Category Archives: Theatre

Review Blue Stockings, Storyhouse, Chester By Simon Kensdale

 I wasn’t exactly disappointed but I wasn’t satisfied either – for several reasons.  This puts me in a minority of one, as it seems both the play and this production have been universally well-received:

A must see

a talented young cast

terrific energy as the fight goes on

so good all you want to do is roll out one superlative after another

– and so on.  So, why dissatisfied?

Blue Stockings’ is issue-based.  The subject – the refusal of Cambridge University to recognise women’s equal intelligence by awarding female students degrees and allowing them to graduate – takes precedence over the characterisation of the cast and any personal drama.  The general circumstance – that of an institution pigheadedly refusing to accept women as men’s intellectual equals – is a given and it replaces the normal dramatic tension set up in scenes where there is a rising tension between the protagonists.  So, does this subject provide suitable material for a play?  For one thing, we know the ending in advance, so there is limited suspense.

The standard approach to tackling issues is to show a sympathetic character – a hero or heroine – as being involved in or effected by what is going on in society.  Thus in ‘Henry IV’, Prince Hal and Falstaff can play out their relationship against a backdrop of what it means to be a king in waiting; in ‘The Crucible’, Proctor and Abigail’s story explores the immediate meaning of national paranoia; Hedda Gabler’s passion has nowhere to go and her behaviour when confronted by an unassailable patriarchy becomes both fascinating and horrific.

None of the people portrayed in ‘Blue Stockings’ are of heroic stature.  They are not intended to be.  By giving us a number of female and male undergraduates and a number of men and women academics, Jessica Swayle spreads the load, as it were.  But I think she has done this too evenly.  She avoids the problem sometimes caused by having a pre-eminent main character – the feeling  that his/her problem is unique – by her spread approach, but she leaves an attentive audience wondering exactly where and on whom to place their attention.

Swayle’s large pool of dramatis personae gives her an additional problem.  Those associated with Cambridge, whether working or studying there, are not and never have been representative of wider UK society.  We can’t shrug off our view of them as elitist and privileged.  En masse they put us on the defensive. ‘Why,’ we ask ourselves, ‘should we care tuppence about these toffs?’

One answer is because they are not all toffs.  Even in the nineteenth century there would have been those at Cambridge who did not fit the mould.  Swayle shows us this by having a working-class female undergraduate, Maeve Sullivan, and a genuinely egalitarian male lecturer, Thomas Banks.  (Banks’ career is derailed because he refuses to give up his Girton teaching when offered a fellowship at Trinity.  I thought though, because of a bit of injudicious staging in this production, he might have got into trouble because of the proximity of his hand to a student bottom, occurring when he pushes Tess around on a bicycle – but maybe I wasn’t meant to notice this).

Swayle also sets up an overarching tension by giving us two real historical characters:  Elizabeth Welsh, the mistress of Girton, and Henry Maudsley, the famous psychiatrist.  Mrs Welsh has been working patiently towards obtaining degrees for her girl students; Maudsley has been diligently exploring hysteria and has a number of theories about it.

The presentation of Maudsley needs much more careful handling because he is shown as representative of contemporary male thinking.  Swayle gives him the space to present ideas which today appear as complete nonsense but the way she does this is quasi-farcical.  We are encouraged to find him ridiculous, to laugh uproariously at his ‘wandering womb’ theory, without being simultaneously obliged to place the idea in its real context.  It was not funny for the women of the time to be considered wholly at the mercy of their misunderstood biology. 

Equally the thinking that Maudlsey and others put into hysteria was well-intentioned, insofar as it was part of the early attempts to understand why women were so unhappy and why many of them succumbed to severe mental illness.  In other words, today Maudsley is both absurd and understandable.  In fact he made a huge contribution to the treatment of the insane, giving what Wikipedia describes as an astonishing amount of his own money to ensure the completion of the hospital that was named after him – and which is still providing mental health services today.  If he was shown on stage as a more rounded and complex character and not just as a blithering idiot he would be both funnier and more interesting.

Apparently – Wikipedia again – Elizabeth Welsh managed to rise from being a tutor at Girton to become the first mistress to have any say in the college’s direct management.  She did not, however, manage to achieve what the play suggests was her great ambition – the awarding of degrees to female undergraduates.  Cambridge obstinately continued its male-centred approach until 1948.  It was the last British university to reach this point, some seven hundred years after Bolgona, where a woman got a degree in 1237.  A couple of women were teaching at Spanish universities in the seventeenth century.  Ironically enough, the first woman to be given a BA Cantab was the Queen Mother, and this was only an honorary award.  What does that say about respect for women academics?

The problem as far as the play and this production is concerned is how to flesh out Elizabeth Welsh.  Again I think Swayle needed to handle this more carefully. As it is there is just insufficient modulation in Welsh’s behaviour.  One moment she is seen talking quietly and intelligently to her out of order or worried students and the next she is shouting at a member of her staff she disagrees with.  She comes across as more like a stressed out secondary teacher than a thoughtful member of an intellectual community.  In the end she is transformed into a monstrous harridan, booming at all and sundry.  I was relieved when she was pushed over and the ranting came to an end.

Highly educated people, whether female or male, don’t resort to shouting one another down in a hurry, because they have been equipped with a wide variety of vocal and verbal resources.  They deploy these resources so as to be able to avoid direct confrontation – which they normally consider to be both pointless and ridiculous. (It’s only when they get to the House of Commons that they forget what they have been taught and start behaving badly.)  I don’t object to violent arguments on stage but they require preparation: they are only effective when we have experienced the build up behind them.  You can’t fast forward.  Because Elizabeth Welsh is not the primary focus of the play’s story, she appears in the way to have a very short fuse.  Thus, her mood swings work against the play’s main theme – that women are not driven exclusively by their emotions.  Who, honestly, would want someone like her in the common room?

I expected the plot as it unravelled might centre on Maeve Sullivan and her struggles to integrate with her peers whilst she laid the foundations for a professional career and her escape from her family background.  Instead, when her brother brings news of her mother’s death she is told – by Elizabeth Welsh, no less – that she has to go home and look after her siblings and accept her limited destiny.  The glades of academe are not for such as she.  But, as we have not got to know her properly before this happens, we don’t feel very sorry for her.  She is quickly forgotten – like the girl or girls murdered at the beginning of a Scandi noir TV series.  Rather than serving as a dramatic counterbalance to the other, upper middle class female undergraduates, she remains – as described in the cast list – ‘a mystery’.  Why?

One of those other female undergraduates who is given a bit more air space is Tess Moffat, described as ‘a curious girl’.  This sounds as if it might be ironic – aren’t all Cambridge undergraduates curious? – but she is not given very much more room to manoeuver than Maeve. 

In an early scene, we watch her pluck up the extraordinary courage required to confront Maudsley in a lecture.  But here again, Swayle’s touch is wrong. Maudsley rapidly loses his temper when Tess interrupts and throws the uppity girl out of the lecture hall.  In reality he would have resorted to irony, the favourite linguistic device of the academic.  He would simply have cut her down to size with a few well-chosen put-downs.  That’s all it takes in a tense public space where a practiced sneer can reduce anyone a bit insecure to human jelly.  Any presentation of Cambridge life which doesn’t show irony as almost the lingua franca is just unconvincing. 

Because she has not been humiliated, Tess’s holds her head up high – until she falls for a Trinity man – Ralph, a cad and a bounder.  Ralph bowls her over with the trick that must have been old even in the 1890s, reading her a piece of Italian poetry.  Being a romantic nineteenth century nineteen year old – rather than an unsentimental modern miss who would collapse in fits of giggles  – Tess succumbs to Ralph’s less than obvious charms.  We are not, therefore, surprised when we find out he is going to propose to another.  In any case, university love affairs are not often of more than passing interest.  Does this sub-plot add anything to the main story?  Only insofar as Tess’ stormy love-life disturbs her concentration, so she flunks her exams.   Female intellect being undermined by emotion.  Why not show Tess as bouncing back easily?  Everyone gets dumped.  Most shrug it off.

There seems to be a minor error in the unfolding of the love story.  Tess and her beau have a picnic on what is referred to as a hill from which they can see Kings College Chapel.  I believe you can see the chapel from a distance – or you could until modern buildings got in the way – but this is because Cambridge is almost completely flat.

There was another minor error, too, in the conversation flowing from the male undergraduates.  One remarks that ‘employers all want firsts’. This is an anachronism.  Gentlemen did not go up to Cambridge in the nineteenth century to please prospective employers.   They went up because it was expected that they would complete their education.  It was only the poor – like Maeve Sullivan (remember her?) who had to think of getting jobs.  The gentlemen had ‘prospects’ that would not be affected by the class of degree they took.  They would be supported by Papa until friends of the family set them up and opened the necessary doors.  I understand even today it can be a bit like that for some of them…

All the male students appear to be paid-up members of the Cambridge equivalent of the Bullingdon Club, with the exception of one, Will, who for some reason is hiding the fact that he has known Tess all his life.  The aristocracy certainly behaved in the way shown but, yet again, it would have been more interesting if there had been depth and variation in this group of characters– if we had seen some of them worried about debt, others obsessed with sport, even some concerned about their sexuality.  Having Will as a student at Kings rather than Trinity hardly counts as variation.

A scene which had potential and which went awry involved a confrontation between one of the Trinity men, Lloyd, and one of the Girton students, Carolyn Addison, – ‘an early bohemian’ – in a shop.  Carolyn falls back, cowed into silence, when Lloyd launches a tirade against her.  I think he would have been rude rather than bombastic, sniggering cleverly in the way that misogynists do when they don’t have a gallery to play to.  I’m also sure that Carolyn, smart and demi-mondaine, would have had a killer riposte at the ready for when he refers to female students as unnatural.  Young post -adolescent men like Lloyd are terrified of women.  It doesn’t take much – a gesture, a movement referring to real femininity – to reduce them to nothing.  Lloyd is not in any position of power over Carolyn and she has nothing at all to lose from ridiculing him.  By having her turn away, as beaten down as the female shopkeeper obliged to serve him, Swayle suggests that women were all powerless.  This goes too far.  There is ample evidence in the literature of the nineteenth century, from Trollope to George Eliot, showing women could hold their own in social exchanges.  That’s one reason why they did get degrees in the end. You can’t imagine a Jane Austen character backing off like Carolyn – and they had to operate a century earlier.

In terms of holding their own, one of the reasons why women were finally admitted to Cambridge was that they began getting better marks than men in exams.  Not only were they acquiring knowledge but they had the confidence and the skills necessary to use it and present new ideas.  This is an important historical and sociological point but – can it make for great theatre?

Swayle shows us the Girton undergraduates coming out with snippets of knowledge about more or less every conceivable subject.  They are bright, well informed and well prepared for University Challenge.  We do not see, however, what this intellectual attainment has cost them, so it is hard to connect with it.  We are informed by one – Celia, ‘a fragile hard-worker’ – in the course of a conversation, that she has had a nervous breakdown.  This hardly seems important as shortly afterwards she sails through her viva. 

I confess to being puzzled by what seems to be another anachronism. In this viva, Celia refers to Einstein, although relativity didn’t appear on the scientific scene publically until 1915, about twenty years after the period in which ‘Blue Stockings’ is set.  Time and space may be relative but Celia would not have been able to travel through them, however brilliant she was.

I think most of the problems this production faced came from weaknesses within the play itself, rather than the performers.  It’s hard to fail with some plays but it’s not easy to deliver on a combination of cameos and set-pieces.  Other than Polly Lister as Mrs Welsh going over the top, nobody did anything wrong. The trouble was that nobody did anything very right or memorable, either.  If there are no  characters with depth and complexity, actors have to work very hard to ensure they can find individual ways of differentiating themselves from one another.  Groups of undergraduates are rarely exciting on stage and there was a lack of detail here: both the young women and the young men appeared to be little more than their normal selves, with a touch of acting applied.  Neve Kelman did manage to squeeze some original life into Carolyn but none of the others were remarkable in any way.  If the production is revived this could be addressed.  Everything and everyone was a little too safe and conventional.  Nobody went mad or was truly weird  – even though these are staple quantities of Cambridge university life.

I gather that ‘Blue Stockings’ has entered the national curriculum, where it is used for teaching purposes.  This seems to me reasonable, although I hope it won’t displace any major works.  With its large cast, there is scope for student productions and the ideas in the play are of interest.  In many ways, the play is more suitable for a young audience than for adults. It’s easy to see how it would spark off writing projects and further reading. 

Whilst it left me unsatisfied, ‘Blue Stockings’ did prompt me to go away and look into the background – and to write an overlong review.  I’m grateful for this, of course, but plays are about a lot more than education.  I need to be distracted and fascinated, disturbed and enthralled, when I go to the theatre.  I don’t want to have to do background study work afterwards.  I may not normally have the time. 

Jessica Swayle is adapting ‘Blue Stockings’ for TV.  This is probably where it belongs as material, not on the stage.  TV is a medium suited to docu-drama, because it operates on its audience in a different way.  Good camera work, for example, can make up for brief moments of dialogue.  By and large, too, there seems to be an insatiable escapist demand for period drama on TV, where there is more room to explore a wide range of people on a superficial level. Production companies love the challenge of recreating the nineteenth century and you can include scenes that are impossible in a theatre.

One of the most extraordinary events associated with the issue of women at Cambridge was the huge riot that took place in 1897, when an effigy of woman cyclist was suspended from the Cambridge University Press bookshop.  Showing this would make for a tremendous start for a series and it might really open up the world of the play’s time.  The repressed violence that emerged in the riot connects after all to what was to happen only seventeen years later in a war where the sons and younger male relations of the Cambridge blue stockings were ordered to don red-ribboned caps and walk across open ground towards machine guns. 

In the year of that riot, too, one Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, deemed only a minor threat, was sentenced to three years exile and found himself in to a hut in Siberia.  Away from Cambridge, the times they really were a-changin’.  For me, Swayle needed to tap into the Zeitgeist of the period a lot more thoroughly.

Rooting Hip-Hop Theatre in Wales

Hip-Hop was created out of struggle in New York during the 1970s as poverty and discrimination hit the African American and Caribbean communities. It has since grown into arguably the largest arts-movement in the world.

Generally, British society knows hip-hop as a music genre which is often put to one side. However, the reality is the fingerprints of hip-hop are everywhere. From music, to fashion, to dance, to graffiti, film and theatre. Spanning the globe from New York, to LA, Tokyo, Cape Town, Seoul, Moscow and London. Hip-hop is everywhere.

In Wales, Avant Cymru are pioneering the Welsh hip-hop theatre movement following in the footsteps of the likes of Jonzi D and ZooNation. Taking stories from where the company is based in Rhondda and around Wales to platform them locally, nationally and internationally.

I’ve seen Avant Cymru’s work for myself at the Cardiff and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals and company director Jamie Berry’s solo dance in People, Power, Perception is still one of my personal favourite pieces of art I’ve seen on the stage. It proved to me that you could tell a compelling story full of emotion using only dance. Which beforehand, despite having seen a variety of different dance-based theatre, I’d never felt for myself.

It’s hard to ignore the sense of impending doom brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic. Work doesn’t stop for Avant Cymru though. Krump workshops with Duwane Taylor are available on their YouTube channel and next month they will be releasing a video where world renowned popper Shawn Ailey will be teaching the foundations for popping.

They will be running workshops through to July, either online or around Wales when safe, including sessions with beatboxing, rapping, graffiti and DJing teachers to introduce learners to all elements of hip-hop outside of dance.

As a disabled-led company, with a variety of health and mental health conditions, Avant Cymru really is open to any and everyone. With the help of the British Council they are travelling to Canada in October for the No Limit Jam to connect with fellow disabled artists and explore opportunities and encourage those with disabilities, mental or physical, to pick up hip-hop.

The passion to do this comes from personal experience:

“For us Hip-Hop has had a positive influence on our lives.” For Jamie, “suffering with depression, breakin’ was the one thing that gave me drive and ambition… The theatre aspect allows me to express these thoughts. We have noticed other Hip-Hop artists, rappers, graffiti writers and dancers do the same. We want to make sure others have hip-hop as a tool to improve their health and well-being.”

For artistic director Rachel Pedley she found a home in Hip-Hop culture. “As a working-class artist, I struggled to afford the lifestyle of ballet dancers and other theatre makers. In Hip-Hop the training and social side was more affordable and the other artists were easier to relate to. It helped build the confidence I needed to go and create and understand my value didn’t come from the cash in my pocket. Working in the Rhondda Valleys, we want to make sure that our young people have the confidence needed to walk into other aspects of life, we believe confidence comes from celebrating our differences and that hip hop even encourages this.”

As well as offering workshops and encouraging people into forms of hip-hop, Avant Cymru also produce their own work. Working with artists from all pillars of hip-hop, from beatboxers, emcees, graffiti artists, dancers and DJs. As well as with artists from outside hip-hop such as theatre writers or musicians from outside hip-hop.

Hip-Hop is often stereotyped as ‘gangster rap’, but it is so much more than that. Avant Cymru aim to change this view as they “would like to share our knowledge with different audiences to show how varied and creative Hip Hop can be and how positive it can be when you get involved.”

Hip-Hop is arguably the largest artistic movement in the world today. But maybe the most misunderstood also. So, if you’re interested, check out an upcoming show from Avant Cymru or another hip-hop company. Or even give it a go yourself.

Arts Online, A Guest Post by Megan Pritchard, Marketing Campaigns Manager at National Dance Company Wales

We are both saddened to see the vast array of cultural cancellations over the past day and proud to see so many companies putting the health of their staff, participants and audiences first. 

The arts are an important part of many of our lives, and we’re also excited to see so many isolation friendly options arising. We’ve started a list of online dance and yoga classes, digital only festivals and a huge array of dance, opera, theatre, museums and CPD activities you can do from home – including full NDCWales performances.  Please share this resource and let us know of other fab things we can add to it. 

Mae’r ddau ohonom yn drist iawn o weld yr ystod eang o ddigwyddiadau diwylliannol sydd wedi cael eu canslo ers ddoe ac yn falch o weld cymaint o gwmnïau yn rhoi iechyd eu staff, cyfranogwyr a chynulleidfaoedd yn gyntaf.
Mae’r celfyddydau yn rhan bwysig o fywydau sawl un ohonom, ac rydym hefyd yn teimlo’n gyffrous i weld cynifer o opsiynau y gellir eu gwneud wrth hunan-ynysu yn codi.Rydym wedi dechrau rhestr o ddosbarthiadau dawns ac ioga ar-lein, gwyliau digidol yn unig a llu o bethau yn seiliedig ar ddawns, opera, y theatr ac amgueddfeydd, a gweithgareddau y gallwch eu gwneud adref – gan gynnwys perfformiadau CDCCymru llawn.

Rhannwch yr adnodd hwn a rhowch wybod i ni am bethau gwych, eraill y gallwn eu hychwanegu ato.

Gaga is a unique dance training, Gaga Movement Language גאגא שפת תנועה NYC are currently offering 3 classes a day 7 days a week with a suggested donation.

Moot – The Movement Lab are making their resources as available as possible and have great updates on other training online. 

Juliard School of Performing Arts are running ballet barre classes through instagram

You can learn the famous Rosas Danst Rosas from Anne-Teresa De Keersmaecker here online, easily done at home with a kitchen chair

The Dance Centre is offering fun online musical theatre inspired classes.

Rebecca Lemme / Acts of Matter offers a free online Barre Class you can do without a proper Barre–4ulAhmvpNotiVJIMz3Z3v_PIYW6pKyT0bZ_JQFfJN0Cow

The Guardian has an article on tips for dancing at home.


Overwhelmingly our dancers suggest following Yoga With Adriene for youtube yoga

Cat Meffan Yoga – another office fav, with a huge range of free classes on youtube.

Our dancers also enjoy the Down Dog App which also has a ballet barre class option

Rosanna Emily Carless our Dance Ambassador is streaming free yoga classes daily on her facebook page.


These festivals aim to gather streamed content and classes in different ways – Social Distancing Streaming Concerts 

The Social Distancing Festival 

Creative Distance, The Theatre Cafe 


NDCWales P.A.R.A.D.E.  including choreography by Caroline Finn, Marcos Morau and Lee Johnson, in collaboration with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rubicon Dance and Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence; filmed by The Space Arts.

Tundra by Marcos Morau

Reflections documentary and dance film from our Dance for Parkinson’s participants.

The Metropolitan OperaAre running nightly live streams, up at 7.30pm(EDT) each left up for 20 hours.

Rosie Kay’s 5 Soldiers

Or Zosia Jo’s – Fabulous Animal is available to stream for donation here

Berliner PhilharmonikerUse the code BERLINPHIL by March 31 to get 30-day access to the orchestra’s stunning work

Marquee TVOffer plays, dance, opera and theatre all to stream on a Netflix like service, offering free 30 day trial at the

Twitter Search #togetherathome to see bands streaming intimate concerts live from their homes.

The Guardian have posted their own list now too

Filmed on StageHosts links to mostly paid streams of large Broadway shows and musicals

You can watch the west end production of Wind in the Willows here 

Netflix and Amazon Prime VideoBoth have a small selection of stage shows to stream

Other Cultural Activity 

Free Museum tours from across the world

Free colouring pages from museums

Free National Park tours

David Bowie is At the V&A MuseumAn augmented reality tour of the singer’s costumes, notebooks and life’s work.

ETC have made their online training courses free during this time: training for technicians  The following performers offer one to one tuition, find them on facebook. 

Rubyyy Jones – Cabaret MCing Paul L Martin – mentoring for cabaret performers  John Celestus – one to one Flexibiliy and Strength, contortion, compare 
Skillshare International Offers photography, illustration, design with a 2 month free trial available

Welsh for work with Learn Welsh Cardiff – Dysgu Cymraeg Caerdydd A 10 hour course free

Say Something in Welsh A podcast based language learning system with free and paid options including Welsh

Duolingo The number one free language app has a great Welsh course too

DYMA ADOLYGIAD o ‘TYLWYTH’ (Dafydd James) Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru/Sherman Cymru Gan Lowri Cynan

Yn anffodus mae taith y berfformiad yma wedi cael ei ganslo, darllenwch yr adolygiad isod, diolch.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Weithiau, pan y’ch chi’n aros i weld ail gyfres ddrama ar Netflix neu iPlayer mae’r heip a’r ‘build up’ yn anhygoel. Ond yn amlach na pheidio, braidd yn siomedig yw’r canlyniad. Dyw hyn bendant ddim yn wir am ‘Tylwyth’ sef y dilyniant i ‘Llwyth’, drama hynod lwyddiannus Dafydd James sydd ar daith ar hyn o bryd. Waw! Dyma gyfanwaith gwbl trawiadol a chaboledig. Mae’r holl elfennau sydd eu hangen i greu darn o theatr ysgytwol yn perchnogi’r sioe hon. Heb os nac oni bai y prif uchafbwynt yw’r sgript sy’n grafog a chignoeth ar adegau ac yna’n delynegol a huawdl ar y llaw arall. Mae’r awdur yn dilyn strwythur y ddrama flaenorol i ryw raddau ond credaf bod sgript ‘Tylwyth’ yn fwy clyfar eto. Mae monologau Aneurin yn gweu yn gynnil drwy gydol y ddrama ac yn cyfuno arddull gynganeddol, gyda dyfyniadau o lenyddiaeth, emynau a rhigymau Cymreig. Mae’r chwarae ar eiriau a’r dychan pwrpasol yn gampwaith llwyr. Dyna pam mae angen i mi brynu’r sgript gan fy mod eisiau ei darllen er mwyn ei gwerthfawrogi eto!

Hanes yr un cymeriadau â ‘Llwyth’ a geir yma – Dada, Gavin, Gareth, Rhys ac Aneurin, ond degawd yn ddiweddarach – y llwyth hoyw sydd bellach yn bobl proffesiynol, yn rhieni, yn aeddfetach a challach i fod, a’r llwyth felly wedi troi’n dylwyth. Yn gymysg â’r cymeriadau hyn cyflwynir un cymeriad newydd sef Dan – gogleddwr a phartner amyneddgar a chariadus Aneurin. Mae’r ddau wedi mabwysiadu dau o blant bach ac er bod Aneurin wedi bod ‘ar y wagon’ ers pum mlynedd, mae diafoliaid y gorffennol yn ei boeni o hyd. Mae bwganod ei isymwybod yn ei arwain a’i demptio i fyd tywyll ei orffennol ac mewn un noson wyllt o gyffuriau, rhyw ac alcohol, mae’n mentro wynebu ei gyfrinach a’i ofnau personol dwysaf. Canlyniad y weithred yw bod Aneurin yn agor hen greithiau sydd wedi’i boeni ers blynyddoedd.

Mae’r actio a’r perfformiadau i gyd yn ardderchog – ensemble gwych sy’n cydweithio’n effeithiol, ond i mi mae Danny Grehan fel Dada a Simon Watts fel Aneurin yn serennu. Ceir gwaith corfforol bwriadol symbolaidd gan yr actorion ar adegau sy’n creu awyrgylch hynod effeithiol. Hefyd mae llwyfannu a chyfarwyddo cynnil a chlyfar Arwel Gruffydd yn arbennig. Mae’r set yn gyfuniad o lefelau a fflatiau symudol ar ffurf hanner cylch, ond sydd hefyd yn medru cael eu trawsnewid i greu lleoliadau gwahanol. Roedd hyn yn f’atgoffa o set draddodiadol Roegaidd, ond ar ffurf lawer llai wrth gwrs, ac roedd y goleuo yn llwyddo i greu naws hyfryd. 

Dimensiwn ychwanegol ond hynod bwysig yw’r trac sain a’r defnydd o ganu unigol a chorawl a oedd yn hynod ddoniol a dychanol. Roedd y cyfan yn ategu at un o driciau clyfar Daf James sef gwneud sbort deifiol am yr iaith Gymraeg a’n ffug barchusrwydd fel Cymry. I ddweud y gwir, mae’r coegni atom fel cenedl yn hynod lwyddiannus, bwriadol a dyfeisgar sy’n ein hannog fel cynulleidfa i ystyried ein credinedd ar adegau. Ymysg y themâu yma mae’r awdur yn trafod Brexit, hunaniaeth, rhywioldeb a moesoldeb. Ond y prif thema yw cariad a sut mae cariad yn trechu popeth yn y pendraw. Yng ngeiriau cân Eden ‘Gorwedd gyda’i Nerth’ “Cyffwrdd â’r grym yr hyn sy’n gariad pur”.

Os nad ydych wedi gweld ‘Llwyth’ ddeng mlynedd yn ôl, sdim ots – mae ‘Tylwyth’ yn sefyll ar ei thraed ei hun fel drama annibynnol. Ewch da chi i’w gweld. Llongyfarchiadau i bawb sy’n gysylltiedig â’r cynhyrchiad rhagorol hwn ac yn arbennig i weledigaeth Daf James a thîm Theatr Genedlathol Cymru.   

Review The Time Machine, The London Library, Creation Theatre by Tanica Psalmist

The Time Machine is based on the different dynamics existing around time travelling – written by Jonathan Holloway & directed by Natasha Rickman. Featuring Rhodri Lewis (time traveller), Funlola Olufunwa (chat show host), Graeme Rose (computer), Paul Taylor (time traveller), Sarah Edwardson (DRI), Clare Humphrey (time traveller). This play was derived from the book HG Wells giving it a different spin, even more so having this play performed at The London Library.

The start began with a scientist captured in a hologram screen prepping the audience by giving us a mental break down of the implications that was going to be unravelled. Then driving us down a road of discovery by providing a brief overview of the fundamental factors we as the audience would be encountering in solidarity motion . A unique achievement of being explicitly imaginary but maintaining the feel of being realistic as we experience a close reflection of what it’ll be like to tap into a new era through time travel. Shortly after the hologram we were accompanied by a time traveller who held a big brown bag which contained primal survival tools to break free from the power of the unknown that goes beyond our era when we as an ensemble yell ‘Zoom’!!!

‘Time Machine’ depicts technical intelligence, artificial intelligence infused with exclusive insights into the implications of the barriers facing us through trial & tested climaxes throughout humanity. This play projected the manifestation of the consequences of knowing too much, knowing too little, etc. All information used to produce this play were a collection of research data from scientific findings.

This play is truly a powerful dystopian as well as an utopian visionary becoming the space between the extraordinary taking us through a primitive space of human being counterfeits operated primarily on robotic-systemised technology; diminishing the present from the future giving off a nurturing fugitive space. The exploration of the library feel was what led this to feel like fantastic promenade performance. Extracting elements from smart devices, computer sequences, repetitive patterns helped to structurally enhance a rich flavour to secure an effective transition as we continued to time travel throughout the library, in various locations inciting new information to process every time.

Time Machine speculates on all the If’s & but’s, hidden truths that could make or break, cause heartbreak, confusion, seclusion then delusion before it all becomes to much handle! This play offers a unique experience shared between the audience & the actors creating a divine collective experience explored when going on a journey through some of lives most evocative spaces. 

The use of space in this play was pure genius! the creativity, inspiration & innovation to what the future awaits was key to successful suspense & tension in this play! I managed to catch up with Jonathan Holloway after the show who’d gently touched on the amount of research which was a massive contribute to putting the play in its full effect!

Review: too pretty to punch, edalia day, vault festival by hannah goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Edalia Day has brought a very unique and very interesting production to the forefront at this year’s Vaults.

Beginning slow and slightly awkward, Day seems nervous and uneasy in this plain white room. Soon we are to realise, this is very much a clever theatrical technique to their story and very much the beginning of something special.

Too Pretty To Punch brings Day’s autobiography to the stage. Identifying as trans, Day transforms the stage into their life story, the trials and tribulations and turmoil in accepting who they are and seeking acceptance in society. It then continues into a widen view of the issues trans people face and eventually brings in verbatim videos to others facing the daily obstacles.

It would be easily and still powerful to have used these videos to support Day’s points, but they go the step further – animation is projected onto screens, one an ordinary square screen, another slightly misshapen and another as a moveable canvas. These are used to flick between images and animations as they move across the stage, along with physical theatre by Day, making the action come to real life in our eyes.

Some of the performance feels like we are getting to know a new friend – Day addresses us and talks to us like a new friend being made, but then some poignant moments being transferred into visual elements adds a unique and clever nature to this production and hits the points home.

Supported at times with kitsch music that reminds me of Golem by 1925, this makes the production feel a little special and like nothing on the theatre scene right now.

Too Pretty To Punch is not only a really important production to see but is also one of the most unique and fascinating pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.

Review: Animals, Conscious/Unconscious, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

What can I say that drew me to this production? Ultimately that the show image is of two men in the nude hiding their gentlemans and looking like they are loving life.

Animals is the story of two cousins, a long way from home, trying to make a life in London. They enjoy drugs, music and cheese. They enter moments of absurd hallucinations, finding the meaning to life but ultimately gaining a new love for their friendship.

Animals is an interesting production; mainly consisting of a duo doubling up on characters, there’s an element of The Inbetweeners, with rude jokes, silly humour and really unique moments of comedy.

It took me some time to get into the rhythm of the production and understand its niche concept, but equally there were moments of comical genius and once I understood the approach, it became more enjoyable.

The two performers play very good parts; similar yet very different, there was a naturalism to their performances, even as hallucinated characters, and the chemistry between them was relaxed, bouncing off one another with ease.

I am not sure where this production can and should go, but it felt much as if there needed a bit of development and perhaps a moral direction to the narrative.

Animals is comical, enjoyable and unique. While I wouldn’t say that this is a must see production at the moment, I would say that it is however a good laugh and an easy production when you’re not in the mood for anything too heavy.

Review: LIFE: The Gameshow, Dave Bibby, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Take audience participation, the hilarious parts of life and throw in two comedians and you get a whole hour of a great night out.

Dave Bibby, in his new show, takes his usual love of getting the audience involved and on stage and transports us through elements of life, competing to be the better sex.

Games range from releasing blown up balloons, representing our first poo as babies, to scooting along our bums in our first car, to losing our virginities with slinkies. The inventiveness and creativity of the games and their representation is unique and clever, leaving us laughing firstly at the intelligent creations but also gearing us up for how the ordinary human completes such a task.

Bibby is totally honest with us, finding elements hilarious, turning any “mistakes” (as this is a show in progress) into a hilarious addition, and picking up or moving along the action with ease and confidence. We feel safe and well within his hands but happy to make fools of ourselves and join together to cheer on strangers.

Life: The Gameshow is exactly what we need in these uncertain times; a moment to relax, have fun, be pleasantly surprised but also to join together for common enjoyment.

An Interview with Writer Tracy Harris

Hi Tracy great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hello. I’m from Swansea. I went to an amazing creative primary school where we were taught Beatles songs, bombarded with the chronicles of Narnia and where I met some of my closest friends. I then went to a pretty tough all girls school where I met girls from all walks of life and then I went to Gorseinon College where under the brilliant Simon Pirotte, my love of theatre grew. I then went to Lancaster Uni to study Experimental Theatre after being highly influenced by Volcano, and as part of that course I did a playwriting module where I wrote my first play ‘past away’ which was commissioned by Sgript Cymru, on my return to Wales. I then went on to write a number of plays for the Sherman and other companies. Alongside writing,I started making TV Documentaries and set up ‘Gritty Productions’ with Chris Rushton. We make hard hitting films and radio programmes for BBC about homelessness, prostitution, and the benefit system.I also make my own performance work, writing and performing and collaborating with other artists, which is more experimental/ autobiographical.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

Well there’s definitely been a number of inspirational teachers along the way. Then my Dad used to make up silly bedtime stories and I’d always loved dressing up and making up songs, so I guess it secretly was always there. My sister whose an English teacher now, definitely passed on to me the love of words and stories. I never really went to the theatre growing up other than the Christmas panto at the Grand Theatre with the social club, my parents used to go to. The earliest memory I have of theatre was when I was 6, my infants school were doing a production of The Wizard of Oz. The teacher’s asked for people to volunteer to sing and my friend Lucy literally pushed me on to the stage. I was terrified but I did it, and I got the part of Dorothy, that moment actually propelled me into theatre and I’ve loved it ever since.

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

Ideas come to me randomly, often when I’m out and about, sometimes from images, sometimes from conversations I’ve heard or had or something I’ve read. I’m a bit of a hoarder, so I often keep postcards, photos, bits of text etc and they get recycled. I’ll often think of visual moments first and write from images/ photo’s as starting points and then plays start to build from there. I also like to think about what I’m scared of, or what questions I want to ask about the world right now and that often starts my brain ticking.

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

Since having Hartley, my 4 year old, my writing process has changed (for the better I think) Now, because of time restraints, I write for a few hours in the morning while he’s at nursery and then at night when he’s gone to bed. I have to be much more structured and give myself deadlines and tasks, like to complete a scene in a morning, but I think that definitely has made me procrastinate less and value my writing time more.

Why and where do you write?

I write because I often find that’s the only way I can express what I really want to say about the world. I often write when I have a strong feeling or instinct about something that I really need to say and don’t know how else to articulate it. Normally I write on my desk at home. It’s an old-fashioned writing desk, which we’ve named William! I like to think about the stories that were created on it previous and the people who sat at it. I also have a few little inspiring things on there and things that are important to me- they keep me going when I get stuck. I also often have music that I rely on for the play and will listen to that constantly through the process. (I tidied it for this photo!)

Your latest play Ripples, co-produced by Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in collaboration with Sherman Theatre takes place in a group rehab centre in Bridgend. It “compassionately explores what leads us to seek help.” How did you come to tell this story?

I think every play is different and therefore has a different approach. With Ripples the commission and challenge was to write a play for 8 people, which is both terrifying and exciting. I did a lot more planning with Ripples at the start of the process, thinking about where 8 characters may be thrown together in a dramatic situation. I also really wanted to challenge myself to write a play where the 8 characters are on stage for the majority of the play together- That was a big challenge I tell you!

As I mentioned, as well as theatre, I make Documentaries and a few years ago, I had been doing a lot of research about Rehabs and found a brilliant one in Bridgend and that place always stuck with me. Then I had questions about how I felt about the world right now- I was thinking a lot about ‘How do you fix people in a world that’s broken?’ Where are the safe places? and also personally about how I felt overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of bad news stories and out of the combination of all those seeds, Ripples started to grow.

Why did you choose Bridgend as the location of this play?

I chose Bridgend as that’s where the original rehab I had been researching was, but spoiler alert- this isn’t a play specifically about Bridgend and it isn’t verbatim either, although I have done a lot of research to make sure the stories are authentic and true to what might go on there. I think with every play, you have to find the right form and story for that play, so the actual Rehab and Bridgend as a place was just a starting point. I then starting thinking more about the technique I wanted to explore in the play and the characters I wanted to create. I was drawn to psycho-drama as I felt this was the most dramatic and instinctive technique that I could play with. The great thing about the New season is that you get to work with the actors and director early on in the process to workshop the script, so they have been involved and invested right from first draft stage and this has been invaluable, as I’ve been able to bounce ideas around with them and really flesh out the characters and stories collaboratively- and they are a really talented bunch- so that’s such a treat!

With productions such as We’re Still Here by NTW portraying the lives of Neath Port Talbot Steel Workers. Theatr na nOgs production Nye and Jennie examining the political background and personal inspiration of Aneurin Bevan and Jennie Lee, and your new production based on the real lives experiences Bridgend residents do you feel that Welsh Theatre is presenting representative stories of its citizens on our stages?

I think it’s important to tell welsh stories that have a universal reach, so for me the themes of the play; Trauma, Survival, Empathy and Compassion can all relate to Wales but also have bigger resonances in the world right now.
The next project that I am working on with Paul Jenkins is wholly a verbatim play about the Banksy that appeared in Port Talbot and this is specifically a Welsh story, right from the heart of the community in Port Talbot, but again it raises universal questions about community, art, money and values and I think I’m drawn to projects that do that.

There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales 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 Wales and if not what would help?

This is a tough one. I think there are opportunities in Wales, but they are few and far between and often there a lot of people fighting for those opportunities and commissions, so you have to keep proving yourself or have someone fighting your corner. I couldn’t survive just writing plays, but I also wouldn’t refer to myself as wholly a playwright as I love working in TV and film and creating my own work. I find that I need that variety to keep my creative juices flowing I feel extremely lucky and thankful to Simon Harris, who took a massive chance on me (back in the day as a young 22 year old, first time writer) and more recently Wyndham Price who last year commissioned my first feature film and Philip Carne who has supported my last 2 plays, without those people I definitely wouldn’t be writing now. Also I feel it’s great to have development schemes, readings and competitions, but playwrights need productions and I wish there was more money being thrown at dramaturgical support and development that could lead to this.

Sherman Cymru have recently announced the reinstatement of their literary department, on a one year pilot basis funded by ACW. What does this say to you as a Playwright as regards the venues intention to support your craft? What change do you hope will be realised with this new department at Sherman Theatre?

The news of a new literary department at the Sherman is really exciting as I feel there has a been a big gap in Wales in this area. Hopefully this will mean more plays will get read and developed so more voices will be discovered and produced, which is really a brilliant thing. Joe Murphy at the Sherman, Paul Jenkins and Adele Thomas have been great dramaturgical support and I think it’s important for writers to have that support early on in the process, from people that they trust. I think I need to be challenged as a writer. I need to be able to talk about my work and have people really interrogate me about my ideas- this has been invaluable for me to progress further.

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

There are so many things I would like to fund, but if I had to choose one, I would fund writing/theatre workshops for younger people. I think we really have to nurture that next generation of welsh talent, support them and encourage them to get their voices heard

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

I love the network of artists in wales. I often rely on my fellow artists to bounce ideas around and give me feedback on scripts. I also like to repay the favour when I can and I think that that critical eye is crucial in order for us to keep upping our game and challenging ourselves to be bolder and braver. The Playwrights programme and the JMK directors programme at Sherman Theatre were both brilliant as I feel from that I have developed a great network of writers/directors who I can now call upon and trust; Working with Hannah Noone on previous plays and Matthew Holmquist on ‘Ripples’ has been such a joy.

The new Unheard Voices scheme the Sherman has just launched is a brilliant step in the right direction- we definitely need more female voices on our stages! and the literary department is such an exciting thing too and I really hope it will encourage the next generation to get writing, and all those writers with plays in their bottom drawers to dig them out and develop them further.

I think there’s some great companies doing exciting things and supporting new work; Theatr Iolo, Mr and Mrs Clark, Good Cop, Bad Cop, Chippy Lane, Dirty Protest, The Other Room to name a few.

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

The last show I saw that really hit the emotional button for me was; I’m a Phoenix Bitch by Bryony Kimmings at BAC. I’ve always loved her work it’s honest, raw and emotional and she’s one of my biggest inspirations. It’s on at Mayfest in Bristol, if you get chance to catch it- I’d highly recommend it.

Thanks for your time Tracy.

A BSL Review of The Beauty Parade at The Wales Millenium Centre by Chris Coles.

This is a BSL video review. You can read a written version of the review by Chris below.

Hello my name is Chris Coles, I went to the WMC to watch Beauty Parade. The play itself was about three woman who were spies in World War Two. It showed what life was like being spies, that they don’t live for long during the War, it was a max of 6 weeks if they were lucky.

The play itself was amazing showing the good relationship between deaf people and hearing people can work. Special effect, captions and music were brilliant and written well into this play. I recommend you see this play if you like period drama.

Heather a Deaf friend of Chris also attended, Heather said that it was great to see a Deaf actress in a mainstream production and she enjoyed the way the captions and effects were presented.

The Beauty Parade plays at The Wales Millenium Centre until the 14th of March.