Tag Archives: theatr clwyd

Review The Importance of Being Ernest, Theatr Clwyd by Karis Alaina Clarke

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

I must confess my knowledge of “The Importance of Being Ernest” is limited to a handful of overused quotes about ladies’ diaries and a handbag. So on one hand I had the anticipation of the unexpected but on the other the uncertainty of the unknown.

From the second I took my seat I was no longer in The Antony Hopkins Theatre but transported back to Victorian times, the back drop giving the illusion of a period house, the set pieces minimal yet effective. Not a piece of furniture or prop wasted from the red leather sofa to the finely sliced cucumber sandwiches. As an additional trick to just drop you from your 21st century woes into the height of 19th century society no house lights dimmed and the entry of Nick Harris as the excellent if not scene stealing Merriman the Butler (and in later scenes Lane) was an unexpected start to the play. This instantly added to the feeling that I was just sat on the opposite sofa in the world of the play. This concept ran throughout, the cast all gave the impression they were at one point or another addressing the audience directly and letting us into their bizarre three act melodrama for the day.

The story as a whole was, on the surface a mild farce with a poor plot centred around identity, a name and relationships…. on the surface. The real brilliance of the play lies within it’s ironic undertones and satirical speeches poking fun at society, marriage, relationships the upper class – and much more. The actors were craftsmen in as such as they delivered outstanding performances of beautifully timed comedy, especially Matt Jessop as John, and James Backway as Algernon yet they never failed to let the undertones of what needed to be delivered get across. The relationship between the two actors on stage was a delight and one of the main reasons I found the play enjoyable. Their movements on stage were perfect, timed to dance like perfection. The end of Act II in the garden saw James Backway land a shot at Matt Jessop with a muffin that I doubt he can replicate again!!! But it wasn’t just the men who stole the show, not to be out done the ladies held their own and the bitchy banter between Gwen Fairfax (Emma Denly) and Cecily (Robyn Cara) was a master-class in delivery.

Of course the real star of the show is the writer Oscar Wilde this is without doubt his most famous play and understandably so. He writes of a world he was obviously part of and a world he was very sceptical of – we see in polite society, as it was called, that the higher up the social chain you were, the less polite one needed to be. Overall Victorian morals and views were different to todays, as a society we do not play by some of the rules in place some 100 years ago – however the majority of the play could be as relevant now as it was then and with a few tweaks this play would be a voice for today’s women, today’s illegitimate children, a voice against high society, it was in this area where I was at odds with the direction of the play as a whole. Although I found the set stunning, the garden with its 20ft plus high hedges even smelling of roses, personally I would have liked to see a modern take on the play. Yes, it’s important to keep tradition alive, yes the actors and the set and the director all did a fantastic job but Oscar Wilde was such a revolutionary writer, he was writing about topics in a way that were so ironic and so iconic that 100 years later we are still talking and quoting him and laughing at his plays…. Would he really want them played out in the same staid way? I can’t see that he would – I think he would be wanting directors to be using his words to incite the same outrage he did.

Despite my enjoyment of the production it was disappointing to watch the play in a half full theatre, in the main it was a sea of older audience members and I had to ask …. Is that because this is a traditional performance of what is viewed as an old play for an older audience who love Oscar Wilde? I hope not. This production has received excellent responses and I know the theatre is undergoing physical changes at the minute. I am excited to see the direction this takes but if it continues to stick to the same programme I feel it will continue to have the same type of audience I was part of on Saturday afternoon. I am not going grey (yet), not necessarily an Oscar Wilde fan but I found this production a total blast from start to finish. It felt slightly on the longer side as it had 3 acts as opposed to the usual 2, however when you consider the extravagant set and the time it would take to get in and out of a bustle I am not surprised but it was worth the wait.

Overall I would definitely recommend this for all audiences no matter what colour your hair! 4 stars out of 5

Review by Karis Alaina Clarke

Review The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

There are certain smells that have the power to transport you to a certain place. Before the action had even started on the stage of the Anthony Hopkins theatre, I found myself standing in the middle of a bookshop, browsing the shelves and in my element. Clearly, the ingredients for the opening scene – consisting of an oak desk, antique tea trolley, red leather sofa and chipped wood wall panelling – had combined to create a most evocative scent. It was the perfect metaphor for my relationship with The Importance of Being Earnest. Suddenly, this play, which I had only previously encountered on paper, was coming to life right before my eyes, and in glorious detail too.

The costume department at Theatr Clwyd has once again excelled in creating the most exquisite outfits. The actors look positively fabulous, and the periodic detail is simply sublime. They capture the regal nature of the Victorian aristocracy perfectly: elegant, smart and, particularly in the case of Lady Bracknell, excessive. The Scenic Artists have clearly been inspired to compliment these gorgeous outfits with some spectacular scenery. In Act II especially, the Manor House garden is breathtaking. With huge green hedges and colourful flower beds, it is a wonder the stage is big enough to fit it all in. It is a real work of art, worthy of a horticultural (never mind theatrical) award.

Thankfully, this colourful production also contains some vibrant acting. It is not just the brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s script that is hugely affecting. The addition of physical expression means that the wit and wisdom contained within it are greatly enhanced. The humour is at times bitingly satirical, at times far more slapstick. Yet whether it is the mannerisms of Matt Jessup as John Worthing, the animated physicality of Nick Harris (Merriman), or the snobbish ignorance with which Hilary Maclean plays Lady Bracknell, this production certainly delivers on comedic value. It is infectiously enjoyable, in part from the fact that the entire cast seem to be taking such pleasure in performing Wilde’s work. They never seem to be overindulging in this opportunity though. They embody their characters brilliantly, and the strength of relationship between them is evident.

This seems a timeless play. One hundred years on, it still feels fresh. I still meet people today who care deeply about their public appearance, their social status and financial expression. It also feels like a timely political play too. One wonders, at least from media portrayals, whether today’s politicians aren’t the spitting image of Wilde’s characters. In both cases, director Richard Fitch has hit on something which makes this production enjoyably and humorously infectious. It is a beautiful production. A treat for the eyes, ears and (for me at least) the nose.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

Review Scarlett at Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

There is much to love in Scarlett. This one act play is short and sweet. Yet don’t think it lacks depth. It tackles issues of identity, family and death in a very humorous and conversational way. Part of its appeal lies in the relationships between the three generations of women onstage – protagonist Scarlett, her daughter Lydia, and her overbearing mother Bette. Scarlett is having some kind of midlife crisis. Or is it? Whatever her reasons, she has decided to travel from London to rural Wales in search of a new place to live. The small stage represents a patch of Welsh countryside, on which sit two rocks and a dilapidated stone building. This building appears to be the perfect place for Scarlett (played by Kate Ashfield) to start a new life for herself. This is in spite of local landowner Eria (Lynn Hunter) insisting it’s a chapel, and Lydia and Bette referring to it as nothing more than a shed.

Writer Colette Kane uses these differences of opinion to create a very witty, sometimes poignant, script. The dialogue is often rapid. The characterisation is scarily familiar. I could see elements of my own family in all three generations of women, yet this only added to the humour. Joanna Bacon is superb as Scarlett’s demanding and self-righteous mother. There is a fierce outer shell yet an inner vulnerability to Lydia which Bethan Cullinane manages to balance effortlessly well. As for Scarlett herself, Ashfield has landed a strong and empowering role. She commands the stage, not imperiously, but simply by embodying the character so well. There is no doubt that this effervescent and strong-willed woman is the central figure in a play that is not afraid to speak plainly about sex, status and self-worth from a wholly-female perspective.

Kane’s script can be very subtle in its character arcs. I say this because the characters can feel fully formed when we first meet them, yet over the course of the play, there is a change in their outlook and perspective. This is not always obvious. Sometimes, the change is too subtle. When the lights came up and the cast took their bows, I admit that I was slightly surprised. I was expecting an interval, to stay with these characters beyond 75 minutes. It is testament to Kane that they became so familiar and likeable, yet I couldn’t help feeling that there was more of their story to tell. As a result, I left feeling slightly dissatisfied: not what I wanted to feel.

Scarlett is a play hardwired in reality. It deals with identity and relationships in a very unassuming, conversational way. I don’t think it’s a standout production, but it certainly feels relevant. It may be short and sweet, but it has a lot to say about life, love and loss.

SCARLETT

Review Junkyard: A New Musical at Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

Please don’t misunderstand me when I say that Junkyard: A New Musical is a load of rubbish. It is by no means of poor quality, lacking in characterisation, or short on story. I am actually making reference to the dynamic and inventive set. It is made (almost entirely) of waste material: planks of wood, old tyres, thick blue twine. It is a representation of the ‘Adventure Playground’, an idea pioneered in the 1960s and ‘70s. It provided a space for kids to call their own, where they could embrace risk and unleash their creativity.

Writer and director Jack Thorne has made this the setting for his latest production, having been inspired by his father, Mick. As one of the first play leaders at an adventure playground in Bristol, Thorne pays tribute to him in the character of Rick. Played by Calum Callaghan, Rick is a laid-back, rather soft man who, nevertheless, has a big heart. He wants to build a ‘Junk Playground’ in Bristol and hopes to get a group of teenagers involved in the process. However, this rowdy group of misfits prove more challenging than expected. What follows is a tragi-comic story as the lives of these young people become inextricably entwined in the building of this unconventional structure.

Leading this group of kids is Fiz, an outspoken and confident young lady played to perfection by Erin Doherty. Doherty is a delight to watch. Utterly captivating, she makes Fiz an instantly loveable personality. Full of humour and expressive action, Doherty allows just the right amount of vulnerability to seep through. Her performance is enhanced by an incredibly strong supporting cast. Each brings such life and vitality to their characters that one could easily mistake this for a social documentary. I recognise in the passionate anger of Ginger (Josef Davies), the stuttering speech of Talc (Enyi Okoronkwo), and the crude insults of Higgy (Jack Riddiford), traits not only from my own teenage years but personalities that I came across during my own time as a (not very good) youth worker.

It is testament to the performances and quality of writing that one looks upon this as a marvellous work of social commentary. Yet what enhances this production to make it, in my opinion, a five-star play is the effective use of lighting and music. The opening sequence, repeated later in the play, is mesmerising. The use of torches and lighters immediately captures your attention and from then on, you are hooked. Stage-side throughout is a live band; always a winner in my book, but what makes this particular piece of musical theatre stand out is its intriguing blend of speech and lyrics. It uses a similar technique to the sung verbatim in London Road, yet here it is largely the internal thoughts and emotions of the characters that are sung as part of a more traditional narrative script.

There is plenty of humour in Junkyard. Some people may find the language a bit too crude or near-the-knuckle at times. There is also quite a lot of swearing. Again, some people might find this excessive. But I think it adds real charm to the whole thing. Its sense of realism cannot be questioned. It is a really immersive piece of theatre. It is challenging too. It makes you reconsider the very notion of what a playground is, how it is treated, and who it’s for.

Junkyards may be a load of rubbish, but this one is a work of art.

Junkyard – A New Musical