Tag Archives: theatr clwyd

Review Home, I’m Darling, A Theatr Clwyd/ National Theatre Co-production by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

Travelling along the sun-drenched roads of North Wales in the heat of an early July evening, I wondered whether it was the right time to be going to sit in a theatre. But Home, I’m Darling is worth suffering a bit of sweat for. It may have been warm in the Emlyn Williams Theatre, but that did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying Laura Wade’s brand-new play. With a sizzling set, a bunch of colourful characters, and a blooming good narrative blossoming with resonant themes, this is a must-see for the summer.

As I entered the auditorium, I gasped with amazement at the sheer size and scope of the set. To be greeted by a full scale model of a house was not what I expected. I was positively overwhelmed by the sheer level of detail in its interiors and furnishings. The work of designer Anna Fleishle and her team is nothing short of remarkable. It transports us immediately into the world of the 1950s, where we meet a “sickeningly happy” couple played by Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Humans) and Richard Harrington (Hinterland, Lark Rise to Candleford). Parkinson plays the doting housewife to Harrington’s sporting gentleman. Set to the music of Mr Sandman, there is an air of pristine perfection about this opening scene. The song exudes a dream-like state in which these two characters exist and, indeed, as Harrington’s Johnny pops on his hat and coat, takes his lunchbox packed by Parkinson’s Judy, and kisses his wife goodbye, it all feels rather like a Sunday afternoon TV movie. So when Parkinson pulls out an iPad from a drawer, it creates a moment of dissonance that reverberates on the saccharine glass of this play’s squeaky –clean window.

Parkinson gives an accomplished performance as Judy, an idealist who delights in the idea of immersing herself in the 1950s by becoming a full-time housewife. It is not just the décor that oozes a nostalgic charm. Along with some incredibly elegant dresses, Parkinson’s slightly RP-toned accent and gliding movement paint a picture of a simple existence far removed from the complications of modern life. Judy is a woman who has chosen this life of frugality and servitude. Parkinson has her defend this choice with the kind of razor-sharp wit that is a staple of her acting persona. Even the impassioned speech of her feminist mother (Sian Thomas) seems to have little effect on her. It is a succinct and timely reminder of all that women have fought for over the past 100 years. It may not have broken through the resolute edge that Parkinson provides Judy with, but it was powerful to hear as an audience member. Such a resolute appearance is marked by an air of vulnerability however. Judy has lost herself in the pursuit of her ‘50s dream. It is left to Johnny to help her find herself again. Harrington invests warmth and loving care into his character. He could not be further removed from his troubled and brooding character in Hinterland. When he does get angry, it is a tone that will be familiar to fans of the BBC Wales crime drama. It seems that anger is what Harrington does best. Yet there is a distinctly soft side to Johnny that shows another side to Harrington’s acting ability that I’ve not seen before. It was refreshing to see, and proves his worth as one of Wales’ finest contemporary actors.

Sadly, we don’t get to see near enough of another of Wales’ finest. In my opinion, Sara Gregory is up there with Eve Myles in terms of her acting ability and characterisation. Her turn as branch manager and Johnny’s boss Alex in Home, I’m Darling is short but unsurprisingly sweet. She brings a professional charisma and expert flair to her character that makes her a formidable force for the short time she is on stage. When her, Parkinson and Harrington are together, it is one of the most electrifying scenes of the whole play. Kathryn Drysdale and Barnaby Kay complete the cast, both giving solid performances as husband and wife duo Fran and Marcus. Such is the quality of their characterisation that they could easily be the lead characters in another story. It is testament to Laura Wade’s writing that, instead, we have them occupying this space as minor, but no less significant, characters to Parkinson and Harrington’s leads.

Due to move to the National Theatre in London later this month, Home, I’m Darling is worth catching if you are in or around North East Wales. Director Tamara Harvey and her team have again excelled themselves with a production that is just as, if not even more memorable, than 2017’s Uncle Vanya. The set is certainly as iconic as the one created for Uncle Vanya, and the cast that has been assembled is again oozing with quality. Katherine Parkinson feels like she was made for the part of Judy. Richard Harrington is brilliant as her husband Johnny. Sara Gregory and the rest of the cast are given characters that could quite easily be lead parts in an alternative version of events. Massive credit must go to Laura Wade for creating such an inventive and mesmeric play. She has created something that perfectly encapsulates the zeitgeist, and that includes the weather at present. Amidst the current spell of sunny weather, it is worth venturing indoors for an evening in order to see this wonderfully colourful creation.

Click here for more info.

gareth

Gareth Williams

Review, Island Town, A Theatr Clwyd/ Paines Plough Co-Production by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

The Roundabout Theatre makes a welcome return to North Wales sporting a rather distinct yellow exterior. If you’ve not heard of it before, this is a theatre like no other. Assembled from flat pack with nothing but an Allen key, once complete, it is a fully self-contained, intimate little theatre that houses some of the most fantastic new plays in Britain. One of those plays is Island Town, which I was lucky enough to see last week. This 80-minute story of small town life could be described as a dramatic stage version of the BBC3 comedy This Country. Still full of humour but with a darker political edge, Island Town focuses on the lives of three friends trying to get by in a place that offers very little in the way of meaningful activity. With only the hope of escape, they settle, for the time being, on hanging out with one another, getting drunk on cider and looking ahead to the start of their adult lives. But when school’s out and exams are over, they find that it’s not so easy getting by in a place where there’s nothing to do. And escaping is not as easy as it sounds.

Writer Simon Longman has done a sterling job in creating a simple yet powerful narrative. He has created three well-formed characters that all three actors seem to comfortably step into and make their own. It is their relationships that drive the story forward, and make this piece particularly engaging. Whilst I am sad that the wonderful Katie Elin-Salt is not part of the cast this year, the production company, Paines Plough, have nevertheless found three excellent actors to play the roles. Katherine Pearce, in particular, has proved to be a real coup. I say this because she steals the show as Kate, an angry and assertive young carer who feels trapped by the need to look after her ill father. Pearce crackles with antagonistic rage. She places Kate as the centre of attention, a position which seems to strengthen her resolve whilst simultaneously covering up her vulnerability. Such is her pragmatic insistence and strong-willed notions that the three of them must escape the confines of their hometown that we, like Sam (Charlotte O’Leary) and Pete (Jack Wilkinson), agree to go along with her. Yet the consequences of such a decision are damaging to say the least. From here, Pearce slowly allows her character’s vulnerability to creep up to the surface. She causes the fragile state of her character to painstakingly crack through its steely confines. Such a move makes for an emotive performance, and makes Pearce herself one-to-watch.

Both O’Leary and Wilkinson give good support to Pearce in her more central role. In particular, Wilkinson brings a wonderful humorous naivety to his character. He deposits real warmth into his performance that evokes much laughter from the audience, particularly as he spins a fantastic web of outrageous stories, the highlight of which has to be his cremation for a fish. You can’t help but love him, which is why the injustice that he subsequently suffers elicits very strong feelings. In this instance, Longman makes Pete a political mouthpiece for the small town unemployed. He notes that there are no jobs in the local area. With no means of earning money, he must sign on. Yet he can’t sign on as he hasn’t got enough money for the train to the out-of-town job centre. There are no buses, and he can’t drive either. The non-specificity of Island Town’s setting means that it speaks generally into the heart of rural British life, of “Towns that sit like islands in the middle of fields”. Longman shines a sharp spotlight on the realities of small town life, making this not only a humorous play but a very relevant one too.

Island Town is a funny, thought-provoking play of minimalist proportions. At the same time, its message is somewhat universal. At one end, it captures the wonderful creativity that can arise from sheer boredom. On the other hand, it reveals the desperation that can result from a lack of amenities. Katherine Pearce gives a strong emotive performance as Kate, ably joined by Charlotte O’Leary and Jack Wilkinson. The three capture life in a small town incredibly well. With no props or no scenery, they still manage to draw us into their world and make it incredibly real. I’d recommend you catch it, if not in Mold then elsewhere. That’s the beauty of this pop-up theatre. It can pop up anywhere.

Click here to find out more.

gareth

Review, Great Expectations, Tilted Wig & Malvern Theatres at Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

(3 / 5)

To be familiar with a narrative can sometimes evoke the desire for a fresh perspective. Yet even as one anticipates the events of a classic literary text such as Great Expectations, another member of the audience might be encountering it for the first time. Therefore, ideally, the adaptation must stay true to the original whilst offering something unique. To this end, I would say that Tilted Wig Productions have done a fine job in breathing new life into one of Charles Dickens’ most famous stories. And they have done this particularly well through the use of music, costume and set design.

For my companion, this would be his third theatre production of Great Expectations. This, alongside the viewing of many film and TV adaptations from down the years (his particular favourite being the 1989 production, which notably starred Anthony Hopkins as Magwitch), obliged me to ask for his humble opinion after the show. One of the most striking features for him -indeed for me too – was the simplicity of the set. Compromising a three-dimensional, metal-framed box, with a wooden-slatted wall across the back, and two sloping platforms to the front and right, this was a very basic stage. One of the advantages of such a rudimentary set-up was that it enabled the fluid movement of the actors. Another advantage was the ability to transition seamlessly between scenes. It is no mean feat to take on a narrative of such scope, with its broad array of settings, and recreate such different worlds in such a limited space. With the creative use of lighting, director Sophie Boyce Couzens and her team manage to do so, and with seemingly relative ease. We were both mightily impressed by the scale of this production.

One of the shows that this production evoked for me was the National Theatre’s Jane Eyre. In some senses, Great Expectations was essentially a miniature version of this. Both the set and the use of folk music are employed in similar ways, but on a much smaller scale in Great Expectations. Yet the quality is on a similar par. In terms of folk music, there may only be one musician in the cast of Great Expectations, but composer and performer Ollie King manages to evoke such realism with his accordion that no further instrumentation is needed. With a few simple notes, he creates an atmosphere, evokes a setting, and produces an emotion. It is an incredible skill for which he deserves all recognition. Alongside King’s music, there were also some interesting sound effects produced by the other actors, using a plethora of everyday objects shelved on one side of the set. These diegetic additions wonderfully complimented the action on stage, adding to the atmosphere and setting brilliantly. Again, simplicity was a striking feature in the use of sound. And for this production, simplicity becomes a mark of its quality.

Finally, I would like to nod handsomely to the costume makers. With most of the actors playing multiple parts, the choice of a base layer of clothing for each of them, onto which one or two items can be slipped on and off at each turn, allows for maximum flexibility, contributing to the seamless transition between scenes that I have already noted. Moreover, the transformation of Pip (Sean Aydon) from a blacksmith’s apprentice to young gentleman of the city is profoundly simple. It requires only the buttoning up of his jacket, the addition of a coat, top hat and bag, to completely change the character’s social class. I couldn’t believe the effectiveness of such minimal changes. The piece de resistance however, has to be the wedding dress of Miss Havisham (Nichola McAuliffe). It is glorious in its tapestry, magical in its setting, and beautifully faded to reflect the character’s frozenness in time. It perfectly matches the commanding and slightly offbeat performance of McAuliffe. Considering the anticipation that came with this – Miss Havisham is my favourite character in Great Expectations, and one of my favourites in Dickens’ collection – it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Overall, Tilted Wig Productions, in association with Malvern Theatres, have produced an adaptation of Great Expectations that is marked by simplicity. Yet this simplicity is not akin to low quality. The set may be basic, but it allows the actors a freedom to creatively engage in storytelling. The music may be stripped back, but it evokes atmosphere and emotion incredibly well. The costumes may be simple, but the ability to transform characters by the drop of a hat or the fitting of a jacket is extraordinary. They manage to achieve so much by keeping it so simple. It makes for a beautiful adaptation that finds that wealth is not the maker of a show. Instead, with a little bit of ingenuity, it is love that creates something truly special.

Click here for more info and tickets.

Review, The Weir, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

Whilst on holiday in Ireland a couple of years ago, a visit to the low-lying valley of Glendalough found us walking through the stone ruins of a monastery. On this particular day, the mist had come down. There was rain in the air. For a popular tourist destination, there were few people around. It was still. It was quiet. There was something about the place that gave off a mystical, otherworldly vibe. It is little wonder then that belief in the supernatural is a prominent feature in Irish storytelling. It is certainly a fixture in the stories told by the characters in The Weir. The Mercury Theatre, in a co-production with English Touring Theatre, has decided to revive Conor McPherson’s play to mark its 20th anniversary. It is a decision which should be celebrated, not only because of the exceptional quality of the script but because it speaks some important truths into contemporary society.

The audience is invited into a small town pub in rural Ireland where we are witness to the folkloric tales and ghostly stories of a couple of regulars. They are prompted to delve into the art of storytelling by a newcomer to the village. Beneath such paranormal content however, lies a much deeper and darker level of human thought and emotion. As the stories open up to reveal dark and unsettling truths, it prompts this female stranger to share a secret from her past. She has a story of her own, and its truth will shake them all. So disconcerting are the stories that they tell, several members of the audience (at least around me) clearly felt the need to react in the form of whispered commentary to neighbours or the placement of a hand over a mouth. Such audience reaction was clearly in relation to the stories, yet such impact is as much down to the delivery of these stories as their content. In this respect, much applause must go to the actors on stage. In particular, Sean Murray (Jack) was so captivatingly brilliant that one could have heard a pin-drop inside the auditorium. A large slice of recognition must also go to the production team, particularly Madeleine Girling (Designer) and lighting designers Lee Curran and Dara Hoban. To present a cross-section of the pub, where the lines between the stage and the stalls were blurred, I found, had the effect of assuming the audience as part of the action. We were, in effect, sat inside with these people, the attentive listeners to their gripping narratives. As each story was told, the gradual reduction of light caused an acute focus which made such attentiveness all the more palpable. It also created an atmosphere that became increasingly eerie and unnerving, culminating with the actors speaking under a single spotlight, and accompanied by the occasional single sharp note of a violin. Truly engrossing.

One of the fascinating elements of McPherson’s play, from a contemporary perspective, is the impact of a female presence upon the typically-masculine world of the boozer. It is clear that Brendan, the pub’s owner, has not had to bother accommodating for a female visitor for some time. He has to dash through to his living quarters to source a bottle of wine, then has to promptly serve it in a pint glass, and later must announce that the women’s toilets don’t work. This haphazard, unaccommodating state of events is taken humorously by the audience, yet despite these light-hearted observational moments, much like the character’s stories, there is also a deeper level of social commentary that speaks to the ongoing problem of gender inequality evident in traditionally male-dominated institutions. It is fascinating to see the subtle and gradual shift that takes place in these men once Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke) has entered their midst. Themes of loneliness, fear and loss start to come to the surface in a less-mediated way. Vulnerability and emotional capacity open up. Suddenly, there is a glimpse of raw reality. The masculine ideal begins to crack. It is subtly powerful stuff.

If you want to be entertained, challenged, moved, and inspired then The Weir will certainly tick all of those boxes, and more. It combines pathos and humour exceedingly well. It invites the audience to inhabit its world and become utterly engrossed in its content. The stories told may be unsettling but they are gripping too. The cast excel in creating an intimate atmosphere that draws the listener in and has them hanging on every word, helped by the inspired set design and excellent use of lighting. It reminds you of the simple power of oral storytelling. So step away from your screen. Turn those electronic devices off. And experience the thrill of immediate, live storytelling.

https://www.theatrclwyd.com/en/whats-on/the-weir/

Gareth Williams

Review Heroine, Theatr Clwyd/High Tide by Gareth Williams

 

(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 The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice, Theatr Clwyd by Karis Clarke

 

(4 / 5)

 

As a critic I am not technically minded, I view a play and my mind will automatically focus on  the acting ability of the cast , as my background is in performing. However it would be impossible not to be blown away by the genius set design and the technicality of this production.

 

Using a revolving room on a split level, and a dividing floor the design by Amy Jane Cook easily managed to give the illusion of an open dolls house. (If the dolls house was a northern council house with poor electrics and bad house keeping!) This enabled the lounge, kitchen diner and bedroom all to be in full view of the audience. With swift transitions the bedroom revolved, the living room divided and the set transformed to Mr Boo’s night club. The first transition took place just after the beginning of the second half and was met with suitable gasps of awe from the impressed full house.

It would be rude not to give credit to the lighting design, by Nicholas Holdridge although naturalistic in nature a majority of the play took place in dimly lit rooms and at one point darkness. However the clever use of street, moon, dawn and torch light ensured the actors were always well lit and the tone and atmosphere were heightened. This combination of stage and technical magic combine in the final stages of the production, not wanting to spoil the effect -Theatre Clwyd’s production does stay true to the film and they do so very effectively. A combination of smoke, lights movement and LV’s  impressions as she reaches breaking point culminates to an intense stage experience.

The cast were as impressive as the set, comic timing, physicality and delivery were strong. Each member of the small ensemble allowed each other to have stand out moments as well as ensuring they all worked well together to perform some very funny dialogue, comedic banter and duets. (watch out for Nicola Reynolds, Mari Hoff, LV’s mum and the brilliant Victoria John, Sadie, the down beaten neighbour performing “It’s Raining Men”)

This play can only work if LV can actually deliver the impressions stated – ergo this play works. It has been stated on social media that when Catrin Aaron sings its like Judy Garland is in the room. I fully agree – except Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe and a host of others are there with her.

I was slightly disappointed with some of the direction of the play, continuity of stage exits occasionally seemed haphazard – this could be due to them being sacrificed for the technicality of the production – in which case I can forgive the occasions when walls are walked through – however towards the end of the play it felt like the cast had forgotten where doors were and they were just walking wherever!

Jim Cartwright’s script is undoubtedly witty and gritty and is supposed to be full of hilarity and vulgarity, however, I was waiting for the all important point when I would feel empathy with the characters, for me,  it didn’t happen. I put this down to the direction of Wasserberg rather than the acting ability of the cast. It was played for laughs and in doing so the characters became more caricatures –  that although I laughed with, I never fully connected with.

Other than this,  it was a pleasure to watch, strong female leads and the standing ovation  was justly deserved. Little Voice hits the right notes.

Theatre Clwyd, Antony Hopkins Theatre,Tuesday 10th October . Directed by Kate Wasserberg

 

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 / 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 Celebration, Emergency Chorus, Theatr Clwyd by Bethany Maculay

L-R Ben Kulvichit and Clara Potter-Sweet in Celebration, performed at NSDF 2017 by Emergency Chorus

(4 / 5)

 

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.

https://www.facebook.com/emergencychorus/

Celebration

 

Review, Out of Love, The Roundabout Theatre at Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

 

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

OUT OF LOVE