Tag Archives: Matthew Bulgo


 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Opening The Other Room’s The Violence Series autumn season is Matthew Bulgo’s American Nightmare. Bulgo’s third play with Cardiff’s pub theatre, this rendition tackles class and the flaws in the reality of the ‘American Dream’.

American Nightmare follows two pairs of very different kinds of people. The elite class, represented by Clara (Ruth Ollman) and Greg (Chris Gordon) plotting a new scheme to control and exploit the working and under classes, which are represented by Daria (Lowri Izzard) and Elwood (Gwydion Rhys).

Clara and Greg sit, drinking and dining in a New York skyscraper as Clara entices Greg with an extremely lucrative business proposal that will change the landscape of America both physically and culturally.

Meanwhile, in a bunker somewhere in America, Daria and Elwood are taking part in a programme that aims to produce a set of obedient, low incentive driven workers under the orders from a character named ‘The Program’.

The writing from Matthew Bulgo is perfectly good for the most part. Clara and Greg are a little too prominent and really it’s mostly unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. The characters exist mainly to provide context rather than any real drama or story within itself. Context that could be more creatively explained and unravelled in a less predictive manner.

The story mainly comes from Daria and Ellwood, this is where we get tension and see in depth, complex characters. Daria’s story arch is brilliant and everything she does makes complete sense in the context of the play. Every move is calculated perfectly from Bulgo.

Ellwood is a well written, realistic character for who you feel both sympathy and frustration. He has his ideas of how the world is and is firm in being resilient in the face of it, but at his heart just wants to get away from it all and live off the land.

The direction from Sara Lloyd is understated. Lloyd expertly controls the manipulation and psychology between the two sets of characters that drives the drama and tension of the play. This is American Nightmare’s real strength and Lloyd makes the most of it.

Lloyd is accompanied by an excellent production team with Delyth Evans’ set in particular standing out. The highlight of which is a pair of sliding doors that part to unveil the elite and close to lock the poor in to the bunker.

Katy Morison’s lighting is simple, yet effective, working in conjuncture with Simon Clode’s videography that transitions the scenes. Tic Ashfield’s sound design doing its bit which blends nicely without invading the rest of the production.

Lowri Izzard is fantastic, perfectly displaying Daria’s journey and ulterior motives subtly throughout the play with the use of body movements and tone.

Gwydion Rhys is completely believable if not only for a poor Southern accent. His facial expressions are great as he transforms into Elwood. His descent is a shining light of the play and Rhys is a huge reason for this.

It’s hard to criticise Ruth Ollman and Chris Gordon but also hard to take too much from their performances. They have good chemistry and do their job well, but their characters don’t have much depth to delve into.

The main downer on the acting is Richard Harrington as ‘The Program’ who appears via video. As an authority figure with no remorse, he feels quite soft and unbelievable in the role.

There is one issue that should not go unspoken in criticism of the play.

To ignore race is a complete whitewashing of the issue of class in America. They are intrinsically linked and whilst a white writer may not feel it appropriate to pass comment the play is much weaker for overlooking this gaping hole in its content.

This is a play set in a dystopian America – but what is written in fiction only holds worth when considered in the context of it relates to real life. It is impossible to talk about poverty, class and the American Dream in America without speaking about race if you want to speak with true credibility.

Ignoring race is potentially problematic considering what is suggested in this play has literally happened and continues to happen to people of colour in the USA. This is reality for some, this is what is happening.

The play is exaggerated reality, yes. But all this play does is exaggerate the realities of people of colour in America with a white face. If accidental a huge stroke of misfortune. If intentionally ignoring the race aspect to poverty and class in the USA, problematic.

The excuse of “that’s not what the play is about” isn’t valid here. The writer simply must tackle it to some extent. This is a whitewashing of the issue it deals with and the play is weaker for it.

Not to take away from what is there which is technically good writing, excellent production and some great acting. The issues with American Nightmare are what is missing in its content rather than its generally strong core.

American Nightmare at The Other Room, Cardiff
10th September – 29th September 2019
Written by Matthew Bulgo
Directed by Sarah Lloyd
Lowri Izzard as Daria
Gwydion Rhys as Elwood
Ruth Ollman as Clara
Chris Gordon as Greg
Richard Harrington as The Program
Designer: Delyth Evans
Lighting Designer: Katy Morison
Sound Designer/Composer: Tic Ashfield
Videographer: Simon Clode
Production Manager: Rhys Williams
Stage Manager: Hattie Wheeler
Assistant Director: Duncan Hallis
Casting Director: Nicola Reynolds
Production photography: Kirsten McTernan
Fight Director: Kev McCurdy
Associate Director: Matthew Holmquist
Accent Coach: Emma Stevens-Johnson
BSL Interpreter: Sami Thorpe
Set Builder: Will Goad

REVIEW: BLUE at Chapter Arts Centre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Blue is a powerful drama set by the Welsh, Carmarthenshire coast which centres around the Williams family dinner in the looming absence of a father figure.

The play starts when daughter Elin brings former teacher, Thomas, home to sleep with him. However, to Elin’s surprise her brother is in and her mother home early. A confusion over Thomas’ presence ensues and drives the play forward.

Thomas finds himself awkwardly
caught in a family argument under tragic circumstances but is ultimately the
trigger for improvement and progress amongst the family.

The writing from Rhys Warrington is brilliant. Meticulously paced and incredibly detailed, the script starts out light-hearted and funny but as it progresses, and delves deeper into the characters, we notice something isn’t normal. At no point does anything feel forced, the play flows naturally and develops with great care.

Blue is subtly political in talking about lack of funding for the NHS. But doesn’t stray from the importance of the characters involved whose lives are being ruined by these cuts.

It’s fair to say, Rhys
Warrington is off to a great start with his first feature-length play and I can’t
wait to see what he writes next.

The direction from Chelsey Gillard is simply stunning. Every aspect of the script is explored diligently. This play could have been easily mismanaged but Gillard controls it masterfully. Beautifully allowing performers time to draw scenes out and the design elements to set the scene. Chelsey Gillard is forging a name for herself as one of the pioneering directors of contemporary Welsh theatre and her achievement with Bluehas only boosted that claim.

The performances are exceptional
from every performer. Sophie Melville is brilliant as Elin. Proving once again
what a talent she is, Melville encapsulates the final stages of teenage angst
with growing mid-20’s maturity brilliantly.

Gwydion Rhys plays Elin’s shy brother, Huw, expertly. His eyes lighting up the moment Thomas asks about Minecraft. A heart-breaking and simultaneously heart-warming moment as it’s clear this is the first time someone has taken an interest in his interests outside of his online alternate-reality. We can all relate in some way to Huw and Rhys’ portrayal is a testament to this.

Jordan Bernarde’s performance as Thomas is handled with as much care as the character is attentive to the others. We can sense Thomas’ awkwardness and even though we’re aware he’s really there to sleep with Elin, we see his kind-hearted nature too. It’s only when Thomas exits the play that you realise the impact Bernarde’s performance has on the production.

Choosing a standout performance is near-impossible, but if we are to do so, it has to be Nia Roberts in portraying the matriarch figure, Lisa Williams. Everything is perfect from Roberts in this performance. At the mention of her husband, everything about her character changes, from tone to body-language – perfect. This performance will standout as one of the best in Wales this year.

The sound design from Tic Ashfield is very understated and effective. The sound mostly soothes into the background, almost unnoticeable if you’re not looking for it – but is powerful and essential to the production.

Oliver Harman’s design is
simple and functional. Detailed to what one would expect any living/dining room
to look like, with nothing left to waste. The blue door is, in particular, a
nice touch.

Ceri James’ lighting is an essential tool for setting the mood, which James does excellently. Subtly changing throughout and providing a nice alternative to blackouts between scenes which is specifically good. The slight blue tint in some of the lighting is also lovely.

It’s frustrating when a production leaves the design elements as an after-thought and whilst it’s very subtle in Blue, the design, on all fronts, contribute hugely to Blue’s artistic success.

It’s important to stress what a team effort this production is. Huge credit must also go to Rebecca Jade Hammond for creating and producing this piece, as well as all involved at Chippy Lane and Chapter in the making of Blue.

a heart-breaking drama about a family split in their grief of a father figure
who is both no longer present and not yet absent.

BLUE performed at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
World Premiere 5th – 16th February 2019
Running time approximately 90 minutes
Created and Produced by Rebecca Jade Hammond
Written by Rhys Warrington
Directed  by Chelsey Gillard
Elin – Sophie Melville
Thomas – Jordan Bernarde
Lisa – Nia Roberts
Huw – Gwydion Rhys
Designer: Oliver Harman
Lighting Designer: Ceri James
Sound Designer and Composer: Tic Ashfield
Dramaturg: Matthew Bulgo
Co-Producers: Chippy Lane Production and Chapter
Stage Manager: Bethan Dawson
Production Assistant: Sophie Hughes
BSL Interpreter: Sami Thorpe
Photography: Kirsten McTernan
Marketing and PR: Chloe Nelkin Consulting & PR

An interview with Matthew Bulgo

Hi Matthew great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hello, I’m Matthew Bulgo and I mostly split my time between being an actor and playwright. I also do some work as a dramaturg…and when I’m not doing any of that I’m also an Associate Director of Dirty Protest.
So what got you interested in writing and the arts?
I first got interested in theatre when I was in school. My school didn’t have a particularly good drama department but through the school I got involved in my local youth theatre (WGYTC) and it was a hugely formative experience.

I joined the company when I was 13 and continued performing with them until I was 20 and I still work with them regularly. The company exposed me to a massive range of skills and genres of theatre and it was being involved in the company that encouraged me to audition for drama school and pursue a career in theatre.
My interest in writing sort of came as a by-product of that. I only really started writing around 5 years ago. I’d dabbled a little previously but 2012 is when I decided to try and make a go of it and strike a balance between acting and writing. For me, the two areas sort of spoke to each other. I like to think I write plays with the performers process very much in the forefront of my mind. I like to make sure that my characters have really satisfying journeys and that their actions and their motivations and psychologies are really water-tight and fleshed out.
You are an actor as well as a playwright. I wonder if your knowledge of both disciplines cross-pollinates when you are working in both different disciplines?
Ha! I think I maybe just answered that one about. Whoops. Yes, I think so. A lot of my favourite writers were actors at various points in their careers – Pinter and Albee are two big influences on me. Then more recently writers like Anna Jordan who trained at LAMDA around the same time as me before going on to be a Bruntwood winning playwright.

#YOLO was commissioned by National Theatre Connections for this years festival. Each play is specifically commissioned for 10 leading playwrights by the National Theatre’s literary department. The plays are written with young performers in mind. Can you tell us more about this process?
The first thing I’ll say is that the process was such a joy from start to finish. I was given a lot of free rein to really write about what interested me. The parameters were really liberating. It’s very rare in Wales to be asked to write a play that has more than about 4 or 5 characters in it so to be encouraged to write something for a big ensemble was not only a big challenge but also a real gift. It was also really exciting to write a piece knowing that it was going to be interpreted and realised in numerous different ways. I think this encouraged me to write a piece that had a lot of leeway in it, a piece that could be owned and customised by each company that performed it.

Each production I saw was bold and brave and full to the brim with vigour, enthusiasm and creativity. I left each performance with a spring in my step thinking about those young people. I have a huge soft spot for youth theatre. I’d love to write more plays for young people in the future.
The plays are then performed by youth theatre companies in regional/national competitions across the UK. Did you Get the Chance to see any of these performances?
I really wish I could’ve seen them all! I think I managed 8 or 9 out of a possible 25…so not bad going really! I travelled as far north as Newcastle and as far south as Chichester. I saw a fantastic production at the Bristol Old Vic which is one of my favourite theatres. And I was really pleased that there were two productions staged in Cardiff at the Sherman Theatre that I was able to catch. One of which – plot twist – was performed by my old youth theatre. There was such a beautiful symmetry to that. If it hadn’t been for that youth theatre, I probably wouldn’t be involved in the industry at all. It’s a really extraordinary company.
The regional/national NT Connections performances are often supported by free additional workshops and skill sharing events, do you think this type of activity is beneficial to youth theatre members? Have you ever been involved in any of these workshops?
DEFINITELY. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for those kids to work with people who are currently working in the industry and also for them to engage with their local, regional theatre. They’re the next generation of performers and stage managers and playwrights and directors and I think exposure to these kinds of workshops and events at that age is hugely beneficial.

Images from the NT Connections workshops at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

After their performance at the NT Connections Festival at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre, West Glamorgan Youth Theatre were chosen to perform #YOLO at the National Theatre in London. I believe you were a member of this Youth Theatre company yourself? This must have been a proud moment for you? Did you see their performance in London?
I was absolutely over-the-moon for them. I cleared the diary weeks in advance to make sure I could be there to see them performing at the National. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
My youth theatre (and I’m sure everyone feels exactly the same way about theirs if they attended one) was very special. It shaped me as a young man – emotionally, creatively and politically. It helped me grow up but also reminded me that to be an artist you have to be an eternal child. It helped me understand the past and hope about the future. I was really pleased they got selected to perform at the NT. I wouldn’t be doing what I do without them. I’ll be eternally grateful. I owe the company so much and this felt like a bit of pay-back.

The cast of #YOLO with past and present West Glamorgan Youth Theatre members at NT Connections, National Theatre, London.

It was so great to see the number of alumni of the company in attendance too from every generation since the company was founded in the mid-1970s. A lot of them aren’t involved in the industry but still feel a huge amount of warmth towards the company. There were people. Di Botcher was rehearsing at the National at the time for their production of Sondheim’s Follies and she made sure to be there. Michael Sheen is an alumni (and huge supporter of the company) and saw the show at the Sherman in Cardiff. He couldn’t quite make curtain-up for the performance at the NT but he arrived in time to greet the young people as they appeared from stage door after the show.

Michael Sheen with the cast of #YOLO at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists or specifically writers?
I think the major one for writers is age. There are so many opportunities whether it be writing courses or competitions or bursaries that are specifically for people who under-25 or under-30. I didn’t really start writing until I was 32. For anyone who doesn’t fit into those age brackets, it means you have to do things the hard way. I think the recent writing course at the Sherman and also the ‘writer-in-residence’ programme run by Theatr Clwyd are two fantastic examples of development opportunities where your age doesn’t figure in things. They both just want to engage with theatre writers whose voices they’re really interested in or excited by.
There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based writers, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?
It can always be healthier would be evasion of that question! I think writing courses and workshops and residencies are all brilliant ways to develop writers and there are some brilliant examples of those things happening in Wales…but I think what writers really need are productions at the end of the day. There are so many promising playwrights in Wales and so few opportunities for them to get their work produced on a Welsh stage. So, yes there’s lots of good supportive things happening…but I’d like to see more productions by Welsh playwrights on our stages.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
Youth arts for one. It always seems to be the first thing against the wall.
What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
The fringe scene in Wales is particularly exciting, I think. From companies like Gagglebabble to The Other Room to Motherlode to Fio. Such an eclectic range of companies with really distinctive voices and aesthetics.

Then newer companies like Run Amok, Graphic, Red Oak and Powder House whose work I’m yet to see but I’m really excited to see the contribution they make to the theatre ecology in Wales.

In terms of the last great thing I experienced…I’ll sum it up by saying the Edinburgh Fringe. I have gone to the festival every year for the past decade. If I’m not there with a show then I’ll go as a spectator and just glut myself on theatre. I always come out the other end of it feeling exhausted but really galvanised and really excited to get my teeth stuck into my next project. My highlights this year were Palmyra, Nassim, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Translunar Paradise (the 2nd time I’ve seen it) and How To Win Against History.
Thanks for your time Matthew. Matthew is performing in The Cherry Orchard at Sherman Theatre this autumn.

Top Tunes with Matthew Bulgo

Photographs of Matthew by Jon Pountney

Hi Matthew great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hello! I’m Matthew Bulgo. I’m an actor, playwright and dramaturg based in Cardiff and I’m also an Associate Director of Dirty Protest, Wales’ guerrilla new writing theatre company. I grew up in Swansea, studied in London and stayed there for a chunk of time before settling in Cardiff.
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
I’ve been a huge music fan ever since I hijacked my father’s vinyl collection when I was about 10. I listen to a lot of music. I listen to music when I work, when I’m making food, when I’m having an unwind, when I go running. It’s a really important part of my life. Currently, I’m listening to Hippo Campus, Froth, Ezra Furman, Angel Olsen, Yeasayer, Darwin Deez, Real Estate, Dick Diver, Lord Huron, Will Butler, Maximo Park, Hinds, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Soccer Mommy, Public Access TV…I’ve also rediscovered Blondie this week so I’ve been binge listening their entire back-catalogue at the moment.
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?
The Strokes – ‘Is This It?’ – I love the energy of this album. Once you get past the first track, it feels like a runaway train that’s threatening to derail itself. It just has this real sense of abandon. It’s up there for me as a modern classic. There’s not a single dud track on there.
Arcade Fire – ‘Funeral’ – Now, I’m not a fan of dancing but there are a few tracks on here that are just so galvanising that I just can’t help myself. Again, like The Strokes, this album has this really boundless energy.
The Beatles – ‘Abbey Road’ – This was the first ever vinyl that I bought with my own money when I was about 10. I think my dad had pretty much every other album by The Beatles but this one was missing from the collection. ‘Come Together’ was an immediate favourite, just such a cool riff.
When I started my first band when I was about 16, that song was top of the set-list. And then there’s the extraordinary B-side to the side to the album where all of the songs segue into each other. As you get to those final few tracks, you can sorta hear that it’s the last thing these four people are going to record together. They’re saying “this is it, and now we’re going to go out with something really spectacular”.
Belle and Sebastian – ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ – Now, this album reminds me of a really specific time in my life. I was into the music that no-one else really liked and I didn’t dress how people expected me to dress. I started to going to this club night in Swansea that played all the music I loved and I suddenly discovered all the outsiders who were into the same things as me. It was just as this album came out, so these songs felt like the soundtrack to that whole period.
The Smiths – ‘The Smiths’ – The Smiths are lyrically just exquisite. I loved how they were able to be cool and witty and pithy and fey all at the same time. I could have picked any of their albums really but this has one of my favourites, ‘Still Ill’ on it.
Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?
Ooo, maybe ‘Last Night’ by The Strokes. Great song, super-cool video and a melody that is best shouted rather than sung.

You can purchase a range of the latest vinyl records and classics from Outpost Coffee and Vinyl Cardiff.
Many thanks for your time Matthew 

Review Constellation Street The Other Room by Kiera Sikora


Constellation Street; a place of conscience, cowardice, courage and heart-hurting honesty.

Firstly we meet Ruth (Nicola Reynolds) a brash and beautiful landlady with a lot to be said about good deeds, their punishments and the past they create. Set in her homely pub, she creates that warm atmosphere that lulls you to your local and before you’ve taken in her purge of emotions- she’s opened the door for you to leave her, silently.

But the night continues, we move on then for a brief song with Alex (Gwenllian Higginson) at a gig in what may well be the pub we’ve just left. Her wide eyed gazes and drunken antics on the stage make you laugh and wonder. She seems to think too much, yet little of herself.

Swiftly then we move into the humid hotel room where we are met with the seemingly sweet Stephen (Neal McWilliams). He’s awkward and intense, both distant and present. He doesn’t break his gaze. It’s almost like there’s nothing left in him to be broken, nothing more that he could break. You feel his pulse must match the pace of his speech as he punches your heart with his harrowing story of love, loss and loneliness.

We then head back outside to Alex and her cheap, cheap lager, and we listen to her as she lays her life’s bones bare in front of us. She’s like no one’s child, a girl with questions and no one around who’s patient enough to listen to them, until we’re there. Her actions don’t gain her the answers she was looking for, but they no doubt change and add to the questions she already has. That alone is something that connects these pieces and people together.

This play’s genius lies in its more than admirable attention to detail and how the writing doesn’t allow you to think that it’s ever been written. The emotions are raw and the situations so real it makes you think of the Constellation Street (or Streets) that exist outside of the intamcy of Porter’s.

It’s important to add here to that a fourth monologue exists in this play; Frank’s (Roger Evans) story completes Constellation Street.

The small space at The Other Room has been completely, wonderfully transformed, so that walking to the bar after the show feels a bit like a daze. Amy Jane Cook’s design is impeccable and deserves all compliments and more. As do the directors Chelsey Gillard and Dan Jones for collecting and connecting this puzzle of a play and completely utilising it’s uniqueness and relevance.