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Review Louder is not Always Clearer, Jonny Cotsen by Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Jonny Cotsen is sat at a desk with a laptop open in front of him. Music is on, he walks to the mic at the centre of the stage, he nods to the beat, opens his mouth, nothing comes out. Jonny is deaf and the hearing world has barriers to him. In his show, Louder Is Not Always Clearer, he takes us into his world. Jonny’s world is a world of rhythm and movement. He owns the stage with his humorous and dynamic presence.  He seduces the audience with movement, sound, and words, some said, some written. Louder Is Not Always Clearer makes you experience with your body the difficulty of communicating across the deaf and hearing world.

Jonny grew up in a family that sought to minimise his disability. His parents always referred to his disability in terms of being ‘of partial hearing,’ never ‘deaf.’ Jonny’s show is a journey to own the term ‘deaf’ and to demystify it for all of us. As Jonny shows us his efforts at learning the sounds to be used in words, like ‘pa,’ ‘oo/ee,’ ‘th,’ ‘sh,’ ‘th,’ it feels like Ionesco’s La Cantatrice Chauve. Paradoxically, the slightly absurdist style of the first part of the show communicates effectively the impossibility of communication. We drown in sounds. We are overwhelmed.

Jonny lets us into his world with pathos and humour. He gives us funny ‘impressions’ of hearing people being condescending, patronising, and impatient. The show succeeds at making the audience experience the frustration, awkwardness, and loneliness of not being able to hear in a world of hearing people. I would have liked Jonny to take it further and explore the complexity of human communication, what is taken for granted in the words we use, our miscommunication, and bad communication. In the age of texts and emojis, of social media, and of multilingual people, deafness can shine a light on how we connect and disconnect with each other.

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In the 300th anniversary of the publication of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Robinson. The Other Island offers a multilayered way to rethink the book. Director Mathilde Lopez and John Norton, Artistic Director of the company Give it a Name, blend Robinson Crusoe with Michel Tournier’s Friday and convey a somber mood through an original sound experience, devised by John Norton and Jack Drewry. The play unfolds in our heads as we listen to the sounds, words, and music with headphones. Robinson is more than a play; it is a shared and intimate experience of reading and reflecting on solitude.

The Robinson Crusoe of Robinson. The Other Island (played by John Rowley) suffers a maddening loneliness alone on the Island, but lonely is also Bianca (played by Luciana Chapman), who reads Defoe’s and Tournier’s books. Bianca is alone in her flat, eating microwavable meals, trying to work out how to fix a leaking tap, hiding from her father, and yet seeking a connection with him. As Bianca reads about Robinson in our ears, it is also us who experience loneliness. Isolated from other members of the audience by headphones, yet establishing a connection with them as we watch and listen together. The drama is at times broken by the lively and funny interventions of book clubbers talking about Robinson Crusoe into the mics of Robinson and of Bianca. It is effective, although on opening night there were perhaps too many voices, rather than the one or two during rehearsals, thus losing intensity.

Robinson Crusoe’s misogyny, racism, and colonialism are not brushed under the carpet but take centre stage. They are tackled with humour, puzzlement, and even violence. At the words ‘I bought me a negro slave,’ Bianca gets angry in her anger she becomes Robinson. She orders to fetch the Governor’s coat (Robinson’s), smokes, and reads the horrendous passage where ‘negroes’ are things, tools of work, lesser humans. The colonial racism is juxtaposed with Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Whitey on the Moon,’

The 1970’s that contrasts the power of white man colonising the moon while black people have no money to pay the doctor’s bill. Bianca takes up a plank of wood and attacks Robinson breaking into the world she is reading about.

Bianca and Robinson interact only slightly. It is a dance of two lonely people seeking connection and forgiveness. Robinson is shown in his humanity: lonely, resourceful, exploring and observing the island, fighting against his destiny, and begging for forgiveness. A soft music creates intimacy. Bianca and Robinson sit together playing with dough like children and like children the audience listens to the voice reading the book. In the week when Jean Vanier, the founder of the community L’Arche, died, Robinson reminds me of his teaching on loneliness:

‘Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart. … It is because we belong with others and see them as brothers and sisters in humanity that we learn not only to accept them as they are, with different gifts and capacities, but to see each one as a person with a vulnerable heart. We learn to forgive those who hurt us or reject us; we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt.’

Robinson is a meditative piece that stimulates thought and nudges us slightly towards compassion.

The production plays at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff and then tours.

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Rhys Payne

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Robinson: The Other Island, performed by the ‘Give It a Name’ theatre company at Chapter Arts Centre in Stiwido Seligman, follows two people who are stranded in two completely different worlds. This stage play is based heavily on the Novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe which was done in an intriguing and exciting way.

The first thing I noticed when I entered was the studio was that there were headphones on all the seats which at first made me apprehensive as I thought the use of headphones would be a distraction but in fact, it actually really helped with the creation and development of the play itself.   The concept of this play was that Bianca played by Luciana Trapman wanted to escape the modern world through the ‘portal’ of the pages of the three-hundred-year-old book. At the same time, Robinson Crusoe played by John Rowley is trying to escape the island which was clear within the play itself.

Rehearsal images by Jorge Lizalde

The two contrasting characters, the modern day young woman and the shipwrecked old man, provide the perfect contrasts which allowed the audience to easily follow the story and portrayed the area, date, and context of where each ‘part’ was taking place which was cleverly done. As an audience member, we can see the staging being built in front of us which only added to the immersive-ness of the play. The company had engineered the headphones so the audio is split between the left and the right ear which means you can be apart of both of the ‘worlds’ at the same time. While we could hear the calming reading of the book from Bianca in one ear we could also the sounds of the stranded island (e.g. sea noises, voices, etc.) This was done to illustrate the fact that when a person reads a book it helps build a visual picture of what is being described in the book. Due to this the audience is an external third party, we can see Bianca reading the book and the story being created in front of us. This was a really ingenious concept from the director Mathilde Lopez. As a literature fan I could easily recognise and relate to this. The use of headphones made this play unique, modern and contemporary.

Robinson Crusoe was clearly shown as a shipwrecked man and was based on the description as described in the book. The character did look as if he could have been shipwrecked and his voice suited the role perfectly. The character, however, did have some problems. The first time we encounter the character was at the beginning of the play when he delivered a speech about laws and legislation of the new island. However, this speech was done on top of a step ladder into a microphone, which was done facing away from the audience. It may be a personal opinion but having a speech done away from the audience and not being able to see the actors face is confusing for the audience especially considering the headphones make it had to locate where the sound is coming through. After this, we walked across the stage to collect props which sort of detached the character from this the deserted island. The stage could have done with an exit from one side of the ‘stage’ to the other. As Robinson, walking across the stage distracted the audience that could have been avoided. This collecting props was a problem throughout the play. As the prop table was sort of on stage we could hear all the rustling and banging which broke the calmness and soothing-ness of Bianca’s voice.

The actress who played Bianca had a very calming voice. The almost whispered tone was really soothing through the headphone which was really nice for the audience. Her voice was almost ASMR like which was very nice. However, this character was very relatable. She was portrayed almost like a teenager who experiences the struggles of the modern world. Due to this she does use swear words which clashed with the ASMR voice used while reading. This was a little confusing but the actress used two distinct voices for reading (which was the ASMR style voice) and a normal conversation voice she used when chatting to her father etc.

A really nice touch was that when her phone was ringing we could actually see the screen on her phone that told us someone was ringing which was really cool and helped to add to the realness. In conclusion Robinson: The Other Island was an intelligently designed show which was contemporary, unique and unlike another play I have seen before. If you are interested in plays and wonder how theatre can evolve in the future then I advise you to watch this production, it is not to be missed! I give this play 4 out of 5 stars as it showed me a side of theatre I never knew existed!

Review ‘Some Pink Star’, Sophie Essex, review by Lois Arcari

Sophie Essex is a powerhouse of Norwich poetry. Often seen promoting events on the Norwich Poetry Group on Facebook, and manning the monthly Volta open mic nights at the Birdcage Pub. I eagerly awaited the chance to see her poetry stand out on its own. Her new chapbook ‘Some Pink Star’ explores the physical embodiment and embroilment of relationships. She uses sparse, purposefully disintegrated poetry to muster up a sense of confusion, and ‘bruises’ her poems with dark themes blithely explored. Manipulation, coercion, romantic apathy and disgust sitting alongside more ‘docile love’ (as described in Bubblegum, one of the best poems in the collection.)

Her writing shines when she lightly employs the contrasts in her work. The use of colloquial language in the middle of more philosophical writing gives an earthier, characterised feeling to poems that might otherwise remain too stylishly vague. Essex knows how to construct such short poems well, but there are moments where it seems she’d be better served by a larger variation in length. 

While Vanilla Sky is frustratingly brief, Violet Volcanoes, just a page over, uses its form to perfect effect. 

The brevity is best employed to make her heady metaphors pack more weight, anchoring them in something real. Otherwise they can sometimes overlap each other too voraciously. It’s hard to separate what differentiates the better dreamy poems from the ones that leave your ‘head in the clouds.’ But the difference is palpable. Another problem is that sometimes the sexuality seems a little too on the nose, the contrast between sugary sweets and sex too sickly a simile. But again, when grounded in her techniques of repetition and invoking the so called ‘real world’, they shine. 

These poems also have an oral texture, reciting themselves in your brain as you read them. There’s a great well of potential, especially with the longer form poems that manage to sustain the delicate balance of liminal and localised. Also worth mentioning is the sheer insight into human character she manages to serve. While the collection seems to have a more thematic than narrative thread, the human aspect to the poems manages to be both relatable and insightful.

All in all, however, it’s a collection of brilliant, often piercing lines – which aren’t always best served by the poems around them.

Review Peeling, Taking Flight Theatre Company by Eva Marloes

Production photos by Janire Najera and Raquel Garcia at 4Pi Productions
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

As members of the audience take their seats, two actresses are on stage dressed in a gown which looks like a robe à la Polonaise straight from the court of Versailles, embroidered for today’s ‘sex positive’ era with vulva-shaped pockets. A third actress, the ‘deaf one,’ as she’s labelled, joins the other two late as she didn’t hear the Tannoy calling performers to the stage. Alpha, Coral, and Beaty are three disabled actresses cast as part of the Chorus in a production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women. They watch the play from afar, away from the spotlights, and stuck in enormous gowns. As the Euripides’ play unfolds in all its horror, Alpha, Coral, and Beaty squabble, make fun of each other and of each other’s disability, and thus demolish the sanitised image of disabled people as helpless victims deserving of pity and not much else, fruit of the condescending benevolence of our society.

The sparkling and irreverent dialogue gives way to the harrowing tones of rejection, loss, and death, experienced by the actresses. The violence of The Trojan Women, which culminates in women killing their own children so that they would not be killed by the invading army, is woven together with the actresses’ own stories, as one contemplates abortion, another tells about hers, and the third recounts having to give away her baby and being sterilised because disabled women cannot be ‘mothers.’ Peeling is brutally funny and harsh. Kaite O’Reilly’s beautiful writing is interpreted with verve and pathos by Bea Webster, Ruth Curtis, and Steph Lacey, supported by the subtle humour of Erin Hutching as the BSL Performer/Stage Manager. They all entertain, grip, and move the audience.

Peeling affirms the agency and visibility of disabled women, but it goes much deeper than that. Peeling is about truth. It tears down the veil of respectability of our everyday language and conduct, which strip disabled people of agency. It unmasks the condescension and disregard that make disabled people second-class citizens. It reveals how mothers prepare their daughters to play the role of woman as whore or virgin. You need to ‘beguile,’ ‘keep smiling,’ ‘put it out there,’ or avoid at all cost being ‘damaged goods,’ ‘second-hand,’ thus denouncing how women’s body is still constructed in terms of male pleasure. Above all, it demolishes the sugary lie of ‘it will all be fine.’

In a Pirandellian fashion, the play peels away the layers of untruths that we tell each other about ourselves and others. For those who might think ourselves righteous and compassionate, Peeling holds a mirror to show that such attitude makes disabled people and women the Other, who must adhere to social stereotypes and expectations to be legitimised in their existence. The masks of social conventions that comfort the bien pensants and imprison the Other fall faced with the raw life of pain, death, and loss. Like in Pirandello, such endeavour is here accomplished through the layers of performance of the theatrical masks. Alpha, Beaty, and Coral perform as part of the Chorus, but also in their mordant exchanges and their mocking audio-descriptions.

Truth emerges from the acute observation of our own performance that shapes and reshapes social norms, roles, and expectations. None clearer than in the moment when the actresses watch the audience and the audience watches them. The veil of lies is torn. We are amused, intrigued, and uncomfortable at looking at someone looking straight at us. They are no longer the Other. They affirm their own self. As they put it, ‘Handicaps are a health and safety risk,’ we risk our comforting narratives that keep us ‘healthy and safe’ by hiding sorrow, pain, and difference, but also the truth of the human condition. Peeling lets us drop our masks and glimpse truth.

Review Awakening, National Dance Company Wales by Helen Joy

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I am the wrong person to review these pieces. I love NDCWales’ performances like I love good chocolate, I love them like a filthy, dirty, sweet secret, I want to shout this to the world.

Tundra

Tundra I have seen before. Seen? Seen? You don’t just see these dancers on a stage, you feel them in your guts and in your heart. I cannot begin to imagine what it must really be like to sweat and toil over the solid waste ground of the boards, feeling hot but showing cold. It is stunning. Complex, beautiful and stronger than ever. 

I was taught about the tundra, the Russian Steppes, the permafrost and their people in a time when we embraced our differences,  when our clothes and cities and foods and arts were noticeably different. Morau is a visionary unafraid of the past, unafraid of what makes us special, what joins us.

Afterimage

Now this is magic. The audience asks are there mirrors? No – I want to scream – it’s magic, let it be magic. Don’t explain – just enjoy the rolling images of relationships between the dancers, the music and the space they fill.

Melo wants the audience to have an active role in interpreting his piece, not tacit complicit traditional acceptance but think, join in, believe. Visually incredible – as it should be. This is a hungry piece. 

Revellers Mass

A greedy, visceral, writhing display. Gorgeous. I think Greenaway, I see Spanish lace and the bloody colours of fFamenco, I see The Last Supper debauched and blasphemous. I bloody love this. How does Finn do this? I want to cry, it is so so good. It is funny, it is dangerous, it is an orgy and a ceremony.

The music is perfect – deep through to ironic – and the audience sighs and laughs along, cringing at memories of our own revelry. We particularly like the mannequin’s arms groping a dancer’s body as he cavorts on water Fun! Joyous! And there we are, dragged off in disgrace and a fitting end. Brilliant. And as always, I am left wanting more, wanting to see it all again.

Afterthought

Why do these dances make me cry? What is it about them that taps into something so primal, so rooted that when they soar, I do too? Perhaps it is because I could no more do what they do than fly to the moon, perhaps it is because I see what could have been. We are often brought up kindly and carefully, encouraged to train for a proper job but we miss something – art brings life, in all its forms. Do not be afraid to take that different path. Do not be afraid to paint your dreams.

YOUNG ARTISTS FESTIVAL at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

The Young Artist’s Festival (YAF) is a week-long, annual event run by The Other Room, Cardiff’s only pub theatre. For the festival, the theatre invites between 35-50 participants from Wales’ emerging creative scene into their doors to gain invaluable experience working with their peers.

The initiative is open to actors, writers, directors and stage managers and aims to provide an opportunity to explore their chosen discipline, encourage collaboration and artistic risk-taking. The participants are shown the value of hard work with an intense, but rewarding, week. They’re given the opportunity to work with new, contemporary work. But the ultimate aim is for participants to gain confidence, grow and keep creating beyond YAF.

The week starts with various workshops and talks from The Other Room’s staff and industry professionals from a broad range of backgrounds. These workshops include casting, starting and maintaining a company, arts council applications, marketing, community theatre as well as sessions for skill-sharing and networking. They also have specific workshops within their respective disciplines with industry professionals.

The participants are then introduced to their companies, comprised of a group of actors, one director and one writer, and start working towards their end-of-week goals. Actors and directors present a performance of a given commissioned script and a dramatic rehearsed reading of their writer’s script. Writers write that ten-minute play whilst stage managers make it all happen.

Actors

The actors workshop this year was with Keiron Self and had a specific focus on how an actor interprets text. The actors from YAF tell me this was vital for the short rehearsal period they had. You don’t have long to get to know your character, and it’s especially important in shorter pieces where characters rely more on performance for characterisation.

Once the actors are in the rehearsal room they have a couple of days to get off book before their first performance. Something some saw as a somewhat daunting task, having never done it in such a short space of time before. However, they realise it’s perfectly possible and that the experience is vital for them moving forward. Especially when preparing for auditions or working in the fringe environment where time to learn lines is limited.

The performances at the end of the week come and go, but it’s really about the experience of the week, of putting yourself out there and on stage that seems to last beyond the week for the actors.

Directors

The directors had a workshop with Simon Harris, who focused on doing text work before rehearsals and working with new writing. The directors tell me this was great experience going in. Often their teaching has focused on working in the room and once again, the workshop complimented the direction process for the week.

The directors also have a production meeting with stage managers where they set out their vision and discuss the possibilities. This is something few of the directors had done before and again, it’s something that really helps with their personal growth.

Directors also expressed the experience of being able to work with a writer and have them in the room. Directing for rehearsed reading is something that kept coming up also. Directing with a specific focus on displaying the writing, which is different from directing the commissioned piece. Directing both during the week is a valuable experience to take away.

The trust and support given to directors to control not one, but two pieces of theatre, be placed in a room full of actors and deliver their own vision is something the directors also spoke highly of. The support from The Other Room’s artistic director Dan Jones and YAF producer Claire Bottomly was a big part of the director’s experience.

Stage Managers

As previously mentioned, the directors and stage managers have a production meeting near the start of the week. For the stage managers this is something none of them had done in this way before and is extremely helpful moving into YAF.

The stage managers are very hands-on during the week. With the support of a professional stage manager, in 2019 being Kristian Rhodes, they effectively make the shows happen. Bringing the director’s visions to life by sorting set, sourcing props and arranging lighting and sound. They’re present in some of the rehearsal process and get to tech a run of the final performances.

Overall, the experience is positive for the stage managers. They’re constantly busy and feel like they’re just on the job. But, crucially, have that support from a senior stage manager and The Other Room staff.

Writers

The writers start their week in a writing workshop with a professional playwright. This year, and the year I did it in 2017, it was with Matthew Bulgo. Bulgo is an excellent playwright and I can say from experience, very good at leading a workshop. He focuses this one on structure and writing for short-form, which is key for the week moving forward. All writers expressed how helpful this was on many levels.

Bulgo also returns to offer feedback, which is also offered by The Other Room’s staff throughout the week.

The writers spend the first half of the festival writing a ten-minute play. Something that sounds quite scary at first, but from watching the scripts performed at the end, easily possible to a good standard.

Writers then go into the rehearsal room on the Friday and Saturday to see their scripts rehearsed. This is a new experience for some, as is what happens in the afternoon on the Saturday when their scripts are performed in a dramatic rehearsed reading.

The writers seem to be the most stressed during the week, but as a result the most relieved and happiest at the end when they see their work. It’s an intense but rewarding week and in some cases the writers take their scripts and develop them further.

Speaking to participants from all disciplines, it’s clear they’re there for similar reasons. To make connections and friends, learn, explore, grow, reignite a passion, re-motivate, progress ideas, bounce off others, practice professionalism and a collaborative process in a supportive environment.

By the end it’s clear the week has been valuable, often in more ways than they realise. It gives participants a sense of pride if they need it or helps to ground them if they’re more critical. To realise that not everything has to be a masterpiece, and anything produced within a week won’t be perfect. But that it can be done. It shows them that this can be done and all it takes is a bit of hard work and the knowledge, which YAF provides, to do it.

When I did the Young Artists Festival in 2017, it didn’t seem much different. The main difference is it seems more focused on creating an environment of collaboration. Not that it wasn’t there in 2017. It’s hard to really progress YAF every year, because it’s always been a really great week for anyone involved. They’ve always been aware that people are different and always tried to cater to everyone, making young artists feel comfortable in an environment that, for many, is fairly alien – the world of professional theatre making.

Review Awakening, National Dance Company Wales By Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

It is with trepidation that I venture in writing a review of my first ever contemporary dance show, Awakening, a three-piece programme produced by National Dance Company Wales. All the three dance pieces have a distinctive style, show a desire to engage with ideas, and are executed skilfully. Watching the show was an interesting experience that left me intrigued, puzzled, and annoyed. I was intrigued by the attempt at using movement to convey visual effects, puzzled by the overall concern for concept, too often fuzzy, to the detriment of emotion, and annoyed at the diminished role of music, especially in the first two pieces, which but conveys a dystopian atmosphere, instead of being integral part of the performance.

The first piece, Tundra, begins with a captivating image of a dancer in a cone-shaped costume in a red light and an otherworldly voice. The stage is plunged into the dark and the figure disappears. As the stage is lit again by a white light, a group of dancers in white and blue cone-shaped costumes appear. They move together as a group and glide beautifully across the floor. This is perhaps the most striking part of Tundra, albeit relatively short by comparison with the main part of the piece, which consists of dancers in a colourful costume moving together as one. Their legs and arms touch to form one continuous shape and move on the stage like a snake. The choreographer, Marcos Morau, found inspiration in Russian folk music and dance, yet the cone-dress seemed much closer to the Korean traditional dress, while the main ‘snake-like’ performance reminded me of the Chinese dragon dance. The performance is smooth and elegant but the parts are disjointed and the music fails to convey any emotion.

Tundra is followed by Afterimage by choreographer Fernando Melo. The piece plays cleverly with mirrors and light to create the illusion of figures appearing and fading away like ghosts. The illusion effects are inspired by the technique of Henry Dircks and John Henry Pepper, which used light and glass to create ghostly appearances. In Afterimage, the dancers dissolve, often into one another, through multiple reflections. The piece is an exploration of different perspectives that never meet. It is well crafted, interesting, and performed gracefully; yet it feels too concerned with a visual effect conveyed through movement rather than dance. Like Tundra, it is too conceptual to convey emotion, and not aided by the dystopian music.

After the second interval, two women came and sat next to me. They could not make anything out of the first two pieces, ‘too symbolical,’ one said; yet they were enthusiastic about the third piece, the Revellers’ Mass. It is easy to see why. The Revellers’ Mass has a narrative, elaborate costumes, prominent music, and a tinge of humour. The piece begins with a male voice speaking Georgian and a priest lighting candles on a long flat surface. The sacred is alternated with the profane. The flat surface becomes a table and the sacred atmosphere turns into a wild party. At one point, the dancers at the table are reminiscent of the Last Supper, yet the reference serves little purpose and is a far cry from the biting irony of the Last Supper in Louis Bunuel’s Viridiana. Choreographer Caroline Finn is perhaps overambitious in seeking to capture ‘ritual and etiquette, and ceremony, as well as primal human behaviour.’ The conflation of ritual, etiquette, and ceremony is irksome and the contrast with partying as ‘primal human behaviour’ highly problematic. Revellers’ Mass is nevertheless entertaining and ends humorously with drunken revellers being dragged across the floor to the notes of Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien.

As a novice, Awakening has been an interesting and thought-provoking experience. I acknowledge my preference for emotional engagement when it comes to all art forms; yet the three dance pieces have opened a door to a way of experiencing art that has left me curious notwithstanding the frustration. The show has perhaps succeeded in raising questions, the most important of which might be ‘does art need emotion to be art?’

Review Saethu Cwningod/Shooting Rabbits, PowderHouse by Eva Marloes

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

‘If I Can Shoot Rabbits, I Can Shoot Fascists,’ is the strapline of the first play by PowderHouse in association with the Sherman Theatre and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. It comes from the Manic Street Preachers’ song ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next,’

This in turn is inspired by the involvement of Welsh volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. The play Shooting Rabbits seeks to evoke the experience of a young Welshman travelling to Spain to fight against fascism in the 1930s while seemingly hinting at a similarity between fighting the authoritarian oppressor in Spain and the strife of Irish, Welsh, and Basque nationalism, given a new life by Brexit. Such an unwieldy subject matter could only fail on stage, especially when it is conveyed through a stream of consciousness dramaturgy that leaves the audience confused. Nonetheless the play succeeds in capturing the ambiguity of any proclamation in the name of ‘the people.’ 

Production Images credit Studio Cano

Shooting Rabbits co-directed by Jac Ifan Moore and Chelsey Gillard begins with a Northern Irish actor auditioning for a role in Wales. The casting director asks him to do a ‘more Irish’ accent, meaning one that is from the Republic of Ireland. The director expresses sympathy with the Irish, ‘Solidarity with you,’ ‘Wales stands with you,’ ‘Your people.’ The ‘solidarity’ is borne of the alleged ‘shared struggle’ against the ‘neighbours across the borders.’ The actor, played by Neil McWilliams, launches into a tirade questioning the very premise of ‘the people.’ Who are his people? Republicans, Nationalists, the IRA, Unionists, the DUP? The reduction of the heterogeneous reality of a country to one group betrays not just an ignorant and condescending attitude, but one that delegitimises whoever does not fit the image of the country, a country that is always an ideal, never a complex reality. This is nowhere more evident than in the impassioned and seductive speech of Francisco Franco performed by Alejandra Barcelar Pereira in Spanish. It appeals to the defence of the country and faith in the country, but it is a country that repudiates all those who do not abide by the script.

The appeal to ‘the people’ is a dangerous weapon that is wielded against the very people it professes to protect. ‘The people’ erases people as a heterogeneous empirical reality, disregards and delegitimises theirs diversity, their different perspectives, lifestyles, values, customs, and, above all, their overlapping identities. This is what the European Union aims to promote: unity in diversity. That is why Catalan, Basque, Scottish, and Welsh nationalist movements, to name a few, are often supportive of the EU. Thus, the EU does indeed undermine the nation state, conceived as a unitary and homogeneous entity, by giving voice to communities inside nations and across them. Today, the EU is embattled, but the crisis is not a battle between fascism and liberal democracy; rather it is more the result of established structures and politics being out of step with contemporary society and economics. That is why it is risky to draw any comparisons between today’s crises and the 1930s, as Shooting Rabbits seeks to do.

Shooting Rabbits is at its best when it exposes the naivete of the romantic ideal of fighting against fascism and of claiming to represent a ‘people.’ The young Welshman in 1930s Spain does not know what to do and begs to be told what to do. In front of the horror of the civil war, the volunteers of the International Brigade repeat that it was not meant to be this way. The play makes fun of political divisions and polarisations that create enemies. It is evocative and exhilarating. It is acted beautifully in Spanish, Basque, Welsh, and English by Alejandra Barcelar Pereira, Gwenllian Higginson, and Neil McWilliams, and it is supported by the music performed live by Sam Humphreys. It is also a missed opportunity. Shooting Rabbits flounders due to a superficial historical analysis and a stream of consciousness structure that disorients the spectator instead of bringing clarity.

Review: Every Word You Cannot Say, Iain Thomas by Sian Thomas

Iain Thomas is my favourite writer. Author. Poet. He honestly seems to be an advocate for self-love, for loving others, for recognising good from bad and good from great, for love, full stop. He seems to be an advocate for enjoying whatever it is you find in this world that you enjoy. I enjoy his work, more than I’m sure any language can help me spell out, and yet each time I try.
On my bookshelf, there is: I Wrote This For You, I Wrote This For You And Only You, I Wrote This For You Just The Words, I Wrote This For You 2007-2017, How to be Happy (Not a Self-Help Book. Seriously.), and 300 Things I Hope. And somewhere on my makeshift bookshelf because my real bookshelf is far too small for my wants, is I Am Incomplete Without You. I’m excited to add Every Word You Cannot Say to either of the shelves. I literally find myself unable to say that there’s any other author out there who I have followed this closely, for this long, and been so consistently delivered greatness on simple pages between a simple cover by.
I knew it was coming, the release of this book, and like many I did have to wait my turn to get it. When I did, I was in Waterstones, halfheartedly hoping they would have it (I was not convinced that they would). And I saw it, all the way down the bottom, way to one side: bright blue, jutting out, so different to the greys and blacks and whites (and one bright yellow) that I had grown used to associating Iain Thomas’s name with. I snatched it up and gave it the common flip through, and I loved the look of it and the feel of it and the way it felt exactly like all the other books of his I’ve read: like it was sure to give me something amazing. Which it did.
I ate this book up. Read it quick, flicked through again for an age, put sticky notes on the pages of my favourite pieces, used a highlighter on the ones I really didn’t want to part with. Like on page 131, “There is no register in the sky keeping track of whether or not you got angry as many times as you were supposed to. / You get to decide what eats you up. / And you have no obligation to kindness. / You can be kind as often as you want. / Kindness is not a currency, and if you treat it like one, then that is not kindness. / Within you, there is all the kindness you will ever need.” Or, page 80, “Maybe, in the story of your life, someone has written: / You cannot say why you loved them. / Only that you did. / Only that you don’t anymore.”
This book felt so new, and so fresh and different, somehow, from the other ones, despite still creating a warm and homely feeling in me as I read it, exactly like all the others had. I loved that, that kind of feeling from these books and these poems in particular, I always believe that that is irreplaceable – after all, I haven’t experienced it anywhere else or with any other author. I loved that there was playing with form, structure, even colour of the text. The drawings peppered throughout were lovely, and always in the right places.
I wish this is what all poetry did, that this feeling I got from this book is what I got from each one. I know that would make these books less special, but like I said: Iain Thomas really seems to be an advocate for love. I’m almost convinced he’d understand. And even still, this is one slice of favouritism I am not entirely ready to give up. This is why I gave it five stars. I always will.
Iain Thomas has a real skill here, an honest craftsmanship that I wish I could come close to. Some days, I try to (see: the centos I submitted to university groups, just so I could spill out a fraction of what I feel for this writing when it was my turn to talk).
I love the book. I knew I would.

Siân Thomas