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REVIEW: ‘KILLER CELLS’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

 

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(3 / 5) “Heartfelt and raw ”

Killer Cells is one of those plays that comes with some level of uncomfortable awareness for audience members. Having read the synopsis and marketing for the play, you know you are in for a potentially difficult watch.  Valleys theatre company Avant, who are carving out a name for themselves as crafters of challenging, up-close-and-personal theatre, did just that tonight.  They did not shy away from the stigma of the topic of miscarriage and they have clearly experimented with a number of new approaches to tackle the subject.

The production took place on one of the Park and Dare’s smaller spaces, creating a more personal feel, audience members were faced with clinical blue lights, a gurney and a medical trolley.  We follow the experiences of a few women, their partners and the medical staff who deal with miscarriage and the after effects every day.

We see what happens when the banal aspects of our everyday lives – jobs, planning weddings, going out and meeting friends – all  pale into insignificance when we are faced with the limitations and challenges foisted upon us by our own bodies and biology. We take for granted that within us there may be hidden factors at play, completely beyond our control that can cause so much suffering and pain.

Avant have attempted to demystify and shine a light on the hidden heartache of miscarriage. The play shows how we live our lives and our dramas via our phone – obsessing over every pregnancy milestone, reaching out to others, communicating our news and our heartache when pregnancies don’t go to plan – a screen on stage plays out the texts, the internet searches, the statistics we are warned about, the dangers we read about.

How well these vignettes and mini on-screen dramas featuring other characters work with the action on stage, I think is still being worked out as Avant develop and experiment with the script and artistic/presentational elements.   The audience were invited at the end to give feedback and help shape the play and speak to the cast and it is really lovely to see this kind of collaboration and inter-mingling with the audience. This is what small venues like the Park and Dare do best.

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The on stage cast gave some tender and evocative performances and all had an individual strength about them. The fragility of Rachel Pedley-Millar’s character, the warmth of Yannick Budd playing both a nurse and a father, Darius Nash’s chilling depiction of a clinical practitioner perhaps over-medicalising what is a deeply troubling time for parents.

The stand out scenes for me came via Hannah Lloyd, when her character experienced a traumatic ectopic pregnancy.  Those screams I think will haunt my dreams forever.  There’s a gripping drawn-out scenario where two doctors are trying to find a vein on one of the women who has been through multiple miscarriages. As Emma Macnab’s character is poked and prodded and patched up with multiple needles (while simultaneously trying to hold it together), it feels almost intrusive to watch.

There is some clever language at play as Doctors use medicalised language and labels to explain a life-changing and devastating situations – the removal of the baby is described as ‘clearing the mass’. We are introduced to the world of hCG levels, Hughes Syndrome and Endometriosis.

All these names will no doubt be familiar to a shocking 1 in 5 women who experience a miscarriage, yet the taboo of silence and mystery all around it is pervasive. While this type of topic may not be everyone’s cup of tea for a night out at the theatre, I’m really pleased to see community theatre companies like Avant not being afraid to tackle difficult subjects and push the boundaries. Killer Cells is a bold and honest look at the reality of miscarriage, I look forward to seeing how the play develops – and I’ll definitely be looking out for their shows in the future.

 

Review Sausage Party by Jonathan Evans

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(3 / 5)

So you watched the trailer for Sausage Party and thought that it was anything more that an adult, animated movie telling jokes about the horrors of being the consumed then you would have probably made the safe bet. However you would have lost. Sausage Party actually has quite a bit of with and sophistication. Yes this movie with food products with mouths and large eyes that swear actually has a few things to say about different beings from different walks of life and consumerism.

We open in a supermarket where the food is sentient and awakes every morning to be taken to The Great Beyond. Whenever they’re picked up they rejoice for they will now be in the company of the gods. On one shelf one pack of sausages is next to a pack of buns and one sausage Frank (Seth Rogen) longs to joins his girlfriend bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig). It isn’t until one jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned where it would seem that the Great Beyond might not be so great. While they’re all in a cart on they’re way out Honey Mustard kills himself, which leads to other items falling out. So now begins their quest to get back to their shelf and also discover the true intentions of their gods.

Just like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs this takes its subject of food and consumer products and does just about everything it can with it. To how one type of products interact with others to having some serve and parallels for real world people. One of the reasons this is able to tell so many more jokes is its not bound by the limitations of being a children’s movie, this can address alcohol, drugs and sex and it makes use of all its resources.

It would seem that the products themselves do not require to consume. They just seem to have their existence. Perhaps they will die when they go past their expiration date? Do any of their manufacturers know that they regularly create sentient being and send them off to their deaths? Such questions are honestly superfluous.

This is not a very good looking movie. This was clearly made with a limited budget, Nearly all the food looks shiny and like plastic. Obvious really, because this is a movie with a very limited audience. Few people would want to see a movie about food swearing constantly and animated no less.

As smart as the movie is it is still overt. Really, really overt. What they have the characters talk about and have serve as their parallels are obvious and not very subtle but they are still addressing the cause and effects of their subject matter. If there’s an example to point to it would be the South Park movie (or south park in general)

Though it is by no means subtle and quite crude it is still addressing big problems in society and has fully thought-out the perspective on food products (even just consumable products). The audience for this movie will indeed be a sausage party, mostly males, but if anyone goes to this movie and gets a little more nutrition in their diet than they were expecting it will have been worth it.

https://youtu.be/9VoNgLnjzVg

The BAFTA Cymru Nominations Party

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All photographs Mission Photographic

I’m so grateful I got an invite,
To attend an evening at the BAFTA Cymru party,
The quality of refreshments had a delicious aroma
The drinks, exhaled a cheerful persona
The nominees as well as the attendees
Were great to speak too, and everyone was a stunner
Dressed to kill, formally dressed to fit the bill
High heels, suits, boots and ties.
The sensation of the champagne, got you mesmerised
The room was filtered with amazing lights
Flashing shots, projected from the HD camera
The photographer, was annoyed by my friend’s eager
To look back on every picture
Connections of different energies, filtered the room.
Networking to get correct links, could have been done, all night long.
Anyone not in a group, could Just tag along
The feeling of togetherness, felt strong
Was great to be in a sensational mode
And be part of the 2016 BAFTA awards.

Tanica King

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With this year’s BAFTA Cymru celebration just over a week away, Thursday 22nd September saw BAFTA Cymru gather nominees, press and other industry guests, to celebrate this year’s nominees and announce a couple of special awards.

Guests at this year’s party included; BAFTA Cymru Nominees Party Guests in attendance included Actress nominees Amanda Mealing, Catherine Ayers and Mali Harries; Actor Mark Lewis Jones; Directors Lee Haven Jones (35 Diwrnod) and Molly Anna Woods (Swansea Sparkle, A Transgender Story); Presenter Will Millard; Sherlock designer Arwel Wyn Jones; Just Jim actor/director/writer Craig Roberts.

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Actress Nominees Mali Harries, Amanda Mealing and Catherine Ayers

Hosted by the Sherman Theatre the party was a chance for fellow nominee to mingle informally and catch up on their work (and no doubt a bit of gossip!). The event itself was relaxed and welcoming and felt like a great way to lead up to next week’s more formal event. The Sherman foyer provided a great venue to allow guests to mingle while giving a great backdrop to the formal announcements. Catering by Spiro’s, including some delicious brownie canapes accompanied drinks provided by Tattinger and Beer provided by Tomos a Lilford, meant that guests were treated extremely well. Nominees were also presented with their gift bags after the party which included an array of Welsh-sourced gifts, including Penderyn Whiskey.

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Actor nominee Mark Lewis Jones with his Nominees Bag

The party also provided an opportunity to announce the two special awards for this year’s BAFTA Cymru, the Sian Phillips Award, and the Outstanding Contribution award.

The first of the special award announcements was the Sian Phillips Award, sponsored by Ken Picton Salons. This year’s award goes to makeup artist Sian Grigg. The Oscar nominated Make Up artist, who has worked on films such as Titanic and The Aviator, as well as last year’s Oscar winning The Revenant, will be the first make-up artist to receive this award. Previous winners of the Sian Phillips award include director Euros Lyn, writer Russell T Davies and actors Michael Sheen, Rhys Ifans and Ruth Jones.

This year’s Special award for Outstanding contribution to film and television (Sponsored by Sony) was announced-in a speech featuring some of his best lines- as going to Terry Jones. The writer, actor and director, of course famed for his part in Monty Python. Born in Colwyn Bay, he went on after worldwide success with Python, to write and direct for film and television, including ‘Ripping Yarns’ with fellow Python Michael Palin, and numerous children’s programmes. Later in his career Jones also followed his passion for history, and wrote and directed many documentaries, many focusing on Medieval History, one of his many passions. Affectionately regarded by fans and colleagues alike, it was a bittersweet announcement as on Friday it was also revealed that Jones has been diagnosed with a form of dementia that affects his ability to communicate. However, as a representative for Jones commented; “Terry is proud and honoured to be recognised in this way and is looking forward to the celebrations.”

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To round off the special nominations, John Rhys-Davies, who couldn’t be in attendance due to filming commitments, had a special video message to nominees which elicited applause from the audience. You can listen to it here (via BAFTA Cymru’s twitter)

https://twitter.com/BAFTACymru/status/779345305644965888

The BAFTA Cymru 2016 awards will be the 25th Anniversary of the awards, and speaking to Rebecca Hardy (Awards Manager for BAFTA Cymru) at the party, it’s set to be a spectacular and fun event. Members of the public can also join in the celebration of Welsh Film and Television talent, with tickets available from the St David’s Hall Website (http://www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk/whats-on/british-academy-cymru-awards-2016/). For those who can’t attend, members of the Get the Chance team will be in attendance again, and reporting from the Red Carpet on social media, and here on the website for a full report after the event.

Dr Emily Garside 

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It is a marvellous thing to walk along a red carpet into the Sherman Theatre foyer of an autumn evening.

A darkly turned out group of hopefuls raising glasses of champagne and beer, scoffing canapés and chatting loudly. Little groups buzzing amongst themselves waiting for something to happen. I find the beer stand and learn about the joys of owning a micro brewery with Tomos a Lilford with a half of Gaucho in my hand.

Now, at this point I realise that I do not know anyone here. I am relying on introductions and on commentary from the comperes on the stand.

Terry Jones gets a mention, as does Sian Grigg. Very well-deserved wrth gars. On reflection I would have like to have known more about the other nominees.  I have a lovely time. I meet other critics and share stories. I enjoy delicious snacks professionally served and the beer is very good. I am assured that the Taittinger is good too.

BAFTA Cymru Awards 2nd October, 2016

St. David’s Hall
Cardiff

http://www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk/whats-on/british-academy-cymru-awards-2016/

Helen Joy

Review The Ghost of Morfa Colliery, Theatr na nÓg by Helen Joy

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(4 / 5) Highly commended for welcome and interaction

Here we go. Firstly, what a welcome – the foyer is buzzing with invited guests, there are miners lamps and dolly pegs on lace cloths on the tables, the bar is open and Theatr na nÓg is meeting and greeting all of us, personally. Delightful.

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All photographs by Simon Gough Photography

We are ushered into the black womb of the theatre and the magic begins. And there is magic all right! A young man sits on a swing on a green sward, reciting; a lady walks towards him echoing his words. This is a story of mining, community, family, chapel and ghosts. The ghosts tell their tale – all these folk are long gone but alive to us this night. They tell their story of hopes and fears, of aspirations and loss, through clear direction, straightforward acting and an effective stage set.  And with magic.

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It makes me sorry that I have not heard of this disaster down a spooky mine part under the sea of the Bristol Channel. It makes me think about the boys and men who worked there and the women who kept the home fires burning. A burning mine too in fact.

The tale is told through 5 characters – some true – a mother, her son, his friend, her brother, his wife and a chapel going gossip. It juggles through truth, fiction and fantasy – diaries, books, monsters and mining reports. It makes us think about the relative powers of the spoken and the written word. What is history other than aversion of events from a point of view?

The classic comedy scene dropped in – the quick change, the drag, the chapel go-ers squashed into a pew and watching us watching them. Joyous!

Magic! Oh the magic makes us jump! Too scary for children? Too scary for grown-ups! We were out of our seats, oohing and aahing as lamps moved, spectres appeared and disappeared, our young hero too.

I love it! And I am surrounded by people who love it too.

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Afterwards, there the cast and crew come to the stage and we are invited to ask questions. Typically, the best ones come from the youngsters in the audience. The best replies come from the magician…what ghost?

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We pile back into the foyer where there is a miner’s lunch buffet of local cheeses, bread, pickles, bara brith and Welsh cakes; not sure miners would have had the wine options tho.  Theatr na nÓg again does what it does so well, talks to us and listens.

A memorable evening for many reasons.

Today, I met a friend for coffee and said this: if you have to choose between a ticket for the opera or a seat at The Ghost of Morfa Colliery, choose the latter.

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Coal by critic Helen Joy 

http://www.theatr-nanog.co.uk/ghost-morfa-colliery

Enjoyed: 21st September, 2016, at The Dylan Thomas Theatre, Swansea

Running: September to October for schools, see website for details

Cast

Richard Nichols

Aled Herbert

Tonya Smith

Jack Quick

Production Manager

Geraint Chinnock

Designer

Kitty Callister

Lighting Designer

Elanor Higgins

Stage Illusionist Consultant

James Went

Sound Designer

Gareth Brierley

Stage Manager

Sasha Tee

Stage Manager

Brynach Higginson

Assistant Director

Daniel Lloyd

Composer

Jak Poore

Writer

Geinor Styles & Mali Tudno Jones

Director

Geinor Styles

 

Review Kubo and the Two Strings by Jonathan Evans

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(5 / 5)

 

As our main character tells us at the start of the movie “Blink and you might miss something.” If you do blink you will miss one of the frames that have been conceived, crafted and filmed through intelligence, love and enthusiasm from the people at Laika. Kubo is a film that’s the whole package, it has color, laughs, visuals, tears and action.

Kubo is a child that lives on a mountains edge with his mother that suffers from a damaged memory. During the day he goes down to the village where he plays his shamisen which manipulates the paper into origami to tell his stories, the main story is about the great warrior Hanzo and his legendary three pieces of armour, however he never finishes his tales. He must return home before night so that his evil aunts and grandfather will never find them.

So naturally that’s exactly what happens. His aunts (Rooney Mara) are the first to arrive and before they can take him, his mother performs a spells that takes him far away. He wakes to find a white, talking baboon sitting by him telling him they have to move. She is simply named Monkey (Charlize Theron), they move across the icy mountain and through non-forced exposition and fun banter now understand that Kubo must retrieve the three pieces of the armour. While traveling Kubo then meets a large creature that looks like a man, but encased in black armour that resembles a beetle so he is named Beetle (Mathew McConaughey). He knows that he was a samurai warrior, but was cursed and is in the form he is in now and only has pieces of who he was. But he still has his skill’s as a warrior and his memory’s have a connection to Kubo’s father so he joins them on their journey.

But beyond the cuteness and likability of its characters is also the talented script-writing. Where everything has a point and comes back in the end. Having funny jokes is good, but its real talent when you can take those jokes and make them seeds for future character reveals and important plot points where you are able to tell that your with the professionals that earn they’re paycheck.

Laika as a studio is both recent and unique. They started in 2009 and have now produced four feature films, all stop motion. They are all family films but not light ones, no there films have had very dark shadows and monsters with claws and teeth. They are more like the movies of Don Bluth, where they understand you need to teach children about the stakes in life and give them entertainment that challenges as well as makes them laugh.

Probably the reason there is so many good things in this movie is because with stop motion literally nothing happens by accident. Everything from an expression, to a piece of hair moving has to be be manipulated by an animator. So everything that is not necessary and would save on hours upon hours of work is worked out and what is left is the spectacular and the necessary.

The way death is handled in this movie is permanent. There are real stakes and it makes everything so much sadder. This may be obvious but in children’s movies death has always been diluted, characters are either not really dead or they’re death is not total, as in they can come back or still be talked to as a ghost. Here there is a clear line of the living and the dead, this movie takes it on itself to tell children about death and not sugar-coat it.

If you know anything about the rigorous effort that goes into animation at all then you will appreciated nearly every second of this movie in some way. If you care for literally well-crafted stories then you’ll be satisfied. If you demand some more heartfelt messages that will nourish as well as entertain our children then this movie shall fill it.

REVIEW: THE GOOD EARTH, CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE 20TH SEPTEMBER 2016

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Black grit, sunshine and avocados: what makes a ‘life in the valleys’ play? 

I am always slightly filled with dread and anxiety when I see any show which is based in the South Wales Valleys. Firstly there’s the debate about where the ‘valleys’ begins and where Cardiff ends. Cardiff dwellers seem to assume that ‘the valleys’ starts somewhere north of Llandaff, while also lumping in Bridgend and much of Swansea as well – well we all sound ‘Welshy’ don’t we?

My childhood friend is insistent to the point of violence that our home town (Tonyrefail, in case you’re interested) is categorically technically in ‘the valleys’ and absolutely and most definitely outside the perimeter of the ‘Rhondda’. This is important (ol’rite?!). What she has against the Rhondda I don’t know. You’d swear it had a negative reputation or something!

 The problem with ‘valleys plays’ 

Back to my earlier point about ‘valleys plays’, depending on the producers – the accents in some plays may range from broad Llanelli to Mid-Merthyr and back again.  You may get a mash up of Stella (Sky) meets Hi-De-Hi meets Frank Vickery. And well, how can I say this politely? Sometimes we sound a bit….thick. I know, I know…I might be projecting my own negative prejudices and assumptions here…it’s an issue for me and I’m getting help. But I’m really not sure whether the ‘simple’ depiction of some of the characters is meant to be a source of comedy or whether this appears to be an attempt to broadly tar us all with the same brush. There is a danger of lazy stereotyping which I’m hyper aware of. Unfortunately, this was my starting reference point even before going in to the play.

As you may have picked up I probably have a chip on my shoulder the size of a Christmas ham where all this is concerned.  It’s often not comfortable viewing for me. And I’m going to be frank, I found the first 10 minutes of ‘The Good Earth’ a hard watch as I tuned in to the story…the accents, the blocking and the furniture scraping across the stage.

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Tidy little melodies 

Musically, the cast gelled wonderfully and I adored the additions of the Welsh hymns and lullabies interspersed with the scenes. The song ‘Mae gen i dipyn o dy bach dwt’ (Translated as ‘Tidy little house’) was a perfect song for the backdrop of the play, which appears to be based on a real story.  Villagers in a mountainside village are threatened with being moved from the community they love and have lived in for generations. We see a family and their extended friends and family battling the local authority (and each other) as they fight it out.

We’re introduced to all the people ‘all living in a big long street’ – all ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’…one by one.  It all sounds very lovely and cosy. I cringe at the mention of seeing sheep from a window. (Really? Most kids don’t see a single bloody sheep til they visit Folly Farm when they’re 10!). But bit by bit, the innocence and sweetness of little Jackie (played by Gwenllian Higginson) wins me over and helps me lower my defenses.

Vol-au-vont observations… 

There are some really crisp references and superb lines which echo and crystalise life growing up in the valleys (for me anyway). Ever been ‘bastard cold’ or ‘bastard tamping’? Mam Dina describes her situation as ‘Bastard hard’…and of course you always know Mam’s gonna blow when there is a ‘bastard’ before the next word! You will of course be familiar with vol-au-vonts, which has been standard fayre in the valleys since the seventies and remains so to this day. In fact people go to funerals mostly to eat vol-au-vonts at the wake. True story.

I adored the little scene where Dina puts on a spread and is cross-examining poor Gwen with her preparation technique. There’s an uncomfortable pause as Gwen described putting ‘a touch of black pepper’ on the vol-au-vont as a finish. ‘A bit much that is, Gwen’ came the response.  I had the same type of experience when I tried to buy an Avocado in Porth a few months back – the cashier in Morrisons looked at me with pity and distrust as I described how I was going to make Guacamole with it.

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There’s an interesting scene with James (played by Mike Humphries) as he gives an impassioned speech to the local authority representatives… People here don’t want jobs given to them that don’t benefit the community, how can they be grateful for poor housing, they need help and there are no public services and the community is crumbing. It’s an all too familiar story and one for which there are few solutions, particularly where the South Wales valleys are concerned.  I’m always interested to see attempts to re-write this story, this bleak fate of ours. And I want to hear from the dissenting voices too. Why was it that Gwen wanted to leave the village? For me, there is no romance for me in always sticking with the old – but maybe I’m missing the point.  I choose to look to the sky in the valleys, not focusing at the bleak bits and obsess on the tragedy of the past all of the time.  This is what I’d like to see more of in Welsh theatre. We are more than our past – and this doesn’t mean we are being discourteous or lacking in respect for those who toiled and bore the brunt of an unfair system.
What about the avocado-buying types? 

Ultimately, I’m wondering when there have ever been jobs that haven’t exploited the working man, whether coal mining, factories or McDonalds Drive-Thru’s. A whole generation is now in the position of being ‘the working poor’ or possibly part of a family that have never worked. Our communities are not as they were. We’re moving on…slowly. We’re even buying avocados now! But seriously…this play contrasts wildly with what many of us find in our own streets – there are no Mams scrubbing the steps anymore, we don’t know our neighbours names and it’s not the thought of leaving that frightens us, it’s staying in one place forever.The opening song in the play sings about the grimness and the blackness from Merthyr to Blaenau to Rhondda. That sets the scene really. Try finding the sunshine when you’re battling with these assumptions (maybe that’s why my school friend gets so tetchy about NOT being from the Rhondda). She now lives in Chippenham, so I doubt people look at her funny when she buys avocados.

This wasn’t the most uplifting of plays, but it throws up a million questions that will keep you pondering long after you’ve seen it – do our roots really matter, do they define who we are, is a house just a house…and do you like ‘fruit compost’ with your cheesecake? (Possibly one of the best lines of the night!).

Duration: approx 1hr 20min, no interval 

Director: Rachael Boulton
Musical Direction: Max Mackintosh
Co-produced with Motherlode and RCT Theatres, in association with Chapter, Wales Millennium Centre and Blackwood Miners Institute, supported by Arts Council of Wales.

Review Macbeth/Merchant of Venice WNO by Helen Joy

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(3 / 5)

Macbeth – an operatic trip

I saw, no, I experienced, no, I what? I tripped. A singing trip through Shakespeare’s tragedy.

I have no idea where to start. What words can do justice to this bizarre and jarring production. This crippling tale of the power of suggestion, the excuses of politics.

The women. Boy. What women.

Lady Macbeth: opulent, passionate, the voice of an angel with the presence of a god. ‘I wouldn’t mess with her’ I overhear. I wouldn’t. Magnificent. An audience is besotted.

The witches: awful, writhing, peculiar, calling like sirens; sexy, funny, raunchy. Wonderful choral singing. Quite wonderful.

The men don’t come close. With Macbeth simpering at his wife’s side and Duncan striding around in turquoise, they were a motley crew. Hard roles to sing, emotionally challenging to act and in unusual surroundings; but then there is a duet between Macduff and Malcolm to die for.

Visually, this is a difficult work to like. Colours clash. The period is unclear. The costumes ugly. Elements are comic – are they supposed to be? Those around me in the audience aren’t sure so the odd titter at an odd moment feels inappropriate. This is Macbeth after all.

The lady next to me closes her eyes. This is a beautiful opera to hear. To see? I’m not so sure. It is very, um, challenging.

I chat with others afterwards: we agree that whilst it has been a most peculiar evening, we expect we will remember it for a long, long time; it has been an entertainment. What are we here for, if not to provide entertainment? So, a huge thank you to all involved for something quite exceptional.

Running time: Approximately 2 hour 55 minutes with one interval

10, 15, 17 & 24 September 2016

Conductor Andriy Yurkevych
Director Oliver Mears
Set & Costume Designer Annemarie Woods
Lighting Designer Kevin Treacy
Choreographer Anna Morrissey
Video Designer Duncan McLean

Macbeth Luis Cansino
Lady Macbeth Mary Elizabeth Williams / Miriam Murphy
Macduff Bruce Sledge
Banquo Miklós Sebestyén
Lady-in-Waiting Miriam Murphy

Sung in Italian with surtitles in English and Welsh.

Co-production with Northern Ireland Opera.
Supported by WNO Partners.

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Merchant of Venice – an operatic orgy

(4 / 5)

This Edwardian extravaganza of a strong story is sung with passion, grace and wit.

Shakespeare would have loved this epic play revived with such clarity and lust for life.

He would’ve loved the stylish eroticism, the flirtations, the overt sexuality of characters hard-pressed against the rugged back of trade. The wimpish Antonio, the love-lorn Bassanio, the women running rings around their men again and again.

Shakespeare’s reputation for relaying the crudeness of man losing to the manipulation of women intact. Portia and Nerissa transforming from girls in town to legal hotshots, the real heroes of the piece. Swapping their dresses and hairpieces for robes and wigs, they must resemble men to use the intelligence of women!

Portia is clear, her voice rings out and we hang on her words. Antonio sings like a bird, beautiful, girlish, self-denying. He lends his money selflessly, he offers his flesh willingly. The scales glisten invitingly.

Shylock is a world apart. He is arresting. He is pathetic. He is the Shylock I see in my head when I read the play. He carries his faith on his shoulders like a giant and he falls under its weight.

This is a difficult tale to tell. Shakespeare forces us to see the trouble caused by bigotry and racial hatred; Tchaikowsky makes us hear it.

This is a sumptuous performance. It is a romp, an orgy and a lesson. ‘My first opera’ says a friend, ‘I love it, it makes me think, it makes me gasp’.

So, what do these productions have in common?

Opera often convolutes and exaggerates a storyline but here, it finds a way through the morass of Shakespeare which is clear and refreshing. It brings characters to life with a pathos I had not expected and with a love for the complexities of the human spirit. Italian for Macbeth, English for Merchant of Venice: the language of the sung word gives depth and feeling where the spoken word cannot.

There is humour, colour and vivacity throughout. The men sink into the shadows of the women as perhaps Shakespeare intended. His leads are visceral, deadly, massive: Lady Macbeth and Shylock are the meat on the bones of these tales.

They contrast and whilst Macbeth often feels disjointed, ugly, unhappily humorous in parts; Merchant of Venice is a comely blend of the bawdy, the raw and the difficult.

See them both, see what you think.

Donald Gordon Theatre

Welsh National Opera:
The Merchant of Venice

André Tchaikowsky | UK Première

16 Sep – 30 Sep 2016

Tickets: £7 – £43 (£8.50 – £44.50*)

Running time: Approximately 3 hours 10 minutes (including 1 interval)

16 & 30 September 2016

Conductor Lionel Friend
Director Keith Warner
Designer Ashley Martin-Davis
Lighting Designer Davy Cunningham
Movement Director Michael Barry
Associate Director Amy Lane

Shylock Lester Lynch / Quentin Hayes
Antonio Martin Wölfel
Lorenzo Bruce Sledge
The Duke of Venice Miklós Sebestyén
Bassanio Mark Le Brocq
Solanio Gary Griffiths
Salerio Simon Thorpe
Gratiano David Stout
Jessica Lauren Michelle
Portia Sarah Castle
Nerissa Verena Gunz

Sung in English with surtitles in English and Welsh.

Supported by the Getty Family as part of British Firsts.

Co-production with the Bregenzer Festspiele, Austria, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music programme & Teatr Wielki, Warsaw.

Review The Memo Big Loop Theatre Company by Kaitlin Wray

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(4 / 5)

If the aim of ‘The Memo’ performed by Big Loop Theatre Company was to do a great performance then they certainly nailed it.

The memo is an adaption of ‘The Memorandum’ written by Czechoslovakian writer Vaclav Havel. Even though the play was written in 1965 it is still captivating for a 21st century audience. Produced by Rachel Pedley-Miller and Directed by George Soave they definitely chose a great group of actors to perform Havel’s classic.

Even though it took a while to get a grasp of the story, once I was in it, I was fully immersed. James Sarson, playing the protagonist, Mr.Gross, kept us engaged throughout, even though he was meant to be top of the food chain in the company it was evident that he had no real authority. His antagonist, Ballas, was the complete opposite. Ballas, played by Tobias Weatherburn, portrayed the arrogance and power he has over Mr.Gross within the character. Tobias’ skill at improvisation when something in the scene didn’t quite go to plan added to the skill he has as an actor. Another element that added to the hilarity of the scene was that James exceeded Tobias in height.

The only other actor who had a single character to play was Rhys Denton who played George the ‘staff watcher’. From the beginning, Rhys was sat in the audience and when he spoke for the first time it was quite a shock. His voice was perfect for the roll and even though his character was minimal he still got many laughs from the audience. The other actors were all double casted and the difference between each character was incredible. Aaron Price playing Mr.Pillar was Ballas’ left hand man, or more like his lapdog. Following orders and saying nothing pretty much sums up ‘Mr.P’. The other character he played, Mr.Stroll, was completely unrecognisable from Mr.Pillar. His whole character had transformed from a shy, obedient follower to someone who owned the stage. This was the same with Elinor O’Leary’s characters, Hana and Maria. While Hana was uninterested, sarcastic and a lover of food, Maria was a caring and helpful character that just wanted to do right by everyone. The audience interaction within Lear and Thumb’s scenes, played by Melanie Stevens and Ash Cummings, was intense yet fun. The audience members that weren’t used to the idea of actors invading their personal space definitely got a bit of a shock. Both characters bounced off each other and the contrast in personalities was amusing to watch. Melanie’s accent for both Leah and Maria were on point, both completely different yet humorous and brought her characters out even more. Ashley’s secondary character, Savant, was the lad of the group, laughing outlandishly and thinking he’s top dog. The contrast from that character to Thumb’s geeky over-excited nature was a delight to see. This was a performance that truly highlighted everyones diversity and their skills as an actor.

The directorial choices in this performance was highly applaudable, the transitions between each scenes, the character choices and the relationships between the characters was subtly hilarious. The sexual tension between Mr.Gross and Ballas in certain parts was just the right amount creating another edge to the story line. Furthermore it was also all the little moments when the timing would be perfect or there would be funny quirks For example when Mr.Pillar would end up sitting on peoples laps.

The only thing that let this show down was the space. The performance was located in the basement of the Little Man Coffee Company in Cardiff. This room can get quite stuffy and is relatively small with uncomfortable seats. Therefore I believe it restricted how far the actors could take their performance and the overall enjoyment of the show. Nonetheless, I would still recommend the show to anyone and didn’t take too much away from the whole show.

Overall it was evident that there was a high amount of professionalism from the cast and crew which resulted in over a two hour show being highly thrilling throughout. Each actor knew their character inside out and it was inspiring to see. Looking forward to seeing what The Big Loop Theatre Company do next.

https://www.facebook.com/biglooptheatrecompany/

Review Wonderman, Gagglebabble by Gemma Treharne-Foose

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(5 / 5) Unmissable

A lucid, slightly seasick jazz-kissed dream

Have you ever had a dream and woken up not quite knowing if what you’ve just experienced was real? That hazy half-sleep mode when your sleep-induced mind hallucination feels like it could be real for a moment? Wonderman – an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s stories for adults perfectly captures the sheer silliness and absurdity of your dreams and the haunted ‘recollections’ of a shell-shocked airman during the Second World War.

Brought to us by Gagglebabble, National Theatre Wales and the Wales Millennium Centre, the show took place in Tramshed’s wonderful pub-theatre venue. Lit by fairy lights outside and with a dim candle-lit, stripped-down vibe inside the performance space, this was a fitting and cosy venue for the performance. Mingling with other audience members and taking in our pints felt informal and exciting – there was already the imposing presence of a 6-piece band, who were gathering in the bar getting ready to take us on an epic journey in to the mind of the troubled airman.

The band line up really is superb and Gagglebabble’s Lucy Rivers (who created the music, played multiple parts and devised the show with Hannah McPake and Daf James) has a magnetic stage presence, as does Hannah McPake. McPake plays an absolutely cracking rendition of a Brighton landlady who perfectly toes the line between Mumsy and psychotic taxidermist waiting to pounce.  Adam Redmore’s depiction of a traumatised, paranoid airman in the midst of a hallucinogenic dream is wonderful and raw.

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The music and lyrics move the sequences along beautifully, the overall pace and energy is good and there are plenty of hearty chuckles and clever lines throughout.  Director Amy Leach manages to inject joy and colour in to a storyline that has the potential to be so dark and in such an engaging way – it is frantic, but it is clever and warm. I loved the way the storylines and dream sequences joined up at the end.

Dahl’s works in general exude a childlike charm  – and there are echoes of his characterisation present in his most famous children’s stories in this production – menacing enough to give you the chills, but without too much bitterness or poison.

Chatting with audience members before and after the show, Dahl leaves his mark on people in different ways.

We’re reminded of Dahl when we think of the sheer terror invoked by the TV adaptation of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ (especially THAT clown under the bed) and of the way that even the most horrid and dodgy characters still have you rooting for them.

We get a weird perverse thrill when Mrs Trunchbull is on the scene and similarly, you’re fascinated by the somewhat pervy Uncle Oswald. In this production, we can’t help but like and want to believe the tender wife who clobbers her husband, the kooky landlady and the funny Jamaican guy who wants a souvenir of the airman’s finger.  At one point, the audience even cheers for the airman’s finger to be chopped off. There is a lot of chopping threat in this production…and you will never look at a leg of lamb without smiling again!

It is mad-cap, it is fantastic and the whole thing was a lucid, slightly sea-sick jazz-kissed dream. It’s quite fitting that the opening night for ‘Wonderman’ should fall on the centenary since the birth of one of Wales’ literary gems.

There’s an excited chatter, a feel-good buzz all over town as Cardiff prepares for a mammoth weekend of celebrating all things Dahl in the ‘City of the Unexpected’ events.

For me, this was completely unexpected – a surprise full of cheeky mischief, made by misfits…and if you too are looking for a chop-tittlingly toe-tapplingly lush-winkingly good time, you need to shake your tail and get over there to see this show (try the chips in the ‘Waiting Room’ bar/restaurant next door to the venue, too – lush!)

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Wonderman
Venue: Tramshed
Dates: 13 September – 18 September, PN 13th September

Devised by: Daf James, Hannah McPake and Lucy Rivers

Music by: Lucy Rivers
Design: Hayley Grindle
Technical: Joshua Carr (Lighting), Dan Lawrence (Sound), Lucy Cullingford (Chpreography & Movement), Bryony Tayler (Costume)
Cast / Musicians include: James Clark (Piano), PeteKomor (Double Bass), Hannah McPake (The Landlady), Mark O’Connor (Drums), Adam Redmore (The Airman), Lucy Rivers (The Wife), Joe Shire (The man from the South).

Running time: 1hr 45min

 

Review Macbeth WNO by Barbara Michaels

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All photographic credits Patrick Redmond

(4 / 5)

Reviled by many as one of Shakespeare’s more unpleasant plays, and referred to by thespians as ‘The Scottish Play’ because of its reputation for bringing bad luck to performances, Macbeth was described by Verdi himself as ‘One of mankind’s greatest creations.’ Oliver Mears’ gripping modern day production for Welsh National Opera, in conjunction with Northern Ireland Opera, holds its own, opening up a huge range of interpretations on account of its deep psychological reference.

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For those unfamiliar with the play on which it is based, Macbeth is a soldier whose wife’s aspirations of greatness are his downfall, leading to his ultimate death. Returning with his friend Banquo after a successful battle, he meets a coven of witches who predict that he will become firstly Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland, but that it will be Banquo’s children that subsequently inherit. On arriving home, Macbeth tells his wife who informs him that Duncan, the present King of Scotland, will be visiting and staying the night. Duncan duly arrives and announces that he is bestowing on Macbeth the title of Thane of Scotland. Not content with that honour, Lady M. sees this as the perfect opportunity to kill him and thus make the second part of the witches’ prophecy come true. She easily persuades Macbeth to murder his monarch while he is asleep, but the killing doesn’t stop there.

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A balletic opening with the witches grotesquely portrayed as shaven-headed mannequins, and grey-haired humpbacks gets the action started before Spanish baritone Luis Cansino appears in battledress as Macbeth. The appearance of Lady Macbeth in Scene 2 leads into the first murder, followed by the duet which Verdi himself described as being of major importance. The justly renowned chorus of the WNO are increased in number with extra singers in order to cope with different guises which include not only the witches’ coven, but ghostly apparitions, and others, including in the final act refugees from the havoc caused by Macbeth’s widespread killings of those he sees as threats to his rule.

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Sung by American soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, this Lady M is a ballsy, modern woman, sexy even at her desk and displaying her thighs with calculated intent. This is a power-crazy female who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Williams has the demanding role to a T, fully in control from start to finish; not until the final act do we see the cracks in the surface which reveal the deep underlying psychological problems as lady Macbeth sleepwalks, rubbing her hands to rid them of the bloodstains no longer there and singing broken phrases opening up into great arches of song. Musically, Williams is superb, with a soaring soprano that takes the breath away, both in breath-taking solo arias and duets with Macbeth.

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Set and costume designer Annemarie Woods has created a minimalist Scottish castle and a wood that moves, plus costumes with swinging kilts. There are, however, two provisos – Duncan’s costume of bright blue jacket, knee-length white socks topped off with a gilt crown is a tad pantomimic, while the dark kilts and gilets worn by the chorus in the final act are reminiscent of school uniform.

Runs: September 15, 17 and 24th; October 12th; November 2, 9 and 23rd.

Macbeth Welsh National Opera at Wales Millennium Centre

Opera in four Acts based on the play by William Shakespeare

Music: Guiseppe Verdi

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

Director: Oliver Mears

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels