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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.

Review Scarlett at Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

(3 / 5)

 

There is much to love in Scarlett. This one act play is short and sweet. Yet don’t think it lacks depth. It tackles issues of identity, family and death in a very humorous and conversational way. Part of its appeal lies in the relationships between the three generations of women onstage – protagonist Scarlett, her daughter Lydia, and her overbearing mother Bette. Scarlett is having some kind of midlife crisis. Or is it? Whatever her reasons, she has decided to travel from London to rural Wales in search of a new place to live. The small stage represents a patch of Welsh countryside, on which sit two rocks and a dilapidated stone building. This building appears to be the perfect place for Scarlett (played by Kate Ashfield) to start a new life for herself. This is in spite of local landowner Eria (Lynn Hunter) insisting it’s a chapel, and Lydia and Bette referring to it as nothing more than a shed.

Writer Colette Kane uses these differences of opinion to create a very witty, sometimes poignant, script. The dialogue is often rapid. The characterisation is scarily familiar. I could see elements of my own family in all three generations of women, yet this only added to the humour. Joanna Bacon is superb as Scarlett’s demanding and self-righteous mother. There is a fierce outer shell yet an inner vulnerability to Lydia which Bethan Cullinane manages to balance effortlessly well. As for Scarlett herself, Ashfield has landed a strong and empowering role. She commands the stage, not imperiously, but simply by embodying the character so well. There is no doubt that this effervescent and strong-willed woman is the central figure in a play that is not afraid to speak plainly about sex, status and self-worth from a wholly-female perspective.

Kane’s script can be very subtle in its character arcs. I say this because the characters can feel fully formed when we first meet them, yet over the course of the play, there is a change in their outlook and perspective. This is not always obvious. Sometimes, the change is too subtle. When the lights came up and the cast took their bows, I admit that I was slightly surprised. I was expecting an interval, to stay with these characters beyond 75 minutes. It is testament to Kane that they became so familiar and likeable, yet I couldn’t help feeling that there was more of their story to tell. As a result, I left feeling slightly dissatisfied: not what I wanted to feel.

Scarlett is a play hardwired in reality. It deals with identity and relationships in a very unassuming, conversational way. I don’t think it’s a standout production, but it certainly feels relevant. It may be short and sweet, but it has a lot to say about life, love and loss.

SCARLETT

Review National Theatre Live: Twelfth Night by Danielle O’Shea

(4 / 5)

 

Twelfth Night is Shakespeare’s classical comedy about love, gender and things not always being as they seem. This story became all the more poignant considering recent discussions of gender and sexuality.

In his pre-show interview, Director Simon Godwin described his interpretation as being a comedy wrought with pain and this was evident throughout. Despite the humour which trails through almost every scene, it is undeniable that each character has their own pain – whether this be due to grief or unrequited love – and Godwin made sure not to shy away from this pain but instead to embrace it. The emphasis on character was drawn even stronger by the minimalist settings which centred around a staircase that was manipulated from scene to scene from boat to church to club and so on.

Each member of the cast was incredible and their passion for their role was palpable however two stood out for me. Tamsin Greig as Malvolia presented a stunning portrayal of the stern turned vulnerable steward who every member of the audience empathised with whether it be from her assumed romantic triumph to downfall. In addition, Daniel Rigby forced the character of Sir Andrew Aguecheek into the spotlight with an absolutely hilarious performance that left everyone in tears.

Overall, it was a marvellous experience which was incredibly inclusive in its staging leaving little room for those unfamiliar to Shakespeare to go astray. In Godwin’s interpretation, the political and social connotations of the show were celebrated which encouraged conversation both onstage and off that had previously gone unmentioned. Altogether, it was a show that united both audience and cast in spellbinding switch-up of the classic.

National Theatre Live: Twelfth Night

Gwyn Hall, Neath

April 6th 2017

Running time: 3 hrs 10 mins

Author: William Shakespeare

Director: Simon Godwin

Design: Soutra Gilmour (Designer), James Farncombe (Lighting Designer), Shelley Maxwell (Movement Director), Michael Bruce (Music), Christopher Shutt (Sound Designer), Jeannette Nelson (Company Voice Work), Kev McCurdy (Fight Director), Alice Knight (Staff Director)

Cast: Tamara Lawrence, Daniel Ezra, Oliver Chris, Emmanuel Kojo, Brad Morrison, James Wallace, Tim Mc Mullan, Niky Wardley, Daniel Rigby, Adam Best, Doon Mackichan, Phoebe Fox, Tamsin Greig, Imogen Doel, Whitney Kehinde, Ammar Duffus, Claire Cordier, Mary Doherty, Andrew MacBean, Imogen Slaughter.

 

Review Caitlin, Light, Ladd & Emberton, Theatr Brycheiniog by Hannah Goslin

(5 / 5)

 

As a huge fan of Eddie Ladd, Deborah Light and Gwyn Emberton, I have been excited to see Caitlin for a long time – missing the chance when it came to London, my visit to Brecon happily coincided with their Welsh tour.

Directed by Light and choreographed and performed by Emberton and Ladd, the story of the piece is based upon the poet Dylan Thomas’s wife, Caitlin, her turbulent life with the Swansea celebrity and her alcoholism beginning before and continuing after his death.

Set out in a circle of chairs, the story unfolds before us as an AA meeting but the words are simple sentences and the rest purely physical.  The chairs soon became metaphors and symbolism for lovers, baby chairs and Thomas’s gradual success until his death where he  (literally) falls from grace.

I do feel slightly biased in the fact that these three dancers are such huge inspirations to me, but I couldn’t express how fluid and creative the movement were.  Times where you could only imagine pain and impact of the body seemed so gentle and as if they did not hurt the performers was astounding.  And they used every bit of space and every chair.  It was a wonderful take on Caitlin’s life.

My only argument would be that I wanted more of the physicality and less of the chairs. While I completely understood the reasons behind the chairs, as a fan I just wanted more – perhaps that’s just me being greedy!

To accompany, the music was interesting, with no social/cultural significance but only to heighten the movement. And no particular theatrical lighting, giving the room a naturalistic feel rather than something created for theatrical purpose.

Caitlin, as all of Light, Ladd and Embertons work as a group and as individuals is a triumph. A beautiful representation of love, addiction and pain.

Directed by Deborah Light
Devised with and performed by Eddie Ladd and Gwyn Emberton
Sound by Siôn Orgon
Costumes by Neil Davies
Images by Warren Orchard

http://www.gwynembertondance.com/caitlin/

Caitlin – spring tour 2017
27-28 March // Aberystwyth
http://www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk/

2 April // Laugharne
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/caitlin-by-light-ladd-emberton-laugharne-shows-tickets-31967232854

5 April // Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon
http://www.brycheiniog.co.uk

8 April // Theatr Ardudwy, Harlech
http://www.theatrardudwy.cymru/

11-15 April // Chapter, Caerdydd/ Cardiff
http://www.chapter.org/caitlin-0

21 April // Ffwrnes, Llanelli
http://www.theatrausirgar.co.uk/en/

23 April // Llandrindod Wells
http://dawnspowysdance.org/events/

25 April // Barry Memo

CAITLIN

28-29 April // Galeri, Caernarfon
http://www.galericaernarfon.com

4 May // Taliesin, Swansea/ Abertawe
http://www.taliesinartscentre.co.uk/

 

BSL, Subtitled Video Review, Killology, Sherman Theatre by Steph Back

A BSL subtitled video review of Killology. Written by Gary Owen and directed by Rachel O’Riordan performed at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff reviewed by Steph Back.

The production can be seen at The Royal Court ,Thu 25 May – Sat 24 June.

killology

 

CREATIVE TEAM

By Gary Owen

Director Rachel O’Riordan

Designer Gary McCann

Lighting Designer Kevin Treacy

Composer and Sound Designer Simon Slater

Sound Sam Jones

CAST

Sean Gleeson

SEÁN GLEESON

For the Royal Court: The Weir.
Other theatre includes: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (National/West End); Earthquakes in London (Headlong/National); The Contractor (Oxford Stage Company); In Celebration (Everyman, Chichester); Molly Sweeney (Bristol Old Vic); Aristocrats (Chichester Festival).
Television includes: Midsomer Murders, The Café, Public Enemies, Casualty, Doctors, Dalziel & Pascoe, Burnside, Holby City, Safe House, EastEnders, Underworld.
Film includes: The Last Witness, Cold Mountain, First Knight.

Sean also directs for TV and Film

Richard Mylan

RICHARD MYLAN

Theatre includes: The Believers, Things I Know to be True, Peep Show (Frantic Assembly); Starlight Express (West End); How I Helped Out Communism (Lowry); Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco (Paines Plough); Badfinger (Donmar).
Television includes: Marked, Byw Celwydd, Agatha Raisin, Waterloo Road, Casualty, Doctors, Grown Ups, My Family, Where the Heart Is, Belonging, No Angels, Coupling, Bad Girls, Wild West, Score, Doctors, A&E, The Bill, Border Café, Silent Witness.
Films include: Don’t Knock Twice, City Rats, Upside of Anger, Love Peace & Pancake, Checkout Girl, Snarl Up, Dead on Time, The Wisdom of Crocodiles.
Radio includes: Look Who’s Back, A Taste of Honey.

Sion Daniel Young

SION DANIEL YOUNG

For Sherman Theatre: Llwyth
Other theatre includes: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (National /West End), Mametz, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, House of America (National Theatre Wales); War Horse (National/West End); The Welsh Boy (Theatre Royal, Bath).
Television includes: Hinterland, Our World War, Casualty, Gwaith Cartref.
Film includes: Another Me, Private Peaceful, Daisy Chain.
Radio includes: Hoshiko, Inside Information, Dolls Tea Set, Inside Information, Bisgits a balaclafas.

GARY OWEN (SHERMAN ASSOCIATE ARTIST: WRITER)

For Sherman Theatre: Iphigenia in Splott (& National/ UK Tour/ International Tour), Love Steals Us From Loneliness (& National Theatre Wales), Amgen/Broken, A Christmas Carol

For the Royal Court: Violence & Son.

Other theatre includes: We That Are Left, Mrs Reynolds & the Ruffian, Perfect Match (Watford Palace); Free Folk (Forest Forge); The Shadow of a Boy, Big Hopes (National); Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco (& Paines Plough), Ghost City (Sgript Cymru); In the Pipeline (& Òran Mór), The Drowned World (Paines Plough); Cancer Time (503); Sk8 (Theatre Royal, Plymouth); Blackthorn (Clywd Theatr Cymru); Mary Twice (Bridgend Youth); Bulletproof (Replay, Belfast); La Ronde, Spring Awakening (Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama).

Television includes: Baker Boys (co-writer).

Awards include:

Meyer Whitworth Award, The Shadow of a Boy;
George Devine Award, The Shadow of a Boy;
Fringe First Award, The Drowned World;
Pearson Best Play Award, The Drowned World;
UK Theatre Award for Best New Play, Iphigenia in Splott;
James Tait Black Prize for Drama, Iphigenia in Splott;
Gary is Associate Artist: Writer at Sherman Theatre and is a Creative Associate at Watford Palace Theatre.

RACHEL O’RIORDAN (DIRECTOR)

Rachel is the Artistic Director of the Sherman Theatre.

For Sherman Theatre: The Weir (& Tobacco Factory Theatres), Bird (& Royal Exchange Theatre), The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe, A Doll’s House, Iphigenia in Splott (transfer to The National / UK Tour / International tour), Romeo & Juliet, Arabian Nights.

Other Theatre includes: Macbeth (& Tron), The Seafarer (& Lyric, Belfast), The Odd Couple – Female Version, Moonlight & Magnolias, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Twelfth Night (Perth); Unfaithful (Traverse); The Absence of Women (Tricycle); Hurricane (West End/Off-Broadway); Everything Is Illuminated (Hampstead); Miss Julie, Animal Farm (Peter Hall Company/Theatre Royal, Bath); Absolution (Guna Nua/First Irish Festival NY); Much Ado About Nothing, The Glass Menagerie, Merry Christmas Betty Ford (Lyric, Belfast); A Christmas Carol, Gates of Gold, Grimm Tales (Library, Manchester); Over the Bridge (Green Shoot/Waterfront Hall, Belfast); Protestants (Soho); Arguments for Terrorism, Cold Turkey at Nana’s (Òran Mór).

Opera includes: NI5 (Northern Ireland Opera/MAC, Belfast).

Awards include:

Critic’s Award for Theatre in Scotland for Best Director, The Seafarer;
First Irish Theatre Festival Award for Best Director, Absolution;
Rachel was formerly Artistic Director at Perth Theatre.

Review: Rent by Gemma Treharne-Foose

First things first, let’s get one thing clear – I am a steadfast ‘Rent Head’ and after this show – will remain so probably for the rest of my life and I make no apologies for this.

That being said, it’s been a whole 19 years since I was wowed (age 17 – yikes) by Jonathan Larson’s rock opera for a modern age. I wasn’t sure if the years had been kind to this production – would I even like it anymore? The show’s UK tour marks the 20th anniversary of the show.

Rent may have been billed as a parable of the modern age (inspired by Puccini’s opera La bohème), but it was also a snapshot of the 90s era, too: the cusp of the digital revolution, the internet age, the crude expansion of gentrification or ‘hipsterfication’ of previously bohemian neighbourhoods, the effects of AIDS on young communities following the 80s epidemic and scare stories. Maybe it would have lost some of it’s relevance? I had my reservations.

Back in 1998 at Shaftesbury Theatre in London, Rent was still very much in it’s infancy and was at the peak of it’s popularity, having won a shower of critical acclaim stateside (Pulitzer drama prize,four Tony awards, six Drama desk Awards, ‘Best Musical’ Awards and an Obie Award).

In ‘98, this was a show unlike anything else I had seen before. When I last saw it. I was an idiot teenager with a questionable taste in ridiculous infantile men. By the time I emerged from that theatre though, it shifted my view of the world.

But suddenly, my childish attempts to write poetry suddenly had context and purpose. I too wanted to dance on the table wearing spandex and hang from poles singing at the top of my voice like Mimi Marquez, go on protests like Maureen and befriend drag queens just like Angel Schunard.

In fact I did all of things…even though I couldn’t legitimately call myself a bohemian due to my love for global coffee chains. But even so – it didn’t even matter that my poetry was shit! I loved the way Jonathan Larson had pushed boundaries in the theatre world. I even went on to study Theatre and Media Drama and found my own little theatre circle…and my battered Rent CD (original Broadway cast recording) has accompanied me on all my journeys around the world since my 17th birthday.

So how to go about fairly reviewing a show that I have such a strong personal attachment to?

It may have been 19 years since I last saw Rent, but I can certainly see the differences (and improvements).

Lee Proud’s choreography was electric (fans of La Vie Boheme will love the table and chair dance), Angel’s acrobatic dance routine and of course the memorable ‘Tango Maureen’ – better and edgier than I remember at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Anna Fleischle’s set design includes multiple scaffolding layers on all sides and there nice touches – projecting Mark’s film on an old sheet, a trapeze, a pole, moving structures as vehicles for the characters, cages during the song ‘Contact’ – Maureen’s hilarious costume surprise during her protest song.

Rent is centred around a group of young struggling artists in New York’s East Village – they are fighting the property expansion and development which threatens to take over their performance space and remain true to their artforms and to themselves. I know how this sounds! And yes – over the years Rent’s edgy style (and way of incorporating social commentary into a musical) has been mercilessly parodied and skewered by the likes of Team America.

And yet! There are so many layers to unwrap and musical styles to bask in throughout this show…and try as I might even all these years later after seeing the first show in 1998, I couldn’t get through the first three songs without ruining my mascara and blubbing (I also snorted out loud…in front of some minor Welsh celebs in the audience. Oh well!)

It’s sometimes a mistake to get so accustomed to an original cast recording that you can’t imagine anyone else singing those parts. All these years, I had no idea I was loving the voice of someone who would later become the voice of a Disney character (Idina Menzel, the original cast member for ‘Maureen’ went on to become the voice of Elsa, much to the annoyance of parents worldwide who had to listen to ‘Let it go’ 1,000 times a day).

I wasn’t sure how Lucie Jones (an X-Factor contestant – pah!) would handle the role of Maureen. And I was entirely wrong to pre-judge her due to my dislike of the X-Factor because not only did Lucie Jones absolutely SLAY the role of Maureen, she brought out even more of a kooky side to her (and single-handedly inspired me to lose three stone so I can look as amazing as she did in that body stocking! Wow).

Ryan O’Gorman’s sweet portrayal of Collins was beautiful – and his silky baritone vocals not only matched the calibre of the broadway version of Rent but perhaps even went one step beyond it.

The interaction between Leyton Williams (who previously had the title role of London’s Billy Elliot) as the lovely Angel and Collins was a joy to witness – and Layton brought a whole new talent to Angel’s ‘Today for you, tomorrow for me’ routine with astonishing leaps, spins and flips….and all in outrageous heels and a cloak coat.

You might think Jonathan Larson’s energy and optimism in the music and lyrics may come across as syrupy and hammy….but lord knows we need this more in 2017 than we did in 1996 when Rent opened.

For me Rent’s underlying sadness is that for all it’s popularity and influence, writer/composer Jonathan Larson’s early death (age 35) meant that he never got to see any of the success and joy that this musical has brought to people over the last 20 years.

Even all these years later, Larson ‘s story remains relevant and engaging for modern audiences. We are what we own. We’re knee-deep in a culture of mindless McJobs and as Mark and Roger sing: ‘We’re living in America…leave your conscience at the tone’. In the age of deportations and walls and blind gun laws (let along the way the tide is turning against LGBTQ communities), I really do question humanity sometimes.

I don’t know how many terms Donald Trump has or how many years of damage our current generation has ahead of them, but though it all I’ll still listen that old Rent CD of mine and remind myself that ‘We’re Okay’.

Bruce Guthrie’s production and Cardiff’s warm and inviting reception to Rent’s songs show me that there are still good people in the world. And I know this because all of them were mooing, crying, laughing and on their feet by my side at the end.

I’m definitely not leaving it another 19 years before I see this show again!

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/DonaldGordonTheatre/Rent/?view=Standard

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Rent

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff)

Dates: 3-8 April

Book, Music and Lyrics: Jonathan Larson

Directed by: Bruce Guthtie

Director/choreographer: Chantelle Carey

Billy Cullum (Mark Cohen)

Ross Hunter (Roger Davis)

Ryan O’Gorman (Collins)

Layton Williams (Angel Schunard)

Phillippa Stefani (Mimi Marquez)

Lucie Jones (Maureen Johnson)

Shanay Holmes (Joanne Jefferson)

Running time: 2.5hrs (approx)

Produced by: Idili Theatricals Ltd / Theatr Clwyd

Review Ghost in the Shell by Jonathan Evans

(3 / 5)

Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is one of the greatest pinnacles of intellectual science-fiction and cult fan-base. It is material that has passion from both sophisticated movie analyzers and the enthusiastic nerds that wear the t-shirts. It popularity and longevity has been more than proved so it is only natural that an English speaking studio would seek to adapt it.

The question of Ghost in the Shell has always been about the progress of technology and how that will effect humanity. What is the line or organic and the manufactured for the living?

You shouldn’t always have to compare one movie to another, you don’t need to compare 2001: A Space Odyssey to Star Wars, however you do need to compare the original Oldboy the the remake, because it has the same name and tells the same story. But how much? You also shouldn’t want the exact replica, because then it’s just a waste of time. With a remake of any sort, you need something that understands the material but tells it in it’s own unique way.

Director Rupert Sanders (who also made Snow White and the Huntsman) has a mastery of creating extremely good looking movies. He and his team have captured the world of the source material with the bright vibrant lights of all the advertisements, the dark shadows of the alleyways and the intricate as-well as organic look to the technology.

Being that it’s source material is Japanese the decision was made to incorporate a lot of Japanese aesthetics and cast members into this American adaptation. It comes off odd, I don’t know whether this actually takes place in Japan or whether or not there’s just some big cultural merging that has happened over the years.

Scarlett Johansson as the Major is different from what people are use to. She is more expressive and vulnerable, but that’s because her origin is changed (I’ll forgo that explanation). However she is still stern and commanding, can clearly combat a threat in either hand-to-hand or gunfire.

This is not a straight remake of the original, it is more like a channeling. It takes moments and set-pieces from the original and tells an altered story with it. You will recognise situations an images, but their place and context has change or altered.

The original movie was able to have loads of detail within it at times to explain certain elements of how the world works, but it also allowed other moments where it left it to interpretation original had blank spaces, this over explains.Rarely does it leave moments of ambiguity, this is more like a traditional Hollywood movie with ensuring all the questions are answered.

Is this still Ghost in the Shell? Yes, this is the world and it asks similar questions. It is not as unique or as haunting as the original but then it’s not trying to be a straight adaptation of it anyway. This is one of the best looking movies out right now and probably will be for awhile. It will also make you ask questions, not super deep questions that you can find in other Science fiction material, but their still worthwhile questions and all while being enveloped in a luscious conceived and realized world.