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REVIEW Jac and the Beanstalk, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

It isn’t a proper Cardiff Christmas without a trip to the New Theatre, now the official home of Wales’ biggest panto. Over the last few years we’ve seen classics like Cinderella, Snow White and Aladdin – and their latest festive offering Jac and the Beanstalk, truly is a giant of a panto!

Jac and the Beanstalk. Image credit: Tim Dickeson

Starring the iconic Lesley Joseph (Birds of a Feather) and Cardiff’s favourite Dame, Mike Doyle, the story follows Jac (Adam Bailey), a poor country boy who dreams of saving his hometown of Cardiff from the evil giants who live above them in a city in the clouds. Accompanied by girlfriend Jill (Denquar Chupak), brother Silly Simon (Aaron James), and mum Dame Trot (Doyle), Jac goes on an epic quest to defeat the giants’ villainous henchman Fleshcreep (Steve Arnott) with a little help from the Spirit of the Beans (Joseph).

Aaron James and Lesley Joseph in Jac and the Beanstalk. Image credit: Tim Dickeson

With an un-beet-able cast, hilarious jokes and eye-boggling visual effects, its no surprise that Jac and the Beanstalk is a wonderful night of festive family entertainment. When I spoke to star Adam Bailey a few months ago, he also promised some great musical numbers – and boy do they deliver!

Lesley Joseph and the ensemble cast of Jac and The Beanstalk. Image credit: Tim Dickeson

There’s an adorable song featuring the village’s furry friends, a villainous Disco ditty complete with dancing demons, and a standout sequence to Dua Lipa’s ‘Dance the Night’ from Barbie courtesy of Jac and Jill (though it’s a shame they never went up a hill at any point). And the a-maize-ing ensemble is responsible for the best dancing I’ve seen in a panto: kudos to the super talented James Davies Williams, Phoebe Roberts, Amber Pierson, Marcel Li Ping, Janine Somcio, and Lauren Wadsworth.

Mike Doyle in Jac and The Beanstalk. Image credit: Tim Dickeson

Director and choreographer Nick Winston keeps the story light, bright and breezy while writer Alan McHugh and the fabulous cast yield up a fresh crop of Christmas crackers. And the visual effects team outdoes themselves with a heart-pounding, pulse-racing trip to the giant’s lair – in 3-D! (Glasses are provided but you might want to bring your own brollies…) Suffice to say it’s bean on my mind ever since.

A perfect Christmas gift for all the family, Jac and the Beanstalk truly is entertainment beyond be-leaf!

Jac and the Beanstalk is performing at the New Theatre through to 7 January 2024. You can find more information on the show and book tickets here.

REVIEW: I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY,WMC #Cardiff 28.11.23

The wedding is OFF, but the honeymoon is ON!

In a world of AI, EDM and BPM*, one acronym from over thirty years ago still lasts the time. SAW (Stock Aitken Waterman) were a highly successful British songwriting and production trio in the late ’80s and early ’90s, creating numerous pop hits for artists like Kylie, Rick Astley, Bananarama, and Jason Donovan. Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman crafted a signature sound that dominated the charts, known for its catchy hooks and energetic beats, contributing significantly to the era’s pop music landscape. And in fairness back in the 80s/90s – their chart presence was sometimes mocked – but fast forward thirty years, how many jukebox musical have been made about The Smiths, New Order or Nirvana?

I Should Be So Lucky is about family, friends, love and great times. Ella and Nathan, a young couple, hopelessly in love, and about to take the biggest step of their lives – marriage. Until it all goes wrong. Will they be together forever, or will he make her cry and say goodbye?

To start, I need to declare I do love jukebox musicals. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s space in musical theatre for something with a feel-good factor – not all musicals want to make you cry (Wicked/Les Mis). One of the most successful is of course Mamma Mia, so there’ll always be some kind of comparison. A common complaint can be that the songs are crowbarred in and don’t really follow the narrative of the story – I can’t say this wasn’t the case of I should be so lucky, but when the story is crafted by Debbie Issit (Nativity-The Musical, Christmas at Mistletoe Farm), there’s enough character for everyone to relate to. It does feel though that there’s just too much going on, and at times I felt instead of jumping back and forth each characters’ story arc, just concentrate of two sets of story, and make the others into a sequel? Just an idea?

Set wise, simple but effective and worked so well – touring productions must find it difficult to adapt to different venues in short spaces of time – but sound and lighting was also spot on.

Cast was on point – and actually looked like they were enjoying themselves – you do often see productions where for performers, it’s just a job. Kayla Carter’s reimagined version of Sonia’s you’ll Never Stop Me Loving You was the stand out moment of the night. As well as Dead or Alive’s you spin me around in a Turkish folk style. I need this soundtrack album in my life!

A proper feel good jukebox musical with so many classic (and yes I mean that sincerely) SAW songs. Even Donna Summer’s Breakaway from 1991.

Loved also seeing Pete Waterman doing selfies with people. A true British music legend, who at the time wasn’t regarded as cool. The man is the epitome of Britishness cool – and the back catalogue of him, Mike and Matt, provides the soundtrack to many a night out of the 80s and now.

If you want a real good, feel good night out in the theatre, I should be so lucky is definitely that. It’s all there especially for you.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Patrick Downes

PS.

  • AI – Artificial Intelligence
  • EDM – Electronic Dance Music
  • BPM – Beats Per Minute

Review Everybody’s talking about Jamie, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru Nov 28 – Dec 2 2023

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Nica Burns and a Sheffield Theatres Production, music by Dan Gillespie Sells, book and lyrics by Tom McRae

Why would a teenager want to stand out from the crowd?  For many teenagers, fitting in with your peers is hugely important so there must be a reason to be different. 

This is the story of Jamie, someone who by force of personality stood out from the crowd.  Perhaps he always knew he was different.  Perhaps an extrovert personality made him a born performer, but why choose to be a drag queen? By any stretch of the imagination this is an unusual ambition, and this play is a recounting of a now well known story based on the real life experience of Jamie Campbell. 

The action centres around the school environment of a year 11 class in the lead up to their end of school prom.  It focuses on Jamie, who is coming to terms with himself, and explores his ambition to be a female impersonator.  It seems he came out twice, once as gay and subsequently as an aspiring drag queen.  As the school setting is a working class environment in Sheffield, these factors brought with them the scrutiny, must of it unwanted,  from his peers and teachers.  

The stand out performer was Ivano Turco as Jamie who started shy, and mixed up yet became increasingly feminine and confident.  My problem was that in using a soft voice to accentuate his femininity, he became hard to hear.  He was ably supported by Rebecca McKinnis as his mother, Darren Day as his mentor, Hugo/Loco Chanelle and Talia Palamathanan as Priti Pasha, whose songs were memorable.

The production was great although not without its problems.  There was a 10 minute hiatus for a sound system failure near the start, yet the cast and crew addressed this and the musical continued without affecting the enjoyment of the audience.  The set was varied, flexible and effective, switching seamlessly from school room to nightclub to kitchen.  The choreography was energetic and balletic and the score varied in intensity from highly charged to being soulful and poignant.

In one sense, this play is mundane.  The vast majority of 16 year olds go through struggles to assert their identity and individuality and many struggle with attendant mental health problems.  In another sense this story is highly unusual and comes with layers of meaning and issues.  Jamie knew from a young age that he was gay and had an attraction bordering on compulsion for dressing up in so called girls clothes.  This made him out of step with society, such that his father thought him a disgrace and some of his peers poured scorn on him, even bullied him.  As he explores his ambition to be a drag queen, he faces losing his best friend, and being excluded from the prom because he wants to wear a dress.  Issues such as prejudice and discrimination and then human rights spring to mind but most importantly, it is clear from the play that one should stay true to yourself and then it is possible to fight through the barriers of social limitations and achieve success.

Even if a story of an aspiring drag queen is not your cup of tea, there is much in this play that makes it thoughtful, entertaining and uplifting theatre.   

Review The King and I, New Theatre Cardiff by Jane Bissett.

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This is the first time I have been to the theatre since lockdown and this was a most wonderful reintroduction. There is nothing that compares to live theatre and this opportunity did not disappoint and I would certainly recommend this musical to everyone.

When composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein teamed up they became the greatest musical partnership of all time. Their influence and innovation to theatre musicals has been celebrated the globe over.

This production of The King and I comes to Cardiff following a critically-acclaimed season at The London Palladium where it was no surprise that it was a sell out!
 

From curtain up the audience was transported and transfixed to another world far from the mundane. For many the bench mark for this elaborate musical is the 1956 film with screen performances of Deborah Kerr (Anna) and Yul Brynner (King Mongkut).

The West End’s Annalene Beechey and Broadway’s Darren Lee did not disappoint with their interpretation and performances that transported us to the Siam of Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam on which the musical is based.

The story follows Anna, a widow, and her son as they travel to Bangkok, where Anna has been assigned as a tutor to the King’s children. Anna soon finds herself having cultural clashes and differences with the King whilst endearing herself to both the children and the king’s many wives.

The Royal children were a delight, completing the illusion of being in a far country at a different time.

There are also the side stories of star crossed lovers and references to slavery. These must be viewed in context but the female narrative cannot be ignored and gives additional depth to the story as a whole.

The stand out actor for me was Caleb Lagayan, who excelled as a truly believable Prince Chulalongkorn. His voice was powerful, captivating and commanded the stage.

From the golden age of musicals, The King and I is one of the greatest, with what many would consider one of the finest scores ever written.

Many in the audience seemed to genuinely find it difficult not to sing along to the familiar songs including Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance.
 
Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher and his internationally renowned creative team created the atmosphere of old Siam. The wonderful full-scale orchestra led by Christoper Munday, must be given credit for keeping us spell bound all evening, even before the curtain rose.

A truly memorable evening I would recommend to everyone.

Review, Die Walküre Act 1, City of Cardiff Symphony Orchestra, St Martin in Roath by James Ellis

Photo credit: James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a hunger to perform Wagner from amateur orchestras. Perhaps the demands asked from this problematic composer seem less daunting today, though command in vocals and a robust orchestra must simply give all.

Part of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, the remarkable four part, 15 hours behemoth, The Valkyrie is the second outing. This first act is the most intimate of the enquire Ring, with just three characters in an hour timeframe. The twins Siegmund and Sieglinde who were separated at birth, rediscover themself…with knowing romantic intentions. With the latter married to Hunding, this act sees the twins father Wotan loom over it’s entirety.

This is the only opera where the ring of power forged in the last part Das Rhinegold, is never seem and the actions of Wotan to secure his reclaiming of the ring again sets the story in motion. The lover twins leave Hunding in the night (who was already mortal enemies with Siegmund anyhow) pulling Wotan’s sword Nothung out of the massive tree in the centre of their lodgings as fate foretells.

I was impressed with the orchestra, filled with proclaiming Wagner Tubas, patient harps and pounding timpani. Sat in the front row, I also realised just how much orchestral weight there was to the celli, who get some ravishing moments in this opening act. The romantic feel towards the twins spreads over the musicians and they all get swept away in this strange love story. The swarm-like opening has the strings able and willing to muster up this piercing prelude, as Siegmund escapes the hunt from Hunding and his men in the forest. You can expect Wagner to be loud and the attractive church acoustic caught this thick sound to the roof.

Even with the sweeping amore, comes Wagner’s heavy later compositional style. Our three soloists did a grand job of keep the pace and the drama up for the duration. As Hunding, James Platt oozed into it the horrid nature of this villain. His bass was like a very fine honey, the snarling, vicious line tackled well and you could very easily see him on stage in the role.

Fiona Harrison-Wolfe made for a resplendent Sieglinde, though on a few occasions the orchestra drowned her out. Never an easy role, this being the only character in all three huge acts of Valkyrie, Sieglinde boats high register climaxes and more sincere, homely moments too. Fiona ventured well into this, also thanks to the support from tenor Gareth Dafydd Morris as the love interest. Gareth is a familiar face in Cardiff, this feels like a treat for him.

The declaratory and soaring vocals of Siegmund gave Gareth time to shine, the duet at the end with Fiona a highlight. Affirmed conductor Martin McHale had lots of rehearsal time with the players and it showed. Some brass and light woodwind fluffs may have been expected, due to the demands put upon them but it went along without a hitch. 

REVIEW Quiz: the Coughing Major Millionaire Scandal, New Theatre Cardiff

It was the cough heard around the world.

In 2001, when British Army Major Charles Ingram won the top prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, he became the third person ever do so – and the first to be denied the winnings. After a lengthy trial he was found to have procured the money by deception, in conspiracy with his wife Diana and fellow contestant Tecwen Whittock. The prosecution’s case rested on the production company’s claim that Charles, who’d played erratically throughout his time in the hot seat, was guided to the correct answers through a series of coughs from Diana, Tecwen, and an underground ring of Britain’s top quizzers, who’d get a cut of the prize money.

Rory Bremner in Quiz. Image credit: Johan Persson

Directed by Daniel Evans and Seán Linnen, and written by James Graham, Quiz takes its audience through the story through the lens of the trial that followed. In Act One, we hear the case for the Prosecution; in Act Two, the case for the Defence – all while using Millionaire’s infamously stress-inducing psychological tactics: the pulsing heartbeat, the gradually dimming lights, and the twisted spectacle of watching someone unravel before your very eyes. No wonder it quickly became the world’s most popular TV quiz show: you quite literally couldn’t look away.

Lewis Reeves and Rory Bremner in Quiz. Image credit: Johan Persson

Comedian and Britain’s top impressionist Rory Bremner stars as Chris Tarrant – and he’s utterly uncanny in the role, capturing every Tarrant-esque tic. His scenes with Lewis Reeves (I May Destroy You, The Midwich Cuckoos) as the unassuming Major Ingram in particular seem lifted exactly from the episode itself. This is in no small part thanks to the spot-on set, designed by Robert Jones and lit by Ryan Day, which brilliantly evokes the original game show and transitions spookily well into an imposing courtroom.

The cast of Quiz. Image credit: Johan Persson

This is far from your typical courtroom drama. It is brimming with energy, poignancy and lots of laughs – not least from Mark Benton (Northern Lights, Shakespeare and Hathaway) as a series of hilarious characters, from the bum bag-toting top dog of ITV to the leather-coated leader of the quizzers’ secret circle. A brilliant ensemble features strong supporting performances from Charley Webb (Emmerdale) as Charles’ quiz-obsessive wife Diana, as well as Danielle Henry, Leo Wringer, Jay Taylor and Stefan Adegbola. And do look out for scene-stealing turns from Sukh Ojla and Marc Antolin.

Sukh Ojla and Mark Benton in Quiz. Image credit: Johan Persson

Nominated for two Olivier Awards including Best New Comedy, the West End smash hit was adapted for TV in 2020, starring Michael Sheen, Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford. But there’s something special about the theatrical production and how it poses the ultimate 50/50 question: Were the Ingrams guilty, or not guilty? You might want to phone a friend, or ask the audience – which Quiz does, by giving them the opportunity to vote, and not just as a contestant’s lifeline. Fresh from a smash-hit run on the West End, Quiz perfectly captures the heart-pumping tension of the world’s most popular TV quiz show. Catch it while you can – and that’s my final answer!

Quiz is performing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 18 – 21 October. More information on the show and how to book tickets can be found here.

Quiz is a fictional imagining based on real events which took place in 2001 following an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? It is not in any way connected with the makers of the programme or any of the individuals portrayed. The television programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is produced by 2waytraffic.

REVIEW Housemates, Sherman Theatre/Hijinx by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Move over Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Joey and Phoebe: there’s a new set of Housemates in town, and they’re here to change the world!

And that’s exactly what they did, when in 1974 a group of residents at the Ely Hospital went to live with Cardiff University students in a small house in Ruthin Gardens. Alan (Gareth John), a young man born with Down’s Syndrome, meets Jim (Peter Mooney), a rebellious student volunteer. The two become friends, and so begins an odyssey that – after two years, countless letters and submissions and hospital board rejections – culminated in the end of institutionalised ‘care’ and the dawn of supported living.

Written by Tim Green and co-directed by Joe Murphy and Ben Pettitt-Wade, Housemates is a fun and affectionate tale that is raucously brought to life by a hugely talented cast of neurodivergent and neurotypical actor-musicians. The show moves through its story like a song, underscored by an excellent sense of rhythm, movement, and momentum. There are brilliant performances by John and Mooney as the central duo, who lead a superb ensemble cast that includes Natasha Cottriall, Lindsay Foster, Matthew Mullins, Caitlin Lavagna, Richard Newnham, James Ifan and Eveangeleis Tudball. They make a (shockingly) little-known piece of Welsh history feel like an instant classic.

The show begins even before you take your seat, with the cast performing iconic 70s hits that transport you to this era of rockin’ rebellions – and keeps the party going well after the curtain falls. It is simply the most joyous show I can remember seeing in a long time. This vibrant co-production between the Sherman Theatre (the ‘engine room of Welsh theatre’) and Hijinx (one of Europe’s leading inclusive theatre companies) is further proof of the magic of contemporary Welsh theatre: a concert, a comedy, and a clarion call in one.

Housemates is performing at the Sherman Theatre until Saturday 14 October. More information and how to book tickets here. Performances are captioned (in English), audio described and BSL interpreted. Please note that the show contains use of outdated terms for disabled people, ableism, strong language and descriptions of abuse.

La Traviata – a review by Eva Marloes

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

In the past week, the documentary In Plain Sight, an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Sunday Times, has alleged that comedian turned wellness guru Russell Brand is responsible for exploitative treatment of women, including rape and sexual assault. Just like when the #MeToo  movement emerged, many have questioned the women speaking out. Women are still exploited by powerful men and their sexuality is still policed.

La Traviata couldn’t be more topical. Verdi’s opera was shocking in depicting and taking the side of a ‘fallen woman’, what today might be an escort. Alas, the unimaginative direction, originally by Sir David McVicar, here by Sarah Crisp, makes it look preposterous and bizarre.

Violetta, a courtesan, meets Alfredo at a lavish party. She decides to leave that life and live with Alfredo supporting their life together financially. Unbeknown to Alfredo, his father asks Violetta to leave his son to protect his and his family’s reputation. 

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta and Mark S Ross as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

Violetta leaves Alfredo who feels spurned and acts his revenge by throwing money at her in public to repay her. Verdi thinks she has a dignity and should be respected.

It is none other than Alfredo’s father who defends her and condemns his own son for disrespecting her. Yet, only at the very end Alfredo learns that Violetta sacrificed their love and life together for his reputation. He comes back to see her dying. 

La Traviata could still be a powerful story if set in today’s times, just as James Macdonald’s clever production of Rigoletto did by setting it in Washington DC in the #MeToo era. 

The WNO’s traditional setting fails to convey Verdi’s intention. The choice of a very dark set design, presumably to symbolise impending doom, has a jarring effect on the opening scene whose frivolity and joviality are dampened. It weakens the unfolding of the tragedy and frustrates the solid performances of the artists. 

David Junghoon Kim shines as Alfredo, just as he did as the Duke in Rigoletto. He is at home with Verdi and gives a performance full of pathos. His beautiful tonality and powerful voice deliver longing and sorrow effectively. Stacey Alleaume as Violetta has a splendid coloratura. She’s at ease on high notes and bel canto. In the ‘croce e delizia’ duet with Alfredo in Act I, she seemed often overpowered by David Junghoon Kim when singing at a lower range. She is stronger in the second act with Mark S Ross, playing Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont, and the final dying scene. Mark S Ross has a beautiful baritone voice. He gives an excellent performance.

The WNO’s chorus is strong as ever. The orchestra, under the baton of Alexander Joel, gives a solid, albeit uninspiring, performance.

David Junghoon Kim and Stacey Alleaume in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera.

WNO’s Ainadamar – a review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Ainadamar is an homage to poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was killed by the fascist falangists during the Spanish civil war in 1936. It is told through a series of tableaux where actress Margarita Xirgu, Lorca’s muse, reminisces with her student Nuria of the time she met Lorca, her attempt at persuading him to leave Spain, and his execution.

Ainadamar, which in Arabic means fountain of tears, is one of the early works of eclectic composer Osvaldo Golijov, who excels at weaving together folk, pop, and classical music in harmonious balance. Here, Golijov brings together flamenco’s cante jondo (deep song), electronic sounds, mournful ballads, and classical opera references. His musical complexity is refined but overly dominated by longing and anguish.

The astounding performances of Jaquelina Livieri as Xirgu, Hanna Hipp as Lorca, and Julieth Lozano Rolong as Nuria, make for intense moments of longing, hope, and loss. The imaginative light design and direction keep the audience engaged countering a too simple narrative with no emotional arc.

Hanna Hipp as Federico Garcia Lorca, photo credit Johan Persson

Ainadamar opens with Margarita Xirgu (Jacquelina Livieri) preparing to go on stage as Mariana Pineda, the 19th century liberal martyr subject of Lorca’s play. She tells her student, Nuria (Julieth Lozano Rolong) of meeting Lorca in a bar in Madrid. The scene shifts from a light-hearted rumba to a nostalgic duet. Jaquelina Livieri’s agile and rich voice make Margarita spell-binding. Mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, as Lorca, has power and stage-presence, yet tender in her duet with Livieri.

The memory of Havana is broken by the harsh radio broadcast of fascist Falangist Ruiz Alonso. Alfredo Tejada, as Alonso, conveys power and anguish as flamenco cantaor  counterbalancing Lorca’s flamenco cante jondo

Alfredo Tejada as Ruiz Alonso, photo credit Johan Persson

In another flashback, Margarita recounts her attempt at persuading Lorca to flee to Cuba. The nostalgic and dreamlike image of Havana, the route not taken, is a sensual and playful moment that gives way to grief. Lorca does not want to run away and chooses to be executed. 

The final tableau is in the diegetic present of 1969 when Margarita is dying in Uruguay recalling Pineda’s last words of freedom. She is joined by the ghost of Lorca. The scene fades out rather than reach a climax. The sense of loss and longing dominates Ainadamar from beginning to end. There is intensity but no drama. 

Photo credit Johan Persson

Review: Heathers the Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Vicky Lord

“September 1st, 1989. Dear Diary…”

Veronica Sawyer, Heathers the Musical

Heathers the Musical, based on the 1988 black comedy film of the same name, follows Westerberg High’s Veronica Sawyer as just another nobody dreaming of a better day. But when she joins the beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers and her dreams of popularity may finally come true, mysterious teen rebel JD teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody.

Continue reading Review: Heathers the Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Vicky Lord