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Review: The Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival Launch by Sian Thomas

The launch party of the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival was one I wholeheartedly enjoyed attending, and am glad I did so. The launch party promoted the upcoming Fringe Theatre Festival, (and more information about that can be found at their own website: http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/) as well as talk of their sponsors, and the events and activities planned.
The launch party consisted of a lot of mingling at first, but betwixt such there were three performances, which I believe were all wonderful.

The first was a snippet of a play called Three Days, with a touch of realism and the intrigue of drama that I thought was fairly enjoyable. As a snippet, I was not aware of the context of the piece, but focusing solely on what I did see, I did enjoy. There was a part that particularly stuck out to me. There was an instance where the characters were discussing their occupations and how they’re treated in them due to their age. I put a lot of attachment to that, as sometimes I worry about pursuing my chosen career and being hindered because of my age. So, it was nice to see characters I could relate to like that, even if only briefly.

The second performance was one I enjoyed very much, and the comedy element to it was nice to see. I don’t recall having seen theatre based on comedy recently, so this was a nice new feeling.

The third performance was the one I think I enjoyed the most. Two poems were performed by Alice Downing (the marketing director of the Fringe Festival), and both made my heart feel a little bit softer and made me appreciate words and how we all use them so much. I already love and cherish words and writing and poetry, so hearing another’s is always time well spent to me, so it really was a wonderful time. Also, and not to drag this back up but, it was really funny when she flubbed a word, and managed to laugh along with the rest of us in the audience.

Each performance was well-performed, and each with different aspects that I appreciated immensely.

Based on the launch party, I have high hopes and a lot of optimism towards the fate of the rest of the Fringe Theatre Festival, and I am looking forward to attending and experiencing the other events that caught my eye. I can’t wait to see what these nights hold.

“Why I am a 3rd Act Critic” by Barbara Michaels

3rd Act Critic Barbara Michaels gives a personal response to being a critic with Get the Chance.

With over half a century of reviewing under my belt, I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about both music and theatre. This was intensified when I got my first job on a local paper. I was eighteen,  as the most junior member of the staff – and the only female in the days when women on newspapers were few and far between. I was expected to cover tasks such as weddings, flower shows and (to my delight) amateur dramatics.

This was a wonderful training ground which led to me covering professional theatre on my second paper. My big break came later, when I was working  freelance and also running a syndication agency. The reviewer covering a first night ballet performance at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden was ill and asked if I could do it. I have always loved dance but had never previously reviewed a dance production so cut my teeth on the Creme de la Creme. To this day dance is my favourite of all the art forms  and – like all the arts – underfunded,  if I had the money (which, as an OAP, I don’t) I would support.

Opera in Wales is still regarded by some as only for the elite. This is far from being the case. Please give it a try! We are so fortunate in Wales to have the WNO – a world-class opera company performing in a wonderful venue. Their production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, which I reviewed recently, was as near perfection as you are ever likely to see.

Review Der Rosenkavalier, WNO, Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

Life is busy for me. As well as reviewing I edit a community magazine and last year published my first book for young children, entitled WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH SLITHERS? The publication of the book, shortly;to be featured in a Cardiff book festival, coincided with the birth of my first great granddaughter Chloe Jo, and I am now expecting another great grandchild.

Review: One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards by Sian Thomas

One Was Lost was a book I picked up because I had decided I wanted to branch out a little further from my normal cheesy YA book, or my normal poetry book. I have a tendency to stick close to my comforts in a lot of areas, including reading, and this book was able to help me breach this constraint.
I had decided to stretch out further and try my hands at a story more centred on thrill, horror, mystery, suspense. For a while now, I’ve wanted to experience a book that made my chest constrict in a funny way, in a way that made me scared. I know we’ve all had our hand at murder mysteries and crime novels and even television crime dramas or horror movies, but none of those ever seemed to settle right with me, and none of them ever seemed to really be what I was searching for. One Was Lost managed to do something that a book had yet to do for me.
Most things that I read I can usually guarantee a happy ending, or at least ones where all the characters live, save for Shakespeare’s works. Most of the time, I’m pretty much certain that’s how things will go, and I usually hope for that, too (I am guilty of really, really loving a happy and pure ending). With One Was Lost, I was less sure of this, and in turn, I hoped for it much more fiercely. I wanted it to end well so desperately and was so torn that it was the a book that just might not do that, that I felt that little constraint in my chest that I had wanted to feel. As the characters got put in more and more danger, and the likelihood of a happy ending seemed to dwindle, I got more and more entrenched in the story and more and more hungry for answers and a good ending. When there was one, I felt relief and happiness so big and all-encompassing that I was sure I was a balloon that had been blown up to bursting. It was such a wonderful feeling, another I admit I am guilty of enjoying, to watch characters trudge through the unimaginable, and come out the other side. I hope my praise can reach out to the author, Natalie D. Richards, because I am brimming with it.  The feelings I had throughout my read were incredible, and something I’m glad to have experienced.

All the characters are interesting, with their own little stories that fade impact and shape the bigger, overall plot. Each of them (like our main character, Sera, and the others, Emily, Jude, Lucas) were all lovable and easy to attach oneself to in different ways. All of them had characteristics I loved, and attributes I admired, and in the midst of their heavy story, it was still wonderful to see them in my mind’s eye interacting and even laughing. A brief summary can be found on Natalie D. Richards’ website: http://nataliedrichards.com/books/onewaslost/  as this can supply an explanation and introduction to the book better than I can, as I do not wish to spoil anything.
To add to this even more, the writing made this feel even more real. It was clear and concise, and unbelievably detailed. There was a period in the text where Natalie D. Richards describe the feeling of thirst so well and so closely, that I found myself feeling thirsty and scrambling for bottles of water to get me through.

I give this 4 stars. It was a good introduction to the other aspects of my usual YA genre with a far more intriguing and mysterious core, and I did enjoy the story of it incredibly so. I very much loved it.

An Interview with Des George, winner of the Best Promoter, Rural Touring Awards.

Photographic credits Keith Morris www.artswebwales.com

Hi Des great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hi my name is Des and I am based at Neuadd Dyfi a venue in West Wales.

The venue you support is called Neuadd Dyfi and is in West Wales. how is the venue used by the local community?

Over the last 20 years we have worked hard to create a flexible space. Flexibility is the key. A community hall has to attempt to do all things for all. Though there are some compromises we manage to hold full scale pantomimes, art exhibitions, community lunches wedding receptions play groups dance theatre workshops, Zumba Women’s institute and blood donor sessions.

Theatre Rum Ba Ba performing “L’Hotel at Neuadd Dyfi, Aberdyfi

How did you get involved in supporting Night Our performances at Neuadd Dyfi?

I met the legendary John Prior at a village hall forum around about 1999 he suggested Frank Hennessey & Friends we had a superb “Night Out “ and I was sold on the concept

Night Out financially underwrites the majority of the cost of booking professional touring work for smaller venues, community halls and schools. Would you be able to book work in your venues without Night Outs support?

We do book work in our hall without Night Out support but if we didn’t have their help this would severely restrict the range and quality of the events we put on. Night Out gives us and the performers the confidence to “be bold”

Your venue has a very diverse artistic programme including family productions, folk music, musical cabaret, adult drama and opera. How do you decide on what type of work to programme in your venue?
It would be great to say that it is based on sound market research and a deep understanding of the Arts. To be honest is largely what tickles our fancy. For the last three years I have attended the National Rural Touring Forum conference which has been excellent for seeing showcased examples some of which are in their development stage. Hosting an event that has been through the Night out vetting procedure is also a good filter. Variety and quality are the key.

Congratulations on winning the award for Best Promoter in the Ticket source Rural Touring Awards. The awards recognise the valuable work of productions, venues, promoters, schemes, and staff in the rural touring sector What qualities would you say are required for a successful promoter?
Research, marketing and being prepared to take risks. Develop and look after your audience. Create a welcoming atmosphere. Think about the layout most appropriate for the show theatre, cabaret , in the round. This can make a great difference to the success of the event. Be prepared to take risks and move on from failure.

We spoke to Peter Gregory, Head of Night Out at Arts Council Wales about the Night Out scheme and Des.

How does Night Out as an organisation support organisations such as Neuadd Dyfi to programme high quality touring productions?

Des George and the team of volunteers in Neuadd Dyfi work tirelessly organising a myriad of events and activities for their community. They use the Arts Council of Wales’ Night Out scheme to take away the financial risk of booking professional shows. In the same way that many of the major Theatres and Arts Centres get funding Night Out allows small community halls to book amazing shows. Night Out provides advice ,support and will often ensure that high quality companies that normally tour to Theatres also provide high quality shows for community halls.

http://www.nightout.org.uk

Des recently won the award for Best Promoter in the Ticket Source, Rural Touring Awards. In your own words why do you think Des won this award?

The commitment from Des is second to none and the feedback we get from the companies who perform in the hall is always positive. Not only does he ensure everything is correct technically, the performers are fed and watered and welcomed into the local community. In the words of one happy company “ Des is a God amongst men”

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to accessing high quality productions for the audiences you support?
There is often a perception that because it is held in a village hall that it will be an amateurish production. There is so often the statement “Oh I don’t like that sort of thing” . In today’s environment of every home having widescreen TV’s, iPods, iPad’s, streaming videos, instantly obtainable music of any genre it is a battle to show that a shared experience at a live production is special


If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
For us I would like to develop our youth theatre provision. Active involvement.

What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

I think that ACW has been absolutely right in concentrating on maintaining their support for performance. They have been good to us in a number of our capital projects but without the performances we wouldn’t have a community hall we would just have a hall. The recent report that support for the Arts is being strengthened in the regions not just London centric is very encouraging.
My advice to a potential audience member is do take the time to read that poster, have a look at what’s on locally and make that small bit of effort needed to venture out for a “Great Night Out”.

Thanks for your time Des

PopStarz, How Community Youth Groups Regenerate The Arts.

“Pop Goes The 80’s” @ Rhyl’s Little Theatre, Sunday 29th June 2017

The energy in the theatre as the full house audience waits for the curtain to rise can only be described as hyper.

This is pretty standard for a Jaxx Martine Popstarz Academy show – because no matter what  – you know for the next hour and a half your heart is going to burst with pride, and be blown away by the amount of hard work, dedication and talent that has gone into this show. This is not down to luck, this is clever planning and hours of dedication given by the two principle teachers Paula and Steve Duncan .

I am no stranger to this community group, I worked along with the Duncan’s four years ago in a local school on a performance workshop – the children involved were keen to have an outlet to express themselves  and there was nowhere locally for them to do it. Around the same time the Duncan’s were looking for somewhere for their daughter to attend a drama class and found the nearest one to be a 30 minute drive away – So The Duncan’s thought;

“Why not try this ourselves, give our local children somewhere they can go….. if it works, it works out, if not it’s a bit of fun”

Professional performers themselves, working the circuit as singers and presenters, they have the skills and experience needed to deliver quality workshops and an ability to bond with the children. Four years later the small group of 17 has now expanded with a growing waiting list. They have moved from performing  sharing sessions with parents to producing two shows a year in Rhyl’s Little Theatre, which despite it’s name seats a 190 plus audience.  They also perform in one off shows including “Got to Sing Got to Dance” which showcases the community youth groups from the local areas in and around North Wales joining together and performing in Rhyl Pavilion Theatre for the charity Happy Faces.  Paula has stated this was one of her proudest moments along side the children’s big production last year of a fantastic version of Willy Wonka.

This year with the help of Steve’s impressive Marty Mcfly impression we were taken back to the 80’s

The group sees children from ages 4 to 17 perform and the principles cater  for all age ranges ensuring all children appear on stage more than once – this is no mean feat…. and the show itself was well crafted, this was not just a handful of 80’s pop songs performed by some school children, this was a delightful trip down 80’s lane. Full of comedy, including sketches from TV shows, adverts and dance.  Naturally  there were  different levels of abilities, but,  this became part of the charm. For example the cuteness and humour factor was used with the younger children. Understandably four to seven year olds are not going to give flawless Broadway performances ….. but who could not enjoy watching 4 mini Ghostbusters in full kit being chased around stage by bum shaking, tongue pulling ghosts?

The costumes were very realistic –  I wanted to rush home  read Smash Hits and pop on some lace gloves and plastic beads (Madonna). Other 80’s favourites included. White T shirts, red neckerchiefs (Bros)… Red cheerleaders (Hey Mickey) Green flared shirt high blonde pony (The shake and Vac Ad) Heely rolling, cartwheeling, old ladies (Super Gran)…. to name but a few…

The confidence of the children was one of the things I took away from the night, there were several solos and duets, to stand on an empty stage and sing solo to a full house takes some doing  – this doesn’t just happen over night, this comes from having your talent nurtured , you don’t get that from reading a book or sitting on a computer. Each of the children performed to the best of their abilities all giving 100%.

However, It would be wrong not to comment on some stand out performances as there were some truly beautiful pieces, Stevie Duncan, daughter of Paula and Steve singing Fame was effortless and faultless, Lucas King (an up and coming Peter Kay) singing Bad with a bevy of beauties, A mini Hi Di Hi skit and Flashdance as a duet featuring a set of dancers. Demonstrating without doubt that this little community group delivers and is  not your average Saturday club but is a little Performing Arts Academy. .

I caught up with two of the cast back stage Lucas King and Ruby Howarth I asked Ruby why she enjoyed Popstarz, (pictured below)

“I love the group, and Paula and Steve and all the  friends I have made. I love everything we do but most of all I love the confidence it has given me”

Lucas has been with the group since it started four years ago and said’

“I really enjoy all the auditions we get to do, singing and acting is great fun, I love being on stage. I have been on stage lots of times In the last show we did I played Grand Pa Joe in Willy Wonka which was really good because it was a funny part and I love doing comedy”

For this particular production the hair on the back of your neck moment  came when the 95 strong group performed together in their finale “Man in the Mirror”  full of harmonies and emotion. You could see every child had had a blast on  stage, topped off by an tearful Paula thanking everyone and making a very valid point . Paula was 20 when she first sang on stage  – some of the children performing were babies.

That filled me with a sense of hope especially as earlier in the week I had read a disappointing article on Theatre In Education.

http://howlround.com/valuing-process-over-product-producing-theatre-in-educational-settings

The article states how some community theatre groups and theatre in educational establishments would rather replace the children with professional actors or the children with more ability than the children with less   – how is that producing COMMUNITY THEATRE ??? I feel the whole point is it that it isn’t professional.  However it is the foundation for professional theatre, a place where talent can be found and grown.

Thankfully Popstarz is not that type of group and it allows all the children to shine  – this group isn’t rare, but they are not common enough. Many areas have tailor-made theatre groups for children  some even follow set programmes, which could encourage the type of performance snobbery suggested in the above article . They are  often situated in towns or cities usually after school so access to these would typically need to be by car.  Schools and local authorities do encourage instructors to come into to give taster sessions but unless what is on offer to these children can be accessed on  their doorstep – what point is there?

This is not unique, a recent study in Kings College highlights my views and suggests this type of regeneration is the way forward for art in the future, and this type of community group is, in my opinion, is where arts funding should be focused.

A  recent Guardian Article states

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/30/excellence-arts-should-not-be-defined-by-metropolitan-elite?CMP=share_btn_fb

“Only 8% of the population makes regular use of publicly funded cultural organisations, and this small minority is wealthy and white”.

So are arts  grants working for the minority or the majority ? Are they opening doors to the arts? If they are they are still ensuring a guest list is being held – and if “your name isn’t down your not getting in.”

Instead of being helped by traditional arts grants the likes of small groups like Popstarz have to look else where for support. Another example, The Little Theatre in Rhyl, where Popstarz perform , a delightful theatre that hires out to community groups for a minimal fee, yet the building its self is in need of dire repair – and where is it turning for help – begging for votes for the Jewsons Grant scheme! Popstarz were recently awarded a grant by a local Housing Association for the good work they have done in the community .They have to fight for everything…. it doesn’t stop them succeeding …. but imagine what they could do with funding!!

Nick Wilson and Jonathan Gross report on a group of street dancers,  their story is similar to that of Popstarz.

“Several of this group first encountered break dancing at school through an instructor brought in to run lunchtime sessions. This instructor connected the students to dance sessions provided free of charge by the local authority …… They had access to space, a friendly and supportive environment and informal mentoring from more experienced dancers.

Some now earn income through teaching break dancing in schools, prisons and at children’s birthday parties; and one member of the group spent several years dancing full-time…..”

Success brings success from performing in their little youth club space to performing on a professional stage. These children have been introduced  to the theatre. Showing them that the theatre is a place where magic happens, it shows them the stage from the wings  No one can tell you how that will make you feel, you need to experience it , how can you experience it if you are never given the chance ?

Our future audiences, actors,  directors, playwrights etc, where are we going to find them and what voice will they have if they only come from one background ?  Perhaps more importantly the reason funding should be made easily accessible to community groups is because of what they are doing . Ensuring theatre survives, showing that the theatre is a place to love, out of these  children realistically maybe a quarter will continue with the arts in some form and hopefully some will continue to have successful careers as performers or may go on to teach the next generation of Popstarz. Whatever their story one thing is certain, almost all of them will hold a love for the theatre in some form and undoubtedly be an audience for the future – something that this generations theatre is sadly lacking.

If you would like to know more about Rhyl’s Little Theatre or Jaxx Martine Popstarz you can visit their Facebook pages

https://www.facebook.com/JaxxMartinesPopstarzAcademy/?ref=page_internal

https://www.facebook.com/groups/929362840449463/?ref=group_header

 

Moment(o)s, Elaine Paton, Chapter Arts Centre by Troy Lenny

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Moment(o)s, a strange, sinister and sad autobiography about Elaine Paton , who suffered from manic depression.

For those who have do not know what manic depression is, you can liken it to the traditional dramatic masks of torturous tragedy and chuckling comedy, switching randomly and so a person may randomly be very cheerful or cheerless – this is what Elaine portrays in her drama.

Hurt by the loss of loved mother, manic depression pulls the strings of Elaine’s life and causes horrid and humorous consequences throughout her life. Such as: hallucinations, relationship cuts and ties and sorrowful suicide.

This play is fine art, I experienced tugs and pulls of confusion, laughs, and overwhelming floods of mixed emotions; it is very symbolic.

I highly recommend this play for anyone who wishes to understand manic depression, as much as they can. Especially because there is a question and answer session at the end, consisting of those who have mental health issues, and representatives from mental health organisations.

https://www.chapter.org/momentos

 

Review Jayne Eyre, WMC by Lauren Ellis-Stretch and Caitlin Whiteley

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

Jane Eyre is fearsome and blazing, with an inevitably symbolic of the plays presentation of temptation and restless desire, the audience succumb, engulfed by the ferocity of its cast and the boldness of Sally Cookson’s direction.


Amongst the haunting moors, trepidation is a state of being and, yet, our female heroine embodies its antithesis – fired by generational anguish, past and contemporary, Bronte – mediated by Cookson – defies the societal dismissal of the wholly feminine nature of yearning and discontent. The National Theatre’s ‘Jane Eyre’ is soaring and liberated, necessary as an, ever-contemporary, evolved feminist narrative.


Hope, within the play, is almost embodied as a metaphorical rejection of the play’s desolate and dire setting, in its weighted suppression, through the stark opposition of the cast’s spirited elevation and weightlessness. Through Jane’s experiences of; the people she meets, the places she sees, and that which she cannot understand, she is subjected to sinisterism and character-dimming corruption – preaching a passive dignity, in  favour of her (societally embedded) feminine duty – yet, ultimately love is professed as the only true salvation. Conflicting, in nature, as she is bound through desire, love liberates Jane as simultaneously she is chained to one man for all eternity. Ultimately pre-occupied by the pondering of existentially-defying love, I do wonder how the Bronte’s would respond to Love Island.


The solidity and grounding conveyed by the set band embodied an inevitability of Jane and Mr Rochester’s unity through an unbridled and innate devotion conveyed by the all-encompassing folk instrumental. Originated within, what was considered, the English ‘country’, in its expression of working-class tradition, custom and superstitions, it is mystifying and fiercely optimistic in wanderlust.
Michael Vale’s set design, earthy and raw, preaches and idolises childlike innocence, as the cast boundlessly throw and exert themselves to-and-fro the minimalistic tree house. In the pure and sanctified white sheets hanging to enmesh the space it is the projection of our own thoughts, the play’s narration and the immorality of the characters themselves which taint and stain the clean, preserved walls of the godly, proper, Victorian society that they abide to.


Dan Canham’s movement spurred and propelled its cast with agitation, injected spirit, yet, ultimately, underlined an active mistreatment and suppression of Jane Eyre. The production’s movement and instrumental accompaniment evoked and transpired a wanderlust and disquietude from Jane unto us as the continuous action pounding from the stage beat within my stomach.
The production’s frenetic energy combined with the haunting spectre of Melanie Marshall’s Bertha Mason, a raw, wretched and pitiful operatic presence, magnified the sparsity of the set, with its bare isolation that, arguably, embodies the desolate origins that drew, boundlessly, the souls of Jane and Mr. Rochester to clasp together.


The halting, sharp scenes and the multitudinous use of rough sound gave the play the same raw emotion that categorises the book as such an elegant and unflinching exploration of the human heart. In the flurry, and succession, of such striking performances, the cast achieve flawlessness in their execution of truly turbulent multi-rolling with a rejoiced creative ferment.


Nadia Clifford was a spectacle to behold brimming with the fever of Jane’s restlessness. Feisty and crumbling, neither over-bearing, Nadia created the unrelenting independence and the secret longing that characterises the eponymous heroine. Nadia’s portrayal allowed Jane to be flawed, multi-faceted in her complexity, to the extent, at which, exposing Mr Rochester as a truly rigid and canvased enigma of a man. Devastated and defeated, yet hopeful and triumphant, in equal measure, the National Theatre’s ‘Jane Eyre’ was stunning, shocking and soaring.

Review: The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke by Sian Thomas

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke has been a long time favourite book of mine. I read it first about five years ago, and I remember reading it, loving it with my whole heart, finishing it, and instantly reading it again.

Once upon a time, I was recommended it. Someone that I knew once knew how much I loved the Professor Layton game, “Professor Layton and the Last Spectre”, as within this game there was a small gang of poor and homeless children who banded together to keep each other safe and warm who I took an overwhelming attachment to. The Thief Lord reminded them of these characters, and in turn, of me. And I could not be more grateful to have discovered a book that reminded me so much of characters I already loved, and created whole other characters who I loved just as much – perhaps more. Not only did these characters hold such a special place in my heart, they’ve stayed there undeterred for years. Even as I continue to consume new media and content and entertainment, there has yet to be something that knocks Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord from its #1 spot in my heart.

The plot is sweet, and something I loved all those years ago an equal amount as I still love it now. It is mysterious and alluring and downright fun – and to top it all off, the way it’s presented is unimaginably atmospheric, which is a factor I love an immeasurable amount. Being set in Venice, somewhere I have always wanted to go but have yet to find the opportunity to get there, it was like I got to go there for myself. And even better, it was like I got to go and I got to relive this story again and again in a place as beautiful in real life as it is in my mind’s eye.
The writing made this atmosphere even more incredible. The way Funke would describe the water and stone, the pathways and alleys, the boats and the famous buildings was mesmerising. The way it was written had a hand in shaping my own writing goals, as I also love at atmospheric touch in my own work. This has shaped me for so long and is so intrinsically a part of me that honestly I am so, so happy.

The characters are all lovely, each with their own unique personality and lovable traits. My favourites were always Prosper (our main character), Victor Getz, and Ida Spavento. I always thought, and continued to think of them, as lovable forces who would keep anyone safe – which they did. Prosper takes care of his younger brother, Bo. Victor Getz helps care for them (and the other runaway kids), as does Ida Spavento. They all just seemed like the sweetest  characters, who I feel unimaginably lucky to have discovered and cherished as much as I do.

I give the book 5 stars, as it holds such an important place on my bookshelf and in my heart. It remains my absolute favourite book, and I’m sure that will continue to be the truth in the foreseeable future, and probably also beyond that. I cannot recommend it enough, especially to those who love  heart-warming tale.

Review La Voix- Ffresh, Wales Millenium Centre by Emily Garside

Let’s talk about Drag. Most people have probably encountered a Drag Queen of some kind in their lives. (If not please, reassess that situation after reading this review) Whether it’s as part of a Hen Party or Birthday Party at the local Drag Bar- hello Minsky’s and Wow- or on TV via (if you’re my age) Lily Savage presenting Breakfast or tea-time TV (those were the days) or on Netflix with the glory that is Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Obviously if you’re a drag race fan the next sentence will not be a surprise but: Drag is an artform.

Once again: Drag is an artform. Cabaret is an artform. Drag as Cabaret is an artform. So easy to dismiss as someone in exaggerated make up in a wig in a dark bar you visit once in a blue moon. But real Queens work a room and a crowd tougher than most comedians. Most Queens have worked their way up through dingy back rooms and hiking on outfits in toilets. All Queens are not the same either. All Queens are definitely not created equal. But the best are an utter masterclass in entertainment.

La Voix is an utter masterclass.

All the above said too, it’s really important to say how brilliant it is that Ffresh at the WMC invited a Drag Queen to be part of this season. That alongside the National Theatre’s production of Jayne Eyre in the main theatre, La Voix was invited to do not one but two nights.  It’s both important in recognising that performance given space in arts venues shouldn’t be on a hierarchy- although some patrons might sniffly ask why a Drag act was in a theatre, not back in a club where they no doubt think that sort of act ‘belongs’ but also to show audiences ‘yes we welcome all kinds of performance here’. It’s also important as reviewer to have the experimental Jazz group last week, included on the same programme as a Drag Queen. It’s about saying there’s sophistication, and training, and creativity across all kinds of performance, so let’s do away with these divisions. Finally, it is also about- particularly in ‘Pride Month’ the idea that LGBTQ+ performers and audiences, and work that historically wouldn’t have been welcomed in such spaces is. It’s only 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised, and Drag and other Queer performance was not so long ago an underground scene or at the most related to a certain kind of club. To see then a drag performer in the flagship venue for Wales, and with a diverse audience is not something to be taken lightly.

All this politics and history however is taking away from talking about the Diva herself. And that isn’t on really. La Voix is a force of nature. She got to the semi- finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2014, where her name meaning ‘the voice’ and is known for her on-point impressions of famous Divas.

Winning many prestigious awards which include Best act at the London Cabaret awards, Winner of Drag Idol and most recently the Gold award winner for Best act at the Boys Scene Awards. And was in the Ab Fab film.

So, for the past 10 years La Voix has been taking on the big divas and making them her own, on both stage and screen. And last night’s tour of the Divas didn’t disappoint. Resplendent in a turquoise gown and trademark red wig, she reminds the audience that ‘I didn’t get this dressed up to not have pictures taken’ before adding ‘If your flash isn’t on…I’ll wait’. The audience interaction is, as with any drag show and after storming on with ‘the voice’ filling the room, there’s some delightful patter with the accompanist (Fresh from Hawaii with accompanying shirt) and of course with those lucky (unlucky depending on your take) to be in the front row. There were clearly a cohort of die hard fans in the audience who know the show possibly better than La Voix, but also allowed for some great banter between them. Drag Queens are known for both cutting, and a times filthy humour. And while it was certainly un-PC at times, the jokes never strayed into the borderline offensive that some other acts might take on. No doubt that changes with the venue and crowd, a skill again knowing how to work an audience, meant those in the audience unfamiliar with the Drag style of humour wouldn’t have been too shocked- and I defy them not to have laughed.

Songs take centre stage, as do the Diva’s who deliver them. While to some degree sticking to the demographic most in evidence at the show- the over forties, Diva fans- there was enough contemporary reference mixed in to make the show feel fresh. So, while Adele might not have been performing at Wembley that night, La Voix brought us Liza does Adele.  The audience was given a masterclass in performing the Divas from Cher through Liza to Judy and ending on a Welsh flavour with Shirley Bassey. A personal favourite as a musical theatre fan was Liza doing Mein Herr from Cabaret…but as if she tried it now at 76. I didn’t know I wanted it until I saw it. There’s such a detailed familiarity with the Divas from La Voix that goes far beyond simple mannerisms and vocal impersonation, and there’s also the love of a Diva in general that fuels the act. So while they are mercilessly mocked, there’s a sense of love and respect there. Something that’s very much at the heart of a really great Drag Queen too.

Also at the heart of any good Queen’s act is how to make an entrance and also an exit. And the closing numbers do not disappoint. Audience already primed 2 songs earlier, for the exit and cheering her back on stage La Voix returned decked in Ostrich Feathers and white (soon to be put in danger by a misplaced vodka cranberry). Dame Shirley was taking the final bow, and the crowd loved a home-grown Diva. And finally, as a sing-along closing number, Bonnie Tyler. In which the crowd also proved that giving a Welsh audience a chance to sing and they will attempt to upstage any Diva. But really what more fun can you have on a Saturday night than singing at top volume to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ with a Drag Queen dressed in white?

There’s a lot to be said for bringing Drag to wider audiences, and respecting just what a skill not only Drag but working a live cabaret audience is. La Voix thanked the crowd for coming out and supporting live cabaret noting that in these times it’s live entertainment- particularly at this end of the spectrum- that suffers. She also said that in these dark times we need that entertainment. And that’s the crux of it. At the end of a long day or week, La Voix gave us an escape- a fabulous, sequin clad, feather trimmed Diva-esque escape. Merci La Voix, Merci!

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/ffresh/LaVoix17/

 

Review Baby Driver by Jonathan Evans

 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

In a movie there is the image, the score, the sound effects, the performances, the camera movement and, if so chosen, the colour. Usually one element shines or we can say that two were in great harmony, but almost never can they all be brought together, layered and baked to create one infusion of all creating a great experience.

Like what Damien Chazelle did with La La Land, Edgar Wright takes the elements, aesthetics and sensibilities of the old and create something modern with them. With that movie it was the Hollywood musicals, here it’s the pulpy heist movie.

The car pulls up outside a bank three of the people in the car get out, go to the trunk and take out guns then they slip on masks and enter. Another remains in the car, a young man that decides to lip sync along to the tune playing on his iPod. When they come back he drives.  The young man behind the wheel goes by Baby.

Baby is a fresh faced young man that’s constantly plugged into his iPod listening to music with a pair of sunglasses on. He listens to music because he suffered an accident at a young age so he plays music to drown it out. Ansel Elgort plays him with swaying interest. At times wanders through life being much more interested with the music playing in his ears and others completely focused on his situation.

Baby’s employer and the one who setups these heists is Doc (Kevin Spacey) a controlling, nonsense man that goes by the mentality that it’s either his way or the highway. There’s also Buddy (John Hamm) and Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) a married couple that are like Bonnie & Clyde, happiest to be in each-others company while pulling these jobs. Then there’s Bats (Jamie Foxx) who seems more than a little unhinged, crime seems to come almost too easy to him. Naturally these are just code-names so none of the members can turn in the other as well as making the characters more easy to remember, like in Reservoir Dogs.

A an extra storytelling layer the ringing in his ear serves as so much more. We as mammals have learned to be fearful of high-frequency sounds because we used that to predict earthquakes. So that noise is cutting to a deep base instinct within us as human beings. We feel that either the situation is untrustworthy or that something bad is coming.

If you decide to make your movie in colour then you must use the colour. Most times filmmakers have a colour movie because that’s what expected of them and put no extra thought into the extra layer of storytelling they have. Not here. The movie has an appealing colour pallet of minty colours with a few deeper ones in harsher scenes. Every character has their colour which they either wear of expresses itself on the setting.

The editing, like all Wright movies, is a sleek, succinct experience with no frames gone to waste. He uses his regular tricks of panning’s combined with wipe cuts to create a seamless momentum that takes from inside, to outside, from one setting to another in within thirty seconds that would take others much longer. Other times he incorporates long shots that play like a skilful ballet between the actor and the camera. Within the moments of snappy cutting it never becomes confusing or disorientating because a) whats in the shot is simple and clear b) the colour helps to further register who it is doing what.

The soundtrack is composed with the greatest care. Edgar Wright is clearly a music enthusiast but it goes beyond that. We’ve had soundtrack’s with plenty of catchy songs in them (example Guardians of the Galaxy) but this goes deeper. This picks a song and completely dissects it in terms of it meaning, the lyrics, the rhythm and tone and infuses it into the scene. Sometimes it obviously fits the context of the scenes it picked for other times it ironically plays over a contrasting one.

One day, while getting coffee at his regular diner he becomes enchanted by the humming of a waitress Debora (Lily James). They both clearly have a love for songs and being on the road.

I have gone this far in the review without talking about what will probably be the main talking point for other critics, the car chases. They are well executed with fluid camera movements and impressive stunt driving as well as setups that are original, so much so that it’s almost like watching a martial arts fight scene with a car.

Baby Driver is a movie made by a man that loves nearly every aspect of cinema and is talented enough to draw as much as he can from every bit of footage he’s able to show you. Nothing goes to waste and is all entertaining. If you want to have fun you will be, if you wish to have an efficient, well crafted piece of cinema, you will also have that. Either way, take the ride.