As a huge fan of Eddie Ladd, Deborah Light and Gwyn Emberton, I have been excited to see Caitlin for a long time – missing the chance when it came to London, my visit to Brecon happily coincided with their Welsh tour.
Directed by Light and choreographed and performed by Emberton and Ladd, the story of the piece is based upon the poet Dylan Thomas’s wife, Caitlin, her turbulent life with the Swansea celebrity and her alcoholism beginning before and continuing after his death.
Set out in a circle of chairs, the story unfolds before us as an AA meeting but the words are simple sentences and the rest purely physical. The chairs soon became metaphors and symbolism for lovers, baby chairs and Thomas’s gradual success until his death where he (literally) falls from grace.
I do feel slightly biased in the fact that these three dancers are such huge inspirations to me, but I couldn’t express how fluid and creative the movement were. Times where you could only imagine pain and impact of the body seemed so gentle and as if they did not hurt the performers was astounding. And they used every bit of space and every chair. It was a wonderful take on Caitlin’s life.
My only argument would be that I wanted more of the physicality and less of the chairs. While I completely understood the reasons behind the chairs, as a fan I just wanted more – perhaps that’s just me being greedy!
To accompany, the music was interesting, with no social/cultural significance but only to heighten the movement. And no particular theatrical lighting, giving the room a naturalistic feel rather than something created for theatrical purpose.
Caitlin, as all of Light, Ladd and Embertons work as a group and as individuals is a triumph. A beautiful representation of love, addiction and pain.
Directed by Deborah Light
Devised with and performed by Eddie Ladd and Gwyn Emberton
Sound by Siôn Orgon
Costumes by Neil Davies
Images by Warren Orchard
First things first, let’s get one thing clear – I am a steadfast ‘Rent Head’ and after this show – will remain so probably for the rest of my life and I make no apologies for this.
That being said, it’s been a whole 19 years since I was wowed (age 17 – yikes) by Jonathan Larson’s rock opera for a modern age. I wasn’t sure if the years had been kind to this production – would I even like it anymore? The show’s UK tour marks the 20th anniversary of the show.
Rent may have been billed as a parable of the modern age (inspired by Puccini’s opera La bohème), but it was also a snapshot of the 90s era, too: the cusp of the digital revolution, the internet age, the crude expansion of gentrification or ‘hipsterfication’ of previously bohemian neighbourhoods, the effects of AIDS on young communities following the 80s epidemic and scare stories. Maybe it would have lost some of it’s relevance? I had my reservations.
Back in 1998 at Shaftesbury Theatre in London, Rent was still very much in it’s infancy and was at the peak of it’s popularity, having won a shower of critical acclaim stateside (Pulitzer drama prize,four Tony awards, six Drama desk Awards, ‘Best Musical’ Awards and an Obie Award).
In ‘98, this was a show unlike anything else I had seen before. When I last saw it. I was an idiot teenager with a questionable taste in ridiculous infantile men. By the time I emerged from that theatre though, it shifted my view of the world.
But suddenly, my childish attempts to write poetry suddenly had context and purpose. I too wanted to dance on the table wearing spandex and hang from poles singing at the top of my voice like Mimi Marquez, go on protests like Maureen and befriend drag queens just like Angel Schunard.
In fact I did all of things…even though I couldn’t legitimately call myself a bohemian due to my love for global coffee chains. But even so – it didn’t even matter that my poetry was shit! I loved the way Jonathan Larson had pushed boundaries in the theatre world. I even went on to study Theatre and Media Drama and found my own little theatre circle…and my battered Rent CD (original Broadway cast recording) has accompanied me on all my journeys around the world since my 17th birthday.
So how to go about fairly reviewing a show that I have such a strong personal attachment to?
It may have been 19 years since I last saw Rent, but I can certainly see the differences (and improvements).
Lee Proud’s choreography was electric (fans of La Vie Boheme will love the table and chair dance), Angel’s acrobatic dance routine and of course the memorable ‘Tango Maureen’ – better and edgier than I remember at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Anna Fleischle’s set design includes multiple scaffolding layers on all sides and there nice touches – projecting Mark’s film on an old sheet, a trapeze, a pole, moving structures as vehicles for the characters, cages during the song ‘Contact’ – Maureen’s hilarious costume surprise during her protest song.
Rent is centred around a group of young struggling artists in New York’s East Village – they are fighting the property expansion and development which threatens to take over their performance space and remain true to their artforms and to themselves. I know how this sounds! And yes – over the years Rent’s edgy style (and way of incorporating social commentary into a musical) has been mercilessly parodied and skewered by the likes of Team America.
And yet! There are so many layers to unwrap and musical styles to bask in throughout this show…and try as I might even all these years later after seeing the first show in 1998, I couldn’t get through the first three songs without ruining my mascara and blubbing (I also snorted out loud…in front of some minor Welsh celebs in the audience. Oh well!)
It’s sometimes a mistake to get so accustomed to an original cast recording that you can’t imagine anyone else singing those parts. All these years, I had no idea I was loving the voice of someone who would later become the voice of a Disney character (Idina Menzel, the original cast member for ‘Maureen’ went on to become the voice of Elsa, much to the annoyance of parents worldwide who had to listen to ‘Let it go’ 1,000 times a day).
I wasn’t sure how Lucie Jones (an X-Factor contestant – pah!) would handle the role of Maureen. And I was entirely wrong to pre-judge her due to my dislike of the X-Factor because not only did Lucie Jones absolutely SLAY the role of Maureen, she brought out even more of a kooky side to her (and single-handedly inspired me to lose three stone so I can look as amazing as she did in that body stocking! Wow).
Ryan O’Gorman’s sweet portrayal of Collins was beautiful – and his silky baritone vocals not only matched the calibre of the broadway version of Rent but perhaps even went one step beyond it.
The interaction between Leyton Williams (who previously had the title role of London’s Billy Elliot) as the lovely Angel and Collins was a joy to witness – and Layton brought a whole new talent to Angel’s ‘Today for you, tomorrow for me’ routine with astonishing leaps, spins and flips….and all in outrageous heels and a cloak coat.
You might think Jonathan Larson’s energy and optimism in the music and lyrics may come across as syrupy and hammy….but lord knows we need this more in 2017 than we did in 1996 when Rent opened.
For me Rent’s underlying sadness is that for all it’s popularity and influence, writer/composer Jonathan Larson’s early death (age 35) meant that he never got to see any of the success and joy that this musical has brought to people over the last 20 years.
Even all these years later, Larson ‘s story remains relevant and engaging for modern audiences. We are what we own. We’re knee-deep in a culture of mindless McJobs and as Mark and Roger sing: ‘We’re living in America…leave your conscience at the tone’. In the age of deportations and walls and blind gun laws (let along the way the tide is turning against LGBTQ communities), I really do question humanity sometimes.
I don’t know how many terms Donald Trump has or how many years of damage our current generation has ahead of them, but though it all I’ll still listen that old Rent CD of mine and remind myself that ‘We’re Okay’.
Bruce Guthrie’s production and Cardiff’s warm and inviting reception to Rent’s songs show me that there are still good people in the world. And I know this because all of them were mooing, crying, laughing and on their feet by my side at the end.
I’m definitely not leaving it another 19 years before I see this show again!
Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is one of the greatest pinnacles of intellectual science-fiction and cult fan-base. It is material that has passion from both sophisticated movie analyzers and the enthusiastic nerds that wear the t-shirts. It popularity and longevity has been more than proved so it is only natural that an English speaking studio would seek to adapt it.
The question of Ghost in the Shell has always been about the progress of technology and how that will effect humanity. What is the line or organic and the manufactured for the living?
You shouldn’t always have to compare one movie to another, you don’t need to compare 2001: A Space Odyssey to Star Wars, however you do need to compare the original Oldboy the the remake, because it has the same name and tells the same story. But how much? You also shouldn’t want the exact replica, because then it’s just a waste of time. With a remake of any sort, you need something that understands the material but tells it in it’s own unique way.
Director Rupert Sanders (who also made Snow White and the Huntsman) has a mastery of creating extremely good looking movies. He and his team have captured the world of the source material with the bright vibrant lights of all the advertisements, the dark shadows of the alleyways and the intricate as-well as organic look to the technology.
Being that it’s source material is Japanese the decision was made to incorporate a lot of Japanese aesthetics and cast members into this American adaptation. It comes off odd, I don’t know whether this actually takes place in Japan or whether or not there’s just some big cultural merging that has happened over the years.
Scarlett Johansson as the Major is different from what people are use to. She is more expressive and vulnerable, but that’s because her origin is changed (I’ll forgo that explanation). However she is still stern and commanding, can clearly combat a threat in either hand-to-hand or gunfire.
This is not a straight remake of the original, it is more like a channeling. It takes moments and set-pieces from the original and tells an altered story with it. You will recognise situations an images, but their place and context has change or altered.
The original movie was able to have loads of detail within it at times to explain certain elements of how the world works, but it also allowed other moments where it left it to interpretation original had blank spaces, this over explains.Rarely does it leave moments of ambiguity, this is more like a traditional Hollywood movie with ensuring all the questions are answered.
Is this still Ghost in the Shell? Yes, this is the world and it asks similar questions. It is not as unique or as haunting as the original but then it’s not trying to be a straight adaptation of it anyway. This is one of the best looking movies out right now and probably will be for awhile. It will also make you ask questions, not super deep questions that you can find in other Science fiction material, but their still worthwhile questions and all while being enveloped in a luscious conceived and realized world.
Over at Sadler’s Wells we were taken into a smaller studio to the side of the usual theatre. This venue was very welcoming and intimate which I thought was ideal for the dance come performance arts pieces.
Both pieces were conceived by Graham Adel noted for his work challenging the social norm and focussing on people.
First half of the show was a piece called Gender F**k (er). Featuring one woman, Keren Rosenberg, the 50mins performance aimed to cross the barriers of gender. A relatively slow piece, Rosenberg transforms her body from masculine to famine throughout with astonishing movement and physical change. There are times where clothing or props are used to help create these different ideas but the transformations are fluid and at times mixed showing stereotyped differences but also highlighting realistic opinions of little difference .
Very adult in its content, it is quite raw and almost hypnotic as Rosenberg manages to fill the space with her movement.
The second half saw Dan Daw in On One Condition. The set was a like a above view / blueprint version of his family home giving it anonymity but also taking away any emotional ties. The piece shows his life in a snapshot with short spoken tales and movement to catchy music.
Daw has a disability that affects his movement but uses this to create beautiful images and movement highlighting a key message in the piece about not letting things stop you in your dream and the ability for everyone to do anything. It isn’t a hindrance but actually inspiration and used to its advantage.
He’s also very comical, not only poking fun at himself and at his disability but wider humour in satire of dance themes and genres. What I loved so much about this piece was the sheer intelligence in the concept and creation but also the honesty.
Two very different pieces, it was interesting to have a mixture of concepts and the clever ways both Graham and Dan Daw create a narrative; sending out vital messages about today’s society.
Please don’t misunderstand me when I say that Junkyard: A New Musical is a load of rubbish. It is by no means of poor quality, lacking in characterisation, or short on story. I am actually making reference to the dynamic and inventive set. It is made (almost entirely) of waste material: planks of wood, old tyres, thick blue twine. It is a representation of the ‘Adventure Playground’, an idea pioneered in the 1960s and ‘70s. It provided a space for kids to call their own, where they could embrace risk and unleash their creativity.
Writer and director Jack Thorne has made this the setting for his latest production, having been inspired by his father, Mick. As one of the first play leaders at an adventure playground in Bristol, Thorne pays tribute to him in the character of Rick. Played by Calum Callaghan, Rick is a laid-back, rather soft man who, nevertheless, has a big heart. He wants to build a ‘Junk Playground’ in Bristol and hopes to get a group of teenagers involved in the process. However, this rowdy group of misfits prove more challenging than expected. What follows is a tragi-comic story as the lives of these young people become inextricably entwined in the building of this unconventional structure.
Leading this group of kids is Fiz, an outspoken and confident young lady played to perfection by Erin Doherty. Doherty is a delight to watch. Utterly captivating, she makes Fiz an instantly loveable personality. Full of humour and expressive action, Doherty allows just the right amount of vulnerability to seep through. Her performance is enhanced by an incredibly strong supporting cast. Each brings such life and vitality to their characters that one could easily mistake this for a social documentary. I recognise in the passionate anger of Ginger (Josef Davies), the stuttering speech of Talc (Enyi Okoronkwo), and the crude insults of Higgy (Jack Riddiford), traits not only from my own teenage years but personalities that I came across during my own time as a (not very good) youth worker.
It is testament to the performances and quality of writing that one looks upon this as a marvellous work of social commentary. Yet what enhances this production to make it, in my opinion, a five-star play is the effective use of lighting and music. The opening sequence, repeated later in the play, is mesmerising. The use of torches and lighters immediately captures your attention and from then on, you are hooked. Stage-side throughout is a live band; always a winner in my book, but what makes this particular piece of musical theatre stand out is its intriguing blend of speech and lyrics. It uses a similar technique to the sung verbatim in London Road, yet here it is largely the internal thoughts and emotions of the characters that are sung as part of a more traditional narrative script.
There is plenty of humour in Junkyard. Some people may find the language a bit too crude or near-the-knuckle at times. There is also quite a lot of swearing. Again, some people might find this excessive. But I think it adds real charm to the whole thing. Its sense of realism cannot be questioned. It is a really immersive piece of theatre. It is challenging too. It makes you reconsider the very notion of what a playground is, how it is treated, and who it’s for.
Junkyards may be a load of rubbish, but this one is a work of art.
Based in Brixton, Custody, created by Urban Wolf and written by Tom Wainwright tells the fictional tale of a young black man’s death in police hands. As we have seen over the years of news reports with the similar headline but we only see the headline as voyeurs. This production takes the heart and soul behind these and gives them a face in a 2 year play by play of how the family of this fictional yet very real character process through this tragic event.
There’s moments of comedy for light relief, a little of black humour and satire of stereotypes but also such fantastic theatricality.
While there is music, the performers create soundscapes through sound and words. They build this into themselves physically and while it would seem a low physical production, you can tell it takes much hard work and perfection to get all of the timing and embodiment just right.
And the set is fantastic. Move able, dark and deep to bright, white and clinical. We never meet Brian he is spoken to as if he was there but we essentially feel his presence in the performers emotions. And these emotions are natural and relatable.
Attention to detail is key – the weight of Brian’s memory is represented by bags that each performer wears, very little are these let go until they let go of him.
Custody is everything you want in a production, it has heart, theatricality and sends a message.
Power Rangers is a franchise that has lasted because it has a tried and tested formula that works. Teenagers get superpower as well as colorful outfits and must defend the earth (or neighborhood) from a galactic threat that then escalates to giant monster vs giant robot.
There have been other movies before, but none have done that well. Now it seems that every studio needs a big franchise under their belt so why not this one?
Kicking off everything is a flashback to prehistoric Earth where colorful warriors lay defeated from a battle, when their armor disintegrates it reveals them to be aliens. One of them stands victorious over the others, this one is named Rita, the last one living, Zordon (Bryan Cranston) orders a meteor to hit earth and buries five colorful coins until the right people can claim them. Cut to present time where the land has become the small town of Angel Grove.
In the town we see a young man named Jason (Dacre Montgomery) attempting a prank that involves the school mascot cow, this goes awry and he is then sentenced to school on Saturday’s just so he can graduate. In this same class there is Billy (RJ Cyler) a possibly autistic kid that is the motormouth and juxtaposes the others with his offbeat ways (probably my favorite). Kimbery (Naomi Scott) a former popular girl but is now in-class and unfriended because she sent a picture and punched out a popular boys tooth (they put it back), later they run into Rini (Becky G) a girl who wander around pretty much and isn’t interested in getting to know the gang, then there’s Zack (Ludi Lin) who also wanders around but is also crazy (cause he tells us so) and more invites himself.
Eventually they do uncover the coins and they get powers and unlock other things and must face the threat, yadda-yadda-yadda.
Clearly the most effort has gone into adding depth to these teenage characters, giving them backstory and trauma and some kind of adversity to tackle. They are all part of a different ethnicity which adds diversity and is more like humanity coming together rather than mostly white people and the token minority.
The thing about all of this is that this is Power Rangers (try saying it out loud). This is by its nature corny, colorful and lighthearted. So they keep in some of the quips and color but when they introduce the dark, edgy elements it doesn’t mesh. A comedic scene can play out and it’s fine, however a dark scene can be pulled-off well but becomes that just happened in a movie where the cheesy things happened it’s like we’re in another movie. Good movies have a theme and tone consistent throughout, they establish if this is for children, teenagers or adults and plays to the kind of mood for said audience. This comes off more unhinged.
Rita Repulsa is the original big villain in the first season of Power Rangers. Here she is given a now look but still taking ques from the original (mostly in the staff) and reworked to be more threatening. The main draw is Elizabeth Banks who decides to go all out in performing her as well as clearly having a lot of fun. It’s hammy, but in a controlled way.
This movie has everything that fans of Power Rangers will expect, but may be not how they’re used to getting it. But even then, does this movie work? It works well enough, it is self aware enough to point out some more obvious cliches and pokes fun of itself enough while clearly being enthusiastic over the source material. For a summer blockbuster for kids and teenagers this is a standard plot with good intention of having a diverse cast. It will do no harm and there are moments where people will be entertained.
In The Yard, this quaint and interesting theatre in a industrial state is flooded in red lighting, with two ladies eating popcorn, 3D glasses on and sat comfortably in a cut out piece of staging.
The music is ominous and leads us not to expect what we will witness the next hour or so.
Basic in its approach, Big Guns is filled with lighting changes from house lights, the red flooding, darkness and torches. The ominous music constantly giving us this uneasy feeling.
The performers perform a hour long duologue which aims to delve into the violence, danger and fear of every day, this increasing in today’s society. And while this is essentially a duologue, I was dubious a few minutes in as to whether this was all there was and was it worth it.
But somehow, the way the performers brought the stories, the thoughts, the emotions, the sense of fear was well done and I increasingly felt uneasy and a little scared of my walk home.
With recent attacks in London, daily negative news on our television screens and newspapers, the presence of social media ever apparent, the narrative hit the nail on the head and summed up our ever increasing danger.
Big Guns is certainly an interesting piece of theatre with an unusual approach and interesting set, lights and sound.
Back again to The Hope which is always full of quintessential good writing and interesting drama.
Kicked In The Sh*tter is by Leon Fleming and directed by Scott Le Crass who are known for Sid which previously played at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff . The play aims to look at the welfare state, at mental health, the two coinciding and in between this, relationships and trying to live.
The production is ambiguous and simple in its attire – Fleming notes this in the programme as making the narrative be relatable and able to be placed anywhere but also to not avoid drawing attention from the storyline. And this all works well – a lot of productions at the moment are adhering to this and it is welcomed when a lot of productions think that special effects and pomp and circumstance is needed to make an impact. While as a theatre creator myself, these are all aspects that I like to explore, something so realistic and relatable does not need such accessories if it is good writing.
The performers of course do a great job – switching from their younger days to current day, they manage to change their approach to show the distinction. The fact that they bounce off each other works well for a brother and sister relationship and when emotion is needed, awkwardness, a sense of struggling to help or accept help, we can relate to how they portray these.
A weird and subtle addition that I really liked was the stage movement – the sister does this always, with the brother watching, adhering to the essence that she has been left all responsibility. Subtle and small but I loved the attention to detail.
Despite all these good points, it was a good piece of theatre and I enjoyed watching but it did not astound me. But I cannot understand why. The elements were all there and Kicked in The Sh*tter should definitely been seen, if not only to be entertained but informed in the issues highlighted… there was just a spark that was missing for me.
Again, The Royal Court does nothing but astound us with its epic writing and unique staging.
A profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone, written and directed by Debbie Tucker Green sees three relationships, intertwined and the love, passion, hate and pain that comes with being with someone.
What The Royal Court is very good at doing is by not masking the fantastic writing with bells and whistles. Set a little taller than us, the action happens around three edges of the squared room, where the performers move from side to side, from story to story – us being on chairs that rotate giving us the sense of choice as to whether we engage in stories that feel so private.
The performers are phenomenal – with such fantastic and funny writing they are open to exploration of feelings and expression and it feels very natural, very at home and pulls at our heart strings and our emotions. We relate to the stories and relate to the characters, their emotions and circumstances. And it is evident that the performers are invested in their characters – not one break of it, not one slip, and when not the initial focus, their characters continue out of the spotlight.
Another triumph for The Royal Court- another fantastically written piece executed to perfection.
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