Tag Archives: theatre

Review: The Island at Oasis Cardiff by Gareth Ford-Elliott

The performance of The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona from Fio at Oasis Cardiff, a community centre for refugees and asylum seekers, was a beautiful way for anyone to get introduced to Fio.

It wasn’t a classic “theatre night”, but more a community evening that had a play at the end of it. There was food served originating from various different countries, the opportunity to have your photo taken and talk with other audience members and refugees from all over the world.

All this before Oasis World Choir, a choir of refugees, took to the stage to perform, inviting the audience to sing along. They performed a mix of pop songs and songs written by themselves. It was a real mix of cultures brought together by music and truly was a beautiful thing to witness. The general themes of the songs were about hope and unity.

As someone who grew up in a close-knit, music based community in West Ireland, it took me right back to that community feeling. But this was totally different, a group of people from all over the world, from various backgrounds.

Some of the music was brilliant. Some of it was a bunch of people having a sing-song, the choir and the audience which was fun. But there were some really beautiful individual performances from various members of the choir.

The Island from Fio

(3 / 5)

The Island follows two black prisoners, John and Winston, who rehearse and perform a theatrical version of the Greek myth of Antigone during their time on Robben Island in Apartheid South Africa. Based on a true story, the two prisoners use this play as a way to speak about the current state of affairs of their country. It is a story of brotherhood, jealousy, oppression and protest with an important message of equality at its heart.

The play, originally performed in 1973, has its issues. There is a lot of character building, but a lack of character motivation at times. Whilst there are moments of real importance, the energy of the play stagnates too often. The restrictions of censorship in Apartheid South Africa when this play was written is a reasons for this. Only touching on certain issues that couldn’t be explicitly spoken about in detail. Whereas for a modern audience, in full knowledge of the realities of apartheid, it maybe doesn’t hold the power it did in 1973.

That aside, it tells an important story of struggle against the state. A story that is as relevant around the world today as it was in 1973. You could tell similar stories about the prisons in the USA, Brazil, North Korea, Thailand and even in post-Mandela South Africa. And despite the lack of detail and skirting around the harshest of realities, when this production does suck you in, it is hard not to feel it.

Because of the possibility of telling this story anywhere in the current world, you have to question Fio’s choice to cover this time period. Why this piece? Why now? What is it saying that is new? The answer to that last question is, nothing. We are not getting anything new. If anything, this is a watered-down version of what happened.

However, it is important to learn from history. And Fio were not making this piece of theatre to say anything new. They were making it to speak about the past of South Africa and how we, as the UK, move forward with commonwealth nations considering the past we share. Fio are clear to state the UK’s complicity in South Africa’s apartheid period.

I must mention that it does feel wrong to criticise a script written in a state of censorship. If you’re familiar with Iranian film, an industry full of censorship, you will know how much allegory is relied on to criticise the state and how often details are left to interpretation. The Apple (1998), written and directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, takes the real life story of two young women locked up by their father, and combines that with the symbolism of an apple, a symbol of opportunity, temptation and “the fall of man”, to speak about sexism in the country.

Is it the pinnacle of filmmaking? No. But you don’t get screened at Cannes for nothing. And The Island didn’t win Tony Awards for its technical playwrighting. But more for what it meant at that time.

Less about Fio’s choice to stage it though, Abdul Shayek’s direction fluctuates as the play progresses. The parts that stand out in the script are expressed well in this production. Most of the play is handled with care and directed to good effect. But there are areas that stagnate, times where the energy drops and moments that seem to lack importance.

The design was the strongest aspect of this production. The set was simple, yet effective. Four metal poles holding up a caged ceiling. This set was utilised well by the actors and combined with sound and lighting design, works well together, particularly in dream-like sequences, to produce emotive design. In a space like the Oasis, effectively a sports hall, this is not an easy feat and they deserve credit.

Performances from Joe Shire and Wela Mbusi are both strong. Portraying a brotherly relationship that shows real love, yet also jealousy. The moments of intimacy are beautiful, however some moments of conflict early in the play seem forced. The movement from the performers at times is really strong, which movement director Andile Sotiya deserves credit for.

The Island from Fio split my opinion a great deal and I still can’t decide, in my opinion, whether Fio made the right choice in staging it. Aspects were brilliant, but other parts fell flat. On one hand telling stories about history is important. But on the other hand, was this the right play to put in front a 2018 audience in Wales? Especially viewing it on this night, sharing a room with refugees, I couldn’t help but want to hear their stories more than one I have heard a thousand times. Stories that affect the present. But then, what is the present if we ignore history?

Overall though, the piece was an enjoyable piece of theatre, both from a general spectators perspective and from a critics perspective. Plenty to talk about afterwards both artistically and politically. Not to mention, the event as a whole was really beautiful and made for a heart-warming evening full of hope.

The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona
Presented by Fio at Oasis Cardiff on November 9th 2018
Director: Abdul Shayek
Winston: Wela Mbusi
John: Joe Shire
Movement Director: Andile Sotiya
Lighting Design: Ryan Joseph Stafford
Sound Design: Dan Lawrence
Design Consultant: Becky Davies
Stage Manager: Jeremy Barnaby
Executive Producer: Shane Nickels
Producer: Nicole May
Assistant Stage Manager: Cait Gerry
Assistant Director: Yuqun Fan
Assistant Producer: Jasmine Okai
Community Engagement Officer: Naz Syed
Audio Description Consultant: Alastair Sil
Caption Consultant & Creator: Ben Tinniswood

Review: Cardiff Boy at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(5 / 5)

Kevin Jones’ monologue Cardiff Boy is a nostalgic jump into the 90’s with a story as relevant today as it was in the 90’s. A story of male friendship that explores toxic masculinity with a killer 90’s soundtrack.

Narrated by “the quiet one” of the group, the story follows a group of young Cardiff lads as we join them on a night out. The use of set, sound and lighting design really add to Jones’ descriptive and emotive piece, which is guided well by director Matthew Holmquist and actor Jack Hammett.

Jones’ writing in this piece has its strength in the language. Whilst the plot is fairly basic, it is the expression of the characters that really stands out. Jones uses a clever mix of comedy and archetypal characters to juxtapose the hard hitting moments of the play. This works very well and makes the play relatable, enjoyable whilst also saying something unique.

There’s more you want to know about the characters and paths that are left unexplored. But not in an unsatisfying way. Details such as the protagonist’s relationship with his father is touched upon, but quickly brushed over by the protagonist. A detail that could be explored, but the lack of clarity of which is harrowingly too real for many young men.

When the audience enter the space of The Other Room, we leave behind Porters, the pub within which the theatre resides. However, with Cardiff Boy, The Other Room literally feels like the other room of the pub, such is the strength of the set design.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

 

Sitting down you’re greeted by benches and chairs scattered throughout the room, with tables on which to rest your drinks. And as Hammett wanders between you and the other audience members, it is hard not to feel a strong sense of place.

This is heightened with the hanging photographs of 90’s Cardiff, which act as a sort of scrapbook of the protagonist’s photography collection. Photography and perception is used at various times by the protagonist to set the scene, with the city and locations generally described in great detail. Looking around at these fragments of Cardiff hanging from the ceiling, creates a very evocative feeling that makes it easy to get drawn in.

The directing of Matthew Holmquist is another strength of this piece. Not an easy piece to take on, such is the temperamental nature of the script. Without a brave director, that temperament could easily become a major flaw. But, the tone of the piece is handled brilliantly by Holmquist who allows the moments of emotion time to breath, without letting them take over.

Jack Hammett does a good job of portraying the protagonist and his mates as he bops around the room. In particular moments of vulnerability, which defines his “quiet” character, stand out. Ultimately a play about difference in men, Hammett does a great job in portraying this.

The use of sound is crucial to this play, and it doesn’t fail to impress. The soundtrack is obviously brilliant for anyone who enjoys 90’s music. Often used to comedic effect, the music, like the photographs, has a deeper meaning to the protagonist of the piece. Sound is also key in setting the scene and does so well.

The only issue for sound designer Joshua Bowles to work on would be that the level of the sound often drowns out Hammett’s voice. On occasion this works, for example in the club, where you can never hear anyone anyway, however, probably an occurrence too regular were that the desired effect.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

The use of lighting from Ryan Stafford is understated. Often going unnoticed until you try to see it, the lighting adds to the overall piece well. A tough play for lighting, as the stage is the entire room, Stafford manages to keep it effective without distracting. Even when there are flashing lights, you barely notice it because the music, direction and acting are all working together with the lighting to set the scene.

Perhaps this is the biggest compliment to Cardiff Boy and Red Oak Theatre as a wider company. A company that views the roles of the designers as importantly as the director, writer or actor. Something that is weirdly rare when you consider how well it has worked in Cardiff Boy and how vital these professions are to the theatre industry.

It’s good also to see that with this in mind, Red Oak are committed and passionate about developing young artists with a paid assistant director (Nerida Bradley) and assistant designer (Lauren Dix). A company no doubt restricted by a budget won’t always do this, so it’s nice to see Red Oak committing to young artists in this way.

Along with this, it is heartening for a piece that started at a scratch night, to grow into such a strong piece of theatre. Again showing Red Oak’s commitment to new work and new artists.

Overall, Cardiff Boy is a wonderful production. It’s hard to say anything stands out in this production as everything works so well together to achieve its aim. However, April Dalton’s design, assisted by Lauren Dix, is phenomenal and deserves recognition.

The play’s greatest strength is the team behind it because with another team, and another company, Jones’ emotive script could be easily forgotten.

Cardiff Boy by Kevin Jones
Presented by Red Oak Theatre
Running From: 30 October – 11 November 2018
Performed at The Other Room, Cardiff
Director: Matthew Holmquist
Cast: Jack Hammett
Designer: April Dalton
Lighting Designer: Ryan Stafford
Stage Manager: Joshua Bowles
Sound Designer: Joshua Bowles
Producer: Ceriann Williams
Assistant Director: Nerida Bradley
Assistant Designer: Lauren Dix

‘Street’ and ‘Izzy’s Manifestos’ from Spilt Milk by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Spilt Milk’s double bill of Street by Susan Monkton and Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones (23/10 – 26/10 2018) is their second production of the year, having staged the impressive Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith at the Cardiff Fringe in May. Along with various scratch nights, the company are a busy one, offering various opportunities for Cardiff’s creative scene.

And this double bill showcases exactly that. A work-in-progress piece from emerging writer and actor Susan Monkton, as well as a more polished piece from Kevin Jones.

The evening starts as any Spilt Milk night would, with a warm welcome at the door and an invitation to the bar, where lovely Kate and Leo from AJ’s Coffee House will serve you. The setting of AJ’s is intimate, cosy and always makes for a nice evening of theatre, this being no different.

Street by Susan Monkton  (3 / 5)

Street is only Susan Monkton’s second piece of writing that she has shared with the public, and with it being a work-in-progress, that has been taken into account for the review.

The play follows a young woman, Laura (portrayed by Ella Maxwell), as she walks home from a one night stand, only to be met with a bomb explosion on City Road in Cardiff. She tends to the wounds of Sammy, a young boy, before fleeing the scene. This causes guilt in her mind to circle, until a knock at the door from a police officer assures her that the boy is okay, and that she’s done nothing wrong. The opposite in fact, she is “my hero” in Sammy’s words.

Overall, it feels as though the writer has found a topic, but not really explored in depth the character or the situation. The point of the play, why the story needed to be told by this character and the writer’s aims aren’t really clear.

The police officer scene is fairly awkward, in part because the officer speaks over the sound system as a voice-over. But it also feels unrealistic for the officer to show up, bring her pair of shoes and comfort her.

Aspects like Sammy being revealed as a refugee is a detail that feels thrown in, unnecessary and really takes characterisation away from him. Almost to ramp up the tragedy, but ends up falling into the trope of white heroinism.

The setting of City Road is a multicultural area of Cardiff and in the national discussion of refugees and terrorism, it is impossible to get away from the topic of Islam. The connotations of these aspects of the play really need looking into as combined with the white heroism, it creates a potentially problematic play.

A play that focuses on the victims and tragedy of the situation could have more responsibility in considering the connotations of the setting, characterisation and main themes.

The opening monologue about Laura’s night out is a bit odd in contrast to the rest of the piece. However, it does portray Laura as someone ultimately not ready to be a hero. That continues to be a big theme throughout the play, but a theme that makes the protagonist fairly passive. Things happen to her rather than because of her actions.

There are some really strong moments of humour early in the play, which is definitely a strong area of Monkton’s writing having seen her previous work. There is also strong characterisation for Laura and some really emotional writing. The script shows real promise but it requires work and needs to be more careful in certain areas.

Ella Maxwell does an excellent job in portraying Laura, really throwing herself into the script, bringing out the humour when appropriate, but also handling the more emotional parts of the play really well also.

Street is directed with real care from Becca Lidstone with close attention to detail. Paced well with key points in the script really standing out. No doubt that some of Maxwell’s excellent work is down to this direction, not to take any credit away.

There were moments where sound effects used felt awkward which Lidstone and sound designer Nick Laws could work on. They seemed to be chucked in and rather than adding to the scene, distracted somewhat.

Overall it is worth going to see to give feedback on the script and for Ella Maxwell’s great performance. But certainly a play that needs work.

Street by Susan Monkton
Cast: Ella Maxwell as Laura
Directed by: Becca Lidstone
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones  (4 / 5)

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones was initially performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. However, has been developed and brought back as a brand-new production by Spilt Milk.

The play follows a young girl called Izzy, who, after her father’s death when she is fourteen, creates manifestos by which she lives her life. It is an unpredictable, hilarious, yet potentially heart-breaking piece of theatre.

I say potentially, as the script certainly doesn’t live up to it’s high potential. That’s not to say it’s not of a high quality. It is really funny and a strong piece of theatre. However, it ends abruptly and leaves you wanting more.

Before the play starts, Angharad Berrow goes around the room, in character, telling people that the play was about to start. This along with Berrow’s energy sets the tone for the play which moves very quickly, jumping from stage to stage of Izzy’s life.

Izzy is witty, excited, evil and brilliantly portrayed by Angharad Berrow. Not afraid to break the fourth wall, which works well as there are planned and unplanned examples of this, all of which Berrow handles very well.

The piece is well directed by Luke Hereford and despite lack of emotion in the character, Hereford finds other ways of displaying what is under the surface of the character. In particular, manipulating tone and pace to good effect. This really shows what a promising director he really is.

The main issue here comes in that there seems something missing at the end. Some emotion. Izzy spends the whole play (and previous years of her life) ignoring her father’s death and not grieving. When she finally lets herself think of her father, which she admits to the audience, there doesn’t seem to be a consequence of this. The story seems focused on Izzy reaching that point – but not on what that might mean for her moving forward. The ending is generally rushed and seems unfinished.

It’s hard to say exactly what it needs, but it needs some more care and to show more emotion in the conclusion. Just as the play feels like it’s getting somewhere, it finishes.

It was the only major issue with the play, but it was the difference between four and five stars. Other than that, it is a really enjoyable piece of theatre on all fronts and definitely worth seeing.

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones
Cast: Angharad Berrow as Izzy
Directed by Luke Hereford
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: Laurie Black Live by Sian Thomas

Seeing Laurie Black: Live was so much fun. Straight away it was easy to tell it was a show perfect for me. Though I could sit quietly in the background and mind my business, I still felt lovingly included and seen. It began relatable and topical and brilliantly on my wavelength.

Her songs had a very specific feel to them. An almost gothic or witchy vibe (which I personally find a lot of fun; I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of aesthetics although I haven’t really lived them) that also rang with a lot of emotion I didn’t expect to find but was glad I was shown, anyway. I kept an interest in them overnight (I’ve found only really good shows do that to me. Sometimes they just end, sometimes I just go home. Other times I keep it in a corner of my mind, look it up online for a little bit longer, dedicated a little more time to finding things out about this. With this show I looked up some other music, I saw the kinds of things sold in the merch store, and I thought ‘yep. This show’s the winner’.). I’m happy to say I’ve found some new songs to listen to.

The participants portion of the show was good! I’m glad I didn’t have to do it myself and I was glad I felt alright blending into the background and just having the opportunity to watch on and see what other people thought, which was really nice! That and, it was more enjoyable watching other people have fun on stage.

The make up was great. It was glow in the dark. Which I didn’t expect to adore, but I did. I thought it was a really nice touch with the rest of the flashing lights and the way the windows of AJ’s Coffee House were blocked out. For an apocalypse show, I thought it was a nice and extravagant detail; the kind of extra mile you definitely couldn’t go if the world was really ending unless you really, really tried.

Laurie Black herself was affable and fun, definitely undeterred in her show, unstoppable in how she created laughs, a supportive and laid back atmosphere, and unquestionably a wonderful performer. It’s always nice to watch people just be themselves on stage, unafraid to swear or mess up or anything else. It was almost cathartic to watch; I wish I could have related. Although I definitely related to some other points during the show – I think those were enough.

This event was the one to mark the end of the fringe festival, so I’m pleased to say I attended to watch it go out with a bang. I’ve had an immensely wonderful time seeing all these different kinds of shows and going to all these different kinds of events. I wait with bated breath to find out what’s coming next year, and I hope I get to experience the same wonderment and awe for my third year in a row. These last two really have been something special; I’ve had fun with the people I’ve gone with and I’ve been able to see shows I wouldn’t have otherwise ever known existed.

I’m voting for Laurie Black: Live for my favourite show, this year. A close second was Camp Be Yourself. Although it will forever remain that the Open Mic Poetry Night is my all time favourite free fringe event, Laurie Black: Live was most definitely my favourite show this year. None of them left quite the lasting effect as this one had.

Sian Thomas

Review: Becoming Human, Pinocchio Retold by Sian Thomas

Seeing Becoming Human: Pinocchio Retold was an experience and a half. The show was abundantly expressive from the very beginning, and remained so the whole night. The vibe was energetic and the atmosphere was apparent and welcoming, and it felt nice to be a part of a show like that.

At first it was loud. I remember wondering whether those downstairs could hear the show and whether or not they would think it was alluring based off of how it sounded, as sound was an important factor to this play. Reminding me somewhat of a show from last year, Stories Of The Silver Tree, sound effects were so viral and also so interestingly done. By a person on the floor (who, honestly, I didn’t notice for a while. I thought it was a recording and that the leafs had amazing timing) but when I found out one person was doing all that right there in the moment, I was moved. I was impressed! The sounds were just as energetic and fun as the story and the characters, and I really did like how it was done. Clever and well executed, to say the least.

Again, the venue was lovely. I’ve got myself quite a fondness for the space above Ten Feet Tall, even if it was stuffy and warm, it still worked to create a wonderful space for a wonderful show. The stage fit the play nicely. There was such a good use of space and imagination to fill in such space where props may have been. I liked that props were hardly used. It drove home the important of the one prop that was used (a small glowing ball to represent a conscious; which I thought was very cool) and worked to inspire an audience to use their imagination even when out to see a show. I thought that was quite a sweet touch. And once more, sound. Projecting into the room nicely and always sure to have an impact. Lastly, the lighting. I like the disco ball. I really do. I’m glad it was used.

Becoming Human: Pinocchio Retold has such a great story, and a really good message. I liked the way string was used to emphasise how our lives intertwine and attach us to one another. The message of growing up and valuing those around you was lovely to see, and a good thing to actively do. Always important. Showing love and fondness I think is sweet and that message was put forward incredibly as the character searched for parental figures and found themselves and went through many changes in such a short space of time.

Lastly, a touch I did really like was the way the actresses went from the story characters (multiple at once, sometimes! A feat, if I say so myself) to people walking us through the story and commenting on the truth of the tale. All I remember from Pinocchio is that Disney covered it, and even then I don’t remember much from that. It was nice to see a rendition of the story that was more accessible and fun, made less for kids and more for people who just wanted to have a fun time.

The Fringe isn’t on for too much longer! I’m hoping that my last few plugs will do well for it, as it deserves as much attention as it gets and even more than that. http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/

Sian Thomas

Review: ‘Just Say It’ from Susan Monkton by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Just Say It by Susan Monkton is a moving exploration of how miscarriage in pregnancy affects a relationship, which evokes raw emotion.

Another gem from the Cardiff Fringe Lab, as a work in progress the star rating is more judge on the potential of the piece and judging where it is in relevance to progress at the present. This review is very much for feedback as it is for the sake of reviewing.

The tone, pace and energy of this piece in the writing by Susan Monkton and directing by the team of director Chelsey Gillard and AD Cassidy Howard-Kemp, begin really well.

I had seen this piece scratched at an event by Spilt Milk Theatre in 2017 and I remember it well – as it stood out. I knew what to expect when going in. However, this production of Just Say It is longer and had improved. Not only are we still taken on the journey, despite knowing what is going to happen (more or less), there was more humour than I remember and it also connects much more. This shows the progress on the project as well as the ability to evoke emotion.

Some of this is bound to be down to it not being a scratch and more rehearsed – but the whole team really do a good job of taking us on that journey again, step by step. The test of any story is, when it’s repeated or if the audience have knowledge of the story, does it still have the same impact. And this definitely does.

Susan Monkton’s monologue is very well acted by Monkton herself. The focus of the play follows Bella as she falls pregnant with her lovable-idiot-boyfriend, Dave. They have a fairly standard relationship until an unplanned pregnancy springs itself upon them. Bella decides to keep it. Both Bella and Dave grow from hesitancy to excitement fairly quickly, which comes across as natural for this couple. They start preparing for the baby, in what they buy for the baby and emotionally preparing for parenthood and giving birth.

This all leads very well up to the point where Bella is told that she is to have a miscarriage. The scene where she finds out is very powerful and it is a brilliant climax to a brilliant piece thus-far.

It is after this scene where the issues in the script start to emerge. It becomes repetitive at times and starts to drag a little. The exploration of the relationship is interesting. It is clear this is not about miscarriage, it’s about a relationship that deals with it. But the strength in the scripts at the moment is in the lead-up to the miscarriage and doesn’t carry over to the second half.

Bella repeats herself a lot when talking about her feelings. This can be interpreted various ways. On one hand, she is falling into a sort of depressive state. She is not upset, as she says, and not angry. She’s feeling nothing. And this is really well represented. But on the other hand, it feels pushed down our throats in the writing.

Also, the play falls a little flat in the direction at this point after the announcement of the miscarriage. It is a big contrast to before this announcement – which is good. It shouldn’t be as upbeat as earlier. However, it doesn’t level out.

I want to emphasise, the second part is not boring, it is still quite well written, directed and acted. It just doesn’t meet the high expectations we have been brought before in the play. When a play dips slightly in quality, even if it’s not bad, it can feel like you’ve gone from brilliant to awful. When in reality this play goes from brilliant to okay; enjoyable but not as unmissable as the first half. Moving forward, this is definitely the area that needs work.

Having said that, the relationship is explored further by Monkton in the script and we start to see how a couple struggles with the loss of this child that they never physically had in their hands. It feels like lost memories that weren’t ever there. This is a really interesting part of the relationship to analyse and there is certainly more here to be explored. As previously stated, there is some repetition which is taking up space from other avenues to explore for the writer.

Generally throughout the piece director Gillard and AD Howard-Kemp explore the relationship well. The use of BSL interpreter Liz May is beautiful. Not only does it work within the context of the play, but it’s so nice to see a BSL interpreter not just stood on the side signing. Of course, sometimes there’s not a way to work the BSL into the piece. But here it was done so well and inclusively. A shame that Liz May fades into the background a little in the second half. But, this is still a lot more than a lot of shows do so it is definitely a step in the right direction. There is also the argument that a lot of the interaction between Monkton and May was comedic and the second half isn’t as comedic. But either way, this was a really nice touch.

Overall, it is a very strong piece. With a few tweaks in tone and a few redrafts can become an excellent piece of theatre.

Tonight, June 12th at 6.30pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Just Say It – Presented by Susan Monkton and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by and starring Susan Monkton.
BSL Interpreter: Liz May
Director: Chelsey Gillard.
Assistant Director: Cassidy Howard-Kemp.
Producer: Rhys Denton
Running time: 45 mins approx.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: ‘Misfire’ from Old Sole Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(4 / 5)

Misfire from Old Sole Theatre Company is relevant and shows real promise to be an excellent piece of theatre.

In the interest of clarity, I’ll start this review by saying I am good friends with the director Nerida Bradley, despite what she may tell you. That said, I believe in constructive, critical response and it is what I would want as an artist myself. You can either believe me or not.

I will also be reviewing this piece based on it being an R&D production and part of the Fringe Lab at the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival. So, the star rating is given on the basis it is R&D and the review is also acting as feedback.

This piece is here to further the discussion of the main theme of the play, toxic masculinity. It also takes inspiration from the exposé of the #MeToo Movement, exposing the likes of Harvey Weinstein.

The play is a monologue set up as anti-stand-up comedy. A stand-up comedy show that goes wrong if you will. We immediately get a sense of the character’s obnoxious nature during his entrance. Jon Parry plays Jake, a stand-up comic, who enters, demanding a drink at the bar. Unsuccessful, he goes to the stage and waits for the music, ‘The Entertainer’  by Tony Clarke, to stop.

Jake then proceeds to make some terrible jokes. “Next joke… Carrie Fisher died… Princess Leia’s gone.” This just isn’t funny – but the distasteful pleasure of the joke shows us a glimpse of this characters mindset and the dry delivery from Parry enforces this well.

The great thing about this play is, from the start of the play you really have no idea what is going to happen. You have no idea what Jake is going to do.

Jon Parry does a good job of portraying the stand-up comedian, who is drunk and stoned. The highlight of the performance comes when Jake has a gun in his mouth and tells the story of a congressman, Budd Dwyer, who shot himself in the head on camera. In this we also have a double-entendre of speaking about dying. The comic doesn’t reveal whether this is dying on stage as a comedian or literally dying. But to the relief of anyone who doesn’t like death endings, like me, he doesn’t kill himself, literally. And he dies on stage at the start of the play.

The writer James Neale does a good job of covering the subject on the scale of your average guy. However, the piece often lacks vision and ambition. The feeling that the stand-up comic could do anything is good, but needs to be met with sufficient vision and structure. It also feels like the boundaries could be pushed much more. In the post-show Q&A it was clear from a few of the audience members, that the script needs work in this sense.

Structurally, the script gets going into the theme very quickly, but then dies out a little. Not completely, but the most explicit stuff comes at the start. The piece doesn’t build particularly well. We need to be building to something. This is what the piece lacks more than anything. We don’t need to know where we’re going, but need to be taken on a journey.

The language used is good and we get a really good sense of the character. There are parts of the script which are very well written. But when you’re talking about toxic masculinity, it needs to push more.

The direction for this piece is good. Jon and Nerida worked well together to portray James’ script. The messy moving around the venue – AJ’s Coffee House – works well as it feels naturalistic.

We could see a more sinister approach at times, particularly when Jake talks about stalking girls and choking his girlfriend during sex. The relaxed nature works in that it shows these things as normal to the character. But the tone is often quite relaxed and with this, these significant moments only stand out in text and not in the performance. The tone and pace of these things could be played with.

Overall, I’ve given the play a star rating of four as I feel with a bit of work, when it gets to a place where it is ready to go on stage fully, it will be a very strong show. It was certainly a strong R&D performance and exactly what the Cardiff Fringe Lab is about.

The post-show Q&A was an interesting discussion – but it definitely became clear that there is more vision and potential not being explored in the text and in the rehearsal room to come from this play.

Also, very quick note. It’s really nice to see shows that are BSL interpreted – but sometimes this can’t be arranged for whatever reason. It was nice to see an apology for this on the freesheet. The more we can normalise BSL interpretation, even if we aren’t using it, the better.

Tonight, June 12th at 7.45pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Misfire – Presented by Old Sole Theatre Company and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by James Neale.
Directed by Nerida Bradley.
Starring Jon Parry as Jake.
Poster art by Miles Rozel Brayford.
Running time: 30 mins approx with 30 min Q&A about the play and toxic masculinity following.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: Camp Be Yourself by Sian Thomas

From the get go of this show, Camp Be Yourself, I saw that there was a lovely theatre space being used. I hadn’t been aware of 10 Feet Tall in the first place, nevertheless the kind of atmosphere it was hiding upstairs. A nice rustic feeling to it and it’s plush chairs, I felt like I was in for a good evening in a space so suitably equipped for creating just that. There was an atmosphere that had definitely existed since it was built and decorated in the way it was (disco ball? Rustic looking wooden furniture? Soft blue couches? Dotted around fairy lights? All of those are right up my alley) which had an impact on the feel of the show. What I had expected had been much different or what had been delivered. What I’d thought I’d be seeing was a more sombre or rather, a more serious, at least, show about growing up being oneself in the world where it feels like everything else is more important. I have a tendency to look at dates and times of shows and go, sometimes more than seeing what the show is about first. What was delivered however was so different, but still so good in that different way: two girls running a camp and preparing for a talent show while one finds a passion and the other opens up about her past and they do it in a way that unrelenting in their comedy.

The performance was lively from the very beginning, also, what with leagues of “hello campers!” And “nice! High fives!” going all around the room and making it back to the stage. I thought for a while there would be more audience participation, which lead me down the “oh NO!!!” path I’d been down recently with Fringe shows but quickly overcome, but to my relief I was allowed to sit and kick back and be shown. It was nice, I really think, to be able to watch. And it will also be nice to give them five stars based on things I saw and felt, not on things I did and joined in with. Both of these things are good in their own right, but it was really nice to experience this one after experiencing two bouts of the other.
There was a lot to pick up on, as well. Fun costumes, firstly – that, in all honestly, were exactly what I’d picture for a camp-based story. Yellow t-shirts with a white outline, jeans, those eternal trackies that are somehow always everywhere. Also, bunches and high ponytails, because yeah, of course.
There was such a good use of space and effects! I hadn’t known what the theatre space had looked like beforehand but what it was hadn’t been what I’d expected but it seemed such a good fit for the show. A semicircle(ish) arrangement of seats and a nicely black and white striped wall of the stage, a disco ball (really loved that touch) and an array of lighting choices. A number of songs used, of laughs created, of amazing jokes told.
Five stars are normally used because the book was so good it must be bought or there’s more showings of a performance and I am yelling into the internet hoping someone will take my word for it and go to that other showing. I’ve broken that rule a couple times and given one time things five stars and felt weird about that even though I enjoyed them so heartily it was unbelievable. But I don’t feel bad doing that things time! There is a second showing of Camp Be Yourself, in the very same lovely little theatre space, and I can’t recommend enough going to see it (http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/).
One last thing was that I think it’s wonderful and I think it’s important that this show was two women cracking us all up and how full the seats were, too. I really liked that. It’s nice to see women in all fields, especially comedy. They really hooked me in, that’s all I can really describe about that. I really want to put my kudos forward; I loved the two girls, the energy they had and the laughter they created. I hope the show goes on to do well!

Sian Thomas

Review: Godden And Barnes by Sian Thomas

Coming in to see this live show, to see Godden and Barnes, there was a swelling atmosphere in the Sherman Theatre foyer. A trepidation centring when the piece would begin and exactly what it would entail, because I certainly didn’t know, but I’m glad I went to find out. Gearing up, the microphone (and microphone stand) was used and quickly the height difference between  the two was staggering (and relatable: I’m short, everyone else isn’t. I’ve been told to do my fair share of things and only been able to stare up at them and stare back at the person). I remember that being the moment that I was tipped off and knew I’d be having a fun time.

Audience participation is still (and probably always will be) both spring upon me and terrifying. I’ve said this previously and I’ll probably continue to stand by it based alone on that “oh no what are they doing oh my god what’s happening oh NO” feeling that occurs very quickly. The sudden realisation that I could be up in a crowd unprepared and anxious is so frightening. Which is kind of weird, then, that this time I got up and joined in. I don’t normally do that, but it was nice to. Normally participation like this has an overwhelmingly intimidating feeling to it, but the two did a good job of deflating that tension before it could really arise. So I jumped their taped line and I ran around in a pencil skirt (a feat, if I say so myself) and I danced (ISABELLE IF YOU’RE READING: thank you SO much for being there, helping creating the Fringe, all those things too, but especially for: dancing with me in that moment. I have no idea how to dance and you saved me from what would have definitely been me embarrassing myself. Thank you).
I’m giving this show five stars in the hope that 1) it returns and 2) because it got me out of my seat and the whole time I wasn’t in it I wasn’t acutely terrified – which is also a feat, if I do say so myself.

I normally like to keep myself under wraps at any show. I have a huge preference for staying inside my own head and sorting my own thoughts to be laid out, often in a piece like this, later on in a day or so. I like watching a performance, and bookmarking in my mind how I feel about it. I have, as well, a tendency to look quite blank while I do this (I swear I was enjoying the show, I was just doing this, and I was shy about laughing too loud in the foyer that could have echoed if I’d have let loose).  I also wasn’t aware that some of my favourite jokes must be impressions but based on the noise I made when I heard an impression of Owen Wilson’s “Wow” (something I already find funny, mind you, because I’m young and know that that is a popular joke) must make it true.

The two used the space they had really well. I didn’t even know the foyer in the Sherman had a balcony that could be used in the way that they used it. It made me think that the show itself must have to be quite flexible and the placement quite malleable in order for things to work in the order that they did the night I saw how it would flow.This production was also just an hour long (another easy thing to give! Just a slice of time reserved for the laughs we all need) It felt like a lot less; I heard myself say “Oh?” When they told us they were done (the time that they meant it, though).
The Fringe will press on in good time, continuing to carry shows I’m excited to see. (http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/).

I was sorry to hear that the show will be stopped for a little while, but I’m sure enough that it’s for a good reason and will yield good results for the future. I hope that whenever the show returns, I might be able to see it again, and enjoy it all over again.

Sian Thomas

Review: Just A Few Words by Stammermouth by Sian Thomas

Yesterday I attended my first official 2018 Fringe Festival event, knowing based on last year and based on the Fringe Cafes that I would have a wonderful time – and I did. This festival already means quite a lot to me, so to be able to kick off its return again this year was a very visceral feeling that was nothing but positive. I was excited, and I was ready to go in straight away.

Just A Few Words was a show that I wanted to see because every aspect looked appealing; seemed short and sweet, seemed like the venue was in a good place, seemed like it was going to be funny with a quietly serious undertone – something I would realise later in the night the Fringe seems good at picking up. That alone was nice, a story with laughs and jokes layered thinly over something a little more hearty and gripping.

My first thought when watching the play was that there was a lot of realness to it. The talent and skill on stage was real and easily spotted; good techniques like idiosyncrasies and a swing in moods that rose the audience up and settled us back down in the right places for the mood. I value that a lot more than I think I really did; the ability to really touch my heart with a script and a practiced performance rather than having it just be “oh, I saw a play.”.

A really fun medium was used, too! One I haven’t experienced before. The Fringe must do this well, too, as I have fond memories of a fun medium used in Stories Of The Silver Tree from last year. This one, rather than audio, was cards. Things the audience could read, that played well as jokes and dialogue and what felt like a whole other character. It was different in a way that suits the Festival well; new and upcoming and hopefully does well for itself. An interesting take like this deserves to go further than what was our little theatre and a charmingly mismatched set of chairs and church pews. There was also audience participation! Which was sprung on me and terrifying (two things it always seems to be), but as it was pushed more and more I got a little more into it (and a lot more thankful for whoever was more confident than me and could lead me into it). I never expect audience participation to be singing, also, but there we all were: chiming in and harmonising and then some. The show had a nice runtime (just an hour! An easy thing to give) which made me see how the Fringe isn’t demanding of its guests. Everything is lax, and feels safe. The atmosphere at these events always feels good, and I always feel a little bit more included and integrated into the theatre scene when I go, so I’m excited to keep going! All in all, the evening had a wonderful vibe to it. A good feeling of artsy-ness and a good balance between safety and trying boundaries. After all, the story seemed to show that: trying fervently to say ‘I love you’ when the stammer itself prevents that and it’s easier to say nothing or to talk how you already know to.

I had fun, at the end of the day. I really did enjoy myself there. I know these reviews are important because feedback always is and I cannot hammer home hard enough that my feedback is positive and I hope with so much of my heart that these kind of plays and these kind of events never worm their way out of our lives. They’re important, and they make me happy. I’m giving it five stars, and I don’t think that’s a surprise.

There are so many more events coming over the two week period of the Fringe Festival, and I’m already excited for so many of them now my own attendance of it has finally truly kicked off! My next will be Live Show #1, at the Sherman Theatre, and I’m looking forward to it and going in with high hopes I don’t think will be dashed any time soon!

http://www.cardifffringetheatrefestival.co.uk/shows-tickets/ 

Sian Thomas