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Review “I’m Just A Little Bit OCD”, Concept Theatre, The Cockpit by James Ellis 

Photo credit: Leon Bach 
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

I arrived at The Cockpit Theatre tired from the rushed venture from nearby Paddington, for one last hurrah in London. I prepared for what I was about to see. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is very personal to myself and my family, with some friends also having the condition as well. Going in with my own history with the condition, I was curious to see how others would express their obsessions in a theatrical vein.

Concept Theatre have put their cards on the table in a telling depiction of OCD. Essentially a show of two halves, the sharp and witty Catarina Thane is Matilda, our guide through the show and creator of a podcast all about OCD. Elements of her performance give cabaret vibes with singing and audience participation. Catarina did a great job to make the audience feel welcome and relaxed, as we were about to infiltrate some dark territory.     

The other side of the shows sees scenes with the sisters Tilly and Grace, the latter arriving back from uni. Grace is not sure what’s wrong with her, craving reassurance that bad things won’t happen to the people around her and frantic draw opening and closing sessions are never far away. These moments are funny and honest, the dialogue realistic and far from arbitrary. Sarah Eakin as Tilly, demonstrates the condition well. Stewing in her rituals, lost to the world for a trinity of repetitions, this reaches its zenith when Grace sees the intensity of her sisters condition in full force. Jasmine Hodgeson, as someone who has OCD, gives warmth and a sisterly rivalry for Tilly’s plight, at first saying the typical quips you’d expect to hear (hence the name of the show). 

Matilda coming back and for between the tableau was a nice touch and gives rest bite to the intense anguish of the rumination seen within the sibling storyline. Director/writer Ria Fay also gives a pleasing turn as Grace the therapist who rescues Tilly from her own mind. Phrases such as “Groinal reaction”, “That’s against your views” and “Thoughts are not facts” pass the expert’s lips and have a profound impact on both Tilly and the audience. This hit close to the bone for me, as a person with OCD can convince themselves they are a bad person who may commit bad acts. Need I say more? 

Even with the grappling such serious topics the show still is amazing and had some powerful insights into the condition. Even for myself, with not a confirmed diagnosis, certainly find aspects of it within me, though I would never utter the name of this show as it’s easily become the definitive statement that people with the actual condition can’t bare to hear. My advice is to increase the Lynchian elements of the show, a lone, flickering lightbulb and some ominous whooshing set the scene to plunge into the recesses of the mind. 

A Q & A with the cast and director proved how important work like this is today. I hope the rest of the shows get good audiences and responses. Theatre like this could save lives…

“I’m Just A Little Bit OCD” continues on tour around London at Southwark Playhouse on 19th June 2022 and at Chickenshed for captioned performances on 26th June. 

Review William Basinski & London Contemporary Orchestra, Barbican Centre by James Ellis 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A return to London for William Basinski was just what I’ve needed. This American composer has made good old fashioned reel to reel tape as the basis of his craft. More specifically, the deterioration when the tape is compromised due to a varying combination of factors is his USP (chance, the age of the tech and temperature as examples). His art will be forever interlinked with the events of 9/11, as some attempt to salvage archival work occurred on that fateful day.  

Arriving on stage, Basinski was flaming, singing show tunes and unable to grasp he was performing at the Barbican. Starting with his Lamentations from 2020, he declared that “war is on the way”, as the now everywhere colours of the Ukraine flag flooded the stage. Even in this newer work, his tape addiction never stops. There were some exquisite moments here. Anyone not into minimalism and an equal amount of patience would struggle with his ideas. Though those who commit are treated to a fine ambient encounter. Some sample of a stunning female singer makes you crave the source. It remains very haunting, other exuberant moments fill the space with a somber joy, yearning regrets within others. He appears to still have the magic about him!

Two orchestral arrangements of his Disintegration Loops filled the second half. Basinski has shared the context of this piece and it’s relationship with 9/11 many times. The London Contemporary Orchestra took on these damaged pieces with benevolence for the listener. No. 3 of the loops is quite serene, a feeling of calm washes over you, as it continues to repeat and repeat. Conductor Robert Ames helps the statue like dynamic along, leading shortly after in the iconic No.1.1 of the loops. There is a slight change to the snippet of a melody which haunts the first loop (we assume it’s brass on the original). The brass here players keep the structure going, as the notes gradually go into the ether. The two percussionists relentlessly shone, keeping the subtlety on course, as the other musicians wrapped up. The addition of humming was a nice touch at the start and end, though mics would have gone a long way.      

All that was missing was Basinski’s video work which accompanies the loops. Still a fun, revelatory evening. 

Review John Waters, False Negative Barbican by James Ellis 

John Waters, filmmaker and writer presents his comic monologue covering his career, movies, fashion and art in the Barbican Hall on Friday, 10 June 2022. Photo by Mark Allan
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Dubbed “The Pope of bad taste”, anyone who has ever seen a John Waters film (I’m talking about the early stuff) will never forget it, try as they might! With this notorious reputation, John aged of 76 finally written his first novel: Liarmouth. I get the feeling he has done his live show just to do a shameless plug, the queue after the performance was a long as the Barbican is a maze. No doubt he would never take offence to any of my words.

His film work is a revelation, a huge point of reference for the LGBT community, even with the tidal wave of problematic themes and subplots. The giddy air at the Barbican greeted John with huge burst of loving applause, arriving in a bold, yet fashionable floral, black and white smock (something I adored). Of course, he had his famous, pencil moustache to boot. It’s the insights, the references, the name dropping and the snarling comebacks that made this live experience an overwhelming gush of camp. The spirt of drag artist Divine, John’s most infamous collaboration was ever present on this night. Divine, who may have been one of the funniest and brilliant people ever to be on film, also proved his chops with more acclaimed work of John’s with Polyester and the original incarnation of Hairspray. 

I knew this would be funny and it was. I found myself scoffing as many times as I was amused, the compulsion of big, hearty laughs caught me off guard. More recent remarks about Covid, vaccines and even Johnny Depp (he worked with John on Cry Baby) stood out as highlights. The amazing thing about this man is he makes you love trash, through a mirror of irony and self confidence. No one really makes me feel like John, his openness and mockery of things he adores are proof that comedy can be funny and not always mean at the same time. You just can’t cancel him, try as they might. A frenzied Q & A proved how much adoring fans can’t get enough of him, John declaring on a few occasions “One at a time!” due to his poor hearing. 

He declared that Liarmouth is the most outrageous piece he has done since Pink Flamingoes of 1972. That is saying a lot, but the book is now top of my list of must read books. Only I don’t think I’m quite ready for it…            

Liarmouth, published by Corsair is now available online and all good retailers. 

Review Violet, Music Theatre Wales/Britten Pears Arts at the Sherman Theatre by Ellie Nichols

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

If the objective of art and performance is to encourage the observer to ask questions of both the piece and of themselves, then this production certainly does that. ‘Violet’ the new contemporary opera from Music Theatre Wales with music by composer Tom Coult and libretto by Alice Birch is both thought provoking and arresting.

Set largely in one room in a seemingly affluent household within a small village, the opera explores the concept of losing practical time daily and the impact this has on an individual and a society. The undeniable vocal talents of Anna Dennis as the main protagonist, Violet and her, at best fractious at worst toxic, relationship with husband Felix played by Richard Burkhard make for bitter exchanges fuelled by vitriol and spent passion. The libretto uses blunt truths and humour to articulate the harsh realities of a broken marriage, underscored by tones of misogyny and coercive control. The characters are not likeable and the musical score, performed brilliantly by the London Sinfonia orchestra echoes this jarring, uncomfortable feeling for the observer.

The vocal range of all the performers is incredible. Violet’s calm acceptance while those around her crumbled was portrayed by Anna Dennis with a serenity and almost childlike absence of concern that would have been welcomed by me as a viewer. The juxtaposition of Dennis’ piercing soprano and Richard Burkhard’s baritone was palpable and the shift in the balance of their relationship demonstrated to great effect through the peaks and troughs in tone and pace of the accompanying score. Frances Gregory as Laura the maid brings an understated yet powerful presence to the mix and Andrew MacKenzie Wicks as the clockeeper has an ominous presence throughout the performance, and acts as a reminder of the inevitability of time passing whether we want it to or not.  The music takes the audience on a journey through a range of sounds both familiar in the ticking of a clock and at times challenging and uncomfortable. What felt like a cacophony of sound at times, perhaps representing the confusion and uncertainty felt by the characters in their increasingly desperate situation, ultimately left me a little overwhelmed which may have been its intension.

Rose Elnile’s staging was minimal but effective and the mix of old and new meant that the action could have taken place years ago or yesterday, bringing the unnerving concept of the opera closer to home. The animated backdrop representing the outside world transforming from idyllic summer sky to a dystopian nuclear cloud with floating dandelion clocks was an interesting addition that prompts a conversation about climate change and taking notice of what is going on around us. The twist at the end of the performance, no spoilers, didn’t work for me as a viewer but it made for a discussion point that will divide opinion and interpretation.

Cécile Trémolières costume design was interestingly simple with Violet morphing from a ‘Baby Jane’ esque image at the beginning to something from the Famous Five at the end reflecting her development in confidence and independence. Violet’s costume was the only one with any real personality or individuality and this served to single her out as a dissenting voice among the masses.

Time as a construct and how we value or use it is subjective and divisive, I suspect this contemporary opera is likely to be the same. If you are new to the genre of opera as I am, this is certainly an interesting baptism. I’m still not sure if I liked it, but I was talking about it when I got home and that has to mean something. 

Review Violet, Music Theatre Wales, Sherman Theatre by Peter Gaskell

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Contemporary opera may be an unfamiliar genre to many, even fans of musical theatre, and this was not in the background of Tom Coult or Alice Birch before they collaborated to compose and write ‘Violet’. Opera traditionally is not sung in English and is set in specific times and places as the protagonists, often lovers, work out their fate, usually tragic, as they struggle against the prevailing social and political conventions. ‘Violet’ is not a story of love seeking to prevail in spite of contrary circumstances, like Tristan and Isolde, La Boheme, Tosca or Madame Butterfly but more Nabucco, of emancipation from constraints to freedom, and lovelessness.

Co-Produced by Music Theatre Wales and Britten Pears, the premise of ‘Violet’ is bold and imaginative in the same way as Nick Payne’s ‘Constellations’ was when it broke new ground at the Royal Court Theatre in 2012, exploring questions about time, free will, choice and death. It is of time disappearing an hour per day over 24, disrupting the balance of nature and the orderly life. Set in an indeterminate historical period and place, the story relates the effect of famine, drought and human misery on the personal lives of the characters, the fourth of whom is the clock-keeper (Andrew MacKenzie-Wicks) whose chief function is to manage the display on the clock-tower stage-right showing the passage of time and the diminishing hours.

The dramatic narrative is set around the centre-stage dining table of a well-to-do couple, Violet (Anna Dennis) married to the controlling Felix (Richard Burkhard), supported by their maid Laura (Frances Gregory). Violet and Felix sit at opposite ends ( reminiscent of the distance Putin keeps from visiting world leaders) while Felix and the clock-keeper sit adjacent to each other for their conversation about stopping the disappearance of time, indicating Felix is more concerned with worldly affairs than any intimacy with his wife. The costumes designed by Cécile Trémolières support the narrative and character arcs, the static male characters remain in puritanical black while Violet’s attire changes to show more colour and variety as she comes to assert herself more, seeing hope and opportunity with the disappearance of the hours that she hadn’t before. To reinforce the lack of reference to specific time and place, Laura initially wears a maid’s bonnet suggesting this is provincial 17th century era but then the men don Elizabethan ruffs, and Violet kneads bread on the table between plastic milk cartons and supermarket cereal packets.

The backcloth shows a skyscape that changes as the hours disappear, from blue with white clouds to garish orange, purple and black intimating the arrival of catastrophe. As we hear how orderly life is breaking down, so too the props are thrown about, aided by Laura who finally smashes the table after a tree suspended above dropping lower every day is left fallen across the domestic wreckage. The staging by director Jude Christian and designer Rosie Elnile is riveting in its focus to assist the narrative, with visual text beneath the stage in Welsh and English as helpful assistance. A particularly effective piece of staging was the last occasion we saw the clock-keeper, up on his tower lamenting the end of time, lit from behind to show on the backdrop as if he was a hanged man. In view of Felix’ fate, this was a brilliant touch.

Moments in the Alice Birch’s libretto narrative I particularly liked were the conversation between Felix and the clock-keeper, when Felix wants an explanation and insists the clock-keeper should give him one, which he can’t. The clock’s mechanisms are working fine but still an hour gets lost every day. This refers me again the premise of ‘Constellations’ where contradictory happenings can coexist across multiverses. The most magical moment was when Violet pulls a length of flax seemingly from the hidden edge of the long table that was centrepiece just before like everything else it was wrecked by the entropy of time. Suggesting reference to Macbeth, she wraps it around her husband’s neck as she prepares him for a dreamless sleep before he is found hanging from the clock tower, “sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care, the death of each day’s life”. Indeed this story resonates strongly with the violation of nature Shakespeare portrays in his Scottish play. Excellent allusion.

There was a hole or two in the plot though e.g. on Day 4, as the town clock jumps 7 hours from midnight, and we learn that the lost time is daylight hours. Then when light is extinguished finally and Violet has her boat ready to escape with Laura who is afraid of drowning, we understand there are no news reports from the wider world about what has happened yet Violet assures Laura that many boats have crossed the sea over the horizon without sinking.

This brings me to the disappointment I felt about the outcome. Seeing no more of Violet whom with Laura we assume has been liberated to find a new life at last, the bizarre denouement is relayed as an animated collage on the backdrop, including the announcement a baby was born in January. Is this to Violet, yet how and by whom? A series of numbers is flashed up which I took to refer to quiz teams as we watch a quiz show where a contestant has to give 10 answers about the side effects of sarin, else calamity will ensue as images of warfare increasingly dominate the screen. The final quiz question is shocking. Why would a man use a gun? Answer – to shoot his children in the face. This is a nihilistic message with no apparent redemption for anyone. Unlike Shostakovich’s tenth symphony, also desperate, terrifying and dark but which is ultimately triumphant in the face of impossible horrors, ‘Violet’ fails to leave us with optimism about surviving catastrophe.

The narrative tension is supported consistently throughout by Tom Coult’s score, uncomfortably atonal, performed by the singers who must be credited for the hours of work they must have done to mesh their voices with the dissonant orchestration of the London Sinfonietta conducted by Andrew Gourlay, woodwind and brass very much at the fore punctuating the vocal exposition of the story, though with chimes and the ticking of clocks providing atmosphere and variety with some electronics. Anna Dennis is especially impressive in the title role as she hits her notes with astonishing precision. But for those who dislike the artificiality of musical theatre where dialogue can seem forced and contrived, they may not be impressed by such torturous delivery. While giving credit to the singers for maintaining their difficult lines over 90 minutes of a story about the disappearance of time, it may seem ironic how slowly the pace of the drama passed. With little obvious harmonic contrast,‘Violet’ seemed dissonant from start to finish, with no let up of the strident tension as an orderly world disintegrates. Comparing dissonance to being pepper, Prokofiev said no one wants to listen to music that’s all pepper. While after 4 hours of dissonance, the groundbreaking score of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde finally resolves with consonance, ‘Violet’ does not.

In summary then, ‘Violet’ as concept with narrative potential is intriguingly bold even if the denouement is finally disappointing, its staging was marvellous, and its performances commendable. Its shrewd avoidance of specificity as to time or place lends it the opportunity for long-term appearance in the canon of opera.

Review Violet Music Theatre Wales, Sherman Theatre by Gwyneth Stroud.

All credits Marc Brenner

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What happens when time runs out?  Panic, terror, fatalism?  Or resignation and even hope that a new beginning will bring better things?

After two years when many of us have felt the sorrow of lost time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and ironically why this production has been delayed until now, Violet is both a timely and poignant reflection on the meaning of time and the feelings that it engenders. 

The work centres around three main characters – Violet (Anna Dennis), a depressed wife who hates the predictability of life in their town.  People rise, make bread and open their doors at exactly the same time each day. Nothing even changes, and Violet feels stultified by it.  Her husband, Felix (Richard Burkhard) exerts control over Violet, and is disturbed by the changes that he observes in his wife.  Their anxious housekeeper Laura (Frances Gregory) carries out her daily routine with an increasing sense of dread and terror. 

The action takes place around a table set with incongruous items of food and drink, a still life depicting an unspecified time and place. The characters’ dress does little to ground us either – Felix in modern dress, Laura in period clothing and Violet in an Alice in Wonderland-type outfit, complete with pigtails and bows. Violet is the first to notice that time is – literally – running out. The town loses one hour a day, and this process does not stop until there is no time left.  There are no hours left in the day. Felix and Laura collapse into panic and terror, witnessing the destruction of life around them, but depressed Violet is enlivened by events, sensing that a new beginning might just be possible. And at least something different is happening.

Co-produced by Music Theatre Wales and Britten Pears and directed by Jude Christian, it’s a short piece, running to just 85 minutes,.  As such, every word and note must earn its place, there is no room for any superfluous material.  Alice Birch uses language to great effect here and, coupled with Tom Coult’s haunting and poignant score, the overall effect is of a precarious balancing act between fear and a tiny amount of hope.  The soprano of Anna Dennis perfectly captures single words (“Yes”, “No”, “Time”) with alarming disquiet. Richard Burkhard provides a few moments of levity through his well-placed dialogue and voice. Frances Gregory and Andrew MacKenzie Wicks give assured performances as the housekeeper and the clock keeper.

Mention must be made of the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Andrew Gourlay. The 14 players execute the terse score beautifully, and the dexterity of the percussionist in particular, who handles an array of instruments with great aplomb, moving his score around with him, is to be admired.  Together with additional electronic sound effects, the sense of time running out is always palpable and very real.

What to make of the ending?  Is this a new world, with no humans left?  Whatever is happening in this place, time remains central.  But it is now marked by a digital clock, and the opera ends with the display ticking round to just after midnight.  So is there hope …. after all?

REVIEW Violet, Music Theatre Wales by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Time is one of humanity’s most enduring enigmas; it can be counted in eras and in seconds, it can seem endless or scarce, and however long you live, there’s never enough of it. These are some of the key tensions within Violet, a contemporary opera which is sung through in English and co-produced by Music Theatre Wales and Britten Pears. Composed by Tom Coult and written by Alice Birch, the story takes place in a town where nothing changes until, one day, everything does: one hour disappears on day one, two on day two, and on and on – but while the world seems to be ending around her, Violet’s is just beginning.

Richard Burkhard, Frances Gregory and Anna Dennis in Violet (image credit: Marc Brenner)

Directed by Jude Christian, Violet is an exhibition of artistry, from Rosie Elnile’s gorgeous set, which looks like a minimalist Renaissance painting, to Cécile Trémolières’ lush costumes, which play with both austerity and freedom through fabric. The temporal distortion at the story’s heart bleeds through to everything on the stage, which anachronistically mixes period clothing with modern props, framed by an animated backdrop of dandelion seeds swirling like grains of sand in an hourglass.

Anna Dennis in Violet (image credit: Marc Brenner)

The operatic quartet at its heart are equally impressive. Anna Dennis viscerally captures Violet’s growing sense of self and power (her name even seems to anticipate ‘violent ends’) while Richard Burkhard and Frances Gregory (as Violet’s husband and maid, respectively) convey their characters’ descent into despair. At the start of each scene, Andrew MacKenzie-Wicks’ keeper goes to the clock tower, changing it to show the days left and the hours lost. The tower is built to mimic a guillotine; along with a branch and a bell, it is one of three ‘swords’ of Damocles which hang ominously above the characters, as if to fall at any moment.

Richard Burkhard and Andrew MacKenzie-Wicks in Violet (image credit: Marc Brenner)

Thematically and visually, then, it’s close to perfection – but, for some reason, I didn’t quite connect with it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never seen a ‘contemporary opera’ before, despite how exceptional the singers are, how authentic Coult’s score is or how vivid it sounds in the hands of the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Andrew Gourlay. If you’re immersed in the worlds of opera or experimental theatre, you couldn’t ask for better – but, like the twenty-first century laptop on the sixteenth-century table, I felt emotionally ‘displaced’ by the show, unable to ever fully tune into its frequency.

Frances Gregory in Violet (image credit: Marc Brenner)

My reservations are encapsulated in its ending: an unsettling animated sequence which is sure to divide audiences. It’s certainly divided me: on the one hand, I can appreciate how it underscores the themes of time doubling in on itself, of repetition and stagnancy. On the other, it shatters the strange magic of the first eighty minutes, and any sense of ‘hope’ along with it.

Richard Burkhard in Violet (image credit: Marc Brenner)

Violet premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in Snape Maltings, Suffolk, earlier this month and it’s easy to see why it’s had such an impact on audiences. I was caught up in its artistry and intrigue, and it’s made me want to explore the world of opera, modern and otherwise, all the more. Dynamic and affecting, what Violet conveys most effectively is that the end of the world might not come in a planet-shattering catastrophe, but in a creeping sense of hopelessness and dread: not with a bang, or even a whimper, but with the ringing of a bell.

Violet is touring across the UK through July, with upcoming performances in London, Buxton and Mold

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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Review Violet, Music Theatre Wales, Sherman Theatre by Rhys Payne

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Traditionally, the genre of opera has been viewed as an art from for a high class of people. They are usually expressed as one of the classical languages with superfluous drama and extremely ornate vocal trills. The venues they are hosted in were at one time the most extravagant stages with ticket prices being a reflection of the expensive atmosphere and often would out price people from visiting more.

I have to admit that my own personal journey with this genre did get off to a fairly rocky start. When I was a lot younger, I attended a showcase in a local music and drama college where the students showed off their talents entirely in the language of Latin. Not being able to understand the lyrics and the extravagance wasn’t something, at the time, that young me personally enjoyed. It was only in later life when I was older that the true spectrum of this art form was realised for me and I could see that opera can in fact be accessible to the everyday person! In its most general definition opera is simply a production that contains no dialogue and so every moment of communication is expressed through music/song. While it’s important that we respect the heritage of this prestigious art form, we also need to make sure that the next generation are interested in opera otherwise it will quickly die out.

Violet is a brand new opera staged by Music Theatre Wales at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff it aims to destigmatise opera by making it truly relatable and accessible to the majority of people. The majority of this show is set within the confines of a standard village and specifically within a family’s kitchen. Within this home, we meet a four key characters who entertain, serve and communicate with one another as any normal network of people would do. Having the show set mostly in one single location not only makes the show easier to stage from a production standpoint but also means that people do not have to suspend their disbelief during the transitions to and from scenes which from experience can really take an audience out of the universe the team have worked so hard to create. I personally found myself being dragged into the narrative of the play with every passing moment creating tension, as if I too was coming closer and closer to the end of time.

The focus of an audience-friendly show, I believe, has to come directly from the creative team working on this project and on the night I was lucky enough to attend an interview with some of them prior to the show. Before the show, itself started audience members were treated to an intimate event with the composer of the show Tom Coult who talked about the concept of the show and the process involved in getting this production to the Sherman stage. Tom and Michael McCarthy , Director of Music Theatre Wales stood at the front of the seating area of the auditorium where the former was asked a series of questions to help the audience become more familiar with the show, which was not only very interesting to learn about but also helped reduce the period of confusion that occurs at the beginning of any new show.

The premise of Violet is the idea that at the end of every day, an hour is accumulatively removed from the day. On day one there are only twenty-three hours in a day, day five only has nineteen, day twelve only has twelve hours and so on. This idea is clearly displayed throughout the production with the inclusion of an almost doomsday style clock situated to the side of the scenes within the play. The first character we meet is aptly called Violet who is played in this production by the wonderfully talented Anna Dennis. Violet starts the show in a severe state of depression and is the only person to notice the disappearing hours in the day. It is only towards the latter part of the story when Violet discovers a passion for making every moment count and decides to live life to its fullest. The character is portrayed by Anna is a rather unique way in the sense that she is almost child-like, very eccentric and sporadic throughout despite the impending end of time. The moment when the other villages discover the doomsday countdown, Violet is distracted by the bread she made and yearns for jam followed by a walk outside. Going into the show this was not how I expected the titular character to react but the clear influence of mental health and the trauma she has experienced helps to justify this at times unusual behaviour. The vocal aspect of this character was absolutely incredible with Anna delivering numerous delightful tunes throughout and showcasing her musical range with some ridiculous impressive notes being vocalised flawlessly. Due to the vocal requirements of opera, this character was forced to contort her mouth in such ways to be in order to deliver to more complex sections of the music which actually made sense with the character herself which I personally thought was fantastic! What was also very clever about the actual writing of the sung parts was that it too was also very accessible to audience with language that was simultaneously simple to understand yet said everything you possibly needed to know. This is clearly a strength of the writer Alice Birch as she is able to say very little in her scripts but at the same time say everything which is not an easy idea to comprehend never mind create!

With the domestic setting, Violet is joined by her housemaid called Laura, played by the amazing Frances Gregory, who acts as an almost mother figure to young Violet. The early stages of the production she, Laura is visibly distraught by the impending end of the world as she tremors, stumbles and struggles to carry out common maid-based tasks which was performed excellently by France without these moments appearing forced or unauthentic. The inclusion of a maid-like character is a clever way for the production team to introduce an almost stage hand who is able to clear the scenes as they progress without the need for new faces to grace the stage which can again shatter the illusion the team are aiming to create. Violet is joined in her home by her husband Felix who is played by the incredible Richard Burkhard who also showcases his wonderful opera abilities. A personal highlight of this character was during a section between Felix and the clock keeper (played by Andrew MacKenzie-Wicks) where the former is begging the later to reset the time which is impossible. The character invites his friend over for tea but as the evening progress, the character becomes more and more desperate with his pleading will still maintaining his hosting persona. The two voices worked beautifully together while the careful choreography helped to balance the complexity of character reactions to the end of time.  The clockmaker also delivered a wonderfully intense performance towards the end of the production where he literally stood on top of the contraption he had been in control of (for what I assume is many, many years) as the final hour of time trickled away. This performance was wonderfully throughout with the earlier section being particular captivating as the character simply sang the words “time” repetitively but every time the audience could easily understand the emotions behind each different utterance. I do think this however at the end of this number needed a dramatic moment to help round of the show and stay inside this wickedly dark moment.

The ending of the show was intentionally very open, as Tom discussed his fondness of the audience interpreting the show in their own unique ways which explains why the narrative almost suddenly ended with no complete, definitive end from a creative standpoint. The actual end of the show was marked with a rather unusual cartoon that showed the audience a game show like tv show as another clock ticked away closer to twelve which was eventually skipped to one in the morning.

Overall, this production was a modern opera that aims to destigmatise the genre of opera and create a much more accessible medium that can only benefit the longevity of this genre. It must be the musical theatre child in my psyche that is infatuated any time I am in close proximity to a fully-fledged orchestra and the team from London Sinfonietta did not disappoint! The music was powerfully moving and atmospheric throughout to help add to the drama created by the actors on stage which is the main purpose of any orchestra! The story itself was extremely open leading to a multitude of multiple endings created by each audience member. I would rate this show 4 out of 5 stars!

REVIEW Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Hailed as ‘The Great American Novel’, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is an iconic tale of decadence, death and desire. It epitomized the feel of the Roaring Twenties like nothing else: an era of flappers, libertines and bright young things, where ‘anything goes’ wasn’t just a phrase but a state of mind. The story continues to captivate nearly a hundred years since its publication and Northern Ballet’s thrilling take on the tale is bolder and more beautiful than ever – no wonder that it’s returns for its third smash-hit tour, which graces the New Theatre this week for five nights of dazzling decadence.

Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor (photo credit: Caroline Holden)

Long Island, 1922. New-in-town Nick Carraway (Sean Bates) strikes up a friendship with his affluent and enigmatic neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Joseph Taylor). Gatsby’s lavish parties are legend – but Gatsby seems interested only in the green light across the Bay, to which he stretches out his arm night after night: the light on the dock belonging to his true love, Daisy (Abigail Prudames). With Gatsby gunning to win her back, Daisy’s marriage to the brutish Tom Buchanan (Lorenzo Trossello) is about to be tested when his affair with the socially ambitious Myrtle (Minju Kang) takes a dangerous new turn.

Northern Ballet dancers in The Great Gatsby (photo credit: Emily Nuttall)

Directed, designed and choreographed by David Nixon OBE, the show is a visual splendour from start to finish. It’s no surprise that Nixon was nominated for a UK Theatre Award and a National Dance Award for his work here: the stunning choreography and gorgeous costumes immerse you in the Jazz Age, taking you on a whistlestop tour through Gatsby’s world. Coupled with Jérôme Kaplan’s striking Art Deco-inspired sets and the sumptuous score by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE, played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, and you have a production that’s a feast for the senses.

Minju Kang (photo credit: Emma Kauldhar)

The ensemble is nothing short of perfection, bringing heart, soul and a jaw-dropping athleticism and grace. They convey a frenetic joy in the champagne-swilling speakeasies and sensual longing in every pas de deux. Heather Lehan oozes aloofness as socialite Jordan Baker, an effective foil to Bates’ nice-guy Nick. Minju Kang’s solos are a highlight, and the show soars whenever she shares the stage with Riku Ito (as her husband, George) and Trossello.

Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor (photo credit: Caroline Holden)

Taylor and Prudames are captivating as the doomed lovers at the story’s heart: they dance often in front of a wall of mirrors, but their reflections are distorted – just as their images of each other are – and they even mirror the movements of their younger selves, who dance behind them like echoes of the past.

Northern Ballet dancers in The Great Gatsby (photo credit: Emma Kauldhar)

Anyone who enjoys the themed weeks on Strictly Come Dancing will find a special joy in watching the show’s balletic spin on Charlestons and tangos, and flashbacks to Gatsby’s shady past are brilliantly conveyed through a phalanx of fedora-wearing crooks. Northern Ballet have captured every facet of the era’s excess, every lost love and lost chance: most of all, they have captured a sense of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour that you just don’t see these days. In their hands, Gatsby isn’t just great – it’s magnificent.

Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby is at the New Theatre Cardiff from Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 June

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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Review: Conversations With People Who Hate Me by Dylan Marron, By Sian Thomas

Four stars

I remember when this podcast went live, boosted somewhere into my online feed because I had been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, even as I felt it slipping from my grasp of enjoyment (it’s back now).

“Conversations With People Who Hate Me” is a podcast initially beginning with Dylan Marron, the creator, reaching out to people who have left him mean comments on his online work. They discuss the comment, among other things, and while not strictly having to come to some ample, satisfactory conclusion, usually both parties leave the table feeling different to how they sat down at it. It would later evolve into Dylan moderating a conversation between two people – one whose work or art piece or the like received a mean comment, and the person who left it.

I thought this was an interesting idea when it first came out back in 2017, mostly because I’d seen nothing like it outside of thinking back to when you’d get taught as a kid to “be nice”, or “not get angry” that kind of thing, that parents kind of do: “Remember to share!” when they’re, I don’t know, in the kitchen, and not watching you not share. “Just talk!” felt like impractical advice, I wasn’t sure how it would help, if it even could. But I remember listening to a few episodes before I fell off of podcasts entirely, (not for any particular reason, I think it would mostly down to this itch in my brain that told me if I’m listening to people speak then I have to listen and I found myself unable to do anything else if I had a podcast on, and I must not have been getting enough A-Level revision done as a result) listening to the back and fore of a conversation that would definitely frustrate me, but I found Dylan was navigating well. It wasn’t something I could have done. I’m not certain it is now, five years on.

The book was quite a lot about how the podcast came to be, and what was learned during its creation process. Which is fine, truthfully, I wasn’t sure it would be about anything else since the book and the podcast shared the same name. There is a tale woven within it about what the internet is and what it could be – how it effects us and the kinds of things, good and bad, it can lead us to doing or feeling. I enjoyed seeing the depth of something I had liked and then lost hold of years ago, re-entering my vision in a way that contextualised and solved what probably caused me to drop it in the first place. I don’t think I was ready to have the kinds of conversations Dylan was having then, and while I’m not convinced I am now, either, one thing I found dazzlingly soothing was the understanding of the “Everything Storm”. The “Everything Storm” is kind of how it sounds: everything is happening all the time, all at once, and if you can’t keep up, someone on the internet definitely thinks you suck. I never realised this was what was causing my own version of an internet fatigue, but on reading Dylan’s detailing of his own (even as it was attributed to discussions he was having and manifesting as different emotions and actions for him), I was like, oh man, this is it. This is what pushed me to the private twitter with all of my ten highly vetted followers, what made me rest my phone face down. It was nice to put a name to that weird feeling of guilt when something happens and all I can think when I look at it was, “Oh no. Not now. Please.”

This was definitely a feature of the book I really enjoyed, the detailing of the arcs of a conversation, serving you pieces you can recognise and take away with you, the smallest of navigation tips to assure your nerves if you ever take on the kind of conversations Dylan does.

The book is delightfully written, reading like a winding story while instilling a genuine lesson. I don’t often read non-fiction, but when I do I find I prefer it to feel almost personal. I enjoyed this deep dive into the very back of Dylan Marron’s mind: what lead to the podcast and the further book, and all the nuances of creation that came both before, and during, this chapter of his life. I can see why it would have been difficult to write, after learning it was supposed to release in mid 2020, not the first half of 2022. The deliberation of what may come of these “pieces” – the consequences to all of Dylan’s actions, in a way -was purposeful and honest. Which is refreshing to see in world tearing itself apart wondering who the main character of the day is, and how exactly then can get got.

I think Dylan Marron is the kind of person you either quietly follow through the years, even if you’re not aware that you are (which is the category I fall into: I heard of him through his work on Welcome to Night Vale, and found myself coming back to his page every so often to see what, if anything, had changed), or, one day, you happen upon him by accident entirely. For a long time he was just “that voice on that show I used to listen to”, but I realise now Dylan is much more and has been doing much, much more than that. I get the feeling that this is something of a memoir rather than a self-help-essay-type of book like Good Vibes Good Life by Vex King, which I really, really like. It feels real and honest; genuine and undoubtfully true. It has a similar kind of vibe to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic – a snippet of a wide, three-dimensional life, and how it made an unfathomably large ripple across the rest of that person’s days.

It was a fantastic read. I don’t know that I would recommend it to everyone, but I think it’s one of those books where if you look into it yourself and think yeah, I can get behind this, then do.

Sian Thomas