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Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

By: Lewis Carol

Adaption by Mike Kenney

Directed by: Rachel O’Riordan

(4 / 5)

 

Sherman’s Christmas shows are becoming one of my family’s staple events of the Christmas season. For the second year in a row, their main stage show has avoided an overly ‘Christmassy’ offering (last year’s production of ‘The Borrowers’ was one of our stand out shows from 2017) but despite this, they’ve still managed to inject a large dose of festive fun and frivolity in to the production.

Director Rachel O’Riordan has brought together an all-Welsh cast and it’s great to see some familiar faces who you may recognise from other stand-out productions from the last few years. Hannah McPake (who plays the Queen of Hearts) comes from the ‘Gagglebabble’ duo with Lucy Rivers, who also features in the show’s musical line up. Having seen both Wonderman and Sinners Club with Lucy and Hannah, you know you are in for an off-the-wall experience if they are involved.

I’d also recognised Elin Phillips as the Cheshire Cat/Caterpillar (who I saw in Tom Jones the Musical by Theatre Na n’Og), Alexandria Riley the March Hare/Tweedledum who was absolutely incredible in Fio’s production of The Mountaintop in Cardiff’s Other Room pub-theatre, Keiron Self (The Duchess) who also featured in last year’s Sherman Production of The Borrowers along with the hyperactively hilarious White Rabbit Joseph Tweedale.

It’s a familiar cast, but as an ensemble and with the innocence of Alice, played by relative newcomer Elian West, they had wonderful energy and chemistry. I was also glad to see Callum Davies’ debut as the Doormouse, having joined the cast through the Sherman Players and as one of the Sherman’s apprentice actors. It’s great to see new talent being supported by Sherman – and Callum was adorable as the mouse!

Firstly, mad props to designer Hayley Grindle and her team, who created a stunning chequerboard set, which was dazzling and disorientating at the same time! The intimacy of the space in Sherman creates such a lovely, cosy atmosphere and the set and props were clever and creative (the baby pig, the trap doors, the table legs, the ticking clocks, the tiny doors at the end of the corridor, the teacups, mushrooms and roses).

Writer Mike Kinney added his own flair to the show, which did not chain itself to the original book or Disney movie visuals, but found its own voice.

A Duchess with a valleys accent, Tweedledee and Tweedledum with broad Newport accents and a flavour of the Welsh language peppered in dialogue exchanges and songs brought a similar kind of relevance and familiarity that Christmas Panto-goers will know and love.

Having been a life-long fan of valleys Pantomime Dame Frank Vickery who sadly passed away this year, it was lovely to see Keiron Self mimicking the same kind of high-camp, neurotic valleys Mam vibe which always hits home with me!

The littlies in the audience also loved the huge presence and scary-as-hell crazy eyes of Hannah McPake as the Queen of Hearts. Francois Pandolfo’s turn as the hen-pecked, simpering and anxious King was simply brilliant. I hadn’t expected the show to include musical numbers and it added another rich layer to this lovely production, with the cast ensemble vocals (particularly in the ‘Alice’ intro song and refrain) so sweet-sounding and warming.

Another standout song which children will love (and you’ll see them mimicking it in the foyer afterwards, no doubt) was a song about Alice’s baby sister (who it turns out has a head of a pig). It’s possible you may also have the ‘Wah wah wah…’ song in your head for the rest of the evening.

I had two ‘mini-critics’ of my own with me, age 9 – and they are typically the harshest of critics and don’t pull any punches. What were their final thoughts?

“Why did Alice not have blonde hair?!” said one of the littlies, who was completely exasperated with this minor detail. I explained this was a theatre show – not a ruddy Disney movie. Things always change on stage.

“Still – everyone knows Alice has blonde hair…also, I thought the Wah Wah Wah song went on for ages.”

Riiiiiiiiiight – so what would your marks out of five be, I asked them both – dreading the answer.

“I’d give it 3.5 stars.” Mini Critic 2 said.

Sheesh! What about Mini Critic 1?

“Definitely a 4.5 – I thought the singing was lovely and they were really funny.”

Jeez, maybe the Queen of Hearts was right about kids! I also couldn’t believe that these two did not share my enthusiasm for the Jam tarts which the Sherman had so thoughtfully provided for their guests on opening night.

“Look kids – JAM TARTS…WOWWWWW!” It doesn’t take a lot to get me excited, I admit.

“Meh…don’t like Jam Tarts.”

I tried threatening them that if the Queen of Hearts heard their comments, she’d have their heads off but….

Kids today! You can lead them to a finely tuned production of Alice, but you can’t make them eat the Jam Tarts or get over the fact that Alice didn’t have blonde hair.

Ultimately though – we all agreed this was a great little show, which got us feeling very excited indeed for Christmas (oh, and I still have the Wah Wah Wah song circling my head!).

Go see it – you won’t regret it!

WOW – Women of the World Festival, Cardiff by Gemma Treharne-Foose

If there was ever a time we needed a WOW festival, it’s in 2018. Women of the World celebrates women and girls and takes a frank and at times challenging look at the obstacles faced by women.

It’s a global movement akin to the ‘V Day’ celebrations I have been lucky enough to be a part of elsewhere in the globe. This would be the first ‘full-blown’ version of the festival to take place in Wales (between 24th-25th November) and the first bilingual version of the festival. Both V Day and Women of the World celebrations aren’t purely about one topic, one issue – this year’s WOW Fest held everything from workshops on fixing bicycles to polemical clowning and talks/workshops on homelessness, self-care, black women’s hair, boxing, movement and storytelling.

This is very much about helping women to discover something new, finding solutions and new ideas to tackle problems old and new. It’s not a conference or a symposium, but a place you come to meet, connect with others and be inspired to take part.

Founded in 2010 by Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director, Jude Kelly CBE, it’s the biggest gathering of women and girls around the globe, reaching over 2 million people in 20 cities across 5 continents. It cooks up a series of varied, entertaining and challenging talks, debates, live music and performance, activism and comedy, along with mentoring and pop up events to create an eclectic and localised version of the larger global movement.

The 2018 WOW experience in Wales took place at Chapter Arts Centre, a smaller but perhaps more homely venue than a previous version of the festival was held in 2016 – at the Wales Millennium Centre. This year’s version featured a line up including Gwenno Saunders, Charlotte Church, Sian Evans, Lula Mehbratu (The Digital Migrant), Sahar Al-Faifi, Sian James former MP, Gemma Price (Boxing Pretty), Anna Hursey, Shahien Taj OBE, Lucy Owen (BBC Wales) and LayFullStop.

The staff handling the festival were wonderful, everyone from the lively chap checking me in, despite my apparent lack of ability to talk and articulate sentences that day, the ‘caped crusader’ volunteers donning glittery WOW capes, who brought so much pep and joy to the proceedings and helping headless chicken types like me navigate their way around. Then of course the regular Chapter staff who do so much to make everyone feel welcome.

It’s a lovely open space, but intimate enough not to feel intimidating unlike the labyrinth-like WMC, in which even the most regular of customers can still feel a bit lost and overwhelmed. Due to my Thanksgiving celebrations that weekend (perhaps this had something to do with my not being able to speak when I arrived), I unfortunately missed the majority of the festival and arrived towards the end of the final day, around 3.30pm.

There was still lots to see, lots going on and there was no sign of anyone’s enthusiasm waning. There was a lively, energetic atmosphere in Chapter’s Café Bar and members of the ‘Only Menopause Allowed’ choir were getting ready to perform. I caught the majority of the moving accounts of women affected by the Grenfell and Aberfan disasters during a panel discussion in Chapter’s Cinema 1 space.

Hosted by festival founder Jude Kelly, this was a sensitive but ultimately eye-opening account of the experiences of the women at the centre of both tragedies. We heard the terrible story of a panelist’s sibling whose family were torn apart by the death of her sister who went to school on the last day of term over 50 years ago and never came home.

Her father had been Chair of the Aberfan Memorial Site and spent his entire life fighting for justice for families in Aberfan after the NCB decided that £500 was a sufficient amount to compensate for the lost life of a child. To add insult to injury, the victims were forced to pay from their own fundraising fund for the NCB to remove the slurry and waste that had killed and injured so many.

This was a sobering account of both tragedies, where the guest speakers spoke with grace, real compassion for the other panelists and determination to see justice for the victims. They were not giving up the fight – and 52 years later, the daughter of the Chair of the Aberfan Memorial site had taken up the baton from her father and continues to campaign.

The Grenfell representatives who’d come down from London to tell their story spoke of being side-lined by local authorities, abandoned by the Government and belittled by large global charities. Theirs was a story of women the world over – organisers, do-ers, campaigners, nurturers – being rendered voiceless by individuals and organisations that assumed they knew better.

Like Aberfan, the fundraising efforts in Grenfell were mishandled by outside forces. Donations which had poured in from the public disappeared without trace, no explanation given about their whereabouts. Families struggled to gain access to funds and slowly – another community lost faith in those who were meant to protect them, more than 50 years after this happened to a community over 200 miles away.

The kinship these survivors and campaigners showed on stage was clear and their dignity and fortitude was incredibly moving. After leaving the Cinema/discussion, it was clear that the content of the talk had clearly affected some audience members, who left the Cinema weeping or being comforted by friends and relatives.

With limited time remaining, I decided to explore upstairs in the hopes of catching an act which had caught my attention in the programme. LayFullStop (I’d never heard of her before) is a female hip-hop/soul artist from Manchester via Birmingham. Accompanied on Stage by Woddy Green, who she has collaborated with on a number of tracks, I was surprised that such a small and unassuming young girl could possess such an incredible sultry voice and ferocious bars.

She’s been honing her talents with well-known collectives Cul De Sac and Roots Raddix and has built a cult following since 2016. It’s been a while since I have been in the loop when it comes to music and musical trends and probably more than 20 years (or more!) since I actively bought hip-hop music or read about it in ‘The Source.’ Apart from attending a Biggie Smalls Memorial Concert in my late teens and listening to Snoop Dog on Spotify now and again, that’s about as far as my knowledge goes these days.

LayFullStop amazed me, I had only intended to pop in for a quick listen but watched her entire set from start to finish. If you’ve ever had a passing appreciation for Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill or Lil Kim, you will love her. This was an utterly refreshing musical style and approach for those who like me find the ‘style over substance’ direction of hip-hop and music in general, a bit distasteful, fake or even tiresome. Her sound is slick – and far from the blingy, flashy humble (or not-so-humble) bragging which tends to dominate hip-hop performed by men, LayFullStop lets the music do the talking, rather than her style.

Her tracks are a sweet fusion of silky jazz, nostalgic soul and UK hip-hop, delivered with wit and panache from a small but fierce Mancunian. It’s rare for artists to skip so effortlessly from punchy hip-hop to sweet singing voice, but more than that – her lyrics are gold, focusing not on the more material and shallow aspects you tend to find in popular culture, but of the life-enhancing elements we can all identify with: finding your inner voice and power, enjoying touch and sensual experiences as a woman, growing intellectually and spiritually.

This to me is true influence and I felt richer for being part of it…she’s been on repeat on Soundcloud since the weekend. Women: I urge you to listen to this phenomenal woman from Manchester.

When you listen to her singing ‘Intact (Cradle Me)’, ‘Kansas’ and ‘Bohemian Queen’ you will be fixing your crown and sitting up a little straighter before facing the world.

Even in such a small snippet, this festival was a tonic for the sisterly soul. Thank you LayFullStop and WOW Fest for giving me some courage and hope on a rainy, grey weekend – if this is what the future looks like, then we’re in good hands.

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre

The Sherman Theatre have finally let their Christmas show out into the world! This year, from Friday 23rd of November to Saturday 29th of December, you can catch Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland at the Sherman theatre. I was lucky enough to see the show on its press night to see how Rachel O’Riordan’s direction combined with Mike Kenny’s writing to bring Alice in Wonderland to life. I’ll be reviewing this whole production including the cast, characters, design and also the style of the adaptation. Continue reading Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre

Review: Humanequin at Wales Millennium Centre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(3 / 5)

Humanequin by Kelly Jones is a groundbreaking collection of three stories from young transgender people in South Wales. It is raw in its monologue format and informative in its direct approach.

The stories come straight from real life and that reality is enhanced by having three transgender actors on stage. The fact that Humanequin is the first transgender play, with an all transgender cast performed in Wales, makes it truly groundbreaking. And the production is stronger for it.

The thing with this production is, it isn’t necessarily about the theatrical quality, that I am reviewing here. It is much more about what we as an audience take away from it. This is about telling and normalising the stories of transgender for the people of Cardiff and wider society. So to start without mentioning that would be a disservice.

The direction of this production from Jain Boon could be stronger. There is some nice blocking and movement in this piece. And moments that are strong. But overall, it lacks the intensity necessary for a piece like this.

Sammy Woodward stands out as the actor with the most emotional range and they really feel in the moment with their character. Emily Joh Miller grows into her performance whilst Harry Bryant keeps a steady pace throughout. The three work quite well together, but there is that lack of intensity and chemistry between the three.

Georgina Miles’ set design is simple, yet effective. The most prominent pieces of set are some blocks and three metal grates that get moved around to change the setting. There is also a tree with tags for leaves. On these tags are written names of trans people who have been lost over the years. This tree is a really nice touch and whilst not actively used in the performance, watches over the actors and certainly adds a lot. The set is nothing extravagant, but effective in its job.

Chris Young’s sound design is really complimentary to the production with Ceri James’ lighting design representing the emotion of the piece well. The main criticism for these two is there isn’t enough. At times these aspects of design are really strong, but in others they are absent, in a way that doesn’t translate well.

As a cis woman, Kelly Jones takes on a big task of writing for a group of people we very rarely hear about. But, a task she handles well as far as the content goes.

It’s more Jones’ playwriting that lets her down. It’s not a bad script by any means, and as a piece that is ultimately meant to educate, it does a very good job. But as a compelling piece of drama it is lacking.

The three intertwined stories told as monologue is a form I personally love, but here it doesn’t work for some reason.

Characterisation also gets lost in an attempt to normalise the characters. Aspects of their personalities seem trivial. As well as this, some of the politics is very on-the-nose. Not an issue in itself, but again, it just doesn’t feel right here. It seems forced. Something that is maybe necessary for the piece, but needs to be worked into the production in a stronger way.

One decision made in the writing process that was really good, was to not make every story all “doom and gloom”. It would be easy to make this a sympathetic piece of theatre that looks at the struggles of trans people with the far too often real life consequences. And that reality is not ignored here. But neither is the reality that these are people. They act out, they do things that seem irrational at the time. But like any good playwright, Jones examines and explains them by the end of the story.

Perhaps in another performance context such as being held in a different venue, at an earlier time, in a school or university, as part of an education programme or whatever it is, this could be a fantastic production. And for people who know little about trans-issues, this would certainly be a very informative and emotional way to be introduced to these issues. So that must be commended. But, for the audience that, on the night I was there, seemed very clued up on these issues, it perhaps lacked the dramatic value that we go to the theatre for.

Not necessarily to be entertained, but to leave having found or felt something. And whilst for an audience without knowledge of trans-issues, this would be great. For those with that knowledge, it doesn’t offer much.

If this piece moves forward, the decision needs to be made whether this is an educational piece or a different form of theatre. Because both have their place and both are necessary for the growth of trans-theatre and the awareness of trans-issues in wider society. But this just feels like it’s biting off more than it can chew.

Humanequin is a strong, educational piece of theatre about the experiences of young transgender people in South Wales. Its flaws pale in comparison to its importance.

Humanequin by Kelly Jones
Performed at the Wales Millennium Centre
Presented by Mess Up The Mess Theatre Company, Youth Cymru and TransForm Cymru.
Performed by:
Sammy Woodward as Rae
Harry Bryant as Max
Emily Joh Miller as Meg
Directed by Jain Boon
Designer: Georgina Miller
Sound Designer: Chris Young
Lighting Designer: Ceri James
Stage Manager: Katie Torah
Technical Assistant: Dawn Hennessey
Producer: Jay Smith
Creative Assistant: Kay R. Dennis
Community Artist: Bill Taylor-Beales
Education Producer: Rachel Benson
Artistic Director for Mess Up The Mess: Sarah Jones

A response to Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”

Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”

We were very pleased to see some of the priority areas in the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”

In particular we were interested in Commitment 2 below

We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.

ACW then go onto make a series of intentions (below) for where they want to be in 2023 (5 years)

We will be able to demonstrate clearly that all our funding programmes promote and contribute to equality and diversity

There will be a narrowing of the gap between those in the most and least affluent social sectors as audiences and participants

We will develop the creative work of disabled artists by funding “Unlimited” commissions and developing a scheme similar to “Ramps on the Moon” operated by Arts Council England

We want to introduce a “Changemakers” scheme placing BAME and disabled people in senior executive positions in the arts

We want to see a doubling of the number of disabled people in the arts workforce

We want to see a doubling of the number of Black and Minority ethnic backgrounds in the arts workforce

We want to have introduced an Arts Council Apprenticeships scheme designed to provide opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds

We will have achieved a trebling of the number of BAME and disabled and on APW boards of governance

We have been in discussion with a number of colleagues in the arts sector in Wales to request a personal response to Commitment 2 and are pleased to share their responses below. Please do get in touch if you would like to contribute.

ACW are currently asking for responses to their Corporate Plan and future Lottery funding priorities from members of the public,  you can make an online response at this link .

Or attended one of the physical meetings. The public meetings associated with the consultation will take place at Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham (30 November), Volcano, Swansea (10 December), Riverfront Newport (7 January 2019), Aberystwyth Arts Centre (11 January 2019) and Pontio, Bangor (21 January 2019).

Further details are available on the Arts Council of Wales website. The consultation closes on 15 February 2019.

Carole Blade, Creative Producer

Coreo Cymru

During 2019, Bombastic and Coreo Cymru will be hosting Family Dance Festival, a 70-minute entertaining and interactive dance programme for families, presented free of charge in theatre foyers and outdoors during the Easter holidays. Piloted in 2017 and further developed in 2018, Family Dance Festival features three Wales-based professional dance companies and local youth groups at each venue plus taster workshops for all, framed within a bilingual (Welsh/English) context and supported with accessible shows and feedback systems.

Our 2018 programme delivered an accompanying training and seminar event to promote Audio Description, resulting in the first Welsh language audio described live performances. In 2019, we will also offer BSL interpreted shows and focus on developing an audience and appetite for these services by actively forging relationships with members of the blind and D/deaf communities. We will do this through visits to local support centres, clubs and groups, offering programme insight and critically supporting a dialogue, asking questions to inform our deliver methods and to reveal a wider view of general provision, requirements and needs. Working in collaboration with Creu Cymru’s Hynt and the local venue, we will gather data to support general approaches to accessible practice in Wales starting with visits to local clubs and later request feedback relating to their FDF experience.

We will again work with Audio Describer Ioan Gwyn, who benefited from FDF2018 bespoke training programme and toured with the company offering both Welsh and English language descriptions. We will also work with experienced BSL interpreter Sami Thorpe of Elbow Room, to support the text based work and our reach. Their understanding of the target audience and experience within the performing arts, coupled with our plans to consult with individual service users through visits to their respective clubs and groups, prior to the tour, will enable the means and structure for a quality service. Ioan and Sami will work with the Front Of House staff at each venue to ensure quality customer care of our accessible audiences, positioning themselves at the box office to welcome and familiarise. Where possible we will integrate Ioan and Sami into the actual performance to positively reinforce inclusiveness and will create specific feedback forms to inform delivery and methods.

Gareth Coles / Voluntary Arts Wales Director / Cyfarwyddwr Celfyddydau Gwirfoddol Cymru

The second commitment in the Arts Council of Wales’ new Corporate Plan recognizes that the challenge is to increase and diversify participation in the publicly-funded arts. But levels of participation in different forms of creative activity may actually be very high, as people practice their creativity in libraries, church halls, pub function rooms and on kitchen tables and bedroom desks. Voluntary Arts Wales estimates that there are around 4,000 community and amateur creative groups in Wales. But these voluntary and everyday creative activities may not benefit from public subsidy, and therefore may not regularly appear on the radar of public funders.

There is a rich and diverse ecology of the arts in Wales: an ecology that we believe includes amateur, everyday creativity as well as the professional arts, and in which all elements are interdependent and mutually supportive. An attempt to engage more people in the publicly-funded arts might start with an appreciation of the creativity that people choose to practice themselves. Rather than see a deficit of engagement in the arts, we might recognise the cultural assets and activities that already exist within communities across Wales, and build stronger links with the publicly funded arts.

 Diversifying governance

In 2016, Voluntary Arts conducted a project called Open Conversations to improve our understanding of creative cultural activity in Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities across the UK. We convened an Advisory Panel of experts in BAME creative activity, who made introductions, accompanied staff on visits, and met regularly throughout the project to discuss findings. Voluntary Arts staff and Expert Panel members conducted long, unstructured and informal conversations with practitioners across the UK. At the end of the project, we invited the Panel members to become Trustees of Voluntary Arts, and now 5 of our 11 Board members are from BAME backgrounds. As a result of this work, we became the first arts organisation to win a Charity Governance Award for Board Inclusion and Diversity.

We have also sought in recent years to celebrate the excellent work that exists in the voluntary arts sector to champion diversity, through our annual Epic Awards. Get the Chance was a recipient of the Celebrating Diversity award in 2017.

Increasing participation

Our Drawn Together project, a partnership with Coast Lines, has engaged over 2,500 people of all ages in producing over 5,000 observational drawings – creating a collective visual representation of Wales in 2018 (now on display in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff). The feedback shows that 96% of participants felt happier and more positive as a result, but the majority weren’t creatively active, or involved in any arts or community groups. We believe this worked because we took the project to places where people convene: in existing community groups, libraries, cafes, care homes, workplaces and schools. We worked with Big Issue vendors in Cardiff, residents living with dementia in a care home in Pembrokeshire, RNLI volunteers in Aberystwyth and farmers in rural Denbighshire. A majority of project participants now want to continue their creative practice.

Branwen Davies

Writer/Theatre Maker

I welcome this commitment. We all should. We all benefit from a wider diversity of people enjoying and taking part in the arts.It needs to be ever evolving and new energy and life bought in. We all have skills, experience and stories to share. Quite often I find we are ignorant or unaware of challenges facing others and it needs to be addressed and challenged and become second nature not a box ticking exercise.

In uncertain times socially and politically, especially where people feel threatened and surrounded by divisions and threats, the arts can play a pivotal role in confronting fears and open channels of communication. We are social animals. We need to seek each other out. We need to go knocking on doors and meet face to face and not rely so much on social media to connect.

I constantly bang on about the transformative power of the arts! It’s life-enhancing – music, theatre, images, installations, dance etc in all it’s glorious forms. They enable us to communicate, engage and express ourselves and that positive experience can spill out in to all areas of life. It gives us an emotional literacy and helps us try and make sense of the world and our surroundings. It infuriates me that music and drama and literature are constantly threatened within the education system and that there are less opportunities from an early age to engage and benefit. Mental health issues, anxiety and lack of confidence is on the rise in schools and I am in no doubt there is a direct link. The arts are essential to our wellbeing and the earlier we are exposed the better. It is also vital to ensure that there are opportunities for all ages and that it isn’t all focused on youth but continuous in to old age.

It has to start with a conversation – what are the complex needs of different cultures, genders and abilities in Wales? For a small nation our diversity and needs are huge! There is no one size fits all. What are the present weaknesses and gaps and challenges and how do we approach change and a new model of addressing and implementing things for the benefit of all? It’s essential to give a voice to those who aren’t usually given a platform and we must empower those who don’t think their story is of value. We also need to showcase and showoff what we can offer so that people are aware of the possibilities and the work that is and can be created.

The image of the arts needs to be changed so that people feel that they can take ownership and that it belongs to them. It’s up for the current gate keepers not to just welcome and implement an open door policy and a willingness to listen but to actually do the ground work and seek people out face to face. This connection and nurturing needs to be sustained. We have the talent, skills and expertise in Wales but we need, especially in times of funding cuts to pool resources and collaborate and communicate much better than we already do and to be in regular contact and communicate and share knowledge with each other.

My background is in playwrighting and one positive experiences I have had was ‘The Fresh Ink’ initiative with the Sherman Theatre where over a period of 10 weeks I visited St Teilo School in Llanedeyrn, Cardiff. I worked with a group of students who had never visited the theatre and who had little confidence or interest in writing. Allowing them to step away from thinking and writing academically, encouraging them to find their own voice and to take ownership of their language and rhythms of speech the students grew in confidence and produced extremely moving and passionate short plays that were then performed by professional actors at their school in front of their peers. Their reaction and their pride in their words and stories was empowering. For the first time some of them felt they had created something of worth and value and were proud to share it. The Sherman are currently running a playwrighting scheme for similar students to whom opportunities have been limited. The weekly sessions are free of charge and transport is provided. The students work will be performed at the Sherman in the spring.

 

 

Adeola Dewis

Artist, researcher, academic and TV presenter

I have just read the corporate plan. I feel little excitement although I think the targets are attractive. My main contribution to this goes back to the idea of getting out of offices and on to the streets, into community spaces without an agenda and seeing what one can learn.

This feels like wanting to do research and already knowing the answer. I think its problematic in its genesis.

Of course the key is the youth, the next generation but I also believe that bodies like the ACW already have a public image and in order to broaden its public perception (increase participation and attendance in publicly funded arts), honest work will need to be done from the inside, beyond inviting token BAME individuals to be on their board. This crucially involves getting to know who you are working with and for and perhaps getting your ‘targets’ from the people and what matters to them rather than the governments with their outward facing strategies.

I am struggling to articulate a coherent response to that as I believe the response would need to be rooted in research. What I mean is, we are talking about arts participation, but that is just ‘our’ arts. There are groups and communities making ‘arts’ and doing their thing that get washed over for various reasons. What is at the core of the desire to increase participation? What are ‘more diverse’ communities and groups already doing and how do we foster conversations that facilitate an equal space for voice and visibility and limits the threat of appropriation.

 

Bethan Marlow

Writer 

First of all, the fact that these goals and priorities have been set is fantastic because it means we’re really acknowledging that this is a problem. There are many, many people still feeling excluded from the arts (not just as audience members but as people wanting to work in it too) so having a goal to change that can’t be anything but a good thing.

How will it actually be achieved?…….. action. Action by all. Everyone, every single one of us currently working in the arts needs to assess our ways of working, our processes and avenues of finding collaborators and we need to really question how inclusive we’re been the past. And if we haven’t been inclusive, or inclusive enough, we MUST, must make change. From hiring to casting to finding audiences we must continuously ask ourselves whether we’re doing enough to make sure that ALL people feel invited. I sometimes feel like I’m the P.C police these last few years (I’m sure my co-workers feel it to!) because I have made a conscious decision to ask the difficult questions and speak up for those not in the room. And it’s not always comfortable. It makes people uncomfortable but the only reason we all feel uncomfortable is because we know there’s a problem. “Have we gone to all lengths possible to find BAME actors that can audition for this part?”, “Our focus should be on finding female musicians”, “have we considered Welsh learners for this part?” I don’t ask these questions to make people feel guilty, I’m doing it so that we can create active change so that we’re not guilty of being exclusive. We need to keep reminding each other of being inclusive until it becomes second nature.


Abdul Shayek

Director of Fio

I guess my major reflection on this has to be that whilst we have a statement being made by ACW which I believe is the right one. What seems to be missing is the response from arts leaders who have the resources to really make a difference. I guess unless a firmer and clearer picture is presented in terms of the sharing of power and resource, the inevitability is that this will remain words on a page. We, have to question how a sector which is led by same people will suddenly decide this needs to be prioritised just because ACW has said so, we need to go further and find other more innovative solutions where power is shared more equally?

Review Overlord by Jonathan Evans

(3 / 5)

Nazis are great, easy villains. They have a simple, distinct name, have an iconic look and logo so can be easily visually recognized as well as overenunciated accents. Plus they obviously committed such atrocities that they lend themselves to any deplorable situation, whether it be factual or some fantastical, made up scenario. This movie is the latter.

Overlord is not a movie like Apocalypse Now, Paths of Glory or Platoon where you come away from it with a unique view of war as well as the human condition. No, it is like running the gauntlet of video game levels where characters are simple, the explanation is minimal and about the experience. From boss fight, the sneaking around to full-on shooters this is like a really cool video game you won’t get to play but is still really cool to watch.

Little time is wasted, as soon as the movie starts we are in a plane filled with paratrooper ready to be dropped into their mission. Said mission is to destroy a radio tower, in France, that is blocking communication for American soldiers which makes it difficult. Bullets start popping up from below them so now it’s time to jump out.

On the ground, some survive the journey down and others don’t. Who we do have is Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo) one who is possible too gentle a soul to face the harshness of this war, Captain Ford a very experienced, no-nonsense soldier that has a Kurt Russell swagger about him (convenient because he is his son), Tibbet (John Magaro) a wisecracking sniper that is by no means sensitive or an optimist, Chase (Ian De Caestecker) a photographer, Dawson (Jacob Anderson) that wants to write a book about all his experiences after the war and Rosenfield (Dominic Applewhite) Boyce’s friend.

During the course of the movie characters die, I don’t mean the Nazi’s themselves or some random character that was introduced for a minute then gets their brains blown out, I mean the core group that we get introduced to. We get to know them, they have their characteristics and some happen at different points in the movie. These people aren’t invincible and it adds to the action because now we know there are in fact stakes. I consider myself to be wise to the usual way conventional movies playout and there were some surprises to me so there may be some for you too.

When we get under the radio base we learn that there is much more going on that blocking signals. They are using some hidden element and using it to raise the dead. Yes, that’s right, Zombies! In fact Nazi Zombies! But not the Romero dumb, slow walking ones, these seem to remain intelligent but are driven mad because of the heat and are imbued with great strength, feel no pain and are no easily killed at all (then again what zombies are?).

This is stylized action and depictions of the war. The explosions are VERY loud and the soldiers don’t ever seem to suffer the consequences of being rather near an explosion (except the ones that die). Also whenever someone is shot there is half a bucket of blood that is thrown out from the other side. It’s not at the level of a Tarantino movie, but it’s near it, most likely inspired by it.

During the sequence where – sneaks into the base, I realized that the camera was just following him around and the story was being told through visuals. This is the movies Hitchcock scene, usually, these kinds of movies don’t have much faith in their audience to keep their attention beyond gunfights and yelling dialog, but in this scene, it shuts up and embraces the cinematic, visual storytelling element of cinema. This isn’t necessarily a great scene, but it is much more than what I would have expected.

When all is over the war is still going on and some characters survive which opens it up for a sequel which will most likely happen

 

Review The Nightingales, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

 

(3 / 5)

The setting is a church hall for William Gaminara’s witty new comedy The Nightingales, on tour before coming in to the West End. Gaminara has taken the concept of a local acapella group at their weekly rehearsal in said church hall. Despite a few missed chords and the like the group, under the direction of their Cambridge educated choirmaster Steven (played with empathy by Steven Pacey), the four singers who make up the group get on fine – until one day a newcomer, Maggie (Ruth Jones) arrives.

The role makes a welcome return to the stage for multi-talented Welsh actress Ruth Jones, who in 2014 was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list for her services to entertainment. The role of Maggie who upsets the apple cart in more ways than   one, is perfect for Jones, best known for playing Nessa in the popular BBC TV comedy Gavin and Stacey, Jones engages with the audience from the moment she arrives on stage; her timing is spot-on. At first garrulous but otherwise harmless, before long Maggie’s arrival puts the cat among the pigeons, proving to be the catalyst which results in the layers being peeled back to reveal what lies beneath the surface bonhomie.

This is particularly applicable to the relationship between the scholarly choirmaster and his wife Diane, played appealingly by Mary Stockley, while the other female in the group, Connie (Sarah Earnshaw) has aspirations to hit the celebrity spotlight. Earnshaw’s characterisation is good, but her voice a tad shrill at times. Completing the Capella group are the two male singers: Connie’s husband Ben (Philip McGinley) a down to earth sort of bloke with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, contrasting with the charismatic and sexy Bruno – a great performance by the likeable Stefan Adegbola .

Peppered with bon mots and clever ripostes, Gaminara’s slick dialogue, on opening night in Cardiff, rained down upon a packed and eager audience, appearing at times somewhat laboured, at others too fast for all the jokes to be appreciated. There was also occasionally a need for a couple of the cast to guard against turning their backs to the audience, or at least to speak more clearly when doing so. Having said that, in this co-production by Jenny Topper and Theatre Royal Bath, director Christopher Luscombe has handled Gaminara’s concept cleverly, grabbing the flavour and that unique smell of the village hall – at atmospheric set by Jonathan Fensom – to the extent that one can almost smell the dusty floorboards.

Some of the best moments are – perhaps not surprisingly – the songs, notably George and Ira Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me, raising a tear among the laughs, as is so often the case with good comedy. Which brings us to the question: although billed as comedy, as the play progresses into the second half and home truths are revealed we see behind the masks to the sadness – so true to life.

And therein lies the skill in this play by actor-playwright Gaminara.

Runs until Saturday 24th November at New Theatre, Cardiff.

Worth a mention are the programme notes which include several highly amusing cartoons relevant to a play about a village choir,

Playwright: William Gaminara

Director: Christopher Luscombe

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

 

Review Van Gogh on the Beach by Poetry House review by Tanica Psalmist

(4 / 5)

Van Gogh on the Beach is a tale of Vincent’s love, art and heart in Lost Angels written and performed by talented Jahmar Ngozi. Van Gogh on the Beach fuses together a blend of poetry, drama, dance and art, where the Great Vincent Van Gogh exploits, highlighting his infatuation for an enthusiastic, endowing sexually elevated women and of course his passion and gift for his artsy, God given gift.

The time period of Van Gogh on the beach is Set in Los Angeles during the buzzing, booming century of the 80’s/90’s, where they’re seen in the play rocking out vintage, classy and sleek dress wear and suits, smoking cigars and remaining optimistic when feeling drained from a bruised community, as they expand on the stigma of artists only associating with their respective peers. However, through all of that heat a cool breeze shifts the air as they seek a solution to the problem. Expanding into the era when the enlightenment of art was detached from anything that bound it, acknowledging that art  is an expression of anything you allow it to be.

Van Gogh on the beach is a fantastic, historical admiring play that’s full of energy, powerful words and heartfelt scenes. This play channels the excitement of jazz, spoken word, passion, romance and the importance of art.  The overall production is cultural, eloquent and historical as you travel through the journey of different lives that contain factual, fantasy and inspirational entertaining content. A well presented show, as Van Gogh on the beach is extremely engaging and exhilarating to watch.

Tanica Psalmist

 

Review Dogmatic, Camden People’s Theatre by Tanica Psalmist

(4 / 5)

Dogmatic is an extremely interactive, intimate and outspoken play; written and performed by energetic and innovative playwright Jamal Gerald. Dogmatic is a play that has no filter, sugar coating or beating around the bush. His topics and discussions are raw, challenging and insightful; giving you an opportunity to express your inner thoughts and listen to other people’s perspectives. It was interesting to see people slowly coming out of their shell after being told by Jamal it was a non-judgmental environment and highlighting that there was no right or wrong answers to his questions. Although most people felt uneasy to speak out originally,  the audience became less irrespective of the context of the matters eventually, dissecting the dilemma’s presented and focusing on conflicting political issues in the UK.

Jamal’s performance exploits fundamental racial issues. Jamal steps out of his comfort zone to re-visit different phases in his life where he felt threatened, misguided and unprotected showing us six different cardboard writings. Whilst also discussing complexities such as if violence towards a Nazi is acceptable if facing just verbal attacks and the effects of being told by two white females at a black lives matter protest that they were sorry written out on cardboard. To help the audience envision the moment and feel the same effects he felt he choose two white females in the audience to hold up cardboard which read ‘We are Sorry’.

Dogmatic featured many stimulating, radiating acts. Interestingly, with the help of Jamal’s Artistic Director we witnessed  a chalk outline of his body on the floor. The play began with his body positioned and engraved in the spot, depicting a meticulous precision of a victims death at a murder scene. It was obvious Jamal was symbolising a synonymous term with a tragic death. There was flowers in vases and candles around the space which stimulated  a grief condolence, presenting remorse of a gone to soon life. Different video’s projected were used to help erupt  further discussions to the audience. Everyone was respectful of everyone’s different opinions and personal views on race, social injustice, treatment and white privilege. However, i’m sure if they weren’t Jamal would of done a great job ensuring conservations didn’t spiral into a debate.

Dogmatic is daring, enlightening and unapologetic. The featuring of cushions with two different loaf of cakes became transparent to me once the play had ended. I suppose for such a heavy, informative play, it could be conceived as overwhelming and discomforting so to balance it out Jamal choose to create an intimate setting too in hope that moods and emotions would ascend as smoothly as his play did, and I’m happy to say the plan had worked indeed.

Tanica Psalmist

Review The Mash Report by Judi Hughes

The Mash Report – live audience

Review by Judi Hughes

I was fortunate to be allocated tickets to be part of the live audience at the Mash Report recording of Series 3, Episode 3. The ticket offer came as a bit of a surprise as I had applied to be part of a number of BBC shows some time ago. I received an email saying that we’d been allocated tickets, but this didn’t mean we would definitely get in. The show was being filmed at Pinewood Studios in Slough and since we’ve never been there, my husband and I decided that it was worth a punt and planning for the trip began.

I’m giving full details because I think it’s important to let people know what’s involved in a trip like this. The tickets were free but travel and accommodation were not. Booking.com is my goto website for overnights and I booked a night at the Pinewood Hotel for the night of the show, which we were told would finish around 9pm (£88 including a delicious breakfast, not bad for outer London). I chose this hotel because of its good reviews and convenient location – it’s about 5 minutes’ drive from the studios where there was plenty of free public parking. We decided to drive down, an uneventful journey which was made pleasant by sunshine and the amazing colours of autumn leaves.

The hotel was easy enough to find and we were soon ensconced in our room with a bit of time for R&R and a freshen-up before we headed off for the show. The rest of this information is pretty important if you decide to venture to one of these live audience shows and the first piece of it is to do read their copious instructions and follow them as well as you can.

Top of the list is arrive early. We ummed and ahhed about what time to get there and decided on 5pm even though the studio doors didn’t open until 7pm. This was a good decision. We weren’t first in the car park but there were plenty of spaces and we didn’t have to walk far to get to the waiting area (a large marquee with a very small expensive bar and some portable toilets). After passing through security (don’t take a pen knife like the bloke in front of us) were invited to sit in a row of plastic chairs and wait for announcements to be made. Important advice here is to stay in the seats you are allocated as entry to the show is done mainly on a first come, first served basis.

As advised we took sandwiches (M&S ones for a treat) and drinks in plastic bottles as no glass is allowed in the studios. We waited for around an hour, made trips to the loo (do this early as there’s a rush just before the show) and ate our pack-up as more and more people arrived. Then we were issued with wrist bands – lilac for us, red for the people who had come later and white, silver and gold ones for the more important amongst us. We speculated on the reasons for the colours and after a short time it became clear that our early arrival had paid off. It’s worth saying that the organisers had definitely considered access as wheelchair users were called through to the studio first, followed by the important bods then the lilac wristband holders (us!) and followed up by the red wristband holders who weren’t all guaranteed a seat. I don’t think everyone got in – the process if that happens is to offer those who missed out a tickets to another show and guarantee entry.

Pinewood Studios was not the salubrious experience that we had been expecting; we walked past a jumble of buildings and ended up in a sort of storage bay before we were led into the studio itself. A working space with the expected stage set-up and a mix of flat and raised seating. Much to our amazement we ended up in the 3rd row from the front so we had a really good view. Cameras were above and behind us and it was fascinating to watch how the show was filmed, the use of the space and back screens to create the effect of the actors being outside. Observing the process was as much a part of the evening as watching the show.

The audience waited and chatted excitedly for what seemed like ages but was probably only about 10 minutes. Then the warm-up guy appeared and explained how it would all work, how and when we should respond, laugh and clap and really put us at our ease. Nish Kumar then came on stage and talked to us a bit more about the show, who the guests were to be and all the time being titivated by make-up and wardrobe people. Finally we were all set to go.

Nish introduced the show with his familiar satirical rant about topics of the week. The objects of his rhetoric included the Spice Girls, Trump, the USA Mid Term Elections in which a dead brothel owner was elected and also the rise of American women getting into power. Trump was splendidly ridiculed for his treatment of the press.

Over to the News Desk with Steve N Allen and reporter Susan. Their headlines covered the end of Big Brother, the ‘Living’ Wage, the British fixation with the weather and people wearing massive poppies, supported by some very funny reportage featuring Tom Bell, Freya Parker and Jason Forbes.

Back to Nish to introduce Rachel Parris who spoke about the weird rhetoric used when the media and our politicians talk about Brexit: “the conjuring of nostalgia associated with WW2 to argue for Britain exiting Europe”. Farage was the object of her ridicule along with others including reports of David Davis throwing a tantrum and giving up. She painted a ludicrous picture of the war years when instead of wearing tights you just painted your legs with creosote, rising out of the rubble for a good old sing song. Rachel is a genuinely funny lady who delivers her report in an upbeat manner, showing the positively silly side to all the Brexit shenanigans.

Nish then interviewed comedian Geoff Norcott, known for his right leaning views, although on this occasion not particularly a fan of Theresa May’s dancing. He compared Corbyn to a gangster’s wife in the vein of ‘I was present but I wasn’t involved’. His main target this week were the Lib Dems and it seems that they are so low key that he and Nish have been on Question Time more times than they have. He had a go at pretty much everyone, even the Greens, so in the end a very equal opportunity satirist with a slick delivery.

In a rant direct to the audience Nish covered the United Nations investigation, a serious topic about them visiting Britain to explore the impact of a decade of austerity – his lighter comedy tips advised that all the trains would be late and they might be photographed and end up looking fat on Twitter, which had recently happened to him. Some interesting facts here including that Britain is the 6th largest economy in the world yet 20% of the population are living in poverty. He also covered the rise of in-work poverty, with low wages failing to cover the cost of living. He derided the ‘end of austerity’ reporting that people will be worse off under Universal Credit, which has £3billion a year less funding than the previous system. He cited George Osborne’s political choice to feed the rich “this is George, he systematically made life harder for millions of people for a decade – he didn’t give a s**t and he’s minted”. Philip Green got it in the neck and even the Queen didn’t escape with Nish referring to her having diamond hat and a Netflix show about the hat.

The final News Desk told us “Guy Fawkes urged to have another go” and more digs at the Spice Girls: “Susan were you a fan of the Spice Girls?” “Yes, but I was a lot thicker when I was a teenager”.

Susan, played by Ellie Taylor, is the person I enjoyed watching the most on the Mash Report. She can change from chatty to serious in seconds, creating a believable ‘news face’ as she tells an incredibly funny story without laughing. She’s about to leave the series as she’s pregnant so we watched her perform extra items to be aired in future series as well as taking part in the current show. She was so professional and at ease in her role.

Switch back to Nish and an interview with young Ahir Shah to talk about housing which was very London centric but funny all the same. Ahir told Nish that the government’s only option was to “build more f*****g houses mate”. A bit about stereotypical views on immigrants included this old gag: “Brexit Dave – what a guy – thank you for telling me to go back to a country I’ve never been to”. He suggested building on the greenbelt – the bits that don’t look very green. To prevent intergenerational warfare he suggested a meeting of young and old minds, a sort of ‘Stormzy meet Mary Berry’ – the sound track would be excellent and the catering exquisite. He was funny enough but his delivery wasn’t up to the standard of Geoff Norton’s.

A final goodnight from Nish and then we were treated to about 20 minutes of corrections so we had to laugh and clap things we’d heard before. Not a problem as they were often funnier on second hearing.

All in all we had a brilliant time and I would recommend this trip to anyone who likes good satirical humour delivered by a lefty Asian comedian.

If you want to apply for tickets to a variety of shows you can do so on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/shows/or SRO Audiences https://sroaudiences.com/