Tag Archives: Tamara Harvey

Review, Pavilion, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Emily White’s Pavilion is a sharp and witty ode to small town Wales. Described as a modern day Under Milk Wood, it is an acute observation of life in a once proud, increasingly hopeless community. Whilst we may read the childhood memories of Dylan Thomas’ days of being ‘young and easy under the apple boughs’ through rose-tinted spectacles now, White’s play is a reminder that for all its sentiment, Thomas’ world was borne out of reality. His poem Fern Hill is as much about the loss of childhood as it is a celebration of it. Pavilion strikes much the same chord.

Set on a Friday night fuelled with booze and infused with lust, we are witness to the final hours of the Pavilion nightclub before it closes down for good. Here is where the ‘hoi polloi’ gather: girls in their ill-fitting dresses and lads in their best-kept trainers and tracky bottoms. They drink, they dance; they dream, they despair. There is laughter and tears, love and loss. Not since Jack Thorne’s Junkyard have I felt such affinity for a cast of characters. They resemble a microcosm of my own home town. White’s great strength in this production has been to create drama out of the mundane, the everyday. She does so through the innocuous language of routine conversation, cadenced with humour and pathos behind which lies a depth of emotion and meaning. It leads to an immediate investment in her characters and their story. They are recognisable, relatable. We see in them something of ourselves and those around us. Theirs is a fully functioning, wholly believable world.

Rebecca Smith-Williams (left), Lowri Hamer (centre), Carly-Sophia Davies (right)

Annelie Powell deserves huge credit for assembling such a fine cast. It features some of the best in both upcoming and established Welsh talent. Director Tamara Harvey is no doubt the reason for the strong onstage chemistry between them. It is becoming a regular feature in her productions. The result is a thoroughly impressive ensemble piece, in which the professional debut of Caitlin Drake goes unchecked such is her striking turn as Myfanwy. Lowri Hamer (Bethan) and Carly-Sophia Davies (Jess) already appear like seasoned actors such is the strength of their performances alongside the reputable Ifan Huw Dafydd (Dewi) and Tim Treloar (Dylan). The dialogue between Michael Geary (Evan) and Victoria John (Big Nell) fizzes off the page. A special mention must go to Ellis Duffy (Gary) who is simply sublime as Gary.

Caitlin Drake as Myfanwy

My one criticism of Pavilion is that can sometimes overstate the nation that it represents. It is undoubtedly a fantastic thing to see Wales portrayed onstage. But the strength of this play lies in its subtlety. It is through realism that White succeeds in creating a strongly-defined Welsh play. There are moments of ethereal transcendence that add a beautiful dimension to the otherwise real-world setting. However, once or twice these scenes verge too close to sentimentality. In particular, the end of act one teeters on the brink of schmaltziness. The giant red dragon that descends as the cast carry out a rendition of ‘Mae hen wlad fy nhadau’ may be a dazzling set piece. However, it feels like an unnecessary indulgence in national pride. There is no need for such overt, celebratory statements. Pavilion’s success lies in its tact.

Come the end, the audience sat in stunned silence, the darkness sustained for much longer than I have ever experienced before. This tells you all you need to know about the power of this play. Once you have entered into the world of Pavilion, you won’t want to leave. Emily White deserves the rambunctious applause that finally spilled out into the auditorium. She has freely admitted that with its large cast and herself an unknown writer, Tamara Harvey has taken a huge gamble with Pavilion. It is one that has paid off. It may have taken time for it to see the light of day, but it is now unlikely to be returning to the shelf any time soon.

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gareth

Review, Orpheus Descending, A Theatr Clwyd/Menier Chocolate Factory Co-production by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The set design may be far more sedate than in her last production, Home, I’m Darling. But the cast assembled by director Tamara Harvey for her latest offering Orpheus Descending spark off one another with electrifying chemistry. One wonders what she does during the rehearsal process that nurtures such strong unity among cast members, and produces such creative energy that then flows out on stage, with amazing results.

Tamara Harvey

In this adaptation of one of Tennessee Williams’ lesser-known plays, Lady and Val might be advertised as the two main characters. But it is very much an ensemble piece, with the most absorbing scenes being those in which a whole host of players feature. Spread across the stage, the dialogue zips from one to another, bouncing around like an entertaining ball game. The script is so sharp and punchy. And the dialect coaching given by Penny Dyer and Nick Trumble only enhances it further. It makes for a very immersive play – the protrusion of the stage to the front row, and the use of the aisles either side of the auditorium, intensifying this experience.

Not to say that there aren’t some amazing individual performances however. Laura Jane Matthewson brings such a delightful humour to her character Dolly Hamma that her mere presence on stage brought a smile to my face. Seth Numrich’s turn as traveller and musician Val is full of charisma. His guitar skills might not be up there with Val’s hero Lead Belly, but Numrich nevertheless has the unenviable ability to own a stage without ever overshadowing his fellow cast members. He is an excellent match for Hattie Morahan, playing opposite him as Lady. Morahan brings a powerful sense of independence to the role that is both frustrated by her marriage to Jabe (Mark Meadows) and teased out through her developing romance with Val. Morahan’s performance grows steadily throughout the play, becoming one that, in many ways, defines the second half.

I reserve special praise for Jemima Rooper, who is nothing short of excellent as Carol Cutrere. The rebel, the rouser; the misfit and the mistress in this portrait of small-town life, Cutrere is such a fascinating character. She is made so by Rooper, who grants her such a vast expanse of unashamed openness that I could only wonder at how Rooper manages to retain a slight air of mystery about her. Yet she does, in spite of her character’s exhibitionism; there remains a hidden depth to her even as her vulnerability and brokenness are so apparent. If Morahan is the star of the second half, Rooper is most certainly the star of the first.

Tamara Harvey’s production makes you wonder why Orpheus Descending has not been produced more regularly. It is perhaps because Harvey has the ability to nurture, and the skill to mine, the best of performances from her actors. In other hands, perhaps it would not be as gripping or as interesting. But it is here, largely because of the evident chemistry that exists between the cast members. One can only credit Harvey with developing that. And it is this which draws out the extra quality that sees such great individual performances, which combine beautifully to create such an excellent overall production.

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gareth

Review Heroine, Theatr Clwyd/High Tide by Gareth Williams

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

What an extraordinary piece of theatre Heroine is.” I just had to write this as my immediate response on Twitter after seeing Nessah Muthy’s one-act play. It has many of the ingredients that create a top-class production: powerful, emotive, provocative, and controversial. It centres on Grace, a former soldier looking for friendship and meaning in her post-conflict life. One day, she turns up at the local community centre, and finds a group of women with whom she forms a strong and emotional bond. When the centre is threatened with closure, she finds herself fighting a new war, one which consumes her in a devastating and heartrending way.

Asmara Gabrielle is spellbinding as the young Grace. She is the heartbeat of this production, setting the pace with a conflicting range of emotions. It is a dramatic performance that builds progressively, a vulnerability that evolves from a sense of loss to a deep feeling of injustice; a growing bitterness that translates into angry protestation and self-destructive violence. The ability of Gabrielle to hold such extraordinary emotional conflict in her performance, letting it drip-feed out like a springing leak in her soul, is simply masterful.

Supporting her are a cast of four women, each of their characters richly detailed so as make Heroine an ensemble piece. They are not present merely to make up the numbers. Muthy has managed to give each of these women culturally recognisable characteristics without falling into the trap of stereotyping them. We have the technology-savvy grandma, Bev (Maggie McCarthy), the strong-willed group leader Wendy (Lucy Thackeray) and the chatty, party-loving Cheryl (Wendy Morgan). Yet far from being typecast, each of them is given space to breathe and become part of a narrative that is driven by their individual motivations, their pain and their sense of truth. Placing them as the driving force of the play ensures that it maintains a credibility and verisimilitude that ultimately creates an absorbing and electrifying piece of theatre. We journey with them from an innocuous start – walking into the auditorium, the three of them are already onstage chatting. The set translates seamlessly into the front row, making it feel like you are actually stepping into their world which is, I have to say, exquisite in its realism – to an (almost literally) explosive finish. It is pure drama.

I can understand the grievances posed recently over the perceived lack of opportunities for Welsh talent at Theatr Clwyd at present. When I think back to Terry Hands’ tenure, there was a clear Welsh flavour to many of the productions. This is not so much the case now. Yet I think the criticism is very unfair. To judge a theatre’s impact merely on onstage content is to miss the point of Artistic Director Tamara Harvey’s vision. As I see it, her desire to create a theatre that is accessible for all, which engages with the wider community, and provides opportunities for involvement across the board (from workshops to apprenticeships, creative spaces to community forums, etc.) shows a passion for inspiring and encouraging Welsh talent that goes far beyond the actors and writers rooms; indeed, is capable of a much greater impact than some may suggest.

What does this have to do with Heroine? Well, I think it is simply wrong to judge this co-production with London-based HighTide as being at the expense of Welsh talent. As Harvey states, there are other skills embedded in a producing theatre, such as stage management, set building, scenic art, props making, lighting and sound (to name but a few) that contribute to an overall production. This is surely the case here. Furthermore, the need to create opportunities for new and emerging talent should not just stop at one’s own doorstep. By supporting such a quality script by a young writer, as well as an all-female cast, this local theatre is making a positive contribution to the national issue of diversity, an ongoing problem within the arts.

Heroine is a great example of a new work that, with support, can fulfil its potential. It is an absorbing story that deals with some big and pressing themes. With a strong cast and brilliantly-crafted script, it is certainly one to watch out for. A provocative piece of art.

Review Uncle Vanya, Theatr Clwyd by Donna Poynton

Uncle Vanya was first published in 1897 and had its premiere in Moscow in 1899, performed by the Moscow Art Theatre under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski.

The play focuses on the visit of an elderly professor and his young wife Elena to the rural estate which supports their city dwelling lifestyle. Two friends, Vanya-the brother of the professor’s late first wife and the controller of the estate and Astrov-the local doctor, both end up falling for the charms of Elena. Sonya, the professor’s daughter by his first wife, is hopelessly in love with the doctor but her feelings are unmatched. Tempers flare and drama ensues as the professor announces his plans to sell the estate allowing Vanya to spiral into a madness offering tormented bawling and even a gunfight!

This new production written by Peter Gill and directed by Tamara Harvey of Chekhov’s doom-tinged comedy is set in the round, allowing for the feeling of immersion as an audience member, particularly during each characters’ soliloquy. We feel we are let in on the action, surrounding the players; close emotionally as well as physically. Each scene cleverly switches from outside to in and we are treated to some glorious pieces of silent acting as the characters themselves subtly manoeuvre the set to allow transitions (for example we hear claps of thunder and rainfall and a handful of actors swiftly grab chairs and rugs to ‘save them from getting wet’). The design of the piece, in this way, is very simple and yet we could look so much further into its meaning. Throughout the entire production there is an overhanging tree which could have been placed simply to remind us where we are. Could it, on the other hand, be symbolic of the overhanging, inevitable destruction in the piece?

The destruction of man and oneself is reflected in the frequent discussions of the desolation of the Earth’s forests. We cannot fail to spot the implications that humankind may not be KIND at all and that the dissatisfaction in our lives comes not only from ones own failings but from the failings of others to encourage success and happiness. We see love in all forms; love for family (as much as we may often speak ill of them or even wish then ill!), the love of nature, love of home, romantic love and even love unrequited but it appears that love brings with it sadness, frustration, sorrow and even utter despair!

Despite this, the play provides many moments of humour-mainly gleaned from the excellent characterisation of the title character by Jamie Ballard who portrays Vanya with just the right amount of comedy and tragic poise. This production has been cast superbly but special mention must also go to Rosie Sheehy as Sonya who plays the innocence and the pain of unreturned love beautifully, to Shanaya Rafaat as Elena who we are able to empathise with despite her somewhat ignorant demeanour and Oliver Dimsdale as Astrov who is both physically and mentally handsome-the stage often brought to life with each appearance.

This production of Uncle Vanya allows the stunning properties of Chekhov’s text to be fully appreciated as part of an up to date design. Despite it keeping its original 1890s setting we are able to relate the themes of the piece to our modern lives.

Review, Uncle Vanya, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Prepare yourself for an immersive experience in the Emlyn Williams Theatre as Uncle Vanya kicks off Theatr Clwyd’s Autumn season. Having experienced the wonderful space known as the Roundabout Theatre earlier in the summer, it was a pleasant surprise to walk into something very similar here. However, whereas the Roundabout relied simply on the cast and audience imagination, the design wizards at Theatr Clwyd, led by Lucy Osbourne, have produced some spectacular scenery, enhancing the audience experience further. Walking in through the entrance, it is like Alice Through the Looking Glass. You are stepping into another world, almost literally, as you make your way across the fairly detailed set to your seat, a magnificent tree branch overarching through the roof above. It really is something to behold. The atmosphere before curtain up only added to the anticipation. There was a certain buzz around the place. Like never before have I known this place to feel so alive.

I believe that director Tamara Harvey has made a very inspired decision in performing Uncle Vanya ‘in the round’. Throughout the play, the close proximity to the audience of the actors made for an intensity of drama and emotion that would not have been so keenly felt in a proscenium. It was, in some ways, a unique experience to witness the faces of these characters so closely and to see their emotions clearly. Even now, a day later, as I am writing this, I can’t believe that my memory is able to evoke Oliver Dinsdale (Astrov) in such detailed fashion. Was he really that close to me? Yes, and what a difference that familiarity makes, not only in the moment but in the recollection too.

It truly is an evocative experience. Being ‘in the round’ helps enormously to achieve this, but it is also enhanced in a number of ways. Firstly, the costumes are of such fine and exquisite detail, perfectly suited to the period in which Vanya is set. The props only compliment this further, to the extent that it often feels like you are watching through a lens, filming, with your own eyes, a television drama. The most beautiful piece on display is the map that Astrov (Dinsdale) rolls out across the dining room table. Its colours are so striking, so meticulously drawn, the sense of realism is startling. Osbourne and her team deserve a standing ovation for their work, never mind a round of applause.

This magnificent set would be nothing though without a group of actors to bring it to life. Leading the cast is Jamie Ballard as the depressed and downtrodden, yet very humorous, Vanya. Ballard injects much regret into his character that teases itself out in playful pessimism and childish boredom. It is so easy to fall for him as a character. His well-thought out arguments, witticisms and acute personal observations make him a very likable person. Ballard reminds me very much of Tom Hollander in the way that he fully embodies his character. He is not just playing Vanya here. He is Vanya. Whereas some productions would struggle to fill the void left by such a fine performance onstage, there is no danger of that here. When Ballard is absent, it is not particularly noticeable. This is testament not only to the quality of Peter Gill’s script, but to the supporting cast as well. In particular, I would like to pick out Rosie Sheehy whose performance, as Sonja, was achingly beautiful. You could not only see the unhappiness etched on her face, it was possible to feel it too such was the intensity of her presentation. To communicate so affectingly reveals the strength of her acting skill. She was simply superb.

Uncle Vanya has certainly left its mark on me. It is an experience that will stay with me for a while yet, I’m sure. It shows that this production is an affecting piece of theatre, and its immersive set and talented cast only serve to make it so. Tamara Harvey has delivered on many levels, taking Anton Chekhov’s original work and producing something fresh that does not feel over a century old. She has also helped cement ‘in the round’ as my preferred style for performance theatre. Uncle Vanya is definitely worth checking out.

UNCLE VANYA

Review Skylight, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a moment in Skylight, David Hare’s award-winning 1995 play, where businessman Tom talks about religion and spirituality. He declares his admiration for the former due to its rules and expectations of behaviour. He dismisses the latter as wishee-washee and unreasonable. This observation tells us a lot about his character. It is the reason, he declares, why he and his late-wife Alice were incompatible. This declaration is made to Kyra, a schoolteacher with whom he had an affair some years ago. The play centres on a visit by Tom to her flat some years later.

In Tamara Harvey’s 2017 revival, part of Theatr Clwyd’s opening season, this flat is a fully-functioning abode. Jeany Spark, bringing a quiet strength to the role of Kyra, is tasked with running a bath, making tea, washing up, and cooking Spaghetti Bolognese. It is no small feat, but judging by the smell, the latter is a resounding success. Yet this realism isn’t just for show. It serves to bring Hare’s brilliantly sharp satire to life, adding an extra layer of verisimilitude that makes for an engrossing two-and-a-bit hours. Harvey’s production doesn’t overshadow the script; rather, it enhances it, particularly through the set design. The flat is supported and surrounded by giant breeze blocks, representing a simple yet effective image which blends seamlessly into the background. There is ambient lighting throughout, with simple fades into day and night. The layout of the flat ensures that the important action takes place centre stage whilst not compromising on its realist look.

Spark and Villiers strike up a commendable partnership. They capture the punchy and witty nature of Hare’s script even if they don’t seem to hit the emotional heights one might expect. Instead, both play their characters with a good measure of self-control. They are like two players in a verbal tennis match, each hitting a weighty serve of political conviction and personal revelation but never quite achieving that emotionally-satisfying ace. But what you lose in emotion, you gain in the clarity of Hare’s script. They deliver their lines so cleanly and clearly that you are under no illusion as to their beliefs and values. And this extends not only to religion, but to politics, business and human interaction too.

It was a real joy to witness this production. It is surprising that Skylight has not been performed more since its initial run. Harvey is to be commended for bringing it back to our attention. Its relevance within the modern political landscape should not be underestimated.

SKYLIGHT by David Hare