Tag Archives: theatre

Review, Curtain Up, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Curtain Up is a celebration. It is a celebration of creativity, imagination and Welsh talent. Over three fun-filled weeks, it has been the setting for a series of short plays that have all taken the notion of play to heart. And where better to host this menagerie of pure ingenuity than Theatr Clwyd. It has certainly delivered on its aim to make the world a happier place one moment at a time. Coming out of conversations with creative freelancers, Curtain Up has given writers the time and space to write again, actors the chance to perform on stage once more; and allowed stage managers, lighting technicians, and sound operators, to name but three, to return to what they do best. It is a reminder to all of us of the power and wonder of live theatre.

Oat Jenner’s smile said it all. It was the widest of smiles among the 10 actors taking part in the final week of plays. It seemed that he couldn’t contain his delight during both Normal Day and Seen, expressing the same euphoria felt by so many after so long. No wonder the excitement in the room was palpable. The opportunity presented to the audience at the start of the night, to choose which props would feature and who would play who, only heightened the sense of anticipation*. And with each week’s performance, the cast and crew delivered. It may not always have worked – the Cadbury’s Milk Tray in Kristian Phillips’ Trwsio: Repair was ripe for comic exploitation but came over rather dead in what was an otherwise touching story – but when it did, it produced chaos aplenty (see Sion Pritchard’s inventive use of a skipping rope in Just Another Blue Marble and the hilarious water spray face-off in In the End). Such fun.

There were moments of real depth alongside the humour. I found The Order of the Object by Lisa Parry to be a fascinating critique of both the religious and the secular; Jennifer Lunn’s Stop the Drop a deftly comic analysis of political power and influence, steeped in contemporary irony; and the symbol of a child’s pink and flowery wellington boot to be a potent symbol of subversive oppression in Alun Saunders’ Beginnings/Dechreuadau. It was left to Thieves by Mali Ann Rees to reduce me to tears, in a moving story of love, friendship and loss that was brilliantly written and wonderfully acted by Catrin Mai Edwards and Miriam O’Brien. Meanwhile, David Bower’s performance in Seen by Katherine Chandler was utterly mesmerising. What a storyteller he is, working his magic alongside Chloe Clarke in a tale of online dating, belonging, and love. And the improvisation of Sian Reese-Williams and John Carter in Life 2.0 was a masterclass, making it seem as though the prop chosen by the audience had been theirs to rehearse with all along.

To choose a favourite among this smorgasbord of 15 plays would be like picking your favourite child. They were all so very different, ranging from the virtual (The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’) to the real (Letting Go). The inclusion of the Welsh language in and amongst them was great to see, the surtitles accessible and undistracting. The way that they were weaved into Mari Izzard’s The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’ was cleverly done; and they held extra poignancy in Beginnings/Dechreuadau whilst adding superbly to the realism of Trwsio: Repair. If there was one play that really struck me though, it was Nine Point Two Minutes by Ming Ho. It shone a spotlight on some of the pressures of the healthcare system and its effect on both doctors and patients. It was so effective that the sense of injustice apparent in Ho’s narrative, pressed home through the fragility and passion of Llŷr Evans and Anita Reynolds in their roles respectively, was impossible to miss. It was but one of many highlights over the three weeks of Curtain Up.

Curtain Up has been the perfect opportunity to revisit the theatre safely again after lockdown. It has been an enjoyable pilgrimage to Theatr Clwyd every Wednesday night for the past couple of weeks for a fabulous evening of entertainment in the company of some of Wales’ finest. Its success must surely pave the way for similar shows in future, if only to continue supporting the very best in the nation’s emerging talent both on stage and off. I will miss this weekly trip to the theatre on a hill. But I am grateful to director Tamara Harvey et al for making it a return to savour. The words from Finding Your Feet by Samantha O’Rourke feel like the most fitting to end with here. They seem to sum up what has been the overwhelming response to Curtain Up from both creatives and audiences alike: “Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening. It means a lot”.

*This review is written in response to the Wednesday night performances over the production’s three-week period. Therefore, references to certain props and actors are made accordingly.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

An Interview with Francesca Goodridge, on Curtain Up at Theatr Clwyd, conducted by Gareth Williams

Curtain Up is a celebration of creativity, live theatre, and Welsh talent.

Over the course of three weeks, three companies, comprising of ten actors each, will perform 15 new plays – five each week – by 15 Welsh playwrights. That’s 15 voices with 15 very different stories to tell.

Associate Director Francesca Goodridge took some time out of her busy schedule preparing for week one to tell us a bit more about this exciting new project from Theatr Clwyd.

How would you describe Curtain Up?

It’s like a conveyor belt of theatre. So we start week one with a group of ten actors who work on five new plays, about 10-15 minutes long each, written by five playwrights who were specifically commissioned for this project. They have one week of rehearsals, one week of tech, and then open the following week. Meanwhile, during their tech week, a second company of ten actors come in and start rehearsing another five plays, with the third group of ten actors coming in to rehearse another five plays a week after. So that’s 15 new playwrights that have been commissioned for a project involving 30 actors in total.

How did the idea first come about?

It was borne from a series of conversations that Tamara (Artistic Director) and Liam (Executive Director) were having during lockdown with freelancers. They just asked, ‘What can we do to support you guys? What do you need?’ and the general consensus was that creative people can only live when they’re being creative – we’re just such strange beings, aren’t we, that nothing else really feeds our soul – and so Tamara and Liam came up with this concept, this conveyor belt of theatre, which allows us to give as many freelancers as possible the opportunity to be creative. It gives 15 writers a paid commission to write something after what might have felt like an age; to write something that is going to be seen, and hear people saying their words. It gives actors a space where they can just play and learn lines and be silly again. And it allows design, stage management, lighting, all of these freelance jobs, an opportunity to use their craft again after so long; to be creative on a huge scale.

And I’ve heard there is an opportunity for the audience to get involved as well…

So not only do the audience have the opportunity to see five new plays each week but the really good thing about Curtain Up is that an audience member can come every night and see something different. We’ve cast it in such a way that two actors learn every role, and at the start of the show we “rock, paper, scissors” it to see which actor will do which show that night and what part they are going to play. (So that’s the fun and excitement we’ve really been missing; the chance to not just be creative in rehearsal but for that to still live and breathe in the production.) Also, the writers were asked to include an unspecified prop in their play so the actors don’t know what that prop will be. The audience chooses the props at the start of the night and the actors are only handed the prop as soon as the play starts so there’s some improvisation: they have to react differently, which can change the course of the play. It’s all about having spontaneity again and feeling that excitement of live theatre. Every night is super-charged because things change, props change, the costumes change, an actor might do the scene opposite one actor one night and then do the scene opposite a totally different actor the next, so every night it’s something different.

Has it felt like an explosion of creative energy being back on stage after so long?

I think everyone has felt the same, me included. On day one, going into a rehearsal room and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, can I even do this anymore? I haven’t done this for so long. Can I still do this?’ But I feel so lucky right now to be sat on a stage, and it’s the same for the whole company, not just the actors but stage management too, to be able to do the things that we love and we’ve really missed. I think an explosion is a great way of putting it because I think that’s what it will feel like every night. It is going to be different; and I think, in a world where nothing really feels steady at the minute, it’s kind of nice to have that little bit of tension on stage as well, that little bit of no one knows what’s going to happen, and the excitement and energy that comes from that.

Was it a conscious choice to perform the plays in the round?

It was a conscious decision because it’s about bringing people together again and, ultimately, the reason why this project is so special is because we aren’t flying in sets or have a huge budget. What is at the heart of it is storytelling and actually hearing stories again, which is what I’ve missed so much. I think being in the round is so much like sitting around a campfire and telling a story – that is where we come from and how we tell stories. It also allows the actors to have real fluidity. They can move; and with it being double cast, it opens the space and it becomes like a big playing field for them. We want the audience to feel like they’re in this bubble and to feel like we are all united again in being together.

How important do you think it is that there is such a diverse range of writers with such a diverse range of stories to tell here?

You can’t tell a story the same, and what is so exciting about this is having five stories from five writers with five different backgrounds – totally different people, totally different identities, with totally different upbringings, from totally different homes – so every single play is different. One of the plays is set on a spaceship, for example, and then for another we’re in someone’s living room. And that is the beauty of theatre: that we are transposed from place to place and we totally believe that. It’s so imaginative.

But though each of the play’s are different, each of the five writers was given a theme – so the first one is new beginnings, the second is finding feet, and so on – so that every night has got an arc that will take us through the night. So although the audience will see five different stories each week, they will have gone on a journey on the night through these themes. And to add to the diversity, we have some Welsh language stories too, which was a bit of a logistical challenge to make sure that four of the actors were Welsh speakers, but it’s been really great to have these Welsh language plays as well and to have Welsh language theatre included. I know that this was one of the most important things for Tamara and Liam, to make sure that it was truly diverse and was championing many different voices in Wales.

How excited are you about the writing talent coming out of Wales at the moment, and the opportunity that something like this affords them?

The thing that excites me most is working with a writer and sitting down to work on a new play and having that seed of an idea and seeing it through. It is one of the best things in the world. But aside from these sorts of opportunities, what Curtain Up has done is given 15 people a chance to write – how many of these writers may have come out of lockdown and lost their love for it, or not had the opportunity to do it, or were working elsewhere and had no time to fit it in – so as much as it’s about wanting to commission new writers, it’s also about giving people time and space to just write, without them feeling like they have to come up with anything. Yes, this is a commission, but more than that it has given them a bit of time and a bit of space to just do what they love. If that then ignites something in them to then write something else, great. But it’s about letting people have time and space to just do what they love without having to produce something all the time; where there’s no pressure to write. That’s hard when it’s something you might be doing alongside another job because you need to live. So, yeah, I think more of that would be great because that is where some of the best work is made, when there’s no pressure to have something in by a deadline, as you can make what you want when you have time and space.

Click here to find out more and book tickets.

Conducted by
Gareth Williams

Review, For the Grace of You Go I, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a sadness and deep sense of injustice behind the humour and surrealism of For the Grace of You Go I. Due to begin just before the pandemic hit, Alan Harris’ play may be long overdue but its delay has proved timely. Beneath the strange veneer of a storyline in which a man puts out a hit on himself lies a sobering analysis of the inequalities that coronavirus has exposed in society over the past 18 months. It makes for a darkly comic play that is both hugely entertaining yet deeply unsettling.

Its colourful set, of luminescent pink, green and yellow walls, belies the broken and struggling lives of its characters. They do reflect the dreaminess of their existence though. Jim (Rhodri Meilir), employed to put pepperoni on pizza as part of a government scheme, imagines himself as Employee of the Month – complete with giant rosette and accomplished chef’s hat – in one of several cartoonish scenes projected onto the walls. In reality, he is a thorn in his line manager Irina’s side. Played by Remy Beasley, she is under constant pressure to meet targets, and Jim’s daydreaming does nothing to help matters. Though work gives him a sense of purpose, she is forced to let him go. His only solace is found in a monthly film club where he meets new guy Mark (Darren Jeffries), whose obsession with American action movies makes him the perfect partner in Jim’s movie-styled life. After watching the 1990 Finnish film I Hired a Contract Killer, Jim decides that he wants to take the place of its protagonist and asks Mark to do the honours in killing him. It may sound rather far-fetched but there is a serious underbelly to its hyperbole and other-worldliness.

Jeffries gives an assured performance as Mark, whose Mancunian swagger hides a far more vulnerable masculine existence. He is terrific opposite Rhodri Meilir, who brings a beautiful innocence to the troubled Jim, their exchanges pacy and lively throughout to give a slightly unnerving edge to the funny and ironic dialogue. Beasley is wonderfully on-edge as the hassled Irina, maintaining a brilliant balance between sanity and breakdown such that her character fizzes both in dialogue and action like a loosely-corked bottle of pop. The pressures on all three are palpable in their different ways; and they give rise to the much bigger issues at play. Harris comments on mental health, consumerism, capitalism and the political system without ever being preachy. He achieves this through the disabling use of humour and by intimately tying the issues to the narrative. As a result, they ooze naturally out to offer a searing indictment on the oppressive systems and privileged attitudes in existence within society, tempered frequently by the comic form.

I had expected to be overwhelmed as I walked through the doors of Theatr Clwyd for the first time in 18 months. But though it felt special to enter the building to a familiarly warm welcome, made more so by the beaming sun as it flooded in through the windows; to give a knowing smile to the recognisable pictures on the stairs up to the Emlyn Williams theatre; and to be greeted by the same ever-delightful staff who were courteous and helpful as I got into a bit of confusion over my ticket number, it was the reminder of the importance of theatre, as a medium that can speak truth to power, that really made its mark. That importance has not gone away over the course of the pandemic. If anything, it has grown stronger and become more vital than ever. But having become acutely aware of this once-unspoken assumption outside of the context of its physical space and place, For the Grace of You Go I was the first opportunity for what had become apparent through the screen to be embodied within the bricks and mortar to which theatre most truly belongs. As such, Alan Harris’ already-powerful message struck an even deeper chord than it might have in pre-Covid times. If it had something to say then, it most definitely needs to be heard now.

Click here to find out more and purchase tickets.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, The Merthyr Stigmatist, Sherman Theatre by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The beauty of The Merthyr Stigmatist lies in its contemporary gospel message. “Why shouldn’t God send a miracle to Merthyr Tydfil?” is the strapline. One would be hard-pressed to come up with an answer at this play’s ending. Writer Lisa Parry carries something into her production which feels like its been formed in the fire of direct experience. She uses Catholic theology and Jesus’ paradoxology to give it added form and meaning. It is a narrative which challenges the narrative – the narrative that seeks to define us; made by those in power which can silence us, if we let it; that Parry attempts to rewrite in this excellent two-woman show.

Bethan McLean makes an impressive professional debut as schoolgirl Carys, who claims to have the stigmata: Christ’s wounds from the cross. Challenging her at every turn is her science teacher, Sian, enigmatically played by Bethan Mary-James. The two riff off one another to great effect, Parry’s deft dialogue translating into a fascinating piece of ambiguous characterisation in their hands. The result is a one-hour piece which refuses to take sides. One is never entirely sure whether the fervent beliefs of Carys are a sign of mental ill health or the readily dismissive Sian is not masking some kind of deep trauma. What is clear is the passion that comes through in their exchange, as they wrestle with a sense of identity and purpose. Both McLean and Mary-James bring a bitter sense of the reality that their respective characters are facing. As a result, though the stigmata may present as a possible actual event in the narrative, its symbolic position at its centre is what’s most important here.

This is where The Merthyr Stigmatist really shows itself to be a story for our time. For it challenges the assumptions made by the establishment, told to us in our overriding cultural narrative, that in order to make something of ourselves we must leave our small, local, tight-knit communities behind; we must swap them for a university education in towns and cities where regeneration and chic, café-culture living represent a professionalism which indicates success; and if, for some reason, we don’t quite get on and have to return to our native home, we must become some kind of saviour to the next generation, repeating the same mantra to them, and thus becoming part of the false and disempowering system that does anything but allow young people like Carys to be proud of where they come from if only those in power would just stop and listen – really listen – to what they have to say*.

The Merthyr Stigmatist succeeds in deconstructing this established narrative, subverting the notion of salvific agency in the process. In the end, it is Carys who saves Sian, not the other way around. Yet neither is Carys left completely unchanged by her encounter with Sian. This is where I sense the theological dimension of Parry’s play coming to the fore, as the themes of interdependence (the power of community) and empowerment (self-confidence and self-belief) break through. The result is not only the championing of a repressed voice of the Valleys but also a tapping into an emerging zeitgeist with regards Welsh identity. In this way, Parry uses the local to also touch upon a national concern, namely how Wales sees itself, in the context of the UK and the world. It is a conversation already happening to which, I think, this play can certainly contribute. As such, those in power would do well to listen – really listen – to what it has to say. For it is speaking a truth that, sadly, remains unheard.

Click here to view the play for yourself.

Review by
Gareth Williams

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

An Interview with Actor and Director Eleri B. Jones, conducted by Gareth Williams

In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to actor and director Eleri B. Jones.

Eleri is a graduate of the University of Manchester and Drama Centre London. She is currently undertaking a traineeship with Theatr Clwyd as an Assistant Director.

Here, she talks to us about the traineeship; her involvement in Clwyd’s latest production, The Picture of Dorian Gray; a collaborative project with the North East Wales archives*; and representation and the arts in Wales.

To find out more about The Picture of Dorian Gray, including how to purchase tickets, click here.

*Below is one of four videos produced by Theatr Clwyd in collaboration with the North East Wales Archives as part of the project ‘Women Rediscovered…’. To watch them all, click here to access their YouTube channel.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Interview conducted
by Gareth Williams

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