The infamous work of Sarah Kane is always uncompromising and unflinching, arresting audiences from start to finish and confronting them with the horrors of the real world. Never could it been more‘in-yer-face’ than in this newly built pub theatre at Porter’s – the Other Room. Seating only around fifty people, one would assume that such an extreme play as Blasted would need somewhere a little bigger. However, the intimate space proved far more effective in challenging audiences with the potent imagery and powerful messages that lie at the dark heart of Sarah Kane’s unforgettable play.
In a lavish hotel room somewhere in Leeds, a mismatched couple enter. The audience may expect a bog-standard two-hander about relationships. From the obscene opening line though, it’s clear that this play eschews all boundaries. Excuse any spoilers. We are introduced to Ian (Christian Patterson), a repulsively crass, middle-aged tabloid journalist, and Cate (Louise Collins), a young woman who, by the end, is raped, abused, gives birth to a baby that dies, then eaten, all the while suffering epileptic fits. Later, we discover the violence and unease exists not only in the hotel room. Escaping from an apocalyptic war outside, a brutally sadistic soldier (Simon Nehan) arrives and inflicts similar pains upon Ian as Cate suffered. The play’s structure fragments, abandoning words and instead showing humans in their most pathetic, vulnerable and despicable states. Within these bleak and sickening closing scenes, here, the moments of pure clarity emerge. In the atrocious acts committed by Ian and the Soldier, a shred of humanity catches the light in a world of darkness. The brilliance of Sarah Kane’s writing is her ability to humanise even the most disgraceful characters.
The accomplished trio of actors demonstrate consistent and impressive performances. Louise Collins’ portrayal of Cate goes through an intriguing development. She begins as mentally unsound and vulnerable with the exuberance of a little girl, before hardening and growing despite her trauma. In the final tableau, Cate’s last act of kindness to Ian is incredibly moving and deftly directed by Kate Wasserberg, whose interpretation of Sarah Kane’s enigmatic writing is pitch-perfect.
Simon Nehan excels as a comically Welsh Soldier, who soon becomes wracked with suffering and malice in equal measure. Not to say the comedy detracted away from the harshness of the play; the comedy was impeccably handled. Indeed, often Kane writes some hilarious one-liners in amongst the suffering. Christian Patterson gives a stellar performance as Ian, switching from brutality to vulnerability within seconds – a fearless actor with a striking presence.
With a cleverly designed set and Nick Gill’s beautifully tragic score, there is very little, if anything, to criticise in this production. Only that, if you have a weak disposition, see it at your own risk. There are moments when the tension is at a heart-stopping level. But that is no flaw, quite the opposite in fact.
In short, a thrilling, deeply affecting revival of an eternally relevant play. Cathartic and exhilarating, this play leaves you in a similar state to the title and is a promising start to The Other Room’s ‘Life in Close Up’ season.
‘Blasted’ is at The Other Room at Porter’s Cardiff until 7th March.
The Other Room has undergone a transformation and after a certain amount of hype, has opened its floodgates with the aim of producing a torrent of new Welsh plays, as well as a foundation of post-1950 classics. The first of these is Blasted.
The bus journey home after seeing Blasted – my first live Sarah Kane play, having read them all – was an interesting one. Unsure of how I felt I started projecting my feelings onto the world around me. A large boxer dog was wailing loudly fairly continuously for a few minutes, before a man approached it with his own, smaller, more placid dog held under his arm, like a gun. He held his dog close to the boxer so that they could sniff each other for a while before he returned to his seat. The boxer fell silent, its anxiety eased.
I felt like that boxer. I wanted to howl with it. I needed someone to sniff, to connect with, and to understand.
Blasted is not a good play, nor an enjoyable play: those are simply the wrong words. It is one heck of an experience however, and you will feel something, whether that’s disgust or arousal, horror or empathy.
This is Sarah Kane’s first play, and when it opened at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1995 it was called a “disgusting piece of filth” by Jack Tinker of the Daily Mail. This opinion was shared by many.
However, many critics backtracked in subsequent years, such as The Guardian’s Michael Billington who said “I got it wrong”. Since her suicide in 1999 – leaving five plays and one short film behind – she has gained further reverence posthumously.
Blasted manages to pile horror upon horror. It is only by going to such dark extremes that certain philosophical ideas come to light, and a moral is found. What makes one death worse than another? A life more valuable? To paraphrase one of the lines: your arse is not special.
In the face of abjection, each character has their own defence mechanisms; their way of rationalising the irrational. It is a wonderfully complex exploration of human interaction and broken, vulnerable minds.
Louise Collins plays the innocent Cate, and manages to straddle the chasm between waif and harbinger-of-doom. She gives us and Cate her all, complete with tears, snot and unnerving blackouts. From the moment she steps fresh-faced and wide-eyed into the room, to the pallid, red-eyed bowing at the end, she undergoes a slow catharsis throughout the play. A brutal transformation and performance.
In contrast, Christian Patterson is the foul-mouthed, capricious Ian – a tabloid journalist paying for the two’s stay in a hotel in Leeds. He is every bit the antithesis of Cate, who he manipulates and hurts in order to appease himself. Christian bares all; despite his character’s anger and bigotry, he allows us to see the hurt and the fear. There is humour too, which bobs to the surface when desolation sits like oil.
If Ian is the great white, Simon Nehan gives us the Megalodon as the Soldier. He is vicious and feral; yet for all his barbarism he too is darkly comic. He executes the bloodiest and most heinous acts that society is too ashamed to call its own. Blasted is arguably an anti-war play; it certainly shows war to be the worst of humanity. Within a character that is extreme and highly symbolic, Simon mines little personal nuggets of truth and reason.
Director Kate Wasserberg has no doubt spent a long time with the actors, pushing them to places which had me squirming in my seat and neurotically twirling my pencil. A feeling of tension prevails throughout.
The production benefits from a commissioned soundtrack by composer Nick Gill. Piano, marimba, whisperings and static haunt and fill the darkness between scenes.
The Other Room really is small: with just 44 seats the audience are in the hotel room in Leeds, which despite being expensive looks unsettling from the start. A large and oppressive painting evocative of the River Styx hangs above the neatly-made bed, contrasting with angelic white curtains that surround the venue’s fire escape. There is a smoky whiff of The Royal Court.
Kane said of the theatre “I keep coming back in the hope that someone in a darkened room somewhere will show me an image that burns itself into my mind”. Last night, completely by chance, a cloud of dense white smoke curled behind Ian and the Soldier, and formed what I thought was a ghost. I was simultaneously horrified and praising of the production values. It soon dissipated and I realised my mistake, but I am thankful The Other Room provided such a personal and uncanny experience.
To return to my bus journey home: I sat beside a man listening to heavy metal and thought how anxious and stressed I would be listening to that- why on Earth does he?
Then I realised, Blasted is heavy metal.
As part of The Other Room’s ‘Life in Close Up’ season, it runs until March 7th; tickets are available from their website www.otherroomtheatre.com.
I recommend getting along and seeing what this budding new theatre has to offer.
Review by Eifion Ap Cadno
Production photo by Pallasca Photography
The atmospheric roof space at the Wales Millennium Centre was the perfect choice for director Yvonne Murphy in which to stage this promenade style performance of Richard III.
I must admit, I was a little apprehensive of both the all female cast and the prospect of standing for what is when performed as written a three-hour play. However, when I entered the space and the performance began these thoughts were lost from my mind.
The dark, cold metallic world created the production team was an appropriate setting for this plays themes of greed, power, murder and madness. The plot itself for someone who doesn’t know the play very well can be quite confusing and it cannot be expected of every audience member to understand every scene or speech from the play. However, the plays focus on Richard’s power hunger murderous journey towards power and ultimately death was clearly transferred across to the audience. The promenade style of performance added to this idea of Richards murderous journey, although for shorter audience members (such as myself) the view of the stage in some scenes was quite restricted. However, the clear delivery and energy given to the language still made scenes enjoyable.
The cast of 8 strong female performers made Shakespeare’s words leap off the page, their strong performances giving the language of arguably Shakespeare’s most famous history play new energy and meaning. To avoid confusion, it would have maybe have been a better choice to use a few more female actors to differ between characters, however the performers characterisation of each separate character created interesting interpretations, in particular I enjoyed the performance of Ana-Maria Maskell as Lady Ann and the presentation of the two young princes.
I am currently studying Richard III in university and therefore have been introduced to many of the interpretations of the character from Ian McKellen to Laurence Olivier. Without a doubt however, Mairi Phillips portrayal of charismatic, power-hungry and threatened king was my favourite. The performance did not lack any character because it wasn’t played by a man, Phillips played the character just as well as any man could (and undoubtably better). She demonstrated the charm and the greed of the character perfectly and the emotional climax of the character towards the end of the production showed the incredible range and talent of this actress.
This all female Omidaze production of a play made up of mostly male characters created a brilliant comment on an ancient world ruled by powerful men that in today’s current social climate of worldwide conflict made the play as relevant as it would have been at Shakespeare’s time, as well as demonstrating the need for more female focused plays to be written and produced. This production was incredibly exciting from start to finish and I hope to see more productions such as this coming from the company.
Ballet Cymru’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is really one to go and see.
The way that Beauty played by Lydia Arnoux dances really helps you understand the ballet with no words but her facial expression to movement it is all quite beautiful and elegant. I also loved the music that gave the production a forest like atmosphere and at some points tense feeling, the Beast played by Mandev Sohki made the iconic character come to life. The Beasts costume created a towering imposing monster from the wearing of stilts gave him height and created an awkward and stubbing effect that helps Beauty fall in love with him and helps him to dance. The characters in the play like Beauty’s sisters, brothers and friends helped the scene changes they changed into dancing candles this made the play dynamic and different. The costume design was stunning and delicate my favourite outfit would have had to have been Beauty’s sisters red dresses I love the way that they moved when the sisters danced.
The scenery of the play was very simple but also interesting, I really liked how they initially showed Beauty’s house having a fire-place and then the outside snowflake background. Another thing that I thought was a good part of the ballet was when before it stated they had the rose from Beauty and the Beast projected on the screen, this begins to explain the story of the fairy tale and how children will believe anything that you tell them. In my opinion I think the production is brilliant and well worth going to see.
The Duke of York’s, London
What excitement I felt when I knew I was about to see Neville’s Island, staring comedy greats such as Adrian Edmondson, Miles Jupp, Neil Morrissey and Robert Webb.All known for their influence on British culture, I was sure that a comedy performance was in store.
The story of Neville’s Island saw four business men, shipwrecked on a work’s team building exercise. The story embarks on the foursome’s hunger, fears and conflict with one another. We see four very different individuals, and as the show unfolds, different significant stories of each person is revealed.
The main source of comedy was seen in the angst and anger of Edmondson’s character, inflicting insults upon the apparent stupidity of the other character’s in the scenario. This proved many laughs and was helped by the minimal acting of the other’s in retaliation; later building into each burst of madness that they experience as survival begins to be a struggle.
There were times of slapstick comedy, using the very well constructed and realised set of trees, rubble and real water at the front of the stage. Audience members near the front were even given rain macs with the knowledge that this water became a element to some of the comedy gold on stage.
However, I wouldn’t call this production ‘side splitting’. These little moments created hysterical laughter but were far and few between. It felt that more activity was needed on stage to compensate for quiet moments where the comedy did not quite hit the funny bone. While each actor was fantastic in their performance and execution and couldn’t be faulted, the content wasn’t enough for them to truly show their comedic skills and left myself wanting more.
Oh What A Lovely War at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
By Joan Littlewood
An Everyman Theatre Production
Director: Jackie Hurley
Musical Director: Lindsey Allen
Choreographer: Richard Thomas
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Portraying the horror of the trenches and the politics behind World War I, Everyman Theatre’s production of Oh What A Lovely War joins the ranks of performances in memory of those who fell that have taken place all over Britain during the past centenary week.
Bringing to the stage once more Joan Littlewood’s iconic 1963 Theatre Workshop production, complete with Pierrot costumes and a backdrop of photographs from the war zones as well as staggering on-screen statements of the numbers lost in what was supposed to be “the conflict to end all conflicts” is an ambitious undertaking. Everyman Theatre rises superbly to the challenge, wisely choosing to present the piece as “A musical play,” rather than musical theatre, although where to draw the line between genres is never clear-cut.
All the more credit, then, to director Jackie Hurley for staging a performance of this profoundly moving piece of theatre, which at times gives rise to an audible intake of breath from the audience as the ever-increasing numbers of the soldiers who died are flashed on the backdrop, yet managing to present in tandem with this an upbeat element which gives a balance to the overall result.
How, indeed, could it be otherwise – despite the grim reality of the core subject matter – when you have a talented young ensemble cast that includes some excellent singers and dancers? Songs that depict to a T both the era and mores of the time – from that of the title to familiar music hall song and dance numbers such as ‘I’ll Make A Man of You, ’ the foot-tapping ‘Row, Row, Row,’ and lump-in-the-throat ones such as ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ are memorable. Choreographer and nimble-footed dancer Richard Thomas has done sterling work here, as has Musical Director and on-stage pianist Lindsey Allen (despite grappling with a slightly out-of-tune piano.).
Change of mood is crucial and on the whole handled well, although occasionally erratic, as can happen on a small stage with minimal props. As the fighting escalates, military leaders thrash out the strategies of waging war, putting forward disastrous solutions that only prove them to be blindly oblivious to what is really going on, while the young soldiers who joined up with such youthful enthusiasm slowly come to realise that the “War games” are not at all what they expected.
As a sombre cloud hangs over Europe, the deafening noise of exploding shells brings a powerful sense of the grim reality of war. Amid a number of poignant moments, the one that perhaps more than any tears at the heartstrings is Christmas Day in the trenches. The emotional impact of the sound of the German soldiers singing ‘Stille Nacht’ floating across No Man’s Land, followed by the exchange of gifts and fraternization between the two sides, is huge, giving rise – not surprisingly – to sniffs from some of the audience.
Focus of this production is, quite simply, to honour those who lost their lives while depicting the behind the scenes wheeler-dealing and obstinacy that resulted in such tragically large numbers of young men losing their lives.
In other words: War is a dirty business.
Runs until Saturday, November 15th, at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.
Prince Edward Theatre London
In the heart of the West End, the Prince Edward Theatre transported us deep into the depths of the Vietnam War. A remarkable and detailed set, Miss Saigon was full of oriental decoration and this vast stage contained so much detail to help us feel as if we had come off the wet streets of winter London and into the slowly destructive slums and alleys during this time of conflict.
It can be argued that a production must firstly rely on its actors performance and not trust that set, lighting and sound must take a centre stage. However, this was different for this show. These elements only enhanced the performance on stage and created phenomenal and easily changing locations, at times it was difficult to comprehend how so much was possible on stage. For example, the piece de resistance of the production for me was the projection of a helicopter coming to land; air conditioning was switched on for a gust across the audience to really feel this and suddenly, a huge functioning helicopter appeared on stage. Gobsmacked is a severe understatement!
This tragic tale of a love story between a Vietnamese girl and an American Soldier and how the war tore them apart contained so many amazing characters. These main character easily professed the sheer Hollywood true love that we only wish to experience; their performances pulling heart-strings of the most cold. Along with the Engineer; a money hungry ‘pimp’ who continues to play a sidekick part in the life of these two star crossed lovers, manages to bring not only a slimy and seedy character that we would expect from such a profession, but also provided much humour – a wonderful way to break the intensity of the heart breaking storyline.
Not knowing exactly the story, it was a shock for me to see scantily clad women (and at one time, also a man) writhing on stage. The movement of these performers was as slimy and seedy as the Engineer, at times a borderline imitation of sexual acts being played out on stage. I began to feel uncomfortable and to really question whether there was a need for acting so obvious to be played out in front of us. Till I warmed up to the reasoning that to feel as the main female character feels in these prostitution dives, we had to also feel as intimidated and uncomfortable as her. And happily, this worked extremely well.
This performance also wouldn’t have been anything without the chorus. The scantily clad women, the Vietnamese and American soldiers and the Vietnamese villagers – all together produced beautiful song and dance numbers, creating the right feeling of fear from the villagers, the seedy yet fear of the prostitutes and the military strict fashion of each sides soldiers.
Miss Saigon managed, what all theatre should do, to create a magical world where despite the unrealistic song and dance, was easily a, what one would assume, realistic representation of this historical period – but theatrically sound and relatable for audiences all the same.
Photo (Hannes Langolf) by Hugo Glendinning
‘For nearly thirty years, Lloyd Newson’s DV8 Physical Theatre has produced original and challenging dance theatre unafraid to push audiences out of their comfort zone’
During my performance training from the age of 15, I was introduced and inspired by DV8’s work. Thirty years of bringing thoughtful and impacting theatre into the forefront of audience’s minds. After seeing ‘Can We Talk About This?’ in Truro a few years ago, knowingly, DV8 brings a great approach to discussions that can be taboo, or if beginning to be spoken more about, still laid bare, and this has always had an amazing impact on me.
John was no exception. A simple rotating staging was easily turned into several different locations with little change; just the addition of occasional props. The performance was about the story of John, not stage and lighting trickery and attempt to astonish audiences in this way.
John’s life was from verbatim – a production based on a solo interview with a normal human being and how his turbulent life from childhood to his present shaped who he was, what he wanted and despite a possible more negative life compared to some, something relatable … wanting someone to love and love us.
A combination of physicality and spoken word caught the eye and ear of every audience member. A pin could be heard within the theatre as John’s story of the horrors he had experienced and the life he was entering were laid in front of us, with no fear or cover of the truth. For some, this blunt-ness of the taboo subjects may have been much to handle, with, at times, comedy with topics that could make the strongest person cringe but what would DV8 be without this?
The versatility and fluidity of the performers brought interesting scope to the spoken word ; each one was astonishingly capable of beautiful movement and never took away from the intent of their words. How their ability to contort themselves and move in such a way and still easily and with steady breath speak their lines was inspiring. And ensuring that their words still gave as much meaning as the movement, left myself in tears of awe and from the impact of the story.
DV8, as usual have brought a fantastic and must see performance into the public eye. It is almost impossible to come away without a feeling of elation at seeing theatre at its best.
Theatre Critics of Wales Awards now the Wales Theatre Awards
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The awards scheme will now be run by an independent, not for profit company and there will continue to be an annual awards ceremony. For 2015 the date and venue have been agreed for January 31st at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff. For work to be eligible for nomination, it must have been created and presented in Wales in the celebrated year. For the 2015 awards, this will be between 1st January and 30th November 2014. In subsequent years the period will change to the start of December to the end of November the following year.
We plan to have individual critics announcing the shortlists and the winners. As we are committed to the awards being increasingly bilingual, we plan to have a Welsh speaking and English speaking presenter alternating during the awards ceremony. We intend both widening the number of critics taking part in the nomination process and also contributing more effectively in the selection of winners.
We will create the longlist by asking more professional reviewers to nominate a winner and Highly Commended shows/individuals for each award and, importantly, give a short written reason for their choices. Unlike previous years, we will stress they DO NOT have to nominate in any category they do not wish to.
Each genre covered will have a panel of jurors, who will be reviewers themselves. They will look at all of the submitted nominations and accompanying comments (to which they will also have contributed) for their genres, and decide on the winners and those that are Highly Commended. For the non-language based awards and overall Director winner, the genre panels will come together and select winners. The panels for each genre and overall panel is then expected to write down WHY the winner has won and a sentence on the Highly Commended, ensuring feedback and openness.
We will apply the National Union of Journalists’ code of conduct and social media guidelines to the way the Awards are conducted. We will ensure the strong link with the Young Critics scheme is maintained as in the past and we will continue to include Young Critics on all of the panels.
The generous sponsorship of the award categories by arts organisations and venues will now also contribute to the establishment of a Development of Critical Writing Fund (DCWF). To emphasise the awards’ independence, they will not be category sponsors. The DCWF will be used to fulfil the following: Enable travel, accommodation etc. for critics to see more performances across Wales – something that is sorely needed – working alongside the Young and Third Age Critics. Act as a network to ensure critics are aware of shows and that reviewing opportunities exist. Work with the venues, individual companies and independent artists on ensuring critics get access to tickets. Work alongside any other organisation that is working to increase capacity and skills across Wales. (We will not directly take the mantle of trainers or pay for reviews etc. as we feel this is the role of professional training organisations, the media itself, and possibly an area for ACW to consider.) Work with venues and organisations to help them build links with their media and with critics.
The awards scheme has enjoyed generous sponsorship from a diverse range of organisations that are not directly arts organisations or venues, such as colleges, agencies, and the media. We are asking those sponsors to continue sponsoring.
Please contact Mike Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org or Harriet Hopkins: email@example.com with any queries about the awards, how to nominate and sponsorship.