Lauren Ellis - Stretch

I'm Lauren - a theatre loving sixth form student enjoying the opportunity to watch as much as I can.

Young Artists Festival 2016, The Other Room by Lauren Ellis-Stretch

 

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5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Other Room Theatre, founded in 2014, is not only Cardiff’s first pub-theatre, but it is a platform for all theatre creatives in Cardiff to produce, showcase, and be showcased as exciting, emerging artists, in their own right. Also, did I mention that they are Fringe Theatre of the Year? This year’s cohort (the second to tread the, alcoholically doused, boards of Porter’s bar) certainly held a prestige in being there. The festival itself only reflects what The Other Room already embodies in its very existence: collaboration, support and exploration; a platform, a place where you land your first job. As participants of, not only, an intense work-shopping programme but a profit share job, the young artists finished the week with enough of the box office profits to forget the majority of the days before by paying their round at the bar. Young director, Bruno Chavez, (previously involved in the 2015 festival as a writer) beautifully articulated, when expressing his own experiences with TOR, that ‘The festival is a purified version of what theatre is.’ Bruno, as well as young writer Susan Monkton (previously an acting participant), are proof of TOR’s undeniable devotion to their community. And, after director Kate Wasserberg’s declared, on the very first day, ‘You’re our guys now’ the sentiment became only more solidified.

In order to respond to the festival with the respect and admiration that I hold for it, and everyone involved, demanded from me was a personal investment – a vulnerability and an immersion. I began writing a play about garden gnomes, I played a ‘dramatised’ game of ‘Never have I ever’, and began to develop a directorial eye for pioneering, new theatre. But, I never f***ed the chair… So, yes, I now hold very little objectivity, but the The Other Room’s dedicated ethos in its love for artists is infectious.

It seems only apt that TOR team would open the festival, Monday morning, with an introduction to starting a company from scratch. Something emphasised by every industry professional from Tamara Harvey (Artistic Director of Theatr Clwyd) to Gemma McAvoy (Agent from Emptage and Hallett) was the roots accessible to an emerging artist, and a desire to empower the individuals. Unfortunately, if I were to delve as far as I would like, into all the insightful workshops we have experienced this week, this would end up resembling a governmental report, so that’s not happening. However, highlighted by Tamara and Kate was a need for equality within our industry (not only as female directors but as parents, regardless of gender); it is something that I’d like to reiterate. Following http://www.pipacampaign.com/, provides support to the Parents in Performing Arts campaign, allowing equal opportunities and access for parents and carers working in the performing arts. Now, for any aspiring theatre makers, to gain just some of the knowledge and empowerment that the chosen 40 artists involved in the festival have acquired, the following websites are not to be overlooked: https://www.equity.org.uk/home/ and http://www.arts.wales/. Of course, you could just sign up for next year’s festival. Stay posted via http://www.otherroomtheatre.com/en/.

Acting, writing, stage management and directing are professions massively stigmatised, and consequently individuals succumb to a generalised stereotype. The stereotype is wholly valid… Stereotypically, they are rule-breaker. Artists – they deify revolution, eccentricity and creation! Required for such demanding crafts are: specifically unique individuals, indispensable in their, collaborative, quest for creation. So, these people, that is what this article and this festival is all about.

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Most of the week culminates to the formation of the artistic companies and their performances of new, ten minute, plays written by acclaimed playwrights; Joel Horwood, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Lisa Jen, Alun Saunders and Sam Burns. Shadowing these companies has not only been insightful, but a lot of fun! At this point I would like to throw a shout out to Porthcawl Comp who let me chill in a bar all week, in the name of work experience – you the real MVP. So, without any further ado, here’s what the companies did, and how that became to be.

 

Mirror Loop – Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

A primal uproar against society’s shredding and crippling expectations. As women continue to precipitate actions of self-deprecation and disbelief in ability we subject the next generation to the cycle. The unity of women in a palindrome of a script. Of course, we could also see the piece as a comparison between the mid-life crisis and the intoxicated, purposeless 20 something.

What really struck me about this company, led by Seren Vickers, was the call for an open dialogue and conversation. As a response to this, actors, Andrea Edwards and Alexandra Lewis clearly embedded their souls, in a devotion to the truth within this piece of feminist prose. The scattering of a character’s direction, thoughts and inanimate props seamlessly fuel an uprising for something more.

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Look Up – Nicola Reynolds

Thought provokingly normal. All of us have had conversations which hold a clear resemblance to that of these characters’. We all have experienced, or can acknowledge, a friendship with unexplainable depth; how much do we, and can we, actually understand? And, should we be questioning the societal demands to talk ‘Game of Thrones’ around confessional suicidal thoughts. Susie Gale and Lauren Page, in the space of days, were able to develop an unwavering bond that bred a very real and tangible world within The Other Room.

The bleakness of an exposed hate, post-EU Referendum, the indifference to prior civil awakenings, and the objectification of a society’s primped and preened as sexual props. A constant agitation, an uprising within one’s self simply leaving only an ugly aggressor. ‘I’m twenty two and I’m so tired.’ It isn’t too extravagant of a statement, really.

A piece demanding in such an investment from one’s self (a vulnerability to be showcased) also demanded a directorial nurturing – with compassionately insistent nudges Nicola Reynolds urged and empowered her actors to be able to ‘pick it up,’ by themselves – resulting in a flawless performance.

The Ugly Pen – Sam Burns

The timeless story of how ugly boy meets ugly girl.

In a societal info structure of discrimination and oppression those who stand up are the ‘ugos’. As an audience positioned to be inactive, unaffected ‘tourists’, Sam Burns and this company dare to question our responsibility to accept and cherish all within our society. So, the cast defiant, and unrefined, challenge us. As the four cast members stand within their chalked ‘ugly pen’, their entitled ‘environment’, what cannot be suppressed is their voice of antagonism, as the characters insuppressibly narrate their stories.

For this cast, perhaps the most blatant, if not most challenging, of obstacles was their own attractiveness. Yet, alike a blinding charisma – counteracting a director’s, somewhat, restricting vision – their gurning faces shone through a window (coverall hole) of opportunity.

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You Make Me – Joel Horwood

Tobias Weatherburn and Rebecca Ormorod are tireless fabricators of energy. Director Emily Stroud offered an open plane for exploration – evident in a mutual vision of their story as a (brave) freed movement allowed actors to thrive.

Horwood’s script holds matter to the derailed relationship – what will be the inerasable snapshots in the aftermath? Nostalgia has become a cultural phenomenon. Facebook memories, snapchat, timehop, Horwood and the company suggest that it’s not just a self-indulgence but a self-inflicted spiralling of regret and, with a scattering of joy, an inevitable sadness. With the cast’s domineering presence it hauls an immediacy of passion.

Frozen – Lisa Jen

Strikingly real, relevant and receptive. Bruno Chavez simplistically stages the offensive stamp of a Western civilisation upon a broken people. Through its dialogue is an exposed brutality, torment and desperation, captivatingly delivered in Melanie Steven’s (symbolically) broken English, but through Disney’s lyrical genius it swells in gravity.

My first interaction with this group included a frenzied, exploration of youth with cast member Carys McQueen. Yes, we danced to ‘For the First Time in Forever’, and it was art. But, now, ‘Open up the gate’ will never sound as self-possessed, or melodic, to audiences as it was before. From young Rima’s wandering escapism to her mother’s entrapment, both actors selflessly stripped inhibitions raw. A desperation – in Carys’ fixation and Melanie’s stare -, and an intensity of character than only a subjection to abject horror can bring. An essential provocation.

Blue Sky Thinking – Alun Saunders

People, bacon, insecurity. What does any of it really mean? Seriously, it would make my job a lot easier. However, in the uncertainty is its charm. Frederick Wienand confines his actors to a self-containment of character as they interweave monologue. The performance itself exudes an air of philosophical debate. Through all the societal questioning, the cast master a comedy eased from simplicity and truthfulness. A coincidental humour in coincidental lives.

‘What is in the script, and what have we invented?’ A question posed by, actor and mentor to the artists, Steffan Rhodri. Not only for a progression in the script’s direction, but also as an existential question for the characters. What boundaries do draw, what mechanisms do we develop, how do we structure humanity?  Engaging and endearing.

A Play That Isn’t About Sex – Joel Horwood

I have spent days in tormenting deliberation as to how I could express my love for this group without sounding perverted… the eternal struggle. This group exposed themselves in a way in which I have never seen people soberly do – this circle of trust stimulated by director Duncan Hallis was almost a testament to humanity.

Experimentation and exploration was key to this piece. A use of physicality, embedded and emphasised from the first rehearsal, enabled the symbolising of tyrannical power, or down-trodden vulnerability, or a corrupted youthfulness. Sex in the grand scheme of things? It embodies everyone. It embodies our everyday lives. War, children, food, euphoria, disturbance. The opting to possess a sense of ambiguity within the piece maximised an accessibility to it, as well an acceptance of murky circumstances. Seven exceptional performers with one chair, in unity, highlighted an unquestioned societal morality in the availability of sex as an inanimate exercise. At what age did we begin to sexualise bananas?

‘A Play That Isn’t About Sex’ – Allowing ourselves to feel in an overwhelmingly constructed reality. But, perhaps it’s easier to do when ‘The chair doesn’t have eyes.’

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Too often forgotten, but never to be unappreciated in their abilities and dedication are the stage managers. Dunyasha Barrow and Amy Arkle-Jones (mentored by, the festival’s Stage Manager, Steffi Pickering) managed two groups each, in which they took a responsibility for; the sourcing of props and costumes, lighting and sound – all that is technical. Rehearsal reports and call sheets. It is all mind- numbing, so here’s an homage to you guys. Also, there’s young artistic lighting designer Alia Stephen who devotedly lighted every single performance with skillful insight. I’ll move on now, because we all know you’re not ones to relish in the spotlight.

Writers – ever enigmatic and elusive – were to emerge on the Friday morning with their plays to offer, each in their own specifically self-deprecating way. From Monday’s workshop with playwright Mathew Bulgo – hospitable in its musing silence and offerings of Haribo Starmix – the young writers began to develop (or birth) their stories. Bulgo, as well as playwrights Gary Owen and Alun Saunders, tutored their writers through the struggles of writers block and finding their own voice. Seamlessly flowing words, the visualisation of text/the creation of something ‘watchable’ – the pinnacle of the craft. They are all very smart, but in addition to that, writers strip themselves to expose a vulnerability, which many artists would never dare to do. But, it’s the sharing – that’s the scary part. But, the love they receive from those they share their pieces with – that’s what they chase. From the corner that I peered from, from the bar stool that I perched on, in every initial reading there was a warmth and a collective of smiles as the gravity of what was happening, and what these pieces symbolised, was digested.

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Warlines – Holly Fry

Holly, in response to meeting a sincere and personable tramp in London, took to chronicle the strands of such an unfortunate life. A truthfully cutting Welsh voice. In its simplicity and cheery pessimism, a silenced story and people rise. Insightful and intelligent.

Angus – Bruno Chavez

Daring, unconventional and shameless.

Schizophrenia – a mystery to many in its misrepresentation, and ‘taboo’ nature – is tormenting in its clarity, in this striking piece. Demanding in investment, a menagerie of individual response, as well as embodiment and exploration surfaces, for an audience, as well as performers. In their addressing, the audience are torn from their self-contained bubble, and seized.

Service Please – Melanie Stevens

Melanie Stevens sings the anthem of a people – a people who work in customer service. With a singeing relatability and humour, Melanie encompassed the audience with ease. Within a simple reminder that waitresses are people what surfaces is a profoundly honest, and suppressed outrage.

Always Tuesday – Emily Garside

A real world full of real people. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine.

Emily Garside offers a special relationship – with dark intricacies – and it’s fascinating. Do we just comply with society’s rules of relationships/connecting? And, how meaningful can these ‘approved’ relationships be?

Through art and cake we are happy – discussion or involvement in a form of creation, beauty and self-indulgence. (Garside’s piece, intended or not, truly embodies the Young Artists Festival itself.) Of course, vomit too – as a subject – can fasten a connection with human kind. But, through a fear of rejection, or being denied, we discuss soaps instead of mental illness.

‘I’ve tried mindfulness, but I prefer vodka’

Bloody Paperwork – Lawrence Quilty

Is there truly a humanity behind politics? Politicians. What are they pushed to? Trained to be? I ask because I have no idea. Like, how I assume, many of us feel about politics.

Something highlighted in a rehearsal of the piece was the character’s movement. Confined by so many bodies Aiden Glass (MP) can only infiltrate or resign – a life in parliament. But, these people have families. Those families are hounded as the tabloid media stir and agitate within the pot-holes of fear within a nation. Corruption has seeped so deep it has stained even the bed-rock of our democratic nation.

Quilty skilfully probes into the intrigue of a plagued and destructive system.

Who Was Howell Davies? – Dai Hill

Death is awkward. Where is the line when discussing the dead? Perceptive in the exploration of a relationship between father and children, and with a compassion documents the life of a man plagued by his hindrances. A blinding ignorance and naivety in Hill’s characters sources a golden Welsh humour. But, with it comes the undertones of a despondent, misogynist Welsh working class.

Beautiful – Susan Monkton

A conflict of interest. Rape. Who is to blame?

An issue as relevant today as it was for previous generations. A simple misunderstanding, illustrated through destructive, self-assured monologues. Monkton’s twining of dialogue highlights a desired gender equality disregarded by the sports industry. Class, sexism, mental illness all suppressing; whether they silence or provoke is profoundly individual. The actors sat, inactive. In its rehearsed reading Emily Stroud brought a required simplicity to the staging; it is how it is deciphered – true and false.

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Lastly, I would just like to thank all the wonderful artists who welcomed me to create with them, and shared their work with me. I don’t doubt that I will see you and your work sometime in the near future, hopefully in The Other Room.

Review Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre by Lauren Ellis-Stretch

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre Company skilfully entwine all that is existential – penis jokes to political anguish – through one puppet called Fred. Just go and see it for yourself – It’s apparent simplicity and inclusivity (perfectly mirrored in The Other Room) is its charm.

Advocating the collaborative process, not only does the Director (Ben Pettitt-Wade) direct, but he also showcases this role within the play. Fred’s sublime puppetry and movement shows an inspired devotion from Dan McGowan, Morgan Thomas and Craig Quat through harmonious craftsmanship. However, some of the acting (rooted in improvisation) was, consequently, forced but then, quite suddenly, frenziedly unrestrained – as actors stormed out of doors zealous and soap-operaesque. Yet, blazingly Dan McGowan projects his Fred. In fact, it is far too easy to allow yourself immersion in, solely, his performance. Do resist the temptation, the spectacle of meeting Fred is within its unification for artistic illusion/societal awakening.

Through Fred, parallels are seamlessly drawn to today’s political climax as the defenceless, in an increasingly self-serving society, are subjected to the status of a puppet. Fred is begrudgingly bearing witness to the rise of the mercenary, or consequently lumped in a box. ‘Don’t blame me, blame the system’ penetrates an air of, too blissful, comedic ease.

Pettitt-Wade’s illustration of a messy, ‘self-directed’ life branches from the flourishing/twining set design to the incorporating of the deceivingly metaphoric. A lot of life is incomparable, and unexplainable to others; the cast and crew seem to relish in this conception – ‘Rice is water.’ It rains harder on some.

For the cast, sustaining an audience’s full submission with such taxing content: an unfulfilling, tragically ‘acceptable’ and some-what accepted lifestyle of the oppressed is hard – especially as Meet Fred is a play only wholly satisfying after being digested. So, take friends, chuckle at the lavish littering of expletives, and take it for what it is. An oppressed puppet, an oppressed, emerging under-class, or a shout into the void? Hijinx are pioneering in their ability to make innovative, intelligent, inclusive theatre. Challenging stigma; enabling their disabled performers.

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Meet Fred
Venue: The Other Room
Dates: 28th
Author: Devised by Hijinx Theatre
Director: Ben Pettitt-Wade
Ben Pettitt-Wade: Director
Ceri James: Lighting Designer
Tom Ayres: Technician
Martin Vick: Stage Manager
Dan McGowan: Puppeteer & Voice of ‘Fred’
Morgan Thomas: Puppeteer
Craig Quat: Puppeteer
Lindsay Foster: Lucille and The Maker
Richard Newnham: Jack
Tom Espina & Giulia Innocenti of Blind Summit: Puppetry Dramaturg
Running time: 60mins

Review Before I Leave National Theatre Wales by Lauren Ellis-Stretch

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

National Theatre Wales soar as their revere for a nation of unified pride reigns in a more increasingly inclusive Welsh theatre, at the Sherman Theatre.

From first glance Before I Leave is a story of Alzheimer’s – inevitably sad and scattered with a respectably predictable style of humour. However, with a wonderfully assured cast, a truthful direction, and a truly vibrant script, a brewing passion of a profound Welsh musicality triumphs! Rocky’s war-cry of ‘Why can’t we give love one more chance?’ encompasses this performance for me. We all can appreciate the desperate actions of a character put ‘Under Pressure’.

To quote playwright Patrick Jones “This play is a testament to the healing power of song” From the perspective of, debatably, the youngest person in the audience on Tuesday night, regardless of my cultural experience – and knowledge of The Jam or Neil Diamond – I (like the entire audience) can acknowledge that music has an ability, if somewhat exploited in this piece, to evoke our human longing for nostalgia, understanding, belonging and escape. The Before I Leave chorus and choir added a beauty, in its sentiment, to a pop-rock enthused performance.

Director Mathew Dunster champions empathetic and honest portrayals, through an admiration for ‘the people’. From Desmond Barrit’s unapologetic portrayal of an ex-policeman embodying a life of continuous conflict. Celia Hewitt’s sorrowful, and enlightening, Isabelle, and Dafydd Hywel’s exulted grit in Rocky – who illuminates the truth behind a too well-known Welsh figure. But, Martin Marquez’s Joe – a slowly fading rocker, unsure of what he’s raging at anymore – makes for a seemingly effortless and encompassing performance, and perhaps, as a result, the most under-rated of the evening.

Dunster’s direction – of meandering crossovers and the adopting of minimalistic solutions – highlights a simplicity that poignantly reflects a nation of loss. This constant interchanging of time, characters and setting reinforces the spirit of a community continuing to live. And, the audience, intended or not, are coaxed to ‘power through’ the surges, and droughts, of a zealous intensity.

Jones’ sincere, and deeply-rooted play is confirmed in the understanding of its disease. Abrupt, and ambling, scenes are a mere portal into the scattered objectives of a chaotic (real) life.

Anna Fleischle recreates all too familiar settings. Chairs striking – in their primary colours – plonked, to animate waning lives, on the uninspiring mesh of carpet. Seamlessly, a reflection of the struggle to express vividity in an increasingly taxed and drained Welsh society, as well as those plagued by Alzheimer’s, can be discovered in a tragically governmental building – a Merthyr library. Straker’s poignant projections of our green valley, its ever-present brutality, and our glorious dead, succeed in capturing the tensions of an ‘evolving’ Wales.

Before I Leave is painstakingly perceptive – yet the light never fails to pierce through its shadows. National Theatre Wales commanded the audience to their feet and left them humming.

Theatre
Before I Leave
Venue: Sherman Theatre
Dates: 27 May – 11 June, PN 31st May
Director: Matthew Dunster
Written by: Patrick Jones
Design: Anna Fleischle
Technical: Heddwyn Davies/Andy Evans (Sound), Dyfan Jones (Music), Angharad Matthews (Costume), Dick Straker (Video designer), Joe Fletcher (Lighting)
Cast includes: Desmond Barrit (Evan), Olwen Rees (Isabelle), Dafydd Hywel (Rocky), Llinos Daniel (Gemma), Martin Marquez (Joe), Melanie Walters (Dyanne) and Oliver Wood (Scott)

Running time: 2hrs 30min

Review Bird Sherman Cymru by Lauren Ellis-Stretch

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5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Ava (Georgia Henshaw) and Tash (Rosie Sheehy) are young, optimistic and disfigured teens. Their friendship and integral bond is rooted within the whirlwind of complicated lives and a callous society. As Ava dashes and flitters off every object, person and syllable, Tash is always at heights, dancing at the edge of the world – awaiting flight.

Never have I experienced such an encompassing performance. I strolled into the Sherman, and left sprinting. But, regardless of my train times, Bird is a play that melts the facades and the barriers, and leaves you trying to fly – in all senses of the word.

An elderly man, as the audience were sipping the last dregs of their wine/settling, I heard from the front row, turn to his wife and speculate ‘I think it’s a comedy’. ‘I don’t think so mate’ I quipped, in thought. However, now I see that Bird cannot be constrained to a genre, or what people want it to be. Ava – stunningly performed by Georgia Henshaw – has an infectious spirit and an undeniably truthful perception of life. Resulting in imposing moments of frolic and uncontained rage, I didn’t feel the back of my chair once. Rosie Sheehy, too, must be applauded. Her exploration of the depth within the thirteen-year-old was wonderfully perceptive and chilling.

Katherine Chandler is a writer who sees the world empathetically and urges us all to do so. Desperation is far too attainable as the play’s women appease the men surrounding them. Does the honesty of ‘It just got too much,’ vindicate all the vodka, and the manipulation, and the self-serving? Chandler holds up a mirror to the real world and the audience are almost blinded by the familiar reflections.

Close to the surface lurks the grit and tensions of the women’s lives. The set designed by Kenny Miller, ingeniously incorporates this theme as the characters stand upon the yellowing, moulded tiles of a swimming pool beneath a sky of industrial light.

‘Bird’ is a sharply directed play – so successfully done that it’s easy to forget it had to be constructed that way. Rachel O’Riordan presents a piece of astoundingly compelling theatre as every silence, gesture and intonation propels the audience deeper within the crevices of the narrative.

Very rarely do you leave the theatre in, slightly paralysing, awe. A play as impacting as ‘Bird’ is not to be missed!