Tag Archives: Sherman Theatre

REVIEW: Five Green Bottles at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith debuted for the first time at the 2018 Cardiff Fringe Festival in the basement of Little Man Coffee Shop. After seeing it then, I remember saying, “this is the sort of work I’d expect at the Sherman.” And less than a year later, here we are.

It’s a strange experience watching this play for the second time. It relies so heavily on its audience not knowing the twists for its strengths, so for that reason I won’t be spoiling anything.

One thing that has changed is the ending, which is just as frantic, but slightly clearer in a subtle way. This is the major improvement along with the obvious production value that the Sherman’s excellent studio space offers.

The direction from Becca Lidstone is particularly interesting as she adapts from a coffee shop basement with a small amount of tech to a world-class theatre space. The step-up in production value is obvious – but the content of what was initially presented isn’t lost.

It does seem darker and more sinister than before. I’m unsure whether that is because I know what is coming and pick up on the small details or if it’s an artistic choice, but it works.

One thing that is noticeable is the cutting-down of humour. The first time there were more laughs and that could be down to the intimate space of Little Man’s basement. However, it comes across much more mature as the humour is controlled perfectly by Lidstone and doesn’t dominate as much as before.

Becca does a great job of starting the play at face-value and allowing the subtext do its work, bubbling under the surface to create a darker tone.

The transitions are full of dance and music which contrasts nicely to the dark undertones and creates a feeling of the 60’s. At times, though, this feels a little out of place, particularly as the play progresses.

Aly Cruickshank’s performance is excellent. With a name like his, and the accent he puts on, you would think he’s a Scottish native. His performance really stands out as he presents himself as likeable but holds a manipulative presence that makes him so hateable.

Angharad Berrow is also utterly brilliant. Her performance is less sinister than Cruickshank’s and comes across really naturally. Berrow handles her character with great detail and performs delicately with moments presented as normal that are truly horrific in the context of the play.

Tobias Weatherburn’s performance is really understated, cold and transformative from the person he is off stage. In particular, the way he handles Dave’s insecurities and desperation for acceptance from other men is phenomenal.

Olivia Martin’s performance is interesting. Her character, Maureen, is snide and laid back. She mostly holds the same dynamic throughout, but the moment she switches is even more powerful for this.

The set from Ceci Calf is really nice and naturalistic, taking us into the 60’s with simplicity.

Garrin Clarke’s lighting design is great. The single light that shines through the window, as if it were the moon, is particularly lovely and the changing of colours is seamless, creating the perfect atmosphere for the moment.

The sound design from Nick Laws is also strong, the use of music in the transitions set the scene and there seems to be a slight distortion in said music as the play progresses which is subtly superb.

The script by Joe Wiltshire-Smith is meticulously plotted and paced with great dialogue, moments of humour and a subtle, dark undertone.

None of the characters are supposed to be likeable, which is important and a good choice, but they do need redeeming or relatable qualities. Dave stands out and is instantly recognisable with clear insecurities which Aly Cruickshank’s character, ‘Neddy’, exploits. Dave’s shielding of himself provides a brilliant and bubbling conflict with ‘Neddy’.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all of the characters. This is where we come onto the main issues of the play. The character of ‘Neddy’ and the purpose of the play.

Neddy’s process and mind are not explored enough, so whilst we see his manipulation of other characters mould slowly and sadistically, his actions by the end are not justified in his own twisted way. This leads to the ending falling somewhat flat and into the second issue.

Why has this piece been written? What does it offer its audience? What does it explore? It doesn’t offer clarity on the history, it doesn’t explore the issue nor the mindset of the characters and isn’t escapism. It’s not a character study and whilst it is well written, directed, acted and designed – after all is said and done there is no takeaway for the audience.

The conversations I had after the play ranged from talking about the historical facts and questioning the purpose of the play. I’ve seen technically worse plays that are much more ‘must-see’ because of what they offer their audience.

Ultimately, this is an incredibly brave story that Joe Wiltshire-Smith has attempted to tackle for his first full-play. For Spilt Milk too. However, there just doesn’t seem to be a focus or point to the piece.

Some will disagree on this and say it doesn’t need a point or to explore anything. But, that is what separates ‘good’ from ‘great’. A little more focus and this could be an absolute stellar piece of theatre. As it is, there’s just something missing.

Five Green Bottles is an enjoyable, brilliantly crafted piece of theatre only let down by a slight lack of purpose.

Five Green Bottles at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
9th – 13th April 2019
Written by Joe Wiltshire-Smith
Co-writer: Kirsty Phillips
Directed by Becca Lidstone
Starring:
Angharad Berrow
Aly Cruickshank
Olivia Martin
Tobias Weatherburn
Assistant Director: Joe Wiltshire-Smith
Producer: Tobias Weatherburn
Stage Manager: Hadley Taylor
Production Design: Ceci Calf
Sound Designer: Nick Laws
Lighting Designer: Garrin Clarke
Set Assistant: Aleks Carlyon
Technical Assistant: Theodore Hung

REVIEW: BETWEEN ETERNITY AND TIME at RWCMD by Gareth Ford-Elliott

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Please note this review contains references to sexual violence and discusses the production’s plot in detail.

Between Eternity and Time by Jacob Hodgkinson follows a 14-year-old girl, Maya, who is sent as a drug-runner from Liverpool to Bangor by Dabs. As the play develops, it becomes increasingly evident that she wasn’t meant for a life in the city, but instead something freer. Between Eternity and Time is about environment, coming of age and finding your place in the world.

The writing by Jacob Hodgkinson is generally OK. The plot is straight-forward and the dialogue is realistic. There’s rarely a boring moment as the play moves at a good pace, mostly with purpose and with a good amount of humour.

However, characters are very stereotypical, underdeveloped and in one case, Kitty, completely unnecessary. Other characters have no redeeming qualities, especially Dabs, the main drug-dealer, who just seems to be bad with no justification, even to himself. Maya similarly, has no negative quality. She doesn’t seem vulnerable, as a fourteen-year-old in the drug-scene would be, despite being taken advantage of, and never does anything wrong. This makes her feel passive and hard to connect to through no-fault of Kate Jones who performs well.

There are also a few moments of expositional speech that really drag, ruining the rhythm of the piece. In particular when Maya explains her half-brother, Tom’s, personal history and interest in Warhammer to Mush. This goes on far too long and is too expositional to be interesting. It’s also irrelevant to the rest of the play. It could be cut and we wouldn’t miss a thing. We understand exactly who Tom was through William Kirk’s great performance.

A minor issue is that it’s not realistic for a drug-runner to be forced to put drugs up their bottom to transport on a train from Liverpool to Bangor. That’s something only really used to smuggle across international borders through airports. Not really from Liverpool to Bangor. Not impossible that it’d happen, but it doesn’t help with the suspension of disbelief and seems to exist solely to make Dabs look evil when he forces Maya to do this.

The play is gritty realism that leans into surrealism at times as actors don stag masks and speak about Maya’s backstory through metaphor that compares Maya’s animalistic nature to that of a young fawn. For most of the play this feels odd, until the end where it finally pays off. The juxtaposition of the surreal, animalistic and rural nature to the societal, urban, reality fits what the play attempts to talk about. But perhaps would be stronger were it explored more in the direction before the end of the play.

Otherwise, the direction from Hannah Noone is strong. From script to stage, the play improves and Noone certainly contributes to the play’s strengths whilst balancing out its weaknesses. The scenes are short-and-snappy for the most part, but are directed well, with close attention paid to pace and tone, so this isn’t an issue.

Some of the music choices are bordering on offensive. It’s clear that some working-class, Liverpudlian, drug-dealers listen to rap music. But we don’t need that shoved in our faces, especially as it’s not personal to the characters. It feels a little like Noone and sound designer, Charlie Foran, have thought, “what music is ‘street’ and reflects drug-dealing?” And then instantly picked the most instantly recognisably ‘black’ music genre, hip-hop, which is bordering on racist stereotyping. It just doesn’t sit well. It also does nothing to increase that feeling of ‘Liverpool’, so some local music would be a better fit.

The music generally feels like a missed opportunity to draw a real distinction between Liverpool and Bangor and between the urban and the rural. This is explored at times, but really not enough, which is a shame given the overriding theme of the play.

The set from Harrison Lee is minimal which works well, allowing the writing and acting to be the main focus which is the point of RWCMD’s ‘NEW’ season. This, however, means that the lighting is very important. Luckily, Leonora Nicholson’s lighting design is exceptional and compliments the production well, enhancing almost every scene.

Despite the stereotypical and often weak characters, all performances are brilliant – for what they were given.

Ed Piercy makes Blowback feel like a victim of circumstance, which makes him feel like a young-man from Liverpool, caught up in the drug-scene with no way out. His performance is realistic and makes his character very relatable.

Grace Quigley gives a strong performance as Nicole, acting with conviction. Saran Morgan as Kitty was great, even if her character was basically unnecessary. I felt sorry for her, playing a character who doesn’t really have any substance or meaning – but she does a good job regardless. Alex Leak as Dabs is also strong, although his accent seemed to switch at times. William Kirk’s nervous demeaner is really powerful in a play full of confident individuals. Ruby Hartley as Crystal is also great, as is Kate Jones as Maya – both however felt incomplete as characters and that meant the performances are somewhat over-done.

Aron Cynan’s subtlety and creepy vibe as Mush is the standout. He’ll have your skin crawling even before he does anything wrong. Something is just ‘off’ with him from the start and it’s really powerful when he eventually turns.

Unrelated to the quality of the production, but no less important, is the lack of trigger warnings provided by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. In the programme and website there are no trigger warnings for sexual violence or flashing lights in this production. So, you can imagine my shock when Mush and Maya are involved in a scene of strong sexual content, this urgently needs addressing. The theatre has a responsibility to challenge its audience’s minds, but care for their bodies. This production succeeds at challenging its audience, but due to the lack of trigger warnings, puts its audience at risk.

Between Eternity and Time is an intriguing exploration of environment and finding one’s place in the world that achieves its aims, but not without its issues.

Between Eternity and Time performed at The Richard Burton 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 Jacob Hodgkinson
Directed by Hannah Noone
In Collaboration with Sherman Theatre
As part of RWCMD’s ‘NEW’ Season
Starring:
Kate Jones as Maya
William Kirk as Tom
Aron Cynan as Mush
Alex Leak as Dabs
Grace Quigley as Nicole
Ruby Hartley as Crystal
Ed Piercy as Blowback
Saran Morgan as Kitty
Production Team:
Set & Costume Design: Harrison Lee
Lighting Designer: Leonora Nicholson
Sound Designer: Charlie Foran
Assistant Production Manager: Alexandra Drescher-Elphick
Stage Manager: Gemma Smith
Deputy Stage Manager: Melanie Allen
Assistant Stage Manager: Grace Bilsborough
Design Assistants: Cleo Andriola and Bence Baksa
Technicians: Ella Cunnison, Kitty Dunning, Jamie Holden and Paul Kaiba
Venue Technician: Kieran Gough
Supervisors: Kristy Bowers, Rob Clarke and Laura Martin

Review: Ageless, Sherman Youth Theatre, Sherman Theatre by Sian Thomas

All photos credit Chris Lloyd

Yesterday, I saw Ageless at the Sherman Theatre. I haven’t been to the Sherman for some time, the last time I was there was for an event for the Cardiff Fringe Festival last year and it was nice to be back. It’s always a lovely venue to attend, it creates a really specific, really capturing atmosphere.


The play, Ageless, had a really interesting concept. A pill being made in order to cheat ageing. Essentially, live forever, and to live forever young. In addition to this concept, there were also a multitude of characters – each with different, and clear, motivations – easily ones to root for and enjoy seeing when they came on stage. Along with this came a really compelling atmosphere – especially when the scenes conveyed a group of rebellious teens fighting against this pill being made and distributed, a couple who have been taking it, and the two head scientists who made it. Bouncing between these three gave a really good depth to a world that no longer really ages, and I really liked seeing the tension between the three be created. There was a really good split of stage time between “young and old” to make the story really interesting and quick to figure out who’s side you were on.


Like always, the Sherman has incredible setting. I saw, what feels like a billion years ago, their production of Romeo and Juliet, and I remember how fun the stage looked then. This stage, just as that, was fun, too. And also practical – I really liked the way the cast would move it around to create a different atmosphere and setting.

The end was pretty clever. I liked the implications it left its world and the audience with. If the “being ageless” pill left takers with minuscule chances to have children, then it created a much bigger situation than just this revelation and the subsequent reaction. Essentially, it feels like there should be an Ageless 2 exploring “what came next”. The premise of the play, and the way the play itself was delivered, almost feels like it should be a TV show pitch, and I think the story idea there could definitely go far.


I’m really glad I saw it on one of the three days it was showing. It was a lovely watch of an intricate, almost dystopian, world.

Sian Thomas

Review: WOOF at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Please note this review contains references to sexual violence and detailed analysis of the productions plot.

WOOF by Elgan Rhys is a new Welsh-language (occasionally bilingual with English subtitles at every performance) play about two men, Daf and Jesse, who have different expectations of one another.

In a lustful first meeting we see the pair’s first sexual encounter and follow their romance along some ups and downs until their final “sexual” encounter and the fallout.

Woof portrays big topics such as open/polyamorous relationships and sexual assault both in the context of modern gay life. However, Elgan Rhys fails to really explore any of these topics in a way that does them justice.

One main reason why is because the characters are cliché “types” of gay men. One wanting marriage and kids, the other wanting an open relationship. But this is the extent of their individuality. Even the way they speak is basically identical and generic.

Because of this, despite the characters having clear goals, the motivations that drive them aren’t clear. For a play that relies so heavily on bubbling under the surface, we should be understanding the motivations.

Rape is used as a “turning point” and feels more like a plot point than a major life event in Jesse or Daf’s life. Things do change after this, but again, the motivations that drive these changes are invisible. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like we’re watching a play, we barely see how they’re feeling and when we do, it mostly comes through speech and feels unnatural.

Things happen, we get spoken to about them, and then the characters move on to the next stage of the plot. It feels like a draft of a script that has figured out its structure, but not found the character’s voices or even the characters themselves.

One positive is that we see real love from both characters to each other, even if they don’t always care for the other.

Elgan Rhys presents a lot in Woof and some people will really identify with it, because of the evocative nature of the topics presented. But it explores very little of these huge themes and how they affect the characters, which is where this play particularly falls down.

The tone of the direction from Gethin Evans doesn’t help solve this. It’s quite flat throughout. The odd scene or moment is well controlled by Evans. But the piece overall feels odd. The subtext isn’t portrayed well throughout the performance at all and the build-up to the rape scene, as well as the scene itself, is really poor because of this.

Whilst neither Aled Pedrick as Jesse or Berwyn Pearce as Daf do particularly badly in portraying what they’re given, neither really rise and meet the task either. There are great moments from both, however.

Jesse’s immediate reaction to being raped is horrifying. The confusion and fear are portrayed well – but this doesn’t hold and the performance of Jesse declines into mediocrity afterwards. Meanwhile, the performance of Daf peaks in more comedic moments – but struggles with the darker ones.

There are moments of good chemistry between the two, particularly in the first third of the play. A scene where the two characters exchange phone numbers is particularly nice. Some real chemistry which is lovely as well as being the first time we see real care and love in the two. But then, there’s a lot that feels unnatural. For example, whenever the characters talk about their relationship – which is the central conflict of the piece.

The set and design from Elin Steele is simple. Nothing out of this world but it works. It’s a similar story for Katy Morison’s lighting design too. Some moments that are good, the club scene in particular, but ultimately underused.

The sound by Sam Jones doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall production. An announcement of “Happy New Year!” on the sound system doesn’t fit the tone and music isn’t exploited nearly enough.

The design elements really could set the tone for the piece but instead, as happens too often, feel like an afterthought.

Now that we have critically assessed the play itself, there are some other things that desperately need to be addressed.

Firstly, the lack of trigger warnings was a huge issue. “Sexual content” does not equal “rape/sexual violence”. This desperately needs addressing by the Sherman in the remaining shows as this was incredibly irresponsible.

The tone on the night and marketing is out of place with the nature of the piece. Having feedback boards outside with various LGBTQ+ flags on it, was a strange contrast from portraying a toxic gay relationship and gay rape. Marketing it with the words “bold” and “gritty” are also out of place with what we see. This isn’t a bold play because it doesn’t challenge its audience.

In the programme notes, Rachel O’Riordan, former artistic director of the Sherman Theatre and the person who commissioned this play, said, “the play…will ask our audience to look at some uncomfortable truths.” This is true. It asks its audience to observe some uncomfortable truths but doesn’t challenge them by exploring those truths.

It seems that from start to finish, the whole theatre had the wrong attitude with this play, from top to bottom. From commissioning, to presenting, to marketing and warning its audience about the issues it deals with. It’s a presentation of something that may well be true, but not an exploration of the themes or characters.

There will be people who really enjoy Woof and it is worth seeing, in full knowledge of what it’s about.

WOOF is a dark portrayal of a toxic, yet loving relationship, between two male characters who are ultimately underdeveloped.

WOOF performed at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
31 January – 9th February 2019
Written by Elgan Rhys
Directed by Gethin Evans
Cast:
Daf – Berwyn Pearce
Jesse – Aled Pedrick
Designer: Elin Steele
Sound Designer: Sam Jones
Lighting Designer: Katy Morison

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

By: Lewis Carol

Adaption by Mike Kenney

Directed by: Rachel O’Riordan

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Sherman’s Christmas shows are becoming one of my family’s staple events of the Christmas season. For the second year in a row, their main stage show has avoided an overly ‘Christmassy’ offering (last year’s production of ‘The Borrowers’ was one of our stand out shows from 2017) but despite this, they’ve still managed to inject a large dose of festive fun and frivolity in to the production.

Director Rachel O’Riordan has brought together an all-Welsh cast and it’s great to see some familiar faces who you may recognise from other stand-out productions from the last few years. Hannah McPake (who plays the Queen of Hearts) comes from the ‘Gagglebabble’ duo with Lucy Rivers, who also features in the show’s musical line up. Having seen both Wonderman and Sinners Club with Lucy and Hannah, you know you are in for an off-the-wall experience if they are involved.

I’d also recognised Elin Phillips as the Cheshire Cat/Caterpillar (who I saw in Tom Jones the Musical by Theatre Na n’Og), Alexandria Riley the March Hare/Tweedledum who was absolutely incredible in Fio’s production of The Mountaintop in Cardiff’s Other Room pub-theatre, Keiron Self (The Duchess) who also featured in last year’s Sherman Production of The Borrowers along with the hyperactively hilarious White Rabbit Joseph Tweedale.

It’s a familiar cast, but as an ensemble and with the innocence of Alice, played by relative newcomer Elian West, they had wonderful energy and chemistry. I was also glad to see Callum Davies’ debut as the Doormouse, having joined the cast through the Sherman Players and as one of the Sherman’s apprentice actors. It’s great to see new talent being supported by Sherman – and Callum was adorable as the mouse!

Firstly, mad props to designer Hayley Grindle and her team, who created a stunning chequerboard set, which was dazzling and disorientating at the same time! The intimacy of the space in Sherman creates such a lovely, cosy atmosphere and the set and props were clever and creative (the baby pig, the trap doors, the table legs, the ticking clocks, the tiny doors at the end of the corridor, the teacups, mushrooms and roses).

Writer Mike Kinney added his own flair to the show, which did not chain itself to the original book or Disney movie visuals, but found its own voice.

A Duchess with a valleys accent, Tweedledee and Tweedledum with broad Newport accents and a flavour of the Welsh language peppered in dialogue exchanges and songs brought a similar kind of relevance and familiarity that Christmas Panto-goers will know and love.

Having been a life-long fan of valleys Pantomime Dame Frank Vickery who sadly passed away this year, it was lovely to see Keiron Self mimicking the same kind of high-camp, neurotic valleys Mam vibe which always hits home with me!

The littlies in the audience also loved the huge presence and scary-as-hell crazy eyes of Hannah McPake as the Queen of Hearts. Francois Pandolfo’s turn as the hen-pecked, simpering and anxious King was simply brilliant. I hadn’t expected the show to include musical numbers and it added another rich layer to this lovely production, with the cast ensemble vocals (particularly in the ‘Alice’ intro song and refrain) so sweet-sounding and warming.

Another standout song which children will love (and you’ll see them mimicking it in the foyer afterwards, no doubt) was a song about Alice’s baby sister (who it turns out has a head of a pig). It’s possible you may also have the ‘Wah wah wah…’ song in your head for the rest of the evening.

I had two ‘mini-critics’ of my own with me, age 9 – and they are typically the harshest of critics and don’t pull any punches. What were their final thoughts?

“Why did Alice not have blonde hair?!” said one of the littlies, who was completely exasperated with this minor detail. I explained this was a theatre show – not a ruddy Disney movie. Things always change on stage.

“Still – everyone knows Alice has blonde hair…also, I thought the Wah Wah Wah song went on for ages.”

Riiiiiiiiiight – so what would your marks out of five be, I asked them both – dreading the answer.

“I’d give it 3.5 stars.” Mini Critic 2 said.

Sheesh! What about Mini Critic 1?

“Definitely a 4.5 – I thought the singing was lovely and they were really funny.”

Jeez, maybe the Queen of Hearts was right about kids! I also couldn’t believe that these two did not share my enthusiasm for the Jam tarts which the Sherman had so thoughtfully provided for their guests on opening night.

“Look kids – JAM TARTS…WOWWWWW!” It doesn’t take a lot to get me excited, I admit.

“Meh…don’t like Jam Tarts.”

I tried threatening them that if the Queen of Hearts heard their comments, she’d have their heads off but….

Kids today! You can lead them to a finely tuned production of Alice, but you can’t make them eat the Jam Tarts or get over the fact that Alice didn’t have blonde hair.

Ultimately though – we all agreed this was a great little show, which got us feeling very excited indeed for Christmas (oh, and I still have the Wah Wah Wah song circling my head!).

Go see it – you won’t regret it!

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre

The Sherman Theatre have finally let their Christmas show out into the world! This year, from Friday 23rd of November to Saturday 29th of December, you can catch Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland at the Sherman theatre. I was lucky enough to see the show on its press night to see how Rachel O’Riordan’s direction combined with Mike Kenny’s writing to bring Alice in Wonderland to life. I’ll be reviewing this whole production including the cast, characters, design and also the style of the adaptation. Continue reading Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre

Review: Shed Man at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Shed Man by Kevin Jones is a view into the head of a man who lives the most mundane of lives. He has a job, a wife, two kids and is building himself a shed. Sometimes, we all just need to build a shed and hide.

The script truly is a beautiful thing. The attention to detail is exceptional and the small nuances of the script are what makes it so powerful. There are funny moments, but a darker undertone – which is really becoming a defining feature of Kevin Jones’ writing and is extremely effective.

The script is the outstanding aspect of this production and it is an interesting view into the mind of a man who, on the outside, is extremely mundane.

The design team for this production is solid. Josh Bowles’ sound design is becoming a regular these last couple of years on the Cardiff scene and I’m all for it. Here, the use of music for transition works well and the rest of the sound portrays scene and emotion to good effect. The sound is nothing incredible, but it is not supposed to be.

Cory Shipp’s set is exactly what you’d expect and sets up this mundane world. A garden with a white fence, a shed and a few bits that get played with. It’s straightforward and again adds to that sense of mundane life. The lighting from Louise Swindell changes subtly, and again, is simple, yet effective. It compliments the nature of the script well, but again, is nothing groundbreaking.

Perhaps more could have been done on the design front, but then the whole production, lead by Siobhán Lynn Brennan, is directed in a very plain and realistic way. There is nothing overtly wrong with this, however it could do with something different. This is a script that could be interpreted in many ways, and because of that there is no clear answer to how this could change for the better.

As far as the acting goes, again, it does the job, there is nothing wrong with it and makes for an enjoyable performance. However, there is a clear choice from Brennan to keep this realistic, when the characters aren’t exactly realistic.

Brian (Benedict Hurley) is a man who, besides the first and last scene, is going through an anxious episode. Mother Pat (Siw Hughes) and boss Mr. Tatum (Joe Burke) are caricatures of real people existing in Brian’s head. Wife Emma (Chrissie Neale), whilst never appearing in Brian’s head on stage, is portrayed simply as a “nice wife” with no real depth. This all works in the hour of script. However, in its transition to stage something has been lost.

Pat and Mr. Tatum are fairly plain characters, showing no depth, little character motivation and little logic. But that is the point, because that is how anxiety works. Pat might be an overly clingy mother after the death of her husband, and Mr. Tatum may be an annoying boss who sends his employees on pointless tasks in real life. But in this hour of theatre, they are caricatures – and that is how it should be.

Benedict Hurley is the only actor really challenged by character depth and he handles it fairly well. However, there are moments that could have been driven home more. And more subtleties from the script that are there in words, but not action.

Generally, the character interaction, movement on stage and minor physical details could be worked on. There are moments that felt awkward. There seems a lack of physical characterisation which could really enhance this piece. However, if the director wants us to think everything happening on stage is real, until we find out it’s not, then Brennan succeeds.

It’s hard to say exactly what Shed Man ‘needs’ to step up a level. This script truly could be interpreted in many ways. Brennan is an exceptional director and the actors are great too. But something just isn’t clicking here.

The running time of sixty-minutes is fine. But perhaps a slightly shorter time that gets the point across and allows more space for the characterisation of Brian, the protagonist, and gives less time for the lack of characterisation of other characters to become exposed, would be more effective.

That said, this is still an enjoyable piece of theatre and the script alone makes it worth seeing. It is the type of production that some will like and some won’t. I fall somewhere in the middle. The mundanity is beautiful, and something that I believe is more dramatic than typically dramatic situations, if it is handled in the right way.

On another note, it is really heartening to see a company like Clock Tower performing in the Sherman. A beautiful company committed to new writing, who have produced some truly excellent work, deserve all the best. A fitting first company to be part of the Sherman’s new ‘Get it while it’s Hot’ programme.

Shed Man is a thoroughly enjoyable watch, brilliant script, not without its issues as a production.

Shed Man is an important play for 21st century Britain. The issue of mundanity is the biggest unspoken struggle. It is a “first world problem”, but any issue in any human’s head deserves to be spoken about. And nobody should have to build a shed to hide from the world.

Shed Man by Kevin Jones
Performed at the Sherman Theatre
Tickets: 13th – 17th November 2018
Presented by Clock Tower Theatre Company
Directed by Siobhán Lynn Brennan
Produced by Steven Bennett
Designer: Cory Shipp
Sound Designer: Joshua Bowles
Lighting Designer: Louise Swindell
Assistant Director: Umalkyhar Mohamed
Assistant Producer: Lauren Lloyd

Review: Lord of the Flies (Sherman Theatre) by Vicky Lord

I will be the first to admit that I have had a love/hate relationship with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I was one of the many to study the 1954 novel during secondary school and, while I liked particular elements, I was certainly not a fan. However, mainly through a love for the audiobook, the novel has continually grown on me and now I would say it is a firm favourite which I will re-read multiple times.

As this novel is one so constantly studied in school, due to the layers of imagery, intriguing characters and intriguing presentations of societal and bodily issues, I was immediacy intrigued to see that Lord of the Flies has now been adapted into a play by Nigel Williams which is currently showing at the Sherman Theatre. However, in order to fully review this play in the context of one which is studied so frequently, there will be spoilers for both the plot of the novel and the show and I will also be discussing some ways in which the play deviated away from the novel’s plot in order to make these clear to anyone studying this production in light of the novel. Therefore, this review will be a long one.

Lola Adaja gives an intricate professional stage debut as Ralph. I feel that she balanced the complex sides of Ralph in both opposing Jack but also partaking in the early chaos. The transition between his more childish side in interacting with Jack when they first meet on the island to his role and chief and the heartbreaking final transition back into childish weeping were suitably intriguing and heartbreaking to watch at once. Gina Fillingham’s performance as Piggy felt as if risen directly from Golding’s novel. A delicate balance between comedy and depression for order Fillingham, from her first moments, ensures that piggy’s presence is known despite Jack’s protests.

You may have noticed Williams’ biggest change in adapting Lord of the Flies from novel to stage. All male boy characters, while keeping their original names, are now played by women and all mentions of ‘boy’ are changed to ‘girl’ in-keeping with this. Honestly, when watching the play, in terms of watching the story unfold and the narrative, I barely noticed the change. Rather than wrapping the story around this change, instead this casting and adaption choice folded itself into the preexisting narrative. Therefore, I feel that this production is a good example of showing that this change can be done without compromising any major themes of the narrative.

I feel that this was certainly aided by the construction of the island around the actresses. James Perkins’ design ensures for suitably intricate routes through wooded forests and heightened cliffs which give settings for the action. This design expertly balances the audience’s image of a literal island but also hints towards the island as the construction of small boys, or girls, in this case, playing at civilisation. Also, a true highlight of this production is Tim Mascall’s lighting design. Right from the opening moments, the lighting is epic and this continues throughout the production. These two elements combined to make my jaw drop in the entrance of the parachutist which highlights one of the first darkest moments of the narrative and I truly enjoyed watching the lighting and the set design combine to enhance the narrative. Similarly, I feel that the atmosphere of this production evokes that of Golding’s original novel in Philip Stewart’s sound design. Stewart interestingly combines both the sounds of drumming and atmospheric noises in very interesting places, such as Jack’s first intention to divide the group, with the sounds of howling, shouting and crying by the cast to really bring all of these elements together.

William’s adaption of a more contemporary Simon worked very well and, in combination with Olivia Marcus’ skilfully quiet but active role, this really brought the character to a far more relatable point with the audience. I was also very pleasantly surprised that the production took the plunge and decided to portray Simon as having an anxiety-induced epileptic fit, rather than only a feint as it has been previously portrayed in films. While I cannot speak for the exact accuracy of the movements I do appreciate this decision due to the original vagueness of its presence in the novel and I feel that this aids the relatability of Simon in this production.

I will also say that the end of Act One, Simon’s death, is really the height of the production as the cast, sound, set and lighting design all come together. The moment itself is the best example within this production of the drama and epic features of Golding’s narrative and imagery as the sounds of the cast and practical effects ensure you cannot move your eyes away for a second. After the height of the moment, I love the intricate character moments of Piggy and Roger being the only ones to look at Simon’s body constantly after the act has been done. Following this, however, is one of the highlights of Adaja’s professional debut. The intricate detail of the spotlight on Simon once everyone, except Ralph, leaves as Ralph slowly turns to look at him and begin to sob. I feel that this was a really intricate way to do this scene and I really appreciated it as someone who has and will study the novel.

However, this production does feature significant changes which I, personally, was not a fan of due to the aspects of character and narrative which they changed. The main changes concern Simon, Piggy and Roger. The first is Simon’s scene with the titular Lord of the Flies, a pig’s head from Jack’s earlier hunt. In the novel and the subsequent famous film adaptations, the Lord of the Flies is always a major point of focus and truly a highlight, even if it is, as it is supposed to be, nightmare fuel. In fact, this scene is one of the many which have caused some readers to count this novel as a horror novel. This moment is vital to Simon’s character construction as he has a ‘conversation’ with the head, commonly agreed to be in his head even though commonly presented as two-sided, which foreshadows events and always stands out. However, in this production, this conversation simply blended into the background of the end of Act One. The pig is simply on the ground, rather than on a stick as it usually is, and while there is a small hint at the Lord of the Flies voice the conversation is purely voiced by Simon. While this is interesting there is no mention of the name Lord of Flies or the foreshadowing lines which are vital. The play could have been staging this as only Simon can hear these lines but this just leads to the conversation not being the true highlight of creepiness and narrative that it should have been.

The second is the parachutist. While I loved the entrance and the presentation of the parachutist, it began to distract me in the second act because of a major narrative change. While Simon does find the parachutist as she usually does and her vital lines regarding its humanity are still present they miss the vital point of Simon’s goodness and wish for the preservation of humanity’s goodness in Simon’s untangling and freeing of the parachutist who is then moved away from the island by natural causes. This was a change where I can see why the result of the action does not seem vital but I do not understand the reason for keeping the parachutist on the island when its time in the narrative has ended and the original actions do aid characterisation.

However, the purely biggest change is Piggy’s death. This play does weirdly change the circumstances surrounding Piggy’s death. While her glasses are stolen by Jack they are never broken which is again strange as the breaking of Piggy’s glasses before they are stollen is representative in the novel of the gradual breakdown of law and order. This could have been due to the time constraints as Act Two did feel shorter in terms of narrative but it is something to bear in mind if you are studying The Lord of the Flies. After this, Piggy’s death is not the same as it is in the book. Rather than Roger consciously choosing to release a bolder which kills Piggy by striking him on the head, and breaking the conch in the process, this play instead stages Piggy as being scared by Roger, Maurice and Perceval shouting which leads her to fall from the cliff and the conch in consciously broken by Roger with a rock. Again, while I can see that this form of Piggy’s death is easier to stage it is a curious change which must be made clear to those studying it. Another thing to bear in mind is that Hannah Boyce’s wonderfully creepy Roger is far more vocal than he is in any previous version. While it is nice to get a further insight into one of my favourite mysterious characters some of this vocalisation is badly placed in the tone of the play.

Therefore, overall I’m giving Nigel Williams’ Lord of the Flies ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. While major narrative changes must be kept in mind for those studying the novel alongside this play, this play is an excellent theatrical version of the setting and general points made by Golding’s novel. The set, lighting and sound design of this production is a highlight of practical theatrical effects which allow the wonderful cast to really mould themselves into their characters and the setting. This leads to a really enjoyable experience in watching this cast find their characters and explore the setting while also making the events of the narrative suitably uncomfortable to watch.

Lord of the Flies is running at the Sherman Theatre until the 3rd of November and you can get your tickets here: https://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/lord-of-the-flies/

Vicky Lord
@Vickylrd4 [Twitter]

Review, Lord of the Flies, Theatr Clwyd/Sherman Theatre Co-Production by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The all-female cast of Lord of the Flies, a Theatr Clwyd and Sherman Theatre co-production, may have caused a stir in some quarters. But, for me, it’s actually one of the least interesting aspects of the production. This adaptation of William Golding’s 1954 novel translates the characters from page to stage seamlessly. It is their unique and distinct personalities, and the interactions between them, that fascinate most. The gender, as well as race, of the actors on stage very quickly becomes superfluous. I hope that, after all the hype and controversy, Jodie Whittaker’s introduction as the 13th Doctor next week will have a similar effect.

Director Emma Jordan has chosen to explode this production onto the stage. Sitting comfortably in my seat, the sudden detonation of light and sound to begin the play made me jump out of my skin. It was terrifying. Yet the exhilaration was equally palpable. It doesn’t take long for the characters, stranded on a desert island after their plane crashes, to establish themselves in the minds of the audience. The sensible Piggy (Gina Fillingham), the humble Ralph (Lola Adaja), and the vitriolic Jack (Kate Lamb) are as familiar here as they are in the pages of Golding’s book. Nigel Williams’ script remains relatively faithful to the novel, whilst condensing the action into a tightly-framed two hour performance. This means that the narrative skips along nicely. Yet the big moments still have plenty of room to breathe, resulting in some dramatic scenes that ooze tension and leave tangible space for reflection in their wake.

Far removed from her lovely persona as Delia Busby in Call the Midwife, Lamb seems to relish the role of Jack. The harsh delivery of her early criticism towards Fillingham’s sweetly amusing Piggy makes her character instantly dislikeable. Lamb appears at pains to place her character as the central antagonist through her brash and bold movements alongside the venomous verbal outbursts contained in Williams’ script. Such characterisation presents a confidence and commandeering that translates itself into a vision of leadership that can seem right and proper. It is in stark contrast to the pragmatic Ralph, played by Adaja. Her presence is less about physical flare. Instead, it is a more contained performance that sees the character wrestling internally with conflicting ideas and sentiments. This is conveyed brilliantly by Adaja through far more subtle movement than we get from Lamb. Combined with more strain and staccato in her vocal expression, Adaja demonstrates both the humility and self-doubt that lie at the heart of Ralph. This makes her, to all intents and purposes, a far more qualified leader, in my view. Yet this is a vision of leadership that is so often judged as weak and ineffective. The dynamic between these two, very different characters is, I believe, of huge relevance today, not least in the context of local, national, and global politics.

When I encounter Lord of the Flies, it is the use and misuse of power that fascinates. It is a theme that goes beyond gender. It speaks of the human condition. Therefore, to argue that changing the gender of the characters is problematic is, in my opinion, nonsense. Not that it is completely irrelevant. After the show, I overheard one female audience member comment that girls can be just as savage as boys. Would this observation have been made without the female-only cast? To offer an alternative (female) perspective, one that still remains sadly lacking in contemporary theatre, is important. But it is by no means one of the main reasons why this production is worth seeing. It is worth seeing because it features a very talented and dynamic cast who work brilliantly together to create an engaging and interesting adaptation of Lord of the Flies. Add in some well-placed music and very effective use of lighting and it makes for a bold and challenging dramatization of a narrative whose themes still resonate strongly today. In the end, this is simply a great story, well told.

Click here for tickets.

gareth

Review: Godden And Barnes by Sian Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

Sian Thomas