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Review: The Green House / Profundis by Helen Joy

I have seen Profundis before and I loved it. I described it as a Kandinsky come to life. Colourful, clever, witty and thoughtful: it is a kaleidoscopic trip into the nature of things. This time, it is slicker, clearer, funnier, more confident in its story-telling, more engaged with its audience. It is less distracted and even more enjoyable. I feel that the dancers are actively seeking our attention and allowing us to show our shock, confusion and joy. It is a delight. I love it still.

Now, The Green House is a difficult thing. Definitely verdant. As a dancer sitting beside me said, dance makes you feel emotions you didn’t know you had. This is an uncomfortable piece. I cannot take my eyes off the green dancer rolling then scrubbing his green apples against his green skirt, picking them up, putting them down, in the bowl, in the sideboard, in the bowl. He is on the furniture, scrubbing his eyes, picked up, put down, on the floor. Hard stuff this.

You see, I got this wrong. I thought it was The Green Room. This made sense of the ON AIR sign and the APPLAUSE. The waiting around to be called. The back of another room on show. The green. I was wrong.

The Green House. Hot, confining, controlling, use the windows, the door, keep it in, shut it out. It is a dance of all of these things. It is disturbing, beautiful, green. There is just enough lightness, there are just enough laughs.

The group pieces are, as always, exquisitely choreographed. Painfully perfect. I would watch this again and again as they go round and round in their green world. I can’t bear it and I can’t leave it alone.

The solos are dervishly wild and tight and someone says to me, how do they learn this, how can they repeat something that looks so improvised, so in the moment, so free? I have no idea.

I reel from this. 43 minutes of green gilded anguish and heartache. I am going to see this again. And again.

 

Profundis

Creative director: Roy Assaf

The Green House

Creative director: Caroline Finn

Dancers:

Josef Perou

Camille Giraudeau

Matteo Marfoglia

Àngela Boix Duran

Elena Thomas

Ed Myhill

Franklyn Lee

Alexandra Pholien

Oliver Champman

 

 Seen: 29th April, 2017

Where: Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

For tour dates and more information:

http://www.ndcwales.co.uk/en/what-s-on/spring-tour-2017/

Free to attend but please book a space – email megan@ndcwales.co.uk for more info.

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To support the National Dance Company Wales, please consider their new Lift Lifft scheme at http://www.ndcwales.co.uk/en/about/support-us/individual-giving/

Review Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 by Jonathan Evans

(4 / 5)

This movie is an example of the age that we, as a movie audience and MARVEL Studios are living in right now. There is an audience that is not so stuffy that can accept weird and outlandish concepts, characters and images and a studio that has accumulated enough capital that it is willing to spend money and delivery on them.

We get our Guardians of the Galaxy back for this movie. Chris Pratt is Peter Quill/Star Lord still a handsome well meaning fool. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) that’s still so tech savvy and can piss of anyone within a few moments of being in their company. Also still an amazing C.G.I. accomplishment. Drax (Dave Bautista) who might just get the most and biggest laughs from me this time, speaking his mind, no matter how uncomfortable or offensive it might be. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who’s more defined here, she is the level headed one and the stern fighter. Finally is Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) still growing from the last movie, a really cute design that will probably sell many, many toys.

Our opening sequence is our Guardians defending batteries from, some kind of energy eating monster. They take it down eventually, though a more coordinated team would have been able to do it better, and receive their reward from a species of gold-skinned humanoids. Though Rocket has kept a few batteries for himself, which displeases them greatly.

This comedy style can be described as wise-ass, the characters constantly poke fun of their situation and other characters in the world. It helps by not taking itself too seriously, which would be a struggle with characters and visuals this wild and ridiculous. Some of the gags go on too long, with one character not hearing or completely misinterpreting what the other said so it all has to be repeated with rising frustration. This is milking a scene however it almost plays into the comedy, it’s funny that they don’t have to be stingy with their special effects and have a scene play-out.

These movies have distinguished themselves in their lavish production value. No other movie can I think of that has brought to life such crazy concepts with such care and skill. Having bars and ships filled to the brim with all these different alien designs and meticulously designed sets that vary from pristine palaces to dingy, leaky slums.

In the last movie Peter has a cassette tape of hit songs from the eighties and before. At the end of that movie he got the next volume, so this movie once again is filled with catchy songs. They’re not all as recognisable or as catchy as the first one, but I think they fit the themes of the moment they’re played in better.

There’s a lot less going on in this movie. Less characters and less intertwining narratives, the whole thing is more focused and consistent. I criticised the first movie for wanting to reach emotional placed but never being confident enough to go there. This one has short, but sincere moments of emotion but never tries to go too deep with them and are nearly always book-ended with comedy so the whole thing is much more consistent.

In nearly every MARVEL movie Stan Lee has made a little cameo appearance. It’s been something cute for the fans to see and develop theories for. Well here, he makes a cameo again and they do something special with it. What it is I wont dare spoil, but it’s good.

This is a franchise that never excelled in it’s depth of a story, profound message or even something philosophical. No it’s strength is in it’s incompetent, but fun characters and visuals. It strikes that great genre piece that made the eighties an enjoyable decade, colour and fun.

Review La Strada, Exeter Northcott Theatre by Hannah Goslin

 

(4 / 5)

Set in a timeless existence, La Strada sees the story of a group of misfits,  a young girl  is sold to a Strongman performer and meets and develops friendships, experiences with and learns from.

The proscenium arch set is the usual theatrical setting, however the company set up a changeable area with the use of props and staging to give the impression of different places and different venues. This works well with the idea that the story is set anywhere, at any time, with the bohemian costumes and dirty travelling circus attire.

One thing that I am a huge fan of and which was implemented well in this production is all the performers being involved at all times. A strange and different group of people, whether a prop, part of the stage, a character or providing the music/soundscapes, they were always involved, drawing our attention to the main action. This shows a great interest and investment in the production and an energy that was constant.

Each character was haunting, had their own comedic moments, but added to the atmosphere of fear, of confusion and oddness that the main character of the little girl experiences. A naive girl, the performer did well to transform her simple, youth to someone more profound and strong by the end. Her physicality and facial expressions were simple but well completed for the character, and her ability to admit humour from the script with what seemed like complete ease made this bohemian alternative world seem realistic.

The performers all used their physicality to represent parts of the stage and the story – from the motorcycle the Strongman drives to the metaphorical waves representing the young girl’s emotions. Again, this was well invested in and made the production feel a little more out of the world and again, place able on any time line.

And finally, the use of live music, taking the performer’s skills an adding it to the production made this feel more cosy, as if we were joining in a small community and provided an unusual but catchy background.

La Strada is comical, haunting and just a little bit clever – well worth the watch!

https://exeternorthcott.co.uk/calendar/la-strada/

REVIEW: ‘THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

(4 / 5)

 

Five years after Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ opened at the National Theatre, the 2017 production at the Wales Millennium centre did not disappoint.

Haddon’s Whitbread Prize-winning novel has made a staggeringly successful leap from popular book to stand out theatre adaption and it’s fair to say no one could have quite predicted the way audiences would take central character Christopher Boone to their hearts.

Christopher (lover of mathematics, space and detective novels – who just happens to have Asperger Syndrome) has stumbled upon a serious crime in neighbour Mrs Sheers’ garden.

Although he has never before left his street unaccompanied, the crime triggers an investigation led by Christopher himself – in between dealing with a death, a family separation, writing a book for the first time and an unforeseen journey to London which will be his most terrifying challenge yet.

Although Mark Haddon never intended for Christopher’s character to become typical of all people with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), the beauty of the book – and even more so in this play, is the level of forensic insight into some of the behaviours, motivations and traits of people on the spectrum.

The story unpicks everything we think we know about conditions on the spectrum – and in actual fact exposes some harsh truths about us as a society and how needy, shallow, patronising and ignorant we are of the needs of others. As Haddon stated in 2012: ‘Curious is not really about Christopher at all. It’s about us.’

This is a production about the imperfections and the ugliness of family – and of facing our fears. It shows us the inevitable fallout when our ideas of perfection and truth don’t match up with reality. Life is chaotic and messy – and instead Christopher finds solace and security in the permanence and predictability of patterns.

We see Christopher struggle to cope with the nuances and complications of everyday life while making sense of the confusing world around him. When things don’t go to plan, we see Christopher unravel and the environment/pool of people around him react as they try to contain his outbursts and meltdowns.

The set (beautifully designed by Bunny Christie) centres around a cube which comes to life with pulsating digital animations, square doors and stools which double as doors / cupboards / chairs / TV screens. Patterns, logic, word scrambles, number confetti and laser illustrations are punctuated with visceral sounds, white noise, echoes and musical riffs by Ian Dickinson as Christopher battles through the changes around him.

Lead Scott Reid (who plays Christopher) is incredible and I wasn’t aware of the level of movement and choreography that would feature in the production. For Christopher, life is a ‘dance’ of repetitive routines, motions, and constantly shifting movement and at its most intense and confusing, he is lifted, bounced and twirled by the ensemble cast. During one moving scene, he walks along the wall when he describes his wish to be an astronaut.  Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett (part of Physical Theatre outfit ‘Frantic Assembly’) have really managed to elevate the story even more through their energetic movement and choreographed vignettes.

For some productions, the combination of digital display, choreography and a grand musical score doesn’t always marry well – you struggle to follow or invest fully in all aspects of the staging or the story and they can compete against one another. But there is true mastery here, a dynamite synergy between cast, production and set – and the scenes set in Swindon and London train stations are a sheer punch in the gut for audiences.

In this production, Director Marianne Elliott has skillfully recreated the panic and the fear of sensory overload as well as the sheer beauty of an unfiltered, orderly mind like Christopher’s. There is purity and calm in the systematic and Christopher’s observations, literal interpretations and understanding of the world provide plenty of funny moments for the audience.

Curious does not talk down, belittle or over sentimentalise ASD in a way which some mainstream depictions of ASD do and Stephens’ final scene between teacher Siobhan and Christopher leaves the audience with one final question which asks more of them and their attitudes as much as anything else.

This was a tender and sweet production – a powerful start to the production’s 2017 run at the WMC. Oh, and if you see it – you can look forward to a truly wonderful final surprise for Christopher at the end. What is it? Well, now…that would be telling!

PS – if you have already seen this production or like me have multiple members in your family with ASD and you’d like to understand why they do some of the things they do, I really recommend reading ‘The Reason I Jump’ – a real-life account from 13 year old Naoki Higashida who has Autism.

Type of show: Theatre

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time  

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff)

Dates: 2-6 May

Writer (Original Book): Mark Haddon

Play adaptation: Simon Stephens

Directed by:  Marianne Elliott

Lighting Designer: Bunny Christie

Video Designer: Finn Ross

Movement Directors: Scott Graham / Steven Hoggett (Frantic Assembly)

Sound Designer: Ian Dickinson (Autograph)

Running time: 2hrs 30min
Produced by: National Theatre

Review You’ve Got Dragons, Taking Flight Theatre Company by Ysella Fish

You’ve got Dragons is a short, one act play targeted towards families and young children. Based on the book of the same title by Kathryn Cave, it follows Benjamina’s (Axelina Heagney) journey to come to terms with her dragons.

Despite a fairly slow start, this gave plenty of time to admire not only the chalkboard-effect set, designed by Stacey-Jo Atkinson but also the original music composed by Dan Lawrence which was still soft enough to allow chatting among the audience.

As the performance started, the introductions of Chloe Clarke and Hermon Berhane as the dragons caused gasps to come from the audience although humour was quickly created again through ‘old man dragon’s’ farting, which had many giggles coming from the audience.

Not only was Benjamina’s relationship with her dragon developed but her relationship with her father (James William Ward, who successfully played multiple roles) was too. The scene with Ben refusing to go to sleep was probably familiar to the many parents in the audience.

Having seen previous Taking Flight performances, I was interested in seeing how they created an accessible show while ensuring it was simple enough for children to follow. And they have delivered! Young children were clearly considered by Director Elise Davidson in all aspects of the performance, the caption boxes often use colourful pictures in place of long paragraphs of text while BSL and audio description were interwoven so well that they felt like an integral part of the story rather than being a distraction.

The performance is also often highly visual, creating many beautiful moments such as the postman where the cast used ribbons to create an image of a bike, while also adding audience interaction to make the children feel fully involved in Ben’s story.

Overall, the performance clearly highlighted for me how naturally Taking Flight have succeeding in creating an inclusive performance for children while still managing to make it enjoyable for all ages.

http://www.takingflighttheatre.co.uk

 

Grantchester & the rise of the TV vicar by Gareth Williams

As Grantchester prepares to get underway with its third series on ITV, I felt it would be a good time to reflect on the recent surge in clerical figures appearing on our television screens. Whether in comedy, drama, or documentary, the rise of the TV vicar is very exciting on a personal level. But it does intrigue me that, in this supposed age of secularism in Britain, such men and women of faith are coming to the forefront of British television. They are no longer the bit part players, given only a ceremonial role in soap marriages and funeral services. Instead, TV writers, directors and producers seem to be open to the idea that these men and women of the cloth can actually lead a show. They have entrusted them as protagonists. Praise the Lord!

Any doubts that may have surfaced in the early days of this “revival” must now be put to bed. Gone are the days where the religious output of the BBC was a mere half-hour every Sunday for Songs of Praise, and the obligatory documentary to mark the Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter. Don’t get me wrong, these still exist. Most recently, Fern Britton took a trip to Jerusalem to recount the story of Jesus in Fern Britton’s Holy Land Journey. Moreover, they still have a place within the television schedules. I think the evolution of Songs of Praise to include modern and contemporary Christian music, alongside congregations belting out 19th Century hymns, reveals something of this show’s continued relevance to its watching audience. But the representation of Christians on television is now moving beyond these niche slots to feature in other, more populist, areas of the TV landscape.

Nowhere is this more evident than Sunday nights. It is perhaps apt that the traditional day of worship for Christians should also be the time when two of the biggest contemporary dramas are broadcast, both featuring clerical characters. As mentioned earlier, Grantchester begins its third series on Sunday at 9pm, having previously been broadcast on Mondays (Series 1) and Wednesdays (Series 2), again in a primetime 9pm slot. Who would have thought that a show featuring an Anglican vicar as its protagonist would regularly pull in 6 million viewers? Yes, it taps into the current popularity of murder mystery dramas. But it is not afraid to take seriously the vocation of James Norton’s character. It deals with issues of faith in a very open and unabashed way. The Revd Sidney Chambers is not perfect, and the character himself never claims to be. He wrestles with the conflict and dilemmas that emerge from his faith, sometimes overcoming them and sometimes not. Here is a man who does not think he is better than us (the traditional stereotype of TV satire) but a man who is like us. This empathetic portrayal, I believe, is one of the reasons why the TV vicar is becoming increasingly visible on our screens.

The other big Sunday night draw is the ever-popular Call the Midwife. Broadcast on Sundays since its inception, it remains the highest-rating drama on British television since the turn of the century. And at its heart is a group of Anglican nuns. Writer Heidi Thomas has created such a wonderful drama full of real human stories. Yet she does not shy away from treating the nuns’ faith with the same care and attention as the episodic story arcs of one-off characters. The sisters receive just as much dramatic attention as the nurses that work alongside them, as does the resident vicar Tom Hereward (played by Jack Ashton). There are numerous examples of these faith-filled storylines and, like in Grantchester, the conflicts and desires at the heart of these characters are explored with such depth of care and attention that one cannot fail to empathise with them. As a result, we can begin to understand and take faith more seriously. It is no longer a weird, ancient pastime but lived experience, a legitimate (and complicated) part of a person’s identity.

These are just two examples of the increasing presence of clerical characters on our TV screens. They are by no means alone in the growing pantheon of shows featuring a clerical protagonist. Others include: Welsh-language drama Parch (featuring a female cleric), US fantasy drama Preacher, Sky Atlantic’s The Young Pope (with Jude Law), and BBC daytime series Father Brown. But if you think this list of dramatic representations means the death of the vicar in TV comedy, think again. Recent series such as This Country (BBC3) and Hospital People (BBC1) remind us that they still have a place within the sitcom genre. They can still be figures of fun, much like anyone else. But the sitcom is no longer the only place we find them.

After years of unpleasant stereotyping, in which they have been satirically lambasted, played as figures of ridicule, and been a pointless but necessary figurine at weddings and funerals, it seems that the TV vicar finally has the opportunity to tell their own story. Since the arrival of Rev, the floodgates have opened to allow the small screen cleric some actual and proper screen time. This can only be a good thing, particularly in an increasingly secular culture that views faith with suspicion. So here’s to the rising prominence of Christian clerics on television. May the positive portrayals continue, and may other faith groups follow. (And I raise a glass of whisky – Sidney’s favourite tipple – rather than the stereotypical sherry as I say that.)

Review Sister Act, WMC by Eloise Stingemore

 

(5 / 5)

 

The smash hit musical production returned to the Centre with director and choreograph Craig Revel Horwood from Strictly Come Dancing at the helm. Who gave this tried and tested production that has gone through various permutations since the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film a real musical heart.

Sister Act tells the hilarious story of Deloris Van Cartier, a sassy nightclub singer in 1977/78 in need of witness protection after witnessing a murder. Deloris is hidden in the one place she won’t be found – a convent! Forced to wear a habit, and eat nothing but mutton, Deloris clashes with Mother Superior and begins to lead her fellow sisters astray, until she finds her calling in teaching them to sing.

Alexandra Burke really shines in the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier, each witty line or facial expression is delivered to perfection. However, it is when she opens her mouth to sing, we’re reminded of why audiences voted for her in there millions during 2008 X Factor. Burke’s voice never falters; her dancing is wonderfully expressive and comedic, it is her ability to make her audience laugh while ensuring their feet never stop tapping, makes her truly sensational as Deloris.

This show contains a fabulous group of musicians, who, instead of playing in the orchestra pit, take the role of various characters such as the trumpet playing Mother Superior played by Karen Mann. Who along with Burke are truly at the heart of this warm, funny and entertaining production but they are by no means the only ones. The whole cast displays a great deal of energy and enthusiasm and present as though they are loving life when signing Alan Menken original musical numbers including ‘Raise Your Voice,’ ‘Take Me to Heaven,’  and the show-stopping finale ‘Spread the Love Around.’

 From the first moment to the big finale, the show is wonderful. A perfect lead in Burke, a great cast as well as a superb script and songs have been combined perfectly by the director into perhaps the best show to grace the stage of the Centre in a long time.

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/DonaldGordonTheatre/SisterAct/

 

BSL, Subtitled Video review, You’ve Got Dragons by Taking Flight Theatre Company performed at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff reviewed by Steph Back.

A BSL subtitled video review of You’ve Got Dragons by Taking Flight Theatre Company performed at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff reviewed by Steph Back.

Production information

“A delightful tale of one child’s journey to come to terms with their dragons, told in Taking Flight’s unique style. With toe-tapping music, this highly visual, sensitive production is a humorous and touching exploration of the ‘dragons’ we all face.
A fully accessible intergenerational show featuring creative captioning, BSL and audio description it is a treat for all the family … and remember ‘no dragon is more powerful than YOU’!”

Review The Boss Baby by Jonathan Evans

(4 / 5)

 

When you are a child everything is so much more dramatic and threatening, especially when you look back on it. What was maybe a small argument escalates into an epic battle, what was most likely a chase around the garden is a fierce race. The Boss Baby understands this concept and uses to tell it’s story in the most entertaining way.

A man named Timothy (Tobey McGuire) tells a story about how when he was young (now played by Miles Christopher Bakshi) he lived with his mother (Lisa Kudrow) and father (Jimmy Kimmel). He was very imaginative and was encouraged to use his imagination to play games of adventure. All is happy, but one day a taxi pulls-up outside his house and a baby exits, wearing a suit, sunglasses and carrying a briefcase.

Alec Baldwin as the baby is so appropriately cast against type. As a serious veteran actor he’s not the first name that comes to mind when you think of sweet baby. Though this isn’t his first time in animation, he’s given his voice to Cats & Dogs, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Madagascar 2 and Rise of the Guardians. He has a greatly distinctive, gravely voice that of course doesn’t work for a baby, that’s why it works, it makes the whole thing so much more absurd and funny. But also in terms of his performance he is able to be sharp and cynical, petty and bouncy. For the baby body itself, it obviously has greater maneuverability than a real baby would but stays true to the stubby proportions that real babies do.

This isn’t the first movie to have the plot of a new child coming along, the first ones that come to my mind are The Rugrats Movie and Look Who’s Talking (you could also interpret that as the plot of Toy Story, but that’s irrelevant). The point is how well it tells it’s story. This is fun, enjoyable with all it’s over-the-top acting, situations and reactions, engaging for the eyes with the energetic and colorful animation, all of it will have you smiling. The filmmakers have very effectively put themselves back in the position of a seven year old. Where they can see things and interpret them in their own logic. They also inject things for the adults but smooth it down enough so the young-lings will laugh too.

Through Tim’s imagination we are able to see many visual variations on-screen. Some are more expressionistic and stylized but they all have the vivid colors and clean lines that make it all clear and accessible for all the ages.

One thing I do question is the conflict with the baby. Sure adults will be able to tell that this is stylized fantasy, but how the young children will take it and then treat their siblings is a bit more of an iffy subject.

The animation, character designs and backgrounds are all smooth and simple. The eye’s are large and round with not much detail in terns of facial features and the animators use this to create large, clear expressions that make the characters thoughts and reactions easily understandable.

I was genuinely surprised how accessible and likable this movie was. There is a great understanding of the workings of a child but also a focused goal on telling a story with a message that playtime is probably more fun with a playmate. It will more than entertain the young children with it’s silly names, comedic timing and stimulating colors and the adults will see a well crafted story and genuine sentiment. The phrase “Fun for the whole family” gets tossed around a lot, but this one really is.