Category Archives: Uncategorized

Review, Spirited Away, London Coliseum, by Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

From My Neighbour Totoro, to the world acclaimed Spirited Away, Anime theatre is growing as a trend on stage and Studio Ghibli is taking over the scene. Full of Japanese folk magic and stories, the exploration of different culture is hitting mainstream and changing the way of theatre.

Studio Ghibli has a enormous following. It has transferred to memes, popular culture, a staple amongst the alternative and with all films on Netflix, crossing into the more well known. Totoro began this new theatrical stream last year, in partnership with the RSC and has lead the way to new grand and impressive performances.

Spirited Away is the story of Chihiro who gets lost in a magical bathhouse and meets strange creatures and gods along the way. She gets tangled into misadventure on her quest to get back to her parents and her real world. It is comical, strange and magical.

The story begins in a forest and so the stage is already set up for this, foliage creeping into the walls, across boxes and the orchestra pit, giving that sense of immersion and invitation. Generally, the set is incredible: revolving structures, elements that come from the floor, the ceiling, the wings – there is so much to making the ever changing scenes and this happens seamlessly and effortlessly. The set itself is well crafted and beautiful, reflecting to minute detail the scenes and colours in the film itself. It is very much as if the film has been transferred exactly to the stage, supported by exact costuming and theatrical techniques to bring the magical creatures alive.

Puppetry is huge in this piece, with standard puppetry, supported by puppeteers, to fantastic inventions using different sizes of the same character for perspective, surprising use of the auditorium, creating those “wow” moments. The larger creatures range from the building of different pieces together to formulate as one, operated by various puppeteers, to full bodied costumes. The effect is incredible and reflecting almost exactly to the film. No Face, noted for growing in stature throughout, begins as one person – the costuming and movement, almost butoh-esque and bouffon-esque, is unusual and works together to create this figure that is almost human but certainly moves differently. As it grows, more people add to this movement and large props are used. The impression is magnificent and so fantastically well done.

A live orchestra makes this especially special, bringing life to Joe Hisaishi’s well known compositions and filling the auditorium with whimsy. I say it all the time, but there is certainly something awe-inspiring of live music accompanying theatre. While the production is innovative, the live orchestra brings it back to theatrical roots.

What was also brilliant and unlike the recent Totoro, is that, along with keeping to the story almost exactly, the production was in Japanese. It was wonderful to hear original language on a west end stage and enveloped us in that immersion. However, subtitles were supplied but very much at the side of the stage. While I know the story, I felt my head consistently turning to read and unfortunately, this took me away a little from the scene. I felt I missed the beautiful minor elements and some action and likely will have to come and see again without engaging in subtitles.

Spirited Away is magnificent, beautiful and extremely theatrically clever. It is almost a carbon copy from film to stage and a great introduction to Anime but also a proud moment for already existing fans.

Review, Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story, Awkward Productions, Kings Head Theatre by Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What do you expect from a show with such a title? I’m not sure. I wasn’t sure if I was attending satire, a royal love letter or a complete reinvention of Diana Spencer. In a way, it was a little bit of all this and a whole lot more.

We meet Lady Di, in heaven, retelling her * untrue * story of love, loss, death and gay rights. We rush through her life in a whirlwind, facing facts we know from the papers and others that are assumed/invented. Boundaries are blown away, laughter is rife amongst the chaos and reinvention is something of genius.

Linus Karp is the absolute spit of Diana in physical form and in every mannerism. They have it down to a tee in the subtleties and in the elements we know her for; the voice, the slight head tilt, adding other hilarious physicality such as the perceived stiff royal wave. While scripted, there are moments of ad lib which are done in the most Diana of ways and keeping entirely to character. There are certainly moments when you need to remind yourself that this is not the real Diana and this is the untrue story.

Camp, hammed up multi-media and narratives are included, moving a story to something very theatrical, satirical and utterly hilarious. Repeated phrases such as “I am the Queen” or “Whatever X means”, just become funnier and funnier. Expected but always a brilliant theatrical addition. It adds to the chaos and the comedy of it all. Karp is also not afraid to attack conspiracy theories, pop culture references, bold statements, change facts to fit the comical narrative, about the royals and the dark humour of this is done without holding back, which only makes it more genius and more funny.

With this being a 1-2 person cast, many other elements are supported by audience members, prompted by the big screen, to get up, perform and read lines. We have Lady Di’s parents, a corgi, made up nannies… all which threw themselves into the roles and had fun. The audience was spectacular and really took the interaction with all they had. It made the show flow and added to the comedy and enjoyment, to see that they also were having a great time being involved.

Diana: The Untold and Untrue story is a laugh a minute, humorously dark and boundary pushing, with that extra sprinkle of campness: a perfect performance if you want your sides to split while questioning if Diana has been resurrected in front of you.

Review, Gunter, Dirty Hare, Royal Court Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Gunter, by the initial synopsis, sounds like a story we know well. A witch trial, where the outcome either way is not a way out and where women have been condemned, sexualised and abused. However, Gunter is a little different. This particular trial starts with a football match. The richest man in the village, Brian Gunter, murders two boys at a football match, escaping imprisonment because of his status, gender and his money. But when his daughter suddenly begins convulsing and acting strange, it descends into a witch hunt for the two boy’s mother, who is believed to have cursed Gunter’s daughter in revenge, commenting on the difference of gender in finding justice, when she is sought after to be condemned.

A historical tale with only a small amount of fact recorded, the story is translated into modern day to try and place it in our minds as prevalent. The themes themselves are comments on gender inequality, patriarchy and injustice between women and men which is seen in today’s society, as much as it was in the 1600’s. This is effective in not placing the story in the past, allowing us to relate and to bring it to modern day. This is supported by the actors in football kit, beginning the show as we walk in with images of football hooligans projected onto the back wall and the continued inclusion of multi-media throughout. It is important that we don’t push the story into the past, making it seem like fiction or the past and not really a reality. However, the football aspect feels a small part of the overall story and a slightly disconnected element as the play unfolds. Perhaps it is there to remind us of how football has been historically male orientated from both players and fans but this loses its power during the production, in a good way, when it is replaced by much more.

Such a theme, on the outside, would seem intense. But there’s something special about this production when it’s actually very funny. Perhaps the content shouldn’t be so funny, but how the actors and the writing bring across these nuggets is so superb and does well to help build up the crescendo of the end of the play.

Multi-media is used effectively, to not only modernise the story, but to bring different levels and different and eerie elements to the production, with microphones and a live band, unique songs and soundscapes. The immense energy of the performers is powerful and energetic, making me wonder how exhausted they must be after each show. Their ability to change characters throughout, with only their skill and nothing more is extraordinary. At times, I wanted to pin point an actor for standing out particularly, but this was too hard. They all were monumental and brilliant in every role they took through sheer physicality.

Gunter makes so many poignant and important comments on past and presence differences between men and women and the injustices in this. A historical tale, centered in a time of witches and magic, which can still be translated to modern day, but with some comedy, some modernisms and an overall fantastic tour de force of theatre.

Newquay Zoo, Tempo Time Credits, Hannah Goslin

Thanks to our contributions to Get The Chance Wales, a long standing partnership with Tempo Time Credits rewards us for our volunteer contributions to the site. Tempo has a lot of unique and interesting offers, with these being exchanged for credits earned per review.

I have in the past used these to access entry to the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, trips on Uber Clipper Boats and I have donated these to others. Other offers during Covid existed such as subscriptions to Disney plus. The credits can be used across the country, for a range of activities from culture, to health and fitness to heritage and more.

An Easter weekend resulted in me spending time with my whole family, containing 4 children aged 11 to 3. Struggling to decide what to do with them, but being a 1 hour drive from Cornwall, I booked us into Newquay Zoo, as offered by Tempo. It was so easy and straight forward, and it allowed us a really lovely day in the chilly but lovely Easter sun. We saw a wealth of animals and read about the zoo’s contribution to conservation. Favourites of the kids ranged from Otters, Penguins and Lynx cats, while us adults loved Warty Pigs, Armadillos and Red Pandas. Delicious and affordable lunch was available, freshly made on site with fresh brewed coffee, and a mid visit ice cream and play in the playground nicely broke up the walk around and a outlet for the kids to expel their energy. The Easter weekend brought a treasure trail for the kids to spot eggs with letters around the zoo, resulting in an anagram we needed to decipher to win an Otter experience. Another very fun addition.

Booking was simple and easy and obtaining the tickets further at the zoo was simple and quick. We had a wonderful time and big thanks to Tempo for enabling us to do so!

Review, Connor Fogel, Tabernacle, Cardiff by James Ellis

It is a rare thing where I review a friend’s work. Though some opportunities shouldn’t be ignored. Connor Fogel is proving his chops as a music director, pianist and all round dandy. I remained quite touched by his playing on the piano. The choice of programme cleverly demonstrated his talents, Connor has also covered more experimental plains.

Connor knows my thoughts on Chopin, though his Boléro was rather charming. The novelty of Spain lingers, the composers eloquence always on show. Debussy’s Ballade was a special choice, I found the exotic mingling with France to be beguiling. Connor fluttering and depth in the chromatic plain made it sound a breeze, as if a trifle. Quite splendid.

A selection of Rachmaninoff miniatures: two of the Études-Tableaux, Barcarolle and one of the Preludes followed. You may not need massive hands when playing Rachmaninoff, but it certainly would help (the Russian composer had famously large hands). Connor finds many great things in these pieces: the post-Romantic sensibilities, daring tonal leaps all over the keys and maintaining the joy and a heady passion in the pages. Connor has reminded me of the greatness of Rachmaninoff, which I may have dismissed in the past. Though seeing him play the work he adores is proof of this.

The last billing was Liszt and his Andante finale und Marsch aus der Oper König Alfred von Joachim Raff. A lesser known charmer from the eccentric Hungarian composer, Liszt found his secretary and composer Joachim Raff wrote wonderful operas, which got little notoriety. Liszt cheeky and highly attractive work commands more attention, as with his other famous opera transcriptions. The stirring bel canto opening leads into the bouncy march, filled with glissandi, a new ideas at the era. Hats off to Connor for finding these curious rarities that remained a crowd pleaser.

A decent encore of King & I, was a testament to Connor’s stage musical work, the other half to his career in music. I’m glad I went to support a friend, one with oodles of talent.

Connor performs the same recital at Bristol Cathedral on Tue 16th April 2024. 

REVIEW Jac and the Beanstalk, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

It isn’t a proper Cardiff Christmas without a trip to the New Theatre, now the official home of Wales’ biggest panto. Over the last few years we’ve seen classics like Cinderella, Snow White and Aladdin – and their latest festive offering Jac and the Beanstalk, truly is a giant of a panto!

Jac and the Beanstalk. Image credit: Tim Dickeson

Starring the iconic Lesley Joseph (Birds of a Feather) and Cardiff’s favourite Dame, Mike Doyle, the story follows Jac (Adam Bailey), a poor country boy who dreams of saving his hometown of Cardiff from the evil giants who live above them in a city in the clouds. Accompanied by girlfriend Jill (Denquar Chupak), brother Silly Simon (Aaron James), and mum Dame Trot (Doyle), Jac goes on an epic quest to defeat the giants’ villainous henchman Fleshcreep (Steve Arnott) with a little help from the Spirit of the Beans (Joseph).

Aaron James and Lesley Joseph in Jac and the Beanstalk. Image credit: Tim Dickeson

With an un-beet-able cast, hilarious jokes and eye-boggling visual effects, its no surprise that Jac and the Beanstalk is a wonderful night of festive family entertainment. When I spoke to star Adam Bailey a few months ago, he also promised some great musical numbers – and boy do they deliver!

Lesley Joseph and the ensemble cast of Jac and The Beanstalk. Image credit: Tim Dickeson

There’s an adorable song featuring the village’s furry friends, a villainous Disco ditty complete with dancing demons, and a standout sequence to Dua Lipa’s ‘Dance the Night’ from Barbie courtesy of Jac and Jill (though it’s a shame they never went up a hill at any point). And the a-maize-ing ensemble is responsible for the best dancing I’ve seen in a panto: kudos to the super talented James Davies Williams, Phoebe Roberts, Amber Pierson, Marcel Li Ping, Janine Somcio, and Lauren Wadsworth.

Mike Doyle in Jac and The Beanstalk. Image credit: Tim Dickeson

Director and choreographer Nick Winston keeps the story light, bright and breezy while writer Alan McHugh and the fabulous cast yield up a fresh crop of Christmas crackers. And the visual effects team outdoes themselves with a heart-pounding, pulse-racing trip to the giant’s lair – in 3-D! (Glasses are provided but you might want to bring your own brollies…) Suffice to say it’s bean on my mind ever since.

A perfect Christmas gift for all the family, Jac and the Beanstalk truly is entertainment beyond be-leaf!

Jac and the Beanstalk is performing at the New Theatre through to 7 January 2024. You can find more information on the show and book tickets here.

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.

La Traviata – a review by Eva Marloes

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

In the past week, the documentary In Plain Sight, an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Sunday Times, has alleged that comedian turned wellness guru Russell Brand is responsible for exploitative treatment of women, including rape and sexual assault. Just like when the #MeToo  movement emerged, many have questioned the women speaking out. Women are still exploited by powerful men and their sexuality is still policed.

La Traviata couldn’t be more topical. Verdi’s opera was shocking in depicting and taking the side of a ‘fallen woman’, what today might be an escort. Alas, the unimaginative direction, originally by Sir David McVicar, here by Sarah Crisp, makes it look preposterous and bizarre.

Violetta, a courtesan, meets Alfredo at a lavish party. She decides to leave that life and live with Alfredo supporting their life together financially. Unbeknown to Alfredo, his father asks Violetta to leave his son to protect his and his family’s reputation. 

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta and Mark S Ross as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

Violetta leaves Alfredo who feels spurned and acts his revenge by throwing money at her in public to repay her. Verdi thinks she has a dignity and should be respected.

It is none other than Alfredo’s father who defends her and condemns his own son for disrespecting her. Yet, only at the very end Alfredo learns that Violetta sacrificed their love and life together for his reputation. He comes back to see her dying. 

La Traviata could still be a powerful story if set in today’s times, just as James Macdonald’s clever production of Rigoletto did by setting it in Washington DC in the #MeToo era. 

The WNO’s traditional setting fails to convey Verdi’s intention. The choice of a very dark set design, presumably to symbolise impending doom, has a jarring effect on the opening scene whose frivolity and joviality are dampened. It weakens the unfolding of the tragedy and frustrates the solid performances of the artists. 

David Junghoon Kim shines as Alfredo, just as he did as the Duke in Rigoletto. He is at home with Verdi and gives a performance full of pathos. His beautiful tonality and powerful voice deliver longing and sorrow effectively. Stacey Alleaume as Violetta has a splendid coloratura. She’s at ease on high notes and bel canto. In the ‘croce e delizia’ duet with Alfredo in Act I, she seemed often overpowered by David Junghoon Kim when singing at a lower range. She is stronger in the second act with Mark S Ross, playing Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont, and the final dying scene. Mark S Ross has a beautiful baritone voice. He gives an excellent performance.

The WNO’s chorus is strong as ever. The orchestra, under the baton of Alexander Joel, gives a solid, albeit uninspiring, performance.

David Junghoon Kim and Stacey Alleaume in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera.

WNO’s Ainadamar – a review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Ainadamar is an homage to poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was killed by the fascist falangists during the Spanish civil war in 1936. It is told through a series of tableaux where actress Margarita Xirgu, Lorca’s muse, reminisces with her student Nuria of the time she met Lorca, her attempt at persuading him to leave Spain, and his execution.

Ainadamar, which in Arabic means fountain of tears, is one of the early works of eclectic composer Osvaldo Golijov, who excels at weaving together folk, pop, and classical music in harmonious balance. Here, Golijov brings together flamenco’s cante jondo (deep song), electronic sounds, mournful ballads, and classical opera references. His musical complexity is refined but overly dominated by longing and anguish.

The astounding performances of Jaquelina Livieri as Xirgu, Hanna Hipp as Lorca, and Julieth Lozano Rolong as Nuria, make for intense moments of longing, hope, and loss. The imaginative light design and direction keep the audience engaged countering a too simple narrative with no emotional arc.

Hanna Hipp as Federico Garcia Lorca, photo credit Johan Persson

Ainadamar opens with Margarita Xirgu (Jacquelina Livieri) preparing to go on stage as Mariana Pineda, the 19th century liberal martyr subject of Lorca’s play. She tells her student, Nuria (Julieth Lozano Rolong) of meeting Lorca in a bar in Madrid. The scene shifts from a light-hearted rumba to a nostalgic duet. Jaquelina Livieri’s agile and rich voice make Margarita spell-binding. Mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, as Lorca, has power and stage-presence, yet tender in her duet with Livieri.

The memory of Havana is broken by the harsh radio broadcast of fascist Falangist Ruiz Alonso. Alfredo Tejada, as Alonso, conveys power and anguish as flamenco cantaor  counterbalancing Lorca’s flamenco cante jondo

Alfredo Tejada as Ruiz Alonso, photo credit Johan Persson

In another flashback, Margarita recounts her attempt at persuading Lorca to flee to Cuba. The nostalgic and dreamlike image of Havana, the route not taken, is a sensual and playful moment that gives way to grief. Lorca does not want to run away and chooses to be executed. 

The final tableau is in the diegetic present of 1969 when Margarita is dying in Uruguay recalling Pineda’s last words of freedom. She is joined by the ghost of Lorca. The scene fades out rather than reach a climax. The sense of loss and longing dominates Ainadamar from beginning to end. There is intensity but no drama. 

Photo credit Johan Persson

Review: Dumbledore is SO Gay!, Southwark Playhouse, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Throw me something Queer and Harry Potter related, and I am there. While walking into the room, I was already transported by the simple yet extravagantly painted room that crossed barriers of reality and magic.

Dumbledore is SO Gay! is a coming of age tale about Jack who struggles with his sexuality as a teen, his feelings and actions while figuring this out and the consequences of this. His love of Harry Potter allows him to travel in and change time to create a better and more inclusive world. His favourite character is Dumbledore, the only opening gay character and he feels affinity with him and his magical powers. But also questions, why is the only queer character killed off and is this a metaphor for life?

As a teen during the Harry Potter explosion of the noughties and a continued fan (I openly watch it on repeat most days of the week and Stephen Fry narrating it on audible is how I get to sleep), the references were specific, real and relatable. The love of Harry Potter was a real era for us and continues into our adulthood and the parry of this with the element of growing up and finding out who you are worked well. We certainly felt and went through this with the characters themselves during the Harry Potter years and so it reflects well on stage with Jack and his friends.

Jack continues as himself through the whole production and, as the main character, to see him change as a person is fascinating. Jack has the chance to change time, to tackle moments of homophobia to change the landscape, and how many of us have wanted to change the past? He grows with these changes and they change him, his opinion and confidence to protest and change the world.

The other characters are covered by two other cast members and both change voices, accents, personalities and physicality with complete smoothness that we believe they are different people. A moment where they break down the forth wall and become self aware when one actor has to revive two of her characters at once – the back and forth is its own comedy and her smooth transition it absolutely excellent.

The movement between scenes, through the time turning and that transition is so flawless. The actors are faultless. And the story and narrative is perfection. The only qualm would be references to queer culture that some may not know and maybe do not get the comical or emotional response that they deserve. But that would be the case for myself as a female, ally and undecided on my own labels. I understood many, from my ally-ship and friends but likely a lot were specific to queer, male culture in London. But this only meant that those who affiliate with that would have their own feelings of something more relatable to them.

Dumbledore is SO Gay! is relatable to many, specifically relatable to others, emotional, comical and over all fantastic. It is a show for any millennial, any queer person and anyone struggling with who they are. It is a triumph of a theatre production.