Category Archives: Theatre

REVIEW Titanic The Musical, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

When the RMS Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912, it became instantly one of the deadliest peacetime disasters in history. Over 1,500 passengers were lost, and more than a century later, the fate of the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic continues to captivate the world, not least in James Cameron’s multi-Academy Award winning blockbuster that swept the Oscars in 1998. So epic was the film’s success that it (almost) eclipsed an adaptation that premiered on Broadway mere months before: Titanic The Musical, which docks at Cardiff for its 10th anniversary.

With music and lyrics by Tony Award-winning Maury Yeston (Nine, Phantom) and book by Emmy- and Oscar-winner Peter Stone (1776, Woman of the Year), Titanic The Musical follows the passengers of the White Star Line’s fateful ship. Unlike its big-budget younger brother, most of the musical’s characters are based on the real-life people who experienced the tragedy first-hand, from the three working-class Irish ‘Kates’ dreaming of a better life in the new world to the old-money couple who founded Macy’s department store.

It’s an unusual premise for a musical: how could any theatrical show convey the scale of such a disaster on the stage? Titanic achieves it and then some. The original Broadway production won five Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book – and its easy to see why. David Woodhead’s set is a mechanical marvel while Yeston’s songs are sprawling and lush – when performed by the 25-strong ensemble, the music positively soars. The ship might be the star, but these actors are titans.

Their skill is showcased in the epic opening number, ‘Godspeed Titanic’, in which the passengers board the grand ocean liner for the first time. In doing so, it begins with the same exhilaration with which most shows end – more impressive still, it maintains that momentum. There are exuberant moments like the song ‘Lady’s Maid’, in which the third class passengers dream of new horizons, led by the luminous Lucie-Mae Summer. There are moments of connection, as between Alastair Hill as cheery wireless officer Harold Bride and Adam Filipe as crewman Barrett, where they marvel at how technology can bridge hearts a thousand miles apart. Valda Aviks and David Delve are funny, warm and affecting as the stately older couple who refuse to part. And Barnaby Hughes is fabulous as the haughty head butler while Joseph Peacock adds a cheeky charm as the spirited bellboy.

You might not expect a show about the Titanic to have much happiness, but Director Thom Southerland brings a lovely breeziness to moments of whimsy, like when busybody Alice Beane (a charming Bree Smith) gossips about the blue bloods on board to her loving, beleaguered husband (James Darch, on fine form). Southerland moves elegantly between these moments of delight and the encroaching drama: when the iceberg looms, it does so to the eerie melody of ‘No Moon’ – it’s as unsettling a moment as approach of the shark in Jaws. All credit to musical director Ben Papworth and the fantastic orchestra.

What the show does exceptionally well is prepare you for the coming tragedy without sliding either into maudlin doom and gloom or into ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ clue-dropping. The characters’ moments of joy, love and hope are given real poignancy, especially when you realise that they are based on real-life people and their stories. So when class-defying couple Charles and Lady Caroline (Mathew McDonald and Emma Harrold) sing of getting married as soon as they reach New York, we ache for them. And when Captain Edward Smith (Graham Bickley, masterful in the role) speaks of this being his last voyage before he retires – it gains a greater resonance. So, too, does the Ozymandian epic of ‘Mr Andrews’ Vision’ in which the Titanic’s architect (Ian McLarnon, breathtaking) watches his dreams – quite literally – sink before his eyes.

It also brings new insights into a story you might think you already know. Here, the relentless greed of White Star Chairman J. Bruce Ismay (a delectably pompous Martin Allanson), who scrimped on lifeboats to make room for more higher-paying passengers, may sound horribly familiar to us in our own time. Those who have the most – money, wealth, privilege – will always be the first on the lifeboats. Titanic The Musical gives voice to those left behind.

An unsinkable cast, an unbeatable score, and an unforgettable experience, Titanic the Musical is an emotional triumph of epic proportions – and, like the fabled ship, it must be seen to be believed.

Titanic The Musical is playing at New Theatre Cardiff from 9 – 13 May

REVIEW Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre

Sweets are miraculous inventions. With a little sugar and a dash of imagination, you can make something magical. It’s the sort of magic that suffuses Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s classic tale of a young boy whose life changes when he wins a Golden Ticket to meet the Candy Man himself: eccentric and elusive chocolatier Willy Wonka.

Originally made into the classic 1971 movie-musical starring Gene Wilder, the Leeds Playhouse Production now embarks on a grand UK Tour after successful stints on Broadway and the West End. Directed by James Brining and adapted by David Greig, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a feast for all the senses! Classic tunes ‘Pure Imagination’ and ‘The Candy Man Can’ sit along sumptuous new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the duo behind the musical Hairspray, with orchestrations by David Shrubsole. It now comes to Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, which seems fitting given that it’s the hometown of author Roald Dahl.

The cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical. Image Credit: Johan Persson.

The role of Charlie is shared by four actors (two boys and two girls) and was played on the press night by Isaac Sugden. He brings a real warmth to the role, caring and compassionate, and it’s a great choice to turn Charlie into an inventor-type who repurposes lost and broken things. His scenes with the wonderful Michael D’Cruze as Grandpa Joe are some of the show’s best, as are the scenes in the Bucket household. Christopher Howell, Kate Milner Evans, Emily Winter and Leonie Spilsbury beautifully portray the rest of the loving Bucket clan, and also double up as the beleaguered parents of the other four Golden Ticket holders, who are just as delectably loathsome as their sprogs.

Marisha Morgan and the cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical. Image Credit: Johan Persson.

And boy do they get their just desserts! Marisha Morgan is on top form as Violet Beauregard a gum-popping poseur rebranded as a sort of obnoxious TikTok star. Robin Simões da Silva as Augustus Gloop, Teddy Hinde as Mike Teavee, and Emma Robotham Hunt as Veruca Salt (stepping in for Kazmin Borrer) bring real panache to their roles, while Ewan Gillies and Lucy Hutchison are delicious as dynamic TV duo Jerry and Cherry Sundae. Whenever each ‘bad egg’ is hoisted by their own petard, you know the Oompa Loompas are on their way for a musical ‘I told you so’ – here, they are reimagined as dancing automatons, lending a steampunk quality to Wonka’s factory that gives it a Metropolisesque edginess (and nimbly sidesteps the characters’ problematic origins). It’s their scenes that best showcase Emily Jane Boyle’s zesty choreo and Simon Higlett’s costumes, especially in the standout set piece ‘You Got Whatcha Want’.

Gareth Snook and the cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical. Image Credit: Johan Persson.

And you’ll really get what you want with this show’s portrayal of Willy Wonka, played by the sublime Gareth Snook, who really makes the character his own. He’s got more layers than a Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight: at turns sinister, sarcastic, and sweeter than an Everlasting Gobstopper. Plus, his rendition of ‘Pure Imagination’ was truly scrumptious!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical. Image Credit: Johan Persson.

The show is a candy-coated fantasy, featuring eye-popping visual effects and illusions courtesy of Simon Wainwright and Chris Fisher. The way they convey the factory’s myriad rooms, from the chocolate river to the fear tunnel, brings real spectacle to the stage. Choc-a-block with gorgeous sets, toe-tapping songs, and more sweetie puns than you can shake a (candy) stick at, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is pure confection perfection!

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical is playing at the Wales Millennium Centre from 3 – 20 May 2023. More information on the show and how to book tickets here.

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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Review Truth or Dare, Theatr Clwyd, Mold, April 27th-May 13th 2023 by Donna Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

It’s only fair to take the time to look at these pieces as separate entities as, although as with the popular game we may have all played as teenagers, ‘Truth’ and ‘Dare’ go together hand in hand, these performances also offer the audience two different casts, a variety of plays and writers and a change in creative teams, all which must be applauded in their own right.

This concept has been built on Curtain Up, which was performed in September 2021, in response to the Covid pandemic. This production embraced many freelance artists and this time around, Theatr Clwyd has commissioned ten freelance writers to create ten brand new plays on the theme of ‘Truth’ or ‘Dare.’

Each of these brand-new plays is captioned in Welsh and English with the scripts being a mixture of English language, bi-lingual and Welsh language. It is so refreshing to consistently hear our native tongue throughout, yet it is easy to follow even for a non-Welsh speaker- and would be well suited to those learning Welsh.

We’ll begin with ‘Dare’ (mainly due to this being the first treat for audiences on this particular occasion). ‘Dare’ opens with ‘Barbie Butt’ written by Greg Glover and we go on to witness four other plays- ‘Show Us’ by Kallum Weyman, ‘This Time Next Week’ by Natasha Kaeda, ‘Annwn (Mold Gold)’ by Hannah Daniel and ‘And The Crowd Goes Boom’ by Bethan Marlow. It would be easy to give a summary of each play and choose the best bits but I encourage those reading this to go and experience ‘Truth or Dare’ for themselves as it’s clear that no one performance will be exactly the same each evening- not only dependent on the audience and their reactions but also down to the fact that audiences are encouraged to bring props for the actors to use in each play- changing up the delivery and the outcome of each piece every time! This provides a lot of laughter, not only for the audience but often for those on stage! Props during this evening’s ‘Dare’ range from a tin of Heinz baked beans to a fake, rubber poop! All of the performers must be praised, not only for their character work and scripted sections but also for their improvisation skills whilst dealing with an unknown item being inserted into the play with no prior warning!

‘Dare’ offered up so many laugh out loud moments- highlights being Geraint Rhys Edwards’ as ‘salesperson’ (absolutely hilarious and fantastic comic timing!) and Sara Harris-Davies’ poignant speech at the end of ‘This Time Next Week’- perfectly balanced reflection betwixt the brilliant comedy of the the rest of the piece.

After a slightly longer than usual break (which is a welcome change and chance for the audience to discuss what they have already seen as well as an opportunity to spin the ‘Truth or Dare’ wheel and pick the relevant card- my ‘Truth’ card asks ‘what is your guilty pleasure?!’ What a fun way to introduce some conversation starters to the interval!)

‘Truth’ commences with ‘One Stop Short’ by Alexandria Riley, ‘The Wake’ by Ceri Ashe, ‘Maternity Leave’ by Lucie Lovatt, ‘Bwygan’ by Melangell Dolma and ‘Two Parts Madness, One Part Mayhem’ by Christian Patterson. Where ‘Dare’ provides more laugh out loud moments, ‘Truth’ is more of a balance between sadness, darkness and ridiculousness! We move between themes of loss, bereavement, love and loneliness to the grand finale which certainly lives up to its name and is the icing on the cake! Again, there are lots of stand out moments and performances during ‘Truth’- Mirain Roberts and Lisa Jen Brown as feuding sisters who end up having to recapture a childhood performance from their days in the Eisteddfods at their mother’s wake to Francois Pandolfo as the over-the-top (but not TOO over-the-top!) grieving widow alongside Seren Vickers who just screams Rik Mayall! Again, audience props brought a unique flavour to each play- this time a window squeegee and a toilet roll amongst others!

‘Truth or Dare’ is a wonderfully entertaining evening at the theatre. A unique concept, an extremely talented cast and creative team and filled with moments of contemplation and plenty of giggles!

You can find out more information about the productions and book tickets here


Ashley Mejri
Laura Dalgleish
Jake Sawyers
Victoria John
Kieran Bailey
Caitlin Drake
Leilah Hughes
Hefin Wyn
Sara Harris-Davies
Geraint Rhys Edwards

Creative Team
Director – Francesca Goodridge
Associate Director – Daniel Lloyd
Company Stage Manager – Cassey Driver
Deputy Stage Manager – Martha Davies
Prologue Writer – Matthew Bulgo
Set & Costume Designer – Millie Lamkin
Lighting Designer – David Powell
Sound Designer – Ben Morgan
Casting Director – Polly Jerrold
Producer – Jenny Pearce
Production Manager – Jim Davis


Francois Pandolfo
Mirain Roberts
Gabin Kongolo
Lisa Jen Brown
Betsan Llwyd
Londiwe Mthembu
Elinor Larsson
Catherine Morris
Oliver Morgan Thomas
Seren Vickers

Creative Team
Director – Hannah Noone
Associate Director – Juliette Manon
Company Stage Manager – Alec Reece
Deputy Stage Manager – Amy Wildgoose
Prologue Writer Matthew Bulgo
Set & Costume Designer – Millie Lamkin
Lighting Designer – David Powell
Sound Designer – Ben Morgan
Casting Director – Polly Jerrold
Producer – Jenny Pearce
Production Manager – Jim Davis

Review Es & Flo, Wales Millennium Centre by Charlotte Hall.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

There was a very vibrant atmosphere when we walked into the studio to see Es and Flo. The music they put on before it started had quite a Reggae feel and influence, and the set just blew me away. It was so beautifully done, because you could see the home and decor influences of the 80s, but you could tell it wasn’t set in the 80s, it had a bit of a modern feel. The set design by Libby Watson was amazing, in how they thought of every detail. There was a picture of Jamaica above the fridge, they had a kettle that they used many times during the show, and the milk from the fridge, they had wine on the kitchen counter, they had a sofa and a chair which had a mismatched feel and the books that lined the shelves behind them made up the intricate details and gave hints to the characters; they had a lot of travel books and a Spanish dictionary above a Collins English dictionary. They had an older-looking radio that was cleverly used at the start of the play, and the whole piece was very intimate and real, and the start saw Es putting on the kettle for tea, turning the radio on and letting it play something to do with the Conservative Party, and the opening line was ‘F***ing Tories’, which broke the ice in a funny and clever way, while introducing the characters’ beliefs and values.

Another thing that was very cleverly done with the set/ space was between scenes they would show images and sound clips from Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, because the characters first met there and they stood up for what they believed in. One of the songs they kept repeating the tune of was Frère Jacques, and the lyrics that they/ the women at the peace camp had sung were ‘we are women, we are strong, we say no, to the bomb’ and I think using that sound was connecting and emotional on another level. They projected these images onto a black curtain just above the stage, and in the second part, after using the projection to transition between scenes, they drew back the curtain to reveal another stage space for a hospital scene, which was so cleverly done because they didn’t have to change any of the set and it was still very much intimate and a slice of their lives.

The general story and the characters were so well created, that you felt emotionally invested in each one of their lives, and you could imagine their stories before, and possibly after, the plane that we were invited into. Even the character who seemed the most judgemental and nastiest character, had changed and you saw the life she had outside of Es and Flo and felt very sorry for her.

One of the best parts of the show was showing a lesbian couple on stage, which I think invited a wider range of audiences, and not being afraid to not just kiss, but ‘snog’ in front of the audience as well! Another part I loved about it, which links to society being judgemental of gay couples in the 1980s was that there were 5 characters in the cast, all women, so we didn’t actually have the perspective of a male character although two were mentioned (Es’s ex-husband and her son, who was Catherine’s husband), which I thought was very clever.

Some of the best shows I have seen have been in ‘small’, intimate spaces, and I think that’s because you really get immersed in the show because it’s so close to you, and you can empathise with the characters a lot more that way.

I really think that I have just witnessed a truly brilliant piece of theatre (and you could too!) that will become very popular, and reach far and wide. Not only did it have a good story, curtesy of the Playwright, Jennifer Lunn but the characters were multi-dimensional, the Director, Susie McKenna had a great vision as well as the set designer, and every other factor contributed to it being an amazing show, so I urge you to hurry down to the Wales Millennium Centre while you still can.

You can find out more about the production and book tickets here

Review Rock of Ages, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, May 2 – 6 2023

A DLAP Group and In Fine Company Production

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Rock of Ages, fit for the stone age or a timeless classic? 

The 1980’s is an ideal setting for a jukebox musical.  For many it is the heyday of glam metal bands, Styx, Journey and Bon Jovi among others and you can take your pick from any number of power ballads.  Would this musical be an excuse for an extended playlist of Metal’s favourite songs or would it have some substance to the story?  

It is the storyline that could be a problem. Many in this genre of theatre are fairly artificial and predictable and at first glance Rock of Ages falls into this trap.  There are two starlets seeking to make it on Los Angeles’ famous strip who meet and fall in love.  In their ups and downs they confront the reality of a rockstar lifestyle and the fate of many young hopefuls who tried to succeed only to see their hopes dashed.  

There is however, more to this musical than that.  The first act felt stereotypical, but the second blossomed into an unexpected parody.  It delighted in poking fun at the characters and breaking expectations.  My favourite was where the business tycoon revealed a secret dream of designing formal wear for pets.  At times it developed into farce, the aging rocker retiring and opening a llama farm in Mexico where he would teach the llamas to swallow and not spit.  

 One welcome aspect of the performance was the willingness to break down the fourth wall and relate directly to the audience.  Most prominent in this was Kevin Kennedy as Dennis Dupree, a rocker turned sound engineer who narrated the play and sought to turn at least one member of the audience into a groupie.  This added to the most welcome comic touch in the second act.

This farewell (at least for the moment) tour is a consummate production as you would expect having come from the West End.  The set is dazzling, the choreography energetic and complimented the action really well rather than being an annoying interlude.  Pride of place goes to the three piece band who, as well as being fittingly loud, were excellent with plenty of screaming guitar solos and thunderous drum rhythms.  To criticise, at times the loudness of the music and the quick pace of the production drowned out the dialogue and lyrics in the songs.  This made the production, especially in the first act hard to follow.  

Would this musical warrant a comeback tour?  Some of the songs were great to hear again and it is good to see a production laugh at its own topic matter.   It would also suit the rock scene, where it is not unknown for bands to break up and reform several times, so such a prospect should be welcomed.  Going by the strength of the standing ovation at the end, this audience would enjoy a return to the stage in the near future. 

Review The Bodyguard, Wales Millennium Centre by Kate Richards

I wanted to review this production because I was intrigued to see a blockbuster movie translated to a stage in Cardiff as I couldn’t quite imagine it.

The show gets off to an explosive start with our lead character – diminutive superstar Rachel Marron (former Pussycat Doll, Melody Thornton) – on stage belting out a montage of Whitney’s biggest hits and sets the scene for a production full of big voices and big hits that doesn’t disappoint. 

The storyline is kept mercifully simple and true to the original film, which I always prefer, and the production is peppered with certain key scenes and memorable dialogue extracts from the film.  I really liked the staging – I wasn’t sure how they would convey the opulence of a Hollywood mansion on stage, but it was done subtly and effectively, giving a suggestion of luxury without the need for complex sets.  Personally I felt that the lead character’s casual-wear costumes weren’t reflective of what a wealthy superstar would wear – yes it would be casual, but made of luxury fabrics and flattering to her stature rather than the slightly unflattering, asymmetric cardigan reminiscent of ‘lockdown wear’!  Frank Farmer (Ayden Callaghan) however, was perfectly attired for the part and his gentle swagger and body language reflected the quiet confidence of the Kevin Costner character well.  I have to mention the final scene of the first half.  Rachel and Frank are on a date – a scene which brings a bit of humour and realism to the Hollywood bubble, and I thought the staging and lighting for this scene was inspired.  As the couple’s relationship moves from animosity to romance – the gritty bar and tipsy onlookers melt away and we are transported with the couple to an evocative, starry wonderland – perfect!

At the interval, both my friend and I agreed that we thought Emily-Mae (playing the sister – Nikki Marron) actually had a voice more suited to Whitney classics than Melody Thornton, who I felt had a more ‘musical theatre’ voice (I didn’t know until after the show, that she had been a pop star in her own right).  Emily-Mae’s vocals were very strong and she was very convincing as the talented, overlooked sister living under the shadow of her sister’s fame.  In fairness to Melody Thomas, both my friend and I agreed at the end that she had been stronger in the second half and totally nailed the final song – the one that really counts in this production – and lets be honest – anyone that can carry off a Whitney classic has an exceptional range and great vocal control!  Judging by their reaction, the rest of the audience certainly agreed. 

All in all I really enjoyed the show.  For those people (like me) that have some difficulty in relaxing at musical theatre this is the perfect production – part pop-concert, part-play with songs that most people will recognise and are integral to the story.  Strong song and dance routines, a humorous interlude, convincing romance and heartbreak and even a heart-stopping surprise, give this production all the ingredients an audience might want for a good night out.

REVIEW The King and I, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

The Golden Age of Musicals was an era unlike any other. From the 1940s through to the 60s, the movies were the place to go for opulent Hollywood spectacle, presided over by Messrs Rodgers & Hammerstein, the inimitable duo behind such classic musicals as Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Sound of Music – and the multi-award-winning The King and I.

The King and I is based on the 1870 memoirs of Anna Leonowens, a widowed governess who was invited to the court of Siam (now Thailand) to teach the children of King Mongkut. The story was turned into a novel, a Tony Award-winning stage play, and a number of films and tv series – but its most beloved incarnation is the glossy movie musical of 1956, starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner (Kerr was famously dubbed by Marni Nixon, who also provided the singing voices for Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady). Following a hugely successful revival across the pond, director Bartlett Sher has brought his revitalised Lincoln Center production on a UK tour, starring Call the Midwife’s Helen George as Anna Leonowens.

Helen George and the cast of The King and I

On press night, Anna was played by cover Maria Coyne, who portrayed the character in the show’s sold-out run at the London Palladium. Coyne brings power and poise to the part, and pitch-perfect vocals that lend a gorgeous crystalline quality to songs like ‘Hello Young Lovers’ and ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune’. She shares a wonderful chemistry with Darren Lee, fabulously mercurial as the King of Siam, brimming with energy and elan in every ‘et cetera, et cetera’.

Darren Lee as The King of Siam

Their scenes together are the highlight of a glittering production, not least the iconic ‘Shall We Dance?’ sequence which sees the pair twirling around the room in a moment of pure romantic revelry. It distils the magic of the show in a triumph of athleticism, acting and aesthetics – and Coyne and Lee outdo themselves here. They simply couldn’t have been better. The audience practically gave them a standing ovation then and there!

Cezarah Bonner and the cast of The King and I

Special mention must go to Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang, mother to the king’s heir, and Kok-Hwa Lie as the Kralahome, Mongkut’s Prime Minister, who each bring far more nuance and gravitas than their film counterparts. (Lie and Caleb Lagayan, who plays Crown Prince Chulalongkorn, also have some particularly artful moments of capework). Meanwhile, Dean John-Wilson and Marienella Phillips captivate as doomed lovers Lun Tha and Tuptim, with an affecting rendition of ‘We Kiss in A Shadow’. Meanwhile, Sam Jenkins-Shaw is chameleonic as Captain Orton/Sir Edward Ramsay, and the young cast shine in the delightful ‘Getting to Know You’ and their characterful introduction at the palace.

Run, Eliza, Run! The show-stopping ‘Small House of Uncle Thomas’ sequence

The lavish score is brought to life by musical director Christopher Mundy and a sublime orchestra. With original choreography by Jerome Robbins, Christopher Gatelli’s dance numbers seamlessly blend traditional and modern styles, augmented by Michael Yeargan’s striking sets and Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes. All the elements combine in the ‘Small House of Uncle Thomas’ sequence, in which Tuptim stages a pointed retelling of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antislavery novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. Led by Wang-Hei Lau as Eliza, it showcases the ensemble cast at its finest and, even without its deific cameo, is nothing short of divine.

Dean John-Wilson and Marienella Phillips as the Romeo and Juliet of Bangkok

While The King and I hasn’t completely escaped the shadow of its problematic past, it has certainly taken care to move with the times: like its title character, it’s doing the work to change for the better. Sher, the man behind the acclaimed revivals of My Fair Lady and South Pacific, has nailed the classic formula, capturing the feel of the original while letting his excellent cast improve on the rest. Opulence, passion, pageantry, The King and I might be precisely your cup of tea!

The King and I is playing at the New Theatre from 25 – 29 April. More information and how to book tickets here.

The Meaning of Zong, Bristol Old Vic/Barbican Theatre, review by Tanica Psalmist

The Meaning of Zong is written, co-directed with Tom Morris, and stars Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards winner Giles Terera, the play is produced by Bristol Old Vic and performed at the Barbican Theatre.

In The Meaning of Zong, you gently travel back to the divine memories of each slave captive’s life and homeland before their freedom was stolen, every time you hear the subtle words repeated ‘you’re a from a place, where the land & mountains are strong, the animals are beautiful & the people, great. Through The Meaning of Zong we journey through the savagery of the slave trade, where identity was forcibly lost and pain, death, suffering, and torture resulted in trauma. 

Generational trauma is a reoccurring strong theme seen throughout, creating the revolutionary quest of Gustavus Vassa, who had bought his freedom, but always knew his life was not the fate of many indigenous Africans, who were kidnaped as he was. The Meaning of Zong reveals Gustavus Vassa’s traumatic experiences through flashbacks and sensitivity due to captivity and family separation, leading him to chase hope and adventure, and therefore determined to find justice for the lives lost during the crossover to the West Indies before reaching the United Kingdom. This production retells the magnificent true story of the painful enforcement on Africans having to lose their mother tongue language, forget their Identity and detach from their culture, causing invested abolitionists to end slavery led by Gustav to fight the battle of political & racial injustices carried out against humanity. 

Another powerful theme explored in The Meaning of Zong is survival, where we metaphorically get to acknowledge the differences between swimming and drowning. As well as, what it means not to become a victim during the storm, but a survivor in the mist of challenges, deprivation, anguish & turmoil. This is shown using thin blue ropes to show the opposition of the waves, the strength of the sea, and individuals having to overcome the wrath of the sea they got thrown into, showing the strength and resilience of Africans during this era, both physically and mentally. 

African spirituality is another strongly prevalent theme, depicted through rhythmic drumming, beautifully incorporated by onstage Music Director and Composer Sidiki Dembele. The powerful African drumming throughout takes the audience on an invigorating journey of passion to rise against the odds, be hurt but not be broken, drowned but unable to die. Reaching the peak of an ultimate strength of victory, love, mission, and completion of an enchanting legacy to come. 

The Meaning of Zong heightens an awareness of not only historical black British citizens, but descendants of Africa’s undiscovered stories, legacies, and abolitionist’s underlying power. As three female slaves reminisce on their mothers cooking during captivity on a ship taking them further away from home, descriptively referencing their traditional dish, Jollof rice, being made with tender love and care, well flavoured with divine preparation, and despite being made slightly differently, they eventually all relate and intimately connect emotionally during their discussions. A Beautiful moment!   

The costume design, set design, music and lighting effects were extremely spectacular, giving you a real feel for London city in the 16/17th century, conditions on a slave ship and The Houses of Parliament. Giving you a deep insight into how mistreatment was justified through Christianity, politics, and law, to legalise brutality & discrimination to justify it all as necessity.

Overall, seeing the transition from Gustav Vassa to officially Olaudah Equiano in the second part of the show was a powerful dynamic, retaining his name was a spiritual rebirth for him due to Great Britain’s ritual at the time to enforce the ‘no name, no home, no Africa agenda onto Africans until it manifested. Olaudah Equiano, had to overcome his post-traumatic stress to win against his trials and tribulations, willing to lose all his wealthy possessions. The Meaning of Zong, the ship, is a truly raw depiction of the colonial period which still marks an everlasting fight for justice throughout the world today, bringing about a revolution for everlasting justice due to scars & unhealed wounds, inspired by writer and abolitionist, Gustavus Vassa. 

A wonderful play on determination to find peace and fight for justice, that led to a written memoir, which may one day be found on your local bookstore shelf, possibly misplaced, however landing in the right hands inevitably, where you may be that individual to put it into its right place. 

REVIEW Romeo and Julie, Sherman Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

For fifty years, the Sherman has made it its mission to be a theatre of Wales and for Wales. In the last few years alone, it has boldly reinvented the work of Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare and carved a space for budding Welsh and Wales-based creatives to shine. Its anniversary year is packed with a triple crown of creative artistry: first there was Ghost Cities, a reworking of Gary Owen’s Ghost City performed and with new material by the Sherman Youth Theatre; coming up in May there is Nia Morais’ Imrie, a Welsh-language odyssey co-produced with Frân Wen; and this month we are treated to Romeo and Julie, which sets its star-cross’d love story in Splott.

Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy in Romeo and Julie. Image credit: Marc Brenner

Co-produced with the National Theatre, Romeo and Julie is the latest collaboration from writer Gary Owen and director Rachel O’Riordan, the powerhouse creative duo behind Iphigenia in Splott, The Cherry Orchard and Killology. Rosie Sheehy (King John, RSC) is Julie, a budding astrophysicist on the fast-track to Cambridge. Callum Scott Howells (It’s a Sin, Cabaret) plays Romeo, a young single dad struggling to raise both a newborn and an alcoholic mother (Catrin Aaron, flawless). He meets Julie not at a starry party but in the STAR Hub Tremorfa, where sparks fly and fates align. Their chemistry is in the physics and the physical: in Julie’s explanations of quantum theory to a starry-eyed Romeo, and in the brawny balletic interludes that literalise their connection. It’s a muscly, messy love; one that seeps into the cracks.

Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy in Romeo and Julie. Image credit: Marc Brenner

Sheehy and Howells are magnetic both together and apart. There is a striking synergy between the pair which keeps the audience invested in their doomed love, even as the choices they make turn from the sublime to the ridiculous. Fabulously bolshie and oozing bravado, Sheehy has shades of the original reckless Romeo, while Howells’ performance as the sweet young romantic gives the play its beating heart.

Rosie Sheehy as Julie and Callum Scott Howells as Romeo. Image credit: Marc Brenner

It’s a testament to the skill of the ensemble, and to Owen’s script, that the play is ultimately as comedic as it is tragic. Its distinctly Cardiffian sense of humour finds the light in the darkest of moments. Much of its finest quips can be credited to Catrin Aaron’s aptly-named Barb, who certainly throws around a fair share of gin-soaked jibes. Meanwhile, Paul Brennen and Anita Reynolds complete the thrilling ensemble as Julie’s concerned parents, whose lifelong sacrifices for Julie’s future might be derailed by the choices she’s made in her present.

Rosie Sheehy and Catrin Aaron in Romeo and Julie. Image credit: Marc Brenner

Owen’s script navigates the thorny complexities of social mobility, working-class aspiration and intraclass conflict: while both teens were born and raised in Splott, Julie goes to a Welsh-speaking comp and owns a laptop, which puts her in a very different social site to Romeo, who is struggling even to afford nappies for baby Niamh.

The cast of Romeo and Julie. Image credit: Marc Brenner

The set is spartan: designed by Hayley Grindle, it is a black hole of sweeping greys, overhung by a flashing neon constellation, its geometric swirls flashing like comets’ tails. It seems to illuminate two very different futures: is it a prelude of Julie’s bright career to come, or merely the twirling mobile above a baby’s crib? Can we ever reach the stars, or even change our own?

Romeo and Julie is the perfect show with which to celebrate the Sherman’s 50th year: small-scale and specific, yet sweeping and universal, which upends a classic and makes it anew.

Romeo and Julie is playing at the Sherman Theatre through to 29 April. Check the website for details on relaxed, captioned, BSL-interpreted and audio described performances.

REVIEW Steel Magnolias UK Tour, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

The New Theatre is no stranger to spectacle. It never fails to pull out all the stops: in the last few months alone, it’s welcomed huge touring productions of Bat Out of Hell, Mamma Mia and Rocky Horror – but equally impressive are the hidden gems behind the bells and whistles: the chuckle-worthy comedies, the cosy character studies, and shows that excel with only a small cast and a smart script.

The sensational ensemble of Steel Magnolias

Steel Magnolias is one such show. Based on Robert Harling’s original stage play, it was adapted into a star-studded 1989 movie starring Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, and Sally Field. This new touring production is directed by Anthony Banks and follows the lives of six women in a small Southern town in the 1980s. Idealistic Shelby (Little Voice’s Diana Vickers) is getting married, which is the talk of a local beauty salon run by the ultra-glam Truvy (Lucy Speed). Shelby’s plans to have a baby, even with Type 1 diabetes, alarms her doting mother M’Lynn (Laura Main, Call the Midwife). Meanwhile, new-in-town Annelle (Elizabeth Ayodele) conceals a troubled past while frenemies Ouiser (Claire Carpenter, standing in for Harriet Thorpe) and Clairee (Caroline Harker) bicker like Statler and Waldorf.

The costumes, designed by Susan Kulkarni, capture the fun, fabulous feel of the era – special shout out to Truvy’s white jumpsuit!

The cast share a charming chemistry, capturing the catty camaraderie of lasting friendship; it’s a joy to spend two hours in their company. Vickers and Speed in particular disappear into their roles: Speed’s Dolly-isms are uncanny, creating a character whose heart is as big as her hair (kudos to Richard Mawbey’s wig work), while X Factor semi-finalist Vickers – last seen at the New in Dial M for Murder – gets to flex her comedic chops as the stubborn-as-hell Southern belle. Main, meanwhile, gives a masterclass performance of which Sally Field herself would be proud. Harker, Carpenter and Ayodele deliver one-liners for the ages while BSL Interpreter Julie Doyle almost runs off with the whole show. It’s yet another example of how inclusive theatre can enhance the viewing experience for everyone.

The set, designed by Laura Hopkins, captures the wigs ‘n’ wood panelling of 80s salon couture perfectly, coupled with Howard Hudson’s nostalgic neon lighting

When Steel Magnolias premiered on Broadway in 1987, it was unusual for shows to have an all-female cast – in 2023, outside of SIX the Musical, they are still few and far between. As one of the characters says, “men are supposed to be steel” – but it’s the women who have real mettle. As Truvy says, “The higher the hair, the closer to God!” – and her salon does become a sanctuary: a confessional, an altar, and a site of communion and community. Steel Magnolias tells us that there’s no such thing as natural beauty, that a dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste, and that the time you put in to cultivating both good hair and good friends is always well-spent.

Steel Magnolias is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through Saturday 22 April. It’s the last stop on their acclaimed UK and Ireland tour, so make sure to make an appointment at Truvy’s salon! More information and how to book tickets here.