Tag Archives: theatr clwyd

Review My Country, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

3 Stars3 / 5

 

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.

My Country can be seen at:

Cambridge Arts Theatre
Mon 12 – Sat 17 June 2017
https://www.cambridgeartstheatre.com/whats-on/my-country

Theatre Royal Stratford East
Mon 19 – Sat 24 June 2017
https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/my-country-at-theatre-royal-stratford-east

 

National Theatre – My Country

Collaborating with Theatr Clwyd to develop a Welsh critical network

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.”

Get the Chance to be a Theatre Critic

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.

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Some of the reviews for The Importance of Being of Earnest have been posted on the Get the Chance website

Review The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatr Clwyd by Elizabeth Lambrakis

Audio review The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatr Clwyd by Hannah Bywood

Review The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatr Clwyd by Bethany Mcaulay

Review The Importance of Being Ernest, Theatr Clwyd by Karis Alaina Clarke

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.

Get Started With Time Credits

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

The Launch of Creative Citizens Cymru

Get the Chance to takepART

Guy O’Donnell the director of Get the Chance organised a similar event a few years ago and a blog post on this event can be found at the link below.

http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/profiles/blogs/critical-feedback-to-the-response-event

Review The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatr Clwyd by Elizabeth Lambrakis

4 Stars4 / 5

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Review The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatr Clwyd by Bethany Mcaulay

4 Stars4 / 5

 

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.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

Review The Importance of Being Ernest, Theatr Clwyd by Karis Alaina Clarke

4 Stars4 / 5

 

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

Review by Karis Alaina Clarke

Review The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4.5 Stars4.5 / 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.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

Review Scarlett at Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

3 Stars3 / 5

 

There is much to love in Scarlett. This one act play is short and sweet. Yet don’t think it lacks depth. It tackles issues of identity, family and death in a very humorous and conversational way. Part of its appeal lies in the relationships between the three generations of women onstage – protagonist Scarlett, her daughter Lydia, and her overbearing mother Bette. Scarlett is having some kind of midlife crisis. Or is it? Whatever her reasons, she has decided to travel from London to rural Wales in search of a new place to live. The small stage represents a patch of Welsh countryside, on which sit two rocks and a dilapidated stone building. This building appears to be the perfect place for Scarlett (played by Kate Ashfield) to start a new life for herself. This is in spite of local landowner Eria (Lynn Hunter) insisting it’s a chapel, and Lydia and Bette referring to it as nothing more than a shed.

Writer Colette Kane uses these differences of opinion to create a very witty, sometimes poignant, script. The dialogue is often rapid. The characterisation is scarily familiar. I could see elements of my own family in all three generations of women, yet this only added to the humour. Joanna Bacon is superb as Scarlett’s demanding and self-righteous mother. There is a fierce outer shell yet an inner vulnerability to Lydia which Bethan Cullinane manages to balance effortlessly well. As for Scarlett herself, Ashfield has landed a strong and empowering role. She commands the stage, not imperiously, but simply by embodying the character so well. There is no doubt that this effervescent and strong-willed woman is the central figure in a play that is not afraid to speak plainly about sex, status and self-worth from a wholly-female perspective.

Kane’s script can be very subtle in its character arcs. I say this because the characters can feel fully formed when we first meet them, yet over the course of the play, there is a change in their outlook and perspective. This is not always obvious. Sometimes, the change is too subtle. When the lights came up and the cast took their bows, I admit that I was slightly surprised. I was expecting an interval, to stay with these characters beyond 75 minutes. It is testament to Kane that they became so familiar and likeable, yet I couldn’t help feeling that there was more of their story to tell. As a result, I left feeling slightly dissatisfied: not what I wanted to feel.

Scarlett is a play hardwired in reality. It deals with identity and relationships in a very unassuming, conversational way. I don’t think it’s a standout production, but it certainly feels relevant. It may be short and sweet, but it has a lot to say about life, love and loss.

SCARLETT

Review Junkyard: A New Musical at Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

 

5 Stars5 / 5

 

Please don’t misunderstand me when I say that Junkyard: A New Musical is a load of rubbish. It is by no means of poor quality, lacking in characterisation, or short on story. I am actually making reference to the dynamic and inventive set. It is made (almost entirely) of waste material: planks of wood, old tyres, thick blue twine. It is a representation of the ‘Adventure Playground’, an idea pioneered in the 1960s and ‘70s. It provided a space for kids to call their own, where they could embrace risk and unleash their creativity.

Writer and director Jack Thorne has made this the setting for his latest production, having been inspired by his father, Mick. As one of the first play leaders at an adventure playground in Bristol, Thorne pays tribute to him in the character of Rick. Played by Calum Callaghan, Rick is a laid-back, rather soft man who, nevertheless, has a big heart. He wants to build a ‘Junk Playground’ in Bristol and hopes to get a group of teenagers involved in the process. However, this rowdy group of misfits prove more challenging than expected. What follows is a tragi-comic story as the lives of these young people become inextricably entwined in the building of this unconventional structure.

Leading this group of kids is Fiz, an outspoken and confident young lady played to perfection by Erin Doherty. Doherty is a delight to watch. Utterly captivating, she makes Fiz an instantly loveable personality. Full of humour and expressive action, Doherty allows just the right amount of vulnerability to seep through. Her performance is enhanced by an incredibly strong supporting cast. Each brings such life and vitality to their characters that one could easily mistake this for a social documentary. I recognise in the passionate anger of Ginger (Josef Davies), the stuttering speech of Talc (Enyi Okoronkwo), and the crude insults of Higgy (Jack Riddiford), traits not only from my own teenage years but personalities that I came across during my own time as a (not very good) youth worker.

It is testament to the performances and quality of writing that one looks upon this as a marvellous work of social commentary. Yet what enhances this production to make it, in my opinion, a five-star play is the effective use of lighting and music. The opening sequence, repeated later in the play, is mesmerising. The use of torches and lighters immediately captures your attention and from then on, you are hooked. Stage-side throughout is a live band; always a winner in my book, but what makes this particular piece of musical theatre stand out is its intriguing blend of speech and lyrics. It uses a similar technique to the sung verbatim in London Road, yet here it is largely the internal thoughts and emotions of the characters that are sung as part of a more traditional narrative script.

There is plenty of humour in Junkyard. Some people may find the language a bit too crude or near-the-knuckle at times. There is also quite a lot of swearing. Again, some people might find this excessive. But I think it adds real charm to the whole thing. Its sense of realism cannot be questioned. It is a really immersive piece of theatre. It is challenging too. It makes you reconsider the very notion of what a playground is, how it is treated, and who it’s for.

Junkyards may be a load of rubbish, but this one is a work of art.

Junkyard – A New Musical