Tag Archives: frontpage

Review Aquaman by Jonathan Evans.

(3 / 5)

Of all the Superhero movies to come out in recent years I don’t think there is one I can point to where it’s appeal mainly goes to its star. To be fair there are co-stars and costume department and the director and the writers but without the special magic of Jason Momoa, who takes the concept of the character and fits it to his liking this movie would probably be dead in the water (pun intended!).

Opening the movie is a prologue of a man by the name of Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) runs a lighthouse and during one dark and stormy night, he sees a woman washed up onshore and un-conscience. He takes her inside and tends to her wounds, she is Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) who is the princess of Atlantis and has fled because of an arranged marriage. But this beautiful woman from a distant land, falls for this man of a different world and for a time love thrives and they have a son together named Arthur, but she has responsibilities and so her people come to take her back, leaving Thomas to raise Arthur alone.

Years later a submarine is being boarded by pirates, they take the ship but it’s hit by something, not a creature, or a missile, but a man. For his introduction, you will have a smile on your face. Jason Momoa is such a larger than life character that is so happy to be onscreen that his joy is sent through the screen and right into you. He looks good with his top off (which happens a lot), moves with swagger and confidence and is either given or writes his own witty repartee which is even accompanied with a few notes of an electric guitar (a fun peppering of fun for the audience).

Joining Arthur is Mera (Amber Heard) a red-headed Atlantian that comes from a noble house and tries to bring Arthur to Atlantis to restore order, he wants very little to do with it but tidal waves keep damaging the shoreline so he’s in for the ride. Mera has special…magic? Where she is capable of controlling the water itself. Heard and Momoa has good chemistry with witty banter that they sharply bounce off each other.

Director James Wan is most well versed in the horror genre, with movies like Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious under his belt but also directed Furious 7 so he’s also cut his teeth on mainstream blockbusters. He channels more of his Furious 7 muscles here though there two moments when he gets to flex those horror skills of his. He has good control of his camera, knowing when to move it and when it should stay still and there are a few neat wipes used within it (though they are just for flash). He and cinematographer Don Burges even make use of the underwater segments with allowing the camera to drift in a fully around, above and below the characters.

Setting the movie primarily underwater, for the most part, helps give the movie a unique look from the other Superhero movies. Atlantis itself is as a city is impressive visual realization with lights that strobe-like cuttlefish and other deep sea creatures and the building take the shape of shells, fins and the bones of marine life. As well as that there are many other locations that we are given because of how the plot is laid out.

This whole movie has a getup and go, waste to time mentality. This is to its detriment because we never get a few precious moments to absorb what’s been said, as soon as something has been explained Arthur gets up and goes to the place or fight someone (though he does seem to be that type of character). Same for other scenes with other characters, we are in a location and they spout their dialog at a fast passe and as soon they are don’t then the other talks and the scene immediately ends.

This is essentially a treasure hunt movie. With artifacts that need to be found and clues hidden in different locations around the world and one thing leading to another. These types of movies, like Indiana Jones, are good for keeping the characters and plot moving and allowing for different locations and action set pieces.

With all the incredible progress that’s been made with computer animation in recent years, it’s a shame that this movie looks so artificial. here are times when we are meant to be within a ship or an undersea castle of sorts or even have our heroes up against a creature from the deep and you will never believe it’s really there. Adding to it are very unconvincing capes that flow up and down and they are like flags of artificiality (I also have no ideas why you would need a cape underwater).

Music is used to heighten the emotion of the scene playing on-screen. Depending on the scene or on the tone of the movie itself it can be loud and aggressive or delicate and nuanced. Sometimes as well no music should be played and the image and the quiet are all we need. But during moments in this movie composer Rupert Gregson-Williams is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Especially during the second act where every emotion the characters express is accompanied by a tune, all dramatic images come with a BOOM and one moment where something dramatic is happening on-screen it comes with choir music. Such blatantly obvious as well as obnoxious use of music don’t enhance but obstruct and make us aware of how the creators want us to view the movie.

Under Zack Snyders creative reign these movies have had a washed out or, murky, dark look to them. All the color is faded down and black is not used as a contrast but dominated the frame, accompanied by browns, bronze, and variations of grey with only a few other shades being allowed in, it is a very unappealing thing to look at. Here we get vivid, lush colors as well and a few darker setting for contrast. Each character has their own main color so they can be easily distinguished from another and pop-out against the environment.

This movie does not have one but three villains from the Aquaman mythos. Primarily there is Ocean Master (whose title they find a way of saying out loud and not sounding ridiculous) Arthurs half Brother that want the throne for himself as well as to declare war on the surface. Black Manta, a deep-sea pirate that is geared with special Atlantian technology that gives him an edge in the fights. It’s a testament to the costume people that they took the original design of the large helmet and made it look good in the movie when by all means it should be hilarious. Finally, there’s The Trench, a race of water-breathers that live in the deepest darkest part of the ocean and have become savage. They are the most recent installment in the comics and are really just Piranha men though are a definite threat. Anyone of these villains is enough to provide fuel for one movie and all three are here, none of them is throwaway and get their moments, it’s just another example of the main problem with the movie, it’s rushed and cluttered.

In terms of DC movies, this is a much better step forward with recent debacles like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. It is not as strong as Wonder Woman and in terms of a Superhero facing a different culture, this is no Black Panther. Though it is still an everyone is doing an admiral job is all their departments, but the special spice is it’s star Jason Momoa that is able to take it on his broad shoulders and elevate it.

 

Review Saturday Night Fever, Wales Millennium Centre by E. M. Bless’On III

Needless of an introduction, the original Saturday Night Fever is unarguably one of 70’s top cult-classics. The film depicts the life and times of the disco-dancing legend, Tony Manero (John Travolta) as he moves on the dancefloor of Brooklyn’s club scene and the ups and downs of life, career, money, family, friends, relationship and love.

Having watched the original, the main question is whether this Tony (Richard Windsor) would have the energy and flair to match Travolta. He did not disappoint. Tony sprang to life bringing with him characters hitherto buried in our fond memories. The picture in the first disco scene (in Bay Ridge) was vividly painted as live as a real 70’s disco. It sure would have been nostalgic for any party-goers of that generation and one would not hesitate to transpose into it. The choreography, ambience, costume, stage management was faultless, even through my eagle eyes.

In view of the current concern around Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts, producers surely have paid attention and addressed any concerns that could have arose. The cast was fairly gender balanced. In addition, there was a sign language translator. It is imperative that sign language or any language for that matter, as well as cultural characteristics are contextualised with the most accurate depiction that include emotions and mannerism. The translator did just so. She was as much of a hit too with her dance moves from start to climatic finish. Maria and Cesar brought in the Afro-Latino flavour on the dancefloor, whiles the club MC with his energy, rich and electrifying voice was exuberant and so natural that he reminds me of a real Hype Man in a rap group with his exclamations and interjections.

The only disappointment is the occasional burst of unnecessary swearing and derogatory language, which would be off-putting to many. There were young people, possibly young teenagers in the audience. The show is decent enough to make it as a family show but in terms of the language – I sincerely believe the producers dropped the ball. Nonetheless, just like after a Saturday Night out, there was a takeaway for everyone. Apart from the obvious entertainment, there was the lesson about family, friends, wellbeing and suicide. Tony, preoccupied with his career and faintly aloof love life, failed to be a support to his friend Bobby C. at a time when he needed him most. Bobby was expecting just a phone call, that never came and the disappointment eventually led him to commit suicide.

If there is any homage one can pay to such an iconic movie on stage, then this, did just that. It was nothing short of passion, drama and entertainment with classic hits from the 70’s. It was almost a psychedelic torture as one had to control involuntary twitching (really!?!) and just sit (seriously!?!) to watch a musical with songs such as Stayin’ Alive, How Deep Is Your Love, More Than A Woman (yes, really seriously!?!). When all was said and almost done, those in the audience who were clearly suffering from the 2 hour BDS (Boogie Deficiency Syndrome) could not help but spring into dancing during the last song. The climatic closing was more of a celebration of a legend reborn, with the theme tune Saturday Night Fever on full blast!

By E. M. Bless’On III

Review: BOOT by Phill Brewer at The Atrium by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(3 / 5)

BOOT by Phill Brewer, the debut production from Volition, is a chilling exploration of events in its protagonist’s story. Refusing to adopt a chronological form, Brewer’s style of monological storytelling perfectly matches the harsh world and erratic character he creates.

In essence, it’s a romantic tragedy that follows a man who, rightly or wrongly, can’t let his love for a woman go. He goes to extreme lengths to protect her physically and emotionally, sacrificing himself in the process.

A lot of people would portray this as a classic showing of toxic masculinity. With the violence, male entitlement and refusal to show weakness – it certainly can be interpreted that way. However, Volition’s aim is to represent a character’s voices, in their own words, and present them to an audience. Allowing the audience leave with their own opinions of that situation.

On the other hand, whilst BOOT has those classic tropes of toxic masculinity, the protagonist doesn’t gain from the situation. It’s a character who is as much a victim of circumstance, as he is of his own actions. Seeing it through his words, we see his perspective and reasoning, rather than simply blaming toxic masculinity.

You can read it in many ways, or merely as the story without the social-political views. It’s this viewing experience that separates Volition from various various other theatre companies. Often people ask, “what is the message?” Whereas for Volition it’s more, “what did you think?” It’s a really fresh take for modern theatre that seems to be obsessed with artist’s voices and messages – not that there is anything wrong with that, but certainly room for both.

The play starts in the boot of a car with the male protagonist and that is where it ends. The writing from Phill Brewer is smart in its aim to present the protagonist’s story in his own words, as in between the bumpy ride, we see the turbulent story that brought him to this position.

It starts at the right place, hits the right notes throughout and ends leaving you with the perfect balance of satisfaction and intrigue.

There is room for it to grow as a script. Generally some sharpening and a little addition of humour wouldn’t go amiss to help bring out the character. But overall it’s a really solid script with massive potential.

Written as a monologue, Rebecca Riley makes a good decision as director to perform this as an ensemble piece which brings the script to life really nicely. It’s paced well with the only real issues being minor blocking ones and, at times, an issue of tone.

The play starts at 100, with the protagonist freaking out. This just feels a bit intense to start and, whilst it makes sense, could do with some work as it somewhat kills the opening ten-fifteen minutes. Especially as we never really build back to that level.

The direction of the ensemble is really nice from Riley, who uses physicality beautifully to add to the piece.

The acting from lead, Connor Hughes, is strong. The moments of clear emotion are great, but Hughes does a good job of also showing what’s bubbling underneath. Because of this, it’s really easy to know what the character is feeling and everything from the script makes sense on stage.

The ensemble generally do a good job of bringing the piece to life and really help with the pacing of the script. There are a few instances of over-acting from the ensemble members, which may well be a directing issue, that sometimes takes focus away from the lead. But, overall a good addition to the production.

BOOT shows a level of lighting design I was not expecting coming in. The use of red lighting is really evocative, as well as the box light to represent the boot of the car. In this aspect, Zach Ashley did a really good job.

It is a shame there isn’t more explored in the sound design. This can be put down to lack of resources and time. However, often the noise of moving ensemble takes away from the show. More sound design could cover this and add something of its own. But generally, the design aspects are above expectation.

There is room for improvement with this production, especially in nailing the ensemble work, a little work on the script as well as incorporating the design elements that feel missing. But, on the whole this is a really enjoyable piece of theatre with a really interesting discussion to follow it.

BOOT has real potential, perhaps let down by the lack of time and resources afforded to it. A great script, visionary director and a solid lead make this a really promising debut from Volition.

BOOT performed at The Atrium, Cardiff
From December 11th-12th 2018
Presented by Volition
Written by Phill Brewer
Directed by Rebecca Emily Riley
Stage Manager – Zach Ashley
Cast:
Connor Hughes
Tasha Walton
Sergio Taddia
Tilly Jordan
Jose Pedro Fortuna
Photo Credit – Adam Robinson

Review Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse by Jonathan Evans

(5 / 5)

Within this current Superhero renaissance that we are experiencing Spider-Man is the one that has seen the most iterations. Since his cinematic debut in 2002 (directed by Sam Rami, starring Tobey McGuire) there have been two other live-action interpretations as well as three animated shows. Superheroes are meant to be handed to other creative teams and have other actors give their interpretation for a new audience. But within one generation we are now very aware of how malleable these characters are, especially Spider-Man.

This movie is all about accepting that malleable. About how you can have the same character and shoot them through a prism and see all the wonderful spectrums they can cast. We are introduced to our Spider-Man (Chris Pine), he tells the story we all know, he was bitten by a radioactive spider, gained superpowers, his Uncle Ben was shot, with great power comes great responsibility and for the last ten years, he has been your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!

Living his life in the city as well is a young boy named Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), he is entering a special school which he feels he doesn’t belong in however his cop dad (Brian Tyree Henry) insists on it. Miles isn’t having a fun time but likes to kick back with his uncle Davis (Mahershala Ali) and one day while wandering around New York’s underground Miles gets bitten by a mysterious spider. The next day his body begins to go through changes (not puberty), he is sticking to walls and can sense incoming danger. He goes back to the underground to investigate and while there comes across a battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, he attempts to shut down some giant sci-fi machine but it goes boom and Spider-Man is crushed and dies under the debris. This is the end of the hero and Miles is left with questions, while visiting Peter Parker’s grave he’s visited someone else, Peter Parker!

Yes, that machine was a portal to other, alternative universes where another Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) has crossed over. He is more of a self-pitying screwup than the one that perished but Miles certainly lacks experience so this looks like a student mentor set-up to me.

Of all the other Superhero movies this is the one that literally looks like a comic book come to life. There are numerous movies that have adapted and taken visual cues from the source material but this one, due to it being animation literally looks like the characters were drawn and were printed with ink on paper. This comes from neat touches like having their shadows be represented by lines, or printing spots and even speech text and sound effect words appearing on-screen. Adding to this they cut down on the frame rate to make the characters movement blockier, a similar effect was used in The LEGO Movie (makes sense because Phil Lord and Chris Miller serve as story developers).

This is a graphic heavy world told through the perspective of a bi-racial character living in Brooklyn, so it only comments the vision that the soundtrack reflects that. Daniel Pemberton serves as the main composer while Post Malone and Swae Lee also contribute original songs to the movie. It is fast and upbeat and compliments the intensity of the story and tone.

Being that we are dealing with characters whose defining ability is to stick to surfaces and maneuver them we get some fun playing with that shifting of perspective. The camera doesn’t stay upright like what a regular person would, it follows the Spider-Men and when they walk along a wall then the camera adjusts for them and the surroundings look as if they are shifting. It is a refreshing and fun way of conveying wall-crawling.

Along with this other Peter, there are still more Spider-Men. There is Gwen Stacey as Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Peni Parker (Kimiko Elizabeth Glenn) a Japanese, Anime inspired little girl that pilots a robot suit that has the soul of her father in it, Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage) from the nineteen thirties and exists in Black & White, finally there’s Spider-Ham/Peter Porker (John Mulaney) a cartoon pig that is probably the least serious out of the gang, also my favorite.

Along with their different design they are drawn differently, have a unique style of animation from one another and each has their own characteristics. Spider-Gwen is like a graceful dancer with fluid leg movements and able to stand on the tips of her toes. Peni, typical of anime, has her expressions change within one frame and have symbols flash on her forehead, Spider-Ham moves like an old Fleisher or Looney Tunes cartoon, with a bounce in his walk, stretchable limbs and even able to hovers slightly.

You have to roll with the continuity. Don’t want an in-depth understanding of every character and their history. See there is a character named Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) and understand he is the bad guy that hates Spider-Man. See someone in a crazy costume and just accept that this is Superheroes and they are everywhere. This movie moves too fast and throws too much at you for it to be smoothly explained.

Of course though with every story to really work it needs its center. There is a lot going on in this movie but it is always Miles story about how he is able to rise up to this legacy and responsibility. As well as that even beyond the fights is the interaction between all the different Spider-People and Miles family and friends. As long as you have a core and stay true to it you can layer it as much as you want.

We have been served a great amount of-of movies of the Superhero genre in the last ten years, but before that, they had already endured for over sixty years. They are able to do so because stories about good and evil are constant and they allow for fantastical imagery and ideas. As well as that each character has their core and is able to be handed to different people and adjust for their interpretation and adapt for a different time. We have seen so many different Superhero tales, from the dark grittiness of LOGAN, the mad colorful comedy of Guardians of the Galaxy to the epic scale of Avengers: Infinity War. This is a tale of a great enduring character and the genre itself and why they will endure forever.

 

Review Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 by Jonathan Evans

(4 / 5)

Werner Herzog, the great German director, once said that “We must not avert our eyes” he was talking about getting up and out into the world and looking at what is popular because that says something about what the people want, be it stupid, abstract, misogynistic, violent etc. The internet has absolutely allowed people to embellish in their base instincts and shows what the people want in some sense. Whether this was something the filmmakers had in mind while making this movie I cannot say but it stems from the same mentality.

We pick up the story where first Wreck-It Ralph movie left off. Ralph (John C. Reily) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are sentient gaming characters that live their lives being played by unsuspecting humans and during the night they travel to other arcade consoles and partake in what they have to offer. They do this every night for the past six years. Ralph being the incredibly simple character he revels in having his best friend by his side and fun activities to keep them occupied, Vanellope, on the other hand, is growing bored with the repetition and would welcome something new. Luckily…

One day there is something new installed in the arcade, a WiFi box, at first the other gaming characters decide not to mess with it but one day the steering wheel on Sugar Rush (Vanellope’s game) breaks and a replacement can be bought on eBay but at an expensive price. So our hero’s quest begins!

The WiFi is connected and into the internet, they go. While being initially flung in we see all the familiar names and logo’s, Google, eBay, Twitter, Snapchat (easy to see how this movie got funded). The landscape of the internet itself is like a sleek city with each website being represented as a building. Everyone that logs on is represented as a simple human with a square head and navigates the city, there is plenty of high-speed transportation to get them from one site to another.

They then come across on an online racing game that is much more extreme than Sugar Rush and is populated by some more intense drivers. Head of the gang is Shank (Gal Gadot), one of the purest embodiments of cool you will ever find, with a leather jacket, always beautiful hair and a smirk that tells you she is always in charge. She points them in the direction of making online videos to get money to buy the steering wheel. This then leads them to a video website (clearly meant to be YouTube) that is overseen by a programme named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) a blue, snappy go-getter that brings a lot of energy to her scenes and has a different costume for each of her scenes.

Being that there are all kinds of different websites and different users for different purposes it only makes sense to incorporate various animation and design styles. We have characters that log on for gaming and they are simple designs that are jittery in their movements, advertisers that take the form of street hustlers, and an assortment of other creepy things. It is a testament to not only the talent of the animation capabilities working at Disney but also the variety of the ability to portray such a variety of designs and styles.

I guess I can’t really call this a complete review without acknowledging the giant tiara in the room. There is a segment where Venellope goes the Disney website and along with seeing a few other familiar characters, MARVEL and Star Wars she enters a room with all the Disney Princesses’s. All the voice actors that are still alive to voice them return for their few lines, they all get an even amount of screen time and lines so no favorites will be shortchanged. For the ones that were originally 2D animated have been converted to 3D, I think they look fine. This is not a throwaway gag and does serve a purpose to the movie. All of this considered I was pretty helpless throughout and loved it.

Ultimately though this movie is about the bond of friendship between Ralph and Vanellope and moving forward. Friendships can be the same in some elements but things have to change because otherwise, they will inevitably become stagnant.

This is a sequel that expands on the scale of the first movie greatly and pushes the characters forward while doing it. It is very clever in its visualization of navigating the internet and using the elements of that platform for plot points and some characters. Though you will not be greatly changed in your use for the internet itself after watching, it does acknowledge the good, bad, and plain stupid elements of it. It has what made the first a really good watch and just makes it a bigger serving.

 

Review Dick Whittington: The Puuurfect Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto Theatr Clwyd by Donna Poynton

(5 / 5)

Theatr Clwyd, Mold have long held the baton in North Wales for the ‘cult’ panto and Dick Whittington: The Puuurfect Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto is certainly no exception. Suddenly, panto got cool!

Upon entering the auditorium, we are greeted with a partly open stage where it becomes clear that the band will be on view throughout the show. However, once the action begins, we see that the cast, are in fact, also the band; Tommy the cat goes from cartwheeling around after rats to playing the drums and Alice Fitzwarren is one moment seen swooning after Dick Whittington and the next rocking out on electric guitar! The small cast of ten are constantly on stage, unless they’re darting off for a quick costume change!

 

The costumes are fabulous; well thought out and often traditional but with hints of punk! King Rhydian the Rat’s costume reminds us of rock musician Adam Ant, and his minion rats, Scratch and Sniff, don large green wigs and wear tartan! Special mention must go to Sarah the Cook’s delightful Dame costumes which always provide a giggle upon entrance!

 

The writing offers the usual ‘oh no he isn’t’, ‘oh, yes he is’ type interactions as well as plenty of boos, hisses and an audience soaking! The most memorable gag, well deserving of a mention, is one in which Wally Fitzwarren is attempting to prepare his crew (Tommy the Cat, Dick, Alice, Harriet and Sarah the Cook) for their ship’s voyage. What ensues is a concoction of great physical comedy involving mops and a simple yet very effective ‘copy everything I say’ skit! Superb timing and snippets of the cast simply enjoying themselves as themselves with more underlying adult humor than your average panto! Also refreshing is the use of the Welsh language, heard plentifully throughout the production as the plot is brought from London to Mold, allowing the audience to feel more engaged with the action.

This production includes a stellar cast with phenomenal vocals, wonderful musicianship and a brilliant repertoire of songs including Bat (Rat) out of Hell, Nutbush City Limits, I’m Yours and In the Navy! It’s impossible to single out any cast member as all are truly fantastic in their own right. It’s always a tonic to witness a production which doesn’t need celebrity names to sell out and be a huge success!

The production runs until the 19th of January at Theatr Clwyd.

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

November 23rd 2018-January 19th 2019

Writer: Chris Patterson

Writer in Residence: Alex Murdoch (supported by Gladstone’s Library)

Director: Zoë Waterman

Assistant Director: Francesca Goodridge

Casting: Kay Magson CDG

Design: Adrian Gee

Musical Director: Tayo Akinbode

Choreographer: Will Tuckett

Technical: Mark Howland, Matthew Williams, Alec Reece, Edward Salt, Cassey Driver

Cast includes: Royce Cronin, Toby Falla, Phylip Harries, Daniel Lloyd, Alice McKenna, Peter Mooney, Lynwen Haf Roberts, Emmy Stonelake, Luke Thornton, Anna Westlake

Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes (inc. interval)

 

Preview: BOOT by Phill Brewer and Volition

Boot by Phill Brewer is a new play coming to Cardiff on Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th of December 2018. The debut production from new theatre company Volition, will be performed at The Atrium.

Set in Swansea, Boot follows an unnamed man trapped in a car boot who ponders over the events in his life that led him to this position. It’s a dark comedy that studies one man’s inner conflict and ambition in an ever changing world, presented as a mix between gritty realism and abstract physical performance.

Originally performed as a one man show at a sell-out performance in Matthew’s Yard, Croydon, Boot has since been developed by Brewer and reworked into an ensemble piece by Rebecca Riley (director).

The inspiration for some of the stories and scenes come from things that Brewer has witnessed in his time growing up in London. Some personal experience, stories from friends and general experience from the streets of London.

The aim of the piece is to present the story and let the audience decide for themselves the morals of the situations. Both Brewer and Riley say they want the audience to leave divided and talking about the show.

“BOOT is the perfect piece of writing to work on for me as the character is both the antagonist and the protagonist of his own story. His
battle is one of inner conflict, something that is universally relatable.” – Rebecca Riley, director.

The company, Volition, is made up of Phill Brewer and Rebecca Riley. Long-term friends who studied theatre together at Brit School of Performing Arts and Technology and now live in Cardiff.

The aim of the company is to provide a voice and platform for young people whilst creating theatre that is ambiguous, not making comment or judgement.

Rebecca Riley (centre) and Phill Brewer (right) with lead actor, Connor Hughes. Photo Credit Adam Robinson

 

 

 

 

There is a rebellious vibe about the company – but one that is very open to discussion and passionate about theatre as a means for discussion. Boot seems the perfect place for this exciting new company to start and the audience are key to their work so get your tickets here to be part of it.

BOOT performed at The Atrium, Cardiff
From December 11th-12th 2018
Presented by Volition
Written by Phill Brewer
Directed by Rebecca Emily Riley
Stage Manager – Zach Ashley
Cast:
Connor Hughes
Tasha Walton
Sergio Taddia
Tilly Jordan
Jose Pedro Fortuna.

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

(4 / 5)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankenstein, Cascade Dance Theatre at Chapter Arts Cardiff

2018 has been quite the Franken-tastic year. With conferences a-go-go and a veritable funfair of Frankenreads events, the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s game-changing masterpiece has been quite fully, and rightfully, celebrated en masse. Having studied the book in-depth for thesis-y reasons over the past four years, I’ve consumed the story in myriad mediums from the filmic, to the televisual, to the orchestral, including a gender-swapped web series and that icky Sean Bean show loosely ‘inspired by’ Victor’s dodgy dealings with the (un)dead.

So I was thrilled at the prospect of Cascade Dance Theatre* translating the tale in their latest much-lauded production. I’d seen the Royal Opera House’s lavish stab at a Franken-centric ballet on TV a couple of years ago – but found their faithfulness to the source material resulted in a less powerful whole that, while visually spectacular, was ultimately undermined by the rushed, soap opera-esque ending. How, then, would Cascade fare with six performers, two musicians, and a single simple set?

Beautifully, as it turns out. Artistic Director Phil Williams (winner of Wales’ Best Male Dance Artist Award at the Wales Theatre Awards 2017) has carefully assembled an excellent adaptation that is small in scale but large in style and ambition, fulfilling the heart of Shelley’s tale in creative new ways. The ensemble is excellent across the board, with Stuart Waters as a suitably haughty, believably tormented Victor, and Jordi Calpe Serrats in an endlessly vibrant and deeply sympathetic turn as the creature. Their connection is compellingly ambiguous: there is no directly analogous relationship to theirs, meaning that Victor is in turns the creature’s God, father, masculine ideal, romantic interest and romantic rival. Their bond could have set a positive precedent for humanity; but their mutual violence to one another and people close to them renders them variously perpetrator and victim to the other until their battle concludes in bloodily Biblical fashion.

Although Frankenstein was written by a woman, and especially one with such a famous feminist mother, there is a curious dearth of female characters in the text that are afforded the same active roles and complexity as their male counterparts, being mostly passive recipients of male violence. It’s a lovely reversal, then, that the women of Cascade’s Frankenstein are the absolute highlight of an already-stellar production. Caldonia Walton shines particularly brightly as Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s far-superior fiancée; Walton imbues kindness, strength and a genuine warmth of character to what is often a thankless role, and lights up the stage whenever she graces it. And the tremendous trio of Anna Cabré-Verdiell, Desi Bonato and Luca Dora Bakos steal the show entirely – case in point…

…We open on a truly haunting image: the creature, encased in chrysalis-like bindings, being meticulously inspected by a trio of women whose white strobes cast the only light in a sea of darkness. At first, they seem like explorers; archaeologists hungrily inspecting the excavated remains of an ancient burial site. But as the drama unfolds, the trio’s more otherworldly nature is revealed; they seem at times to be angelic guardians, at others mischevious sprites, even mythological beings like the Graeae, the three sisters of Fate from Greek mythology, and their spiritual descendants in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Bonato, Bakos and Cabré-Verdiell (who doubles as the female creature) not only dance superbly, but inhabit multiple roles with ease and panache, and I felt at times that they acted as Mary Shelley’s muses, helping her to tell her story two hundred years later on that appropriately dreary night of November 2018.

The sumptuous performances are complemented and enhanced by the rest of the production’s creative endeavours, not least Hristo Takov’s atmospheric lighting, and Paul Shriek’s spectacular set and wardrobe design. The set is evocatively uneven, making the most out of jagged inclines and the morgue-like slab on which the creature is brought to life, and on which Victor ends as his creature started; the costumes are artfully-tattered and ethereally expressive with shades of Vivienne Westwood. All of which is tied up in a gorgeously Gothic bow by Jak Poore and Ben Parsons’ eerily emotive score, composed and performed live by the two on stage like Romanticism’s answer to Daft Punk.

There are scenes in this production so haunting and beautiful that I will never forget them, and are well worth the price of admission alone – you won’t believe how they perform the sending of a letter, but it’s an unexpected delight. The programme promised a more creature-centric narrative, and they definitely delivered – one scene follows his flight from a macabrely-masked mob who taunt and beat him. You totally feel the creature’s pain and the endless cycle of fear, frustration and rejection from which there seems to be no way out. And I’m not sure Mary Shelley would have envisioned her creature bumping & grinding at an Eyes Wide Shut-inspired rave, but Cascade makes it work (plus I think the rebellious Mary would have approved): a masked group writhe and worship at the monolithic neon altar of SHELLEY’S BAR, escalating in impressively incendiary fashion. And the dance between the two creatures, one living and one lifeless, was utterly breath-taking: Serrats and Cabré-Verdiell transform what could have been a deeply awkward encounter into the show’s emotional apex.

Not everything lands; having affectingly conveyed the creature’s birth, rejection, and loneliness without the need for words, it was jarring for Victor to suddenly start monologuing the ‘dreary night of November’ speech when we had literally just seen it happen before our eyes. The creative team should have had more faith in its superbly talented cast to convey the story through performance alone. If there had to be words at all, it would have been infinitely more effective if they were more sparingly used – though the creature’s first word being ‘father’ was an effective moment, Victor’s sporadic speechifying was not. And though Elizabeth’s letters were nicely presented, I still find the exposition a little clunky in an otherwise elegant retelling.

It was on a dreary night of November that the creature beheld the accomplishment of his toils; standing before the same slab on which he was birthed, on which now rests the bodies of his victims. He wraps them in the bindings that once imprisoned him, and retreats across the stage into darkness once more, all the while unfurling that umbilical cord-like tether, his last tie to humanity. It’s a fittingly melancholic end to a stunning production that I cannot recommend highly enough. Whether you’re a Frankenstein fanatic like myself, or if you have the most passing familiarity with the text, you’re sure to find Cascade’s adaptation wonderfully rewarding. It’s been touring around Wales since 1st November, but you should definitely catch one of the last two performances of this remarkable show either tonight or tomorrow (30th Nov/ 1st Dec) at Chapter Arts: https://www.chapter.org/frankenstein, http://www.cascadedancetheatre.co.uk/

 

*In co-production with Taliesin Arts Centre; supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Welsh Government and the National Lottery, with additional support from Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Ty Cerdd and Creu Cymru.

Review Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald by Jonathan Evans

(2 / 5)

So this franchise train is happening whether anyone likes it or not. Some fans of this world will be along for the ride no matter what and they are legion so like the last movie it will undoubtedly due well financially. Let’s proceed.

Fantastic Beasts isn’t a bad concept and even then a seemingly bad concept can be elevated with great writing and craft. A character loves creatures and wants to understand and document them, being that this is a world of magic they are creatures with special designs and abilities. This could be charming, simple fun, yet for some reason, there must be a big bad and an overly complex plot throughout.

So in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, it was revealed that one of the characters was Grindelwald, a powerful wizard that seeks to elevate the wizards from their hiding. He was imprisoned in the last movie and when this one opens he escapes, obviously. Playing him is Johnny Depp and this is the best performance from him in a while, recently in his career, he’s been gliding by with simply being quirky and not really giving much to his characters that made his name. He doesn’t have a lot of screentime here (odd being that his character’s name is in the title) and what he does I don’t believe will cement him as one of the great villains of movie history, but he is much more on-point. Gracefully moves and poses like a superstar, with a sleek British accent making him a mix of charming and sinister. Along the course of the movie, he is responsible for a few deaths that cement him as a legitimate threat.

Like in the last movie we have Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, the gentle soul that is awkward around human beings but is truly at peace in the company of his magical creatures. This will probably be the character Redmayne will be most remembered for and being that he had another movie to practice he has made this role his. As soon as he is introduced he is quietly sitting by himself but begins to play with his pet stick creature, this moment of charm is what is most enduring about the character and these movies, pity the plot must butt in.

Credence, some kind of special wizard (I don’t know, I still don’t understand it from the last movie) is still alive and must be hunted down and killed. Also, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who has regained his memories from them being erased from the last movie is also back on the scene. So two big emotional impacts from the last movie meant nothing. Also, Newt has realized that he loves Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), this barely adds too much because with everything else going on their relationship has barely any time. The point is, everything is happening in Paris, so that is everyone gotta be.

Already the form of this franchise has become clear. Each movie will take place in an iconic city of a different country. This is to break the franchise out of the narrow view it has set up previously with just the school of Hogwarts based in England. It’s not a bad way to go about it, it allows for variations with the imagery, having different cultures and keeps the characters moving.

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, the gentle soul that is awkward around human beings but is truly at peace in the company of his magical creatures. This will probably be the character Redmayne will be most remembered for and being that he had another movie to practice he has made this role his.

Like in the last movie it is the beast themselves that are the real stars of the show. They vary in all kinds of shapes and sizes with unique movements and quirks. Some are majestic, others are cute and will most likely make great toys while others are frightening. The actors themselves do a convincing job of seeming like they’re interacting with these C.G.I. creations that aren’t really there in front of them.

It must be pointed out that the people working on the visuals for these movies are some of the best in the business. From the costumes, the sets, props and digital animation there is so much effort and care put into all the stitching of the clothes, the details in each wizards distinctive wand and the numerous digital animations they have to create, these people are great craftsmen.

However, while the movie was playing out and we saw all these special effects and at one point a vertical and rotating library I was thinking “So what.”It felt like a case of the tail wagging the dog, rather than the image be built on a point or lyrical meaning it just seems like someone in one of their departments said “Hey wouldn’t this be cool!” and they decided to incorporate it into the movie.

Near the end, the main detriment of the last movie happens again, in which they come out and hit you with a revelation that comes out of nowhere. While it was playing out I did not understand it at all, I was so confused. I understand going into it and understand what comes of it, but the in’s and outs of the details were a complete blur. Characters you don’t know get named fast in a complicated series of events that is like an entire Agatha Christie novel told to us within the course of three minutes. When it was done I felt like the movie stopped, slapped me in the face with needless complexity, then carried on its merry way.

In terms of a tone that runs through the movie and plot structuring with things being set up and coming back or a visual that pay off later this is a more solid movie than the first, so maybe by the end of these five movies, we will have a really good experience on our hands. It is still troubled but less so.

Another glaring problem with this franchise, which is much more obvious now that other familiar characters from the Harry Potter franchise are introduced is that the outcome of all the drama is already known. We know Dumbledore (Jude Law) wins and is alive and well at the end, Grindelwald loses, so why are we here?

Well, the first movie had its charm and was competent in the mechanics of filmmaking and had great artists to bring the world to life, but light tones of Newt and Kowalski shenanigans mixed with the dark unpleasant and complex elements also going on made it a confused package. This time around more is fixed and the tone is consistent. Though a few improvements on a not very good product don’t make a very good product, just a lesser mess.