Category Archives: Theatre

A BSL Review of The Beauty Parade at The Wales Millenium Centre by Chris Coles.

This is a BSL video review. You can read a written version of the review by Chris below.

Hello my name is Chris Coles, I went to the WMC to watch Beauty Parade. The play itself was about three woman who were spies in World War Two. It showed what life was like being spies, that they don’t live for long during the War, it was a max of 6 weeks if they were lucky.

The play itself was amazing showing the good relationship between deaf people and hearing people can work. Special effect, captions and music were brilliant and written well into this play. I recommend you see this play if you like period drama.

Heather a Deaf friend of Chris also attended, Heather said that it was great to see a Deaf actress in a mainstream production and she enjoyed the way the captions and effects were presented.

The Beauty Parade plays at The Wales Millenium Centre until the 14th of March.

Review: The Kite Runner, Theatr Clwyd by Beth Armstrong


(Please note this review contains detailed discussion of the play’s plot) Based on the hugely popular novel by Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner, adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler, had a lot to prove. Despite enjoying two runs in the West End in 2016 and ’17, I wasn’t as enamoured with the piece as many other audience members. Having studied the novel at A-Level, the boldness of the story and the narrative poetry which I had loved, weren’t quite captured in the theatrical language of this adaptation. Though it still packs an emotional punch and features innovative staging ideas, overall the play felt a little slow and watered down.

An unlikely friendship: Amir (David Ahmad) and Hassan (Andrei Costin). Image: Betty Laura Zapata

The story is narrated by Amir (David Ahmad) as a grown man, recounting his life in almost verbatim style, which, as a confessional story is a sensible choice but this sometimes takes away from the drama of the moment. Told in chronological order, the play begins with Amir’s childhood in Afghanistan where, as a wealthy Sunni Pashtun, he enjoyed a comfortable life and spent his days playing with his father’s servant, Hassan (Andrei Costin), ostracised for being a Hazara Shiite. On the fateful day of the kite tournament, Amir witnesses a horrific assault on his best friend, and his passivity haunts him decades later; when a phone call from an old friend comes out of the blue, Amir travels from his new home in California to Pakistan in an attempt to finally atone for his sins.

The whole production of this adaptation is minimally staged. The music is mostly provided by onstage tabla player, Hanif Khan, as well as Tibetan singing bowls used to create atmosphere. The live music is one of the play’s shining factors and it draws us into the world immediately.

Barney George’s set is equally sparse: just a wooden floor which curves like a skateboard ramp and alternating patterns projected onto a central rug. The backdrop changes colour and is decked with mounted wooden posts to vaguely resemble city skylines, but neither adds much to the production. There are also two giant canvas kites which swing down to conceal scenes and characters, which are effective, and which also show us Amir’s childhood pomegranate tree and later, Hassan’s death, through William Simpson’s projection design.

Baba (Dean Rehman) and Amir (David Ahmad) on the minimal set. Image: Betty Laura Zapata

The sparseness of the stage works for the more distressing scenes where we only need to see characters and their expressions, but it makes the joyous ones like Amir and Soraya’s (Lisa Zahra) wedding feel a bit flat. Kitty Winter’s dancing is not quite lively enough to bring up the energy, nor is Charles Balfour’s lighting and Drew Baumohl’s sound really utilised to inject a party atmosphere either. This theme continues with the kite flying scene; there were only two tissue-paper kites, and they were clutched, not flown, in the hands of ensemble cast members, while Amir and Hassan’s kite was just mimed. The whole cast did do a good job of creating the tournament’s excitable tone and the use of several large, wooden Schwirrbögen, swung to create the sound of the wind, was very effective, but I wanted more kites – whether projected, or suspended in the auditorium. Now I wasn’t expecting a Mary Poppins moment, but I had hoped for much more of a spectacle for the novel’s most iconic scene.

The wedding of Amir (David Ahmad) and Soraya (Lisa Zahra). Image: Betty Laura Zapata.

The performances are strong, with David Ahmad bearing most of the weight as the central character who almost never leaves the stage; he does a great job of capturing Amir’s selfish, self-pitying persona and is given plenty of fodder to do it with routinely interjected monologues. Andrei Costin is well cast as the faithful lamb Hassan, and he brings real pathos with Sorab; having Costin play both characters is a clever yet logical choice on director Giles Croft’s part, fitting in with the idea that father and son share an unmistakable resemblance. The decision to represent the characters as children through adopting somewhat whiny children’s voices, however, is a bit of a misstep, sounding inauthentic and becoming a little grating. Child-like physically (which Costin and Ahmad already perform well), coupled with simply speaking with an Afghan accent would have sufficed, and would still have contrasted with adult, American-accented Amir; Hassan’s voice need not contrast anyway as we never see him grow into a man. Dean Rehman is also great at grounding the piece as Amir’s father, Baba, bringing a nuance to the role with both power and sensitivity.

The most harrowing moments such as Assef’s assault on Hassan and Sorab’s attempted suicide are neatly hidden or dealt with offstage but still manage to evoke a few audible gasps and genuine sniffling from the audience. The subject matter is difficult enough that visual representation is not needed but I did want Sorab’s dancing scene to be more poignant. In the book, it’s an exploitative and sinister moment where Amir realises the suffering of Hassan has multiplied in his son, and is the catalyst for Amir finally fighting for someone other than himself. In the same vein, author Hosseini’s Assef is more sadistic – leering yet captivating – but Bhavin Bhatt plays him with a gravelly voice which makes him almost a caricature. Despite his strong portrayal as the teenage bully, Bhatt doesn’t quite manage to evolve the character convincingly into the wild, paedophilic fanatic. The fighting (directed by Philip D’Orléans), even with a knuckleduster in the mix, is also a bit lacklustre.

Adult Assef (Bhavin Bhatt ) terrorises Sorab (Andrei Costin). Image: Betty Laura Zabata

There is one incredibly emotional scene in the hospital however, where Amir prays for Sorab’s recovery on a prayer mat made by a rectangle of light, and where Ahmad gives a tear-jerking performance of desperation. There’s also a touching point at the end where Amir finally stands up to Soraya‘s racist father (Ian Abeysekera) and shows Sorab how to fly a kite, causing a flicker of a smile on the boy’s face. Amir asks Sorab if he would like him to run to capture the kite they have won together and Sorab nods; Amir tells him, ‘For you, a thousand times over’ – a moving and cyclical moment of atonement which I feel should have been the final line.

The Kite Runner is a faithful adaptation with a hard-working ensemble cast and great use of use music, but it’s a little bland and lacks the vitality of its original medium. It is well-crafted and unspools nicely over its 130 minutes, but never fully takes off and gives us the spectacle we need.

The Kite Runner continues its UK-wide tour until 4th July.

Review: Message In A Bottle, Peacock Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I am going to be honest with you dear readers, I was rather dubious about Message In A Bottle.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sting or The Police, but the fact this was another dance production by the wonderful Katie Prince of Zoonation fame (of which I am a fan) I was really intrigued with how the two could combine.

A really poignant story, Message In A Bottle focuses on a family torn apart from war and disaster, facing a life of a refugee and starting life again. A story that has often hit our newspaper headlines and breaking news articles on TV.

Zoonation has been known for its comedy – taking existing stories and giving them a comical yet urban feel to them. This production from Prince is something so different and dare I say it, my favourite to date from this choreographer and director.

Somehow the music from Sting fits every scene so well, without much change to the music, the world this family exist in feels almost alien and somehow the electronics of his songs, and the earthly beats of others just fit so well to the story and the characters.

The dancing, of course, is flawless and awe inspiring as Prince’s work always is. It is great to see her branch out even more with choreography – previous work lending to the fact it is urban, a hip hop version of a story; this production has these moments, but there are also beautiful contemporary moments, really showing the skills and versatility of each dancer.

And a review cannot be written without mentioning the set – a combination of multimedia usage with projections, a cubed stage where the background is ever changing, costumes that just fit effortlessly with the colour schemes and the lighting effects that are those I haven’t seen before in a show but also manage to include us the audience – an absolute triumph.

Message In A Bottle is an absolute masterpiece. It is everything from a dance show and more, and somehow, if you weren’t a fan of Sting or The Police before, you will now have them on repeat.

Complete perfection.

Review: I Think We Are Alone, Frantic Assembly, Theatre Royal Stratford East, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

I had been a long time fan of Frantic Assembly.

Growing up, I studied them intently, seeing majority of their shows whenever I could, fan girling over them each time. When hearing about I Think We Are Alone, and that the equally inspiring and admired by me since I was a kid, actress/director/creative extraordinaire Kathy Burke was involved, I literally needed to see this production.

Perfection as always, the stage is beautifully set – simplistic yet interesting and comprising of moving blocks of glass, the stage is open for all possibilities.

I Think We Are Alone looks at the intertwining stories of five people. It’s all about human feelings, real love, between family and friends and partners. About loss. And about how fragile life is.

The play is funny, it’s witty and it’s well written. But I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. If I had come to the production, without a name such as Frantic Assembly to it, it would be brilliant. Perfection, well executed, with fantastic acting, brilliant direction and a stand alone wonderful play. But there was very little physicality, boundaries pushed and that special Frantic Assembly essence that I have grown up loving and inspired by.

They add a little bit, a lift here and there, using the glass squares as climbing frames, but this could have fit in any play and been just as good a direction. I felt that I was always waiting for a crescendo or for Frantic to really throw themselves, splashing their trademark across the stage and into our hearts.

I Think We Are Alone is wonderfully written, fantastically acted out and as it’s own production, heartwarming and heartbreaking – I just wished that there was more of Frantic Assembly in the final product.

A scene from I Think We Are Alone by Sally Abbott @ Theatre Royal Plymouth. A Frantic Assembly and Theatre Royal Plymouth production. Directed by Kathy Burke and Scott Graham.\r(Opening 05-02-20)\r©Tristram Kenton 02/20\r(3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email:\r\r\r\r\r\r\r\r

An Interview with Playwright Jon Tregenna

Hi Jon great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I was born in Llanelli, acted in Cardiff, in various bands in London, back to Llanelli to write TV and moved to Laugharne in 2012. I live in a house where a murder was committed in 1953 and a friend of Dylan Thomas was arrested. Dylan called Laugharne, ‘…the strangest town in Wales.’ He wasn’t wrong. I’ve written the Dylan Thomas ebook for the BBC, TV comedy drama for BBC & S4C and the David Garland Jones Youtube channel. Hail Cremation! is my fourth play after two plays for Llanelli Youth Theatre; Raw Material: Llareggub Revisited for NTW (co-created with Marc Rees) in 2014, and I’ve have been working on Hail Cremation! since 2016.

Marc Rees and Jon Treganna, Co-Creators,Raw Material, Llareggub Revisited, NTW.

 So, what got you interested in the arts?

My Dad read Dr Seuss and Charles Dickens to me when I was very young which I loved. I later raided Dad’s bookshelves and his Anglo-Welsh poetry, and became big fan of poet and polemicist, Harri Webb. In school I got into acting after seeing a performance of Wind In The Willows and later trained as an actor in the (Royal) Welsh College of Music & Drama. I’ve been in bands and written songs since I was a teenager, and once I started creative writing around twenty years ago, a musical was a logical step, tho’ it took me some time to realise it.

Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?

My ideas seem to percolate for years. I try to create something I’d like to watch, and that I don’t think I’ve seen before… but those ideas are often outside the bounds of what people are prepared to commission. In terms of ideas, thinking about it, most of my writing is about real life stuff but then I like to drag it into left field.

Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?

I don’t like staring at a screen for too long. I have a young daughter so writing time is precious, and when I do have time to sit and write, I throw everything at the screen. Sometimes it’s better to clear your head by writing 1000 words of rubbish rather than nothing at all. It’s all in the editing. I find a good walk, or a drive, is often beneficial, recording ideas into a phone ready for those gaps in real life when writing happens.

Why and where do you write?

We live in an 18th century cottage in Laugharne and my office is downstairs with a view of the street. I’m surrounded by books, cards, pictures, ornaments – or ‘junk’ as my partner calls them – and often scan the shelves when I’m stuck. It looks a bit of a mess, but you should have seen it before I tidied up.

Your latest play Hail Cremation will be produced by National Theatre Wales at Newbridge Memo from the 23 March- 04 April. The production is described as a musical odyssey through the life of cremation pioneer, Dr William Price – a complex and extraordinary Welshman. What drew you personally to telling your interpretation of Dr William Price?

Like many I knew about the infamous cremation, but initially I wasn’t aware he was a ground-breaking surgeon, vegetarian, feminist, nationalist, radical, a dandy and clearly a genius. However, his eccentricities in later life meant that many of those elements were ignored. If Price was around today, he’d be an inspiring leader, passionate about history, language and culture and I wanted to celebrate him with a spectacle that he would have enjoyed. On reflection most of my work is about Welsh identity, and Price was probably the person who tried to define it more than anyone else in the last two hundred years.

National Theatre Wales describe the nation of Wales as their stage. Their productions have ranged from We’re Still Here portraying the lives of Neath Port Talbot Steel Workers. On Bear Ridge which took place in “a lost village, blurred by redrawn borders” to this new production taking place at Newbridge Memo. Do you feel that Welsh Theatre is presenting representative stories of its citizens on our stages?

I’m interested in stories and legends that are uniquely Welsh. Wales is definitely the ‘secret Celtic nation’, and yet we have one of the oldest literary traditions in Europe. There is an ancient, supernatural, magical, mythical, witty, wild and wide-eyed side to Wales – Wales on mushrooms if you like – which is unique to us. I think more plays in this area would help establish, and then cement a Welsh theatrical identity not only in Wales but around the world.

Why do you think audiences should see this new play?

It’s part gig, part catwalk show, part cabaret. It has a wonderful troupe of dancers and actors, a rock band, incredible costumes, mad props, druids, goats, punk toads, wall to wall video projections, and an astonishing creative team lead by director, Adele Thomas. Yet at its heart is the story of a man who wanted his people to thrive. Dr Price met a woman called Gwen who was sixty years his junior, and they were a very loving, if highly unusual couple. They’d be unusual now, so it’s hard to imagine what 19th century non-conformist Wales would have made of them. Price and Gwen lost a child, and I nearly lost my daughter, so I had a small understanding of the grief they must have gone through. Then when Price’s powers started to wane and he went through a number of ordeals, he continued to charge on with Gwen at his side. He lived for ninety-two years and it’s still amazing how he crammed so much in. People should see this play because it tells a story of a dynamic couple in a wild theatrical arena, is both fun and emotional, and has something to say about Welsh identity.

Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not what would help?

If the question is: ‘Can someone who writes plays about Wales and Welsh issues sustain a living in Wales, or indeed, anywhere?’ Then apart from maybe one or two exceptions, the answer is probably no. There are a lot of playwrights in Wales chasing a small pot of money and Welsh writers probably need working partners, day jobs, lecturing posts, etc., to survive. What would help? I don’t really know. We’re unlikely to see more arts funding for a while as the Welsh Government is looking to reduce public subsidy. Trying to be positive, successful and profitable shows that reach beyond Wales, and that couldn’t come from anywhere other than Wales, would help. We need to find our voice.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

There should be more development deals, so that writers are nurtured in plays, poetry, TV scriptwriting etc. More people need to feel they have a chance, get some feedback, be part of a dialogue, even if the ideas end up uncommissioned. There could always be more arts, but we also need to build and educate audiences too. It’s tough in this era of Netflix, deadly diseases, Just Eat and smartphones, but the more people that take an interest in the arts, the better off we’ll all be.

 What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

My daughter, Sylvie, has had two heart operations and spent five days on life support, so seeing her enter a pool for the first time in Butlin’s Minehead last weekend was a truly great thing.

Many Thanks for your time Jon.

Top Tunes with Luke Seidel -Haas

Hi Luke, great to meet you, can you tells us about yourself and your work?

I’m Luke Seidel-Haas, I’m a Cardiff based theatre maker and one of the founding members of new theatre company CB4. CB4 Theatre was founded a couple of years ago; we’re all Drama graduates of the University of South Wales and having done our separate things for a few years we found ourselves gravitating back to Wales and wanting to create theatre together. Right now, we’re about to perform our debut show “Back to Berlin” at The Other Room at Porter’s Cardiff. It’s a show that I’ve written and am performing in and is inspired by a true story my dad told me, about when he travelled back to Berlin to see the Berlin Wall come down in 1989. The more we spoke about his story, the more we realised how many parallels it had with what’s going on at the moment across Europe and around the world; while the story is set 30 years ago, so many of the themes feel just as relevant now as they did back then.

 This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to? 

Right now I’m listening to Kanye West’s most recent album Jesus Is King. It’s quite different to his previous albums, and is more influenced by gospel than his rap/hip hop roots. Kayne is often unpredictable, and I love that with every new album he releases you never quite know what you’re going to hear next – Jesus is King is no exception.

When I first heard it, I wasn’t sure about it, but after a couple of listens I think it’s a really interesting album which uses a type of music not often heard in the mainstream. I saw Kanye headline Glastonbury in 2015, and it was one of the most bizarre, intense but unforgettable performances I’ve ever been to.

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why? 

 I Choose Noise by Hybrid

Hybrid are a Welsh electronic music group who blend electronica and house with cinematic and orchestral stylings. Most of their music doesn’t have words, and so is really useful to use in a rehearsal studio to help devise or work on physical or movement based sections of work. Their music is often used by companies like Frantic Assembly, as well as on movie soundtracks. I could have chosen from a few albums, but “I choose Noise” is just a really varied album which has often helped me out of a rut when devising.

Volume 3: The Subliminal Verses by Slipknot

This album resonates with me more for personal reasons. As an angsty teenager whose wardrobe had a distinct lack of colour it was probably one of the albums I had on repeat more than any other. To some people Slipknot just sounds like angry noise, but I think this album manages to mix that aggression and anger with amazing hooks, guitar solos and powerful choruses. There are also a few tracks like Circle and Vermillion Pt. 2 which are unexpectedly melodic and emotional.

The World of Hans Zimmer by Hans Zimmer

Okay I’ll admit, this one is a bit of a cheat – I couldn’t choose just one album by this legendary composer. Hans Zimmer has written some of the most iconic music in modern cinema including The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, Pirates of the Caribbean, True Romance and so many more. His scores are so emotionally evocative, and to me they resonate because of how they help to drive plot, develop tension or reflect the underlying emotion of the scene. With a lot of films, the soundtrack ends up feeling like an accompaniment – something which adds a bit more flavour to the film, but that they could manage without.  Zimmer’s best soundtracks rise far above this and become a vital part of the whole experience.

Angles by Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip

This album resonates with me because of its mix of the deeply political with the outright silly. “Angles” manages to go from a reflection on the death of Tommy Cooper, to rapping the periodic table, to A Letter from God to Man, to a film noir style existential rap. Hip hop often unfairly suffers with the stereotype that it’s all about “guns, bitches and bling”, and before listening to this album I was probably wrongly was under that impression too. This album opened my eyes to how different genres can be used to make a political point. Scroobius Pip also has a fantastic beard.

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by The 1975

The 1975 are a band that have really developed their sound over the course of each album. As a left-wing millennial, I think A Brief Inquiry… manages to brilliantly tap into a lot of anxieties that people of my age have. Songs like Love It If We Made It and Give Yourself a Try are on the surface catchy pop tunes, but the political and social messages they carry are a testament to the strength of the song writing. They are also a band that seem to (as much as possible) practice what they preach and are leading the way in terms of making live music and touring as eco-friendly as possible.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this? 

Love It If We Made It from A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by The 1975

To me, the lyrics of this song are some of the most powerful of any pop song released in recent years. The song leaps from talking about Donald Trump and Kayne West, to Heroin addiction via the Jonestown massacre and dead migrants washing up on beaches, but despite its rather bleak lyrics and content, its refrain of “I’d love it if we made it” makes the piece feel hopeful and optimistic. It’s a great piece of music if you want to get yourself angry about the state of the world, but in a way that makes you want to take action to make things better.

Thanks Luke

Back to Berlin By CB4 Theatre is running at The Other Room @ Porters from 3-6th March 2020. Tickets are available here

REVIEW The IT, Sherman Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Written by Vivienne Franzmann and directed by Tim Howe, the Sherman’s own Creative Engagement Manager, The IT follows Grace Freemantle, a high schooler whose rage and powerlessness at an eroding future seems to have manifested as the insidious IT of the title. The creativity of the Sherman Youth Theatre is out in full force here, not only as actors but contributing to the artistic choices of the production, from the set and music to costume and movement choices, and their confidence and passion for the material lends a significance and immediacy to an incredibly timely play.

There’s a lovely sense of movement throughout, thanks to Tim Howe’s vibrant direction and the cast’s dynamic performances. It’s a credit to the skill on show that they maintain a consistent tone even as the show builds tension and shifts between comedy and horror, channeling John Hughes and John Carpenter in equal measure. It’s also wonderful to see a bilingual production, with the actors saying many of their lines in both English and Welsh. The central performance is wonderfully melancholy, painting an image of Grace Freemantle as someone who seems to be out of focus in everyone’s life, including her own, and the rest of the characters are similarly finely drawn, also acting collectively as a Greek chorus that plagues Grace’s existence.

The central motif of the rage monster is insidiously evocative – it’s something you truly should see for yourself, and it perfectly encapsulates the gnawing dread of horror caused by even the briefest glimpse at the news. The IT is the roaring into the void; the primal scream of a generation whose predecessors have ruined their world before they’ve even got a chance to make their place in it, because how can you plan for a future that could change at any moment? In many ways, the future of the world is faced with the same uncertainty and peril as the young people who are trying to fight for it.

The IT, whether a literal monster or a metaphorical rage at the imperilment of the planet, is a poignant expression of the terror we all feel when everything we once relied on seems to be crumbling before our very eyes. The story called to mind the painting Hope, by George Frederic Watts, in which everything seems lost, but one string remains. Hope is the last string – and even against seemingly-insurmountable odds, that single string is worth fighting for. Anger can paralyse, but it can also propel, and the Sherman Youth Theatre brilliantly convey both the righteous rage of Generation Z and the promise of a future worth saving. The IT is playing at the Sherman Theatre through Saturday 29th February.

Hope 1886 George Frederic Watts 1817-1904 Presented by George Frederic Watts 1897

Review: Omelette, Long Distance Theatre, Vault Festival, By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

What do you get when you cross a budding relationship with climate change? You get Omelette.

Written by Anna Spearpoint, Omelette sees the meeting of Mo and Mia, as they embark on not only fixing the planet but on their developing relationship. The pair start by attending protests and quickly begin to make more and more changes to their lifestyles, together, to continue the good, all the while falling in love and falling out of love. Over a small period of time, the constraints of their lifestyle and the fast pace that their relationship has developed, all becomes sour until they realise how much an impact only one small change can do.

Set in the round, the actor’s begin quite far apart, slowly closing the distance and contact as their relationship blossoms, to eventually inhabiting the circular sheet in front of them. Representing the World (and possibly also an omelette) this circle is where it all happens – the dead centre of this play. For them, this is the centre of their World.

There are no curtains, very clever and quick scenes changes, making this seem a long period of time until we realise it is only a matter of days, weeks, months. The chemistry between the two performers is electric; it is both adorable and awkward, a period in new love that we can all relate to. They are almost an oxymoron – effortlessly and perfectly awkward.

At the beginning, the conversation is quick in pace and wit, and it is a wonder where they have time to get a breath but we realise this is a clever technique; reflecting their relationship stages, they become quieter, more silent and slower when they become angrier, less fond of one another and less in love.

Absolutely chocked full of comedy, Spearpoint’s play cleverly makes us think about climate change all the while making tears of laughter stream down our faces, all culminating in the realisation that all the drastic changes they have made haven’t made the World brand new but only made them miserable; when suddenly they figure out that even a small change is big in the long run, the whole narrative feels ironic and in itself is comical.

Omelette not only makes a political point but is full of fun, comedy, great writing and just as great acting. A real masterpiece.

Ghost Stories UK Tour, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, Ghost Stories has captivated and creeped out audiences worldwide since it opened to roaring success in 2010, even making its way to the big screen in an adaptation starring Nyman alongside stalwarts like Paul Whitehouse and Martin Freeman. It’s also perhaps the first major horror production since Paranormal Activity to market itself primarily through audience reactions. Having experienced several so-called horror shows in the theatre that either spooked me or didn’t even raise a hair on the back of my neck, Ghost Stories delivered on its promised frights and then some. Forget sleeping with the light on – I may never sleep again.

We’re urged, first by the programme and then by creepy voiceover as we take our seats, to preserve the twists of the show in a bid for secrecy the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Harry Potter and the Cursed Child compelled its audiences to #KeepTheSecrets – but to be honest, I don’t think I could spoil this show even if wanted to, because I saw most of it through my fingers. It is simply the most frightening ninety minutes I have ever experienced; I barely breathed for most of it, because the show conjured a sense of dread so unrelenting and oppressive I’m still reeling from the shock of it now.

It might seem like a negative reaction to any other show – but this is the kind of production for which such a response must be music to the creative team’s ears. The marketing warned those of a nervous disposition to stay away but, as our master of ceremonies Professor Goodman (Joshua Higgott) observes, there’s a reason we came here to be scared, and the show confronts you with your own fears as much as it conjures up new ones to haunt your dreams. And once you’re in, you’re locked in – latecomers are not admitted, there’s no interval, and if it gets too much for you, you have to either stick it out or leave the story for good, because if you go there’s no coming back. You feel as if you’re trapped in a living nightmare with no way out.

There is real ingenuity on display here, the kind that Alfred Hitchcock used to draw frights out of chocolate syrup. The performances never stray into melodrama or pastiche; instead the superb ensemble – Higgott, Paul Hawkyard, Gus Gordon, Richard Sutton and Lloyd McDonagh – anchor the escalating strangeness and bring a lightness of touch that blends comedy and horror without damaging the integrity of either. (Though, make no mistake, this isn’t Shaun of the Dead – the laughs are mainly there give you a brief reprieve from the torturous tension). But the real unsung heroes of the show are the team responsible for the production design, lighting and sound – while the story and characters compel, it’s the creative team’s peerless work that will haunt you long after the shocking denouement.

This is perhaps the first show I couldn’t find fault with that I also could never bring myself to see again. I can never unsee many of the horrifying images that kept me locked in my seat even when my fight-or-flight instinct was telling me to leap over the back and make a break for the exit. At one point, Professor Goodman laments how the oral tradition of storytelling has been supplanted by the hyperbolic immediacy of our Twitter-centric age. What Ghost Stories does it to rekindle the smouldering ember of this ancient tradition, gathering its rapt audience around the fire of its singular vision in a way that only theatre can truly capture. The secrets of this show are worth unravelling – but are you brave enough to find out for yourself?

Review Bang, Bang, Dermot McLaughlin Productions Charles H Duggan & Brian Zucker In association with Farces Galore Exeter Northcott Theatre by Richard Evans

Written by John Cleese, directed by Daniel Buckroyd,

Theatr Clwyd, February 18th 2020

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Was this a farce or was it farcical? With big names come many expectations and in the world of comedy in the UK, they do not come much bigger than John Cleese, from whom have come some of our seminal comic experiences.  Indeed, Monty Python must rank as one of the most influential comedy series of the last century.  Does this play match up to this reputation?  I think it is unfair to ask that question. 

The achievements of Cleese have stood the test of time and he need not do anything further to enhance this legacy.  So why is he venturing into being a playwright for the first time? I get the impression he has a profound interest in farce.  In fact his most famous sitcom, Fawlty Towers is pure farce.  And as he is a creative person, he has chosen to bring to the stage an adaptation of ‘Monsieur Chasse’ by Georges Feydeau, a prominent French playwright spanning the end of the 19th and start of the 20th Centuries.  This is someone whose plays have been adapted many times through the years, but to many more locally he is largely forgotten.  So Cleese’s play should stand on its own merit, irrespective of the writer.  After all, it is the play we view, not him.

Why do we need a farce?  Surely our humour has moved on, become more sophisticated?  Not at all.  After the political events of the past few years, the time has never been more right for a farce, to give someone a heartfelt laugh, gently lampooning our double standards leaving us with a feel good factor.  Does Bang, Bang succeed?  Of course!  With such a pedigree from actors and writer it would be hard not to fulfil its stated intention.  This was a really enjoyable evening’s entertainment that had the house laughing throughout.  It was well acted, with a real team ethic and great comic timing.

The plot was centred on a ‘happily’ married couple who pledged faithfulness to each other, however as their lives descended towards chaos, their infidelity and the accompanying tissue of lies was exposed in front of their peers.  It was a clever script, delivered at a fast pace and never failed to grab your attention.  The characteristics of good farce were all there.  A growing sense of cringe worthy embarrassment, where you knew what was coming yet the characters were powerless in their attempts to stave off disaster.  A ring of self-confidence, epitomized when characters made asides to the audience, which you knew would be shot to pieces as the play progressed.  There was more than a gentle poke at any pomposity in all characters as they tried to fend off disaster with a smooth urbanity or a sense of moral indignation. 

The script was true to the original work of Feydeau, yet had definite ‘Basil Fawlty’ moments.  While all actors were excellent, I particularly enjoyed Tony Gardner’s portrayal of Duchatel as he bumbled along from a position of trust and control to a place where he ate plenty of humble pie.  It was a nice comic touch to see the maid change increasingly from a deferential to a condescending attitude as the foibles of the characters unfolded. I liked also the set change where the cast doubled as scene shifters and acted as backing vocals to Leontine’s song.  In the second act when the scenery moved mistakenly, this was handled assuredly by Gardner who turned it into a nice comic interaction with the audience.

The language of the play was as colourful as you might expect of Cleese – he has often used such, but you can question its necessity in this context. There is plenty of humour throughout the play already and one wonders if it fits the polite respectability that is the backdrop to the action. 

If you are expecting this to be anarchic, avant garde humour, you will be disappointed, but this was never the original premise.  It was a farce, well scripted, well acted and true to the artistic heritage of good farces and those seeing the play in that context should really enjoy it. So in an age where this word is overused, it was great to see a return to a proper farce.

Go on, enjoy, and have a laugh.