The initial moments of ‘Celebration’ are an obscure, wild, and dramatically unique combination of movement, dance and silly string. Ben Kulvichit and Clara Potter-Sweet exhibit both an outstanding mutual dynamic as well as a consistent youthful vivacity that was carried expertly throughout the (unfortunately brief) fifty-five-minute performance. I was so immensely impressed by their talents (varying from acting to accordion playing), that being reminded that they were merely students made me feel, in comparison, unaccomplished. I left the theatre feeling rather smug that I had witnessed an early performance of some potentially very successful future performers.
The production’s mixture of live music, electrifying dance and movement, as well as the profoundly effective drama, produced a poignant and evocative piece, that was nonetheless fun, vibrant, and an absolute pleasure to spectate. There was little pretence – most costume changes occurred on stage, and there was not a typically theatrical plot (really, it was rather Brechtian), but I felt consistently immersed in the poetic flow of each monologue and song, just as I would have done if this were a traditional piece. In fact, I am thoroughly relieved that these two young students so bravely dared to defy conventional theatre, and succeeded in delivering such an individual and positively eccentric performance. If this is where theatre is going, I’ll certainly continue to attend.
Jodie Whitaker may be everyone’s new favourite female of the moment but my eye has been drawn to someone less well-known. In my second trip to the Roundabout Theatre in a week, a process of regeneration had seemingly taken place. Having taken my first steps into the pop-up theatre last week for the world premiere of Black Mountain, I had returned seven days later for another debut show. To my surprise (and delight), I found the same three actors from Brad Birch’s play starring again, this time in Out of Love by Elinor Cook. They had undergone a transformation which now saw Sally Messham and Katie Elin-Salt playing best friends Lorna and Grace. Hasan Dixon was now playing a host of male characters, showcasing his talent for versatility. However, it is Elin-Salt who has caught my undivided attention.
In Out of Love, Elin-Salt plays the lovably naïve Grace. Wearing a dungaree dress and plimsoll shoes, there is something eternally childlike about her character. Above all else, I think it is the expressive acting of Elin-Salt that conveys this with such success. She flails about on the floor, swings her legs up and down; her arms are constantly in motion, her shoulders slightly elevated; and her mouth seems to return to the default position of “slight frown” after every piece of dialogue. It is the intimate nature of this round theatre that allows the audience to pick up on such small details. This adds to the quality of the characterisation which, in Elin-Salt’s case, is near perfection.
The retention of her South Walian accent is a stroke of genius. Elin-Salt’s ability to utilise the musicality of her accent in order to convey such contrasting emotions is pure joy to the listening ear. In Black Mountain, she flattens its naturally-high pitch to express a degree of seriousness. In Out of Love, she emphasises it. This gives a comical edge to Grace that increases her likability. It also enables for the exploration of sex and sexuality. Not that this cannot be talked about in a serious way. However, Cook’s decision to examine it from the perspective of two female adolescents makes for a more naturalistic, animated and frank discussion.
There is also a vulnerability to Grace which Elin-Salt beautifully conveys – a deep desire for intimacy that hints at jealousy towards Lorna’s ability to pull men. For the supreme closeness of these two best friends, there is also a hidden tension. It is testament to the quality of Cook’s writing that this unspoken emotion never bursts onto the stage. Instead, it is veiled beneath some rather ambiguous words and actions. Through her performance, Elin-Salt manages to capture this ambiguity perfectly. She peels back the depths of Grace’s heart, ever so slightly, to subtly reveal her concealed motives. She manages to do this so imperceptibly that I could not help but burst with admiration towards the depth of her acting skills.
Out of Love is a suitably complex portrayal of female friendship. Elinor Cook presents an entertaining and engaging narrative featuring two female protagonists over some 20-30 years of their lives. Sally Messham gives an accomplished and controlled performance as Lorna. She does not put a foot wrong and perfectly complements her fellow lead. It is Katie Elin-Salt who wins much of the applause from myself however. Not excluding the above, her natural enthusiasm and depth of imagination make her an infectious talent. She weaves such fine complexity and depth of character into her performance. She is a delight to watch. She also makes a strong case for championing a great deal more female-led narratives. This is one reason to be excited at Whitaker’s casting. But whilst I await her arrival as the 13th Doctor, I shall revel in the discovery of another talented actress. Katie Elin-Salt is, surely, a major talent in waiting.
A Theatr Clwyd, Paines Plough & Orange Tree Theatre co-production | Directed by James Grieve
Welcome to Roundabout. This unique pop-up theatre is taking the UK by storm. It is a masterful piece of engineering. Fully transportable, it is popping up in the most unlikely of places, including car parks, churchyards, seafronts, and housing estates. It takes six people about a day to construct, and needs nothing more than an Allen key to assemble. It is innovative, ingenious and distinctive. Its round white body is certainly noticeable alongside Theatr Clwyd, its current resting place. To have the opportunity to watch a play inside this intriguing structure was a very thrilling prospect.
The early signs were less than promising. Walking in, I could hardly see where I was going. The darkness was overwhelming. The theatre itself wasn’t much better. It was like entering a poorly-lit spaceship. I’d wandered onto the set of an early Doctor Who. I’d been transported back to the age of the 1950s B-movie. The media images seen beforehand only compounded matters further. It was a lot smaller than the press photos had made out. A technical fault at the start meant that my excitable early expectations were now almost entirely extinguished. I was really disappointed. But then the play began.
Black Mountain is a psychological thriller of the highest degree. It sees Rebecca (Katie Elin-Salt) and Paul (Hasan Dixon) travel to an isolated house in the country in an attempt to save their relationship. Writer Brad Birch has created an intriguing and unsettling plot that bubbles away with tension and drip feeds paranoia. The engrossing nature of his script meant that my initial shortcomings quickly dissipated. The intimacy of the space became its strength rather than a distractive weakness. The lighting effects used throughout were essential in the creation of a dark and disturbing tale.
Dixon is exceptional as the stuttering Paul. He conveys a sense of deep discomfort with relative ease. You can tell his character is walking on eggshells. He has a secret to hide from his wife Rebecca. She knows something is going on, but will he admit it? Birch doesn’t make it easy. Elin-Salt brings an intensity of strength to Rebecca that makes her appear a very confident woman. It is testament to her acting skills, however, that this confident exterior also harbours an unsettling tone. There is something deeper brewing beneath the surface. She is holding on to something. But what is it? Birch draws this out across sixty compelling minutes with his absorbing dialogue.
If you enjoyed recent television dramas The Replacement and Doctor Foster, this will be another similar storyline to savour. In some ways, the live action makes for an even greater thrill ride through the tempestuous relationships on stage, particularly as Rebecca turns the screw and the appearance of Helen (Sally Messham) muddies the waters for Paul. It becomes an increasingly sinister play, utterly gripping and completely enthralling. Ultimately, I came out of the darkness having seen the light.
Black Mountain is an absorbing play. The cast are absolutely fantastic and the direction is excellent. There may be some improvements to be made on the initial entrance to the Roundabout theatre. There is nothing but positive feedback on its content here though. An impressive debut for Paines Plough in North East Wales.
To find out more about Roundabout Theatre, click here.
Starring Hasan Dixon, Katie Elin-Salt and Sally Messham
Directed by awarding winning James Grieve Black Mountain is a disturbing physiological thriller that explores the darkest side of relationships. Set over a five day period, this one act play holds the audience in the middle of its white knuckle clenched palm. With a cast of three and brimming with expression the plays world premier was in the grounds of Theatre Clwyd in Paines Plough, Roundabout Popup theatre. With a limited space, a couple of props namely a torch and (another item I shall not name for fear of ruining the plot) and extremely clever and well timed lighting, the focus was solely on the acting. Thankfully the actors were all highly skilled and more than capable of delivering the multifaceted characterisations this play demanded.
I don’t want to give the plot away, as I think new stories are so few and far between in the theatre they should be cherished and discovered fresh by each audience. I will say from the get go the story had you guessing – why where they there ? What was their story ? What was really going on ? The biggest question I had constantly going on however was – who’s side was I on? This type of dilemma I have a love hate relationship with. I admire writers who can produce characters who are so much more than the words on the page – and all three of these characters clearly are. We are never given the full story – just hints as to what has happened and with one word the characters / actors spoke volumes. Speech was both passionate yet comic, weak yet strong, emotional yet pathetic – just as it is in everyday life .
The Roundabout pop up theatre is not a big space, although cleverly designed to seat a decent sized audience the actual stage space is small, fortunately for this play the close proximately to each other and the audience only added to heighten dramatic tension. I couldn’t help thinking how the play would work on a normal stage with props and staging I don’t think anything would be gained by setting the play differently, in fact I would suggest tension may be lost if the play had ran in a more naturalistic setting.
As it was, it certainly held jump out of your seat moments, if not jump out of your skin!
The Playwright Brad Birch
Well this dish had been well seasoned and cooked to a very high standard, my only reservation was the ending – without wanting to give anything away I would have been happier if there had been a final glimpse to just tie up the ending – a sprig of parsley – just for clarification – but that does go against the grain of how the play ran – there was something along the vein of The Tales of The Unexpected about the story, you thought you knew what was coming, then you never, then you did, then what you thought half an hour earlier turned out to be right all along!
Overall this was a very enjoyable piece of theatre made all the more exciting by the fact it is being performed in a portable theatre that can literally be popped up at the road side if needed. (I support anything that involves theatre getting to the people or people getting to the theatre).
Black Mountain will be showing at Theatr Clwyd, Mold until 21st July and after then it will be touring various venues including Edinburgh Fringe before concluding at the Orange Tree Theatre in March 2018.
With another General Election almost upon us, Theatr Clwyd’s staging of My Country seems particularly apt. A political play of sorts, its backdrop is last year’s divisive and historic EU referendum. In the days following the vote, the National Theatre set about touring the nation, interviewing a variety of people to hear their views on the referendum, their town, their country, their lives, and their future. The result is a smorgasbord of opinion, brought brilliantly to life on stage by Director Rufus Norris and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
In a similar way to London Road, My Country uses a verbatim script, with Duffy weaving together some wonderfully rhythmic dialogue. She manages to capture the very conflicting and often contrasting views of people extremely well. Using the natural cadence of the English language, she has created a piece of work that is both musical in its tone and voice, and clear in its content and subject matter. It is not burdensome on the listener, with six actors representing six regions of the UK. Each actor plays between eight and twelve characters from their part of Britain. The play can get busy with these various personalities, but thankfully not so busy that one gets lost. Each is brilliantly engaging in their own way: Laura Elphinstone brings a cheeky humour to her North East; Adam Ewan a lovable snobbery to some of his South West folk; and Seema Bowri’s East Midlands characters are charmingly no-nonsense and frank. They complement one another fantastically well. As a cast, they work together brilliantly.
Keeping the six in check is Britannia, played by Penny Layden. Acting as Chairperson, she is a humble yet authoritative character. She enters the room quite ordinarily at the start, in a plain and simple blue suit. Putting down her bag, she clicks on the lights and manoeuvres the seven tables on stage. She greets the audience, then each of the six cast members in turn. They sit at their tables, and she announces the intentions of the meeting in a simple and unassuming way. Then, one by one, they lift up pictures of the people who they are representing – a diverse group that includes some recognisable faces from the political class. When it comes to then recreating their famous speeches, Layden is superb in bringing Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and David Cameron (to name but three) to life. She not only captures their familiar accents but manages to achieve the individual nuances of their movements and gestures. It is a delight to behold.
Even as she impersonates the Westminster elite with a sense of joviality however, Layden still manages to retain Britannia’s unpretentious and sincere nature. If she were to be too satirical in her performance, the later scenes, holding much more dramatic weight, would perhaps not have worked quite as effectively. Here, there is much more emotional depth. Fractures start appearing. The six on stage start shouting and arguing with each other. Britannia seeks to keep them under control. At one stage, she appears to go through an identity crisis of her own. For a 75-minute production, it manages to say a lot in a relatively short space of time.
Ultimately, this is a play about “the sacrament of listening”. The six actors descend into more bickering and arguing as the play goes on. Britannia has to call them back each time – to “listen” again. They get so caught up in themselves that they forget to listen. We are all the same. It is the reason to feel both heartbroken and ashamed as Christian Patterson, who plays Cymru, assumes the voice of Dylan, a little boy from Merthyr Tydfil. Now and again, above the commotion, he softly speaks: “Be kind… No argues”. But nobody listens to him.
The National Theatre, under the direction of Norris, has undertaken to listen to people from across the country. Duffy has endeavoured to listen with such precision that she has used their exact words to create a multifaceted and beautifully rhythmic script. She has taken their stories and opinions seriously enough to include views from all sides – some funny, some extreme; some uplifting, others uncomfortable. They cannot be accused of being hypocritical in their content. They have listened. They call us to listen to. It is a simple yet powerful message to take away. And one, at this time in particular, that may be worth acting upon.
Get the Chance has collaborated with Theatr Clwyd to run a free ‘Get the Chance to be a theatre critic’ workshop and provide free tickets to Theatr Clwyd’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest. The event was supported by Gwennan Mair Jones, Director of Creative Engagement, Theatr Clwyd.
Get the Chance was able to run this activity through funding from Arts Council Wales Sharing Together. “A strategic initiative to encourage the development of networking opportunities.”
12 new critics attended the event ranging in age from 14-80 years. During the workshop we discussed the role of the critic, differing methods of giving critical feedback and the role of the press and marketing department. Many of the those attending are strong advocates for the venue and cultural provision in general. Some of the group attended youth theatre and community engagement workshops at the venue. Some of the group had an education background and had brought young people to see performances in the venue. Some of the older participants have attended performances from the theatres construction in 1976 to the present day.
The participants are all excellent examples of Creative Citizens. Get the Chance is developing a socially engaged, democratic audience development model called Creative Citizens Cymru. Many of the fundamental principles of this model are very similar to the principal goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act.
It was a very welcome opportunity for Get the Chance to develop its critical network in North Wales. We thank the Arts Council of Wales for funding this opportunity and the support of colleagues at Theatr Clwyd.
All of the participants will earn Spice Time Credits for their time spent volunteering with Get the Chance Wales.
An online survey has been created to continue some of the conversations raised during the workshops we have been running. If you run a venue or company and are interested in supporting the democratisation of critical networks we invite you to contribute your thoughts to the survey. https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/W27RC3Q
This is the third event Get the Chance has ran through this funding stream, blog posts of the other events can be found below
This play is an old favourite that you may well have seen before, either on stage or on screen. So that raises certain expectations – if it’s going to be a classic production then it needs to do a lot more than just tick the boxes. Richard Fitch’s production at Theatr Clwyd certainly does just that. Yes it has the lavish period sets, and yes it has the authentically recreated Victorian costumes, but it also has a whole lot more to offer.
From the moment that Algy (James Backway) bounds onto the stage the audience is bowled along by the infectious energy of this company of 8 talented actors. No opportunity for comedy is lost as Algy and his more conventional friend Jack (Matt Jessup) engage in a verbal sparring match that only escalates when the imperious Lady Bracknell arrives with wonderfully quivering feathers in her array of impressive hats (Hilary Maclean), accompanied by her deceptively dutiful daughter Gwendolen (Emma Denly). Many of the lines are so familiar that we are almost waiting for them to be delivered, but that doesn’t make them any less funny.
And then suddenly the scenery is swept away before our eyes, and we are transported from a stuffy London townhouse to a flower-filled country garden under a blue summer’s sky. The use of a soaring Strauss waltz to accompany this scene change is inspired, and the fast pace continues as we are introduced to winsome young Cecily (Robyn Cara), her eccentric governess Miss Prism (Melanie Walters) and the pompous Reverend Chasuble (Darren Lawrence). The plot thickens with the unexpected arrivals of Algy, Jack and Gwendolen in quick succession. However the highlight of Act 2 is the vitriolic exchange of pleasantries between Cecily and Gwendolen as they mistakenly believe themselves to be engaged to the same man. A special mention should also go to Nick Harris playing contrasting butlers Lane and Merryman for creating some truly hilarious comic moments.
Before we know it the two sets of young lovers are indoors again as the last Act unfolds. Soon the mystery of Jack’s foundling origins is explained when Lady Bracknell pitches up and Miss Prism’s guilty secret is finally revealed. A happy ending is on the cards for almost everyone, with not just two but three happy couples on stage, as well as Algy and Jack turning out to be long lost brothers.
This production is a joy, richly deserving a 4 star rating, and definitely a feather in the cap of upcoming director Richard Fitch and Theatr Clwyd.
Rife with the daring wit and perceptive observation of society, gender dynamics, and identity, that is now considered to be quintessential of Wilde’s work. A humorous, yet equally astute, and sharp revival of a play that is arguably considered overly-produced, with energising dynamism.
Firstly, there is no ambiguity regarding the place of the actors and the audience – the fourth wall is suitably maintained – yet the almost Shakespearean quality of acting and mirthful spirit of the performers seems to allow for complete immersion within every aphorism that flies from their mouths; making the experience of witnessing this production not merely an observation of a collective group of actors, but an escape into the scintillating perspective and daringly droll world of Wilde.
Physically, most of the actors embody their respective characters with seemingly easily-attainable excellence. Backway and Jessup are impressively skilful in each gesture and movement, embodying precisely the fierce quick-witted physicality and attitudes of both Algernon and John respectively. Their mutual magnetism is established from the very start, and remains equally as alluring in the final scene.
Emma Denly plays Gwendolen with tremendous charm, and is consistently, and humorously, impassioned – making it very much impossible not to feel deeply enamoured of her immaculate characterisation. However, Robyn Cara’s portrayal of Cecily pales in comparison and, though certainly of an adequate standard, does not seem to fulfil the vibrant potential of the character.
Maclean’s interpretation of the ominous matriarch, Lady Bracknell, is formidably sinister – presented with such careful control and flawless superciliousness. Each syllable is pronounced with sharp diction; each movement is consumed by an almost satirical conceit. Though, nevertheless, her subtly, and occasional shines of humour are profoundly effective.
Atmospherically, the set, sound, and lighting are ingeniously suited to the performance, enhancing the environment with an aristocratic elegance and beauty, with subdued and comforting tones that allow not only for the actor to remain the primary focus of the performance, but to have their performances enhanced by the compelling replication of the grandeur of aristocratic Victorian England.
Ultimately, Richard Fitch’s production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ frankly fulfils, if not supersedes, his already established acclaim through his directorial involvement in ‘Funny Girl’, ‘Urinetown’ and ‘Buried Child’, with an almost immaculate cast, and indisputable vigour from the moment the curtain rises, to the second it falls.
I must confess my knowledge of “The Importance of Being Ernest” is limited to a handful of overused quotes about ladies’ diaries and a handbag. So on one hand I had the anticipation of the unexpected but on the other the uncertainty of the unknown.
From the second I took my seat I was no longer in The Antony Hopkins Theatre but transported back to Victorian times, the back drop giving the illusion of a period house, the set pieces minimal yet effective. Not a piece of furniture or prop wasted from the red leather sofa to the finely sliced cucumber sandwiches. As an additional trick to just drop you from your 21st century woes into the height of 19th century society no house lights dimmed and the entry of Nick Harris as the excellent if not scene stealing Merriman the Butler (and in later scenes Lane) was an unexpected start to the play. This instantly added to the feeling that I was just sat on the opposite sofa in the world of the play. This concept ran throughout, the cast all gave the impression they were at one point or another addressing the audience directly and letting us into their bizarre three act melodrama for the day.
The story as a whole was, on the surface a mild farce with a poor plot centred around identity, a name and relationships…. on the surface. The real brilliance of the play lies within it’s ironic undertones and satirical speeches poking fun at society, marriage, relationships the upper class – and much more. The actors were craftsmen in as such as they delivered outstanding performances of beautifully timed comedy, especially Matt Jessop as John, and James Backway as Algernon yet they never failed to let the undertones of what needed to be delivered get across. The relationship between the two actors on stage was a delight and one of the main reasons I found the play enjoyable. Their movements on stage were perfect, timed to dance like perfection. The end of Act II in the garden saw James Backway land a shot at Matt Jessop with a muffin that I doubt he can replicate again!!! But it wasn’t just the men who stole the show, not to be out done the ladies held their own and the bitchy banter between Gwen Fairfax (Emma Denly) and Cecily (Robyn Cara) was a master-class in delivery.
Of course the real star of the show is the writer Oscar Wilde this is without doubt his most famous play and understandably so. He writes of a world he was obviously part of and a world he was very sceptical of – we see in polite society, as it was called, that the higher up the social chain you were, the less polite one needed to be. Overall Victorian morals and views were different to todays, as a society we do not play by some of the rules in place some 100 years ago – however the majority of the play could be as relevant now as it was then and with a few tweaks this play would be a voice for today’s women, today’s illegitimate children, a voice against high society, it was in this area where I was at odds with the direction of the play as a whole. Although I found the set stunning, the garden with its 20ft plus high hedges even smelling of roses, personally I would have liked to see a modern take on the play. Yes, it’s important to keep tradition alive, yes the actors and the set and the director all did a fantastic job but Oscar Wilde was such a revolutionary writer, he was writing about topics in a way that were so ironic and so iconic that 100 years later we are still talking and quoting him and laughing at his plays…. Would he really want them played out in the same staid way? I can’t see that he would – I think he would be wanting directors to be using his words to incite the same outrage he did.
Despite my enjoyment of the production it was disappointing to watch the play in a half full theatre, in the main it was a sea of older audience members and I had to ask …. Is that because this is a traditional performance of what is viewed as an old play for an older audience who love Oscar Wilde? I hope not. This production has received excellent responses and I know the theatre is undergoing physical changes at the minute. I am excited to see the direction this takes but if it continues to stick to the same programme I feel it will continue to have the same type of audience I was part of on Saturday afternoon. I am not going grey (yet), not necessarily an Oscar Wilde fan but I found this production a total blast from start to finish. It felt slightly on the longer side as it had 3 acts as opposed to the usual 2, however when you consider the extravagant set and the time it would take to get in and out of a bustle I am not surprised but it was worth the wait.
Overall I would definitely recommend this for all audiences no matter what colour your hair! 4 stars out of 5
There are certain smells that have the power to transport you to a certain place. Before the action had even started on the stage of the Anthony Hopkins theatre, I found myself standing in the middle of a bookshop, browsing the shelves and in my element. Clearly, the ingredients for the opening scene – consisting of an oak desk, antique tea trolley, red leather sofa and chipped wood wall panelling – had combined to create a most evocative scent. It was the perfect metaphor for my relationship with The Importance of Being Earnest. Suddenly, this play, which I had only previously encountered on paper, was coming to life right before my eyes, and in glorious detail too.
The costume department at Theatr Clwyd has once again excelled in creating the most exquisite outfits. The actors look positively fabulous, and the periodic detail is simply sublime. They capture the regal nature of the Victorian aristocracy perfectly: elegant, smart and, particularly in the case of Lady Bracknell, excessive. The Scenic Artists have clearly been inspired to compliment these gorgeous outfits with some spectacular scenery. In Act II especially, the Manor House garden is breathtaking. With huge green hedges and colourful flower beds, it is a wonder the stage is big enough to fit it all in. It is a real work of art, worthy of a horticultural (never mind theatrical) award.
Thankfully, this colourful production also contains some vibrant acting. It is not just the brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s script that is hugely affecting. The addition of physical expression means that the wit and wisdom contained within it are greatly enhanced. The humour is at times bitingly satirical, at times far more slapstick. Yet whether it is the mannerisms of Matt Jessup as John Worthing, the animated physicality of Nick Harris (Merriman), or the snobbish ignorance with which Hilary Maclean plays Lady Bracknell, this production certainly delivers on comedic value. It is infectiously enjoyable, in part from the fact that the entire cast seem to be taking such pleasure in performing Wilde’s work. They never seem to be overindulging in this opportunity though. They embody their characters brilliantly, and the strength of relationship between them is evident.
This seems a timeless play. One hundred years on, it still feels fresh. I still meet people today who care deeply about their public appearance, their social status and financial expression. It also feels like a timely political play too. One wonders, at least from media portrayals, whether today’s politicians aren’t the spitting image of Wilde’s characters. In both cases, director Richard Fitch has hit on something which makes this production enjoyably and humorously infectious. It is a beautiful production. A treat for the eyes, ears and (for me at least) the nose.