Category Archives: Theatre

Review, Small Change, Peter Gill, Both Barrels Theatre, Omnibus Theatre By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A blanket white stage. Some old, red colour metal scupltures. I hear someone describe them as artwork much like Barbara Hepworth. Very old city feel.

A set design, perfect for such a play. Small Change is set in Cardiff – these “sculptures” reminded me so much of the Bay, the docks, the nooks and crannies of Cardiff. Where there’s always something to discover around a corner.

Small Change tells the story of 2 boys and their 2 mothers – it looks at their relationships, all intertwining into one another, of the time period and its taboos, of mental health and repression. It’s a lot to put into a play and Both Barrels Theatre do this well.

Firstly, we have to talk about the accents. All very perfect, I suddenly felt transported to my family, to my time in Wales, and it erupted personal memories for me. Granted, this may not do this for every audience member, but the thick sing song accent certainly helped place the performers before our eyes in Cardiff.

The play took another worldly, unusual turn. The writing of Small Change is at times nonsensical but also poetic – just like most Welsh writers, there is a poetic and descriptive aspect to the narrative, and this not only felt unique to the play but also highlighted a unique part of Welsh theatre. Repetitive statements, questions, rhetoric. The genius of the writing is one of truly great playwrights in that it is unusual, it is one of a kind but also allows the director and performers to read into it and develop their own opinions and approaches to the text. And Both Barrels have utilised this.

I wasn’t expecting and was certainly pleasantly pleased to see physical theatre – a type of theatre that I feel I see less of and which is a shame, because it is so interesting how atmosphere and feelings can be shown through movement. We really feel the struggle, the sense of looking back at the past, the changes in time, and the moments of real emotional turmoil not only through the writing and the performers conviction, but also their movement.

Small Change drew me in; it is poignant, it is a really unique take on a well known production and the physical theatre is fitting and fluid.

REVIEW Priscilla Queen of the Desert, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Trigger warnings for the show: strong language, violence, and homophobic and transphobic slurs.

Before there was RuPaul, there was Priscilla – who, like Divine and Crystal LaBeija before her, brought drag to mainstream attention. The 1994 movie, starring Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp, won an Oscar for its spectacular costume design and introduced a new generation to a thrilling world of glitz and glamour, a world to which the stage musical eagerly wants us to return after being left so long in the COVID wilderness. Racy, rowdy and rambunctious, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a riotously fun time that reminds you exactly why live theatre is irreplaceable and invaluable.

It’s thrilling to be back in the New Theatre after so much time away, and the Priscilla UK Tour is the perfect show to welcome us back through its doors. The show centres on three drag queens, two cis men and a trans woman, who journey across the Australian Outback on the titular tour bus. Tick/Mitzi Mitosis (Edwin Ray) persuades two close friends – egocentric ingénue Adam/Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Nick Hayes) and drag doyenne Bernadette (Michael Western) – to perform their act at a casino in remote Alice Springs, where Tick will have the opportunity to reconcile with his estranged wife and son. Along the way there are sequins, setbacks, and singalong disco classics that will have you dancing (COVID-safe) in the aisles. Fun, filthy and fabulous – Priscilla puts the ‘extra’ in ‘extraordinary’!

Directed by Ian Talbot and produced by Mark Houcher and Jason Donovan (who originated the role of Tick on the West End), the show is a jukebox musical brimming with camp classics from ‘Boogie Wonderland’ to ‘Go West’ to ‘Hot Stuff’. Every musical number is joyous and unique, and songs are beautifully woven throughout (like Dionne Warwick’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’, which recurs in its most poignant moments). While the humour might feel dated at times, the songs never do. Charles Cusick-Smith’s sublime costumes do justice to the Oscar-winning originals while bringing a new flair and Tom Jackson-Greaves’ excellent choreography lights a kinetic spark that burns throughout the show – they, along with the exceptional live band (directed by Richard Atkinson), ensure that the production is a feast for the eyes and ears.

The level of talent on display is staggering. Edwin Ray brilliantly anchors the ensemble as a man trying to marshal all the facets of his identity, while Western’s Bernadette exudes Old Hollywood grace and glamour and Hayes’ Felicia bags all the best songs, including a truly show-stopping entrance number – you’ll know it when you see it. I have never seen a happier ensemble: from the main trio to the Three Divas (Claudia Kariuki, Aiesha Pease and Rosie Glossop) to the performers dressed variously as giant cupcakes, dancing paintbrushes and plaid-clad delinquents, the cast’s unadulterated joy at being back in action was palpable.

While the zingers sizzle and the sequins glitter, Priscilla doesn’t gloss over the real-life hatred and violence inflicted on the LGBTQ+ community. Bernadette not only faces transphobic bullying from bigoted straight people but from Adam, who repeatedly deadnames and misgenders her. Adam himself is the victim of an attempted assault, and even apparent allies can turn out to be fair-weather friends when the sun rises. Though the central trio often bicker and Priscilla often breaks down, they stick together and they neither give up nor turn back, proving that true allies are there even after the music stops and the engine fails.

Priscilla concludes that, no matter how long and winding the road, your family will always be waiting to welcome you home at the end of it – and that true family are the ones who stay by your side no matter how bumpy the ride. Family are the people who climb mountains with you, both literal and figurative; they are the people who help you follow your dreams. When the audience rose, as one, for a much-deserved standing ovation, it felt like the best kind of dream: the one that comes true.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert UK Tour will be playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from Monday 20 – Saturday 25 September

Priscilla UK Tour

*The review previously misstated the show’s costume designer. This has been corrected.*

PREVIEW Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the New Theatre Cardiff 20-25 September

After endless months of lockdowns, Zoom hangouts and laughable attempts to bake banana bread, we’re all dusting off our boots and getting our sequins out of storage as we take a step back into ‘ordinary’ life following an extraordinary year and a half. But Priscilla Queen of the Desert is here to put the ‘extra’ in ‘extraordinary’!

The UK Tour is the inaugural event of the New Theatre’s much-anticipated reopening, and there truly couldn’t be a better show to welcome us back. Based on the Oscar-winning 1994 film which starred Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp, Priscilla Queen of the Desert centres on three friends as they journey through the Australian outback in the titular tour bus. Produced by Mark Goucher and West End icon Jason Donovan (in his producing debut), the show stars Miles Western as Bernadette, Nick Hayes as Adam/Felicia, Edwin Ray as Tick/Mitzi, who lead an amazing ensemble through such classic tunes as ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘Hot Stuff’, and ‘I Will Survive’ and many more.

After so much uncertainty for so long, it’s amazing to be seeing a show which proclaims to be ‘pure joy guaranteed’ – and I for one can’t wait to hitch a ride.

Review to follow!

Priscilla Queen of the Desert UK Tour will be playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from Monday 20 September to Saturday 25 September

Priscilla UK Tour

Preview by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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Review, Is this a Waste Land?, Charlotte Spencer Projects, Sadlers Wells, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Out in the East of London, we are taken to a barren land sitting in between skyscrapers and posh looking apartment buildings. Some built, some in the stages of being built, with the Olympic park and Orbital tower also over looking us.

There’s nothing here, but bits of old materials, items, objects in a small part of this fenced off area. We are asked to pick an object, and so the performance begins.

Armed with headphones and work gloves, we follow instructions spoken to us to explore and experience this space, at times as a group, at times on our own. Music and soundscapes are added to the recording, adding atmosphere and transporting us to different places while we look out on the concrete land. Over the space of an hour and half, we become familiar with this space, beginning to think of its past, present, future, of our own lives and those less fortunate or even in better positions. We think of society, of politics, of environment and nature. We think of London and gentrification. So much comes out of an empty fenced area and a bunch of junk.

Soon it is clear that we are being told different instructions, splitting up and doing different things in different groups. We are the performance, and while the instructions will be the same for each performance, it is clear that there is scope for each production to produce something unique dependent on the participants.

There is at first hesitation: What are we waiting for? What are we doing? What is the reasoning? Soon we are immersed and so all the elements and subjects that are brought to light that I mentioned earlier become clear, giving food for thought and making us feel a range of very deep emotions.

At times, there are professional performers who do their own things to the side, creating physical performances of their own, of artistic installations that are there and blink, you could miss them. A lot goes on and again, this makes each performance different for those attending – some may see some things, and from a certain angle, others something completely different. And that is the beauty of this.

Something so barren becomes familiar and filled with items, with people, with physical theatre, and without words, when we are teaming up or constructing, we work together and it makes sense. Somehow, communication isn’t always needed – after some time, we all just understand one another.

There are for sure some hard hitting moments; we are instructed to make, to create, to perform and soon we see it destroyed or taken away and there is a real social and political underbelly to what we are experiencing.

Is this a Waste Land? Is a complete triumph of physical theatre, of space exploration, of immersion and of poignant point making.

Review, Amelie The Musical, Criterion Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you are a millennial, I guarantee you watched Amelie the film when you were a teenager and fell in love with its weirdness, quirkiness and general artistic cinematography.

I feel that it was a cult film for us all, that we remember and hold a special place in our hearts. Which is why when I heard it had been turned into a musical, I was dubious on what they had done.

But boy was I wrong.

If you haven’t seen Amelie, it is about this girl who is sheltered from the World as she grows up. When she reaches adulthood, she decides to move away but still shies away from everyone, not going out or engaging. When one day, she bumps into the love of her life and everything changes. She goes on a journey to make people happy and in the process, coming out of her shell to grab love and hold onto it.

In true Amelie style, the whole production – set, lighting, costuming has this mellow tinge reminiscent of the 70’s. Dark blues, browns, yellows, reds all light up the stage, giving it that chic, French feel that the film holds so dear.

It also does not shy away from how quirky and original the original narrative is. Amelie is a strange girl and so is her story, and so no memorial points that I remember from the film are missed, bringing them in in poignant or hilarious ways, and integrating them into the songs. I feared that what I loved most about the film would be missing, but it wasn’t and was elaborated on with gumption.

The music was also reminiscent of the atmosphere created – all those on stage played a live instrument, and it gave that french, grungy, Paris street feel that you associate with the city; the chic, unusual, hippy feeling – the too cool for school feeling. It balanced the narrative well, and made me honestly forget that this was a musical. Usually, expecting something perhaps a little tongue and cheek, or satirical, this was complimentary and really reflected the story and its aesthetic.

The performers were also brilliant. Never missing a beat, they were so perfect, moving from scene to scene with effortless grace, sometimes it was easy to forget they were real bodies in front of you and not an edited film.

Amelie The Musical is everything you want it to be and more. For those millennials who grew up with this firmly in their teenage years, it brings the film and story to life, with all the original elements and enhances it before your eyes.

Review, The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In true Hampstead Theatre style, the staging is impeccable and welcomes you as soon as you come in. All based in one bedroom, the room is traditional and like ones I remember my Grandmother having when I was a child. Above the staging is ever changing cloudy sky, that throughout the production, seems to reflect the mood in colour and atmosphere.

This set is only the beginning of this well thought out play. The Memory of Water is a story of grief, relationships and secrets. Of the passing of a Mother and the memories associated with her and their childhood. As things unravel, we see new sides of each character and the impact that both memories and relationships have on how we live our lives and think of our past.

The set of the bedroom not only makes this feel intimate, but adds to the sense of a broken fourth wall. The interactions between all the characters are perfection; they bounce off one another, are quick witted and natural. We certainly feel like we are going through the moments of grief between family members, and their estranged relationships, while their memories bring them back together. It is easy to feel relatable to and anyone who has lost someone can certainly feel their life reflected.

The performers move effortlessly around the stage, feeling at home, comfortable and all the while very naturalistic. Even when we see interactions with the deceased, this is meant to be hyper-realistic but there is a fine line between feeling whether this is real or not.

The Memory of Water is a very relatable depiction of family ties, of the importance of memories in how they shape yourself, your life and how you view others. It is also a very enjoyable production, feeling like an easy and immersed narrative.

Review, Curtain Up, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Curtain Up is a celebration. It is a celebration of creativity, imagination and Welsh talent. Over three fun-filled weeks, it has been the setting for a series of short plays that have all taken the notion of play to heart. And where better to host this menagerie of pure ingenuity than Theatr Clwyd. It has certainly delivered on its aim to make the world a happier place one moment at a time. Coming out of conversations with creative freelancers, Curtain Up has given writers the time and space to write again, actors the chance to perform on stage once more; and allowed stage managers, lighting technicians, and sound operators, to name but three, to return to what they do best. It is a reminder to all of us of the power and wonder of live theatre.

Oat Jenner’s smile said it all. It was the widest of smiles among the 10 actors taking part in the final week of plays. It seemed that he couldn’t contain his delight during both Normal Day and Seen, expressing the same euphoria felt by so many after so long. No wonder the excitement in the room was palpable. The opportunity presented to the audience at the start of the night, to choose which props would feature and who would play who, only heightened the sense of anticipation*. And with each week’s performance, the cast and crew delivered. It may not always have worked – the Cadbury’s Milk Tray in Kristian Phillips’ Trwsio: Repair was ripe for comic exploitation but came over rather dead in what was an otherwise touching story – but when it did, it produced chaos aplenty (see Sion Pritchard’s inventive use of a skipping rope in Just Another Blue Marble and the hilarious water spray face-off in In the End). Such fun.

There were moments of real depth alongside the humour. I found The Order of the Object by Lisa Parry to be a fascinating critique of both the religious and the secular; Jennifer Lunn’s Stop the Drop a deftly comic analysis of political power and influence, steeped in contemporary irony; and the symbol of a child’s pink and flowery wellington boot to be a potent symbol of subversive oppression in Alun Saunders’ Beginnings/Dechreuadau. It was left to Thieves by Mali Ann Rees to reduce me to tears, in a moving story of love, friendship and loss that was brilliantly written and wonderfully acted by Catrin Mai Edwards and Miriam O’Brien. Meanwhile, David Bower’s performance in Seen by Katherine Chandler was utterly mesmerising. What a storyteller he is, working his magic alongside Chloe Clarke in a tale of online dating, belonging, and love. And the improvisation of Sian Reese-Williams and John Carter in Life 2.0 was a masterclass, making it seem as though the prop chosen by the audience had been theirs to rehearse with all along.

To choose a favourite among this smorgasbord of 15 plays would be like picking your favourite child. They were all so very different, ranging from the virtual (The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’) to the real (Letting Go). The inclusion of the Welsh language in and amongst them was great to see, the surtitles accessible and undistracting. The way that they were weaved into Mari Izzard’s The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’ was cleverly done; and they held extra poignancy in Beginnings/Dechreuadau whilst adding superbly to the realism of Trwsio: Repair. If there was one play that really struck me though, it was Nine Point Two Minutes by Ming Ho. It shone a spotlight on some of the pressures of the healthcare system and its effect on both doctors and patients. It was so effective that the sense of injustice apparent in Ho’s narrative, pressed home through the fragility and passion of Llŷr Evans and Anita Reynolds in their roles respectively, was impossible to miss. It was but one of many highlights over the three weeks of Curtain Up.

Curtain Up has been the perfect opportunity to revisit the theatre safely again after lockdown. It has been an enjoyable pilgrimage to Theatr Clwyd every Wednesday night for the past couple of weeks for a fabulous evening of entertainment in the company of some of Wales’ finest. Its success must surely pave the way for similar shows in future, if only to continue supporting the very best in the nation’s emerging talent both on stage and off. I will miss this weekly trip to the theatre on a hill. But I am grateful to director Tamara Harvey et al for making it a return to savour. The words from Finding Your Feet by Samantha O’Rourke feel like the most fitting to end with here. They seem to sum up what has been the overwhelming response to Curtain Up from both creatives and audiences alike: “Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening. It means a lot”.

*This review is written in response to the Wednesday night performances over the production’s three-week period. Therefore, references to certain props and actors are made accordingly.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, The Song Project, Royal Court Theatre By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In the Jerwood upstairs, we are welcomed by smiling faces, finding our seats around the outside of a circular orchestra, filled with instruments and plant life.

The Song Project is what is says on the tin. A show created with feelings, thoughts, emotions and life circumstances and turned into song. While this feels a little like how songs are created in general, there is something new, interesting and unique about this performance.

The performers interact with us, with eye contact, welcoming us to the space, so while this is a performance, it certainly feels as if we are being welcomed by friends and into a less formal space.

There for sure is a feeling of something quite European about the type of music – reminding me of Sigur Ros, Little Talks, Bjork with its sense of sound scaping sounds and not following a usual song that one may find in the charts. With only 4 performers, they each chop and change instruments and places in the orchestra, showcasing their absolute talent.

Each song speaks to you. There are lyrics on depression, on fear, on the trails and tribulations of life, but all something that someone in the room could relate to. It’s serious at times, sometimes you just need to close your eyes and feel it in your soul and others it makes you laugh out loud.

Combined with well thought out lighting and set design, the movement of the performers around the space for sure makes this feel very professional and rehearsed but at times ad hoc and keeping us on our toes.

The Song Project could easily be described with one word: Inspirational. Coming away, I felt euphoric and sentimental as well as fully inspired to create my own work. The Song Project has something for everyone, and feels like a very intimate and extraordinary gig.

Welsh Theatres face huge programming challenges as they prepare to reopen in uncertain new climate

Balancing the long established financial pressures to reopen at full capacity now that Welsh Government regulations allow, brings many considerations and challenges for Welsh theatres and performing arts venues who at their heart know building audience confidence is imperative for the sector to survive.

Creu Cymru, Wales’ Performing arts sector alliance that champions and connects people, audiences and communities, is clear that the vast majority of its members, who represent virtually all of the nation’s professionally run theatres, arts centres and producing companies are facing complex commercial, programming, staffing and health and safety challenges as they prepare to fully reopen for the first time since the March 2020 nationwide, pandemic-enforced closures.

Louise Miles-Payne, Director, Creu Cymru explains “While most theatres across Wales are delighted to be preparing for their long-awaited reopening, our recent poll showed that venues of all scales unanimously reported their concerns around the competing financial pressures to reopen at full capacity as regulations allow, while many feel continuing with social distancing and therefore lower audience numbers is likely to remain the only viable route to achieving vital audience confidence. As we represent the sector in Wales, encouraging customers to make use of the free to access lateral flow tests that can be sent to your home and carried out in your own time. Knowing that you are safe before you go to a performance helps protects those around you and will keep the magic of theatre alive. We will be promoting this message through our ‘Testing, Testing 123 campaign’ launching Tues 31 August.”

However, historic commercial arrangements with promoters often means the venue is in a difficult position. Angela Gould, Programmer and Audience Development Manager, RCT Theatres said “Trying to reschedule previously cancelled shows that had sold out at full capacity is difficult as many venues may still feel a way off fully reopening their spaces. They need to honour contractual agreements while doing what they feel is best for their audiences while still making the show financially viable.”

Adapting to need for fluid planning is problematic as theatres have to continually plan for different scenarios. The marketing of performances is a particular challenge as many Creu Cymru members reported that ‘shows keep dropping out for various reasons such as ticket sales are not where they should be, there’s not enough lead time to market shows properly, a feeling we can’t market shows confidently as we can’t guarantee they’ll go ahead and are wary of losing the trust of our audiences.  Some promoters decide there is too much of a financial risk, for example will Christmas pantomimes go ahead or not.’

Managing differing public opinions is something many theatres reported. Louise Miles-Payne, Director, continued “Welsh theatres told us they anticipate some audience members will want the freedom to remove masks when seated while that may deter others from returning. Managing perceptions of both promoters and the public will be unchartered territory for many venues as some people will have an expectation that everything is resuming and working to normal, and at the same time some audience members may be shocked when performances are not going ahead and can’t understand why things get rescheduled. Therefore theatres are in a difficult position managing the different expectations and realities of all parties.”

Producing companies in some respects have greater control and flexibility over their choice of space for performances and how they can create a solution they feel best works for their performers and audiences. Paul Kaynes, Chief Executive, National Dance Company Wales said “It’s clear we need to continue to be agile in this period, so we’ve offered venues outdoor performances option. Many were building stages in their car parks and green spaces and we had an exciting programme to offer outdoor audiences, especially those new to dance. This is the stepping-stone for many audiences to access live performance again before we ask them to take the leap back indoors. We’re planning to make that leap in the autumn, mostly performing twice in an evening instead of once, to enable at least some socially distanced performances for those who are seeking them.”

The first show to welcome back a full capacity audience in Wales will be Jimmy Carr at St David’s Hall Cardiff on the 31st August. Cardiff Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Venues & Events, Councillor Peter Bradbury said: “We are delighted that the first live show with a full indoor capacity audience in Wales will be at St David’s Hall, and especially with such a high-profile name in Jimmy Carr. Over the last 18 months, we have missed live entertainment so much and come to realise what a crucial part it plays in our social lives

Review Curtain Up – Week 1, Theatr Clwyd by Alicia Jelley

Boy is it good to get back to the theatre, and new production ‘Curtain Up’ at Theatr Clwyd certainly didn’t disappoint!

it took me back to my A level Drama days with it’s intimate theatre in the round setting. 5 short plays commissioned during Lockdown, with 10 different actors, playing different roles and using props selected by audience participation. Very random but added to the comedy highlights!

You could see the sheer joy the actors got out of performing again and it felt quite emotional to see them do their thing and applaud their efforts after such a troubling time for all artists.

Curtain Up will be at Theatre Clwyd until 4th September, with each week a different 5 plays being performed by different actors and of course different props, meaning you’ll get a new show every time! If you love old school dramatics, you’ll love this!