Tag Archives: Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff

La Cenerentola, WNO Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff  by Barbara Michaels

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Cinderella story with a twist, Rossini’s Cenerentola has all the magic of the fairy-tale –and more. The composer’s sparkling score, with the lightness of touch that characterisesso much of Rossini’s work, lifts it up even further. This revival by the WelshNational Opera , first performed back in 2007, cleverly uses a clutch of talented Italian singers performing the central male characters, giving extra appeal when touring to European cities.

This is comic opera at its best. Cenerentola keeps most of the ingredients of the fairytale with which we are familiar, with one notable exception. There is no glass slipper.

Instead we have a sparkling bracelet – two, to be exact. – the reason being that when the opera was conceived, in Rome back in 1817, it would have been considered bad form to show a lady’s ankles on stage.

Act I opens with the Cinderella of the story, here named as Angelina, slogging away at the housework, in the crumbling castle overun by mice where she slaves away trying to cope with the demands of her two ugly sisters Clorinda and Tisbe and trying in vain to get some sign of affection from her self-important stepfather Don Magnifico – portrayed with gusto by Fabio Capitanucci. His evident enjoyment of the role, coupled with a sonorous bass, makes this singer a perfect choice for the part.

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught has a voice of exceptional depth and clarity which calls forth our sympathy as she is vilified and hassled by Clorinda (Aoife Miskelly) and Tisbe                                                                                                                                         (Heather Lowe), both of whom give great performances as the two throughly nasty stepsisters who make Angelina’s life a misery. The arrival of Alidoro (Wojtek Gierlach),officially the Prince’s tutor and mentor but actually a kind of wizard in place of the traditional fairygodmother, disguised as a beggar, hints at the chnages to come. Angelina’s kindness convinces him that she is the bride for his Prince Don Ramiro (Matteo Macchioni). Macchioni’s pleasant tenor blends well with Erraught in their duets, but with the change of identity – his valet Dandini (Giorgio Caoduro) masquerading as the Prince andvice versa – it is the latter whose performance in Act II is of particular note.

Set against a minimalist backdrop presided over by a giant fireplace centre stage, WNO’s revival is notable for its attention to detail – watch closely in order not to miss any of this.

The stepped stage could be hazardous but at Sunday’s performance any possible pifalls were dexterously avoided, not least by the team of dancers that make up the pose of mice that is a feature of this production, swishing their tails and gesturing on stage throughout. So enchanting are the make-believe rodents and so expert their delivery of revival director and choreographer Xevi Dorca’s great choreography that they are at times in danger of diverting our attention from the main action as the story unfolds.There is a cleverly portrayed storm, an overturned coach, and much more to excite as Dandini and the Prince change back to their true persona and Anglina/Cinders dream comes true.

A happy-ever-after ending – although it is rather a shame that Rossini’s Cinders is still in her kitchen dress when she marries her Prince. She does wear a sparkling tiara, but a bridal gown would have been nice. Other costumes – among them those worn by WNO’s legendary chorus – are colourful yet traditional in some respects, so why not keep this one?

There are underlying themes – good triumphs over evil, etc etc – but this pantomimic take on Rossini’s popular comedy is fun and overall should not be taken too seriously.

Now touring

Music: Gioachino Rossini

Libretto; Giacopo Ferretti

Director: Joan Font

Revivial Director/Choreographer: Xevi Dorca

Barbara Michaels 

Review La Traviata, WNO, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff BY Barbara Michaels

 

(4 / 5)

 

After the epic production of War and Peace, which opened Welsh National Opera’s 2018 autumn season, the ever-popular La Traviata – Verdi’s most performed and well-loved opera – comes as something of a relief. The fact that this is a second time round revival of WNO’s original co-production with Scottish Opera in 2009, with a more recent revival just four years ago, proves the point.

Basically a love story, with the doomed love of Parisian courtesan Violetta for the young bourgeois Alfredo Germont centre stage, the themes – thwarted love, duty and tragic death– are still relevant today, as they were back in the mid-nineteenth century, when the opera received its first performance in Venice. Wisely, McVicar has chosen to keep to the traditional, with a sumptuous period setting whose opulence fairly reeks of decadence, represented in voluminous black drapes sweeping across the stage at opportune moments. This effective device works well– unfortunately the same cannot be said of the onstage activity inserted before the overture.

With twos sopranos, both of whom are experiencded in the role, singing the role of Violetta on different dates sprinkled throughout the run, David Poultney, in his final year as artistic director of WNO, could hardly lose. Making her debut on the Donald Gordon stage at the Millennium, Armenian singer Anush Hovhannisyan, who previously sang the role with Scottish Opera, proved once again what a fine voice she has. Her pure soprano, coupled with her acting ability, makes her an ideal choice for the role – heart-wringing in the final scenes. Opposite her, as Violetta’s lover Alfredo Germont,.Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang, has a strong voice and, while needing to display a stronger persona in scene two of Act II, nevertheless shows empathy with the role, coming into his own in the tragic ending and in his duets with Hovhannisyan throughout. .Interestingly, both these singers represented their respective countries in the 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in which Wang reached the main prize final.

Roland Woods’ sonorous baritone lends gravitas to the role of Germont pater, while Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, who hales from mid-Wales, is appropriately lively as the party girl Flora. Conductor James Southall’s interpretation of Verdi’s wonderful score is magnificent, as is the choreographing of the masquerade,by Andrew George and revival choreographer Colm Seery with some wonderful jumps and grands jetės executed superbly by the dancers.

An opportunity for the always reliable WNO chorus to shine and for the ladies to enjoy wearing the elegant gowns of the era, with their low cut bodices and the bustles favoured at that time, although the latter was a somewhat over-generous embellishment to Violetta’s gown in Act I , while in the second half the trousers of Alfredo’s suit appear over-long. Minor details – but why not get them right?

Overall, though, a revival that has stood the test of time.

Run: Various dates throughout October and November, ending November 23rd.

Music: Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

Director: David McVicar

Revival Director: Sarah Crisp

Artistic Director: David Poultney

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

 

Review The Band, The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Jane Bissett

(5 / 5)

WOW!   Where to start?

Having never been a fan of Take That, or indeed boy bands in general, I was a little apprehensive as to what lay in store when entering the Wales Millennium Centre for the opening night of ‘The Band’.

The night was memorable and the performance totally unmissable!

For the first time in Cardiff, this wonderful new musical by Tim Firth hit all the right notes and pushed more emotional buttons than the audience could possibly have prepared themselves for.

A delightful mix of dialogue and song, the story follows teenage friends, Rachel, Heather, Debbie, Claire and Zoe, as they share their love of music and the same boy band.

The girls are full of life, funny with a deep friendship that binds them together. They share their inner most thoughts and aspirations. Rachel declaring that she wants to marry all the members of the band and Debbie agreeing to be her bridesmaid.

Debbie wins tickets to a concert in Manchester and the girls set off on their big adventure seeing the band, missing the last train home and having to make it part way home on the bus.

This musical is a coming of age story that every teenager has experienced even if musical tastes do change you never forget your teenage loves.

The two greatest sensory markers in our lives are music and smell, they have the ability to transport us instantly to another time and place whilst bringing to the forefront our greatest and most precious memories.

Move on 25 years and Rachel has moved away and the girls have all lost touch. Then Rachel wins a radio competition for tickets to see the band at a concert in Prague and the only thing on her mind is getting the girls back together.

Having made contact the girls (now 41yrs old) meet at the airport and fly out togther on another adventure. Their experiences and revelations in Prague serve to cement their friendship and to change their lives again.

The soundtrack of the girls lives are the songs of Take That, they punctuate the story in a way that gives it depth and meaning.

Five to Five, the boy band chosen through the talent show ‘Let it Shine’ gave an inspiring performance by almost being in the background. There is no doubt of their musical talent and the vocals were seamless and outstanding.

All credit goes to the Creative Team, too numerous to mention individually, who staged and produced this remarkable new musical, one that I am sure will endure for many years to come.

The stage craft of every cast member drew us ever closer to the action. We laughed, we cheered, we shouted, we sang, and some of us even cried.

At the end of the performance the entire auditorium was on their feet, waving lit mobile phones and generally going wild. I can honestly say that this was an experience like no other and despite myself, like everyone around me I just wanted more.

THE BAND plays at Wales Millennium Centre;

Tuesday 9 until Saturday 20 January

For further details about the show visit www.wmc.org.uk or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920636464

Review Crazy For You, UK Tour by Vicky Lord

 

(4 / 5)

 

This week I embarked on something new. I went to see one of my mum’s original favourite musicals. Crazy For You is considered to be ‘the last of the Gershwins’ light hearted musicals’ and started life over 80 years ago, first appearing in the 1930s. After a lengthily history, including a name change from Girl Crazy, Crazy For You opened on Broadway in 1992 and has now been revived in the UK for a brand new, star studded tour which started in August 2017 in Plymouth after a run at The Watermill Theatre in July 2016.

My mum originally saw this production with my Grandmother when Ruthie Henshall performed the part of Polly and she was very excited to relive the experience at one of my favourite theatres, the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. However, I went into this production completely blind. I vaguely knew of a couple of the songs but I knew nothing of the story or setting so I was interested to see what I would make of a ‘traditional’ musical considering that my taste mainly draws me to shows like Wicked, Jekyll and Hyde and Phantom of the Opera.

Despite going in blind to the story of this show I was certainly familiar with the cast. Tom Chambers plays the enthusiastic, lovelorn dancer Bobby Child who spearheads the effort to save a theatre from his mother’s bank. Chambers’ performance in my opinion encapsulates the heart of the original production of Crazy For You. He does this through his outstanding tap dancing and his comedic timing, which is vital for this script as it holds so much humour, had me laughing from start to finish. He feels so authentic in this part that I truly can’t imagine anyone else playing this role.

Despite being the leading man, I feel that Tom Chambers was accidently overtaken by his leading lady. Charlotte Wakefield, coming from a successful touring stint as Truly Scrumptious after taking over from Carrie Hope Fletcher in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, stole the show from all of the other principles in my opinion as she demonstrated that she can sing, dance and act as the head strong but sensitive Polly Baker. I only wish that there were more opportunities to hear her wonderful belting ability. Polly was by far my favourite character in this show and Wakefield is, in my opinion, the perfect actress to bring her to life. I would recommend this show to anyone simply to see Wakefield’s performance alongside Cambers.

However, Polly highlights the one fault I have with Bobby’s characterisation within the show. During songs such as ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ and ‘But Not For Me’ the audience are treated to an in depth look into Polly’s thoughts and feelings which gives her depth as she reviles that her inner self is more sensitive than her tough exterior. On the other hand, I feel that this insight is missing from Bobby’s characterisation. This absence is mainly felt during ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’. Prior to this song, during the New York Interlude, Bobby is given the New York theatre. This song shows Bobby’s realisation that he really wants to go back to Hard Rock and Polly and at the end he rips the deed to the theatre to shreds. However, his specific desire to give up the theatre seems strange as it is only his love of Polly which is referred to throughout the song. Considering that all Bobby wants to do is dance and his possible conflict between owning the theatre and chasing his love seems underdeveloped here.

Caroline Flack is another star name heading up the cast as Irene Roth. I was not surprised at all to see her name on the cast list given her dancing experience shown on Strictly Come Dancing. She also sat in the centre of Irene’s character as a spoilt, demanding fiancée to Bobby, despite some sketchy details as to how she actually gained that title. However, I simply wish that her character was given more detail and bite. As I said, the details of how she came to call herself Bobby’s fiancée is sketchy so I would have loved to have seen that story be given far more discussion in the show as both Bobby and Irene switch from lover to lover throughout the show. Irene’s lack of detail and bite are combined in Irene’s relationship with Lank Hawkins. I was expecting them to become a couple in a plan to scupper Bobby and Polly’s attempts to save the theatre and this plot point is actually referenced by Irene but then it simply disappears. The two do eventually get married but their reasoning and Lank’s threat to the theatre are phased out completely. This was quite disappointing for me and I was sad to see that it also seeped into Flack’s performance of ‘Naughty Baby’. In this number Irene seems to shift from hating Lank to wanting him quite randomly simply because her intentions are not mentioned. This did not provide Flack with any opportunity to put some real intention into this song and her singing and even dancing seemed a little flat and soft, which did not fit with the cunning, sharp nature of the song.

I have saved one of the best aspects of this production for last. The ensemble is incredible. I cannot overstate how talented they are. Not only do they all sing, act as individual characters and obviously dance to the level of Tom Chambers and Charlotte Wakefield but they also are the orchestra. Each member of the ensemble plays multiple instruments throughout the show with no sheet music present, ever. This astounded me and I loved this original iconic aspect of the show. I must admit that this was slightly distracting during some songs because all I wanted to do was watch the violinists but there are plenty of songs where they are fully integrated into the staging. This production shows a true collaboration between Diego Pitarch’s set and the ensemble’s function as the orchestra. I loved the theatre set piece as it moved between the two locations of the show but it also fully integrated the instruments into the piece. The set and lighting add another level of polish to this production.

Overall, I had a lovely time seeing this show and I would give it four stars. The comedic script is right up my street and the gorgeous sets and lighting highlighted the dance aspect to create a treat for the eyes. While I feel some aspects of the story and characterisation could have been improved, the true stars of the show, Charlotte Wakefield and the ensemble acting as the orchestra, truly blew me away. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to try out this intriguing production and to give my mum the chance to see one of her favourite shows brought into the 21st century of theatrical production.

Crazy For You, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

05 Sep – 09 Sep 2017
Starring Tom Chambers, Caroline Flack and Charlotte WakefieldTickets: £17.50 – £49.50 (£19 – £51*)
Age Guidance: 6+ (No under 2s)

Running Time: approximately 2 hours 35 minutes including an interval

 

Review The Addams Family WMC

A nickelodeon remake of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’
In essence, you can categorise all performance criticism under two Cheryl Cole .circa 2008-11 X Factor, automated responses, ’you’re right up my street’, or ‘it wasn’t my cup of tea.’ ‘The Addams Family’ was not my ‘cup of tea’. It wasn’t even my dirty pint that I’d down – victim to peer pressure – on a Saturday night… but it was fun and harmless… unlike a dirty pint on a Saturday night.


‘The Addams Family’ gives you all that you’d expect – the characters’ dead-pan eccentricity, a fabulously ghoulish set, its beloved theme tune and numerous merchandise stalls to preserve its ever-inflating franchise. But it is niche exploited – the musical is farcical. Personally, I can’t quite accept that the self–contained world of ‘The Addams Family’ (on screen) – and the escapist voyeurism that it offers – can be exposed to a stage adaptation without making a mockery of the former.
‘The Addams Family Musical’ is basically a panto with an extremely high production-value, but, hell, sometimes a spiralling farce and a classic ‘dad joke’ will be perfectly suffice – for some – if you like that sort of thing… It’s a simplistic and worn narrative pardoned by pizazz!

Musical numbers were gloriously theatrical, and the voices of Samantha Womack and Carrie Hope Fletcher rang beautifully within the theatre. It was Fletcher’s portrayal of Wednesday Addams which is undoubtedly the highlight of the production. She has an inexpressible and innate draw; an attraction that defies an audience’s choice in the matter.


The set design by Diego Pitarch was innovative, transporting – it had a masterful subtlety to defining a scene with ease and interchangeability. Alistair David’s choreography, paired with the sheer vibrancy of the production’s costume and technical design, was a spectacle; combined, the chorus were an indispensable surge of energy.


‘The Addams Family’ is a spectacle, shallow, but a visual delight. If you’re looking for a show that the kids and grandma will enjoy look no further – just get yourself a vodka orange in the interval and you’ll find it just as funny as them.

by Lauren Ellis-Stretch

Review La Voix- Ffresh, Wales Millenium Centre by Emily Garside

Let’s talk about Drag. Most people have probably encountered a Drag Queen of some kind in their lives. (If not please, reassess that situation after reading this review) Whether it’s as part of a Hen Party or Birthday Party at the local Drag Bar- hello Minsky’s and Wow- or on TV via (if you’re my age) Lily Savage presenting Breakfast or tea-time TV (those were the days) or on Netflix with the glory that is Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Obviously if you’re a drag race fan the next sentence will not be a surprise but: Drag is an artform.

Once again: Drag is an artform. Cabaret is an artform. Drag as Cabaret is an artform. So easy to dismiss as someone in exaggerated make up in a wig in a dark bar you visit once in a blue moon. But real Queens work a room and a crowd tougher than most comedians. Most Queens have worked their way up through dingy back rooms and hiking on outfits in toilets. All Queens are not the same either. All Queens are definitely not created equal. But the best are an utter masterclass in entertainment.

La Voix is an utter masterclass.

All the above said too, it’s really important to say how brilliant it is that Ffresh at the WMC invited a Drag Queen to be part of this season. That alongside the National Theatre’s production of Jayne Eyre in the main theatre, La Voix was invited to do not one but two nights.  It’s both important in recognising that performance given space in arts venues shouldn’t be on a hierarchy- although some patrons might sniffly ask why a Drag act was in a theatre, not back in a club where they no doubt think that sort of act ‘belongs’ but also to show audiences ‘yes we welcome all kinds of performance here’. It’s also important as reviewer to have the experimental Jazz group last week, included on the same programme as a Drag Queen. It’s about saying there’s sophistication, and training, and creativity across all kinds of performance, so let’s do away with these divisions. Finally, it is also about- particularly in ‘Pride Month’ the idea that LGBTQ+ performers and audiences, and work that historically wouldn’t have been welcomed in such spaces is. It’s only 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised, and Drag and other Queer performance was not so long ago an underground scene or at the most related to a certain kind of club. To see then a drag performer in the flagship venue for Wales, and with a diverse audience is not something to be taken lightly.

All this politics and history however is taking away from talking about the Diva herself. And that isn’t on really. La Voix is a force of nature. She got to the semi- finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2014, where her name meaning ‘the voice’ and is known for her on-point impressions of famous Divas.

Winning many prestigious awards which include Best act at the London Cabaret awards, Winner of Drag Idol and most recently the Gold award winner for Best act at the Boys Scene Awards. And was in the Ab Fab film.

So, for the past 10 years La Voix has been taking on the big divas and making them her own, on both stage and screen. And last night’s tour of the Divas didn’t disappoint. Resplendent in a turquoise gown and trademark red wig, she reminds the audience that ‘I didn’t get this dressed up to not have pictures taken’ before adding ‘If your flash isn’t on…I’ll wait’. The audience interaction is, as with any drag show and after storming on with ‘the voice’ filling the room, there’s some delightful patter with the accompanist (Fresh from Hawaii with accompanying shirt) and of course with those lucky (unlucky depending on your take) to be in the front row. There were clearly a cohort of die hard fans in the audience who know the show possibly better than La Voix, but also allowed for some great banter between them. Drag Queens are known for both cutting, and a times filthy humour. And while it was certainly un-PC at times, the jokes never strayed into the borderline offensive that some other acts might take on. No doubt that changes with the venue and crowd, a skill again knowing how to work an audience, meant those in the audience unfamiliar with the Drag style of humour wouldn’t have been too shocked- and I defy them not to have laughed.

Songs take centre stage, as do the Diva’s who deliver them. While to some degree sticking to the demographic most in evidence at the show- the over forties, Diva fans- there was enough contemporary reference mixed in to make the show feel fresh. So, while Adele might not have been performing at Wembley that night, La Voix brought us Liza does Adele.  The audience was given a masterclass in performing the Divas from Cher through Liza to Judy and ending on a Welsh flavour with Shirley Bassey. A personal favourite as a musical theatre fan was Liza doing Mein Herr from Cabaret…but as if she tried it now at 76. I didn’t know I wanted it until I saw it. There’s such a detailed familiarity with the Divas from La Voix that goes far beyond simple mannerisms and vocal impersonation, and there’s also the love of a Diva in general that fuels the act. So while they are mercilessly mocked, there’s a sense of love and respect there. Something that’s very much at the heart of a really great Drag Queen too.

Also at the heart of any good Queen’s act is how to make an entrance and also an exit. And the closing numbers do not disappoint. Audience already primed 2 songs earlier, for the exit and cheering her back on stage La Voix returned decked in Ostrich Feathers and white (soon to be put in danger by a misplaced vodka cranberry). Dame Shirley was taking the final bow, and the crowd loved a home-grown Diva. And finally, as a sing-along closing number, Bonnie Tyler. In which the crowd also proved that giving a Welsh audience a chance to sing and they will attempt to upstage any Diva. But really what more fun can you have on a Saturday night than singing at top volume to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ with a Drag Queen dressed in white?

There’s a lot to be said for bringing Drag to wider audiences, and respecting just what a skill not only Drag but working a live cabaret audience is. La Voix thanked the crowd for coming out and supporting live cabaret noting that in these times it’s live entertainment- particularly at this end of the spectrum- that suffers. She also said that in these dark times we need that entertainment. And that’s the crux of it. At the end of a long day or week, La Voix gave us an escape- a fabulous, sequin clad, feather trimmed Diva-esque escape. Merci La Voix, Merci!

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2017-2018/ffresh/LaVoix17/

 

Review Der Rosenkavalier, WNO, Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

Photographic credits Nilz Böhme 

(4 / 5)

 

“Age doth not wither her.” The old adage definitely can be applied to Rebecca Evan’s portrayal of the demanding central role of the Marschallin in a new production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. Evans is at the top of her scale, with a soaring soprano and equally at ease in Act I as the skittish Bichette (her lover’s name for the Marschallin) and in the final scenes as a mature and gracious lady, bowing to the inevitable.

Right from the start there is poignancy behind the comedy, as a lone figure portraying the Marschallin in age is seen either seated in a chair or wandering around at the back of the stage. A nice touch of individuality in that the (non speaking) part is played by actress Margaret Bainton who was in the chorus of the WNO for thirty-seven years and played a child in Der Rosenkavalier fifteen years ago

The Marschallin is married to a high-ranking Field Marshall who is conveniently away on duty as she enjoys a bit of rumpy pumpy with her young lover, Count Octavian (nicknamed Quinquin) , only to be most inconveniently interrupted by the boorish Baron Ochs, up from the country and hell-bent on acquiring a young wife with money. The machinations become more and more involved, as Octavian is nominated to carry the obligatory silver rose – the Der Rosenkavalier of the title and traditionally symbolising and engagement– to the Baron’s prospective bride. What no one has bargained for is that the two young people are instantly smitten with one another and fall in love.

As often with operatic comedies, there is a hint of pantomime. The young Count Octavian is a female role, performed here by the delightful Canadian mezzo-soprano Lucia Cervoni, making her debut with WNO and singing the role with evident relish. Brindley Sherratt’s Baron not only shows perfect timing but his mastery of a difficult bass role, requiring as it does a range that is rare, Sherratt being one of the few who have this accomplishment. The Baron’s intended is Sophie, daughter of the daughter of nouveau riche businessman Faninal. Singing Sophie is the delightful newcomer Louise Alder, in Cardiff for Singer of the World and only the night before shortlisted as a contender for the title, while as Faninal her social climbing father with dreams of grandeur, Adrian Clarke is a Hitler-like figure of hand-rubbing nastiness.

Strauss’s wonderful music, bound together with its string of memorable waltz melodies, is a given, but in the hands of WNO’s new young conductor Tomáš Hanus takes on new dimensions, underlying the comedy and recognising the poignancy beneath. A small caveat – there is a sight hesitation, no more than a breath, in Act II when the tempo drops, otherwise this would have been five star. All in all – a masterpiece culminating in the superb singing of the trio as the opera draws to a close. Director Olivia Fuchs and designer Niki Turner are to be congratulated. Turner has resisted the temptation to go overboard, and instead opts for a single glittering chandelier that reflects the opulence of 1911 Vienna against elegant pale grey walls. An added pointer to the theme of the opera are the sands of time running out from above onto the stage, much appreciated by the audience but a nightmare for the stage hands.

Music: Richard Strauss

Libretto: Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Director: Olivia Fuchs

http://www.wno.org.uk/event/der-rosenkavalier

REVIEW: ‘THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

(4 / 5)

 

Five years after Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ opened at the National Theatre, the 2017 production at the Wales Millennium centre did not disappoint.

Haddon’s Whitbread Prize-winning novel has made a staggeringly successful leap from popular book to stand out theatre adaption and it’s fair to say no one could have quite predicted the way audiences would take central character Christopher Boone to their hearts.

Christopher (lover of mathematics, space and detective novels – who just happens to have Asperger Syndrome) has stumbled upon a serious crime in neighbour Mrs Sheers’ garden.

Although he has never before left his street unaccompanied, the crime triggers an investigation led by Christopher himself – in between dealing with a death, a family separation, writing a book for the first time and an unforeseen journey to London which will be his most terrifying challenge yet.

Although Mark Haddon never intended for Christopher’s character to become typical of all people with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), the beauty of the book – and even more so in this play, is the level of forensic insight into some of the behaviours, motivations and traits of people on the spectrum.

The story unpicks everything we think we know about conditions on the spectrum – and in actual fact exposes some harsh truths about us as a society and how needy, shallow, patronising and ignorant we are of the needs of others. As Haddon stated in 2012: ‘Curious is not really about Christopher at all. It’s about us.’

This is a production about the imperfections and the ugliness of family – and of facing our fears. It shows us the inevitable fallout when our ideas of perfection and truth don’t match up with reality. Life is chaotic and messy – and instead Christopher finds solace and security in the permanence and predictability of patterns.

We see Christopher struggle to cope with the nuances and complications of everyday life while making sense of the confusing world around him. When things don’t go to plan, we see Christopher unravel and the environment/pool of people around him react as they try to contain his outbursts and meltdowns.

The set (beautifully designed by Bunny Christie) centres around a cube which comes to life with pulsating digital animations, square doors and stools which double as doors / cupboards / chairs / TV screens. Patterns, logic, word scrambles, number confetti and laser illustrations are punctuated with visceral sounds, white noise, echoes and musical riffs by Ian Dickinson as Christopher battles through the changes around him.

Lead Scott Reid (who plays Christopher) is incredible and I wasn’t aware of the level of movement and choreography that would feature in the production. For Christopher, life is a ‘dance’ of repetitive routines, motions, and constantly shifting movement and at its most intense and confusing, he is lifted, bounced and twirled by the ensemble cast. During one moving scene, he walks along the wall when he describes his wish to be an astronaut.  Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett (part of Physical Theatre outfit ‘Frantic Assembly’) have really managed to elevate the story even more through their energetic movement and choreographed vignettes.

For some productions, the combination of digital display, choreography and a grand musical score doesn’t always marry well – you struggle to follow or invest fully in all aspects of the staging or the story and they can compete against one another. But there is true mastery here, a dynamite synergy between cast, production and set – and the scenes set in Swindon and London train stations are a sheer punch in the gut for audiences.

In this production, Director Marianne Elliott has skillfully recreated the panic and the fear of sensory overload as well as the sheer beauty of an unfiltered, orderly mind like Christopher’s. There is purity and calm in the systematic and Christopher’s observations, literal interpretations and understanding of the world provide plenty of funny moments for the audience.

Curious does not talk down, belittle or over sentimentalise ASD in a way which some mainstream depictions of ASD do and Stephens’ final scene between teacher Siobhan and Christopher leaves the audience with one final question which asks more of them and their attitudes as much as anything else.

This was a tender and sweet production – a powerful start to the production’s 2017 run at the WMC. Oh, and if you see it – you can look forward to a truly wonderful final surprise for Christopher at the end. What is it? Well, now…that would be telling!

PS – if you have already seen this production or like me have multiple members in your family with ASD and you’d like to understand why they do some of the things they do, I really recommend reading ‘The Reason I Jump’ – a real-life account from 13 year old Naoki Higashida who has Autism.

Type of show: Theatre

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time  

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff)

Dates: 2-6 May

Writer (Original Book): Mark Haddon

Play adaptation: Simon Stephens

Directed by:  Marianne Elliott

Lighting Designer: Bunny Christie

Video Designer: Finn Ross

Movement Directors: Scott Graham / Steven Hoggett (Frantic Assembly)

Sound Designer: Ian Dickinson (Autograph)

Running time: 2hrs 30min
Produced by: National Theatre

Review: ‘Sunny Afternoon’ by Gemma Treharne-Foose

(5 / 5)

 

So it’s January, everyone is detoxing, skint after Christmas and bruised after Brexit, Trump and a string of celebrity deaths in 2016. I can hand on heart say that if you are suffering from SAD or have lost all hope for the year ahead, you need to find the sun behind those clouds and get your butt down to WMC pronto to see ‘Sunny Afternoon’, the touring production running until Saturday 21st, before it shuttles off elsewhere.

Even if you are not a fan of The Kinks or a fan of musicals featuring the back catalogue of certain bands (let’s not even mention ‘Viva Forever’ here!), you will be hard pressed to find a more inclusive and entertaining musical in 2017.

A real kick in the 60s!

The soundtrack to your Mam and Dad’s wild years, the show focuses on four working class lads riding the crest of the wave of the ‘British invasion’ in the 60s – the meteoric highs and the crushing lows.  Natalie Gallacher/Pippa Ailion’s casting of Ryan O’Donnell and Mark Newnham as brothers Ray and Dave is a triumph – the pair have sensational synergy and energetic friction on stage and O’Donnell’s sweet vulnerability shines through his entire performance.

Newnham is unmissable as outrageous rebel Dave, everything from his swagger, his cockney banter and his swinging from the chandelier in a pink dress had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

The most famous of the Kinks’ songs were cleverly deconstructed and re-packaged, allowing us to delve further into the back story to possibly the most influential riffs and tunes ever written.  The scene where Ray and Dave are trying to perfect the edgy baseline to their hit song ‘You really got me’ is pure magic, reverberating through your chest and rattling around your rib cage.

There are some delicious comic lines, especially from the plummy stockbrokers-turned-agents Robert Wace and Grenville Collins, who groomed the four for stardom, even coming up with their name, with the help of another agent Larry Page.  I couldn’t help laughing out loud when one of them says in a voice that may remind you of certain Harry Enfield characters: ‘Now…let’s talk about it over a nice plate of kippers’.

You’ll laugh when Ray’s Dad (played by Robert Took) complains about ‘wearing out shoe leather’, about the house prices in Muswell Hill (£3,500 – with a £500 deposit!)…and you wonder what the hell Mr Davies would make of the prices in Muswell Hill these days. This is nostalgic but not cloying, sentimental but not syrupy.

There are multiple sharp observations and throwaway comments referencing other 60s bands and celebrities. When the managers find Ray in a depression in bed with Rasa his wife, one of them quips: ‘You wouldn’t find John Lennon lounging around in bed with his wife!’.  Later on, when the band are on tour in America and are uneasy about the guns and violence there, their manager assures them ‘You’re a pop star! You’re not important enough to shoot!’.

A blueprint for future musical trends

The real pleasure for those not born in the 60s is the discovery of music you didn’t know existed – for my parents’ generation, it’s all familiar territory.  But if you only know a handful of the old (and most famous) of songs by the Kinks, you get to unwrap a new gift.

Aided by the clever studio/house/concert hall design of the stage by Miriam Bluether and the choreography by Adam Cooper, watching ‘Sunny Afternoon’ will transport you back to the excitement, the optimism and the feeling of being on the cusp of something completely original and unchartered.  

From the time THAT guitar riff kicks in, you understand exactly what it is your Mum has been harping on about all these years. It’s hard to imagine how utterly new, how extraordinary this must have felt for teenagers in the 60s, to go from stale crooners in suits to long haired rebels with rock guitars.  

The Kinks were the masters of social commentary which would foreshadow the later emergence of musicians and bands of my generation: the blueprint for American garage and rock bands like grungy Nirvana in the 80s and the Britpop boom in the 90s.  I hadn’t realised it until last night but ‘A well respected man’ was clearly influential for Damon Albarn and his crew with Blur’s hit ‘Country House’.

Delightfully rebellious, clever and heartfelt

Credit must be given to the wonderful pacing, characterisation and story for the musical by Ray Davies himself.  It’s clearly a personal and heartfelt snapshot of an incredible moment in history.  The result is rebellious, clever and heartfelt and I witnessed something I hadn’t yet seen at the Wales Millennium Centre: an entire audience on their feet, no awkward seat lurkers in sight. Inhibitions were gone and for a moment I felt like we were watching the real Kinks.  I was genuinely sad to leave the theatre and re-emerge into 2017.

My Mum, who had accompanied me (and by the end was a bawling mess) had enjoyed every last morsel of the show. I asked her why she was crying, she said: ’I remember it – I remember it all!’.  If only to see what your parents saw, feel how they felt and see how bloody awesome the fashion and sounds of the sixties actually were, this is an absolute treat of a show.  

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Sunny Afternoon

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre  

Dates: 17 – 21 Dec (Touring show)

Directed by:  Edward Hall

Music, Lyrics, Original Story: Ray Davies

Choreographer: Adam Cooper

Sound: Matt McKenzie

Musical Director: Barney Ashworth

Cast:

Ryan O’Donnell (Ray Davies)

Mark Newnham (Dave Davies)

Richard Hurst (Larry)

Tomm Coles (Grenville Collins)

Joseph Richardson (Robert Wace)

Lisa Wright (Rasa)

Garmon Rhys (Pete Quaife)

Running time: Approx 3 hours (with interval)

Produced by: Sonia Friedman Productions and Ambassador Theatre Group

Review ‘Mary Poppins’ WMC by Troy Lenny

mary-poppins-step-in-time-zizi-strallen-as-mary-poppins-and-the-company-photo-credit-johan-persson-1

(4 / 5)

Mary Poppins is a musical, which you most probably know or have heard about, originally produced by Walt Disney and songs sparked alive by the Sherman Brothers.

The musical  begins with two cheerful children in the 1960s named Jane and Michael who are as free as a drifting kite, but far from home, so a constable safely returns them home. Upon arrival, the children ask for their father to build a better kite, but Mr. Banks who is a banker, certainly doesn’t believe it’s a bankable time, not only for himself, but for his children too. So, rationality directs him to hiring a stringent nanny, one who can restrict the children’s wild imaginations and size their mannerisms appropriately. Jane and Michael however have different wishes, they want a nanny who is fun, free, and funny and magical Mary Poppins is a wish come true.

Mary Poppins guides the Bank family into a world of freedom, teaching them to remove all restrictions such as: patronising patriarchy, calculating classism, and recurring reality in a merry, magical and musical manner, so they may be bouncingly blissful rather than depressingly deflated.

On Friday I ventured to the Millennium Centre to watch Mary Poppins and I would definitely recommend it to be watched; since we were young our minds have been creatively curious, whether it was having imaginary friends or discovering a new and expansive world in our back-gardens and frankly it was fun. But, as we age, we lose a lot of things, and one is generally is the World of Wonders. Instead we walk into the world of restricted, reality rationality sadly never to see World of Wonders again but Mary Poppins guides you back into the world of magic so I would definitely recommended to watch it.

I would like to also applaud the fantastic acting by the performers, especially Mary Poppins played by Zizi Strallen; Jane by [I’m unsure which girl it was in the booklet] and Michael by [Unsure again] and the welcoming service from the Millennium Centre.