Category Archives: Theatre

Last Christmas**** – Young Critics Review

Last Christmas ****
Dirty Protest
Written by Matthew Bulgo
Starring Sion Pritchard
Directed by Kate Wasserberg
For a lot of people, Christmas is more bitter than sweet, with loved ones who are no longer around missed more amid the happy chaos of the usual celebrations. It’s a time we build ourselves up so much to enjoy that, often, it’s a disappointment when it finally comes around (especially the staff Christmas do). And a time when, custom tells us, we should be with all our loved ones, but where distance and circumstance often pull us away from those we want to be with.
Matthew Bulgo’s one-man play explores the hard hitting realities of life that we like to pretend won’t happen; the ones we ignore hoping they’ll go away and, against a Christmas backdrop, the pain and tension of this exploration intensifies. Despite the occasional cliche, Bulgo’s debut is well written with great belly jiggling, guffaw inducing rants book-ending beautiful, stark, emotional moments that are thoroughly engaging, keeping the audience going and enjoying through each rise and fall. The language is striking too, both in its realism and its imagery; the descriptions of moments through camera angles encourage the audience to imagine it this way, just as the main character does, whilst adding to his slightly geeky (but mostly ‘average Joe’) persona.
Sion Pritchard’s delivery is, quite frankly, stunning. He is so deeply immersed in the character’s tight but loosening grip of emotions that it would be hard now to imagine anyone else in the role. The words sound like speech more than monologue, and his comic timing is spot on. He manages the harder moments with skill and a slowness that give credit to director, Kate Wasserberg who has clearly grasped the grief and anger and confusion of the character and moulded it into something manageable and interesting. His use of voice, of accents is impressive and add to the enjoyment and dynamics of each ‘scene’ as he describes it, from the prissy bitch at work to the beer chuggers back home in Swansea; his delivery allows the audience to feel and live the tension themselves.
A simplistic set, with the occasional, accidental twinkling snowflake reminding us of the time of year, lets us focus on him alone, and this is just what the play needs. Time and space to breathe and live.
One-man plays can fill you with trepidation; let this one fill you with the love, sadness and the sweet melancholy of Christmas.
Last Christmas is at Sherman Cymru, Theatre 2 December 13th-15th, 7.30pm
Tickets: £12 – Sherman Box Office 029 2064 6900

Cracked – Young Critics Review

Cracked ****
Dance House NDC Wales (in association with Cardiff Contemporary)
Created by Roy Campbell-Moore and Sue Williams
All good contemporary art is open to interpretation. Roy Campbell-Moore and Sue Williams’s collaboration, Cracked is no exception, posing a number of questions about the manifestation of sexuality and the relationship between man and woman.
Set to Tchaikovsky’s score from The NutcrackerCracked is a rebellion of the ‘fairy tale’. Instead, it explores the realities of relationships. The emotions and sexual tensions that we experience when starting a relationship, and the constant struggle for control.
We meet SHE as she dresses for a night out – picking clothes that accentuate her femininity and sexuality, a private moment adding her make up (which would have been a little more engaging with a larger mirror that reflected the mood and movement of the ritual), and then a full length check in the glass; a short dance that tests her outfit for suitability and sensuality, the tutu harking back to tradition and suggesting that, somewhere beneath the made-up exterior, every woman wants to be the fairy princess.
HE presents himself to us ready dressed, “effortless” in preparation for his evening. He responds to his own music with aggression and assurance; he WILL have a good night, and he WILL take what he wants from it. Though, beneath this demeanour of certainty and arrogance, there is a sense that it’s all a show.
In their meeting, there is a hesitance as they sit apart, not acknowledging the existence of the other until her small gesture of openness, willingness spurs him on, and he is suddenly all over her, falling (drunkenly) at her feet – using the most unromantic gestures to win her over. Their flirting and foreplay is a mix of desire and repulsion, though his main focus is the desire to have her, whether it is her will or not. The moment she feels sure of herself – confident enough to open herself up and give him a sense of her sexual self, he falls upon her, re-exurting his power and physical strength over hers.
A solo performance from SHE is re-empowering; she both embraces and rejects the traditional image of ‘woman’, and conveys her independence and the joy she feels in that.
The final scene between them is complex in theme if simple in design; a rope attached to the ceiling is incorporated into the dance. They each take turns manipulating the rope, though HE seems to hold it more often than SHE and is quickly frustrated and uncomfortable when it is wrapped around him, symbolising the male’s need to be in control, so that he can walk away at any time which, of course, he does, just when they have made a close and intimate connection.
Her final moment, alone is ambiguous. Is she happier this way, or is she devastated to have lost him? What’s wonderful aboutCracked is that the answer is different for everyone.
The use of the traditional, classical music that ordinarily evokes images of flowing white tutus and charming toy soldiers juxtaposes the harsher reality that is portrayed in Cracked, increasing the level of poignancy of each movement, each moment between the two dancers. And that reality is that there is no Prince Charming and, if there is, you might well be better off without him…

Before it Rains – Young Critics Review

Before it Rains ***
Sherman Cymru 25th Sept – 6th Oct
Written by: Katherine Chandler
Directed by: Roisin McBrinn

A play with the potential to become a hard hitting classic…
Set between the bereft garden of a typical ‘Shameless’ style council estate and a deserted woodland, Before it Rains tells the story of a desperate-to-be-young mum Gloria and her struggling-to-fit-in son Michael, and how their lives are affected by the appearance of the emotionally and mentally scarred new estate delinquent, Carl.
The friendship between the lads is led entirely by Carl, who prays on Michael’s well embedded mental health issue to manipulate Michael’s thoughts and morals. This fires the main conflict of the story, as Michael’s loyalties are pulled on in a human tug of war.
Lisa Palfrey has fleshed out Gloria with Julie Walters style and humour, making the character both endearing and brash; Craig Gazey pulls heart strings and tickles the occasional funny bone with his dead-pan impression of a young man most certainly born on the autistic spectrum and Harry Ferrier does a good job of playing the stereotypical chav who takes things a leap too far.
There are moments where this kitchen-sink drama shows true grit, with laugh out loud lines and shocking actions, but the characters are not fully developed and the relationship between Gloria and Carl, in particular, does not hold enough tension to make the penultimate scene feel likely or as powerful as it should.
Before it Rains has a charm and harshness that hints at Chandler’s ability to create enigmatic characters with raw passion and realism; with further development, and perhaps a two act structure, it could be a GREAT play.
Catch it at the Sherman until Saturday 6th September, in Theatre 2, 8pm.
Tickets £14 | Concessions £12 | Under 25s half price
Suitable for 12+

Cappuccino Girls – Young Critics Review


Written by – Mal Pope
Directed by – Kathryn Rice
The Evening Post Theatre, Swansea
The record breaking 22 week run ended 17th June, 2012.Sitting in the black and pink bedecked ‘bar’ of Swansea’s Evening Post Theatre, listening to some of my favourite rom-com soundtracks, a gaggle of women around me – this musical, in the final week of its record breaking 22 week run, already promises to be a night out any girl will love…
The three main characters of Cappuccino Girls are certainly familiar: Hillary – the ex-magazine editor turned housewife pining for her career; Demi – the shy, put upon mother in a difficult relationship; Connie – the wealthy party girl who can’t get enough of new men, despite the ring on her finger… If you’re thinking Sex and the City, don’t. You’re getting way too excited.
Cappuccino Girls follows storylines that are, to some extent, emotionally tugging, hitting home quite literally for mothers and wives who have let these roles bury who they really are underneath. Relevant, in this age of working, yummy mummies who are expected to have it all, do it all and stay a size 10. At times, I even found myself choking up, identifying with the characters on the glamorous looking stage.
The music, composed by Mal Pope, is mostly excellent, though definitely cheesy in places! Some notable numbers are ‘Men are like shoes’ and ‘Millionaire’, which added humour, glitz and were akin to what a girl would expect from a sparkly show like this. The first act ended with the poignant ‘How Did I Get So Small?’, sung by all three women, Cerian Bidder as Hilary showing a remarkable talent for pulling the heart strings and tear ducts with her surprisingly strong voice – this song was hard hitting and, at this point I thought we would really be in for an exciting second half, full of conflict and perhaps even intrigue, the narration from Eddie hinting that their friendship may not last through their troubles. I was disappointed when the story continued its steady pace, and the friendships went untested. Despite this, Claire Hammacott’s performance of the empowering ‘Today’s My Birthday’ was beautifully played out, adding another layer to Demi’s character at least, whose development was the most significant of the show.
The issues, however, are not developed enough to carry the whole performance, and the lack of tension leaves you feeling like there’s something big missing…or that you’ve just witnessed a musical version of a slow week on Corrie… In fact, the content was over-told, and the entire piece could be cut by at least 45 minutes whilst maintaining the same (if not creating a bigger) impact. Despite this, the direction of Kathryn Rice pulled out great performances from the female cast, and Connie’s story not being well constructed does not stop us seeing Catherine Morris’s talents.
The two male players take on numerous parts, Phillip Arran believable as each girl’s husband and Maxwell James doing a good job in all the extra bit parts. The variety of accents Arran takes on is problematic though, and the transition between one to another is not smooth, though ‘snaps’ to the man for stamina as there is hardly a moment when he is not on stage or acting as a voiceover!
For a show not in its first run, I was surprised to find that the sound design still needed some work, with radio mics too often fading in late, leaving gaps in dialogue and sometimes missing the start of songs.
The set design was wonderfully girly, the black and pink theme continued through from the foyer to the theatre space, and being sat in the café with the characters brought you close to them, enhancing the atmosphere created by the lighting and decor; a nice variation on the stuffier, large scale musicals where you never feel quite so ready to relax. (A waitress or two taking cocktail orders throughout the show would not have gone amiss!)
Mal Pope has successfully created a backdrop against which the lives of these women can cross, showing the 90% female audience that they are not alone with their problems in life and that, in typical chick flick style, it’ll all turn out well in the end…

Pornography YC review

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Directed by: Mathilde Lopez
Written by: Simon Stephens
Seen at: Chapter Arts Centre, 27th April
An intermingling of stories hinting at deep passions and perverse thoughts, Pornography allows us to glimpse the inner transgressive nature of a diverse selection of Londoners, during the summer of 2005.
The effective use of the senses really helped bring this piece to life and engulf the audience in the moment, with sounds not just coming from the background music, but from sex scenes issuing out of an older woman’s TV set, or the movement of staging which was, at all times, fully incorporated in the performance – also, importance placed on sections of the text as, within a monologue, the characters grab a microphone and emphasise their utterings. Blackouts, with hundreds of pieces of paper falling from the ceiling signalled high impact moments, and put the audience under the falling skies of London – made us feel the chaos the characters felt in their everyday lives, the 7/7 bombings far from their thoughts.
Each character seemed to be searching for something – chasing desire or simply relationship; to be beholden to someone. This encapsulated the loneliness of the city which, even during moments where characters shared scenes, was often emulated by their conversation: A brother talking of empty but beautiful museums; the sister (Dinah Olajire) spouting monologues about society that are empty of sentiment; the lecturer (Richard Elfyn), so in need of companionship that he bribes a student into his flat and attacks her; the widower (Sharon Morgan) who is so unused to conversing with people she physically shakes with fear when the postman rings the bell, but is drawn into contact with a stranger by following her nose to barbequed chicken; the teenage boy (Gwydion Rhys) who develops such an attraction to his maths teacher he stalks and eventually threatens to stab her; the mother who ruins her companies chances of winning a bid to inject some excitement into her life – perhaps her husband will notice her and her new gold sandals if she tells him she’s been fired; the suicide bomber who decides to leave his wife and children behind, but for what cause?
As the set is pushed and broken apart we see the lives of these characters spiral out of control with issues of incest, violence, sexual deviancy and destruction played out, leading to the climactic moment where the bomber takes his final journey through the city. The tumult of the music at this point drowned out much of what was said, and Jade Willis’s speech faded in insignificance against the sounds, but the foreboding sense of what was to come, and how it might further affect the lives of the characters we had, if briefly, grown to care for, was clearly conveyed.
Mathilde Lopez’s daring style makes this a dynamic piece of theatre, if a little ‘out there’ for those used to a more conventional theatre experience. With exceptional performances from Gwydion Rhys and Sharon Morgan who bring out some true human humour, along with Richard Elfyn, this is an interesting performance it would be a shame to miss.
Pornography is currently touring numerous venues around Wales, with their final performance in Abergavenny’s Borough Theatre on 19th May.

Little Dogs – Young Critics Review

image by farrows creative
Little Dogs ****
Patti Pavilion, Swansea
Directed by: Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett
Devised by: Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett and The Company
A sketch of the animalistic nature of Swansea night life…
A work of symbolism, Little Dogs plants little seeds of stories and ideas, related to the characters, but also related to the audience – the ideas you have about those kids who sprawl over the streets of Swansea (or any town) on a Saturday night, or stories that linger in your memory of the nights you spent in a similar fashion years before.
The Promenade style pulls you into and through the performance, your focus drawn to each small story by the characters, the lighting or the sounds projected from the ‘new’ – often evocative – set (designed by Tim Dickel).
The choreography was wonderful, blending seamlessly with the action and dialogue and each dance formed a different element of the evening out – from the main focus of the ‘mating ritual’ to the game playing with the law.
The story seeds planted don’t come to fruition, though there is a sense you are following Darren Evans’ character as he surveys and tries to be part of the group and their antics. The young cast are watched over by what seems to be the ‘nurturing’ figure of a grandmother (played by the graceful Siân Phillips); however, her two ethereal appearances added confusion to this meaning and, though a fan of ambiguity, there was perhaps a little too much ambiguity in this seemingly symbolic part of the performance pour moi.
My legs certainly could have stood another 20 minutes to gain a little extra in storyline, but this perhaps was the whole point: the night is never truly over; the ritual continues and the rubbish that issues from the mouths of young lovers enshrined in fake tan glamour and aftershave manufactured testosterone will be passed down through generations of Swansea’s Wind Street dwellers.
Whatever your age, however you remember your youth, you are bound to get something out of this truly exciting piece of theatre (though be sure to read the warning re. bad language, strobe lighting and nudity). The whole experience is enjoyable, with other notable performances from Katie Elizabeth-Payne, Jordan Bernarde and Remy Beasley, the ensemble cast will take you through a myriad of emotions, drawing you into and absorbing you in the world of Little Dogs.
You can still see Little Dogs with performances running until May 19th, 2012. Tickets are £15 (£10/£5 Concessions) and can be booked through Taliesin Arts Centre (01792 602060). There is a 15+ age guidance, so maybe don’t bring the kids!

Young Critics Review – The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning: Stunning Storytelling

Talk about different!The experience starts as soon as you walk through the front doors of Cardiff High School; huddling in the stairwell before a girl with a walkie talkie directs you upstairs in small groups, to experience the journey to the auditorium – a well designed walk, where you are subjected to primarily unnerving sounds of war and army barracks, which contrasts dramatically with the adorned High School walls, proclaiming netball fixtures and displaying the colourful works of the current students.
General Admission took on a new meaning too, with the audience collecting their chairs from uniform clad soldiers, and choosing a ‘square’ to place it in allowing, to an extent, voyeurism to occur on the audience’s own terms.The set, designed by Chloe Lamford, was minimal. The perimeter of the stage was marked with four 12ft lighting rigs holding computer monitors at every angle that showed P.O.V. footage of a helicopter based sniper. The bleak images of the war torn town, coupled with the loud, intrusive hum of the craft, shouts from the combatants and the occasional ring of an evacuation alarm, set my nerves slightly on edge as I watched the rest of the audience take their seats and choose their viewing spots. This was the first hint of the multiplatform format engineered by Tom Beardshaw, in conjunction with Tim Price (Writer) and John E McGrath (Artistic Director).
The opening was a highly charged list of all the statements you can imagine might have been made about Bradley Manning since the Wikileaks “scandal” began – soldiers discussing the whistleblowing actions of a fellow soldier became a squabble between teenagers, trying to make their opinions heard. What followed was a dynamic, engaging, thought provoking performance that immersed me fully into the story of Bradley Manning, from his High School days in South Wales to his incarceration. Every moment appeared planned down to the second. Every movement, sound (Mike Beer), look, lighting sequence (Natasha Chivers), prop, word had specific meaning and intent. This was an intricately devised piece that made every second worthwhile. I could not pull my eyes from the action!
The six players were present within the auditorium at all times, using the shadows as ‘off stage’. More often than not the entire company was on stage, taking on multiple roles, showing real diversification. They slipped easily in and out of American accents, and all had a turn at ‘being’ Bradley Manning, giving the sense that Bradley Manning has become an idea – something we all have an opinion about; something we all share in one way or another. The ‘flashbacks’ to the High School History classroom gave the characters the opportunity to fully explore themes of martyrdom, of men being punished for their thoughts, whilst focussing on Welsh battles and uprisings. The stark contrast between the innocence of High School and the harsh horrors of life in the U.S. Army also helped evoke a true empathy for the main character, and an understanding of what may have influenced his life to land him in the situation he is still in now.
The performance was fluid, switching seamlessly between scenes, the monitors notifying the audience of when and where the story had moved to at each moment (Baghdad, New York, Haverfordwest) – though if you missed it, the costumes, lighting, set changes and accents all worked as indicators, without being too ‘obvious’.
The entire cast was superb, and extremely convincing in every role they took on. I thoroughly enjoyed each individual performance, and found Bradley’s story particularly compelling because of the different angles given to it by the multiple players. Matthew Aubrey and Harry Ferrier shared the majority of the part, and each contributed to the feeling I now have – that I in part know and understand Bradley’s problems. For me, this is stage play at its best.
Alongside the thought provoking issues and the electric dialogue, there were some very humorous moments, and one unexpected dance sequence that could have seemed absurd but, in fact, gelled perfectly with the plot point, emphasising the idea that, in the 21st Century, you can become a Superstar with one click of the mouse.
In order to interact with The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning in all its multiplatform glory, and just because it was that good that I already want to see it again, I’ll be watching the live streaming of the show on before the run ends on 21st April. I would highly recommend you do the same.

Young Critics Review – A Provincial Life

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Written and Directed by: Peter Gill
Sherman Cymru – Thu 01 Mar 2012 – Sat 17 Mar 2012A blue light shining on a solitary figure, against a back drop of 40ft high pine sections gave us the first glimpse of the blank platform from which NTW would tell the long, slightly erratic story of a young, wealthy man in 1890s Russia. Against his father’s wishes, Misail (Nicholas Shaw) decides to pursue happiness and worth by living the Provincial Life of a manual worker, rather than take up a vocation that will ensure his families prestige and money filters through to his generation.
The story unfolds in scenes broken up by set changes that, though fluid, and full of elegant props and costumes, almost become scenes in themselves due to the length of them. For me, these moments were mildly interesting, but mostly a waste of valuable stage time. However, it did help keep the pace steady and slow; something that seemed deliberate, as a reflection of life.
Though slow, the story was thought provoking, asking questions about what wealth matters when there are so many who live on the other side of money, a theme that is relevant today.
Shaw’s portrayal of a young man enduring constant inner turmoil from his inability to find happiness, no matter what path he takes his life down, is convincing. Unfortunately, no matter how convincing, it didn’t endear him to this theatre goer; I struggled to feel any empathy for him, no matter how many mini monologues were spouted about how unhappy and unfulfilled by life he was.
Luckily, these moments were often lent an element of Chekhov’s humour; John-Paul Macloed, playing Ivan – the odd and weedy country friend of Misail, provided many of these, which were executed perfectly and got the most reaction from the audience.
The female’s stories were, for me, far more interesting than Misail’s – while he’s busy moaning about how his father doesn’t want to know him because he has turned his back on their way of life, his sister Cleopatra is left alone with her father, and the usual lack of prospects of a woman in the 19th Century. A sickly girl, she deteriorates throughout the play, bursts of life and excitement amid the mundanity.
Other notable performances were Alex Clatworthy, playing Maria (the love interest), Mark Lewis as Victor Dolzhikov (the explosive Engineer), Sara Lloyd-Gregory as Cleopatra Poloznev, William Thomas as Andrey Ivanov (the Contractor and friend of Misail), and Lee Haven-Jones, playing Boris Blagovo (the revered Doctor).
On the whole, the performance was a little uninspiring, and would have benefited from an injection of action…and a few less sections of monologuing. But it looked beautiful, and there were some stellar moments that made up for the not so exciting ones. Provincial, indeed.
If you’re interested in seeing A Provincial Life, it runs until Saturday March 17th. Book now through Sherman Cymru.

Recent YC reviews Rachel Williams

Last Christmas | Theatre Review

Sherman Cymru
12 December

Christmas with a difference has landed at the Sherman: amongst the brightly coloured lights and floating snowflakes, stands one man: devoid of renditions of ‘He’s behind you’, emotions run high and hangover’s hit hard when reality rears its head and the spirit of Christmas is floundering. Matthew Bulgo’s debut play Last Christmas explores the idea of finally growing up and realising happiness isn’t just about escaping the past, but embracing the future. Tom faces the ghosts of the Christmas past to head into his future.
There is a unique take on a seemingly clichéd topic in Last Christmas: Tom escapes the backwards, boring Swansea life for the lights and highs of London as a film maker, but after a while the drudgery of paying the bills and an ordinary office job seeps back in. The character’s and the detail of Swansea are vivid: Lanky, Spanner and Bins are that much more alive than the likes of London character’s ‘Suz’ and the Intern. If ‘ambition is critical’ enough for people to leave, Last Christmas highlights the fact that they end up leaving something behind: true friendship and family – what did Tom’s dad really think at the end? Was he proud? It is Tom’s journey home where he comes to realise, through a haze of alcohol that he need not have worried: he has after all begun to become his father.
A one man show is difficult to pull off but the combination of talent brought about by Dirty Protest’s collaboration with Clwyd Theatre Cymru creates an intimate piece full of emotion and passion. Siôn Pritchard’s skillful acting and comic timing is fantastic: he portrays this ordinary man in such a way that everyone can empathise with on different levels and his portrayal of those in his story is pitched perfectly, each personification adding to the depth of the story. Matthew Bulgo’s use of language and imagery is superb: he has brought a character – who could easily have slipped into a one dimensional life – into a multi-dimensional, full colour existence. Filled with stomach creasing rants that flow with ease into dark, grief filled moments that brings tears to the eyes. Kate Wasserberg has used her skill to mould these two talented elements of actor and writer into a seamless and striking piece of theatre.
Last Christmas was a captivating hour of theatre and joy to watch, filled with the mixed blessings that Christmas brings for so many and the joy for others.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Adventures of Sancho Panza – Theatre Review

The Adventures of Sancho Panza
Riverfront Theatre, Newport
9 November


The Adventures of Sancho Panza is a modern twist on the Don Quixote classic, drawing the real and fictional worlds together and the Don is no longer centre stage. With an unusual opening scene, Sancho Panza and his mother are attending the funeral of their father and husband, it is after when Sancho cannot get his mother to read with him and he reads alone, that his imagination takes over, bringing the Don himself to life and launches Sancho into his adventure.

It is an adventure full of glorious battles that simultaneously get more creative and ludicrous as the journey goes on, from fighting a lion to a singing competition with another knight. The comic element to the show is a huge factor and the audience are often in stitches: Gareth Clarke’s comic timing as Sancho is impressive, appearing almost instinctive, the same with Andrew Tadd – whose cheeky aside’s to the audience are perfect.
The set is striking yet simple – all in white it is transformed from kitchen to castle, waterfall and country road with ease and some ingenious use of props: the Don’s horse is actually a double base and Sancho’s donkey a Violin. Roles of paper have versatile uses, from Knightly capes to waterfall’s and caves. The cast climb all over the furniture, turning a table into a horse drawn carriage.
Involving the audience in a rendition of Robbie Williams’ Angels was a stroke of genius:  I had to concentrate very hard to join in, as I fought not to break out into a fit of laughter.

My only note would be that the piece felt like it faltered slightly: the pace started to wind down about two thirds through, rather than continue at a pace, almost if an interval might be needed somewhere. As it moves past this it does regain its momentum as Sancho is granted is own island to govern and the comedy continues.
The musical talent of the cast is brilliant: Maxwell James is handy with his guitar throughout. His rendition of the opening “There’s a million other places I’d rather be than here…There’s a million other people in the world I would rather be” is heartrending as we watch the funeral procession unfold. He plays challenging Knight in the Don’s (Gareth Wyn Griffiths) sing off. Wyn Griffiths is brilliant as the chivalrous, kind but occasionally daft Don.
Closing back in on reality, Sancho’s mother finds him reading out in the cold, his imagination having run its course and together they are able to work through their grief and Sancho’s questions of ‘Why?
A masterful, heart-warming and touching piece it is well worth seeing.
The Adventures of Sancho Panza is on tour again in 2013.
Info: Hijinx as a theatre company are dedicated to creating accessible theatre for all the family and to the inclusion of actors with special needs.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Theatre Review

Fri 2 Nov

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
It is one thing to remember how funny a show an be, it is another to bear witness to a production that goes one better and every enunciation, tumble and action is comic perfection. In this production of Shakespeare’s farcical fairy tale every comic nuance possible is put to work, creating a hilarious, adventurous and magical performance. Theatre Mwldan and Mappa Mundi have revisited a partnership with Torch Theatre for this production, an enterprise that has again worked wonders.
Transported from ancient wooded Athens to 1940’s Britain, this Midsummer Night’s Dream is a new commentary on changing times where love wins out over stubborn class divides as Lysander –transformed into an American – fights for Hermia with the now straight laced, Englishman Demetrius. Air raid sirens sound and silent films play, setting the scene before the cast launch into the text – dressed as the soldiers, land girls, wardens and the glamorous upper class.
The plebeians  of St Athans Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (SAADOS) are the perfect comic bumbling relief to Oberon and Titania’s dark, sinister fairyland where unrequited love and false chivalry abound as the human’s fall victim to Puck’s shambolic meddling. Their inexplicable rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe making the perfect comic mockery of amateur theatre Liam Tobin’s Bottom and James Peake’s Flute stumble over lines, over act the scenes and produce ridiculous prop’s – Llinos Mae’s Snout suffers as the SAADOs rendition of the ill-fated wall. Mathew Bulgo’s plays Quince, forever attempting to improve his amateur actors and forever failing – only to give up in complete irritation.
With such a sizable but incredible talented ensemble cast it is difficult to pick the shining star: they all shone. Yet Joanna Simpkins was truly impressive as Helena: heartbroken and desperate her pursuit of Demetrius plays out with such physicality the audience is at once with her in sympathy and laughing at the hilarity if it and it starts again as the roles reverse  and she is pursued by both Demetrius and Lysander after Puck’s meddling. Francois Pandolfo as Puck is simultaneously menacing and enticing – flitting about the stage he is the willing villain of Oberon’s jealous plan and his appearance amongst the audience adds to the dreamlike quality of the show, becoming the dream’s storyteller.
A remarkably simple set works well with the lighting, enhancing the dark, dreamy world. Multi-media use at the beginning and end: delivering Puck’s final lines is eerie and perfectly placed to close down the dream and let the dreaming audience awaken.
A Midsummer Nights Dream is on tour until 8th December.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Llwyth – Theatre Review

23 Aug 2012

Y Llwyfan, Carmarthen

On a night when communities come together in brilliant catharsis – Wales has lost the rugby – four friends are living their own moments of catharsis as they move through their own night of fighting, reminiscing and revelations.
Llwyth takes its inspiration from the Gododdin – a tale of warriors and men from several tribes bound together as a community by loyalty for their King and their country against a common enemy. Over a year they trained during the day and feasted and drank at night before marching on their foe and wiping out seven times their number. Weaving the lyrical, poetic language of this sixth century poem into the play, writer Dafydd James handing Aneurin (Simon Watts) beautifully crafted monologues that he performs with conviction and perfectly pitched acting.
This play isn’t just about being gay or about gay life in Cardiff, it digs deeper into a world of universal insecurities, friendships that last – no matter what and that sense of belonging many of us earn for. Rhys (Paul Morgans) is turning 30 and faced with boyfriend Gareth (Michael Humphreys) supposed inconsistencies and throughout the night they fight out their differences. Gavin (Joshua Price) is that innocent teenager starting out in life, a mix of naivety and that rush to experience life. Dada (Danny Grehan) is the aging ‘queen’, father and storyteller of the group, having already lived and experienced life. Aneurin is a struggling writer, lost amongst his ideas and fighting against his past – unable to face up to his emotions and the recent death of his mother.
Humour has a huge presence in the dialogue, breaking up the tension at the most perfect moments. The Eisteddfod gets a lambasting and faces of the media get their mention as comparators to the character’s themselves and as part of their life stories.
Written predominantly in Welsh there are splashes of English and Wenglish: a vision of truth of today’s culture in Wales and even though it is English that is predominantly heard every day it adds another element to the play. As much now as in the sixth century this is a land of languages and cultures, of tribes that exist separately yet come together for a common cause.  There are surtitles available in English, but with the superb acting and physicality of the cast, the harmonic choral singing of the choir and soundtrack and the skilful use of the stage and props through Director Arwel Gruffydd Llwyth captivates the audience enough to forget about the surtitles.
A distinctly Welsh play, Llwyth is not necessarily owned by Wales, it will travel and it has proved that – receiving rave reviews at Edinburgh’s Fringe and through its invitation to the Asian Arts Festival in Taipei.
A play to make you laugh, cry and what to join in dancing, Llwyth is a genius piece of writing: tender, heart-rending, laugh out loud funny and exciting. I promise you will find it hard to fault it and will absolutely love it.
Llwyth is at Sherman Cymru for its last set of performances 12-14 September before it heads to the festival in Taipei.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Y Storm – Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru – Eisteddfod 2012

Y Storm
National Eisteddfod Wales
8th August 2012


Ystorm is Gwyneth Lewis Welsh language translation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A tale full of power, jealousy and revenge:  Prospero was the Duke of Milan but his love of the dark arts and his library led him to invite his brother Antonio to share the power. Antonio then conspired with the King of Naples Alonso to usurp Prospero and send him to a far flung island. It is Gonzalo who allows Prospero to take supplies and his books. It is on this island that the story starts, where Prospero has used is powers and servant Ariel to shipwreck his enemies on his island where the lets them wander, tormented by dreams and spirits. Ferdinand is split from his father Alonso and thinks him dead but at sight of Miranda (Prospero’s daughter); Ferdinand falls madly in love and submits to Prospero’s servitude to prove he loves her. It is Prospero’s aim to regain his Dukedom and teach his enemies the lessons they deserve yet it is Prospero who also learns lessons – to treat his enemies with honour and to be the better man.
Directed by Elen Bowman Ystorm is part of the World Shakespeare Festival, in conjunction with the London 2012 celebrations.
As a first language English speaker and admittedly only Welsh language learner, I walked in concerned as to how much I was going to understand but within moments the performance took over and entranced the soul.
The continual movement and use of the whole space as the cast mingled in amongst the audience added another level to the performance. The surtitles were good for keeping up where the story was when you couldn’t quite remember the next part but the non-fluent audience did not have to rely on them – just listening to the language was a pleasure.
Members of the acclaimed Citrus Arts are part of the cast, lending their unique physical brand of circus theatre to the performance, using the tent scaffold to its full potential, as spirits flying around the sky (with aerial equipment) and adding a carnival atmosphere to the scene (using fire and floor equipment) when Prospero uses his powers to conjure up a fantasy for Miranda and Ferdinand and Ariel calls forth the Gods of the land.
Ariel is a character trapped by the lure of freedom and Meilir Rhys Williams plays him perfectly, he is at once the unearthly, playful mischievous spirit and the loving servant. Along with his team of spirits the choreography was fantastic, playing with the human characters minds – working around them as if invisible with perfect timing and grace.
The performance space – a purpose built tent – was a warm sandy island in the middle of an ocean of mud, replicating the remote island Prospero was cast out to and transports the audience into the Shakespearean world as they took their seats on tiered platforms around the tent.
Trinculo (Hugh Thomas) and Stephano (Siôn Pritchard) were the perfectly pitched comic relief against the more powerful, emotional turmoil’s played out by the larger characters with their brilliantly timed drunken antics and petty greed putting their own instant gratification above all else. When they come across Caliban hiding from Prospero they turn him into a willing drinker as he happily submits to being their servant not Prospero’s. Caliban’s character also provides a different angle to the story: after all he is the original inhabitant of the island – given the role of the brutish uncivilized slave he is another innocent in the equation, used harshly by Prospero for his own ends.
A brilliant show I would definitely recommend and I look forward to further productions by Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru.
Y Storm is at the United Counties Showground, Camarthe 18-21 September and
Faenol Estate, Bangor 2-6 October

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Act One’s King Lear: Edinburgh Fringe Preview

Cardiff’s Act One head for Edinburgh’s Fringe:

Sun 12-Sat 18 August
The Monkey House, Edinburgh
(originally for Buzz Mag)
The Edinburgh Fringe is a pivotal point in the theatrical calendar and Cardiff University’s very own Act One drama society are heading up there to perform, taking performances ofWuthering Heights, The Institute andKing Lear. Nearing the end of their intensive rehearsals I caught up with Piers Horner, Co-director of King Lear.
This King Lear has a substantially cut script – to fit into their 1 hour 15 minute and to make it more absorbing and engaging to a modern audience: Piers admitted it had been a challenge to retain a concise script, make a production that is far more accessible and to hold people’s attention, but also keep the essence of the play and not detract from it.
A post-apocalyptic interpretation, its intensified violence is blended with the text’s raw power and the original Shakespearean language. Piers explained the idea of a crumbling society, where Lear himself is a crumbling figurehead – losing power to his two callous daughters whilst the third daughter is banished and powerless to help. Gloucester, part of the only remaining sub-plot, is corrupted by his illegitimate son Edmund, forcing his elder son to flee.
To Piers heading up to the Edinburgh fringe is incredible and hugely exciting, particularly as they only ever envisaged it as a main Cardiff Act One production and to be there on showcase with great companies in an event where anything can happen is incredible. Performing in The Monkey House they have a prime afternoon spot away from the larger evening performances.
For those lucky enough to be heading up to Edinburgh in August @LearFringe2012 is their Twitter tag.
Tickets: £7.50. Info:

Latest Incubator YC review

Exciting New Companies Share Their Work at WMC

Incubator 12
Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio
Once again the Weston Studio welcomed an audience in to sample some of the work that the Wales Millennium Centre has been supporting over the last few months. The Incubator scheme offers support for artists and companies to develop new work and helps to facilitate a performance for the public and arts professionals who can offer their feedback and advice on what they have seen.
This time round two theatre companies shared their work in progress:
Mali Tudno Jones: The Gretel Files
This reimagining of the classic children’s tale of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ finds Gretel and the Wicked Witch joining forces to find out who stole the secret gingerbread recipe that the Witch had been guarding for MI7 – the government body in charge of all fairy tale creatures.
Having received an email prior to the performance requesting phone numbers and twitter hash tags the audience knew they would be in for an interactive multimedia experience. Texts and tweets were sent to the audience through the night and the audience tweeted back photos of any clues they found on their investigations around the centre.
The aim of the evening was to test this innovate approach to multimedia storytelling. Although it was great fun to receive texts telling you that you are now a secret agent you do have to wonder if the age group (small children) that the show is aimed at will have smart phones with the technology to access Twitter. Of course their parents may well have the necessary equipment but it isn’t quite the same personal approach.
The storytelling element of the show was really enjoyable with intelligent writing that children would enjoy but also had one or two jokes for the grownups. The companion website was also good fun with character profiles that you could investigate before the show.
With a bit more development on the technology side to make sure the website and twitter pages are up to date and easy to us, this could become a must see show for younger audiences. Definitely a concept that has great potential not only in children’s shows but for any new theatre.
Actors: Kirsty Bushell, Christopher Naylor, Joannna Van Kampen, Sara Lloyed
Writer and Project Manager: Mali Tudno Jones
Director: Stephen Casey
Media: Natalie Clements
Mercury Theatre Wales: SPANGLED
This brand new devised piece about Welsh clubbing culture in the 1990s also aimed to fully emerge their audience in the experience. This time their multilayered approach began by welcoming the audience into the club, giving them glow stick and stamping their hands to say they had paid the entrance fee. If you had a jacket it was taken into the ‘cloak room’ by the chatty attendant and it wasn’t long before you were approached and asked if you needed “any pills for the night?”
Pounding club music, trance-like visuals and film projections soon made you feel like you had somehow stumbled to the town centre and found yourself in a retro club. You were surrounded by beautiful young girls dancing on raised platforms and young men off their faces trying to rave.
The story unfolded through a series of short scenes between the characters and monologues delivered directly to the audience. These characters came about through research into real-life experiences of clubbers, DJs, promoters and youth groups.
With a bit of a polish on the choreographed elements and a more choosy approach to dialogue, this could be a very touching and original production. At the moment the concept is absolutely incredible but some of the story lines were very predictable (but perhaps that says more about my relationship with club culture!).
Reminiscent of NTW’s ‘Little Dogs’ but with a lot more narrative. I for one will definitely be going to see this show when it emerges fully formed in the Spring.
Overall it was yet another enjoyable and successful night for Incubator. Both companies are ones to watch and I’m sure that two great new shows will soon be taking Wales by storm.
Actors: Beth Lindsey, Gareth Potter, Matthew David, Danielle Fahiya, Lee Mengo, Simon Mullins
Writers: Lynn Hunter, David Prince, Bethan Morgan
Director: Bethan Morgan
Music Consultant: Jimpy