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REVIEW: THE STORY by TESS BERRY-HART at THE OTHER ROOM by Gareth Ford-Elliott

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Story by Tess Berry-Hart centres around X (Siwan Morris), a person “of the people” returning to their homeland after a year volunteering in “occupied territories”, helping refugees. X is being held under suspicious circumstances by V (Hannah McPake) who, under many different guises, interrogates, questions and advises X.

As much as this is a story about criminalising those who help others – it also explores the violence of language, manipulation of tone and deconstructs the ideas of a story and truth in the world of “justice”. It is this that truly stands out in Tess Berry-Hart’s writing.

There is so much to like about Berry-Hart’s writing. It is technically very strong. The language is brilliant, at times beautiful, at other times horrifying. The slow-burning story is amplified by excellent psychology within the characters.

David Mercatali’s direction is strong. Mercatali deals with the slow-moving story well, pacing the play in a manner that constantly makes the audience think and second-guess. The tone also shifts in an interesting and subtle way.

The acting performances are strong all round. Hannah McPake’s subtle diversity in her different “characters” as V is phenomenal, whilst Siwan Morris’ defiance as X is extremely moving. Luciana Trapman as The Storyteller also does a great job delivering powerful vignettes that are projected onto parts of the set.

Set up with promenade staging, Delyth Evans’ design is simple, yet effective. The long, narrow stage gives a real sense of entrapment that enhances the production. Combining with Katy Morison’s lighting which is mostly understated, but flickers and flashes at key moments. Tic Ashfield’s sound design completes the design elements in a very strong way. Somewhat unnecessarily, but effectively, bringing in glitches on voiceovers to distort the messages we’re hearing. This drives the audience’s curiosity to the mention of “the voice”.

This is potentially subjective, but The Story’s main issue is that it’s not challenging enough. There’s not enough emotion and the lack of a real story with a build really takes away from the potential power of this play. It feels quite safe and relies on an echo chamber for an audience. An audience who already think and feel how the play wants you to think and feel about the messages and themes.

It also doesn’t go deep enough into the topics it tackles. Far from a dystopian world – this is the reality of what we are currently living in. The dystopian feel takes away from that realism.

The disappointment comes from the clear potential of the play. It’s on the verge of being something brilliant, just falling short.

The Story offers a lot to reflect on in its content and enjoy in its production but doesn’t reach its potential through failing to truly challenge its audience.

The Story at The Other Room, Cardiff
8th October – 27th October 2019
Written by Tess Berry-Hart
Directed by David Mercatali
Siwan Morris as X
Hannah McPake as V
Luciana Trapman as The Storyteller
Design by Delyth Evans
Sound Design by Tic Ashfield
Lighting Design by Katy Morison
Video Design by Simon Clode
Assistant Director: Samantha Jones
Stage Manager: Rachel Bell
Production Manager: Rhys Williams
Season Fight Director: Kevin McCurdy
Fight Choreographer: Cristian Cardenas
Choreographer: Deborah Light
Production Photography: Kirsten McTernan
Associate Director: Matthew Holmquist
Casting Director: Nicola Reynolds
BSL Interpreter: Julie Doyle
Set Builder: Will Goad

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