The first original TV drama of 2020 to emerge from Wales is a short one-off piece called Handstand. It may be quirky and slightly clichéd on the surface, but there is a dark underbelly that gradually reveals itself over the course of half an hour. Director Peter Watkins-Hughes has chosen to shine a spotlight on domestic abuse through what is essentially a love story between the hardworking and compassionate Luke (Darren Evans) and his new neighbour Sarah (Mabli Jen Eustace).
Evans and Eustace demonstrate a wonderful onscreen chemistry from the get-go, their characters’ first meeting being the perfect mix of socially awkward and humorously sweet. The telling camera angles and silently knowing looks to one another add to the sexual tension between them, whilst the synth-pop soundtrack and cinema setting coat their relationship in youthful possibility and nostalgic innocence respectively. It is this portrait of young love that makes the turning point in the story all the more dramatic and affecting, as Luke hears the raised voice of Sarah’s father, Alan, resonate angrily through the ‘shockingly thin’ walls of his bedroom. What follows is a moral dilemma centred on the public and private dichotomy, where the question of intervention is explored rather well, given the drama’s brief running time. Christian Patterson is excellent as the two-faced Alan, whose jolly exterior slowly slips away to reveal a manipulative man whose obsession with power and control is ultimately his undoing.
As a stand-alone piece, Watkins-Hughes has created something that is both entertaining and informative. It is also educational insofar as it deals with the subject of domestic violence, thereby reflecting the three Reithian ideals that the BBC was founded on. I believe that this is important to highlight as the BBC and its licence fee comes under increased scrutiny and ever sharper criticism. There is no doubt a conversation to be had about its future funding model, but I believe Handstand is an example of what publicly-funded broadcasting does best, supporting projects that have no commercial value but nevertheless tell important stories that need to be heard. It is also why public service broadcasting is needed, because without it, I fear that the voices wanting to tell such stories in Wales may be bereft of opportunities to do so in a media marketplace driven solely by profit.
Theatr Clwyd, Friday January 24th 2020. Review by Richard Evans.
Suspense, intrigue, who will get their revenge?
This is a new play, written, directed and lead by Richard
Jones and produced by Phoenix Theatre Company from Mold, and requested by the
Rotary Club. It was first performed last
May at Theatr Clwyd and reprised this week.
Full marks for bringing a new script and showing the
ambition to stage this play. It made for
an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, which while being a very wordy script
held my attention to the end. I
particularly enjoyed the characterisation.
As the play was set in Hollywood in the 1950’s it spoofed the major film
stars of the day very well, adding a nice touch of humour.
I also thought the live music added much to the play. The band, J. Edgar and the Hoovers was simple yet highly effective. A three piece unit played a mixture of covers of 1950’s standards and original compositions tailored to suit the mood and the characters.
This was a comic murder mystery revolving around a major
Hollywood film producer who had a mega salary and an ego to go with it. He had got to the top with a mixture of
grandiose gesture, manipulation, blackmail and cruelty such that he incurred
hate in the other characters. This was
played realistically by Richard Jones and while the first act was dominated by
him, this suited the bombastic nature of the character and fitted the story
line well. Having gained many enemies on
his rise to the top, there was no shortage of people willing to bop him off!
The second act saw the introduction of Sam Shade, detective,
a spoof of Humphrey Bogarts film noir character convincingly delivered by John
Kinsey, despite the slightly odd distraction of singing ‘Rawhide’ shortly after
his entrance. This seemed out of kilter
with the rest of the play. The
denouement had a suitable twist at the end, allusive of some of the best that
Hollywood produced in the 1950’s and also adding great comic value.
Perhaps I am wrong, I gained the impression that the first
act, which was short at 40 minutes long ended too early, omitting one scene that
had to be delivered at the start of the second act to avoid effectively writing
out one of the characters.
I found the script very word heavy and the storyline
repetitive at times yet there was much to enjoy about this play. It was great to see allusions to other films
or series like Back to the Future and Miss Marple. The use of Jimmy Cagney’s ‘You dirty rat’ was
great showing the script was cleverly constructed and humourous.
The topic matter is indeed relevant to what has taken place
in Hollywood down through the years. However,
I thought the intros in the first act were laboured and could have been
incorporated into the following scenes showing the interaction with the lead
and the rest of the characters. Having
said this, the acting by all involved was professional and delivered really
Bearing in mind this is an ambitious piece of theatre,
performed by an amateur group albeit with a long pedigree it was a very good
evening’s entertainment. Of course it
could be honed and refined, but I did not see anyone leave disappointed and the
play left the audience with a warm, feel good factor.
4 stars out of 5, 4 rather than 3.5 because of its
Where to start with Six? Is it a musical, is it a concert or is it a degree in Tudor History?
It’s all the above and some more. If like me you didn’t do very well on your History GCSE, but have since seen Horrible Histories, the story of Henry 8th’s six wives should be known to you in some way.
Divorced, beheaded, and now live, Six The Musical’s success of the last few years has been extraordinary. From humble beginnings at the Edinburgh Fringe, back to the West End, UK tours and being performed around the world. It’s quite a feat for something that on paper doesn’t sound that brilliant, but when you see it, you get proven very wrong.
Performed as a concert, Six is the 6 wives of Henry 8th telling their individual story through the means of song. The twist is that each queen is based on a 21st century female pop icon. Be that Adele (Jane Seymour), Lily Allen (Anne Boleyn), and Beyonce (Catherine of Aragon). What this brings is a modern contemporize twist to history from hundreds of years ago, but in realizing that, there’s an underlying cause that brings it to the present with the likes of #MeToo.
The production, the sound and the overall feel is something that hasn’t really been done before. Maybe this will see more musical theatre being created this way. It was nice to see a spread of ages attending too. People going for different reasons, maybe history students, young teenage girls, or wanting to witness something quite special and different from a normal musical.
Performance wise it would be unfair to pick one individual since that’s what the whole remit was supposed to be. Individually, the Six women sing amazingly, as a group is where their power truly lies. If there’s going to be a new girlband, maybe they’ll come from the one of the Six’s line ups? All I do know is that it was an amazing afternoon spent at Wales Millennium Centre, witnessing something quite unique – plus it meant I went home and watched documentaries on Youtube about the 6 wives.
Don’t worry about losing your head – it’s worth it.
In an exciting first for Wales, Taking Flight Theatre Company have
announced that thanks to support from BBC Children in Need, the Ashley Family
Foundation and Wales Millennium Centre, they have opened the first youth
theatre in Wales specifically catering for D/deaf and hard of hearing young
The project has been developed in response
to feedback from young people who had seen Taking Flight’s professional theatre
work. With its emphasis on being inclusive both in regards to casting and
audience experience, people frequently asked the company if there was any way
that they could start a youth theatre to nurture young D/deaf and hard of
hearing talent. In 2015 Taking Flight ran two Deaf-led summer schools and the
feedback was that 100% of participants wanted to be able to attend a youth
In January 2018, the company ran taster
sessions at WMC which drew children from Carmarthen, Aberystwyth and
Machynlleth. Again, 100% of children and families wanted ongoing provision. As
a result of this enthusiasm, Elise Davison and Beth House, who started Taking
Flight in 2008, decided to apply to BBC Children In Need to see if they could
attract funding to create something really special.
Creative Producer, Beth explains:
“The youth theatre is such an important and
exciting development. We are regularly contacted by families desperate for this
project to start. We have been talking to young people for so long about a
youth theatre, it is brilliant to finally be able to put the plans into action.
We have so much feedback gathered during
previous projects that will used in planning sessions. We also have a Youth
Advisory group; young Deaf and disabled people aged 14+ who input into all of
our outreach with young people.
The course content will be designed by the
leader alongside input from participants – focussing on areas they want to
develop through creative consultation with group; empowering them to take
control & steer the project as it develops.
meet once a week at The Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay at various times
(dependant on age group) and all sessions are led by both Deaf and hearing
staff, in BSL and English. Each week we’ll be playing games, making new
friends, gaining confidence, learning new skills, being silly and having lots
of laughs! The brilliant thing is that the sessions are free as the youth
theatre is funded by BBC Children in Need and the Ashley Family Foundation.
We have high
expectations, working towards sharing events- with the young people working
both as performers and in backstage/ technical roles. Deaf creative industry
professionals will be brought in to run specific sessions such as Visual
Vernacular for performance, physical comedy, puppetry. Each summer and Easter
there will be a weeks’ “residency” (non- residential) for the older groups
where participants will receive intensive training with sharings at the end of
the week. We will also run field trips for older participants to theatre events
run by leading lights in Deaf theatre such as Deafinitely Theatre & The
Deaf and Hearing Ensemble that will inspire and motivate our young
participants. It’s exciting stuff”.
Taking Flight make bold, unusual theatre productions
that place D/deaf and disabled performers centre stage. Their work tours
Wales and beyond and they often find themselves in geographically isolated or
rural places, performing in woodlands, castle grounds, community centres or
shopping arcades as well as traditional theatre venues & schools.
The youth theatre launch comes at a very busy time for the company,
who have completed two successful tours of England with their critically
acclaimed productions ‘peeling’ and ‘You’ve Got Dragons’ as well as expanding
their work in the area of Access Consultancy.
Artistic Director and company co-founder Elise Davison explains:
“Having developed our own practice over
10 years, we’ve become the “go to” organisation in Wales for advice,
information or inspiration on integrating access & working with inclusive
casts. We’ve worked alongside & supported companies like Likely Story, The
Atrium, Bath Spa University, Cascade Dance Theatre, University of Wales Trinity
St David’s and Mess up the Mess.
Alongside our recent performance of Kaite O’Reilly’s
critically acclaimed play ‘peeling’ at TheaterFestival
Grenzenlos Kulture in Mainz; I was asked to take part in an industry ‘speed
dating’ event where people from throughout the theatre industry in Germany
could ask me questions and learn about Taking Flight’s journey, gaining advice
on how our practices can be incorporated and adapted to fit their
organisations. I’m glad to say it wasn’t as scary as it sounds! I am really
proud to be able to tell the world about what we have been doing in our little
part of Wales”.
You’ve Got Dragons actress Stephanie Back, who is Deaf, is the group
leader for Taking Flight Youth Theatre, she is supported by an assistant, Anna,
who is hearing. Stephanie welcomed the new initiative:
“A Deaf Youth Theatre in
Wales can only provide a wealth of opportunities and benefits for all involved.
It was through theatre that I found my own Deaf identity, I found how I wanted
to communicate to the world and I found the strength to fight for who I was as
a Deaf woman to be accepted in society today. It brings young D/deaf people
together, reduces isolation and teaches invaluable theatre skills which are
otherwise not readily accessible to the D/deaf youth of today”.
rarely see a true representation of society on stage – Taking Flight have
worked tirelessly to challenge this under representation. For over 10 yrs we
have been placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage. We have been
frustrated by the lack of positive role models on our stages, especially in
Wales and have worked hard to change this.Taking Flight Youth Theatre
will be developing and investing in the talent of the future. We can’t wait to
Flight Youth Theatre sessions are held at Wales Millennium Centre on Saturdays
during term time. To book a place with Taking Flight Youth Theatre, or for
further information, email email@example.com
I am sure that many of us would dread to know what the contents our minds would look like if they were to come into reality. Those odd dreams, the nightmares and the fears.
Peeping Tom’s Child brings all of these to the forefront in a bizarre continuous performance staged in a pretty normal looking forest clearing. Taking the fears and dreams of a child, what we encounter for the next hour or so is not only comical but at times quiet frightening and confusing.
By no means is this a negative comment.
With a little feeling of inspiration from the likes of Antonin Artaud’s theory of Theatre of Cruelty and a touch of Bertolt Brecht’s Alienation effect, we are intrigued by and at times disgusted at what we see. For the few, this is too much but for the many, once you are invested, there’s no leaving until the end.
Engagement comes in the anticipation of the next scene. Seamless in delivery, and with seemingly no obvious scene changes (although, of course there is, but they meld into one another so well, you can hardly tell) we encounter bizarre character’s with little relation to one another; scenes that we couldn’t even imagine in our wildest dreams, and they form together to give real laughter, uneasy laughter and real “WTF” moments that are nothing but brilliant.
There are ranges of physical theatre throughout the piece – bodies push the boundaries of what we understand they are capable of; like liquid, at times mechanic, without fear and flawless. One cannot help but be in awe of the performer’s capabilities and inspired by how graceful and yet at times fearless their movements can be.
Child is really something special. Not for fans of contemporary or traditional theatre, but certainly something that everyone must try for the sheer courage and impossible creativity it exudes.
A monochrome Zoetrope of cross- continental imagery.
“Created in collaboration with Peruvian artists and long- time collaborator, composer Steve Blake, ‘Laberinto’ continues Anderson’s work around misconstruction of reimagined lost dances, leading the audience on a serpentine journey into the labyrinth, into worlds beyond death.”
The piece was performed at Bristol’s Old Vic in their Weston
studio, an enchanted yet cosy space which fit the themes of Laberinto
perfectly. This meant the dancers were really amongst the audience, almost
close enough to touch but certainly close enough hear and maybe even feel their
The dancers begin the piece with grounded movement which
seems heavily influenced by Capoeira, an afro-Brazilian martial art form. They
create strong shapes, providing visual imagery for the audience which is almost
like a caricature or cartoon. This makes characters for each performer within
the monochrome zoetrope of cross- continental imagery that emerges on stage.
The dancers hold their own persona within the piece, each
with their own personality and therefore, their own characteristics. This allows
the audience to form a relationship with each, creating space for light- hearted
comedic moments which feature regularly within the piece and to the very end (including
the bow). These add to the theatrics of the performance and provide breaks from
the intensity of the images throughout. Also making the piece accessible for
those, who are not necessarily from an arts background.
I adored the stark contrast between the characters, whether
that was being devilishly camp or oppositely, stern and unphased. The posture
of these really played true to the role. They often carried a Parisian
‘laissez-faire’ attitude which occasionally indulged us in their inner
flamboyance. However, that isn’t forgetting the shift in physicality when
performing sections that deemed more heavily tribal influenced. The dancers
would then adopt a curved and more grounded approach, contrasting the seemingly
European personas they were previously carrying. Sadly, as the performers
tired, it did seem as though the sparkle of what were such strong, captivating
personalities had become more distant and less embodied by the dancers.
The costumes, all variations of monochrome catsuits, hold
reference to French icons such as Marcus Marceau as well as to Incan or Native
American masks. This fusion of European and Latin American aesthetics is
constant throughout the piece, both in imagery and movement. The use of face
paint on the face enhances the characters in which the dancers play. With
strict monochrome and neutral expressions, it is their physicality which tells
us of their individual stories. Only to be broken with exaggerated facial
expressions or the use of the tongue which strikes contrast to the sullen
monochrome otherwise. Imagery like the sticking out of the tongue and piercing stares
relate to that often seen in tribal rituals. This is heightened in the
penultimate section of the trio. The trio is made up of a solo and a duet. The
soloist seems to be trapped within a shamanic ritual between the other two
dancers. The two dancers appear to be chanting around the soloist but not
verbally, physically. The shamanic chanting is created via the use of hands and
gestural movements, almost like a text. Repeated, over and over, each time with
more power and vigour, growing in strength and intensity.
Throughout the piece the dancers’ hands will never be seen in a fist, but always splayed or stylistically positioned. Often the hands and arms will make references to whacking or vogueing foundations, often crossing over with that of 1980s catwalk models or magazine covers. This shape of movement is always precise, with transitional movements from one shape to the other. These shapes provide the context for the audience, often presenting imagery from familiar historic images. Not only supermodels but mimes, jesters, court dancers and circus performers. I did question at times which images have been used to make the choreography, as although some were obvious in their links, others not so much. There seemed to be expressions that linked with that of ‘Uncle Tom’ propaganda from the 1950s but whether that was purposeful or solely my connections, I am unsure.
The choreography itself relies on a mixture of devised games
(such as freezeframes or adding to the picture) as well as the use of strict
patterns playing with timings, canons, shape and poise. The accents of the choreography
tended to swap between ‘hits’ and breaks’, meaning sharp held movements and
sharper movements that then blend into something softer. The pathways of the
piece were most intriguing and formed a key role within the piece. The
characters would glide past each other, whilst in strict canons but along
unusual pathways meaning as the audience, your eyes were constantly drawn to
different areas within the stage.
The set simply details a square of flooring which is matched
by a dangling box light above. This cube of parameter provides ample space for
the performers to move and with their grounded movement quality, they seem
encased within the space and we the audience are peeking through the looking
glass. The strict spacing provided by the set allows the structure of the piece
to provide breath and more importantly to reset from scene to scene. Almost as
though when the dancers aren’t within the set, they are offstage (although they
continue to pursue their characters and to respond to what is emerging on
I was fortunate to witness the Q&A at the end of the
performance which added further insight into the process of creation and how
such a project came about. I was happy to learn that photographic images had
been one of the core ways in which the piece had been created and that the
piece focussed on these shapes and imagery throughout. It’s wonderful to see
such open ways of creating and these types partnerships taking place. I look
forward to seeing more from such an emerging professional company and wish them
the best of luck on the rest of their tour.
In an apocalyptic world, who would you turn to for help? You Stupid Darkness! shows us the extent of our harm to the World, but in the darkness, there is a light, with a group of volunteers offering their listening skills.
Our stage is set in a call centre/general office set up, while dilapidated from the ranging weather conditions of the destructive World outside, it is like any we would normally see. And when our volunteers come in, it would be hard to think that, once their gas masks come off and the door is closed on the wind, the snow, the gas, that this is set at any time but a usual, current day in England.
Throughout the play we see the volunteers take calls, make tea, eat doughnuts, bide time during the quieter times but ultimately get to know them individually and their growing friendship. Full of comedy, we easily connect with the character’s and laugh at the daily menial issues.
But entwined within this, there are times of sorrow, of pain, where their happy persona’s for the calls goes away and they are people in need of help and to talk themselves. We easily relate to this, showing that no matter the development of the World, we are all still scared, all facing family or other problems and that we can only adapt.
The performers are completely flawless – there is a real feeling to them; their character’s are well defined, they are perfected and they interact with one another with ease, making us feel as if we are looking through a 1 way mirror into their office.
As we get to know them more, we get to know the state of the World more; parts of the building begins to fail and fall, making us jump, and there is a slight uneasy feeling at this possible reality, while the 4 volunteers get on as if it is nothing.
You Stupid Darkness! is heartwarming, but also quite frightning in topic. While making a point on a climate/global level, we also learn a lot about friendship, love and enjoying the little things in life.
You want to make a show but you don’t know what about. So where do you start? What are you tools? But even better, what if the show was about making a show?
Bunny Productions, with performers Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence invite us to experience their thought process, their research data, which heavily includes verbatim suggestions and thoughts from the public. At times, this can be a risk, and as Bunny find out, there are a range of ideas and comments culminating in some comical but drawing a topical conclusion.
As a disabled actress, Hammond has been working in the industry for many years, seeking roles for her talent and not for her disability. Due to pain management, Hammond has an automatic wheelchair, one she is able to leave whenever she likes to. But, while the pair wanted to make a show not about disability, this seemed to be the only way to go when a public cannot get past the chair.
We learn important lessons about stereotyping with both performers, and learn about them in their reality: Hammond comes across as if like she is always up to mischief while Spence is the more demure, goody two shoes. We soon learn in life this is the other way around, but we can see that the industry and how we as an audience perceive what we see on stage and screen is often firstly aesthetics, and at times this can unjustly be what disabled artists encounter daily.
Bunny have this wonderful rapport on stage. Bouncing off one another, there is clearly a basis to the show, perfected for the stage but you also feel as if their undying trust for one another lets them have fun with the details, and while in a normal production, it would be perceived as ‘corpsing’, their break away from perhaps the ‘script’ just adds to their charm and their partnership.
The show is full of comedy, using multimedia to at times enhance this, giving it a more stage element than us being invited to chat; but this doesn’t distract from us feeling welcome, as part of their on stage presence and almost like friends. And while comedy is a huge factor, we are soon hit with the hard facts. Information of the deaths and problems disabled persons have faced with benefits being withdrawed, is a punch to the gut after laughing and smiling for 45 mins, but it is needed and really hits home all their points they have culminated and projected to us.
Still No Idea is a lot of fun, a lot of food for thought and very much a show we need in the current climate.
You know you’ve hit on something good when the support act is as good as the headliner. It may have been The Trials of Cato that we had come to see, but it was the five-piece female band Tant that we went away talking about. Running slightly late, we wandered into the theatre at Pontio Arts Centre and were immediately transfixed by their magical and melodic tones. They proceeded through a half hour set that traversed the boundaries of folk and pop with tremendous subtlety, producing a sound that felt highly original and resultantly captivating. All are clearly talented musicians, whether on harp or guitar, but it was their combined vocals that really struck me. Performing acapella on the song ‘Gwydyr Glas’, their voices played together like wind chimes, singing in beautiful harmony whilst also producing distinct tonalities that made this a really fascinating piece to listen to.
At the end of their set, Tant were wildly applauded off stage. Recognising their popularity, The Trials of Cato twice paid tribute to them during their own set, where the praise was again handed out, and deservedly so. It was clearly an inspired choice to have them open. Only the best could follow. The Trials of Cato are certainly that, having already scooped up Best Album at the Folk Awards in spite of their relatively short career. Opening with an instrumental piece before going straight into ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, these early numbers demonstrated the toe-tappingly catchy rhythms that make their music such a joy to listen to. ‘Haf’ added a lightness of touch to proceedings before ‘Cân John Williams’ was given a Lebanese vibe thanks to a particularly strong instrumental section at its end. The only slight melancholy in the evening came courtesy of ‘My Love’s in Germany’, but even here the performance was more rousing than depressing.
We were then treated to some new material in the form of ‘Dog
Valley’, from an album that should be out later this year. It was a track to
sit back and enjoy, reminiscent of freestyle jazz and showcasing their skills
as truly accomplished musicians. This and ‘Gawain’ are highly recommended for
first-time listeners, the latter their “prog rock” offering, which turned this
intimate venue into a few thousand seater stadium through excellent lighting
and amplified sound. Two favourites in ‘Aberdaron’ and ‘Gloria’ then followed
before they closed out with an excellent rendition of ‘Kadisha’. So good was
this final number that there was no need for an encore. Indeed, in hindsight,
there should not have been one, for it was hijacked by a woman intent on
playing tambourine with them on stage. The intervention of security a few
moments later meant that any chance of the band making the best of this
unexpected entrance was lost. A chorus of boos followed, and the subsequent
final song fell a bit flat. It was a disappointing end, but the only blot on
what was an otherwise incredible night of Welsh folk music. The strength of and
sheer originality on the national scene at the moment is inspiring. The Trials of Cato most definitely
reflect that, and after their performance here, Tant are undoubtedly doing the same.
On January 10th, I took a trip to Caerphilly Castle. Having never been there before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – my knowledge of castles extends to, and ends with, Castle Coch and the sparing glance I give Cardiff Castle when j hustle passed it in the city centre. I paid four Time Credits (per person) to get in, and I’d say it was wholly worth it.
Arriving there was amazing, it was so much bigger than I thought, and all of the greenery and animals made it feel almost magical. The long stretching bridges and the reflection from the sun off the water in the moat in its glaring way was amazing; the cold day almost turned warm with how picturesque and summery the scene looked in front of me.
The castle itself was winding and really inviting, it leads you through it without you knowing it has. Every room connects to the other with its own feel of secrecy and intrigue. I found myself wondering more than once whether to go up or down a set of rocky, spiral stairs, where I’d end up on the other end of them and how I’d get back to go the opposite way, but that worry was hugely unnecessary as I was always lead back around to discover it all, whether I noticed the decision was made by my own feet or by the castle floors or not.
My favourite parts were the stretching balcony, almost like a corridor in its length but giving you a view of the greenery and moat on one side, and the courtyard below on the other side every few steps, the corridor that felt more like a cave; enveloping and private, and the very top of the towers (it was just a shame that some of the rock had eroded away enough for the actual top to be blocked off – but despite that, being at such a height in such a space of land was honestly incredible).
From the gift shop, I bought a small pink dragon. There was an area right where you start your trail where you can look into an enclosure from above and see a few dragon statues. They’re so bright in colour and give you honest piercings looks (the kind that make you think the eyes are following you).
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.