Tag Archives: Hijinx

REVIEW: SECOND STAR TO THE RIGHT BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

(4 / 5)

A Hijinx production really is a fabulous way of kicking off your Christmas celebrations. Following the success of The Snow Queen in 2016, Second Star to the Right by Llinos Mai is a re-telling of a familiar old tale. There’s a new dynamic this time. This story features three very modern, overstressed, selfie and health and safety-obsessed adults in place of children.

This time the Neverland newcomers are descendants of Michael, Jane and Wendy. As they navigate their way around the island, they learn to stop being so uptight and to dance, fly and synchronised-swim their cares away. Arthur – played by Simon Balmforth brings plenty of chuckles as he obsesses about the injury risks and dangers in Neverland and Blue Richards playing the part of Joe shines as a preening peacock – and he’s desperate to get back to his phone signal, hair wax and moisturiser. Alice meanwhile (played by Nia Ramage) is irritable and completely focused on getting to her meetings back in the city.

Created by Odyssey, a community group of disabled and non-disabled actors established by Hijinx Theatre Company, Second Star is more than ‘just’ a pre-Christmas show.

This year’s production is a celebration of a much-loved cast member Martin Vick, a long-standing performer with Hijinx for 15 years who sadly passed away in 2016. Martin had previously performed in Peter Pan and Wendy, travelled the world a special Olympian and more recently had performed with the award-winning Meet Fred, Directed by this production’s Artistic Director Ben Pettitt-Wade.

Odyssey theatre company is a community group brought together by Hijinx theatre company and don’t just create and devise imaginative theatre, they also run training academies to enable disabled actors to perform at a professional level. They’re the only company in Wales to do this. I was delighted to see Sara Pickard as the Captain in this show, having come across Sara in a professional capacity many months before.

The designer Kitty Callister and her assistants have created visually effective props and costumes – mixtures of slick modern black lines, whimsical multi-coloured bohemian and stripy sea dog gather under a star-kissed sky on window panels. Lost boy paint fights are depicted with handfuls of confetti and fairies are created via twinkling fairy lights. Its simple but creative, fitting the stripped back and intimate surroundings of the Weston Studio.

Attending a Hijinx show feels like you are part of the family, in on the joke and its informal nature is a great draw for families. This is theatre as it should be. Unselfconscious, approachable and completely inclusive.

The cast of actors have a wonderful synergy. Director Jon Dafydd-Kidd clearly has created an environment where actors of all abilities feed off one another’s energy, helping each other with the odd line and encouraging one another, just as Martin Vick had during his time with the company.

 

An interview with actor and writer Connor Allen

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

Hi there. Honour to be here. I’m an actor and a writer based in Wales. I was born and raised in Newport. I trained as an actor at Trinity Saint David in Carmarthen and graduated with a degree in 2013. Since then as an actor I have worked in both theatre and TV with companies such as Taking Flight Theatre, BBC Wales, Fluellen Theatre, National Theatre Wales, Sherman Theatre and more recently Omidaze.

Connor in As You Like It, Taking Flight Theatre Company .

Photo by Jorge Lizalde

As a writer I have been commissioned by National Theatre Wales, Dirty Protest, Avant Theatre and No Boundaries. I am a member of National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, a member of National Theatre Wales’ TEAM Panel and I’m also the winner of the 2015 Welsh MonologueSlam run by Triforce Creative.

MonologueSlam UK comes to Cardiff!

So what got you interested in acting?

I think it was the chance to play different characters and explore, create and escape to new worlds whilst in my late teenage years. I had a lot of anger and frustration back then and drama gave me a creative outlet. A way to channel that into acting.

You are an actor can you explain how this role operates within the creative team on a theatrical production ?

On a theatrical production an actor is the one that brings the characters to life and speaks the words written in the script. They bring the characters from the paper to the stage. We attend rehearsals and work with the director and other members of the team such as vocal coaches, choreographers, lighting and sound designers, stage managers and many more to rehearse the piece for a certain amount of time and bring it all together so it’s a polished piece ready for audiences.

You are currently working on a new version of the classic play Romeo and Juliet which is being produced by Omidaze Productions. Do you think Shakespeare is still relevant to todays audiences?

The Romeo and Juliet Company in rehearsals

I believe Shakespeare is still relevant. He was a playwright and wrote stories with various themes and many of those stories still resonate with audiences today, the themes remain and we still experience them (Wether you are dealing with grief like Hamlet, Prejudice like Othello, Betrayal like Macbeth or falling in love like Romeo.)

Take Romeo & Juliet for example, yes it’s the classical love story of two young lovers but amongst that we have two families who have been feuding for years. That conflict is still relevant to today’s audience. Be it not between two families but even two countries. All you have to do is pick up a newspaper or turn the TV on and conflict is among us. People rebelling, people fighting and just like in Romeo & Juliet, unnecessary people get hurt and dare I say killed as a result of that conflict. The more you delve into Shakespeare’s stories the more you unlock and the more you then find that you can relate to on a human level. We are all human after all and we all feel emotion on different scales. Shakespeare highlighted many issues which I believe are still present in today’s society that why his stories still get told.

The Romeo and Juliet Company in rehearsals

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 equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists or specifically writers?

Theatre is a reflection of life and every life is different.

Not every life is white.

I recently tweeted #walestheatreawardssowhite which was the case (and my frustration at the time) as the last three awards now since 2015 have had all white winners in all the acting and directing categories. I would like to delve deeper into my reasons for this.  I think Alexandria Riley this year was the first BAME nominee in a lead actress category (and rightly so!) but that in itself is wrong because there is an abundance of BAME talent here in Wales and it isn’t being utilised. I obviously realise that this issue goes far beyond awards and is a reflection of something greater in society.

For me diversity and representation is so much bigger than just skin colour. It’s gender, sexual orientation, disability, social status and more.

We live in a multi-cultural world and this isn’t being represented on stage. We need audience members from different backgrounds and generations to go to the theatre and see theatre they can relate to. If we don’t see ourselves or our culture on stage (and screen for that matter) how are we meant to be engaged. If young people don’t see themselves represented on stage they won’t go to the theatre, if they don’t see themselves represented on TV they’ll turn the TV off. We have to show all walks of life to engage all people.

Every life is different after all.

To quote Viola Davis (who is an actress I am hugely fond of)

The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity: you cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there”

For minority actors to be considered for awards they have to be cast in productions. So it stretches to the casting directors, directors, theatre companies to be imaginative and widen their casting pools. Think outside the box when it comes to casting. BAME playwrights to write more stories so their voices are being heard. Their voices need to be heard for the work to be made. And once the work is made they can be in contention for things like awards.

Connor in Bird, Sherman Theatre/Manchester Royal Exchange

It’s the vision of bold people like Directors Yvonne Murphy, Rachel O’Riordan, Elise Davison and Casting Directors like Sophie Parrott  that allow me to stand here today fulfilled with the opportunities I’ve been given so far in my career.

Directors Yvonne Murphy, Rachel O’Riordan and Elise Davison 

It’s the vision of these people and many more that break these boxes and allow diversity and representation to flourish. They don’t see risk, all they see is talent. And we need more people to think on that same wavelength for real change to occur.

Diversity has become this big taboo as of late and all I see it as is the ‘why cant’. Why can’t Iago be a black actor?(which has happened now to some criticism) why can’t Juliet be a disabled actress? Why can’t James Bond be an actor of colour? or Doctor Who be a woman?

Talent is everywhere in all shapes and sizes. So we have to make an effort to go and seek this talent out. Look for it. Everywhere.

Young people are the next generation. The next generation of voices to be heard. The next actors, directors, playwrights and producers. If they don’t have anything to relate to when they watch the arts then how can we inspire them to be the next generation of change? We have to inspire them. We have to empower them and by doing that we secure a fighting chance for a diverse and equal future in the arts.

Do you feel the situation is the same for English speaking Welsh actors?

I feel there is a lack of diversity for English speaking Welsh actors especially on TV but I feel it’s different from Welsh language actors. I can’t comment too much as I’m not a Welsh language actor. But even in Wales there is more English speaking work being produced than there is Welsh speaking so Welsh language actors are already at a disadvantage.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

If I were to fund an area of the arts in Wales it would have to be showcasing new writing from younger talent of all backgrounds (say 18-25) as I believe they have so much to say about the world and at times not the tools necessary to get their voices heard. The fund would allow them to all come together in a space once a week for let’s say four months. Partnered with an arts organisation or producing theatre or even just a group of actors it would give them the tools to be mentored by experienced professional writers, hone their craft, get their voices heard and shake things up drastically with their take on the world. It also gives them the chance to hear their text spoken by actors and try new ideas out to see what works and what doesn’t. At the end of the four months the theatre would showcase their writing with a series of performances to paying audiences. It would give actors the chance to work on new, fresh writing and younger generations of writers to be nurtured and mentored along the way by having more established writers like your Gary Owens’, Katherine Chandlers, Matthew Bulgos, Kelly Jones’ and Nicola Reynolds’ running sessions with them about writing stories and what that entails. Ultimately it’s giving the next generation a great stepping stone into the industry and new voices are given a platform.

Writers Gary Owen, Katherine Chandler, Matthew Bulgo, Kelly Jones’ and Nicola Reynolds.

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?

What excites me has to be its potential. There are such great companies and artists making great work at the moment like Gary Owen’s return to the Sherman with Killology, Hijinx and their unstoppable MeetFred, National Theatre Wales taking over Cardiff with the City of the Unexpected and the Other Room going from strength to strength with every show they do. Even smaller companies like Critical Ambition, Avant Theatre and No Boundaries are all striving forward and raising that bar. All this gives me confidence for the future of Welsh arts and for the next generation of artists in Wales because right now Wales is living up to its potential of being a beacon of influential, thought provoking work that will inspire and mesmerise audiences.

Tour Dates for Romeo and Juliet
Mold Theatr Clwyd 5-8 April
Llanelli The Ffwrnes 12 April
Brecon Theatr Brycheiniog 23 April
Cardiff WMC 27 April-14 May

http://www.omidaze.co.uk/artistic

Thanks for your time Connor

 

 

Review Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre by Lauren Ellis-Stretch

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(3 / 5)

In Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre Company skilfully entwine all that is existential – penis jokes to political anguish – through one puppet called Fred. Just go and see it for yourself – It’s apparent simplicity and inclusivity (perfectly mirrored in The Other Room) is its charm.

Advocating the collaborative process, not only does the Director (Ben Pettitt-Wade) direct, but he also showcases this role within the play. Fred’s sublime puppetry and movement shows an inspired devotion from Dan McGowan, Morgan Thomas and Craig Quat through harmonious craftsmanship. However, some of the acting (rooted in improvisation) was, consequently, forced but then, quite suddenly, frenziedly unrestrained – as actors stormed out of doors zealous and soap-operaesque. Yet, blazingly Dan McGowan projects his Fred. In fact, it is far too easy to allow yourself immersion in, solely, his performance. Do resist the temptation, the spectacle of meeting Fred is within its unification for artistic illusion/societal awakening.

Through Fred, parallels are seamlessly drawn to today’s political climax as the defenceless, in an increasingly self-serving society, are subjected to the status of a puppet. Fred is begrudgingly bearing witness to the rise of the mercenary, or consequently lumped in a box. ‘Don’t blame me, blame the system’ penetrates an air of, too blissful, comedic ease.

Pettitt-Wade’s illustration of a messy, ‘self-directed’ life branches from the flourishing/twining set design to the incorporating of the deceivingly metaphoric. A lot of life is incomparable, and unexplainable to others; the cast and crew seem to relish in this conception – ‘Rice is water.’ It rains harder on some.

For the cast, sustaining an audience’s full submission with such taxing content: an unfulfilling, tragically ‘acceptable’ and some-what accepted lifestyle of the oppressed is hard – especially as Meet Fred is a play only wholly satisfying after being digested. So, take friends, chuckle at the lavish littering of expletives, and take it for what it is. An oppressed puppet, an oppressed, emerging under-class, or a shout into the void? Hijinx are pioneering in their ability to make innovative, intelligent, inclusive theatre. Challenging stigma; enabling their disabled performers.

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Meet Fred
Venue: The Other Room
Dates: 28th
Author: Devised by Hijinx Theatre
Director: Ben Pettitt-Wade
Ben Pettitt-Wade: Director
Ceri James: Lighting Designer
Tom Ayres: Technician
Martin Vick: Stage Manager
Dan McGowan: Puppeteer & Voice of ‘Fred’
Morgan Thomas: Puppeteer
Craig Quat: Puppeteer
Lindsay Foster: Lucille and The Maker
Richard Newnham: Jack
Tom Espina & Giulia Innocenti of Blind Summit: Puppetry Dramaturg
Running time: 60mins

Review ‘Meet Fred’ Hijinx Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

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(5 / 5) – Unmissable

Imagine being cast in a role you had no idea you were expected to play. You hadn’t even been invited to the audition. Instead you are plonked uncomfortably and awkwardly in the spotlight. The script is already written for you and you are presented with a comically ridiculous set of choices and no map to navigate through. Did I forget to mention that as you are trying to navigate through and find your feet, those in charge will periodically cut the budget leaving you powerless (or in Fred’s case, legless….in more ways than one!).

As part of the company’s Unity Festival, Hijinx (in association with Blind Summit) depict the harsh realities of people – with learning disabilities or otherwise – who have the misfortune of encountering the dreaded ‘system’. Using the Japanese art of ‘Bunraku’, a traditional form of puppet theatre, the company innovatively develop Fred’s story and we see the physical hurdles and ridiculous red tape slowly building up to Fred’s breaking point. Special credit must be given to the three puppeteers who so skilfully manipulate the simple cloth puppet, the level of detail in his movement and the execution of the physical comedy in the piece is absolutely superb. You won’t want to take your eyes off Fred and as the set and settings within the play are moved around, we are introduced to additional characters, all playing an often unwelcome part in Fred’s so-called ‘co-production’. There are real innovative and stand out scenes throughout: Fred’s encounter with a job-centre official and the absurd jobs they offer him (or threaten to stop his ‘Puppetry Living Allowance’), a hilariously-choreographed dance scene and the subsequent drinking session that follows and Fred fighting through the elements as cast members create a wind tunnel/rain storm.

The script is super sharp and clever without having too much of a sting and the cast (especially puppeteer Dan McGowan as the voice of Fred) is first class. At one point, the fourth wall is broken and the audience becomes part of the action as Fred tried to entertain children at a birthday party – the audience become part of the party too. The audience at Porter’s ‘The Other Room’, a theatre/pub venue were clearly moved and fully engaged with the piece. We were all rooting for Fred as the Director (or ‘twat in the green hat’ as Fred describes him) leads him to despair. We are called to question the outdated and elitist attitudes and myths that are still so prevalent. There is a heart-breaking scene where Fred – set up on a date encounters a clearly disgusted Lucille. ‘Am I not what you were expecting?’ says Fred, shrinking before us.

In a post-Brexit age of austerity, of care plans and service managers and outcomes and all the corporate jargonese that dehumanises and distances us from actual feelings and real life – it’s easy to overlook that underneath the paperwork and formalities, there is a person with a voice and ideas of their own (if people just care to listen). This collaborative, devised piece is one of the most creative and original pieces I have seen in a long time. ‘Meet Fred’ is a script with teeth. This is about the freedom to make choices without fear of repercussions and the freedom to write your own script. Hijinx manage to perfectly walk the line between edgy and impactful theatre without bringing you down. Go experience this piece, Meet Fred yourself…your life will be richer for it.

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Meet Fred
Venue: The Other Room
Dates: 28th
Author: Devised by Hijinx Theatre
Director: Ben Pettitt-Wade
Ben Pettitt-Wade: Director
Ceri James: Lighting Designer
Tom Ayres: Technician
Martin Vick: Stage Manager
Dan McGowan: Puppeteer & Voice of ‘Fred’
Morgan Thomas: Puppeteer
Craig Quat: Puppeteer
Lindsay Foster: Lucille and The Maker
Richard Newnham: Jack
Tom Espina & Giulia Innocenti of Blind Summit: Puppetry Dramaturg
Running time: 60mins

Review Beneath the Streets: Lost and Found Hijinx & Punchdrunk Enrichment by Sarah Finch

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Before starting this review I would like to congratulate the collaborators Hijinx and Punchdrunk Enrichment on arguably the most incredible and engaging immersive, site specific performance that I have ever had the pleasure of participating in, a bold statement that I hope this review provides justification for.

“We’ve all lost something: glasses, keys, memories, love, loved ones, our way…Are these things gone forever or have they found a home elsewhere? Hidden in Cardiff is a world of lost things. In the shadows, behind closed doors, we await you”

On Wednesday the 1st of July I joined a steadily growing queue outside the Maldron Hotel in Cardiff to see Beneath The Streets: Lost and Found. An exciting buzz of anticipation was rippling through the audience and before long a briefing on what was to come was delivered, along with mandatory dust masks. The buzz was now turning into excited curiosity as we were  led to the front doors of Jacob’s Antiques Market.

Upon entering the space I was immediately drawn to the attention of detail that had been used. Given that I am familiar with the regular layout of Jacob’s Antiques Market I was extremely impressed with how the design team and stage carpenter had utilised the space given to create this incredibly beautiful maze spanning two floors. I will admit I had trouble finding my way around for the first 15 minutes. Everywhere you went you were met with a corner, a drape or darkness! Opening doors to nothingness, dim lighting that cast shadows over performers and beautiful decorations adorning different sections of this new world.

My particular favourite was a pyramid made from pages and pages of books in the section of lost words, the impressive set design continued as I found myself being led by an actor into a dark room lit with a few candles, to be told a tragic love story, only to find him conversing through a non-existent mirror with his lady-love. An extremely clever trick that left myself and the other audience member, that had been lured to the ‘other room’, in complete shock. Upon discovery of the lower lair I came across sets of actors telling different stories, all looking for something or finding something. Ascending to the upper we were greeted with corporate scenes, scientists, products, offices and even a small exhibition. Eventually a message sounded over the tannoy asking that all staff report to a meeting on the upper level, the audience then witnessed the delivering of an elixir which had side effects on every staff member. The staff began to engage with the audience, but in a different way than before – this was then our signal to be led out.

I feel that words simply cannot describe how beautiful, thought-provoking and magical the experience was. Every actor was superb, it was inspiring to see the relationships between characters and the chemistry felt in each situation, credit is due to all that participated. The set and costume designs were outstanding and considering how much effort had gone into stage production I felt this really complimented the actors and helped to bring the performance to life.

As an actor that has performed in immersive theatre I applaud with admiration each and everyone that performed in this flawless production, immersive theatre is the most exciting of theatre forms that I hope all actors enjoyed delivering to their audience. With the element of lost and found I can speak from personal experience when agreeing that I did lose myself here because I was so completely engaged with this perfect production, I will definitely be the first in line for tickets when Hijinx and Punchdrunk Enrichment honour the people of Cardiff with another outstanding show.

Review Beneath the Streets, Lost and Found, Hijinx & Punchdrunk Enrichment by Kaitlin Wray

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Punchdrunk theatre are known for physicalising emotions, feelings and scenarios with movement and body language creating contemporary narratives. Their collaboration with Hijinx theatre was stunning to watch. Hijinx and Punchdrunk theatre have collaborated together to create a purely immersive theatre experience. They have transformed the ‘secret’ space into a place fit for exploring. We were led through the doors in groups with a lead giving us an insight into the ‘business’. Then we were allowed to be free to explore to our hearts content (with a few stewards making sure we didn’t go off trail)

Each space had its own story to tell and also its own secrets. Finding out information was difficult but nonetheless every place had their own interesting qualities. The lighting was mainly used by old lamps and candles which added to the atmosphere. The smoke haze added to the eerie effect. The beauty of this performance is that if you went back to the same place there would be an entirely different scenario going on. However I’m not sure if it was my luck or just bad timing but I always seemed to miss an important bit of the story  as soon as I got there. There were some lucky individuals that got dragged off and had an even deeper insight to the secrets of the business. Then coming towards the climax of the show we all got ushered into the same  room where the finale took place. For me personally I have a lot of guesses to what the overall plot was but I will never know for sure.

The ambiguity is what makes this show individualistic for every audience member. It was exciting to listen to the conversations people had afterwards. This is a show that you might come away from with knowing exactly why everything was happening or come away knowing nothing. However it’s very interesting and a great piece to get lost into. It would be intriguing what it would be like to watch it for the second time.