Have you ever thought of how hetero-normative nature documentaries are. No? Bi-Curious George has, and they are here to shake the natural world.
This is a Drag King, Cabaret show like no other. Comedic, yet informative, this is a live, stage documentary with song, dance, comedy and a whole heap of camp. Think of a Queer David Attenborough meets Steve Irwin. Then triple it and add some comedy and sparkle.
George is a natural on stage. A performance of sheer perfection, we all felt as if we were their friend, as they interacted with us one by one, whether that is by audience interaction or just general eye contact. There are a many people in a room but we are all welcomed. They also made sure that everyone was comfortable – usually audience interaction is something forced upon participants, but George begins by ensuring we are comfortable at the door and then early on, giving us a signal just in case. This is a safe room and that is brilliant to impose upon within a production without taking away its essence or interrupting the discourse.
George brings us a range of factual stories of real animals, real queer relationships, intercourse, courtship and unions. But this is enhanced with songs that have been changed to fit queer narratives, with effective and, in themselves, comedic costumes and guests. The guests themselves are excellent – a singing shrimp, a almost mute magician making balloon animals from plastic bags (trust me when I say, it is something to behold, as this act was of pure genius) which add different levels and elements to the overall production, adding in the cabaret element, with George as our compere.
Queer Planet is probably one of the most genius ideas for a production I have ever seen. It is so excellently executed, with perfection as a performance, informative as a piece of education, yet at the same time, creating a easy safe and welcoming space for all with comedy, pizzazz and genius yet ridiculous concepts and costumes.
I think most people have heard of the famous Emperor of Caligula; a fierce ruler, with many a famous story about him, like any infamous Roman Emperor. Roman tales are rarely of happy exploits and kindness. And this has not stopped here.
Caligula and the Sea is a growing of age tale of Caligula, from boyhood to ruling an empire. With this, growing through adolescence and adulthood, through turbulent relationships with the God of the sea and his closest companion and how easily power can destroy those innocent relationships.
The production itself has taken an interesting approach; dressed in 1920 – 1940’s garb, there are still elements of ancient Rome, with miniature columns in the garden to Roman armour, it brings a modernity to the story, yet harking back to its roots. However, it did seem a little out of place and there wasn’t much to tie this together with the overall production or story.
The scene they created, with the overbearing blue sheet representing the sea, using this for movement and puppetry was well done and it added to the imposition that Neptune has in the narrative. It was a centre piece to the production, always looming and always above Caligula. It was in itself a visual metaphor to his downfall after thinking he was more than of the immortal power.
Neptune was represented as the waves, as a warrior, as a woman, as puppetry creatures, and this was interesting and mesmerising in the work that went into the different physicality and puppetry skills. It added to the concept of Gods being able to shape shift upon the Earth, yet they were also never frightening. The was something trustworthy, echoing Caligula’s relationship with the God.
The main performers of Caligula and Chaerea had a natural magnetism to one another; bouncing off each other as friends, as brothers, as lovers. In the blink of an eye we see their entire relationship as it evolves and the moments that it goes all too wrong. The heartbreak and turmoil – it becomes evident in Chaerea’s performance and you want only to reach out and support him.
Caligula and the Sea is a unique telling of the story of Caligula’s life and has many theatrical elements to enhance this summary of his rise and fall. It only felt a slight disconnect in the over all aesthetic and felt it would either benefit from completely immersing in one era or the other.
Based in the USA, Someone of Significance features the story of two people who fall in love against the obstacles of life, careers, of each other. The two couldn’t be more different and were it not for a chance encounter, Rosie, a black, left, working class woman and Brad, a white, CEO of a property corporation, would never have met. They have similarities, they have differences, but over a lifetime, their love continues.
For a two person play, the production values are minimal, and this is all that is needed. Props and staging that is changed upon the stage and in front of our eyes, while under the guise of a dimmed light, help to set the scene. Often based in rooms alone, this adds to the secrecy of their union and career, with its limited furniture and lack of distractions.
Each performer has their own corner with a range of clothing and accessories which they change into intermittently for each scene. Unless it is a drastic change, this often seemed unnecessary to the scene and often overlooked. When they changed something to showcase the passage of time, this is obvious and helps to bring the idea of time to the story line. Sometimes, it only felt like a reason for a break during the production, which could have been utilised differently.
The performers themselves were very good. With clear skill and a good approach to naturalism, they were convincing enough as their two characters. They interacted well and bounced off one another but I found it hard to feel this budding love that they were meant to share. Perhaps it was their limitation of stage and direction; often they stood in the same place, facing the audience but there was little movement around the stage to give levels and something with more action. Yes, there was the occasional sitting or a moment when Brad is involved in yoga, but it often felt as if there were invisible X marks the spot for each scene, and it was always the same spot.
Someone of Significance has a great narrative and intention, with good performers who understood their assignment. But it missed something special to believe in the true connection of these characters and left the performers at the will of direction, creating a limitation on the movement on stage.
Hi Julia, great to meet you.You have a background in music and education, can you give our readers some background information on your career to date?
Straight out of Music College (RCM) I worked principally in the world of orchestral bassoon playing, freelancing with the BBC Symphony, BBC Scottish and also specialising as a baroque and classical bassoonist. I performed, recorded and toured internationally with ensembles such as The Academy of Ancient Music and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Alongside playing, I’ve been composing since I was a child. I write wide ranging music from orchestral to solo instrumental works, from opera to songs for children. I loved my own childhood music experiences and have been teaching music since I was a teenager. Creating Kodaly and Dalcroze inspired learning flows for groups of children is a particular passion. I enjoyed wonderful years as Head of Primary Music at Llandaff Cathedral School before moving to the RWCMD firstly for an M.Mus in Composition and then as a tutor for baroque bassoon and early years pedagogy.
So, what got you interested in the arts?
I had an inspirational class music teacher in my Primary School years. She introduced us to recorders, singing, tuned and untuned percussion. I remember enjoying the lessons and putting on fun concerts and productions. My parents were also very supportive in organising piano and ballet lessons and making sure we did our music practice.
What importance does music have in your life and how have you combined the two areas of music and education in your professional career?
Music gives me great joy as a performer, composer, worshipper, listener and educator. From the synergy of being in a high functioning orchestral wind section to the joy of engaging babies and toddlers in perfectly age-appropriate songs and games – the ability of music to open doors into the transcendent is extraordinary.
Music education has interweaved with performing and composing right across my career, often intermingling. It feels rather like cooking to me. You have a room of “ingredients” people/instruments/voices/music and you work deftly with what you’ve got to create a delicious meal that everyone enjoys. It’s about creating the optimum environment to bring out the best in each person’s unique flavour.
“Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand”.
You are delivering two different music activities as part of a RWCMD Music Residency at Penarth Pier Pavilion, as part of a new partnership with the Vale of Glamorgan Council. A one-year pilot has been agreed that will see the college run parent and toddler music sessions, base a small ensemble at the pavilion and put on Dance Band evenings for the local community. The parent and toddler music sessions will be run by yourself, Julia Plaut, a composer who served for many years as Head of Primary Music at Llandaff Cathedral School, and take two forms – Morning Mini Music and Little Concerts. Running on a weekday morning in the pavilion gallery, Morning Mini Music sessions are focused on music and movement that help children with interaction and socialisation. Little Concerts will be weekend afternoon music events for families, specifically designed for the under-5s, that feature new works from RWCMD composers”
How did you come to be involved in this project and what are your ambitions for its delivery?
Part of my work at the RWCMD is mentoring selected students in early years pedagogy. This project gives industry-facing experience to these students under the umbrella of an expert practitioner. My ambition is that we deliver high quality musical experiences for Penarth children and their families that create a real buzz locally while providing sector leading training for RWCMD students. You can find out more about the project and book tickets here
You are the Artistic Director of Little Live Projects, this charity works to “inspire young people to flourish through sharing excellent musical experiences with professional musicians” How do you deliver this work?
Little Live Projects has two strands. One is the Little Concerts series of joyful interactive chamber music events presented in partnership with the RWCMD. The other is the Cardiff Children’s Choir, an after-school community choir for children aged 5-11 years based at Urban Crofters near City Road in Cardiff. The choir welcomes all local children and particularly those from displaced families or who are facing barriers of any kind.
You have close links with The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, how did this relationship develop?
Quite a few of the RWCMD staff team have been professional colleagues over the years. I’m a tutor for baroque bassoon and early years pedagogy there. I formally pitched the Little Live Projects vision as part of my M.Mus studies. The RWCMD and Little Live Projects share a strong synergy of vision for future focussed training with outstanding student experience delivered by world-class staff in providing transformative experiences for diverse communities.
Funding for musical provision is increasingly being cut for young people, can you see the impact on young peoples lives and possible career paths as professional musicians as a consequence?
Good quality instrumental music tuition is a very expensive to fund, and importantly, to sustain over long enough to allow children to become accomplished enough to consider a career in music. El Sistema style initiatives like Making Music Changing Lives in Cardiff are doing brilliant work to address this deficit. I have questions about the usefulness of the large group instrumental teaching that takes place in schools which only gives a cursory taste, often on poor quality instruments and without the formation of basic good technique. I am however excited by the potential for choral singing to provide a quicker route into embodied musical understanding and real accomplishment. It works brilliantly in large groups and embeds aural and other transferable skills that children could then take into learning an instrument.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?
I would fund an expert Kodaly practitioner to lead singing in every primary school in Wales one day a week. Each child has a singing voice that can be nurtured, giving them a worthwhile means of self-expression. Through singing together children develop the intimate knowledge of a social togetherness in which discipline and order prevail. Not only would these practitioners lead and embed singing but, in doing so, they would be providing continuing professional development for staff to carry on the singing confidently during the rest of the week.
What currently inspires you about the arts in the Wales?
I am inspired and encouraged by the way Ty Cerdd are championing Welsh composers and creators across a broad range of styles. I also gain a lot as a member of Anthem’s Atsain Network. Hearing nuts and bolts stories from other community music practitioners from around Wales gives me loads of inspirational ideas.
What was the last really great arts event that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
Recently I attended a fabulous concert by Genesis Sixteen and Harry Christophers singing Handel’s Dixit Dominus at RWCMD. The musical excellence and vibrant energy that was released through seasoned professionals mentoring young singers, conductors, instrumentalists and soloists (aged 18-23) was breath-taking. It made my heart sing to see the cascading of good things into the next generation of musicians.
What was your original inspiration behind the Rocky Horror Show?
Someone asked me to entertain the Christmas staff party at the EMI Film Studios and so I wrote a song (Science Fiction Double Feature) and with the help of some jokes, performed to much laughter and applause.
In the New Year I wondered whether it might serve as as prologue to the germ of an idea that I had for a musical. I shared that thought with Jim Sharman who had directed Jesus Christ Superstar. Jim liked the concept and away we went.
Why do you think it is still successful today, half a century later?
It is simply a Musical Comedy and as long as it rocks, and the audience are laughing what more could you wish for?
It’s very inclusive, it’s very easy to watch. It’s not rocket science as far as narrative is concerned – Brad and Janet are a couple that we kind of recognise as Adam and Eve or Romeo and Juliet, like a stereotypical couple – we can all relate to them.
It is also a fairy tale which allows us to feel comfortable with its rites of passage storyline. A retelling of Hansel and Gretel if you like, with Frankfurter standing in for the wicked witch.
The Rocky Horror Show creates an atmosphere that is different from other theatre shows.What about the show do you believe makes audiences feel comfortable joining in?
The innocent rather naughty fun of it draws not only a ‘theatre’ crowd but also people who want a fun evening and a guaranteed return on the investment of their ticket price.
What was happening in your life at the time you wrote The Rocky Horror Show?
I was a recent father of my first child and out of work when I wrote the show. 1972-73 was a moment of change. Glamrock and overt sexuality was around, gay people were coming out and there was a ‘buzz’ in the air. There are certain parts of the world where we are a little bit more free to be ourselves. London is certainly one of them. Back in the Seventies you had gay bars, but now you don’t need to because if you walk into most bars in London there will be a gay man behind the bar. That is rather nice.
How do you believe the show supports those who are questioning their identity or sexuality?
The support for the LBGT community was unintended but it is a very welcome addition to the laughter and toe tapping.
Has the show supported your own journey surrounding your identity?
It must have been, to some extent, cathartic but I have always gone my own way and played the cards that I was dealt at birth the best way that I can.
Do you have a favourite character?
I would have loved to have played Rocky, that would have been cool, wouldn’t it? But one thing is essential, you have to be rather handsome, and you know, muscular, and that ain’t going to work. I could have played Janet. They’re all so stupidly wonderful these characters, they’re iconographic.
How do you think the live shows compare to the film?
The live show has an energy that the movie doesn’t have – it wasn’t intentional, but the film was very slow. Once some fans came up to me and said, “did you leave the gaps between the lines so that we the audience could say our lines?”. I said, “Well, ok yes”. But no we didn’t. The movie is a very surreal, almost dreamlike journey, the live show is far more rock and roll.
What’s your favourite part of the show?
The noise at the end of Rocky is wonderful – it is empowering and exhilarating at the same time it is quite joyous. Rocky never fails to deliver. Each performance lifts the heart and the nightly laughter and roars of approval leave the whole cast with a sense of wellbeing and accomplishment that you rarely get from any other shows.
The Rocky Horror Show remains a huge hit around the world. Do you think the show would be as successful if written today?
Timing is very important as is luck. Zeitgeist sums it up. There are lots of variables in this equation, for instance, would it have been as successful if someone other than Tim Curry had played the lead?
How has the show developed over time? Have there been any adaptations in the past 50 years?
It has remained much the same through the years. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
How different do you think your life might have been without Rocky?
I have no idea but, I would have had a good life because I am made that way. My journey has been a different one than others. I guess some people have a game plan. I would imagine they’re rather humourless. Most of us get an opportunity and we wing it. Luck plays an awfully big part in our lives. You should never underestimate that. I am the luckiest person on the planet. I shall be happy as long as I can keep singing.
The Rocky Horror Show is currently touring the UK as part of its 50th anniversary. It plays in Cardiff’s New Theatre in April – more information and how to book tickets here.
It’s amazing to see some fine musicians get to Cardiff, so many don’t. Going around St David’s Hall I was stunned some people were not going in for the warm up act, saying they are just here for Vega. This opening act being Sam Lee, I declared those who didn’t come in for him as fools. I recall Sam from his immaculate set at the Queen Elizabeth Hall back in 2019, his love of all things folk and nature remains the eternal muse. Whilst that fine late night concert would offer up a live stream of nightingales setting down for the night, this warm up was a treat of folksy ballads, Sam’s buttery voice doing laps around the melodies of these sweet, old song from the British Isles. His sweet persona is infectious and his encouragement of a singalong needs little energy in the Welsh capital. A joy to see and hear him again.
Suzanne Vega is know for a few famous songs, though there are other jewels to be mined. Though perhaps most famous for ‘Tom’s Diner’ (one of our giddy encores for the evening), a strident song about a very precise instance in her life. I’m so glad she sang ‘Luca, an incredible touching, full on 90s song about a little boy who is abused by his family. It tugs the heart and still though remains funky. Ever the poet, Vega declare her love for Leonard Cohen and other influences, the song writing capability a fine thing to hear.
Gerry Leonard joined Vega as backing bassist, the sole accompanist on stage and one of immense talent and of subtle impact. The lack of synths and drums made this large, St David’s Hall concert feel rather intimate. It is Vega’s homely nature, her warming appeal and conversational voice that just makes all of us feel calm and contented. Finding ways to describe her voice, it seems there is a uniqueness and familiarity. Perhaps best known for ‘Marlene On The Wall’, an almost country ballad and pop delight with a soft and wide chorus that most should hopefully recognise.
Vega delighted us with attempts to speak Welsh, with some livid fans shouting at her how to say things correctly. Her returning to Welsh later on almost put me in a coughing fit, her humour is quite dry yet open. Stories of past lovers, who then (of course) become songs are treasures, words from her mum and some quips from legend Lou Reed all pepper the evening, though I wouldn’t quite say the evening could be billed as both songs and stories, the former the bulk of the show, as itself.
No one quite does it like her.
Suzanne Vega continues on tour around Europe and the United States
Another centre to the Royal Academy in London would see a huge show with a massive scope spanning centuries for the art of Spain. There was a lot to get in here and I dare say I think a good three hours (consider a break in between) would be advised to drink in its entirety.
We start with the Bronze Age and Roman finds from Spain, though there a only a few items on display. A headless statue of Diana, goddess of hunting and the moon is one curiosity, the other an astounding pair of trullae, large silver spoons two thousand year olds and in phenomenal condition. Later rooms would feature the influence of Islam and the Moors, textiles becoming mainstream with intricate detailing and fine craftsmanship. Larger and larger bolts would also prove popular with wonky animals and more elaborate patterns, though this gradually grew overdone.
A dog door knocker possibly from Galicia excited one of my friends from the area on Messenger, I also noted that the map of Spain upon entry, only listed some cites and regions and not others. What did, wow were the coloured busts of saints, both the fine artistry of Juan de Juni and Pedro de Mena whited gleamed in their light and candid ecstasy. Even more amazing remained the Polychrome wooden busts of Christ and the Virgin Mary by Andrea de Mena and what remained a highlight of the whole epic show. Mary even had eyelashes…I remained floored by these two creations.
Work from their empire in the Americas would see a dazzling aqua lion water kettle, vivid plates and a statue of an angel so dramatic it somehow appeared Asian in design. The smaller things in the show would prove the triumph with ‘The Four Fates of Man: Death, Soul in Hell, Soul in Purgatory, Soul in Heaven’, attributed to Manuel Chili (called Caspicara). You can just feel the shame and guilt these little half bodied figures would install in people back then, their death metal appearance is still vivid all these years later. Some classic, conventional Goya portraits are also a delight, though I did crave some of his more twisted, unsettling works.
Many pieces do obviously feature religious subjects, more specifically Catholicism and we can see this grip loosen as the empire dies down, after looking at some famous maps of the Americas and Europe. Velazquez still has a pull over an audience all these years later, his portraits command the space. ‘El Costeño (The Young Man from the Coast)’ by José Agustin Arrieta sees a young man of colour who was possibly a slave, holding an abundance of tropical fruits, a decent painting loaded with more than you think.
The work of Joaquín Sorolla moved with it’s watery impressionistic beach scapes, really lovely just to look at. Contrasting this in the same space was Ignacio Zuloaga disturbed with ‘The Penitents’, dark and moody, blood everywhere. The show ends with a sketch of one of Sorolla’s murals ‘Vision of Spain’…but the question remains…where is the art that came out of Spain since these painters? We are talking over a century of work which has been completely ignored for perhaps a safe choice of not going into Modernism and other movements. What about Picasso? Dalí? Joan Miró? This remains a shame as it could have crowned the exhibit with a final flourish.
The Sherman Theatre turns 50 this year, and there’s no better way to celebrate than with the golden line-up they have planned for their anniversary: Gary Owen’s much-anticipated Romeo & Julie, Nia Morais’ magical Imrie – and the Sherman Youth Theatre’s Ghost Cities. It’s a new take on Gary Owen’s 2004 drama Ghost City, directed by Justin Teddy Cliffe and incorporating new material by the Sherman’s Introduction to Playwrighting Participants Mared Seeley, Loki Skyrme-Croft, Lauren Hindmarsh and Emma Phelps.
Set in Cardiff over a single night, Ghost Cities follows the capital’s lonely souls in a series of interconnected vignettes. There is little to link them directly, save a postcode and a prayer: a universal yearning for connection, understanding, and empathy. I haven’t seen the original play, but there seems to be a nice synergy between the original and its additions. You might be able to spot some of the new material, but it synthesises well with Owen’s text into a cohesive and rewarding whole. And while not every story carries the same sway (some seem as weightless as ghosts), others linger like spectres – largely due to the skill and enthusiasm of its cast and creative team.
Designer Ruby Brown (supported by The Fenton Arts Trust) and lighting director Rachel Mortimer have worked wonders with the set. Fragments of what’s happening onstage are projected onto an imposing pyramid, distorted and partial; casting doubt on whether what we’re seeing is what’s really happening. At one point, the pyramid becomes the inner core of a Matrix-like computer algorithm; at another, the live feed of an increasingly sinister political broadcast. These are just some of the many striking images that make the play gripping: a hooded stranger leaning against a door, a phone line stretched across the void, a eulogy illumined by a single beam of light as if from heaven.
After The It in 2020 and Treasure Island last year, this is the third Sherman Youth Theatre production I’ve had the privilege to attend – and it’s incredible to see such talented young actors continue to grow in their skill and their craft. They navigate brilliantly through drama, comedy, and even tinges of horror, creating a very specific world for the stories to inhabit: the standouts for me were a teacher explaining her gender transition to a previously scornful student, a hilarious night out at Walkabout that ends in both hope and disaster, and a Deliveroo rider philosophising on the meaning of life. All the while, a disenfranchised young man haunts the stage, very much alive and very much at our elbow – we, and the characters, may just overlook him at our own risk.
Ghost Cities is a celebration of Cardiff in its hidden corners. It begins with a single voice and ends with many: in doing so, it seems to say that a city is a living thing, and we are its lifeblood: our lives, our stories, the connections we make and the ones we might miss.
Ghost Cities is performed by Rashid Ali, Lily Cole, Rhys Evans, Theo Greenwood, Daisy Griffiths, Twm Llwyd, Edith McCarron, Maya McDarren, Orrin Niziblian, Pringles North, Elian Owen, Jim Pesticcio, Lucia Taher, Brooke Thomas, Nia Thomas, Rory Tune, Indigo Wernick, and Jett Wood.
Based on the best-selling novel Pigeon by author Alys Conran, this stage adaptation by Bethan Marlow sees Welsh and English subtly woven together, with every performance using integrated captioning in such a creative way as to lead me to undertake an experimental review in its honour:
A review of the new digital play, exploring where film and theatre meet, follows two teenagers, one a drug runner and the other the daughter of an addict, as they navigate a dangerous adult world.
Do cats tan? Could you bring me out a blanket?
Tom Powell, The Silence and The Noise, film.
This Be The Verse
BY PHILIP LARKIN
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
‘’There are 8 reasons why teenagers take drugs: other people, misinformation, popular media, escape and self medication, boredom, rebellion, instant gratification, lack of confidence.’’
Two teenagers ‘both alike in dignity’, acting out the roles they think they should be playing and railing against the tiny crooked worlds they inhabit on instinct and experience unbalanced and afraid.
Daize and Ant , star crossed indeed and lost in an adult place where parenting and drugs are failing them and where hope and stability come from each other.
This Shakespearean duologue creeps under the skin like a needle. It is a slippery painful rush of child and adult feeling its way through the awkward brilliance of its performers. Exceptional and tragic, closed and candid, ‘you’re not a laugh a minute you know’.
I am reminded of being a lay member on the local restorative justice panel and wishing I could magic better lives for the young people we met. These teenagers couldn’t just say No, their worlds were governed differently. Victims of circumstance. I think of them often and wonder what we should do differently as we are the village raising the child and we have a combined responsibility.
Powell forces me to return to the debates in my head – where does responsibility lie and what does it look like? Is Ant so upset by his mother’s infidelity that he looks to make money in the easiest and quickest way (sic), justifying his decisions within a dubious moral framework? How does his complicated and dangerous choice compare to Daize’s addicted and failing mother which leaves her daughter to defend herself with a knife and eat cat food? No one should have to eat cat food. It is an axis on which the play turns.
It is all relative. It is not what happens but how we deal with it. This film schleps through nature and nurture and their consequences on transitional minds.
The story telling is adept – our actors are acting out teenagers acting as adults and breaking into juvenility. It is the most powerful and upsetting screenplay. Like those young people all those years ago in the justice system, I want to take them home and protect them, restore their innocence in some naïve and offensive way. That is how convincing they are.
But Ant takes Daize home and the bravado and the arguments become a search for the relative peace of a family set up, leaving death and chaos behind them. Perhaps this Romeo and Juliet get a happier ending.