Tag Archives: Wales Millennium Centre

Review Evita, Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Michaels

(3.5 / 5)

The real-life story of Eva Perón is a classic case of fact being stranger than fiction, and couldn’t be more suited to adaptation as a musical, and a highly successful musical at that ever since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s hit production in London’s West End back in 1978, followed by Broadway a year later and since then a string of professional productions worldwide.

Eva Duarte was living in poverty in rural Argentina in the late 1930s when her involvement with a musician takes her to Buenos Aires where her determination to become a star eventually results in a meeting with Argentinian Colonel Juan Perón at a benefit concert. He too has an ambition – in his case to become President of Argentina. With Eva – who later becomes known as Evita – by his side he succeeds. Meanwhile, despite her unflagging work for the poor of the country, Eva’s extravagant lifestyle leads to criticism.

This new production by the really Useful Group under the banner of Bill Kenright breathes new life into the show with a brand new cast including the charismatic Glenn Carter as Che. Acting as narrator, Carter’s expressive delivery and fine voice guide the audience through the twists and turns of the story of the ambitious girl from the sticks who becomes the wife of the President of Argentina, with all the trappings of wealth and status that go with it.

Taking on the role of Eva is Lucy O’Byrne – not an easy task, given that not one but two showbiz icons – Elaine Paige in the Seventies West End production and Madonna in the film – have previous in this respect. O’Byrne’s voice is strong but she needs to guard against a resulting loss of clarity at times, which is shame given the emotive quality of Tim Rice’s wonderful lyrics. O’Byrne came into her own in the second half with her performance of what was to be Eva Perón’s last appearance and her singing of ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ – heart-rending in its beauty. Interpreted by, and under the baton of musical director Anthony Gabriele, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s marvellous musical score is given full throttle, at times to the extent of being overloud in the first half but meltingly moving in the highly charged and emotional second half.

Good to see some of the talent that comes out of Wales in Swansea-born Mike Sterling as Perón. Historically in the musical the role is underplayed in relation to that of Eva. Accordingly, Sterling gives us only a glimpse of the man that was Perón leaving us aware that behind a pragmatic exterior lies an ability to recognise and rely on the power behind the throne – Eva.

Important to the first half of the story is Magaldi, the musician whose eye for the girls is Eva’s route to Buenos Aires. The dark good looks of Oscar Balmaseda make for a neat bit of casting, as does that of Cristina Hoey as Perón’s former mistress, swiftly given the boot by Eva. Although Hoey makes only one appearance, and a brief one at that, her singing of Another Suitcase, In Another Hall is up there with the best. This girl is definitely one to watch.

At the end of the day it is, as with much if not most musical theatre, the story plus the songs that make or break the show, and here the plot is a given and as for the songs – beautiful.

Runs until Saturday 8 September 2018

Review Warhorse, Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

Equine Audio Excellence  (4.5 / 5)

It seems fitting that in this year, 100 years after the end of the Great War, War Horse has gone back on tour around the UK, currently playing at Wales Millennium Centre.

Based on the 1982 book by Michael Morpurgo, it tells the story of Albert and his beloved horse, Joey. At the outbreak of WWI, Albert and Joey are forcibly parted when Albert’s father sells the horse to the British army. Against the backdrop of the Great War, Joey begins an odyssey full of danger, joy and sorrow, and he transforms everyone he meets along the way. Meanwhile Albert, unable to forget his equine friend, searches the battlefields of France to find Joey and bring him home.

Bringing this story to the stage happened in 2007 with the National Theatre production, and in this 10th year, that production is the same now as it was then.

You won’t fail to be impressed by the puppetry of Joey, as a foal or as a full-grown horse (South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company providing both brilliantly). Little touches within the performance like the goose, send you to another place where you don’t see the human performers, you just see a goose, horses and scavenger crows.

The cast performance itself is something quite unique. It’s like a musical number. Each step is carefully choreographed so each movement between puppet and person blends seamlessly.

The main thing I found though, is the sound. It’s just epic. With a soundtrack of some music and song, and the effects of war, you can’t help to be immersed into the story – just watch if you have a dodgy heart, sometimes the effects can just grab you out of thin air, and you’ll end up in the ceiling of the WMC. With the sound, comes the lighting, it wouldn’t work one without the other. It brings the war fields of Europe to the very heart of the staging. There just seems a sense of foreboding with each lit movement on stage.

It’s rare that I feel uncomfortable in watching a performance, but the second half, I felt just that. It’s a strange thing to explain, but it felt like you were watching something truly awful, but I could also not take my eyes away I felt so immersed in the performance.

I’ve only ever managed to catch the last half of the film, and not read the book, but I don’t feel I need to with either medium, as a play, this will give you food for thought, and be thoroughly entertained.

War Horse is on at Wales Millennium Centre till 28th July 2018

Review by Patrick Downes

Festival of Voice 2018: My review highlights (Gemma Treharne-Foose)

2018’s Festival of Voice, produced by the Wales Millennium Centre builds on previous years’ attempts to unite communities and celebrate voice in all its forms, drawing upon Wales’ wide cultural and musical legacy. This would be my first experience of the festival and it really kicked off in style.

Over the course of a week, I’d be bowled over, discover something new and completely unexpected and leave my typical comfort zone of only watching (and reviewing) theatre. Festivals like these are a smorgasbord of new opportunities to learn something new and develop your palate for new art forms and genres of music.

We were introduced to the opening of the festival from the centre’s Artistic Director and team, before being joined by community and advocacy groups – true to the centre’s vision to be inclusive and accessible, but I did wonder how ‘accessible’ it really is that unless you are familiar with the set-up and already know that you can verify your ticket – the £8 parking ticket cost to park in the nearest car park and see a WMC show would be pretty inaccessible to most carers and people on PIPs and other benefits.

I also need to point out the ridiculous set-up of the toilets in the centre. There are disabled toilets, sure – but the two sets of heavy doors, teeny-weeny area to dry your hands and the smallest bins I’ve ever seen in my life are deeply irritating.

But I digress….enough of the nit-picking and on to the main event…

CARERS CHOIR, GIG BUDDIES AND BILLY BRAG, WMC

Underappreciated, underpaid and perhaps an unlikely group of people to assemble as a choir, the festival was opened by a multi-generational group of carers, who sang with real spirit and heart. Knowing the obstacles and challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, their positivity shone through and the audience were visibly moved by their version of ‘What a wonderful world’ and ‘Lean on me’.

After rapturous applause, it was time for the Gig Buddy crew to crash into the foyer, clutching signs, banging drums and stamping their feet. They had formed a group to protest the fact that the support they receive does not take into account the fact that they too want to access music and arts performances – and these of course fall outside the typical office hours of supporters and carers. In association with Learning Disability Wales and Hijinx Theatre Company, the protesters delivered a skit about the fact that for most people – not being able to go to gigs, movies and performances like everybody else is not only unfair but naturally they’re quite rightly pissed off about it.

This was a brilliant opportunity to showcase the ‘Gig Buddies’ initiative where volunteers are matched (via their interests) to people with additional learning needs and various disabilities who need a little extra support to access gigs and shows. Bloody brilliant idea and I’m hoping to sign up myself.

The main event for the opening of the festival was ‘Topical singer songwriter’ Billy Brag (he doesn’t like to call himself a political performer in case it puts people off!). I knew the name Billy Brag but barely any of his actual material. This would be a new experience, not least for discovering the awesomeness that was supporting artist Nadine Shah, a Tyneside lass whose basy, punky songs are accompanied by soulful vocals.

Her edgy songs draw upon current affairs, world injustices and the hurt and heartbreak of modern life. Performing songs from her 2017 album ‘Holiday Destination’, she gave a fierce and raw performance. The song Holiday Destination and its refrain ‘How you gonna sleep tonight’ is a polemical nudge and critique on the holidaymakers in Kos who complained of refugees on the island ruining their holidays.

Shah tells the crowd “We need immigration – we make food taste better, we make the place look better and we make music sound better, too!”.

Shah’s heritage is Norwegian-Pakistani, and her Northern accent and humour shines through in her work. Billy Brag is – just like Nadine Shah, a storyteller. In between his songs, he delights the audience with his insights, his banter and his stinging observations about what’s going on in the world. He is unapologetic about his views, honest about his flaws and endlessly witty about politics in general.

He skewers Trump in the finale song based upon Bob Dylan’s ‘Times they are a changin’, which was changed to ‘Times they are a changing-BACK’). He tells the audience he wrote the song in a rage in 2016 when Trump was elected. His stories and rambles include the fact that he was schooled the last time he was in Cardiff for using a plastic bottle on stage at the Tramshed. “I’m sorry…I learned from my mistake. The oceans are full of plastic and shit, we need to do something about it.” Since then he’s used a ‘Gig Buddy’ aluminium bottle.

Of the grumpy artist Morrissey, he tells us “What is happening? He’s turned into a bloody gammon!”. Brag’s songs are clever and his set is largely improvised. He plays a song after an audience member shouts out a suggestion – and his final song is the famous classic ‘A New England’.

The entire audience shouts back the lyrics and it’s electrifying. I couldn’t believe I haven’t been following this chap’s career. Where the hell have I been the last 37 years? He has a new fan in the Rhondda, that’s for sure. The opening acts in the foyer and the main concert in the Donald Gordon theatre were rebellious in spirit and sound.

LOVECRAFT (NOT THE SEX SHOP IN CARDIFF), WMC (Ffresh bar)

I don’t know where Carys Eleri has been hiding out but we all need to see more of her. I didn’t know what the show ‘Lovecraft’ was going to be about – something to with science and love, I gleaned from the flyer. But it’s so much better than the event write-up promises.

I can’t praise the producers and director of this show enough for their vision. As sets go, it’s pretty low-tech, a cabaret-style set up within Ffresh bar serves as the set and Carys is accompanied by two screens which form a kind of visual aid and powerpoint for this hilarious one-woman show. The production is a romp through the idiosyncrasies and absurdities of love. What’s the ‘science’ behind love and sex? You’ll get to find out – via Carys’ brilliant stories.

It’s outrageously honest… and completely mental. This show will especially appeal to any women in their thirties who feel the pressure and expectation that society thrusts (‘scuse the pun) upon them.

At times, this feels like you are catching up with one of your girlfriends from Carmarthen who is every bit as outrageous and filthy as you are – and you’ll love her for it. The science narrative is informative, but not the main point of the show. You’ll be drawn in to her off the wall stories, brilliant observations about her Mam (“Carys…can’t you put on a bra..?”) and the dirty and embarrassing secrets we might all experience growing up – ‘fanny gallops’, hallucinogenic trips in the back of a taxi being driven by a unicorn and waking up naked next to another girl. We’ve all been there, right?

The song ‘Tit Montage’ is the highlight of the show, perhaps of the entire festival – and in my opinion would be a credible entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.

The song ‘I brain you’ is pee-your-pants hilarious. If Carys Eleri was running for Prime Minister, I’d probably vote for her. I BEG you to see this show – its been to Edinburgh Fringe already and has attracted a steady stream of adoration from audiences at the Festival of Voice.

There is so much life left in this show – and I hope it tours again (I will be sure to gather as many of my filthy friends as I can to share the experience with). My only negative points are that I could have happily sat through another hour of it before it finished and I now want Carys Eleri to be my best friend/drinking companion even though she has no idea who the hell I am.

RHONDDA RIPS IT UP (WNO), New Theatre

After a somewhat lukewarm experience at my last opera, I wasn’t sure if I was an ‘opera person’. But anyone following the #MeToo movement, who calls themself a feminist or admires the women who took part in the recent ‘Procession’ in Cardiff to mark a hundred years since women obtained the right to vote REALLY shouldn’t miss out on this show.

Led by Emcee Lesley Garrett, this is a look back at the stuffy Victorian era and the legendary Margaret Haig (Lady Rhondda) – a politician’s daughter and activist who led the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The indomitable Margaret Haig was an outspoken radical who along with other women, was judged and ridiculed by the Asquith’s liberal government for her efforts.

Played by Madeline Shaw, Lady Rhondda is a fearless campaigner. Along with her friends Edith and Prid (played by Paula Greenwood and Meriel Andrew), the production satirises the ‘old boy network’ of both the government and society at the time and pokes fun at the uptight/prissy way in which women were expected to behave.

I had no idea opera could be this edgy or this level of hilarious. Everything from the choreography, the physical comedy of Garrett and other cast members, the originality of the songs and cheeky/camp way they are delivered is a treat for the audience.

The stand out scenes are the songs ‘My girl’s pussy’ (yes, really!) and the song about the fondant fancies, complete with all the flair and foppishness of the Edwardian music hall tradition. This is Women’s Institute crossed with #MeToo.

There are also guest appearances from the WNO community chorus (who deliver a rousing performance as fellow suffragettes) and a nod to Haig and Helen Archdale’s gay relationship, demonstrating the extent to which Lady Rhondda tore up the rule book and challenged convention, albeit discreetly. There is a telling scene in the show when Margaret Haig and her friend are on the train (with their bomb-making materials) and they overhear a man saying “Suffragettes! If that was my wife, I’d give her a darn good thrashing!”.

Queue a hilariously camp sequence with a bunch of ‘men’ thrashing each other’s behinds with rolled up newspapers in a homo-erotic fashion. Nowadays we’d call this toxic masculinity at its worst – back then, those kinds of attitudes were de rigueur.

I am no opera buff, but WNO have delivered a phenomenal tribute to Lady Rhondda and her contribution as a suffragette and business pioneer.

It was sensitive without being syrupy and witty without being cruel. Not everyone will get the satire, apparently – one audience member overheard in the loo commented she didn’t understand why ‘men were being made fun of’ and that she preferred the WNO community chorus to the production itself. For me, the main feeling I got was one of immense gratitude – that so many women like Haig faced violence, imprisonment and the scorn of society and for their dogged determination to change history for the better.

Their first victory was not a resounding success, the first bill allowing women to vote was only for women over 30 with property. There was plenty more to fight for – and with world events and pussy-grabbing presidents reminding us daily, some might say the battle is far from over. But as the legendary suffragette Emily Pankhurst once said:

“Never surrender….never give up the fight.”

GWENNO, WMC (Weston Studio)

A former member of indie band The Pipettes, Gwenno has already amassed a strong critical following and fanbase after the release of album Un Dydd Olaf in 2015 and Cornish language ‘Le Kov’ in 2018. Her dedication and tribute to Edrica Hughes at the Festival of Voice was a moving tribute to the poet and patchwork quilt artist Edrica Huws (1907-1999).

There was a packed house in the Weston Studio for the one-off performance, entirely created and composed by Gwenno, but this time with the support of a violinist and harpist (Angharad Davies and Georgia Ruth). The stage was dressed like a set – a lived-in parlour with an old-fashioned crib, a fireplace and the markers of domesticity from a time gone by.

At the foot of the large screen above the stage stood Gwenno’s mixing decks and computer, flanked by a triple harp and wooden toys – the musical set and hi-tec equipment is a curious accompaniment to the ironing board, clothes horse and lamp on stage, denoting the ordinary, humble life of Edrica. On the screen we saw vignettes of slices of history sketched and animated on the screen, accompanying the synthy electric-pop landscape being played and mixed live in front of us.

We saw suffragettes marching in 1907, weaving in and out of the war, a grimy London landscape of the humdrum existence of everyday life, love, relationships and duty stitched together with the dreamy melodies and an almost hallucinogenic quality to the music. I hadn’t known about Edrica’s work or story before. An ordinary wife and mother, she didn’t start expressing herself artistically until age 51.

She became a ‘patchwork pioneer’, breaking the rules and conventions of art and design in terms of subject, material, tone and texture to become a celebrated exhibitor and artist/poet around the world.

Animated by Tad Davies, the on-screen vignettes to not distract so much as heighten the experience for the audience and Gwenno’s gentle vocals, the poppy disco beats, baseline and meandering harp and violin are a thing of beauty.

Gwenno’s soundscape is punctuated by poetic whisperings, especially poignant and beautiful during ‘Anrhefn Pentyndod / The chaos of childhood’ and kooky and marvellous when she donned a cat mask for ‘Y Gath’ / The Cat in tribute to Edrica’s ‘Cat on an ironing board’ piece.

She is not a wild or attention-seeking performer in the sense of other unique artists (like Bjork for example) but she is completely enigmatic – a quiet genius in many senses. She creates riffs and spacey echoes using props – one song loops the sounds made by wooden toys and they are overlaid with a base-heavy disco beat.

It is weird and wonderful and strangely soothing. Edrica is a feast for the senses, the thinking person’s mind disco – and you’ll be richer for having witnessed it.

In between each song, the audience is almost deathly silent for a few seconds – not because the show is bad (because it was clearly bloody brilliant) but because they know they had witnessed something magical and weren’t sure what the rules were. Should we get up and dance? Applaud wildly? Edrica Huws broke the rules during her lifetime and Gwenno is doing the same.

5 stars 

Type of show: Music / Theatre / Opera / Performance Art / Poetry

Title: Festival of Voice Venue: Multiple Locations

Dates: 7-17 June

Produced by: Wales Millennium Centre (and partners)

Author: Gemma Treharne-Foose

Review: Passenger #FoV2018 at Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

REVIEW: Passenger 14 June 2018 Wales Millennium Centre

I’ve been a fan of Mike Rosenburg (Passenger) since 2012 and Let her go, plus having seen him perform at Cardiff Uni in 2014, was curious to see how he’d progressed. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve not really kept up with his music, but he’s got that kind of distinctive voice that you know for sure when he’s being played on the radio.
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Fast forward 2018 and the Festival of Voice at Wales Millennium Centre. A place I know so very well having seen many musical and theatre productions there in the past few years. It’s not really the kind of place I’ve seen live music at, albeit James and Only Men Aloud is the exception to this fact. A sold-out gig in one of the most incredible auditoriums I’ve bore witness to, could this be the most perfect night?

Well, let’s start with the support, Stu Larsen. Hailing from Australia, and with just his guitar to boot, the Donald Gordon Theatre was filled with an amazing sound of quiet, and music, with even the sound of a door in the upper circle closing, could be heard. It felt the right kind of support for Passenger, with the voice and storytelling within his music, you could see how good at his craft he was. You often wonder with support acts, are they going to be good – or are you going be heading back to the bar. Needless to say, I didn’t see anyone leaving during Stu’s 45 minutes, and quite right too.

Then onto the main event. The Festival of Voice 2018 was an international arts festival in Wales’ capital city that celebrated the voice in all its forms. It featured Gruff Rhys, Billy Bragg, Charlotte Church and Passenger. If you’ve not seen Passenger or heard his music, I think the only way to describe it would acoustic guitar driven folk story telling.

As I mentioned previous, the Donald Gordon Theatre is acoustically perfect, as was the audience. I’ve never been to a gig with such respect for the musician. Maybe that’s due to the location, or maybe due to the person. Whatever it was, the sound reverberated around the auditorium with little effort. With a setlist that featured acoustic tracks from Whispers, All the little lights, plus of course the better-known hits of Hearts of Fire (featuring Stu Larsen on harmonies), Holes and his number one single, Let her go.

Each song had a back story, and within each song then performed, you gained a better and proper understanding of it. From Riding to New York to David, I felt I left the gig with some food for thought. Anyone can write a hit record, but it takes a special kind of person to write a song that will make you think.

I just hope the next time I see Passenger, it’ll be a venue like the WMC (top 5 gigs he’s ever done apparently), and I’ll keep my musical education a little more in tune. In fact, I’ve had the last 3 albums on the iPod on repeat in my car since the gig. I just close my eyes, and I’m back there (obviously I’m not driving at the time).

In a few days, another guitar wielding male singer songwriter will be descending on Cardiff, now Passenger may not have the loop pedal, but for what he lacks in technology, he more than makes up for in heart.

Review by Patrick Downes

Review: Voices of Protest – Festival of Voice, Wales Millennium Centre by Luke Seidel-Haas

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★★★★★

 

The Festival of Voice is a biennial international arts festival, described as an opportunity to “hear and be heard”. Featuring events scattered all over the capital city, the main hub of the festival takes place at the Wales Millennium Centre, featuring a hugely diverse program of events. These range from rock and pop music, to cabaret and musicals to live art. The aim, according to artistic director Greame Farrow, is for the “Festival to become internationally renowned and on a similar scale to Edinburgh. I would love to close the streets of Cardiff for the weekend and fill them with voices for free,”. It was with great pleasure that I was invited to attend the opening night of the festival which featured Billy Bragg and Nadine Shah in an event called Voices of Protest.

At this point I have a slight confession – I had never heard of Nadine Shah before this point, and was only vaguely familiar with Bragg’s work through his Left Field Stage at Glastonbury. That being said, I felt this was an excellent opportunity to go into an event with a completely open mind and no presuppositions. Between collecting my tickets from the box office and the main event, I had a chance to explore the rest of the Festival of Voice hub. The main foyer of the WMC has been given a bit of a makeover, with a live DJ playing, and interactive art works strewn around. Outside the building, sandwiched between the WMC and the Piermaster building was a collection of delicious looking street food stalls. These included a Wood Fired Pizza stall, Fresh Pasta, a coffee kiosk and a bar, as well as a pop up Kitchen ran by Oasis, the refugee and asylum seeker organisation. Eventually I settled on a Turkish inspired stall called Murray May’s Rolling Kitchen which was selling proper charcoal grilled kebabs served in pittas. This was absolutely delicious – if you get a chance to get down to the hub I can’t recommend their food enough.

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Enough about the food – on to the music. Settling down in the beautiful surroundings of the Donald Gordon Theatre, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Slightly later than billed (since when to musicians take to the stage on time anyway), Nadine and her band arrived and launched right into things. Brooding and dark, Shah’s voice is undeniably excellent. Rich and soulful, she has a unique tone which is likely in part to her strong North-Eastern accent which she doesn’t attempt to disguise or Americanize when singing. Featuring the traditional rock lineup of guitar, bass and drums, Shah’s band also included a keyboardist and saxophonist which contributed to the full tone of the outfit.

In an event called Voices of Protest, it is clear why Shah’s blend of music hits the mark – the content of her songs range tackling fascism and Islamophobia to refugee and immigrant rights. As a self confessed second generation immigrant (born in South Tyneside to a Pakistani Father and part Norwegian Mother), Shah stops her set at one point to remind the audience of the valuable contribution that immigrants can and have made to this country. And yet while the content of her songs is intelligent, powerful and provocative, Shah is clearly happier to let her songs do the talking – at one point she confesses that shes “rubbish at this talking stuff”, and will leave that to Bragg.

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After a brief interval in which sets are changed, Billy Bragg takes to the stage to rapturous applause. Aged 60, Bragg is clearly still full of energy and passion for politics. Despite claiming in his most famous song that “I don’t wanna change the world”, his songs have a clear message to people – get involved, educate yourselves and campaign for what you believe in. In comparison to Shah’s rich full sound, Bragg stands alone on an almost bare stage with just his guitar and the occasional backing by colleague CJ on electric or slide guitar. Yet Bragg’s enthusiasm and warmth manage to fill the auditorium, and as he discusses the meaning behind each song it is clear that the majority of the audience are becoming more and more alert to the messages behind what he’s saying. Highlights include Handyman Blues, an ode to men accepting that they don’t have to adhere to stereotypical notions of masculinity, a cover of Bob Dylans The Times They Are A Changin (Back) but with the words re-written after Trump’s inauguration, and of course his final encore song New England.

Despite his earnest and heart-felt political opinions, Bragg never comes across as preachy or condescending. At one point he stops the show to discuss an event that happened at his last gig in Cardiff at the Tramshed, where a heckler asked Bragg why he was drinking from a disposable plastic bottle. Bragg showed us (and indeed that very heckler, in attendance tonight) that he had learnt from this and now uses a Gig Swig reusable bottle while encouraging other musicians to do the same. It is this type of genuine activism and openness to being challenged that makes Bragg an excellent champion of left wing causes. While not the greatest singer or guitar player, Bragg’s strengths lie in his excellent song writing. Poignant lyrics, which open your eyes to the possibility of and need for change, are an excellent way of reminding people what can be done together. Bragg confesses in the gig that music cannot change the world – but what it can do is give you an outlet to inspire others to change things in other ways. The motto of the Bragg curated Left Field at Glastonbury is “recharge your activism”; after this evenings powerful opening to the Festival of Voice it would be difficult not to feel rejuvenated. Inspiring and thought provoking, Voices of Protest is an excellent evening’s entertainment featuring two different but equally galvanizing artists.

Voices of Protest

Live Music

Donald Gordon Theatre, Wales Millennium Centre

7th June 2018

Billy Bragg & Nadine Shah

Part of the Festival of Voice – more info and tickets here

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Luke Seidel-Haas

 

Review: Titanic The Musical by Patrick Downes

At first sight, and if you didn’t know any better, the idea of Titanic The Musical might sound a little off-key. The most tragic maritime event in history being told through the medium of song? Well, that’s what I thought but then I did a little digging (thank you Mr Google) to find this musical is not what you first think. It’s nothing to do with any Celine Dion song (thankfully, my heart can go on), nor Jack and Rose, but at its heart it tells the story of a ship and the three classes of people that boarded, each with their own hopes, dreams and reasons for wanting to go to America.

There are four couples the story highlights, one from each class – first, second, third, plus another couple who were first and are now second, together with the hierarchy that was the captain and crew. Sometimes in review it’s easy to avoid the ending, for obvious reasons on this occasion you should know already. If not, google it.

This musical though is something special, having won five Tony awards in 1997 including best musical, it’s the kind of musical that’s seemingly rare these days in terms of how it’s written and performed. It feels like a classical musical opera, and I think for some people, this might be a little bit of a stumbling block. But if you stick with it, it has the power to move you in ways you don’t really expect.

The sound that filled the auditorium is immense, not just the voices, but everything. The orchestration, and the general feel of the piece. Act one is all about introducing each character and their place on Titanic, this takes us to the end of act one and the iceberg. The first half of act two is then a frantic nonstop piece as the ship slowly succumbs to the Atlantic.

There aren’t any star names in this musical, not that I realised anyway, but that just means the entire cast are the star of this musical. They tell the story with heart, compassion and an amazing all-round performance.

Whatever version you know of Titanic, be it the James Cameron film, or the ITV miniseries, it all comes down to a story of humanity, and how people can be flawed, and how some love stories don’t have happy endings.

Officialpoptart Score: 8/10

You can see Titanic The Musical at Wales Millennium Centre till May 5th 2018 and it continues around the UK afterwards

Review: Patrick Downes

Review: Shrek The Musical at Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

Imagine for a moment you’re back in 2001 and the only kind of computer animated films were Disney’s. They’re good but once you get past the age of 12, there seemed to be a gap in the market. That gap was filled by Dreamworks and Shrek which gave enough simple plot and humour plus additional jokes that adults would get, you have the starting of what I witnessed tonight in Wales Millennium Centre – Shrek The Musical.

Returning to Wales Millennium Centre on the latest UK tour bringing Donkey, Lord Farquaad, Princess Fiona, Pinocchio and a cavalcade of fairytale characters together with the main man himself Shrek – played by Michael Carolan. If you’re not sure of the story of Shrek – well, spoiler alert – they live happily ever after, but getting there is a rollercoaster buddy movie type comedic spectacular.

If the original Shrek had references to other cartoons, well, Shrek the musical has references to other musicals – you might just spot a Wicked reference, a Lion King bit, and Cabaret all receive some mention in passing.

The music and staging is amazing, and before those reading that previous line mock in saying “it’s no Les Misérables is it”, well, it’s not meant to be. It’s the perfect musical for children from eight to eighty. A great introduction into the world of the musical, and a fab night out for all the family.

Special mention to Samuel Holmes (Lord Farquaad) who as the baddie of the piece pretty much stole each scene he was in – wonder how the knees will cope for the rest of the run though. Laura Main as Fiona had the right balance of comedy timing and exceptional vocals, as did Michael Carolan who played Shrek at the performance I saw. Joseph Dockree as Pinocchio was another performer who seemed to steal each scene he was in – yes, he is a real boy!

For a few hours you’ll transferred to a land far far away, wonder if you know the muffin man, and in the morning, you’ll be making waffles.

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2018-2019/DonaldGordonTheatre/shrek2018/

Review The Band, The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

Firstly, let’s get this straight. Yes, I love pop music, yes, I love Take That (seen them live 4 times), but no, this won’t be a biased piece.

So when the it came about that the BBC did the show “Let it Shine” to discover the next big boy band for a musical I was curious to see what or how it would all turn out. The band that was created, in probably not too dissimilar a way to Take That (without Saturday night telly) was Five to Five. At the start, people weren’t too sure how this musical would pan out – would it be the story of Take That – or something like Never Forget the other Take That musical – which by the way, premiered at Wales Millennium Centre in 2007!

Actually, it was neither – It’s Manchester in 1992 and its based around five 16-year-old girls for who ‘the band’ is everything.  They then reunite 25 years later, and you see how life has taken each girl down a different road.

Written by Tim Firth – who also penned Calendar Girls The musical with a certain Gary Barlow, it’s story is nostalgic and funny. You can’t call it a Jukebox Musical like so many of its type before. It has the same feel as Mamma Mia – the songs you’ll know, but the arrangements can be quite different. The nostalgia you feel could easily equate to how your own life has panned out in the last twenty-eight years. There’s a warmth to each character, and something familiar that feels real.

Production wise it’s brilliant. From the Ceefax screen at the start (How many bands did you get in the word search?), to the aircraft taking off, there’s something new you may never have seen in a touring production before – so much so, there was a technical hitch during the performance that delayed things by about 10 minutes. In all the times, I’ve been theatre going I’ve only seen this happen once before, and it’s a bit of a pain, but sometimes technology is a bugger – and as they say, the show must go on – which it did!

As “The Band”, Five to Five’s performances were good especially the harmonies. They maybe a band created for this production, but afterwards, who knows what the future holds.

Going back to what I said about the warmth in each character, each performance was flawless for both the old versions and young counterparts of each character – just might be possible though for Andy Williams as Dave to have stolen the show with his little moments at several points, and Rachel Lumberg’s performance as Rachel – there was something quite special about that too.

Now, if you do go and see this, which I will heartily recommend, don’t expect what we had at the encore – an actual Take That performance. Mark, Jason and Gary all on stage performing Hold up a Light (one of my favourite TT tunes!) together with the entire company. It made the first night in Cardiff that extra bit special.

Now I could be a little bit cheesy and include some Take That song titles in recommending this musical, but you’d wait for life for that. Okay Babe, are you happy now I found heaven? I might just end up all night, and then never forget to do this review pray-sing The Band. You do what you like, I’d love to hold up a light and come back for good to see this again! Patience, then you’ll rule the world.

Did I love “The Band Musical”? Sure!

Catch it at Wales Millennium Centre till January 20th 2018 – after which it’s UK Tour continues.

REVIEW: @ImPatrickDownes

Review Miss Saigon, Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon – a recent smash hit in London’s West End – is now embarking on a major UK tour, and has stopped off in Wales Millennium Centre for their annual Festive offering.

Previous Festive shows include The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera and Mary Poppins, and this year they bring the winner of a record-breaking nine Whatsonstage Awards 2015 including Best Show.

From the same partnership that brought Les Misérables, brings this epic love story that tells the tragic tale of young bar girl Kim, orphaned by war, who falls in love with an American GI called Chris – but their lives are torn apart by the fall of Saigon.

For the sheer spectacle, this production needs to be seen. For the lighting, the sound and the effects are some I’ve rarely seen outside of London, you soon realise this is something special.

The cast brings such depth to the story, which without realising, the first twenty minutes feel so much shorter – such is setting the story up. Red Concepcion’s Engineer is brilliant – a slightly comedic but evil twist on a character – The American Dream brought the house down. It’s such a stand out moment.

Sooha Kim as Kim brings the vulnerability to the role, and with an amazing voice. Her duet with Ashley Gilmour (Chris) on The Last Night of the world, is another stand out moment.

Be warned, it’s not for younger people – the themes are quite adult, and there’s some swearing in the first 20 minutes – and it’s also dotted through the rest, but it’s not without reason.

For me being a little bit of a theatre techy, I spent most of the evening in awe at the sets, lights and sound. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in Cardiff. The helicopter scene is probably the most impressive piece of set and engineering I have ever seen on a stage! You find yourself completely immersed into the sights, emotion and sounds of the end of the Vietnam conflict. If musicals were football leagues, Miss Saigon would be Chelsea.

The word triumph is often used to describe musicals, and in this case, it’s spot on.

Don’t dare Miss Saigon this Christmas

You can catch Miss Saigon at Wales Millennium Centre till January 6th 2018.

Review: @ImPatrickDownes

Patrick Downes

REVIEW: SECOND STAR TO THE RIGHT BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

(4 / 5)

A Hijinx production really is a fabulous way of kicking off your Christmas celebrations. Following the success of The Snow Queen in 2016, Second Star to the Right by Llinos Mai is a re-telling of a familiar old tale. There’s a new dynamic this time. This story features three very modern, overstressed, selfie and health and safety-obsessed adults in place of children.

This time the Neverland newcomers are descendants of Michael, Jane and Wendy. As they navigate their way around the island, they learn to stop being so uptight and to dance, fly and synchronised-swim their cares away. Arthur – played by Simon Richards brings plenty of chuckles as he obsesses about the injury risks and dangers in Neverland and Blue Balmforth playing the part of Joe shines as a preening peacock – and he’s desperate to get back to his phone signal, hair wax and moisturiser. Alice meanwhile (played by Nia Ramage) is irritable and completely focused on getting to her meetings back in the city.

Created by Odyssey, a community group of disabled and non-disabled actors established by Hijinx Theatre Company, Second Star is more than ‘just’ a pre-Christmas show.

This year’s production is a celebration of a much-loved cast member Martin Vick, a long-standing performer with Hijinx for 15 years who sadly passed away in 2016. Martin had previously performed in Peter Pan and Wendy, travelled the world a special Olympian and more recently had performed with the award-winning Meet Fred, Directed by this production’s Artistic Director Ben Pettitt-Wade.

Odyssey theatre company is a community group brought together by Hijinx theatre company and don’t just create and devise imaginative theatre, they also run training academies to enable disabled actors to perform at a professional level. They’re the only company in Wales to do this. I was delighted to see Sara Pickard as the Captain in this show, having come across Sara in a professional capacity many months before.

The designer Kitty Callister and her assistants have created visually effective props and costumes – mixtures of slick modern black lines, whimsical multi-coloured bohemian and stripy sea dog gather under a star-kissed sky on window panels. Lost boy paint fights are depicted with handfuls of confetti and fairies are created via twinkling fairy lights. Its simple but creative, fitting the stripped back and intimate surroundings of the Weston Studio.

Attending a Hijinx show feels like you are part of the family, in on the joke and its informal nature is a great draw for families. This is theatre as it should be. Unselfconscious, approachable and completely inclusive.

The cast of actors have a wonderful synergy. Director Jon Dafydd-Kidd clearly has created an environment where actors of all abilities feed off one another’s energy, helping each other with the odd line and encouraging one another, just as Martin Vick had during his time with the company.