Tag Archives: Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

REVIEW: CRAVE by Sarah Kane at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

As part of the Professional Pathways Programme at The Other Room, trainee director, Samantha Jones, and trainee producer, Yasmin Williams, are presenting their showcase production, Crave by Sarah Kane.

I met up with them to chat about it before the run started which you can read HERE to find out more about the production process and the Professional Pathways Programme.

The Other Room opened in 2015 with Blasted, Sarah Kane’s first play. Fitting then that Jones and Williams chose Crave which was a turning point in Sarah Kane’s career. Both in her artistic style and her critical reception.

It’s a turning point in their own careers and Sarah Kane has always felt somewhat connected to The Other Room. A theatre that allows young artists to take bold steps, as Kane was allowed to do by The Royal Court. That is exactly what taking on Crave is for Jones and Williams. A bold statement of, “this is what we can do.”

The writing is obviously excellent, and not really up for review as such here. But it is worth saying, you won’t see many plays more real and brilliantly written than this in your life. Almost every line is crucial and despite running at 45-minutes, there are brilliant plays twice as long with half the content. It truly is a masterpiece.

That said, the script can’t do the work on its own. If the artists involved don’t rise to the challenge, the play will fail. Don’t be fooled, the script is great but not an easy one to direct or act. It won’t carry itself and is open to interpretation. With no vision, it’s just a bunch of words. Kane makes those involved work for its brilliance. She wrote Crave for directorial interpretation, to be explored and played with. This is exactly why Samantha Jones and Yasmin Williams chose it for their showcase production.

As it is, the artists involved relish and rise to the challenge brilliantly.

Samantha Jones’ direction is sublime. Close attention is paid to rhythm which highlights the script’s strengths. The tone is handled really well helping Jones control the pace, which is done beautifully.

The decision to perform in traverse is a great one, not allowing the actors anywhere to hide. Sometimes Crave is performed quite statically which really doesn’t seem to work. Jones, however, brings the play to life with excellent physicality, making the most of the small space. The playis breathing and vibrant in its direction, which compliments Crave perfectly.

All four performances are excellent. Its hard to pinpoint one as a standout as they all work well as an ensemble and stand-out as individuals. As the production is in collaboration with Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, all four actors are second year acting students and they do their college proud in this production.

Emily John explores her character and it really feels as we get to know her throughout the play. She feels both strong and vulnerable at the same time which is really powerful.

Callum Howells brings natural charm and humour to his role. His character, A, is completely unaware of himself in a beautiful and disturbing way, depending on the context. Not distracting from the production’s dark tones, rather offering a break from it. His delivery of ‘that’ monologue is simply magnificent.

Johnna Dias-Watson feels ever-present in the production. Her care in physicality stands out and you always feel her presence because of it, and when you don’t, there’s a reason why. Playing a ‘mother’ figure, this works perfectly.

Benjamin McCann also brings some humour to the production, but his character is much more aware of himself than Howells as A. His delivery towards the end of the play is particularly good. He feels natural and I have to say I personally resonated most with him.

Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson’s set design is lovely. Creating a claustrophobic feeling in the traverse set-up which allows space for the direction and acting to flourish. The lighting from Ryan Joseph Stafford is mystic and minimal, setting the mood well. Joshua Bowles’ sound design creeps through, mostly subtly, yet obvious in moments. None of the design is complicated but compliments the production allowing the play to flourish.

Crave at The Other Room is an excellent production of Sarah Kane’s masterpiece exploring what it is to love.

Ultimately, this production is very hard to put into words. I left the theatre and felt completely different for two days. Even writing now, I just don’t have the words to justify my feelings. It is a compliment to Kane’s excellent writing, but the job of Yasmin Williams and Samantha Jones is to make this play speak as loudly as it can. They have done that extremely well and deserve the credit for what they achieved with Kane’s work.

Crave by Sarah Kane at The Other Room, Cardiff
30th April – 11th May 2019
Directed by Samantha Jones
Produced by Yasmin Williams
Starring:
C – Emily John
M – Johnna Dias-Watson
B – Benjamin McCann
A – Callum Howells 
Set Designed by Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson
Sound Designed by Joshua Bowles
Lighting Designed by Ryan Joseph Stafford
Stage Managed by Millie McElhinney
Deputy Stage Managed by Emily Behague
Assistant Directed by Nerida Bradley

Preview: CRAVE by Sarah Kane at The Other Room

As their showcase production of the Professional Pathways Programme at The Other Room, Yasmin and Samantha are presenting Crave by Sarah Kane, at The Other Room running between April 30th and May 11th 2019.

I met up with Director Samantha Jones, Producer Yasmin Williams and Assistant Director Nerida Bradley to chat about Crave, Sarah Kaneand the Professional Pathways Programme.

Why Crave? Why Sarah Kane? Why Now?

Being completely technical, for the Professional Pathways Programme I think this is exactly what we needed. There are no limitations, no rules, no guidance and that’s exactly what we needed from a script as a challenge and a gift.

When next are we going to get the opportunity to stage whatever we want with no limitations – Sarah Kane, obviously. It’s exactly the kind of work we’d like to see more of in Cardiff. The way it plays with form, but also what it says and what it means to people.

The Other Room opened with Sarah Kane and this play was an artistic turning point for her career. So, it just felt right, being the first Professional Pathways Programme at The Other Room and a turning point in our careers, to stage this play.

There are loads of reasons why this play is relevant now, but really what’s so great about Sarah Kane is that she’s so real she’ll always be relevant and so will Crave.

What does Sarah Kane mean to you as artists and people?

As an artist she’s bold and experimental. Her work is full of anger, but doesn’t fall into the trap of angst or the box people tried to put her in. She’s angry but it still feels feminine without the work needing to be about femininity. Just feminine through the way she uses language. Everything in the text is earned and the artists involved in her plays have to raise their game to her level.

As a person, she doesn’t make you feel judged, she just makes you feel and reflect. She can make you feel anything with her words. When I first read one of her plays, I had to read the others and read them all in one sitting. She’s just great.

What’s your aim with this piece?

Is it enough to say truth? Sarah Kane said, “I write the truth and it kills me,” so it’s important to stay true to that.

But also, Crave is written in a way that allows us to play and experiment. She was bold and experimental in writing this play, so we need to be the same in presenting it too.

It’s about what it means to be a human, the loneliness that comes with that, what love is, etc. We all have different perspectives and feelings in regard to this play, as I’m sure you will when you see it. Everyone will feel different things as the play is so true it relates to everyone individually. We want the audience to reflect and feel something about the themes, but more importantly about themselves.

Samantha Jones, director, speaking to actors.

Sam, considering how open the script is to a director’s interpretation, how are you approaching Crave as director?

Crave is a play that is always moving and changing as you work on it, so it’s more of a facilitation process, rather than direction and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s key working with Nerida, not only as one of the best assistants around, but as someone who loves Sarah Kane and understands the text in a way that is different, but just as brilliant, to me. The whole team, including Yasmin and the actors, the same. The moment someone puts their stamp on Sarah Kane is the moment the it dies. So, everyone in the room has a voice.

Yas, with the everchanging, undefined nature of the script and production process, how are you approaching Crave as producer?

One of the great things about the Professional Pathways Programme is that this is the first full-show I’ve produced on my own, and I’ve been trusted to do so. The experience has sort of confirmed my theory that nobody really knows what a producer is and it’s an everchanging role in theatre. But given me confidence in knowing that’s okay. There is no set of rules for a producer as the job changes so much from show-to-show.

Part of what makes producing Crave so great, is that I have to be involved in the creative discussion to do the job. It might be easier to produce if things were more set in stone, but as the piece is constantly moving forward and growing I need to stay on my toes and get involved in the room. It’s very hands on and it needs to be as I have to stay connected, artistically, to the production.

How have you found the past year at The Other Room as part of their Professional Pathways Programme?

The Professional Pathways Programme has been a great way to step into the world of professional theatre making. Building new relationships, especially with each other as this year has just made us want to work with each other more in the future. Opportunities to work with new writing with things like SEEN and Spring Fringe Script, working with Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama have also been super beneficial.

Learning how a theatre building works and runs, beyond the shows, has probably been the biggest thing to learn. And now getting to work on whatever play we want, being able to produce it and put it on for a full-run is the perfect way to end the year. Overall, it’s been an invaluable experience for both of us.

Nerida, as you’re on arts placement at The Other Room and assistant director on Crave, how have you seen Yas and Sam grow over the last year?

They were always capable of doing this. But they’ve just had the chance to prove it. They’ve not just done the job but really added to the discussion and put their ideas forward. In particular they’ve absolutely smashed the year in transforming SEEN and working on Spring Fringe Script amongst other things. It’s just so great that they’ve been given the opportunity and platform to show what they can do as well as learn and move forward.

Actors rehearsing the script.

Crave runs at The Other Room in Cardiff between April 30th and May 11th 2019. Presented in collaboration with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and The Other Room’s Professional Pathways Programme. You can read more about the production and the Professional Pathways Programme HERE.

Crave by Sarah Kane at The Other Room, Cardiff
30th April – 11th May 2019
Directed by Samantha Jones
Produced by Yasmin Williams
Starring:
C – Emily John
M – Johnna Watson
B – Benjamin McCann
A – Callum Howells
Assistant Directed by Nerida Bradley
Set Designed by Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson
Sound Designed by Joshua Bowles
Lighting Designed by Ryan Joseph Stafford
Stage Managed by Millie McElhinney
Deputy Stage Managed by Emily Behague

REVIEW: TURBINES at RWCMD by Gareth Ford-Elliott

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Turbines by Sarah McDonald Hughes follows six students (aged around 15-16) in a unit-classroom as they deal with the stabbing of a schoolmate. This leads to Mia stabbing her teacher in the first scene as the play attempts to explain why this happened, exploring who these young people are.

The play suffers from the use of stereotypical characters who possess little depth and writing that feels lazy. As though students are chucked in a unit and that will justify the stabbing, but it doesn’t. Even within their backstories, their presence in the unit is not justified.

As it is, the play feels it would be more interesting placed in a standard classroom as the play currently comes across as a series of events that are mostly irrelevant or insignificant, particularly given the moral protection of the unit.

The flow is constantly interrupted, and it moves too fast without allowing time to explore the characters. There are a few breaks that offer potential such as Tina’s boyfriend breaking up with her or a flashback to the start of Mia and Grace’s early friendship. But even these scenes show very little emotional intrigue.

There is no overriding story, really, besides the two stabbings. The backstories cover most of the play, but these are stereotypical. Parents who argue, a young pregnancy, an ill mother, and so on. These backstories are not unique, offer little significance and just when you’re expecting something to tie it all together, they look at some turbines, say they feel calm, and nothing happens.

Moving onto the turbines, the title of the play and the key piece of symbolism provided. Trying my hardest to drag something out of this, I would say that the turbines are meant to represent serenity and persistence in a tough environment. A symbol that allows the students to express. The rotation of the blades also possibly referring back to the cyclical nature of knife crime. The symbolism is somewhat tacked in and unclear, with potential it’s just not reaching.

Turbines explores multiple possibilities that can happen when the major event, the stabbing, occurs and explores how that might affect their lives differently. It’s also unclear which of these is the ending or if the writer wants there to be one specific ending. Perhaps not an issue for where this piece was imagined to be but given that it appears to try to question why this stabbing might occur, the lack of a definitive ending is a problem.

I can see where this play goes wrong in the writing process, as it has a singular focus at its core and fitting that to a cast of seven is hard. It centres around Mia and everyone else is basically irrelevant. And if that is the aim, then why bother with 90% of the rest of the play? There is potential there for a good play about Mia. But it needs expanding, focusing and lots of cutting.

I just struggle to see how a play produced in collaboration with Paines Plough could be quite this underdeveloped. My guess is that the writer wasn’t afforded the time or support necessary for this piece to succeed. I don’t think you can pin the play’s failures solely on such a talented and promising writer.

Emily Ling Williams direction just falls a little flat. There are attempts at characterisation through the acting, some of which work, some don’t. The tone and pace are not handled particularly well, however this is quite hard as the story beats are all over the place. It’s a tough play to direct, but Williams stumbles to raise the bar for the production.

Rocky Hood’s lighting works well, very understated, but is one of few positives from this production. The sound design from Jack Lancelot Stewart is fine. It’s nothing exceptional and sometimes intruding, but decent overall.

Clare Johnson’s set is a little clunky and often gets in the way, although does a good job of establishing location. The fans, representing wind turbines, just look tacky and don’t work.

The performances from the cast of seven are all decent. But really, most of the actors don’t have much to play with. There are clearly attempts at characterisation made by the actors with the director. Amesh Edireweera’s mannerisms as Liam, Finnian Garbutt’s boyish immaturity as Reece and Nina Bloomgarden’s grace as Grace all stand out as expansions on the script.

Unfortunately, the school teacher, portrayed by Lilly Tukur, Jack (Harry Heap) and Tina (Julie Lamberton) are all pretty much unsavable. The performances are good for the most part, given what they had, but they really deserve better.

Abbie Hern stands out as Mia. Her character has the most substance and is the most explored. Hern rises to this and delivers a great performance which is one of few shining lights in this production.

Turbines examines young people and their actions in what is an underwhelming production that can’t be saved by its strong cast.

Turbines performed at The Bute Theatre, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
19 – 21 March 2019 in Cardiff
Transferring to The Gate Theatre, London, 2 – 5 April
Written by Sarah McDonald Hughes
Directed by Emily Ling Williams
In Collaboration with Paines Plough
As part of RWCMD’s ‘NEW’ Season
Starring:
Abbie Hern as Mia
Nina Bloomgarden as Grace
Finnian Garbutt as Reece
Amesh Edireweera as Liam
Julie Lamberton as Tina
Harry Heap as Jack
Lilly Tukur as School Teacher
Production Team:
Set & Costume Design: Clare Johnson
Lighting Design: Rocky Hood
Sound Designer: Jack Lancelot Stewart
Assistant Production Manager: Alexandra Drescher-Elphick
Stage Manager: Jessica Forella
Deputy Stage Manager: Cara-Megan Rees

Assistant Stage Manager: Amy Hales
Design Assistant: Rachel Merritt
Technicians: Ella Cunnison, Kitty Dunning, Jamie Holden  and Paul Kaiba
Venue Technician: Evie Oliver
Supervisors: Kristy Bowers, Rob Clarke and Laura Martin

REVIEW: ‘ADDAMS FAMILY: THE MUSICAL’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Anyone growing up in the late 80s and 90s will have a fond recollection of the original Addams Family TV series. Inspired by the creator of the Addams Family comic strip by Charles Addams, the family were a dark inversion of the idealised nuclear American family. What started out as a popular comic strip and TV show snowballed into a staple of iconic popular culture across the entire globe.

The Addams Family creative treatment has now expanded to encompass TV remakes, several films, multiple theatrical productions, and video games. The show has already toured extensively in the UK, with dates at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre, but this time Kinetic Theatre company bring a smaller version of the production to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The company, headed up by Artistic Director Kris Cowley is a training company for musical theatre for young people aged 16 and over – and has now been relaunched as Kinetic School of Performing Arts.

Their members are at differing stages of their theatrical experience, with many of them acting as mentors for other members to develop their confidence and skills. I overheard Artistic Director Kris Cowley tell another audience member in the interval that they had given one of the lead roles to twelve-year-old Lewys Rees, who was nervous about cutting his teeth on his first production while playing the part of Pugsley Addams, but was being supported and encouraged by his team.

It’s great to see new talent like this emerging from grass-roots groups and being given big breaks often not afforded to those without significant experience with established performing arts schools or academies. In this sense, companies like Kinetic do great work in opening up access to performing arts and removing the barriers people often face. It takes a lot of courage to hold your own at such a young age – but Lewys Rees had a promising voice, which I’m sure will put him in good stead for next year’s ‘Camp Rock’ musical being developed by Kinetic.

The synopsis for the show is good – kooky Wednesday Addams meets a rather conventional (some might say bland and boring) romantic prospect. Chaos follows when she asks her father Gomez to keep a secret about the real reason for inviting her boyfriend Lucas’ family – they are engaged to be married. As Lucas’ Mother and Father descend on the Addams family mansion, tensions build as the Beinekes encounter the macabre Addams family, their dead ancestors, family rivalries and inevitable fall outs when their two worlds collide.

The story lends itself well to a musical format and there’s a generous mix of upbeat songs from a variety of genres to move things along. The ensemble cast (dead ancestors) were superb in amplifying the story and musical directors Liz York and Emma Pawsey have done a stellar job in translating the musical score into strong blended vocals and punchy choreography on stage.

I loved the opening number ‘When you’re an Addams’ and the production is at it’s strongest during the whole-cast ensemble pieces. The segment when the two families sit down to dinner (‘Full Disclosure’) brought to mind Fosse-like choreography and a flavour of the Chicago movie song ‘Both reached for the gun’.

Now for the not so great bits. At such an early stage in their performance experience, the production does lack gloss and finesse in places. Lights seem late to come up after blackouts, the microphones on the actors’ faces pick up sound (breathing and talking) after the actors have left the stage. Gomez’ accent is a little…off….and can be distracting at times, nevertheless – Jack Davies is enviable in his delivery of personable Gomez, his comic timing is great and his execution during the ‘Happy/Sad’ song was sweet.

Georgia Tonge as Wednesday seems unsure of herself at times, yet her accent as Wednesday is impeccable and her vocals are generally good. For me, one of the standout characters was Fester (who I believe was played by Thomas Price the night I was there) – his zany antics and wiry, frenetic physicality bring great energy and pace to the show’s story. A truly charming presence on stage.

The star of the show has to be the poker-faced Zoe Martin who was simply brilliant as Morticia Addams. Sleek and sassy and with a ‘bitchy resting face’ to rival Anjelica Houston, her deadpan demeanor and withering put-downs were as sharp as a tack.

The routine between Zoe Martin and Jack Davies as a tangoing-couple during the song ‘Tango de Amor’ was fabulous. Well done lastly to the superb ‘dead relatives’ who did so much to bring life and zest to this production. My daughter (age 9) was watching you all like a hawk, noticing every facial expression and raise of an eyebrow.

“They’re really good actors, Mom!” she told me during the interval – she’s part of a performance group herself and always keeps a beady eye on the supporting actors in the background. I’d better bring her back to RWCMD to see Camp Rock next year – though I suspect in the meantime she’ll beg me to join Kinetic, because they’ve clearly made an impression on my little Miss!

Keep it up, Kinetic!

REVIEW CABARET ((RICHARD BURTON COMPANY) RWCMD BY JAMES BRIGGS

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Audio review of the production with music from the production

‘Cabaret’ is highly regarded as being one of the greatest musicals of all time and has some magnificent songs and fascinating characters, it also has a strong compelling and highly political storyline with a message from history that can’t be ignored. Set in Berlin on the eve of World War Two in the 1930’s, it shows the rise of the Nazis against the apathy of the masses, and describes a change that would prove to have terrifying consequences for everyone who lives in Berlin. Most of the story unfolds in the seedy ‘Kit Kat club’.

I was not sure of what to expect when attending the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama for this production as I had only heard some of the songs from the musical and was unfamiliar with the storyline, so I must admit when the house lights dimmed and the characters began to enter the stage to the song ‘Willkommen’ I was slightly perplexed at the characters in front of me and their stage presence especially only being 17.

For many, including my mother who I attended the show with, imprinted on their mind was the film version of the musical starring Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, Joel Grey as the compère and Michael York as the young Englishman.
The stage show opens with the arrival of a young American, Cliff Bradshaw (played by Jonathan Radford) in Berlin on New Year’s Eve 1930. In a chance meeting at the railway station, he’s becomes friends with the very polite and helpful Ernst Ludvig (played by Tom Corbishley) who refers Cliff to Fraulein Schneider’s lodging house while he is staying in Berlin. Later in the story, Cliff is introduced to the ‘Kit Kat Club’, a cabaret club where anything can happen. He meets Sally Bowles, a singer who escapes reality when performing her songs in the club.

Set against Cliff and Sally’s relationship, and the relationship between Fraulein Schneider and her Jewish fiancée, the Nazis start to show their might and their threat is felt by all at both the unassuming lodging house and the Kit Kat Club. Adena Cahill as the upper class English Sally Bowles is very good. Fraulein Schneider was played by the believable Rosie Archer whose characterisation was excellent as well as that of Dafydd Gape who played the kind, caring and helpful Herr Schultz. Jennifer Ruth-Adams who played Fraulein Kost was able to do this very well and produced some comical scenes when trying to get her sailor lovers out of the lodging house without Fraulein Schneider finding out.

However, for me the star of the show was Corey Jones as Emcee, whose performance was outstanding and whose stage presence was simply mesmerising and as soon as he entered the stage you could not take your eyes off him. Jones’ Emcee was extremely dark and edgy with an exceptionally strong character and you were never quite sure if he was simply a welcoming host, or one that really despises all people.

Corey Jones as Emcee

Photographic credit Kirsten Mcternan

The level of the singing in the production was brilliant and there was not one character that slipped out of their German or American accents. It felt as though I was in Berlin watching the show. The performance of ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ by Ross Hoey as a young Nazi was very chilling and this was made more powerful when the Nazi flags dropped down on each side of the stage. With well-known songs such as ‘Maybe This Time’, ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Mein Herr’ it is sometimes difficult to live up to audience expectations but the cast of this production surpassed themselves. The band that played during the performance was equally exceptional and brought the music to life.

The ‘Richard Burton Theatre’ housing the performance was very fitting and gave the audience a feeling of intimacy with the characters on stage. You felt you were part of the audience in the ‘Kit Kat Club’ taking part in all the action.

The staging worked equally very well with the theatre and as one entered the theatre we were greeted by a large structure hanging diagonally on stage with simply some chairs below it. There was also a large use of period lights on chains that along with the structure moved during the performance. This was used extremely well as it gave the effect that the ‘Kit Kat Club’ was opening up in front of the audience. The minimal set worked extremely well and allowed the audience to concentrate more on the characters opposed to the surrounding.

The Entr’acte from the Musical ‘Cabaret’.

Overall, this is an utterly breath-taking performance even if it is rather risqué in parts with a chilling end but I will certainly be attending far more shows at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama because if the level of performance is always this high, you are guaranteed an amazing night at the theatre.

Type of show: Theatre
Title: Cabaret
Venue: Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Dates: 22-30 June
Director: Paul Kerryson
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Musical Director: Nathan Jones
Choreographer: Tom Jackson Greaves
Set Designer: Tina Torbay
Lighting Designer: Becky Heslop
Costume Designer: Jessica Campbell Plover