(Please note this review contains detailed discussion of the play’s plot) Based on the hugely popular novel by Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner, adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler, had a lot to prove. Despite enjoying two runs in the West End in 2016 and ’17, I wasn’t as enamoured with the piece as many other audience members. Having studied the novel at A-Level, the boldness of the story and the narrative poetry which I had loved, weren’t quite captured in the theatrical language of this adaptation. Though it still packs an emotional punch and features innovative staging ideas, overall the play felt a little slow and watered down.
The story is narrated by Amir (David Ahmad) as a grown man, recounting his life in almost verbatim style, which, as a confessional story is a sensible choice but this sometimes takes away from the drama of the moment. Told in chronological order, the play begins with Amir’s childhood in Afghanistan where, as a wealthy Sunni Pashtun, he enjoyed a comfortable life and spent his days playing with his father’s servant, Hassan (Andrei Costin), ostracised for being a Hazara Shiite. On the fateful day of the kite tournament, Amir witnesses a horrific assault on his best friend, and his passivity haunts him decades later; when a phone call from an old friend comes out of the blue, Amir travels from his new home in California to Pakistan in an attempt to finally atone for his sins.
The whole production of this adaptation is minimally staged. The music is mostly provided by onstage tabla player, Hanif Khan, as well as Tibetan singing bowls used to create atmosphere. The live music is one of the play’s shining factors and it draws us into the world immediately.
Barney George’s set is equally sparse: just a wooden floor which curves like a skateboard ramp and alternating patterns projected onto a central rug. The backdrop changes colour and is decked with mounted wooden posts to vaguely resemble city skylines, but neither adds much to the production. There are also two giant canvas kites which swing down to conceal scenes and characters, which are effective, and which also show us Amir’s childhood pomegranate tree and later, Hassan’s death, through William Simpson’s projection design.
The sparseness of the stage works for the more distressing scenes where we only need to see characters and their expressions, but it makes the joyous ones like Amir and Soraya’s (Lisa Zahra) wedding feel a bit flat. Kitty Winter’s dancing is not quite lively enough to bring up the energy, nor is Charles Balfour’s lighting and Drew Baumohl’s sound really utilised to inject a party atmosphere either. This theme continues with the kite flying scene; there were only two tissue-paper kites, and they were clutched, not flown, in the hands of ensemble cast members, while Amir and Hassan’s kite was just mimed. The whole cast did do a good job of creating the tournament’s excitable tone and the use of several large, wooden Schwirrbögen, swung to create the sound of the wind, was very effective, but I wanted more kites – whether projected, or suspended in the auditorium. Now I wasn’t expecting a Mary Poppins moment, but I had hoped for much more of a spectacle for the novel’s most iconic scene.
The performances are strong, with David Ahmad bearing most of the weight as the central character who almost never leaves the stage; he does a great job of capturing Amir’s selfish, self-pitying persona and is given plenty of fodder to do it with routinely interjected monologues. Andrei Costin is well cast as the faithful lamb Hassan, and he brings real pathos with Sorab; having Costin play both characters is a clever yet logical choice on director Giles Croft’s part, fitting in with the idea that father and son share an unmistakable resemblance. The decision to represent the characters as children through adopting somewhat whiny children’s voices, however, is a bit of a misstep, sounding inauthentic and becoming a little grating. Child-like physically (which Costin and Ahmad already perform well), coupled with simply speaking with an Afghan accent would have sufficed, and would still have contrasted with adult, American-accented Amir; Hassan’s voice need not contrast anyway as we never see him grow into a man. Dean Rehman is also great at grounding the piece as Amir’s father, Baba, bringing a nuance to the role with both power and sensitivity.
The most harrowing moments such as Assef’s assault on Hassan and Sorab’s attempted suicide are neatly hidden or dealt with offstage but still manage to evoke a few audible gasps and genuine sniffling from the audience. The subject matter is difficult enough that visual representation is not needed but I did want Sorab’s dancing scene to be more poignant. In the book, it’s an exploitative and sinister moment where Amir realises the suffering of Hassan has multiplied in his son, and is the catalyst for Amir finally fighting for someone other than himself. In the same vein, author Hosseini’s Assef is more sadistic – leering yet captivating – but Bhavin Bhatt plays him with a gravelly voice which makes him almost a caricature. Despite his strong portrayal as the teenage bully, Bhatt doesn’t quite manage to evolve the character convincingly into the wild, paedophilic fanatic. The fighting (directed by Philip D’Orléans), even with a knuckleduster in the mix, is also a bit lacklustre.
There is one incredibly emotional scene in the hospital however, where Amir prays for Sorab’s recovery on a prayer mat made by a rectangle of light, and where Ahmad gives a tear-jerking performance of desperation. There’s also a touching point at the end where Amir finally stands up to Soraya‘s racist father (Ian Abeysekera) and shows Sorab how to fly a kite, causing a flicker of a smile on the boy’s face. Amir asks Sorab if he would like him to run to capture the kite they have won together and Sorab nods; Amir tells him, ‘For you, a thousand times over’ – a moving and cyclical moment of atonement which I feel should have been the final line.
The Kite Runner is a faithful adaptation with a hard-working ensemble cast and great use of use music, but it’s a little bland and lacks the vitality of its original medium. It is well-crafted and unspools nicely over its 130 minutes, but never fully takes off and gives us the spectacle we need.
Hi Luke, great to meet you, can you tells us about yourself and your work?
I’m Luke Seidel-Haas, I’m a Cardiff based theatre maker and one of the founding members of new theatre company CB4. CB4 Theatre was founded a couple of years ago; we’re all Drama graduates of the University of South Wales and having done our separate things for a few years we found ourselves gravitating back to Wales and wanting to create theatre together. Right now, we’re about to perform our debut show “Back to Berlin” at The Other Room at Porter’s Cardiff. It’s a show that I’ve written and am performing in and is inspired by a true story my dad told me, about when he travelled back to Berlin to see the Berlin Wall come down in 1989. The more we spoke about his story, the more we realised how many parallels it had with what’s going on at the moment across Europe and around the world; while the story is set 30 years ago, so many of the themes feel just as relevant now as they did back then.
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
Right now I’m listening to Kanye West’s most recent album Jesus Is King. It’s quite different to his previous albums, and is more influenced by gospel than his rap/hip hop roots. Kayne is often unpredictable, and I love that with every new album he releases you never quite know what you’re going to hear next – Jesus is King is no exception.
When I first heard it, I wasn’t sure about it, but after a couple of listens I think it’s a really interesting album which uses a type of music not often heard in the mainstream. I saw Kanye headline Glastonbury in 2015, and it was one of the most bizarre, intense but unforgettable performances I’ve ever been to.
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?
I Choose Noise by Hybrid
Hybrid are a Welsh electronic music group who blend electronica and house with cinematic and orchestral stylings. Most of their music doesn’t have words, and so is really useful to use in a rehearsal studio to help devise or work on physical or movement based sections of work. Their music is often used by companies like Frantic Assembly, as well as on movie soundtracks. I could have chosen from a few albums, but “I choose Noise” is just a really varied album which has often helped me out of a rut when devising.
Volume 3: The Subliminal Verses by Slipknot
This album resonates with me more for personal reasons. As an angsty teenager whose wardrobe had a distinct lack of colour it was probably one of the albums I had on repeat more than any other. To some people Slipknot just sounds like angry noise, but I think this album manages to mix that aggression and anger with amazing hooks, guitar solos and powerful choruses. There are also a few tracks like Circle and Vermillion Pt. 2 which are unexpectedly melodic and emotional.
The World of Hans Zimmer by Hans Zimmer
Okay I’ll admit, this one is a bit of a cheat – I couldn’t choose just one album by this legendary composer. Hans Zimmer has written some of the most iconic music in modern cinema including The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, Pirates of the Caribbean, True Romance and so many more. His scores are so emotionally evocative, and to me they resonate because of how they help to drive plot, develop tension or reflect the underlying emotion of the scene. With a lot of films, the soundtrack ends up feeling like an accompaniment – something which adds a bit more flavour to the film, but that they could manage without. Zimmer’s best soundtracks rise far above this and become a vital part of the whole experience.
Angles by Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip
This album resonates with me because of its mix of the deeply political with the outright silly. “Angles” manages to go from a reflection on the death of Tommy Cooper, to rapping the periodic table, to A Letter from God to Man, to a film noir style existential rap. Hip hop often unfairly suffers with the stereotype that it’s all about “guns, bitches and bling”, and before listening to this album I was probably wrongly was under that impression too. This album opened my eyes to how different genres can be used to make a political point. Scroobius Pip also has a fantastic beard.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by The 1975
The 1975 are a band that have really developed their sound over the course of each album. As a left-wing millennial, I think A Brief Inquiry… manages to brilliantly tap into a lot of anxieties that people of my age have. Songs like Love It If We Made It and Give Yourself a Try are on the surface catchy pop tunes, but the political and social messages they carry are a testament to the strength of the song writing. They are also a band that seem to (as much as possible) practice what they preach and are leading the way in terms of making live music and touring as eco-friendly as possible.
Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?
Love It If We Made It from A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by The 1975
To me, the lyrics of this song are some of the most powerful of any pop song released in recent years. The song leaps from talking about Donald Trump and Kayne West, to Heroin addiction via the Jonestown massacre and dead migrants washing up on beaches, but despite its rather bleak lyrics and content, its refrain of “I’d love it if we made it” makes the piece feel hopeful and optimistic. It’s a great piece of music if you want to get yourself angry about the state of the world, but in a way that makes you want to take action to make things better.
Back to Berlin By CB4 Theatre is running at The Other Room @ Porters from 3-6th March 2020. Tickets are available here
In November 2018 we published an article in response to the new Arts Council Wales Corporate Plan “For the benefit of all..” with a range of contributions from Creatives in Wales. We revisit this area in the updated article below with responses from one of the creatives featured in the article as well as an additional contribution.
Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”
We were very pleased to see some of the priority areas in the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”
In particular we were interested in Commitment 2 below
We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.
ACW then go onto make a series of intentions (below) for where they want to be in 2023 (5 years)
We will be able to demonstrate clearly that all our funding programmes promote and contribute to equality and diversity
There will be a narrowing of the gap between those in the most and least affluent social sectors as audiences and participants
We will develop the creative work of disabled artists by funding “Unlimited” commissions and developing a scheme similar to “Ramps on the Moon” operated by Arts Council England
We want to introduce a “Changemakers” scheme placing BAME and disabled people in senior executive positions in the arts
We want to see a doubling of the number of disabled people in the arts workforce
We want to see a doubling of the number of Black and Minority ethnic backgrounds in the arts workforce
We want to have introduced an Arts Council Apprenticeships scheme designed to provide opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds
We will have achieved a trebling of the number of BAME and disabled and on APW boards of governance
I struggle to fully engage this as a response. My recent experience has revealed that there is certainly a surge to include diversity in all its forms on boards and in creative spaces and projects. However, this new ‘interest’ feels more like organisations ‘needing’ to diversify rather than ‘wanting’ to diversify, in order to secure their future and funding. I am hopeful though.
Artistic Director, Taking Flight Theatre Company
What a year of change 2019 has been. For Taking Flight it has seen the company move away from the annual Shakespeare production to more indoor, venue-based work.
peeling by Kaite O’Reilly, opened on International Women’s Day in March at The Riverfront, Newport and then toured Wales and England and was a huge success earning 4 and 5* reviews.
The Guardian stating “Accessible theatre? Do it properly – do it like this”. Following this Taking Flight was invited to Grenzenlos Kulture festival in Mainz, Germany as an example of best practice in accessibility. It was a huge tour and highlighted once more the inaccessibility of much of Wales; accessible accommodation is very hard to find, and some venues struggled to meet our access riders. However, this did lead to some very inventive solutions involving temporary dressing rooms created with flats, curtains and even a marquee! Obviously not the ideal but with our hugely creative stage management team always looking for solutions rather than the problems and the support of venues we made it work. High applause to Angela Gould at RCT Theatres for her work in this department.
One of our lovely actors toured with her dog who was a lovely addition to the team. Max is a therapy dog; many places we visited were only familiar with guide dogs, which made us realise how much there is to learn about the different types of assistance dogs.
Everything we learnt during this extensive tour will feed into the work we have been developing towards a scheme like the Ramps on the Moon initiative. A scheme like this can never be replicated, but the interest and passion from venues in Wales to be involved is overwhelming. Creu Cymru, hynt and Taking Flight have been in ongoing discussions about ways to make this happen. We read with interest that it was also a priority for ACW and have begun conversations with them around a similar scheme. As we have been researching and pushing for this to happen since ‘Ramps’ began in 2016, we are passionate that this becomes a reality. Taking Flight has just received funding for their next production, Road, at Parc and Dare, RCT Theatres and we hope this partnership will be the first step. Taking Flight will give support to participating venues to be confident to manage and produce inclusive work, to provide excellent access and a warm welcome to all- both audiences and creatives.
While peeling was out on the road in the Autumn, we also remounted the hugely successful and totally gorgeous You’ve got Dragons. After a run at WMC we hit the road again for a UK tour including a week run at Lyric Hammersmith which was almost sold out and incredibly well received. The desire for inclusive and accessible work for young people is growing. Watch this space for more news on You’ve Got Dragons next adventure.
Taking Flight has often dreamt of setting up a Deaf- led Youth Theatre for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing young people and with funding from BBC Children in Need we have finally done it. Led by the tremendous Stephanie Back in BSL and English, the youth theatre began last week and the results are already fabulous. The Wales Millennium Centre are our amazing venue partner and host the weekly sessions for D/deaf children aged 4-18. We have been overwhelmed with interest in this project, demonstrating that this has been needed in Wales for a long time.
There has also been a surge in interest from companies and individuals wanting to consider access while writing funding applications. There is a general excitement around making work accessible. There are some brilliant intentions and I’ve had exciting conversations with companies about different types of access and have been able to recommend consultants and access professionals.
The ground has been fertile for change for some time and there is much more inclusive and accessible work being created here than when we first started 12 years ago. Theatres are also much more interested in programming diverse work and many have invested in Deaf Awareness training with Taking Flight (Led by Steph Back).
There is a real desire to diversify audiences and welcome them to theatre spaces. Taking Flight’s next symposium on 28th Feb at Park and Dare RCT theatres on Relaxed Performances brings the brilliant Jess Thom, Touretteshero to Wales to discuss ways to provide the warmest possible welcome to those who may find the traditional etiquette of theatre a problem.
There has been a surge of work featuring D/deaf and disabled performers, productions like Jonny Cotsen’s Louder is Not Always Clearer, Leeway Productions Last Five Years and Illumine’s 2023 really engaged new audiences and the venues have really built on this success. There have been more productions that embed access in a creative way, a gorgeous example in Gods and Kings by Fourinfour productions with integrated BSL from Sami Thorpe. I had lots of fun working with Julie Doyle and Likely Story integrating BSL interpreter Julie Doyle into Red. Companies are choosing to interpret, audio describe or caption all the shows in a run rather than just one which is really encouraging and promoting more equality of access to shows.
So, the will to make accessible work is absolutely there, the best of intentions are definitely there and, now the funding for access is factored into budgets, the funds are usually there. However, why is it still access that falls through the cracks, gets pushed aside or forgotten as a production approaches opening night? I hear stories of interpreters and audio describers who can’t get into a rehearsal space to prep or are placed somewhere on stage that is neither aesthetically pleasing nor practical. It can still sometimes feel like access is something that needs to be ticked off a list in order to fulfil a funding application.
I am absolutely sure that this is not the intention; but we are all so overstretched, one person is often doing multiple jobs (especially in small companies) and when no one is directly responsible for access or it simply forms ‘part’ of someone’s role. So those best intentions and exciting plans are really hard to fully achieve. Taking Flight are exploring this lack of provision for access co – ordination with Bath Spa University so watch this space for the results of our research… The next generation of theatre makers are coming, and they really care about making work that can be accessed by all – that makes me happy.
1) getthechance.wales/2019/10/30/review-heartsong-by-tj-klune-by-sian-thomas/. I was so excited for this book to come out and it really delivered. It’s on one of my favourite series with an exceptional way of world building and atmosphere, and the way the characters act towards each other and their surroundings is incredible. It’s funny, loving, and full of action, and I love it.
3) getthechance.wales/2019/03/02/review-how-to-train-your-dragon-3-by-sian-thomas/. End of an era! I loved this series when I was in my early teens and kept a close hold of it all the way until the end. I cried when I saw it in the cinema, at the end, when Hiccup and Toothless went their separate ways and then saw each other again a good number of years later. An amazing film about people and creatures and their relationships. Also, visually stunning. Animation is a top tier medium.
Personal: I finished my first year of university this year, and did so well in my classes that the university gave me a cash prize. There was a chance for people to win £1000 by getting a really good mark for their first year, and I had no idea about it until I received an email saying I’d won. Which was amazing news! It made me really proud of my both my actual work and my work ethic from the first year. It was a big academic confidence boost!
With such a cornucopia of goodies on offer theatre-wise during the past year, it isn’t easy to single out just three. For my money, two of these have to be musical theatre productions: Kinky Boots and Les Misérables, both staged in the Donald Gordon Theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre.
First on my list has to be Les Misérables. Cameron Mackintosh’s production, first staged
almost a decade ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Les Mis,
once again proved what a sure-fire winner it is. Grand theatre at its best, top
of the tree for music, lyrics, storyline et al.
A privilege to watch, all presented by a multi-talented cast, among them
Welsh actor Ian Hughes as a nimble-footed Thenardier who brought the audience
to its feet on opening night with his uproariously funny rendering of Master
of the House.
Closely followed, I must admit by Kinky Boots which
was, start to finish, a joy to watch. So
much more than “Just another musical,” it has at its heart a subject which nowadays
is treated in most cases empathetically but which was by any means the case
only a few short years ago. I refer to
transgender. Kinky Boots tackles this head on, with the
occasional heartbreak mixed with the fun and verve which is characteristic of
this amazing show, all dished out by a superb cast.
On to number three – also at the WMC, home of Welsh National
Opera who once again proved what a top-notch company they are with their new
production of Bizet’s Carmen. An operatic sizzler with wonderful
music, the story of the torrid but doomed relationship of the gypsy girl Carmen
and her solder lover is given a contemporary twist by director Jo Davies which
works brilliantly, with the added advantage of French being the native tongue of
mezzo soprano Virginie Verrez in the title role. With the mesmeric Habanera in
Act I, wonderful music and at times gut-wrenching libretto, this Carmen is
proof – if, indeed, proof was needed – that a new slant on an old favourite can
And now to the best “Cultural experience.” I am going to go off piste here, for to my
mind it has to be the film Solomon and Gaenor, given a twentieth
anniversary screening at Chapter with the film’s writer/director Paul Morrison,
producer Sheryl Crown and leading lady Nia Roberts on stage afterwards for a Q
and A. The Oscar-nominated and BAFTA
award-winning film, with dialogue in Welsh, English and Yiddish, set in the
Valleys back in the time of the Tredegar riots, tells the story of forbidden
love between a young Jewish peddler and a young girl from a strict Chapel going
Pinpointing how attitudes have changed, despite still – as Morrison commented during the discussion afterwards – having a way to go, Solomon and Gaenor, shown as part of the Jewish Film Festival, is riveting from start to finish in a drama that is upfront and unique in its presentation.
2019 was a brilliant year for Welsh theatre, a real
abundance of riches across the stages of Cardiff. American Idiot started off
the year with a bang, Peter Pan Goes Wrong brought comedic chaos, and Curtains
brought the kind of vintage charm you can only usually find among the bright
lights of Broadway and the West End. Narrowing it down is a tricky task, but
there were a few shows that stood out among the rest for me…
#3: The Creature (Chapter Arts Centre)
In what daily seems like an increasingly unkind, apathetic world, The Creature was a beam of hope in a dark time that didn’t shy away from trauma or tragedy but which held with it the promise of a better future – if we fight for it. It seemed perfectly tailored to me and my research interests – a modern take on the criminal justice system via a pseudo-Frankenstein adaptation, it hooked into my soul and still hasn’t let go. I’m eagerly anticipating the future endeavours of this fantastic creative team.
#2: Cardiff Does Christmas – Cinderella (New Theatre) and
The Snow Queen (Sherman Theatre)
The Christmas shows this year were the best I’ve had the privilege of seeing in quite some time. Cinderella was the show that reignited my long-dormant love of panto and saw the season in with festive cheer, while Sherman Theatre’s The Snow Queen was brimming with Christmas magic and a sweet tale of friendship, courage, and the fight against seemingly-insurmountable odds – a message we could all use about now.
#1: Hedda Gabler (Sherman Theatre)
It’s become increasingly apparent to me that the Sherman is
the soul of contemporary Welsh theatre – consistently producing creative,
fascinating and timely plays ‘rooted in Wales but relevant to the world’, as AD
Joe Murphy said of his artistic vision. Their staging of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler was
an utterly stunning adaptation that haunts me to this day – and Prof Ambreena
Manji and I were blessed to be able to bring our Law and Literature students to
the production as we’re studying the text this year. You know it’s a roaring
success when the students want to write their coursework on Hedda!
Reviewing for Get the Chance has been my cultural highlight, which includes being continually in awe of the kindness and generosity of the Sherman, New Theatre and Chapter: the future of Welsh Theatre is in good hands indeed!
Losing Home, My 2019 Highlight, Les Misérables, Eva Marloes
As 2019 comes to a close, so vanishes the last hope of stopping Brexit. It is decided. Parliament has agreed our ‘divorce’ from the EU. Some feel elated, some relieved, some dejected. The morning after the 2016’s referendum, some people in Britain woke up and felt stripped of their very identity. The EU question was never about rules and regulations, trade agreements or sovereignty; it was about identity. In the political debate, only the Leave side appealed to identity. The European identity of many Remainers was and still largely is neglected. This is what makes Mathilde Lopez’s interpretation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables so poignant. It gave voice to the emotional attachment to the EU some people have always felt or have begun to feel once that belonging came under threat.
The beauty of Lopez’s take on Hugo’s masterpiece lies in interweaving the ‘small’ lives of individuals with the ‘big’ events of history. It is personal and political. It speaks of today by reaching into the past. With Les Misérables, Lopez brings together the battle of Brexit with that of Waterloo. It is a tragi-comedy that makes the lives of ordinary people part of history. Amidst the blood of Waterloo, the crisps devoured while listening to the referendum results, and the summer music of holiday-makers, we experienced the banality and significance of the Brexit decision.
The play was fun and moving. It was original, innovative, and thoughtful. It wasn’t perfect and wasn’t the best show I’ve seen in 2019 (that should go to WNO’s Rigoletto), but it was the most significant of what the country is going through. By mixing the escapism of the holiday feel with the horror of Waterloo and the shock of people watching the referendum results coming in, Les Misérables captures the closeness and distance we feel when caught in events of historical significance.
In one night, something changed radically. For European citizens in Britain, Brexit has created insecurity about their status, brought extra costs to get documentation that might allow them to stay, and has made them vulnerable to attack and insults. They don’t belong. The nostalgic identity the ideologues of Brexit have conjured is too narrow and homogeneous for some British people too. They too don’t belong. As Britain seeks to close its borders and refashion a nationalistic identity, some of us have lost their home.
In my review of Lopez’s Les Misérables, I wrote that the play appealed to faith, hope, and love. It was an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Hugo described Waterloo as ‘the beginning of the defeat.’ As the first phase of Brexit concludes, it is tempting to use Hugo’s words for Brexit as the defeat of the dream of an inclusive and welcoming society, but it is not over. Nostalgia is incapable of meeting the challenge of the present, let alone of envisioning a future. That is for us to do. It is for all of us to imagine our future and rebuild our home. It begins now.
(My behind the scene article on the production Les Misérables can be found here)
Bodyguard at The WMC
The biggest and boldest production I have ever seen with music that has become iconic.
Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre Company
A fantastic piece of theatre thy showed the true meaning of inclusivity while also showing an unique art form of puppeteering.
A fantastic and modern piece of theatre that literally gave a voice to someone who doesn’t have one.
Pavilion, Theatr Clwyd
A sharp and witty ode to small town Wales, Emily White has produced a great piece of engaging drama out of the mundane, the everyday. With recognisable characters brought to life by a hugely talented cast, this represents an excellent debut for a Welsh writer whose talent is sure to be noticed.
Writer Fflur Dafydd continues to demonstrate why she is one of Wales’ foremost scriptwriters with this intriguing mystery drama. Her intimate characterisation and weaving narrative kept viewers gripped right to final moments of its eight-part run.
A really important and culturally significant film, providing a fascinating insight into the Welsh language music scene. Huw Stephens deserves huge credit for spearheading it. I urge you to see it if you can’.
Cotton Fingers, NTW by Rachel Trezise and On Bear Ridge, NTW by Ed Thomas, both at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Having returned from University in Brighton this year, it was brilliant to see the Sherman Theatre flourishing as much as it was when I left Cardiff 3 years ago. The detail that went into Cai Dyfan’s set design for On Bear Ridge was incredible to witness. His level of craftsmanship, often only found in commercial and west end theatres, was a delight to see on a smaller, regional stage.
Meanwhile, a more stripped back Cotton Fingers let its script do all the talking and was skill-fully delivered by actor Amy Molloy.
Shout out must go to Katherine Chandler for her play Lose Yourself, also at the Sherman Theatre. Although I did not review this play, it was definitely one of my highlights of 2019. Gut-wrenching for all the right reasons, its finale left the audience silent. I’ll never forget heaviness in the air at the end of play felt by everyone in the audience who just experienced something very important together.
Personal cultural event of 2019: Slowthai at Glastonbury – never before have I been so instantly hooked on an artist I’ve never listened to before. The way he riled up the crowd with his boisterous, unapologetic stagemanship was incredible to witness and I haven’t stopped listening to him since.
Christmas Carol, Theatr Clwyd
A thoroughly enjoyable interactive performance that communicated much of what Dickens intended yet had a lightness of touch, an impish humour and a sense of occasion that made it well suited to a Christmas show.
I couldn’t take it any longer and I left at the interval. I know I should have stayed but I couldn’t. Hedda Gabler was awful. The reviews are all ecstatic, but I only saw incongruous old-fashioned theatre. There is nothing of Ibsen, there is nothing of bourgeois anxiety, and nothing of women’s suppressed individuality in Chelsea Walker’s production.
Hedda Gabler, played by Heledd Gwynn, is here turned into a hysterical woman. She wears a loose evening gown in the middle of the day, bare foot, with a pixie style hair-do, shouting and fidgeting. Ibsen’s Hedda is not mad.
Hedda Gabler scandalised Norwegian and European society not because she was outrageous, but because everybody could identify with her. What makes it a classic is not the reverence we have of authors from a bygone era, but Ibsen’s shattering of our illusions of success and fulfilment, to reveal how those very illusions crush our thirst for meaning, freedom, and beauty.
Hedda Gabler is not a feminist or a frustrated woman, her profound rejection of social trappings echoes with all of us, across genders, race, and even class, because we all live within the bounds of social norms and expectations, which stifle us. Ibsen pointed an unforgiving light on the troubles of the bourgeoisie at the end of the nineteenth century, when the bourgeois class was at once at its height and already experiencing decadence. One could be forgiven for thinking that this work sits awkwardly today, at a time of a severely diminished middle class, which cannot even aspire to be called ‘bourgeois’. It lacks the sophistication, the imagination, and the audacity of the nineteenth century bourgeoisie. Yet, today’s struggling middle class, like yesterday’s bourgeoisie, battles with economic forces it has unleashed and cannot control. We have been reduced to cogs in the machine, yet the ideology of the machine is to make us believe that we are all individuals and can shape our destiny, if we only wanted it. Failure is our fault. We don’t want it badly enough. So tripped into guilt, we feel but loss and futility.
The Tesmans, Hedda and her husband George, are not doing badly. George, played humorously by Marc Antolin, is in line for a professorship and, unlike now when professors live in foodstamps, that would have meant financial security and social respectability. We don’t get a sense of that, thanks to a Ikea-inspired stage design, which consists of a white and minimal table, a bench, a chair, and a piano. The comments on Hedda’s liking for luxury fall flat and make one wonder whether anyone in the production read the script.
Hedda doesn’t like expensive furniture and clothes for its own sake, but because they signify beauty as much as acceptability. Hedda feels trapped by social conventions, but she cannot resist them. In this production, Hedda has pixie hair and walks bare foot in a loose silk gown, almost a nightie.Hedda Gabler is not a free woman, she is not a sixties’ swinging London carefree girl, a hippie or a sexy femme fatale. She is in prison. It is the prison of respectability, of appearance, of sense. She tells us over and over again that she is afraid of scandal, she is envious of Thea Elvsted, who leaves her husband in ‘broad daylight’ and can express herself by writing with Eilert Loevborg.
Turned into a 1960s rebel, Hedda’s firing a pistol and burning a manuscript are but whimsical pranks. There is no explosive fire in Hedda Gabler.
An incredible continuation of a phenomenal series. I have to begin with applause – for one thing especially. The flow. I noticed as I began reading this book that something was different – not that it was a different character, place, situation – I expected all of that. I understand well enough the creative decision TJ Klune made to have the series circle multiple characters rather than just Ox and Joe, and I wholeheartedly respect it! But I definitely could tell the difference from the beginning of this book compared to the others. Once I realised what it was I was in awe; as Robbie’s memories became less hectic, and as he became more trusting and open of the Bennett pack, the story began to feel less choppy, and much more smooth. The transition into this was so effortlessly made that I hadn’t fully noticed it until I was about half way through the book. I don’t know if this was something that was done on purpose (if it was, that’s amazing and inspiring), but it truly was incredible; it felt like honest craftsmanship coming straight through the pages and falling into my lap. I love it, it makes TJ Klune feel like an author to really look up to.
I already loved this series, and have for a while now, so I knew I was in for a great story when it arrived. To speak from a place of real honesty, this is a series to experience rather than read about second hand. The way the emotions of the characters – of every character – come through the books so clearly, stark and vibrant, is fantastic. The book is full of feeling, there really is no shortage of it, and it’s refreshing to see, especially since a lot of the “main cast” is male. This is something I’ve always adored about the writing style, there is no fear in it. Characters are everything and anything, given real time to process things and react to them, and each of them is so individual and unique – there are traits in everyone that are recognisable and easy to relate to, and I love it.
Ox has my heart, as always, so he remains my favourite characters. It’s been such an experience to see how, through other’s character’s stories, his is still growing and moving forward behind the scenes – and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what it all is going to accumulate into. I love how he’s progressed through the series, the way he’s changed from shy and insecure to this Alpha character now is unparalleled. I feel proud of him and his growth, almost.
I don’t think anyone could even try and convince me not to give this book five stars, there was so much in it to enjoy: the making, breaking, and repairing of character’s relationships (most notably Kelly and Robbie’s relationship being strained and strengthened), watching a hero’s journey move forward, Carter being amazing (I’m very excited to see what happens with him, next), and even things like watching how the “bad guys” are moving on from fabled things of nightmares to real, honest figures of terror. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book, another hit – I’m sure – in this phenomenal series.
I know this review isn’t too plot-detail heavy (I don’t want to ruin things), but I stand by what I said: this book is to be read by you, not by me telling you what I read.
Get the Chance is a strong supporter of Welsh/Wales based Playwrights. Wales as a nation does not have a literary department to support Playwrights. When we found out about the exciting Playwright module from lecturer Viv Goodman on the Extended Diploma in Performing Arts course at Coleg Gwent we got in touch to find out more this new initiative.
Hi Viv, great to meet you, what got you involved in the arts and education?
I loved Drama in school from a very young age and it was always going to be something I would pursue further. About the time I was in sixth form in Cardiff I decided I wanted to teach Drama; I had gained so much from my own teachers and through provision such as The Sherman Theatre Youth Project. I did the Secondary Drama teaching degree that was run between what is now Cardiff Met and RWCMD, then went straight into working in secondary schools. I’ve been at Coleg Gwent for 12 years now; moving to FE was the best thing for me, I have really loved working on a vocational course with the students.
You are about to embark on an exciting new project with a range of writers, please tell us more!
We start on 24th Oct when we go to see Pavilion, Emily White the productions writer will be coming to us the following day to do a workshop about the play. I anticipate that some of the students will select an extract to rehearse for performance. Owen Thomas will be able to join us for several workshops during November, we will be exploring extracts from his work Grav, An Orange in the Subway, Richard Parker and The Night Porter. The pieces will all be performed on 11th/12th December at Coleg Gwent and will be delivered as a promenade theatre experience, touring the audience between different locations that create the right mood/atmosphere for each play. Jeremy Hylton Davies will also join us in November, he will be taking a workshop on TV and radio acting/writing and sharing some of his BBC scripts with the students.
Why do you think its important for your students to engage with living playwrights?
I really want the acting students to have interaction with performing arts professionals, it’s something I am currently trying to develop for the Level 3 Year 2 Acting course. Working with these three playwrights will give students the opportunity to understand a bit more about the writing process, but mostly I think it will make the scripts and professional world seem more real somehow; I’m sure that very often a playwright or an author can appear simply as a name on a book and this project will allow them to talk to real people and work with them to bring their concepts, themes and characters to life.
What has been the response from the writers as regards getting involved in the project?
I am genuinely bowled over and delighted by their response to the project! All three playwrights came my way during August while I was considering materials and projects for the new academic year. I knew I wanted to do something contemporary with the Year 2 group during the first term before they go on to a classical/historical project, but I couldn’t decide on a play. I was in touch with Emily first and got swept up in the excitement for Pavilion! I knew that she wanted the play to reach a younger audience and I felt that the students would connect with this. She was thrilled to learn that we were coming to see it at the Riverfront and was really happy to come and see us for a workshop. I then got in touch with Owen, having also read his Get the Chance interview and learned a good deal more about his work.
I was really interested to know more about The Night Porter as we had done a ghost storytelling project at Coleg Gwent a couple of years previously. He was also very positive about coming in to share his work with us and it was at this point that the idea of making it into a project occurred to me. I asked to meet Owen, he was involved with the Edinburgh Festival, taking West to NAFoW and then a research and development week on An Orange in the Subway, so by the time we finally managed to catch up I had about 50,000 questions for him… but I managed to rein myself in and keep to the matter in hand! He was very enthusiastic and supportive. I was also delighted to hear back from Jeremy; his writing across the fields of theatre, BBC TV and Radio Drama really interested me and he will be invaluable to our students. He has local connections as well, so it’s great that he is able to come and work with us. Everyone has been incredibly kind.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
I would love to see more funding for youth drama projects. Early opportunities and building self- confidence, self-esteem and a sense of belonging to something are essential to well being and growth; during my time as a secondary school teacher in particular I noticed that the pupils involved with Drama, Music and Sport were usually the most content and fulfilled learners.
What was the last really great play that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
I loved On Bear Ridge at the Sherman Theatre, incredible writing and performances. A number of people have commented on how great it was to see the auditorium full for a new play. I’m glad Jeremy will get a chance to see it at The Royal Court!
Playwright Owen Thomas tells us more about why he got involved in this new initiative.
When Viv first approached me about working with her students, I accepted
immediately. As well as writing plays, I have taught Drama for almost 20 years
and I have always thought it essential in their development that young people
have the experience of working with people making their living and working in
the arts. It is vital that people who have experience of making work are able
to interact with the next generation. If there is anything that I have learnt
in my writing career then I would be glad to share it, be they tips for how to
be successful or some of the many mistakes I’ve learnt from.
You will be running workshops during November, where the students will
be exploring extracts from your plays Grav, An Orange in the Subway, Richard
Parker and The Night Porter. How will you approach this process and what do you
hope the students will gain from studying your work?
With a play like ‘Grav, it has only ever been performed by the brilliant Gareth John Bale. I am excited to see how a younger performer will approach it. I would certainly encourage them to be bold and to give it their own unique stamp. ‘Grav’ and ‘Richard Parker’ are the two plays of mine closest to my heart in terms of the doors they opened and the people they introduced me to. ‘Richard Parker’ has been performed by a range of companies over the years, and I am often struck by how different people interpret the play. I have seen it played as an out and out comedy, or as a more darkly sinister piece.
‘An Orange in the Subway’ and ‘The Night Porter’, are new plays of mine, and for my own development I am interested to see how these young performers interpret them. Having had the pleasure of doing research and development on both of these plays in the last 12 months I am always excited to learn new things from actors and directors who always come at projects with their own unique viewpoints. It is great to think that a group of talented performers will be spending time with my words and creating a kind of retrospective. I am sure it will make me feel old. I am excited to see what they do. Above all, I hope they enjoy the project and I am looking forward to meeting them.
Do you feel the role of the Playwright is sufficiently understood by those studying drama?
Overall, yes, but a lot depends on how they are taught. One of the good things about GCSE, AS and A Level Drama is that young people are encouraged to study plays. The earlier this can happen in school, the better. Often young people are initially attracted to study drama by the urge to perform. It is important that they learn about the ground breaking writers and directors as well as actors. I have worked with young people who have been inspired to give playwriting a go after studying Playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Shelagh Delaney or Roy Williams. Without the Playwright, there is no play.
What one piece of advice could you share with any aspiring Playwright?
When you are starting out as a Playwright there is nothing more valuable than seeing and hearing your work being performed. With my first play, ‘The Dead of Night’, I roped in various friends and called in favours to help me to stage it. I learnt a huge amount from this process. How what looks good on the page doesn’t always translate into the mouths of the performers, or the fact that what a writer might spend two pages wrestling to communicate, a good actor can communicate with a single look. One of the things that first attracted me to being a Playwright is that, if you have the passion and the time, all you need to stage a play is a script, willing performers and a space. Don’t sit and wait for a theatre to approach you. Get out there and make new work. Trial and error. It is the best way to learn.
Playwright Emily White tells us more about why she got involved in the new exciting initiative.
I am really passionate about getting more young people coming to the theatre, so I had already agreed to lead some workshops while Pavilion was running at Theatr Clwyd as part of their engagement program, in order to try and encourage some of their younger groups to come and see the show. So when Viv from the Extended Diploma in Performing Arts course at Coleg Gwent reached out to me on Twitter and said she was bringing her students to see Pavilion and would I consider meeting with them I was totally up for it. I’m new to running workshops but I think it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone sometimes, theatre and dance meant everything to me when I was young if I hadn’t found that calling I’m not sure what I would have done. I was really lucky to have the opportunities I did, so I want to give something back.
The students will be going to see your play Pavilion at The Riverfront Theatre in Newport. You are then going to run a workshop with the students. How will you approach this process and what do you hope the students will gain from studying your work?
I really feel this play in particular is exciting for young people to watch because there a large number of young characters that they can identify with, it takes place at a bar/nightclub so it’s fun but it also addresses harder hitting issues that they are facing. Out of all the feedback we’ve received about the show, my favourite comment was that one of our techies brought his 16 year old son to see it, and he loved it so much he went and bought himself and his girlfriend tickets with his own money so he could see it again. I was really happy to hear that it spoke to him so strongly. We’ve also had students from Wrexham come along to the show and some members from my old youth theatre MPYT (Mid Powys Youth Theatre) and they have all responded positively to it and wanted to study or perform it, so hopefully the Newport students will feel the same. Viv and I have talked about a Q&A session and then some work on particular scenes. I think these workshops will be primarily about performing whereas the ones I lead at Clwyd were writing exercises on developing character. Although some of those exercises could apply to performers as well in terms of creating a backstory for your character that goes beyond the information given to you in the text. For example asking the students to list twenty things a character remembers, twenty things they want etc. to help to build a more complex inner world.
Do you feel the role of the Playwright is sufficiently understood by those studying drama?
In a word: no. At least I didn’t fully understand it – I did a BTEC in Performing Arts at Hereford and we did a bit of devising/writing and at RADA we did a little writing but mostly of monologues as a way into characters but I didn’t really start to understand playwriting until I tried to write a play. Only once you try, and get feedback, and then redraft and redraft and redraft, can you start to understand how much work goes into writing a play. Acting is in a walk in the park compared to writing as far as I’m concerned. Even with all the theatrical experience I had as an actor and having read loads of plays (I love reading plays so I buy them more than I buy other books) I didn’t have any idea about how a play is structured. Characters reveal themselves to me quickly but structure and plot I find much more difficult. I had no idea how much editing and rewriting went into playwriting. I’ve never worked on a play with a living playwright so I had no idea what to expect going into the rehearsal process for Pavilion in terms of what would be expected of me and I’m not sure any of the actors did either. We were still rewriting bits and adding lines or editing lines out, right up until press night. Plays can take years to write and then years to get on – Pavilion started four years ago and then right at the end of the process it becomes a collaboration – so I was on my own for years and then for the last few months I’ve had all these other collaborators come in: literary advisors, producers, directors, movement directors, fight directors, designers, sound designers and of course a company of actors and suddenly it’s not yours anymore it becomes a company effort: everyone is there working really hard to make your imagination come to life which is overwhelmingly moving. It’s also strange and exciting and frightening too because you have no control anymore. And of course if Pavilion ever receives another full production it would be completely different again, with a different set of people involved, creating a entirely different show. That’s one of the unique things about plays as opposed to other art forms, it’s never finished, it gets recreated and re-imagined every time… and I’ll probably still be doing rewrites.
What one piece of advice could you share with any aspiring Playwright?
Get some friends together (actors if at all possible) and get them to read your play out loud and then have a discussion about it afterwards. It is a short cut to knowing what works, what nearly works and what will never work. You’ll hear what bits are heavy handed and overwritten, you can make notes as you go along and then you can redraft. This is really helpful even in the very early stages of writing a play and may spark ideas that will help you create new scenes or even new characters.
Writer Jeremy Hylton Davies us more about why he got involved in the new exciting initiative.
I think Viv and I bumped into each other online and she found out that I come not so very far from Crosskeys originally and I do often write Welsh themes or use Welsh characters, including in network drama. Viv asked me if I could help out and I was only too pleased to. I think looking at the world of professional theatre and film and TV, it can seem like it’s made by a select club which is difficult to join. I would think all of the professionals involved would say that they want to demonstrate that that’s not the case and you just need the urge and the will to get involved and make it your working life, if you want to.
How will you approach this process and what do you hope the students will gain from studying your work?
Well, by happy coincidence some of my work has just been broadcast on tv and radio and the students will be able to compare the scripts with the transmitted versions. There can be many changes along the way, not least due to demands of budget and schedule (anyone who works in drama or television will tell you all about those!), but reading the scripts also gives a good insight into how to write to the technical demands of a particular medium and how these demands differ, ie with regard to tv and radio. In radio you can say ‘Here we are on Mars’ and the audience is instantly with you on Mars. In tv or film, if the story is set on Mars, it’s pretty much got to look like Mars. And recreating Mars is expensive!
Do you feel the role of the Playwright is sufficiently understood by those studying drama?
If you say ‘writer’, then it’s a broader question. In theatre the writer is paramount (unless they don’t want a writer at all!), but in film and especially in television, you are part of an enterprise that is dictated by schedules and money, as above, ditto technical demands, but also deadlines, deadlines, deadlines, especially in continuing (serial) drama. There’s a cast, crew and back office production team of about 80 waiting for your script to land – so you’d better land it.
In a historical context, playwrights and writers are also subject to social and political forces of their times. So getting the work staged and finding an audience are difficulties in themselves. A novel you can write in isolation, a play needs an audience if it is to come off the page.
The role of the playwright is tied with the role of the theatre. We live in times when journalism, or at least fewer journalists, are really holding power to account. And when opinions are supposed to be binary, my view vs. the other view. What’s missing is the examination of the degrees of experience and the fact that humans are complex and contradictory beings. Theatre and drama can do that.
But, really, the role of the playwright has been debated since Aristotle – and probably before him! So maybe that the question needs to be constantly asked is an indication that the role of the playwright is actually alive and well and continues on.
What one piece of advice could you share with any aspiring Playwright?
Watch all you can, see and hear all you can. Be curious. Don’t be scared. Write what you want to write. But write. Always write.
Living legend Lenny Henry, of British comedy fame, has released
his much-awaited autobiography. And while we may not have yet read it, there
are plenty of hints from this event to the comical, the emotional and the
poignant life this man has led.
While part of a literature season – something steeped in
stereotypes of a middle class, white community, full of seriousness, this night
was nothing of the sort.
Lenny Henry, interviewed by another modern-day comedy legend
Romesh Ranganathan, provides only snippets to his life, to what is eluded in
his book, but the banter between the two is electric – like old friends having
a chat, providing us with a ridiculous amount of laughter.
This was not just an evening of talk show-like comedy – between
them, these comedians of Black and Asian ethnicity make a real stomp on the reality
of modern-day racism and politics, as well as comparing the years in which
Henry grew up, which was just as bad, if not worse for discrimination. They
make real important points about how things have changed, what was and is not
okay in our society and the changes that are important – and to hear this from
one of our most famous Black comedians, a man who grew up in a white, northern British
world, you cannot help but feel total admiration for him.
Lenny Henry’s book, is, as previously said, much awaited – and I am eager to hear more from this eloquent and impressive man, not only on his world but also on the importance of his opinions, further in writing.
In true Caryl Churchill style, we are introduced to fine
writing, which is of a naturalistic ilk yet verges on the unusual, hilarious and
subtle in all these attributes.
Seemingly with no other interlink that the same actors, each
play is different from one another, with a different concept, it Is a true
triumph and evidence of a brilliant playwright that she can make such
interesting plays, which last for not long at all.
Glass – Is the story about a girl made of glass, her
fragility both physically and emotionally. It is comical, heart-breaking and to
a degree, relatable about young love. While made of glass, we think that she is
the real person who needs care, but when she meets someone going through a lot
worse, it puts in real perspective our own lives and how there are always
someone going through worse. A simple staging, the 4 characters are suspended
high, in amongst darkness, precariously. And this is all it needs – simplicity and
for us to listen to the writing.
Kill – A story about Gods and Murders. Again, a simplistic
stage, our God is upon a suspended cloud, smoke emanating across the stage,
while the God acts very much unlike a God – smoking and calling out all
religious beliefs. He is funny and the writing draws upon our World and beliefs
with satire. Opposite to him is a little boy, who integrates the God’s storytelling
with comments, increasing in anger, and this all builds to a crescendo. Feeling
almost unfinished, but in this respect very well done. We end shocked, and
confused but in a good theatrical way.
Bluebeard’s Friends – Easily one of my favourite of the
four. Four friends of Bluebeard sit around, slowly getting drunk, as they talk
about Bluebeard and his indiscretions, his crimes and how they felt this was
hidden. In true Royal Court style, the stage is simplistic – a dinner party,
but soon hilarity ensues with the appearance of Bluebeard’s wives bloodied
dresses. It’s almost horror-comedy, and the juxtaposition between the normal
conversation, to the actual stories of Bluebeard and the appearance of the
dresses is something unusual and almost apocalyptic.
Imp – The longest of the four plays. Imp could have been a
play in itself. While a great production, it felt a little less impactful as
the others. Perhaps this was more theatrically than the writing but none the
less, an engaging piece. We meet two middle aged cousins who live together
after respective partners either die or divorce them. Their removed niece comes
to visit from Dublin, making a life for herself, while being entwined with another
guest of theirs who is down on his luck. This is seemingly standard play, with
comedy, and drawing upon mental and physical health. This is brought in subtly
but very well and relatable. The imp in the bottle however brings the unusual
which can be often found in Churchill’s plays. The idea of belief, of whether
believing in something enough makes it real, and we see them contemplate this –
becoming frightened if it is, scoffing if it isn’t, grieving when it may be lost.
And soon we begin to contemplate its reality. What if it is real? We engage so
much in how the actors play their feelings.
Glass.Kill.Bluebeard.Imp is a series of brilliant plays. It’s hard to really come away without inspiration and astonishment at Churchill’s writing and combination with The Royal Court – it is very much a match made in heaven.