Category Archives: Theatre

Review, Hadestown, Lyric Theatre, London by James Ellis

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

I’ve wanted to see Hadestown for sometime. Anas Mitchell has whipped up a frenzy with this Greek myth inspired musical take on the tale. This being it’s West End premiere, can it live up to the hype?

Whilst it might work better as a concept album, it is Mitchell’s songs which are the pulling power of Hadestown. The familiar story has been on stage and screen in varying styles, yet its the lack of innovation which bores here. This is one of the most famous stories in Western literature, with a real opportunity do something interesting with it. Granted the New Orleans style jazz and hearty folk stylings do meld only to a certain degree. Its the former which is punchy and keeps toes tapping. They could have even pushed the jazz even more from this golden band,

My main gripe is that this story (presented as it is) does not fill 2 hours of a show, this is made clear in the second act when Hades stops and pauses as the Furies sing about his indecisions to free our young couple. Some press night jitters also saw a hanky nearly fall and a few instances of mic scratches. We let this slide, as this press and guest night performance had great energy. The ensemble for the show are very impressive in their energy, their diverse apperance another great thing. Musically, they have the least interesting songs, the Fates might just claim that crown.

As a cast they are top tier. A spirit of a bard, Dónal Finn is Orpheus with piercing falsetto and an all round Irish charm. His love: Eurydice is Grace Hodgett Young who is equally matching Finn in voice and atmosphere. Melaine La Barrie is the wise Hermes, the narrator guide who really loves to belt out numbers and use a novelty train whistle of the underworld. Zachary James is Hades in the vain of the comic baddie, not really songs for a singer, more acting songs. He looks a bit like Wesker from Resident Evil and Robotnik from the Sonic franchise. Not much to the depth of the part other then having some mercy for the couple leading to an atmospheric trial home scene. Gloria Onitiri is an easy favourite as Pesephone, of colour and spring lost to the underworld. Some blazing moments with her, really stirring powerhouse songs and good fun too. The Fates: Bella Brown, Madeline Charlemagne and Allie Daniel are analysing and wild sparks to the party, their harmonies a revelation. 

Rachel Chavkin could have done more with this show as director. Something about it not filling it’s true potential, yet the show has become a hit. Some costumes and set pieces might not have wowed as much as they should. Steam punk, art noveau and the Wild West all seem to be a part of this, though only in suggestion. If kept shorter this could have worked better, the songs though getting love and the all round gun-ho attitude is what makes this memorable.  


Review The First XXXmas by Rhys Payne

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The First XXXmas is a brand new production from the creative team behind XXXmas Carol and the Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe (which you can read about here) This year they decided to showcase their version of the Nativity. The cast and crew clearly have a passion for showcasing queer and local artists as each show has contained drastic changes to bring the stories into the twenty-first century. For the past three years, I have been lucky enough to experience all of the crude Christmas productions that have taken place in the Wales Millennium Centre! While the majority of the cast has stayed the same throughout, each year has been a unique perspective of some of the most well-known Christmas stories and this year is probably the most well-known story to ever exist! With the Nativity in particular there is always a certain awkwardness when religion and queerness are involved in the same sentence as there has been a documented history between these two groups so to take on the birth of Jesus Christ is a very controversial story to re- imagine.

The show opens with the sober songbird of Splott Polly Amorous welcoming the audience where she is suddenly challenged by an all-knowing being to give birth to the saviour of the world. Those who know the original Nativity story well will know that Mary experienced an immaculate conception where supposedly no sexual activity took place. This led to Polly delivering a camp performance of “Like a Virgin” by Madonna which dipped its foot into the biblical story while keeping the show camp and modern. I thought that it was absolutely incredible that this number contained an actual violin and saxophone solo (performed by the insanely talented Jenna Dyckhoff) on the stage which are not things we see in the spotlight too often. One of my favourite performances of the evening occurred in the opening of the second act of this show as Polly Amorous delivered an incredible rendition of Robbie Williams’ hit “Angels.” Not only did this song tease a Christmas motif with the titular biblical characters but the vocals themselves were out of this world! This performance truly stepped up a level when Polly continued her wonderful vocals but this time in the Welsh language and then provided lyrics so that everyone could sing along. As a proud Welshman, seeing the language literally take centre stage is amazing and I wish that more productions implemented more of this dedication to promoting the language. As well as delivering two fantastic performances, Polly also had to drive the story which included ample audience participation which is something that fills me with fear just thinking about it never mind having to facilitate it after doing everything else!

Eric McGill is one of the performers who has been a part of all three of these queer reimaginings and yet he still seems to surprise the audience every time he graces the stage. His first performance of the evening saw him take on the role of Mary/Polly’s husband Joseph but in this performance, he was portrayed as a sexy carpenter. The act began with Eric essentially strutting through the audience while carrying a massive log and giving sensuality with every step. Once on the stage, the audience was treated to a brilliant strip tease that was met with thunderous applause! The joke of this performance however was it was alluded to that Joseph is not being as faithful as everyone thinks as the recognisable Grindr notification begins blasting from his pocket. Throughout the evening Eric showcased his wince-inducing ability to force a nail and screwdriver up his noise which sent shivers around my body every time this happened. However, during the second act, Eric decided to channel a much more intense and political underpinning. Now playing the role of the dastardly King Harold, Eric began his act in a bathtub as he began covering himself in blood to represent blood being in the hands of political leaders/the loss of innocent lives caused political leaders that still happens even today. On top of his usual mesmerising aerial talents, the added layer of meaning made for a unique yet transfixing performance. I also thoroughly enjoyed the performance of “Supernova” originally sung by Kylie Minogue as it was absolutely spectacular! While Eric showcased his gravity-defying tricks, Polly and Jenna showcased their vocal talents. At one point glitter was poured from the trapeze that rained onto both the performances and the audience below. I did not know where to look as something was going on in every section of the stage which all worked together to create an extremely exciting performance!

I have to admit that I think Bumni Odumosu drew the short straw in this production as she was forced into multiple animal outfits for her performance. The first time was as a donkey which helps Mary get to Bethlehem whereas the second one was a sheep. This second outfit was absolutely hilarious as two audience members were brought onto the stage to be Shepard’s are guarding the sheep only for her to fly into the air and display her incredible aerial skills. This left the two audience members lost for words as how were they supposed to protect someone who was dangling from the air which caused fits of laughter from the audience. One of the most powerful performances of the evening came from Rahim El Habachi who is usually known for his fun and energetic belly dancing (which he did still managed to showcase) however this time he decided to go down a much more political route. Underscored by the track “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” by the Drowning Pool, Rahim delivered an incredible message about our current treatment of refugees and how Jesus himself was in fact a refugee. This background music combined with the powerful message made for an incredible act that shocked the audience into utter silence so much so that people felt unsure whether to applaud at the end due to the intense message.

Overall, the First XXXmas had the potential to become an attack on religion but instead carefully played with the story to create a politically powerful and entertaining production. The variety of acts ensured that the audience never knew what to expect next with Polly Amorous showing everyone that she is in fact the hostess with the mostest! I would rate this production 5 out of 5 stars!

Review Castellana, Cardiff Christmas Festival by Rhys Payne.

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review Sleeping Beauty, Theatr Clwyd by Donna Williams

Celia Cruwys-Finnigan as Muddles, Phylip Harries as Nurse Nellie and Dan Bottomley as King Dom in Sleeping Beauty at Theatr Clwyd. Picture by Andrew AB Photography

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Theatr Clwyd is currently undergoing lots of exciting changes including the refurbishment of the Anthony Hopkins theatre in which their annual rock ‘n’ roll panto usually takes place. Therefore, this year sees its transition to the Big Top. Seating over 900 audience members on three sides of the stage, this circus style performance arena is certainly a break from the norm. And maybe it’s the change from what has always worked that left this year’s production missing a little je ne sais quoi. Although magical in other ways; the in-the-round style of theatre, the magnificent costumes (just when you think Phylip Harries’ dame can’t get anymore whacky!) and a rip-roaring rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas complete with oversized props and plenty of audience participation- the production just gets a bit lost on this huge stage. The small cast are constantly present, unless darting off for a quick costume change, and they frequently come out of character and point fun at the fact that it takes them a long time to get from one side of the stage to the other!

On entering the auditorium, we are greeted with an open stage: giant web-like dreamcatchers hang from each side and a huge, sparkly spider (Olwen, voiced by Sian Gibson) hovers in the corner. As the show begins, she speaks, and it seems that she will be the narrator throughout. However, Olwen the spider is then only alluded to on a couple of occasions. Nevertheless, the concept of spiders and webs seems to be present throughout, Dame Nurse Nellie even fashioning an impressive costume of silky spider webs in the finale and yet there is no ‘through’ story regarding spiders and no version of the classic tale that I can remember, involving a spider. This concept just doesn’t seem to come into fruition.

Chris Patterson’s writing offers the usual ‘oh no he isn’t’, ‘oh, yes, he is’ type interactions as well as plenty of boos, hisses and an audience soaking! The most memorable gag, well deserving of a mention, happens when Nurse Nellie chooses her favourite male ‘victim’ from the audience, sits him down on a cinema chair with a box of popcorn and reminisces about their first date- using film titles as (rather naughty) puns! A lot of the jokes this year push the boundaries between child friendly and adult humour which works well (phew!). However, it feels that there is a lot of unnecessary toilet humour this time around. I’ve been known to enjoy a good old ‘fart’ gag now and again but more than a couple and they start to lose their droll. Always refreshing is the use of the Welsh language, heard plentifully throughout the production as the plot is brought to Mold Castle with mentions of Rhyl, Abergele and other local areas and landmarks, allowing the audience to feel more engaged with the action.

This production includes a stellar cast with fantastic vocals, super talented musicianship and a varied repertoire of songs including Destiny’s Child’s Bootylicious sung wonderfully by the three fairies(with cleverly altered lyrics- ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this fairy!), a beautiful rendition of Coldplay’s Fix You accompanied by the audience swaying their phone lights in the air and Ben Locke’s accomplished version of Kate Bush’s Babooshka (in fact, Kate Bush features again later on- thank you Stranger Things!).

It’s difficult to single out any cast member as all are truly fantastic in their own right. However, standouts for me are returning cast member Dan Bottomley as King Dom who brings just the right about of comedy and sentiment to Beauty’s father, and Alice McKenna as Fang who is often a standout for me each year and whose vocals truly raise the roof. Special mention, as always, must go to Phylip Harries’- in his 20th year in panto at Theatr Clwyd he certainly doesn’t disappoint- it’s difficult to imagine this Christmas tradition without him!

Despite the move to the Big Top, Theatr Clwyd’s rock ‘n’ roll panto still packs a punch and I’m always in awe of its triple threat performances and unique take on the classic fairytale. Oh yes, I am!

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

December 8th, 2023- January 6th, 2024

Writer: Chris Patterson

Directors: Francesca Goodridge and Daniel Lloyd

Assistant Director: Juliette Manon

Casting Director: Kay Magson CDG

Set and Costume Design: Adrian Gee

Musical Director: Tayo Akinbode

Choreographer: Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster

Lighting Designer: Johanna Town

Sound Designer: Matthew Williams

Fight Director: Kaitlin Howard

Company Stage Manager: Cassey Driver

Deputy Stage Manager: Edward Salt

Assistant Stage Manager: Emma Hardwick

Technical Assistant Stage Manager: Jay Kemble

Cast includes: Dan Bottomley, Celia Cruwys-Finnigan, Theo Diedrick, Phylip Harries, Emma Kinney, Ai Kumar, Caitlin Lavagna, Ben Locke, Alice McKenna, Georgina White

Review Santa’s Wish, Cardiff Christmas Festival by Katie Berrisford.

Santa’s Wish- A Wonderful Adventure for the Family

When I see a show, I always try to pick my favourite audience member. Someone who is completely engaged with the show, believes everything they are seeing and having the best time. At Santa’s Wish at the Spigeltent there were a lot of audience members to choose from who fit this bill! My winner was a tutu wearing, headbanging small folk who got a high five from Santa- I can only imagine the challenge her parents had of taking her out of the wonderful venue!

Indeed, the reactions from the audience were a beautiful example of what happens when an engaging, entertaining and festive show ticks the right boxes. The beautiful setting allowed a lovely intimacy between actors and audience, something often impossible in Cardiff’s much bigger venues.

The impressive ensemble show saw 5 talented performers getting to show off their skills and clearly have fun on stage. Alex Roberts’ cheeky humour and ability to draw the audience in grabbed everyone’s attention right from the start. Briana Paine’s impressive vocals carried the story of being kind to each other- along with some impressive moves. Often when an acrobat is part of a play they can seem tacked on or a one trick pony, but this was not the case with Briana Paine– instead they were an integral part of every scene, with some extra aerial magic sprinkle through. Dyfrig Morris’ dulcet tones and gravitas created a very believable Santa, and Millie Davies shone as Snowflake the Elf- in an outfit I was definitely jealous of.

The whole production was a highly polished affair, tricky in an unusual space and with the amount of props needed coming from different directions- despite a slight malfunction with the magical jam jar, but this was smoothly recovered by the cast. You don’t go to family shows for the plot, and this was the show’s weaker area, but there were plenty of messages to take away to consider for the meaning of Christmas.

Santa’s Wish is on until December 24th and is a treat for all ages. Tickets range from £15-£29.50 which is quite an investment for a family, but sadly this is in line with most prices across the city for a festive treat. Go along to enjoy some original music, impressive acrobatics and the chance to receive a high five from Santa!

REVIEW: I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY,WMC #Cardiff 28.11.23

The wedding is OFF, but the honeymoon is ON!

In a world of AI, EDM and BPM*, one acronym from over thirty years ago still lasts the time. SAW (Stock Aitken Waterman) were a highly successful British songwriting and production trio in the late ’80s and early ’90s, creating numerous pop hits for artists like Kylie, Rick Astley, Bananarama, and Jason Donovan. Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman crafted a signature sound that dominated the charts, known for its catchy hooks and energetic beats, contributing significantly to the era’s pop music landscape. And in fairness back in the 80s/90s – their chart presence was sometimes mocked – but fast forward thirty years, how many jukebox musical have been made about The Smiths, New Order or Nirvana?

I Should Be So Lucky is about family, friends, love and great times. Ella and Nathan, a young couple, hopelessly in love, and about to take the biggest step of their lives – marriage. Until it all goes wrong. Will they be together forever, or will he make her cry and say goodbye?

To start, I need to declare I do love jukebox musicals. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s space in musical theatre for something with a feel-good factor – not all musicals want to make you cry (Wicked/Les Mis). One of the most successful is of course Mamma Mia, so there’ll always be some kind of comparison. A common complaint can be that the songs are crowbarred in and don’t really follow the narrative of the story – I can’t say this wasn’t the case of I should be so lucky, but when the story is crafted by Debbie Issit (Nativity-The Musical, Christmas at Mistletoe Farm), there’s enough character for everyone to relate to. It does feel though that there’s just too much going on, and at times I felt instead of jumping back and forth each characters’ story arc, just concentrate of two sets of story, and make the others into a sequel? Just an idea?

Set wise, simple but effective and worked so well – touring productions must find it difficult to adapt to different venues in short spaces of time – but sound and lighting was also spot on.

Cast was on point – and actually looked like they were enjoying themselves – you do often see productions where for performers, it’s just a job. Kayla Carter’s reimagined version of Sonia’s you’ll Never Stop Me Loving You was the stand out moment of the night. As well as Dead or Alive’s you spin me around in a Turkish folk style. I need this soundtrack album in my life!

A proper feel good jukebox musical with so many classic (and yes I mean that sincerely) SAW songs. Even Donna Summer’s Breakaway from 1991.

Loved also seeing Pete Waterman doing selfies with people. A true British music legend, who at the time wasn’t regarded as cool. The man is the epitome of Britishness cool – and the back catalogue of him, Mike and Matt, provides the soundtrack to many a night out of the 80s and now.

If you want a real good, feel good night out in the theatre, I should be so lucky is definitely that. It’s all there especially for you.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Patrick Downes

PS.

  • AI – Artificial Intelligence
  • EDM – Electronic Dance Music
  • BPM – Beats Per Minute

Review Everybody’s talking about Jamie, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru Nov 28 – Dec 2 2023

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Nica Burns and a Sheffield Theatres Production, music by Dan Gillespie Sells, book and lyrics by Tom McRae

Why would a teenager want to stand out from the crowd?  For many teenagers, fitting in with your peers is hugely important so there must be a reason to be different. 

This is the story of Jamie, someone who by force of personality stood out from the crowd.  Perhaps he always knew he was different.  Perhaps an extrovert personality made him a born performer, but why choose to be a drag queen? By any stretch of the imagination this is an unusual ambition, and this play is a recounting of a now well known story based on the real life experience of Jamie Campbell. 

The action centres around the school environment of a year 11 class in the lead up to their end of school prom.  It focuses on Jamie, who is coming to terms with himself, and explores his ambition to be a female impersonator.  It seems he came out twice, once as gay and subsequently as an aspiring drag queen.  As the school setting is a working class environment in Sheffield, these factors brought with them the scrutiny, must of it unwanted,  from his peers and teachers.  

The stand out performer was Ivano Turco as Jamie who started shy, and mixed up yet became increasingly feminine and confident.  My problem was that in using a soft voice to accentuate his femininity, he became hard to hear.  He was ably supported by Rebecca McKinnis as his mother, Darren Day as his mentor, Hugo/Loco Chanelle and Talia Palamathanan as Priti Pasha, whose songs were memorable.

The production was great although not without its problems.  There was a 10 minute hiatus for a sound system failure near the start, yet the cast and crew addressed this and the musical continued without affecting the enjoyment of the audience.  The set was varied, flexible and effective, switching seamlessly from school room to nightclub to kitchen.  The choreography was energetic and balletic and the score varied in intensity from highly charged to being soulful and poignant.

In one sense, this play is mundane.  The vast majority of 16 year olds go through struggles to assert their identity and individuality and many struggle with attendant mental health problems.  In another sense this story is highly unusual and comes with layers of meaning and issues.  Jamie knew from a young age that he was gay and had an attraction bordering on compulsion for dressing up in so called girls clothes.  This made him out of step with society, such that his father thought him a disgrace and some of his peers poured scorn on him, even bullied him.  As he explores his ambition to be a drag queen, he faces losing his best friend, and being excluded from the prom because he wants to wear a dress.  Issues such as prejudice and discrimination and then human rights spring to mind but most importantly, it is clear from the play that one should stay true to yourself and then it is possible to fight through the barriers of social limitations and achieve success.

Even if a story of an aspiring drag queen is not your cup of tea, there is much in this play that makes it thoughtful, entertaining and uplifting theatre.   

Review, Branwen: Dadeni, A Wales Millennium Centre & Frân Wen Production, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A turning point? Branwen: Dadeni certainly feels like it. This “epic new Welsh language musical” heralds a potentially exciting new era for the nation’s theatre. Why? Because it is by far the most ambitious, large-scale theatre production in the Welsh language yet. Testament to what can be achieved when the might of Wales Millennium Centre meets the creative ambition of Frân Wen. It is no understatement in describing the show as worthy of a West End run. The culmination of a long-held confidence by some that our culture is worth investing in.

Adapted from The Mabinogi, this new version exports the mythic weight of the original into a bold and contemporary style. The result is a classic piece of theatre, Shakespearean in size, but with a cutting edge that makes it feel fresh and new. The musical element is a key component to this: a combination of choral tradition, music hall operetta, Sondheim-influenced harmonies and Disney-inspired ballads. Seiriol Davies has not been afraid to draw from the wide pool of musical theatre history and infuse it with Welsh character to create a score brimming with personality. The result is a captivating story. An absorbing commentary on power, family and history that could have been heavy or dictatory but has, instead, been generously and lovingly portrayed.

The costumes fit nicely with each of the characters: from the flowing dresses of the idealist Branwen (Mared Williams) to the army-like uniform of her renegade half-sister Efnisien (Caitlin Drake). So too, the choreography captures beautifully their contrasting personalities: particularly the swish swooning of Matholwch (Rithvik Andugula) in the presence of a buttoned-up Bendigeidfran (Tomos Eames). It is in the songs though that this royal cast of kings, queens and consorts really comes to life. And when one hits the right note, the emotional affect can be overwhelming. Take the tale of the snowfall for instance. The way that Mared gently presses her vocal against the window through which her character witnesses such a scene. So poignant and hopeful, it brings a tear to the eye. Or Gillian Elisa’s vivacious solo, in which her character runs roughshod over the King to proclaim where true power lies. It is delivered with such abundant force as to raise a rapturous applause from the audience.

These are moments which are memorable not just in the context of the show. They make an indelible mark on the mind in the way that some of the best musical theatre productions do. Finding yourself driving home with lyrics still playing out in your head. Fingers tapping the melody on the steering wheel. Feelings still flowing through your body as you go to bed. This is a sure sign that Branwen: Dadeni has in some way been a success. It certainly lays down a marker for future work, which is as challenging as it is inspiring. At a time when investment in the arts is in danger of falling, may Branwen: Dadeni be the start and not the end of something.

Reviewed on the final night at Pontio Arts Centre in Bangor by Gareth Williams

Review Lay Down Your Burdens, Rhiannon Faith Company, Barbican Centre by Tanica Psalmist

Lay Down Your Burdens by Rhinannon Faith Company explores themes of judgement, depression, trauma, loss, grief, serious illness and personal suffering.

From immersive to interactive the audience is fully immersed in and around the stage to feel the sensory experiences within the pub atmosphere. As you enter there is a combination of bar stool seating, where you may get a Mocktail or Guinness on the house from the generous landlady, Sarah! however, don’t forget the ”eyes, eyes” before you take your shot!

This production uniquely, contains philosophical, meaningful and enriching messages throughout! Taking you on a surreal adventure of emotional distress, attachment and self neglect. However, there’s ample space made for selected audience members to display appreciation, honesty and deeper insights of gratitude whilst simultaneously magnifying nostalgic memories, articulated poetically from everyone who courageously approached the microphone on stage, which was obliviously looped to create an impressive thread, echoing symbolically towards the end, mystifyingly the shared theme of love; what it takes to love, the simplicity of why we love and our personal lived experiences due to a lack of love.

Lay Down Your Burdens features liberating choreographed physical theatre movements. The ambience of live music played throughout; magnetically paved the way for individual stories and dance sequences to expand on conscious awakening, growth, relationships, chances, self-healing, fulfilment, conviction, vulnerability, infinity, embracement, encounters, barriers, conflict, purpose and hope collectively, fully exalted through the vibration of sound & frequencies.

Each string instrument released the chords of pain, strength, fear, loneliness and intention, as we unlearnt patterns to how we survive & cope to avoid threat, pursue happiness and success. As we repetitively vocalised the statement ‘I carry you & you carry me’, the expression of movement alongside the intrinsic decoding of our natural rhythm and synchronicity, helped to form the basis of human touch, soul connections, love languages, verbal & non verbal communication, highlighting deeper resonances from our past, present and future; infused with the good, the bad & the ugly episodes.

Overall, Lay Down Your Burdens is packed with the right dose of humour, audience participation and experimental play. You can’t help but form authentic bonds, due to the universally related themes and intimacy, whilst getting lost in the moment you will inevitably escape fantasy to touch and dive deep into reality. This show is highly recommended!

Review The King and I, New Theatre Cardiff by Jane Bissett.

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This is the first time I have been to the theatre since lockdown and this was a most wonderful reintroduction. There is nothing that compares to live theatre and this opportunity did not disappoint and I would certainly recommend this musical to everyone.

When composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein teamed up they became the greatest musical partnership of all time. Their influence and innovation to theatre musicals has been celebrated the globe over.

This production of The King and I comes to Cardiff following a critically-acclaimed season at The London Palladium where it was no surprise that it was a sell out!
 

From curtain up the audience was transported and transfixed to another world far from the mundane. For many the bench mark for this elaborate musical is the 1956 film with screen performances of Deborah Kerr (Anna) and Yul Brynner (King Mongkut).

The West End’s Annalene Beechey and Broadway’s Darren Lee did not disappoint with their interpretation and performances that transported us to the Siam of Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam on which the musical is based.

The story follows Anna, a widow, and her son as they travel to Bangkok, where Anna has been assigned as a tutor to the King’s children. Anna soon finds herself having cultural clashes and differences with the King whilst endearing herself to both the children and the king’s many wives.

The Royal children were a delight, completing the illusion of being in a far country at a different time.

There are also the side stories of star crossed lovers and references to slavery. These must be viewed in context but the female narrative cannot be ignored and gives additional depth to the story as a whole.

The stand out actor for me was Caleb Lagayan, who excelled as a truly believable Prince Chulalongkorn. His voice was powerful, captivating and commanded the stage.

From the golden age of musicals, The King and I is one of the greatest, with what many would consider one of the finest scores ever written.

Many in the audience seemed to genuinely find it difficult not to sing along to the familiar songs including Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance.
 
Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher and his internationally renowned creative team created the atmosphere of old Siam. The wonderful full-scale orchestra led by Christoper Munday, must be given credit for keeping us spell bound all evening, even before the curtain rose.

A truly memorable evening I would recommend to everyone.