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‘.
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.
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…..
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!
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.
I have seen Profundis before and I loved it. I described it as a Kandinsky come to life. Colourful, clever, witty and thoughtful: it is a kaleidoscopic trip into the nature of things. This time, it is slicker, clearer, funnier, more confident in its story-telling, more engaged with its audience. It is less distracted and even more enjoyable. I feel that the dancers are actively seeking our attention and allowing us to show our shock, confusion and joy. It is a delight. I love it still.
Now, The Green House is a difficult thing. Definitely verdant. As a dancer sitting beside me said, dance makes you feel emotions you didn’t know you had. This is an uncomfortable piece. I cannot take my eyes off the green dancer rolling then scrubbing his green apples against his green skirt, picking them up, putting them down, in the bowl, in the sideboard, in the bowl. He is on the furniture, scrubbing his eyes, picked up, put down, on the floor. Hard stuff this.
You see, I got this wrong. I thought it was The Green Room. This made sense of the ON AIR sign and the APPLAUSE. The waiting around to be called. The back of another room on show. The green. I was wrong.
The Green House. Hot, confining, controlling, use the windows, the door, keep it in, shut it out. It is a dance of all of these things. It is disturbing, beautiful, green. There is just enough lightness, there are just enough laughs.
The group pieces are, as always, exquisitely choreographed. Painfully perfect. I would watch this again and again as they go round and round in their green world. I can’t bear it and I can’t leave it alone.
The solos are dervishly wild and tight and someone says to me, how do they learn this, how can they repeat something that looks so improvised, so in the moment, so free? I have no idea.
I reel from this. 43 minutes of green gilded anguish and heartache. I am going to see this again. And again.
For the Royal Court: The Weir.
Other theatre includes: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (National/West End); Earthquakes in London (Headlong/National); The Contractor (Oxford Stage Company); In Celebration (Everyman, Chichester); Molly Sweeney (Bristol Old Vic); Aristocrats (Chichester Festival).
Television includes: Midsomer Murders, The Café, Public Enemies, Casualty, Doctors, Dalziel & Pascoe, Burnside, Holby City, Safe House, EastEnders, Underworld.
Film includes: The Last Witness, Cold Mountain, First Knight.
Sean also directs for TV and Film
Theatre includes: The Believers, Things I Know to be True, Peep Show (Frantic Assembly); Starlight Express (West End); How I Helped Out Communism (Lowry); Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco (Paines Plough); Badfinger (Donmar).
Television includes: Marked, Byw Celwydd, Agatha Raisin, Waterloo Road, Casualty, Doctors, Grown Ups, My Family, Where the Heart Is, Belonging, No Angels, Coupling, Bad Girls, Wild West, Score, Doctors, A&E, The Bill, Border Café, Silent Witness.
Films include: Don’t Knock Twice, City Rats, Upside of Anger, Love Peace & Pancake, Checkout Girl, Snarl Up, Dead on Time, The Wisdom of Crocodiles.
Radio includes: Look Who’s Back, A Taste of Honey.
Sion Daniel Young
SION DANIEL YOUNG
For Sherman Theatre: Llwyth
Other theatre includes: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (National /West End), Mametz, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, House of America (National Theatre Wales); War Horse (National/West End); The Welsh Boy (Theatre Royal, Bath).
Television includes: Hinterland, Our World War, Casualty, Gwaith Cartref.
Film includes: Another Me, Private Peaceful, Daisy Chain.
Radio includes: Hoshiko, Inside Information, Dolls Tea Set, Inside Information, Bisgits a balaclafas.
GARY OWEN (SHERMAN ASSOCIATE ARTIST: WRITER)
For Sherman Theatre: Iphigenia in Splott (& National/ UK Tour/ International Tour), Love Steals Us From Loneliness (& National Theatre Wales), Amgen/Broken, A Christmas Carol
For the Royal Court: Violence & Son.
Other theatre includes: We That Are Left, Mrs Reynolds & the Ruffian, Perfect Match (Watford Palace); Free Folk (Forest Forge); The Shadow of a Boy, Big Hopes (National); Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco (& Paines Plough), Ghost City (Sgript Cymru); In the Pipeline (& Òran Mór), The Drowned World (Paines Plough); Cancer Time (503); Sk8 (Theatre Royal, Plymouth); Blackthorn (Clywd Theatr Cymru); Mary Twice (Bridgend Youth); Bulletproof (Replay, Belfast); La Ronde, Spring Awakening (Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama).
Television includes: Baker Boys (co-writer).
Meyer Whitworth Award, The Shadow of a Boy;
George Devine Award, The Shadow of a Boy;
Fringe First Award, The Drowned World;
Pearson Best Play Award, The Drowned World;
UK Theatre Award for Best New Play, Iphigenia in Splott;
James Tait Black Prize for Drama, Iphigenia in Splott;
Gary is Associate Artist: Writer at Sherman Theatre and is a Creative Associate at Watford Palace Theatre.
RACHEL O’RIORDAN (DIRECTOR)
Rachel is the Artistic Director of the Sherman Theatre.
For Sherman Theatre: The Weir (& Tobacco Factory Theatres), Bird (& Royal Exchange Theatre), The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe, A Doll’s House, Iphigenia in Splott (transfer to The National / UK Tour / International tour), Romeo & Juliet, Arabian Nights.
Other Theatre includes: Macbeth (& Tron), The Seafarer (& Lyric, Belfast), The Odd Couple – Female Version, Moonlight & Magnolias, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Twelfth Night (Perth); Unfaithful (Traverse); The Absence of Women (Tricycle); Hurricane (West End/Off-Broadway); Everything Is Illuminated (Hampstead); Miss Julie, Animal Farm (Peter Hall Company/Theatre Royal, Bath); Absolution (Guna Nua/First Irish Festival NY); Much Ado About Nothing, The Glass Menagerie, Merry Christmas Betty Ford (Lyric, Belfast); A Christmas Carol, Gates of Gold, Grimm Tales (Library, Manchester); Over the Bridge (Green Shoot/Waterfront Hall, Belfast); Protestants (Soho); Arguments for Terrorism, Cold Turkey at Nana’s (Òran Mór).
Opera includes: NI5 (Northern Ireland Opera/MAC, Belfast).
Critic’s Award for Theatre in Scotland for Best Director, The Seafarer;
First Irish Theatre Festival Award for Best Director, Absolution;
Rachel was formerly Artistic Director at Perth Theatre.
Hi Connor great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hi there. Honour to be here. I’m an actor and a writer based in Wales. I was born and raised in Newport. I trained as an actor at Trinity Saint David in Carmarthen and graduated with a degree in 2013. Since then as an actor I have worked in both theatre and TV with companies such as Taking Flight Theatre, BBC Wales, Fluellen Theatre, National Theatre Wales, Sherman Theatre and more recently Omidaze.
Connor in As You Like It, Taking Flight Theatre Company .
Photo by Jorge Lizalde
As a writer I have been commissioned by National Theatre Wales, Dirty Protest, Avant Theatre and No Boundaries. I am a member of National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, a member of National Theatre Wales’ TEAM Panel and I’m also the winner of the 2015 Welsh MonologueSlam run by Triforce Creative.
I think it was the chance to play different characters and explore, create and escape to new worlds whilst in my late teenage years. I had a lot of anger and frustration back then and drama gave me a creative outlet. A way to channel that into acting.
You are an actor can you explain how this role operates within the creative team on a theatrical production ?
On a theatrical production an actor is the one that brings the characters to life and speaks the words written in the script. They bring the characters from the paper to the stage. We attend rehearsals and work with the director and other members of the team such as vocal coaches, choreographers, lighting and sound designers, stage managers and many more to rehearse the piece for a certain amount of time and bring it all together so it’s a polished piece ready for audiences.
You are currently working on a new version of the classic play Romeo and Juliet which is being produced by Omidaze Productions. Do you think Shakespeare is still relevant to todays audiences?
The Romeo and Juliet Company in rehearsals
I believe Shakespeare is still relevant. He was a playwright and wrote stories with various themes and many of those stories still resonate with audiences today, the themes remain and we still experience them (Wether you are dealing with grief like Hamlet, Prejudice like Othello, Betrayal like Macbeth or falling in love like Romeo.)
Take Romeo & Juliet for example, yes it’s the classical love story of two young lovers but amongst that we have two families who have been feuding for years. That conflict is still relevant to today’s audience. Be it not between two families but even two countries. All you have to do is pick up a newspaper or turn the TV on and conflict is among us. People rebelling, people fighting and just like in Romeo & Juliet, unnecessary people get hurt and dare I say killed as a result of that conflict. The more you delve into Shakespeare’s stories the more you unlock and the more you then find that you can relate to on a human level. We are all human after all and we all feel emotion on different scales. Shakespeare highlighted many issues which I believe are still present in today’s society that why his stories still get told.
The Romeo and Juliet Company in rehearsals
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists or specifically writers?
Theatre is a reflection of life and every life is different.
Not every life is white.
I recently tweeted #walestheatreawardssowhite which was the case (and my frustration at the time) as the last three awards now since 2015 have had all white winners in all the acting and directing categories. I would like to delve deeper into my reasons for this. I think Alexandria Riley this year was the first BAME nominee in a lead actress category (and rightly so!) but that in itself is wrong because there is an abundance of BAME talent here in Wales and it isn’t being utilised. I obviously realise that this issue goes far beyond awards and is a reflection of something greater in society.
For me diversity and representation is so much bigger than just skin colour. It’s gender, sexual orientation, disability, social status and more.
We live in a multi-cultural world and this isn’t being represented on stage. We need audience members from different backgrounds and generations to go to the theatre and see theatre they can relate to. If we don’t see ourselves or our culture on stage (and screen for that matter) how are we meant to be engaged. If young people don’t see themselves represented on stage they won’t go to the theatre, if they don’t see themselves represented on TV they’ll turn the TV off. We have to show all walks of life to engage all people.
Every life is different after all.
To quote Viola Davis (who is an actress I am hugely fond of)
“The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity:you cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there”
For minority actors to be considered for awards they have to be cast in productions. So it stretches to the casting directors, directors, theatre companies to be imaginative and widen their casting pools. Think outside the box when it comes to casting. BAME playwrights to write more stories so their voices are being heard. Their voices need to be heard for the work to be made. And once the work is made they can be in contention for things like awards.
Connor in Bird, Sherman Theatre/Manchester Royal Exchange
It’s the vision of bold people like Directors Yvonne Murphy, Rachel O’Riordan, Elise Davison and Casting Directors like Sophie Parrott that allow me to stand here today fulfilled with the opportunities I’ve been given so far in my career.
Directors Yvonne Murphy, Rachel O’Riordan and Elise Davison
It’s the vision of these people and many more that break these boxes and allow diversity and representation to flourish. They don’t see risk, all they see is talent. And we need more people to think on that same wavelength for real change to occur.
Diversity has become this big taboo as of late and all I see it as is the ‘why cant’. Why can’t Iago be a black actor?(which has happened now to some criticism) why can’t Juliet be a disabled actress? Why can’t James Bond be an actor of colour? or Doctor Who be a woman?
Talent is everywhere in all shapes and sizes. So we have to make an effort to go and seek this talent out. Look for it. Everywhere.
Young people are the next generation. The next generation of voices to be heard. The next actors, directors, playwrights and producers. If they don’t have anything to relate to when they watch the arts then how can we inspire them to be the next generation of change? We have to inspire them. We have to empower them and by doing that we secure a fighting chance for a diverse and equal future in the arts.
Do you feel the situation is the same for English speaking Welsh actors?
I feel there is a lack of diversity for English speaking Welsh actors especially on TV but I feel it’s different from Welsh language actors. I can’t comment too much as I’m not a Welsh language actor. But even in Wales there is more English speaking work being produced than there is Welsh speaking so Welsh language actors are already at a disadvantage.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
If I were to fund an area of the arts in Wales it would have to be showcasing new writing from younger talent of all backgrounds (say 18-25) as I believe they have so much to say about the world and at times not the tools necessary to get their voices heard. The fund would allow them to all come together in a space once a week for let’s say four months. Partnered with an arts organisation or producing theatre or even just a group of actors it would give them the tools to be mentored by experienced professional writers, hone their craft, get their voices heard and shake things up drastically with their take on the world. It also gives them the chance to hear their text spoken by actors and try new ideas out to see what works and what doesn’t. At the end of the four months the theatre would showcase their writing with a series of performances to paying audiences. It would give actors the chance to work on new, fresh writing and younger generations of writers to be nurtured and mentored along the way by having more established writers like your Gary Owens’, Katherine Chandlers, Matthew Bulgos, Kelly Jones’ and Nicola Reynolds’ running sessions with them about writing stories and what that entails. Ultimately it’s giving the next generation a great stepping stone into the industry and new voices are given a platform.
Writers Gary Owen, Katherine Chandler, Matthew Bulgo, Kelly Jones’ and Nicola Reynolds.
What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
What excites me has to be its potential. There are such great companies and artists making great work at the moment like Gary Owen’s return to the Sherman with Killology, Hijinx and their unstoppable MeetFred, National Theatre Wales taking over Cardiff with the City of the Unexpected and the Other Room going from strength to strength with every show they do. Even smaller companies like Critical Ambition, Avant Theatre and No Boundaries are all striving forward and raising that bar. All this gives me confidence for the future of Welsh arts and for the next generation of artists in Wales because right now Wales is living up to its potential of being a beacon of influential, thought provoking work that will inspire and mesmerise audiences.
Tour Dates for Romeo and Juliet
Mold Theatr Clwyd 5-8 April
Llanelli The Ffwrnes 12 April
Brecon Theatr Brycheiniog 23 April
Cardiff WMC 27 April-14 May
Absolutely beautiful – the colours of India, the sentiments of its time, the tragedy of love over birth – exquisite.
It makes me cry. I have loved the music from this rarely performed opera for years and years. It is absolutely beautiful. And the characters are all visually believable – both leads are young and lovely looking, their voices ardent as their passion. No one is miscast, no one is out of place.
It is as gentle and as curiously English as a Wildean play but with the underlying expectation of tragedy teasing us along the way. It is Madam Butterfly meets Passage to India. I wonder whether I may feel less or more affected were it sung in the original French and conclude a handsome, manly colonialist colliding with a hidden jewel of a local lass will sound the same in any language where it is sung with conviction.
The clash of backgrounds, religions, family and commitments is very predictable and the terrible messy tragedy of it all plays out predictably too. Delibes opera is based on Pavie’s story. But this is a predictable tale prettily told, beautifully visualised and fabulously well sung.
The Flower Duet between Lakme and Mallika is exquisite, Lakme’s Bell Song heart-achingly lovely with the sopranos comfortably balanced by the tenor of Gerald and the bass-baritone of Nilakantha.
The set feels a little clumsy initially but its simplicity allows us to concentrate on the opera and enjoy the music, the period costumes and the sublime singing. How lovely it is to revel in Lakme performed as it might have been at the turn of the last century.
But yet again, I leave a performance wishing I could take it home with me somehow – I want to listen to it all again and again and I can’t – I want to take Lakme home with me, fill my house with her voice, send it out into the darkness of the night so others can hear her, feel her hope and her sorrow, scent the flowers in her garden, scream at her not to take the poisonous datura…
The operaLakmé is possibly best known for the popular Flower Duet, composed by Delibes as a showcase for sopranos and performed in Act I by Lakmé and her maidservant Mallika. Lakmé is the daughter of Nilakantha a Brahmin Priest, and the story, set in British-governed India in the 19th century, centre around the love story of Lakmé and a British officer, Gerald. Nilakantha has been forbidden to practice his religion by the British and, full of hatred for the occupying force combined with an obsessive patriarchal love, vows revenge. When he discovers Lakmé has become attracted to Gérald, Nilakantha sets a trap for the soldier and knifes him. Lakmé hides Gérald in the forest and nurses him back to health, but his officer friend Frederic appears to remind him that he has been posted elsewhere. Duty calls – with tragic consequences.
All photographic credits Guy Harrop
The atmosphere of British India comes to the fore in the picnic scene in Act I with the two Army officers, their English girlfriends and governess, with a neat cameo role by New Zealand mezzo-soprano Rhonda Browne as the governess Mistress Bentson, permanently clutching her black Gladstone bag as if it were her saviour.
Romanian born soprano Madalina Barbu’s delicacy of appearance are ideal for the role of Lakmé. Barbu has performed in a number of demanding operatic roles,but does not cope well with all the high notes in the Act II aria Bell Song – a long-time favourite with coloratura sopranos – which is a pity given the high standard of other solo arias and in particular her duets with Gérald (Luke Sinclair). However, Barbu’s diction is not always clear, especially in Act I. Sung in English, it should not be a problem but surtitles would have helped.
As Gérald, Sinclair’s rounded tenor is first class, outstandingly so in his solo arias and duets with Barbu. His interaction with Mark Saberton’s Frederic is also good. As the Mr Nasty of the piece Nilakantha, Håkan Vramsmo bestrides the stage with lofty disdain and a powerful bass, while in the role of Nilakantha’s slave Hadji, Bo Wang gives a neat and well timed performance.
As both director, artistic director and set designer Brendan Wheatley has his work cut out. With the exception of the colourful market scene in Act II, Wheatley’s minimal set is just that, resulting in much of this opera’s Oriental ambience and emphasis on the natural beauty of flowers and trees being lost. There is not a tree or flower to be seen, unless you count the solitary lily thrown on stage in the final act. Surely, Mr Wheatley, you could have run to a token miniature tree or so, and maybe a flowering bush? A local garden centre might be pleased to offer them gratis in return for a programme mention. For greenery, Wheatley relies heavily on the lighting to engender atmosphere, and full credit to lighting director James Thomas for doing his utmost to comply.
With its melodic score and passionate themes of love and persecution, this is opera to tug at your heart strings and this production by Swansea City Opera does that on all fronts. Considering the restrictions of opera on a shoestring – the company was rescued by funding from the Arts Council after Swansea withdrew their support – all credit to them for staging a most enjoyable performance. However, despite manful efforts, the small orchestra struggles to cope with the richness and delicate orchestration of Delibes score.
4 / 5
Conor Mitchell, associate artist at Sherman Theatre and fronting the Belfast Ensemble has enlightened us with his creation as writer, director and composer of the chilling play The Moot Virginity of Catherine of Aragon.
The role of Catherine of Aragon is flawlessly performed by the award-winning actress Abigail McGibbon also part of the Belfast Ensemble creating the perfect duet between music, theatre and emotion. The play is a live concept album, each scene created resembles a live music track combined with performance; a powerful voice (without singing) and action! The way in which it was performed was beautiful.
What made this play so great? I felt as though I was inside the head of Catherine at times, a very tormented and religious woman grasping at straws when her reality as Queen is taken from her. The play takes us through her memories, through history, through war, the good times and the bad and of course the biggest divide in country, known to date.
When you walk into the theatre there is a strong smell and this sets the scene. The lighting, the costume and the make-up together with absolute discipline in role give Catherine a haggard, used and torn look about her with a modern twist, not something you would expect for our once Princess of Wales and Queen.
Mitchell’s absolute slay of music and scene setting was completely special and new for me. How often do you get to lie on the floor and watch an astounding actress bellow pain and abandonment whilst observing the composer, director and creator of such an art, almost dance with every touch of the piano, passionately stomping his direction to the violinists and leading us into deep historic heartache? Not often!
The music was intense, strong single cords and contemporary build ups. I especially enjoyed the scene where microphone techniques where used to full affect, almost like a horror movie. It was emotional and has had an effect my own story perspective. Have I made up my mind as to the real story of Catherine Aragon? No, not yet. Although, I do believe that the King was capable of anything and that she did seem very devoted, probably what sent her nuts in the end.
If you like history and appreciate magical contemporary music and art through theatre this is for you. It was absolutely… for me!
This was my second time to attend a ‘Play, Pie and a Pint’ at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff and once again it did not disappoint. This low-cost evening is a great option for those looking for bite-size and accessible nights at the theatre. Perhaps in anticipation of the subject material in the play, there was a vegetarian pie option. Thankfully, no pork pies were on the menu!
Snout is the latest new product from Sherman Theatre and Oran Mor’s partnership and is a new script from the writer Kelly Jones: winner of the BBC Wales Drama Award in 2014.
Those with a penchant for pork – beware! Snout is a play that does not beat around the bush when it comes to broaching the subject of animal welfare. The central three characters are pigs – Coco, Lacey and Viv , skilfully represented by Claire Cage, Michele Gallagher and Sally Reid.
We are led through their backstories from within a cramped, dirty lorry and as the tension and claustrophobia sets in, it slowly becomes clear that Viv is keeping a secret that even she doesn’t want to face. Far from a day out ‘at the fete’ there is a far worse fate awaiting them at the other end of the journey. As the panic and the fear becomes palpable – there is scrapping and squealing via a tense soundtrack courtesy of Andy Cowan, squabbling and bickering between Coco and Lacey and desperate praying and bargaining from Viv. There is something horrible brewing for these three little pigs.
Director Kenny Miller could so easily have played up the ‘pig’ image: via masks, curly tails or cutesy ears. But the three characters clothes and regular appearance only serve to humanise them and make the audience acknowledge what is about to happen to them.
‘How would they feel if it was them – their children?’ one of the characters says. We realise how pigs and pork are so firmly embedded our popular culture, our vernacular and our food choices: greedy pig, pig ugly, pig ignorant, bringing home the bacon, looking ‘porky’.
There are some really grim passages where Viv describes how her sister Annie was taken away, how the meat is butchered, prepared, consumed and sometimes even sexualised and fetishised. As an audience member, I felt almost complicit in the suffering of Viv, Coco and Lacey and the theatre space and sheer proximity to the cramped box feels claustrophobic for you too.
There are tender moments played out following Lacey’s electric shock after a panicked escape attempt. I could not take my eyes off Sally Reid (who plays Coco), whose spiky and awkward demeanour is softened as we progress in the play.
The play shines a light on the sheer hypocrisy and selfishness of meat consumption and meat for fashion purposes and for me certainly, threw up a few questions. Why do I care so much about whether my chicken is free range, but not my pork? Why do I crinkle my nose at the thought of eating veal, but not suckling pig? Why is tripe revolting to me but not belly pork? I know that pigs are intelligent animals, so why have I never thought about whether they know what’s awaiting them at the end of their trips to the slaughterhouse. Do I really care about animals if I have this knowledge and do not act upon it?
I had my reservations about whether or not the play would be preachy or overtly anti-meat eating, but it was to character-led for that. What Kelly Jones’ script does manage to do well is to make you question yourself, to step outside your frame of reference and pre-conceived thoughts. I can’t tell you if Coco, Lacey and Viv made it….but I can tell you that my enthusiasm for ‘meat free’ Mondays has tripled since seeing the play. And I will lay off the bacon for a while, I think…
Type of show: Theatre
Title: Snout (A play, Pie and a Pint)
Venue: The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
Dates: 8-12 Nov
Author: Kelly Jones
Director: Kenny Miller
Ross Kirkland / Chris Reilly: Lighting Designer
Andy Cowan: Sound Designer
Jonathan Scott: Designer
Gemma Patchett: Assistant Designer
Claire Cage: Coco
Michele Gallagher: Lacey
Sally Reid: Viv
Our project coordinator recently spoke to Cardiff based artist Emily Jones about her career to date and plans for the future.
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 ten years now. I studied illustration for children’s books at art college and 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 two years you have been commissioned by The Sherman Theatre to produce images for the seasonal productions The Princess and The Pea and this year The Emperor’s New Clothes. 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 the stories. I then do my best to create an image which is completely 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. I’ve loved illustrating these particular stories as they’ve both been so playful and silly.
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, David Litchfield, 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.
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!
We believe you are currently working on your first children’s picture book, sounds exciting, can you tell us more?
I’ve almost finished the artwork for a lovely writer, Victoria Richards. She commissioned me an embarrassingly long time ago but the end is now in sight. We don’t have a publisher yet but we’re hopeful of finding one. It’s a great, magical story and the artwork is some of my best. We’ll definitely get it out in the public domain somehow.
What do you have planned for the future?
I’ll continue taking on commissions as and when I get them and I’m going to start illustrating my own stories to see where that takes me. Other than that, just continue to draw and paint.