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Review Carmen, WNO by Barbara Michaels.

CARMEN Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Opera: Georges Bizet

Libretto: Henri Melham and Ludovic Haley

Director: Jo Davies

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels


Opera aficionados are fortunate to have seen Jo Davies new production of Carmen for WNO when it was first staged here in the Donald Gordon theatre last year.  Now there is another chance to see this production again, with different artistes in the main roles. 

Davies’ take on the popular opera retains all the drama of the original, despite being transferred from Spain to 1970s Brazil., the girls from the cigarette factory being clad in boiler suits and machine gun toting soldiers in khaki guarding the garrison. Some excellent performances. Including that of young Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard, are a major feature but what this production – emphasising the power of women in tune with the ‘woke’ attitudes and mores of today’s world – lacks is colour.  Although we are treated to a fore screen of garish oranges and reds, pretty well everything else is monotone until almost the end. Drab grey army uniforms and American-style bucket helmets versus the traditional colourful gear of the Spanish soldiers in Bizet’s original make it hard to see the raison d’etre for the sexual chemistry and passion which lead to the downfall of the free spirit that is Carmen and the soldier Don José, whose love and jealousy erupt to cause the tragic finale.

Making her UK and WNO debut, Julia Mintzer plays Carmen as callous and calculating, using her wiles to ensnare anything in trousers.  A prostitute with a heart she ain’t, but Mintzer’s portrayal does not prevent some stunning performances in her singing of the wonderful Habanera and in her duets with Carmen’s soldier lover Don José, sung with skill and empathy by Peter Auty, one of Britain’s leading tenors.  

Auty’s performance, both in his duets with Mintzer and with Pritchard, as the naïve country girl Micaela whose innocence is no match for Carmen’s wiles, is outstandingly good.  The same can be said for Pritchard, a heart-breaking and totally believable Micaëla.  Pritchard’s pure soprano soars into the realms of absolute joy.

The third side of the triangle is the bullfighter Escamillo, sung by Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro.  Caoduro has performed leading roles with major opera companies, including singing Dandini in Cenerentola with WNO. Caoduro’s baritone, andstage presence are great for the role, with the caveat that a tad more swagger wouldn’t come amiss.

As Carmen’s friend Mercedes, who does her best to stop Carmen in her tracks, young artiste 
Angela Simkin, who has also sung the role at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is a great fit and a young singer to watch, as is Korean singer Haigeee Lee as Frasquita, another friend.  Some superb dancing is choreographed to include sultry and sexy Argentinian tango steps, a cape-swirling Paso Doble, a mock-up of a bullfight – and more.  Ole!

As for the setting: inspired layering replicating a tenement block allows for interaction beyond and above what is happening on stage – on the whole an overall benefit, but at times irritating, as well as detracting attention from the main onstage action.

Under the baton of the young and immensely popular conductor Harry Ogg, Bizet’s superb music is done full justice from the stirring overture with its hint of tragedy to come right until the curtain comes down.

Run:  Saturday 29 February, 2020 then touring.

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

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Cara Vita: A Clown Concerto, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Clown meets Circus meets Classical Music.

Felicity Hesed has happily and triumphantly summed up this performance in her title. Full of comedy, music, Cara Vita is a great piece of fun for any evening.

Going through the trials and tribulations of a woman’s life, we meet Hesed on her wedding night all the way through family, breaking up and finding herself as a woman and a person again. The story is told with plenty of audience interaction, comical clown moments and up close and personal circus skills, flying high above us with a beautiful live played soundtrack.

Much of the telling of this tale is quite abstract; using sock puppets at one point to describe a break up; using other pieces of clothing to show the growth of children and the changes that come with this, to suddenly becoming invisible to rekindle the love for ones self when she then becomes visible to others on stage once again. The approach is very niche but not unwelcome, but it did seem to fall flat to some who one would assume came for a traditional clowning experience or traditional circus.

The pace of the production was quite similar; slow and steady, with pauses which eventually speeding up near the end for a climax. But it felt that little burst of energy could have kept us intrigued and engaged a little longer.

Cara Vita: A Clown Concerto is bundles of fun, comedy and a lovely narrative, celebrating women. A quicken of pace could have made it that little bit more special.

Review: Ask Me Anything, The Paper Birds, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Take a hint of the 90’s. A dash of the noughties. And add the questions we all asked as young people. And you get The Paper Birds, Ask Me Anything.

Based upon verbatim questions and the performers younger selves, Ask Me Anything is a performance about what it is like to grow up and how hard life can be.

With a casual outlook to the performance, we are greeted by three women each showcasing what their childhood bedrooms looked like. We are given trust to join them on a personal level, with plenty of audience interaction and almost like a chin wag with a couple of mates, just with a hint of the theatrics. Taking questions from young people of today, they try to tackle questions many generations have asked: What is it like to have sex? Will I ever know what I want to do with my life? And then harder ones, that as three white women, they out-rightly outsourced to others better qualified to answer such as sexuality, race and mental health. The latter I felt was a great push in the right direction of theatre, ensuring that the majority of this country do not answer everything and instead tap into minorities, and bring them and the problems they can face to the forefront. Giving them the platform that they so rightly should have.

We feel safe and at ease, lulled into security until things get hard. I did feel that this could have been brought on sooner, feeling comfortable in a relative amount of time. It then felt a little long until we are hit with trauma. But when the trauma comes, it is heartbreaking and in your face; verbatim videos screening in a cannon on several screens and dramatic silence in its finale. Lulling us to then break the atmosphere, making a real point about mental health and hardships is a brilliant technique that The Paper Birds used well.

My favourite part of the production was that they were not just theatrical performers, but a 3 piece girl rock group. Interluding the action, brand new music written about and for the show are played, filling the room with an essence of girl power and for rock lovers like me, new favourites. I would happily see these women play a gig on its own if I could.

Ask Me Anything is poignant, comical and a musical masterpiece. A theatrical therapy for young people these days and a comfort for those still struggling with life.

Review: All Of It, Alistair McDowall, Royal Court Theatre By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

One woman. A microphone. Nothing else.

Being told a show is only 45mins long is really quite a mysterious thing. How can you bring a play across in that time? And when the performer comes on stage, takes a seat and has only a microphone, what do you think!?

We go through the life, loves, hates and tragedy of one person from literal birth to death. It begins with particular words on their own; Mum, Red e.t.c And then we get formed sentences. We then get paragraphs. We see this persons life develop.

To be able to remember this sequence of dialogue, much of which does not intermingle is extraordinary and to then be able to put in emotion, comedy, real feelings is just another feat.

We spend our lives reading books, watching interviews and real life documentaries which can last hours, seasons, lives finding out the ins and outs of a persons life when McDowall has done this in minimum words and thoughts in just 45mins.

We go on a roller coaster of emotion and understanding ; figuring out what is happening to enjoying the comedy of life, to agreeing and affiliating oneself to stories and anecdotes, to tears and real pain when it gets tough.

All Of It is a triumph of a production, making us feel so many emotions, feeling completely seen and thoroughly entertained.

Review: The Good Dad (A Love Story), Old Red Lion Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Often I have attend the Old Red Lion and it has been just a one person play. This little theatre above a busy pub has one of the most intimate settings and therefore, brings us close to these stories meant for dramatic effect.

Gail Louw has written this unusual play, with one actress playing the role of 3 women in a family. The production sees the story of Donna, who is sexual assaulted constantly by her own father, eventually forming a romantic relationship with him and having a family together. We not only see if from her perspective but from her twin sister’s and her own mother’s.

With the use of subtle changes in stance and movements, we see the performer inter-change with these character’s. For me, it felt like something was needed to distinguish these a little more, whether a prop was used just to really hit home at the difference in these character’s.

Louw’s writing is very candid and open, making us feel uneasy, angry and uncomfortable – while some would argue this isn’t what Theatre is for, I greatly appreciate the confidence Louw and the actress have in the delivery of this piece, leaving us really thinking about the horrors of this story.

The Good Dad (A Love Story) is haunting, uncomfortable and sticks with you. And these are all positives of good writing. With more development, this piece could be every bit of an uneasy star.

Review The Marriage of Figaro, WNO by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Mozart’s beautiful arias are performed with dexterity and spirit by an excellent cast who is able to convey the levity, depth, and social criticism of The Marriage of Figaro. The strong performances are supported by the formidable WNO’s choir and orchestra conducted with brio by Carlo Rizzi.  

The choice of scenario and early 18th century costumes indulge the fancies of the audience for a delightful farce where love is a game. We laugh at the jokes and smile at the subterfuge. That sense of play and adventure that pervades the opera might fool the audience into thinking that the Marriage is theatre that has little to do with reality; yet the apparent lightness allows a radical critique of class and gender.  

Based on Beaumarchais’ La Folle Journée (1784), Lorenzo Da Ponte penned a revolutionary libretto, which shines a light on the lives of ordinary people. It is servants who are the protagonists of the opera. We get into their bedrooms, literally, and hear their perspective on their social status. Figaro is about to get married to Susanna and the two ponder their situation in life as servants. At any moment Figaro can be called and sent away by his master, the Count d’ Almaviva, while Susanna is subject to sexual harassment from the Count.  

The choir of servants sing to the Count in gratitude for giving up his ‘droit de seigneur’, his right over his servants to spend the nuptial night with the bride. Although there is no evidence of such a practice, the reference emphasises the lack of rights servants had vis-a-vis their lords.  It is sadly poignant today, not only in the aftermath of the #metoo movement, but also at a time when labour, including professional labour, is exploited and rights have been eroded by moving to increasingly precarious work. 

In the opera, the women are conscious of their weak social status and use marriage to gain independence. They play with the men’s sexual desire pretending to be unfaithful. Susanna exposes Figaro’s lack of trust, the Countess makes the Count reckon with his unfaithfulness, while the peasant girl Barbarina blackmails the Count to marry Cherubino and thus improve her social status.  

The twists and turns are not merely for comic effect, they make the characters face themselves, their weaknesses, desires, and values. The Countess, interpreted by the superb Anita Watson, is afflicted by her husband’s philandering. By making her husband face up to his unfaithfulness, the Countess makes him realise that there is no happiness in chasing women. The Count finds redemption in being forgiven by the Countess. 

In this well-performed production, Soraya Mafi (Susanna), Anita Watson (Countess), Leah-Marian Jones (Marcellina), Anna Harvey (Cherubino), and David Ireland (Figaro) ensure a perfect balance of merriment and depth.  

Review: What The Dolls Saw, House of Macabre, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Coined as Horror Comedy, What the Dolls Saw from House of Macabre is just that – full of twists, turns, comedy and crazy characters, this is 1 hour of a real treat for theatrical minds.

With an all female cast, the story sees the tale of a family of women on the wake of their late patriarch – the father of three girls, an adopted grand daughter and the wife left behind. All with their unique style, character and personality, this family holds a deep and dark past, not investigated, and yet now seems like the right time to do so.

With their father as a late famous doll maker and their mother a dramatic retired actress, it’s no wonder that this story verges on the comical and flamboyant but yet eerie and spooky.

The characters are well developed: we love and hate the mother who is mad as a hatter, glamorous and blunt which causes plenty of comedy; the daughters are lovable, fun and we believe their loving sisterly relationship implicitly and the granddaughter, who is mute, does well to convey amazement at this dysfunctional family.

With the bumps in the night, use of atmospheric music and lights not only from the set but use of torches (well known in spooky stories), we are often on edge and unable to see the twists in the story.

What The Dolls Saw is nothing but an enjoyable experience. As one who is a total wimp when it comes to horror, there is enough to keep my heart beating and make me jump but not so much that I have to run for the door. And when i’m not gripping onto my seat, I am laughing and smiling at every moment.

Review: Gobby, Jodie Irvine, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Have you ever felt entirely alone? Too loud for a room? Like you do not fit?

Gobby is a one woman play about self discovery, about changes in young adult life and finally being okay with who you are.

Set within the premise of 5 different parties, Bri (like the cheese but not because it is spelt differently) finds herself lost and alone in the aftermath of a destructive relationship. Her friends, that she ignored during this period, now don’t want to know her, and Bri struggles with this reality, and her own loneliness.

This narrative feels like something we can all relate to – bad relationships, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging. The play is written as an inner monolgue, occasionally breaking away with the use of props (balloons with party hats on top) or a mild change in stance and addition of a stereotyped accent to bring in other characters. The characters are funny at first, and the over the top expressions of them help differentiate the story line. It becomes more subtle when the story becomes more serious, which is a clever maneuver, keeping us engaged.

While staged as a retelling of Bri’s life, often Jodie Irvine (our only performer) addresses her feet when speaking to us. At times this is endearing and adds to the awkwardness of the character, but eventually we want to make eye contact with her more – evidently with her obvious skills as an actress, she has reason to be more confident in her performance and we desperately want her to bring this to the stage.

We also believe that much of the outbursts and way Bri feels is due to a past relationship. But little is explained about this and we come to a point where nothing will do but knowledge, for us to be able to connect to the character. The rest ranges from comical to climactic releases, and so despite the lack of story, we are surprised at every turn.

Gobby is a passionate play about liking oneself and discovering who you are after trauma. It’s about growing up but also growing into yourself and so becomes a real coming of age tale that many in their early 20’s need to see to know that it will be alright in the end. We just want Irvine to be more confident in her well devised production!

Review: Since U Been Gone, Teddy Lamb, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Donned in neon pinks, greens and blues. we enter the room to subtle yet catchy indie meets electronica music, played by a gorgeous person in the corner. Long hair and a dress and shoes to kill, we already know we are in for something special.

This person isn’t Teddy Lamb, but their partner in crime, providing the soundtrack to this one person play. Lamb tells the story of their friendship with someone that was all consuming. They touch on aspects of mental health, death and grief but also coming to terms with and discovery of who one is.

Lamb is energetic, engaging and a lot of fun to be with. Addressing us as if we were their late friend, they reminisce on their time together, on their feelings and thoughts and actually how one’s mental health can drastically affect your own. Lamb makes us feel included in the story, makes us feel like their friend and there is a real sense of trust between us and Lamb with them sharing their life with us.

While full of emotion, darkness and open-ness, there is also light, comedy and a fabulous nature to the storytelling. Constantly with a soundtrack, this dramatic telling of their personal history draws us in on every level; especially bringing in trademark nods to us millennials and our childhoods.

Since U Been Gone is heart wrenching, heart warming, comical and beautiful. While Lamb continues to a focus on personal discovery that only a few would understand, we still relate to developing as a person, to certain emotions and feelings and come away feeling like part of an extended family.