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Review ‘Firm’, Thirsty Bird by Kaitlin Wray

Firm

(3 / 5)

Firm, A play that looks directly at the ugly side of business. Jay Thomas, finds out the hard way how manipulative some bosses can be. Even though the narrative seems a little farfetched, it still raised a number of points and an insight into the brutality of some businesses.

Joe Burke playing Jay Thomas not only lead acted in it, but he was the writer of ‘Firm’ as well. He creates a character whom only seems to want to get money, and when he does, spends it all on booze. Even though some of his words seemed lost at times; when he wasn’t facing directly towards you; he was great at talking out to the audience and going between the narrator and Jay. Steve Bennett, playing Jay’s best friend Ben, has great comedy timing and owns some adorable fluffy slippers. Ben’s character is the one I believe the audience feels most connected with, due to the realism of the character.

After seeing Isabelle Paige in Service 3: Taking Stock, the previous evening, I was excited to see what character she showcased next. Unlike the geeky character in Service 3, Isabelle plays a strong-minded business woman with one thing on her mind; making money. Even though Isabelle’s character was vicious and conniving, her character was fun to watch and had a lot of comical moments.

The main critique I have is that none of the characters in this play I liked or felt truly connected too. This was all due to all the cynicism and hate they have for each other. Even though this was the case there was some nice moments within this play that was both light hearted and fun.

One of the aspects I liked most about this performance is the way they incorporated the audience within the play.  It felt like it wasn’t just a performance but a lesson as well. The play was set in the round, with a table and two chairs in the middle. The way it was set up, looked pleasing to the eye due to the use of levels. I felt there was not a bad  seat  in the auditorium.

Overall this show was engaging and amusing to watch. In their bio it says, “if the script isn’t new, you can bet the performance will be.” This is truly was, it was definitely a new and original piece of work.

Thirsty Bird

Review, Airswimming, Weird Sisters Theatre Company, The Bread and Rose Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

(2 / 5)

A taboo subject, even in the modern day – we are still unsure about how to approach the subject of mental health. While it is understood more today, to be a woman and with such a medical condition back in the 1920’s was something that was frowned upon.

Telling the story of two women, Weird Sisters Theatre Company give us the stories, the relationships and 50 years in an insane asylum. We meet Persephone who as a young 21 year old is brought to the asylum for her relationship and bearing of a child with a married man and is thrown together with Dora, a gender confused woman obsessed with the military.

Two different characters, each scene shows the back and forth from the future to the present day. The performers do well to switch the characters and their growth from originally making no connection, to becoming the best of friends. Simple light changes from a blue for the beginning of their relationship to a red for the future, we get a sense with the acting of their progression of friendship.

The writing is clever in its use of phrasing for the insane, opinions expressed by others and themselves with drawing upon ‘witches’ and sorcery; Dora’s obsession with the military and stories of historical strong women gives us a sense of pride in feminism but also anger that these views have led her to incarceration due to the threat of the patriarchy of the time.

As years pass, there are hints of the 1950’s, Doris Day and other elements through time, while the characters stay in their plain, Victorian-like clothing. We are lost in the sense of time with confusion of where we are and what is happening – a good way to mirror to the audience how the character’s must feel with the mundanity and repetition of institution life.

Without revealing any spoilers, the performances and writing pull at your heart strings and make you feel for the characters. Simplistic set, lighting and gentle sound does well to highlight the performance but not take away from it.

Airswimming is clever in its look at mental health, bringing it  to the forefront not just for women, but everyone and also highlights the importance of friendship.

Review Into the Woods, Everyman Theatre, Cardiff, by Gemma Treharne-Foose

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(4 / 5)

This review was written prior to the E.U. Referendum vote

With the UK teetering on the edge of an E.U Brexit, the superb opening night of Everyman’s production of ‘Into the woods’ seemed almost prophetic: ‘be careful what you wish for’.

Set in the leafy grounds of Sophia Gardens, Cardiff Everyman have created a little haven for enjoying six pieces of outdoor theatre productions this summer. The opening night of the summer line up saw Stephen Sondheim’s notoriously wordy and complex piece brought to life by the energetic ensemble cast.

Those unfamiliar with the plot will see many familiar characters from Western fairy tales: Cindarella, charming princes, an evil witch, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and his magic beans and the big bad wolf. Richard Tunley’s direction and Rob Thorne’s dramatic musical arrangement brings the piece to life via a live band tucked beyond the stage. There are whimsical and bohemian touches to the set, dashing costumes and beautiful puppetry (milky the cow and those pigeons…watch your eyes!). Audiences are taken on an extended musical romp through a tangled but hilarious set of interweaving stories – with a very modern twist. Little Red Riding Hood (played by the fantastic Darcy Welch) now has an attitude – and a knife – and she’s not afraid to use it!, Cindarella’s really not that bothered about the prince and the faithful baker’s wife who wants a baby has a ‘moment of madness’ in the forest with the prince.

Sondheim’s tongue-in-cheek take at the underlying sexism, cheesiness and saccharine plots of our well-known fairy tales is a thing of brilliance. There are some pantomime moments too – an added aside to the audience, a knowing look, in jokes, a moment when Rapunzel (Giaccolina Crothers) got her plait stuck in the branches of the set and the baker’s wife (Laura Phillips) doesn’t miss a beat, dashing across the stage shouting ‘I’ll help you, love!’. There are also deeper undercurrents at work here though – and we see the subtleties at work via Rapunzel and Jack’s struggle for independence from their over bearing parents (‘If you love them…you have to let go…’) and with the grass always being greener on the other side. The prince gets his woman, but even he is bored by the princess…the baker and his wife find life with a baby isn’t all that romantic!

With all the unpredictabilities of staging an outdoor theatre festival (in Wales!) Everyman has all bases covered. The audience seating area is covered, the sound and music was good – despite some police sirens and late-night revellers passing by. The weather mercifully held off. The stripped down aspect, the breeze and the general mood is just right and Everyman seems to have thought of everything, from renting blankets to keep the evening chill at bay, to Dusty Knuckle Pizza and Otley beers in the pretty, lantern-lit area outside. It is exceedingly pleasant and a little sanctuary from the surrounding city.

As darkness descends and we get into the second half after the interval, the set and surrounding trees around the outdoor venue are beautifully lit. There are some stand out moments for me, the macho squaring up of the two princes during the ‘agony’ song (with great comic execution by Lewis Cook and Tom Elliot), James Rockey’s gormless portrayal of Jack and his zero-to-hero transformation and those terrible sisters and their dark (but funny) comeuppance.

The show was epic in every sense – the length and the spectacle. Just following and listening and watching left me exhausted, there is a lot to see. But this production is stunning. I left with those dance sequences and riffs singing in my ears and beating in my heart.

Director: Richard Tunley

Musical Director: Rob Thorne Jnr

Stage Manager: Raynor Phinnemore

Production Designer Bethany Seddon

Costume Supervisor: Kelly Ellis

Wardrobe Mistress: Rosie Berry

Everyman Theatre Company, Cardiff.

http://everymanfestival.co.uk

Review World of Warcraft by Jonathan Evans

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(2 / 5)

When you are given a movie like Warcraft, that’s based on an online computer game that has over eight million people playing it daily, over a dozen different races on both sides and has the most dense lore of nearly any franchise you will ever find, you have to wonder. Could this be any good at all? Or can it even be coherent?

We are told the tale of a world named Azeroth, a magical world where there has been a conflict between the humans and the Orcs for as long as anyone can remember. How it all began is the purpose of the story. We are taken back to the beginning where one world was thriving and one was dying, so in order to survive the Orcs used dark magic to open a portal so they could travel to a world where they could live. I like this setup, there are evil characters and forces at work but this is a case of two races seeking the most basic thing, survival, none can really be blamed for that, so there isn’t really a bad guy.

I found that when it came to writing this review I could not for the life of me remember any of the characters names. In-fact even while the movie was going on I couldn’t hold their names in my head. They were just too complicated and and got lost amidst all the others names and exposition.

I did play World of Warcraft for three years so I know things that the average person would not and that in-itself is dangerous. Putting references in are fine but too much emphasis or not enough explanation can leave the viewer feeling like they are at a table where they don’t know anybody, awkward and unwelcome. But this movie is constructed so that a non-fan can understand the world just fine, there’s magic, barbarians, monsters, kings the regular cast and characters you’d expect to see in any fantasy story.

In order to bring a fully fictional world to life special effects are required. Whether that be through computers or through built sets to create environments that have never existed in our world. As well as that makeup or again computers must be utilized to create other races and creatures into existence. This movie uses both. On a purely aesthetic level, this is such a mixed bag. The Orcs and their world are the best part of it, they look and move convincingly (though I question how they can enunciate so well with those tusks) and their environments are rendered as well as the graphic art of the video game itself. While in the other areas they look very cheap. Some effects are like painting come to life while others are like impressive internet videos, which at a movies standard are not very good.

Again the acting is either hit or miss. The Orcs, having to act using their imagination and then the animators putting the finishing touches over it looks very impressive, magnificently well rendered with all kinds of details in their costume and texture to their skin. It’s when its all live action when you have a hard time believing anything. It’s too extravagant and doesn’t look realistic, too polished

In order to keep the conflict going they implant a tragedy of both inevitability and irony. Or at least that’s what they want to do. It is clearly something so this movie can be the stepping stone for more movies. But this ain’t Shakespeare, what happens in this movie is OK in ideas and pretty clunky in execution.

Can a movie be judged for how bad it could have been? I do not envy the screenwriters for being dealt this library of source information and having to channel it all down into a one-hundred and twenty page screenplay while having to make it all coherent. This could have been our generations Dune. This not that, it’s just a very mixed bag of a movie. There’s clearly ideas here and the hordes (pun intended) of Warcraft player will undoubtedly make the movie successful which will lead to more movies in the future. Previous experience is not required, so really all you’ll see is a movie that is at times good and others times surprisingly bad but still with a competent plot.

Cardiff Fringe Festival 2016, Service 3: Taking Stock by Kaitlin Wray

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Image by www.jonathandunn.net

(4 / 5)

So my experience of the Cardiff Fringe Festival started off with a bang! Watching a collaboration of Infini and a Clock Tower Theatre Production they showcased, Episode Three: Taking Stock. It was a great way to relax and have just a bundle of laughs. This was cleverly written by George Infini who devised some outstanding witty comedy with a great set of characters.

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This quick paced farcical short play showed four different characters with contrasting  personalities yet when put together are highly amusing. There was the playful and devious character of Gavin played by Sam Harding, the hilarious love romance between Steven and Gene; two of the geekiest characters that were played by Grant Cawley and Isabelle Paige.  Then there was Susan Monkton playing Sarah, who was perfect at playing the character everyone seemed to dislike. The plot to remove her as manager is entertaining and the comedic twist at the end was just perfect.

Overall it was quite a short performance yet this makes Saturday show of Episode Four: Fire Walk even more exciting to watch. I turned up to AJs Coffee House not knowing what to expect and left with my cheeks hurting and feeling rather entertained.

http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/clock-tower-theatre-company

http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/infini-productionsInfini

Review Miramar Trigonl by Helen Joy

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(4 / 5)

 

I have enjoyed a huge ice-cream sundae in the café and am happily taking my seat, when Enid comes over and has a chat. She tells me about the nasty business with her husband and how she’s had to sell the house.

It is a nasty business too. Poor woman. Homeless. Di gartref. How easily it can happen.

I have no idea how I have become fluent in Welsh. Enid is chatting away and we are all listening and we are all tutting and laughing and commiserating with her. She is exaggerated as a story-teller, she relishes the telling of her tale, she compensates for her loss through her canniness. We like Enid but we see she is a cunning old bird. We are sorry when her home is taken and renamed: Miramar. Awel y Mor is nicer, we agree. We don’t mind her moving back in while the new owners are away, china dogs in another family.

The slapstick comedy of the sausage and mash dinner hidden in the cupboard when the inevitable knock on the door comes. We are encouraged not to like the smart and sassy daughters of Miramar but of course, eventually we do. And the sausages make their mark on all of us.

This is about communication – about showing us that spoken language has just one part to play and so we roll from Welsh into English and back again without even noticing. It is about family, life and death and consequences. It is about different tastes and different times and places. It is about home. It is about shit. Cachu. It happens.

Simple props, careful costume and straightforward lighting. All we need to establish a sense of a house and its people in transition. It is nicely performed. Alice and Georgina make good foils to the characterful Enid. Light and dark, this is a strong play with a tidbit of fiery drama at the end. Y sosejis.

I ask two ladies, who are sitting in the evening sun outside The Red House on a Saturday night in Merthyr, whether they speak Welsh. No, they say in unison. Didn’t need to. Understood every word. We’ll be coming again. So funny. We laughed and laughed. Same here, I say. Finally, my knowledge of Welsh swearwords comes in handy and I share some choice ones. We part and you can hear us all laughing up the street. Am dipyn.

We all know everyone in it – recognise and enjoy!

Play:                Miramar

At:                   The Red House, Merthyr

Playwright:          Rebecca Smith-Williams

Producer:             Rebecca Knowles

Director:               James Williams

Theatre:                Triongl

Cast:                        Enid – Valmai Jones

Alice – Rebecca Knowles

Georgina – Rebecca Smith-Williams

Seen:              7.30pm, 18th June, 2016

Reviewer:      Helen Joy for 3rd Act Critics

Running:        Saturday 18th, Redhouse , Merthyr Tydfil

Wednesday 22nd – The Welfare, Ystradgynlais http://www.thewelfare.co.uk/

Links:               http://www.triongl.com/miramar.html

 

 

Review Billy Elliot The Musical, WMC, by Barbara Michaels

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(4 / 5)

 

The wow factor is very much to the fore in this production of Billy Elliot – one of the most heart-warming of musicals, it tugs at the heartstrings from the moment it opens. Brought up in the tough environment of a small mining town in the north-east of England during the 1984/85 miners’ strike, young Billy’s passion for dancing leads him to follow his dream. Abandoning his boxing lessons, he secretly joins a ballet class. The only boy, Billy is the subject of much speculation and teasing – some of it malicious. On the home front, it’s even more so. Billy’s elder brother pours scorn on Billy’s dancing and does his best to nip the young boy’s emerging talent in the bud. Spurred on by his ballet teacher, who knows talent when she sees it, Billy is determined to carry on dancing.

Of the four boys who alternate in the super-demanding role of Billy, Lewis Smallman was the one chosen to open in Cardiff. His was a Billy that we all know – a schoolboy going straight to the biscuit tin when he gets home. But this Billy is still grieving for the loss of his mum, and Smallman manages this part of the role with an expertise beyond his young years, but it is his skill as a dancer that rightly steals the show.

There is star quality here. This Billy is equally at home in the comically camp dance number in which Billy and his friend Michael (Elliot Stiff) dress up on girls’ clothes to the elegant precision of a version of Swan lake performed with an older Billy (Luke Cinque-White)in a dreamlike sequence in the second half – not in the original film but blending in perfectly. Martin Walsh, as Billy’s Dad, struggling both with the deprivations of the strike with no money coming and the problems of a recently bereaved father trying to bring up a young son on his own, brings a depth of understanding to the role, displaying both toughness and vulnerability. As Billy’s dancing teacher Mrs Wilkinson, who knows talent when she sees it, Annette McLaughlin has the role off pat – under no illusions as to her own teaching, and generous in spirit, cigarette puffing when the opportunity arises and with the big-hearted generosity that characterises the north.

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Peter Darling’s choreography for the tour differs slightly from the West End production, particularly in the foot-tapping number ‘Born to Boogie’ but most of the sensational dance numbers are the same – and pretty amazing they are, too, doing full justice to Elton John’s lyrical and swinging score in musical numbers that make you want to jump from your seat and join in. A small caveat –which seems almost invidious in the face of such talent – is that several cast members, including Smallman, have not entirely overcome the difficulties of the north east of England dialect.

The darker side of the story is the miner’s strike, and the stand-off between Thatcher’s government and the National Union of Mineworkers, with scenes played out at the pit face of one of the mines threatened with closure, and in the working men’s club where the miners hold their meetings, and the soup kitchen which is established there for the hungry miners and their families during the strike. Light relief is there, too, in the shape of Grandma – not always quite with it (she hides her pasty in the bedclothes much to her grandson’s disgust!). Andrea Miller’s Grandma is a great cameo, displaying a love and empathy for, and with, Billy and his dreams with which many grandparents will identify.

Overall, though, Billy Elliot belongs to the young, and the ensemble of dancers and singers more than do it justice. Bravo!

Runs until 16th July at the WMC

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2016-2017/DonaldGordonTheatre/BillyElliot/

Writer: Lee Hall

Music: Elton John

Choreographer: Peter Darling

Director: Stephen Daldry

Review Minefield, The Royal Court, Lift Festival, By Hannah Goslin

(5 / 5)

Up in the circle, viewing down onto the stage, a masterpiece is about to unfold.

What looks to be a simple set up – a big double screen, as if a cube had been cut in half, a drum kit, some guitars, a desk, costume rack and a camera. A simple yet welcoming stage to the mountain of feeling, expression, truth, fear, sadness and joy that is to fill this theatre.

Minefield, as part of the ‘On the Move’ series for Lift festival (an international theatre festival) takes veteran’s from the Falklands war, from both Britain and Argentina and brings their experiences of the war and compares one to the other. Bringing two enemies against each other on stage sounded like a dangerous and taboo thing to do – these veterans came as enemies and left as friends.

For ordinary men who are simply telling their story, their musical hobbies are used to bring an interesting element to the show. When you see a documentary on TV, there is some background music to parts and this was like a live documentary in front of our eyes- the talented veterans providing the ‘scene change’ music and showing who they are now is clever and shows more to them as people than just soldiers, marines and naval officers.

Multimedia was used throughout bringing new dimensions to the production. We had translations in both English and Spanish depending on who was speaking – despite one or two of the Argentinians being able to speak English, the majority of the performance was kept in mother tongues which gave a sense of nature and respect of cultures to the piece. A camera zoomed into performer’s faces, souvenirs and tangible memories for us to see more of; background video and animation was thrown up on the big screens – we were instantly brought into their lives and privy to their secrets.

The men were treated as performers-they provided their own soundscape using voice, breath and bringing objects together; they played different characters , interacted and trusted one another in their performance, put their truth on the line and respected one another for this. These men provided some of the best performance skills and techniques I have ever seen, and they were not trained or necessarily theatre fanatics as most performers in the industry are meant to be.

Perhaps the truthful and hard hitting stories, coming from the people themselves brings out the real performer and the real enthusiasm to portray not only their own but each other’s lives. It was evident that great friendship had been made and this made for the performance to run smoothly, cleverly and to make you think.

Ending with a full band featuring all the ‘cast’ singing and playing a rock song with lyrics relating to what soldiers do, the bad, nasty and the ugly. Rhetorically we are asked ‘Would you go to War? Would you?’ leaving us questioning ourselves to whether we would after hearing the reality that was not shown in the press.

I know what I would reply after being asked this. But what I ask you is, why wouldn’t you go to this production? As rhetorical as they ask their question, there is no answer needed and no doubt that you should.

Minefield

Royal Court Theatre

Lift Festival

10/06/16

Review Romeo and Juliet Taking Flight Theatre Company by Helen Joy

 

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(4 / 5)

Anna and I are in Thompson’s Park. The last time we were together here we were in school, in single figures and holding hands, plump little girls telling each other fairy stories under the trees.

I can’t get the memories out of my head.

But we cannot reminisce for long as the Verona College classmates of ’63 sport their straw boaters and burgundy blazers and bound across the turf towards us. Rowing, fighting, slipping in the mud, the cast takes Shakespeare’s teenage drama and hurls it into our faces. Narrated , compered, signed, sung and spoken – every aspect is communicated with a robust concern for comprehension.

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Tybalt played Toby Vaughan and Ania Davies as Nell your friendly Access Prefect taken by Jorge Lizalde Cano. 

And the compere is masterly. Her hold over events is complete. Perambulatory it may be, drifting it is not. A neat conflation of original text and twentieth century conversation makes for an irrepressible production.

The acting is good. Romeo is ardent; the lads lusty and exuberant; the lasses witty and charming. Juliet is perfect. She is the most expressive and believable Juliet I have seen, maturing easily from silly schoolgirl to tragic heroine.

Lord and Lady Capulet are, in turn, pompous, funny, angry and very married – both to each other and to their roles in life. Lady Capulet, as pretty in pink as the girls in their ballgowns, is a clown – comic and tragic, Mercutio in a frock.

Nurse. Ah. The school nurse of school books and boy, she is splendid in her cape and boots. The buffoon, the go-between and the butt of jokes. Well-played, indeed. We wish her well in her romance with the Friar! We feel for her at the end.

Truly Shakespearean, this multi-talented and multi-tasking troupe of players understand that the more we laugh, the more we will cry; that life is a glorious, terrible muddle, however well-flowered is your pump.

Choose a sunny day and join in! And do buy a programme – and a college sweater!

Event:             Romeo and Juliet, a promenade performance

At:                   Thompson’s Park, Cardiff

Playwright:          Shakespeare, originally

Producer:             Beth House

Director:               Elise Davison

Theatre:                Taking Flight Theatre

Seen:              6.30pm, 17th June, 2016

Reviewer:      Helen Joy for 3rd Act Critics

Running:        Romeo & Juliet will tour all over Wales, in beautiful outdoor spaces

Links:               http://www.takingflighttheatre.co.uk/romeo-juliet/

 

 

Review Human Animals, The Royal Court, By Hannah Goslin

(4 / 5)

Back to the Jerwood space – transformational, the scene is a complete change to what I have seen previously here.

Looking down on a modern, clean, almost Ikea like garden space, there are large windows, a barbecue spreading delicious smells and 6 actors going their ‘daily’ business.

Human Animals looks at the progression of an apocalyptic world and how easily the environment changes and how people can change when fearful and under threat. There is relation to the media and how it is portrayed, and in conversation, people’s discussion and opinion on this, with two sides of British reactions – either everything will be wonderful and will be fixed, or everything is entirely doomed.

These 6 actors give a wonderful performance, each with a character of substance and likelihood of change. We firstly are eased into the character’s, who they are, what they do, their personalities, our relation to these aspects. Once hysteria hits, it’s hard to not continue relating to them, questioning if this would be how you would react if it seemed that the world was slowly ending.

The layout of the production and the slow progression from normality to chaos and back to some resemblance to normality reminded me of watching animals in a zoo – things happen and instincts take over but there’s nothing you can do to help and no escape – all you can do is keep watching it unfold. The only difference here being that there is no screen in front of us, the screen is behind them. Occasionally liquid in various uncomfortable colours is sprayed down it and a person in a hazmat suit comes along to perform fumigation on the otherside. We are put in this comfortable bubble, but with the disintegration of the characters’ lives, minds, health and relationships, are we really that safe?

There is no attempt to hide any of these blatant facts that this production puts into your mind – there is gore and there is shock factors that leaves you thinking, considering life as it is now and the likelihood of this being a prediction of the future. And this is good – there’s no point hiding it and you are forced to sit up, listen and relate.

Human Animals is not only astonishing, but honest. No American zombie killing heroes to the rescue here; natural environments under threat, real possible events that could unfold in reality, truthful reactions and consequences. The performance aims to make you think, see and listen.