Tag Archives: Lois Arcari

Review Performance at The New Theatre by Lois Arcari


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(4 / 5)

 

Director James Williams was placed, alongside the producers at Arts Active Wales, with the admirable but ultimately unenviable task of threading together a week’s worth of workshops, carried out by young people who had never before met, together into a show worthy of the New Theatre.

Despite the insularity that is always a potential threat to any of these types of projects, they always expand outside their form – making it a real shame this performance, perhaps weighed down by the somewhat awkward virtue of its name, wasn’t a tad more well marketed. What the Sherman NT Connections festival did so well with interpreting set theatre pieces this project did for new material.

There were, of course, lots of layers of interweaving. The more complex ideas with the weaker ones, the reasonably large age gap of performers aged 14 – 25, and of course the disciplines of circus, design, dance, art, music and the spoken word. The poetry, overseen by Literature Wales was one of the highlights, although a few themes might’ve meandered, and there were moments where politics seemed a little indelicately transposed onto some performers. Having sat in on the workshop, any chinks in the material were minute distractions against the obvious double edged sword of the time frame, and the integration of every workshopped piece into the whole.

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The ensemble for ‘Performance’ 2016

Community Music Wales where also very active in the show but where better executed and more memorable when used as a backbone for the other artforms. The Art and Design elements were the most sporadically used but well done; a Dali like background to an intense, exhaustive dance piece the most effective example. Impressive puppetry was also used, although the flashy teddy bear, turned Gothic by the lighting, would best be appreciated of those who, unlike this critic, have not been subjected to the ‘wonders’ of FNAF by younger family. No Fit State’s Circus performances showed the two most obvious flavours, a humorous but slight juggling gag to trapeze, but there will be no world in which the mastery of the latter doesn’t inspire some kind of awe.

All the elements worked well together, but Earthfall Dance had a monopoly on the night. Contemporary dance is one of those things all too easy to get wrong, viewed by the general public with cynicism, and even sometimes within the arts with a gentle wryness. In this show, it was stunning, performed by the trained dancers, with natural acting talent alongside passionate energy. It whipped up the most natural commentary and narrative of the night whilst seeming absolutely effortless. As always, simplicity was king and queen alike. Even though others without dance experience were involved, they too seemed totally natural. Whether swift and pulsating or tender and subdued, it was perfectly executed.

Overall, the pieces which were meant to form more of a cohesive story than a thematic connection were too brilliant not to hinder the more standalone pieces which would otherwise be fine if unengaging but it rather accurately depicted the current arts scene, whilst showing plenty of scope for new forms of talent. The difficulty in reviewing this was that any flaws are part of its form and therefore, any commentary can’t seem too constructive, but trying to bring young talent out of its usual spheres and into the general stage is an admirable thing. It was never going to be perfect or show any calculated insight, but it was certainly vibrant and showed plenty of the organic kind. Very much worth keeping an eye out for next year, but keeping it in context is essential for the ride.

Director: James Williams

Producer: Arts active
Assistant producers/collaborators: Literature Wales, No Fit State, Earthfall Dance, Community Music Wales, Criw Celf
Running time: 1 hr 20 mins

 

Review National Theatre Connections Festival 2016 by Lois Arcari

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Sherman connections is an annual festival centred around making strong links with young talent, raising the profile and awareness of theatre companies and their rising stars to general audiences, the theatre and themselves. The three day festival, only one of which I was privileged enough to attend, was packed full of short productions such as Simon Armitage’s Eclipse, presented by the Everyman Youth theatre and Lucinda Coxon’s What are They Like, as performed by WGYTC.

Although I could only catch two of the nine productions featured in the festival; the diversity of plays and the thorough rehearsal of their excellent young casts was evident in both.

There were also opportunities to participate in an extensive range of workshops.
These workshops really made the atmosphere of creative buzz and talent checking even further heightened; some generally constructive such as a review workshop with Jafar Iqbal of the Western mail, others shedding light into current issues in the arts such as inclusivity. A particular highlight for attendants was the one off workshop from Matthew Bulgo.

It was a great opportunity for bolstering support of local Welsh talent, and its place in the Sherman’s packed catalogue cements its place as one of the most active theatres in Cardiff; doing all it can to heighten not only its already well regarded profile, but that of fresh talent and Welsh arts in general.

Although it’s main onus did seem to be on connections within the youth groups; seeing new talent in a space evidently very invested in the future of theatre with so much packed into its tight schedule seems a must for fans of the Sherman, and anyone interested in looking out for the future landscape of Welsh Theatre,

Romeo And Juliet Everyman Theatre Cardiff

Romeo and Juliet, Everyman Open Air Theatre, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff,
Author: William Shakespeare
Directors: Mark Modzelwski and Jack Paterson
Cast: Mickey Howe, Helen Randall, Jon Barnes, Aisha Cecil, James Pritchard
Running Time – 2 hours

 Photos courtesy of Keith Stanbury

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet couldn’t be a more polarizing play – that controversy, and of course it’s impenetrable brand, the reason for its longevity, despite the criticisms it’s been subject to throughout the ages. It also means every adaptation, no matter how well done or brightly framed, will have a clear divide between its fans and its skeptics, much like its own warring houses.

It immediately reminded me of Everyman’s 2014 production The Taming of the Shrew, which also played with a modern framing. In that case, it seemed disjointed and unconnected, this play’s firmer stance something I was glad of. An early warning sign was the wrapping of garish warning tape around the gorgeous set, itself an understated stage that easily turned from crumbled history to a modern ruin in the mind’s eye. Any foreshadowing in the archetypal tragedy seems dangerously close to being too loud for too little reason. Then, I turned thoughts to Last year’s As You Like it set completely within its time, which seemed less frantic to be thoughtful, its simplicity its making.

The scuffle between the houses was presented in a haze of echoed dialogue, each line chanted rather than spoken, chaotic drumming and West Side snapping fueling the anger. It was no doubt intended as a display of raw energy, but mine surely weren’t the only ears strained by a jarring start. A question common to the staging was that of cleverness or (with all such words improperly conveying the fact every polarizing part was played with conviction of delivery) clumsiness. Aggression dominating over clarity and a sense of unease are fitting for the play, but it felt a little rushed, easy to think about but harder to feel for – the presentation of the raw feeling ironically calculated.

Another of these dichotomies was the fact that Paris is shown sauntering through the warring families, often an agent of the discord the one to bang the makeshift drum of the stage – this could give the often slight role adaptations afford him gravitas, but there is too little of him otherwise to give weight to the staging.

Whilst experimentation is always welcome, the elements seemed jarring and improperly integrated, a few, small things that, in never fully being justified spoiled the flow. Costuming was fine, but slightly awkward with our leads, owing a tad too much to Danny and Sandy. The thing that dominated over everything, making niggles more off-putting, was that the overall transference to the modern day seemed slightly arbitrary – a live performance in the beautiful Sofia Gardens is certainly not the slickly edited City from Luhrmann’s fondly remembered film, and whilst it could be left to interpretation in another play, the fraught world of our times providing myriad examples of arbitrary, baseless conflict, the other small jarring features meant either that these less important things should have had some justification, or that this time leap needed more obvious suggestion.

The acting was certainly the best element.

Mikey Howe presented himself as a likable actor, but not as a Romeo stripped of the blandness which pervades even the best of his adaptations. He more often solicited motherly feelings of exhausted affection and useless foresight rather than showing us a passion we might forgive naivety more for. Mercutio was played memorably by Jon Barnes, remembered fondly from last year, the acidic chemistry between him and Asha Cecil’s flint like Tybalt alluding to something more complex and engaging than the titular love. Helen Randall’s Juliet was stunning, and did her best to convert us to her convictions with not just a sweet, but quietly intelligent and witty character, her superb delivery highlighting the odd dichotomy that one of Shakespeare’s most characters most scolded for their lack of better judgement has some such clever lines, full of wordplay and conviction. Another highlight was James Pritchard’s warm and fatherly Friar – although the general depiction of such is always odd, considering despite his gentle ways, he is the piece’s accidental murderer.

The anger was the most visceral, best felt emotion of the play, each character, Tybalt to the Montagues doing their best under rage, although such venom by the ensemble made Romeo’s anger seem a little paler than the devastation of the second act required.

Said second act was free from trips over the awkward trappings of the first allowing for a much smoother experience, beautifully and purposefully lit, each actor at their finest in this hour.

A fun, but at later thought somewhat frustrating decision was that to possess the apothecary by the devil – gleefully sadistic at first glance, and a synchronization of the ensemble used to much more coordinated and singular effect, you then realized how much trouble it presented. Shakespeare, here to Lear to his famous sonnets, was always interested in the conflict between the power of the damnation of God (and the Gods) and man, and how the devil is a part of both self-corrupting man and the omnipotent Lord who shows such little benevolence in his works.

This is the essence of the general trouble – that the productions experiments just don’t have a solid enough foundation to be felt more than gimmicky, when the more general elements are is all wonderfully done. Ironically, and somewhat sadly, when focused more on style than the unsure statements there was much more substance. In short, it’s a commendable performance with a lot to chew on regardless of whether you enjoyed such elements, but I’m afraid it may be looked with kinder eyes by those who love the lovers, and not those skeptical of the star crossed.

(3 / 5)

ENDS

Review Into The Woods, Everyman Theatre Cardiff by Lois Arcari

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(4 / 5)

 

As the sun descended upon the set, previously lovely but a little bare, gloriously entwined with the trees yet sans any beanstalk motif, took on a new depth and spatiality. Now it was one with the story, the characters, the enthralling play – the whole thing blossoming in the darkness. In the second act, every element came together for a brilliant, bombastic finish, Sondheim’s ever darkly twinkling musical and the always excellent Everyman team.

The musical will always be a relevant one, but what I think makes it so durable, from when Bernadette Peter’s first blew onto the stage, to the gleefully ironic Disney adaptation, is that it warns of wishes whilst not mandating the often so elusive action. The tone is sublime, true and timeless. As we see the ordinary tales of Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and The Beanstalk and more deconstructed for perhaps the first time in a mainstream way, the show will always be a looking glass for both the individual and the world around them. It has a perfect formula, which gives any players the odd situation of only being able to damn it with an almost impossible faintness, which Everyman most certainly did not.

The reliably brilliant atmosphere highlighted the dramatic tension, with the ensemble on brilliant form, and any kinks in what was the opening night were duly ironed out save one or two small problems with the mikes. The puppetry, which had been lovely but simplistic at the start, was utilised in a genuinely shocking and exciting moment, gone in a flash, the impact amazing.

One of the best to bloom through the show was Meredith Lewis’ Cinderella, with natural empathetic acting and a clear but tense voice always hanging on the edge of something, uncertain in crescendos. Her command of her vocals was probably always going to increase as the production went on, as the uncertainty of dreams turns into calloused but dependable reality.

To me, the true standout players had to be Laura Phillips, the Baker’s Wife. Her warmth, comedy and realism all made the ill fated woman perfectly likeable, her shadow looming over thus ever more painfully, and Darcy Welch, Little Red, who managed to blend the sweetness and tinge of childish cruelty in little red without either rendering the other implausible. The Wolf was the scene stealer he was meant to be, and he two princes were played with winning aplomb. Cinderella’s, played by Lewis Cook was perhaps the best, an undercurrent of whatever sincerity could be bred into such a prince making him less one note, the dominant individual ‘agonies’ of the play amplified by the smaller, subtler ones. The people that never had the chance to be a different version of themselves, the cruel prescriptiveness of the archetypal fairytale, it’s inevitable truth, and the mournful, glorious fact that no one is exempt from human fallibility.

A beautifully done production, the costume design as ever needs a mention.Whilst all costumes suited the production, the standout had to be the Witch’s hunched form, her apparent ugliness only truly shown in strangeness. The mask, meant for the furrowed lines of age, truly looked almost venetian, and her hair, odd, matted pink, again added a sense of false attributions, as she looked powerful, bizarre and captivating. The Witch herself was nice, was good…but, for those of you who know the booming song, not quite right. The acting and singing from Jo Herco Thomas were both lovely, but in a company with a baseline of brilliant talent her voice failed to dominate as her physical presence did, as she played both her anger and her tenderness a little too softly, never seeming committed to either. By no means a bad performance, it still seemed a little lukewarm for the iconic character.

This is a musical which will always retain its power. Both the overt and the quiet have their warnings reflected best when subtleties and set pieces bounce off one another. From the ambient tenseness to the beaming wit and of course Sondheim’s near perfectly written songs, this is a play for all to see if chance as in the play both our darkest and our finest magic, permits them.

Into the Woods

Everyman Theatre Sophia Gardens Cardiff
24th June – 2nd July

Book : James Lapine.

Music and lyrics: Stephen Sondheim.

Director: Jonathan Tunick.

Musical Director:: Rob Thorne.

Design: Bethany Seddon Stage Manager: Ranynore Phinnemore, Deputy Stage Manager: Dunyasha Barrow. Design Assistants- Rosie Motion, Dominic Page, Alison Sheppard, Kay Harry.

Puppet making: Bethany Page, Pascale Morrison-Derbyshire, Aimee Walting, Jen Callow

Band:Rob Thorne Jnr, Ray Dizon, Robin Hames, Jonathan Mainwaring, Simon Carter.

Costume and Makeup: Kelly Ellis, Rosie Berry, Michelle Cast: Laura Phillips, Matthew Preece, James Rockney, Darcy Welch, Meredith Lewis, Jo Herco-Thomas, Sarah Bawler, Daniel Ivor Jones and David Stephens.

Barker, Sophie Langford

Running Time: Just over two and a half hours.

Review Treasures National Museum Wales by Lois Arcari

Young Critics, 3rd Act Critics and Kids in Museums volunteers are working in collaboration with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (ACNMW) http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/ on a new free project focusing on the quality and standards of exhibitions and programming at their sites across Wales. Those involved recently spent a day with the staff at the National Museum, Cardiff. The response below is from Young Critic Lois Arcari.

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Ken Skates The Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism at the launch of Treasures

The debates we have as part of our union with the Welsh National museum always prove that our combined aim – to make museum culture as interactive as possible, is one that only needs to be brought out and shared – our observations and opinions as immediate, magnetic and dynamic as with any other medium, the background stories to the exhibits on display are equally as fascinating.

Promoting museum culture as one that is inclusive, rather than exclusive, and more actively evolving than you may first think, is precisely why we’re part of these regular events.

Last week marked the start of another insight into widening public appreciation and interaction, and general museum culture; all hinged upon the new Treasures: Adventures in Archaeology exhibition.

This is the recently erected exhibit promising a bold new direction for the museum, one centred on a family orientated entertainment experience to become an inspiring gateway into museums for those unlikely to normally attend, was the promised fulfilled?

Well, that was the central topic of debate, with many insights and observations thrown into the mix.I feel that ultimately, it was mis-marketed. With unprecedented attention being given to the museum exhibit – an article on Walesonline not generally seen as par for the course – the focus was on the concept of Indiana Jones, on a new trail blazed for a new audience. The exhibit showed symptoms of both how quickly it was made, in relative time, and of the many debates behind the scenes on focus – areas such as participation offset by traditional ideas all very interesting, but not on the minds of families setting foot into the space. Unfocused seemed to be the prescriptive word, with minimal interaction – tentatively promised to be rectified – offset against rather standard pieces. The real highlights of the exhibit – a scan of the entombed mummy, and the stories behind the objects seemed to get lost in an odd traditionalism offset against a brilliantly atmospheric design.

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The objects were all interesting, but there seemed to be minimal coherence – some objects more easily appealing to adults than children, some with minimal information, others with information that was hard to access, hidden in corners, or betrayed by font, for example. Everything seemed almost annoyingly tantalising – this far and no further – emphasized by the size of the exhibition.

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In the meeting afterwards with museum staff and participants, there were many discussions about colonialism and just what the word treasures meant; to the general public, museum staff, parents and children. Whilst there was discussion of introducing an alternative way of thinking about archeology as less moral than we’d first suspect, I think that would be at a rather painful odds with the Indiana Jones theme, and that suggestion towards these ideas, rather than any preaching, would be a great way to make children feel more involved and respected and introduce a different way of thinking. With a different focus the exhibition could be wonderful – but it seems like a forced response rather than an organic commitment to criticism of museum culture, and the marketing focusing on the film seems to be playing it up rather too much, though to its credit the museum itself does seem a lot more balanced with the marketing.

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As it stands, with a discussion into some of the rich and fascinating cultures, and the ethics of archeology, the exhibit could be decent for a young fan of the time period, rather than of the franchise attached. Add in more transparency about the volunteers roles, and a chat with them, and the exhibit will be mined for its worth. With a hefty price tag attached, this seems to be a misconceived remarketing of old ideas and old pieces rather than the new push it promised, and unless a family has prepared for the day out with discussion and research or wants a new angle on a school topic, and is prepared for some hard work getting the most out of the exhibit, it seems a tad misleading.

 

 

 

The Museum Critics an insight into National Museum Cardiff by Lois Arcari

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Young Critics, 3rd Act Critics and Kids in Museums volunteers are working in partnership with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (ACNMW) http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/ on a new free project focusing on the quality and standards of exhibitions and programming at their sites across Wales. Those involved recently spent a day with the staff at the National Museum, Cardiff. We will be featuring the responses to the day from the participants over the next few days, next up Young Critic, Lois Arcari.

Death of the Author – all great works must bow to it, to be thought as of such.What about great places, prompting great memories and passions? Response breaths life to art, in quiet thought and idle conversation just as much as any great debate. The spectator as creator needs to be accepted…. are they?

This is what the Young Critics, Kids in Museums and 3rd Act Critics teamed up to discuss this previous weekend, in the beautiful National Museum, Cardiff, looking at completely contrasting exhibits to try and form a coherent narrative on why and how museums deserve to grow, with accessibility and increased open dialogue in mind.The day pointed out diversity spectacularly in both exhibits and response.

The new and hotly anticipated ‘Treasures: Adventures in Archaeology’ exhibition, with props and inspiration from the Indiana Jones franchise certainly aims to tear down any expectations of the fusty and austere in modern museums.

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Crystal Skull. Photograph © Musée du Quai Branly, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrick Gries / Valérie Torre

http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/cardiff/whatson/8641/Treasures-Adventures-in-Archaeology/

How far can one exhibit go – even with a much-loved film series behind it? It remains to be seen, debuting in January 2016  as a priced exhibition for the museum. Even cynics must admit the reaction it gets will certainly be as very interesting as it’s spectators are interested. And, as everyone shall be pleased to hear, actively sought out as well as listened to.

Luckily, the two exhibits we saw, in the fresh and present, offered a beguiling contrast, from the geology and maps of William Smith to the gleefully anarchic meditations on destruction of Ivor Davies. Practical concerns were made –  volume, fonts size, positioning, as well as the more abstract – how to make sure potentially dry subjects could prove to compel people outside of their specialism, and how the more obviously popular could lead onto the obscure, and be given equal fervour. Each were enticing for different reasons, my personal favorite the expansive Davies exhibit, hinged on a universal themes, explored in different, and all intriguing facets – the maps were harder to match up to, the direction of pull for the general public unclear, the room itself as liable, before exploration, to feel cold as calm and contemplative.          

The central humanity of each exhibit, thematically or narratively, with Smith the heroic everyman was a draw to each critic, all agreeing to it as the sometimes hidden central selling point of any exhibition, the lives behind the art  being enlightened preventing any feelings of imposition.

Discussion was ever encouraged and enlightened, the real, vested interest palpable. Museums that care as much about their audience as artists as the linear type  are destined to survive any challenges, and this day, and what was shown through it, were brilliant examples.