On January 10th, I took a trip to Caerphilly Castle. Having never been there before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – my knowledge of castles extends to, and ends with, Castle Coch and the sparing glance I give Cardiff Castle when j hustle passed it in the city centre. I paid four Time Credits (per person) to get in, and I’d say it was wholly worth it.
Arriving there was amazing, it was so much bigger than I thought, and all of the greenery and animals made it feel almost magical. The long stretching bridges and the reflection from the sun off the water in the moat in its glaring way was amazing; the cold day almost turned warm with how picturesque and summery the scene looked in front of me.
The castle itself was winding and really inviting, it leads you through it without you knowing it has. Every room connects to the other with its own feel of secrecy and intrigue. I found myself wondering more than once whether to go up or down a set of rocky, spiral stairs, where I’d end up on the other end of them and how I’d get back to go the opposite way, but that worry was hugely unnecessary as I was always lead back around to discover it all, whether I noticed the decision was made by my own feet or by the castle floors or not.
My favourite parts were the stretching balcony, almost like a corridor in its length but giving you a view of the greenery and moat on one side, and the courtyard below on the other side every few steps, the corridor that felt more like a cave; enveloping and private, and the very top of the towers (it was just a shame that some of the rock had eroded away enough for the actual top to be blocked off – but despite that, being at such a height in such a space of land was honestly incredible).
From the gift shop, I bought a small pink dragon. There was an area right where you start your trail where you can look into an enclosure from above and see a few dragon statues. They’re so bright in colour and give you honest piercings looks (the kind that make you think the eyes are following you).
3) http://getthechance.wales/2019/03/02/review-how-to-train-your-dragon-3-by-sian-thomas/. End of an era! I loved this series when I was in my early teens and kept a close hold of it all the way until the end. I cried when I saw it in the cinema, at the end, when Hiccup and Toothless went their separate ways and then saw each other again a good number of years later. An amazing film about people and creatures and their relationships. Also, visually stunning. Animation is a top tier medium.
Personal: I finished my first year of university this year, and did so well in my classes that the university gave me a cash prize. There was a chance for people to win £1000 by getting a really good mark for their first year, and I had no idea about it until I received an email saying I’d won. Which was amazing news! It made me really proud of my both my actual work and my work ethic from the first year. It was a big academic confidence boost!
With such a cornucopia of goodies on offer theatre-wise during the past year, it isn’t easy to single out just three. For my money, two of these have to be musical theatre productions: Kinky Boots and Les Misérables, both staged in the Donald Gordon Theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre.
First on my list has to be Les Misérables. Cameron Mackintosh’s production, first staged
almost a decade ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Les Mis,
once again proved what a sure-fire winner it is. Grand theatre at its best, top
of the tree for music, lyrics, storyline et al.
A privilege to watch, all presented by a multi-talented cast, among them
Welsh actor Ian Hughes as a nimble-footed Thenardier who brought the audience
to its feet on opening night with his uproariously funny rendering of Master
of the House.
Closely followed, I must admit by Kinky Boots which
was, start to finish, a joy to watch. So
much more than “Just another musical,” it has at its heart a subject which nowadays
is treated in most cases empathetically but which was by any means the case
only a few short years ago. I refer to
transgender. Kinky Boots tackles this head on, with the
occasional heartbreak mixed with the fun and verve which is characteristic of
this amazing show, all dished out by a superb cast.
On to number three – also at the WMC, home of Welsh National
Opera who once again proved what a top-notch company they are with their new
production of Bizet’s Carmen. An operatic sizzler with wonderful
music, the story of the torrid but doomed relationship of the gypsy girl Carmen
and her solder lover is given a contemporary twist by director Jo Davies which
works brilliantly, with the added advantage of French being the native tongue of
mezzo soprano Virginie Verrez in the title role. With the mesmeric Habanera in
Act I, wonderful music and at times gut-wrenching libretto, this Carmen is
proof – if, indeed, proof was needed – that a new slant on an old favourite can
And now to the best “Cultural experience.” I am going to go off piste here, for to my
mind it has to be the film Solomon and Gaenor, given a twentieth
anniversary screening at Chapter with the film’s writer/director Paul Morrison,
producer Sheryl Crown and leading lady Nia Roberts on stage afterwards for a Q
and A. The Oscar-nominated and BAFTA
award-winning film, with dialogue in Welsh, English and Yiddish, set in the
Valleys back in the time of the Tredegar riots, tells the story of forbidden
love between a young Jewish peddler and a young girl from a strict Chapel going
Pinpointing how attitudes have changed, despite still – as Morrison commented during the discussion afterwards – having a way to go, Solomon and Gaenor, shown as part of the Jewish Film Festival, is riveting from start to finish in a drama that is upfront and unique in its presentation.
2019 was a brilliant year for Welsh theatre, a real
abundance of riches across the stages of Cardiff. American Idiot started off
the year with a bang, Peter Pan Goes Wrong brought comedic chaos, and Curtains
brought the kind of vintage charm you can only usually find among the bright
lights of Broadway and the West End. Narrowing it down is a tricky task, but
there were a few shows that stood out among the rest for me…
#3: The Creature (Chapter Arts Centre)
In what daily seems like an increasingly unkind, apathetic world, The Creature was a beam of hope in a dark time that didn’t shy away from trauma or tragedy but which held with it the promise of a better future – if we fight for it. It seemed perfectly tailored to me and my research interests – a modern take on the criminal justice system via a pseudo-Frankenstein adaptation, it hooked into my soul and still hasn’t let go. I’m eagerly anticipating the future endeavours of this fantastic creative team.
#2: Cardiff Does Christmas – Cinderella (New Theatre) and
The Snow Queen (Sherman Theatre)
The Christmas shows this year were the best I’ve had the privilege of seeing in quite some time. Cinderella was the show that reignited my long-dormant love of panto and saw the season in with festive cheer, while Sherman Theatre’s The Snow Queen was brimming with Christmas magic and a sweet tale of friendship, courage, and the fight against seemingly-insurmountable odds – a message we could all use about now.
#1: Hedda Gabler (Sherman Theatre)
It’s become increasingly apparent to me that the Sherman is
the soul of contemporary Welsh theatre – consistently producing creative,
fascinating and timely plays ‘rooted in Wales but relevant to the world’, as AD
Joe Murphy said of his artistic vision. Their staging of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler was
an utterly stunning adaptation that haunts me to this day – and Prof Ambreena
Manji and I were blessed to be able to bring our Law and Literature students to
the production as we’re studying the text this year. You know it’s a roaring
success when the students want to write their coursework on Hedda!
Reviewing for Get the Chance has been my cultural highlight, which includes being continually in awe of the kindness and generosity of the Sherman, New Theatre and Chapter: the future of Welsh Theatre is in good hands indeed!
Losing Home, My 2019 Highlight, Les Misérables, Eva Marloes
As 2019 comes to a close, so vanishes the last hope of stopping Brexit. It is decided. Parliament has agreed our ‘divorce’ from the EU. Some feel elated, some relieved, some dejected. The morning after the 2016’s referendum, some people in Britain woke up and felt stripped of their very identity. The EU question was never about rules and regulations, trade agreements or sovereignty; it was about identity. In the political debate, only the Leave side appealed to identity. The European identity of many Remainers was and still largely is neglected. This is what makes Mathilde Lopez’s interpretation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables so poignant. It gave voice to the emotional attachment to the EU some people have always felt or have begun to feel once that belonging came under threat.
The beauty of Lopez’s take on Hugo’s masterpiece lies in interweaving the ‘small’ lives of individuals with the ‘big’ events of history. It is personal and political. It speaks of today by reaching into the past. With Les Misérables, Lopez brings together the battle of Brexit with that of Waterloo. It is a tragi-comedy that makes the lives of ordinary people part of history. Amidst the blood of Waterloo, the crisps devoured while listening to the referendum results, and the summer music of holiday-makers, we experienced the banality and significance of the Brexit decision.
The play was fun and moving. It was original, innovative, and thoughtful. It wasn’t perfect and wasn’t the best show I’ve seen in 2019 (that should go to WNO’s Rigoletto), but it was the most significant of what the country is going through. By mixing the escapism of the holiday feel with the horror of Waterloo and the shock of people watching the referendum results coming in, Les Misérables captures the closeness and distance we feel when caught in events of historical significance.
In one night, something changed radically. For European citizens in Britain, Brexit has created insecurity about their status, brought extra costs to get documentation that might allow them to stay, and has made them vulnerable to attack and insults. They don’t belong. The nostalgic identity the ideologues of Brexit have conjured is too narrow and homogeneous for some British people too. They too don’t belong. As Britain seeks to close its borders and refashion a nationalistic identity, some of us have lost their home.
In my review of Lopez’s Les Misérables, I wrote that the play appealed to faith, hope, and love. It was an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Hugo described Waterloo as ‘the beginning of the defeat.’ As the first phase of Brexit concludes, it is tempting to use Hugo’s words for Brexit as the defeat of the dream of an inclusive and welcoming society, but it is not over. Nostalgia is incapable of meeting the challenge of the present, let alone of envisioning a future. That is for us to do. It is for all of us to imagine our future and rebuild our home. It begins now.
(My behind the scene article on the production Les Misérables can be found here)
Bodyguard at The WMC
The biggest and boldest production I have ever seen with music that has become iconic.
Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre Company
A fantastic piece of theatre thy showed the true meaning of inclusivity while also showing an unique art form of puppeteering.
A fantastic and modern piece of theatre that literally gave a voice to someone who doesn’t have one.
Pavilion, Theatr Clwyd
A sharp and witty ode to small town Wales, Emily White has produced a great piece of engaging drama out of the mundane, the everyday. With recognisable characters brought to life by a hugely talented cast, this represents an excellent debut for a Welsh writer whose talent is sure to be noticed.
Writer Fflur Dafydd continues to demonstrate why she is one of Wales’ foremost scriptwriters with this intriguing mystery drama. Her intimate characterisation and weaving narrative kept viewers gripped right to final moments of its eight-part run.
A really important and culturally significant film, providing a fascinating insight into the Welsh language music scene. Huw Stephens deserves huge credit for spearheading it. I urge you to see it if you can’.
Cotton Fingers, NTW by Rachel Trezise and On Bear Ridge, NTW by Ed Thomas, both at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Having returned from University in Brighton this year, it was brilliant to see the Sherman Theatre flourishing as much as it was when I left Cardiff 3 years ago. The detail that went into Cai Dyfan’s set design for On Bear Ridge was incredible to witness. His level of craftsmanship, often only found in commercial and west end theatres, was a delight to see on a smaller, regional stage.
Meanwhile, a more stripped back Cotton Fingers let its script do all the talking and was skill-fully delivered by actor Amy Molloy.
Shout out must go to Katherine Chandler for her play Lose Yourself, also at the Sherman Theatre. Although I did not review this play, it was definitely one of my highlights of 2019. Gut-wrenching for all the right reasons, its finale left the audience silent. I’ll never forget heaviness in the air at the end of play felt by everyone in the audience who just experienced something very important together.
Personal cultural event of 2019: Slowthai at Glastonbury – never before have I been so instantly hooked on an artist I’ve never listened to before. The way he riled up the crowd with his boisterous, unapologetic stagemanship was incredible to witness and I haven’t stopped listening to him since.
Christmas Carol, Theatr Clwyd
A thoroughly enjoyable interactive performance that communicated much of what Dickens intended yet had a lightness of touch, an impish humour and a sense of occasion that made it well suited to a Christmas show.
I love that the National Museum, Cardiff is starting to put on more and more special events. It makes it even more exciting to go along to a trip to the museum. Museum entry is free, with some additional events requiring to buy a ticket beforehand.
I volunteered for the Museum Late Space. It was in evening after official closing time, with multiple entertainment, bar and drinks, DJ and music, lots of different acts on around the building and more! Great night! I noticed there is Museum Late Dippy Dino theme in January, early 2020. I may see if I can volunteer for that too.
Leading up to this Christmas, a weekend in December, the museum has been putting on the classic The Snowman screenings in the Reardon Smith Theatre, located on the side of the museum.
Walking down the side of the museum, I was a bit miffed at first as I saw steps and wasn’t sure how to get to the side door, eventually with some more st’roll’ing around the back of the museum, there was area with no steps to the Reardon Smith lecture theatre entrance. Maybe a sign would have made it more clearer.
We were greeted by cheery helpful staff, pretty lights and trees, and given a popcorn each. They also offered help to carry them to our seats which was very thoughtful. We were given white fluffy snowballs too, which they said to keep for a surprise at the end.
We went into a door that avoided the steps, that led to the very top of the lecture theatre which had an area for a few wheelchair users.
They made the atmosphere so cosy, blue lights to have that cool cold effect, and projected falling snow on the sides, Christmas music playing, on the stage they had it set up with a few Christmas trees and presents, with the big back screen where The Snowman would be shown.
I’m sure everyone enjoyed digging into their popcorn, a lovely space to watch the snowman, some giggles from children when the cat is scared of the snowman and when the snowman makes fruit faces. My children stood up and put their arms out for the ‘Walking in the Air’ song and scene, pretending to fly.
At the end they had a snowman come on stage for a snowball fight and photos.
Definitely a hit with the children and adults alike!
I look forward to more special events at the National Museum of Wales Cardiff.
I walked into Kinetic Theatre Arts performance of Ghosts knowing very little about the story. I obviously knew it was based on the movie which involved Patrick Swayze and I was familiar with the iconic pottery with a ghost scene but apart from that, I knew nothing. So I was really excited to watch this production and it did not disappoint. In fact, this show was one of the most professional feeling amateur shows that I have ever seen. Every single person who was involved in this show clearly worked extremely hard to make sure everything was perfectly ready for the audience to watch.
The lead character of Sam Wheat is a massive role to take on especially in this musical as it was played in the movie by the legend Patrick Swayze, on top of this in the musical it is a very difficult part to perform as the vocal ability required is very high but Jack Williams (who played this character in Kinetics performance) did seem fazed in the slightest. He was boldly confident throughout, stayed in character constantly while on stage, his singing was amazing and he also appeared to have a great relationship with all the other cast members which was clear to the audience through the dynamics on stage. He clearly has a bright future ahead of him and is some to look out for as I know he will make it big someday. The only issue I have with this character is not based on Jack’s portrayal but rather a creative decision. There was a guitar on stage which was used for the song ‘Unchained Melody’ and while I understand the importance of guitar playing in this song it was quite distracting for the actor to be mining playing the guitar. This is not an issue with jacks acting as he tried very hard to make this look as realistic as possible but it was clear it wasn’t him playing which was very off-putting for the audience.
Molly who was Sams love interest in this story was played by Sophie baker who blew everyone away with her incredible singing. She posses an extremely strong powerful voice and was able to manipulate the audience’s emotions perfectly. One of the stand moments for this character appeared in the song “With You” which was a pure showcase of Sophie singing talent. It was beautifully performed and had many audience members very close to tears. Despite the power of Sophie’s voice, she was also able to balance the more vulnerable and weaker side of character excellently. Jack and Sophie clearly have great chemistry as there two characters gave a realistic and believable performance as a couple which was fantastic to watch. There duet ‘Here Right Now’ was impeccable. The voices blended beautifully together to deliver this emotionally charged song in a way that it was heartfelt and felt real to the audience which is obviously very important for any performer.
Sam and Molly’s closest friend in this story is a character called Carl who was played by Taylor Morris who is also an extremely talented performer. Taylor has a kind and lovable air to him which he utilised in this character perfectly and made the shocking revelations even more impactful. The partnership of Taylor and Jack was clearly very strong and they have wonderful chemistry with their friendship clear to see on the stage. Their two voice combined beautifully in songs which they appeared together and they are I excitedly wait for another production was these two stars in the making get to work together again. Taylor managed to portray both sides of the character perfectly as well as having the internal plucky desperation that fitted his character to a tee. This role played on every one of Taylor’s strengths and he seemed to excel in a darker role than I am used to seeing him in. With this in mind, I am excited to see where he ends up and look forward to seeing him play some more sinister roles specifically in the future.
The highlight in this show was Oda-mae who was played by Rhian Holmes. I have to be honest at first I was apprehensive of the iconic role (originally played by the remarkable Whoopi Goldberg) being adapted to fit the cast available but Rhian’s portrayal was OUT OF THIS WORLD! The creative team who developed the scene in which Oda-mae makes her big entrance absolutely nailed it. This scene did everything it needed to and more. From the inclusion of two sparkly dresses support actresses (Taylor-Paul and jasmine Muscat) to the choreography, costumes to Rhian’s actual physicalisation of the character everything was just so spot on. This character goes on a journey from the audience perspective from a clear fraud and theft to a loveable character by the end of the story and this is done, I believe mostly through her songs. Songs such as ‘Out of Here’ and ‘Do you Believe?’ were excellently performed by Rhian who had the audience laughing through with her quick wit and sarcastic nature as well as demonstrating here wonderful singing. Rhian is clearly a very talented and professional performer as there was a small mistake with a prop and instead of her letting that put her off, she simply continued the scene, swiftly turned her back to the audience when the prop was in use which many people in the audience would not have noticed something was wrong which goes to demonstrate Rhian quick thinking and professionalism. Ignoring the performance side of this character he best thing about Rhian’s portrayal was that she was evidently enjoying her time on stage and was having fun in the role. She had a sensible sense of joy and fun which was the icing of the top of this wonderful cake.
Lewys Ringham’s portrayal as the hired hand/thug Willie Lopez was extremely good that it was actually unsettling for the audience when he appeared on stage. He provides one of the most shocking moments in the entire show which had an audible gasp from the audience. My only qualm with this character is that is was clearly written for a Mexican influenced actor with the vocabulary and vernacular clearly demonstrating that but instead in this version, Willie spoke with a Brooklyn accent which obviously adds to the threading nature of the role but was a bit surprising to listen to. The subway ghost in this production was played by Ethan Davies who also gave a very aggressive and intense portrayal of the character. Due to the costume and characterisation, this roles did give off Neo (from The Matrix franchise) vibes which actually worked excellently. His song ‘Focus’ was very entertaining to watch while also being very tense which is very difficult to do and show Ethan’s talent for performing. In general, the entire show contained a superb ensemble who clearly worked just as hard as and felt just as valued as the lead roles.
I was surprised at how an amateur production can feel so professional and nail all the technical aspects of this massive show. The opening set of a newly discovered room was incredible. It was everything it needed to be to demonstrate a room while looking artistic and stylish. This amazing set did, however, make some of the other backdrops of the scene a little disappointing but the standard raised again during the official based scenes. The set used for the scenes that take place in a train was beautiful and allowed the actors to have a space to perform complex fight scenes while the audience can clearly see they took place in a train. This was again incredible to see. The actual death of the characters were somewhat confusing. After they died they were carried off by mysterious men in black which were cleverly done but the actual deaths were unusual. Each person had a sort of body double (although they looked nothing like the person they were supposed to represent) and when a character died the body double has become a dead body and the original actor would become a ghost. While I understand why this was done and I personally can’t think of a better alternative, this was very confusing to follow for the audience. We also had someone who was evidently missing a prop at the beginning of act two and while they didn’t appear dazed and they continued the number anyway, it was clear a prop was missing which did look strange from the audience perspective.
In general, this is an incredible show that had a truly professional feel, and Insanely talented cast and obviously an insane team working behind the scenes. There isn’t many amateur productions that I have seen where the cast receive a standing ovation from every member of the audience. I would rate this show 4 and a half stars and would recommend everyone to watch ghost before it departs and keep an eye out of Kinetics next production as they are not to be missed!
I hadn’t realised how much I had needed Red until I went to see it. Although primarily a show for young audiences (Age 7+), this is a show that will entice and delight from the get-go. Inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, audiences are drawn into the wonderful world of Amazon-esque delivery couriers Jones and Groves. The two playfully navigate the mysterious woods as they struggle to deliver a special package to a cottage well off the beaten track. Along the way they encounter a curious ‘tree dweller’ chap called Peter.
Actor Connor Allen (who some regular theatre goers might recognise from the Sherman’s ‘Bird’ production) is a great addition to Hazel Anderson and Ellen Groves (who brought us the stunning production ‘The Giant That Had no Heart In His Body’). There is something so watchable and endearing about Allen’s vulnerability on stage that makes him a delight to watch. It’s also wonderful to see more creative brilliance from Director Hannah McPake, co-founder of Gagglebabble whose previous show Wonderman I had enjoyed so much.
Don’t expect big fanciful sets and props here, the magic of this show is the pictures they paint with the stripped-down set. Scaffolding becomes a tree, a cottage and a bush, pool noodles become spider legs, an old Ikea bag turned inside out doubles as a dung beetle costume. There is wonderful interplay and energy between the cast, who riff off one another and egg each other on.
Audience members are given a ‘special briefing’ on the way in. We are now pigeons and some audience members become involved in the ‘special mission’ itself. We coo throughout the performance and at one point, we all stand up and perform some aerobics. This isn’t just a show about delivering the package and the link with Little Red Riding Hood is almost secondary to the real story of the play. That our fear of the unknown is almost primal, handed down to us by parents or others. The day after the election results (when this play opened), this feels almost intuitively timely.
“Why are you scared of wolves?” one of the characters asks.
Was it the claws and the fangs and the fact they want to eat little children?
As the contents of the package are revealed, the play asks us to ponder the possibility that actually WE are the wolves, that wolves are within us all. Wolves, forests, new places, scary quests that test you and your bravery. All these can be monstrous until and unless you face your fears.
It’s subtle and clever storytelling that weaves stereotypes, myth and legends with the whimsical, silly and imaginative.
They do so incredibly well to blend all elements together in a way which will envelope you until you feel like you’re up on the scaffolding with them.
The quips, gags and clowning that Hazel Anderson and Ellen Groves add to the mix are spectacular. There are no groans or polite chuckles here. Expect gutsy belly laughs and un-self-conscious comments/suggestions shouted out from the little ones in the audience. It feels brilliantly intimate and homespun, like as if your mad aunties are doing a turn in the living room and Nan’s been on the sherry again.
Little audience members will love the montage routine, circus skills, dream beavers and jazz badgers. It’ll all make perfect sense once you have stepped into the forest. Oh…if you can’t find it on the ‘magic map’ that looks like Antarctica, it’s near Tesco Express.
Better than pantomime, with better gags and more imaginative costumes – this is a first-class family experience and definitely not to be missed.
Having seen the last heaven on their minds concert the bar was set very high and this show did not disappoint. The fantastic thig about this show is was that it was just like a traditional Christmas service with every single performer visably having a good time and we’re excited to share their passion for Christmas with everyone who attended.
This show opened with fantastic group rendition of “Its Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” which was an incredible way to start the show due to what the song is about. On top of this, the harmonic singing towards the end of the song was beautifully performed and gave the audience goosebumps. This was the perfect way to start the show and help inform the audience that they are in for a night of incredible singing. My only issue with this song was that there was a point where one of the performers sang the wrong lyrics and the other performers were visibly confused which was obviously unsettling for the audience. When I watched their last production I commented on the fact that the group numbers weren’t as polished as the solo performances, this wasn’t the case in this show. The group numbers in this show were of a much higher standard and even rivalled the solo performances which shows how well these performers work together but also how talented they each are individually which makes for a much more enjoyable viewing experience.
A highlight in this production for me was ‘Silent Night’ which was another group song but they had creatively performed his song in Welsh, English and signed the words. Not only was this song beautifully sang but the inclusion of these different mediums was incredibly heartwarming and moving. This could have been a perfect way to end the entire show but instead, it was closed by ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Fun Run Rudolf’ which was again beautifully performed but I think the emotional nature of Silent Night would have really helped punctuate the Christmas spirit of the show. Unlike the previous show, this performance contained a small amount of dance and small amounts of acting that set up songs. I think that this was at time unnecessary as it was a concert and it’s not what people expected. Don’t get me wrong they were entertaining but these theatrics were at times distracting from the songs and really the singing should remain the focus of the show.
All performers in this show were insanely talented and were a joy to watch due to their passion for sharing the Christmas spirit. Nicky Taliesin was one of the performers I had never heard before this concert but he clearly has a great future ahead of himself. He clearly had the most Christmas spirit out of the performance and had a massive sense of joy which made his performance even more enjoyable to watch. Nicky performed an extremely Christmassy rendition of ‘Belief’ from Polar Express, which is a song I personally had never heard of but has now been added to my Christmas playlist due to the stellar performance by Nicky. He also performed one of my personal favourite Christmas songs ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ which was amazing to listen to.
Nicky and Ben-Joseph Smith performed a playful version of ‘Santa Baby’ with the two voices contrasting each other and on stage banter which joined together to create a very enjoyable and fun song to witness. Ben was another talented performer who seemed to excel in the duets including ‘ Santa Baby’ and ‘Cold Outside’ the matter of which he performed with Harriet Taylor. The only issue with the latter was it contained a lot of theatrics which distracted from the performance at times. But the sound of these two performers singing together was out of this world. They clearly have great on and off-stage chemistry which really worked well with the nature of this song.
Harriet performed took on the massive task of performing the Iconic Christmas hit ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ by Mariah Carey, which is a massive song to take on and Harriet did not appear phased at all. She performed this song in a unique and interesting way which was great to see. Another new performer that I had never experienced before was Chloe Rolland who is an extremely talented performer and again has a great career ahead of her. Chloe helped deliver some witty and entertaining anecdotes between songs but also performed one of the best rendition of ‘Oh Holy Night’ I have ever heard.
Although the signing in this show was as near perfect as possible it was clear that this was not the main purpose of the show. The majority of the songs in this show were popular songs everyone knew, even with a singalong of White Christmas at the end of the show, this alongside the theatrics demonstrates that this show was all about generating Christmas feeling and having the audience to be overcome with emotions which it most defintley did. This was an amazing show that did exactly what it needed to while also being a showcase of talent and I would rate it 4 out of 5 stars! I would encourage people to keep an eye on ’Heaven on Their Minds’ as it is a show not to miss and is clearly destined for great things in the future!
Pantomime is such a fantastically British art form; a sarcastic blend of slapstick, farce and musical comedy that feels inextricably interwoven with the festive season, brimming with daft jokes for the kids and innuendo for the adults. But panto and I haven’t always been on the best of terms. Our conscious uncoupling resulted from the traumatizingly formative pantomime experience of my youth where everything was too loud, too overwhelming, and too upsetting because one of the ugly stepsisters hit on my grandpa – while my grandma was sitting RIGHT NEXT TO HIM. None of us went home filled with Yuletide joy that night – witnessing ‘Allo ‘Allo’s Sue Hodge try to chat up a close family member does slightly dull your enthusiasm for the medium, it turns out – and I’ve never been to another panto since. Until now…
As luck would have it, it’s another iteration of Cinderella that’s got me tentatively dipping my toe back into the panto pool. Decreed by this production as ‘the Fairy Godmother of all pantomimes’, Cinderella is the ultimate Christmas classic, a story so familiar you could probably shout out the lines in your sleep – and this new production is filled with enough glitz, glamour and giggles to remind you why it’s one of the ultimate feel-good fairy tales. I entered the theatre with not a little trepidation and brought backup in the form of my grandpa (not the one Sue Hodge tried to pick up; pretty sure that one’s off panto for life), and left it singing, laughing, and wishing for an encore!
Musical director Michael Morwood’s scintillating New Theatre orchestra makes a joyful noise (their rendition of Pure Imagination, a recurring musical motif, is utterly magical) and the production values are uniformly amazing, from the incredible sets and visual effects to the gorgeous costumes and choreography. Pantos tend to keep up to date with the music of their time – remember S Club 7’s appearance in that Aladdin panto ITV used to rerun every Christmas in the early ‘00s? This reviewer fondly does – and Cinderella has its fair share of modern(ish) tunes on its slate from the likes of Beyonce, the Jonas Brothers, Shawn Mendes and Pink, as well as some campy classics by Shirley Bassey and Gloria Gaynor.
The cast is stellar across the board, but it’s Gok Wan as the Fairy Gokmother (!) that’s maybe the most perfect, meta casting choice of all – because who better to play the ultimate fairy tale makeover guru than the man who taught a nation how to look good naked? Have no fear: there’s no nudity here, as the cast are fabulously costumed to Wan’s high standards. Wan leads the show with effortless charm, wrangling some sense out of the wacky proceedings and making a grand entrance into every scene via sparkly explosion or flying moon. He also accidentally lobbed a bunch of toilet rolls into the audience during a deliciously chaotic rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas, which is the kind of quality ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ goof you just don’t get in your bog-standard (pun intended) end-of-year production.
Phil Butler is amazing as the lovably lovelorn Buttons, pining unrequitedly for Teleri Hughes’ lovely Cinderella. Butler channels the keenly controlled mania of Lee Evans (a compliment I wouldn’t give lightly), playing especially well off of his co-master of ceremonies Gok Wan, and had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Butler’s delivery transforms every line into a zinger – I was responsible for the loudest guffaw when Buttons claimed to be in his mid-thirties (alarming evidence that I’m turning into my grandma who, when we saw 12 Angry Men at the New Theatre some years ago, watched Tom Conti walk onstage and proclaimed in the loudest stage whisper in the history of theatre, ‘That’s not Tom Conti, is it? My God, he’s looking old!’)
Hughes’ Cinders and Rob Wilshaw’s Prince Charming don’t have the meatiest material but they perform their roles beautifully and lay claim to the loveliest duet, a surprisingly emotional version of Shawn Mendes’ If I Can’t Have You. They also get to flex their comedic chops during a hilarious cover of Beyonce’s Listen, a poignant ballad broken up by a jealous Buttons repeatedly asking Cinderella ‘Who’s that bloke?’ Dale Evans particularly stands out as Dandrini, the Prince’s best friend, who seems like the lovechild of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender and who shares with Wilshaw an exciting cover of Jonas Brothers’ Sucker and belts out an epic solo version of Pink’s Get the Party Started, backed by the excellent ensemble dancers. (Regan Gascoigne and Nathan Skyrme were on particularly lively form).
But let’s be honest: this show belongs to the ugly stepsisters, and Ceri Dupree and Mike Doyle as the winkingly-named Tess and Claudia own the stage whenever they strut onto it. Doyle, an award-winning comedian, returns here for his seventh consecutive year as the New Theatre’s panto stalwart; a performer hasn’t got this much joyous mileage out of a Welshily-drawled ‘alriiiiiiight’ since Nessa Jenkins, and he wears the ever-living hell out of the eye-poppingly inventive costumes – designed by Ceri Dupree, who also plays the Tess to his Claudia. Dupree, an international cabaret star, is the show’s secret weapon, countering Doyle’s outrageous bawdiness with an elegantly deadpan aloofness – and by God he knows how to wear a gown. The revolving runway of their increasingly garish costumes is a gag that never gets old – at various points Doyle dresses in outfits that variously evoke a bee, a lampshade and set of traffic lights, and early on in the show the sisters emerge from the stage garbed in what I can only describe as nightmarishly horticultural French and Saunders cosplay. Their Shirley Bassey-off alone is something you have to witness with your own eyes.
I’ll try not to spoil too many of the jokes here because watching them unfold live is a delight you should experience for yourselves – and (thankfully for this introvert) audience participation is limited to your standard ‘OH NO IT ISN’T’ fare, not the ‘dragging someone onstage’ nightmares that have haunted my dreams in the run-up to this performance. I was especially delighted to see so many Welshisms in the show that gave it a personal feel: from Buttons’ snarky asides about Ely and Butetown to the prince inviting such nobles as Megan of Mynachdy to the ball, it’s wonderfully tailored to Welsh audiences.
Cinderella was the show which reignited the snuffed flame of panto love in my heart, and for that I’ll forever be grateful. It’s total escapism; a show brimming with joy, jokes and genuineness that made me forget the worries of the world for two hours, and it’s the ultimate family show because it absolutely has something for everyone. ‘The word for it is magical,’ my grandpa declared after it ended, and I couldn’t agree more: not only will you go to the ball, you’ll have one too!
“It’s Alice with a ‘y’,” (Alys) says the protagonist of The Curious Muchness of Stuff and Nonsense to a puzzled Caterpillar and an equally puzzled audience. It’s Welsh. The ‘welshified’ Alice in Wonderland, written by Hefin Robinson, isa funny and song-filled piece for the pleasure of children.
Odyssey, Hijinx Community Theatre Group, manages to delight its audience, and not just the children in the audience, in their Christmas production. It begins with Alys glued to her phone and being reminded, together with the audience, to switch it off. It’s time for her birthday party. Curious Muchness is very much a party with a large cast of disabled and non-disabled performers from Odyssey and Woodlands High School parading and singing on stage. The piece seeks to tap into contemporary life: the White Rabbit looks for a ‘clever watch’ (smart watch), the Caterpillar is a celebrity singer, a lost Alys gets told to check Googlemaps to find her way home, and three former Queen’s servants demand their jobs back.
Curious Muchness is at its best when it plays with Cardiff’s weather and the Welsh language. It is unpretentious light fun for a very young audience. It is the perfect production for the ‘jolly season’. It is Alice in Wonderland with no darkness. The lack of darkness takes away the suspense and the emotional arch. It also poses the question of what is appropriate for children. Should fear really have no place in children’s entertainment? The fantastical theatre (and film) of today is too often an escape into an unthreatening and joyful world. Curious Muchness is no exception. As a child, my favourite scene of Disney’s Snow White was the transformation of the beautiful Queen into a terrifying witch. The darkness of folk stories is not just to scare, but to let us travel safely into the unknown. Dark stories are a journey into our unconscious, filled with fears, dangers, and dreams, made safe by knowing that it is only our imagination, a shared dream, that is always resolved at the end by going back to our conscious state. We go back with a deeper sense of who we are.
When it comes to getting in the festive spirit, Newport might not always be the first thought that pops into your head. But Newport’s Riverfront venue was full of festive cheer this week as the City served up the first Christmas Panto of the season – the biggest the city’s arts team has ever staged.
One of eight venues run under the City’s ‘Newport Live’ banner, the Riverfront sits on the banks of the River Usk, and you can glimpse the city’s distinctive red ‘Steel Wave’ sculpture by Peter Finch from the windows of the café and terrace. For Cardiff and Valleys audiences, the Riverfront won’t be front of mind when it comes to theatre and the arts, with the WMC, New Theatre, Sherman and RCT’s Park & Dare and Coliseum venues hosting their own festive programme of new and family favourites. For many round my way, a trip to Porthcawl is an annual tradition that just can’t be broken.
So why go to Newport?
The Riverfront is far from a one trick pantomime horse. I had been before with my daughter to spend our Tempo Time Credits at a family cinema event and had a great experience. The venue has two theatre spaces, a dance and recording studio and ample accessible space to visit its café and hold events and workshops.
It’s position just a few minutes away from the Friar Walk shopping development is also a great way to get in some Christmas shopping and a pre-theatre dinner in walking distance to your show.
One thing you might notice about the Riverfront, though? The staff are great. I mean really great and genuinely interested in you and your experience. It’s something I haven’t noticed as much in some of Cardiff’s more famous venues. Perhaps they don’t have to work as hard for your custom…
That’s not to downplay what others are doing, but I really did notice a marked difference. Riverfront/Newport Live staff greet you, look you, look you in the eye and ask you about your day, ask you your thoughts on the show. There was a definite family feel in this venue that I hadn’t been expecting.
So this year’s show? An impressive turn from some familiar faces to audiences, with Gareth Tempest returning to this year’s performance as Prince Charming (being a former member of the children’s chorus at Riverfront in 2004) and Newport native Keiron Self as Buttons.
Actor Richard Elis (Eastenders, The Bill, Casualty and The Bill) does a fantastic turn as Candy, one half of the awfully endearing ugly sisters alongside Geraint Rhys Edwards as Flossie. Any Welsh speakers who love his silly and sassy Welshie portrayals and skits on ‘Hansch’ will be tickled pink to see his face in the programme.
Elis and Edwards have fantastic energy and sassy pants to go with their comic chops. They don’t even have to be speaking to make you cackle.
Between them and Keiron Self as love-sick buttons, there are plenty of quips, cheeseball lines, puns and innuendo you’d expect to see at the panto – not all of it hilarious, mind! The show’s setting in ‘Newport Bay’ by the sea is interesting and the set and staging is very well done, with the ensemble cast and choreography by Angela Sheppard bringing the show to life. I’d like to have seen more comedy spread to the female cast members as well…the traditional panto format shouldn’t save all the funny nuggets for the men. Trust me, Newport women are hilarious (my Newport family being the case in point!).
There’s a standout scene where Keiron Self is locked out in
the rain and climbs up onto the roof while Cinderella is serenading the crowds.
A beautiful bit of physical comedy. Of course, Cinderella and Prince Charming provide
the schmaltz and the cheese, but their vocals are lovely and warming.
This year’s panto is part of a great 2019/2020 programme and I’d encourage you to consider it for your next night out.
Cardiff gets all the love and attention – it’s time to spread the love! Newport should no longer be the Ugly Sister when it comes to Theatre (ohhhh no it shouldn’t!).
Support your local arts venues, folks – and maybe….consider changing your usual haunt this year for a lovely little panto set in ‘Newport Bay’. Trust me, those Ugly Sisters will keep you chuckling long after the glitter’s been put away in January.
Cinderella is playing until 4th Jan 2020, see more at Riverfront
There’s nothing quite like a Sherman Theatre Christmas production to get you in the festive mood – and The Snow Queen, this year’s main-stage musical offering, is a sumptuous Yuletide treat for the whole family. Directed by Tessa Walker, the show adapts Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale about two young friends, Gerda and Kai, whose friendship is tested when Gerda hurts Kai, and goes on an epic journey to find him and make amends after he is lured away by the wicked Snow Queen.
Reimagining the Danish fairy tale as an urban myth told to the children of the South Wales Valleys fits with the vision of the Sherman’s artistic director Joe Murphy in telling stories ‘rooted in Wales but relevant to the world’. The show has all the cosy feels of being told a great story on a cold winter night, not least because it seems to draw its framing device from The Princess Bride: in this case, it’s told to us and a stroppy little boy (Morgan Lllewelyn Jones) by his beleaguered babysitter (Grace O’Brien) as they wait out a snowstorm that has delayed the return of the boy’s mother. Having taken out the lights, the heating and the wi-fi, the blackout might as well have turned their sleepy town back to the Stone Age, and the boy isn’t in the mood for a story – but before long, the sitter’s initially irate listener becomes as enrapt as the audience as she weaves an epic tale told to her by her grandmother.
The story is indeed a captivating one, skilfully adapted by Conor Mitchell who pulls quintuple duty as writer, lyricist, composer, musical director and onstage pianist! Mitchell’s music is gorgeous – not all the songs work, though the best are up there with Frozen, which was incidentally inspired by Andersen’s story – but it’s his script that is particularly lovely: funny, sweet and sincere, it feels more universal in scope than Andersen’s, focusing less on faith and more on the power of inner strength, self-determination, and friendship; how kindness is not a commodity but a treasure that should be cultivated, cherished and shared, especially during a time in our world in which it may seem rare.
The beautiful messages woven into Mitchell’s script are wonderfully brought to life by an excellent, enthusiastic and deeply creative cast. Anni Dafydd goes on an incredible journey as Gerda, at first a fun but entitled young girl, whose casual classism alienates her closest friend Kai (Ed Parry), and her subsequent quest to find Kai and make up for her mistake is an epic and emotional one. Given that he is the subject of Gerda’s crusade, Parry might not get many scenes as Kai, but he does get to chew the scenery as an adorkably befuddled prince and a sassy anthropomorphic geranium (if that description along doesn’t compel you to see this show, I don’t know what will!)
Along the way, Gerda meets a conveyor belt of eccentric characters, from Hannah Jarman’s bolshy Bandit Girl to Jo Servi’s delightfully irascible Crow (reminiscent of Bagpuss’ Professor Yaffle, with Servi fantastically animating a puppet designed and directed by Rachael Canning) to Julian the adorably heroic reindeer (brought to vivid, hilarious life by Callum Lloyd, who infuses the character with Disney-level charm through sheer skill and enthusiasm – how he managed to draw laughs, gasps and awwws from a lampshade, I’ll never know). Stephanie McConville’s Snow Queen has a glamorously insidious presence, but she appears a touch too infrequently, and her outfit could have been just a bit grander to match the larger-than-life characters that preceded her.
Not only is the cast superb across the board – swapping between their roles as actors, musicians and puppeteers with ease – but the show is just beautiful to look at. Cecilia Carey’s inventive sets evoke myriad locations from an eternally-summery garden to an ice palace worthy of Elsa, the season-spanning vistas animated by the atmospheric sound and lighting design (by Ian Barnard and Katy Morison respectively), and Helen Rogers’ inventive costuming (the Bandit Queen’s ensemble is particularly eye-catching), not to mention the snow near-perpetually falling from the heavens. The Garden of Eternal Summer, ruled over by Rachel Nottingham’s slightly demented sorceress, is one of the most vivid locales, and also the setting of the show’s best scene which I can only describe as the Golden Afternoon song from Alice in Wonderland as reimagined by RuPaul’s Drag Race (featuring the above-mentioned sassy geranium, Jo Servi as a timorous wallflower and Stephanie McConville as an ultra-chic rose).
The Snow Queen is brimming with Christmas magic for the whole family, and it’s the perfect show to usher you into the festive season. In my experience, there’s nothing quite as Christmassy as a musical, and the Sherman’s production not only has Disney-calibre songs but a Disney-calibre story and message to go along with them. Not only will it inspire and entertain you, it will teach you that you have to experience the winters of your life in order to appreciate the summers. It’s not the shards of a magic mirror that make a person cruel – that capacity is within us all, but so too is the capacity for kindness, courageousness, and even a little bit of magic.