Category Archives: Theatre

Review: Life of Pi, Wales Millennium Centre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Press Night Oct 18th 2023 

‘A visual feast…’

Those who watched Ang Lee’s film adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel will be familiar with the premise of Life of Pi. A young 16-year old boy from Pondicherry in India is launched into an epic adventure as the ship carrying his family and their zoo to a new life in Canada sinks – and he finds himself adrift in the ocean with only a fearsome Bengal tiger for company. 

Through the prism of Pi’s recollections later in a hospital ward, we hear how he survives 227 days at sea – and how the narrative which we come to believe – as bizarre and hallucinogenic it seems – is later completely turned on its head. 

This is a story exploring themes of religion, the complexities of people, the sanctity and sentience of animals and the sheer will to survive. The degree to which this stage adaptation adds to or takes away from both the book and Ang Lee’s film adaptation is up for debate, however. 

Previous reactions to the stage tour all seem to touch on this production being a “visual feast” or “an incredible visual adaptation”, “aesthetically pleasing” or that the puppeteers and animals steal the show. This is most certainly true – the production’s stunning set, magical special effects and masterful puppetry will wow the senses and pack a visual punch. 

But some of the book and film’s deeper delves into the philosophies of the human experience and the hypocrisies of religion are lost somewhat in this truncated stage adaptation. Speaking for myself and my father, seeing this stage show for the first time, we found ourselves disliking and feeling upset by some of the depictions of animal suffering. Truth be told, we can’t even stomach David Attenborough’s programmes these days.

This unease mind you, is probably a sign of the incredibly well-executed puppetry and choreography by the team. This did remind me also of the discomfort I felt watching Ang Lee’s film. So absorbed was I by the idea that the animals were suffering, I probably missed some of the intended broader points of the story. The highlight of this production, then becomes focused on the mode of delivery of the story rather than the story itself. Because the plot is pretty harrowing and – to quote a former colleague of mine who I bumped into in the show’s interval: “pretty grim”. 

This is not a stage show that will not exactly elevate or lift you as some productions can. It illustrates the difficult line writers and directors tread in that no creative really wants to spoon feed their audience and only serve up neat and today tales in a pretty little bow. But in the quest to make us think and engage us with what’s going on via the mechanisms of the stage production, we lose the potential to get under the skin of the characters and get to know them well. The characters become pawns for pondering the story, rather than characters you truly care about. Life of Pi is also an exploration of the stories we tell and how they come to form part of our “truth” – and as an audience you’ll be confronted with these idiosyncrasies in live time, preferring one version of “truth” over another. 

As an audience, we become desperate for those light moments of relief when Pi makes a quip, when the stars come out, when the glowing wiggly fish arrive because we’re reminded of the moments of light relief and beauty in a world that can be truly depressing and awful at times. As Pi tells Ms Okamoto in the hospital ward: “I’ve had a TERRIBLE journey…” 

Life of Pi in 2023 hits differently. You’ll think about how some things never change. When Pi’s family flee India due to the dangerous unrest (supposedly echoing Indira Ghandi’s 1976 declaration of “The Emergency”), you’ll ponder the plight of others in the world who now face becoming refugees in hostile territories, as we see playing out when the family are treated poorly by crew and passengers on route to Canada. 

Huge congratulations and oceans of praise must go to the energetic and engaging Divesh Subaskaran playing Pi. His physicality and presence in the lead role is stupendous, leaping from one side of the boat / bed to the other and embodying all of the trauma, hope and mania of Pi during his tumultuous journey across the sea. His stamina, his powerful voice, warmth and wit shine through even in the bleakest of times. You are rooting for him from the very beginning and willing for his terrible story to take a turn for the better. The chemistry and rapport between Divesh and Keshini Misha playing Pi’s sister Rani is sweet, offering up a ray of hope ahead of the family’s ill-fated journey. 

Finally, the purveyors of the visual magic in this show have to be set and costume designer Tim Hartley, Puppetry and Movement Director Finn Caldwell. The lighting, visual effects and projections in this production are wonderful thanks to Andrzej Goulding and Tim Lutkin. 


Life of Pi may not be an easy watch – but it’s certainly a beautiful one.

Review The Winter’s Tale, Suitcase Theatre Theatr Clwyd by Donna Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Suitcase Theatre, a local community theatre company, started out in 2008 with a production of We’ll Keep a Welcome- a play about evacuees from Liverpool and Merseyside who came to live in North Wales in 1939. The use of local stories and topics has been a long-running focus for Suitcase Theatre as well as revivals of classics such as The Birthday Party and Waiting for Godot. The company pride themselves on bringing together a wide range of performers- young and old, experienced, and less so, amateur, and professional and have participants from North Wales, Cheshire, and the Wirral.

The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays and was one of his last, written around 1609-11. The first recorded performance of the play was at The Globe on May 15th, 1611, and later that year it was presented at Whitehall before King James I. It provides us with one of the more challenging stage directions- ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ (in this instance a member of the company dressed in a questionable costume- if Shakespeare were alive today, perhaps he could have written ‘Exit, SFX of bear in pursuit’!)

It’s difficult to give a brief summary of any of Shakespeare’s plays but more so with his last, lesser-known creations. The Winter’s Tale offers countless themes throughout its tragi-comedic plot – love, jealousy, rage, mistaken identity, reunions, and it really is a play of two halves. The first, clearly tragic- disastrous if you will; one full of bitterness, sadness, and death and if we are going to label this play, we would certainly conjure the word ‘tragedy’ as Act 1 unfolds. It is reminiscent of Othello- the insanely jealous husband, wrongly accusing his wife of an affair, and so catastrophe ensues. However, as Act 2 begins, the audience wouldn’t be judged for believing they had sat down in the wrong auditorium- the piece is uplifted by the appearance of Autolycus, of the Old Shepherd and his son, Clown. We’ve gone from Winter and 16 years have elapsed in minutes as we give way to Spring- with the passing of time as well as with lighter themes of family, forgiveness, and rebirth.

As the play opens, the cast have their backs to the audience, and it is clear we are at a celebration- the guests are dressed to impress and on the screen are fireworks. The use of the screen is effective throughout, particularly to convey the passing of time with the moon in its different phases. The scene transitions are consistent with blackouts in the right places, slick movement of small set pieces and atmospheric music or sound effects to signify the mood or time of day. The performance is mostly done in black box with a few simple additions such as chairs, tables, or dividers and none of this distracts from the action. This is my main take-away from Suitcase Theatre’s production- that due to the simple set and timely costumes it is much easier to concentrate on the language; to really listen to and understand what’s being said. There are a few missed lines, mainly down to projection issues (as well as very heavy rain on the night in question!) or characters aiming their speech at each other rather than out to the audience on occasion, but overall, the speech is clear, and it is wonderful to truly focus in on the wonderful words that Shakespeare provided to actors and audiences alike.

The casting is excellent and there are moments I forget that I’m watching an amateur production. The word ‘amateur’ unfortunately carries such negative connotations but that is exactly what this production is. None of these performers or members of the production team are being paid for their hard work- they’re doing it because they love what they do. And there are some superb performances- most notably from Si Kneale as Leontes who not only has an awful lot of dialogue to learn but portrays the character with just the right amount of madness and regret- as an audience we trust this actor in this role, and he is unwavering throughout the piece. Ruth Huish as Hermione is beautiful and we truly empathise with her plight, no more so than during her speech to illustrate her innocence to Leontes- Huish delivers this with verve and poignancy. Connor Jones as Autolycus lifts the piece in Act 2 and is clearly a natural performer with a talent for accents. His likability factor brings a real charm to the production after a hard-hitting first half.

You’d be hard met to find a local community theatre group willing to give Shakespeare a go, but Suitcase Theatre did it with enthusiasm (lots of it brilliantly displayed via rehearsal photographs etc. on their Facebook page!), professionalism and lots of hard work- having only rehearsed for this piece for around 6 weeks! It was wonderful to see such a variety of performers on stage too- including some very talented youngsters! Huge congratulations to all involved- if you have chance to see this production, I’d highly recommend it!

The Winter’s Tale is playing at Theatr Clwyd until Saturday October 21st. To book your tickets, please head to the website…

The Winter’s Tale | Theatr Clwyd

Cast

Leontes- Si Kneale
Hermione- Ruth Huish
Mamillius- Isaac Huish
Perdita- Zoey Owen
Polixenes- Andy Jordan
Florizel- Ioan Eldridge
Antigonus- John Wylde
Paulina- Rowena Owen
Cleomenes- Kevin Taws
Dion- Peter Thorne
Emilia- Lin Blessing
Julia- Pauline Marsden
Rogero- Stewart Venables
Demetrius- John Owen
Camillo- Niall Heaton
Officer- Richard Thornton
Gaoler- Will Wood, Dylan Roberts
Benvenuto- James Bennett
Mariner- Will Wood
Archidamus- Deborah Thomas
Autolycus- Connor Jones
Old Shepherd- Gwyn Brick
Clown- Tom Cutler
Cassio- James Bennett
Mopsa- Lin Blessing
Dorcas- Pauline Marsden
Quinto- Dylan Roberts
Guiseppe- James Peacock
Eufrasio- Peter Thorne
Time- Connor Jones
Slaves of Time- Dylan Roberts, James Bennett
Bear- a member of the company

Production Team

Director- Mike Stevens
Production Manager- John Owen
Stage Manager- Gordon Peterson
ASM (Props)- Richard Thornton
ASM- Deborah Thomas
Deputy Stage Manager- Graham Sherwood
Lighting and Special Effects- John Owen
Sound Design- Ellie Wylde
Composer/ Music Director- James Peacock
Stage Designer- Paul Jones
Choreographer- Karen Campbell
Wardrobe, Wigs, Hair & Makeup- Rowena Owen
Publicity Design- Peter Taylor
Chaperone- Nerys Bennett

REVIEW Quiz: the Coughing Major Millionaire Scandal, New Theatre Cardiff

It was the cough heard around the world.

In 2001, when British Army Major Charles Ingram won the top prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, he became the third person ever do so – and the first to be denied the winnings. After a lengthy trial he was found to have procured the money by deception, in conspiracy with his wife Diana and fellow contestant Tecwen Whittock. The prosecution’s case rested on the production company’s claim that Charles, who’d played erratically throughout his time in the hot seat, was guided to the correct answers through a series of coughs from Diana, Tecwen, and an underground ring of Britain’s top quizzers, who’d get a cut of the prize money.

Rory Bremner in Quiz. Image credit: Johan Persson

Directed by Daniel Evans and Seán Linnen, and written by James Graham, Quiz takes its audience through the story through the lens of the trial that followed. In Act One, we hear the case for the Prosecution; in Act Two, the case for the Defence – all while using Millionaire’s infamously stress-inducing psychological tactics: the pulsing heartbeat, the gradually dimming lights, and the twisted spectacle of watching someone unravel before your very eyes. No wonder it quickly became the world’s most popular TV quiz show: you quite literally couldn’t look away.

Lewis Reeves and Rory Bremner in Quiz. Image credit: Johan Persson

Comedian and Britain’s top impressionist Rory Bremner stars as Chris Tarrant – and he’s utterly uncanny in the role, capturing every Tarrant-esque tic. His scenes with Lewis Reeves (I May Destroy You, The Midwich Cuckoos) as the unassuming Major Ingram in particular seem lifted exactly from the episode itself. This is in no small part thanks to the spot-on set, designed by Robert Jones and lit by Ryan Day, which brilliantly evokes the original game show and transitions spookily well into an imposing courtroom.

The cast of Quiz. Image credit: Johan Persson

This is far from your typical courtroom drama. It is brimming with energy, poignancy and lots of laughs – not least from Mark Benton (Northern Lights, Shakespeare and Hathaway) as a series of hilarious characters, from the bum bag-toting top dog of ITV to the leather-coated leader of the quizzers’ secret circle. A brilliant ensemble features strong supporting performances from Charley Webb (Emmerdale) as Charles’ quiz-obsessive wife Diana, as well as Danielle Henry, Leo Wringer, Jay Taylor and Stefan Adegbola. And do look out for scene-stealing turns from Sukh Ojla and Marc Antolin.

Sukh Ojla and Mark Benton in Quiz. Image credit: Johan Persson

Nominated for two Olivier Awards including Best New Comedy, the West End smash hit was adapted for TV in 2020, starring Michael Sheen, Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford. But there’s something special about the theatrical production and how it poses the ultimate 50/50 question: Were the Ingrams guilty, or not guilty? You might want to phone a friend, or ask the audience – which Quiz does, by giving them the opportunity to vote, and not just as a contestant’s lifeline. Fresh from a smash-hit run on the West End, Quiz perfectly captures the heart-pumping tension of the world’s most popular TV quiz show. Catch it while you can – and that’s my final answer!

Quiz is performing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 18 – 21 October. More information on the show and how to book tickets can be found here.

Quiz is a fictional imagining based on real events which took place in 2001 following an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? It is not in any way connected with the makers of the programme or any of the individuals portrayed. The television programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is produced by 2waytraffic.

Review “Housemates”, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff by Tiago Gambogi

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

“Housemates” drums up an inclusive revolution

Based on a true story in Cardiff, a serendipitous encounter between Jim, a Cardiff University student, and Alan, a lifelong resident of Ely Hospital born with Down’s syndrome, sparked a profound shift in the realm of care and support. Alan yearned for a place to call home and had a dream: to join a band. Jim, on the other hand, aspired to change the world, though he wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

Hijinx, a leading inclusive theatre company, partnered with the Sherman Theatre to create an extraordinary gem of a theatrical performance that takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotion and reflection. “Housemates” isn’t just a play; it’s a profound exploration of the human spirit.

Set against the spirited backdrop of the 1970s, “Housemates” introduces us to a robust cast of seven neurodivergent and neurotypical actor-musicians who infuse the narrative with a powerful soundtrack featuring classics from T. Rex and Sweet. Playwright Tim Green dedicated two to three years to bring this story to life. Co-director Ben Pettitt-Wade emphasizes the significance of visibility, inclusivity, and the transformative power of human connections within our society. Co-director Joe Murphy underscores the exceptional nature of this story, one that embodies inspiration while remaining curiously overlooked in Cardiff.

The wonderful ‘70s costumes and the inventive set by Carl Davies transports us to the world of Ely Hospital in 1970s Cardiff. With its green-tiled floor, occasionally scattered with blown orange leaves, and a well-worn wall where the band resides, it visually captivates.

“Housemates” brims with humour and gentle clowning but is unafraid to tackle serious issues. The play courageously sheds light on the derogatory language of the past, such as the dehumanizing term “subnormals” and the terrible legislation of yesteryear like the 1886 Idiot’s Act and the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, which saw over 100,000 people institutionalized.

Actors masterfully navigate delicate subjects with a finesse that is both poignant and humorous. “Are you going to take the ‘angry pill’?” asks the female nurse before the male nurse strong-arms Alan. In another moment, Alan proclaims, “I want sex! In the house… it’ll be like… I am a sex God!” This statement is met with uproarious applause from the audience.

The set is as flexible as it is imaginative, with props ingeniously transforming: a metal frame becomes a bus stop, a trolley of books symbolizes the library, and a hospital bed serves as Alan’s room. Papers tossed in the air symbolize the persistence of the characters as the house application is denied, eventually leading to their triumphant departure from the hospital, each clutching their belongings in bin bags.

The culmination of this incredible journey occurs as Alan triumphantly declares, “This is my house!” Bedecked in a David Bowie-esque costume, he takes to the drums, igniting the stage with electrifying rock ‘n’ roll energy. Alan’s heartfelt dream becomes a reality, culminating in a grand finale with him shining as a drummer, joined by the entire cast as well as extra actors from the Hijinx Academy. Beneath the societal transformation lies the profoundly personal journey of an individual who, after a lifetime within hospital walls, discovers his own stage as a rock star in his own home in Cardiff.

“Housemates” offers a multifaceted theatrical experience, delivering laughter, tears, and a nostalgic journey. With an anarchic and rebellious flair, the show inspires us to close the absurd ways in which neurodivergent people were treated and motivate us to create change and end injustice.

The show is a tale about being genuinely inclusive; it’s about home, identity, and ultimately about taking action. It’s an extraordinary odyssey through time, friendship, and societal transformation both within and without, captivating audiences at the Sherman Theatre, which coincidentally celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Tiago Gambogi
@tiagogambogi, Dance Theatre Artist, https://linktr.ee/tiagogambogi

Review The Importance of Being…Earnest? Say It Again, Sorry, Theatr Clwyd by Donna Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Importance of Being…Earnest?

Many of my generation will best know the classic story of John ‘Jack’ Worthing and Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff, two bachelors who create alter egos named Ernest to escape their tiresome lives, through the 2002 movie adaptation starring Colin Firth, Dame Judy Dench, and Rupert Everett amongst other big names. The men attempting to win the hearts of two women who, conveniently, claim to only love men called Ernest. The pair struggle to keep up with their own stories and become tangled in a tale of deception, disguise, and misadventure. The elaborate plot ridicules Victorian sensibilities with some of the best loved, and indeed eccentric, characters to be found on the modern stage. First performed in 1895 and published in 1899 it is a satire of Victorian social hypocrisy and considered Wilde’s greatest dramatic achievement.

So then, it is a rather genius idea to take this classic tale turn it into a production where audience members take on the main roles- taking the theme of identity (or rather mistaken identity!) to the next level!

The Importance of Being…Earnest? begins in a Victorian household, complete with your typical English butler. The set is constant throughout aside from the odd addition to imply a change of location. It is simple but effective- particularly the window which, on occasion, doubles as a metaphorical window, into the lives of the actors. This window allows us as the audience to take a peek ‘backstage’ as our characters have heated discussions, enjoy an off-stage smoke, or argue about what’s going to happen next unless the actor playing Ernest decides to turn up!

The play starts as any production of The Importance of Being Earnest might start, but it’s clear that this is the calm before the storm as we experience a long, awkward pause as Algernon and Lane introduce Mr Ernest Worthing. This continues with titters from the audience as stage manager Josh and director Simon break the fourth wall in a panic and ask if there’s a member of the audience who could step into his shoes (literally!) Thus, ensues improvised and organised chaos as members of the audience are plucked out to play various roles- reading from scripts, being shoved around the stage by the pros, shouting out lines from signs held up by other audience members and having lines whispered aside. There are many clever japes including actors pretending to don clothing they’re already wearing due to having to start the play again, solo sword fighting or conversations with the air as the audience member has no idea where they’re meant to be standing and some fantastic, over the top physical theatre!

The casting is perfect but special mention must go to Guido Garcia Lueches as Algernon and Rhys Tees as Lane who are the perfect comedy partnership on stage. They set the scene and really carry the piece throughout. Other noteworthy performances include Lucy Trodd as Lady Bracknell whose take on how to be an ‘ac-TOR’ provides a hilarious comedy skit when she attempts to teach the audience member playing Ernest how to, well, play Ernest! Also, Trynity Silk as Gwendolen is a triumph, particularly as the play unravels and she gets more and more merry- having had one too many glasses of the real wine rather than the prop wine!

My only qualm throughout was that it appeared the audience members taking on the two lead roles were somewhat prepared and/or had been planted. For me, this took away some of the comedy magic that can be provided in using audience members as part of a performance. However, I have since learnt that Say it Again, Sorry? have an open-door policy during rehearsals, so it is possible certain audience members may have already had a glimpse into what would be happening on stage that evening.

Say it Again, Sorry? began back in 2018 when Artistic Director Simon Paris set up The Lab Workshops developing his own craft and supporting actors with their acting technique. The team decided that their mission would be to connect people to their inner artist. The Importance of Being…Earnest emerged in 2019 and previewed at The Pleasance Theatre in Islington and has since grown and developed and become a great success- selling out at EdFringe in 2021 and taking on a UK tour in 2023/24.

The Importance of Being…Earnest? continues its tour at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry from November 2nd-4th and ends at the Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen on July 5th, 2024. To book your tickets head to the website-

The Importance of Being…Earnest? (interactiveearnest.co.uk)

The Company have requested the note below, which we are happy to facilitate

“The company would like it to be known that there are no plants or prepared audience members that are used during this show, the smoothness of their audience interaction is a testament to their craft and honing.”

Cast:

Guido Garcia Lueches- Algernon

Trynity Silk- Gwendolen

Rhys Tees- Lane

Ben Mann- Josh

Josh Haberfield/Tom Bulpett – Simon Slough

Amy Cook Hodgson/Lucy Trodd – Lady Bracknell

Brendan Barclay- George

Creatives:

Simon Paris- Director

Josh King- Writer

REVIEW Housemates, Sherman Theatre/Hijinx by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Move over Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Joey and Phoebe: there’s a new set of Housemates in town, and they’re here to change the world!

And that’s exactly what they did, when in 1974 a group of residents at the Ely Hospital went to live with Cardiff University students in a small house in Ruthin Gardens. Alan (Gareth John), a young man born with Down’s Syndrome, meets Jim (Peter Mooney), a rebellious student volunteer. The two become friends, and so begins an odyssey that – after two years, countless letters and submissions and hospital board rejections – culminated in the end of institutionalised ‘care’ and the dawn of supported living.

Written by Tim Green and co-directed by Joe Murphy and Ben Pettitt-Wade, Housemates is a fun and affectionate tale that is raucously brought to life by a hugely talented cast of neurodivergent and neurotypical actor-musicians. The show moves through its story like a song, underscored by an excellent sense of rhythm, movement, and momentum. There are brilliant performances by John and Mooney as the central duo, who lead a superb ensemble cast that includes Natasha Cottriall, Lindsay Foster, Matthew Mullins, Caitlin Lavagna, Richard Newnham, James Ifan and Eveangeleis Tudball. They make a (shockingly) little-known piece of Welsh history feel like an instant classic.

The show begins even before you take your seat, with the cast performing iconic 70s hits that transport you to this era of rockin’ rebellions – and keeps the party going well after the curtain falls. It is simply the most joyous show I can remember seeing in a long time. This vibrant co-production between the Sherman Theatre (the ‘engine room of Welsh theatre’) and Hijinx (one of Europe’s leading inclusive theatre companies) is further proof of the magic of contemporary Welsh theatre: a concert, a comedy, and a clarion call in one.

Housemates is performing at the Sherman Theatre until Saturday 14 October. More information and how to book tickets here. Performances are captioned (in English), audio described and BSL interpreted. Please note that the show contains use of outdated terms for disabled people, ableism, strong language and descriptions of abuse.

Review Housemates, Sherman Theatre and Hijinx by Rhys Payne

Images Mark Douet

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I think that it is a universal fact that during lockdown many of us picked up new hobbies in the hope that it would help that extended periods of loneliness pass by quicker. One of my many lockdown obsessions was checking out new concept albums/recordings of new musicals from all around the world. Whilst on my quest to find my new musical obsession, I discovered a musical called Our Lands Own which told the story of the gruesome Merthyr Rising riots that happened a short drive from my home. It was absurd to me that such a massive moment in history happened a short drive from my house and I never even knew about it! Since then I have become fascinated with not only with the interesting intersection of history/musical but especially lesser-known Welsh history! The brand new play Housemates explores the purposefully hidden, behind-the-scenes investigations into Ely Hospital and the terrible series of events that have been documented there but also the origin story of assisted living schemes both of which took place in my own hometown!

Housemates the play tells the story of an innocently eager person called Jim (played flawlessly by Peter Mooney) who makes the spontaneous decision to volunteer his time walking two hospital respondents, namely on an unassuming walk to the local park. On this adventure, Jim begins to see some of the discrimination and harassment that hospital residents face which only gets worse as he begins investigating into the daily life of the hospital residents which results in immense anger on his behalf. This outrage caused Jim to investigate ways in which to properly integrate the residents into the community which led to the first ever assisting living programme where the patients lived with students. We follow Jim as he campaigns for this programme to be trialled in 12 Ruthin Gardens in Cardiff.

What was particularly interesting about this show was the fact that the production actually began before the audience had even taken their seats! The moment we stepped into the main auditorium at Sherman Theatre Cardiff, we were greeted by a lively band as if we had joined them during a gig in a local pub. They performed a plethora of iconic hits, as well as the expected chit chat that happens with a band during song transitions. This idea of a band-fuelled performance reappeared at the end of the show where the lead character Alan becomes the lead singer of his own band (donning a David Bowie-inspired ensemble and busting out his own drum solo) which helps to create a cohesive, circular narrative for audience.

The highlights of this production, however, were very clearly the characters Alan and Heather (played by Gareth John and Lindsay Foster respectively) who delivered a masterclass in comedic timing throughout! These two talented individuals had myself (and the audience) in hysterics throughout while simultaneously exposing the terrible and intense experiences of people in mental hospitals at the time. It is incredibly difficult to provide both a plethora of comedic moments while also generating sympathy from the audience by the bucket full. The two performers took us on a rollercoaster from eye-watering laughter to heart-wrenching sadness which is no easy feat but these two performers appeared to take it in the stride! One of my favourite moments in the entire production was when Alan and Heather got to experience their first live band performance and they exploded into a totally euphoric dance sequence that was just a pure joy to watch! It was clear that these two were having so much fun being on the stage and that radiated throughout but especially during this specific moment. We went from this moment of pure joy to a deeply heartbreaking scene where Alan shared the abuse he had experienced while under the care of the hospital. The most uplifting moment of the entire show however happened at the end of the show when the entire cast highlighted the success of the assisted living experiment and began listing off all the asylums that shut down due to this scheme (started in Cardiff) being a success. There was something about each person shouting the name of the hospital while scrunching the paper up and throwing it into the bin that was incredibly powerful and had myself very close to tears! I also found it immensely impressive that the band from earlier in the show were able to quickly switch from an accompanying band to an on-stage character. I can barely do each of these things on their own neither switching so quickly which was an incredible display of insane talent!

Overall, Housemates is a powerful piece of theatre that shines a light on a sparsely discussed area of Cardiff’s history! Despite only being just over one hour long, the grounded and honest portrayals captivated the audience and made every moment feel as if it was happening in real-time/the time frame the events actually took place. The production made every single person in the audience experience the length and breadth of human emotion while simultaneously highlighting a key part of Welsh history. I would rate this production 5 out of 5 stars!

Review: Marina Abramović: A Visual Biography & Institute Takeover, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Arguably, Marina Abramović is one of the most influential and incredible Performance Artists of all time. Her methods of challenging the body, of challenging the social norm, of breaking boundaries and being raw and in your face has transformed much of the performance landscape over the past 50 years and inspired many an artist, including myself.

Abramović is everywhere in London at the moment. Not only with her new book launch, A Visual Biography and her Institute Takeover, both at the Southbank Centre, she is also taking the Royal Academy by storm as the first solo woman performer in their main space and with an opera, 7 Deaths of Maria Callas at the English National Opera. For a woman who was literally on death’s door only a couple of months ago, at 76, Abramović is still pushing boundaries and her body to extremes for art. And us number one fans are happy she still is.

After her memoir in 2016, A Walk Through Walls, telling the story of her life in Belgrade and her art across the world, you wouldn’t think there was much more for her to tell us about. This raw and personal memoir seemed to feature it all, her life, her feelings, her failures, her successes. But in this new book, A Visual Biography, she has teamed up with arts and fiction writer, Katya Tylevich, to delve into her aeroplane hangers full of memorabilia of her life to bring new stories, new insights and plenty of memories.

With both Abramović and Tylevich on stage, this book release felt a lot more casual and free than I remember A Walk Through Walls launch to be. Abramović seemed relaxed, she made us laugh constantly and her stories and anecdotes were mesmerising. There was something changed in her, possibly with a near death experience recently, A Visual Biography seems more a celebration of who Marina is and less about how her work came to be. While her first memoir featured much about her family, she now tells us more of those moments you remember from your childhood. At the time, many seem like terrifying scenarios but certainly ones to be appreciated and laughed at now.

Abramović is hugely engaging and an hour and half did not seem enough to listen to her. She is captivating in her own right, without her magnificent art, with a life full of unique experiences and humbleness.

Following from this, Abramović and the Abramović Institute have taken over the Queen Elizabeth Hall, from front of house to the backstage and areas likely unseen by most of the public. Using the Abramović method, the artists are encouraged to present long duration work over several hours across a number of spaces, allowing the audience to self-lead their experience. Marina herself is not performing, but there’s enough essence of her in each performance to not feel at all cheated.

This was opening night and therefore, taking into account any problems with this. It seemed that much was delayed, from the opening of the venue itself to some of the works. Once you were in, you could see lots in the foyer but the knowledge there is more behind the scenes that you couldn’t quite yet access yet was tantalising but also confusing at times. Once everything opened up, the freedom to roam felt enjoyable and clear, with signs noting spaces and doors you couldn’t enter. It felt like a little treasure hunt throughout the building.

As time went by, the crowds increased and there were many smaller performances in tiny spaces that developed long queues. All performances are well worth the wait but you need to be prepared that some may need a wait. As they are durational, there are a number that change as time goes on, and so instead of doing a once round, always take the journey around a few times as it is ever changing.

Performances ranged from almost no movement, to abusive and loud anarchy, to continual movement pieces. There was something for everyone, including interaction from potato peeling to unusual yet childlike chats with a group of clones. Each art and artist has created something unique and perpetrating to their lives and what they wanted to convey and each was fascinating on their own and in comparison as you crossed from one to the other.

Audiences are almost forced in close quarters at times with one another, and there’s a almost meta sense of freedom to roam but at the same time, being confined closely with strangers. It is an extraordinary exhibition that we wouldn’t have dreamed of having in 2020 during a pandemic.

The sheer determination and strength of the performers, their bodies and concepts are incredible. Not one looked bored. Not one looked as if they were not fully in their space and performance. And this is what is awe inspiring and incredible. One performer spends the entire performance, melting a block of ice with their own bare body… when you think how you feel holding an ice cube for a short time, this on a larger scale without any break in character is impressive and thought provoking. Abramović notes in her book launch that a fit and almost dancer body is needed for her type of work – to sit still or move slowly/hold a position for a long time is actually painful and an experience little of us ever have or will have. We are used to moving when uncomfortable, but this is often not an option in these scenarios.

Marina Abramović Institute Takeover is an immersive, performance art exhibition and experience unlike any other. It is the height of contemporary art and each piece is unlike anything seen before. You may not be seeing Marina herself perform, but the heart of her influence and method is abundant in each performance, while leaving room for the artist to be their own.

Review: RuneSical by Sian Thomas

4/5 stars

Having been invited to watch RuneSical as it came online, I thought the opportunity would present itself as a fun morning. My experiences with RuneScape are fairly minimal – I remember my uncle playing it in the early 2000s, and by “remember” I mean more of “vaguely recall the low-poly, very triangular shapes of the game”, and my partner enjoys grinding the game while watching a movie, or a TV show. He’s pretty well-versed in such a universe both in its actual gameplay and its general public reception, and I asked him to watch it with me for references I definitely wouldn’t get (which happened) and jokes I wouldn’t understand (which also happened). I did initially worry I would be left in the lurch if I didn’t understand much of anything about RuneScape before diving in, but the show is fairly gentle with its audience, with things for people who land anywhere on the spectrum of their familiarity with the game. Ultimately, I like theatre, and he likes the game, so we were both in for a good time.

We watched it together, roaming through the choices presented to us. I went into it aware of it being a choose-your-own adventure (which I admit, I was really interested to see how it would have worked live, and wish I could have seen it in its most natural state!). Each segment of the story presents you with two or more choices for the next, altering your adventure each time. Some choices presented lead to the same decisions being made regardless (Lance adventuring with Odin, for example) in order to get the story moving and not to abruptly end the play before it was to even begin. It was a fun twist to traditional theatre in that way, with a kind of audience participation that I, for once, didn’t find myself dreading with a lump in my throat since I was sat comfortably in my pyjamas, at home. I think the decision to put it online was fantastic – it was interactive and fun, while keeping a strong hold on a traditional theatre atmosphere. I felt like I was there, which was impressive.

RuneSical had a small but talented cast: Christian Maynard (Lance), Katie Pritchard (Odin), Jenna Sian O’Hara (Pearl), Sam Cochrane (The Wizard), Alex Prescot (Player 1), Theo Diedrick (Player 2) & Lydia Barton Lovett (Player 3). Each was skilful in their acting roles and musical ones, the show was filled with fun and lively music, Broadway-esque notes and runs.

While there are around 20 videos to the story overall, as a viewer you will only see 7 each run, so each song sticks out with individuality as each choice is presented and made. My favourites from my particular experience were, The Fisherman Song #2, and It’s Bad Being Good. And, though I never realised it having never played the game, my partner picked up on musical motifs from the game acting as the springboard for some songs, which I thought was a really fun addition to the play!

The album for the musical is available on both Spotify and Apple Music.

RuneSical was a fun, vibrant show sprung from a source I’d never have expected to have or get a musical adaptation, and I really enjoyed watching it! It was more than just a fantasy play and, I felt, more than just a fistful of references and jokes. There was a good heart to the show and a fun plot with a nice twist for its characters.

Sian Thomas

Review, Rebecca, Charing Cross Theatre, London by James Ellis    

Photo credit: Mark Senior

 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

After a hefty scandal in its original outing, the German take on the classic English book Rebecca as a musical has finally made it to London. Sadly, the curse which is synonymous with the story still leaves it mark…

The elegance and intrigue of Daphne Du Maurier’s tale has not translated well in this staging by Alejandro Bonatto. There is something of a pantomime about the whole thing. I can assume the budget was right for this, even with some practical use of quite a small stage, designer Nicky Shaw should get a shoutout for this. The songs by Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay have some charm and passion, but remain remarkably old fashioned. Precise extracts from the novel are present, yet it’s the generic vocal line and unappealing melodies which stand out. I spent over 14 hours listening to the audio book and it’s amazing how much was the story just stops and starts on stage. This tension does not always work when you have to take a break with songs.

The cast are vocally fine, with what they are given. I was pleased with the loud and proud ensemble who play the service staff, salty sailor types and Monte Carlo snobs. Our leading lady is never given a first name, the mark of Rebecca as Mr de Winter’s first wife looms over all. As “I”, said second wife is Lauren Jones who works well in the unassuming role. She puts up with a lot, curiously there is no mention of children or plans for any from either wife. Elements of Jane Eyre cannot be denied either. As Maxim de Winter, I wasn’t so convinced with Richard Carson, though dashing and subtly spoken. I didn’t really get the outbursts nor mental anguish from his time with Rebeca and here death. A singing voice that felt quite Les Mis, marginally less depressing than that show.

Kara Lane had fun as Mrs Danvers, perhaps the most fascinating living character in the story. Obsessed with Rebeca whom she always cared for, her singing reach absurd moments belting out the title characters name, some of the best moments in the show. The supporting cast varied from compassion to miscast. Some problematic aspects…the role of Ben who feels quite Sondheim like was played with conviction from an adorable David Breeds, his broken, mysterious, lines signs straight from the book. Sarah Harlington as Beatrice might be the best suited for any of these roles, Piers Bate as Frank Crawley getting little time to show sympathy in the ongoing scandal. Emily Apps as Clarice and Alex James-Ward as Rebecca’s cousin also worked well in the scattered pacing.

Its rare that I’m annoyed with a show. Rebeca deserved better.

Rebecca runs at Charing Cross Theatre till 18th November 2023.