En-route for the Edinburgh Festival 2016 – Exciting New Production from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama
.Fasten your safety belt and prepared to be gripped by high drama in Tom Hampson’s exciting debut play Two and One More, which opens on August 21st at Venue 13 at the Edinburgh Fringe and runs until August 27th. Members of What Might Have Been Theatre are producing and performing in the play at the venue, which is run by the college and has been providing a platform for performers and audiences to explore, create and experience some remarkable drama over the past twenty years.
Viewed at the RWCMD’s Bute Theatre during the run-up to the Fringe, Hampson’s play is set in London during the Blitz. A boy breaks into a London house and is discovered by the man living there alone. Or is he alone? What lies in the room next door? With young sector James Robert Rutherford as the young burglar, this play is guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat.
The high standard of the productions staged at Venue 13 has seen audiences returning year after year – a critic writing in The Stage described it thus: “If there was an award for the best run Fringe venue, then this would be it.”
15 minutes. Not 2 hours and an interval. Not 1 hour straight through. 15 minutes is all it takes to pound you with intense and thought provoking truth.
Pigs and Dogs by the brilliant writer Caryl Churchil and directed by Dominic Cooke speaks about homosexuality in Africa and across the world and what this really means. Taking influence from the Anti-homosexuality act in 2014 in Uganda, the play takes quotes and facts from around Africa and other parts of the World about tribes and groups of people that have historically delved into traditions that would be labelled as ‘homosexuality’ despite the discrimination in society and law.
Simply the production only has 3 actors on stage who take sentences of the piece one after the other and bring across characters and their quotations. The performers do this extremely well and are quick and prompt, bouncing off one another. The characters and accents change from African, to American, to British and so on. The performers are brilliant at this and despite one actor being Caucasian, there is no sense of parody or comedy in his African characters. We forget that they are actors on stage, just engaged in the intense facts and shock at the naivety and cruelty of these discriminatory people. We even feel guilt and disgust at our own history and the laws which we once had in place against others.
15 minutes is all it takes to bring emotion, fact and truth to an audience. To be able to do that, is a total triumph and extremely worth watching.
From the get go, I was excited. I’ve always liked Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, even though I tucked it away and kept it as something for myself to watch quietly on home alone days. This was strikingly different to that, and a million times more fun!
The entire thing was a wholeheartedly adorable. The whole production was truly genuine, full of love and sparks of magic all which light up the audience. Particularly the costumes. Each had a childlike charm to them, and were equally beautiful, hopefully making them more valued and appreciated by the younger people of the audience.
The actors were phenomenal. I could see the dedication within each actor and how seriously they took what they were doing. I could tell how much they wanted every member of the audience – children and young people and adults alike – to fully enjoy themselves. I could see the hard work and commitment under the surface of a perfect performance all paying off.
The actors themselves (and I hope beyond hope that I’ve got their names right from where I’ve found them, if not, please forgive me) Emily March, (who plays Peter Pan), Meg Jones, (who plays Tinkerbell), and Cadi Mullane (who plays Wendy) were all honestly fantastic in their roles. Their confidence and charm were all mesmerising.
I always have a weakness for watching characters I’m not supposed to during talking scenes, and this production was no exception. Each person I watched was fully diligent to their role, always focused and dedicated to an enthralling performance.
To be particular, firstly, I think Emily March’s performance as Peter Pan was stunning. The confidence and the sheer brilliance stemming from her words and flowing through to the audience was quite the experience. The lines were delivered with the loveable boyish charm Peter Pan has coupled with clarity. I struggle to convey my wholehearted astonishment I felt. It was incredible. Similarly, both Meg Jones (Tinkerbell) and Cadi Mullane (Wendy) provoked the same emotion. Meg Jones’ performance fluctuating between speaking to the audience or speaking in ‘bells’ was well done and enjoyable. Her acting altogether was delightful. Lastly, Cadi Mullane’s acting was just as exquisite and fun, full of love and joy.
One thing that was truly incredible was the singing. All of it was honestly dazzling. Coupled with dancing which was amazing by itself and true talent, I was left very, very impressed. The day was a fun day out, and something I’d recommend to families and friends alike if today hadn’t been the last showings. If it ever returns, I will hope for the chance to see it.
All in all, I give it four stars, as it was a truly wonderful production which I wholeheartedly enjoyed and would gladly see again.
Our project coordinator recently spoke to Theatre Designer Bethany Seddon on her training at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Youth Theatre at the Sherman Theatre , recent production designs for Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival and career to date.
Bethany (centre) working on the recent Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival
Hi Bethany, You have currently designed a range of productions for Everyman Cardiff Summer Festival You must be busy! Is it possible to give our readers some background information on yourself?
Of course! Well I was born in Newport, South Wales, and as a child and well into my teenage years I was fascinated with theatre and, in particular, acting! I took part in as many productions as possible with school, at the age of 13 I joined the Dolman Youth Theatre and at 16 joined the Sherman Youth Theatre, and both groups offered invaluable experience both on and off stage. As I was approaching the end of my A levels I had a huge crisis of confidence and decided acting wasn’t actually for me… so what was I to do? I took a year and did an art foundation which I loved but by the end of the course, scared of narrowing my options too much, I moved onto a Fine Art degree, which, unfortunately just wasn’t for me. By Christmas I knew I wasn’t enjoying Fine Art at all and I happened to be acting and designing a show with the company Inky Quill. I was so excited by the possibilities of design and part of me had always wanted to design for stage so this seemed like such a logical step for me to take. I did a quick google search, found out Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama did a Theatre Design course and applied straight away. A few weeks later I attended an open day and fell in love a little more, and few weeks later again and I had an interview and luckily, they accepted me onto the course. Three very hard years later, a little caffeinated and sleep deprived I was sent out into the world and, thankfully, I haven’t stopped working since. The course taught me such a wide range of skills that I work between designing for stage, to working in TV and film, and pick up bits of work in assisting and using skills for jobs in technical drawings, construction, painting, prop making and teaching/ creating workshops.
You have worked for a variety of companies in the UK and especially Wales, what are the employment opportunities like for a designer based in Wales?
Between theatre and TV and film work, South Wales is a great place to be based. You have some wonderful companies that range in size and statue that are always looking for new designers to work with. Cardiff is bustling with a whole host of theatres and companies who are always creating new work and writing, which really is very exciting, both for work and just to go and immerse yourself in the creative world. The neighbouring cities around Cardiff are also bustling with creativity, so it doesn’t take much to find yourself working in Swansea, or Bridgend, or Bristol. The arts network is really incredibly small, but people are always on the lookout for a designer, or assistant so honestly it’s just being able to say yes to possibilities… without being taken advantage of, of course.
You frequently support workshop activity with members of the public, do you think this type of activity is important and why?
I believe it is incredibly important work, especially when you believe in what the company is creating. Working with Sherman Five at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff and Mess up the Mess have both shown me how an individual can develop in such a short amount of time through workshop activities, and I have witnessed massive developments in individuals self confidence.
The workshops are all about allowing creative expression, however simple to start and encouraging a participant to let go of their inhabitations. From long term projects to one off days like creating monsters at the Wales Millennium Centre , it’s such a joy to see people from various backgrounds and age groups connect with a task through their creativity.
Are their any individuals or organisations that helped support you in developing your skills and knowledge?
Mr Phillip Mackenzie
Sherman Youth Theatre and the youth theatre director at the time Phillip Mackenzie were brilliant at helping me understand theatre wasn’t all about the text behind a proscenium arch. At the age of 16 I was allowed to explore different styles of theatre which I believe was just invaluable and the group I was working with were all so dedicated and focused on what we were creating, and we had so much fun working on our productions. I honestly look back and think about how lucky I was to be working with that group! I think I might be in a very different place if it wasn’t for the wonderful opportunities to act and travel I had with the Sherman. However my training and work ethic was greatly enhanced by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the head of the BA Hons Design for Performance Mr Sean Crowley. I learnt so much in those 3 years and would not be doing as well as I am without the training and support of the alumni.
Mr Sean Crowley
When you aren’t involved in the arts or culture what do you like to do in your spare time?
Spare time?! After opening 4 shows in 4 weeks, and having very few days off this year I’m afraid I fail a little at answering this question!
I know I used to like to read and go to see theatre, but for me it’s been a while since I have done either! I normally crash when I get home, or continue working away till quite late, and try to see friends and my family when I can. Luckily most of my friends are in the arts so understand our varying schedules often conflict and the ones that aren’t in this little bubble are the most wonderful people to put up with me without getting too annoyed at long periods of silence!
Model Box ‘Into the Woods’ Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival
Realised Set ‘Into the Woods’ Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival
Model Box ‘Peter Pan’ Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival
Model Box ‘Peter Pan’ Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival
More examples of Bethany’s work can be found at her website http://bethanyseddon.com
Why is it that Transgender and LGBT movements are still considered taboo? We have had such horrors through history in regards to discriminating these persons, up to the Orlando shootings recently. Why are we still struggling to bring these stories to the forefront? We tell tales of every other type of person in the world but hardly ever of LGBT persons.
Enter Rotterdam – this play written by Jon Brittain looks at a lesbian couple and their troubles in acceptance – Alice has not come out to her parents with a real fear to do so and Fiona announces that she has always identified as a man and wishes to make the transition into Adrian. We see their relationship fall and the emotional struggles they face with this huge change. Comical interludes tend to be brought in by Adrian’s brother Josh and Alice’s co-worker Lelani who we realise also take on a substantial amount of emotion in this situation.
Rotterdam is an extremely clever play. It is filled with emotion and struggles, with us really feeling for the characters but is also hugely hilarious, being not afraid to take a comical spin on the rollercoaster, without being offensive and by taking a delicate and sympathetic approach on this realistic story.
I admit that I came away from the production in tears – all the performers did an amazing job to naturalistically and truthfully bring the pain, confused and uncertainty to the stage. It felt as if we really were involved in the story and always engaged. It brought ideas across that without being in the situation that you would not necessarily think would affect those who are. It questions whether changing gender makes you a different person and soon turns this around to show that it can physically but really the same person is there.
Rotterdam is an excellent production. Taking a very respectful approach to the story, it leaves you really thinking more about this situation that happens across the world. As the song says, ‘This could be Rotterdam or anywhere’.
The Folly Mixtures are a cabaret and burlesque troupe that are well known for their consistent and smooth performances using modern, remixed music, fire play and dirty comedy.
Tonight was of no exception. Listening to our compere between sections, the theme of America is picked upon satirically, with comparisons to us as Brits and our stereotypes. This is clever, at times improvised and makes us laugh at the irony of our own situation as well as the stereotypes of America.
With the performance, the different routines also pick upon stereotypes of America – the old 1950’s diner girls, baseball to even a poke at Donald Trump and the current election campaigns. We love all of these – bedazzled and glittered, the stereotypes are nothing but fun and gorgeous, high end and professional.
We are also introduced to our only male burlesque performer – Dave the Bear. While like the women, he is there to perform routines and for us to appreciate the human form, he is flirtatious with the male audience members, crude with his jokes but all of this is brilliant and comical.
My only issue with this performance is that Burlesque is known for its celebration of all body types – these woman have wonderful bodies, almost envious but very similar and lacking celebration of all women. I also find that the group performances get a little samey when solo performances would have been welcomed to showcase each performer and perhaps a little more comedy in these routines would have created a different dynamic.
Overall, the Folly Mixtures were beautiful, glamourous and skilled. A great night out none the less.
The London Wonderground is always a favourite place of mine each Summer. It is a very versatile place full of comedy, cabaret and new and old exciting acts.
As the name suggest, Sh*tfaced showtime is going to be fuelled by alcohol, theatre and comedy. We are unsure what the ‘showtime’ part is going to be but this adds to all the fun and essence of surprise through the night.
The premise of the show is for a group of classically trained musical theatre performers to put on a 1 hour version of a production [in this case, Pirates of Penzance] while one performer is ridiculously drunk. The audience are invited to participate when we believe that the performer is becoming sober and this is where our host intervenes to give ‘one more drink’ for which we eagerly chant.
Watching a person on stage becoming hilariously drunk, you would think that this would be uncomfortable. It is not. It is full of hilarity, as we watch her attempt to keep to the performance but get distracted and all the frivolities we associate with intoxication. We as the audience find this all very comical as outsiders but we can all relate to this state. Despite this, her singing and performance ability at times is very accomplished and is evident her talent despite bringing a lot of comedy with her distractions.
The other sober performers are also very talented and skilled and in their own right, bring a fantastic version of Pirates of Penzance. There are times where the performance goes off course due to our drunk performer and they do well to bring it back to the narrative or to go along with the diversion. Their trust and interaction with one another is genius and makes you feel safe that despite the uncertainty of what could appear on stage [or even off stage].
Sh*tfaced Showtime is genius. To be brave enough to go ahead with such a concept is admirable and executed with sheer perfection and brilliant talent.
Red-hot and sizzling, the multi-award winning musical Chicago, based on real life events in 1920s US, is back at the Wales Millennium Centre and judging by the bookings as popular as it was when it came here four years ago. With its theme of greed and corruption, the contemporary relevance doesn’t need to be spelled out although the main action takes place on Death Row, where nightclub singer Roxie Hart is standing trial for shooting her lover and the feisty Velma Kelly is up for double murder. Strong stuff indeed but the dark undercurrent of the story and plotline cannot be ignored, and neither should it be.
But – moving on – this is musical theatre, so let us not dwell on this. The wonderful musical numbers, toe-tapping and fast, are what makes this show so popular, along with the fast-paced choreography. Chicago is above all a showcase for the original choreography of the legendary Bob Fosse. The tunes come thick and fast, plunging straight into it with All That Jazz in Act I and never letting up, and the dancers amazing…
Chicago has been performed on stage countless times, plus the memorable film version starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, and every director understandably wants to put his or her own mark on it in terms of character portrayal. Hayley Tamaddon is a low key Roxie with an air of fragility about her that belies the fact that this is one tough lady who will stoop as low as it takes to escape the death penalty. Although Roxie’s story is pivotal, it is her opposite number Velma who is the strongest here and Sophie Carmen-Jones give the role her all in no uncertain manner, displaying a versatility and, in Act II, an acrobatic ability that is truly amazing. While Carmen-Jones has the character to a T, Tamaddon’s Roxie is at times almost girl-next-door in her naivety.
Alternating in the role of Prison Matron Mama Morton, who believes in looking after ‘her girls’ – as long as her favours are reciprocated – are Gina Murray and Sam Bailey. Murray’s Mama threatened to bring the house down on press night as she belted out the iconic When You’re Good to Mama full throttle. Great stuff! A clever little cameo too by Francis Dee as ‘Not guilty’Hunyak. On the same evening, Kerry Spark took over the male lead in place of John Patrtridge, who was absent, in playing unscrupulous defence lawer Billy Flynn always on the lookout for number one and lining his pockets by defending about-to-be convicted murderers. Amos, Neil Ditt is an experienced actor who ‘gets’ the role of Roxie’s husband, the pathetic, incompetent and ignored ‘Mr Cellophane’ (to use the title of his song) off pat.
The staging is atmospheric and costumes a delight for the eye with deftly wielded chorus line feather fans in one of the later scenes, while the onstage orchestra under musical director Ben Atkinson, is superb, providing not only musical backing throughout but continuing to entertain after the show ends.
Sherman connections is an annual festival centred around making strong links with young talent, raising the profile and awareness of theatre companies and their rising stars to general audiences, the theatre and themselves. The three day festival, only one of which I was privileged enough to attend, was packed full of short productions such as Simon Armitage’s Eclipse, presented by the Everyman Youth theatre and Lucinda Coxon’s What are They Like, as performed by WGYTC.
Although I could only catch two of the nine productions featured in the festival; the diversity of plays and the thorough rehearsal of their excellent young casts was evident in both.
There were also opportunities to participate in an extensive range of workshops.
These workshops really made the atmosphere of creative buzz and talent checking even further heightened; some generally constructive such as a review workshop with Jafar Iqbal of the Western mail, others shedding light into current issues in the arts such as inclusivity. A particular highlight for attendants was the one off workshop from Matthew Bulgo.
It was a great opportunity for bolstering support of local Welsh talent, and its place in the Sherman’s packed catalogue cements its place as one of the most active theatres in Cardiff; doing all it can to heighten not only its already well regarded profile, but that of fresh talent and Welsh arts in general.
Although it’s main onus did seem to be on connections within the youth groups; seeing new talent in a space evidently very invested in the future of theatre with so much packed into its tight schedule seems a must for fans of the Sherman, and anyone interested in looking out for the future landscape of Welsh Theatre,
“Murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery…all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts “and so Cardiff welcomes the touring production of Chicago. In a first for the Wales Millennium Centre the smash hit musical Chicago has arrived to entertain packed audiences. Chicago is based on the real life events in the roaring 1920s. A nightclub singing sensation Velma murders her husband, and Chicago’s smoothest lawyer, Billy Flynn, sets out to act has her defence. But when Roxie ends up in prison on similar charges, Billy takes on her case too, turning her too into a media sensation. Neither of the two women will be surpassed in their fight against each other for fame and celebrity status.
As the audience sat down before the performance an announcement was made informing us that John Partridge who plays lawyer Billy Flynn would not be performing due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’ and therefore the role would be played instead by his understudy Kerry Spark. Despite the obvious disappointment by some audience members we needn’t have worried as Kerry Spark gave an excellent performance.
This revival tour of Chicago showed a whole different side to the show by stripping the production back to its bare bones, with a full band positioned on a podium on stage, minimal costumes on the performers and some chairs. As an audience member, you seem to have the feeling that the music is the main star of the show and the thing you should be concentrating on most of all.
In the performance, Sophie Carmen-Jones played Velma Kelly, the tough performer awaiting trial for the murder of her husband and sister. Sophie Carmen-Jones delivers a brilliant Velma who is very confident and self-assured but still beneath her many layers is highly vulnerable.
Hayley Tamaddon is utterly sublime as Roxie Hart. Hayley Tamaddon brings out a different version of Roxie with slightly more comedy and shyness in Roxie than audiences will not have seen before. There are many moments during the performance where Roxie really comes into her own and shines like a star.
In my opinion, the two leading ladies are perfectly matched and when they come together and perform the ‘Hot Honey Rag’ to the end of the show they are wonderfully in synch with each other bringing a smile to every audience member.
The Matron of the Cook County Jail, Mama Morton was played by Gina Murray. The role is usually played by former X Factor winner Sam Bailey however she took a break from the tour. Gina Murray was brilliant as Mama Morton and has a good mix of being stern and kind to the inmates. Her performance in the song ‘When You’re Good To Mama’ was amazing and received a loud applause from the audience.
One of the real stand out characters during the musical was A D Richardson as Mary Sunshine. Each line of the song ‘A little bit of good’ is presented with a strong sense of carefulness and delicacy. It’s an extremely gruelling role that can be extremely difficult to sing night after night, but you get one of the best vocal performances I have seen. Without giving a major plot spoiler away it is unbelievable how good the characters voice is considering the circumstances.
Roxie’s all loving and walked upon husband Amos Hart is played by Neil Ditt. Extremely well performed, the character is worked, used and mistreated by Roxie and Billy but it is a truly wonderful performance by Neil Ditt and this is especially shown in the song Mr Cellophane which demonstrates to the audience how this extremely bland man is constantly striving to be noticed by others.
‘The 6 marry murderesses of the cook county in jail in their rendition of the cell block tango’ are outstanding with the cast consisting of Sophie Carmen-Jones, Lindsey Tierney, Ellie Mitchell, Nicola Coates, Frances Dee and Chelsea Labadini. This performance is very powerful and each character portrayed is very different with a stand out personality that draws in the audience.
It would be very wrong to not mention the utterly divine band for the performance led by the fantastic Ben Atkinson. It truly is the icing on the cake for this touring production. All through the show the energy levels of the band were extremely high and the music blasted out around the Wales Millennium Centre. The two real highlight moments of the band was during the Entr’acte and Playout because it was then they came into their own. Ben Atkinson was conducting upside down leaning over a wall and climbing over the staging while leading his band. He finally ended up draped over the piano upside down with his band dancing around the stage. An utterly amazing performance.
You don’t want to be ‘Mister Cellophane’ so make yourself seen and go and watch Chicago: The Musical at the Wales Millennium Centre. The musical is showing between 25th Jul – 30th Jul 2016. Tickets are selling fast so please make sure you get them via this link-