Tag Archives: Sherman Theatre

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

By: Lewis Carol

Adaption by Mike Kenney

Directed by: Rachel O’Riordan

(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 / 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 / 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

An Interview with Artist and Illustrator Emily Jones

The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Artist Emily Jones. They discussed her training,  being named runner-up in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize 2017 for graphic short story: Dennis and June and her most  recent work for Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

Hi Emily great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hello, I grew up in Tyneside but I’ve lived in Cardiff for many years now. I studied illustration for children’s books at art college as that’s the branch of illustration I’m really passionate about. Although, I do enjoy drawing cartoons of Donald Trump and other political figures that I find ludicrous! Being an illustrator isn’t my full time job as I prefer the balance of being able to draw and paint when I want, without the worry or pressure of relying on it for an income.

So what got you interested in Illustration?

I had two lovely teachers in primary school and they encouraged me to draw. They made me realise that you could draw pictures for a living. I loved picture books in particular and I had my favourite illustrators who I aspired to be like. I think I’ve always been fascinated with images and how someone has created them.

How has your career as an illustrator developed?

A few years ago, I began renting out an art studio so I had the space to work in a more professional manner rather than just working at home in front of the TV. This really changed things and along with posting my work on social media, I have slowly but surely become busier and better.

Your personalised pet portraits are particularly popular with your work appearing in 1000 Dog Portraits by Rockport Publishers? Can you tell our readers how you got involved in pet portraits? Do you have a favourite animal to illustrate?

I painted my partner’s dog Scooby and it all started from there. I showed the painting to a few people and before long I was being asked to paint their cat or dog. I think painting pets is a great way for any artist to get commissioned as it’s artwork that is really accessible for people to buy. I love painting all sorts of animal but the more animated the creature is, the more fun I find it to be.

Over the last three years you have been commissioned by  Sherman Theatre to produce images for the seasonal productions The Princess and The Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes and this year you have designed the posters for Hud y Crochan Uwd / The Magic Porridge Pot and for the first time the main stage Christmas production The Wind in the Willows . Can you tell us how you approach illustrating such popular classics for the stage?

Well I begin by doing a lot of research on how other artists have illustrated these classic stories. I then do my best to create an image which is original as well as instantly recognisable. The images have to grab attention of both children and adults and hopefully it will make people want to see the show.

The image for Hud Y Crochan Uwd/The Magic Porridge Pot, Sherman Theatre. 

Your Wind in the Willows illustration has been developed into an animated trailer this year. Is this a first for you?

Yes it was and it was brilliant to see the image move! The artwork I create for Sherman Theatre is always created in separate layers. This enables the designers to move around the different components to fit whatever format the advert will appear; be it posters, flyers, web-banners etc. Of course, this also enabled the designers to create an animated trailer which is just awesome!

Do you have any illustrators or artists that inspire you?

There are tons! Quentin Blake has always been there as a favourite, as has Edward Gorey. They are experts at depicting characters with seemingly simple pen lines. Shaun Tan’s work is incredible and I wish I had a fraction of his talent! I love Júlia Sardà, David Roberts, Isabelle Arsenault, Alex T. Smith, Michael Sowa, Mateo Dineen, Rebecca Dautremer. They are a just a few! I study their work and try to figure out how they do what they do. They make me feel totally inferior but at the same time, inspire me and enthuse me to create my next best piece; which is definitely a good thing.

Images by Júlia Sardà, Shaun Tan, Edward Gorey and Quinten Blake

Congratulations on being named runner-up in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize 2017 for your Graphic short story: Dennis and June. This work is in a digital medium can you discuss how this differs from your painted work?

I recently bought a Huion Graphics tablet so I can draw and colour digitally. It makes illustrating in this comic style so much faster. When I heard about the graphic novel competition, I knew I’d have to create it digitally as painting the way I do, takes so long. Plus, the comic style suits the story much better. Creating digital work has a freedom to it. Mistakes can be easily erased and colouring is instant but physically painting an image will probably always be my favourite way to illustrate.

An image from Dennis and June you can read the full story at the link above

If any of our readers are aspiring illustrators what advice could you offer them?

Draw as often as possible. It seems obvious but you have to practice. Drawing from life is a brilliant way to improve your skills and develop your style. Having a recognisable style is important and it’s something I haven’t mastered yet. But the more work I do, the more I learn and develop. I just wish there was more time in the day to draw!

What do you have planned for the future?

Well, I’ve been having various successes in illustration competitions and I’m hoping this will lead to greater things in the publishing world. I have a couple of children’s books to work on, more images for children’s theatre and when I find the time, I’ll create another graphic story.

You have also designed the images for the 2018 Sherman Theatre Christmas productions  Hugan Fach Goch/Little Red Riding Hood and Alice In Wonderland. As a Wales based artist what does the support of Sherman Theatre mean to you personally?

I’ve created images for The Sherman for a while now and it’s always a proud moment seeing my artwork representing their shows. The Sherman has given me huge confidence in regards to my ability as an illustrator and I hope to work with them for years to come.

Image for Hugan Fach Goch/Little Red Riding Hood

Image for Alice in Wonderland

Thanks for your time Emily.

You can check out more or Emily’s work at the link

Review The Cherry Orchard, Sherman Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

The third part in the holy trinity of dynamic duo Rachel O’Riordan & Gary Owen’s co-productions, and the jewel in their collaborative crown, is their adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, seamlessly updated from pre-Revolution Russia to Thatcherian Pembrokeshire.

Centring on a family of wealthy landowners just as their luck and lucre begin to dwindle, the updated Cherry Orchard follows the return of boozy, bombastic matriarch Rainey to her childhood home mere days before it’s to be sold at auction. Her reappearance heralds an era of chaos, confusion and uncertainty, not just in her personal relationships but in creating a complex and combustible legal situation that threatens the stability of her nearest and dearest. Over all hangs the spectre of Mrs Thatcher, promising the working-class freedom with one hand, and mass unemployment with the other.

Rachel O’Riordan deftly directs the excellent ensemble, expertly exhuming the characters’ inner demons in a way that is interesting and realistic, but not clumsy or banal – a tricky line to navigate. Gary Owen adds heart and humour in his adaptation of Chekhov’s play; Owen’s version is not just more accessible than its source, but often improves on the original through its use of language, and its inclusion of Gothic undertones (spectral trains and ghostly children appear infrequently). O’Riordan and Owen work in tandem to ensure that we not only know these characters as well as our own families by the close of play, but that there are still myriad mysteries to uncover about the complex cast left after the curtain (metaphorically) falls.

The cast itself capably carries a modern audience through the dual layers of antiquity: first, to the 1980s, which have evolved into a sort of nostalgic Eden in pop culture thanks to the influence of Stranger Things, Stephen King’s It, and Guardians of the Galaxy to name but a few; and secondly, to the chequered past of Chekhov’s turn of the (20th) century Russia.

The linchpin of the piece is Denise Black’s winning, wine-soaked wonder Rainey, sauntering through life with a perpetual cigarette/ alcohol combination in hand. Her brash bravado and devil-may-care allure masterfully conceals the pain of her young son’s death, and the guilt she feels at her (careless, not calculated) part in his passing. A role that could easily slide into caricature is rendered relatable, realistic, and raw courtesy of Black’s amazing acting.

Matthew Bulgo excels as Lewis, a relatable downtrodden everyman who slowly sheds his skin to reveal a treacherous snake beneath. His cheerful ordinariness in the first act becomes tainted by the insidiousness of his ultimate decision, and the moment in which he strides around Rainey’s house proclaiming ‘these are my floors’ is particularly haunting.

A star-making turn by Alexandria Riley as Dottie gives the production a bold, beating heart. She is snarky, sarcastic, self-assured and frequently takes her wealthy employers down a peg with her biting insight about their whiny, work-shy ways. Although Riley injects a grounded grumpiness to the family’s affluent antics, she revels in revealing the hidden, hurt soul behind the bolshy brashness. Her relationship with Rainey is truly touching, and anchors the action with emotion – more than Rainey ever shows her other daughters.

Speaking of which, Hedydd Dylan and Morfydd Clark cleverly act as clear counterparts to one another – Dylan is Valerie, treading a delicate line as the exasperated, underrated eldest (adopted) daughter of Rainey. Although she often seems the coldest and most clinical of the bunch, chinks in her armour gradually appear, revealing a deep need to be loved by Rainey that the object of her desire – tragically – cannot fulfil. Clark is Anya, Rainey’s youngest (and only) biological daughter. Anya is the complete opposite of the uptight Valerie – free-spirited, defiant and romantically adventurous (whereas Valerie pins her romantic future on a friend of the family who’s been there all her life). Clark does a lot of heavy lifting with lyrical ease; as her character has the most monologues, she often has to wax poetic about the heady nostalgia of the past – she is the chronicler of the piece, the notary of nostalgia who ensures no-one forgets how precious the eponymous orchard is to the family: as a symbol, a cipher, and, ultimately, a swan song.

Richard Mylan plays Ceri, Anya’s former A-Level tutor with whom she reunites and (impulsively) romances, despite the fact that Anya has a stable, loving (and ostensibly rich) girlfriend back in Uni. Mylan plays Ceri with a potent combination of socialist vigour and musical snobbery that would make millennial hipsters blush. He probably has ‘Disaffected Youth’ tattooed in his soul, and he’s clearly relishing every second of acting like Sid Vicious and Michael Sheen’s lovechild. From the second he struts onto the stage clad in black from his boots to his leather-jacket and era-appropriate mop-top, you know exactly the kind of guy he is. Except you don’t, because halfway through the play, after denouncing once-beloved bands for signing to a label and selling out to ‘The Man’™, he abruptly announces his long-held desire to start his own record label, cheerfully (and obliviously) selling out in the exactly the way he just condemned.

My only disappointment in the adaptation of characters was that of Gabriel. Despite being thoughtfully and subtly portrayed by Simon Armstrong, his translation from Chekhov to this play was the only one which fell flat for me. In both he represents the laziness of the wealthy who don’t need to work to live – and Gabriel’s news of a (potentially fraudulent) career choice is poorly received by his relatives, and his failure seems inevitable However, the tragedy of Chekhov’s Gabriel was that he spoke a lot of sense, despite the fact that his relatives often shushed him mid-maxim. They find him annoying, we find him insightful. In this adaptation, Gabriel is demoted to doddery window dressing, and denied the musings his original counterpart was given in spades.

I had the pleasure of being on the post-show discussion panel on 24th October; led by Timothy Howe, the Sherman Theatre’s resident Communities and Engagement Coordinator, the panel consisted of Gary Owen himself, Dr Tristan Hughes (a senior lecturer in Literature at Cardiff University), and myself. I was there to represent Law and Literature, a field of study which boasts two complementary strands of thought: firstly, Law in Literature, which looks at how law is portrayed in literary texts; and secondly Law as Literature, in which legal texts are analysed using literary tools of interpretation. The Law and Literature module at Cardiff School of Law and Politics, led by Professors John Harrington and Ambreena Manji, have been linked up with the Sherman Theatre since 2016, incorporating their productions of Love Lies and Taxidermy, and now the Cherry Orchard, into the module over the last two years, offering a fantastic opportunity for students to not only study the texts, but see them performed live – and starting off discussions as to the parallels between performing law and performing theatre.

The post-show panel discussion was a hoot! Gothic sensibilities were touched on, Chekhov’s ghost was invoked, and new terms were coined – ‘melancomedy’, i.e. melancholy comedy, rather than a comedy about melons. One of the topics discussed was the evocative use of sound and imagery in the play; for me, the most striking image was the doorway from the house – dual monoliths illuminated from within by an afterlife-inspired white light. It was as if the living room from Roseanne led out into the stairway to heaven in A Matter of Life and Death. Juxtaposing the homely with the heavenly was an inspired piece of stage production, and gave the play an almost supernatural quality that was only enhanced by the occasional appearance of the spiritual presences mentioned above. Tristan and I exchanged Gothic interpretations of the play, and he felt that the most striking moment of the play was the haunting sound of the siren that heralded war with Argentina. A similarly chilling noise was the sound of the cherry orchard being chopped down offstage, the axe cutting into wood with a visceral thud akin to the sound of breaking bones and severed flesh, as if being murdered – very Gothic indeed.

Looking at the play using the lens of Law and Literature allows the legal aspects to shine under literary interpretation and vice versa. It was fascinating to watch how the play represents lots of different aspects of law: land law, family law (particularly adoption law), and contracts. I can assure you from experience that land law is one of the driest, dullest and yet most important and practical facets of the entire legal system. Memories of studying it at undergrad bring flashbacks of long, lethargic legal spiel, volumes upon volumes; it certainly felt like I was reading them in perpetuity. But the Cherry Orchard, in bringing complex legal issues like land law into the context of characters you care for and empathise with, was a paragon of Law in Literature – it represented the legal (and political) issues of the day, making them relatable and understandable, as well as informing us of the legal consequences through characters whose futures we grew to worry about.

There were doubles a go-go in this show (of particular interest to my Doppelganger-centric PhD). For a start, Dottie, Ceri and Lewis acted as the lower-class literary foils to the upper-class Rainey and co. Whereas Rainey and Anya want to keep the orchard for themselves, Lewis plots to buy the land and transform it into council houses thanks to Maggie Thatcher’s new scheme. Rainey and Anya want to linger in the home of their charmed childhoods, Dottie thinks they just don’t want lower-class people like her living next door; the response couldn’t be more insulting when Rainey effectively claims Dottie’s ‘one of the good ones’, a racist, classist sentiment that Dottie rightfully rails against. It only reinforces the fact that Dottie was spot on about their reasoning. Whereas Dottie works within the system to provide for herself and her family, Ceri fights against it, proclaiming the power of the proletariat – whilst dating a rich girl. I mean, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but it does somewhat foreshadow his forsaking his principles later on, just as he thinks going late to the dole office is a middle finger to authority. Gabriel is the most passive character of the play, and has no active involvement in the action – well-meaning but weightless. Not to mention the obvious doubles running through the play – ‘I’m a ghost. I’m not here’, Rainey whispers, feeling that she died in spirit when her son did’. The ghostly segments often feel like an afterthought, and I would have liked to explore them more – though, as they are now, they act as spectres of the past, relics and afterthoughts – and as such, they’re in good company with Rainey and her ghosts of love and luxury.

I can’t rave about this show enough. It is a triumph for those involved in making it, and a treat for those lucky enough to see it.

Barbara Hughes-Moore

Review The Cherry Orchard, Sherman Theatre by Kevin Johnson

This is not a new version of the Chekhov classic, but a ‘re-imagining’ by Welsh writer Gary Owen, of Killology & Iphigenia In Splott fame. Owen relocates it from 1890’s Russia to the Pembroke coast in 1982, just prior to the Falklands War, which makes for a very interesting choice.

It feels like every dysfunctional family drama you’ve ever seen, until you realise Chekhov originated the idea of real characters, with real problems, talking like real people.

Family matriarch Rainey, who has crawled into a bottle after the death of her son over a decade ago, followed soon after by the suicide of her husband, is virtually dragged back to the family home from London by Anya, her youngest daughter. Her self-destructive lifestyle has lead to the family home on the Pembroke coast being auctioned off to pay the debts.

Val, her eldest daughter, has held things together, but they need Raynie’s permission (and signature) to save it. All agree that the only viable option is to sell off the ancestral cherry orchard for redevelopment, but will she see it that way?

This play is incredibly funny and well-worth seeing, if only for the way Owen makes it so accessible to Welsh eyes. The ‘Russian peasants’ now come from housing estates, the decaying aristocracy are English interlopers, and the Communist revolutionaries are now Thatcherites, sweeping the past away without a thought or concern.

At the heart of the play is the idea that the future is farther away than we hope, while the past is always closer than we’d like. The characters here are continually haunted, not by spirits, but by the ghosts of memories, taunting them with remembrance.

Rainey tries to forget through excess, her guilt at losing her son gnawing away at her, like a rat sown inside her skin. In the end it causes her to take drastic action, and Denise Black brings all this out in a masterful performance that makes you feel sorry for her, even while she’s being a monster to all and sundry.

The entire cast take their moments when offered, yet still make this a true ensemble piece. Morfydd Clark is sweetly sensual as the young Anya, while Hedydd Dylan as her elder sister Val, shows us a woman who tries to run other people’s lives, but fails at her own.

Simon Armstrong as Gabe, Rainey’s brother, is amusingly ineffectual, yet quietly sharp. When Val talks about Rainey not telling him about her plans to leave he replies “We’ve been brother & sister half a century. Through awful things. Do you think saying ‘goodbye’ makes any difference?”

Alexandria Riley gives us a Dottie that is down to earth yet shows the love/hate relationship she has with the family, while Richard Mylan is funny, while also imparting a wise naïveté to Ceri.

Mathew Bulgo, given the task of Lewis, the ‘poor boy made good’, effects a performance of subtlety that defies the historical villain the role has been seen as. With the insults he endures from the others, and denied the role of ‘family saviour’ by Rainey, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him.

Writer Gary Owen conveys a situation full of layers, and also offers some nice ironies. Ceri’s expectations of Margaret Thatcher getting the blame for the Falklands War being one, Gabe’s job offer as an investment banker another.

When you add all this to Rachel O’Riordan’s deft direction, Kenny Miller’s intriguingly skewed set, and Kevin Tracey’s ingenious lighting, the Sherman Theatre demonstrates yet again that it is punching well above its weight in the theatre world.

There is so much going on here that I actually re-read the script in one go afterwards, and was still as gripped as I was by seeing it. The play is funny, ironic, witty, sarcastic and quietly heartbreaking. It is a story of loss, of people, places and things, and how memories both haunt and define us.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed: ‘We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past‘.

http://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/the-cherry-orchard/

Kevin Johnson

Iphigenia in Splott, a conversation in text by Leslie R Herman Jones

This response started as a real text convo between me in NYC and Joel (JF) in our home in Adamsdown, Cardiff. It inspired me to continue in this format. Instead of commenting that the language in the play was strong, and potentially offensive to some audiences, the response enters into the spirit of the drama and uses its vernacular. The other person in this scripted response is my daughter Tillie as TJ, who attended the performance with me. – LJ.

LJ: I saw Iphigenia in Splott in NYC on Wednesday night.

JF: What was it about?

LJ: A drunken slag on Clifton St….

JF: Anyone I know?

LJ: Her world; her straight-talking shit-faced attitude.

JF: Was it set in the Clifton pharmacy getting her methadone fix?

LJ: I said a drunk not a druggie.

JF: Oh….

LJ: Her hopes, fears, delusions… how the world impacts on her and she impacts on the world…

JF: What’s her name?

LJ: Iphigenia. Effie for short.

JF: How did it go down?

LJ: New York is a pretty gritty city, you know…

JF: You would know, born and bred there.

LJ: Yes I would. So, I think they got it. Apart from a smattering of laughs in the right places (but not all the right places), Sophie Melville’s Effie silenced the house throughout with her intimidating, in-your-face performance of this real toughie from Splott, Cardiff.  New Yorkers understandably missed a few laughs for  which you’d really have to be there to fully appreciate. As well, some of the micro-cultural and geo-specific references may have gotten lost in translation, but overall the impact was powerful.

JF: And you knows your Caadiff, too, innit love?

LJ: Living in the ‘Diff for 35 years and off Clifton Street for ten of them ? I’ve got the T-shirt, love,… with the distinct privilege of calling The Clifton my local…

JF: We’ve seen a bit down the Clifton…

LJ: I’ve definitely avoided the likes of Effie down Clifton Street, the wounded urban warrior, bruised and battered but still standing; spitting and swearing, daring you and scaring you just by staring at you…..

JF: Yep….

LJ: Melville’s impressive performance as Effie clearly kept the audience gripped — holding on tight while she soared (Bar scene) and sank (Birthing scene) and dragged us ducking and diving through the gutter of her frenzied and high-risk out of control life.

JF: Woa! Who wrote the play?

LJ: Gary Owen.

JF: Fair play. Sounds like she did justice to the part.

LJ: She did, though she may have missed some of the nuances of the authentic Splott voice and persona that are thoroughly embedded in Owen’s script, falling just short of the highest highs and the lowest lows possible with such a tragic figure.

JF: Who directed it?

LJ: Sherman Theatre’s, Artistic Director, Rachel O’Riordan. And quite strategically. The simple set (Hayley Grindle) served this small stage. A few chairs scattered randomly, and a light fixture of fluorescent strip lights, some falling off (Lighting Designer, Rachel Mortimer) reflected a cheap and nasty flat above a shop on Clifton Street.

JF: Grunge chic…

LJ: Charting Effie’s movements across the stage was great sport — if you’re into sports and sporting analogies.

JF: Sure, I could be…

LJ: O’Riorden’s tactical staging cleverly anticipated the high points of the story by directing Effie to, say, shift a chair a number of beats beforehand, then having her double back to start a scene in order to arrive at that chair at just the right point, to score!

JF: lol

LJ: And with a pivot or a dart or a scramble across around and through the Cardiff landscape, satisfying-for-natives references to Cardiff landmarks throughout the script, O’Riordan’s use of this minimalistic set, with zero props, demanded that Melville command the space and permitted the beautifully steely script to tell the story.

JF:Sounds like you enjoyed it.

LJ: TJ cried. It was rather sad, but I didn’t cry.

JF:Why didn’t you?

LJ: I suppose it was all a bit too real. Its was so close to real life, it hurt more physically than emotionally. I ached for a while afterwards.

JF: Come back, Cardiff misses you.

LJ: I’ll be back in August.

Iphigenia in Splott played at 59E59, NYC as part of their Brits Off Broadway season, from 9 May to 4 June.

http://www.59e59.org/moreinfo.php?showid=283