Review Castellana, Cardiff Christmas Festival by Rhys Payne.

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In my opinion it is always incredible difficult opening a show as you have to not only establish the standard the audience can expect from everyone else, but you also need to force the audience to get excited despite what may have happened before they set foot in the Fortuna Spiegeltent tent.

I know that I would be incredibly stressed If I was in the MC’S shoes, but Velma Celli seemed to excel in this intense position. There was not a single drop in energy or excitement as the host kept the audience hyped throughout and even dealt with delays flawlessly. They helped to introduce each act, mask the getting ready periods and even treated us to a few performances throughout! In fact, the whole show was opened by Velma who delivered a vocally incredible rendition of Black and Gold. What I thoroughly enjoyed about this number is the fact that as the number went on each of the acts graced the stage as a subtle introduction to each of the performances and a tease of what to expect from the evening. Velma had people in the audience in stitches throughout the evening whether it was picking on “Santa” sat in the front row or serenading a random audience member (who took it all in high spirits) with an array of crudely parodied Christmas carols!

Later in the evening the incredible duo of Paul and Louise graced the stage to showcase their balance-based skills. What I personally found incredible about this performance in particular was the fact that both of duo were showcasing their skills as often times it appears that the male partner is them simply as a strong foundation for the female to dance/contort around. One of the highlight moments of this performances saw Paul lay on his back while Louise placed her feet near her partners neck and learn forward. She went so far forward that she was a mere few inches from face planting for the floor while her partner leveraged his body to support her ever step on the way which was incredible to watch. The entire performance was full of flips and tricks throughout with these two talented performances clearly have a great chemistry both on and off stage! This pair returned in the second act to showcase an incredible roller-skating-based set. At one point in the routine, the pair circled each other only for Louise to hook her feet around her partners neck as they both continued to spin around. This trick was cleverly repeated multiple times with each iteration different enough to not bore the audience, but it was the final version that truly wowed the crowd! They had donned a rope hoop style contraption which connect the two performers simply by their necks and the cyclone of dance happened one last time, but this time Louise not only span in a horizontal circle but also twisted through the air in an almost impressive pencil twists the entire time! I thought it was very clever for the curators of this routine to repeat the same trick but adapt it slightly each time as it gave structure to the performance yet prevented the audience from being bored by seeing a similar trick!

One of my favourite performers of the evening was the amazing Miss Betsy Rose who treated the audience to a bit of burlesque. Now I am only a recent convert to the art form (having seen my first two burlesque shows just last week) but I do think it does not get the reputation it deserves. This style of dance is not simply about removing your clothes as quickly as you can but the sensual art of teasing the audience, which Betsy has down to a fine art! In classic burlesque style they showcased the most wonderful and over-the-top facial expressions and punctuation on almost every beat with a powerful movement which created a very cohesive and mesmerising performance. This performer was actually one of the first people we saw during the opening ensemble track as she dazzled the audience by dancing on the stage before Velma joined her to sing the song. The way her entire body was perfectly synced to the music not only built up the excitement but also made for a fantastic thing to experience! One of the things I was particularly fascinated is how the feather fans were utilised in such a way to almost give them a life-like breath but also used to frame part of the body which the audience went wild for. Every single person in the venue was transfixed by Betsy Rose with her gorgeous and energetic movements and every time an item of clothing was teased the audience went wild!

I have to be honest and say that fire spinning is never been an art form that I have found particularly fascinating, until I saw the incredible Penny Valent who graced the stage with a stunning headpiece that was set on fire which helped to introduce the main theme of their performance. The set began with the traditional fire batons which was frightening enough on their own but when bigger tools were introduced, we all know that something insane was about to happen! What I did not expect however was the unusual fusion of a sparkling light show and fire twirling! These bigger batons were short of sparks throughout, but the highlight came where she began wasting them with caused streaks of flames to cut through the air which was met with gasps each and every time! I was sat a few rows from the front but every time she motioned with these bigger sticks and intense waft of heat ran through me so I can only image how hot it would have been for the performer on stage! This was not the end however as the performer purposefully set fire to the stage itself causing a wall of fire to act as a backdrop to the performance!

My favourite performance of the evening, however, would have to be Little Finch who delivered a unique act of both simultaneously balancing of a hanging net. I must admit that my first thought as the two very attractive performers graced the stage was that it reminded me of a Jean Paul Gaultier advert. The act started as a wonderfully camp and fun number as two male sailors fell in love and shared a kiss (which the audience cheered immensely for) and then began to dangle from the ceiling on a net. Now I have seen numerous aerial routines but what I have never seen is two people performing the gravity defying skill at the same time! They carefully balanced themselves on one another while their partner was carefully balanced in the net which looked intensely dangerous but was met every time with roars from the audience!  We had Jonathan Finch earlier in the evening when they gave a wonderfully fun hand balancing performance on top of a series of boxes. While upside down this performer decided to proceed to remove their stockings with their feet which I cannot even comprehend how you to even begin to think about doing this never mind performing it in front of a live audience! Yet again this performance was giving face throughout the whole performance which add a wonderful sense of comedy to this very dangerous art form!

Overall, this year’s iteration of Castellana leant much more into a cabaret/variety show style format with the omission of last year’s hard to follow storyline picked up and dropped throughout the show! There was an eccentric mix of burlesque, live singing, hoop routines, aerial acts, fire spinning etc. which made for a very exciting show as you never knew what to expect next! There were a few mistakes throughout the evening such as stumbling, missed cues and tricks going wrong but I for one would never be able to do even a quarter of what some of the performers did on this evening! This performance is clearly intended for a more mature audience as there was swearing, sexual references and mature acts throughout the show but equally it was one’s sexy way to welcome the festive season! I would rate this production four out of five stars! If you want to get yourself some tickets for this event in Sophia Gardens then you can purchase tickets here.

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