Tag Archives: Review

Review: Ravensong by TJ Klune by Sian Thomas

I don’t know where to begin with this book. I didn’t know where to begin after I read the first in the series, Wolfsong, so here I am all over again, hoping that I’ll be able to think of something that works and say anything that shows a fraction of what I felt while I was reading Ravensong.
I was so excited for it. This was not a secret (I don’t think it could have been, really, even if I tried with all my might)

This book had a stark difference in the way it utilised its point of view. A different story needing a different outlook is much more than understandable, and though I was excited to see how the change would play out ultimately I would realise: I love Ox and I love Wolfsong and though it would be easy for me to pick a favourite, that would never mean that Ravensong was bad – because it wasn’t. I loved it anyway, and I loved it in a different way. The thing about reading Wolfsong was that I also came to realise that I adored all the characters that were there for me to enjoy – so the book being told by a new voice was welcome, and fun, at its core.

The writing style before I remember as crisp and sharp and full of emotion, and it still was, now. It had a way of making me reflect on my own writing style; how mine is elongated and often runs in triplets and have a very obvious tendency to be verbose. It was refreshing to relive, I didn’t notice how much I had missed the style in the two years that had elapsed between books. It’s great too because, amidst the ache and the burn and the awe, there is always jokes; fun comedy in light of whatever serious situation is happening. I latched on to that, it was something I both really appreciated and could never wait to see when or where it would next pop up. TJ Klune has a talent for knowing the time and the place, and he also has a skill for creating a time and a place if he wants to, anyway.

The story was damning; I cried at least four times? At Wolfsong I’m sure it was at least six (the first time I read it, that is). The touch of tragedy but still triumphing it is always wonderful to see. That and, I don’t know, it’s a huge story and one of the biggest things about it is a loss none of the characters can control. I like a book that makes me feel a lot, so I’m not at all surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. There’s something about being able to cry at a story that’s inherently good; it talks a lot of the skill of the author and the openness of the reader. And I liked it – it makes me feel like even more of a part of the story. It was leagues more than the word intriguing can convey; I’m excited for whatever’s going to come next
adored it

I did a review of Wolfsong when I read it, about two years ago (give or take a little). I remembered feeling like I had to be the luckiest person alive when TJ Klune himself said he enjoyed it. That alone meant a lot to me. What also meant a lot to me was seeing the opening lines of it printed out in front of Ravensong.

It felt nice, first of all, to be remembered and also it felt wonderful to be included and I liked that this little Welsh group got to be seen the way it has. It felt important, and I felt very lucky all over again. It definitely made my day much more enjoyable when I saw it; the hours were a breeze and a constant grin was on my face.

In my last review, I talked about LGBT representation. I still think it’s important and I always will; Ox being openly bi was one of the many reasons I adored him. So, in the blog posts leading up to Ravensong, when I saw “unless I am explicit about a character’s heterosexuality, readers of Ravensong (or any book of mine) should assume said character is queer. Easy, right? Unless you see a dude like balls deep inside a vagina , or a woman talking about how she wants to get all up in some dude and ride him like a wooden rollercoaster, they gay. (Or, even better, they could still be doing BOTH those things because bisexuality is a thing that exists.)”, I was blown away. I was so happy. It was also great to watch this unfold as the truth, with characters embracing who they are and ones being mentioned to be aromantic – it’s refreshing to see. I hope it never, ever stops, and I hope that if I get as far into writing as TJ Klune has, I can do something even a fraction as meaningful and important with my words and my characters.

I hope the book does well, because honestly, it deserves to.

Sian Thomas

Festival of Voice 2018: My review highlights (Gemma Treharne-Foose)

2018’s Festival of Voice, produced by the Wales Millennium Centre builds on previous years’ attempts to unite communities and celebrate voice in all its forms, drawing upon Wales’ wide cultural and musical legacy. This would be my first experience of the festival and it really kicked off in style.

Over the course of a week, I’d be bowled over, discover something new and completely unexpected and leave my typical comfort zone of only watching (and reviewing) theatre. Festivals like these are a smorgasbord of new opportunities to learn something new and develop your palate for new art forms and genres of music.

We were introduced to the opening of the festival from the centre’s Artistic Director and team, before being joined by community and advocacy groups – true to the centre’s vision to be inclusive and accessible, but I did wonder how ‘accessible’ it really is that unless you are familiar with the set-up and already know that you can verify your ticket – the £8 parking ticket cost to park in the nearest car park and see a WMC show would be pretty inaccessible to most carers and people on PIPs and other benefits.

I also need to point out the ridiculous set-up of the toilets in the centre. There are disabled toilets, sure – but the two sets of heavy doors, teeny-weeny area to dry your hands and the smallest bins I’ve ever seen in my life are deeply irritating.

But I digress….enough of the nit-picking and on to the main event…

CARERS CHOIR, GIG BUDDIES AND BILLY BRAG, WMC

Underappreciated, underpaid and perhaps an unlikely group of people to assemble as a choir, the festival was opened by a multi-generational group of carers, who sang with real spirit and heart. Knowing the obstacles and challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, their positivity shone through and the audience were visibly moved by their version of ‘What a wonderful world’ and ‘Lean on me’.

After rapturous applause, it was time for the Gig Buddy crew to crash into the foyer, clutching signs, banging drums and stamping their feet. They had formed a group to protest the fact that the support they receive does not take into account the fact that they too want to access music and arts performances – and these of course fall outside the typical office hours of supporters and carers. In association with Learning Disability Wales and Hijinx Theatre Company, the protesters delivered a skit about the fact that for most people – not being able to go to gigs, movies and performances like everybody else is not only unfair but naturally they’re quite rightly pissed off about it.

This was a brilliant opportunity to showcase the ‘Gig Buddies’ initiative where volunteers are matched (via their interests) to people with additional learning needs and various disabilities who need a little extra support to access gigs and shows. Bloody brilliant idea and I’m hoping to sign up myself.

The main event for the opening of the festival was ‘Topical singer songwriter’ Billy Brag (he doesn’t like to call himself a political performer in case it puts people off!). I knew the name Billy Brag but barely any of his actual material. This would be a new experience, not least for discovering the awesomeness that was supporting artist Nadine Shah, a Tyneside lass whose basy, punky songs are accompanied by soulful vocals.

Her edgy songs draw upon current affairs, world injustices and the hurt and heartbreak of modern life. Performing songs from her 2017 album ‘Holiday Destination’, she gave a fierce and raw performance. The song Holiday Destination and its refrain ‘How you gonna sleep tonight’ is a polemical nudge and critique on the holidaymakers in Kos who complained of refugees on the island ruining their holidays.

Shah tells the crowd “We need immigration – we make food taste better, we make the place look better and we make music sound better, too!”.

Shah’s heritage is Norwegian-Pakistani, and her Northern accent and humour shines through in her work. Billy Brag is – just like Nadine Shah, a storyteller. In between his songs, he delights the audience with his insights, his banter and his stinging observations about what’s going on in the world. He is unapologetic about his views, honest about his flaws and endlessly witty about politics in general.

He skewers Trump in the finale song based upon Bob Dylan’s ‘Times they are a changin’, which was changed to ‘Times they are a changing-BACK’). He tells the audience he wrote the song in a rage in 2016 when Trump was elected. His stories and rambles include the fact that he was schooled the last time he was in Cardiff for using a plastic bottle on stage at the Tramshed. “I’m sorry…I learned from my mistake. The oceans are full of plastic and shit, we need to do something about it.” Since then he’s used a ‘Gig Buddy’ aluminium bottle.

Of the grumpy artist Morrissey, he tells us “What is happening? He’s turned into a bloody gammon!”. Brag’s songs are clever and his set is largely improvised. He plays a song after an audience member shouts out a suggestion – and his final song is the famous classic ‘A New England’.

The entire audience shouts back the lyrics and it’s electrifying. I couldn’t believe I haven’t been following this chap’s career. Where the hell have I been the last 37 years? He has a new fan in the Rhondda, that’s for sure. The opening acts in the foyer and the main concert in the Donald Gordon theatre were rebellious in spirit and sound.

LOVECRAFT (NOT THE SEX SHOP IN CARDIFF), WMC (Ffresh bar)

I don’t know where Carys Eleri has been hiding out but we all need to see more of her. I didn’t know what the show ‘Lovecraft’ was going to be about – something to with science and love, I gleaned from the flyer. But it’s so much better than the event write-up promises.

I can’t praise the producers and director of this show enough for their vision. As sets go, it’s pretty low-tech, a cabaret-style set up within Ffresh bar serves as the set and Carys is accompanied by two screens which form a kind of visual aid and powerpoint for this hilarious one-woman show. The production is a romp through the idiosyncrasies and absurdities of love. What’s the ‘science’ behind love and sex? You’ll get to find out – via Carys’ brilliant stories.

It’s outrageously honest… and completely mental. This show will especially appeal to any women in their thirties who feel the pressure and expectation that society thrusts (‘scuse the pun) upon them.

At times, this feels like you are catching up with one of your girlfriends from Carmarthen who is every bit as outrageous and filthy as you are – and you’ll love her for it. The science narrative is informative, but not the main point of the show. You’ll be drawn in to her off the wall stories, brilliant observations about her Mam (“Carys…can’t you put on a bra..?”) and the dirty and embarrassing secrets we might all experience growing up – ‘fanny gallops’, hallucinogenic trips in the back of a taxi being driven by a unicorn and waking up naked next to another girl. We’ve all been there, right?

The song ‘Tit Montage’ is the highlight of the show, perhaps of the entire festival – and in my opinion would be a credible entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.

The song ‘I brain you’ is pee-your-pants hilarious. If Carys Eleri was running for Prime Minister, I’d probably vote for her. I BEG you to see this show – its been to Edinburgh Fringe already and has attracted a steady stream of adoration from audiences at the Festival of Voice.

There is so much life left in this show – and I hope it tours again (I will be sure to gather as many of my filthy friends as I can to share the experience with). My only negative points are that I could have happily sat through another hour of it before it finished and I now want Carys Eleri to be my best friend/drinking companion even though she has no idea who the hell I am.

RHONDDA RIPS IT UP (WNO), New Theatre

After a somewhat lukewarm experience at my last opera, I wasn’t sure if I was an ‘opera person’. But anyone following the #MeToo movement, who calls themself a feminist or admires the women who took part in the recent ‘Procession’ in Cardiff to mark a hundred years since women obtained the right to vote REALLY shouldn’t miss out on this show.

Led by Emcee Lesley Garrett, this is a look back at the stuffy Victorian era and the legendary Margaret Haig (Lady Rhondda) – a politician’s daughter and activist who led the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The indomitable Margaret Haig was an outspoken radical who along with other women, was judged and ridiculed by the Asquith’s liberal government for her efforts.

Played by Madeline Shaw, Lady Rhondda is a fearless campaigner. Along with her friends Edith and Prid (played by Paula Greenwood and Meriel Andrew), the production satirises the ‘old boy network’ of both the government and society at the time and pokes fun at the uptight/prissy way in which women were expected to behave.

I had no idea opera could be this edgy or this level of hilarious. Everything from the choreography, the physical comedy of Garrett and other cast members, the originality of the songs and cheeky/camp way they are delivered is a treat for the audience.

The stand out scenes are the songs ‘My girl’s pussy’ (yes, really!) and the song about the fondant fancies, complete with all the flair and foppishness of the Edwardian music hall tradition. This is Women’s Institute crossed with #MeToo.

There are also guest appearances from the WNO community chorus (who deliver a rousing performance as fellow suffragettes) and a nod to Haig and Helen Archdale’s gay relationship, demonstrating the extent to which Lady Rhondda tore up the rule book and challenged convention, albeit discreetly. There is a telling scene in the show when Margaret Haig and her friend are on the train (with their bomb-making materials) and they overhear a man saying “Suffragettes! If that was my wife, I’d give her a darn good thrashing!”.

Queue a hilariously camp sequence with a bunch of ‘men’ thrashing each other’s behinds with rolled up newspapers in a homo-erotic fashion. Nowadays we’d call this toxic masculinity at its worst – back then, those kinds of attitudes were de rigueur.

I am no opera buff, but WNO have delivered a phenomenal tribute to Lady Rhondda and her contribution as a suffragette and business pioneer.

It was sensitive without being syrupy and witty without being cruel. Not everyone will get the satire, apparently – one audience member overheard in the loo commented she didn’t understand why ‘men were being made fun of’ and that she preferred the WNO community chorus to the production itself. For me, the main feeling I got was one of immense gratitude – that so many women like Haig faced violence, imprisonment and the scorn of society and for their dogged determination to change history for the better.

Their first victory was not a resounding success, the first bill allowing women to vote was only for women over 30 with property. There was plenty more to fight for – and with world events and pussy-grabbing presidents reminding us daily, some might say the battle is far from over. But as the legendary suffragette Emily Pankhurst once said:

“Never surrender….never give up the fight.”

GWENNO, WMC (Weston Studio)

A former member of indie band The Pipettes, Gwenno has already amassed a strong critical following and fanbase after the release of album Un Dydd Olaf in 2015 and Cornish language ‘Le Kov’ in 2018. Her dedication and tribute to Edrica Hughes at the Festival of Voice was a moving tribute to the poet and patchwork quilt artist Edrica Huws (1907-1999).

There was a packed house in the Weston Studio for the one-off performance, entirely created and composed by Gwenno, but this time with the support of a violinist and harpist (Angharad Davies and Georgia Ruth). The stage was dressed like a set – a lived-in parlour with an old-fashioned crib, a fireplace and the markers of domesticity from a time gone by.

At the foot of the large screen above the stage stood Gwenno’s mixing decks and computer, flanked by a triple harp and wooden toys – the musical set and hi-tec equipment is a curious accompaniment to the ironing board, clothes horse and lamp on stage, denoting the ordinary, humble life of Edrica. On the screen we saw vignettes of slices of history sketched and animated on the screen, accompanying the synthy electric-pop landscape being played and mixed live in front of us.

We saw suffragettes marching in 1907, weaving in and out of the war, a grimy London landscape of the humdrum existence of everyday life, love, relationships and duty stitched together with the dreamy melodies and an almost hallucinogenic quality to the music. I hadn’t known about Edrica’s work or story before. An ordinary wife and mother, she didn’t start expressing herself artistically until age 51.

She became a ‘patchwork pioneer’, breaking the rules and conventions of art and design in terms of subject, material, tone and texture to become a celebrated exhibitor and artist/poet around the world.

Animated by Tad Davies, the on-screen vignettes to not distract so much as heighten the experience for the audience and Gwenno’s gentle vocals, the poppy disco beats, baseline and meandering harp and violin are a thing of beauty.

Gwenno’s soundscape is punctuated by poetic whisperings, especially poignant and beautiful during ‘Anrhefn Pentyndod / The chaos of childhood’ and kooky and marvellous when she donned a cat mask for ‘Y Gath’ / The Cat in tribute to Edrica’s ‘Cat on an ironing board’ piece.

She is not a wild or attention-seeking performer in the sense of other unique artists (like Bjork for example) but she is completely enigmatic – a quiet genius in many senses. She creates riffs and spacey echoes using props – one song loops the sounds made by wooden toys and they are overlaid with a base-heavy disco beat.

It is weird and wonderful and strangely soothing. Edrica is a feast for the senses, the thinking person’s mind disco – and you’ll be richer for having witnessed it.

In between each song, the audience is almost deathly silent for a few seconds – not because the show is bad (because it was clearly bloody brilliant) but because they know they had witnessed something magical and weren’t sure what the rules were. Should we get up and dance? Applaud wildly? Edrica Huws broke the rules during her lifetime and Gwenno is doing the same.

5 stars 

Type of show: Music / Theatre / Opera / Performance Art / Poetry

Title: Festival of Voice Venue: Multiple Locations

Dates: 7-17 June

Produced by: Wales Millennium Centre (and partners)

Author: Gemma Treharne-Foose

Review: Laurie Black Live by Sian Thomas

Seeing Laurie Black: Live was so much fun. Straight away it was easy to tell it was a show perfect for me. Though I could sit quietly in the background and mind my business, I still felt lovingly included and seen. It began relatable and topical and brilliantly on my wavelength.

Her songs had a very specific feel to them. An almost gothic or witchy vibe (which I personally find a lot of fun; I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of aesthetics although I haven’t really lived them) that also rang with a lot of emotion I didn’t expect to find but was glad I was shown, anyway. I kept an interest in them overnight (I’ve found only really good shows do that to me. Sometimes they just end, sometimes I just go home. Other times I keep it in a corner of my mind, look it up online for a little bit longer, dedicated a little more time to finding things out about this. With this show I looked up some other music, I saw the kinds of things sold in the merch store, and I thought ‘yep. This show’s the winner’.). I’m happy to say I’ve found some new songs to listen to.

The participants portion of the show was good! I’m glad I didn’t have to do it myself and I was glad I felt alright blending into the background and just having the opportunity to watch on and see what other people thought, which was really nice! That and, it was more enjoyable watching other people have fun on stage.

The make up was great. It was glow in the dark. Which I didn’t expect to adore, but I did. I thought it was a really nice touch with the rest of the flashing lights and the way the windows of AJ’s Coffee House were blocked out. For an apocalypse show, I thought it was a nice and extravagant detail; the kind of extra mile you definitely couldn’t go if the world was really ending unless you really, really tried.

Laurie Black herself was affable and fun, definitely undeterred in her show, unstoppable in how she created laughs, a supportive and laid back atmosphere, and unquestionably a wonderful performer. It’s always nice to watch people just be themselves on stage, unafraid to swear or mess up or anything else. It was almost cathartic to watch; I wish I could have related. Although I definitely related to some other points during the show – I think those were enough.

This event was the one to mark the end of the fringe festival, so I’m pleased to say I attended to watch it go out with a bang. I’ve had an immensely wonderful time seeing all these different kinds of shows and going to all these different kinds of events. I wait with bated breath to find out what’s coming next year, and I hope I get to experience the same wonderment and awe for my third year in a row. These last two really have been something special; I’ve had fun with the people I’ve gone with and I’ve been able to see shows I wouldn’t have otherwise ever known existed.

I’m voting for Laurie Black: Live for my favourite show, this year. A close second was Camp Be Yourself. Although it will forever remain that the Open Mic Poetry Night is my all time favourite free fringe event, Laurie Black: Live was most definitely my favourite show this year. None of them left quite the lasting effect as this one had.

Sian Thomas

Review: Becoming Human, Pinocchio Retold by Sian Thomas

Seeing Becoming Human: Pinocchio Retold was an experience and a half. The show was abundantly expressive from the very beginning, and remained so the whole night. The vibe was energetic and the atmosphere was apparent and welcoming, and it felt nice to be a part of a show like that.

At first it was loud. I remember wondering whether those downstairs could hear the show and whether or not they would think it was alluring based off of how it sounded, as sound was an important factor to this play. Reminding me somewhat of a show from last year, Stories Of The Silver Tree, sound effects were so viral and also so interestingly done. By a person on the floor (who, honestly, I didn’t notice for a while. I thought it was a recording and that the leafs had amazing timing) but when I found out one person was doing all that right there in the moment, I was moved. I was impressed! The sounds were just as energetic and fun as the story and the characters, and I really did like how it was done. Clever and well executed, to say the least.

Again, the venue was lovely. I’ve got myself quite a fondness for the space above Ten Feet Tall, even if it was stuffy and warm, it still worked to create a wonderful space for a wonderful show. The stage fit the play nicely. There was such a good use of space and imagination to fill in such space where props may have been. I liked that props were hardly used. It drove home the important of the one prop that was used (a small glowing ball to represent a conscious; which I thought was very cool) and worked to inspire an audience to use their imagination even when out to see a show. I thought that was quite a sweet touch. And once more, sound. Projecting into the room nicely and always sure to have an impact. Lastly, the lighting. I like the disco ball. I really do. I’m glad it was used.

Becoming Human: Pinocchio Retold has such a great story, and a really good message. I liked the way string was used to emphasise how our lives intertwine and attach us to one another. The message of growing up and valuing those around you was lovely to see, and a good thing to actively do. Always important. Showing love and fondness I think is sweet and that message was put forward incredibly as the character searched for parental figures and found themselves and went through many changes in such a short space of time.

Lastly, a touch I did really like was the way the actresses went from the story characters (multiple at once, sometimes! A feat, if I say so myself) to people walking us through the story and commenting on the truth of the tale. All I remember from Pinocchio is that Disney covered it, and even then I don’t remember much from that. It was nice to see a rendition of the story that was more accessible and fun, made less for kids and more for people who just wanted to have a fun time.

The Fringe isn’t on for too much longer! I’m hoping that my last few plugs will do well for it, as it deserves as much attention as it gets and even more than that. http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/

Sian Thomas

Review: ‘Just Say It’ from Susan Monkton by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Just Say It by Susan Monkton is a moving exploration of how miscarriage in pregnancy affects a relationship, which evokes raw emotion.

Another gem from the Cardiff Fringe Lab, as a work in progress the star rating is more judge on the potential of the piece and judging where it is in relevance to progress at the present. This review is very much for feedback as it is for the sake of reviewing.

The tone, pace and energy of this piece in the writing by Susan Monkton and directing by the team of director Chelsey Gillard and AD Cassidy Howard-Kemp, begin really well.

I had seen this piece scratched at an event by Spilt Milk Theatre in 2017 and I remember it well – as it stood out. I knew what to expect when going in. However, this production of Just Say It is longer and had improved. Not only are we still taken on the journey, despite knowing what is going to happen (more or less), there was more humour than I remember and it also connects much more. This shows the progress on the project as well as the ability to evoke emotion.

Some of this is bound to be down to it not being a scratch and more rehearsed – but the whole team really do a good job of taking us on that journey again, step by step. The test of any story is, when it’s repeated or if the audience have knowledge of the story, does it still have the same impact. And this definitely does.

Susan Monkton’s monologue is very well acted by Monkton herself. The focus of the play follows Bella as she falls pregnant with her lovable-idiot-boyfriend, Dave. They have a fairly standard relationship until an unplanned pregnancy springs itself upon them. Bella decides to keep it. Both Bella and Dave grow from hesitancy to excitement fairly quickly, which comes across as natural for this couple. They start preparing for the baby, in what they buy for the baby and emotionally preparing for parenthood and giving birth.

This all leads very well up to the point where Bella is told that she is to have a miscarriage. The scene where she finds out is very powerful and it is a brilliant climax to a brilliant piece thus-far.

It is after this scene where the issues in the script start to emerge. It becomes repetitive at times and starts to drag a little. The exploration of the relationship is interesting. It is clear this is not about miscarriage, it’s about a relationship that deals with it. But the strength in the scripts at the moment is in the lead-up to the miscarriage and doesn’t carry over to the second half.

Bella repeats herself a lot when talking about her feelings. This can be interpreted various ways. On one hand, she is falling into a sort of depressive state. She is not upset, as she says, and not angry. She’s feeling nothing. And this is really well represented. But on the other hand, it feels pushed down our throats in the writing.

Also, the play falls a little flat in the direction at this point after the announcement of the miscarriage. It is a big contrast to before this announcement – which is good. It shouldn’t be as upbeat as earlier. However, it doesn’t level out.

I want to emphasise, the second part is not boring, it is still quite well written, directed and acted. It just doesn’t meet the high expectations we have been brought before in the play. When a play dips slightly in quality, even if it’s not bad, it can feel like you’ve gone from brilliant to awful. When in reality this play goes from brilliant to okay; enjoyable but not as unmissable as the first half. Moving forward, this is definitely the area that needs work.

Having said that, the relationship is explored further by Monkton in the script and we start to see how a couple struggles with the loss of this child that they never physically had in their hands. It feels like lost memories that weren’t ever there. This is a really interesting part of the relationship to analyse and there is certainly more here to be explored. As previously stated, there is some repetition which is taking up space from other avenues to explore for the writer.

Generally throughout the piece director Gillard and AD Howard-Kemp explore the relationship well. The use of BSL interpreter Liz May is beautiful. Not only does it work within the context of the play, but it’s so nice to see a BSL interpreter not just stood on the side signing. Of course, sometimes there’s not a way to work the BSL into the piece. But here it was done so well and inclusively. A shame that Liz May fades into the background a little in the second half. But, this is still a lot more than a lot of shows do so it is definitely a step in the right direction. There is also the argument that a lot of the interaction between Monkton and May was comedic and the second half isn’t as comedic. But either way, this was a really nice touch.

Overall, it is a very strong piece. With a few tweaks in tone and a few redrafts can become an excellent piece of theatre.

Tonight, June 12th at 6.30pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Just Say It – Presented by Susan Monkton and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by and starring Susan Monkton.
BSL Interpreter: Liz May
Director: Chelsey Gillard.
Assistant Director: Cassidy Howard-Kemp.
Producer: Rhys Denton
Running time: 45 mins approx.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: ‘Misfire’ from Old Sole Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Misfire from Old Sole Theatre Company is relevant and shows real promise to be an excellent piece of theatre.

In the interest of clarity, I’ll start this review by saying I am good friends with the director Nerida Bradley, despite what she may tell you. That said, I believe in constructive, critical response and it is what I would want as an artist myself. You can either believe me or not.

I will also be reviewing this piece based on it being an R&D production and part of the Fringe Lab at the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival. So, the star rating is given on the basis it is R&D and the review is also acting as feedback.

This piece is here to further the discussion of the main theme of the play, toxic masculinity. It also takes inspiration from the exposé of the #MeToo Movement, exposing the likes of Harvey Weinstein.

The play is a monologue set up as anti-stand-up comedy. A stand-up comedy show that goes wrong if you will. We immediately get a sense of the character’s obnoxious nature during his entrance. Jon Parry plays Jake, a stand-up comic, who enters, demanding a drink at the bar. Unsuccessful, he goes to the stage and waits for the music, ‘The Entertainer’  by Tony Clarke, to stop.

Jake then proceeds to make some terrible jokes. “Next joke… Carrie Fisher died… Princess Leia’s gone.” This just isn’t funny – but the distasteful pleasure of the joke shows us a glimpse of this characters mindset and the dry delivery from Parry enforces this well.

The great thing about this play is, from the start of the play you really have no idea what is going to happen. You have no idea what Jake is going to do.

Jon Parry does a good job of portraying the stand-up comedian, who is drunk and stoned. The highlight of the performance comes when Jake has a gun in his mouth and tells the story of a congressman, Budd Dwyer, who shot himself in the head on camera. In this we also have a double-entendre of speaking about dying. The comic doesn’t reveal whether this is dying on stage as a comedian or literally dying. But to the relief of anyone who doesn’t like death endings, like me, he doesn’t kill himself, literally. And he dies on stage at the start of the play.

The writer James Neale does a good job of covering the subject on the scale of your average guy. However, the piece often lacks vision and ambition. The feeling that the stand-up comic could do anything is good, but needs to be met with sufficient vision and structure. It also feels like the boundaries could be pushed much more. In the post-show Q&A it was clear from a few of the audience members, that the script needs work in this sense.

Structurally, the script gets going into the theme very quickly, but then dies out a little. Not completely, but the most explicit stuff comes at the start. The piece doesn’t build particularly well. We need to be building to something. This is what the piece lacks more than anything. We don’t need to know where we’re going, but need to be taken on a journey.

The language used is good and we get a really good sense of the character. There are parts of the script which are very well written. But when you’re talking about toxic masculinity, it needs to push more.

The direction for this piece is good. Jon and Nerida worked well together to portray James’ script. The messy moving around the venue – AJ’s Coffee House – works well as it feels naturalistic.

We could see a more sinister approach at times, particularly when Jake talks about stalking girls and choking his girlfriend during sex. The relaxed nature works in that it shows these things as normal to the character. But the tone is often quite relaxed and with this, these significant moments only stand out in text and not in the performance. The tone and pace of these things could be played with.

Overall, I’ve given the play a star rating of four as I feel with a bit of work, when it gets to a place where it is ready to go on stage fully, it will be a very strong show. It was certainly a strong R&D performance and exactly what the Cardiff Fringe Lab is about.

The post-show Q&A was an interesting discussion – but it definitely became clear that there is more vision and potential not being explored in the text and in the rehearsal room to come from this play.

Also, very quick note. It’s really nice to see shows that are BSL interpreted – but sometimes this can’t be arranged for whatever reason. It was nice to see an apology for this on the freesheet. The more we can normalise BSL interpretation, even if we aren’t using it, the better.

Tonight, June 12th at 7.45pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Misfire – Presented by Old Sole Theatre Company and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by James Neale.
Directed by Nerida Bradley.
Starring Jon Parry as Jake.
Poster art by Miles Rozel Brayford.
Running time: 30 mins approx with 30 min Q&A about the play and toxic masculinity following.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: Open Mic Night by Sian Thomas

The Fringe’s Open Mic Night was my favourite event last year, and it was the very same this year. Last year and this one, this event was a charming little free one; open to all those who want to share and to those who don’t and just feel like watching on. I’m glad all over again that I’ve gotten the chance to attend it, and share my work with a tightly packed room full of people who want to know what it sounds like because they know just what it feels like to write and want to share, too. It’s an event that has me perfectly in my element, enveloped by people who understand so fully what I’m feeling, and that in itself is irreplaceable.
I was lucky, I think, to have found the event during my first Fringe Festival experience last year, and to see it return and to be able to return myself was such a great feeling that there isn’t really a place in me that I can place it. I enjoy the feeling of a homey cafe and a safe atmosphere where there’s no shame in flubbing one’s words or losing one’s place or anything even remotely like that. It really drove down my nerves and calmed me while I was up there, reading out things I’d written that I’d always assumed would only ever be read in one’s (maybe even just my own) head. I had my reservations at first, also, but they were quelled much faster than I expected, and I don’t doubt in the slightest that that’s down to how supportive the mood in the cafe felt, how everyone was rooting for each other.

It was good, definitely, to watch other people get up and prepare themselves and read their own work. It was nice to be a part of that safe and supportive atmosphere and hope that someone else felt I was doing for them what they had done for me. It was nice to see the differences, too; people with one notebook, three notebooks, their phones, or no scripts at all – just them and their heads and all the words inside them. It was nice to watch the mood shift with each person’s piece or pieces. Some were funny, serious, topical, and so on. Everyone was different, and I really liked that.

The hostess, Alice Downing, was just as great this year as she was the last. This event wouldn’t be the same without her, I really believe that. So I’m glad, all over again, that she was there and the perfect person to eject support and a sense of calm into this room full of slightly apprehensive writers.

Most importantly, I had fun. I hope that everyone else did, too.

So much of the Fringe is still happening in these last five days. I myself only have two more events that I can make it to. I’m having fun, it’s been good, and I know it’ll continue to be great. http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/

Sian Thomas

Review: Camp Be Yourself by Sian Thomas

From the get go of this show, Camp Be Yourself, I saw that there was a lovely theatre space being used. I hadn’t been aware of 10 Feet Tall in the first place, nevertheless the kind of atmosphere it was hiding upstairs. A nice rustic feeling to it and it’s plush chairs, I felt like I was in for a good evening in a space so suitably equipped for creating just that. There was an atmosphere that had definitely existed since it was built and decorated in the way it was (disco ball? Rustic looking wooden furniture? Soft blue couches? Dotted around fairy lights? All of those are right up my alley) which had an impact on the feel of the show. What I had expected had been much different or what had been delivered. What I’d thought I’d be seeing was a more sombre or rather, a more serious, at least, show about growing up being oneself in the world where it feels like everything else is more important. I have a tendency to look at dates and times of shows and go, sometimes more than seeing what the show is about first. What was delivered however was so different, but still so good in that different way: two girls running a camp and preparing for a talent show while one finds a passion and the other opens up about her past and they do it in a way that unrelenting in their comedy.

The performance was lively from the very beginning, also, what with leagues of “hello campers!” And “nice! High fives!” going all around the room and making it back to the stage. I thought for a while there would be more audience participation, which lead me down the “oh NO!!!” path I’d been down recently with Fringe shows but quickly overcome, but to my relief I was allowed to sit and kick back and be shown. It was nice, I really think, to be able to watch. And it will also be nice to give them five stars based on things I saw and felt, not on things I did and joined in with. Both of these things are good in their own right, but it was really nice to experience this one after experiencing two bouts of the other.
There was a lot to pick up on, as well. Fun costumes, firstly – that, in all honestly, were exactly what I’d picture for a camp-based story. Yellow t-shirts with a white outline, jeans, those eternal trackies that are somehow always everywhere. Also, bunches and high ponytails, because yeah, of course.
There was such a good use of space and effects! I hadn’t known what the theatre space had looked like beforehand but what it was hadn’t been what I’d expected but it seemed such a good fit for the show. A semicircle(ish) arrangement of seats and a nicely black and white striped wall of the stage, a disco ball (really loved that touch) and an array of lighting choices. A number of songs used, of laughs created, of amazing jokes told.
Five stars are normally used because the book was so good it must be bought or there’s more showings of a performance and I am yelling into the internet hoping someone will take my word for it and go to that other showing. I’ve broken that rule a couple times and given one time things five stars and felt weird about that even though I enjoyed them so heartily it was unbelievable. But I don’t feel bad doing that things time! There is a second showing of Camp Be Yourself, in the very same lovely little theatre space, and I can’t recommend enough going to see it (http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/).
One last thing was that I think it’s wonderful and I think it’s important that this show was two women cracking us all up and how full the seats were, too. I really liked that. It’s nice to see women in all fields, especially comedy. They really hooked me in, that’s all I can really describe about that. I really want to put my kudos forward; I loved the two girls, the energy they had and the laughter they created. I hope the show goes on to do well!

Sian Thomas

Review: Godden And Barnes by Sian Thomas

Coming in to see this live show, to see Godden and Barnes, there was a swelling atmosphere in the Sherman Theatre foyer. A trepidation centring when the piece would begin and exactly what it would entail, because I certainly didn’t know, but I’m glad I went to find out. Gearing up, the microphone (and microphone stand) was used and quickly the height difference between  the two was staggering (and relatable: I’m short, everyone else isn’t. I’ve been told to do my fair share of things and only been able to stare up at them and stare back at the person). I remember that being the moment that I was tipped off and knew I’d be having a fun time.

Audience participation is still (and probably always will be) both spring upon me and terrifying. I’ve said this previously and I’ll probably continue to stand by it based alone on that “oh no what are they doing oh my god what’s happening oh NO” feeling that occurs very quickly. The sudden realisation that I could be up in a crowd unprepared and anxious is so frightening. Which is kind of weird, then, that this time I got up and joined in. I don’t normally do that, but it was nice to. Normally participation like this has an overwhelmingly intimidating feeling to it, but the two did a good job of deflating that tension before it could really arise. So I jumped their taped line and I ran around in a pencil skirt (a feat, if I say so myself) and I danced (ISABELLE IF YOU’RE READING: thank you SO much for being there, helping creating the Fringe, all those things too, but especially for: dancing with me in that moment. I have no idea how to dance and you saved me from what would have definitely been me embarrassing myself. Thank you).
I’m giving this show five stars in the hope that 1) it returns and 2) because it got me out of my seat and the whole time I wasn’t in it I wasn’t acutely terrified – which is also a feat, if I do say so myself.

I normally like to keep myself under wraps at any show. I have a huge preference for staying inside my own head and sorting my own thoughts to be laid out, often in a piece like this, later on in a day or so. I like watching a performance, and bookmarking in my mind how I feel about it. I have, as well, a tendency to look quite blank while I do this (I swear I was enjoying the show, I was just doing this, and I was shy about laughing too loud in the foyer that could have echoed if I’d have let loose).  I also wasn’t aware that some of my favourite jokes must be impressions but based on the noise I made when I heard an impression of Owen Wilson’s “Wow” (something I already find funny, mind you, because I’m young and know that that is a popular joke) must make it true.

The two used the space they had really well. I didn’t even know the foyer in the Sherman had a balcony that could be used in the way that they used it. It made me think that the show itself must have to be quite flexible and the placement quite malleable in order for things to work in the order that they did the night I saw how it would flow.This production was also just an hour long (another easy thing to give! Just a slice of time reserved for the laughs we all need) It felt like a lot less; I heard myself say “Oh?” When they told us they were done (the time that they meant it, though).
The Fringe will press on in good time, continuing to carry shows I’m excited to see. (http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/).

I was sorry to hear that the show will be stopped for a little while, but I’m sure enough that it’s for a good reason and will yield good results for the future. I hope that whenever the show returns, I might be able to see it again, and enjoy it all over again.

Sian Thomas

Review: Just A Few Words by Stammermouth by Sian Thomas

Yesterday I attended my first official 2018 Fringe Festival event, knowing based on last year and based on the Fringe Cafes that I would have a wonderful time – and I did. This festival already means quite a lot to me, so to be able to kick off its return again this year was a very visceral feeling that was nothing but positive. I was excited, and I was ready to go in straight away.

Just A Few Words was a show that I wanted to see because every aspect looked appealing; seemed short and sweet, seemed like the venue was in a good place, seemed like it was going to be funny with a quietly serious undertone – something I would realise later in the night the Fringe seems good at picking up. That alone was nice, a story with laughs and jokes layered thinly over something a little more hearty and gripping.

My first thought when watching the play was that there was a lot of realness to it. The talent and skill on stage was real and easily spotted; good techniques like idiosyncrasies and a swing in moods that rose the audience up and settled us back down in the right places for the mood. I value that a lot more than I think I really did; the ability to really touch my heart with a script and a practiced performance rather than having it just be “oh, I saw a play.”.

A really fun medium was used, too! One I haven’t experienced before. The Fringe must do this well, too, as I have fond memories of a fun medium used in Stories Of The Silver Tree from last year. This one, rather than audio, was cards. Things the audience could read, that played well as jokes and dialogue and what felt like a whole other character. It was different in a way that suits the Festival well; new and upcoming and hopefully does well for itself. An interesting take like this deserves to go further than what was our little theatre and a charmingly mismatched set of chairs and church pews. There was also audience participation! Which was sprung on me and terrifying (two things it always seems to be), but as it was pushed more and more I got a little more into it (and a lot more thankful for whoever was more confident than me and could lead me into it). I never expect audience participation to be singing, also, but there we all were: chiming in and harmonising and then some. The show had a nice runtime (just an hour! An easy thing to give) which made me see how the Fringe isn’t demanding of its guests. Everything is lax, and feels safe. The atmosphere at these events always feels good, and I always feel a little bit more included and integrated into the theatre scene when I go, so I’m excited to keep going! All in all, the evening had a wonderful vibe to it. A good feeling of artsy-ness and a good balance between safety and trying boundaries. After all, the story seemed to show that: trying fervently to say ‘I love you’ when the stammer itself prevents that and it’s easier to say nothing or to talk how you already know to.

I had fun, at the end of the day. I really did enjoy myself there. I know these reviews are important because feedback always is and I cannot hammer home hard enough that my feedback is positive and I hope with so much of my heart that these kind of plays and these kind of events never worm their way out of our lives. They’re important, and they make me happy. I’m giving it five stars, and I don’t think that’s a surprise.

There are so many more events coming over the two week period of the Fringe Festival, and I’m already excited for so many of them now my own attendance of it has finally truly kicked off! My next will be Live Show #1, at the Sherman Theatre, and I’m looking forward to it and going in with high hopes I don’t think will be dashed any time soon!

http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/ 

Sian Thomas