Tag Archives: Jane Bissett

Review The Woman in Black by Jane Bissett

 

4 Stars4 / 5

 

The tale of the Woman in Black comes from the pen of the acclaimed author Susan Hill and I guarantee this stage adaptation, the legacy of the talented playwright Stephen Mallatratt, will not disappoint you.

It is 27 years since this production was first taken from the page and brought to the stage and its longevity is testament to the art of storytelling and the drama of theatre. The ability to tell a gripping story is a thread which runs through time itself and is as deep seated in us today as it was when stories were passed down by the telling of  tales and before the Viking Sagas were written down. Every culture has its own myths and legends to draw on and before the advent of electricity and modern technological it was common for families to gather together in the evening, in the dark glow of the fireside to recount tales that would capture the imagination and transport them to times and places of both the past and the future.

Susan Hill’s novella, The Woman in Black, is a Gothic tale of love, loss, fear and revenge. As with all ghost and horror stories it has an unexpected ending,  a twist in the tale, which sets us thinking and is the hook that makes us remember the story and gives us the ability to tell it to others again and again.

At the start of the play, in scene one, we are introduced to the two characters, Arthur Kipps and an Actor who he has engaged to assist him in the telling of the story that changed his life and his future. It is clear right from the start the importance for Kipps in telling his story, as not only a warning to others but as a means of trying to exorcise his own demons. In the telling of this tale it holds up a mirror to us all to examine our own fears of what we know and believe and indeed what we do not.

This is the story of solicitor, Arthur Kipps, recently widowed and who four years earlier had been sent from London to the coast to put in order the affairs of a recently deceased lady. The subsequent events of that journey will haunt Kipps and change his life forever.

As a way to exorcise the spectre of the Woman in Black and indeed as a causionary tale, Kipps employs an actor with whom he shares his manuscript of the events that happened.

In the play that unfolds before us we see the actor coach Kipps to perform all other parts other than his own and the story begins…..

As a lover of Gothic Horror and Ghost Stories in general I really enjoyed this production. Both David Acton (Arthur Kipps) and Matthew Spencer (The Actor) gave wonderful performances which transported the audience out of the theatre and onto the marshes. We joined Kipps and the Actor, spell bound as they told of the events surrounding the Woman in Black, eventually revealing her tale from within Kipps chilling story.

Both Acton and Spencer gave gripping performances as Kipps and the Actor in this two handed play in which you just got so much more that two chaps on a stage. The range of sound effects (Gareth Owen) and the dramatic and atmospheric lighting (Kevin Sleep) created a spellbinding backdrop on which the tale was told. There is no elaborate staging to distract you which means you are only limited by your belief in the tale and your own imagination.

There was audience participation in the form of fear and gasps and I am not 100% sure I did not hear, at one point a lady scream or was that coming from the stage?

This is a must see for anyone who loves a well told ghost story that will send a shiver up the spine. but be careful on the way home, you may not have left the theatre alone……

 

 

 

Review Dinosaur Babies, National Museum Cardiff by Third Act Critic, Jane Bissett

5 Stars5 / 5

If you want an adventure with history this summer then step back in time and visit the National Museum Cardiff to experience their wonderful new exhibition – Dinosaur Babies.

The exhibits, many discovered in China, are on loan from the United States of America and have never been on public display in the UK before.

As you immerse yourself in the lost world of the dinosaurs you will come face to face with many familiar dinosaurs and others not so. The breath taking skeletons are brought to life by the many wonderful colour illustrations by Luis V. Rey, who working alongside the palaeontologists involved with the research of these dinosaurs, has given us visual imagery for the creatures we are walking amongst and a clear depiction of what they and their environment may have looked like when they walked the earth.

This exhibition has been specifically designed to be child friendly and it has certainly achieved its aim. There are a range of activities that engage the visitor whatever their age and the wealth of information is staggering.

Dinosaur Babies will enthral, enlighten and educate, as you venture into the never before seen world of motherhood amount these fascinating creatures. There are nests, eggs and even embryos intact inside their shells, a sight that will awaken the curiosity in everyone, alongside a desire to learn more.

The discovery of these dinosaurs in their many family groups has enabled scientists to build up a more comprehensive picture than ever before. They are able to establish a better idea and understanding of how these magnificent creatures lived in social groups and how they nurtured their young and now for the first time we are able to join them on this journey.

For the younger visitors there is a range of activities that will suit any age, whether it is conducting your own mini archaeological dig to find fossils, dressing up as a dinosaur or creating an art work to take home as a reminder of what you have seen.

This really is a great exhibition that caters for the whole family. Whatever your age or level of interest in dinosaurs, you are guaranteed to take away a wonderful Natural History Experience that you’ll be talking about all summer.

This exhibition forms part of Wales’ Year of Legends and runs from 27 May – 5 November

https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/9487/Dinosaur-Babies/

Review The Crucible, New Theatre Cardiff by Jane Bissett

 

4 Stars4 / 5

 

There is no colour or elaborate stage dressing on the set of The Crucible to detract from the sheer power of the story that unfolds in front of you. Written in 1953 The Crucible was Arthur Miller’s response to the society in which he was living. The political backdrop of American politics at the time was that of the ‘witch hunt’ for enemies of the state, Russian activists and sympathisers. It became difficult for people to exercise freedom of speech and expression without placing themselves in the spotlight for the scrutiny of the state and this was across the whole of society irrespective of gender, race, background, social standing or occupation.

Arthur Miller

Miller decided to use his skill and talent to address the political turmoil around him and unable to express the current situation he set his play in the 17th Century, a clear lesson from history from which we should take heed. The Crucible, is the dramatisation of the Salem Witch Trials (c.1692). The story centres around a relative new comer to the community, Rev. Parris, his daughter and niece and a group of young girls who form the nucleolus of the accusers for what became the most infamous Witch Hunts and trials in history.

The cast were outstanding! A marathon rather than a sprint, with nowhere to hide, the Crucible takes the audience on an uncomfortable journey back in time to when America was young and communities were governed as much by religious belief as a foundation and form of social control as much as they were by the State. Religious leaders were often the glue that held communities together and the regular Sunday meetings, the opportunity to gather the people to them to enforce the social behaviours and norms of the people around them.

When the Rev. Parris discovers his daughter, niece, and a group of girls in the woods, dancing (some naked) it triggers a chain of events that will change the lives of the people of Salem and surrounding areas even now to the present day.

The opening scene shows us Parris’s daughter, Betty, seemingly lifeless in her bed. His niece, Abigail Williams, has recently been returned to him having been dismissed from the service of the Proctor family as being unsatisfactory. As the tail unfolds we discover that she had been dismissed by Elizabeth Proctor (Goody Proctor or Good Wife Proctor), thrown out on the road when she discovered that she had slept with her husband.

The girls, unable to pass off their dancing as girlish fun, find themselves in a spiral of lies and deception that takes over the whole community and sets neighbour against neighbour and brings to the surface all the minor disagreements and before long, out of fear and revenge a ‘witch hunt’ is underway. The girls histrionics under questioning and in court sees them naming women within the community who have previously been held in high esteem as healers, midwives and good women. It is not long before the focus turns to the Proctor Household where one of the girls, Mary Warren, is in service. To the delight of Abigail, Elizabeth Proctor is arrested and although there is no foundation or truth in the accusation against her, all are powerless to assist her. She is manacled and taken away whilst her husband, John, tries to make sense of the madness that is unfolding in front of him.

John Proctor along with others make pleas to the court but the Judge and bureaucracy serve to make matters worse and end with the arrest of the husbands along with their wives. In the court, Mary Warren fears for her own life when Abigail sets the girls against her and claims that Mary is controlled by the devil. Mary retracts her statement that tells of the girls lies and this serves to strengthen the cases again the other poor accused souls for whom the audience is under illusion that this will end in the massacre of entire communities, whose fate is to be hung for the crime of Witchcraft.

The final scene was so powerful and the saying “There but by the grace of god (any god) go I” was never truer. The impassioned performances of the cast takes the audience on an uncomfortable journey of lies and injustices, persecution of all in society from the vulnerable, to those who dare to stand up for truth and justice. The audience could only watch in horror, powerless to help, as lies were told to set neighbour against neighbour, brother against brother, to remove members of their community with whom there had been grievances in the past. Some profited by the acquisition of land, others out of vengeance and spite, for some it was just the sheer terror that drove them to accuse others rather than allow the spotlight to fall on them.

The staging of this production was bare and minimalist to reflect the everyday life of 17th century America. As the lights dimmed between scenes and the whole cast changed the set before us it made for an easy transition to the next location.

I have seldom seen a production of such talent and skill. The power of the performances were breath taking, honest and believable. The actors have nothing but themselves and the passion of their performance. There are no props, just the sheer believability of the characterisation of each personality that was brought to life before us.

Lucy Keirl as Abigail Williams gave a believable performance of a young girl who was governed by her hormones. She was a manipulator and leader for the other girls to follow and by the time they realised what they had done it was too late for any change of course and self preservation must endure.

As we watched, Eion Slattery brought John Proctor into our lives and awoke our unconsciousness to the injustices that we are powerless to help. His relationship with his wife was an honest, if not uncomfortable one. His belief in her honesty would be his undoing as in her fear for her husbands life Elizabeth, played by Victoria Yeates, makes a choice that will condemn them both.

When Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible he wanted to address the issues of early 1950s America and the political turbulence that was happening. However, this play has now brought us lessons from history that we should not ignore. It gives the audience the opportunity to examine themselves for what and who they really are and revisit the values of truth, honesty and integrity.

This is not a play for the faint hearted, it is a three hours marathon of pure drama executed by an amazing cast of actors who gave the strongest performances you will every see for this play. I am certain had Arthur Miller been in the audience they would have had not only his approval but his admiration.

http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what%27s-on/the-crucible/

 

 

 

 

Review Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat by Jane Bissett

4 Stars4 / 5

 

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is a familiar story taken from the bible. It is the tale of a younger son, of a favoured wife, being elevated by his doting father and put above his eleven brothers. The brothers, already jealous of their younger brother finally are pushed to action and when their father Jacob gives Joseph the gift of a wonderful new coat and their outrage is complete. The brothers plot to kill Joseph and thus dispose of the problem. However, they fail to complete their plan as they cannot bring themselves to actually commit murder. The answer to this dilemma comes in the form of a travelling slave trader from Egypt and they decide to sell Joseph into slavery. On returning home the brothers tell their father, Jacob, that his beloved son has met with an accident and has been killed by a wild beast and they show him the bloody torn coat as evidence. Meanwhile Joseph has been sold into the household of an Egyptian noble where he works hard and becomes a trusted slave.

However, he catches the eye of the Noble’s wife and is soon accused of wrongdoing. His master has him thrown into prison from which there seems to be no escape. In prison Joseph becomes know for his gift of being able to know the meanings of dreams and this quickly comes to the notice of Pharaoh through his butler, a man who has first hand experience of Joseph’s ability. Joseph is summonsed to Pharaoh’s palace where he is given the task of explaining the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams. Clearly nervous, Joseph tells Pharaoh what his recurring dream means. Egypt will have seven years of bumper harvests followed by years of famine. When the dream comes to pass Pharaoh places his trust in Joseph and puts him in high office and he becomes a trusted Egyptian. During the famine the people are starving and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to try to secure food for their family. The last person they expect to see is Joseph and at first they do not recognise him. Joseph doesn’t make the reunion easy but the family of brothers are eventually reconciled and reunited with Joseph’s parents, so there is a happy ending.

Joseph is a roller coaster ride for the theatre goer of any age. From the moment to curtain rises the production is a vibrant mix of colour and sound to stimulate the senses. From the pens of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joseph is a triumph. They have successfully taken a biblical tale and transformed it into a secular story that bridges the gaps of time and its message has as much meaning now as it had when it was written. Its appeal spans the generations and this was evident by the diversity of the audience what ever their age, gender or religious belief.

Joe McEdderry, gave a convincing and captivating performance as Joseph, his energy on stage is infectious and his smile and demeanour grabs the audience from curtain up right to the last number when he and the cast received a richly deserved standing ovation.

Henry Metcalfe’s choreography was creative and inspiring with many unexpected twists in the tale and lead us to expect the unexpected on several occasions. The costume design was creative and complimented the performances of the actors against a backdrop of scenery which was uncomplicated and did not distract from the telling of the story which in parts had distinctly modern twists and turns and some unexpected characterisations.

The Narrator, Lucy Kay, linked the scenes and lead the viewer on an unforgettable journey of characters, places and far away lands. With the added voices of the children it is a magical experience in which the audience is absorbed into playing an active role and ends in a well deserved standing ovation.

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/DonaldGordonTheatre/Joseph17/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review Gaslight, New Theatre, Cardiff by Jane Bissett

4 Stars4 / 5

Gaslight is a psychological thriller and focuses on the behaviour and sanity of Mrs Bella Manningham. Jack Manningham, is a subtle and clever manipulator who is controlling his wife by questioning her mental stability Indeed it is he who has engineered her current fragile state of mind and preys on her insecurities using the knowledge that she is haunted by the facts that her own mother had what was termed a ‘weakness of mind’ and ended her days in the ‘mad house’. It is clear from the opening scene that she is a woman who is living with a roller coster of emotions, her behaviour is constantly being questioned by her husband.

Whilst most evenings Jack Manningham is out pursuing his own ‘interests’ Bella is left alone in the house. Lonely and fearful and with items mysteriously being removed for which there is no explanation, she believes that there is someone else in the house. The dimming of the gaslight and footsteps from the rooms above at the top of the house, which her husband insists is not to be entered by any of the household and the doors remain locked, only serves to heighten her fear and anxiety.
Bella’s eventual salvation comes in the form of a detective, Rough, who has an ongoing interest in both Bella’s husband and the house in which they now live. With the aid of Bella’s maid, Elizabeth, Rough visits the house to investigate the unexplained happenings, discover the truth and save Bella from both insanity and her husband.

Rupert Young’s portrayal of Jack Manningham is skilful and disturbing. From the moment we first see him with his wife, the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. Jack clearly has an agenda in which his wife no longer serves a useful purpose so he plans to be rid of her. Young’s skill and ability to transform from a caring and compassionate husband to a calculating and manipulating bully make for uncomfortable viewing as he plays on his wife’s insecurities and her fear for her own state of mind.
As a cad and a rouge Young’s performance was confident and calculating. His stage presence and arrogant posture made his character believable and that as a man living in a male dominated society he could do what ever he wanted without reproach.

In contrast, Keith Allen, the man who we remember most in the mad and bad roles gave us a wonderful performance as the seasoned detective Rough. He brought the character alive from the moment he sets foot onto the stage, with a commanding confidence that makes the audience warm to Rough immediately. His delivery of Rough’s humour engaged the audience and his on-stage presence brought the play to life. During a scene when Jack Manningham return home early and unexpected there is almost a hint of a farce as Rough hides in a dressing room and just for a few moments we almost forget the dark subject of the play. Allen outstanding characterisation gives us a view into the compassionate and understanding side of Rough’s character as he endeavours to uphold justice and save Bella from a situation in which she has no control.

The play was staged on a single set, the drawing room of the house, which was designed and lit beautifully creating a style of Victorian elegance which was in keeping with story telling. There was a particular attention to the lighting as the name of the play would suggest, Gaslight, and these were given by two elegant lights either side of a large over mantle mirror which also gave an additional perspective during the scenes where Jack Manningham was addressing his wife as his reflection could be clearly seen although his back was to the audience. The atmosphere of the set was also enhanced by the use of lighting outside the room, which we were to believe was from the street outside, casting shadows of the players against the back drop of the drawing room doors, and also from what has to be the most realistic fire I have ever seen on a stage.
The costumes were as expected of the period in which the play was set and gave an overall feel of authenticity and drama which followed throughout the performance.

The play is a tale of crime and domestic abuse. Jack Manningham believes in ultimate power and control over his wife. His behaviour is now recognised by society and the law as what is now referred to as ‘coercive control’. When Rough suggests to Bella that her husband is not all he seems and is creating the problems she now faces, she is resistant. Clearly a woman of low self-esteem she clings to what she knows, her role as the loyal wife to a man who loves and protects her rather that being able to accept that truth of the situation unfolding around her. Her need to be loved blinds her to the realisation of what her husband is capable until the end. It is only the maid, Elizabeth, who sees Jack Manningham for who he really is and it is her intervention that draws the story out to a successful conclusion.