Helen Joy

Smallholder, artist, aspiring writer

BAFTAS the Welsh way, a personal response by Helen Joy

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I leave St David’s Hall, feet hurting & makeup failing, holding a paper napkin full of warm quiche and Welsh rarebit. Outside, sitting cross-legged on the floor with his back against a wall is a homeless man with a lap full of BAFTA chocolates, still in their fancy boxes. Would you like something savoury? Ooh, yes please. Here, enjoy.

What is it about us that believes there is a difference between the ordinary folk and the extraordinary, the stars, the celebs? Do we judge what makes us special by our material wealth, our social standing, our academic success, the number of people who recognise us? I am as happy as the next post-80s socialite to be in her glad rags and jewels for a night but I am concerned that with all that money and status and happiness abounding tonight, that homeless person has a lap full of freebie chocolate. Maybe someone will write him a cheque.

Other people will talk about the glitz and the nominees and the winners and the glitterballs of a spectacular night. I want to talk about ordinary people, the social aspects of an awards event and the curious exclusivity of the Welsh Language.

To start again, I am standing in the press pen wishing I had a mallow ice-cream cornet to wave at people like a mike, asking for an interview. I am strangely confused by the lack of enthusiasm of journalists to actually talk to the guests. One old hack prefers to cover news events, another happily interviews in Welsh, armed with his iphone on record. Two reviewers behind me barely talk to each other. Others think that we four from Get the Chance are better turned out than the stars.

Which brings me to another reflection on society today (sic), what happened to Black Tie occasions meaning black tie? This is not about class, this is about respecting the invitation from the organisers, sponsors, guests, nominees and attendees; as well as the public so patiently waiting along the barricades. This is the BAFTA’s after all – a visual feast. The men generally are smart but very few bow ties and a nasty selection of daps on show. So few women sweep the red carpet in elegant attire that the ones I spot, I approach at the party later and tell them how lovely they looked, how professional. Each one crumbles in gratitude and enjoys the compliment. So few walk with confidence, I hesitate to use the word deportment but high heels and tight dresses usually benefit from a fine carriage.. why are all these extraordinary women so lacking in assurance? Perhaps it is their ordinariness revealed.

Everyone is friendly. Perhaps it helps that no one is 100% sure who everyone else is; there is no differentiation between attendees – we are all mucking in together in the audience, in the party, in the bars, taking selfies with the BAFTA masks. This makes for a remarkably easy atmosphere and a great buzz. We are all extraordinary; both inside and outside the building.

But is this exclusive? I am disappointed by the Welshness of it all. I know, it’s the Welsh BAFTA’s, BAFTA Cymru; but this is designed to celebrate the wonderful dramatic work in Wales and share it, not create a club based on linguistics. I was born in Wales, I have some Welsh language and I was educated here in Cardiff. Am I alone in thinking that this thing is not for the likes of me? There are not many people lining those barricades along The Hayes, the lack of press, the scuttling into the Hall, the dressing-down, the determination to celebrate smallness over scale. It feels just a little bit poor, the content just a little bit too fashionable. A fab party but not a BAFTAs, a magnificent glorification of TV and Film, helping to get those important messages out there – it’s OK to have fun, it’s right to tell your story, it’s good to want to change the world.

It feels just a little bit ordinary, whatever that is. We should have more pride and shout it out. It is time for another wafer, monsieur; and I think most of us ordinary folk would also prefer something savoury, something more substantial.

Caveat

Every evening in Cardiff I see more and more homeless people; last night, when leaving the WMC on a cold, foggy night, sitting in a corner against the main building was a man completing a broad sheet newspaper. We interrupted him to give him what cash we had about us – a paltry handful of change as it turned out – but he would not take it without giving us something in return. He gave us a magic trick. We enjoyed a chat and a laugh together and went on our way. I wished I had some warm quiche for him too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review NDCW Autumn Tour ‘Folk’ by Helen Joy

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Profundis, They Seek to find the Happiness they Seem, Folk

Profundis

In whispered tones of reverence, I am told: it is, oooh, wonderful, you’re in for a treat…

A woman in purple stands hugging herself in dance. She is singular, beautiful.

The spot light shifts to a gloriously sexy scene, a woman in white revelling in her spot-lit body writhes on the stage. She is right in front of me, I can see into her eyes. I am mesmerised. Carted away by men in black, the performance erupts into a fantasy of colour, dance, commentary, music and comedy. It is at once surreal, curious and charming. Sinister. Younger audiences find this funnier; we are awkward, we laugh in the wrong places. The dancers say that they find their voices in dance not in language but have enjoyed this challenge, being free to be themselves, to speak, to interpret freely within the confines of the psalm. De Profundis.

It is the creation of genius. It has the feel of a masterpiece. It is an abstract painting come to life. It is Kandinsky dancing. Of all the images, I am left with the man in red knuckling his way across the floor, man as ape as movement to music. A treat, indeed.

The Seek to Find the Happiness They Seem

Dance partners in black and navy and they trip through the dark, faces lit like portraits looming out of Rembrandt. Oh, this is exquisite. They are so lovely to watch. Perfectly in unison, Fred and Ginger ducking and diving and dancing in front of us, I can feel the warm swoosh of air across my face as they sweep past.

To Richter, they fail, their sense of loss and confusion is complete.

Folk

Bosch. It is a Bosch in all its painted madness cavorting in front of us. It is a crazy world. It rises from the soil of Autumn leaves into this crepuscular land. It is a topsy turvy place, a slight inversion, sensitive to struggling personality, to groupings, pairings and isolation.

Something warm and heavy, muted and visceral, carefully cadaverous, so beautiful from a distance but gently sinister close up. It is a convoluting palette of earth. It is breathtaking.

To see these dancers up close and personal, the bandages on their toes, the straps around their knees, the sweat on their faces, each muscle flexing, is to see perfection. To hear their feet feel the ground, to see expression in every tiny movement, is to see beauty.

I want to pull this piece into the night air, I want to let them free to scatter real leaves, dancing under real trees.

I want to press Stop: I want to fix them like statues and examine every moment. I cannot watch it all and I have missed so much but oh, I have taken something magical, ethereal, wonderful away with me.

http://www.ndcwales.co.uk/en

Enjoyed:         14th November, 2016 at NDCW, Cardiff

Profundis

Choreography:             Roy Assaf

Music and Sound:       Uoon I, Alva Noto (Vrioon Electronic)
Enta Omri, Umm Kulthum (Original 1964 Live Recording)

Lighting Design:          Omer Sheizaf

Costume Design:          Angharad Matthews

Costume:                     Deryn Tudor

Angharad Griffiths

 

They Seek to Find the Happiness They Seem

Choreographer:        Lee Johnston

Music:                                    Max Richter

Lighting:                     Joe Fletcher

Costume:                   Zepur Agopyan

Dancers:                    Matteo Marfoglia, Elena Thomas

Folk

Choreographer:        Caroline Finn

Visual Artist:             Joe Fletcher

Music:                                    Assorted (see website below)

Lighting:                     Joe Fletcher

Costume:                   Gabriella Slade

Dancers:                    Josef Perou, Camille Giraudeau, Matteo Marfoglia, Mathieu Geffre, Angela Boix Duran, Elena Thomas, David Pallant, Josie Sinnadurai, Ed Myhill

 

 

http://www.ndcwales.co.uk/en/what-s-on/autumn-tour-folk/

 

Review Snout Sherman Theatre by Helen Joy

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

This is a tricky one. The write up says that this is a play which examines ethical farm practices and may put you off your pie.  This is not quite what we get. It is not ‘Fun’ but it is ‘Food, Drink and Drama’. Or did I miss something?

I take three friends with me –we are all women, all farmers and two of us keep pigs. We discuss the play we have seen and the pie we have eaten a lot. In fact, we talk about it over chips later on Penarth Pier and again in the week. It has made us think. But perhaps not in the way Playwright Kelly Jones would like us to.

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Cast members  Sally Reid, Michele Gallagher and Clare Cage

Photographic credit Kirsten McTernan

It is a play about 3 little pigs, 3 women acting as pigs and as women. They are in a trailer heading for the slaughter house. Their actions and conversations are an odd mixture of supposed pig talk and young women chatter. They grunt occasionally. One is a cross carrying faithful type who misses her sister, one is a punky type who misses her lover and the other is a party going good time girl. A bit stereotypical. They work out that they are not going to a show but to the abattoir and so forth.

Now here’s a problem. Facts. Anyone who knows anything about pigs, knows that they don’t carry hairbrushes or wear crosses. They also don’t get electric shocks for bad behaviour when they squeal in a trailer. They might wander into a shed to watch a farmer, er, enjoy himself but we are pretty sure that we don’t know anyone who finds pigs that attractive.

When they talk about life, death and the lack of control over their lives, something resonates with me. Do they contemplate the meaning of life? Do we, as owners, play God?

Pigs are fun to be around precisely because they are calculating, funny and usually, miles ahead of their keepers. But we keep them also because they can be eaten. The speech at the end, before they trot out to their doom, is tediously predictable and aimed at converting the audience to vegetarianism, I think. My colleagues are not impressed and feel that this last scene spoils an otherwise interesting and thought-provoking play.

Then we have the after-show discussion. Lots of people have stayed behind for this and we are keen to debate the ideas raised in the performance.

But there is a surprise. Jones take an unexpected stance. She tells us about tattooed pigs and cruelty. She then explains that the play is actually about feminism; she uses the pigs to slaughter as metaphor for seeing women as meat, as bodies to be cut up into pieces, as porn, as without control. Oh. I see now. This makes sense of scenes previously lost to me.

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We discuss life and end of life, self-determinism, women’s rights, farming practices and eating meat. The audience is enthusiastic and picks up a particular thread with zeal: why have a play about killing animals and then give us a meat pie? Where does that meat come from, asks another. But it’s about women, not pigs, really.

We get it.

It makes even more sense when Jones explains to me that she had taken a 1hr40min play and made it into a 40min production. Sometimes, we need to rewrite not just slash and edit or we lose the meaning of a piece.  The playwright cannot attend every production to explain. The metaphor is clever, her idea is sound and with tweaking, would make an outstanding work.

I looked up the use of tattooed pigs for handbags – can’t be true, we said, but it was: art as an excuse for profit. Deeply shocking. I can see where she is coming from and Jones definitely is on to something here.

Enjoyed:         10th November, 2016 at The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Playwright:    Kelly Jones

Director:         Kenny Miller

Actors:

Coco Clare Cage

Lacey Michele Gallagher

Viv Sally Reid

http://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/a-play-a-pie-and-a-pint-november-16/

 

 

 

Review Romeo a Juliet, Ballet Cymru by Helen Joy

 

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Bonfire Night. Newport’s riverside is looking crystal sharp in the cold air and the backdrop of fireworks reflect in the still water of the Usk…a poetic start to the poetry of the Bard in motion.

Good ol’ Will. It’s a well-known tale and we have all seen many interpretations over the years. Ballet Cymru will mime and dance its way through the verse in this very smart and suitable location.

And it is quirky and funny and sad in all the right places. It is strangely lovely with pearl curtains and warehouse projections; costumes peculiarly appropriate to the setting and the story.

With clog dancing.

How could you not love the clog dancing? The thump of the wood on the floor as the orchestra roars into Prokofiev’s finest. The masks, the confidence, the arrogance of the piece. Startling, angry, manly, perfectly placed. I am not alone in loving this, this visceral interlude.

A hard line drawn against the softness of Romeo and Juliet, the continuum of life against the void.

And I have to say, I love the fight scenes. I can see that the love scenes are beautifully played out, the emotions expressed exquisitely in dance; but the fight scenes capture the sense of boyish adventure. Protagonists from families expectantly discordant run rings around each other, play-fighting until blood is shed. The boys are men. Tybalt commands the stage. Mercutio burns brightly and then, revelling in his wordy end, burns out. The swords are sheathed. The music, the movements are oddly exciting to this complex choreography and I can see eyes shining with some primal lust around me.

How does ballet do this? How can this carefully designed dance portray the random acts of a few hapless young folk so well? I ask a dancer, the Friar, what a certain move means – this apparent lifting of the arms of another: ah, it’s about domination, about instruction, about control.

It is all about control. It’s about putting words to movement; movement to music. It’s taking this extraordinarily gifted troupe of dancers and giving them a different language to speak. It is every inch of the body telling a love story, a tragedy, as beautifully and as elegantly as it can.

The dancers play their roles with finesse and candour. It is not an easy story to tell and they do tell it beautifully.

We leave to see the last of the fireworks explode over the town and kick the Autumn leaves a little before we go. And I ask my friend, what do you think? “Well, more memorable than conventional productions I’ve seen.’ Yeah. I’d go with that.

Huge thanks to Patricia Vallis and cast for making us all so welcome at The Riverfront, Newport.

Enjoyed:                                                                      5th November, 2016, at The Riverfront, Newport

Touring:                                                                       November to December, see website for details

http://welshballet.co.uk/

Dancers

Lydia Arnoux                                                            Anna Pujol

Andreamaria Battaggia                                      Allegra Vianello

Gwenllian Davies                                                   Dylan Waddell

Miguel Fernandes                                                 Daniel Morrison

Mark Griffiths                                                           Robbie Moorcroft

Artistic Director                                                                       Darius James                                          

Assistant Artistic Director                              Amy Doughty

Associate Artistic Director                             Marc Brew

Composer                                                                  Prokofiev

Original Play                                                             William Shakespeare

 

Review Quentin Blake: Inside Stories National Museum of Wales by Helen Joy

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Charming.
Somehow these odd, quirky, scratchy drawings become pretty and delicate in this high, light gallery.
It’s wallpaper, says the guide, as we check out the canopy of characters clambering down the walls.
It was especially made for us. People want to buy it. They can’t.
He smoothes it along the wall, loves it.
The text, that’s vinyl lettering.
It’s honest, candid, an extension of the drawings, tucked under the pictures, telling us something about the artist as much as his work and in his hand.
I hear children: ooh, it’s Matilda… Mummy, look, it’s Matilda.
I see Michael Rosen’s heart on the walls at the far end. Blake chooses his pens and brushes as carefully as Rosen chose his words to describe his grief. Beautiful.
The guide loves this exhibition. He loves this Museum. We talk about the need to attract children to keep the funding. Museum having to morph from repository and display to school and play.
There is a low table with low stools. All bright colours and soft plastics. Books and pencils, bits of paper.
Here, which one to do you want to do?
This one, Mummy. Mrs Twit. I’m not very good. I can’t draw.
How sick am I of hearing this cri de couer. Who tells a child they can’t draw? Who?
So, we all sit down and pick up the colour pencils and the paper and we draw. The adults copy Blake. The children copy the adults. I just draw chickens.
How do we hang them on the wall?
Just clip them in front of the other pictures.
But I don’t want to hide any?
They’ll all be cleared away weekly.
Oh. Some of these are wonderful.
The guide lights up: yes, look at these – talented.
They all are.
Blake would want them all on display. He is happy to share his warts n all, so should we be happy to show off all our talents. Art is feeling, is communication – no right or wrong.
I get that the Museum needs income, I get that it should attract children for many good reasons but let the adults in too.
This exhibition is a truly refreshing expression of human frailties and our spirit, our humour, our ability to find laughter and hope everywhere. Blake shows us through caricature and exaggeration what it is to be a child, an adult, a human being, a creature of this world. It is humanity in ink. Deceptively simple.
As my Father always said, it takes genius to simplify, to explain. Blake does this perfectly.
I go home and I spend an evening replacing the nib in my great-grandfather’s pen and I start to draw.

16th July – 20th November, 2016
Free, suitable for all ages

https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/8916/Quentin-Blake-Inside-Stories/

 

Review Bouncers Black Rat Productions by Helen Joy

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Absolutely outstanding!

4 men, bouncers, take us through the trials and tribulations of life on the door.

It’s funny, it’s much harder to write about something worth seeing, worth talking about. Why is that?

Is it because we are naturally more gifted at criticising than complimenting? Well, here goes.

Let me think: anything I don’t like? Nope. Anything anyone around me doesn’t like? Not that I can tell. An awful lot of cringing though; a lot of us are wincing at the characters as we see ourselves enacted, exaggerated, ridiculed – our past lives revealed in all their glory..

How do they know how women behave in the Ladies? Eurgh that is painful to watch. But we laugh till our sides ache. I am sure the men in this packed audience feel the same about themselves. I can see eyes narrowing and teeth bared in the grimaces of ‘ooh I’ve done that’.

Some really nice touches – the bouncers are in role at the doors of the Institute and the bar is open, with plastic glasses to take our wine in with us – a la nightclub!

The set is deceptively simple and lights and action flick cleverly between scenes, from dance floor to pavement to lavatories.

The bouncers are mimics, their grasp of personalities male and female perfectly belied in their body language, mannerisms, speech and form.

But it is not all lads on a night out, girls on the razz, bouncers doing a job; there is a darkness to all this light bouncing off the glitter-ball of life.

There are some very clear messages. Some clearer than others and pronounced with some pathos through our senior bouncer’s speeches (he makes 4). Lucky Eric, he isn’t.

It’s about tempers and frustrations, sadness, loss, the impact of antisocial jobs on our lives, the careless sex after careless imbibing of the demon drink.

It is using humour to make us listen and think. It is a play which shows us how so little has changed, each generation must find its way through the social challenges of finding, and keeping, a partner.

It tells us about the power of alcohol to affect our emotions, our sense of personal responsibility and our sex drive. It is about the consequences of actions taken under the influence.

We are forced to reflect on the nice girl, Susie, eating her pizza whilst being humped against a wall at the back of the club. Not so funny.

It winds down, like the party it is, to the point where we are all ready to go home.

Laughter, reminiscence and social commentary – the simple bear necessities of life have come to us. There is much to talk about.

Deserves to be on the London stage. The Abigail’s Party of Blackwood!

http://www.blackratproductions.co.uk/bouncers-2016/

Cast

Gareth John Bale

Sam Davies

Ross Ford

Morgan Hopkins

Production Team

Writer                         John Godber

Director                      Richard Tunley

Designer                    Hilary Statts

Lighting Designer     Robin Bainbridge

Running October to November, please check Black Rat Productions website for details.

 

 

 

 

Review The Ghost of Morfa Colliery, Theatr na nÓg by Helen Joy

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Highly commended for welcome and interaction

Here we go. Firstly, what a welcome – the foyer is buzzing with invited guests, there are miners lamps and dolly pegs on lace cloths on the tables, the bar is open and Theatr na nÓg is meeting and greeting all of us, personally. Delightful.

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All photographs by Simon Gough Photography

We are ushered into the black womb of the theatre and the magic begins. And there is magic all right! A young man sits on a swing on a green sward, reciting; a lady walks towards him echoing his words. This is a story of mining, community, family, chapel and ghosts. The ghosts tell their tale – all these folk are long gone but alive to us this night. They tell their story of hopes and fears, of aspirations and loss, through clear direction, straightforward acting and an effective stage set.  And with magic.

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It makes me sorry that I have not heard of this disaster down a spooky mine part under the sea of the Bristol Channel. It makes me think about the boys and men who worked there and the women who kept the home fires burning. A burning mine too in fact.

The tale is told through 5 characters – some true – a mother, her son, his friend, her brother, his wife and a chapel going gossip. It juggles through truth, fiction and fantasy – diaries, books, monsters and mining reports. It makes us think about the relative powers of the spoken and the written word. What is history other than aversion of events from a point of view?

The classic comedy scene dropped in – the quick change, the drag, the chapel go-ers squashed into a pew and watching us watching them. Joyous!

Magic! Oh the magic makes us jump! Too scary for children? Too scary for grown-ups! We were out of our seats, oohing and aahing as lamps moved, spectres appeared and disappeared, our young hero too.

I love it! And I am surrounded by people who love it too.

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Afterwards, there the cast and crew come to the stage and we are invited to ask questions. Typically, the best ones come from the youngsters in the audience. The best replies come from the magician…what ghost?

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We pile back into the foyer where there is a miner’s lunch buffet of local cheeses, bread, pickles, bara brith and Welsh cakes; not sure miners would have had the wine options tho.  Theatr na nÓg again does what it does so well, talks to us and listens.

A memorable evening for many reasons.

Today, I met a friend for coffee and said this: if you have to choose between a ticket for the opera or a seat at The Ghost of Morfa Colliery, choose the latter.

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Coal by critic Helen Joy 

http://www.theatr-nanog.co.uk/ghost-morfa-colliery

Enjoyed: 21st September, 2016, at The Dylan Thomas Theatre, Swansea

Running: September to October for schools, see website for details

Cast

Richard Nichols

Aled Herbert

Tonya Smith

Jack Quick

Production Manager

Geraint Chinnock

Designer

Kitty Callister

Lighting Designer

Elanor Higgins

Stage Illusionist Consultant

James Went

Sound Designer

Gareth Brierley

Stage Manager

Sasha Tee

Stage Manager

Brynach Higginson

Assistant Director

Daniel Lloyd

Composer

Jak Poore

Writer

Geinor Styles & Mali Tudno Jones

Director

Geinor Styles

 

Review Macbeth/Merchant of Venice WNO by Helen Joy

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Macbeth – an operatic trip

I saw, no, I experienced, no, I what? I tripped. A singing trip through Shakespeare’s tragedy.

I have no idea where to start. What words can do justice to this bizarre and jarring production. This crippling tale of the power of suggestion, the excuses of politics.

The women. Boy. What women.

Lady Macbeth: opulent, passionate, the voice of an angel with the presence of a god. ‘I wouldn’t mess with her’ I overhear. I wouldn’t. Magnificent. An audience is besotted.

The witches: awful, writhing, peculiar, calling like sirens; sexy, funny, raunchy. Wonderful choral singing. Quite wonderful.

The men don’t come close. With Macbeth simpering at his wife’s side and Duncan striding around in turquoise, they were a motley crew. Hard roles to sing, emotionally challenging to act and in unusual surroundings; but then there is a duet between Macduff and Malcolm to die for.

Visually, this is a difficult work to like. Colours clash. The period is unclear. The costumes ugly. Elements are comic – are they supposed to be? Those around me in the audience aren’t sure so the odd titter at an odd moment feels inappropriate. This is Macbeth after all.

The lady next to me closes her eyes. This is a beautiful opera to hear. To see? I’m not so sure. It is very, um, challenging.

I chat with others afterwards: we agree that whilst it has been a most peculiar evening, we expect we will remember it for a long, long time; it has been an entertainment. What are we here for, if not to provide entertainment? So, a huge thank you to all involved for something quite exceptional.

Running time: Approximately 2 hour 55 minutes with one interval

10, 15, 17 & 24 September 2016

Conductor Andriy Yurkevych
Director Oliver Mears
Set & Costume Designer Annemarie Woods
Lighting Designer Kevin Treacy
Choreographer Anna Morrissey
Video Designer Duncan McLean

Macbeth Luis Cansino
Lady Macbeth Mary Elizabeth Williams / Miriam Murphy
Macduff Bruce Sledge
Banquo Miklós Sebestyén
Lady-in-Waiting Miriam Murphy

Sung in Italian with surtitles in English and Welsh.

Co-production with Northern Ireland Opera.
Supported by WNO Partners.

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Merchant of Venice – an operatic orgy

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This Edwardian extravaganza of a strong story is sung with passion, grace and wit.

Shakespeare would have loved this epic play revived with such clarity and lust for life.

He would’ve loved the stylish eroticism, the flirtations, the overt sexuality of characters hard-pressed against the rugged back of trade. The wimpish Antonio, the love-lorn Bassanio, the women running rings around their men again and again.

Shakespeare’s reputation for relaying the crudeness of man losing to the manipulation of women intact. Portia and Nerissa transforming from girls in town to legal hotshots, the real heroes of the piece. Swapping their dresses and hairpieces for robes and wigs, they must resemble men to use the intelligence of women!

Portia is clear, her voice rings out and we hang on her words. Antonio sings like a bird, beautiful, girlish, self-denying. He lends his money selflessly, he offers his flesh willingly. The scales glisten invitingly.

Shylock is a world apart. He is arresting. He is pathetic. He is the Shylock I see in my head when I read the play. He carries his faith on his shoulders like a giant and he falls under its weight.

This is a difficult tale to tell. Shakespeare forces us to see the trouble caused by bigotry and racial hatred; Tchaikowsky makes us hear it.

This is a sumptuous performance. It is a romp, an orgy and a lesson. ‘My first opera’ says a friend, ‘I love it, it makes me think, it makes me gasp’.

So, what do these productions have in common?

Opera often convolutes and exaggerates a storyline but here, it finds a way through the morass of Shakespeare which is clear and refreshing. It brings characters to life with a pathos I had not expected and with a love for the complexities of the human spirit. Italian for Macbeth, English for Merchant of Venice: the language of the sung word gives depth and feeling where the spoken word cannot.

There is humour, colour and vivacity throughout. The men sink into the shadows of the women as perhaps Shakespeare intended. His leads are visceral, deadly, massive: Lady Macbeth and Shylock are the meat on the bones of these tales.

They contrast and whilst Macbeth often feels disjointed, ugly, unhappily humorous in parts; Merchant of Venice is a comely blend of the bawdy, the raw and the difficult.

See them both, see what you think.

Donald Gordon Theatre

Welsh National Opera:
The Merchant of Venice

André Tchaikowsky | UK Première

16 Sep – 30 Sep 2016

Tickets: £7 – £43 (£8.50 – £44.50*)

Running time: Approximately 3 hours 10 minutes (including 1 interval)

16 & 30 September 2016

Conductor Lionel Friend
Director Keith Warner
Designer Ashley Martin-Davis
Lighting Designer Davy Cunningham
Movement Director Michael Barry
Associate Director Amy Lane

Shylock Lester Lynch / Quentin Hayes
Antonio Martin Wölfel
Lorenzo Bruce Sledge
The Duke of Venice Miklós Sebestyén
Bassanio Mark Le Brocq
Solanio Gary Griffiths
Salerio Simon Thorpe
Gratiano David Stout
Jessica Lauren Michelle
Portia Sarah Castle
Nerissa Verena Gunz

Sung in English with surtitles in English and Welsh.

Supported by the Getty Family as part of British Firsts.

Co-production with the Bregenzer Festspiele, Austria, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music programme & Teatr Wielki, Warsaw.

Review On the Brink Dirty Protest by Helen Joy

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

5 plays held in the basement of a coffee bar in central Cardiff & I am reminded of how much my old town has changed as I wander streets now unfamiliar & ask a dozing homeless person how he is.

This has always been an area where the homeless gathered – public loos & the food-bins of the market & Marksies. One man told me 128 people sleep here sometimes. Change falls out of his hands as he falls asleep. I watch him for a while, concerned, as the night revellers wander by.

Another man, bare-chested & carrying his life on his back, sweeps into the bar as we enjoy our pre-theatre drinks. I am not sure what he says but the crowd is silenced momentarily & once he has gone, someone claims his actions & words as part of the production. I’m not sure I find that funny.

Merlot & speciality beers drunk, we trot downstairs into the basement of the bar & find ourselves in a bright white small room with school chairs & bunting. Very nice neat clever photos of Cardiff streets around us & a feeling of Bohemian comfort pervades.

A bouncy introduction & we’re off.

A rapid monologue performed with the jerky nervousness required of the part. Quick & Dirty, ‘shocking proper shocking, mind’ – it is excellent: a well-written bit of life which leaves us wondering, what are they planning with those nylons?

Then, a couple splitting up. Hard to be different but some good lines here, ‘I don’t like the sound of a world without you in it’ & as the pace picks up & their story unfolds, we feel for them in their, ‘small, lonely & broken’ states.

Ok, so 3 people are sitting together discussing something to do with a college award & it is sometimes satirical, sometimes topical, sometimes political: ‘I do not fuck pigs’ & for some reason, Charterhouse cops it repeatedly. It gets its laughs from an audience who gets it – but I don’t – until the last lines, ‘so, how do you think the interview went?’ ‘I’m going to fucking crucify you’. Difficult to act & a job well done.

So, we have Brian. He apparently takes 19 minutes to produce a stool. This is a seriously clever play. The narrator perambulates around Brian, his date & his life & his life’s end, engaging easily with us, the audience, the inactive voyeurs of a man’s death by fork. I would like to see this again; no, I would love to see this again.

Another play about a couple failing to see eye to eye. Pokemon & pregnancy. There is a really nice use of silence here, a really nice use of few words, gentle body language, excitement, knowledge & heartbreak. Nothing new perhaps but it was moving, it touched me.

Lastly, the builder with the pint glass & the mobile phone. ‘Ah fookin’ needed tha’ & he tells us his story with grace, humour & tremendous pathos. We expect one thing, we get another. I suspect that I am not alone in being upset by this work. It manages to touch on the many angles of life: the dangers in loving someone, the need to keep up appearances, the roles we are all expected to play & the risk of exposure, ‘I knew ah’d look like wha’ ah am’. Brilliant. Truly brilliant.

This is a theatre company well-worth following & perhaps, joining in…

I wander back to my car past the late-night Tesco shoppers & the party-goers, bump into folk I haven’t seen for 17 years & am glad to get home. I wonder how the homeless are faring this muggy night.

 Event:             On the Brink

                        Dirty Protest Theatre Company

Seen:              9pm, 18th August, 2016

Cast:
Non Haf
Hannah Thomas-Davies
Rhys Downing
Richard Elfyn

Directed by Dan Jones

Produced by Angela Harris, Matthew, Catherine and yourself.

The plays in order of appearance:

1) CHIP SHOP DINNER by Remy Beasley
With Non Haf playing Kayleigh-Jade.

2) THE SPLIT by Sian Owen
With Hannah Thomas-Davies playing Ruth & Rhys Downing playing Michael.

3) THE AT SYMBOL by Gary Raymond
With Rhys Downing as A, Non Haf as B & Hannah Thomas-Davies as C.

4) THE SUICIDE OF BRIAN by Justin Cliffe
With Richard Elfyn as Narrator, Rhys Downing as Brian, Hannah Thomas-Davies as Flora & Non Haf as Waitress.

5) WHAT NOW by Connor Allen
With Non Haf as Kate & Rhys Downing as Tommy.

6) ‘THE BOSS’ by Matthew David Scott
With Richard Elfyn as Tony.

Reviewer:      Helen Joy for 3rd Act Critics

Running:        17th August, 2016, at The Pen & Wig, Newport

18TH August, 2016, at Little Man Coffee Company

Cost :                       £6 / ticket in advance, £7 on the door

Links:              http://www.dirtyprotesttheatre.co.uk/comingup/

 

Review Chicago Wales Millenium Centre by Barbara Michaels

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CHICAGO

Music and lyrics: John Kander & Fred Ebb

Book: Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse

Choreographer:  Ann Reinking

Musical Director: Ben Atkinson

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Red-hot and sizzling, the multi-award winning musical Chicago, based on real life events in 1920s US, is back at the Wales Millennium Centre and judging by the bookings as popular as it was when it came here four years ago.  With its theme of greed and corruption, the contemporary relevance doesn’t need to be spelled out although the main action takes place on Death Row, where nightclub singer Roxie Hart is standing trial for shooting her lover and the feisty Velma Kelly is up for double murder.  Strong stuff indeed but the dark undercurrent of the story and plotline cannot be ignored, and neither should it be.

But – moving on – this is musical theatre, so let us not dwell on this.  The wonderful musical numbers, toe-tapping and fast, are what makes this show so popular, along with the fast-paced choreography. Chicago is above all a showcase for the original choreography of the legendary Bob Fosse.  The tunes come thick and fast, plunging straight into it with All That Jazz in Act I and never letting up, and the dancers amazing…

Chicago has been performed on stage countless times, plus the memorable film version starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, and every director understandably wants to put his or her own mark on it in terms of character portrayal.   Hayley Tamaddon is a low key Roxie with an air of fragility about her that belies the fact that this is one tough lady who will stoop as low as it takes to escape the death penalty.  Although Roxie’s story is pivotal, it is her opposite number Velma who is the strongest here and Sophie Carmen-Jones give the role her all in no uncertain manner, displaying a versatility and, in Act II, an acrobatic ability that is truly amazing.  While Carmen-Jones has the character to a T, Tamaddon’s Roxie is at times almost girl-next-door in her naivety.

Alternating in the role of Prison Matron Mama Morton, who believes in looking after ‘her girls’ – as long as her favours are reciprocated – are Gina Murray and Sam Bailey. Murray’s Mama threatened to bring the house down on press night as she belted out the iconic When You’re Good to Mama full throttle.  Great stuff!  A clever little cameo too by Francis Dee as ‘Not  guilty’Hunyak.  On the same evening, Kerry Spark took over the male lead in place of John Patrtridge, who was absent, in playing unscrupulous defence lawer Billy Flynn always on the lookout for number one and lining his pockets by defending about-to-be convicted murderers.  Amos, Neil Ditt is an experienced actor who ‘gets’ the role of Roxie’s husband, the pathetic, incompetent and ignored ‘Mr Cellophane’ (to use the title of his song) off pat.

The staging is atmospheric and costumes a delight for the eye with deftly wielded chorus line feather fans in one of the later scenes, while the  onstage orchestra under musical director Ben Atkinson, is superb, providing not only musical backing throughout but continuing to entertain after the show ends.

Runs until Saturday 30 July 2016