Tag Archives: welsh

Review: WOOF at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(2 / 5)

Please note this review contains references to sexual violence and detailed analysis of the productions plot.

WOOF by Elgan Rhys is a new Welsh-language (occasionally bilingual with English subtitles at every performance) play about two men, Daf and Jesse, who have different expectations of one another.

In a lustful first meeting we see the pair’s first sexual encounter and follow their romance along some ups and downs until their final “sexual” encounter and the fallout.

Woof portrays big topics such as open/polyamorous relationships and sexual assault both in the context of modern gay life. However, Elgan Rhys fails to really explore any of these topics in a way that does them justice.

One main reason why is because the characters are cliché “types” of gay men. One wanting marriage and kids, the other wanting an open relationship. But this is the extent of their individuality. Even the way they speak is basically identical and generic.

Because of this, despite the characters having clear goals, the motivations that drive them aren’t clear. For a play that relies so heavily on bubbling under the surface, we should be understanding the motivations.

Rape is used as a “turning point” and feels more like a plot point than a major life event in Jesse or Daf’s life. Things do change after this, but again, the motivations that drive these changes are invisible. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like we’re watching a play, we barely see how they’re feeling and when we do, it mostly comes through speech and feels unnatural.

Things happen, we get spoken to about them, and then the characters move on to the next stage of the plot. It feels like a draft of a script that has figured out its structure, but not found the character’s voices or even the characters themselves.

One positive is that we see real love from both characters to each other, even if they don’t always care for the other.

Elgan Rhys presents a lot in Woof and some people will really identify with it, because of the evocative nature of the topics presented. But it explores very little of these huge themes and how they affect the characters, which is where this play particularly falls down.

The tone of the direction from Gethin Evans doesn’t help solve this. It’s quite flat throughout. The odd scene or moment is well controlled by Evans. But the piece overall feels odd. The subtext isn’t portrayed well throughout the performance at all and the build-up to the rape scene, as well as the scene itself, is really poor because of this.

Whilst neither Aled Pedrick as Jesse or Berwyn Pearce as Daf do particularly badly in portraying what they’re given, neither really rise and meet the task either. There are great moments from both, however.

Jesse’s immediate reaction to being raped is horrifying. The confusion and fear are portrayed well – but this doesn’t hold and the performance of Jesse declines into mediocrity afterwards. Meanwhile, the performance of Daf peaks in more comedic moments – but struggles with the darker ones.

There are moments of good chemistry between the two, particularly in the first third of the play. A scene where the two characters exchange phone numbers is particularly nice. Some real chemistry which is lovely as well as being the first time we see real care and love in the two. But then, there’s a lot that feels unnatural. For example, whenever the characters talk about their relationship – which is the central conflict of the piece.

The set and design from Elin Steele is simple. Nothing out of this world but it works. It’s a similar story for Katy Morison’s lighting design too. Some moments that are good, the club scene in particular, but ultimately underused.

The sound by Sam Jones doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall production. An announcement of “Happy New Year!” on the sound system doesn’t fit the tone and music isn’t exploited nearly enough.

The design elements really could set the tone for the piece but instead, as happens too often, feel like an afterthought.

Now that we have critically assessed the play itself, there are some other things that desperately need to be addressed.

Firstly, the lack of trigger warnings was a huge issue. “Sexual content” does not equal “rape/sexual violence”. This desperately needs addressing by the Sherman in the remaining shows as this was incredibly irresponsible.

The tone on the night and marketing is out of place with the nature of the piece. Having feedback boards outside with various LGBTQ+ flags on it, was a strange contrast from portraying a toxic gay relationship and gay rape. Marketing it with the words “bold” and “gritty” are also out of place with what we see. This isn’t a bold play because it doesn’t challenge its audience.

In the programme notes, Rachel O’Riordan, former artistic director of the Sherman Theatre and the person who commissioned this play, said, “the play…will ask our audience to look at some uncomfortable truths.” This is true. It asks its audience to observe some uncomfortable truths but doesn’t challenge them by exploring those truths.

It seems that from start to finish, the whole theatre had the wrong attitude with this play, from top to bottom. From commissioning, to presenting, to marketing and warning its audience about the issues it deals with. It’s a presentation of something that may well be true, but not an exploration of the themes or characters.

There will be people who really enjoy Woof and it is worth seeing, in full knowledge of what it’s about.

WOOF is a dark portrayal of a toxic, yet loving relationship, between two male characters who are ultimately underdeveloped.

WOOF performed at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
31 January – 9th February 2019
Written by Elgan Rhys
Directed by Gethin Evans
Cast:
Daf – Berwyn Pearce
Jesse – Aled Pedrick
Designer: Elin Steele
Sound Designer: Sam Jones
Lighting Designer: Katy Morison

Series Review, Hidden, BBC Cymru Wales by Gareth Williams

(3 / 5)

When one looks back over 2018, Keeping Faith is sure to come out on top in the world of Welsh television drama. It has been a huge success. Its latest stop on its incredible journey is primetime BBC One. It goes from strength to strength, and will certainly deserve all the accolades that come its way. In amidst all the hype of this brilliant series however, it has been easy to overlook another Welsh drama that has been airing over the past two months on BBC Wales and BBC Four respectively. Produced by the creator of another Welsh hit drama Hinterland, Ed Talfan, Hidden has been allowed to bubble away below the surface of Keeping Faith’s success. I would suggest that this is primarily because it is a crime drama. And though I would agree, to a certain extent, with some of the groans that accompany the thought of yet another one hitting our screens, it does at least offer something a little different. There is a slight spin on the achingly familiar.

The twist in Hidden’s tale is the revelation of the killer at the outset. The opening scene sees a girl running through the woods, pursued by an unknown man. This girl is subsequently found dead. The investigation that unravels across the whole of the series centres on finding this girl’s killer. Such a task is given to local detectives Cadi John (Sian Reece Williams) and Owen Vaughan (Sion Alun Davies). But whilst they are in the dark over the killer’s identity, the viewer is given unprecedented access into the life of Dylan Harris, played brilliantly by Rhodri Meilir. A strange, sensitive and brutalised figure, Harris lives with his mother and daughter in an old farmhouse deep within a forest of the Snowdonia National Park. It turns out that he is a serial abductor of young women. Having let his latest catch go, we witness his unsuccessful attempt at abducting a local farm girl. Then, as the pieces of the drama’s puzzle start to come together á la The Bridge, he claims the life of long-suffering student Megan Ruddock (a standout performance from Gwyneth Keyworth). What follows is a tense thriller that follows both the police investigation and Harris’ narrative simultaneously. As a result, it involves the viewer deeply in its various twists and turns over the course of its eight episode run.

Despite the fact that the central crime isn’t particularly original, Hidden remains worthy of some praise for the performances of two of its central actors: Rhodri Meilir and Gwyneth Keyworth. Episode four in particular, which is wholly focused on Dylan and Megan, is a deeply uncomfortable yet utterly compelling hour of television. It is made so by their noteworthy performances. Firstly, Meilir brings a vulnerability and gentleness to the role of Dylan that will be recognisable to fans of the sitcom My Family, in which he played the hapless Alfie. Yet this vulnerability and gentleness are subverted as a result of the abuse Dylan has suffered at the hands of his mother (Gillian Elisa). As a result, they manifest themselves in an extremely dark and dangerous way, far from the comforting confines of the Harper household. Meilir manages to express such complexity at the heart of his character in such a way that the viewer is both sympathetic yet repulsed by him. To extract such opposing emotions is testament to Meilir and his ability to play such a broken and complex figure. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Keyworth produces an emotionally raw performance as Megan, a student whose mental anguish (outwardly shown in the form of self-harm) is exacerbated by her abduction. It is an incredibly challenging role that Keyworth manages to embody wholeheartedly. As a result, she is powerfully believable as Megan. It is easy to forget sometimes, in the course of the series, that what is witnessed is a dramatic reconstruction. Keyworth plays it in such a way that it seems horribly real. For me, it is one of the most engrossing performances in a British TV drama this year.

With a stunning backdrop that shows off the bleak, mountainous terrain of North West Wales in all its magnificent and austere glory, Hidden may not be revolutionary but it is still worth watching. With some excellent performances from the cast and a slightly different take on the conventional crime narrative, it has enough going for it to keep viewers coming back for more. If you like your crime dramas dark and disturbing, then Hidden is certainly for you. It may not be Keeping Faith but it nevertheless showcases the fantastic talent coming out of Wales at the moment at every level, from production to acting, storytelling to editing. This is very exciting. With hopefully more fantastic ‘Made in Wales’ dramas to come, the Welsh TV landscape looks like going from strength to strength.

Click here to watch the full series.

gareth

Review Heroine, Theatr Clwyd/High Tide by Gareth Williams

 

(4 / 5)

 

What an extraordinary piece of theatre Heroine is.” I just had to write this as my immediate response on Twitter after seeing Nessah Muthy’s one-act play. It has many of the ingredients that create a top-class production: powerful, emotive, provocative, and controversial. It centres on Grace, a former soldier looking for friendship and meaning in her post-conflict life. One day, she turns up at the local community centre, and finds a group of women with whom she forms a strong and emotional bond. When the centre is threatened with closure, she finds herself fighting a new war, one which consumes her in a devastating and heartrending way.

Asmara Gabrielle is spellbinding as the young Grace. She is the heartbeat of this production, setting the pace with a conflicting range of emotions. It is a dramatic performance that builds progressively, a vulnerability that evolves from a sense of loss to a deep feeling of injustice; a growing bitterness that translates into angry protestation and self-destructive violence. The ability of Gabrielle to hold such extraordinary emotional conflict in her performance, letting it drip-feed out like a springing leak in her soul, is simply masterful.

Supporting her are a cast of four women, each of their characters richly detailed so as make Heroine an ensemble piece. They are not present merely to make up the numbers. Muthy has managed to give each of these women culturally recognisable characteristics without falling into the trap of stereotyping them. We have the technology-savvy grandma, Bev (Maggie McCarthy), the strong-willed group leader Wendy (Lucy Thackeray) and the chatty, party-loving Cheryl (Wendy Morgan). Yet far from being typecast, each of them is given space to breathe and become part of a narrative that is driven by their individual motivations, their pain and their sense of truth. Placing them as the driving force of the play ensures that it maintains a credibility and verisimilitude that ultimately creates an absorbing and electrifying piece of theatre. We journey with them from an innocuous start – walking into the auditorium, the three of them are already onstage chatting. The set translates seamlessly into the front row, making it feel like you are actually stepping into their world which is, I have to say, exquisite in its realism – to an (almost literally) explosive finish. It is pure drama.

I can understand the grievances posed recently over the perceived lack of opportunities for Welsh talent at Theatr Clwyd at present. When I think back to Terry Hands’ tenure, there was a clear Welsh flavour to many of the productions. This is not so much the case now. Yet I think the criticism is very unfair. To judge a theatre’s impact merely on onstage content is to miss the point of Artistic Director Tamara Harvey’s vision. As I see it, her desire to create a theatre that is accessible for all, which engages with the wider community, and provides opportunities for involvement across the board (from workshops to apprenticeships, creative spaces to community forums, etc.) shows a passion for inspiring and encouraging Welsh talent that goes far beyond the actors and writers rooms; indeed, is capable of a much greater impact than some may suggest.

What does this have to do with Heroine? Well, I think it is simply wrong to judge this co-production with London-based HighTide as being at the expense of Welsh talent. As Harvey states, there are other skills embedded in a producing theatre, such as stage management, set building, scenic art, props making, lighting and sound (to name but a few) that contribute to an overall production. This is surely the case here. Furthermore, the need to create opportunities for new and emerging talent should not just stop at one’s own doorstep. By supporting such a quality script by a young writer, as well as an all-female cast, this local theatre is making a positive contribution to the national issue of diversity, an ongoing problem within the arts.

Heroine is a great example of a new work that, with support, can fulfil its potential. It is an absorbing story that deals with some big and pressing themes. With a strong cast and brilliantly-crafted script, it is certainly one to watch out for. A provocative piece of art.

Last Night of the Welsh Proms 2016, ST DAVIDS HALL BY JAMES BRIGGS

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Following a simply wonderful week packed full with all types of music, the Welsh Proms 2016 drew to a stunning close on Saturday evening. The Last Night of the Welsh Proms, at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, is a celebration of what it means to be Welsh and how important music is for Welsh people. The celebrations began before the audience entered the auditorium, with a band playing outside the hall enticing passer-by’s into the concert hall.

As the show began the audience welcomed The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from London and the resident Last Night Of The Welsh Proms conductor Owain Arwel Hughes CBE. With a marvellous programme of songs set for the evening the audience knew there would be a great evening in store.

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As well as the upbeat recognisable pieces played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra the Last Night is also about some serious music, and this year’ concert featured three world premiere performances of brand new orchestral pieces.

The first of these was ‘Cambrian Serenade’, by Arwel Hughes, the father of our conductor for the evening. The piece featured heavily on Classical FM where they held a competition for the listeners to name the song and the winner would get to see the music performed on The Last Night Of The Welsh Proms. The second of the world premiere pieces was ‘Aberfan’, by Christopher Wood, the emotional piece which was very moving was written to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. The Aberfan disaster was a catastrophic landslide of a colliery coal tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, on 21 October 1966, which engulfed a Primary school and killed 116 children and 28 adults.

The third piece making its World Premiere was ‘Mr Dahl’, by Bernard kane Jnr, which was a beautiful piece written to commemorate 100 years from the birth of the great Welsh writer Roald Dahl.

Some of the first half highlights included Coates ‘Dambusters March’, Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ and Mendelssohn’s well known and loved ‘Wedding March’. The real showstopper that ended the first half was the soundtrack to Star Wars which took your breath away. Nothing can really prepare you for when you hear the opening few bars of the theme played by the brass section. It is almost like you are expecting Darth Vader or Yoda to appear on stage and greet the audience.

As with the tradition of the Last Night Of The Welsh Proms, it was really after the interval that the fun really began with an influx of flag and banners being brought into the auditorium in preparation for waving along with the music.

The second half opened with a personal favourite of mine Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance No.1 and it wasn’t long until conductor Owain Arwel Hughes soon had everyone on their feet and singing ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ enthusiastically to the music. Strauss Radetsky March proved popular with the prom goers as we all clapped along when told by the conductor.

The final songs of the evening came in the form of ‘Fantasy On Welsh Songs’ arranged by Gareth Wood. This part of the concert involved a great deal of singing with the orchestra as some of Wales’ most famous songs were played. With songs such as Cwm Rhondda, Men Of Harlech, Ar Hyd Y Nos, We’ll Keep A Welcome, Myfanwy, and I Bob Un Sydd Ffyddlon there was plenty of choice. One song played Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn had a great deal of meaning for my Mum who I attended the concert with as it was the song she performed for the Queen when she visited Wales in 1977 for her Silver Jubilee celebrations.

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The national anthem Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau provided a fitting encore to end a wonderful evening of music. Conductor Owain Arwel Hughes promised the proms would return bigger and better next year, which is definitely something to look forward to. I urge everyone if you have the chance to attend the Last Night Of The Welsh Proms be sure to go because you are sure to have a magical evening of music and culture.