A BSL Captioned video review of Contractions by Deafinitely Theatre. Reviewed by Stephanie Back.
As I made my way to the Theatre on a dark and wet November evening I was unaware of the theatrical experience that is Wait Untill Dark would have on my walk home – in darkness…..
WAIT UNTIL DARK is a cautionary tale set in the mid 1960s. About a young photographer (Sam) who in agreeing to assist a fellow passenger on an aircarft flight from Amsterdam sets in motion a chain of events that will affect his household in a way he could not fore tell nor indeed understand.
Human beings are either able to embrace darkness or have an inate fear of it. There is something about the isolation of being in the dark which enduces our inner fears of the things we cannot see or understand.
This story centres on Susy the newly married wife of Sam. Susy is blind and learning to live her life in darkness following an accident.
As the story unfolds we watch as a small gang of vilains are trying to discover the whereabouts of a missing doll which has been used as a carrier for drugs.
The gang mistakenly believable Susy knows the whereabouts of the doll although is unaware of its value. They set in motion an elaborate plan to retrieve the doll by deception and fear.
Using a tried and tested method of operation the gang gain access to the basement flat and conduct their search with the assistance of Susy who now believes her husband is in danger and if the doll is discovered in his possession he maybe under suspicion of a murder of the woman who originally asked him to take care of the doll.
Despite her blindness Susy soon becomes aware of what is happening as she hears and senses the strange behaviour of the men and is suspicious of their real motives.
With the assistance of her neighbours daughter she sets out to change the power balance to her advantage and to keep herself alive until her husband can get home.
Although set in the 1960s this story could have taken place at any time and in any context and is the stuff that good thrillers are made of.
All the action takes place in a basement flat and the set design was true to the time period in which it was set. A mention must be made of the use of the stair case and we can only commend the cast on their fitness levels as they negotiated the stairs all evening.
Katrina Jones portrayal of Susy was outstanding, a smart woman, in love with her husband and astutely aware of her surroundings. Indeed it was only at the curtain call that it entered my mind that Jones was actually blind.
Shannon Rewcroft gave an amazing performance as Gloria (age 12), so much so that it became believable that she was 12.
The gentlemen of the cast brought the play to life and Tim Treloar’s performance as the gang mastermind ‘Roat’ sent a shiver up the spine.
The whole atmosphere of the play hinged on the set design, lighting and sound and to this end I must commend David Woodhead, Chris Withers and Giles Thomas for bringing to the stage the visual and audio experience that left us all wanting more.
During the final act, as the story reached it climax, the effects on stage not only heightened the scenses of the audience but pulled them further into the action that was taking place in front of their eyes and the tension was almost tangible.
Playwright Frederick Knott’s (1916-2002) legacy to the theatre was believable drama where he set the scene and delivered a thriller that has stood the test of time.
Director Alistair Whatley gave us an evening of sheer pleasure and this amazing cast brought the play to life to create an unforgettable evening of thrilling theatre at its best.
WAIT UNTIL DARK plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;
Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 November at 7.30pm
On Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday there are performances at 2.30pm.
For further details about the show or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889.
(4 / 5)
In the brick theatre of the Bikeshed, we are separated into singular seating, correspondent to our numbered headphones. Instantly we are dubious of what is about to happen especially when you end up in the front row and your guest is right at the back.
The only other things in the room apart from us spaced out is a large projection screen and a lectern. The projection screen acts as our welcome party before we are delved into sheer darkness.
Fiction sees us travel through a world of imagination and suggestion. Being in pure darkness, we feel vulnerable and open to the elements. Therefore sounds effect us more than normal, we do not feel as safe as we normally would and suddenly there are voices describing and taking you through an almost apocalyptic world and story.
One hour of this would, from the outside, seem tiresome but somehow the content of the narrative and what we create in our mind keeps the entire experience interesting and new.
The wonderful thing about this event is that while the narrative is the same, our own minds create a world that would be different to the next person. An uncertainty of whether the person speaking is sat next to you or not – yet you still do not reach out and move despite a 95% assurance it’s all coming from the headphones.
Fiction is very clever, intense and very simple, yet brilliantly executed. Such a clever experience is very unique and totally worth undertaking.
The third part in the holy trinity of dynamic duo Rachel O’Riordan & Gary Owen’s co-productions, and the jewel in their collaborative crown, is their adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, seamlessly updated from pre-Revolution Russia to Thatcherian Pembrokeshire.
Centring on a family of wealthy landowners just as their luck and lucre begin to dwindle, the updated Cherry Orchard follows the return of boozy, bombastic matriarch Rainey to her childhood home mere days before it’s to be sold at auction. Her reappearance heralds an era of chaos, confusion and uncertainty, not just in her personal relationships but in creating a complex and combustible legal situation that threatens the stability of her nearest and dearest. Over all hangs the spectre of Mrs Thatcher, promising the working-class freedom with one hand, and mass unemployment with the other.
Rachel O’Riordan deftly directs the excellent ensemble, expertly exhuming the characters’ inner demons in a way that is interesting and realistic, but not clumsy or banal – a tricky line to navigate. Gary Owen adds heart and humour in his adaptation of Chekhov’s play; Owen’s version is not just more accessible than its source, but often improves on the original through its use of language, and its inclusion of Gothic undertones (spectral trains and ghostly children appear infrequently). O’Riordan and Owen work in tandem to ensure that we not only know these characters as well as our own families by the close of play, but that there are still myriad mysteries to uncover about the complex cast left after the curtain (metaphorically) falls.
The cast itself capably carries a modern audience through the dual layers of antiquity: first, to the 1980s, which have evolved into a sort of nostalgic Eden in pop culture thanks to the influence of Stranger Things, Stephen King’s It, and Guardians of the Galaxy to name but a few; and secondly, to the chequered past of Chekhov’s turn of the (20th) century Russia.
The linchpin of the piece is Denise Black’s winning, wine-soaked wonder Rainey, sauntering through life with a perpetual cigarette/ alcohol combination in hand. Her brash bravado and devil-may-care allure masterfully conceals the pain of her young son’s death, and the guilt she feels at her (careless, not calculated) part in his passing. A role that could easily slide into caricature is rendered relatable, realistic, and raw courtesy of Black’s amazing acting.
Matthew Bulgo excels as Lewis, a relatable downtrodden everyman who slowly sheds his skin to reveal a treacherous snake beneath. His cheerful ordinariness in the first act becomes tainted by the insidiousness of his ultimate decision, and the moment in which he strides around Rainey’s house proclaiming ‘these are my floors’ is particularly haunting.
A star-making turn by Alexandria Riley as Dottie gives the production a bold, beating heart. She is snarky, sarcastic, self-assured and frequently takes her wealthy employers down a peg with her biting insight about their whiny, work-shy ways. Although Riley injects a grounded grumpiness to the family’s affluent antics, she revels in revealing the hidden, hurt soul behind the bolshy brashness. Her relationship with Rainey is truly touching, and anchors the action with emotion – more than Rainey ever shows her other daughters.
Speaking of which, Hedydd Dylan and Morfydd Clark cleverly act as clear counterparts to one another – Dylan is Valerie, treading a delicate line as the exasperated, underrated eldest (adopted) daughter of Rainey. Although she often seems the coldest and most clinical of the bunch, chinks in her armour gradually appear, revealing a deep need to be loved by Rainey that the object of her desire – tragically – cannot fulfil. Clark is Anya, Rainey’s youngest (and only) biological daughter. Anya is the complete opposite of the uptight Valerie – free-spirited, defiant and romantically adventurous (whereas Valerie pins her romantic future on a friend of the family who’s been there all her life). Clark does a lot of heavy lifting with lyrical ease; as her character has the most monologues, she often has to wax poetic about the heady nostalgia of the past – she is the chronicler of the piece, the notary of nostalgia who ensures no-one forgets how precious the eponymous orchard is to the family: as a symbol, a cipher, and, ultimately, a swan song.
Richard Mylan plays Ceri, Anya’s former A-Level tutor with whom she reunites and (impulsively) romances, despite the fact that Anya has a stable, loving (and ostensibly rich) girlfriend back in Uni. Mylan plays Ceri with a potent combination of socialist vigour and musical snobbery that would make millennial hipsters blush. He probably has ‘Disaffected Youth’ tattooed in his soul, and he’s clearly relishing every second of acting like Sid Vicious and Michael Sheen’s lovechild. From the second he struts onto the stage clad in black from his boots to his leather-jacket and era-appropriate mop-top, you know exactly the kind of guy he is. Except you don’t, because halfway through the play, after denouncing once-beloved bands for signing to a label and selling out to ‘The Man’™, he abruptly announces his long-held desire to start his own record label, cheerfully (and obliviously) selling out in the exactly the way he just condemned.
My only disappointment in the adaptation of characters was that of Gabriel. Despite being thoughtfully and subtly portrayed by Simon Armstrong, his translation from Chekhov to this play was the only one which fell flat for me. In both he represents the laziness of the wealthy who don’t need to work to live – and Gabriel’s news of a (potentially fraudulent) career choice is poorly received by his relatives, and his failure seems inevitable However, the tragedy of Chekhov’s Gabriel was that he spoke a lot of sense, despite the fact that his relatives often shushed him mid-maxim. They find him annoying, we find him insightful. In this adaptation, Gabriel is demoted to doddery window dressing, and denied the musings his original counterpart was given in spades.
I had the pleasure of being on the post-show discussion panel on 24th October; led by Timothy Howe, the Sherman Theatre’s resident Communities and Engagement Coordinator, the panel consisted of Gary Owen himself, Dr Tristan Hughes (a senior lecturer in Literature at Cardiff University), and myself. I was there to represent Law and Literature, a field of study which boasts two complementary strands of thought: firstly, Law in Literature, which looks at how law is portrayed in literary texts; and secondly Law as Literature, in which legal texts are analysed using literary tools of interpretation. The Law and Literature module at Cardiff School of Law and Politics, led by Professors John Harrington and Ambreena Manji, have been linked up with the Sherman Theatre since 2016, incorporating their productions of Love Lies and Taxidermy, and now the Cherry Orchard, into the module over the last two years, offering a fantastic opportunity for students to not only study the texts, but see them performed live – and starting off discussions as to the parallels between performing law and performing theatre.
The post-show panel discussion was a hoot! Gothic sensibilities were touched on, Chekhov’s ghost was invoked, and new terms were coined – ‘melancomedy’, i.e. melancholy comedy, rather than a comedy about melons. One of the topics discussed was the evocative use of sound and imagery in the play; for me, the most striking image was the doorway from the house – dual monoliths illuminated from within by an afterlife-inspired white light. It was as if the living room from Roseanne led out into the stairway to heaven in A Matter of Life and Death. Juxtaposing the homely with the heavenly was an inspired piece of stage production, and gave the play an almost supernatural quality that was only enhanced by the occasional appearance of the spiritual presences mentioned above. Tristan and I exchanged Gothic interpretations of the play, and he felt that the most striking moment of the play was the haunting sound of the siren that heralded war with Argentina. A similarly chilling noise was the sound of the cherry orchard being chopped down offstage, the axe cutting into wood with a visceral thud akin to the sound of breaking bones and severed flesh, as if being murdered – very Gothic indeed.
Looking at the play using the lens of Law and Literature allows the legal aspects to shine under literary interpretation and vice versa. It was fascinating to watch how the play represents lots of different aspects of law: land law, family law (particularly adoption law), and contracts. I can assure you from experience that land law is one of the driest, dullest and yet most important and practical facets of the entire legal system. Memories of studying it at undergrad bring flashbacks of long, lethargic legal spiel, volumes upon volumes; it certainly felt like I was reading them in perpetuity. But the Cherry Orchard, in bringing complex legal issues like land law into the context of characters you care for and empathise with, was a paragon of Law in Literature – it represented the legal (and political) issues of the day, making them relatable and understandable, as well as informing us of the legal consequences through characters whose futures we grew to worry about.
There were doubles a go-go in this show (of particular interest to my Doppelganger-centric PhD). For a start, Dottie, Ceri and Lewis acted as the lower-class literary foils to the upper-class Rainey and co. Whereas Rainey and Anya want to keep the orchard for themselves, Lewis plots to buy the land and transform it into council houses thanks to Maggie Thatcher’s new scheme. Rainey and Anya want to linger in the home of their charmed childhoods, Dottie thinks they just don’t want lower-class people like her living next door; the response couldn’t be more insulting when Rainey effectively claims Dottie’s ‘one of the good ones’, a racist, classist sentiment that Dottie rightfully rails against. It only reinforces the fact that Dottie was spot on about their reasoning. Whereas Dottie works within the system to provide for herself and her family, Ceri fights against it, proclaiming the power of the proletariat – whilst dating a rich girl. I mean, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but it does somewhat foreshadow his forsaking his principles later on, just as he thinks going late to the dole office is a middle finger to authority. Gabriel is the most passive character of the play, and has no active involvement in the action – well-meaning but weightless. Not to mention the obvious doubles running through the play – ‘I’m a ghost. I’m not here’, Rainey whispers, feeling that she died in spirit when her son did’. The ghostly segments often feel like an afterthought, and I would have liked to explore them more – though, as they are now, they act as spectres of the past, relics and afterthoughts – and as such, they’re in good company with Rainey and her ghosts of love and luxury.
I can’t rave about this show enough. It is a triumph for those involved in making it, and a treat for those lucky enough to see it.
(5 / 5)
Gary Owen and Rachel O’Riordan’s radical reimagining of Chekhov’s classic masterfully transports the narrative of The Cherry Orchard from pre-revolutionary Russia to early 1980’s Britain at the outset of the Thatcher regime. The parallels of the two landscapes, both on the cusp of societal upheaval, provides an apt setting for Owen’s exploration of class equalities, guilt and grief.
At the beginning of the play we meet Rainey, returning to the family home in West Wales and the memories of the son that continue to haunt her. With no money left and the future of their home increasingly uncertain, could an agreement with former tenant Lewis save the property from impending auction?
The one set staging creates an intimacy and surprising relatability between the family and the audience which transcends class preconceptions through the sense of a shared space which we co-inhabit over the course of the 3 hours. The clever use of space enables us to effortlessly join Anya in the Orchard, envisage the view down to the shore and experience the poignancy of Rainey and Dottie’s moment in the grounds. The presence of Josef is hauntingly conjured throughout.
Whilst Richard Mylan and Alexandria Riley provide us with a great deal of the humour throughout, it is Riley’s Dottie who most poignantly captures the extent of the injustices that class inequality can create; for in a society where time is money, who is afforded the luxury of the time to grieve? Juxtaposed with just how detrimental this ‘indulgence’ has rendered Rainey – a decade of alcoholism and guilt – we are left to un-judgingly straddle the vast void between the extremities of each’s experience.
A powerful, thought-provoking piece and one not to be missed.
By Anton Chekhov
A re-imagining by Gary Owen
Director Rachel O’Riordan
Designer Kenny Miller
Lighting Designer Kevin Treacy
Composer and Sound Designer Simon Slater
Casting Director Kay Magson CDG
Get the Chance member Corrine Cox.
This is not a new version of the Chekhov classic, but a ‘re-imagining’ by Welsh writer Gary Owen, of Killology & Iphigenia In Splott fame. Owen relocates it from 1890’s Russia to the Pembroke coast in 1982, just prior to the Falklands War, which makes for a very interesting choice.
It feels like every dysfunctional family drama you’ve ever seen, until you realise Chekhov originated the idea of real characters, with real problems, talking like real people.
Family matriarch Rainey, who has crawled into a bottle after the death of her son over a decade ago, followed soon after by the suicide of her husband, is virtually dragged back to the family home from London by Anya, her youngest daughter. Her self-destructive lifestyle has lead to the family home on the Pembroke coast being auctioned off to pay the debts.
Val, her eldest daughter, has held things together, but they need Raynie’s permission (and signature) to save it. All agree that the only viable option is to sell off the ancestral cherry orchard for redevelopment, but will she see it that way?
This play is incredibly funny and well-worth seeing, if only for the way Owen makes it so accessible to Welsh eyes. The ‘Russian peasants’ now come from housing estates, the decaying aristocracy are English interlopers, and the Communist revolutionaries are now Thatcherites, sweeping the past away without a thought or concern.
At the heart of the play is the idea that the future is farther away than we hope, while the past is always closer than we’d like. The characters here are continually haunted, not by spirits, but by the ghosts of memories, taunting them with remembrance.
Rainey tries to forget through excess, her guilt at losing her son gnawing away at her, like a rat sown inside her skin. In the end it causes her to take drastic action, and Denise Black brings all this out in a masterful performance that makes you feel sorry for her, even while she’s being a monster to all and sundry.
The entire cast take their moments when offered, yet still make this a true ensemble piece. Morfydd Clark is sweetly sensual as the young Anya, while Hedydd Dylan as her elder sister Val, shows us a woman who tries to run other people’s lives, but fails at her own.
Simon Armstrong as Gabe, Rainey’s brother, is amusingly ineffectual, yet quietly sharp. When Val talks about Rainey not telling him about her plans to leave he replies “We’ve been brother & sister half a century. Through awful things. Do you think saying ‘goodbye’ makes any difference?”
Alexandria Riley gives us a Dottie that is down to earth yet shows the love/hate relationship she has with the family, while Richard Mylan is funny, while also imparting a wise naïveté to Ceri.
Mathew Bulgo, given the task of Lewis, the ‘poor boy made good’, effects a performance of subtlety that defies the historical villain the role has been seen as. With the insults he endures from the others, and denied the role of ‘family saviour’ by Rainey, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him.
Writer Gary Owen conveys a situation full of layers, and also offers some nice ironies. Ceri’s expectations of Margaret Thatcher getting the blame for the Falklands War being one, Gabe’s job offer as an investment banker another.
When you add all this to Rachel O’Riordan’s deft direction, Kenny Miller’s intriguingly skewed set, and Kevin Tracey’s ingenious lighting, the Sherman Theatre demonstrates yet again that it is punching well above its weight in the theatre world.
There is so much going on here that I actually re-read the script in one go afterwards, and was still as gripped as I was by seeing it. The play is funny, ironic, witty, sarcastic and quietly heartbreaking. It is a story of loss, of people, places and things, and how memories both haunt and define us.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed: ‘We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past‘.
All photographs credit Studio Canno
Of Mice and Men is a story of loneliness and misunderstandings. I remember studying this literary art in high school, but I didn’t notice the finer details, only the outline.
On Wednesday I watched Of Mice and Men presented by August 012, at Chapter ArtCentre. The outline of the story is two friends, George Milton and Lennie Small who are two workers in the Great Depression. To escape their cruel reality they share a distant dream that persuades them they will own their and land, “an’ live of the fat of the land.” This dream swirls colours of great happiness into their lives.
I do not want to cut curiosity out of the plot, so I will express little of this element. There are two stern problems blocking their dream. Lenny has an intellectual disability, and naively often strokes problems at work. And George and Lennie need ‘stake’ (money) from work so they can whirl their dream into reality.
I rate this production four stars. Why? Because the production was extraordinary. It had a partial modern theme which drew out the connection that many of the problems in Of Mice and Men still exist today, if you thin your eyes. Additionally, the production style conflates imagination with reality through dreamy description and because the audience’s seats are placed on an empty stage an immersive reality surrounds you (plus you may be able to play cards with the characters!)
I would recommend anyone reading this to book a ticket, and visit the world Of Mice and Men because its performance style will enlighten tenebrous learnings. One element of the production I noticed during this production was all of the characters were Greatly Depressed, but they wiped their tears and some tried to smile and others frowned. For example: Callous Curley, always had a curled fist most likely because he felt lonely, but due to his expected masculine role he couldn’t express his feminine emotions so he was always steaming frustration. Consequently, Curley’s wife felt lonely, and wandered looking for company and due to expected feminine roles she likely thought the only way to attract a man’s attention was by swirling hips.
I would like to thank all involved in the production Of Mice and Men for their creative minds, and extraordinary performance style – it was striking.
(3 / 5)
Goodbye Christopher Robin is, at the start, about the rejuvenating ability that thinking as a child can help people through dark times and then becomes about the corruption of success and fame.
We are introduced to A.A. Milne (Domnhnall Gleeson) who has survived the First World War but is shell shocked and angry at the world. He lives rather comfortably in London with his wife Daphne (Margo Robbie) but he cannot get over the trauma, he introduces one of his plays but the spotlight reminds him of the lights in the trenches and cannot get through it. In his disgruntled state he decides to move his wife and son (Will Tilston) out to the country.
Whilst there Milne seems to be much more interested in woodwork and walking rather than writing. Daphne grows ever more bored and frustrated so she leaves for some city time, coinciding with her leaving the nanny (Kelly MacDonald) must also go for three days to see to her sickly mother. So now its just the two of them.
During the time they are away it falls on Milne to step up and take care of his son. He is not the most patient man so they have tension in deciding what breakfast to make and him needing quite. But he gets sucked into the world his son creates with his stuffed toys. We then hear other names and phrases and can connect the dots that these elements will be used to tell the tale we all know.
He of course writes it down and is a tremendous success. But with success comes fame so he is constantly being called and asked to make appearances. Even Milne, who wrote the book is always asked about his son. Public appearances, signings, interviews all in abundance. He can hardly go anywhere and not be recognized. Even in their country home people come looking for him.
Being that this is about the behind the scenes story of a popular work of fiction I couldn’t help but think of Finding Neverland and Saving Mr Banks. Out of all of these movies the best one is Finding Neverland but this is also a different movie. It shows the damaging effects of too much fame for someone that cant handle it.
This is a very handsomely shot movie with attention to detail in the living areas, wardrobe and the sunlight having a truly golden quality to it.
The movies message is a simple one and the story of what when on with the people behind the material is interesting. A few moments of cool transitions, attractive production value and very solid performances help make it more worth seeing it those elements weren’t there.
This review contains spoilers.
Trailer for Layton’s Mystery Journey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFz1tTNNRkM
As far as anyone was concerned this time in the last two years, the Professor Layton series was over. There were games and a movie and a book, and then it was finished. I remember how I felt the day some concept art snaked its way on to my timeline, and how incredulity and unimaginable excitement swelled in me: my absolute favourite series was still going. Some higher ups had decided not to leave us all the way that they had. How could I not be beside myself with utter glee? How could me, my friends who I met because of this series, how could we not let ourselves be absolutely encompassed by this incredibly lucky turn of events? We were so happy. I was so happy.
Layton’s Mystery Journey follows Katrielle Layton, Professor Layton’s daughter as she opens her own detective agency and solves a number of cases for London’s elite millionaires – the “Seven Dragons”. What I also thought was going to happen was throughout these cases, Katrielle would undergo the ongoing case of her father’s disappearance, since this is what I’d discovered was the #1 talking point whenever I looked into the game. “Professor Layton is missing! Will his daughter find him?” I thought she would.
As a series that existed differently to the previous Layton games, I obviously expected change. A new cast, new voices, new music, new scenery. I knew it was coming, so when it arrived there were no ill feelings between it and me. Much as how people say, “The movie would be good on it’s own” when the book was better but the movie was… okay… I can say that if this series didn’t have links to the older version, it would have been okay – it would have been good on it’s own. In some places it was even nice – to see things newly imagined. But my view was always going to be rose-tinted because of the old games, so I was helpless.
Some things were good. The music was good, but Layton music always has been (here’s a taste of this game’s music! : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4czbYlei3GY&list=PLVfglvX_VlEZniKUW5NEcdC_yaK6CipuV ). The puzzles were okay (since after all, it is a puzzle game), and I do appreciate that they existed as a tribute to the person who used to make the puzzles for these games, Akira Tago (1926-2016).
There was one character I did really love – Pipper Lowonida, the fictional Mayor of London (pictured on the right, below). She was the first character I saw! The concept art that found itself on my timeline was of her, and I always thought I’d like her. I was right! She’s the Mayor, but with a flare for festivals and parties, and with a happy and witty attitude. She was the best part of the game for me.
So, there was some good things. Not many, though, because now I have the chance to get into what really got under my skin.
This is something I realised a few weeks ago. I found myself less excited for Layton’s Mystery Journey as some of the other people I new. I thought maybe I had exerted it all too early, I thought the funny little online puzzle game (http://www.layton.jp/mystery-journey/laytonworld/uk.html) had depleted it (since I never finished it, and fell out with it just after it began). But, nope! It was something else entirely. I found myself reflecting on the prequel and sequel trilogies of the original Layton series, I found myself thinking quietly on how I loved their plots and characters until I stumbled on a big flaw. Lately with media I have been more than a little picky. Representation and mature story handling has become incredibly important to me, and I realised that the Layton series actually wasn’t ticking any of my important check boxes. Representation in terms of race? It wasn’t happening. Representation in terms of sexuality? Also wasn’t happening. In the original series there was one character who didn’t appear white – and he turned out to be a bad guy (bad move! Especially when this was the only non-white character of an entire series consisting of 7 games and one movie). This carried through into Layton’s Mystery Journey, unfortunately. There was one character who appeared non-white, yet his name was “Shadee” (it’s exactly what you’re thinking), and he was the main culprit of a case that our main characters were pursuing. They were pursuing him harshly, treating him badly, and didn’t apologise when they realised he wasn’t the culprit. (Bad move! It’s 2017 for goodness sake, show some compassion).
There’s also no representation when it came to sexuality. Heteronormative things came through easily in the past series (marriage, nuclear families, a young girl who gives a young boy a kiss and everyone in the vicinity giving each other those knowing looks even though the two kids in question were 11 at best), and this new game (the sidekick character, Ernest Greeves, is blatantly infatuated with the main character Katrielle. She doesn’t notice, and when she doesn’t another character is compelled to say things like “throw him a bone”, “give him a chance”. The problem I have with this is: Girls should not be prompted/feel obliged to appease a man just because the man in question has feelings for them. They shouldn’t have their independence and potential character growth thwarted just because a man has shown up and shown interest). Nothing about characters who weren’t straight, even though it is 2017. It’s disappointing, realising a series you love will not break the safe and traditional mould.
The last point? Every single plot of every single Layton game – and the movie – exists because of women’s suffering. This is a trope I do not at all like: “Woman gets hurt to unlock a man’s story”. So over the ten years that Professor Layton content has been being produced, it’s been the same story: a woman is hurt, somehow. A man’s story comes into existence because of this. So that’s all 6 original games, the crossover game, the movie, and this game! That’s bad. 9 times, a company can’t break from this storytelling? For ten years a company will keep themselves glued to this harmful storytelling? As the times change and representation and better treatment of female characters is needed and they do nothing? Yeah, I’m not exactly happy.
For this game, and for a long time, I really did not think they were going to fall into this trope. But they did, and it was right at the very end of the game. Turns out the bad guy was only propelled forward into taking the actions he did because his mother died. For this game I thought that, what with a new female protagonist, Level5 (the company behind the series) would be shepherded into treating their female characters better, but no. They don’t. They even forgive the antagonist, and move on like nothing ever happened. A white male character isn’t held accountable for his actions, but an NPC who appears black is lambasted endlessly through the case and treated poorly even if they did nothing wrong? I’m disappointed, massively so.
Continuing from that, here’s another of my big issues for the game: it is, as far as I’ve seen, hinged on the premise of “Professor Layton is missing – will his daughter, Katrielle find him?” And here let’s get into some big things that really made my blood boil: They barely mentioned this in-game. They barely talk about how the professor is missing, and when they do, it is off-handed mentions, vague information, and a flippant way of injecting it into the game as if no one really cares that this is the “overall plot” people were expecting. So, no, if you’re wondering, they don’t find the Professor. They don’t even look for him. There aren’t even hints throughout the 12 cases of this game that they plan on searching for him. Which is, let’s face it, a disappointment. I don’t know why advertising seemed to encircle this and then they go ahead and barely use it. I can understand that it’s likely to set up for a second game (which I don’t think I’ll be buying after my revelations and experiences with this game), but really what it felt like was laziness. A lack of a want to finish a story they led people to believe would be solved for the sake of making more money on the next instalment. Worse, they hinge a cutscene at the very end of the game in the post-credits, where it’s revealed that the main character, Katrielle, may not even be Layton’s daughter. She says she has solved the riddle Professor Layton left her (“If you’re not my daughter, then who are you?”). Some people took this as a good cliffhanger, but I took this as a slap in the face and the regrettable loss of £33.
I didn’t like it. Others may, and that’s fine, but Professor Layton content is no longer my cup of tea. I didn’t enjoy it and eventually trudging through playing it started to feel like a chore. Obviously I’m sad, I waited so long for this and was so excited and now I’m shrugging off a franchise I’ve loved for ten years. Hopefully this is better for me. With the fall of this, I just hope I can find better content I can throw myself into as deeply as I did this. Overall, I’m massively disappointed. One star.
(4 / 5)
As a critic I am not technically minded, I view a play and my mind will automatically focus on the acting ability of the cast , as my background is in performing. However it would be impossible not to be blown away by the genius set design and the technicality of this production.
Using a revolving room on a split level, and a dividing floor the design by Amy Jane Cook easily managed to give the illusion of an open dolls house. (If the dolls house was a northern council house with poor electrics and bad house keeping!) This enabled the lounge, kitchen diner and bedroom all to be in full view of the audience. With swift transitions the bedroom revolved, the living room divided and the set transformed to Mr Boo’s night club. The first transition took place just after the beginning of the second half and was met with suitable gasps of awe from the impressed full house.
It would be rude not to give credit to the lighting design, by Nicholas Holdridge although naturalistic in nature a majority of the play took place in dimly lit rooms and at one point darkness. However the clever use of street, moon, dawn and torch light ensured the actors were always well lit and the tone and atmosphere were heightened. This combination of stage and technical magic combine in the final stages of the production, not wanting to spoil the effect -Theatre Clwyd’s production does stay true to the film and they do so very effectively. A combination of smoke, lights movement and LV’s impressions as she reaches breaking point culminates to an intense stage experience.
The cast were as impressive as the set, comic timing, physicality and delivery were strong. Each member of the small ensemble allowed each other to have stand out moments as well as ensuring they all worked well together to perform some very funny dialogue, comedic banter and duets. (watch out for Nicola Reynolds, Mari Hoff, LV’s mum and the brilliant Victoria John, Sadie, the down beaten neighbour performing “It’s Raining Men”)
This play can only work if LV can actually deliver the impressions stated – ergo this play works. It has been stated on social media that when Catrin Aaron sings its like Judy Garland is in the room. I fully agree – except Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe and a host of others are there with her.
I was slightly disappointed with some of the direction of the play, continuity of stage exits occasionally seemed haphazard – this could be due to them being sacrificed for the technicality of the production – in which case I can forgive the occasions when walls are walked through – however towards the end of the play it felt like the cast had forgotten where doors were and they were just walking wherever!
Jim Cartwright’s script is undoubtedly witty and gritty and is supposed to be full of hilarity and vulgarity, however, I was waiting for the all important point when I would feel empathy with the characters, for me, it didn’t happen. I put this down to the direction of Wasserberg rather than the acting ability of the cast. It was played for laughs and in doing so the characters became more caricatures – that although I laughed with, I never fully connected with.
Other than this, it was a pleasure to watch, strong female leads and the standing ovation was justly deserved. Little Voice hits the right notes.
Theatre Clwyd, Antony Hopkins Theatre,Tuesday 10th October . Directed by Kate Wasserberg