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The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

The multi award-winning Mischief Theatre company, of The Play that Goes Wrong fame, returns to Cardiff with their new Olivier Award-nominated show: The Comedy About a Bank Robbery. Branded as Ocean’s Eleven meets the Marx Brothers, it follows the zany antics of a motley crew of would-be crooks as they attempt to steal a priceless diamond from the city bank.

Written by, but not starring, Mischief makers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields (who were last seen at the New Theatre as a Disney hero, a sadistic narrator, and an anthropomorphic Sylvester Stallone-voiced lasagne respectively), Bank Robbery is yet another winning production in Mischief Theatre’s highly-renowned repertoire.

The cast are brilliant across the board, from Liam Jeavons’ mercurial mastermind Mitch Ruscitti (channelling Nicolas Cage via Peter Serafinowicz), to Damian Lynch as the suavely slippery bank manager Robin Freeboys, and Julia Frith as his creatively cunning daughter Caprice. However, a few performers stood out among the excellent ensemble: David Coomber as the enthusiastic prison guard-turned-amateurish-crook Neil Cooper, Seán Carey as lovable con artist Sam Monaghan who becomes increasingly (and grudgingly) embroiled in the progressively perplexing con, and George Hannigan who is credited as ‘everyone else’, and impressively performs a fight scene as three different characters.

There are some absolute standout scenes here: the prison escape  (no spoilers, it’s right at the start) is hilarious and endlessly inventive, on the level of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox. They manage to draw lots of laughs from the way in which the actors portray windscreen wipers, and there’s a really entertaining car chase using laundry hampers (yes, really). And if you do go (which I recommend you do), just look out for a flock of seagulls who might just be the jewel in the crown of this show.

This being a scripted show, I hold it to a higher standard than the completely-improvised Mischief Movie Night – and, as such, not everything lands. Jon Trenchard plays Warren Slax, the bank’s (Paul) Reubens-esque pariah, and is often used as the show’s whipping boy, to the point where it oversteps into upsetting territory – culminating in the scene where Freeboys hits him repeatedly with a book, a cane and a desk. The Freeboys/ three boys confusion wears out long before they give up the ghost; and some scenes, storylines and character interactions feel a little forced or on-the-nose (even for a farce). But the enthusiasm and talent of the cast more than make up for any missteps.

Even if the show wasn’t great (it is), it would be worth seeing for the innovative production design alone. David Farley’s set design is incredible, starting out with a silhouetted skyline of New York at night that effortlessly folds out into a whole slew of different settings as the play goes on. The set design works hand in hand with David Howe’s sublime lighting design, which at one point transforms a bare stage into an utterly entrancing underwater environment. And there’s an incredibly effective bit of staging where they make the back wall look like the office floor from a birds eye view, and simply has to be seen to be believed. This is the kind of magic you can only get at the theatre, and worth the price of admission alone.

Performing at the New Theatre through to 13th October, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is an absolutely unmissable night of splendidly silly fun!

Review Exodus, Motherlode by Judi Hughes

 

Suspend your disbelief and fly Exodus airways

(4 / 5)

Motherlode are a relatively new theatre company, directed by writer and dramatist Rachael Boulton. After training in London, she says “coming back home is the best thing I ever did”, her connection to and understanding of Valleys life in Wales is reflected in their new play Exodus.

The work shows us life on two levels – one of four very different people, drawn together by circumstance, who bravely take the chance to escape everyday Valleys life to go to Cuba in a light aircraft (don’t expect realism here!) and the more detailed experience of the female character, a manager in Peacocks whose main job is to discipline, hire and fire people in the shop. In true Valleys style she describes how, in between family crises, she tries to keep her own job and do it well. On orders from above she has the difficult task of disciplining a woman who is clearly on the edge and this doesn’t end well for either of them.

Exodus is a devised work, developed by the whole team under Rachael Boulton’s directions. Because of that and because they are genuinely skilled performers, the actors quickly inhabit their roles and are able to make their ridiculous ambition to fly to Cuba, using the local high street as a runway, almost believable. Each has their own story to tell, conveyed with humour, energy and a solo violin.

With underlying serious issues about the struggles and problems of working class Valleys people, Rachael Boulton and her team have created a funny, clever, relevant and thought provoking piece of theatre that strikes a chord with its audience; a reaction that can be heard in their laughter and the warmth of their response. With just a few tweaks, it could enjoy the success of its predecessor The Good Earth.

The strong Valleys accent of Mary meant that I sometimes missed words so although very important, it could be toned down slightly. If there is other criticism to be had, for me it was the programme. Whilst presented in a clever format, it wasn’t easy to read with small print and colours that are difficult to discern for people with sight impairment. There was also scant information on the company’s website about the cast and the background to the show. I’d really like to know the full backstory to Exodus and the ambitions of Motherlode. Oh and if you’re going to use stage smoke, do it properly or not at all – the intermittent wisps that I presume were meant to represent clouds didn’t do anything except distract.

Motherlode is supported by RCT Theatres and was created and performed at the Coliseum, Aberdare as part of their 80th anniversary celebrations. In my opinion this is the best way forward for local theatres, to support their own and create strong Welsh drama, already internationally renowned and requiring constant investment. Their support of Motherlode should be applauded and I hope that the Arts Council of Wales, who helped to fund this show, are able to give the company much more support in the future.

Exodus is not laugh-out-loud like a Frank Vickery play, but it does have echoes of the same concern and observation of the lives of Valleys people; their humour, their frustrations, their sorrow and their sheer resilience and ambition that lifts them out of their everyday lives. Hopefully a new generation of theatre goers will be able to appreciate it and fill the theatres like Frank did. Suspend your disbelief and climb aboard Exodus airways, it’s better than Easyjet!

The production is currently on tour and more information can be found here

Review by Judi Hughes

Review The Oreo Complex, Rich Mix by Tanica Psalmist

The Oreo Complex is a solo production, written and performed by Isaac-Ouro-Gnao. The beginning starts off with rooted and enchanted African tribal music produced by Ffion-Cambell-Davies. The audience were seated in a circular formation absorbing the subtle, repetitive tribal moves. Isaac positioned in the centre of the space was perfect to capture his worried facial expressions when saying the word ‘Oreo’ to himself, his traditional African clothing as well as the comfortability of him being in his skin; which was conveyed through the fluidity in his movement.

Slowly, Isaac strips down to nothing but a langot, which triggers him to start scavenging in to the audience’s space in search of clothing to ensemble a classic suit to wear. When Isaac finds the elements of clothing he instantly puts them on, a sign of relief and contentment is expressed on his face once fully dressed in to his new outfit. He then breaks the fourth wall by introducing himself where we see he is no longer the born and bred African witnessed in the beginning but a Black British, presenting himself as a spokesman.

It is from that point the play becomes a promenade performance; Isaac becomes a tour guide and invites the audience members into another space in the venue to experience his exhibition. During the exhibition experience, the audience are involved as Isaac interestingly stays in character but interacts with different members to read out transcripts, google search statistics, analyse the photography on the walls of him; which came to life when you got a deeper meaning in to what the imagery displayed. We are then brought in to a different part in the space which contained chairs and beans bags for a cinema experience; playing an audio visual spoken word clip of Isaac, repetitively using metaphorical references to an oreo to express his feelings which got faster as the clip went on. The phrase that stood out in particular was when he says ‘Unleash me, Dip me in your milk, dunken my complexity, white wash my existence’.

As we went around the space, Isaac did a fantastic job dissecting the origin of where the name calling of Oreo stemmed from. The space became an open conversation to those guilty of identifying others as an Oreo or a victim of being called one.

The Oreo Complex is all about unravelling the Oreo label, depicting the negative connotations derived and afflicted, with the effects it can have on the conscious being identified as one; especially when you have come from another culture and have to adapt in a new country, whilst also not detaching from your roots.

The narrative within this play is convincing as Isaac uses his body and poetical skill to reflect the psychological effect society can have on the brain, by derogatory name calling. The Oreo Complex is truly a captivating, unique production; conveying emotion through dance, poetry and film to simulate your thinking.

Tanica Psalmist

La Cenerentola, WNO Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff  by Barbara Michaels

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Cinderella story with a twist, Rossini’s Cenerentola has all the magic of the fairy-tale –and more. The composer’s sparkling score, with the lightness of touch that characterisesso much of Rossini’s work, lifts it up even further. This revival by the WelshNational Opera , first performed back in 2007, cleverly uses a clutch of talented Italian singers performing the central male characters, giving extra appeal when touring to European cities.

This is comic opera at its best. Cenerentola keeps most of the ingredients of the fairytale with which we are familiar, with one notable exception. There is no glass slipper.

Instead we have a sparkling bracelet – two, to be exact. – the reason being that when the opera was conceived, in Rome back in 1817, it would have been considered bad form to show a lady’s ankles on stage.

Act I opens with the Cinderella of the story, here named as Angelina, slogging away at the housework, in the crumbling castle overun by mice where she slaves away trying to cope with the demands of her two ugly sisters Clorinda and Tisbe and trying in vain to get some sign of affection from her self-important stepfather Don Magnifico – portrayed with gusto by Fabio Capitanucci. His evident enjoyment of the role, coupled with a sonorous bass, makes this singer a perfect choice for the part.

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught has a voice of exceptional depth and clarity which calls forth our sympathy as she is vilified and hassled by Clorinda (Aoife Miskelly) and Tisbe                                                                                                                                         (Heather Lowe), both of whom give great performances as the two throughly nasty stepsisters who make Angelina’s life a misery. The arrival of Alidoro (Wojtek Gierlach),officially the Prince’s tutor and mentor but actually a kind of wizard in place of the traditional fairygodmother, disguised as a beggar, hints at the chnages to come. Angelina’s kindness convinces him that she is the bride for his Prince Don Ramiro (Matteo Macchioni). Macchioni’s pleasant tenor blends well with Erraught in their duets, but with the change of identity – his valet Dandini (Giorgio Caoduro) masquerading as the Prince andvice versa – it is the latter whose performance in Act II is of particular note.

Set against a minimalist backdrop presided over by a giant fireplace centre stage, WNO’s revival is notable for its attention to detail – watch closely in order not to miss any of this.

The stepped stage could be hazardous but at Sunday’s performance any possible pifalls were dexterously avoided, not least by the team of dancers that make up the pose of mice that is a feature of this production, swishing their tails and gesturing on stage throughout. So enchanting are the make-believe rodents and so expert their delivery of revival director and choreographer Xevi Dorca’s great choreography that they are at times in danger of diverting our attention from the main action as the story unfolds.There is a cleverly portrayed storm, an overturned coach, and much more to excite as Dandini and the Prince change back to their true persona and Anglina/Cinders dream comes true.

A happy-ever-after ending – although it is rather a shame that Rossini’s Cinders is still in her kitchen dress when she marries her Prince. She does wear a sparkling tiara, but a bridal gown would have been nice. Other costumes – among them those worn by WNO’s legendary chorus – are colourful yet traditional in some respects, so why not keep this one?

There are underlying themes – good triumphs over evil, etc etc – but this pantomimic take on Rossini’s popular comedy is fun and overall should not be taken too seriously.

Now touring

Music: Gioachino Rossini

Libretto; Giacopo Ferretti

Director: Joan Font

Revivial Director/Choreographer: Xevi Dorca

Barbara Michaels 

Review, Kitty MacFarlane, Record Journal Live, Gwaenysgor Village Hall by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

On a cold Autumn evening, I ventured through the country lanes of North East Wales to the village of Gwaenysgor. It seems a very innocuous place to attend a gig with one of folk music’s brightest upcoming stars. Yet the small village hall, nestled in a corner just off the main road, was the perfect setting for an evening with Kitty MacFarlane. No sound system. No microphone. No fancy stage lighting. This was just Kitty and her acoustic guitar.

Hosted by the Record Journal Live, this wasn’t your average concert. In many ways, this was the epitome of a gig organised and run by people who are passionate about bringing live music to the local community. There’s something quite special about wandering in and finding your name written on a piece of paper, ready to be ticked off; being handed a cup of tea in a random mug that’s been poured out of a stainless steel teapot; entering into a hall whose tables and chairs have had to be laid out beforehand. No technology. No paid bar staff. Just a warm and friendly atmosphere into which MacFarlane’s gentle vocals and whimsical guitar chords beautifully contribute.

Beginning with ‘Only Human’, MacFarlane proceeded with a delectable mixture of stories and songs. It was a fascinating insight into both her songwriting process as well as her wider world. From it, I sensed a deep affinity with nature. There was clearly a deep connection to her local area too – the Somerset Levels. To be given a context to songs like ‘Man, Friendship’, written in response to the 2014 floods, a picture of which adorns the cover of her debut album, gave them an extra dimension. Told with light humour and gentle passion by MacFarlane meant that they became ever more compelling too. Such light humour peppered most of her anecdotes. Her passion was especially evident when it came to ‘Glass Eels’. Introducing the song, she recounted how she’d spent a day with some wildlife conservationists, studying these fascinating creatures. Such an experience clearly left its mark on her, her continuing interest in eels all too evident and somewhat infectious too. It gave a real insight into the careful crafting that has gone into each of her songs. Every one featured in this set had a tale to tell, and was sung with tender conviction.

One of the most captivating moments in this set came during her rendition of David Francey’s ‘Saints and Sinners’. With the guitar placed to one side, this was Kitty MacFarlane truly unplugged. If it wasn’t enough to enjoy the sole sound of her melodious voice, once the familiarity of the chorus had been claimed by the audience, they joined in with her to create a finish to the song that was truly transcendental and awe-inspiring. It perfectly encapsulated the emotion of the whole evening.

Kitty MacFarlane is as warm and welcoming offstage as she is on. She has received huge commendations for her debut album Namer of Clouds, and rightly so. It is a superb record that deserves your listening ear. In some respects, the twee surroundings of a local community hall is exactly where you expect her to be. To hear her live is a real treat. To be in such an intimate environment when you do is a bonus. The Record Journal has tapped into something here. They’ve kept it sweet and simple. On this occasion, it suited MacFarlane’s performance perfectly. Stripped back and laid bare, this was folk at its finest. A concert that was well worth attending.

Click here for tour dates and further info.

gareth

Review of 2023 at Chapter, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

 

 

Lisa Parry’s stunning new play, “2023” is enjoying a run at Chapter in Cardiff.

Back in 2005, legislation was passed by H.M. Government, that decreed that  a person who had been conceived through donated eggs or sperm, upon reaching the age of 18, have a right to know the identity of the donor parent. Hence the title 2023 because that is when this legislation will be tested for the first time.

There’s enough material here by itself to warrant a topic for dramatic work, but into the mix, Ms Parry throws in issues of D/deafness, parental homosexual relationships and the increasing influence  of technology and science that challenge our hereditary traditions of connection.

The opening scene on a park bench in Cardiff introduces Chris and John. This amusing scene is laced with sexual innuendo, and it quickly identifies the two guys as homosexual lovers.

Chris and John are debating on how to go about having their child through the services of a surrogate.

Enter Mary, recently eighteen and a product of the donor programme, who wishes to find her genetic parent, Chris. Mary is Deaf.

I should point out the distinction between referring to someone as deaf or Deaf. With the small ‘d” generally one refers to someone who mixes with hearing people, using sign language or lip-reading. Whereas Deaf people have a strong feeling of cultural identity and will feel part of a community in a stronger way.

Mary’s curiosity is fuelled by the fact that she is Deaf and wants to know whether her affliction was genetic and that she has deaf siblings, who were also brought up by hearing parents, in order for her to establish her bond of Deafness.

Lisa Parry’s script is crisp and lucid. Obviously well researched, she introduces a number of thought provoking issue into the play’s taught 95 minute framework.

 

It’s very much about connections. Familial, genetic, gay marriage, racism brought about from a strong feeling of nationalism, (very much an issue in these Brexit days) and d-Deaf issues.

Director Zoe Waterman provides a non-fussy touch that is just what is required. Lisa and Zoe are co-director of Illumine Theatre, who are presenting this play. It is obvious that together they produce harmonious and a unity of purpose to their work.

 

 

Kitty Callister’s  very white design which consists of  an Ikea type wall unit, and the most uncomfortable looking sofa that I have seen in recent times, complements the action perfectly. Eleanor Higgin’s Lighting helps to create an overall  image of antiseptical clarity.

The use of soundtracks from sci-fi movies also fits in well with the slightly futuristic feel.

Deaf actress Stephanie Back, according to the programme notes has a passion about access and inclusion in society. As Mary, she provides an extraordinarily good performance of charged emotion.

 

 

Supported by fine performances from Tom Blumberg as John and Richard Elis a Chris, who provide sensitivity and comedy in equal measures, this is a first-rate cast who do justice to the skillful writing and excellent production values.

 

Richard Elis

 

 

Tom Blumberg

 

 

“2023” provides a challenging and illuminating experience. I propose that it is in the running for best Welsh new play of 2018.

Continue reading Review of 2023 at Chapter, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Review Everything I Am, Camden Peoples Theatre by Tanica Psalmist.

Everything I Am is played and written by Natasha Simone, the play features a series of events based on her life as a young black women who’s queer, West Indian, feminist, Kayne-West fanatic and a university student finding her identity, contemplating acceptance of her sexuality from her homophobic family and dealing with black stereotypes from ignorantly racist peers.

The play is a solo act theming controversy, members of both the LGBT society and African Caribbean society; the disputes from how being a member of both societies aspired, confessions, ultra ego of celebrity Kanye guiding her through as the king of speaking his mind, whilst applying for the role of student welfare officer at the same time.

Solo act Natasha Simone, does a tremendous job roleplaying via characterisation techniques and giving the audience an insight into what her peers, family members, friends and associates were like. There are cues of her dealing with peer pressure and insensitivity by her privileged peers. The ambience sets the perfect mood when switching in-between characters and transitioning back to herself.

Intensive discussions from opposing peers on feminism arose, during an African Caribbean society meet-up, who described the movement as a white curse to prevent the sisters from sticking by their brothers; stirring rational comebacks from Natasha Simone, escalating to a heated conversation which could either make or break her.

Everything I am is a raw performance that is relatable, debatable and sincere. Natasha Simone is hysterically funny. Her play is deeply original and moving, based primarily on the exploration of identity, celebrity worship and power.

Tanica Psalmist.

Audio Information on The Last Five Years by Leeway Productions

Leeway Productions supported by Wales Millennium Centre, and in partnership with Blackwood Miners Institute presents

THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Written and composed by JASON ROBERT BROWN ­­­­­­­­
A hit both off-Broadway and internationally, The Last Five Years comes to Wales for the very first time.

This ground-breaking production combines an emotionally powerful score with sign language and beautiful movement by award-winning deaf choreographer Mark Smith.

This intimate musical charting New Yorkers Cathy and Jamie’s passionate five-year relationship is an affecting tale of love found and lost. By turns funny and poignant, with catchy tunes and a clever chronological twist, The Last Five Years will keep you riveted from beginning to end… or should that be from end to beginning?

Supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Welsh Government and the National Lottery.
Every performance of The Last Five Years is accessible to D/deaf, deafened and hard of hearing audience members, with open captioning and integrated sign language to be enjoyed by all.

For full tour dates and booking information, visit www.leewayproductions.com

 

Leeway Productions â chefnogaeth gan Ganolfan Mileniwm Cymru, ac mewn partneriaeth â Sefydliad y Glowyr Coed Duon

THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Ysgrifennwyd a chyfansoddwyd gan JASON ROBERT BROWN

Ar ôl llwyddiant eithriadol oddi ar Broadway ac yn rhyngwladol, daw The Last Five Years i Gymru am y tro cyntaf erioed.

Cyfuna’r cynhyrchiad arloesol yma sgôr ddirdynnol gydag iaith arwyddion a dawnsfeydd hardd y coreograffydd byddar mawr ei glod, Mark Smith.

Mae’r sioe gerdd onest yma am gariad a thorcalon yn dilyn hynt Cathy a Jamie, cariadon o Efrog Newydd, gan daflu golau ar bob cam o’u perthynas pum mlynedd tanbaid. Gan blethu’r doniol a’r teimladwy, gyda chaneuon bachog a chronoleg stori glyfar, bydd The Last Five Years yn eich cadw chi ar flaen eich sedd o’r dechrau un hyd at y diwedd… neu dylwn ddweud o’r diwedd i’r dechrau…

Mae pob perfformiad o The Last Five Years yn hygyrch i aelodau cynulleidfa sy’n drwm eu clyw neu’n fyddar, gyda chapsiynau agored ac iaith arwyddion yn rhan annatod o’r sioe.
Cefnogwyd gan Gyngor y Celfyddydau Cymru, Llywodraeth Cymru a’r Loteri Genedlaethol.

Y Daith: www.leewayproductions.com