Category Archives: Theatre

The Sound of Robinson, The Other Island, Behind the Curtains, Part 2 By Eva Marloes

The immersive sounds of Robinson. The Other the Other Island capture the struggle with loneliness of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the sensual writing of Michel Tournier’s Friday with softly spoken pages from the book, water dripping, waves, and a mosquito buzzing in your ear. What makes this rendering of Robinson original and innovative is the sound system used that mimics human hearing through binaural recording and the sense of urban isolation as the audience listens to the play through headphones. The architect of the sound world of Robinson is John Norton, artistic director of Give It A Name

(l-r Matt Wright, John Norton, Give It A Name) Photo by Jorge Lizaldo @ Studio Cano

John says ‘hello’ to the recorder on my phone. He’s disappointed that there are no sound waves. He is an actor, director, sound designer, and has spent many years as DJ. He writes audio drama and experiments with sound. Married to theatre director Mathilde Lopez, he often designs the sound world for her plays, as he did, in collaboration with Branwen Munn, for the recent Les Misérables.

This time, John has created a three-dimensional sound experience with binaural mics for the play Robinson. The Other Island, bringing voices, sounds, and music directly into the ears of each audience member

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Eva Marloes

Binaural recording aims to reproduce human hearing. Each of our ears perceives sound differently. We hear a sound coming from one direction first with the ear closer to the source of the sound. Binaural recording is fed into headphones making possible to hear different sounds in each ear and the location of their source. A sound can come not only from the left or the right, but also top, bottom, front, or behind the listener. This technique allows a three-dimensional experience of sound. Usually, binaural recording utilises two mics inside a ‘dummy head’ that replicates an average human head. For Robinson, John has used in-ear mics to get the experience of the actor into the ears of the audience.

John researched immersive sound for theatre after being granted an Arts Council Wales, Creative Wales Award in 2012-2013. He tried different techniques, but was taken in particular by the possibilities of binaural. He tells me, ‘What I really loved about binaural is that it really is how we hear. I got very excited.’ After the research period, he ‘played around’ with in-ear binaural mics for various projects. The choice of in-ear mics, instead of dummy head recording, offers the advantage of hearing what actors hear in their ears. He explains, ‘What I like about having an in-ear mic is having the internal perspective of the actor live. What you will never have with the dummy head is when Luciana (Luciana Chapman plays Bianca in Robinson) swallows the water, you hear it as if it’s inside your own head. For me that’s just another level of crazy intimacy that I was intrigued by. That’s one of the reasons why we went for that for this show.’

Enthusiastic of the technique is also Jack Drewry, composer, sound designer and theatre maker, who is sound designer and tech on Robinson. Jack tells me that the use of movable in-ear binaural mics is what is most innovative and exciting of Robinson’s sound experience. He says, ‘The use of wireless transmission through the ears is the immersion into the actor, the Reader’s (Bianca) world. That’s the thing that is new and exciting. What happens if you choreograph the sound around the actor as the microphone? The actor becomes the microphone. Whatever happens around the actor you hear from the actor’s perspective, you hear what they’re hearing.’

Jack Drewry image credit Kitty Wheeler Shaw

This technique captures the solitude of urban life amidst contrasting noises. John says, ‘We felt that putting the audience in headphones is a really good image of contemporary solitude. If you look at the bank of audience you can easily mistake them for commuters on a train, in their own headphones. There’s something interesting in isolating each audience member while they have shared experience.’ Robinson immerses you in the solitude of a man stranded on an island for 28 years and of a young woman living alone in a city. The loneliness of Robinson Crusoe leads him to have auditory hallucinations, something John experienced as a child. I realise that the chaotic music of the book club moments in the play may suggest that sense of auditory disorientation.

The soundscape in Robinson not only serves to immerse the audience in the actor’s perspective, but it also creates a sound world, the environment where the actor is placed. The sounds are suggestive of Bianca’s flat and of Robinson’s island. For the latter, mostly Caribbean music has been used to evoke the image we often have of an island. In addition, John tells me, environmental sounds, such as the traffic outside the flat and the waves of the sea, help listeners tune their ears to sounds. Gentle sounds, such as rustling or crinkling sounds, are also used in Robinson to elicit in some listeners a tingling sensation through ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response. Robinson is an all-round sound experience.

Jack tells me that ‘normally sound supports the action; it’s not front and centre. In this project the sound world is a big part of the show and the actors are always feeding into it. It’s much more of a magnifying glass of my design that it has ever been. In this project the sound from the mixing deck doesn’t go to speakers but to everyone’s ears, directly streamed into the audience.’ As I watched and listened to the show, I noticed sounds made by Robinson came from the back to my right although he was in front of me on the left. The experience of the eyes doesn’t necessarily match that of the ears. For some, this might be a little too confusing, however Robinson is not a traditional play but a meditative experience that at times is best felt with one’s eyes closed.

For more on spatial audio, please check BBC Academy h

Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – Patrick Downes

Review:  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour® Dreamcoat – Wales Millennium Centre 14 May 2019

You’ll surely know the story of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour® Dreamcoat. If not…. where’ve you been? It’s a retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph, his eleven brothers and the coat of many colours.

From its origins in the late 60s to its revival in 1991 with Jason Donovan (then Phillip Schofield), this new touring production of Joseph certainly stands the test of time. It’s been one of my favourite musicals and that was only through listening to the 1991 cast recording, over and over. So, that aside. How does this fair?

Jaymi Hensley as Joseph is certainly a little powerhouse of a vocalist which belies his pop background of XFactor and Union J. 

Trina Hill as the Narrator guides the audience through with a voice of great stature for someone so diminutive, and Andrew Geater as Elvis, err, Pharaoh manages to steal the second act.

Special mention though to the other cast/ensemble as I can’t remember the previous tour in 2016 being so rounded like this, as for the children – on stage throughout both acts, just brilliant! There’s more to what you may know of Joseph and it’s certainly worth a few hours of your time seeing it on this current tour.  A perfect entry into the world of musical theatre for anyone of ages 8 – 98

I think you should not “Close every door” and just “Go go go” see Joseph!

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is on it’s UK Tour at at Wales Millennium Centre till 18th May 2019

Reviewer: Patrick Downes

® Technicolor is a registered trademark of the Technicolor Group of Companies

Review Jospeh and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Rhys Payne

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Musical fans often snub Joseph for being like a school production but I challenge any musical fan to watch Jaymi Hensley in the title role and not be blown away. This production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Wales Millennium starred Jaymi Hensley as Joseph and at first, I was apprehensive. Jaymi is famously known for being one of the members of the English pop band Union J and sometimes, in my opinion, they cast famous pop stars just for them to be a famous face and to sell more tickets. However, this was not the case. Jaymi excelled at this role and really helped elevate the show. His acting helped perfectly balance the campiness and seriousness of the show with his exaggerated facial reactions to the audience and emotional portrayal of being reunited with friends. His singing was flawless. He posses an operatic style voice which at first I thought would be distracting but it actually helped showcase Jaymi’s talented without being distracting. In fact, I would say that this show contained the greatest rendition of ‘Any Dream Will Do’ that I have ever heard. My only issue with his singing was that at the end of the performance there was a ‘sing-a-long’ section and because Jaymi was such a fantastic singer that it made it somewhat difficult to sing along but that is a minor detail. With Jaymi’s inclusion of riffs and high notes that I think were added just for him, it helped elevate this show from its school production roots (which was what Joseph was written for) to high quality, West End ready level.

One of the problems I had from the first time I saw Joseph last year was the almost nonsensical setting of this musical. In last year’s version, we jump from the Wild West with “One More Angel” to France with “Those Cannan Days” and while this was fun to watch it did confuse me somewhat. With this year’s production however the staging and lights were used to suggest a theme rather than a location. Rather than being set in France for “Those Cannan Days” there was simply a illuminated Eiffel Tower on the background of the stage , which obviously was not supposed to look like a real-life in-person version of the tower, which served as a reminder of a French theme rather than stating this is where they are. The other thing that confused me the first time I saw this show was the character of Pharaoh as he appeared to be an Elvis impersonator. It was only after this year that I realised it was a play on the moniker of “The King.”

This year the pharaoh, played by Andrew Geater, was amazing. He looked similar to Elvis, he had his mannerisms nailed down and his impression was fantastic. The brothers in this musical are a vital part of the narrative as without them Joseph would not have ended up in Egypt. Within the show, the brothers also added to the comedy and fun of the show but also had fantastic choreography especially in Potiphar’s song titled “Potiphar” where they performed an intricate dance routine with poles which they used to create key objects in the song which was great to watch. All of the brothers were excellent dancers who combined the seriousness and campiness of each number. However, during “Benjamin’s Calypso” the brothers dressed and performed as calypso dancers. Some of the dancers did look a little uncomfortable with this dance number but it was barely visible, apart from this, they were fantastic. They were hilarious and great to watch. Something that was really interesting to see was the portrayal of Potiphars wife. She appeared on stage dressed as a ‘flapper’ and danced accordingly which was a really nice touch as within the story she is supposed to be ‘free spirited.’  At the beginning of the production during “Jacob and Sons” there is supposed to be inflatable sheep on the top of the stage however they did not inflate as they were supposed to and the members of the production had to sort them out. This was a small distraction for the audience.

Overall, I think the choice of costumes and colours worked perfectly together with the narrator in black and silver (with stars across her top) and the brothers, for the majority of the show, plain block colours. The use of colour reached its climax in the iconic image where Joseph is stood with the multi-coloured coat spread out across the stage. The posters and advertising for this show reflected the use of colour by using the raining drops of the rainbow which encapsulated the drama, colour, and the fun of the show. The designers of the advertisements must have thought about this and should be applauded. The show blended the tradition and history of Joseph while at the same time making it modern and the best performance of Joseph I have ever seen. I rate this production at 4 and a half stars.

Behind the Curtains, Part 1: Robinson, The Other Island By Eva Marloes

Robinson, the latest creation of director Mathilde Lopez and John Norton, artistic director of the company Give It A Name, is taking shape in the Stiwdio, the large room part of Chapter Arts Centre. Robinson is as much a sound exploration as a textual engagement with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Michel Tournier’s Friday. Defoe’s book, published 300 years ago, is a dreary propaganda for colonial exploitation, while in Friday, or The Other Island, written in 1967, Tournier explores the relationship between our ideas of civilisation and of noble savagery. In the hands of Mathilde Lopez, Robinson is a parable of solitude, which is conveyed through an innovative use of sound, designed by John Norton.

Director Mathilde Lopez

I sit down and I am given headphones. Every member of the audience will wear them. I hear the waves of the sea, the tweeting of birds, Caribbean music, and Bianca, played by Luciana Chapman, reading, but not in both ears. The headphones and mics are binaural, to recreate how our ears perceive sound. I hear Bianca speaking softly in my ear as if I were reading a book. I hear birds tweeting and a mosquito buzzing around my left ear evoking a tropical island.

The stage, for the time being, consists of three tables stuck together lengthways cutting the space in two. This will later be replaced by pallets filled with various materials, including cans and empty plastic bottles. The actors perform on the tables and around them. They’re still finding their feet. The text is not finalised, the action still to be worked out, and the cues set. The play is in becoming. I’m witnessing the creative process, which, under Mathilde’s direction, is playful and cooperative. Mathilde often laughs. She laughs at what the actors come up with, she laughs at herself. She makes suggestions, gives indications; she never raises her voice, never criticises. It’s always ‘shall we do this,’ ‘can you do this,’ and ‘thank you.’

A big black box arrives. There’s dough inside. Mathilde has fun taking it out of the box and playing with it. Her happy and excited face is like that of a child. Luciana punches the dough while John, who plays Robinson and is an experienced bread-maker, kneads it. John wants to throw the dough to Luciana. She’s afraid of missing. She doesn’t. Mathilde encourages the game. She thinks that Luciana should drop the big blob of dough on the table. Luciana has put the big blob of dough on her face. Mathilde laughs and says, ‘It’s a bit Elephant Man.’ Turning to sound tech Jack, Mathilde asks for a recording of John as Robinson saying, ‘Can you put the soporific John?’ I stand next to them. It’s intimate and warm in a very cold room. I listen to Luciana reciting her piece. Mathilde, John, and I listen while playing with the dough. It’s like children playing quietly while their mother tells them a story.

This story is one of solitude, colonialism, capitalist ethic, and freedom. It begins with Mathilde’s love for Tournier’s work. In Friday, Robinson has sex with the island and even with the child of the island. Mathilde has focussed on solitude and the antidote to solitude: reading. ‘When you read, it has your voice.’ In Robinson, Bianca reads the book Robinson Crusoe directly into our ears, as if it were our voice. The solitude of reading a book is ‘not the solitude of watching telly,’ she tells me. In reading we use our voice, our rhythm, we are part of the book. ‘Your voice becoming a book is an enormous, physical exercise in compassion,’ says Mathilde. By saying the words in the book, we get closer to the characters and understand them. ‘It’s much harder for actors to remain oblivious to the suffering of the character they’re playing because they’re saying those words.’ Reading is thus a way to open ourselves to others, practise empathy, and participate in the humanity of others.

Robinson is alone on the island for 28 years. We participate in his solitude, but we’re also horrified by his misogyny, racism, and colonial attitude to nature.  The novel Robinson Crusoe is a ‘twisted inheritance,’ tells me Mathilde. Facing up to the slavery and colonialism of the novel, makes you deal with where we’re from. In Mathilde’s play, the passages on slavery are not sanitised. They are kept and dealt with. Bianca gets angry and plays Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey on the Moon, which in 1970 denounced American social inequality and racism and that is still relevant.

Today, in a world of extreme inequality, where the relentless pursuit of economic growth is threatening our planet’s very existence, Robinson’s obsessive work on the island mirrors our belief of constant activity as a value. ‘It’s morally right to do a lot,’ says Mathilde. The myth of self-reliance of Robinson is but a fig-leaf for exploitation of the land and of the labour of others. Robinson ‘has to do all the time because he’s terrified of living.’ In Tournier’s Friday, when Friday appears and makes all his goods explode, there is a shift in Robinson. He cannot go on in the same way. He no longer imposes ‘civilisation’ on the island.

Robinson’s ‘civilisation’ rests on slavery and the unsustainable use of nature. He looks at the world and the island as a good, as Mathilde explains, just as when we look at one another in terms of what we can get out. ‘Nothing has a value in itself. Everything is a means. The island is only a means for him throughout … Freedom starts at the point when things stop being simply means.’ Nature and human beings are value in themselves. At a time when we might feel discouraged at world governments’ inaction in tackling climate change and inequality, it might be tempting to despair. As Robinson reminds us, despair is a sin. Mathilde says, ‘bad fortune happens, but your own reaction to it is your responsibility.’

Review Louder is not Always Clearer, Jonny Cotsen by Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Jonny Cotsen is sat at a desk with a laptop open in front of him. Music is on, he walks to the mic at the centre of the stage, he nods to the beat, opens his mouth, nothing comes out. Jonny is deaf and the hearing world has barriers to him. In his show, Louder Is Not Always Clearer, he takes us into his world. Jonny’s world is a world of rhythm and movement. He owns the stage with his humorous and dynamic presence.  He seduces the audience with movement, sound, and words, some said, some written. Louder Is Not Always Clearer makes you experience with your body the difficulty of communicating across the deaf and hearing world.

Jonny grew up in a family that sought to minimise his disability. His parents always referred to his disability in terms of being ‘of partial hearing,’ never ‘deaf.’ Jonny’s show is a journey to own the term ‘deaf’ and to demystify it for all of us. As Jonny shows us his efforts at learning the sounds to be used in words, like ‘pa,’ ‘oo/ee,’ ‘th,’ ‘sh,’ ‘th,’ it feels like Ionesco’s La Cantatrice Chauve. Paradoxically, the slightly absurdist style of the first part of the show communicates effectively the impossibility of communication. We drown in sounds. We are overwhelmed.

Jonny lets us into his world with pathos and humour. He gives us funny ‘impressions’ of hearing people being condescending, patronising, and impatient. The show succeeds at making the audience experience the frustration, awkwardness, and loneliness of not being able to hear in a world of hearing people. I would have liked Jonny to take it further and explore the complexity of human communication, what is taken for granted in the words we use, our miscommunication, and bad communication. In the age of texts and emojis, of social media, and of multilingual people, deafness can shine a light on how we connect and disconnect with each other.

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In the 300th anniversary of the publication of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Robinson. The Other Island offers a multilayered way to rethink the book. Director Mathilde Lopez and John Norton, Artistic Director of the company Give it a Name, blend Robinson Crusoe with Michel Tournier’s Friday and convey a somber mood through an original sound experience, devised by John Norton and Jack Drewry. The play unfolds in our heads as we listen to the sounds, words, and music with headphones. Robinson is more than a play; it is a shared and intimate experience of reading and reflecting on solitude.

The Robinson Crusoe of Robinson. The Other Island (played by John Rowley) suffers a maddening loneliness alone on the Island, but lonely is also Bianca (played by Luciana Chapman), who reads Defoe’s and Tournier’s books. Bianca is alone in her flat, eating microwavable meals, trying to work out how to fix a leaking tap, hiding from her father, and yet seeking a connection with him. As Bianca reads about Robinson in our ears, it is also us who experience loneliness. Isolated from other members of the audience by headphones, yet establishing a connection with them as we watch and listen together. The drama is at times broken by the lively and funny interventions of book clubbers talking about Robinson Crusoe into the mics of Robinson and of Bianca. It is effective, although on opening night there were perhaps too many voices, rather than the one or two during rehearsals, thus losing intensity.

Robinson Crusoe’s misogyny, racism, and colonialism are not brushed under the carpet but take centre stage. They are tackled with humour, puzzlement, and even violence. At the words ‘I bought me a negro slave,’ Bianca gets angry in her anger she becomes Robinson. She orders to fetch the Governor’s coat (Robinson’s), smokes, and reads the horrendous passage where ‘negroes’ are things, tools of work, lesser humans. The colonial racism is juxtaposed with Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Whitey on the Moon,’

The 1970’s that contrasts the power of white man colonising the moon while black people have no money to pay the doctor’s bill. Bianca takes up a plank of wood and attacks Robinson breaking into the world she is reading about.

Bianca and Robinson interact only slightly. It is a dance of two lonely people seeking connection and forgiveness. Robinson is shown in his humanity: lonely, resourceful, exploring and observing the island, fighting against his destiny, and begging for forgiveness. A soft music creates intimacy. Bianca and Robinson sit together playing with dough like children and like children the audience listens to the voice reading the book. In the week when Jean Vanier, the founder of the community L’Arche, died, Robinson reminds me of his teaching on loneliness:

‘Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart. … It is because we belong with others and see them as brothers and sisters in humanity that we learn not only to accept them as they are, with different gifts and capacities, but to see each one as a person with a vulnerable heart. We learn to forgive those who hurt us or reject us; we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt.’

Robinson is a meditative piece that stimulates thought and nudges us slightly towards compassion.

The production plays at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff and then tours.

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Rhys Payne

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Robinson: The Other Island, performed by the ‘Give It a Name’ theatre company at Chapter Arts Centre in Stiwido Seligman, follows two people who are stranded in two completely different worlds. This stage play is based heavily on the Novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe which was done in an intriguing and exciting way.

The first thing I noticed when I entered was the studio was that there were headphones on all the seats which at first made me apprehensive as I thought the use of headphones would be a distraction but in fact, it actually really helped with the creation and development of the play itself.   The concept of this play was that Bianca played by Luciana Trapman wanted to escape the modern world through the ‘portal’ of the pages of the three-hundred-year-old book. At the same time, Robinson Crusoe played by John Rowley is trying to escape the island which was clear within the play itself.

Rehearsal images by Jorge Lizalde

The two contrasting characters, the modern day young woman and the shipwrecked old man, provide the perfect contrasts which allowed the audience to easily follow the story and portrayed the area, date, and context of where each ‘part’ was taking place which was cleverly done. As an audience member, we can see the staging being built in front of us which only added to the immersive-ness of the play. The company had engineered the headphones so the audio is split between the left and the right ear which means you can be apart of both of the ‘worlds’ at the same time. While we could hear the calming reading of the book from Bianca in one ear we could also the sounds of the stranded island (e.g. sea noises, voices, etc.) This was done to illustrate the fact that when a person reads a book it helps build a visual picture of what is being described in the book. Due to this the audience is an external third party, we can see Bianca reading the book and the story being created in front of us. This was a really ingenious concept from the director Mathilde Lopez. As a literature fan I could easily recognise and relate to this. The use of headphones made this play unique, modern and contemporary.

Robinson Crusoe was clearly shown as a shipwrecked man and was based on the description as described in the book. The character did look as if he could have been shipwrecked and his voice suited the role perfectly. The character, however, did have some problems. The first time we encounter the character was at the beginning of the play when he delivered a speech about laws and legislation of the new island. However, this speech was done on top of a step ladder into a microphone, which was done facing away from the audience. It may be a personal opinion but having a speech done away from the audience and not being able to see the actors face is confusing for the audience especially considering the headphones make it had to locate where the sound is coming through. After this, we walked across the stage to collect props which sort of detached the character from this the deserted island. The stage could have done with an exit from one side of the ‘stage’ to the other. As Robinson, walking across the stage distracted the audience that could have been avoided. This collecting props was a problem throughout the play. As the prop table was sort of on stage we could hear all the rustling and banging which broke the calmness and soothing-ness of Bianca’s voice.

The actress who played Bianca had a very calming voice. The almost whispered tone was really soothing through the headphone which was really nice for the audience. Her voice was almost ASMR like which was very nice. However, this character was very relatable. She was portrayed almost like a teenager who experiences the struggles of the modern world. Due to this she does use swear words which clashed with the ASMR voice used while reading. This was a little confusing but the actress used two distinct voices for reading (which was the ASMR style voice) and a normal conversation voice she used when chatting to her father etc.

A really nice touch was that when her phone was ringing we could actually see the screen on her phone that told us someone was ringing which was really cool and helped to add to the realness. In conclusion Robinson: The Other Island was an intelligently designed show which was contemporary, unique and unlike another play I have seen before. If you are interested in plays and wonder how theatre can evolve in the future then I advise you to watch this production, it is not to be missed! I give this play 4 out of 5 stars as it showed me a side of theatre I never knew existed!

Review Peeling, Taking Flight Theatre Company by Eva Marloes

Production photos by Janire Najera and Raquel Garcia at 4Pi Productions
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

As members of the audience take their seats, two actresses are on stage dressed in a gown which looks like a robe à la Polonaise straight from the court of Versailles, embroidered for today’s ‘sex positive’ era with vulva-shaped pockets. A third actress, the ‘deaf one,’ as she’s labelled, joins the other two late as she didn’t hear the Tannoy calling performers to the stage. Alpha, Coral, and Beaty are three disabled actresses cast as part of the Chorus in a production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women. They watch the play from afar, away from the spotlights, and stuck in enormous gowns. As the Euripides’ play unfolds in all its horror, Alpha, Coral, and Beaty squabble, make fun of each other and of each other’s disability, and thus demolish the sanitised image of disabled people as helpless victims deserving of pity and not much else, fruit of the condescending benevolence of our society.

The sparkling and irreverent dialogue gives way to the harrowing tones of rejection, loss, and death, experienced by the actresses. The violence of The Trojan Women, which culminates in women killing their own children so that they would not be killed by the invading army, is woven together with the actresses’ own stories, as one contemplates abortion, another tells about hers, and the third recounts having to give away her baby and being sterilised because disabled women cannot be ‘mothers.’ Peeling is brutally funny and harsh. Kaite O’Reilly’s beautiful writing is interpreted with verve and pathos by Bea Webster, Ruth Curtis, and Steph Lacey, supported by the subtle humour of Erin Hutching as the BSL Performer/Stage Manager. They all entertain, grip, and move the audience.

Peeling affirms the agency and visibility of disabled women, but it goes much deeper than that. Peeling is about truth. It tears down the veil of respectability of our everyday language and conduct, which strip disabled people of agency. It unmasks the condescension and disregard that make disabled people second-class citizens. It reveals how mothers prepare their daughters to play the role of woman as whore or virgin. You need to ‘beguile,’ ‘keep smiling,’ ‘put it out there,’ or avoid at all cost being ‘damaged goods,’ ‘second-hand,’ thus denouncing how women’s body is still constructed in terms of male pleasure. Above all, it demolishes the sugary lie of ‘it will all be fine.’

In a Pirandellian fashion, the play peels away the layers of untruths that we tell each other about ourselves and others. For those who might think ourselves righteous and compassionate, Peeling holds a mirror to show that such attitude makes disabled people and women the Other, who must adhere to social stereotypes and expectations to be legitimised in their existence. The masks of social conventions that comfort the bien pensants and imprison the Other fall faced with the raw life of pain, death, and loss. Like in Pirandello, such endeavour is here accomplished through the layers of performance of the theatrical masks. Alpha, Beaty, and Coral perform as part of the Chorus, but also in their mordant exchanges and their mocking audio-descriptions.

Truth emerges from the acute observation of our own performance that shapes and reshapes social norms, roles, and expectations. None clearer than in the moment when the actresses watch the audience and the audience watches them. The veil of lies is torn. We are amused, intrigued, and uncomfortable at looking at someone looking straight at us. They are no longer the Other. They affirm their own self. As they put it, ‘Handicaps are a health and safety risk,’ we risk our comforting narratives that keep us ‘healthy and safe’ by hiding sorrow, pain, and difference, but also the truth of the human condition. Peeling lets us drop our masks and glimpse truth.

YOUNG ARTISTS FESTIVAL at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

The Young Artist’s Festival (YAF) is a week-long, annual event run by The Other Room, Cardiff’s only pub theatre. For the festival, the theatre invites between 35-50 participants from Wales’ emerging creative scene into their doors to gain invaluable experience working with their peers.

The initiative is open to actors, writers, directors and stage managers and aims to provide an opportunity to explore their chosen discipline, encourage collaboration and artistic risk-taking. The participants are shown the value of hard work with an intense, but rewarding, week. They’re given the opportunity to work with new, contemporary work. But the ultimate aim is for participants to gain confidence, grow and keep creating beyond YAF.

The week starts with various workshops and talks from The Other Room’s staff and industry professionals from a broad range of backgrounds. These workshops include casting, starting and maintaining a company, arts council applications, marketing, community theatre as well as sessions for skill-sharing and networking. They also have specific workshops within their respective disciplines with industry professionals.

The participants are then introduced to their companies, comprised of a group of actors, one director and one writer, and start working towards their end-of-week goals. Actors and directors present a performance of a given commissioned script and a dramatic rehearsed reading of their writer’s script. Writers write that ten-minute play whilst stage managers make it all happen.

Actors

The actors workshop this year was with Keiron Self and had a specific focus on how an actor interprets text. The actors from YAF tell me this was vital for the short rehearsal period they had. You don’t have long to get to know your character, and it’s especially important in shorter pieces where characters rely more on performance for characterisation.

Once the actors are in the rehearsal room they have a couple of days to get off book before their first performance. Something some saw as a somewhat daunting task, having never done it in such a short space of time before. However, they realise it’s perfectly possible and that the experience is vital for them moving forward. Especially when preparing for auditions or working in the fringe environment where time to learn lines is limited.

The performances at the end of the week come and go, but it’s really about the experience of the week, of putting yourself out there and on stage that seems to last beyond the week for the actors.

Directors

The directors had a workshop with Simon Harris, who focused on doing text work before rehearsals and working with new writing. The directors tell me this was great experience going in. Often their teaching has focused on working in the room and once again, the workshop complimented the direction process for the week.

The directors also have a production meeting with stage managers where they set out their vision and discuss the possibilities. This is something few of the directors had done before and again, it’s something that really helps with their personal growth.

Directors also expressed the experience of being able to work with a writer and have them in the room. Directing for rehearsed reading is something that kept coming up also. Directing with a specific focus on displaying the writing, which is different from directing the commissioned piece. Directing both during the week is a valuable experience to take away.

The trust and support given to directors to control not one, but two pieces of theatre, be placed in a room full of actors and deliver their own vision is something the directors also spoke highly of. The support from The Other Room’s artistic director Dan Jones and YAF producer Claire Bottomly was a big part of the director’s experience.

Stage Managers

As previously mentioned, the directors and stage managers have a production meeting near the start of the week. For the stage managers this is something none of them had done in this way before and is extremely helpful moving into YAF.

The stage managers are very hands-on during the week. With the support of a professional stage manager, in 2019 being Kristian Rhodes, they effectively make the shows happen. Bringing the director’s visions to life by sorting set, sourcing props and arranging lighting and sound. They’re present in some of the rehearsal process and get to tech a run of the final performances.

Overall, the experience is positive for the stage managers. They’re constantly busy and feel like they’re just on the job. But, crucially, have that support from a senior stage manager and The Other Room staff.

Writers

The writers start their week in a writing workshop with a professional playwright. This year, and the year I did it in 2017, it was with Matthew Bulgo. Bulgo is an excellent playwright and I can say from experience, very good at leading a workshop. He focuses this one on structure and writing for short-form, which is key for the week moving forward. All writers expressed how helpful this was on many levels.

Bulgo also returns to offer feedback, which is also offered by The Other Room’s staff throughout the week.

The writers spend the first half of the festival writing a ten-minute play. Something that sounds quite scary at first, but from watching the scripts performed at the end, easily possible to a good standard.

Writers then go into the rehearsal room on the Friday and Saturday to see their scripts rehearsed. This is a new experience for some, as is what happens in the afternoon on the Saturday when their scripts are performed in a dramatic rehearsed reading.

The writers seem to be the most stressed during the week, but as a result the most relieved and happiest at the end when they see their work. It’s an intense but rewarding week and in some cases the writers take their scripts and develop them further.

Speaking to participants from all disciplines, it’s clear they’re there for similar reasons. To make connections and friends, learn, explore, grow, reignite a passion, re-motivate, progress ideas, bounce off others, practice professionalism and a collaborative process in a supportive environment.

By the end it’s clear the week has been valuable, often in more ways than they realise. It gives participants a sense of pride if they need it or helps to ground them if they’re more critical. To realise that not everything has to be a masterpiece, and anything produced within a week won’t be perfect. But that it can be done. It shows them that this can be done and all it takes is a bit of hard work and the knowledge, which YAF provides, to do it.

When I did the Young Artists Festival in 2017, it didn’t seem much different. The main difference is it seems more focused on creating an environment of collaboration. Not that it wasn’t there in 2017. It’s hard to really progress YAF every year, because it’s always been a really great week for anyone involved. They’ve always been aware that people are different and always tried to cater to everyone, making young artists feel comfortable in an environment that, for many, is fairly alien – the world of professional theatre making.

Review Awakening, National Dance Company Wales By Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

It is with trepidation that I venture in writing a review of my first ever contemporary dance show, Awakening, a three-piece programme produced by National Dance Company Wales. All the three dance pieces have a distinctive style, show a desire to engage with ideas, and are executed skilfully. Watching the show was an interesting experience that left me intrigued, puzzled, and annoyed. I was intrigued by the attempt at using movement to convey visual effects, puzzled by the overall concern for concept, too often fuzzy, to the detriment of emotion, and annoyed at the diminished role of music, especially in the first two pieces, which but conveys a dystopian atmosphere, instead of being integral part of the performance.

The first piece, Tundra, begins with a captivating image of a dancer in a cone-shaped costume in a red light and an otherworldly voice. The stage is plunged into the dark and the figure disappears. As the stage is lit again by a white light, a group of dancers in white and blue cone-shaped costumes appear. They move together as a group and glide beautifully across the floor. This is perhaps the most striking part of Tundra, albeit relatively short by comparison with the main part of the piece, which consists of dancers in a colourful costume moving together as one. Their legs and arms touch to form one continuous shape and move on the stage like a snake. The choreographer, Marcos Morau, found inspiration in Russian folk music and dance, yet the cone-dress seemed much closer to the Korean traditional dress, while the main ‘snake-like’ performance reminded me of the Chinese dragon dance. The performance is smooth and elegant but the parts are disjointed and the music fails to convey any emotion.

Tundra is followed by Afterimage by choreographer Fernando Melo. The piece plays cleverly with mirrors and light to create the illusion of figures appearing and fading away like ghosts. The illusion effects are inspired by the technique of Henry Dircks and John Henry Pepper, which used light and glass to create ghostly appearances. In Afterimage, the dancers dissolve, often into one another, through multiple reflections. The piece is an exploration of different perspectives that never meet. It is well crafted, interesting, and performed gracefully; yet it feels too concerned with a visual effect conveyed through movement rather than dance. Like Tundra, it is too conceptual to convey emotion, and not aided by the dystopian music.

After the second interval, two women came and sat next to me. They could not make anything out of the first two pieces, ‘too symbolical,’ one said; yet they were enthusiastic about the third piece, the Revellers’ Mass. It is easy to see why. The Revellers’ Mass has a narrative, elaborate costumes, prominent music, and a tinge of humour. The piece begins with a male voice speaking Georgian and a priest lighting candles on a long flat surface. The sacred is alternated with the profane. The flat surface becomes a table and the sacred atmosphere turns into a wild party. At one point, the dancers at the table are reminiscent of the Last Supper, yet the reference serves little purpose and is a far cry from the biting irony of the Last Supper in Louis Bunuel’s Viridiana. Choreographer Caroline Finn is perhaps overambitious in seeking to capture ‘ritual and etiquette, and ceremony, as well as primal human behaviour.’ The conflation of ritual, etiquette, and ceremony is irksome and the contrast with partying as ‘primal human behaviour’ highly problematic. Revellers’ Mass is nevertheless entertaining and ends humorously with drunken revellers being dragged across the floor to the notes of Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien.

As a novice, Awakening has been an interesting and thought-provoking experience. I acknowledge my preference for emotional engagement when it comes to all art forms; yet the three dance pieces have opened a door to a way of experiencing art that has left me curious notwithstanding the frustration. The show has perhaps succeeded in raising questions, the most important of which might be ‘does art need emotion to be art?’