Category Archives: Theatre

Review Hamlet, Lazarus Theatre Company, Southwark Playhouse, Elephant by James Ellis

Photo credit: Charles Flint
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

It has been with great delight that I’ve seen most of the recent canon of Lazarus Theatre in London. I’ve revelled in their bold take on the classics, a particular solid Doctor Faustus last year proving this.

Sadly, with the new year came a Hamlet which didn’t work on a lot of levels. Starting off with what looked like an AA meeting, declared as a safe space for the characters to speak their minds. It would have been a quirky idea to have had the Bard stripped back to just this scope, though the chairs are pushed away and a lot of tricks ensue. Michael Hawkey as the lead finds his first professional turn here and though it might not be the most remarkable take, there is youth, charm and some menace. There appears on surface level to be no Gertrude nor Claudius present which might be one of the major reasons why this cock-sure showing may not work as well as it should.

Photo credit: Charles Flint

The play maintains a flow as it went on. My major concern was the watery take on the verse and therefore the story. For it appears you may cut Hamlet down to a mere 90 minutes, but you’ve got to own this time and not always worry about fireworks. Director Ricky Dukes should be commended for his Russian Roulette risk taking here, though I did find myself bothered by multiple scenes. Hamlet still gets his Jeffrey Dahmer with Yorick, who’s head is plucked out of a fridge. Video work would show Ophelia’s real-time unending and a Mortal Combat style duel at the final were highlights. Hamlet’s death remained one of the show most disappointing aspects with alas, no ‘flights of angels singing thee to thy rest’.

The hustle of the cast would see some fine performances. Lexine Lee as Ophelia twas more retrospection then mania with with the role. Alex Zur is given little time to shine as Horatio, the rest of the players covering multiple roles and menacing proclamations as the father ghost.

Put simply I would have preferred to watch Mystery Science Theatre do their ribbing on an awful dubbed take on Hamlet on German TV back in the 60s. I’m still faithful for the rebirth of Lazarus once more.

Hamlet continues at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant till 4 Feb 2023.

“This is a time where people are very open to forgotten histories” An interview with Diana Nneka Atuona.

Hi Diana, great to meet you, what first got you interested in the arts?

As child, I was always into creative writing and storytelling. I wanted to be a song writer (still kind of do) and I would also write short stories. I wrote my first play when I was around 11 or 12 for my church and just loved the idea of entertaining audiences.

Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?

Ideas come in a variety of ways for me. Either I go looking (which rarely yields results) or I just get flashes of inspiration. It has to be said though, that it is pretty rare for me to find an idea that I fall in love long enough to want to work on but when I do, there is no greater feeling. I often start with finding the world first then, figuring out a premise before populating the world with characters. In terms of process, I now understand the importance of planning and structuring where I can so I try to complete that first before I start scripting.

 Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?

I definitely don’t have word count. On a good day, I’d have been doing some writing in my head the night before so I really try and put that down until there is nothing left in my head or until I have to get on with life duties. I do try and write from the beginning of the story until the end but if there is a scene I am struggling with, I’ll just skip it and focus on one that’s strongest in my mind.

 Your latest play Trouble in Butetown plays at The Donmar Warehouse, London from the 10 February. The production takes place in an area of Cardiff Docks, called Butetown or Tiger Bay during World War Two. The production information describes the area as “home to souls from every corner of the globe” What drew you to this location and period for your play?

I fell in love with the history. It’s strange as, prior to writing about Tiger Bay, I knew very little about its history so I cannot explain what led me to go down that path but I’m glad I did. The more I researched, the more I fell in love with it. As a girl from Peckham in south London, I know a lot of people would be surprised to hear that I would choose to write this story but actually, there are elements of Tiger Bay’s history that I can relate to. I grew up in London, so I understand the world of racially diverse communities first hand. As a Peckham girl, I know what it’s like to grow up in a town that has a negative reputation that is not completely deserved, neither is it completely undeserved (we’re also both experiencing massive gentrification).

I also grew up around people like the characters in my play, salt of the earth types who would take the mick out of you but also have your back if you were ever in trouble. Tiger Bay’s cultural identity is also made up in part, of the West African culture. Being of West African descent myself, I felt I could easily relate. There were many periods I could have set this play in but I chose WW2 as the world of Jim Crow that the black American GIs who arrived in Cardiff suffered under, contrasted very nicely with the diversity and inclusion of Tiger Bay. I also felt that we have seen a ton of WW2 stories depicting the life of white Britain. I don’t believe I have seen anything that depicts the life of British people of colour.

Do you think the plays period and themes will resonate with contemporary audiences?

I think it will. This is a time where people are very open to forgotten histories. I also think that the themes of race and identity are very pertinent today. Essentially, this is a human story and I don’t think they ever really go out of style.

Trouble in Butetown is a recipient of the Theatre Royal Haymarket Writers Award and The George Devine Award. Did winning these awards increase awareness of your work and make commissioning of the production more likely?

Most definitely. The George Devine is a very well regarded theatre award and it was a real privilege to win it. It got the play in front of many venues, the Donmar being one of them and the rest, as they say, is history. The TRHW award was really important as it provided the necessary funds for me to develop the play and also provided support for the production as a whole. I am very grateful to have received both.

 There are a range of organisations supporting UK based writers. I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in the UK and if not what would help?

That’s a pretty tough one for me to answer as historically, I never wrote fast enough to make a consistent living as a writer. I have however found that there has often been support when I needed it most, I am thinking of amazing organisations like The Peggy Ramsey Fund or the Fleabag fund. I think there can always be more support for writers especially due to the precarious nature of our jobs.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?

I would probably say that I would fund new writing from under represented voices. In order for this industry to remain fresh and vibrant, we need a diversity of voices.

 What currently inspires you about the arts in the UK?

The landscape has changed so drastically since I started on this journey. There is a real appetite for new stories and there does seem to be a willingness from a lot of organisations to support new talent. It does feel like it’s all for the taking now.

 What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

My daughter turning three years old. She is the love of my life and to be surrounded by all our friends and family meant the world to me.

You can find out more about Trouble in Butetown and book tickets here

“I am inspired by those who don’t quit” An interview with Nyla Webbe, Creative Arts Development Officer for G Expressions

Interviewed by Guy O’Donnell, Director Get the Chance

Hi Nyla great to meet you, what got you interested in the arts?

For as long as I remember I have always had a love for performing. My parents said that they would watch me with my teddies in the garden pretending I was in another world and talking to myself, I was always creating stories and living in my own imagination. I also attended a very creative church growing up and from the age of 6-12 I was involved in productions, always singing, dancing and acting.

 You are the Creative Arts Development Officer for G Expressions based in Newport, the organisation “works to support young people aged 10-25 to dance develop and achieve their dreams. Through dance, theatre, and leadership activities , giving young people the confidence, tools and skills to achieve their goals.” How did you come to be involved in the organisation and why is its work important?

My family members run the organisation and since it began in 2010 I have always been involved in some shape or form. I was a young mum, therefore my children were my priority and my personal dreams of performing were put to the side but I assisted with G-Expressions on projects and would help out with dance at their previous studio ‘Bella Bella’. When they started doing theatre shows in 2014 I was keen to help out and began shadowing and assisting the writer and director of the shows, which happened to be Alexandria Riley.

Alexandria Riley

I then made my debut as a starring role in their production of ‘Sisters Acting up’ and felt such a buzz, even being at the age of 28 it was an amazing feeling and seeing how G-Expressions facilitate all their service users and staff, giving them a platform to achieve their dreams was such a great feeling. I then became an assistant director on their last show ‘Hard Knock Life’ and also got my job as Creative Arts Development Officer.

Being able to support young people in exploring their creative gifts is like a dream job for me. Giving them a safe place where they don’t feel judged and can be who they want to be, with the encouragement and guidance to do so gives them confidence and self-belief to reach their full potential.

You have written and are currently working on a new live production for G Expressions called Urban School of Arts. The production is described as “An original story filled with dance and drama about young people surviving their journey through performing arts school, all in hopes of pursuing their dreams of becoming artists” Can you tell us more about the creative process for the production and your intentions for it?

I began writing the story line during the Pandemic, after discussions with young people during a podcast I had set up through G-Expressions called ‘Say it How it is’. It was a great opportunity for young people to talk about different topics that they felt they were affected by and allowed them to talk openly and honestly, as most had said that they don’t feel listened to or even understood by authorities and adults. The stories came from real life topics and made me want to raise awareness about these topics that young people face, to help them talk more about it but to also give them a platform to express themselves in a creative way where they can be heard. I always wanted it to be an original as in the past we have used music that people know but have always had the issues of copyright, but I felt that we were in a place where we could offer more opportunities for artists to be recognised for their talents. I worked with some local young artists who love to write and produce and we managed to get funding from the High Sheriff to bring in a professional producer and work in the studio to record these songs. We now have a soundtrack alongside the show and I would love to see this tour and possibly see other drama schools put it on, who knows?

Urban School of Arts can be seen at The Riverfront Theatre, Newport from 03-04 Feb, tickets can be booked here

Much of your work takes place in Newport and is supported by The University of South Wales and The Riverfront Theatre, what more can be done to create opportunities for young creatives based in Newport?

We need more funding and buildings, it’s a simple answer really. G-Expressions are fortunate to have such a great partnership with USW and are now building on their relationship with The Riverfront Theatre and I am hoping that more opportunities come from this show. Access for young people interested in the arts is difficult, especially the young people we work with who don’t have the right backgrounds or finances. There needs to be more training and projects for them to be involved in.

The Urban School of Arts company.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?

Training and development for artists who are new and need that bit of support. For myself, giving opportunities is so important.

 What currently inspires you about the arts in the UK?

People who are doing things their way and making their mark. I feel that there is so much talent out there that people don’t know about, but they are creeping through the gaps and slowly getting noticed. I am inspired by those who don’t quit, those theatre groups and artists who are doing what they love despite the challenges they face is inspiring.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

‘The Making of a Monster’- Connor Allen’s raw talent and vulnerability to be brave and so in your face was a true example of an all-round creative. It was a brilliant show that I hope continues and is recognised for its genius way of writing and performance.

Review The Lion , the B*tch and the Wardrobe, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

Images Credit Jorge Lizalde
4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

When applying to join Get the Chance I talked about how as someone who has taken part in a plethora of community productions across Wales in both on and off-stage roles I have a deeper understanding of how the mechanics of putting on a show works. Usually, as a reviewer, we are focused on whatever happens on or around the stage for the three-ish hours of a select performance but I am going to start this week’s review a little bit differently by talking about something that happened before the auditorium even opened for “The Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe. As me and the famous Aunty Chris sat eating waiting for the doors of the venue to open, we discovered that Bar One at Wales Millennium Centre was selling a unique “B*tch Juice” cocktail to help celebrate the press evening of the show we were moments from seeing. At around £6 (which was under what I expected to pay for a cocktail at the Millennium Center) the vodka, cranberry and lemonade drink was incredibly refreshing and wonderfully delicious! In fact, I’m going to try experimenting at home to try and get the recipe as close to the one I had as possible as it was simply that nice!

This time last year I was invited to attend a performance of XXXmas Carol where I talked about my not-so-secret love of Polly Amorous from meeting her in nightclub settings and being absolutely astonished by how much of an incredible performer she was on the stage! When it was announced that Polly and the gang were returning for ‘The Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe’ the surprise of Polly’s acting prowess was gone. I walked into this show (sort of unfairly) with the knowledge of the previous show and how amazing the sober songbird of Splott was but despite all this she still managed to surpass the already high bar she had previously set! Not only had she built on her already fantastic stage presence but her vocal abilities seem to have only grown tenfold since the last time.

The show opens with Polly and her personal piano player Felix Sürbe as they take the audience of a whistle-stop tour of iconic Christmas anthems! The later sections of these mash-ups were where Polly really found her footing and managed to introduce her brand of hilarious humour and amazing vocals! Polly not only plays an integral part of the camp retelling of the CS Lewis story itself but also acts as a narrator of the show helping to transition from storytelling to an array of performers to scenes flawlessly. She is able to maintain the humour embedded into the show while also driving the plot without appearing like she is pushing things along which is not an easy thing to do. Whenever I watch Polly perform I always ask if she can give us a rendition of defying gravity from Wicked as this is a musical I love and is one of my favourite songs she does in her set. This is why I was totally overwhelmed when she not only busted out of a performance of this iconic song but did so while suspended in the air on a zip wire. Seeing her dangle in the air while singing about flying not only made sense narratively but the humour in her being left on stage had the audience howling!

In last year’s performance, we were introduced to the incredibly sensual Erik McGill who wowed the audience with his gravity-defying trapeze skills. This year he was given a much bigger responsibility of playing the loveable (yet extremely horny) Mr Bumnus. From the moment we first met this unique character to the more emotional moments throughout Eric is able to portray this goat/Human hybrid creature wonderfully while taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster throughout. His first performance was a beautiful routine which involved Erik scaling up a floating lamp post and showcasing the most mesmerising poses and positions while keeping a lustful gaze at Polly the entire time.  He manages to control his body in such a smooth and fluid way meaning that the transitions from poses is just as entertaining as the tricks themselves. Early in the show, we see a hilarious scene where Mr Bumnus was Polly to spank him in return for secrets that would help the host on her quest. Erik does a fantastic job of taking this sexual (by nature) scene and injecting the perfect amount of comedy making it suitable for the stage. My favourite moment of this character however was just after an emotional moment with Mr Bumnus is violently punished for betraying the queen and Polly needs to find a way to bring him back to life. This leads to Polly discovering a paddle and using it to deliver a thunderous spank that not only jolts him back to life but straight into an incredible trapeze act. While Asha Jane delivered a wonderful performance of “It’s Raining Men”, Erik soared through the air on his trapeze with every time he leapt from the trapeze I physically jumped out of my seat! The range of flips and tricks he was able to perform while dangling so dangerously high in the air had my heart racing on the floor so I can’t imagine what he would have been feeling up there!

I was a little disappointed however that Rahim El Habachi had a much more drawn-back involvement in this year’s show not only because he is a friend of mine but also because his unique brand of belly dancing is always a crowd favourite! Last year he was able to showcase his dance skills, live singing and showcase original spoken word pieces and while he could showcase some of his talents, he did not have as many opportunities as last year! This performance was much more focused on his acting talents as he took on the role of a sexy reindeer and the mighty Ass-lan where he was able to throw his voice in such a way to create a powerful, bombing sound this character has become associated with. Throughout the show, Foo Foo LaBelle was able to showcase her incredible burlesque-infused performances including a police-inspired number where a lucky audience member was selected to go on stage and receive a sensual lap dance live in front of everyone. The performer was able to totally command the stage while also allowing for a reasonable amount of chaos and comedy with the audience member involved which is always a gamble in shows! I also thoroughly enjoyed the rendition of “Feeling Good” by Asha which ended with a vibrant explosion of streamers with every performing storming the stage to help mark the end of act one!

Overall, creating a queer retelling of a story originally created by a devoted Christian is not only an extremely powerful and political statement but also the fantastical elements of Narnia lend themselves beautifully to the series of unique performances. Polly managed to anchor the explosion of sensual eroticism (of whips, chains, spanking etc) with a mind-blowing performance and wonderful vocals (from Polly included) which is no easy feat! I would rate this show 4.5 stars out of 5!

You can find out more about the production and book tickets here

REVIEW Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Take your first Steps to a perfect Christmas! With last year’s Aladdin interrupted by the pandemic, the New Theatre’s annual in-house panto returns with the spirit of Christmas back in full swing. Presented by Crossroads Pantomimes and directed by David Burrows, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a magic apple you’ll want to take a bite of.

Nay-Nay Gapomo in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

Alan McHugh’s script draws on the story we know from Disney’s animated retelling while bringing some big panto laughs. Denquar Chupak plays the titular princess with characteristic sweetness and style, making a welcome return to the New after playing Princess Jasmine last year alongside Gareth Gates as Aladdin. A lovely romance blossoms between her and Nay-Nay Gapomo’s Prince Carwyn, who Queen Lucretia (Siân Reeves) has her (evil) eye on.

Siân Reeves and Ian ‘H’ Watkins in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

Local boy and pop icon Ian ‘H’ Watkins from international supergroup Steps plays the Spirit of the Mirror and has an absolutely smashing (!) time onstage. Decked out in silver sparkles (imagine if the Tin Man started a pop career and you’re halfway there), he gets the audience on their feet and Stomp-ing to the beat of a classic pop medley quicker than you can say 5, 6, 7, 8! He’s far and away the Heart(beat) of the show. If, by the time you see H from Steps riding a flying motorbike over the audience, you don’t feel as though you’ve got your money’s worth, then that really is a Tragedy.

Siân Reeves and Gareth Thomas in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

He riffs especially well off the other two feathers on the show’s Welsh crown: legendary Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas as Henchman ‘Alfie’, and Panto Dame Extraordinaire Mike Doyle as Nurse Nancy (who’ll be at the New again in February with his own show, ‘Rock with Laughter’). While a few of the tropes could do with an upgrade – the 12 Days of Christmas went on about a week too long for me, but the kids in the audience were loving it – they’re performed with such joy that you can’t help but join in (though I think the time could have been better spent with another Steps dance-break, for example!) There’s potty humour for the little ones and innuendo for the adults, and while it’s not always my cup of tea, it was often my cup of cocoa – which Mike Doyle dresses up as in one memorable moment! His Shirley Bassey has to be seen to be believed, though my personal fave is an outfit that cannot be described and certainly not Trifled with.

Mike Doyle in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

While ‘The Magnificent Seven’ of the title don’t feature often, they make an impression when they do – kudos to Gareth Elis, Ella Howlett, Mia Jae, Tiaan Jones, JB Maya, and especially James Rockey as the Seven’s eccentric Eric Idle-esque leader Doc (though I was quite surprised they hadn’t cast actors of short stature in these roles). But it’s better the devil you know as Siân Reeves vamps and camps it up as the vain(glorious) Lucretia, especially during her own Steps number – though if anyone’s walking away from this show with a crown, it’s Britain’s Got Talent finalist Steve Hewlett, whose ventriloquist act with grouchy puppet ‘Arthur’ has more than earned his royal seal of approval!

Denquar Chupak in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

With enchanting scenery and brilliant special effects, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is brimming with festive magic and brings a fantastic new twist on the original tale you know and love.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is playing at the New Theatre through to 8 January 2023. You can find more information on the show and book tickets here.

Ian ‘H’ Watkins in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

Review Santa’s Wish, The Spiegeltent, Cardiff Castle Grounds by Kate Richards.

As soon as I saw details of ‘the Spiegeltent’ I was intrigued and wanted to experience it – it didn’t disappoint.  When you walk in you are transported from the freezing, noisy hustle and bustle outside into a warm, welcoming space which, although it seats 500, feels intimate and special.  I didn’t use it – but was surprised and impressed to see the generous bar area as you walk in, and that added a luxurious (and practical) touch.  I can really imagine the tent coming into its own for the current production of Castellana which is described as cabaret, circus, burlesque and comedy, with the tent’s dark, ‘smoky’ atmosphere.

Anyway back to Santa’s Wish.  I took my 9-year-old son with me to see this production but had no idea what to expect and was worried that it might be a bit young for him, but in fact I’d say it is aimed at older primary school children rather than younger ones. 

The production is bright, colourful, the characters are engaging and my son was quickly taken with the humour and delivery of the male elf, as well as the tumbling and tricks.  As the story went on, it felt as though a little of the initial humour was lost as it became a more serious story, and I think for younger children, a few more breaks in the songs and story for a bit more ‘panto slapstick’ would appeal and give light relief.  The story was fairly easy to follow – though again I think some of the nuances were lost on the children, and it has the messages you’d expect from a children’s production – being kind to the planet and to one another, so you can’t argue with the sentiment.

My son judged the aerial acrobatics to be ‘amazing’ and it was certainly unusual to see a little of that in a children’s Christmas production, so that added to the spectacle.  I did wonder if perhaps a little more could have been made of this aspect of the show however, and I wasn’t keen on the very dull rather transparent costume used for the aerial work.  At one stage the performer came on to the stage wearing stilts, but nothing was really made of this skill, they just seemed to be being used to make her taller than the others which I found a bit baffling. 

The entire cast are strong singers which was nice and meant that songs were pleasant and easy to listen to, and whilst this performance is done ‘in the round’ at no time did I feel that they had their backs to us or that we couldn’t see what was happening.  It was also effective that they made use of the space amongst the audience – stopping to ask little ones if ‘they had seen Santa’ etc – which delighted some little girls behind me and included the whole audience in the action.  The props for the under the sea scene were creative and effective (I may have to make an Octopus umbrella myself now!) and being able to use the aerial lift for additional special effects worked well.  There were lots of ‘Instagram’ moments and it did feel that we were seeing a Christmas spectacle, which lived up to my hopes.

On the downside, there is no interval, so the children are sitting for about an hour and a quarter in total.  The younger children in from of me really struggled with this – the little girl (about 3) fell asleep quite early on and the older boy (around 5 or 6) was complaining that it was ‘taking ages’ at about 20 minutes into the performance.  Obviously all children have different capacities to sit for long periods, and in fairness to the cast – they very much encouraged everyone to get up and dance with them in the last section of the production, although I am not sure how much of the very end of the story many people took in, because having got everyone on their feet to dance and sing along, there was still about 10 minutes of story to complete after that.  I think many parents with restless children were expecting that to be the end, so I felt for a few parents having to quieten down their children and try and get them to listen to the very end of the tale.  The other issue is something that I struggle with everywhere we go – the volume.  My own son winced at the loud music a few times and the little boy in front of me had his fingers in his ears on more than one occasion.  I am not sure why every cinema showing and production we go to these days is so loud, but at nearly 50 (so my hearing should be less sensitive these days) I found the music too loud and so it’s not surprising that younger, more sensitive ears found it too loud as well.

All in all I loved the venue and my son and I were very glad we went.  It was something a bit different in a beautiful, atmospheric venue.  The cast are all talented and the production clearly made every effort to offer something for everyone, from the delightful, sparkly ‘Snowflake’, the rough and tumble of the other elves, the humour and the circus tricks to the big man himself.  It was a magical Christmas spectacle, but just be aware that you might have to manage some restlessness for the very young.

Kate Richards

Get the Chance

Review Castellana, Cardiff Castle by Rhys Payne.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Around a year ago it was announced that Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland would be relocating to the historical Cardiff Castle (due to COVID concerns) and so I and a few friends thought that we would walk through the city center dressed as Santa and his usual companions. Apart from the excited faces of children running up to tell us they have been good this year, the actual event was extremely disappointing! The skating was frequently closed and reopened due to transmission rates and the majority of stalls were closed with those that were open were mostly selling the same thing. Therefore when it was announced that a festive festival would be landing in Cardiff Castle, I was concerned it was going to be a repeat of the lackluster event. However, I could not have been more wrong! This year the Castle has been given a festive make-over with most fantastical pop-up theatre, luminous decorations, and a plethora of stalls for everyone to enjoy.

This production marks the second show we have seen from the Castle’s Spiegeltent festival the first of which being Santa’s Wish where I talked about for me Christmas is all about the child-like wonder that floods over you as Santa bellows his iconic catchphrase. As we get older the magic of Christmas starts to fade away and we our perspectives begin to change. Sometimes Christmas is not about that warm fuzzy feeling in your belly, sometimes it is about purposefully finding your way onto Santa’s naughty list and being your own “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

This brand-new, mature cabaret event is unique in the fact that it was hosted mostly by different arrangements of three separate cast members. We were introduced to the fabulous Velma Celli (who is west-end star Ian Stroughair behind all the name-up) who is all of my cabaret dreams come to life on stage! I am absolutely in love with the sparkly outfit they wore at the beginning of the performances which acted as a disco ball by reflecting the stage lights beautifully. They also helped to drive the pace of the show with hilarious interactions with the audience (including stealing my sequin Santa hat and handing to the people next to me) and delivering exciting introductions for many of the acts. On top of all this Velma also performed an excellent rendition of the hit song “Let Me Entertain You” which introduced the host to the audience as the almost master of ceremonies.  We are also introduced to ‘the Magician’ Alex Phelps who has somewhat of a storied history with the previous host. He also helps to introduce the final host and mystery guest of the evening Ana played by Vikki Bebb after randomly selecting her from the audience and hypnotising her to be the star of the show. I do think that the inclusion of selecting her from the audience was convoluted and was very clearly an intentional plant that took away from the rest of the very live and at times highly dangerous acts to follow. I have to admit that there was an underlying storyline to the show about the re-discovery of a mythical yet fictional Castell Annwn but I missed many of the plot points as these details were shared of overwhelming audience reactions.

The first act to officially grace the stage was the fire Fox Angie Sylvia who delivered a mesmerising burlesque/fire swallowing number which ended with her setting the remnants of her outfit of fire while still on her body! The sensuality of stripping combined with the danger of fire breathing made for a totally fascinating act that had me in the edge of my seat throughout! One of the acts that had the biggest reaction of the night was Brett Rosengreen who helped to showcase male burlesque which is something I have not seen a lot of before! It can only benefit the art form if more people are aware that burlesque is for anyone and so it was fantastic to see these performers a part of the line-up! If this performance by Brett is anything to go by then I cannot wait to see more male burlesque dancers in the very near future! His cowboy-infused number was so dramatic and sensual with just a splash of humour as he poured what appeared Jack Daniels over himself and the stage which just added to the sensuality of his number. The pairing of Yann LeBlanc and Sophie Northmore (under the duo of hand-to-hand) delivered an amazing, gravity-defying balancing act where the latter would contort and maintain the most insane positions as the former supported and functioned as the much need muscle. This performance was not only elegant and beautiful but also let the audience wondered how it was all possible which is the sign of an incredible circus act. I have to say that the silk routine by the flying man Joe Kelly was one of the best aerial routines I have ever seen! The way that Joe can rapidly wrap himself into the silks to twist, flip and dangle in the most precious positions was incredible to watch and also had me on the edge of my seat throughout. There were very few pauses between positions (which is usually a concern of mine during aerial numbers) which made the entire act extremely smooth and fluid for the audience.

Overall, Castellana is one of the sexiest shows this Christmas and (although we cannot make guarantees) may be the reason you end up on Santa’s naughty list this year! It is a wonderfully vibrant yet sensual show that is clearly intended for a more mature audience (due to the nudity and sexual references throughout) but this is absolutely a show to catch on your next girls/guy’s night as there is something for everyone! I would rate this production 4.5 stars out of 5!

Review Santa’s Wish, Cardiff Castle by Rhys Payne

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Every single year, without fail, there comes a point in the year when people online begin to argue about whether it is too early or not to put up Christmas decorations. Some may say Christmas begins after Halloween, others after the first of December but I personally think Christmas should never stop! I have been jamming out to Christmas songs and proudly wearing my Christmas attire all year round purely because in my opinion, the festive period is the best time of the year so why shouldn’t we keep it all year round? A little-known fact about myself is that I used to be the Santa that would travel through the streets of Cardiff to bring a bit of Christmas magic to the hoards of children that would flock to the sleigh to tell me they should be on the good list this year. These adventures were often extremely arduous and tiring (even more so for the elves who would walk alongside the sleigh giving out candy canes) but it was all worth it seeing how the faces of the young children would light up when you waved at them or even hollered a “Ho, Ho, Ho” in their general direction! To me, Christmas is all about that childlike wonder that gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling in your belly and so when it was announced there would be a new Christmas show heading to the iconic Cardiff castle I knew it was not to be missed! 

Santa’s Wish currently showing at Cardiff Castle opened up with the most magical Santa (who knocks the fluffy socks off my portrayal of the role) played by Dyfrig  Morris who delivered arguably one of the best musical portrayals of St Nick I have ever seen! The ability to maintain the over-the-top Jolly-ness is something I struggled with for the short period of time when flooded with kids on the sleigh but Dyfrig manages to keep up this persona throughout even though every single one of his movements are under constant surveillance by the audience! He has mastered the art of a playful yet booming voice that caught everyone’s attention whenever he spoke. One of the things I really enjoyed about this production is the fact that it is almost totally self-aware but acknowledges the crowd and explains how they ended up on the Castle grounds. After a routine flight Santa had given the reins of the sleigh to a trustworthy elf Crackers (played by the extremely entertaining Richie Gooding) only for Crackers to start showing off making them crash into a far-off land. The script mentions the fact that they are in the Castle grounds but don’t know how to get back as the reindeer have fled for safety! 

Santa and Crackers are joined by the fresh-faced Snowflake (who has a rather unique backstory which we will explain later) played by Millie Davies who delivered quite possibly my favourite song throughout the entire show. Her rendition of “Teach me How to Fly” was wonderfully moving and showcased Millie’s incredible vocal abilities throughout. The beautifully sung sections of the song were broken up with the aforementioned Santa telling the story as to how Snowflake became an elf in his adorable yet magical voice! While Millie was pouring out her heart in this number Keely Edwards was showcasing her aerial abilities as she hung upside down directly above her fellow performer. This spectacle was not only a treat for the eyes but the vocals were a treat for the ears too! There is a much more emotionally powerful rendition towards the end of this production which really focused on how much of a talented singer Millie really is! The elves and Santa decide that in order to get the sleigh back to the North Pole they must create a new magical wish which means telling the story of how Snowflake managed to create her own wish many years ago!

One of the characters we meet throughout this story of Snowflake is Lilly (played by the amazing Naomi Katiyo) who is an extremely kind-hearted young girl who is very upset that there are people in her community who go without food. While she is only little, she is able to use her passion for cooking to make jars of jam and delivers them to those who need it most. The fact that the UK is currently facing a cost of living crisis with more people than even using food bank services, helps to bring the message of kindness from this play to the doorstep of every single person in the audience. We are all able to show some sort of kindness to those who are less fortunate than ourselves so promoting this message to a younger audience is vital, now more than ever! One of these jam jars makes it to the home of Freddie,  Eddie (played by Richie and Keely respectively) and their father who are a family struggling to make ends meet during the run-up to Christmas. The much-needed jar of jam helps to feed the three people for the evening and then they finally decide to throw the empty jar away. At this point the incredible song all about small acts of kindness was sung which encourages everyone to think about each other which is especially important with everything going on right now!  While the jar is waiting to be collected, however, a distressed and stray snowflake (who is one of our lead characters in disguise) floats into the jar while on her journey to make it to the North Pole. This wish of completing her journey combined with the kindness from Lily earlier in the story combine to give Snowflake the ability to fly where she heads straight to Santa’s to become a real elf! I do have to admit that the almost origin story of snowflake did overshadow the earlier story of Santa and his elves crash landing and the focus could have simply been on how the magic wish jar came to be rather than rediscovering the magic in order to use it to get back to the North Pole. The book-ending scenes with the stranded Christmas crew did seem also just tagged on the end with the center scenes where the story really began to gain momentum. 

Overall, Santa’s Wish is a wonderfully festive Christmas musical that explores themes such as kindness and selflessness which are obviously very important. Seeing the faces of the young audience members being transfixed by the wonderful Santa or becoming overwhelmed with joy any time a performer would wave at them is fundamentally what Christmas is all about! I do have to say that I think the opening and closing scenes did seem to fall a little flat but the origin story of Snowflake is where this production really came to life. The castle itself has been wonderfully decorated with two ice skating experiences and so I would recommend young families (or Christmas-obsessed people like myself) to make a day of visiting the castle and making sure they catch a performance of this adorable show. I would rate this production 4 out of 5 stars!

You can find out more about the production and book tickets here

Review Elen Benfelen / Goldilocks at Sherman Theatre by Bethan Lewis

Elen Benfelen / Goldilocks production images, Carri Munn (Nain / Papi Bear), Elin Gruffydd (Elen) Photo by Mark Duoet

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A Perfect Introduction to Theatre

Elgan Rhys’ adaptation of Goldilocks at the Sherman Theatre is a magical production that offers a wonderful introduction to theatre for young children. The piece, directed by Nia Morris, is a modern re-telling of the classic fairy tale. Although audiences will recognise the names of the characters and references to porridge, chairs and beds – the story moves in a different direction.

Goldilocks, played by Elin Gruffydd, is a friendlier and more endearing version of the character that we are used to. She is an upstanding citizen of ‘Golden Town’ where her grandmother is the mayor. Goldilocks abides by the town’s endless list of rules, many of which are centred around an obsession with all things yellow, and she has achieved one of the highest accolades by growing the finest golden locks in town.

Things take a turn for the worst when Goldilocks discovers blue locks amongst her golden mane. Embarrassed and ashamed, she flees to the “periphery”, the outskirts of town where those that are different are banished and, according to legend, eaten by gruesome bears.

The fun, colourful bears that Goldilocks meets could not be different from what she was expecting – they even eat porridge with oat milk and sit on rainbow-coloured chairs! The bears challenge Goldilocks’ perceptions, helping her to embrace her new hair and teaching her to understand the importance of being herself. Inspired by this experience, she returns to Golden Town to champion the joy of being different.

Elen Benfelen / Goldilocks production images, Carri Munn (Nain / Papi Bear), Rhys ap Trefor (Dadi Bear / Villager), Elin Gruffydd (Elen)
Photo by Mark Duoet

The story has a strong, positive message that is told in a fun and engaging way, using catchy songs and puppetry to keep young audiences enthralled throughout. Actors Carrie Munn and Rhys Ap Trefor who each played multiple roles interacted beautifully with the audience; at one point some children edged so far forward into the performance space they were practically sat on their laps but they incorporated this into the action and were able to expertly coax them back into the seating area.

The show is performed in the Sherman’s Studio Theatre where audiences have the option of sitting on benches or on the floor on large pink mats. The space is very friendly and welcoming which helps to relieve any fears that parents might have about keeping children quiet and sitting still for a long stretch. There seems to be a general acceptance that the audience probably will make some noise, eat sweets and wriggle about a bit. That being said, the level of concentration and excellent behaviour in the room is a testament to the quality of the performance – the audience were totally enraptured.

With a 50-minute running time and no interval, this delightful reimagination of a well-known tale is the perfect festive treat for a young family. We had a really enjoyable afternoon and would certainly recommend this performance as a lovely outing for families with young children.

Elen Benfelen / Goldilocks is at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff until 31st December 2022.You can find out more and book tickets here

REVIEW Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Sherman Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Grangetown, 1913. A young girl called Stevie (Lily Beau) is about to face another Christmas without her mother, a Suffragette who is spending Christmas Eve on the campaign for women’s rights. Much to her mother’s disapproval, Stevie’s uncles gift her with a book of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. Yearning for a story of her own, Stevie finds herself transported in the weird and wacky Grimmdom and assembles a chorus of fairy tale characters on a quest for a happily ever after.

Written by Hannah McPake (who also plays Mother / the Snow Queen), and directed by Joe Murphy, Tales of the Brothers Grimm is proof positive that there’s no place like the Sherman at Christmastime. Their annual production has become as integral a part of the festive season as a mince pie, and their latest offering is a treat for all the senses.

McPake, most recently Peter Quince in the Sherman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, continues to prove herself as a real tour de force both onstage and behind the scenes. Her writing is as crisp as snow and sparkles almost as much as her Snow Queen costume does: when she crashes onstage dressed like Elizabeth I as styled by Vivienne Westwood (actually the wonderful Hayley Grindle), you know you’re about to see something iconic.

While riffing on some of the most beloved fairy tales in existence, the show also affectionately draws on The Wizard of Oz, with Stevie stranded in a strange and magical world and wanting to get home. Her actions in the Grimmdom end up disrupting the fairy tale trajectories of Cinderella (Katie-Elin Salt), Sleeping Beauty (Bethzienna Williams), and Rapunzel (Sarah Workman) – and so they journey through the forest to find the Brothers Grimm and put their stories back on track.

The production plays with archetypes and doubles, with much of the hugely talented cast playing multiple roles and instruments. Kyle Lima and James Ifan play both Stevie’s stern bookbinding Uncles and the Brothers Grimm, who make a grand entrance singing a Europop banger while dressed in sparkly lederhosen – and if that doesn’t make you want to see the show, I don’t know what will. Ifan also steals hearts as a soul-searching Prince Charming while Lima huffs, puffs and blows the house down as a bluesy Big Bad Wolf.

Lily Beau leads the adventure brilliantly while Keiron Self as the Narrator (in his seventh Sherman Christmas production) holds everything together with a dollop of charm and a huge dose of silliness – he and apprentice actor Michael Morgan also get to join in on the sparkly lederhosen front, with much aplomb. Elin-Salt, Williams and Workman first take to the stage as the Uncles’ automaton-esque Bavarian helpers, before returning in full Disney mode to great effect. Williams, a finalist on The Voice in 2019, lends real power to ‘Wide Awake’, one of a host of brilliant songs by McPake and Lucy Rivers (with musical direction by Barnaby Southgate). Meanwhile, Hayley Grindle’s set and costumes underscore the jagged magic of this topsy-turvy fairy tale world.

Fairy tales are stories of transformation: straw can be turned into gold, a pumpkin into a carriage, and a frog into a prince. But while ‘happily ever after’ bookends the stories it can also trap its characters: in gender roles, in unhappy relationships, in the illusion of closure. The Narrator yearns for a name, Stevie for purpose – even the Snow Queen longs to rewrite her story. The princesses might all call on Prince Charming to save them, but he is just as much a victim to the patriarchy as they are. Even the Brothers Grimm are trapped by fame and expectations.

In a beautifully subversive move, McPake – as both actor and scribe – encourages her characters and her audience to think beyond ‘The End’: to flout the rules, to rescue ourselves, and to write our own stories. Tales of the Brothers Grimm is a feat of pure Grimmagiantion, and it proves something even deeper: the Sherman isn’t just the place you go to see a show: it’s a place you go to feel like you belong.

Tales of the Brothers Grimm is playing at the Sherman Theatre through to 31st December. There are a number of accessible performances (captioned, relaxed, and BSL interpreted) through its run, and reduced ticket prices for children and under 25s. More information on the show and how to book tickets here.