core is to genderswap a few characters – notably Puck (Molly Chesworth) and Bottom (Emma Barclay), both of which had potential but were undercut either by performance/direction or connotation. As to the first, Molly Chesworth isn’t quite as mercurial or mischievous as the Puck character needs to be (although her ‘stroppy toddler’ scene is a high point). And although Emma Barclay shines as an entertainingly imperious Bottom (the puns are inevitable when discussing this character), her casting means that we are invited to laugh at the prospect of a romance between the only same-sex couple in the show – and when the spells are broken, the heteronormative status quo is reset across the board. I do think the show’s heart is in the right place, but I think it would have been more subversive to gender-swap one of the main quartet of lovers instead.

In other casting quirks, the actors playing Theseus and Hippolyta traditionally double up as Oberon and Titania – but while Emma McDonald impressively plays both Queens, the roles of Theseus and Oberon are played by different actors here, which doesn’t entirely work. Offue Okegbe’s Theseus is a wonderfully commanding presence, although they added a subtle bit of pre-marital strife between him and Hippolyta that goes nowhere (and reverses their loved-up vibe from the original play); but Jamie Satterthwaite’s Oberon is less convincing. Satterthwaite doesn’t quite bring the same regal elegance as Emma McDonald’s enchanting Titania, and his subpar outfit looks like a Halloween costume next to her elfin haute couture.

Although a tad drawn-out, the show ends on a perfect note thanks to the ramshackle players’ (un)intentionally inept version of Pyramus and Thisbe, and the hilariously but earnestly incompetent luvvies wouldn’t seem out of place in Waiting for Guffman or Barry. The machinations of the fey court might be frequently more interesting than the bickering beaus (you can’t really beat top hat and tails-wearing faerie courtiers singing Nina Simone) – but if what we have witnessed here is, as Puck warns, just a dream, then it’s a very good one indeed.

Review Peggys Song, National Theatre Wales by Kevin Johnson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Danny Walkman, a radio DJ at St Bevans Hospital, loves music so much he can’t conceive of someone not having a favourite track, then after one of his shows he meets Peggy, an elderly patient with no time for music or Danny either. Can he solve her cryptic clues and find out which one is Peggy’s song?

Written by Katherine Chandler as part of National Theatre Wales NHS at 70 festival in 2018, this play is insightful, funny, sad and downright charming. It explores with compassion the relationship between a caring but careless Danny, still in mourning for his father, and the tough, hard-bitten Peggy, who only cares for custard creams. Other characters are given more than just a simple sketching, so that they surround the piece, creating more depth.

Phil Clark’s direction broadens the production out from Danny’s mixing desk and chair, helping the audience visualise hospital wards, houses, even a memorial garden.

But at the heart of this monologue is Christian Patterson, who ties it all together and brings it to life, giving each character their own voice. His Danny is saved from being a stereotypical DJ, all form and no substance, by the suggestion of layers behind the cheery persona. This is a man on the edge of a breakdown, trying to come to terms with his father’s death, the possible senility of his father’s friend who works in the hospital, Peggy’s illness and his own precarious future.

At just over an hour, this play doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it packs more into its short running time than a lot of full-length ones. Peggy’s Song is more than worth an hour of your time, and as well as the warm humour, you may well come away with a few things to think about. I know I did, and I’ll treasure for a long time the sight of Christian Patterson dancing with a Bugs Bunny doll.

The production is currently on tour and can be seen at the venues below.

Blackwood Miners Institute – 8 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Torch Theatre, Milford Haven – 9 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Ffwrnes, Llanelli – 10 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Lyric, Carmarthen – 11 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Review The Cunning little vixen, WNO by Eva marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen takes us into a magic and yet very real world of humans and animals seeking love. Mischief, irony, and melancholy are mixed in all the right doses. David Pountney’s production is full of spirit, excellent performances, an ironic libretto, and beautiful costumes to please all audiences. It is the perfect production to introduce children to opera.  

Janáček’s cinematic musical score, with a touch of Debussy, takes into a fantasy world where humans and animals are all at pains to find love. The Cunning Little Vixen is a fable on the cycle of life, yet it is no mere rustic idyll. It is infused with a sweet melancholia. The Forester, the Parson, the Schoolmaster, and the Poacher, all sigh for their lost youth and long-gone love. It is that youthful love that is now a dream, of which the Forester is reminded by the Vixen. Her mischievous provocations bring back that thirst for life and freedom.  

Aoife Miskelly, as the Vixen, excels in balancing the Vixen’s mischief, sweetness, and liveliness. Her crystalline voice combines beautifully with the seductive one of Lucia Cervoni, as the Fox, making for stunning duets. Claudio Otelli, as the Forester, gives a solid and skilful performance. Peter Van Hulle, as the Schoolmaster, and David Stout, as the Poacher, entertain and charm. The sober bass of Wojtek Gierlach, as the Parson, adds the right amount of melancholy. 

The revised version of the libretto by Jiří Zahrádka adds irony to the mix. The Little Vixen is a union leader and a feminist seeking to arouse the exploited hens against the patriarchal cock by appealing to their sense of sisterhood. She is a socialist revolutionary overthrowing the ‘lazy fat cat’ of a badger to get herself a home. The political nods, which may seem out of place in a fable about nature, are so well scripted to flow naturally. It is this irony that carries this opera into the 21st century. It could not be more topical.   

The production is currently on tour , further information can be found at the links below.

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

  • Fri 11 Oct7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£14 – £50Book

Theatre Royal Plymouth

  • Thu 17 Oct7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£15 – £54Book

Venue Cymru, Llandudno

  • Thu 31 Oct7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£17 – £45Book

Birmingham Hippodrome

  • Thu 7 Nov7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£22 – £56Where applicable, a 6% transaction charge may apply (excl. cash sales in person)Book

New Theatre Oxford

  • Thu 21 Nov7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£13 – £53Plus £3.65 ATG transaction feeBook

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

  • Thu 28 Nov7.30pmIncludes free pre-performance talkBook in advance alongside your tickets£16 – £52Book

Series Review, Pili Pala, S4C by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

It is a rare but pleasant site to see North Wales used as the setting for TV drama. The mountains of Snowdonia offered a bleak and stunning backdrop to last year’s hit Hidden. Now, it is Conwy’s green and rugged coast that provides the scenery for Pili Pala. Translated as ‘Butterfly’, this four-part series stars Sian-Reese Williams as Sara Morris, senior consultant in a Fetal Medicine Department. When she agrees to take on her pregnant friend Elin (Fflur Medi Owen) as a patient, it is against the advice of colleagues. Their concern appears to be warranted when it becomes clear that there is a problem with her baby’s growth, resulting in both Sara and Elin facing some difficult decisions that will have significant repercussions.

Sian Reese-Williams (Sara)

Pila Pala may be a slow burner, but it is worth sticking with it. Unlike Keeping Faith, where the drama unfolds out of extraordinary circumstances, here it gradually builds out of the ordinary, the everyday. The first episode may feel slightly pedestrian in pace and tone. However, as the characters make choices in the various moments of their daily lives, it is the consequences that come with them that make this a progressively engaging narrative. In particular, I appreciated the writer Phil Rowlands’ exploration of the personal and professional blurring, on both an ethical and human level, and the interactions, pressures and problems that arise as a result.

It is just a shame that his story was restricted to a mini-series. Its steady build-up of tension and the strains and stresses that are placed on the characters lead to so many different and fascinating strands being produced. Yet they all feel as if they are required to suddenly be tied up in the final episode. Reese-Williams’ performance was beginning to show signs of Eve Myles-like frustration with the situation that her character finds herself in. Instead of being given the space and time to fully explore the ramifications and resultant emotions however, it appeared that (production? budget?) constraints cut short what should have ideally been a 6-8 episode run. It warranted as much. The characters certainly had so much more to give.

Fflur Medi Owen (Elin)

Despite its all-too-brief stint, Pili Pala achieves much. It deals with what might be considered a controversial issue with unashamed ease. It is unafraid to show and explore the impact of high-risk decisions on individuals and their relationships. Sian Reese-Williams is as composed and accomplished as ever. It is refreshing to see Owen Arwyn (Jac) occupy a more sensitive role than the ‘hard man’ we are used to seeing him play. Fflur Medi Owen brings a wealth of nuance and subtlety to Elin. There is certainly nothing wrong with the performances here, only that they haven’t been allowed to flex their acting muscles to their full potential. The momentum that was crafted so brilliantly through the first three episodes seemed to come unstuck in the fourth. Perhaps a second series would solve this. I’m unsure. But S4C must be commended for continuing to invest in original drama. Pili Pala is not a disappointment by any means.

Click here to watch the full series.

gareth

Review Rigoletto WNO by eva marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Welsh National Opera’s Rigoletto is gripping, moving, and topical. The soprano Marina Monzo’ triumphs as Gilda in a production with sophisticated performances, notably that of tenor David Junghoon Kim, supported by a vibrant orchestra, and powerful chorus.  

Set in Washington D.C., James Macdonald’s Rigoletto is perfect for the Trump and #MeToo era. The outside events and news make this production topical. The Duke of Mantua is here a womanizer President, decidedly more charming than Trump, but just as likely to treat women as things to take for one’s own pleasure. Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered in Venice’s La Fenice in 1851 although it was set in 16th century Mantua so that it could get the placuit of the censors.  

Rigoletto reflects a male world where men own women. It is not just the Duke who imposes his will, or better, caprice, on women, but also Rigoletto, who keeps his daughter, Gilda, effectively captive in order to protect her from the Duke and any other men. Yet, Gilda, at first a young girl who never leaves home apart from going to church, becomes herself by falling in love with the Duke and by dying in his place to save his life.  

By today’s standards, this is still a rather misogynistic view of womanhood and of purity. It reminds one of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Ubervilles (1891). Tess is purified by her sacrifice. Women exercise agency only by falling in love and dying for love. They live and die in function of another, the independent-minded need not apply. Carmen is a useful contrast in this case (also part of WNO’s repertoire). She affirms her independence and of course is killed for it, but at least she doesn’t die for somebody else. 

Mark S Ross as Rigoletto shines in some parts more than others, but gives a solid performance overall. David Junghoon Kim shows he is very much at home with Verdi. His powerful voice delivers La donna e’ mobile with great sophistication and his acting is convincing. It is Marina Monzo’, as Gilda, who steals the show with her dexterity and purity of voice. The WNO’s chorus is impressive and the orchestra, conducted by Alexander Joel, gives out a beautiful intensity that befits by Verdi’s music. 

Rigoletto represents the begging of Verdi’s mature phase. It broke free from previous rigid structures of arias separate from the action. It is still suspenseful and bold. That is why the constant interruptions from the Cardiff audience, far too keen to applaud as soon as a singer completes an aria, are completely out of place. This state of affairs, which plagues most operas, shows little appreciation of how much music relies on silence and how disrespectful it is to interrupt a scene. At Rigoletto, the audience fought the orchestra and stopped the singers, who patiently waited to continue the scene. This production was worth bearing with such irksome practice.