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Review Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, WMC by Barbara Michaels



(4 / 5)

Full of fun and fantasy, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang needs no introduction, rating as it does high among the icons of musical theatre. Full credit must be accorded to this production by West Yorkshire Playhouse both for the high standard of its performers and for coping with what must be incredibly difficult logistics in staging Chitty on tour, involving as it does the transporting of some large and unwieldy objects. I will say no more on this subject for fear of giving the game away to audiences who are seeing the musical for the first time.

Based on the 1968 film adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams, despite differences between making a film and staging a musical, and the moving forward of the era in which it is set, under the direction of James Brining this Chitty has an aura of timelessness about it which spans the generations. Pure nonsense, but totally believable. At its heart is the boy meets girl romance of lonely widower Caractacus Potts, an inventor of strange machines who is struggling to bring up two young children on his own, and the delectable Truly Scrumptious. Add to the melée an aged and slightly doolally grandfather, a wicked Baron and Baroness, a spine-chilling Childcatcher and a magic car and the result is as sweet as a dolly mixture.

Lee Mead is a mop-headed Caractacus, seemingly bewildered by life but full of spunk and determination. The lyrics by the Sherman brothers are well-known, and Mead is great in the foot-tapping fun numbers such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which gives its name to the title, bringing an unexpected lump to the throat with Hushabye Mountain, which has the added poignancy of the vision of his late wife appearing to him as he sings.

Andy Hockley’s Grandpa, bushy-bearded and bandy-legged, is a delight, the Welsh actor being accorded a special round of applause on opening night in Cardiff. Hockley manages well the balancing act of adhering to the original character created by writer Roald Dahl, based on a story by James Bond Creator Ian Fleming, yet adding his own twist.

Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Truly Scrumptious eschews the frill and flounces of the film and opts instead for more modern attire such as jodhpur like trousers which have the added advantage of showing off her shapely form. You can’t fail to be charmed by this Truly. Hope Fletcher brings a warmth to the role which reveals an understanding of the importance of family life which is one of the underlying themes. Her singing is impeccable; outstanding in her solo Lovely Lonely Man reinstated in Act II after being eliminated from earlier productions of the stage show, melodic and perfectly balanced in the songs she sings with Caractacus and the Potts children.

That accomplished actress Claire Sweeney makes a comical and high-kicking Baroness Bomburst opposite Shaun Williamson’s perfectly petulant Baron.  More comic talent in that pair of would-be villains Boris and Goran, played respectively by Sam Harrison and Scott Paige. Matt Gillett’s Childcatcher is sinister and suitably spine shivering, while Bill Coggins gives a movingly compassionate performance as the concerned Toymaker.

It’s not only the wonderful music and lyrics that make this show what it is, but the choreography. Stephen Mear’s choreography is a star in its own right throughout, whether it be the foot tapping intricacies of Me Ol’ Bamboo in the fairground scene or the exotic rhythms of the Bombie Samba in which Sweeney’s take is a master piece of send-up on its own. Skilful video effects and animation work in tandem with an atmospheric yet simple staging which changes or revolves seamlessly. As for the music – under the baton of musical director and keyboard player Andrew Hilton it well deserves the applause it receives.

So what of Chitty herself? Let’s not spoil the surprise. Let’s just say you won’t be disappointed.

Runs until 21st August 2016

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Wales Millennium Centre

Writer: Ian Fleming

Music & Lyrics: Richard M.Sherman and Robert B.Sherman

Director: James Brining

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Preview Two & One More, What Might Have Been Theatre, RWCMD/Venue 13 by Barbara Michaels


En-route for the Edinburgh Festival 2016 – Exciting New Production from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama

.Fasten your safety belt and prepared to be gripped by high drama in Tom Hampson’s exciting debut play Two and One More, which opens on August 21st at Venue 13 at the Edinburgh Fringe and runs until August 27th.   Members of What Might Have Been Theatre are producing and performing in the play at the venue, which is run by the college and has been providing a platform for performers and audiences to explore, create and experience some remarkable drama over the past twenty years.

Viewed at the RWCMD’s Bute Theatre during the run-up to the Fringe, Hampson’s play is set in London during the Blitz. A boy breaks into a London house and is discovered by the man living there alone. Or is he alone? What lies in the room next door? With young sector James Robert Rutherford as the young burglar, this play is guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat.

The high standard of the productions staged at Venue 13 has seen audiences returning year after year – a critic writing in The Stage described it thus: “If there was an award for the best run Fringe venue, then this would be it.”



Review The BFG by Jonathan Evans


(4 / 5)

Roahl Dahl was a true writer of children’s fiction. He created stories of the truly fantastical that stirred the imagination of all who read them. Also he shaped simple but deep plots that could be understood but the simple thinking of children but also complex in a way that you will keep coming back to them years later. The BFG is a story about bravery and the importance of dreams.

Put simply we meet Sophie, a little orphan that is more responsible that the head carer in her orphanage. She knows that there is something that moves the London streets at night, one night she sees it for herself. A large, twenty-four-foot figure in a black robe. The figure sees her too and takes her. She is whisked off to another world and learns that she is in Giant Country. The one that has taken her is a giant but has no intention of eating her.

He will not take her back for fear she will tell people. So Sophie is in Giant Country indefinitely. And must do her best to navigate throughout this world of giant oily vegetables and host that is so large his bed is an entire ship.

The best part of the movie is the giant himself. Mark Rylance moves and is able to deliver the giants fragmented form of English with utter conviction and ease. An actor that was uncomfortable with the material would overcompensate by being too hammy, Rylance is able to speak the unique dialog with warmth, humor and even regret at times. His design is also a technical triumph. Like with Tintin the effects team are able to take the original illustrated character design and add all kinds of skin texturing and wrinkles lines to create a balance that forgoes the Uncanny Valley and more of a detailed illustration come to life.

The other best thing is Ruby Barnhill as Sophie. Speilberg has a talent for working with children, somehow he is able to communicate with them and get them to understand that material and get very solid performances out of his young stars. But there does obviously need to be talent there and Barnhill has so much of it. She is able to interact with things that are not really there and able to pull-off scared, witty and awe convincingly.

The C.G.I. is something that’s beautifully realized. There are as much practical effects in the movie as can be, but most of it is C.G.I. and it looks like a lush, vibrant painting. The sunlight shines through the the hair and bounces off skin, dreams are matter that take different shapes depending on their nature.

What else can be said about Steven Spielberg? He is one of the most acclaimed names in all of movie history. He knows the formula of how to compose a satisfying movie. Knowing how to expertly compose and light shots but also also with the story for having moments of levity, but also dark ones to balance everything out. With this new technology he is able to have swooping, intricate shots that would be impossible in live-action. As-well as that show things that would be impossible, Jumping into a reflection, having the camera follow them and then flipping one-hundred-eighty degrees when they come out the other side, for example. Though there are a few moments that seem like he just wanted t make sure the kids would laugh.

As must always come with a Spielberg movie is the music of John Williams. Williams who has so many of the greatest movie scores under his belt doesn’t need another one. But yet he does anyway. His score here heightens the mood and feel of whatever situation it plays for and ranges from scary and intimidating, bouncing and magical, and quiet and lonely.

This movie is something that children should experience. They should know that dreams and courage are important, that there are threats in this world but they can be overcome. And see images that will enrich their imagination for years to come.

Review Pigs and Dogs, Caryl Churchill, The Royal Court by Hannah Goslin

(5 / 5)

15 minutes. Not 2 hours and an interval. Not 1 hour straight through. 15 minutes is all it takes to pound you with intense and thought provoking truth.

Pigs and Dogs by the brilliant writer Caryl Churchil and directed by Dominic Cooke speaks about homosexuality in Africa and across the world and what this really means. Taking influence from the Anti-homosexuality act in 2014 in Uganda, the play takes quotes and facts from around Africa and other parts of the World about tribes and groups of people that have historically delved into traditions that would be labelled as ‘homosexuality’ despite the discrimination in society and law.

Simply the production only has 3 actors on stage who take sentences of the piece one after the other and bring across characters and their quotations. The performers do this extremely well and are quick and prompt, bouncing off one another. The characters and accents change from African, to American, to British and so on. The performers are brilliant at this and despite one actor being Caucasian, there is no sense of parody or comedy in his African characters.  We forget that they are actors on stage, just engaged in the intense facts and shock at the naivety and cruelty of these discriminatory people.  We even feel guilt and disgust at our own history and the laws which we once had in place against others.

15 minutes is all it takes to bring emotion, fact and truth to an audience. To be able to do that, is a total triumph and extremely worth watching.

Review Disneys Peter Pan at the Everyman Festival by Sian Thomas


(4 / 5)

From the get go, I was excited. I’ve always liked Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, even though I tucked it away and kept it as something for myself to watch quietly on home alone days. This was strikingly different to that, and a million times more fun!

The entire thing was a wholeheartedly adorable. The whole production was truly genuine, full of love and sparks of magic all which light up the audience. Particularly the costumes. Each had a childlike charm to them, and were equally beautiful, hopefully making them more valued and appreciated by the younger people of the audience.

The actors were phenomenal. I could see the dedication within each actor and how seriously they took what they were doing. I could tell how much they wanted every member of the audience – children and young people and adults alike – to fully enjoy themselves. I could see the hard work and commitment under the surface of a perfect performance all paying off.

The actors themselves (and I hope beyond hope that I’ve got their names right from where I’ve found them, if not, please forgive me) Emily March, (who plays Peter Pan), Meg Jones, (who plays Tinkerbell), and Cadi Mullane (who plays Wendy) were all honestly fantastic in their roles. Their confidence and charm were all mesmerising.

I always have a weakness for watching characters I’m not supposed to during talking scenes, and this production was no exception. Each person I watched was fully diligent to their role, always focused and dedicated to an enthralling performance.

To be particular, firstly, I think Emily March’s performance as Peter Pan was stunning. The confidence and the sheer brilliance stemming from her words and flowing through to the audience was quite the experience. The lines were delivered with the loveable boyish charm Peter Pan has coupled with clarity. I struggle to convey my wholehearted astonishment I felt. It was incredible. Similarly, both Meg Jones (Tinkerbell) and Cadi Mullane (Wendy) provoked the same emotion. Meg Jones’ performance fluctuating between speaking to the audience or speaking in ‘bells’ was well done and enjoyable. Her acting altogether was delightful. Lastly, Cadi Mullane’s acting was just as exquisite and fun, full of love and joy.

One thing that was truly incredible was the singing. All of it was honestly dazzling. Coupled with dancing which was amazing by itself and true talent, I was left very, very impressed. The day was a fun day out, and something I’d recommend to families and friends alike if today hadn’t been the last showings. If it ever returns, I will hope for the chance to see it.

All in all, I give it four stars, as it was a truly wonderful production which I wholeheartedly enjoyed and would gladly see again.

An interview with Theatre Designer Bethany Seddon

Our project coordinator recently spoke to Theatre Designer Bethany Seddon on her training at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Youth Theatre at the Sherman Theatre , recent production designs for Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival and career to date.


Bethany (centre) working on the recent Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival

Hi Bethany, You have currently designed a range of productions for Everyman Cardiff Summer Festival You must be busy! Is it possible to give our readers some background information on yourself?

Of course! Well I was born in Newport, South Wales, and as a child and well into my teenage years I was fascinated with theatre and, in particular, acting! I took part in as many productions as possible with school, at the age of 13 I joined the Dolman Youth Theatre and at 16 joined the Sherman Youth Theatre, and both groups offered invaluable experience both on and off stage. As I was approaching the end of my A levels I had a huge crisis of confidence and decided acting wasn’t actually for me… so what was I to do? I took a year and did an art foundation which I loved but by the end of the course, scared of narrowing my options too much, I moved onto a Fine Art degree, which, unfortunately just wasn’t for me. By Christmas I knew I wasn’t enjoying Fine Art at all and I happened to be acting and designing a show with the company Inky Quill. I was so excited by the possibilities of design and part of me had always wanted to design for stage so this seemed like such a logical step for me to take. I did a quick google search, found out Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama did a Theatre Design course and applied straight away. A few weeks later I attended an open day and fell in love a little more, and few weeks later again and I had an interview and luckily, they accepted me onto the course. Three very hard years later, a little caffeinated and sleep deprived I was sent out into the world and, thankfully, I haven’t stopped working since. The course taught me such a wide range of skills that I work between designing for stage, to working in TV and film, and pick up bits of work in assisting and using skills for jobs in technical drawings, construction, painting, prop making and teaching/ creating workshops.


You have worked for a variety of companies in the UK and especially Wales, what are the employment opportunities like for a designer based in Wales?

Between theatre and TV and film work, South Wales is a great place to be based. You have some wonderful companies that range in size and statue that are always looking for new designers to work with. Cardiff is bustling with a whole host of theatres and companies who are always creating new work and writing, which really is very exciting, both for work and just to go and immerse yourself in the creative world. The neighbouring cities around Cardiff are also bustling with creativity, so it doesn’t take much to find yourself working in Swansea, or Bridgend, or Bristol. The arts network is really incredibly small, but people are always on the lookout for a designer, or assistant so honestly it’s just being able to say yes to possibilities… without being taken advantage of, of course.

You frequently support workshop activity with members of the public, do you think this type of activity is important and why?

I believe it is incredibly important work, especially when you believe in what the company is creating. Working with Sherman Five at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff and Mess up the Mess have both shown me how an individual can develop in such a short amount of time through workshop activities, and I have witnessed massive developments in individuals self confidence.


The workshops are all about allowing creative expression, however simple to start and encouraging a participant to let go of their inhabitations. From long term projects to one off days like creating monsters at the Wales Millennium Centre , it’s such a joy to see people from various backgrounds and age groups connect with a task through their creativity.

Are their any individuals or organisations that helped support you in developing your skills and knowledge?


Mr Phillip Mackenzie

Sherman Youth Theatre and the youth theatre director at the time Phillip Mackenzie were brilliant at helping me understand theatre wasn’t all about the text behind a proscenium arch. At the age of 16 I was allowed to explore different styles of theatre which I believe was just invaluable and the group I was working with were all so dedicated and focused on what we were creating, and we had so much fun working on our productions. I honestly look back and think about how lucky I was to be working with that group! I think I might be in a very different place if it wasn’t for the wonderful opportunities to act and travel I had with the Sherman. However my training and work ethic was greatly enhanced by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the head of the BA Hons Design for Performance Mr Sean Crowley. I learnt so much in those 3 years and would not be doing as well as I am without the training and support of the alumni.


Mr Sean Crowley

When you aren’t involved in the arts or culture what do you like to do in your spare time?

Spare time?! After opening 4 shows in 4 weeks, and having very few days off this year I’m afraid I fail a little at answering this question!

I know I used to like to read and go to see theatre, but for me it’s been a while since I have done either! I normally crash when I get home, or continue working away till quite late, and try to see friends and my family when I can. Luckily most of my friends are in the arts so understand our varying schedules often conflict and the ones that aren’t in this little bubble are the most wonderful people to put up with me without getting too annoyed at long periods of silence!


Model Box ‘Into the Woods’ Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival


Realised Set  ‘Into the Woods’ Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival


Model Box ‘Peter Pan’ Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival


Model Box ‘Peter Pan’ Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival

More examples of Bethany’s work can be found at her website http://bethanyseddon.com

Thanks for that insight into your career Bethany.

Review Rotterdam, Jon Brittain, Trafalgar Studios, By Hannah Goslin

(5 / 5)

Why is it that Transgender and LGBT movements are still considered taboo? We have had such horrors through history in regards to discriminating these persons, up to the Orlando shootings recently. Why are we still struggling to bring these stories to the forefront? We tell tales of every other type of person in the world but hardly ever of LGBT persons.

Enter Rotterdam – this play written by Jon Brittain looks at a lesbian couple and their troubles in acceptance – Alice has not come out to her parents with a real fear to do so and Fiona announces that she has always identified as a man and wishes to make the transition into Adrian. We see their relationship fall and the emotional struggles they face with this huge change. Comical interludes tend to be brought in by Adrian’s brother Josh and Alice’s co-worker Lelani who we realise also take on a substantial amount of emotion in this situation.

Rotterdam is an extremely clever play. It is filled with emotion and struggles, with us really feeling for the characters but is also hugely hilarious, being not afraid to take a comical spin on the rollercoaster, without being offensive and by taking a delicate and sympathetic approach on this realistic story.

I admit that I came away from the production in tears – all the performers did an amazing job to naturalistically and truthfully bring the pain, confused and uncertainty to the stage. It felt as if we really were involved in the story and always engaged. It brought ideas across that without being in the situation that you would not necessarily think would affect those who are. It questions whether changing gender makes you a different person and soon turns this around to show that it can physically but really the same person is there.

Rotterdam is an excellent production. Taking a very respectful approach to the story, it leaves you really thinking more about this situation that happens across the world. As the song says, ‘This could be Rotterdam or anywhere’.




Review, Stars and Strippers, The Folly Mixtures, London Wonderground, By Hannah Goslin

(3 / 5)

The Folly Mixtures are a cabaret and burlesque troupe that are well known for their consistent and smooth performances using modern, remixed music, fire play and dirty comedy.

Tonight was of no exception. Listening to our compere between sections, the theme of America is picked upon satirically, with comparisons to us as Brits and our stereotypes. This is clever, at times improvised and makes us laugh at the irony of our own situation as well as the stereotypes of America.

With the performance, the different routines also pick upon stereotypes of America – the old 1950’s diner girls, baseball to even a poke at Donald Trump and the current election campaigns. We love all of these – bedazzled and glittered, the stereotypes are nothing but fun and gorgeous, high end and professional.

We are also introduced to our only male burlesque performer – Dave the Bear. While like the women, he is there to perform routines and for us to appreciate the human form, he is flirtatious with the male audience members, crude with his jokes but all of this is brilliant and comical.

My only issue with this performance is that Burlesque is known for its celebration of all body types – these woman have wonderful bodies, almost envious but very similar and lacking celebration of all women. I also find that the group performances get a little samey when solo performances would have been welcomed to showcase each performer and perhaps a little more comedy in these routines would have created a different dynamic.

Overall, the Folly Mixtures were beautiful, glamourous and skilled. A great night out none the less.



Review, Sh*tfaced Showtime, London Wonderground, By Hannah Goslin


(4 / 5)

The London Wonderground is always a favourite place of mine each Summer. It is a very versatile place full of comedy, cabaret and new and old exciting acts.

As the name suggest, Sh*tfaced showtime is going to be fuelled by alcohol, theatre and comedy. We are unsure what the ‘showtime’ part is going to be but this adds to all the fun and essence of surprise through the night.

The premise of the show is for a group of classically trained musical theatre performers to put on a 1 hour version of a production [in this case, Pirates of Penzance] while one performer is ridiculously drunk. The audience are invited to participate when we believe that the performer is becoming sober and this is where our host intervenes to give ‘one more drink’ for which we eagerly chant.

Watching a person on stage becoming hilariously drunk, you would think that this would be uncomfortable. It is not. It is full of hilarity, as we watch her attempt to keep to the performance but get distracted and all the frivolities we associate with intoxication. We as the audience find this all very comical as outsiders but we can all relate to this state. Despite this, her singing and performance ability at times is very accomplished and is evident her talent despite bringing a lot of comedy with her distractions.

The other sober performers are also very talented and skilled and in their own right, bring a fantastic version of Pirates of Penzance. There are times where the performance goes off course due to our drunk performer and they do well to bring it back to the narrative or to go along with the diversion. Their trust and interaction with one another is genius and makes you feel safe that despite the uncertainty of what could appear on stage [or even off stage].

Sh*tfaced Showtime is genius. To be brave enough to go ahead with such a concept is admirable and executed with sheer perfection and brilliant talent.

Review Chicago Wales Millenium Centre by Barbara Michaels



Music and lyrics: John Kander & Fred Ebb

Book: Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse

Choreographer:  Ann Reinking

Musical Director: Ben Atkinson

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

(4 / 5)

Red-hot and sizzling, the multi-award winning musical Chicago, based on real life events in 1920s US, is back at the Wales Millennium Centre and judging by the bookings as popular as it was when it came here four years ago.  With its theme of greed and corruption, the contemporary relevance doesn’t need to be spelled out although the main action takes place on Death Row, where nightclub singer Roxie Hart is standing trial for shooting her lover and the feisty Velma Kelly is up for double murder.  Strong stuff indeed but the dark undercurrent of the story and plotline cannot be ignored, and neither should it be.

But – moving on – this is musical theatre, so let us not dwell on this.  The wonderful musical numbers, toe-tapping and fast, are what makes this show so popular, along with the fast-paced choreography. Chicago is above all a showcase for the original choreography of the legendary Bob Fosse.  The tunes come thick and fast, plunging straight into it with All That Jazz in Act I and never letting up, and the dancers amazing…

Chicago has been performed on stage countless times, plus the memorable film version starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, and every director understandably wants to put his or her own mark on it in terms of character portrayal.   Hayley Tamaddon is a low key Roxie with an air of fragility about her that belies the fact that this is one tough lady who will stoop as low as it takes to escape the death penalty.  Although Roxie’s story is pivotal, it is her opposite number Velma who is the strongest here and Sophie Carmen-Jones give the role her all in no uncertain manner, displaying a versatility and, in Act II, an acrobatic ability that is truly amazing.  While Carmen-Jones has the character to a T, Tamaddon’s Roxie is at times almost girl-next-door in her naivety.

Alternating in the role of Prison Matron Mama Morton, who believes in looking after ‘her girls’ – as long as her favours are reciprocated – are Gina Murray and Sam Bailey. Murray’s Mama threatened to bring the house down on press night as she belted out the iconic When You’re Good to Mama full throttle.  Great stuff!  A clever little cameo too by Francis Dee as ‘Not  guilty’Hunyak.  On the same evening, Kerry Spark took over the male lead in place of John Patrtridge, who was absent, in playing unscrupulous defence lawer Billy Flynn always on the lookout for number one and lining his pockets by defending about-to-be convicted murderers.  Amos, Neil Ditt is an experienced actor who ‘gets’ the role of Roxie’s husband, the pathetic, incompetent and ignored ‘Mr Cellophane’ (to use the title of his song) off pat.

The staging is atmospheric and costumes a delight for the eye with deftly wielded chorus line feather fans in one of the later scenes, while the  onstage orchestra under musical director Ben Atkinson, is superb, providing not only musical backing throughout but continuing to entertain after the show ends.

Runs until Saturday 30 July 2016