Category Archives: Theatre

Review Constellation Street The Other Room by Lois Arcari

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A set of four intertwining monologues dividing tight – and tightly packed – spaces in a pub theatre tucked underneath the train stations – literally hidden gem.

Hardly a setup for convention.That, for the audience, is sublime.

The set design by the obviously talented Amy Jane Cook, catches you immediately, as you’re led through Constellation Street. The sets, three internal sets each toe the line between intimacy and claustrophobia just as the street itself does; a fifth character illuminated by its cast, the staging, and the experience theatre the play provides. The multiple sets were all done brilliantly but didn’t take the balance off the play itself. The outside platform fits perfectly; the noise of Cardiff against its backdrop illuminating rather than distracting; a brilliantly designed set up that draws subjective meaning without ever prompting it unsubtly.

This set up perfectly captures the mix of realism and delirium imbued in the play; the smallest pieces of the everyday evolving into a smooth hallucination between reality and melodrama. The play is flawlessly cast, each delivering their characters believably, and essentially, ambiguously. Each monologue in itself invites a wealth of interpretation, and the contradictions between them made for a more interesting whole; turning to pin point lies and honesty, or if indeed, they are even mutually exclusive at all. Distrust and uncertainty were the stars of the script, crawling under the skin the most effectively.

Tonally, the play was dark without nihilism, realism providing the comedy. Narratively, it could veer dangerously close to artifice; interweaving of monologues a little predictable at times, but with the cast and this experiential, experimental play nevertheless not straying from its basis in character, its brevity seemed at once a loss and a basis of its charms and wit. In its intimacy, the stories packed weight, but, because of its root in subjectivity were not always as deeply felt. We are dragged into the confusion, loss and grief of the characters, rooted in their street but projected through to any other. Although narratively slick, the close web of all the characters seemed to displace it from an every town, an idea the play needs to pack the punches it delivered, more lastingly for its audience.

One idea in particular, maybe from just seeing three of four monologues, was that one interesting idea seemed left to flounder. Parts were resonant, parts were shocking;but although technically brilliant, it never seemed to project itself onto the outside world. Perhaps, I must concede, the intention for us ‘invaders’ on the street.

It’s not that there was style over substance, but merely that the substance is felt harder to relate to in an outside context because of the stylistic excellence. As a piece of event theatre with the atmosphere of a clandestine treat, it is a must-see, but it’s genuine emotional resonance, or at least the extent of its power, is an ambiguous thing; as hard to track as the characters it writes of.

Review Constellation Street The Other Room by Kiera Sikora

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Constellation Street; a place of conscience, cowardice, courage and heart-hurting honesty.

Firstly we meet Ruth (Nicola Reynolds) a brash and beautiful landlady with a lot to be said about good deeds, their punishments and the past they create. Set in her homely pub, she creates that warm atmosphere that lulls you to your local and before you’ve taken in her purge of emotions- she’s opened the door for you to leave her, silently.

But the night continues, we move on then for a brief song with Alex (Gwenllian Higginson) at a gig in what may well be the pub we’ve just left. Her wide eyed gazes and drunken antics on the stage make you laugh and wonder. She seems to think too much, yet little of herself.

Swiftly then we move into the humid hotel room where we are met with the seemingly sweet Stephen (Neal McWilliams). He’s awkward and intense, both distant and present. He doesn’t break his gaze. It’s almost like there’s nothing left in him to be broken, nothing more that he could break. You feel his pulse must match the pace of his speech as he punches your heart with his harrowing story of love, loss and loneliness.

We then head back outside to Alex and her cheap, cheap lager, and we listen to her as she lays her life’s bones bare in front of us. She’s like no one’s child, a girl with questions and no one around who’s patient enough to listen to them, until we’re there. Her actions don’t gain her the answers she was looking for, but they no doubt change and add to the questions she already has. That alone is something that connects these pieces and people together.

This play’s genius lies in its more than admirable attention to detail and how the writing doesn’t allow you to think that it’s ever been written. The emotions are raw and the situations so real it makes you think of the Constellation Street (or Streets) that exist outside of the intamcy of Porter’s.

It’s important to add here to that a fourth monologue exists in this play; Frank’s (Roger Evans) story completes Constellation Street.

The small space at The Other Room has been completely, wonderfully transformed, so that walking to the bar after the show feels a bit like a daze. Amy Jane Cook’s design is impeccable and deserves all compliments and more. As do the directors Chelsey Gillard and Dan Jones for collecting and connecting this puzzle of a play and completely utilising it’s uniqueness and relevance.

Review Constellation Street by Kaitlin Wray

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Constellation Street written by Matthew Bulgo is a combination of four monologues that interlink with each other. Just like Matthew Bulgo’s ‘Last Christmas’ produced by Dirty Protest these stories are cleverly thought out and are both captivating and raw. For this production the team at the Other Room Theatre completely had their work cut out. For anyone who has already been to the Other Room Theatre they wouldn’t have thought it possible that a conventional theatre space could be turned into three separate rooms in completely different habitats. One a hotel room, another a back of the taxi cab and one a bar. What made this show even more unique was they used a part of the courtyard for the final scene. It all worked magnificently. There were some occasions when you could hear what is being said in the other spaces but it didn’t take away from the performance. This really showed the different dimensions of each monologue.

Not only did I get the chance to watch this incredible immersive performance, but I also had the privilege to overlook one of their rehearsals to get a feel of what it would be like directing a production. Watching Chelsey Gillard and Dan Jones at work, both of them taking two monologues each to work on, it was evident that their artistic minds knew exactly how to take on this performance and they both did tremendously. In this rehearsal, a week before the show, I had the chance to watch Nicola Reynolds performing the pub landlady. Even at this point in time she had the character pretty much nailed and it was wonderful to watch. Her mannerisms and the way she effortlessly told her story was endearing. I’m gutted that I didn’t get to see her perform in the actual show but it gives me another excuse to watch this show again!

The first room I went into was laid out as if we were in the back of a taxi cab. Roger Evans, playing Frank had his back to us for the majority of the performance with the front mirror showing his reflection. This made his performance even more realistic and raw which made this scene more emotional, it felt like you were there to really consolidate with the character. This is a great way to break away from traditional theatre settings and to show people that the character doesn’t always have to be on a stage speaking out to the audience.

Then our mini group got lead out into the courtyard for a musical interlude which was a rendition of “All I Want” by Kodaline, sung by Gwenllian Higginson. What once was a lovely lyrical song turned into quite an amusing karaoke bash. Even though it was just a musical interlude we really felt for Gwenllian’s character, and it gave us an insight of what might to come later with her performance.

The second monologue I saw was the character of Stephen played by Neal McWilliams. We entered into a room that looked like a generic hotel room with the classic painting on one of the walls. We were all told to sit down, get comfy and even sit on the bed. Personally this took me out of the mind frame of being an audience member and here to really listen to what’s being said and to give advice or help in any way. The monologue was, heart wrenching, it showed themes of betrayal and loss. Neal really took us through the characters life which started off quite pleasant but then turned as the story went on. It felt like he was completely reliving what had happened and the memories he has. By the end of it all I wanted to do was give him a great big hug.

The final scene took place in the courtyard with the character of Alex, played by Gwenllian Higginson. I already had the privilege to watch Gwenllian’s scene, and see a section of it being performed. However listening to it being doing outside it felt like it was the first time I was hearing the words again. Gwenllian, played Alex as a sassy girl who appears to be in control of everything, someone who has been through a lot. Her ability as an actress to show the different emotions she has with ease and convincingness was inspiring to watch. There were some real comedic elements to this monologue which she played with great timing and demeanour. It was tense and you were completely drawn in to everything she was saying. The only downside was that you could hear the Porter’s customers in the other section of the courtyard and due to it being a Friday night it was generally quite loud. However the one up side to this is that it felt like we were at a open mic night or at a stand up comedy where it would be loud. This I believe enhanced the intensity given to the scene.

Not only was the acting outstanding, but the whole company really went above and beyond in making this performance unique and memorable. Matthew Bulgo is a genius when it comes to writing original and amazing stories that really grip the hearts of audiences. The monologues interlinked beautifully. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it and would love to be taken on this journey again.

Review Richard Herring St David’s Hall, Cardiff

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I must admit I knew very little about Richard Herring so didn’t know what to expect when attending his stand up show at St David’s Hall in Cardiff. Richard Herring is a 48 year old father and husband.

Herring begins his routine talking of the night his daughter was born and the hours afterwards seeing his wife in pain and giving birth. Herring does say that he doesn’t want to be one of the comedians that has just become a father and solely talks about that topic, however, this does form much of the material for the first half of the show. He does briefly talk about life pre marriage and the birth of his daughter which was funny and which was more relevant to my age group but on times was a little too explicit. However, the older members of the audience found it very funny especially on the topic of a possible affair with a life-like robot similar to that of Gemma Chan from ‘Humans’ at some point in the distant future.

In the second half of his show Herring moves away from family stories as he begins to think about the grammatical correctness of his mother in law’s door mat which welcomes people to their house with ‘Grand Children Spoilt Here’. His deconstructing of the lyrics of Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed was very well received with the audience. One feeling you really get from the show is that Richard Herring is extremely proud of his family and this is very much part of his act.

He confesses multiple times that his life has been totally focused on his career and since having a wife and child his priorities have changed and questions how we as adults can reach pure happiness like that felt by a child and whether it is even achievable at all. He also talks about how at the time of the moment of pure happiness we are too busy thinking about what could go wrong rather than really thinking about how important this moment is. Herring tells a story of how a three year old child walking on a beach in a hot country eating a Cornetto is as good as it can get for them at that moment and yet within a matter of hours they will forget the experience and may never feel that happiness again. All very philosophical!

When considering Herring’s performance and routine one can easily describe him as delivering comedy that makes his audience laugh out loud as well as ponder life’s big questions. Herring also talks about how he may not be as famous such as his friend Steve Coogan but seems very happy with his lot. It does encourage you to reflect no matter who we are or how successful we become there is always going to be someone doing that bit better than you and it is also important to remember that there may well be others looking up at you.

This show is not going to leave you with an aching stomach from laughing but will leave you with a smile on your face and a greater sense of appreciation for the smaller things in life that you may well have taken for granted before.

REVIEW HOGIA NI: YMA O HYD (OUR BOYS: STILL HERE) BY HELEN JOY

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Hogia Ni: Yma o Hyd (Our Boys: Still Here)

A review from a 3rd Act Critic

It is powerful stuff. 2 men, 1 woman sitting on crates against a screen, like three wise monkeys in black and khaki. This is going to be a neat, clever, visually adept production. I am not wrong.

They are back from Afghanistan in a pub in Caernarfon; they are in Afghanistan. Their language changes, their behaviours change and the screen goes from dusty blue to sunset desert scenes behind them. It is so simple and so clever; and so effective.

They reluctantly share their experiences both at war and at home; and their emotions spill out into tears and aggression and strange army humour. The audience tentatively laughs with Iwan at Telor’s mistakes, ‘Hedd Wyn, the Welsh war poet’ from Trawsfynydd, not ‘Eifion Wyn’, a poet from Caernarfon. Hedd Wyn, his bardic name, means ‘Blessed Peace.’

But there is a problem for me. I can hear swearing, guttural and harsh and entirely appropriate. I can hear conversations in English and Welsh. I don’t speak Welsh but I can follow much of the action easily. I am using Sibrwd – a translation app; it allows me to read or hear the play in English and I have chosen to read what I think will be the lines of the play. It is not. It is a mixture of précis and quotations and description. I hear ‘fucking soldiers’ and I see, ‘Iwan is struggling with his return from Afghanistan’ or something very similar. Interpretation and translation. I am being told what to think.

Many of the lines are superb: ‘terrorists don’t fight for a country’, ‘Talibans don’t come into Caernarfon and piss on our statues and shag your girl’, ‘never tell your girlfriend or your wife that you are enjoying yourself’.

War is, they say, ‘bananas’ but it is enjoyable – it is a buzz, an excitement, a sense of worth and purpose for these fucking soldiers. Without it, they are lost, dangerous and confused.

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This is a timely, impressive and well-written tale; acted with strength, assurance and conviction. I believe every one of them. I do not feel sorry for them but I wish them well.

Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng,

A Duw ar drai ar orwel pell;

O’i ôl mae dyn, yn deyrn a gwreng,

Yn codi ei awdurdod hell.

Pan deimlodd fyned ymaith Dduw

Cyfododd gledd i ladd ei frawd;

Mae sŵn yr ymladd ar ein clyw,

A’i gysgod ar fythynnod tlawd.

Mae’r hen delynau genid gynt,

Ynghrog ar gangau’r helyg draw,

A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,

A’u gwaed yn gymysg efo’r glaw

Why must I live in this grim age,
When, to a far horizon, God

Has ebbed away, and man, with rage,

Now wields the sceptre and the rod?

Man raised his sword, once God had gone,

To slay his brother, and the roar

Of battlefields now casts upon

Our homes the shadow of the war.

The harps to which we sang are hung,

On willow boughs, and their refrain

Drowned by the anguish of the young

Whose blood is mingled with the rain.

Event: Hogia Ni

At: Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Playwright: Meic Povey

Director: Betsan Llwyd

Producer: Theatr Bara Caws

Seen: 8pm, 24 March, 2016 (last night)

Reviewer: Helen Joy for 3rd Act Critics

Running: 22 March – 24 March, 2016

Links: http://www.chapter.org/hogia-ni-yma-o-hyd

Performers: Lance Sargeant Iwan Jones Owen Arwyn

Sergeant Diane Taylor Manon Wilkinson

Guardsman Telor Roberts Gwlon Aled

[:en]Review Only The Brave Wales Millennium Centre by James Briggs[:]

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Only the Brave is the first home-produced full musical from the Wales Millennium Centre with Soho Theatre, Daniel Sparrow Productions & Birdsong Productions. The production is an emotional portrayal of the hardship and suffering felt by the soldiers and their families during the Second World War. The story behind the musical was utterly compelling and is based on a true account, that of Captain John Howard his wife Joy, and his friend and colleague Lieutenant Denholm Brotheridge and wife-to-be Maggie and the company who went with him during June 1944, to capture the famous Pegasus Bridge to allow British forces to cross into France once they had landed.

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I have been fortunate enough to visit Normandy a number of times and have seen all of the landing sights and War cemeteries left from the Normandy landings. When visiting these places it can be very emotional but you don’t really feel a connection with the graves or the people who fought and died there. This musical however brings to life the people involved and allows the audience to really feel what it would have been like for the soldiers as they flew over to France to fight the enemy. So much so there were many moments during the musical where I would forget I was in a theatre and instead in a cinema watching a movie.

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The characters are wonderfully written and show the hope and anxiety during the time of war. The production had many heart-in-mouth moments and tissues are essential as there are endless eyes being rubbed throughout the auditorium. Especially when one of the soldiers Wally Parr delivered his speech about the Nazi’s simply having ‘Different shirts, same heartbeat underneath,’ Another reason behind the tears flowing is of course in part because of the music composed by the brilliant Matthew Brind, who’s musical ability is second to none and has produced a simply outstanding score, with poignant songs that also have a relevance to the current events in today’s world. Some of the songs included ‘Band of Brothers,’ ‘Regret and Sympathy’ and especially ‘Only The Brave,’ which simply made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The mix of the performer’s voices was champagne casting and worked extremely well together.

Portraying war and fighting on stage is never easy and can sometimes look obviously pretend, however, Only The Brave was outstanding. The inclusion of pyrotechnics for the explosions was brilliant and kept the audience on the edge of their seat. The make-up was also very effective with the use of stage blood that gave the audience a further insight into the reality of war.

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Only The Brave was a truly prodigious, outstanding musical and a pleasure to watch. The whole team behind Only The Brave have created an audacious and aspiring production with an amazing cast including the fantastic David Thaxton and Caroline Sheen who played their characters really very well. This show is destined to do well and is a must-see with a story that is so very important and should always be remembered. The inclusion also of the real War veteran Peter Davies as John Howard (Senior) was a lovely touch and felt very fitting. A really powerful show that should be watched by all and one which I believe is destined for the West End.

Only The Brave is currently showing at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 02 Apr 16 and is simply a must-see for all!

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2016-2017/DonaldGordonTheatre/OnlyTheBrave/?view=Standard

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Review Play/Silence by Kaitlin Wray

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The Other Room Theatre kicking of 2016 with their new season of Insomnia, brings us a double bill of both Beckett and Pinter’s work. These 20th century play writes were considered to be two of the most influential writers of their time.

The plays chosen were ‘Play’ by Beckett and ‘Silence’ by Pinter. Both plays draws themes around betrayal and lust. Both Kate Wasserburg, (director of ‘Play’ and Artistic Director of the Other Room) and Titas Halder, (director of ‘Silence’) made sure these plays were not only performed with great distinction but showed great technicality as well.

Stepping into the first performance of the Other Room theatre there was soundscape in the background (composed and sound designed by Dyfan Jones) creating the mood that was hardly noticed at first but grew louder and louder until everyone was completely engaged and then it just cut out. A deathly silence where the audience was left in the pitch black, all senses removed, waiting in suspense. This was the first moment that completely drew me in to the performance, this moment never left me until I was ushered out of my seat. I was in complete awe at what I had just seen.

Floating heads on stage, muttering things one couldn’t comprehend, the imagery in this was beautiful. Then controlled by a single spotlight it shone to the character speaking at the time with everything else surrounded in blackness. This technically was beautiful as we were transfixed on what was being shown. It felt like you were at a tennis match where you kept moving your head to the next performance not wanting to blink in case you missed the next moment.

The performers were incredible, their focused stare and fast paced speaking with hardly pausing was a treat to see. It was evident that they had complete dedication to this performance as their pronunciation was spot on even though the pace was remarkably difficult. The trio of performers even though speaking in quite a monotonous way showed great characterisation and we could fully get a sense of each personality.

After only knowing Matthew Bulgo through his great work as a playwright creating ‘Last Christmas’ his acting ability corresponded to the success of his play. Acting alongside him was Victoria John who showed comedy within this play and who’s laugh has to be up there with the greatest of evil laughs. Then Peta Cornish who captivated us with the use of her eyes and her elegant speaking voice.

This was a performance that frazzled my mind yet I would want to see it again and again just to get another glimpse into those lives.

The second performance, Pinter’s ‘Silence’ was technically less demanding but nonetheless just as beautiful, the simplistic set worked really well and it felt like the actors were in another dimension. What I noticed most of all was their use of spatial awareness, when one person moved to a different spot, the others would change their position so it always looked aesthetically pleasing to the eye. This was well thought out and blocked out. Their acting was equally brilliant with Matthew Bulgo playing Rumsey, showing us a more desperate side than the comical side we saw earlier, Peta Cornish playing Ellen uses her eyes as an emotive tool which was something I haven’t seen in a long time in a performance, truly remarkable. Then, Neal McWilliams playing Bates. Neal played a character who had a boyish charm that really put extra depth into this performance and made it stand out so much more. Each performer showed us what it felt like to be in desperation of love and hope, to have such strong feelings and the want to connect with one another.

This double bill was a great way to step out from the outer world into something much deeper. This is a performance that makes you feel something you definitely didn’t feel before entering the room. As an actor myself these plays are something every actor dreams to play, the way they are technically demanding for the voice and how you have to be completely disciplined with your whole body making sure you know every tiny movement you make will have great impact on the performance. I thoroughly enjoyed the night and can not wait to watch the Other Rooms next performance of ‘Sand’ by Nick Gill.

Review Tom The Musical by James Briggs

Tom1A thrilling new musical has hit Cardiff Bay this week in the form of Tom Jones: The Musical. Presented by Theatr na nÓg/TNN and performed at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. It is long overdue that the pop sensation from Treforest, South Wales gets the ultimate honour of a show telling his story. As I was born in the 90’s it was only as I got older that I began to find out about Tom Jones and his wonderful music. As a young boy I would always hear his music playing on my mothers CD player (she is quite the fan!). When attending the musical I was well aware of his best hits but not so sure about his story and how he rose to fame. I must say the opening to the musical came as a surprise when the Narrator said “There’s not a bar he didn’t walk into or a chip shop window he wasn’t pushed through,” which I must say came as quite a shock. As Tom Jones’ story began to unwind in front of the audience we saw him at a young age already in good voice but working in a paper mill. He strived to be just as good as his father and provide for his family. The progression from this young boy to the superstar he is now was really something to be admired.

Tom the Musical Gordon Mills

The musical focuses on the early years of Tom Jones’ life. The star of the show is Kit Orton who plays the teenage Tommy Woodward later to become Jones. We see the relationship blossoming between Tommy and his girlfriend Linda, whom he married and had a child with at the age of just 16. We see the early gigs with his band The Senators in Welsh valley’s working men’s clubs and the regular occurrence of local raffles offering a 12lb turkey as the main prize.

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Kit Orton has too been given a fantastic voice of his own. However many attending the show including myself were going with Tom Jones’ voice in mind for the most famous songs and so it took some adjusting but by the end of the show the audience are up dancing and singing with him, as though Orton was actually Tom Jones. Those early years didn’t feature Tom Jones’ most memorable hits, but Orton was able to deliver plenty of toe tapping covers from the swinging sixties. There was even a very brief blast from The Kinks with ‘You Really Got Me’ showcasing the excellent talent of the on stage band.

As good as the show was there was a part of me left feeling the first act of the musical seemed a little slow. I think that an inclusion of some of Jones’ famous hits could have been used to help tell the story a little better. Many of the first act featured music composed by other musicians opposed to the hits of Tom Jones and so left the audience wanting to hear more of Tom Jones’ songs opposed to covers. There was also the inclusion of the struggles with Tom Jones’ then manager Gordon Mills and him almost going bankrupt to make Tom Jones a star.

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It was the end of the show that really got the audience going. Suddenly the staging changed from a set representing Tom Jones as he was much younger to how a concert would look today. A large rig lowered on stage full of lights and the party really began! The finale was a medley of Tom’s hits which instantly got loud cheers and applause from the packed audience. The auditorium changed from theatre to pop concert with everyone up dancing and singing. Favourite’s for many in the audience definitely seemed to be ‘Delilah’ and ‘What’s New Pussycat’. With the show ending on a standing ovation you could tell the musical was a hit, and it most definitely was. However I can’t help but feel if there had been more inclusion of Jones’ hits during the production the audience would have been even more impressed. There are no boots bigger to fill than that of Tom Jones’ his booming voice is most definitely a one off but Kit Orton does a wonderful job. This is most definitely the musical for any Tom Jones fan but more so if you would like to find out the story of how he rose to fame.

Tom: A Story of Tom Jones The Musical is currently showing in the Wales Millennium Centre until the 12th March 2016 and then tours the UK.

http://www.tomthemusical.co.uk

Review St Nicholas The Other Room by Kaitlin Wray

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After seeing Christian Patterson in both Blasted and the Dying of Today, all from the Other Room at Porters it is evident that he is a highly talented and diverse actor. He is able to take on both challenging roles and in terms of St Nicholas, really comedic roles as well. Patterson was able to get the audience fully immersed within the story. He made us laugh hysterically, he made us get on the edge of our seats with anticipation and most of all he made us fully believe every word that he was saying, he is a great story teller.

5 - Christian Patterson in St Nicholas (photo credit Aenne  Pallasca)

Photographic credit Aenne Pallasca

One of the reasons for the success of this play is that Patterson had an incredible script to work with. The play written by Conor McPherson had twists and turns and in some areas it was completely relatable too.

The subtle use of the lighting and sound within this play was perfect. The lighting  by Katy Morison, created a lot of naturalism during the first act and in the second act the hanging light bulbs were a great touch. One moment that worked exceptionally well was when Patterson grabbed hold of the standing lamp and used it like a torch; the shadows it created were beautiful, shining against his face in an eerie yet mesmerising way. The sound, design by Matt and Sam Jones, was subtle throughout the performance without much going on yet it gradually grew in tense moments and then it stripped it back to make the whole atmosphere intensely quiet.

4 - Christian Patterson in St Nicholas (photo credit Aenne  Pallasca)

Photographic credit Aenne Pallasca

Overall, even though this wasn’t as serious as the other plays the Other Room has taken on, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night.

Interview Zakk Hein

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Three Night Blitz

Photograph Kirsten McTernan Photography and Design

Our project coordinator Guy O’Donnell recently spoke to multidisciplinary designer Zakk Hein. Zakk has recently worked on A Good Clean Heart, Saturday Night Forever and Three Night Blitz

 Hi Zakk, can you tell me how you got involved in your area in the arts?  

I didn’t have the clearest route in.  I want(ed) to be an actor, but I have a very keen interest in design.  I graduated with a performance degree and worked as a technician.  I got my first paid design from a connection made as a technician at The Other Room in Cardiff and I am now rapidly finding my route into becoming a full time designer. All in the space of two years.  I think it’s healthy not to have such a clear defined path – no career in theatre should feel disciplinarily exclusive.

You describe yourself as Multidisciplinary Designer – specialising in video, set & lighting design for Theatre, Opera & Dance. Can you explain what this means?  

I understand how this sounds, I do; triple threat times two. It isn’t that at all. I have always been utterly inquisitive about all forms of design and the freedoms having an understanding and interest in a broad range of disciplines has for a designer.  I started as an LX designer, moved into video and later found set.  It is so incredibly freeing designing a set and knowing exactly how you would light it, or you have a particular piece of content that would work if a set piece did this.  You have such an insight and autonomy to create work that is bespoke and fit for purpose.  In terms of collaborative process, you know not to put a set of legs there as LX will have a boom there, small things like that.  Jan Versweyveld’s work is a perfect example of lighting and set design stemming from one creative impulse to beautiful, forensic effect.

 

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Lazarus
by Enda Walsh, New York Theatre Workshop. Scenographer and lighting designer Jan Versweyveld 

 

Mark Strong, centre, in A View from the Bridge at Wyndham's theatre

A View From the BridgeArthur Miller, Wyndham’s Theatre. Scenographer and lighting designer Jan Versweyveld 

It is something that comes from my degree at Middlesex University; this idea of collaborative, multidisciplinary practise; I actually graduated with a performance degree and didn’t enrol on a single design module…

I design video one month for ETO in London, set, video and lighting in Aberystwyth the next, video and set the month after;  I am very appreciative and lucky to be able to work on productions that have such different briefs and rhythms.

 Was there a moment when you thought this is the career for me?

It was only in my third year of university that I began to get that sense of future.  I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in theatre for a while, but I didn’t quite know how that was going to map out.  I still don’t, and that’s ok.  I take every opportunity I can, whether it is offered or sort out, to remain wholly inside the industry.  It often means 100+ hour weeks to uphold a full time technician role and design simultaneously.  It sounds excessive, but when you love what you do, it isn’t tiresome at all.  Coffee becomes a dear friend, however!

Are their any individuals or organisations that helped support you once you realised a career in the Arts was for you?  

My parents, Robyn and David, have always been there to help no matter what; Thrust Theatre Company, two of whom I live with.  It’s important to have family and friends that understand how different a world a career in theatre is.  I’m very lucky to have them. Middlesex University; in particular Rory McAlister and Nicola Stammers.  They sparked a fire to want to pursue a career in design.  They have been so incredibly supportive during my degree and after.  The university isn’t in Wales, but they are THE reason to consider training in London!

Would you have any advice for anyone interested in following your career path?

Be inquisitive; try not to say, think or believe in “that’ll do.”  Also, don’t ever be afraid to approach people you want to work with or learn from.  I was very lucky to meet and shadow, even just sometimes for a few days, Bruno Poet, Finn Ross, Paule Constable, Luke Halls – which stemmed onto meeting James Bonas, associate to Rufus Norris, and has led onto a great portfolio of working in opera with some truly incredible designers that I never would have dreamed of working with.  They have all been in our shoes, wanting an in – they are more than happy to pass experience along if you just ask.

You have worked with a range of companies and Wales, does working in Wales differ to England?

It’s colder! And it takes 8 hours on a bad day to get to Aberystwyth…  What always strikes me about working in Wales is how incredibly close knit the arts scene is and how much more so you are willing to take risks.  Everyone knows everyone, but in that comes a sense of a dependable network.  A Good Clean Heart could not have happened without the links to Theatr Clwyd and Nicola, Theatr Genedlaethol provided the projector; I would not have been involved with Saturday Night Forever without my link to Kate Wasserberg and The Other Room; Three Night Blitz would not have happened without meeting Roger Williams on Saturday Night Forever.  I am very grateful to be working with such important designers, directors and producers in Wales.

Is it possible to tell us more about some of the productions you have worked on in Wales

Sky Hawk  Clwyd Theatr Cymru | Theatre for Young People 

I didn’t design for Sky Hawk, I actually toured as LX and AV technician with it on it’s second outing.  It was my first job in Wales, however and it did put me in touch with Nicola Ireland who became very important in my move over to design in Wales.

A Good Clean Heart Neonotopia The Other Room 

 

AGCH is bi-lingual and this was something that is very special and successful in Alun’s Saunders (playwright) text.  We needed to make it accessible, but Mared Swain (director) and Alun were very keen for the surtitling to be a bit different.  I wanted to create animated surtitles that made accessibility FUN, rather than staring at a dot matrix side of stage.  Processes developed into finding a transformative and fun language for transporting the character of Hefin back into tumultuous London to find his estranged brother, Jay.  The design focuses on language: texts, Facebook messages, emails, departure boards, handwritten letters, karaoke lyrics, thought bubbles and the concept of communication itself.  Words can’t describe how happy we are with the result, support and commendation received for it.

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Saturday Night Forever Aberystwyth Arts Centre

The design process was simple.  SNF is about night life, music, lights and loss; and is in part named after a Pet Shop Boys song.  I wanted to take that sense of a night out and make it slick and distinctly modern-80s. There was a concern flagged, understandably so, early on about the screens being very similar to the incredible design of Iphigenia in Splott playing at the Sherman, but difference by their very definition made the screens an installation worth pursuing.  Kate, Roger and Gareth had such belief in the concept and gave me such freedom and support throughout.  At one moment we can have this beautiful fluorescent backdrop and then in one swoop we can push content through them.  Dance floor arrows, star-scapes, fireworks, etc.  It became about light and texture, but only as an elucidation to the sound.  Beats were mapped to Benjie Talbott and Tic Ashfield’s utterly beautiful scoring of the piece, a design which ensured that we didn’t ever veer into a cheesy Saturday Night FEVER.

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Photographic credit Keith Morris

 

Your work ranges from large scale production such as Everyman at National Theatre England to a Good Clean Heart for the Other Room in their pub theatre could you tell us how these different areas of your work compare?

I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to work in the Olivier LX and S/V departments at the NT for around 13 months now.  Just being involved in the day-to-day running and maintenance of such large scale productions puts you in touch with the equipment and the designs on a very informed, hands on level.  Creative impulse and intent become very clear.  It is something that I am always so thankful for when working, designing from a mindset of knowing how to use the equipment and processes to their fullest degree.

Whilst the scale of NT work is large, yes, and whilst the design of Three Night Blitz utilises a similar scale, I think it is absolutely important not to view a design based on the merits of scale.  I always try to incorporate technologies and processes that are at home on the largest of stages wherever I work.  A Good Clean Heart at The Other Room and Saturday Night Forever at Aberystwyth Arts Centre are case in point.  AGCH was my first design in Wales. (Thank you Nicola Ireland eternally for bringing me to the attention of Kate and Mared!).  There was such a belief in the utilisation of video in such a unique and important space which culminated in such a poignant piece of theatre… and the Wales Theatre Award nomination with Katy Morrison was a nice surprise.  SNF utilised utterly cutting edge pixel mapped LED battens to create a video wall for a Cardiff night out.  This was an utterly bespoke commission for AAC of five screens that utilise the same technology, but on a much larger scale, of that used in ‘The Hard Problem’ at NT’s Dorfman Theatre. It shouldn’t matter what size the production or the venue is, upholding that level of innovation and technique on whatever I work on is something that is very important to me.

Most recently you have been working on “Three Night Blitz” at Swansea Grand Theatre. Your design if you don’t mind us saying is wonderful and one of the highlights of the production. Is it possible to give us more information on your design process?

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It has certainly been a hectic one! Offer on 21st December, rehearsals started 1st February, Opening Night 17th, all over on 20th.  Ideas and concepts had to very quickly edit, distill and mould to such a tight schedule for all.  But what seemed apparent to me from Manon’s Eames (playwright) archival and precise text was how there is such a distinct lack of awareness.  Everyone has an idea of the destruction caused in the London Blitz, that scale, but I was absolutely clueless to the sheer level of bombardment and destruction in, what is in essence, such a small area.  Over 80,000 incendiaries sent to torch the town, and you wouldn’t know it walking down the high street.

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Photograph Kirsten McTernan Photography and Design

The play is about commemoration and remembrance; I wanted to burst that archive open.  The original concept was to have a narration booth DSR with a panoramic window, from which a flurry of archive papers would flutter and burst out of a draw, increasing in scale as they blew out into the wings.  These would provide the projection surfaces for the archive content.  It became apparent, however, that the text is so fast paced and the interlocking lives of the characters is so meticulously mapped out – that to take a character out of that space and into their own booth only acted as a disjuncture.  Let’s open this out more.  The structure needs to feel kinetic, it needs to feel like it has that ebb and flow of the bay and the lives of the characters – which is why we have this beautiful abstract curve of the Swansea Bay; a reference so redolent in the text. But I wanted the feeling of the archive paper, and I wanted to stay true to that sense of files upon files filled with paper holding information that needed to see the light of day.  As for the planes, there is nothing more symbolic, more nostalgic, more kinetic than the look of a paper plane.

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This became the perfect catalyst for creating this forced perspective, swooping structure that can transform into fire bracken, shrapnel and embers.  That can at one and the same time look fluid and sharp.  The video design always felt like it needed to bring that picture to life, it needed to feel transportive and immersive.  I wanted to do justice to the archive and I wanted to create that sense of an all encompassing fire blaze.  The use of the gauze is something that I don’t get to utilise often and it works perfectly here to give that sense of scale and immersion.  Transforming the entire stage at once from a calm starry night into a bombardment of thousands of parachute flares, incendiaries, phosphorus with embers blazing all around them.  It feels like a special event and I am very proud to have been given the opportunity.

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I used CAD to visualise the 9M x 7M (W x H) space available. I wanted to create something forced perspective and this meant using the international paper scale from A4 up to A1. But with such tight schedules, the planning had to be meticulous. This image of 600 planes was later broken up into its 4 sections mapping each individual plane placement, height and angle.

 

Zakk’s CAD design images for the production.

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 I need to thank: Cadi Lane, Ruby Spencer Pugh, Joe Johnson, Rhianna McGregor, Sophie McLean & Lizzie French, I am so incredibly thankful and blown away by how much work and effort went into creating the structure from a CAD image to sitting there proudly onstage.  600 individual planes.  Incredible.  Thank you.

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Photograph Kirsten McTernan Photography and Design

Do you have any future work planned in Wales?

After the successes of A Good Clean Heart’s opening run, I believe the plan is to take it up to Edinburgh over the summer.  Similarly with Saturday Night Forever, I believe the plan is to take it as a triple bill rep. alongside two fantastic Welsh productions. Further collaboration with designers met on STNB at Theatr Genedlaethol, a trip to Theatr Clwyd in the summer and a return to The Other Room in the new season are on the cards. All of this is TBC and subject to funding.

Thanks for your time Zakk, its been a fascinating insight into you and your work.