Category Archives: Theatre

The Wizard, the Goat and the Man who Won the War, YC Review

The Wizard, the Goat and the Man who Won the War

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Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Fri 3 March
I first saw this fabulous solo performance two years ago on the closing day of the Dylan Thomas Festival. In its infancy the showing was its trial premier performance and now, having taken in audience comments from that day an earlier reading at Llanystumdwy (Lloyd George’s home town) and taken it on tour the play has evolved from an informed, solid piece into a stronger, funnier more lyrical performance.
The same concept of a one man oratory on Lloyd George exists; a fictional telling of a great man’s life based on a framework of well researched facts, comparisons are not necessary as I walked out of this performance with the same spellbound feeling.  “What went on in Lloyd George’s heart and mind, is of course, open to theatrical speculation” the programme explains, yet for a man faced with disapproval and scorn from his Welsh heritage and his standing in British politics and a known womanizer it might be easy to guess some of what pathways his thoughts took.
The first performance included a significant amount about his relationship with daughter Mair, his perfect image of the future and the belief’s they both hold about the other great British figure, King Arthur. The evolved performance has had the content on Mair reduced and introduced more about his Political and British life, weaving his grief for her into the wider WWI picture. Yet this does not detract from the passion, power and energy displayed, far from it in fact, it is simply that the narrative has changed tack slightly and Lloyd George’s love for the child is still strongly evident. He talks about events and people in his life; Mair, who died at 17, Frances his mistress and growing up as a child in Criccieth, fatherless. It soon becomes evident that his life is one large juggling act: between his wife and mistress; his Welsh identity and British image and his role as the people’s protector with his ever increasing wealth.
The cloth makers of Provence are the makers of his Union towel, commemorating his winning of WWI, but “Oh for a Ddraig Goch” he cries: what do the French know of a Ddraig Goch exactly? To Richard Elfyn’s Lloyd George, it is not he who has abandoned Wales, but Wales who has abandoned him, which to the real man may have been the truth.
The play is a mix of three languages with the English speech broken up by flashes of Welsh and French and whilst many in the audience may not understand the French or Welsh it adds to the atmosphere and the depth of the character before us.
Lloyd George would be at home in today’s political arena: a Liberal-Conservative coalition, political scandal, social reform and of course the press: an institution as prevalent to the politicians then as now, and it included The News of the World, a paper that has never changed its skins. Lloyd George’s actions alos exposed a corrupt system of peerages, something we are familiar with even now, having given newspaper proprietor’s Max Aitkin and George Rydell Lordships for a price. There are several political jokes, he notes Chamberlain leap frogged his elder brother to the top job, quipping “who in the world of politics would ever do that” a cheeky aside to the Milliband brothers.
What Elfyn undertakes for the show is a feat, for a one man show the energy hardly pauses and is kept at a high level throughout and the passion flows right though his oratory – keeping the audience entranced from the outset. With only a walking stick, towel and bench as prop’s he does extremely well to keep going – the stick a particularly useful tool, morphing from its traditional use to become woman in an his embrace as he dances, a golf club as he discusses the golf clubs and pointing at all sorts.  He addresses the audience as the sea, his stage vantage point being the beach at Lloyd George’s favourite resort of Antibes, yet through that abstract viewpoint Elfyn involves the audience: making one woman blush and as if on cue the audience join in his rendition of Myfanwy. The singing a throwback to the knowledge Lloyd George gathered his cabinet around the piano and showed off his Welsh heritage.
For more of my review’s please visit

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A Provincial Life, YC Review

Heritage Vs Happiness

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A Provincial Life
National Theatre Wales
Sherman Cymru
Stars ***
National Theatre Wales have once again worked their magic to bring legendary director Peter Gill back to his home city of Cardiff to direct for the very first time. This re-working of Gill’s 1966 adaptation of Chekov’s short story gently tells the tale of Misail (Nicholas Shaw), a bourgeois young man, who wants to labour for his bread despite his privileged upbringing. Shunned by his father we follow him as he tries to build a life for himself and help those less fortunate in 19th century Russia.
Through their marketing strategy NTW have continuously pointed out the lavish set and costume design and it’s easy to see why – Alison Chitty’s design was superb. Huge bleached wood panels provided a blank yet imposing canvas that could be moved to suggest different spaces. Each scene was beautifully introduced by the chorus placing the furnishings of the rich or poor households in simple but effective choreographed sequences. These features perfectly framed the play as a whole and set the slow, almost dreamy state. The farmhands scything crops perfectly in time with Terry Davies’s haunting music was particularly poignant.
Performances from the 15 strong cast were impressive, in particular Alex Clatworthy as Misail’s unpredictable wife brought a real spark and energy to the production. Comic relief was delivered in the form of Misail’s rather odd collegue, Ivan (John-Paul Macleod). Lee Haven-Jones (Boris Ivanov Blagovo) and William Thomas (Andrey Ivanov) added true warmth and depth as Misail’s real friends.
Definitely a slow burner, if you are a fan of punchy dialogue and fast paced action this may not be the show for you. Although many of the themes are relevant to today’s youth, who are also striving for change, the production lacked a certain fire and passion that you would expect in a tale of revolution. Perhaps for a plot that emphasised the need to work for what you have it was a little too cerebral. This lack of gusto meant the end – although touching – fizzled out and was rather unsatisfying.
Although Misail sets out to help those less fortunate it is those very same people who are helping him by the end. This intelligent production forces you to ponder what is really valuable in this life – wealth and power or compassion and community?
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
Runs at the Sherman Theatre until 17th March
Box office Phone: 029 2064 6900
For more reviews please visit:

Create your own online community

The next step to social networking is building your own online community Tom Beardshaw, cofounder of NativeHQ, explains how National Theatre Wales created its very own social network

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Tom Beardshaw who has supported the Young Critics Scheme has writen an excellent article on NTW’s use of social networking and the ning platform to develop its community.
Tom mentions YC in his article.
Thanks Tom

The Philosophers, National Theatre of Wales

Get closer: National Theatre Wales uses its online community to engage audiences beyond its productions. Photograph: NTW.
National Theatre Wales (NTW) was born in 2009 when social media was rapidly mainstreaming and a new generation was becoming so familiar with online sharing, discussion, collaborating and creating their own media that it was like a second language.
The task facing NTW, and other arts organisations on the verge of this social media wave, was to harness that enthusiasm for social sharing, and to make sure the new generation of arts, culture and heritage professionals were properly and actively engaged.
So with a vision for nurturing an open, participatory creative community in Wales, NTW asked our social media company NativeHQ to build a public online networking space using Ning’s social network platform and help the organisation use it effectively to build an engaged community with a culture of sharing and discussing NTW’s work and their own.
The National Theatre Wales Community has grown with a spirit of experimentation, including careful decisions about how social software shapes the way culture, art and relationships form. It has depended on the generosity and involvement of its members and the commitment of all the NTW staff, led by their communications team, to share their creativity, lead discussions and debates, form specialist interest groups and connect individuals to new opportunities for creative work.
Through hosting a space that enables everyone to talk to each other, whether in public, group or private settings, we have found a way for NTW to engage a young generation in its own development. By sharing and enabling discussion of its work, the people affected by its policies have a say in shaping them and allowing other companies and artists to do the same.
Early in the development of the company, the theatre held online discussions with the community about the work it should commission, with actors about casting policies, with writers on their approach to handling scripts and commissions, and with critics on developing their work to grasp the opportunities the web offers to involve anyone in the discussion of creative productions.
John McGrath, artistic director at NTW, was quick to highlight the importance of the social network and the success of the theatre. “I regularly find myself turning to our online community for inspiration and ideas,” he said. “The sense that there’s a real dialogue going on there encourages people of all ages and experience levels to get involved.”
And what have been the results? Well, one initiative that has emerged from all this activity is a Young Critics group, which enables 13-25 year olds to support each other as they try to enter the somewhat difficult world of becoming an arts critic. They visit live performances, then blog their responses to the community and their own website, inviting discussion with both audiences and the works’ creators.
From there, we made the platform accessible so that all members of the community are included and invited to post about their work, the work of NTW, or any aspect of Welsh or international theatre. Groups for actors, writers, directors, designers and creatives are hosted by key NTW staff, enabling focused, professional discussions and allowing anyone to create a connection with leaders in their field. Other Welsh theatre companies host their own groups in the network and regularly post events to the site, making it one of the most useful places to find outwhat’s on in Wales.
NTW has moved beyond the social media basics of Facebook and Twitter by creating its own network that can host numerous conversations and debates, and this is helping it tackle the problem of how to engage with a younger generation, by giving them a public voice in the theatre community, and encouraging them to use it.
Young theatre makers, artists and audiences in Wales are showing that in a culture that newly enables them to speak with seasoned professionals, they have a huge contribution to bring to the revitalisation and growth of creativity and debate in the arts.
Tom Beardshaw is a consultant to National Theatre Wales – follow him on Twitter @tombeardshaw and the theatre @NTWtweets
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, sign up free to become a member of the Culture Professionals Network.


PechaKucha Night Cardiff

PechaKucha Night Cardiff

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The seventh ‘PechaKucha Night Cardiff’ was held in Chapter Arts Centre on Tuesday 24th January. Organised by local poet, writer and performer Mab Jones, this night is part of a worldwide phenomenon which sees over 1000 events take place in 400 cities each year.
For anyone who hasn’t stumbled across this ingeniously creative concept yet, PechaKucha Night started in Tokyo in 2003 as an event for young designers to showcase their work and network. PechaKucha takes it’s name from the Japanese word for “chit chat”, and the key to these events is their presentation format: participants show 20 images and talk about each one for 20 seconds. This simple idea aims to keep things moving at a swift pace.
The latest PechaKucha Night Cardiff was a collaboration with Literature Wales. It saw eight poets take to the stage to present their work and talk about their recent creative projects.
In the spirit of PechaKucha’s focus on the number ‘20’, I’m going to review each poet in 20 words:
Will Ford
Interesting opening about his father’s time in prison. Animated poetry reading about WW1 soldiers’ suffering. A bit over the top.
Clare Potter
This presentation felt experimental and song-like. The poet played with different voices. Timing slightly off with slides, but bravely unusual.
Gillian Brightmore
Talented poet with excellent style and pace. It’s a poetic ode to the city (and lover?). Mesmerising artwork accompanied it.
Philip Gross
Clearly a passionate and gifted writer, but this poetic attempt to make a pylon interesting failed to hold my attention.
Jack Pascoe
This humorous “punk poet” got the audience laughing with his cheeky verse. Prince Harry’s Stag Do poem was a highlight.
Naomi Alderson
A response to the May 2011 Japanese earthquake. This sensitive piece took the audience on an imaginative and poignant journey.
Susan Richardson
Four poetry readings from her recent book. Powerful writing on themes such as the environment and extinction, with well-selected images.
Mark Blayney
An amusing tongue-in-cheek ‘Boney M Studies’ lecture! People laughed, clapped and even danced in response. A lively and unique finale.
Overall, PechaKucha Night Cardiff provided a refreshing and accessible insight into the diverse poetry ‘scene’ in Wales today. And it wasn’t just me who was won-over. A group of men sitting behind me moaned and contemplated leaving at the start when they realised that only poets would be presenting. Yet by the end of the evening they were laughing and applauding as much as the rest of us.
This event was an entertaining reminder that poetry is at its best and most powerful when read aloud, rather than staying static in the pages of a book.
Visit Literature Wales’s YouTube Channel to see some of the poets in action.
For more information on future events, join the ‘PechaKucha Night Cardiff’ group on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter @pkn_cardiff.

Christmas hits City Road

Christmas hits City Road

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Dirty Protest: Office Christmas Party
Various locations on City Road, Cathays
1st December 2011
Personally I feel the first of December is a little too early to be getting festive, but then I am known to my friends as ‘The Grinch’. Luckily for me Dirty Protest’s Office Christmas Party wasn’t all tinsel and cheesy pop songs, instead they showcased five intriguing new plays that tried to dig deep and find what really bothers us during the holidays.
After being welcomed into Cathays Conservative Club with the offer of chocolates and party blowers the first event proceeded in front of a packed audience. A Cold Coming focussed on Carrie, a bar tender whose evening has been disturbed by the arrival of a corpse and a pizza. Before his death the deceased asked Carrie to find a priest to read his last rights. In an odd yet convincing mix between dark humour and high drama three very different priests arrive, but all are too late. The relationship between the three holy men, although perhaps a little clichéd, was very amusing as they argued and discussed the benefits of holding a zumba class in the church hall. Although the heart of this piece was a debate around religion and forgiveness it never became too heavy or self-important. This was definitely one of the strongest pieces of the evening and it perhaps would have been better at the end of the night to bring the audience together for an exciting and intriguing climax.
The audience were then split into three groups and I had the pleasure of being part of the Dirty Elves for the evening. We were taken to CF24 hairdressers where we met Sabrina and her staff as they closed up shop before their Christmas party and one member of staff isFoiled after being caught stealing. This piece relied a little too much on the ditzy blonde and outrageously camp hairdresser stereotypes but this wasn’t too much of a problem as there was a lot of humour and given such a short performance time it helped the audience to connect to the characters instantly. Unfortunately in theatre sometime lines are dropped and cues are missed but in this performance it happened a little too often to be completely forgiven, Dirty Protest like working to tight deadlines and perhaps this section could have benefitted from a little more rehearsal time.
Next up was a trip to Ambala Indian Restaurant, which somehow still managed to serve customers as the performance, Mistakes Have Been Made, took place. In this one man show, the audience became the employees listening to the smooth talking yet untrustworthy manager giving his Christmas speech. It soon becomes clear that all is not well with the company, the recession has hit but the employees are hitting harder. With wide spread disobedience and malicious prank playing going on throughout the company, the management are worried. This script was brilliantly witty with a strong undercurrent of violence that cumulated in two “employees” bundling the Boss into the toilets and giving him a bit of a beating. This was definitely the piece that worked best within the restrictions of the evening; the audience didn’t feel like invisible voyeurs in someone else’s space and the plot was small but perfectly formed.
Within the cosy and atmospheric setting of Milgi’s yurt there sat a sad and lonely santa, who wanted to reach out to the woman he loves before he literally disappears. Before I Go was a melancholy piece dealing again with the effects of the recession and in some ways talked about the restrictions we put on ourselves because we are worried about what society will think of us. This script was intriguing and I was really willing it to grab hold and not let go but it never quite reached its potential. I don’t know if it needed to be longer or just more developed but there was never a moment that I really felt empathy for the tragic character John. Having said that I do think it was well acted by Sion Pritchard and I really can’t put my finger on the missing link.
The last performance for my group took place in a bus stop on City Road. Inside, the slightly disturbed Mary is waiting for a bus. At first she seems like a bit of a social outcast, a bit different, one of those people who like to be on their own. Soon it becomes clear she is completely off her rocker as she plots The Demise of Photocopy Boy. Poor photocopy boy is going to pay the ultimate price for flirting with this black widow. This piece took us into the region of the surreal and although the plot was a little unbelievable as a real life situation, Hanna Jarman played the role of Mary so well that you could really imagine her dark side breaking through the socially awkward exterior.
Overall the night was enjoyable, but I felt there was something missing. Logistics were handled well considering the massive audience numbers and the need to move between five different venues. All the plays were daring but some didn’t quite hit the mark. In some ways the event felt like we were seeing five plays in the development or prototype stage rather than fully formed performances. Despite my criticism I do have to applaud Dirty Protest for their innovation, they really are bringing theatre to the masses with accessible plots and unconventional venues. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do next, what will they change and how will they grow? Keep your eyes open because I really think this company are going to hit Cardiff with something spectacular in the near future.
Review by Chelsey Gillard
For more info on Dirty Protest click here.
For more reviews click here.
To see what the other Young Critics thought click here.

NTW, The Village Social, Review

NTW Grand Opening of Year Two : The Village Social

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The Village Social
Neath Little Theatre
As we enter “the dark half of the year” NTW invite all sorts of ghosts, ghouls and mythological beasts onto the stage in the first production of their new season.
In a small town hall, in the fictional village of Cae Bach the local town committee try to run the annual Autumn Social. The theme this year is “Autumn Glamour”, resulting in the tragic gold foil decorations proudly hung among tapestries and murals with the town’s name proudly embroidered upon them.
From the moment the audience enter the front door they are part of the action, buying raffle tickets where first prize is rather odd and very gory. Invited in by foot stomping-ly good folk music that is later described as a passageway into other worlds, it is obvious that the night’s entertainment is going to be unforgettable.
The town committee, led by the brilliantly ‘David Brent’-esque Lawrence (Darren Lawrence), take to the stage to welcome us and apologise that tonight’s entertainment, spiritualist medium Madame Isis, is going to be late – her Sat-Nav has broken down and the spirits are not reliable guides. To keep things going super-keen local historian Lisa-Jên (Rebecca Harries) delights in telling the audience local myths and legends; including that of the stag god who with the original godly inhabitants of Wales danced and frolicked the night away until they were chased away to the underworld by human settlers. The stag’s antlers were trapped above ground and over time turned into a beautiful yew tree, that was until recently Cae Bach’s crowning glory, that is until it was mysteriously burned down.
This unsettling undercurrent of violence continued as Madame Isis eventually shows up, only to reveal each and every member of the committee’s secret desires and bad habits; beautiful blonde Yvonne (Carys Eleri) has the most terrible smelling wind, her husband Dave (Oliver Wood) longs to dress up as a woman. Soon a pattern emerges and it is clear to see that the members of the committee each relate to one of the five myths told earlier. After a disagreement with the townsfolk Madame Isis disappears in true panto style in a puff of smoke, but not before she curses the town, saying the gods want Cae Bach back!
Descending into further madness and hilarious chaos, health and safety conscious Jean (Sue Rodrick) declares she is feeling funny – she grabs and brandishes a spear from the stage decorations and leaves the social, only to return with the dismembered head of next door’s dog proudly worn as a hat. This theme continues with each committee member being transformed with riotously funny results; Yvonne comes back as the stinky, sack wearing monk, Papa Begw; Dave shows up in a tutu and dances just like Little Missy who danced herself to death (or according to some beautifully non-politically correct historians Little Missy was actually an epileptic boy); and in an almost pornographic and highly amusing moment Lawerence and Lisa-Jên are revealed as secret lovers!
Unfortunately after all the hilarious and gruesome antics of the night, the production takes a sharp and jarring u-turn to become overly serious, Lawrence’s son Dion (Gwydion Rhys, who also had the stand out performance of the night as Madame Isis) tells us of his ill-fated mother and the evening ends in tragedy. In a weird way I hardly questioned the odd transformations and surreal goings on, yet when a brutal moral tale was force fed to the audience I was left a little confused. The rushed ending left me slightly disappointed; it didn’t fit in the otherwise brilliant production.
NTW gave every person in the hall a brilliant -if rather odd- night out, everyone laughed until their faces hurt, the memorable musical numbers will be hummed for days on end. On the night I attended it was a sell out, with the audience ranging from nosy old women to curious youngsters, and even if not every one of them understood the production in its entirety I truly believe each of them enjoyed it. Yet somehow it felt as if the production was just a warm-up for what’s to come. Having said that, if this is a harbinger of the year ahead it looks like NTW are going to blow last year’s productions out of the water and continue to bring new, exciting theatre to Wales.
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
Runs until 12th November at a number of venues
For venue specific booking information please visit:

Time to Review Reviewing

Time to Review Reviewing

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The arts in Wales are becoming increasingly innovative. National Theatre Wales, for example, have done much to take the performing arts out of traditional spaces and off the stage, challenging conventional artistic boundaries in the process.
This got me thinking: if the performing arts are transforming and evolving, should the way we talk about them be changing too? Do we as critics need to re-think how we review them?
It’s time to review the review itself.
I’m not suggesting that “traditional” reviews have no value when discussing the arts— you’ll probably be seeing a few of these posted by me on the Young Critics blog over the coming months! However, I feel in some instances there must be more appropriate ways of expressing my views, particularly in relation to contemporary art.
I believe a key place to start looking for ideas is social networks. Consider Twitter. Users can only post updates of 140 characters or less at a time. Imagine if critics did this when writing reviews. Would such constraints diminish and restrict critics in their role? Or would it encourage us to think more creatively, whilst appealing to new audiences in innovative ways?
That is, of course, only one of many ways criticism could develop and evolve. Another idea is using multimedia such as video to review the arts, rather than adhering to the written word. Here’s a recent example of a video review for the production Dark Philosophers posted on the Young Critics blog. Perhaps this offers a new way forward for critics, and could be used to help reshape what is meant by a review?
I don’t have the answers to all the questions I’ve posed, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. But one thing feels certain to me: we need to become critics of reviews themselves, not just the artworks we review.

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About thebethanjames

Writer, thinker, dreamer. Media and arts obsessive. News junkie and night owl. Newbie blogger.

Video Review of NTW Dark Philosophers Newport

Video Review of NTW Dark Philosophers Newport

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We have tried experimenting with Flip Video cameras to review shows.
It creates a different type of ‘ feel ‘ to the review.
What do you think ?

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