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Series Review, Enid a Lucy, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Writer Siwan Jones blends social realism and surrealist comedy in the most delightful way in Enid a Lucy. The S4C mini-series, which came to a slightly abrupt end on Sunday night, made for an entertaining and enjoyable drama. Termed the ‘Welsh Thelma and Louise’ by some, Eiry Thomas and Mabli Jên Eustace certainly provide plenty of laughs as the two leads whose offbeat road trip takes them from Llanelli to London via the most unconventional of routes.

The drama begins on a modest housing estate in Llanelli where we meet next door neighbours Enid (Thomas) and Lucy (Jên). Enid is a piano teacher whose home is neat and tidy, fitted with mod cons and well lit. Meanwhile, Lucy lives in a dark, dank and messy space. The drained colour palette of the cinematography, as well as the use of handheld camera, gives the impression that this is going to be a gritty, class-based drama. The introduction of Lucy’s drunken and abusive boyfriend Denfer (Steffan Cennydd), in contrast with the genteel and traditional images of the Mother’s Union that Enid is involved in, only serves to underline the divide that exists between them. Yet early indications that this is going to be a serious piece of realist drama are confounded by the end of the first episode when Enid turns getaway driver for Lucy in order to escape the hapless Denfer and his buffoon of an uncle, Sid (Nicholas McGaughey). What follows is a random and raucous cat-and-mouse chase across the country as the men seek to reclaim a holdall containing drugs and a gun from Lucy, who is determined to use the contents in order to make a better life for her and her baby.

Siwan Jones’ script plays like a melody that is pitched just below hard-hitting but doesn’t quite decrescendo into absolute farce. It manages to deal with some big issues, such as childlessness and mental health, but these never feel forced. Neither are they allowed to consume the overall narrative, Jones ensuring that the escapades of Enid and Lucy are filled with much hilarity and randomness. This includes perhaps the most comical scene of the series, where two farmers that they end up staying with accidently take some of the drugs in the holdall. Actors Ifan Huw Dafydd and Rhodri Evan really let loose their inner zombie to produce a very funny scene. It borders on the ridiculous but never descends into the realms of the unbelievable. It is this kind of accurate measurement which Jones must be applauded for in the writing of Enid a Lucy.

My only bone of contention with this drama was the finale. It was as if a timer had suddenly gone off with five minutes to go and all the loose ends had to be tied up tout suite. It left me feeling rather out-of-kilter; that such a well-paced journey should end so abruptly. Although not quite on the same level as the conclusion to BBC1’s The Replacement (2017), it nevertheless conjured up similar feelings. It is a shame because, otherwise, Enid a Lucy is a great drama, with particularly notable performances from Eiry Thomas and Mabli Jên Eustace. Thomas, in particular, slips into her character with ease here; in contrast to her over-exaggerated performance as the detective in Keeping Faith, she is completely believable as Enid. She is a joy to watch, especially during her exchanges with Eustace: the two bounce off one another wonderfully.

It is great to see S4C, via producers Boom Cymru, giving a prime-time platform to female writers at the start of 2019. Both Fflur Dafydd (35 Awr) and now Siwan Jones have provided Welsh audiences with some quality TV drama already this year. Enid a Lucy may have only received a short run, but it was fun whilst it lasted. Its slightly left-field style follows on from some of Jones’ previous work – not least 2011’s Alys – but it still feels highly original. It would have been great to have spent longer with these characters. Despite its rather hasty end though, Enid a Lucy still manages to thoroughly entertain.

Watch the series on S4C’s Clic here.

gareth

Review Fighting with My Family by Jonathan Evans

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Let’s be honest, we know wrestling is fake, or at least scripted. But people buy into it because of the drama, conflict, and flash. We get invested in the narrative and the showmanship. Much like any other dramatic performance, we become engaged through the sincerity and all the flash and color just make it more interesting.

Fighting with my Family is another family drama movie about the pursuit of a dream but with the unique twist of populating it with characters that aren’t weird, but unconventional and rather rough around the edges. We open with a little boy watching wrestling on the TV, his sister changes the channel so she can watch Charmed, for this he puts her in a headlock, Dad (Nick Frost) walks in and does not break them up but instructs the boy on how to properly put her into a headlock, then Mother (Lena Headey) enters telling her to get out of it by herself. Both mum and dad are wrestlers and are heads of a local wrestling company, very low scale and just about getting by though they aren’t above doing some dodgy things to bring in some extra cash. Tonight they need an opening act so they get the kids to fight, she doesn’t want to but after they promise she’ll like it and it’s something for the family she does. While in the ring, and they are playing their parts and she hears the crowd cheer, she does indeed embrace the act of wrestling. Cut to years later and she has truly fallen in love with wrestling and is a screaming beast while in the ring.

Her name is Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh) and she along with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) perform their family act in their local community center or gym, wherever they can, and get by with what they have but dream of the big time. They get others involved, Zak goes out into the town and brings in the local kids the be a part of wrestling, it focuses them, builds up their teamwork skills and keeps them away from drugs and other shady activities. He even gets the boy from the neighborhood who’s blind into the ring.

One night they get a call back from the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) that they have reviewed the tapes they’ve sent of Saraya and Zak in the ring and they’ve been called in to audition and that could lead to training in California. 

Making two very announced appearances in the movie is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Small independent movies have a tough time getting made so they probably needed some kind of big name behind to get the financing. Being that he is also the producer why not give him a place in the story? As has been proved with his career in the ring and in front of the movie camera he is a force of charisma, when he is on-screen it is a delight. Both times he appears is for a crucial element of the plot so it is not simply inserting an iconic celebrity to simply make the audience that’s for fans gush but of structural importance to the narrative. 

During the audition they are assisted by Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) that is strict, to the point and easily throws around a few cutting remarks, but if they can’t handle this one mans remarks how will they stand to have thousands of people screaming obscenities and booing them? In the end, Saraya and only she goes through the next round. So she has to go to California alone, but she perseveres because this is for her family. 

Wrestling training doesn’t just consist of getting toned, they need to learn how to communicate between each other, what moves the other is doing and how to appropriately roll with the punches and get in the right position to take a fall or catch the other. If they don’t then one could break the other’s nose or even cripple them. Also how to start the match by talking smack to the other wrestler to get the crowd fired up and build tension between their two characters, also how to deal with hecklers. 

Taking on writing and directing duties is Stephen Merchant, most famous for being Ricky Gervais writing partner on The Office, Extras and other movies. He goes out on his own to make a movie purely that is his. Writing is definitely is the strongest ability, being able to structure a plot and infuse the characters with their unique voice and have one scene start as a comedy and then into a serious moment. He is able to make great use of visuals with the wide space of the stadium and some nice visual gags.

This is a comedy, mostly. There are some very funny moments in it but it also has deep cutting drama. You get to know these people and how they’ve come together through wrestling, how it’s redeemed then and they’ve hung their entire hopes and dreams on hitting the big time and to be denied it is one of the biggest blows they can ever face.

When the big fight came for the climax of the movie (which of course was gonna be the climax of this movie) I found that I was truly engaged in it. I knew that the characters themselves were in no real risk, these were professionals, but I cared about how hard it was for them to get to this point and what victory would mean to them. I was able to understand that it was performers but able to connect with the emotional journey happening and isn’t that what movies themselves are?!



Review – Les Misérables, August 012 By Eva Marloes

All images credit Eva Marloes

Please note images featured in this review are from the rehearsal process

This fun and moving adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables by Cardiff-based theatre company August012 juxtaposes the battle of Waterloo and the Brexit Referendum. The intention behind the historical and literary parallel is to insert our daily lives into a wider perspective, to juggle the big and the small, the significant and insignificant, the past and the present. Les Mis, not the musical (thank God not the musical!), is a whirlpool of sound, words, and movement, expressing a sense of loss and futility, tempered by a feeling of compassion.

The scene begins with an account of the battle of Waterloo, cut by the recollections of Brits on holiday in Greece before the Referendum, and by the disbelief and shock at the result on the night. Away from formulaic narrative structure, Les Mis embraces a multilayered performance where music, words, and movement intersect and converge all around us. The music is spell-binding and plays a prominent role in guiding the audience into this tragi-comedy. It is a seductive and immersive experience that stirs the senses and brings awareness of the wider significance of Brexit.

The smell of grass, the thumping on the ground of the soldiers’ feet, broken by holiday-makers’ easy-going chatter and banter to the tune of Brazilian music in the sun-kissed beaches of Greece make the play at once seductive and moving. The charged atmosphere evoked by the battle is countered by the fun and ordinariness of the Referendum night. The parallel is sustained by local references to Cardiff’s roads and neighbourhoods. Napoleon is in Grangetown. Brussels is Ponty. Yet, the playfulness of Les Mis accentuates the brutality of Waterloo conveying a sense of awe, of something bigger than ourselves.

This heartfelt, engaging, ironic and exciting production articulates the current confusion, exhaustion, and ridiculousness of the aftermath of the Referendum. We don’t know what is going on. Les Mis has no comforting thesis, no tidy narrative, no solution, but a deliberate intention to throw off course.

At a time when over a million people have marched for a referendum on the deal, nearly six millions have signed a petition to revoke art.50, and when Parliament has rejected May’s deal and any other alternative, Les Mis captures the never-ending saga, the incomprehensible going around in circles, and the complexity of the present situation. Brexit has severe repercussions for peace in Northern Ireland, for EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU, for Europe, and for Britain; yet its significance is drowned out in the daily drama deprived of substance. In all this, Les Mis wants its audience to wake up to the historical significance of our daily lives.

The play includes Nicola Sturgeon’s address to European nationals living in Scotland. In the endless noise produced by politicians on Brexit, European nationals in Britain are often forgotten and, at times, dismissed as ‘bargaining chips.’ Director Mathilde Lopez is a French-Spanish North African, who has lived and worked in Britain for 20 years and has a family with British composer/dj John Norton. Matteo Marfoglia, who choreographs the dancers, is an Italian national who has worked in the Netherlands and has been living in Wales for the past six years. For both Mathilde and Matteo the result of the Referendum brought the pain of exclusion. All of a sudden, their identity, status, and very presence in Britain were questioned.

Les Mis gives a voice to that sense of disorienting loss Europeans felt. There is no anger, no preaching, no pedantic history lecture. The political and philosophical rhetoric about the EU at the end is perhaps not as punchy and inspirational as it could have been, but it is genuine and moving. It gives voice to those in Britain who feel European and part of Europe and have been dismissed by mainstream media and politics not just for the past three years, but for decades. What is missing are perhaps the voices of  British politicians and thinkers who have dreamed of Europe, like John Stuart Mill, who joined Victor Hugo at the Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom in Geneva in 1867, where peace required a United States of Europe. I personally would have liked the inclusion of Hugos’ dream of a united Europe at the Peace Congress in Paris, in 1849.

‘A day will come when your arms will fall even from your hands! A day will come when war will seem as absurd and impossible between Paris and London, between Petersburg and Berlin, between Vienna and Turin, as it would be impossible and would seem absurd today between Rouen and Amiens, between Boston and Philadelphia. … A day will come when the only fields of battle will be markets opening up to trade and minds opening up to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and the bombs will be replaced by votes, by the universal suffrage of the peoples, by the venerable arbitration of a great sovereign senate’ 

Les Mis speaks of the hurt of those of us who feel deprived of Europe. Europe is no longer a dream, but a reality. There is an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Les Mis appeals to faith, hope, and love. In opposition to the outside political message of exercising control and erecting borders, Les Mis, fruit of artists with diverse cultural backgrounds and political stances, celebrates friendship across divides. It calls on all of us to show compassion to one another.

What would Hugo make of this take on his work and, perhaps more crucially, what would he make of his own dream of a United States of Europe? He might be confused and excited to see that a Union of European countries has taken shape. He might feel inspired and hopeful that it is not just a philosophical, political, or religious idea, but a reality, clumsy and complex, but one that is increasingly in people’s hearts. This production of Les Mis, with its exuberant rhythms, poignant words, and passionate movements, lets us hear the heart of Europe beating.

Review The Mirror Crack’d, New Theatre, Cardiff by Kevin Johnson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Walking into the theatre, I was greeted by the curtain up on a bare stage, with Miss Marple (Susie Blake) asleep in an armchair. My first hint that this was not the usual Agatha Christie production, with dark deeds in a charming English village. 

The quiet stillness of St Mary Mead is disturbed by the arrival of retired American film star Marina Gregg (Suzanna Hamilton) and her producer husband Jason Rudd (Joe Dixon), who have bought Grossington Hall from Miss Marple’s friend, Dolly Bantry (Julia Hills) to live in, and are also making a historical film there, which will be Marina’s comeback. At a reception to meet the villagers, local resident Heather Leigh (Katherine Manners) is murdered, poisoned after drinking Marina’s daquiri, who is now considered to be the intended target by Chief Inspector Craddock (Simon Shepherd) of Scotland Yard.   

Using the idea of a film that is viewed, rewound and then viewed from other ‘cameras’ (witnesses), the writer Rachel Wagstaff and director Melly Still, have created an intriguing production where the cast act out witness statements, first one way, then the other, twirling from A to B then back to A again, an incredibly difficult thing to do live. Lighting, sound and set design all help with this, and at first I found it a little distracting, but as it went on I changed my opinion, drawn in by the artistry on show.  I was completely won over when the murdered victims helped trace each other’s outlines – a staple of crime fiction – using pink sand.       

This is a rare thing, an old story given a new interpretation that really works. Wagstaff opens it up and develops the characters, such as Dolly Bantry lamenting her lonely widowhood, from the stereotypical to the human, exploring the racism, sexism and ageism of the time. At one point Craddock, infuriated by what he sees as her interference, yells at Marple “you’re not a detective, you’re a spinster!” which provoked a completely involved audience, privy to the sad secret of her fiancé being executed in WW1, to hiss and almost boo him. An incredible reaction outside of panto.

Susie Blake is brilliant as Marple, smart, determined and quietly lonely, while also demonstrating the comedy skill she’s famous for. Simon Shepherd is a prickly detective, still dealing with losing his mother as a child, while Joe Dixon brings a caring gruffness to the husband. For me the stand outs were Suzanne Hamilton’s fading film star, vascillating from fragile, fading movie star to demanding diva, and Julia Hills, whose snobbish former lady of the manor reveals her true feelings of uselessness and isolation, now that she’s no longer a wife or mother. The rest of the cast do well with what they have, but contribute mightily to what is an original and stunning ensemble piece.

This production runs at New Theatre, Cardiff until the 6th of April.


Using Sibrwd to access Welsh Language Contemporary Drama

Earlier this week I was invited by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru to use Sibrwd (which translates as whisper) to see their new productions Merched Caerdydd (Cardiff Girls) by Catrin Dafydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd (Saturday Night Forever) by Roger Williams. This was the first time the company has used Sibrwd to offer full translation of a theatrical production. Sibrwd is a free app for mobile devices that gives theatre audiences the ability to fully appreciate a (Welsh language) performance in (potentially) any language. The app gives access to theatre productions for Welsh learners and non-Welsh speakers for Welsh language performances. Sibrwd can offer audio or text based instant translation of live theatrical productions.

I went to see the production at the beautiful Borough Theatre, Abergavenny. The app is free and very simple to use. Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru have produced this excellent video which goes through the process of how to download it onto your device and then how to use it in the theatre.

On the night of the performance staff from Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru met Sibrwd users in the foyer prior to going into the theatre to check they were happy , additional smart phones can be provided by the company if required. I was informed by Chris who was operating Sibrwd that the translation would be text based for this particular performance, Sibrwd has the potential to offer audio or text.
Once in the theatre itself I checked I could pick up the Sibrwd Wi Fi signal and my phone was on aeroplane mode, this is very important to make sure no one can ring you during the performance!

Once the production begins the app automatically provides English Language text based translation. The user does need to be able to read fairly quickly as well as keeping an eye on what’s happening on stage but you quickly adjust to this. The app itself works flawlessly, I was surprised at my own knowledge of the Welsh language, I know more Welsh than I previously realised! For a learner like myself the frequent references to South Wales locations or the mixture of Welsh and English made the production vey accessible and relevant. Providing full English language translation for two contemporary productions of this nature are an excellent way to increase learning opportunities for people like me.

If full audio and text based translation can be offered through Sibrwd I think there would be a great deal of interest in Welsh Language productions from Blind or Deaf audiences.

Many thanks to Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru for supporting me to access more Welsh language contemporary drama, I will be sure to keep an eye out for more productions of this nature supported with Sibrwd.

REVIEW: BOTTOM at The other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Bottom is an auto-biographical play about Willy Hudson, a queer man exploring the overriding questions of, what it is to be a “bottom” or a “top”, why does it matter and whether “bottom” in bed means bottom in life?

It’s a coming-of-age story, a queer story, a gay story, a story about insecurity in many forms, about relationships and ultimately, a classic love-story. But really, who needs labels when you’ve got substance? And Bottom has substance in bucket loads.

Willy takes us on his quest for love from the moment he came out to the morning after his first sober date. He’s awaiting a text from his date which triggers him to explore various aspects of his life and why this text, as opposed to the others, is so important.

Before this, Willy has been partying and sleeping around, as a bottom, for his entire sexual maturity, if he’s not been at home masturbating. This is the first time he’s felt a connection and the first time he’s not needed drugs or alcohol. But there are problems, the dinner he cooked was burned, he couldn’t ‘get it up’, he hid in his bathroom and they didn’t have sex.

As the play develops, in its non-linear pattern, we learn about Willy’s sexual history – but what we’re really doing is understanding his quest for love. Willy isn’t looking for sex, but that is what he’s been taught, so that is what he gets.

Willy Hudson immediately establishes a relationship with the audience from the moment he enters wearing only a towel, looking for his clothes which are hidden underneath our chairs.

Hudson’s performance is honest, he feels like himself, it barely comes across as acting. It feels as only Willy could have played this part. Hudson deals with his past emotions critically and delivers a brilliant performance, channeling his inner Sasha Fierce.

Hudson’s honesty and self-reflection leads into his writing too, which is carefully constructed into a brilliant non-linear plot. This allows Hudson to stay true to his story, whilst also telling a theatrically intriguing story. The writing is beautiful, honest, well-structured and funny. There’s no way you’d guess this is Hudson’s debut as a playwright.

Director, Rachel Lemon, admits this was a hard show to direct, in the post-show Q&A. Hard because it’s so truthful to Willy, there were times where the best artistic choice changed Willy’s story somewhat. But, Lemon does a good job of maintaining a strong piece of theatre whilst telling Willy’s truth.

It is chaotic at times, Willy jumping all over the place with his non-linear plot. That chaos however is representative of Willy’s life in the story, so it works brilliantly, and Lemon’s direction ensures this succeeds.

Tic Ashfield’s sound design compliments the play perfectly. I’m no Beyoncé fan (sorry Willy, I prefer Rihanna), but the music choices are brilliant and are exploited at the right times for emotional effect. The inclusion of Beyoncé isn’t a weird gimmick that Hudson throws in as a fan, which was the worry going in. It fits.

You’ll do well to see a more important and relevant play than Bottom in Wales this year. Hudson doesn’t fall into the trap of negativity that surrounds so much LGBTQ+ theatre and media generally. He spoke about the importance of positive LGBTQ+ stories and how it was important to him that this was positive, in the post-show Q&A.

Yet, Hudson doesn’t shy away from tough topics and critiquing aspects gay culture either. He also speaks about fears of backlash that he’s seen other shows get. But says that at the end of the day, “it’s just a story and it is my truth.”

Not only for the LGBTQ+ community though, Bottom should be celebrated by everyone. In a time when the government are forcing a debate about the education of LGBTQ+ relationships, this couldn’t be more relevant or important. You could do a lot worse than take your kids to see this production. It is a play I needed to see at fourteen or fifteen and is equally important now.

It’s an educational piece, but not supposed to be. It doesn’t aim to teach, it’s just a story. This fact is just a reflection of where we’re at as a society.

I have personally never related so much to a piece of theatre. Yet, I’m not LGBTQ+. Hudson tells a human story, where the protagonist happens to be queer. He doesn’t simplify it to labels, he explores the human behind the labels within LGBTQ+ and wider society. This is so powerful and something we need more of.

Bottom it is a heartfelt, honest, funny and thought-provoking exploration of gay relationships in modern Britain. Miss it at your own risk.

Bottom is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over eight weeks. Tickets can be found HERE.

BOTTOM at The Other Room, Cardiff
27th – 30th March 2019
Written, Performed and Produced by Willy Hudson
Directed and Produced by Rachel Lemon
Sound Design: Tic Ashfield
Movement Director: Jess Tucker Boyd
Lighting Design: Lucy Adams
Line Producer: Sofia Stephanou
Dramaturg: Bryony Kimmings
Associate Artist: Paris Rabone
Graphic Design: Jimmy Ginn
Photographer: Joe Magowan
Videographer: Tristan Bell

Review STORM.3 TOGETHER AND ALONE, National Theatre Wales by Harriet Hopkins

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Created by Mike Brookes

When booking to see a National Theatre Wales production, there is an expectation for something thought provoking, intense and different.

The STORM cycle is a series of multimedia works that aims to explore the themes of truth and testimony, it includes original texts, specially created sounds and novel physical-acts TOGETHER AND ALONE succeeded in including specially created sounds – the composition was eery and worked to punctuate the piece. It also drew on Simone de Beauvoir’s Pour une moral de l’ambiguite, a work that explores the varying ethical attitudes of people and how they relate to the idea of “freedom”.

TOGETHER AND ALONE presents, through 8 different people, a different view of freedom and what their freedom means to them.

It is an interesting concept showcased against a high-impact backdrop; the cast and audience all stranded together on a stage that could be the prow of a ship, or the floor of a warehouse, or a holding area for refugees. Strewn around are clear plastic bin bags rammed and bursting forth with clothes, as if people have packed to leave, or have donated to charity, or have left somewhere in a hurry. Two large screens display statements that seem like negative rewrites of inspirational quotes.

The spectacle of this, when entering and waiting for the action to start, boded well. But the reality, when things “got going” was that there would be no action. As tremendous as each actor may have been, it was impossible to enjoy their hard work – the words delivered were a series of self-reflective testimonies and as much character as the actors tried to put in it was stripped away by the overwhelming monotony of it all. Perhaps this was the point – we live in a world where we talk about, think about, tweet/insta/facebook/snapchat about ourselves; we are so preoccupied with ourselves and how we see ourselves within the world, and how we think and want others to see us, that we do nothing of real importance. (I understand this is a generalisation, just to make everyone clear…in case you think ill of me, because that’s not something I want…now should I put a winky face emoji here to make it clear I’m making a joke? Hmmm…)

Whether this was the point or not, it simply felt tedious. I was working so hard to take in the words, but the movement and interaction that was there (and, be assured, the actors did as much as they could), just wasn’t enough to fill the gaps of character and story; the total absence of energy meant that I missed all the substance, the nuances, the political leanings, because I was too busy worrying about how long it would take for my knee to start hurting from all the standing, and thinking about how it could be made more dynamic and engaging. Convincing myself that my lack of engagement must be a mental fog which, surely, must indicate the early onset of the menopause!

The monologues/statements the characters were making were extremely well written, but the voices (no matter what accent they were in) still sounded the same. Yet as standalone tracks they could have been truly engaging; in podcast form, for example, the audience could listen and explore at their own pace, if they had something to watch too, or something to do (fold clothes and bag them, perhaps). I appreciate this is easier said than done though and, as usual, NTW has staged something different and risky – unfortunately, the biggest risk for me is how alienating a piece of theatre like this can be.

National Theatre Wales presented STORM.3 TOGETHER AND ALONE at The Neon in Newport from 21st-23rd March so you can’t go and see it now but, to be honest, if you’re anything like me you’d have spent more time thinking about whether there’d be time for a glass of wine at Le Pub than being moved by the work, anyway.


Review Kiss Me Quickstep, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch & New Wolsey Theatre by Karis Clarke

Written by Amanda Whittington, Directed by Kirstie Davis

Showing Tuesday 26 – Saturday  to 30 March 2019

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) A treat for any Strictly Come Dancing On Ice fans!!

Between September and December you can’t stay in on a Saturday night and not be intrigued by the glamour and drama of the feathers and sequins of Strictly Ballroom Whether you are a fan of the show or not everyone knows the hype that surrounds the all important accolade of making it to the world famous Empress Ballroom in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens. This is the setting for Theatre Clwyd’s latest hit offering “Kiss Me Quickstep”, a bittersweet comic insight into the lives of three amateur dance partners and their bid to be the best.

The stories of the three partners are loosely intertwined, with a sense of  rivalry, mystery and jealousy rippling underneath the surface loud enough for us to know all is not as it seems  – the story develops at a steady pace with no real surprises. The audience is left with a smile on their face, toe tapping and hand jiving with the sense that all is well with the world.

It would have been easy to have over developed characters and plot turning it more farcical than funny and creating caricatures rather than believable characters. Thankfully this talented ensemble do neither, characterisation is beautifully raw and timed to perfection – which is hardly surprising as everything about the play is about timing… even the stagehands dance with props in synchronisation. The trust and timing element is excellently displayed in a couple of costume changes on set which are risky but funny.

The set is depicted by a couple of chairs, rails and two arch lighting rigs.  The cast use a combination of movement and dance with this simple set and it becomes backstage, dressing rooms and the audience filled dance floor with ease.

It would be rude not to mention the dancing – I am a Strictly fan and for me there was just the right amount of dance any more and I think it would have been distracting from the play, any less and the sense of why they were there would be lost. As it was, it worked just fine, I did like it better when just one couple was dancing at a time as I felt the stage was a little on the small side for a three partners to be dancing, however this did not spoil the play in any way. As a bonus Theatre Clwyd Community Dancers were involved as additional dancers, this gave an extra dimension for the cast and audience to work with.

As far as rating go I am not sure I would place it as a quickstep – it lacked the bounce and speed, for me, it was more an American Smooth – it glided along elegantly, had a few high lifts and dips in the middle and ended with a peck on the cheek.

Review THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING by Jonathan Evans

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Myths and fables are the cornerstones of great narratives. For, if no other reason, they are the oldest stories to survive the test of time. They are journeys and battles of good and evil and are basic but deep so you can throw almost any coat of paint on them you want and they still ring the same emotional core. Not all though have to be set in ancient times. An essence of a story can be picked up and put in almost any aesthetic or time period. Take Star Wars, for example, dark lords, a princess in peril, it takes place a long time ago in a place far, far away, its a fairytale with a science-fiction setting. The Kid Who Would Be King knows this and takes one of the oldest (as well as British) myths and puts it into our modern era with a few new twists and turns.

The tale begins by telling the tale. Literally, the movie opens with a storybook opening and seeing illustrations and narration telling the tale of King Arthur, how it was a time of chaos and dark forces were on the rise and the people needed leadership, so came a young boy named Arthur that pulled the sword from the stone and became king of the land. But his stepsister Morgana was warped by greed and jealousy and sought to take the throne for herself, so Arthur, along with his wizard Merlin battled her and then banished her deep within the earth, but she vowed to return when the land is sick and the people are divided. Then we pull out of the book and are now in modern times. 

We see a young boy named Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who is late for school (as it seems all leading children must be when they are the protagonist in movies). When he gets there his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) is being bullied by Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris), he refuses to let his friend be the victim and bushes back, resulting in all of them getting detention. 

You will notice that each character is given their own color and has a unique silhouette. Such detail is important to notice and give credit to because it helps make the character instantly visually recognizable. Which, in a movie where the characters are simple and there’s a lot of running about, is very important. 

While running away from the bullies after detention Alex runs through a construction site. While there he sees a sword sticking out of the pillar of a building, he pulls it out and takes it home. While there he and his friend translate (through the aid of Google) the engravings on it. It read that it will be pulled out by the king of the land, they say that this must be the sword in the stone, which they laugh at the thought of. But when a strange boy suddenly enrolls in their school and one night a flaming skeleton soldier enters Alex’s room, almost killing him, he starts to think that there is merit to some of this. 

This strange boy is in-fact Merlin (Angus Imrie), the great wizard himself. In the actual lore, Merlin would age backward so this decision has some logic and credibility by staying true to the original mythology. Though at times he does revert into his adult form and is then played by Sir Patrick Stewart, who both seems to naturally take to playing a mighty, booming wizard and is clearly having quite a bit of fun with the role. While he is in this state he brings great gravity and seriousness to the moments, as well as comedy, though what would you expect from Stewart. So begins the quest to train, assemble knights of the round table (that is foldable in one of their dining rooms) and defend the land against evil. It’s a classic tale that has been told again and again and holds up. What matters is if it brings something new to the table and how well it executes its concepts. As has already been made clear taking the myth and setting it in modern day is something but there are other examples of this, adding all the modern pop culture references is something though I feel these are more of a deterrent to the movie. They are just there for kids to hear and think “Hey they said that thing I like, yay!” It is something that adds no real substance to the material and will most likely date it terribly, though this is a movie for children and it never forgets that so maybe I’m being too hard on it.

Writer-Director Joe Cornish seems to have found his niche in modernizing fables. His first movie Attack the Block, which I greatly enjoyed, was essentially a fable, just told in modern London with Aliens thrown into the mix. He writes fast-talking, personality-infused characters, with plenty of humor sprinkled about and always stays true to the emotional core of the whole project. If you enjoy the work of Edgar Wright (who Cornish has been writing partner to for many projects), particularly his Cornetto Trilogy, then this is the type of humor, style, and a journey that will appeal to you.

If there’s a definite weak element to the movie it is the acting. These are not great child actors, they are the overreacting type you often get from child actors. When they are shocked or surprised their mouths hang open and eyebrows raise, when they are upset the eyebrows go down and they pout their lips. Though I must give credit to Serkis, who is able to convey pain just through an expression and without dialog. The best actor within the movie is Sir Patrick Stewart but that seems unfair to compare these children to this well-experienced master of his craft. 

I appreciate the incorporation of real problems with these characters. Some are insecure, or have to face truths about the world is harder than they’d like it to be. This grounds it and adds weight to the story, it makes the characters real in a way that goes beyond simply having them say what their favorite drink or color is.

This is one of the oldest stories ever told. About a land in need of a hero and a sword chooses the said hero, about dark forces and a group that unites to slay it. it stays true to that core and wraps it in modern day with the lingo and names so that the youth will find it easy to connect with. It does it’s job well and distinguishes itself while doing it. 

Review – Open Rehearsal, Les Misérables, August 012 By Eva Marloes

Please note this is a review of an open rehearsal which took place at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

All images credit Jorge Lizalde

This fun and moving adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables by Cardiff-based theatre company August012 juxtaposes the battle of Waterloo and the Brexit Referendum. The intention behind the historical and literary parallel is to insert our daily lives into a wider perspective, to juggle the big and the small, the significant and insignificant, the past and the present. Les Mis, not the musical (thank God not the musical!), is a whirlpool of sound, words, and movement, from which emerge a sense of loss and futility, an awareness of something different beginning in a Britain still hangovered from the Referendum, and compassion.

The scene begins with an account of the battle of Waterloo, cut by the recollections of Brits on holiday in Greece before the Referendum, and by the disbelief and shock at the result on the night. Away from formulaic narrative structure, Les Mis embraces a multilayered performance where music, words, and movement intersect and converge all around us. The music is spell-binding and plays a prominent role in guiding the audience into this tragi-comedy. It is a seductive and immersive experience that stirs the senses and brings awareness of wider significance.

The smell of grass, the thumping on the ground of the soldiers’ feet, broken by holiday-makers’ easy-going chatter and banter to the tune of Brazilian music in the sun-kissed beaches of Greece make the play at once seductive and moving. The charged atmosphere evoked by the battle is countered by the fun and ordinariness of the Referendum night. The parallel is sustained by local references to Cardiff’s roads and neighbourhoods. Napoleon is in Grangetown. Brussels is Ponty. Yet, the playfulness of Les Mis accentuates the brutality of Waterloo conveying a sense of awe, of something bigger than ourselves.

This heartfelt, engaging, ironic and exciting production articulates the current confusion, exhaustion, and ridiculousness of the aftermath of the Referendum. We don’t know what is going on. There is no neat comforting thesis, no tidy narrative, no solution, but a deliberate intention to throw off course. Les Mis plays with our confusion and our Brexit fatigue.

At a time when over a million people have marched for a referendum on the deal, over five million have signed a petition to revoke Article 50, and when Parliament keeps voting down May’s deal, Les Mis captures the never-ending saga, the incomprehensible going around in circles, and the complexity of the present situation. Brexit has severe repercussions for peace in Northern Ireland, for EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU, for Europe, and for Britain; yet its significance is drowned out in the daily drama deprived of substance. In all this, Les Mis wants its audience to wake up to the historical significance of our daily lives.

The play includes Nicola Sturgeon’s address to European nationals living in Scotland. In the endless noise produced by politicians on Brexit, European nationals in Britain are often forgotten and, at times, dismissed as ‘bargaining chips.’ Director Mathilde Lopez is a French-Spanish North African, who has lived and worked in Britain for 20 years and has a family with British composer John Norton. Matteo Marfoglia, who choreographs the dancers, is an Italian national who has worked in the Netherlands and has been living in Wales for the past six years. For both Mathilde and Matteo the result of the Referendum brought the pain of exclusion. All of a sudden, their identity, status, and very presence in Britain were questioned.

Les Mis gives a voice to that sense of disorienting loss Europeans felt. There is no anger, no preaching, no pedantic history lecture. The political and philosophical rhetoric at the end is perhaps not as punchy and inspirational as it could have been, but it is genuine and moving. There is an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Les Mis appeals to faith, hope, and love. In opposition to the outside political message of exercising control and erecting borders, Les Mis, fruit of artists with diverse cultural backgrounds and political stances, celebrates friendship across divides. It calls on all of us to show compassion to one another.

What would Hugo make of this take on his work and, perhaps more crucially, what would he make of his own dream of a United States of Europe? He might be confused and excited to see that a Union of European countries has taken shape. He might feel inspired and hopeful that it is not just a philosophical, political, or religious idea, but a reality, clumsy and complex, but one that is increasingly in people’s hearts. This production of Les Mis, with its exuberant rhythms, poignant words, and passionate movements, lets us hear the heart of Europe beating.

Les Mis can be seen at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.