Tag Archives: Cardiff

REVIEW Rock of Ages, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Rock of Ages started life in a little club on Hollywood Boulevard before hitting the big time, racking up thousands of performances in a dozen countries – meaning that it’s actually living the dream to which its characters can only aspire. The jukebox musical is filled with so many classic rock anthems – Here I Go Again, Don’t Stop Believin’, The Final Countdown, and more – that it’s no wonder it’s become such a global sensation. Direct from the West End, this new UK tour is bigger, better and bawdier than ever – and if you wanna rock, then you’re in for nothin’ but a good time.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Rock of Ages is set in the heyday of the mid-to-late 80s, a time that was post-punk and pre-grunge: the era of soft rock and hair metal, where if you had three chords and a perm, you were a god amongst men. LA’s Sunset Strip is the place where such dreams are made – or dashed. Just like the Journey song which closes it, the show is brimming with “people living just to find emotion”: a small town girl and a city boy who fall in love; a washed-up rock star staging his comeback; and a motley crew (not that one) fighting to save the Strip from gentrification.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, Rock of Ages is the kind of show that just gets better every time you go again (trust me, this isn’t my first rodeo). The cast brings a tremendous energy to the stage, bolstered by a cracking live band and an ensemble that’s second to none. There’s a new vivacity to the choreography that’s unlike any version I’ve seen before, and Morgan Large’s set, sprinkled with spotlights and stacked with amps, takes you right back to the summer of ’87. And there’s always something amusing happening in the background, which makes every bit of the stage come alive – right down to the two protestors who look ready to break into Brokeback Mountain at any moment.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Gabriella Williams and Sam Turrell are sublime as the star-crossed Sherrie and Drew while X-Factor winner Matt Terry owns the stage as the salacious Stacee Jaxx – who, as he sings on Wanted Dead or Alive, really has seen a million faces and rocked them all. There’s also some serious powerhouse support by Jenny Fitzpatrick as the illustrious Justice Charlier (who deserves her own show), Vicki Manser as the rabble-rousing Regina, Vas Constanti as Heinz, and Andrew Carthy as Franz (a German Pee-Wee Herman, don’tcha know?) A special shout-out to Phoebe Samuel-Gray as Waitress No. 1 who sings one chorus and nearly walks off with the whole show.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

But the show lives and dies on its Lonny – and Joe Gash is one for the ages. Channeling Freddie Mercury and Justin Hawkins, Gash is so effervescent he makes fizz look flat. (Russell Brand wishes he were that whimsical). His partner in business and in life, Dennis Dupree, is played by Coronation Street’s Kevin Kennedy: imagine if Axl Rose mellowed and started really investing in fringed jackets, and you’re pretty much there. Their romance is a surprisingly sweet little subplot which culminates in a climactic duet to REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling. It’s funny, but genuinely tender too – and you really feel like Kennedy and Gash (the new Gallagher and Lyle?) are singing to each other, not at each other.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

The book by Chris D’Arienzo could probably do with updating, but the cast bring sincerity and depth to characters that started life as names scribbled on album sleeves, and they tie it all together into something that’s moving without being mawkish. Rock of Ages isn’t a show that behaves itself: it’s chaotic, it’s crude, and it makes lowbrow look high – but when it rocks, it rolls. Just like in the song, I hope this show goes on and on, because we always need something to believe  in.

Rock of Ages is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through to Saturday 21 May

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Review the_crash.test, Hijinx Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

The award-winning Hijinx, one of Europe’s leading inclusive theatre companies, is always pushing the envelope on what ‘theatre’ is and what it can be. the_crash.test – in partnership with Wales Millennium Centre, Pontio and Theatr Ffwrnes – is Hijinx’s latest experiment in ‘hybrid theatre’, fusing performance and technology in an immersive experience like no other. Branded as a Frankenstein for the tech age, the show explores the responsibility we have as humans: to each other and to the things we create.

Directed by Hijinx’s AD Ben Pettitt-Wade, the_crash.test asks you to imagine a world in which your digital self could live for you (think the Bruce Willis movie Surrogates, only better). This is the promise of tech start-up Figital, led by preening CEO Michel LeCoq (Benjamin Victor), who zooms in from a wellness retreat in Bali to put the finishing touches on the ‘Fing-a-me-Bob’, or ‘Bob’ for short: a digital crash test dummy whose burgeoning sentience is about to throw a serious spanner in the works for world domination.

The show itself is a marvel of creativity and collaboration, devised and driven by a cast of performers on stage and via video link. The space is filled with two huge screens onto which is projected everything from a tropical paradise to a molecular wonderland, underscored by Tic Ashfield’s evocatively unnerving soundscape. The motion capture puppetry for ‘Bob’ is especially impressive, and Owen Pugh and Lucy Green, who alternate the role, really bring the character to life. Pugh carries much of the drama as both ‘himself’ and as ‘Bob’. Green is also hilarious as one of Figital’s increasingly concerned shareholders, zooming in alongside Richard Newnham (be-wigged, bothered and bewildered – to fantastic effect) and Lindsay Foster as the feather boa-ed investor riotously reaching the end of her tether.

Benjamin Victor conducts the show with a skittish charm, joyfully skewering the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. Bethany Freeman steals scenes as the beleaguered cleaner Betty, whose interactions with Bob are genuinely moving. Meanwhile, Matthew Mullins is responsible for some uproarious moments as the cameraman watching everything slowly devolve into chaos. In a time when zoom call ‘comedy’ has become rote, Hijinx have found a way of making it feel fresh, new and funny – and when they go dark, they don’t pull any punches.

While the ending is genuinely spectacular, the show can be a little uneven at times, and the meta-narrative doesn’t quite pay off – but it is always dynamic, clever, and darkly funny, and whenever the focus is on ‘Bob’ and their increasing sentience, it really soars. Bob’s creators aren’t sure what he’s ‘for’ – but what are any of us ‘for’, at the end of the day? That sort of capitalistic thinking gets very dehumanising very fast: if all of us have worth based on what we can offer, then what does it truly mean to be ‘human’?

The interactive parts of this show are a lot of fun and it’s exhilarating to be able to explore ethical dilemmas alongside the characters. The audience can join in-person or online, and whichever you choose, do bring your mobile phone with you if you can as you’ll be asked to vote on certain moments, starting with ‘what colour should Bob be?’ and escalating to high-stakes questions of mor(t)ality. It might even be worth exploring asking the audience to ‘justify’ their ethical decisions.

The level of talent and creativity on display is staggering. the_crash.test is playing at the Millennium again tonight, and there are plenty of chances to see it again: at the Millennium on 24 June, Pontio Bangor on 29 June and Ffwrnes Llanelli on 2 July (all as part of Hijinx’s Unity festival). Innovative, imaginative and totally immersive, the_crash.test is bonkers in the best way and something you simply have to experience for yourself.

the_crash.test is playing 13 and 14 May 2022 in the Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre and throughout June and July in Llanelli, Bangor and Cardiff. All performances are live-captioned and the 14 May performance will have BSL and audio description.

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

 
Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

PREVIEW Rock of Ages UK Tour – Interview with star Kevin Kennedy

No stranger to the small screen, television’s Kevin Kennedy has left the cobbles of Coronation Street far behind him as he takes to the stage and embraces his inner rock’n’roll star in the UK Tour of ROCK OF AGES which comes to the New Theatre Cardiff from 17 – 21 May 2022.

Not just an actor, you’ve also been part of many bands over the years. Have you been enjoying indulging your musical side in Rock of Ages?
Oh yes, it’s incredible to be able to put your two passions together – one being of course acting and the spoken word and the other being music, which is something I’ve loved throughout my life. To put those together is a perfect marriage, and in a vehicle such as Rock of Ages it is a whole lot of fun as well!

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard


For those who don’t know, could you tell us a bit about the story of Rock of Ages?
Rock of Ages is set in Los Angeles, California in the mid 1980s. It’s about a rock club called The Bourbon Room, which is absolutely legendary, every single band you could think of has played there. It’s an icon of rock’n’roll and absolutely the place to be, but the local council are attempting to close it down so we are fighting them. Alongside all of that there’s a beautiful love story, lots and lots of jokes and of course some of the most incredible music from the 80s like “Here I Go Again”, “The Final Countdown” and “I Want To Know What Love Is”.

And how does your character, ‘Dennis’ fit into this?
So, Dennis is the owner of The Bourbon Room and he’s an absolute rock guru. He’s given all these now legendary bands their stars and he’s been in bands himself. He’s also embraced the drug culture and intense sexuality of the 1980s with much enthusiasm and regularity! He’s a very interesting man to play – he’s got a good heart at his core but he’s a child of his culture and loves his sex, drugs and rock’n’roll! He’s a lot of fun to play!

Kevin Kennedy as ‘Dennis Dupree’ ©The Other Richard

Audiences may know you best from your time on television, particularly as ‘Curly Watts’ in “Coronation Street”. What are the biggest differences between working TV and theatre?
TV is a totally different skill and technique to theatre. Not least because you may put something in the can after filming and not get the payback of that for months or event years. You can almost film it, and then forget about it. With theatre however, it’s obviously live and live theatre is one of the last true shared experiences you can have – along with football! In the theatre you are all together and sharing one experience which is happening live, right in front of you and there’s not a lot of that left. That in itself generates its own energy and excitement as no two shows are the same. The show that you come and see will never been exactly the same as that ever again which is quite an exciting thought.

“ROCK OF AGES” boasts some of the biggest hits of the 1980s as its soundtrack. Were you a fan of 80s rock music?
I was a young-ish man in the 1980s and not a huge fan of some dance music, so the last refuge of guitar music to a certain extent was that brilliant American glam-rock that we showcase in Rock of Ages. They play their own instruments and perform live on stage so I had a huge respect for that.

Kevin Kennedy as ‘Dennis Dupree’ ©The Other Richard

Are there any challenges to performing this style of music on stage? Have you drawn from your experience as a musician?
It requires a lot of energy! However, once the show gets going it’s so much fun and no longer feels like work. Once you’ve done the hard work of learning the lines and where to stand we’ve been allowed to just have so much fun with it. Audiences are absolutely loving it because it’s just bonkers.


Do you have a favourite moment or number in the show?

Numerous moments! Although what I really enjoy is watching the other members of the cast doing their big solo numbers because they’re all so incredibly talented and it’s great to watch and learn from them. It’s been so lovely to see them grow into their characters from the first rehearsal through to our performances on tour now, where it all comes to fruition.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

What about a favourite song?
Oh the entire finale is my favourite as it is just one big fat rock’n’roll number.

Do you have any ‘must-have’ items whilst on tour?
A cafetière, some coffee (obviously), my Manchester City mug, and of course the most important thing – a PlayStation!

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Finally, what can audiences expect when they come and see Rock of Ages?
They can just expect to have a great time. If you’re a seasoned theatre-goer or you’ve never been to a show before you will have a lot of fun. If you want to come dressed in your leather trousers and embrace your inner 80s rock star then do that! Even bring along an inflatable guitar if you want – everything is just a whole lot of fun.

REVIEW Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Your first ever trip to the theatre is always a magical experience. It’s a rite of passage, that first step through those doors and into a world of fun and fantasy. What you see on that first trip is something that sticks with you: for many children, that show is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the first musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice whose subsequent megahits include Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and Cats. Whether you grew up on the Donny Osmond VHS, or watched Jason Donovan, Philip Schofield or Lee Mead don the icon dreamcoat on stage, everyone has their own Joseph story – and local boy Jac Yarrow is now the definitive Joseph for a whole new generation of kids as he returns to his home town for a show like no other.

Our story starts way, way back many centuries ago – not long after the Bible began, in fact. Our hero is Joseph, Jacob’s favourite son. After his father gifts him with the titular dreamcoat, Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery. While in Egypt, Joseph gets himself thrown in prison over a misunderstanding – but it’s only while he’s locked up that he finally unlocks the secret power of his dreams, and finds himself becoming the right-hand man of the Pharaoh himself.

Directed by Laurence Connor and staged at the London Palladium in 2019 and 2021, this new UK tour brings with it all the glitz and glamour of the West End. As the latest to don the dreamcoat, Yarrow has quite the legacy to live up to – and he does so with ease. It’s hard to believe this is his first role right out of drama school; a belter of a debut that has garnered much deserved praise, including an Olivier Award nomination. Yarrow might have implored us to ‘Close Every Door’ to him but I’m sure many more will be opening in future. His performance of ‘Close Every Door To Me’ is easily one of the best things I’ve ever seen on stage, and is well worth the price of admission alone.

X Factor winner Alexandra Burke, is not only a multimillion selling artist and West End star (Sister Act, The Bodyguard, Chess) but is fast proving herself as one of the most talented and versatile performers onstage today. She brings tremendous energy and charm to The Narrator, at ease in every moment whether she’s cheerfully corralling the young cast or playing a half dozen characters – each one more hilarious than the last. With such a dazzling repertoire to her name, when I say this is the best she’s ever been, that’s really saying something.

The whole ensemble is on top form, from the lively young cast to the cracking orchestra directed by John Rigby (who, in a nice touch, conducts music with a Welsh flag in place of a baton!) JoAnn Hunter’s zesty choreography really shines in ‘Go Go Go Joseph’, ‘Jacob and Sons’ and especially ‘One More Angel in Heaven’, which turns into a full-on rootin’ tootin’ hoedown, complete with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers-style gymnastics.

Speaking of brothers, Joseph’s are a blast: from a pitch-perfect Will Hawksworth who leads a riotous rendition of ‘Those Canaan Days’ led by, to Jabari Braham’s top-tier acrobatics, to Shane Antony-Whitely and young castmate Nadini Sharma who bring down the house with ‘Benjamin Calypso’. And as Pharaoh, Bobby Windebank is every inch The King – as a rock ‘n’ roll Pharaoh straight out of Graceland, he leads a rowdy Vegas-style set that leaves no hip thrust or ‘uh huh’ unturned.

Morgan Large’s stage is one big rainbow explosion, a technicolor utopia which gives way to a golden paradise once Joseph gets to the Pharoah’s court. It’s spectacular – and the titular dreamcoat, much like the show itself, is the best it’s ever been. Joseph has been performed for over 50 years in over 80 countries and counting, and it’s easy to see why. It had the whole audience on their feet, dancing and singing along. As Joseph sings that ‘Any Dream Will Do’, but this isn’t just any old dream. Technicolour, transcendent, triumphant, it’s the easiest 5 stars I’ve ever given. It really is the show that dreams are made of: so go, go see Joseph and see for yourself!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 7th May

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

PREVIEW: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Interview with star Jac Yarrow

What follows is a syndicated interview with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat star Jac Yarrow.

Joseph is such a fun, upbeat musical. Is that what we all need right now?
Oh my gosh, 100% yes. When we did it at the London Palladium our favourite shows to do would always be the Saturday or Sunday matinees because we’d get the crowds from all over the UK, not just the London crowds. To be able take this show to the regional theatres that have been closed for so long is just the tonic everybody needs. And particularly this incarnation of Joseph, which is the same production you got at the Palladium. It’s lavish and no-expense-sparred, and it’s really going to lift everyone’s spirits.


You first played the title role in 2019. How did that change your life?
It completely changed my life. I was still at drama school when I got the part and it was literally over the course of two or three days that I went from getting the role to it being announced. I went from being a student living in digs dreaming of being in the West End to suddenly living that dream for real.


You returned to the show again last year and now you’re touring in it. What keeps drawing you back?
It’s massively to do with the fans of the show. It has such an amazing fanbase and it’s ingrained in people’s DNA in the UK. Everybody knows the music and everybody’s grown up with it, even if they’re not aware of where it comes from. People come along and see the show all the time and go: ‘I didn’t realise that song was in it. I love that song and I used to sing it in school.’ I’m thrilled to keep coming back to it for that reason, plus to pass up the opportunity to take this incredible, up-to-date production that changed my life to people’s hometowns would have been crazy.

The show is a perennial school favourite. Were you in any school productions yourself?
I wasn’t in a school production as such but when I was around ten I was in a 30-minute condensed version of Joseph at my Saturday drama school. I did play Joseph himself but I don’t think I had a dreamcoat, just a makeshift little jacket or something. That was my only brush with the show as a kid, although I did see it later when it came to my hometown of Cardiff. I remember really enjoying it and it’s going to be a nice full-circle when I go back to the New Theatre and am on that stage myself.

Can you relate to Joseph in any way?
Yes, especially when I first started. There was the naivety and moving from the home comforts of Cardiff myself and Egypt in his case. It was like somebody flipped a switch and everything turned Technicolor. [Laughs] But my family isn’t as big as his and they certainly treat me a lot nicer.

Do you hit the gym to make sure you look good in the shirtless scenes?
Doing eight shows a week where I’m constantly running around keeps me in pretty good shape but I go to the gym, I eat well and I drink a lot of water – but that’s the stuff you have to do anyway when you’re doing such a full-on show as this.

Jason Donovan, who now stars as Pharaoh, played Joseph in 1991. How is it following in his footsteps?
It’s great. From day one Jason has been the most supportive person. I was terrified when I had to sing Close Every Door in front of him at rehearsal but he’s been amazing. He was the first person to throw his arms around me, congratulate me and give me the boost that I needed early on. Now we have such a laugh. He’s such a fun guy and he’s another reason why I wanted to go on tour with the show, because who better to do that with than Jason Donovan?

Might you play Pharaoh yourself one day?
This is the joke we always make. You could do Joseph forever because you could graduate from Joseph himself to Pharaoh and then you could finally move on to Jacob.

The West End production was one of the first to open to full capacity after social-distancing restrictions. What was the atmosphere like?
It was unbelievable. The atmosphere at Joseph is amazing anyway because of the fans and the way the Palladium is figured it’s such an intimate space, even though it’s huge. Then when the restrictions were lifted and we had full houses it was unbelievable. It’s such a tonic and, as I say, just the kind of show people want to see to lift their spirits. We were all emotional and it was quite overwhelming.

Joseph has been going strong since the early 70s. Why do you think audiences still love it?
I think it’s just timeless and, as Jason always says, it’s a very simple story. What you see is what you get and what you get is a really good time. It’s a wholesome tale about a boy overcoming adversity and it encourages you to follow your dreams. The message is so uplifting and it’s one of those shows that continues from generation to generation. We get people at the stage door saying to Jason ‘You were my Joseph when I was a kid’ and then I meet kids at the stage door and their mums say ‘This is their first time seeing it’ so I’m their Joseph. And it’s such a famous show that it’s kind of ingrained in everybody. It’s a huge part of our theatrical culture in the UK.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice score is full of great songs. Do you have a favourite to perform?
Definitely Close Every Door and I love Go, Go, Go Joseph because we have an amazing cast and they’re all on stage for that one. It’s a huge production number and I think that’s what is so exciting about taking this particular incarnation of Joseph around the country because it’s like we’re taking the West End production to everyone.


What have been your other favourite in-between-Joseph stage roles?
I’ve been lucky to have taken part in some concerts and some TV stuff as well, and I’ve loved doing panto. My first panto was in Birmingham in 2019, then I was in panto at the Palladium this Christmas just gone with another Joseph, namely Donny Osmond. I love doing panto for the same reason I love doing Joseph, because you get an amazing audience response and it’s such fun and so entertaining.

Is this your first big tour and what are you most looking forward to about taking Joseph around the country?
It’s my first tour ever. I’ve never toured before and I’m really looking forward to it because I actually haven’t visited that many towns and cities in the UK and Ireland. It will be amazing to see all these new places, get to know them better and sink my teeth into the role even more. We did it for ten weeks in 2019 and just shy of ten weeks at the Palladium last year, and it almost felt like that as soon as we were getting into the groove the run was over. Now we’re doing eight months on the road and it will be so rewarding to throw myself into it for all that time.

Are there any stops on the tour that are dear to your heart?
I did panto at the Birmingham Hippodrome so I’m looking forward to being back there. I was there in Snow White in 2019 and I love the people, the Hippodrome is beautiful and the audiences go wild. There are a lot of places I’m excited to see, like Blackpool and Glasgow. We’re closing the tour in Edinburgh and I’ve heard the theatre there is amazing. It’s also going to be really interesting to see how different audiences respond to the show in different places.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 7th May

REVIEW Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Irish-American dance sensation Michael Flatley catapulted Irish dancing into the mainstream with his first hit show, Riverdance, in 1994. He followed that up with the record-breaking, worldwide smash-hit, Lord of the Dance, in 1997, which has since gone on to break records and box offices around the world. Now the most successful touring production in entertainment history, its 25th anniversary tour chassés its way to Cardiff for a limited time this week.

The music begins, and clips from the production’s history are projected onto the stage as Flatley explains in voiceover how the story came to him in a dream, and how the show made that dream a reality. Then the stage darkens, and lights appear one by one, glowing orbs held by hooded druids that glide so ethereally you feel as though you’re walking through a dream yourself. Then the Little Spirit (Cassidy Ludwig) plays the titular tune on her magic flute and awakens ‘Planet Ireland’: a mystical, medieval fantasy world ruled over by the Lord of the Dance (Matt Smith), who is plunged into an epic battle for both heart(h) and home.

Drawing on Irish folklore, Flatley not only created the show, but produced, directed and choreographed it. There’s nothing quite like Irish dancing, and there’s nothing quite like Lord of the Dance: a mesmerizing spectacle from start to finish. The degree of athleticism, precision and timing on display is astounding, with the 40-strong cast showcasing an unparalleled level of skill and boundless energy. It’s dizzyingly good: I’ve simply never seen dancing like it. Smith steps into Flatley’s iconic shoes with ease; with unmatched bravado and charisma to spare, Smith weaves such a spell on the audience you simply have to join in with the dancing yourself.

There is only one Lord of the Dance, and he does not share power – but there’s a worthy contender for the throne in the shape of the Dark Lord (Zoltan Papp). Dressed like an embattled biker king, Papp brings a sinister swagger that had the audience booing (or, in my case, cheering) as if he were a pantomime villain. His duel with Smith is as thrilling a setpiece as you can imagine, and features some of the finest dance-fighting this side of West Side Story.

There’s not a weak link or a missed step in the whole ensemble, from Cyra Taylor’s mercurial Morrighan to Lauren Clarke’s sparkling Saoirse. Cassidy Ludwig brings a puck-like, playful charm to the Little Spirit, whose performance shines even more brightly than her glittery golden costume. The music, composed by Ronan Hardiman and Gerard Fahy, segues from lilting Celtic ballads one minute to ritualistic chants and sweeping epics the next, some of which is even performed live on stage courtesy of Giada Costenaro Cunningham and Aisling Sage’s first-class violin duets and singer Celyn Cartwright as Erin the Goddess, whose heavenly interludes give the cast time for a spritely costume change.

It’s fitting that the last word – or should that be ‘dance’? – is left to the man who started it all, with a trio of projected Flatleys out-dancing one another, only to be joined by the whole cast dancing in unison. If, like me, you have a much-loved VHS copy of Riverdance in pride of place on the shelf, or if you’ve never experienced the thrill of Irish dancing before, then this is the show for you. Lord of the Dance is only at the New Theatre for a limited time, so join the 60 million people who have loved and lived this show for an encore like no other. There have been 25 years of standing ovations so far, and if last night was any indication, here’s to 25 more!

Lord of the Dance is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through to Wednesday 27th April

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

REVIEW Orbit’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Orbit Theatre has dazzled and delighted Cardiff audiences for five decades and counting. As Wales’ number one amateur theatre company, it’s staged productions of everything from Grease to Godspell, and now Orbit is back at the New Theatre with an enchanting new version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Sophie Baker as Dorothy Gale (and Ella as Toto)

The story follows Dorothy Gale, a young girl from Kansas who dreams of escaping her dreary existence. She gets her wish when a tornado sweeps her and her little dog, Toto, to the fantastical land of Oz, a place filled with lions and tigers and bears – oh my! With a pair of magical ruby slippers and three new friends – a scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion – she heads to the Emerald City to meet the only person who can grant her wish to return home: the great and powerful Wizard of Oz – that is, unless the Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t catch her first.

Deryn Grigg as the Wicked Witch of the West

Directed by Rob Thorne Jnr, the show is every bit as magical as the beloved movie starring Judy Garland. It’s hard to believe this is an “amateur” production because everyone both onstage and behind it is working at such a professional level. As Dorothy, Sophie Baker steps into the iconic ruby slippers with ease and sings an enchantingly beautiful rendition of Over the Rainbow, leaving not a single dry eye in the house. Her duet with Paige Hodgson’s glamorous Glinda the Good Witch is a highlight, as are her interactions with the Wizard himself (Lewis Cook). The timeless songs you know and love all sound incredible here – everything from We’re Off to See the Wizard and the Merry Old Land of Oz to If I Only Had a Brain / a Heart / the Nerve.

Dorothy’s new friends are all on top form, from Daniel Ivor Jones’s nimble Scarecrow to Fran Hudd’s graceful Tin Man, and especially Matthew Preece as the Cowardly Lion, who has all of Bert Lahr’s mannerisms down pat (you’ll truly believe he’s The King of the Forest). The Gatekeeper might have been a throwaway role in other hands than Joe Green’s, who brings a real star quality to his scenes, while Deryn Grigg is devilishly good as the Wicked Witch of the West. Orbit’s talented young cast bring spirit and spectacle to the stage as munchkins and monkeys and trees – oh my! – and really deliver on Nicola Boyd-Anderson’s fabulous choreography. No-one, however, steals the show more than the adorable Ella as Toto who is easily one of the cutest canines to ever grace the stage – not to mention the most mischievous.

Lewis Cook as Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz

Orbit has won countless awards and has launched numerous careers, but their real magic comes from the fact that they make dreams come true. Their ‘Open Audition’ process means that newcomers have the opportunity to tread the boards and learn from the best. Dorothy’s story tells us that while there’s adventure to be found over the rainbow, there really is no place like home – and there’s no show quite as charming as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. If you and your family want a little bit of magic and a lot of fun this half term, then all you have to do is click your heels three times and follow the yellow brick road to the New Theatre.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will be playing at Cardiff’s New Theatre from 20 – 23 April, with performances at 1pm and 5pm each day.

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Review St Matthew Passion BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales St David’s Hall by James Ellis

Photo credit: Dario Acosta
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

I return to Cardiff to Easter festivities. If you’re going to hear anything classical around this time of year live, its usually one of Bach’s Passions. What was originally planned for Easter 2020, we finally get to hear the St Matthew Passion at St David’s Hall. I genuinely don’t recall there being a performance of it in all my time frequenting the venue.

I make it a tradition to listen to the EMI recording of the Philharmonia doing the Matthew Passion with Otto Klemperer conducting. I doubt you could find a better recording, well regarded as one of the greatest ever on disc. So with this, I didn’t want to compare too much with the BBC NOW getting it’s live outing after a two year hiatus.

It’s a regal affair, the formulated sophistication of this Passion lingering in every bar. It commands a lot out of it’s listeners, with most going along with the thick translation in the gaudy looking programmes. Jeremy Budd took over the narrative role of the Evangelist after Gwilym Bower had to drop out. Budd keeps the whole passion in check along with conductor Harry Bicket, a new face to the regular Cardiff concert goer though, having a command over all the musicians and chorus. I cant begin to comprehend how demanding it would be to keep up the momentum of the over two hours Bach has blessed us with. Budd is subtle and calming, telling of Jesus’ last days with a detached nature. His voice never stops being lovely, quite golden even if the role gives little to no ornament.

It’s always jolting to hear Jesus as a bass, here sung with conviction by David Shipley. You’d expect it to be an intense role and it frequently is. Shipley given little flickers of acting here and there, with a touching voice. Soprano Mhairi Lawson getting arguably some of the finest solos, the famous aria used in the films of Tarkovsky. There is a glamorous feel to Lawson, she sings with much splendour, Jess Dandy the contralto both getting a sweetly scented duet together. Dandy also sings from the heart, a voice as clear as a window pain. Antony Gregory as tenor is in and out of the score, though a well suited guest and often the lighter side of the men’s earthy voice ranges. Baritone James Newby ended the line up of soloists, coming into his own when getting some flurried solos.

Of note is the orchestra is separated into two sets and there is no brass nor percussion. One wonders what the first audiences would have thought of a work like this nearly 300 years ago, or even the audiences Mendelssohn reintroduced the work to, after it having dropped out of favour for around one hundred years. The Viola de gamba is also present, not used enough with it’s nuanced charm. It takes a lot to focus on the entire piece, cough syrup prevented me from taking in the entire second part. Though there are very few theatrical elements to the passion, recent years have seen stagings, something I’d be keen to see. The BBC National Chorus of Wales also blossomed here, the opening a highlight, the fiery finale perhaps the most bone chilling passage in the entire work.

Finally another masterpiece of Western music to tick off the bucket list.

REVIEW Dreamboats & Petticoats: Bringing On Back The Good Times! New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

With the pandemic having made the future uncertain, we’ve been compelled to look back at the past, to the glory days of our youth when everything seemed possible. That’s always been the magic behind Bill Kenwright’s smash-hit jukebox franchise, Dreamboats & Petticoats, based on the multimillion selling compilation albums. The latest installment, Bringing On Back The Good Times!, is the third in the series, but you don’t need to have seen the first two to enjoy this fabulous, feel-good show.

Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the story centres around sweethearts Laura (Elizabeth Carter) and Bobby (David Ribi), as their musical dreams threaten to keep them apart. While Laura’s chart-topping success earns her a starry residency in Torquay and equal billing with Frankie Howerd, Bobby is booked for the summer at the far-less glamorous Butlins in Bognor Regis, along with his old crew from St Mungo’s Youth Club. With both his career and his relationship in jeopardy, Bobby makes one final bid to save both: a wildcard run at becoming Britain’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The show really captures the feel of the era, thanks to an energetic cast, playful direction, and magnificent renditions of some of the decade’s most beloved songs, from Pretty Woman and C’mon Everybody to Keep on Running and Mony Mony. Sean Cavanagh’s colourful set of scrapbooked ticket stubs and album sleeves, and Carole Todd’s zesty choreography, also capture the fun and flamboyance of the decade. It’s a non-stop party from beginning to end: a joyous celebration of the music that made us, featuring more iconic tunes than you can shake a (rhythm) stick at! Everything is played and sung live onstage, and you won’t find a finer ensemble this side of the 60s. Ribi is excellent as the budding Buddy Holly and Carter as the Lesley Gore-alike, while Alastair Hill as the roving eyed frontman of Norman and the Conquests is responsible for some of the funniest moments in the show, especially when paired with Lauren Anderson-Oakley as his beleaguered wife, Sue.

The song list is bursting at the seams with some of the most iconic tunes in music history, and they’ve never sounded better than they do here. For a band aptly called ‘the Conquests’, they really do take no prisoners – so huge kudos to Benji Lord on bass, Joe Sterling on electric guitar, Alan Howell on acoustic, Daniel Kofi Wealthyland on drums, and musical director Sheridan Lloyd on keys. There’s fantastic musical backup by Lauren Chinery and Chloe Edwards-Wood on sax (and dancing) duties, plus some bravura brass courtesy of Rob Gathercole and Mike Lloyd, the latter of whom also plays a tyrannical Butlins Redcoat who steals every scene he’s in (imagine if Tom Hardy’s Charles Bronson joined the cast of Hi-De-Hi and you’re halfway there).

The songs fly so thick and fast that there’s often not enough time to applaud them all, which is what happens when the incredible Samara Clarke sings an utterly breathtaking rendition of Where the Boys Are. And while the music is staggering (Baby Now That I’ve Found You is a knockout), some of the show’s most powerful moments come from their a capella arrangements of Blue Moon (a real showcase for David Luke) and Come Softly to Me. Lord, Sterling and Gathercole playing twee Eurovision hopefuls was a standout (The Kennies were robbed!) and David Benson’s pitch-perfect Kenneth Williams’ ‘Ma crepe suzette’ bit had everyone in stitches. The cast also boasts a genuine star of the 1960s music scene: Mark Wynter (of Venus in Blue Jeans and Go Away Little Girl fame), who portrays Laura’s sagacious manager, Larry.

The show really comes to life in the second half, and while some of the ‘lead in’ dialogue is tenuous at best (‘How would you describe Laura?’ Cue ‘Pretty Woman’) but it’s all very tongue in cheek and who needs an excuse to sing Roy Orbison, anyway? If you experienced the music yourself the first time round, or if you’ve grown up listening to your parents’ or grandparents’ records, this show is a must-see. The 1960s aren’t just an escape: they’re a mirror. It was a time, like ours, filled with rebellion, political upheaval, and the threat of war on the horizon. The songs, and the performances, underscore the show’s clearest, loveliest message: that the good times will return, and better than ever.

Dreamboats & Petticoats Bringing On Back The Good Times! is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through Saturday 16 April

REVIEW Stone the Crows, Chapter by Barbara Hughes-Moore

*Trigger warning: the play contains discriminatory slurs directed towards the GRT community, and some distressing scenes*

Stone the Crows has had a fascinating journey to Chapter’s Seligman Theatre. Written by acclaimed playwright Tim Rhys, it debuted as a film starring Terence Stamp and Nick Moran and has now finally made its way to the medium for which it was conceived, in a breathlessly bold new production by Winterlight in association with Company of Sirens.

Boo Golding. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

Tucker (Oliver Morgan-Thomas) is a jaded urbanite who longs to escape the choking grip of city life, so he snaps up a ramshackle farm on the suburbs. While Tucker clings to the dream of peace, what he really wants is uncontested dominance – but this brash new king has a challenger to the throne: Crow (Boo Golding), a mysterious loner who worships the forest and is prepared to do whatever it takes to defend it.

Boo Golding and Oliver Morgan-Thomas. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

Directed with kinetic intensity by Chris Durnall, Stone the Crows is the transcendent culmination of everything Company of Sirens has worked to achieve. This is a play about borders: between people, between identities, between the urban and the rural, and between those who respect the land and those who gut it for profit. Even its setting transcends categories or definitions: Rhys terms it a ‘social jungle’, a liminal space in which the tangible and the psychological blur together.

Boo Golding. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

And Golding’s Crow is a character who embodies liminality. They exist free of binaries, expectations, demands. They adore the forest with an anchorite’s zeal, and spend the play’s first few minutes meticulously constructing a skeletal altar from twigs and branches in the manner of an ancient ritual. While Golding is mercurial as the wind, Morgan-Thomas is all iron and grit, hard as the city that built him; there’s a simmering machismo to his performance which suggests that rage, fed and informed by white supremacy, is never far from the surface.

Oliver Morgan-Thomas and Chris Durnall. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

Tucker’s particular evil can be seen in the awful, racialized abuse he directs at the Travellers who live and work on ‘his’ land. The title itself evokes a racial slur against Roma people (specifically the Romani communities of Eastern Europe). While it’s unclear to what extent GRT people were consulted in the making of the play, the creative team’s intentions are firmly in solidarity with these marginalised communities (and very firmly against despotic legislation currently making its way through Parliament), and Rhys and Golding depict the main character with empathy, nuance and complexity.

Boo Golding. Image credit: Noel Dacey

The visceral connection between its two central performers is the axis on which the story turns. While Golding shifts effortlessly between Puck-like trickster and vengeful spirit, Morgan Thomas’ laddish certitude grows increasingly sinister as the action unfurls. They mimic, complete, and predict each other; there’s a dynamism to their exchanges that, even when they don’t interact directly, renders their connection immediate and undeniable. It also means that when their characters do finally ‘meet’, it’s breathtaking.

Boo Golding and Oliver Morgan-Thomas. Image credit: Noel Dacey

Nature, though, is the master here, captured by Eren Anderson’s exquisite music. His soundscape beautifully weaves the gently unspooling song of the forest. He plays, at first, only when we are in Crow’s perspective, as if the primal music of the spheres flows only through them, and not Tucker. All we hear when Tucker speaks is the snap of a twig underfoot and the susurrus of rustling leaves. But then, when allegiances and sympathies start to shift, their melodies intertwine like roots.

Hypnotic and engrossing, Stone the Crows is a masterpiece of gorgeous brutality. The play leaves us at a threshold, and you must decide whether to turn back or to cross into the unknown.

Playing at Chapter through Friday 1st April

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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