Tag Archives: Emily Garside

Review Where Do Little Birds Go?- No Boundaries Theatre by Emily Garside

Where Do Little Birds Go?- No Boundaries Theatre, Cardiff Fringe Festival 

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
The lesser known stories of history are generally the more interesting ones. In this case the story of a woman embroiled in the work and the legend of the Kray Twins is a fascinating one. In the story of the Kray Twins, the chapter on East End gangster Frank Mitchell – also known as the Mad Axeman- being broken out of prison, and later killed at the hands of the Krays, is well known. Liza Prescott often features as barely a footnote in this story. She was 18 and kidnapped by the Krays as a ‘companion’ to Mitchell while they held him in a East End flat. Later a witness in their trial this young woman’s story has become an almost forgotten part of the Men’s narrative.
Camilla Whitehill gives the re-named Lucy a voice in ‘Where Do Little Birds Go?’. And the use of ‘voice’ through song is a brilliantly executed device in the play. The title reference to a song made famous by Barbara Windsor grounds Lucy in the East End girl trying to make good- having travelled to London she is trying to make it as an actress, while working as a barmaid, and then a nightclub host. Music becomes an extension of Lucy’s voice, from ‘Bobby’s Girl’ welcoming the audience to her while snippets of other songs from the 50s and 60s interject, reflecting Lucy’s mood, or her dreams. Music, or lack of it when she violently shuts off the record player drive the piece forward as well as giving a real sense of time and place through the music of the era.
The men in the story are peripheral, it’s Lucy’s voice we hear. Men feature in influencing her story- the useless boyfriend she bites, then leaves, the landlord and club owners that turn a blind eye to her age, her kind Uncle Frank and of course The Krays. But in telling the familiar tale of East End life, and Gangster dealings from the point of view of a young girl who happened to witness it, gives it a new, even more harrowing spin. The final moments where she recounts begging not to speak in court, and of her resignation to being at the job that brought her to the mercy of the Krays to begin with, speak volumes about the way women find themselves caught up and spat out again by both the men in their lives, and the justice system. More importantly history tells us what happens to the men in these stories, we know next to nothing about Lucy.
Despite the dark subject matter, it is an energetic and engaging piece of writing, filled with great humour. Capturing the youthful exuberance of Lucy, Kate Elis welcomes her audience in from the very first- as she sits at her make up table singing- we’re drawn into her world. Engaging with audiences in close proximity is never easy, but Elis worked the space and the audience effortlessly, making it feel like we were individually being told the story by a friend in their living room. It takes a lot to hold an audience single headedly but Elis’ likeable enthusiastic demeanour brings in an audience, until we then see her vulnerability as Lucy’s story unfolds.
It’s an uncomfortable watch at times. As the story darkens and Lucy is held captive by the Krays, the fear about her fate, and a brutal honesty about what that experience would have been like make for difficult viewing, particularly for the women in the audience. A clever combination of movement and dialogue play out the sexual assault Lucy was subjected to and it’s a necessary, but deeply uncomfortable and upsetting sequence to watch. Elis demonstrates her intelligence as a performer that the combination of vulnerability but also the mask of self-preservation that Lucy needed to retain are conveyed perfectly. Meanwhile it’s a tribute to Luke Hereford’s sensitive, and intelligent directing that this element of the story is handled without restraint, but with sensitivity. It is of course Elis that is drives the whole piece, a true tour de force performance going from youthful exuberance to a woman broken down but still defiant by the close.
The production, as part of Cardiff Fringe, is given an excellent opportunity to make use of the performance space giving the piece an almost site-specific feel. The bunker of Little Man Coffee is both cosy enough to feel, with the ramshackle selection of seating, like we are in Lucy’s bedroom. And later, claustrophobic enough to feel like the dingy East End flat she’s kept in. Most alarmingly ‘the vault’ has an old vault door-thick metal like a safe, and a barred door like a cell in front. So, when Kate Elis pushes the door closed at the start of the performance we feel as if we’ve been brought into that world, trapped by the Krays with her. When later she fights against the door, banging the steel grill backwards and forwards the sound in the small room was deafening and the sense of being trapped very real. This element of using unconventional performance spaces really shows in this piece the effectiveness of location for performance. Another layer director Luke Hereford can add to an already brilliantly executed piece.
‘Where Do Little Birds Go’ is an important and fascinating piece of writing. Giving voice to the women on the side-lines of history is a vital part of storytelling. Even more so giving voice to women to perform their own stories, is equally vital particularly in theatre. Camilla Whitehall’s play is handled with grace and given the status it deserves by Hereford and the team. In Elis they have found a performer with a real voice and presence for Whitehall’s writing. Cardiff Fringe/No Boundaries was the Welsh Premiere for this piece and it deserves, particularly with this team, a longer, further reaching life.
Cardiff Fringe Festival runs from 15th- 22nd July in various venues across Cardiff:

Review La Voix- Ffresh, Wales Millenium Centre by Emily Garside

Let’s talk about Drag. Most people have probably encountered a Drag Queen of some kind in their lives. (If not please, reassess that situation after reading this review) Whether it’s as part of a Hen Party or Birthday Party at the local Drag Bar- hello Minsky’s and Wow- or on TV via (if you’re my age) Lily Savage presenting Breakfast or tea-time TV (those were the days) or on Netflix with the glory that is Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Obviously if you’re a drag race fan the next sentence will not be a surprise but: Drag is an artform.
Once again: Drag is an artform. Cabaret is an artform. Drag as Cabaret is an artform. So easy to dismiss as someone in exaggerated make up in a wig in a dark bar you visit once in a blue moon. But real Queens work a room and a crowd tougher than most comedians. Most Queens have worked their way up through dingy back rooms and hiking on outfits in toilets. All Queens are not the same either. All Queens are definitely not created equal. But the best are an utter masterclass in entertainment.
La Voix is an utter masterclass.

All the above said too, it’s really important to say how brilliant it is that Ffresh at the WMC invited a Drag Queen to be part of this season. That alongside the National Theatre’s production of Jayne Eyre in the main theatre, La Voix was invited to do not one but two nights.  It’s both important in recognising that performance given space in arts venues shouldn’t be on a hierarchy- although some patrons might sniffly ask why a Drag act was in a theatre, not back in a club where they no doubt think that sort of act ‘belongs’ but also to show audiences ‘yes we welcome all kinds of performance here’. It’s also important as reviewer to have the experimental Jazz group last week, included on the same programme as a Drag Queen. It’s about saying there’s sophistication, and training, and creativity across all kinds of performance, so let’s do away with these divisions. Finally, it is also about- particularly in ‘Pride Month’ the idea that LGBTQ+ performers and audiences, and work that historically wouldn’t have been welcomed in such spaces is. It’s only 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised, and Drag and other Queer performance was not so long ago an underground scene or at the most related to a certain kind of club. To see then a drag performer in the flagship venue for Wales, and with a diverse audience is not something to be taken lightly.
All this politics and history however is taking away from talking about the Diva herself. And that isn’t on really. La Voix is a force of nature. She got to the semi- finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2014, where her name meaning ‘the voice’ and is known for her on-point impressions of famous Divas.

Winning many prestigious awards which include Best act at the London Cabaret awards, Winner of Drag Idol and most recently the Gold award winner for Best act at the Boys Scene Awards. And was in the Ab Fab film.
So, for the past 10 years La Voix has been taking on the big divas and making them her own, on both stage and screen. And last night’s tour of the Divas didn’t disappoint. Resplendent in a turquoise gown and trademark red wig, she reminds the audience that ‘I didn’t get this dressed up to not have pictures taken’ before adding ‘If your flash isn’t on…I’ll wait’. The audience interaction is, as with any drag show and after storming on with ‘the voice’ filling the room, there’s some delightful patter with the accompanist (Fresh from Hawaii with accompanying shirt) and of course with those lucky (unlucky depending on your take) to be in the front row. There were clearly a cohort of die hard fans in the audience who know the show possibly better than La Voix, but also allowed for some great banter between them. Drag Queens are known for both cutting, and a times filthy humour. And while it was certainly un-PC at times, the jokes never strayed into the borderline offensive that some other acts might take on. No doubt that changes with the venue and crowd, a skill again knowing how to work an audience, meant those in the audience unfamiliar with the Drag style of humour wouldn’t have been too shocked- and I defy them not to have laughed.
Songs take centre stage, as do the Diva’s who deliver them. While to some degree sticking to the demographic most in evidence at the show- the over forties, Diva fans- there was enough contemporary reference mixed in to make the show feel fresh. So, while Adele might not have been performing at Wembley that night, La Voix brought us Liza does Adele.  The audience was given a masterclass in performing the Divas from Cher through Liza to Judy and ending on a Welsh flavour with Shirley Bassey. A personal favourite as a musical theatre fan was Liza doing Mein Herr from Cabaret…but as if she tried it now at 76. I didn’t know I wanted it until I saw it. There’s such a detailed familiarity with the Divas from La Voix that goes far beyond simple mannerisms and vocal impersonation, and there’s also the love of a Diva in general that fuels the act. So while they are mercilessly mocked, there’s a sense of love and respect there. Something that’s very much at the heart of a really great Drag Queen too.
Also at the heart of any good Queen’s act is how to make an entrance and also an exit. And the closing numbers do not disappoint. Audience already primed 2 songs earlier, for the exit and cheering her back on stage La Voix returned decked in Ostrich Feathers and white (soon to be put in danger by a misplaced vodka cranberry). Dame Shirley was taking the final bow, and the crowd loved a home-grown Diva. And finally, as a sing-along closing number, Bonnie Tyler. In which the crowd also proved that giving a Welsh audience a chance to sing and they will attempt to upstage any Diva. But really what more fun can you have on a Saturday night than singing at top volume to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ with a Drag Queen dressed in white?
There’s a lot to be said for bringing Drag to wider audiences, and respecting just what a skill not only Drag but working a live cabaret audience is. La Voix thanked the crowd for coming out and supporting live cabaret noting that in these times it’s live entertainment- particularly at this end of the spectrum- that suffers. She also said that in these dark times we need that entertainment. And that’s the crux of it. At the end of a long day or week, La Voix gave us an escape- a fabulous, sequin clad, feather trimmed Diva-esque escape. Merci La Voix, Merci!

Chippy And Scratch by Emily Garside

On Tuesday 27th June, on a fittingly wet night in London a group of Welsh writers, directors and actors gathered to share a host of Welsh work.
Chippy Lane Productions (set up by Rebecca Hammond in 2016) was hosting it’s second Chippy and Scratch night in which 8 playwrights had been selected to share short pieces or extracts from longer works.  All performed by Welsh or Wales based actors, and directed by Welsh/Wales based talent.

It’s a great idea, one that brings the Welsh trained/born talent of London and beyond together, and gives those living back in Wales a place they can gather and share work outside of Wales. We know we create great work, create great talent in Wales, and that we have a great community here. But it’s also important to facilitate sharing that with the wider world, and allowing those based elsewhere to feel a part of that community.
I was joining in as a writer. My piece ‘Party Like it’s 1985’ is an extract from a longer piece and something I’ve both wanted to and put off writing for a long time. It wasn’t written specifically to share on this night. In fact, I finally put pen to paper in a fit of rage to submit to another company just to prove a point that they would never, ever select my work. I was right. They didn’t. Herein lies lesson number one in writing: don’t give up. Lesson number 2: not everyone will like you but someone will. Lesson number 3: sometimes a bit of rage will do you good.
So, I was thrilled to be accepted into the scratch night and have the opportunity to both hear the work aloud and to get to collaborate with a fantastic team who have proved so important already to developing the work further. Director Luke Hereford, whose other work I’d seen late last year, shares a great many of my theatrical tastes, and both respects and shares my passion for the subject matter. Writing an LGBT piece, as an LGBT writer, and having a director who without asking gets the importance and sensitivity of what you’re trying to convey is a dream- particularly for scratch night and so early in the overall process of developing my play as a whole. The cast assembled were also an utter dream. The marvellous Delme Thomas whose other performance I’d seen and greatly admired, along with Toby Vaughn and Melissa Bayern made up the fantastic team that brought to life my little piece.
For my own work then the process of being involved was as important-if not more so- than the night itself. Hearing the work was fantastic, and as a writer sparked off a whole series of reactions and associations in my brain that I now can’t wait to put into action. As ever the actors discovered things and surprised me and gave me a whole array of new interpretations on my own work. As well as the equally important knowledge of what doesn’t work, or what could work better. And that should be the core of a scratch night- for everyone creatively to experiment, grow their work and learn from each other. In that respect for me that was a great success.
The other important element of a scratch night is the opportunity to see so many different writers in one evening. So, for this we had: Chris Harris, Kevin Jones, Neil Bebber, Melanie Stevens, Jacob Hodgkinson, Ruth Majeed and Poppy Corbett. Such an array of styles of writing, from one person pieces to ensembles, laugh out loud funny to reflective. That there were a range of experienced writers and newer artists was also significant, feeling like there really is a chance for everyone to be involved. And significantly, a 50:50 split between male and female writers- a balance that we certainly don’t see elsewhere.
There isn’t time to do justice to everyone involved. From the funny surreal piece by Melanie Stevens with ‘When Opportunity knocks’ (and excellent Hagrid impression involved in the performance). To love stories with a twist from Chris Harris in ‘Love you in a single Brain cell’, to the intriguing world Jacob Hodgkinson painted in ‘DIBYNAIAETH’ There was a real array of approaches and styles on show.
Four pieces are going to be seen again at Chapter in Cardiff on the 18th of July, giving the writers a chance to develop the work further. Kevin Jones the winner of the night with ‘Cardiff Boy’ will be joined by Neil Bebber’s ‘Tiny Mad Animals’ Poppy Corbett’s ‘You Gotta go there to come back’ and Ruth Majeed’s ‘Outside Blisters’. From Corbett’s hilarious but touching tale of moving from Wales to the big city, to Majeed’s hilarious account of a night out at a Valley’s nightclub, to the 90s backdrop of Jones’ monologue and the quietly touching piece by Bebber these pieces show a great snapshot of the wider talent on display.
As well as showcasing the writing, and the talent of the performers and directors involved, what the night also offered was a chance to yes, network, but also community build. Those conversations in the bar afterwards will hopefully lead to more collaborations both in London and back home in Wales. As a writer however, the most valuable thing I could have was to get to work with a my team and see what I’d done brought to life. Seeing those 10 minutes of it was great, but it’s the before- the preparation and what that offered- and the after, and where it leads that is the real opportunity for writers to seize onto. So thanks to Chippy Lane for giving me and my slightly oddball, but hopefully interesting piece a chance and I can’t wait to see where it, and everyone else’s work goes next….(after the whole team goes to the Chippy of course!)

Top Tunes with Emily Garside

Hi Emily great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I’m a writer and researcher with a love for theatre. Having been an academic for several years while writing my PhD I’m now getting back to writing my own plays again too. Born and raised in Cardiff I came back after time in London and Canada and Nottingham and I love being home. I’m a first class nerd, which I take as an absolute compliment. My first theatrical love was musical theatre as I’m sure my music choices show!
I’ve recently written for Dirty Protest in their “Election Night” event as well as had pieces on at the Southwark Playhouse. My most recent work “Party Like it’s 1985” is being performed as part of Chippy Lane Productions 2017 scratch night on June 27th.


This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
Currently listening to; The Groundhog Day musical cast recording. Written by Tim Minchin it’s quite simply one of the best new musicals I’ve seen in the last 10 years. It’s also witty and catchy while also being a really quite emotional listen.

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?
Rent- Original Broadway Cast Recording. Quite simply I wouldn’t be who I am personally or professionally without this album. At 19 like many a musical theatre kid, I discovered Rent. I fell in love with the music and my love of that musical shaped my theatre-going life. It also shaped my professional life. From writing first my undergraduate dissertation on the musical, to Rent being a key part of what became my PhD. The music, and composer Jonathan Larson himself are some of the greatest influences on me. Personally, it was a gateway to so many things, including friends. One of my closest friends lives on the other side of the world, but we’re friends because of Rent. Last year we both stood on stage in a Broadway theatre with one of the original cast from Rent. This girl from Cardiff, who never was part of the theatre world, getting to stand on stage on Broadway, with a friend I’d never have, from the other side of the world, having written a PhD on something this actors was in, all because of this music. So Rent is pretty special to me.

Sister Act-Soundtrack. Choirs have played a big part in my life since I went to University, both giving me a creative outlet and allowing me to make some great friends and have some amazing experiences. Coincidentally both choirs I’ve been in over the last 10 years or so have taken the music of Sister Act as an inspiration. I think the message of the films, about the power of music and friendship has been integral to what makes my current choir so special, so the music of these films will always be special to me. (And in a couple of weeks I get to do my best impression of ‘little redhead Nun’ which my singing teacher always used to say was me- looks small and quiet but makes a lot of noise when pushed)

Company- Stephen Sondheim (2006 Broadway Cast recording). Because musicals have ended up a part of my professional life, and even if they weren’t forensic analysis of them is part of my personality as a fan, I can’t leave out a Sondheim musical from this list. Company I’ve chosen because firstly it’s one that in a lifetime of analysis I’d still find new things to uncover and talk about. Added to this, as I grow older and ‘grow into’ the story of Company it becomes more relatable and more emotional. The 2006 production, and recording and the combination of Raul Esparza’s Bobby- I find it hard to imagine any better interpretation of the role- and John Doyle’s re-imagining of the piece- for me will probably always remain the benchmark for this musical. It’s a rare and wonderful thing to have a recording that challenges you intellectually still but also has an emotional resonance that keeps growing.

Sarah McLachlan- Mirrorball. We all have an album that shaped our teenage years and this was mine. I was never cool enough to rebel and be a rocker, so some soft indie-rock was where I ended up. This album just sounds like being 18 again to me.

The Boy From Oz- Cast Recording. Even though I rarely listen to it any more this musical was a big part of my life when I first got it. The first musical I ever saw ‘live’ and part of the path that took me to being both a theatre lover and to my professional career as a researcher. It was my gateway to a world of theatre and musicals, and still remains one of the best theatrical memories I have- discovering musicals with my Mum who is still by my side for a lot of theatre. And it’s a musical that has ‘Wolverine’ (Hugh Jackman) dancing and singing in Hawaiian shirts and gold lame trousers- a guaranteed smile to the face memory!

Of these my ‘One track’ would be ‘Will I?’ from Rent. Not the most famous, or even perhaps the best piece on the recording. But for me it was both the moment I fell in love with the piece, the most emotional moment (actually in theatre ever) seeing it live, and my benchmark for a good production. Hearing that track takes me back to a time and place but also always reminds me a bit of who I am, what inspires me and why I do what I do.

Review The Far Side of the Moon, ExMachina, WMC 24th-25th March 2017 by Emily Garside

It is a rare opportunity to see Ex Machina, company of renowned theatre maker Robert LePage, perform outside of London in the UK, and the opportunity to see such a trailblazer of theatre practice first hand. The Far Side of the Moon, originally conceived and performed by LePage himself, now in the more than capable hands of Yve Jacques.
LePage, founded Ex Machina in 1994 and quickly gained attention with their early works notably The Seven Streams of the River Ota (1994) and Elsinore (1995). LePage’s work fuses styles and disciplines, he does not characterise Ex Machina as a theatre company, and nor does his work, either in performance or in film does not slot easily into traditional descriptions. LePage has become known for his fusing of film and performance, of multimedia across his work- video projections, soundscapes and projected dialogue sit alongside puppetry and performance and choreography. Meanwhile his interests as an artist similarly span multifaceted and multimedia approaches incorporating science alongside philosophy and art. It is fitting then, in 1999 when beginning work on The Far Side of the Moon, it was the question of science alongside art that is a catalyst to the narrative.
In parallel narratives- one public, the story of the space race, one private, the story of two brothers, LePage explores the nature of humanity, and the direction of life. The story unfolds of two brothers, one gay one straight, one confident, one shy, the younger seemingly successful, the younger still struggling. Their domestic narrative is played out against the backdrop of the Space Race and younger brother Phillipe’s endless fascination with the cosmonauts, pitted against their ever more glamorous American counterparts the American Astronauts. The parallels between the struggling student and his glamorous and famous weather presenter brother are clear.
The storytelling is tightly woven, and complex, veering across Phillipe and Andre’s lives, touching on their childhood and adolescence, through their current situations and frustrations. It is a highly domestic, family oriented tale at its heart with everything circling back to the death of their Mother, and the realisation of what life is like without any parents.
The technical elements of the show are, as expected, astounding. In the hands of a lesser company the might come off as gimmicky, but here the fusion of projections alongside The performance is truly theatrical in its reliance on Jacques performance to encapsulate both brothers and a variety of peripheral characters, but also in the use of stage and props in a very traditional way. Although LePage is perhaps best known for his fusing of film and theatre, here although the film and multimedia elements are moments of brilliance, it is moments of simple theatricality that highlight the skill and attention to detail in the performance. When an ironing board becomes a bike, for example, and later a bed, or when through subtle costume change and mannerism Jacques becomes another character. The brilliance of LePage’s work is the fusion of these elements, and despite being a work of technical precision, it also has a very instinctual, organic feel that comes back to the engaging storytelling at its heart.
As LePage’s creation is always about fusion of elements, the bringing together of The Far Side of the Moon rests on the performance of Jacques. An intimidating ask to take on the very personal story that LePage wrote- he draws on his own Mother’s death, as well as hinting at his personal struggles with depression and coming to terms with his sexuality- as well as taking on the piece that LePage performed himself. However, Jacques having toured this piece for several years, has an easy stage presence which makes the precision performance of both hitting technical markers to allow projection, puppeteer or set to take over the storytelling, while also delivering two hours of single-handed narration while embodying Andre and Phillipe’s characters. Jacques does it with an engaging personable warmth that also brings the audience into what for those uninitiated might see as the daunting prospect of LePage’s theatrical world.
Robert LePage sets out to create fusion in his work- fusion in performance through multimedia, traditional and innovation, and through thematically, addressing issues side by side that might not traditionally be addressed. These elements alone could be a cold exercise in performance for performance sake, experimentation for experimentation’s sake which could leave the average audience alienated. It is the credit of LePage and the company that his work does not do this, while The Far Side of the Moon is a great introduction to the theatrical style Le Page is known for, while it is a challenging fascinating study of performance methods, it also keeps at it’s heart the element of storytelling. So while audiences may be intrigued, puzzled and hopefully challenged by seeing what may be a new approach to theatre for them as this work tours the UK and the world, they will also be invited in, and moved by, the story that facilitates the performance.