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Review You’ve Got Dragons, Taking Flight Theatre Company by Ysella Fish

You’ve got Dragons is a short, one act play targeted towards families and young children. Based on the book of the same title by Kathryn Cave, it follows Benjamina’s (Axelina Heagney) journey to come to terms with her dragons.

Despite a fairly slow start, this gave plenty of time to admire not only the chalkboard-effect set, designed by Stacey-Jo Atkinson but also the original music composed by Dan Lawrence which was still soft enough to allow chatting among the audience.

As the performance started, the introductions of Chloe Clarke and Hermon Berhane as the dragons caused gasps to come from the audience although humour was quickly created again through ‘old man dragon’s’ farting, which had many giggles coming from the audience.

Not only was Benjamina’s relationship with her dragon developed but her relationship with her father (James William Ward, who successfully played multiple roles) was too. The scene with Ben refusing to go to sleep was probably familiar to the many parents in the audience.

Having seen previous Taking Flight performances, I was interested in seeing how they created an accessible show while ensuring it was simple enough for children to follow. And they have delivered! Young children were clearly considered by Director Elise Davidson in all aspects of the performance, the caption boxes often use colourful pictures in place of long paragraphs of text while BSL and audio description were interwoven so well that they felt like an integral part of the story rather than being a distraction.

The performance is also often highly visual, creating many beautiful moments such as the postman where the cast used ribbons to create an image of a bike, while also adding audience interaction to make the children feel fully involved in Ben’s story.

Overall, the performance clearly highlighted for me how naturally Taking Flight have succeeding in creating an inclusive performance for children while still managing to make it enjoyable for all ages.

http://www.takingflighttheatre.co.uk

 

Grantchester & the rise of the TV vicar by Gareth Williams

As Grantchester prepares to get underway with its third series on ITV, I felt it would be a good time to reflect on the recent surge in clerical figures appearing on our television screens. Whether in comedy, drama, or documentary, the rise of the TV vicar is very exciting on a personal level. But it does intrigue me that, in this supposed age of secularism in Britain, such men and women of faith are coming to the forefront of British television. They are no longer the bit part players, given only a ceremonial role in soap marriages and funeral services. Instead, TV writers, directors and producers seem to be open to the idea that these men and women of the cloth can actually lead a show. They have entrusted them as protagonists. Praise the Lord!

Any doubts that may have surfaced in the early days of this “revival” must now be put to bed. Gone are the days where the religious output of the BBC was a mere half-hour every Sunday for Songs of Praise, and the obligatory documentary to mark the Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter. Don’t get me wrong, these still exist. Most recently, Fern Britton took a trip to Jerusalem to recount the story of Jesus in Fern Britton’s Holy Land Journey. Moreover, they still have a place within the television schedules. I think the evolution of Songs of Praise to include modern and contemporary Christian music, alongside congregations belting out 19th Century hymns, reveals something of this show’s continued relevance to its watching audience. But the representation of Christians on television is now moving beyond these niche slots to feature in other, more populist, areas of the TV landscape.

Nowhere is this more evident than Sunday nights. It is perhaps apt that the traditional day of worship for Christians should also be the time when two of the biggest contemporary dramas are broadcast, both featuring clerical characters. As mentioned earlier, Grantchester begins its third series on Sunday at 9pm, having previously been broadcast on Mondays (Series 1) and Wednesdays (Series 2), again in a primetime 9pm slot. Who would have thought that a show featuring an Anglican vicar as its protagonist would regularly pull in 6 million viewers? Yes, it taps into the current popularity of murder mystery dramas. But it is not afraid to take seriously the vocation of James Norton’s character. It deals with issues of faith in a very open and unabashed way. The Revd Sidney Chambers is not perfect, and the character himself never claims to be. He wrestles with the conflict and dilemmas that emerge from his faith, sometimes overcoming them and sometimes not. Here is a man who does not think he is better than us (the traditional stereotype of TV satire) but a man who is like us. This empathetic portrayal, I believe, is one of the reasons why the TV vicar is becoming increasingly visible on our screens.

The other big Sunday night draw is the ever-popular Call the Midwife. Broadcast on Sundays since its inception, it remains the highest-rating drama on British television since the turn of the century. And at its heart is a group of Anglican nuns. Writer Heidi Thomas has created such a wonderful drama full of real human stories. Yet she does not shy away from treating the nuns’ faith with the same care and attention as the episodic story arcs of one-off characters. The sisters receive just as much dramatic attention as the nurses that work alongside them, as does the resident vicar Tom Hereward (played by Jack Ashton). There are numerous examples of these faith-filled storylines and, like in Grantchester, the conflicts and desires at the heart of these characters are explored with such depth of care and attention that one cannot fail to empathise with them. As a result, we can begin to understand and take faith more seriously. It is no longer a weird, ancient pastime but lived experience, a legitimate (and complicated) part of a person’s identity.

These are just two examples of the increasing presence of clerical characters on our TV screens. They are by no means alone in the growing pantheon of shows featuring a clerical protagonist. Others include: Welsh-language drama Parch (featuring a female cleric), US fantasy drama Preacher, Sky Atlantic’s The Young Pope (with Jude Law), and BBC daytime series Father Brown. But if you think this list of dramatic representations means the death of the vicar in TV comedy, think again. Recent series such as This Country (BBC3) and Hospital People (BBC1) remind us that they still have a place within the sitcom genre. They can still be figures of fun, much like anyone else. But the sitcom is no longer the only place we find them.

After years of unpleasant stereotyping, in which they have been satirically lambasted, played as figures of ridicule, and been a pointless but necessary figurine at weddings and funerals, it seems that the TV vicar finally has the opportunity to tell their own story. Since the arrival of Rev, the floodgates have opened to allow the small screen cleric some actual and proper screen time. This can only be a good thing, particularly in an increasingly secular culture that views faith with suspicion. So here’s to the rising prominence of Christian clerics on television. May the positive portrayals continue, and may other faith groups follow. (And I raise a glass of whisky – Sidney’s favourite tipple – rather than the stereotypical sherry as I say that.)

Review Sister Act, WMC by Eloise Stingemore

 

5 Stars5 / 5

 

The smash hit musical production returned to the Centre with director and choreograph Craig Revel Horwood from Strictly Come Dancing at the helm. Who gave this tried and tested production that has gone through various permutations since the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film a real musical heart.

Sister Act tells the hilarious story of Deloris Van Cartier, a sassy nightclub singer in 1977/78 in need of witness protection after witnessing a murder. Deloris is hidden in the one place she won’t be found – a convent! Forced to wear a habit, and eat nothing but mutton, Deloris clashes with Mother Superior and begins to lead her fellow sisters astray, until she finds her calling in teaching them to sing.

Alexandra Burke really shines in the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier, each witty line or facial expression is delivered to perfection. However, it is when she opens her mouth to sing, we’re reminded of why audiences voted for her in there millions during 2008 X Factor. Burke’s voice never falters; her dancing is wonderfully expressive and comedic, it is her ability to make her audience laugh while ensuring their feet never stop tapping, makes her truly sensational as Deloris.

This show contains a fabulous group of musicians, who, instead of playing in the orchestra pit, take the role of various characters such as the trumpet playing Mother Superior played by Karen Mann. Who along with Burke are truly at the heart of this warm, funny and entertaining production but they are by no means the only ones. The whole cast displays a great deal of energy and enthusiasm and present as though they are loving life when signing Alan Menken original musical numbers including ‘Raise Your Voice,’ ‘Take Me to Heaven,’  and the show-stopping finale ‘Spread the Love Around.’

 From the first moment to the big finale, the show is wonderful. A perfect lead in Burke, a great cast as well as a superb script and songs have been combined perfectly by the director into perhaps the best show to grace the stage of the Centre in a long time.

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/DonaldGordonTheatre/SisterAct/

 

BSL, Subtitled Video review, You’ve Got Dragons by Taking Flight Theatre Company performed at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff reviewed by Steph Back.

A BSL subtitled video review of You’ve Got Dragons by Taking Flight Theatre Company performed at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff reviewed by Steph Back.

Production information

“A delightful tale of one child’s journey to come to terms with their dragons, told in Taking Flight’s unique style. With toe-tapping music, this highly visual, sensitive production is a humorous and touching exploration of the ‘dragons’ we all face.
A fully accessible intergenerational show featuring creative captioning, BSL and audio description it is a treat for all the family … and remember ‘no dragon is more powerful than YOU’!”

Review Jason and the Argonauts by Asha Singh

Are the ancient Greek gods really ever on the side of humans – or is it all just a game to them? That question is the motor for this brightly modern take on the Jason myth for children.

In the Blackwood Miner’s Institute/RCT Theatres production, written by Mark Williams.  One of the oldest myths of a hero’s quest, Jason’s is a classic story of adventure and derring-do. Jason is an ordinary human in a world bursting with gods, monsters and superheroes. Assembling a team of mighty Argonauts, he takes the fabulous ship Argo on the ultimate adventure – the quest for the Golden Fleece. But no quest is easy. Along the way, the crew meets crazy kings, horrific Harpies, sinister Siren and the skeleton army of the Earthborn Dead. Does Jason have what it takes to be a hero, and bring the Golden Fleece back to Iolcus?

The company of four play a multitude of roles. Jason (Gareth Warren) starts off as the least likely hero in town; but naturally his plucky quest comes with a wholesome message – once he realises that, no matter what the gods say, and that it is better to look after your friends than be an all-conquering hero, Jason actually does find his own bravery. It helps that a rebellious, kick ass goth named Medea (Catherine Morris) also lends a hand. Hercules (Tomos James particularly is mercurial in whizzing between larger-than-life characters. In addition a whimsical Orpheus (Oliver Wood) encapsulate the audience and keep them entertained.

All four performers have an engaging warmth, and the music of the show also helps carry it. The four piece musically perform throughout the show; squalling and growling as though they were mythical beings playing the drums and electric guitar. A set of colourful ladders lightly hints at a ship’s rigging, but overall it’s not noticeably nautical – still, you can’t fault their energy and ambition in attempting to create an ocean-crossing epic with so little props.

Jason & The Argonauts is a thrilling theatrical experience full of hope, heart and humour for the whole family.

www.jasonandtheargonauts.co.uk

 

 

Review The Boss Baby by Jonathan Evans

4 Stars4 / 5

 

When you are a child everything is so much more dramatic and threatening, especially when you look back on it. What was maybe a small argument escalates into an epic battle, what was most likely a chase around the garden is a fierce race. The Boss Baby understands this concept and uses to tell it’s story in the most entertaining way.

A man named Timothy (Tobey McGuire) tells a story about how when he was young (now played by Miles Christopher Bakshi) he lived with his mother (Lisa Kudrow) and father (Jimmy Kimmel). He was very imaginative and was encouraged to use his imagination to play games of adventure. All is happy, but one day a taxi pulls-up outside his house and a baby exits, wearing a suit, sunglasses and carrying a briefcase.

Alec Baldwin as the baby is so appropriately cast against type. As a serious veteran actor he’s not the first name that comes to mind when you think of sweet baby. Though this isn’t his first time in animation, he’s given his voice to Cats & Dogs, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Madagascar 2 and Rise of the Guardians. He has a greatly distinctive, gravely voice that of course doesn’t work for a baby, that’s why it works, it makes the whole thing so much more absurd and funny. But also in terms of his performance he is able to be sharp and cynical, petty and bouncy. For the baby body itself, it obviously has greater maneuverability than a real baby would but stays true to the stubby proportions that real babies do.

This isn’t the first movie to have the plot of a new child coming along, the first ones that come to my mind are The Rugrats Movie and Look Who’s Talking (you could also interpret that as the plot of Toy Story, but that’s irrelevant). The point is how well it tells it’s story. This is fun, enjoyable with all it’s over-the-top acting, situations and reactions, engaging for the eyes with the energetic and colorful animation, all of it will have you smiling. The filmmakers have very effectively put themselves back in the position of a seven year old. Where they can see things and interpret them in their own logic. They also inject things for the adults but smooth it down enough so the young-lings will laugh too.

Through Tim’s imagination we are able to see many visual variations on-screen. Some are more expressionistic and stylized but they all have the vivid colors and clean lines that make it all clear and accessible for all the ages.

One thing I do question is the conflict with the baby. Sure adults will be able to tell that this is stylized fantasy, but how the young children will take it and then treat their siblings is a bit more of an iffy subject.

The animation, character designs and backgrounds are all smooth and simple. The eye’s are large and round with not much detail in terns of facial features and the animators use this to create large, clear expressions that make the characters thoughts and reactions easily understandable.

I was genuinely surprised how accessible and likable this movie was. There is a great understanding of the workings of a child but also a focused goal on telling a story with a message that playtime is probably more fun with a playmate. It will more than entertain the young children with it’s silly names, comedic timing and stimulating colors and the adults will see a well crafted story and genuine sentiment. The phrase “Fun for the whole family” gets tossed around a lot, but this one really is.

Review Scarlett at Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

3 Stars3 / 5

 

There is much to love in Scarlett. This one act play is short and sweet. Yet don’t think it lacks depth. It tackles issues of identity, family and death in a very humorous and conversational way. Part of its appeal lies in the relationships between the three generations of women onstage – protagonist Scarlett, her daughter Lydia, and her overbearing mother Bette. Scarlett is having some kind of midlife crisis. Or is it? Whatever her reasons, she has decided to travel from London to rural Wales in search of a new place to live. The small stage represents a patch of Welsh countryside, on which sit two rocks and a dilapidated stone building. This building appears to be the perfect place for Scarlett (played by Kate Ashfield) to start a new life for herself. This is in spite of local landowner Eria (Lynn Hunter) insisting it’s a chapel, and Lydia and Bette referring to it as nothing more than a shed.

Writer Colette Kane uses these differences of opinion to create a very witty, sometimes poignant, script. The dialogue is often rapid. The characterisation is scarily familiar. I could see elements of my own family in all three generations of women, yet this only added to the humour. Joanna Bacon is superb as Scarlett’s demanding and self-righteous mother. There is a fierce outer shell yet an inner vulnerability to Lydia which Bethan Cullinane manages to balance effortlessly well. As for Scarlett herself, Ashfield has landed a strong and empowering role. She commands the stage, not imperiously, but simply by embodying the character so well. There is no doubt that this effervescent and strong-willed woman is the central figure in a play that is not afraid to speak plainly about sex, status and self-worth from a wholly-female perspective.

Kane’s script can be very subtle in its character arcs. I say this because the characters can feel fully formed when we first meet them, yet over the course of the play, there is a change in their outlook and perspective. This is not always obvious. Sometimes, the change is too subtle. When the lights came up and the cast took their bows, I admit that I was slightly surprised. I was expecting an interval, to stay with these characters beyond 75 minutes. It is testament to Kane that they became so familiar and likeable, yet I couldn’t help feeling that there was more of their story to tell. As a result, I left feeling slightly dissatisfied: not what I wanted to feel.

Scarlett is a play hardwired in reality. It deals with identity and relationships in a very unassuming, conversational way. I don’t think it’s a standout production, but it certainly feels relevant. It may be short and sweet, but it has a lot to say about life, love and loss.

SCARLETT

Review National Theatre Live: Twelfth Night by Danielle O’Shea

4 Stars4 / 5

 

Twelfth Night is Shakespeare’s classical comedy about love, gender and things not always being as they seem. This story became all the more poignant considering recent discussions of gender and sexuality.

In his pre-show interview, Director Simon Godwin described his interpretation as being a comedy wrought with pain and this was evident throughout. Despite the humour which trails through almost every scene, it is undeniable that each character has their own pain – whether this be due to grief or unrequited love – and Godwin made sure not to shy away from this pain but instead to embrace it. The emphasis on character was drawn even stronger by the minimalist settings which centred around a staircase that was manipulated from scene to scene from boat to church to club and so on.

Each member of the cast was incredible and their passion for their role was palpable however two stood out for me. Tamsin Greig as Malvolia presented a stunning portrayal of the stern turned vulnerable steward who every member of the audience empathised with whether it be from her assumed romantic triumph to downfall. In addition, Daniel Rigby forced the character of Sir Andrew Aguecheek into the spotlight with an absolutely hilarious performance that left everyone in tears.

Overall, it was a marvellous experience which was incredibly inclusive in its staging leaving little room for those unfamiliar to Shakespeare to go astray. In Godwin’s interpretation, the political and social connotations of the show were celebrated which encouraged conversation both onstage and off that had previously gone unmentioned. Altogether, it was a show that united both audience and cast in spellbinding switch-up of the classic.

National Theatre Live: Twelfth Night

Gwyn Hall, Neath

April 6th 2017

Running time: 3 hrs 10 mins

Author: William Shakespeare

Director: Simon Godwin

Design: Soutra Gilmour (Designer), James Farncombe (Lighting Designer), Shelley Maxwell (Movement Director), Michael Bruce (Music), Christopher Shutt (Sound Designer), Jeannette Nelson (Company Voice Work), Kev McCurdy (Fight Director), Alice Knight (Staff Director)

Cast: Tamara Lawrence, Daniel Ezra, Oliver Chris, Emmanuel Kojo, Brad Morrison, James Wallace, Tim Mc Mullan, Niky Wardley, Daniel Rigby, Adam Best, Doon Mackichan, Phoebe Fox, Tamsin Greig, Imogen Doel, Whitney Kehinde, Ammar Duffus, Claire Cordier, Mary Doherty, Andrew MacBean, Imogen Slaughter.

 

Review Caitlin, Light, Ladd & Emberton, Theatr Brycheiniog by Hannah Goslin

5 Stars5 / 5

 

As a huge fan of Eddie Ladd, Deborah Light and Gwyn Emberton, I have been excited to see Caitlin for a long time – missing the chance when it came to London, my visit to Brecon happily coincided with their Welsh tour.

Directed by Light and choreographed and performed by Emberton and Ladd, the story of the piece is based upon the poet Dylan Thomas’s wife, Caitlin, her turbulent life with the Swansea celebrity and her alcoholism beginning before and continuing after his death.

Set out in a circle of chairs, the story unfolds before us as an AA meeting but the words are simple sentences and the rest purely physical.  The chairs soon became metaphors and symbolism for lovers, baby chairs and Thomas’s gradual success until his death where he  (literally) falls from grace.

I do feel slightly biased in the fact that these three dancers are such huge inspirations to me, but I couldn’t express how fluid and creative the movement were.  Times where you could only imagine pain and impact of the body seemed so gentle and as if they did not hurt the performers was astounding.  And they used every bit of space and every chair.  It was a wonderful take on Caitlin’s life.

My only argument would be that I wanted more of the physicality and less of the chairs. While I completely understood the reasons behind the chairs, as a fan I just wanted more – perhaps that’s just me being greedy!

To accompany, the music was interesting, with no social/cultural significance but only to heighten the movement. And no particular theatrical lighting, giving the room a naturalistic feel rather than something created for theatrical purpose.

Caitlin, as all of Light, Ladd and Embertons work as a group and as individuals is a triumph. A beautiful representation of love, addiction and pain.

Directed by Deborah Light
Devised with and performed by Eddie Ladd and Gwyn Emberton
Sound by Siôn Orgon
Costumes by Neil Davies
Images by Warren Orchard

http://www.gwynembertondance.com/caitlin/

Caitlin – spring tour 2017
27-28 March // Aberystwyth
http://www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk/

2 April // Laugharne
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/caitlin-by-light-ladd-emberton-laugharne-shows-tickets-31967232854

5 April // Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon
http://www.brycheiniog.co.uk

8 April // Theatr Ardudwy, Harlech
http://www.theatrardudwy.cymru/

11-15 April // Chapter, Caerdydd/ Cardiff
http://www.chapter.org/caitlin-0

21 April // Ffwrnes, Llanelli
http://www.theatrausirgar.co.uk/en/

23 April // Llandrindod Wells
http://dawnspowysdance.org/events/

25 April // Barry Memo

CAITLIN

28-29 April // Galeri, Caernarfon
http://www.galericaernarfon.com

4 May // Taliesin, Swansea/ Abertawe
http://www.taliesinartscentre.co.uk/