Tag Archives: theatre

Review, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band, Theatr Clwyd, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seems. The arts sector is not out of the woods yet by any means. But there is a glimmer of hope. Like the neon bulbs dangling across the stage at my first live gig since March, there are rays of optimism breaking through the darkness. As the sun set on the magnificent red brick building towering over us, aglow with rainbow-coloured light, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of joy and relief that I am back. That I have been able to come back. That my theatre, unlike others, still stands.

It never stopped, of course. It innovated; collaborated; diverted its resources; sought creative solutions. And now, it is slowly returning to a sense of the old normal. Not indoors, mind, but out. On a grassy field marked with white boxes and filled with makeshift chairs of all shapes and sizes. A tapestry of camping and outdoor furniture laid out before a plain black stage, simply lit and acoustically sound. Onto it step three lads with three instruments ready to entertain the throngs that have ventured out on this Friday evening. And entertain us they most certainly do, with a barnstorming hour of country, blues, and alternative folk.

Their blistering set was much needed to get the toes tapping; to counter the cold wind blowing across the site. The audience applauded in enthusiastic appreciation throughout, determined to enjoy an hour of music after the dearth of live performance over the past few months. The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly offered plenty of enjoyment and more besides, an eclectic sound keeping things fresh and lively, with no let-up in their high-octane delivery. Even in the slow, ballad-like songs such as Toss and Turn and Old Joanna, there was intensity in their presentation, perhaps caused by the welcome release that this post-lockdown opportunity presented for them. Whatever the case, it only added to the brilliance of the evening. With a carefully-crafted back-catalogue of wonderfully-catchy songs – reminiscent of Mumford & Sons one minute, sounding like a 1950s WSM Radio broadcast the next – The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly left their mark on proceedings in an hour that went by way too fast.

It was a very different experience of Theatr Clwyd to the one that I am used to. But it is moments like these that weave themselves into our memories. They are the unexpected surprises that make our relationship to a place so rich with meaning. They crystallise into a particular instance on our timeline that helps us tell the story of our lives to those that come after, when we recall how this theatre and its work has impacted us down the years. It may appear to the one looking in and gazing upon the photographs that this was just another outdoor gig. But to those who were there, or to me at least, this show marked the occasion when the arts began to breathe again, as the tightly-bound corset of Covid-19 restrictions was loosened enough to allow for such a socially-distanced gathering to take place.

There will be many bumps in the road to come. We are not out of the woods yet. But beyond the many trees still to wind past to get to the edge of what can seem an overwhelmingly-bleak scene, there is a light that shines. It will not be the same one we left behind. And neither should it be. Lockdown has been an opportunity to view and do things differently. Live performance as we knew it will return I’m sure. But the arts sector must also move forward. Change must be embraced.

Click here to find out more about The Goat Roper Rodeo Band.

Click here to find out what’s coming up at Theatr Clwyd.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Europeans (THE GUARDIAN) – A Review by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you, like me, are tired of the formulaic plot-driven writing that saturates our screens, head for The Guardian channel on YouTube. There you will find Europeans, a series of seven short films with seven writers, each from a different European country: Poland, Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, UK, and Ireland. The Guardian shows that it’s ahead of the game in producing documentaries and now drama. The writing of Europeans is fresh and original. The format allows the films to go beyond the demands of TV, where short films have no presence, and crucially the constraints of national cultural traditions.  

The films are so different you wonder whether they were responding to different briefs, but that is precisely what’s good about them. They are not made to fit into a category, although all of them have a strong theatrical voice. This is partly because each film is a monologue delivered to camera exploring Europeans relationship with Europe. 

The series opens with the French film One Right Answer, the most overtly political episode of the series written by Alice Zeniter and performed by Sabrina Ouazani. A young woman talks of her experience of democracy betrayed. She voted for her first time against the Treaty of Nice in the European referendum of 2005. The referendum was lost and yet the result ignored. She was against the neoliberal Europe dominated by consumerism and the free market, but little transpires as to what she believes in. Sabrina Ouazani gives credibility to the monologue, but it doesn’t go past the disillusionment with the process rather than touch on a generation’s aspirations for Europe.  

Borders, the second episode comes from Poland and was written by Jakub Żulczyk and performed by Jacek Koman. It is the story of a lorry driver who has travelled Europe everywhere but has been nowhere because always on the move. Before Schengen, he travelled east and would read books during the long waits at the border. The lorry driver had to sacrifice time with his family to put food on the table. Today, he travels to Germany in a Europe that has no borders. A Europe where his son earns well and can spend time with his family.  

In the UK episode, Dim Sum, written by Clint Dyer and performed by Javone Prince, a bailiff acts tough while he empties a house. It is the longest piece, which allows the monologue to be interspersed with short bursts from the people whose house is being emptied. The bailiff, a black man, presents himself as the product of British society, where people only care about themselves and trample on others to be rich. He is British and has nothing to do with Europe, though he is not blind to the deep racism that casts him and his children as outsider in their own country. The bailiff does his job with no compassion, and yet, that one time, when a pregnant woman from a European country opened the door, slightly trembling and then crying, that time left a scar. The captivating writing gives life to a rounded character. Javone Prince’s intensity makes us relive with the bailiff the memory of that encounter. 

Equally dramatic is Terra Firma, the Spanish episode, written by Blanca Doménech and performed beautifully by Paula Iwasaki. A woman tells us of when she left her rural village for London only to find herself exploited in demeaning jobs. Now back home, as she walks down the streets of her village, her anger at the dehumanising economy is mixed with a feeling of guilt for betraying her roots. She looks up, to the statue of Mary during a procession, and all is forgiven. She is lifted up, away from the the everyday struggle, from the pain, and feel worthy as a human. Thus she can be true to herself.  

For the German episode, Neanderthal, the writer, Marius von Mayenburg, has chosen a Neanderthal man, performed by Robert Beyer, to tell a poetic tale warning of the danger of forgetting the past. It is the story of a tribe that thought themselves stronger than others, which led to war. As he tells the tale, the setting changes from a museum, to the woods, to a theatre, just as a country and a continent change throughout history, and yet repeat the same story, that “Those who don’t want to live together, will die together.” Only in friendship there is life and the future. 

Written by Jonas Jonasson, Top of the Class, the Swedish episode makes fun of the Swedish attitude of superiority saying that “We didn’t really join the EU, we rather decided they could join us.” It blames social media for reducing politics to soundbites and creating divisions. The shortest episode, it is performed well by Viktor Åkerblom, but it feels a little too underdeveloped.  

The Irish Fake Tan, written by Lisa McInerney, alludes to Brexit by presenting an Irish woman splitting up from her British boyfriend. Lighter in tone, the woman, played delightfully by Evanna Lynch, is the embodiment of an Ireland that no longer needs Britain and can fit anywhere.  

I was particularly touched by Dim Sum, Terra Firma, and Neanderthal, which convey complexity through elegant simplicity. They are part of a whole. The films may seem very different dramas, but you get a sense of cohesion, partly achieved by the excellent direction of Amy Hodge, who conveys the emotions in a few careful shots. This cohesion out of difference is just what Europe is, or dreams to be. Europe is not defined by the past but by a dream of the future. Europe looks to what has been to imagine what can be. It is my hope that The Guardian will now commission a series that speaks of our hopes, our dreams, our imagined future. 

Review: Cinderella, Riverfront by Gemma Treharne-Foose

Cinderella, playing now at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre

When it comes to getting in the festive spirit, Newport might not always be the first thought that pops into your head. But Newport’s Riverfront venue was full of festive cheer this week as the City served up the first Christmas Panto of the season – the biggest the city’s arts team has ever staged.

One of eight venues run under the City’s ‘Newport Live’ banner, the Riverfront sits on the banks of the River Usk, and you can glimpse the city’s distinctive red ‘Steel Wave’ sculpture by Peter Finch from the windows of the café and terrace. For Cardiff and Valleys audiences, the Riverfront won’t be front of mind when it comes to theatre and the arts, with the WMC, New Theatre, Sherman and RCT’s Park & Dare and Coliseum venues hosting their own festive programme of new and family favourites. For many round my way, a trip to Porthcawl is an annual tradition that just can’t be broken.

So why go to Newport?

The Riverfront is far from a one trick pantomime horse. I had been before with my daughter to spend our Tempo Time Credits at a family cinema event and had a great experience. The venue has two theatre spaces, a dance and recording studio and ample accessible space to visit its café and hold events and workshops.

It’s position just a few minutes away from the Friar Walk shopping development is also a great way to get in some Christmas shopping and a pre-theatre dinner in walking distance to your show.

One thing you might notice about the Riverfront, though? The staff are great. I mean really great and genuinely interested in you and your experience. It’s something I haven’t noticed as much in some of Cardiff’s more famous venues. Perhaps they don’t have to work as hard for your custom…

That’s not to downplay what others are doing, but I really did notice a marked difference. Riverfront/Newport Live staff greet you, look you, look you in the eye and ask you about your day, ask you your thoughts on the show. There was a definite family feel in this venue that I hadn’t been expecting.

So this year’s show? An impressive turn from some familiar faces to audiences, with Gareth Tempest returning to this year’s performance as Prince Charming (being a former member of the children’s chorus at Riverfront in 2004) and Newport native Keiron Self as Buttons.

Actor Richard Elis (Eastenders, The Bill, Casualty and The Bill) does a fantastic turn as Candy, one half of the awfully endearing ugly sisters alongside Geraint Rhys Edwards as Flossie. Any Welsh speakers who love his silly and sassy Welshie portrayals and skits on ‘Hansch’ will be tickled pink to see his face in the programme.

Elis and Edwards have fantastic energy and sassy pants to go with their comic chops. They don’t even have to be speaking to make you cackle.

Between them and Keiron Self as love-sick buttons, there are plenty of quips, cheeseball lines, puns and innuendo you’d expect to see at the panto – not all of it hilarious, mind! The show’s setting in ‘Newport Bay’ by the sea is interesting and the set and staging is very well done, with the ensemble cast and choreography by Angela Sheppard bringing the show to life. I’d like to have seen more comedy spread to the female cast members as well…the traditional panto format shouldn’t save all the funny nuggets for the men. Trust me, Newport women are hilarious (my Newport family being the case in point!).

There’s a standout scene where Keiron Self is locked out in the rain and climbs up onto the roof while Cinderella is serenading the crowds. A beautiful bit of physical comedy. Of course, Cinderella and Prince Charming provide the schmaltz and the cheese, but their vocals are lovely and warming.

This year’s panto is part of a great 2019/2020 programme and I’d encourage you to consider it for your next night out.

Cardiff gets all the love and attention – it’s time to spread the love! Newport should no longer be the Ugly Sister when it comes to Theatre (ohhhh no it shouldn’t!).

Support your local arts venues, folks – and maybe….consider changing your usual haunt this year for a lovely little panto set in ‘Newport Bay’. Trust me, those Ugly Sisters will keep you chuckling long after the glitter’s been put away in January.

Cinderella is playing until 4th Jan 2020, see more at Riverfront

Review, Eye of the Storm, Theatr na nÓg at Pontio Arts Centre by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

My love affair with theatre began a few years ago with Under Milk Wood. Theatr Clwyd’s production of Dylan Thomas’ most famous work was a revelation, a conversion experience that has led me to take a seat for many a show since. Over the last year or so, such journeys have become less frequent. Life has a habit of evolving with time, and I think I lost a sense of what made theatre so special for me in the first place. Two plays have recently rekindled the fire within me. I do not think it a coincidence that both happen to be made and based in Wales. Along with Emily White’s Pavilion, Theatr na nÓg’s Eye of the Storm reflects the nation in which I live; the nation from which I claim part of my identity. I wonder whether a lack of representation has been a factor in my dulled appreciation of theatre. If so, these two plays have supercharged my passion for the medium back to life.

Set in a small town, post-mining community, Eye of the Storm draws numerous parallels with Pavilion. This includes a focus on young people and the theme of aspiration. Writer and director Geinor Styles chooses to tackle the challenges faced by this demographic through an excellent supporting cast that circle around the main lead, played by Rosey Cale. Cale gives a strong and quietly emotive performance as Emmie Price, an intelligent and practical teenager whose ambition to study tornadoes at an American University is severely tested by the circumstances of her present reality. Living in a caravan with her mum, who has bipolar disorder, Emmie must juggle her role as a young carer with the demands of school and household chores, along with negotiating the rent and constant electricity problems with inept park manager Mr Church (Keiron Bailey). It is a wonder that she has the time, let alone the inclination, to dream big. Yet Styles has created a dogged and determined young woman whose empowering presence makes her the perfect role model for those facing adversity. She represents what can be achieved if you pursue your dreams in spite of your present situation.

Geinor Styles

Eye of the Storm is an uplifting narrative that does not shy away from the difficulties of life but adds splices of humour throughout. The poise and astuteness of Emmie is beautifully contrasted with the lovesick innocence of Lloyd, the cartoonish physicality of Dan Miles making for a truly affectionate character. Along with Keiron Bailey, who is fantastically hilarious as class clown Chris, Miles ensures that laughter is never far away in this production. For all that it deals with bigger issues such as climate change and the effects of austerity, like Pavilion, the real joy of Eye of the Storm is in its shrewd observance of ordinary life. The characters on stage are recognisable, relatable; all the more so to a predominantly Welsh audience who see and hear something of themselves reflected, including in the witticisms and references that season the script with a particularly Welsh flavour.

The script is bolstered by an original soundtrack created by prolific songwriter Amy Wadge. Most recently known for her work on Keeping Faith, here the ethereal, soulful sounds that accompanied Eve Myles and co are nowhere to be found. Instead, country music provides the backdrop to the action on stage. And it complements the narrative really well, offering extra pathos to the character arc of Emmie in particular. ‘Emmie Don’t Say’ is my personal favourite track, not least because Cale and Caitlin McKee (Karen) duet with such gorgeous harmonies, creating a poignant and tear-inducing moment that also represents a neat summary of the character of Emmie. It is a song that will stay with me for some time to come.

Awarded ‘Best Show for Children and Young People’ at the Wales Theatre Awards, such an accolade could lead to some confusion over its target demographic. Indeed, if my motivation to see Eye of the Storm had not come off the back of meeting Rosey Cale in her other guise as an independent singer-songwriter, it is highly likely I would have overlooked it entirely, considering I’m now approaching thirty. It is certainly a show suitable for children and young people but do not mistake Eye of the Storm as a show written exclusively for this age group. It can be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone from 8-98. Indeed, overhearing the feedback as the audience filtered out at the end, it was overwhelmingly positive, from old and young alike. Coming off the back of Pavilion, it certainly made its mark on me. It reignited that spark which I had lost somewhere along the way, returned through seeing something of my own life reflected on stage. Eye of the Storm has been, for me, a reminder of the importance of representation on stage.

Click here for show dates and tickets.

gareth

REVIEW: THE STORY by TESS BERRY-HART at THE OTHER ROOM by Gareth Ford-Elliott

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Story by Tess Berry-Hart centres around X (Siwan Morris), a person “of the people” returning to their homeland after a year volunteering in “occupied territories”, helping refugees. X is being held under suspicious circumstances by V (Hannah McPake) who, under many different guises, interrogates, questions and advises X.

As much as this is a story about criminalising those who help others – it also explores the violence of language, manipulation of tone and deconstructs the ideas of a story and truth in the world of “justice”. It is this that truly stands out in Tess Berry-Hart’s writing.

There is so much to like about Berry-Hart’s writing. It is technically very strong. The language is brilliant, at times beautiful, at other times horrifying. The slow-burning story is amplified by excellent psychology within the characters.

David Mercatali’s direction is strong. Mercatali deals with the slow-moving story well, pacing the play in a manner that constantly makes the audience think and second-guess. The tone also shifts in an interesting and subtle way.

The acting performances are strong all round. Hannah McPake’s subtle diversity in her different “characters” as V is phenomenal, whilst Siwan Morris’ defiance as X is extremely moving. Luciana Trapman as The Storyteller also does a great job delivering powerful vignettes that are projected onto parts of the set.

Set up with promenade staging, Delyth Evans’ design is simple, yet effective. The long, narrow stage gives a real sense of entrapment that enhances the production. Combining with Katy Morison’s lighting which is mostly understated, but flickers and flashes at key moments. Tic Ashfield’s sound design completes the design elements in a very strong way. Somewhat unnecessarily, but effectively, bringing in glitches on voiceovers to distort the messages we’re hearing. This drives the audience’s curiosity to the mention of “the voice”.

This is potentially subjective, but The Story’s main issue is that it’s not challenging enough. There’s not enough emotion and the lack of a real story with a build really takes away from the potential power of this play. It feels quite safe and relies on an echo chamber for an audience. An audience who already think and feel how the play wants you to think and feel about the messages and themes.

It also doesn’t go deep enough into the topics it tackles. Far from a dystopian world – this is the reality of what we are currently living in. The dystopian feel takes away from that realism.

The disappointment comes from the clear potential of the play. It’s on the verge of being something brilliant, just falling short.

The Story offers a lot to reflect on in its content and enjoy in its production but doesn’t reach its potential through failing to truly challenge its audience.

The Story at The Other Room, Cardiff
8th October – 27th October 2019
Written by Tess Berry-Hart
Directed by David Mercatali
Siwan Morris as X
Hannah McPake as V
Luciana Trapman as The Storyteller
Design by Delyth Evans
Sound Design by Tic Ashfield
Lighting Design by Katy Morison
Video Design by Simon Clode
Assistant Director: Samantha Jones
Stage Manager: Rachel Bell
Production Manager: Rhys Williams
Season Fight Director: Kevin McCurdy
Fight Choreographer: Cristian Cardenas
Choreographer: Deborah Light
Production Photography: Kirsten McTernan
Associate Director: Matthew Holmquist
Casting Director: Nicola Reynolds
BSL Interpreter: Julie Doyle
Set Builder: Will Goad

REVIEW: AMERICAN NIGHTMARE BY MATTHEW BULGO AT THE OTHER ROOM BY GARETH FORD-ELLIOTT

3 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
Starring:
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: CLUB TROPICANA BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

Club Tropicana 

Press Night: 13 Aug 

Wales Millennium Centre

After a long absence from theatre reviews this last year and with the media a toxic cesspit these days, I felt so ready to be entertained. Like, seriously entertained. I have been awaiting the next chance to review something lively and upbeat, like a demonic glitter leopard stalking her pray. Yes, I was so desperately in need of an escape from the grim reality of Britain in 2019, that when news came from our friends in the WMC of a spectacular 1980s musical that harked back to the cheesefest pop era of my childhood, it truly felt like a gift. 

So it’s quite appropriate that in order to share this therapeutic time-warp, I should invite along my older and let’s face it superior older sister. Even though we only really got to know one another when I was already in my twenties, I have always looked up to her. Not least because my earliest fleeting memories of her were when I was a little nipper and she was already in her teens. At this point in the 80s, Wham were still going full pelt and George Michael wasn’t gay yet. My sister had Wham and A-ha posters on her wall and her teenage bedroom was a treasure trove of jewellery – wowwwww, magazines – wowwww and hairspray – wowwwwww.

It was a warm fluffy 1980s memory, a defining moment. Perhaps even stronger than my memories of the more grim aspects of the 80s – miners strikes, recession and poll tax riots. But look – kids need a dream! They need icons! Which is why I once cos-played as Madonna with a friend when I was eight and we called for a boy we both fancied. Back-combed hair. Beads, lace gloves – and a black kohl beauty spot penciled onto our top lips. Papa don’t preach, it seemed appropropriate at the time. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea as an era, but Maggie Thatcher or not, the 80s was epic! 

This was my frame of reference for coming along to the press night for Club Tropicana – I was already buoyed by my love of cheese, the 80s and musical theatre. I must admit I had my reservations about Joe McElderry (X Factor) as lead, but I learned my lesson after judging former X-Factor contestant Lucie Jones before seeing her utterly slay in the role of Maureen in Rent. I was also skeptical about the use of ‘Love Island’ references in the musical’s marketing literature. I might like cheese and pop music but even I have my standards.

The premise of this family friendly show is that a budding young bride and groom get cold feet and take a hiatus ahead of their impending wedding only to – surprise! – find themselves at the same resort where the drinks are free and tans glow. The show is an unapologetic romp through some of the poppiest, cheesiest anthems of the 80s. I wasn’t sure to what degree these anthems could complement or dovetail with the storyline or how the proposed story would hold up…this is something I suffered I mean ‘struggled with’ with at Son of a Preacher Man in 2018. You can love the songs, but if a musical isn’t delivering on the storyline then it will fall on it’s arse. 

So what then of Club Tropicana? 

Let’s be frank. It won’t win any prizes for being clever or original. The characterisation (bar a few stand out examples) is challenged at times by a simple (to the point of dumbed down) script and carosel of smash hits that come so thick and fast, it’s dizzying. It was difficult for me to connect to the characters, some of whom felt like musical theatre stereotypes and perhaps lacking in personality at times. The story hardly allowed for any development of some of the supporting cast’s stories beyond a few lazy jokes.

Imagine Hi-De-Hi mashed up with Mrs Brown’s Boys and a splash of Alan Carr and Eldorado. There are jokes about sex, farting, diarrhoea, being sick. There is humping, there is more innuendo than a Carry On comedy, more ham than a Danepak factory. But while all this stuff may leave an extremely nasty taste in the mouth of the more sophisticated theatre-goer (like the couple in front of me who seemed to have gotten lost on the way to a Chekov play or the ballet and cringed and recoiled with any hint of smut), we were mosty all there to unwind, have fun and enjoy the tunes – like refugees from the toxic wastelands of 2019.

Joe McElderry is hard to dislike and he works his socks off to win over the crowd, he plays the part of super-camp holiday rep Gary and is great fun, getting the audience to their feet and joining in a locomotion-type dance from the get-go. His personality shines through and vocals are super strong. The choreohraphy, costumes and hair – all excellent – one highlight being that gravity-defying quiff on Christine’s sidekick Andrea (played by Tara Verloop).

There are some surprisingly lovely musical arranegements in the show, with a beautifully crafted accoustic version of ‘Take on Me’ being a standout song, performed by lead actors Neil McDermott as Robert and Emily Tierney as Christine. I hate to be predictable but in every musical there is a suporting cast member who lingers in the memory (perhaps unfairly sometimes, given the pressure and scale of task facing the lead role actors). They seem to have a presence that even surpasses the role they embody – carrying with them an effortless ability to shine, no matter how lame or stereotypical the role they play.

For this show, it’s Kate Robbins as hotel maid Consuela – a Spanish trope so tired, they had to bring it back out of retirement. But her physical comedy and impersonations of a raft of 80s stars throughout the show is the backbone of Club Tropicana. For all the dazzling choreography, pretty musical theatre performers and bright lights – you need someone who will cut through the noise and make you belly laugh. More than that though, her impressions of the vocals of Tina Turner, Madonna, Shirley Bassey and even Cilla Black are truly sensational.

In places Club Tropicana was clunky, and yes – it’s possible to eat up so much cheese you are quite tired of it and need to lie down afterwards, but it’s a show that is unashamedly for those of us who remember the 80s as a time when sitting on the floor doing the ‘Oops up side your head’ dance seemed like such innocent fun. It’s nostalgic and warm and you won’t even mind being part of a Butlin’s-style Spanish package holiday experience where you wouldn’t normally be seen dead.

Take your Mam or your mates, listen to Cyndi Lauper in the car on the way down….eat the cheese! You can always have a lie down afterwards….


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: CRAVE by Sarah Kane at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

As part of the Professional Pathways Programme at The Other Room, trainee director, Samantha Jones, and trainee producer, Yasmin Williams, are presenting their showcase production, Crave by Sarah Kane.

I met up with them to chat about it before the run started which you can read HERE to find out more about the production process and the Professional Pathways Programme.

The Other Room opened in 2015 with Blasted, Sarah Kane’s first play. Fitting then that Jones and Williams chose Crave which was a turning point in Sarah Kane’s career. Both in her artistic style and her critical reception.

It’s a turning point in their own careers and Sarah Kane has always felt somewhat connected to The Other Room. A theatre that allows young artists to take bold steps, as Kane was allowed to do by The Royal Court. That is exactly what taking on Crave is for Jones and Williams. A bold statement of, “this is what we can do.”

The writing is obviously excellent, and not really up for review as such here. But it is worth saying, you won’t see many plays more real and brilliantly written than this in your life. Almost every line is crucial and despite running at 45-minutes, there are brilliant plays twice as long with half the content. It truly is a masterpiece.

That said, the script can’t do the work on its own. If the artists involved don’t rise to the challenge, the play will fail. Don’t be fooled, the script is great but not an easy one to direct or act. It won’t carry itself and is open to interpretation. With no vision, it’s just a bunch of words. Kane makes those involved work for its brilliance. She wrote Crave for directorial interpretation, to be explored and played with. This is exactly why Samantha Jones and Yasmin Williams chose it for their showcase production.

As it is, the artists involved relish and rise to the challenge brilliantly.

Samantha Jones’ direction is sublime. Close attention is paid to rhythm which highlights the script’s strengths. The tone is handled really well helping Jones control the pace, which is done beautifully.

The decision to perform in traverse is a great one, not allowing the actors anywhere to hide. Sometimes Crave is performed quite statically which really doesn’t seem to work. Jones, however, brings the play to life with excellent physicality, making the most of the small space. The playis breathing and vibrant in its direction, which compliments Crave perfectly.

All four performances are excellent. Its hard to pinpoint one as a standout as they all work well as an ensemble and stand-out as individuals. As the production is in collaboration with Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, all four actors are second year acting students and they do their college proud in this production.

Emily John explores her character and it really feels as we get to know her throughout the play. She feels both strong and vulnerable at the same time which is really powerful.

Callum Howells brings natural charm and humour to his role. His character, A, is completely unaware of himself in a beautiful and disturbing way, depending on the context. Not distracting from the production’s dark tones, rather offering a break from it. His delivery of ‘that’ monologue is simply magnificent.

Johnna Dias-Watson feels ever-present in the production. Her care in physicality stands out and you always feel her presence because of it, and when you don’t, there’s a reason why. Playing a ‘mother’ figure, this works perfectly.

Benjamin McCann also brings some humour to the production, but his character is much more aware of himself than Howells as A. His delivery towards the end of the play is particularly good. He feels natural and I have to say I personally resonated most with him.

Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson’s set design is lovely. Creating a claustrophobic feeling in the traverse set-up which allows space for the direction and acting to flourish. The lighting from Ryan Joseph Stafford is mystic and minimal, setting the mood well. Joshua Bowles’ sound design creeps through, mostly subtly, yet obvious in moments. None of the design is complicated but compliments the production allowing the play to flourish.

Crave at The Other Room is an excellent production of Sarah Kane’s masterpiece exploring what it is to love.

Ultimately, this production is very hard to put into words. I left the theatre and felt completely different for two days. Even writing now, I just don’t have the words to justify my feelings. It is a compliment to Kane’s excellent writing, but the job of Yasmin Williams and Samantha Jones is to make this play speak as loudly as it can. They have done that extremely well and deserve the credit for what they achieved with Kane’s work.

Crave by Sarah Kane at The Other Room, Cardiff
30th April – 11th May 2019
Directed by Samantha Jones
Produced by Yasmin Williams
Starring:
C – Emily John
M – Johnna Dias-Watson
B – Benjamin McCann
A – Callum Howells 
Set Designed by Zoe Brennan and Mimi Donaldson
Sound Designed by Joshua Bowles
Lighting Designed by Ryan Joseph Stafford
Stage Managed by Millie McElhinney
Deputy Stage Managed by Emily Behague
Assistant Directed by Nerida Bradley

REVIEW: BOTTOM at The other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Bottom is an auto-biographical play about Willy Hudson, a queer man exploring the overriding questions of, what it is to be a “bottom” or a “top”, why does it matter and whether “bottom” in bed means bottom in life?

It’s a coming-of-age story, a queer story, a gay story, a story about insecurity in many forms, about relationships and ultimately, a classic love-story. But really, who needs labels when you’ve got substance? And Bottom has substance in bucket loads.

Willy takes us on his quest for love from the moment he came out to the morning after his first sober date. He’s awaiting a text from his date which triggers him to explore various aspects of his life and why this text, as opposed to the others, is so important.

Before this, Willy has been partying and sleeping around, as a bottom, for his entire sexual maturity, if he’s not been at home masturbating. This is the first time he’s felt a connection and the first time he’s not needed drugs or alcohol. But there are problems, the dinner he cooked was burned, he couldn’t ‘get it up’, he hid in his bathroom and they didn’t have sex.

As the play develops, in its non-linear pattern, we learn about Willy’s sexual history – but what we’re really doing is understanding his quest for love. Willy isn’t looking for sex, but that is what he’s been taught, so that is what he gets.

Willy Hudson immediately establishes a relationship with the audience from the moment he enters wearing only a towel, looking for his clothes which are hidden underneath our chairs.

Hudson’s performance is honest, he feels like himself, it barely comes across as acting. It feels as only Willy could have played this part. Hudson deals with his past emotions critically and delivers a brilliant performance, channeling his inner Sasha Fierce.

Hudson’s honesty and self-reflection leads into his writing too, which is carefully constructed into a brilliant non-linear plot. This allows Hudson to stay true to his story, whilst also telling a theatrically intriguing story. The writing is beautiful, honest, well-structured and funny. There’s no way you’d guess this is Hudson’s debut as a playwright.

Director, Rachel Lemon, admits this was a hard show to direct, in the post-show Q&A. Hard because it’s so truthful to Willy, there were times where the best artistic choice changed Willy’s story somewhat. But, Lemon does a good job of maintaining a strong piece of theatre whilst telling Willy’s truth.

It is chaotic at times, Willy jumping all over the place with his non-linear plot. That chaos however is representative of Willy’s life in the story, so it works brilliantly, and Lemon’s direction ensures this succeeds.

Tic Ashfield’s sound design compliments the play perfectly. I’m no Beyoncé fan (sorry Willy, I prefer Rihanna), but the music choices are brilliant and are exploited at the right times for emotional effect. The inclusion of Beyoncé isn’t a weird gimmick that Hudson throws in as a fan, which was the worry going in. It fits.

You’ll do well to see a more important and relevant play than Bottom in Wales this year. Hudson doesn’t fall into the trap of negativity that surrounds so much LGBTQ+ theatre and media generally. He spoke about the importance of positive LGBTQ+ stories and how it was important to him that this was positive, in the post-show Q&A.

Yet, Hudson doesn’t shy away from tough topics and critiquing aspects gay culture either. He also speaks about fears of backlash that he’s seen other shows get. But says that at the end of the day, “it’s just a story and it is my truth.”

Not only for the LGBTQ+ community though, Bottom should be celebrated by everyone. In a time when the government are forcing a debate about the education of LGBTQ+ relationships, this couldn’t be more relevant or important. You could do a lot worse than take your kids to see this production. It is a play I needed to see at fourteen or fifteen and is equally important now.

It’s an educational piece, but not supposed to be. It doesn’t aim to teach, it’s just a story. This fact is just a reflection of where we’re at as a society.

I have personally never related so much to a piece of theatre. Yet, I’m not LGBTQ+. Hudson tells a human story, where the protagonist happens to be queer. He doesn’t simplify it to labels, he explores the human behind the labels within LGBTQ+ and wider society. This is so powerful and something we need more of.

Bottom it is a heartfelt, honest, funny and thought-provoking exploration of gay relationships in modern Britain. Miss it at your own risk.

Bottom is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over eight weeks. Tickets can be found HERE.

BOTTOM at The Other Room, Cardiff
27th – 30th March 2019
Written, Performed and Produced by Willy Hudson
Directed and Produced by Rachel Lemon
Sound Design: Tic Ashfield
Movement Director: Jess Tucker Boyd
Lighting Design: Lucy Adams
Line Producer: Sofia Stephanou
Dramaturg: Bryony Kimmings
Graphic Design: Jimmy Ginn
Photographer: Joe Magowan
Videographer: Tristan Bell