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Review of “Whitney” seen at Chapter by Roger Barrington

 

 

(3.5 / 5)

 

On a warm Tuesday evening on 3rd May 1988, a colleague of mine and I spent a couple of hours in the company of Larry Wansey. Wansey at this time, was Operation Director of the Dallas Cowboys, but had taken time out to act as Security Director for Whitney Houston’s Moment of Truth World Tour. When researching for this review, I had no idea other than the Cowboys connection, of the man I was talking to.

A celebrated undercover operative for the FBI, he was involved in the Patty Hearst 1974 kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Later, at the time of 9/11 he was Managing Director of Corporate Security for American Airlines, and was heavily involved in the investigation of that tragic event. I remember him as a very affable man with a good sense of humour.

Why did this conversation take place? Well at this time, I was employed in the In-house security team at the InterContinental Hotel at Hyde Park Corner, and Whitney was not only using this as her base for her 8 night stint at the Wembley Arena, but for her Paris gig as well. She stayed about a fortnight at the hotel and Larry wished to discuss security arrangements for her stay, although I seemed to recall, we talked mostly about other things.

Incidentally, at this time, my ultimate Boss was Stephen Mulligan, who lived in a suite in the hotel with his family, including 3-year old Carey Mulligan. But that is nothing to do with this film, so I shall return to my review.

Shortly into her stay, I bumped into Whitney and Larry, in a lift. Taken aback, I entered rigorously chewing gum for which I gave the excuse that I was making my most recent attempt to quit smoking. Larry had introduced me, so Whitney enquired, how long had I managed to go without a cigarette, and checking my watch, I informed her, about 19 minutes. She shrieked with laughter and a few days later, when I was on duty at a press conference she was doing, she recognised me and with a smile asked if I had still managed to quit smoking to which I responded with a sigh. There ended my short conversation relationship with this American icon – totally forgettable for her but the opposite for me.

What emerges from Kevin Macdonald’s worthy but flawed documentary of the life and death of this iconic American pop star, is her sense of humour – which I think is shown above within my own experience. She loved life and it is all the more sorrowful, that her rapid decline and ultimate death was fueled by a combination of drink and drugs and being surrounded by people, both friends and family who brought this on.

I say flawed, because I think this kind of documentary can only go so far on trying to identify the real Whitney. “All the music. All the stories. All the answers” is the movie’s tagline and it doesn’t really merit any of these assertions. A couple next to me were complaining that there wasn’t enough of her singing so left half-way through. Certainly, all the answers was not provided. It is rather like reading an autobiographical book, where the author naturally only writes about what he/she wishes to know about. Likewise here, people interviewed are selective on what they tell you. Her husband Bobby Brown, flatly refused to talk about her drug abuse.

There is reference to their child Bobbi Kristina Brown on record of having said that she wished to kill her mother. ‘Whitney was probably a good mother at first” we are told, but with the tragic 2015 death of Bobbi Kristina in an uncanny similar way to her mother, this topic is left tantalisingly unfulfilled.

Glaswegian Macdonald is a skilful documentary filmmaker. He won an Oscar in this category in 2000, for “One Day in September” that chartered the hostage taking of the Israeli athletes by militant Palestinian group Black September in 1972. He asks searching questions to a wide range of people associated with Whitney. To get an idea of her early life, he interviews Cissy Houston, her mother. Cissy, (who I also met because she was doing a duet with her daughter, and also came across as a friendly person), is a former singer of note. After a successful career as a backup singer to her niece, Dionne Warwick, (there is only 7 years age difference between them), Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin she is part of a soul dynasty. In addition to her family connection with Dione, she is also aunt to singer Dee Dee Warwick and a cousin to famous opera diva Leontyne Price. From Cissy we learn about Whitney’s gospel singing  upbringing and the way her young life was largely protected from the harsher environment that existed in Newark, New Jersey at that time.

Brother Gary provides insightful comments and there is much attention brought to the Svengali type presence of lesbian and possible lover of Whitney, Robyn Crawford. But there is nothing particularly new here.

Probably the coup of this investigative work is the reference to Whitney being molested by her cousin Dee Dee Warwick.

Macdonald provides an historical aspect as Whitney’s life develops with archival film, using the Newark Riots pf 1967 and images of Ronald Reagan to provide a couple of examples. You do wonder whether this adds to the film, or gets in the way, and, at best, is only moderately entertaining.

This is the third documentary of the life of Whitney. It is a highly watchable film that probably goes as far as it can do at this time, only 6 years after her death. Maybe the definitive documentary on this singer has yet to be completed, and perhaps the passage of time, when others are more forthcoming to reveal material, will make this possible.

“Whitney” is currently showing at Chapter. For schedule and booking tickets, please visit,

https://www.chapter.org/whitney-ctba

End

Roger Barrington

Review: Mischief Movie Night, New Theatre By Eloise Stingemore

The Mischief Theatre Company returned to Cardiff with a brand new show, Mischief Movie Night, which delivered calamity, insane capers, and much hilarity on an epic scale. What is different you may say to the company previous productions such as The Play That Goes Wrong that showed at the theatre in May – the audience is in the driving seat!

The cast is at the mercy of the audience and who must use their quick wit, creativity and sheer talent to create a performance based on the scenario you created for them in that moment. This is no small feat but The Mischief Theatre Company as demonstrated in the previous productions (Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robber) certainly pulled it off. The seasoned original cast members we know so well and have come to adore for their laugh out loud shows packed full with British humour and organised chaos, exceeded all my expectations with their new production.

Their objective is to create a feature-length film based on the genre, location and title provided to them by their audience completely on the spot, and getting you to laugh while they’re at it. A whole host of genres, mythical creatures and wishful fantasies where thrown at them, ranging from erotica to anima, fire breathing dragons and Wales winning the Six Nations. Oh boy did they deliver!

The Cardiffian Tales were born which saw Wales a divided land full of mythical beasts and creatures unite and defeat the evil ice king with a tree elf leading the charge and as a symbol of their new unity saw Wales rise up and win the Six Nations. One aspect of the show that I particularly liked was the live rewinds, plenty of pauses and even a fast-forward or two, utilised by the narrative using a figurative remote to cut out dead ends or repeat audience-hit jokes. The continuous slapstick and stupidity for a whole 75 minutes brought tears of laughter to the audience eyes and put smiles on their faces from start to finish.

Mischief Movie Night is improv theatre at its best! A masterpiece was created that night, which was brilliant, funny, interactive and truly a crying-with-laughter experience you will not forget.

Tour dates and ticket information can be found here: https://mischieftheatre.co.uk/shows/mischief-movie-night

Review, Talk of This Town, Catherine McGrath by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

Catherine McGrath represents the next stage in the UK country music revolution. I say this because it is not just BBC Radio 2 that are championing her. Scott Mills and others have been playing the 21-year-old’s music over on Radio 1 too. Her debut album Talk of This Town is bursting with the kind of country-pop that made a certain Taylor Swift known to the mainstream. In that case, it might not be one for the country music purists. But for those of us who like the lyrical emphasis and authenticity of the genre, McGrath serves up a real treat.

Talk of This Town is essentially the soundtrack to the past three years of her life. Adopting a heart-on-sleeve approach to her storytelling, McGrath is open, honest and vulnerable about her relationships. It has the effect of making them relatable in such a way that even I, a 27-year-old male, could find solace in some of her songs. I say this because their themes resonate beyond the boundaries of their mostly romantic settings. For example, opening track ‘Talk of This Town’ presents the image of a person who doesn’t quite fit in (tick), who has been continuously shot down (tick), and whose dreams are waiting to be burned down at the first signs of fear or failure (tick). The more I listened to this song, the more I could see myself in it, and the more I gained inspiration from McGrath’s ultimately positive outlook.

The further one goes into the album, the more McGrath’s honesty and vulnerability transcend the catchy pop riffs of her songs. They may be coated in music that makes you want to dance, but contained within are raw and revealing emotions that are comforting, hopeful and inspiring in equal measure. For example, ‘Just in Case’ is underpinned by uncertainty, ‘Dodged a Bullet’ reveals hidden emotional scars, and ‘Thought It Was Gonna Be Me’ is a harsh lesson in heartbreak. This latter song is beautifully complimented by its predecessor ‘Wild’, the epitome of McGrath’s blend of honest storytelling and infectious country-pop music. ‘Wild’ is probably the standout track on Talk of This Town, followed closely behind by ‘Lost in the Middle’, which has the most stupendous chorus. Both tracks are heavily-laden with guitars, whilst the addition of the banjo gives each a sprinkling of country and western flavour. This seems to be the favoured musical mixture for McGrath, and it works well, despite what country music critics such as David West and Duncan Warwick might argue.

Talk of This Town is a wonderful collection of songs that might be influenced by the sound of Taylor Swift but are written from the heart of Catherine McGrath herself. They are a beautifully blended set of country-pop songs that draw comparisons not only with Swift but Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris too. There is a Kacey Musgraves-like honesty to her storytelling that definitely leans towards the hopeless romantic of Musgraves’ Golden Hour. Yet despite this emphasis it remains hugely relatable, largely because McGrath presents her experiences in such a way that the themes contained within them become identifiable beyond their specific context. She is the outsider, the dreamer, playing second fiddle and without much romantic luck. Yet in spite of her experiences she remains positive and inspired. You need only listen to the music that she combines with her lyrics to realise this.

Catherine McGrath is a real talent. She is going to go far, not just because she is making great music but because she is a genuinely lovely person too. The response to the release of Talk of This Town was evidence enough that she is fast winning a legion of fans. Her autumn tour will surely be the last in which she plays the UK’s smaller venues. The larger arenas beckon. It won’t be long before this talented (for so long supporting) artist becomes a regular fixture at the top of the festival bill. And she truly deserves it.

Click here to view her website.

gareth

Review Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre/Theatr Clwyd by Hannah Goslin

 

(4 / 5)

 

I’m going to begin this review, simply with, what a lovely play.

I wouldn’t say it is extraordinary, ground breaking or shocking. But it is clever, interesting, and a new view on feminism and the Me Too movement.

Judy (Katherine Parkinson, of The IT Crowd) and her husband Johnny (Richard Harrington, Hinterland, Poldark) love the 50’s. So much so, that one day they decide that with what they have in earnings, they could live the life of a real 50’s couple. The wife as a stay at home housewife, and the husband bringing home the bacon. Their home is styled of the era; their clothing is of the time period; technology is barely visible in their lives. All in all, they have a perfect yet romanticised life.

As time continues, their lives break down, and there are cracks in this perfect life. Questions on morality and feminism becomes heightened, with Judy announcing she is a feminist as she chose this lifestyle. The lifestyle of keeping a home and her husband.

From a unusual childhood, with divorced parents, this seems like Judy’s way to make her life and her marriage perfect. But is a relationship all about the aesthetics?

The set is beautiful – a cut away house, we fully delve into the ins and outs of their lives, the bad and the good and still feeling as if we are intruding in their facade of a life.  We are fooled, with how good the beginning premise is, that when she cracks out a laptop, there is a roar of laughter – is this some multi-dimensional world? No – it’s something even stranger; a couple living in the past.

 

Katherine Parkinson, is one of my favourite actresses. She adapts to any character, from The IT Crowd, to The Boat that Rocked and so on – this is no different. Every element of her acting is perfection – from her pristine housewife life, where even her walk is meticulous and precise, to a flash back to her as a finance manager, who is more laid back and carefree.

Richard Harrington, to our Welsh readers, is more well known for his starring role in Hinterland. Another well established actor, he takes on this doting and fun loving husband character, with gusto. When they become extremely emotional, it is natural and a triumph to acting relationships.

Home, I’m Darling, which had it’s debut at Theatr Clwyd, features two promising and excellent Welsh performers, (supported with the character, Alex, played by Sara Gregory). It is not only a wonderful play, showcasing welsh and english talent, but also surprisingly poignant for current climate in relation to feminism.

Home, I’m Darling continues its runs at The National Theatre until the 5th of September.

Hannah Goslin

 

Series Review, Hidden, BBC Cymru Wales by Gareth Williams

(3 / 5)

When one looks back over 2018, Keeping Faith is sure to come out on top in the world of Welsh television drama. It has been a huge success. Its latest stop on its incredible journey is primetime BBC One. It goes from strength to strength, and will certainly deserve all the accolades that come its way. In amidst all the hype of this brilliant series however, it has been easy to overlook another Welsh drama that has been airing over the past two months on BBC Wales and BBC Four respectively. Produced by the creator of another Welsh hit drama Hinterland, Ed Talfan, Hidden has been allowed to bubble away below the surface of Keeping Faith’s success. I would suggest that this is primarily because it is a crime drama. And though I would agree, to a certain extent, with some of the groans that accompany the thought of yet another one hitting our screens, it does at least offer something a little different. There is a slight spin on the achingly familiar.

The twist in Hidden’s tale is the revelation of the killer at the outset. The opening scene sees a girl running through the woods, pursued by an unknown man. This girl is subsequently found dead. The investigation that unravels across the whole of the series centres on finding this girl’s killer. Such a task is given to local detectives Cadi John (Sian Reece Williams) and Owen Vaughan (Sion Alun Davies). But whilst they are in the dark over the killer’s identity, the viewer is given unprecedented access into the life of Dylan Harris, played brilliantly by Rhodri Meilir. A strange, sensitive and brutalised figure, Harris lives with his mother and daughter in an old farmhouse deep within a forest of the Snowdonia National Park. It turns out that he is a serial abductor of young women. Having let his latest catch go, we witness his unsuccessful attempt at abducting a local farm girl. Then, as the pieces of the drama’s puzzle start to come together á la The Bridge, he claims the life of long-suffering student Megan Ruddock (a standout performance from Gwyneth Keyworth). What follows is a tense thriller that follows both the police investigation and Harris’ narrative simultaneously. As a result, it involves the viewer deeply in its various twists and turns over the course of its eight episode run.

Despite the fact that the central crime isn’t particularly original, Hidden remains worthy of some praise for the performances of two of its central actors: Rhodri Meilir and Gwyneth Keyworth. Episode four in particular, which is wholly focused on Dylan and Megan, is a deeply uncomfortable yet utterly compelling hour of television. It is made so by their noteworthy performances. Firstly, Meilir brings a vulnerability and gentleness to the role of Dylan that will be recognisable to fans of the sitcom My Family, in which he played the hapless Alfie. Yet this vulnerability and gentleness are subverted as a result of the abuse Dylan has suffered at the hands of his mother (Gillian Elisa). As a result, they manifest themselves in an extremely dark and dangerous way, far from the comforting confines of the Harper household. Meilir manages to express such complexity at the heart of his character in such a way that the viewer is both sympathetic yet repulsed by him. To extract such opposing emotions is testament to Meilir and his ability to play such a broken and complex figure. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Keyworth produces an emotionally raw performance as Megan, a student whose mental anguish (outwardly shown in the form of self-harm) is exacerbated by her abduction. It is an incredibly challenging role that Keyworth manages to embody wholeheartedly. As a result, she is powerfully believable as Megan. It is easy to forget sometimes, in the course of the series, that what is witnessed is a dramatic reconstruction. Keyworth plays it in such a way that it seems horribly real. For me, it is one of the most engrossing performances in a British TV drama this year.

With a stunning backdrop that shows off the bleak, mountainous terrain of North West Wales in all its magnificent and austere glory, Hidden may not be revolutionary but it is still worth watching. With some excellent performances from the cast and a slightly different take on the conventional crime narrative, it has enough going for it to keep viewers coming back for more. If you like your crime dramas dark and disturbing, then Hidden is certainly for you. It may not be Keeping Faith but it nevertheless showcases the fantastic talent coming out of Wales at the moment at every level, from production to acting, storytelling to editing. This is very exciting. With hopefully more fantastic ‘Made in Wales’ dramas to come, the Welsh TV landscape looks like going from strength to strength.

Click here to watch the full series.

gareth

The Double FF — Ffabulous and Fflamboyant — Bus Tour

The Double FF — Ffabulous and Fflamboyant — Bus Tour

When do grown ups … get the chance to be that free?”

“I am so glad it was such a buzz for everyone! I am really, truly grateful and very happy.”

The Ffabulous and Fflamboyant Bus Tour around Cardiff, on Saturday 19 May 2018, was the second consecutive event I produced for Get The Chance during the Gwanwyn Festival of Creativity for Older People in Wales.

Also for the second time, Suzanne Noble, whose Flamboyant Bus Tour in London was the highlight of Advantage of Age’s 2017 events calendar, inspired our Wales-based event.

AofA’s Arts Council of England-funded events drove impressive numbers to their now 3,000 plus members-strong Facebook group, Advantages of Age, Baby Boomers and Beyond and 6,500+ followers-strong Instagram account The London bus tour helped to consolidate the AofA community, and it was the primary driver of human traffic to the group.

Through the power of our partnership with Advantages of Age, Get The Chance’s events have the chance to reach many more people. I was keen to build on the success of my 2017 event, Creative Listening, and to continue to develop this relationship.

Creative Listening could have been perceived as ‘fluffy’ due to it being set in a hot tub. On the contrary, it was quite a cerebral event.

Similarly, AofA’s inspired series of hot tub salons earlier in 2017 were by no means fluffy.

I was pleased to have received another grant and another chance to produce. For many reasons I wanted to mix it up this time, do something different, and I felt that it would be great to do something that was for just for fun for a change, particularly because of how intense the social and political climate in 2018 had been. People needed some levity and an opportunity for some escapism. I had no intention to make light of something that warranted a serious take — but without a doubt a creative event such as a bus tour was a platform to be able to offer such levity, and I loved being in the position to be able to offer people this opportunity.

The Double FF Bus Tour offered participants a chance to express themselves — however the mood took them. There were no dictates, no rules, only to be as flamboyant as they liked — whatever that meant to them, and feel as fabulous as they could — inside and out! A chance to hop on board and be themselves — to come out, enjoy and have as much fun as they possibly could on an open top bus around Cardiff!

So, how did it go?

From a marketing perspective, Facebook was my primary marketing tool. I started to promote the event via the Double F Facebook ‘public group’ in early March —

FFabulous and Fflamboyant Bus Tour

March 12

Gearing up for a great event. It’s greatness will be measured by levity and uncomplicated fun. It will make a nice change. Please come and join us.

The Double F Facebook group page got 75 members; Fabulous and Flamboyant Bus Tour @ Get the Chance page attracted 50 members and continues to get Likes; and the Event page, attracted another 19. Examining the analytics, there is room for improvement on these social media numbers. But before I shoulder any ‘blame’ for these less-than-ffabulous results, I would like to comment on how I felt whilst working on the social media campaign. I felt confused, and somewhat overwhelmed by what was on offer on FB, and I believe the confusion stems from the option to set up a ‘page,’ a ‘group,’ and an ‘event’.

I started by setting up the Double F group,

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1409058989223408/,

which somehow got linked to last year’s Creative Listening page, and then thought I’d better set up a separate page for the Bus Tour, and so I set up The Fabulous and Flamboyant Bus Tour @ Get The Chance

https://www.facebook.com/GetTheChanceCymruWales/,

and then supposed that we needed something to flag up the ‘event’, and set up an Event page:

https://www.facebook.com/events/200768290519952/.

I thought all of these would link up simply and seamlessly and that cross communication would flow, but this was not the case, and as a result, my efforts on FB were split between 3 different places. For the purposes of managing communications with existing ‘members’ and managing promotional efforts to attract more, it became somewhat confusing for me, and I have no doubt that it was not entirely clear to the public either. And so, while Facebook does provide an excellent way to reach the public, I have a feeling that they are now complicating their offer beyond what is practicable. Or, perhaps I need to up my game, and just figure it out! I would welcome comments from others on their experiences with promoting via Facebook.

That said, Facebook analytics have provided me with some reassuring and encouraging stats:- We ‘organically reached’ 2,344 people. Reach is defined as the number of people who had info about the event ‘enter’ their screen.

The majority of those reached were females between the ages of 45 and 64 years old. Iam satisfied with these results. Perhaps my next event will attempt to address the imbalance between men and women reached.

Oftentimes the event organizer is too busy to actually participate, but because most of the work had been done in advance, I was able to feel like a participant. I was able to really enjoy and feel part of the day, which was amazing.

Judging the mood on the day of the event — it was high spirited! The weather was ideal — it could not have been better! And the Royal Wedding on the morning of our 1pm scheduled event was quite likely a contributing factor to the sense of occasion that was in the air. The cumulative effect was wonderful.

“The Double FF Bus Tour… ‘…took a great event and made it better.”

As a producer, I am confident the event went very well, and that it achieved its objectives — we had a chance to do something different, be ourselves and have a fun day out with a group of older people. Measuring the degree of levity and volume of uncomplicated fun — our cups were full and spilling over.

The experience also offered me a learning curve — there were things that could have worked better. Logistics were the primary problem, having a starting point in one place — The National Museum of Wales — and an end point in another — Cardiff Bay. The problem this presented only became clear as it was occurring, by which time it was too late to change. And so, after the full loop through Cardiff City Centre, down to the Bay, and back up to the Castle, participants who had parked their cars in the City Centre near to the museum did not want to go back to the Bay for tea and cake. We were only a handful of people at Ffresh. Too bad we didn’t think to start and end in the Bay, that actually would have made much mores sense …..But that is part and parcel of doing something for the first time. You cannot possibly think of everything. The other was that, due to road closures for another big event going on, which we hadn’t been previously aware of, the bus driver had to improvise the route. For example, I don’t think an open top bus would have gone under the rail bridge in Riverside except under these circumstances — and in their feedback some participants said they’d found this scary. I’m very sorry about that, but it was something that was out of my control. I did check back with the bus company on this matter and I am relieved and reassured by their response:-

Dear Leslie,

Yes, we used the route through Riverside due to diversions on the day.

As you can appreciate we have been running the tours in Cardiff for over 22 years, the bridge although appears low, with a very tall person standing, they clear the bridge with a lot of room. 

We have route risk assessments done on all roads covered by our main tour,  and any roads covered due to diversions. We have used the Riverside bridge route many times over many years.

I am grateful to the bus driver, Maria, for her professionalism and for being such a great sport. She really entered into the spirit of the day. I am also grateful for Lynn Hoare’s contribution — she brought along an array of costumes — hats, feather boas, masks, capes, etc., from Marigold Costumes — which were there for the borrowing.

“The costumes were wonderful; you could see people change as they put them on.”

Another big thanks to Lucy Purrington who was our stills photographer and videographer on the day. Please enjoy her photos in the is article! Here is the short video Lucy produced.

I was thrilled to have connected with Bethan Frieze, the conductor of choir Only Menopause Aloud, and for the choir to have been part of the day. Their contribution added a huge surge of energy!

The event could not have happened without the extra sponsorship from Spice! I am especially grateful to Rachel Gegeshidze and her team for helping promote and attract participants to the event.

 

And, of course, to Guy O’Donnell, Director of Get The Chance, to Emma Robinson at Gwanwyn, and to Suzanne Noble of Advantages of Age.

There was a lot of positive and constructive feedback, amongst my favorites, pulled out and highlighted in this evaluation:-

Bethan Frieze, Conductor, Only Menopause Aloud, captures a special essence with hers:-

‘When do grown ups (who are not performers) get the chance to be that free?’

Suzanne Noble joined us on the day, and her comment makes me feel proud:-

‘The Double FF Bus Tour took a great event and made it better.’

A really happy couple of hours…I suspect that it will stay a very happy memory for all.”

Leslie R. Herman

July 2018

 

Review of “Twelfth Night” performed at Hatherop Castle by Roger Barrington

 

(3.5 / 5)

 

The Venue – Hatherop Castle

 

Cotswold Arcadians 2018 Shakespeare production, performed outdoors in the gorgeous surroundings of Hatherop Castle, is The Bard’s exquisite  comedy, “Twelfth Night or What you Will”.

This tale of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and humiliation is regarded, by many, (including myself), as Shakespeare’s finest comedy.

Viola has been rescued from a storm at sea and lands on Illyria. She believes that her twin brother Sebastian has not survived the ordeal and has drowned. Disguising herself as a young man, she enters the service of Duke Orsino.  The Duke belives himsellf to be in love with the highly desirable countess Olivia, and uses Viola, (now known as Cesario to act as a go-between to aid his courtship. Olivia, much impressed with Cesario, fulls in love with him.  Cesario, in the meantime fulls in love with Orsino. Still with me? The matters are brought to their conclusion when Sebastian enters the confused threesome’s world and all is happily resolved.

Sub-plots involve some of Shakeseare’s most famous creations. Sir Toby Belch, (Countess Olivia’s kinsman), who is fervent i n his desire to live the heady time of “cakes and ale”, typical of the twelve days of Christmastide to its utmost. His silly friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Olivia’s fool Feste, (although he disputes his role himself), Maria, (Olivia’s gentlewoman companion), and Flavia, (a servant in Olvia’s household). combine to humiliate Malvolio, (steward to Olivia), because he is a prig and pompous fellow, full of his own self-importance. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” (Act II, Scene v), read out by Malvolio from a letter written by Maria, and thereafter used as his creed.

One of The Bard’s themes in this play is to bring attention to the controversial law regarding no female performers at this time being allowed on stage. Therefore, young boys tended to play women parts and this led to inevitable problems relating to sexual exploitation, homosexuality and prostitution.

Since 1991, Cotswold Arcadians have produced an annual Shakespeare production, which has been performed at Hatherop Castle for the past fifteen years or so. The Company has acquired a respected reputation within the amateur theatrical world, and has been recognised by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in its Open Stages project as a Company worthy of assistance, and this has been shown through members taking parts in workshops at Straford-upon-Avon.

Director Geoff Butterworth has set the plot in the 1920’s, the Jazz Age era. This is exemplified by period costume and a live band playing 1920’s hits. This isn’t the first time that I have seen a Shakespearean play adapted in this way. Back in 1992, I enjoyed David Thacker’s, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” which did exactly the same thing. It work’s well, although I felt that the frivolous nature of flappers and The Jazz age is a little at odds with the Yuletide setting of “Twelfth Night”. The hot summer evening didn’t help either, but, I would much prefer viewing in this climate outdoors, than a cold January night in a deep beak winter.

The grass stage lies between two temporary stands in a traverse style.  On either side of the space there are two primitive doors, one of which has a raised balcony . The four-piece band is placed just off-stage.

The quality of acting is of a good standard and in some instances reaches a height that would grace a West End stage.

Samantha Swinford as Viola/Cesario, after a nervous start, grows into her role and is particularly  good at displaying masculine gait and characteristics. I watched the first night of this production, and based upon her improvement as the play progressed, I believe that she will do full justice to this demanding role.

Olivia, (Lizzie Leach) and Maria, (Heidi Price), both possess fine voices for Shakespeare and are equally impressive.

Fabia, (Caz Shaw) delivers her lines with a deadpan voice, if she added a rural Berkshire accent, with her appearance, you could take her for a youthful Pam Ayres.

On the male side, I warmed to Tony Free’s, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. It is easy, (and indeed I have witnessed it in a RSC production), to overplay this part, and it must be tempting to do it, but in this case the balance is spot-on. Some of the best scenes are reserved for his interaction with cronies, Sir Toby Belch, (Dave Kilmister), and Feste, John Salter), both of whom are also very good.

Jonathan Vickers, as the humiliated and somewhat tragic  Malvolio is excellent, both in his early pomposity and latterly as the affronted victim.

There are no weakness in the remainder of the cast who collectively pull off a highly accomplished performance.

Veteran director Geoff Butterworth keeps the action rolling along at a good pace and shows nicely judged delicate touches. I feel that he should reconsider the opening scene whereby Viola’s voice is largely rendered inaudible due to sound effects of the tempest. I feel that Viola’s voice should be amplified somewhat whilst the effects moderated to get a balanced result. I also felt that the actors’ voices were louder after the interval, and as it being an outdoor production, this greatly added to the enjoyment. The actors’ delivery of both prose and iambic pentameter are conscientiously delivered.

I am not sure whether the live band worked that well. It seemed to me to be an odd variety of instruments and may have been improved by just a soloist or duo. Piped music may even work better. To have a live band is ambitious, but you need it to work well, and to depict the Jazz era more realistically, I feel the playing needs more zest.

These issues aside, this is a worth presentation of one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays and together with its idyllic outdoor setting marks an enjoyable evening’s entertainment in the Cotswold, on a warm summer’s evening.

The performance runs for about 160 minutes including a 15-minute interval. It continues to run until July 28th.

Continue reading Review of “Twelfth Night” performed at Hatherop Castle by Roger Barrington

Review The Stick Maker Tales, National Theatre Wales by Kevin Johnson

The Stick Maker Tales by Peter Cox

Pavilion, Llandrindod Wells

12/7/2018

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You wait ages for a good play, and then two come along at once. Another of National Theatre Wales’ NHS70 plays, this time performed in the Mid-Wales town of Llandrindod Wells, a Victorian spa and market town.

The Stick Maker is Geth Roberts, an old sheep farmer working up the Elan valley, high above the market town of Rhayader. Famous for his hand-made shepherds crooks, and feeling the advances of time, he recounts stories of his family, and the part the NHS played in their lives.

From his grandfather’s death from tetanus, to his nephew’s work accident, and his own failing body, he speaks of his life working the hills and valleys with fondness, honesty, and humour. But now his eyesight is fading, and what good is a shepherd who can’t look after his sheep?

Peter Cox has created a wonderful character in Geth, and written a play full of humour, old-fashioned warmth, and truths. From Geth’s proud declaration that ‘I’ve alway paid my stamp’, to the harshness of losing his stillborn twin, this is no rose-tinted vision of the past, just a simple reminder of the lives of ordinary people before and after the health service was created.

The accent and dialect used are a tribute to the research put in by both actor and writer, and have had a very favourable response from the community portrayed. Sheep are ‘yowes’, a large flock is a ‘hep of sheep’, a shout of pain is a ‘bellock’. A clumsy new shepherd is ‘a young lumper’, while Geth himself is old but can still ‘nettle to it’.

Director Kully Thiarai skilfully marries the script with Llion Williams superb performance. Making the most of the jokes, he soon makes us warm to the gruff, plain-spoken farmer, whose belief that ‘a good shepherd looks after the whole flock, not one or a few’ parallels the underlying principles of the NHS itself.

That may seem like a simple observation, but with the constant attempts at privatisation, it’s one that needs making again and again.

National Theatre Wales have maintained a high standard over the last ten years, and if this play is anything to go by, those standards are actually getting higher.

Kevin B Johnson

Review The Incredibles 2 by Jonathan Evans

We are now in the renaissance of Superhero entertainment. Every blockbuster is a Superhero, on television, there’s plenty of choice of Superheroes from adult entertainment to kids animation. Many other toys and games as well, they are deeply embedded in our culture at this point. When the first Incredibles movie came out, it wasn’t amongst such heavy competition, when a Superhero movie came out in 2004 it had about one other Superhero movie to compete with as well as probably not another one coming out the year before or after that. Now, how does it distinguish itself from so many other movies of the same genre?

The movie picks up just about where the last one left, with some crazy supervillain, armed with a giant drill wreaking havoc on the city. The Incredibles launch into action, during the pursuit Superheros, are still illegal and the villain gets away, this doesn’t help their case. Fortunately, an enthusiastic fan of Superheroes is eager to bring them into the spotlight. He is Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) the head of a flashy technology company, he’s the face while his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) is the idea genius that relaxes behind the scenes.

When it comes to action sequences we need the same thing that’s required in a narrative arc. We need one character with a want and then a but so therefore and then a but again and so on and so forth until it is somehow resolved. Take for example our opening action scene where Mr. and Mrs. Incredible is chasing The Underminer. He has a huge drill and is sinking buildings and robbing a bank. They need to get inside so Mrs. Incredible turns into a trampoline for Mr. Incredible, but it goes underground making is difficult for him to hang on, he gets inside but then gets sucked into the large hose he’s using to suck up all the riches, therefore he must punch his way out of the vault and so on and so forth. Along with this, it must be shot clearly, usually with wide angle shots so we see all of the characters and get a sense of their surroundings, with a few extreme wide angle shots and close-ups so we gauge the bigger scenario and see the characters reaction so we emotionally connect with them. Being that this is animation the camera is allowed to smoothly move along with the characters in long, unbroken shots that would be nearly impossible in live action. Along with all of this, we have people with superpowers so its a case of utilizing their abilities for their situation or against eachother. Director Brad Bird and his team are simultaneously enthusiastic kids playing with their toys and sophisticated storytellers, efficiently utilizing and visualing the different elements at play.

The Parr family is still just the same as they were, only with a new situation to deal with. Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) is eager to get back into crime-fighting but is detoured so now must deal with the struggle of raising his family, Mrs. Incredible/Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) is ever concerned for the family but also has a passion for crimefighting and makes the decision to commit to that and trust Bob. Violet (Sarah Vowell), the adolescent with the power to turn invisible and create forcefields, she the constantly questioning her parent’s decisions as well as going through her own personal troubles, she is also my favorite. Dash (Huck Milner, replacing Spencer Fox from the first movie) is the young energetic kid that acts on impulse, add superspeed to the mix and it’s a perfect analogy. Finally, there’s little baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) who in fact has multiple powers, from laser eyes, to teleport, to turning into a literal little devil.

Causing trouble this time is an entity that calls themselves the Screensaver. A plotter that wears a gas mask like mask and takes control over people through the screen using a hypnotic strobe effect. They believe the people have become lazy in this age of television and convenience, so they plan to flat out enslave them anyway. Like with Syndrome in the last movie it seems if you choose to don black and white for your costume, you are the villain.

Later in the movie, more Superheroes are introduced. The Incredibles costumes are mostly red with a sleek, minimal design to them to other heroes all have a unique silhouette and color scheme to their costume so they become instantly recognizable even if you squint your eyes. This is a sign of the clear visual storytelling that animation can allow. But it is peppered nicely with a few scenes that have a majority of the shot in black, adding a threatening nature to the mood and only allowing the bare essential information to be absorbed.

The heart of the first movie is still the heart in this one, family. The Superhero genre is about taking a common emotional problem and greatly escalating it through powers and extravagant situations. The Parr family is a like any other, they drive each other crazy, support one another and when an obstacle come they do what they can to hurdle it, like any family drama, they just have the added spice of powers and villains.

In this time of many other superheroes, the original Incredibles still stands as a slick, punchy action adventure movie with a lot of heart and maturity. But through its unique visual style and interpretation of the Superhero genre is unique among its peers, the sequel is exactly the same.

(4 / 5)

Boa Review 

The opening short revolves around food and the emotional connection we develop with it. It is allegorical and has beautiful texturing with the many different types of food is puts before us. You will most likely be hungry while watching it. Though I do believe the ending will have children more confused and asking questions that immediately understand.

(3 / 5)

Jonathan Evans

Review of “The Bookshop” by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

“The Bookshop” directed by Catalan feminist auteur Isabel Coixet, is a faithful adaptation of British writer Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 Booker Prize nominated novel.

Set in a small Suffolk coastal town in 1959, as with all Fitzgerald’s novels, it is drawn from her own experience, as she worked in a bookshop in that country for a time in the 1950’s.

The plot is about awfully nice Florence Green, (Emily Mortimer) as a widowed middle-aged woman who decides to open up a secondhand bookshop in fictionalised Hardborough and concerns her battle with the local bigwigs General and Mrs  Gamart who want to convert the property into an Arts Centre. Also encountering opposition due to small-town small mindedness and ignorant philistinism she garners support from recluse Edmund Brundish, (Bill Nighy) and 13-year old Christine, whom she employs as her assistant. Into the mix comes loquacious rakish BBC man Milo North who Christine perceptively recognises is not a nice man.

The tension arises out of the burgeoning friendship that develops between our heroine and Brundish in opposition to the Machiavellian ruthfulness of the appalling Gamarts.

Isabel Coixet is a multi-award winning Catalan director, who first came to my notice with the superb, “My Life without me”. (2003). She continues to make highly acclaimed film, “Elergy” (2008) and “Endless Night” (2015) and a dominant theme throughout her dozen or so other feature movies is that the central character is a woman who takes control of her life.

Emily Mortimer is ideally cast as Florence Green, the brave and pioneering but vulnerable woman who doesn’t look for confrontation, but will take it on if she has to.

 

Bill Nighy who plays her ally Edmund Brundish is in usual scene-stealing form. Has there been a British actor since Denholm Elliott ho constantly manages to achieve this? All the best scenes in the film feature him.

 

 

American Patricia Clarkson is a regular feature in Coixet’s films and this is their third collaboration. This underrated actress manages the clipped British accent nicely and subtly provides us with a nasty determined character who is determined to get her way within the small community she resides in, as she always does.

 

Thirteen-year old actress, (at the time of filming), Honor Kneafsey as bookshop assistant Christine provides a mature performance of the precocious but charming adolescent. A couple of years on, she is already a veteran of nineteen films and looks a rare talent, even though her middle class speaking voice seems a little out of sorts with Christine’s working class antecedents.

 

Coixet’s Suffolk doesn’t look authentic. In fact, exterior shots were filmed on location in Northern Ireland, whilst interior sets were in Spain.

However, this isn’t really a problem, as Suffolk isn’t key to the story. As I mentioned earlier, it is where author Penelope Fitzgerald resided for a time in the 1950’s whilst she worked in a secondhand bookshop. But the location could be anywhere, and not only in the UK, where closed communities exist.

“The Bookshop” is a story about courage and determination. We  learn late into the film that during WW1, Edmund was an aviator, so he is the ideal person to recognise Florence’s qualities. By contrast, General Gamart, (Reg Wilson) a veteran of the same conflict but who served in The Suffolk Regiment, comes across as the worst kind of army officer of this period, who stoops to levels of deceit to cowardly succumb to his wife’s demands.

This film is also about small town bigotry, in terms of it’s consolidated opposition to a person who doesn’t conform to their small minded way of thinking. If you are brought up in a small town or village, you may appreciate what I am writing.

The time setting of the book and film is significant. The last year of the 1950’s, a period when Britain was coming to grips with the austerity of and aftermath of  WW2, marks a time with the 1960’s, just around the corner,  a decade that transformed society. Also, Arts Centres, that sprung up after 1945, were becoming the trendy venues of the 1960’s and 1970’s, thereby marking a total contrast to the traditional British secondhand bookshop – an institution that in our era of online bookselling and e-books is slowly succumbing to its eventual inevitable demise.

It didn’t pass me by, that I was watching this film at Chapter, an arts centre in Cardiff. I pondered whether I had to give one thing up – secondhand bookshops or arts centres, which choice would I make, coming down in favour of the former. A difficult decision because i love both, but books have always featured strongly in my life. I have always lived in places where books take over the place. Even in the modest flat I live in now, I have upwards of two and a half thousand books. I will never be able to read all of them before I, (hopefully), gain admittance to that great library in the sky, but that doesn’t stop my sense of anticipation when I enter a secondhand bookshop to explore its contents. “You are never alone in a bookshop” is the closing line of this film, and if you feel as I do, then you will identify closely with this.

The satisfying climax works perfectly, but I don’t wish to give the game away by saying more here.

This film will divide the majority of viewers, into those who love it, and those who loathe it. The start is a little sluggish, but if you accept what it is trying to achieve on its own terms, then you will find this an utterly absorbing and memorable film.

Country: U.K., Spain, Germany

Language: English

Running time: 113 minutes

Certificate: PG

Continue reading Review of “The Bookshop” by Roger Barrington