Chicago, 1920s. In a city ruled by mob bosses and moonshine, misbehaviour ain’t just on the menu: it’s a way of life. If it’s fame you’re after, you might get fifteen minutes or fifteen to life – and Roxie Hart’s dream of seeing her name in the papers is one she’ll kill for. With blood on her hands and a song in her heart, Roxie (Faye Brookes) teams up with sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn (Lee Mead) to fool the masses, stealing the thunder of her rival cellmate, Velma Kelly (Djalenga Scott), in the process.
Featuring classic songs by Kander and Ebb and original choreography by Bob Fosse (the trio behind the iconic Cabaret), Chicago is fresher, funnier and fiercer than ever. 25 years after its revival swept the Tonys, and nearly 50 since it first premiered on Broadway, the show’s satire of law, politics and the press could hardly be more relevant: after all, what’s the difference between a theatre and a courtroom when showmanship, not integrity, is the order of the day? Even when the actors are playing judges and reporters, they’re wearing mesh, fishnets, and leather: justice is showbiz, darling, and you’d better pray for an encore. Chicago is self-consciously theatrical, drawing attention to its own artifice: a gilt frame encloses the stage, but the set itself has no frills and few props: its simplicity spotlights the performances instead of the staging.
And what performances! Faye Brookes brings lashings of wit and charm to Roxie Hart: one part hapless crim, one part ruthless dame. Brookes is a hilarious and vibrant stage presence, particularly when pitted against Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly, whose stylish swagger makes for an effective foil to Brookes’ wide-eyed ebullience; their ‘Hot Honey Rag’ duet is a veritable dance masterclass.
There are excellent supporting performances by X Factor finalist Brenda Edwards as the sultry Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, Jamie Baughan as Roxie’s hangdog husband Amos and B.E. Wong as big-hearted but gullible journo Mary Sunshine. Meanwhile, Lee Mead as Billy Flynn really does give the audience the ol’ ‘Razzle Dazzle’, and Scott’s sensational rendition of ‘All That Jazz’ brings the house down by the time the show’s barely started. But the Cell Block Tango might just be the standout: by the final chorus, you’ll really believe ‘he had it coming!’
The incredibly intricate dancing is executed with effortless precision, with every Fosse finger snap and hip roll present and accounted for. The ensemble is on top form as is the superb live band, directed by Andrew Hilton, who are seated onstage in striking, asymmetric tiers. You won’t find better singing, dancing or live music this side of the ‘20s: the cast prove once again why Chicago is still one of the best musicals around. If you love the Oscar-winning movie, you’ll be in your element; if you’re new to the medium, then you’re starting out with the best. Stylish, sexy and spectacular, Chicago is all that jazz and then some – it’s the most fun you can have without breaking the law!
Time is one of humanity’s most enduring enigmas; it can be counted in eras and in seconds, it can seem endless or scarce, and however long you live, there’s never enough of it. These are some of the key tensions within Violet, a contemporary opera which is sung through in English and co-produced by Music Theatre Wales and Britten Pears. Composed by Tom Coult and written by Alice Birch, the story takes place in a town where nothing changes until, one day, everything does: one hour disappears on day one, two on day two, and on and on – but while the world seems to be ending around her, Violet’s is just beginning.
Directed by Jude Christian, Violet is an exhibition of artistry, from Rosie Elnile’s gorgeous set, which looks like a minimalist Renaissance painting, to Cécile Trémolières’ lush costumes, which play with both austerity and freedom through fabric. The temporal distortion at the story’s heart bleeds through to everything on the stage, which anachronistically mixes period clothing with modern props, framed by an animated backdrop of dandelion seeds swirling like grains of sand in an hourglass.
The operatic quartet at its heart are equally impressive. Anna Dennis viscerally captures Violet’s growing sense of self and power (her name even seems to anticipate ‘violent ends’) while Richard Burkhard and Frances Gregory (as Violet’s husband and maid, respectively) convey their characters’ descent into despair. At the start of each scene, Andrew MacKenzie-Wicks’ keeper goes to the clock tower, changing it to show the days left and the hours lost. The tower is built to mimic a guillotine; along with a branch and a bell, it is one of three ‘swords’ of Damocles which hang ominously above the characters, as if to fall at any moment.
Thematically and visually, then, it’s close to perfection – but, for some reason, I didn’t quite connect with it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never seen a ‘contemporary opera’ before, despite how exceptional the singers are, how authentic Coult’s score is or how vivid it sounds in the hands of the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Andrew Gourlay. If you’re immersed in the worlds of opera or experimental theatre, you couldn’t ask for better – but, like the twenty-first century laptop on the sixteenth-century table, I felt emotionally ‘displaced’ by the show, unable to ever fully tune into its frequency.
My reservations are encapsulated in its ending: an unsettling animated sequence which is sure to divide audiences. It’s certainly divided me: on the one hand, I can appreciate how it underscores the themes of time doubling in on itself, of repetition and stagnancy. On the other, it shatters the strange magic of the first eighty minutes, and any sense of ‘hope’ along with it.
Violet premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in Snape Maltings, Suffolk, earlier this month and it’s easy to see why it’s had such an impact on audiences. I was caught up in its artistry and intrigue, and it’s made me want to explore the world of opera, modern and otherwise, all the more. Dynamic and affecting, what Violet conveys most effectively is that the end of the world might not come in a planet-shattering catastrophe, but in a creeping sense of hopelessness and dread: not with a bang, or even a whimper, but with the ringing of a bell.
Hailed as ‘The Great American Novel’, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is an iconic tale of decadence, death and desire. It epitomized the feel of the Roaring Twenties like nothing else: an era of flappers, libertines and bright young things, where ‘anything goes’ wasn’t just a phrase but a state of mind. The story continues to captivate nearly a hundred years since its publication and Northern Ballet’s thrilling take on the tale is bolder and more beautiful than ever – no wonder that it’s returns for its third smash-hit tour, which graces the New Theatre this week for five nights of dazzling decadence.
Long Island, 1922. New-in-town Nick Carraway (Sean Bates) strikes up a friendship with his affluent and enigmatic neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Joseph Taylor). Gatsby’s lavish parties are legend – but Gatsby seems interested only in the green light across the Bay, to which he stretches out his arm night after night: the light on the dock belonging to his true love, Daisy (Abigail Prudames). With Gatsby gunning to win her back, Daisy’s marriage to the brutish Tom Buchanan (Lorenzo Trossello) is about to be tested when his affair with the socially ambitious Myrtle (Minju Kang) takes a dangerous new turn.
Directed, designed and choreographed by David Nixon OBE, the show is a visual splendour from start to finish. It’s no surprise that Nixon was nominated for a UK Theatre Award and a National Dance Award for his work here: the stunning choreography and gorgeous costumes immerse you in the Jazz Age, taking you on a whistlestop tour through Gatsby’s world. Coupled with Jérôme Kaplan’s striking Art Deco-inspired sets and the sumptuous score by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE, played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, and you have a production that’s a feast for the senses.
The ensemble is nothing short of perfection, bringing heart, soul and a jaw-dropping athleticism and grace. They convey a frenetic joy in the champagne-swilling speakeasies and sensual longing in every pas de deux. Heather Lehan oozes aloofness as socialite Jordan Baker, an effective foil to Bates’ nice-guy Nick. Minju Kang’s solos are a highlight, and the show soars whenever she shares the stage with Riku Ito (as her husband, George) and Trossello.
Taylor and Prudames are captivating as the doomed lovers at the story’s heart: they dance often in front of a wall of mirrors, but their reflections are distorted – just as their images of each other are – and they even mirror the movements of their younger selves, who dance behind them like echoes of the past.
Anyone who enjoys the themed weeks on Strictly Come Dancing will find a special joy in watching the show’s balletic spin on Charlestons and tangos, and flashbacks to Gatsby’s shady past are brilliantly conveyed through a phalanx of fedora-wearing crooks. Northern Ballet have captured every facet of the era’s excess, every lost love and lost chance: most of all, they have captured a sense of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour that you just don’t see these days. In their hands, Gatsby isn’t just great – it’s magnificent.
You are cordially invited to the most fabulous party in town. Northern Ballet, the UK’s widest touring ballet company, is renowned for its innovative, iconic reimaginings of classic tales – Cleopatra, Beauty and the Beast, and Jane Eyre to name but a few – and now their sensational production of The Great Gatsby, which opens in Cardiff this week, is bringing the glitz and glamour of 1920s New York to our shores.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a tale of decadence and deceit, of envy and excess. The titular ‘Great’ Gatsby is a self-made millionaire with a mysterious past and a long-unfulfilled love in the shape of the mercurial (and very married) Daisy Buchanan. The fallout of this doomed romance threatens the lives and livelihoods of everyone who calls West Egg home.
Choreographed, designed and directed by David Nixon OBE, Northern Ballet’s take on ‘The Great American Novel’ promises to be a night of visual splendour and breathtaking skill, where dancers glide across the floor in sumptuous Chanel-inspired couture to a sweeping score by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Murder on the Orient Express).
Whether you’re an old sport or a bright young thing, you’ll be sure to lose yourself in this lavish tale of love and luxury.
In the Year of our Lord 1984, a hero rose from obscurity to show a nation – nay, a world – how to lose its blues. The hero was Kevin Bacon, the movie was Footloose, and the story of a teenage boy who convinces a small town to dance again became legend. Now, the creatives behind the ultimate 80s feelgood film have brought it to the stage in a brilliant new musical: a blood-pumping, barnstorming thrill ride that’ll get you out of your seat and onto your feet!
Daniel Miles (filling in for Joshua Hawkins) is fantastic as the rebellious Ren, stepping into Kevin Bacon’s dancing shoes with ease. Star of stage and screen Darren Day does a superb job as the Reverend Moore (his interactions with the crowd are a highlight) and Lucy Munden makes a very impressive stage debut as his daughter Ariel.
Every single person on the stage gives a 5-star performance and no-one misses a step, a note or a beat – no small feat, given that the actors are constantly having to swap between costumes, props, and instruments. The multitalented ensemble is on top form, bringing fun and flair to 80s classics like Holding Out for a Hero, Almost Paradise, and Let’s Hear it for the Boy – not to mention the riotous title track, brought to bubbly new life here – but X Factor star Jake Quickenden might just run off with the whole show.
Playing Ren’s redneck wingman Willard, and simultaneously making the case for Magic Mike: The Musical, Quickenden has the charm and the chops to land every comedic curveball that’s thrown at him. I won’t spoil the best musical number but let’s just say if you’re holding out the a hero, you won’t be disappointed (Kylie Minogue, eat your heart out…)
Fun, frothy and fabulous, Footloose The Musical will truly get you to kick off your Sunday shoes and lose your blues!
Living legend Carole King has left an indelible mark on musical history. From her days penning teeny-bopper hits with her first husband Gerry Goffin to becoming a hugely influential singer-songwriter in her own right, King’s impact is undeniable. By the time King and Goffin were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, they’d penned over 400 songs which resulted in more than 100 hit singles by such artists as Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, and the Monkees. When their marriage broke down, King struck out on her own – and her journey to the stars is told to great effect in Leicester Curve’s touring production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (with Theatre Royal Bath and Mayflower Theatre). But unlike the Broadway and West End versions which preceded it, the songs are performed entirely by an ensemble of actor-musicians who truly do create ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’.
Written by Douglas McGrath and directed by Nikolai Foster, Beautiful charts Carole’s journey from a gawky teen in the Bronx to a star who can sell out Carnegie Hall, and that’s where the show begins and ends: with Carole waiting in the wings, about to play her first concert performance in front of an audience. The concert followed hot on the heels of the multi-award winning Tapestry, which remained the bestselling album by a solo female artist for 25 years. If you’ve seen any music biopic, you’ll know the drill: a future icon rises from obscurity into the big leagues. It’s a credit, then, to the stellar cast that this tale as old as time feels fresh, new, and utterly joyous.
As Carole King herself, Molly-Grace Cutler is nothing short of transcendent. Cutler brings a tremendous amount of passion, warmth and emotion to the role, and a genuine intensity to the musical performances that makes you understand why King’s songs still resonate. If Cutler’s rendition of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman doesn’t give you chills, then you might well have died and gone to heaven. She’s so likable and well-drawn that you really feel You’ve Got a Friend in her. Cutler is a natural in every way and she captures both King’s voice and her soul.
Meanwhile, Tom Milner does his job a bit too well as the troubled, two-timing Gerry: by the time he reappears at King’s closing concert, the audience were so close to booing him it was as if we’d stepped into a pantomime! It’s a credit to Milner, Cutler and the cast that the audience were so invested in their characters. Meanwhile, Seren Sandham-Davies and Jos Slovick are hilariously charming as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, a songwriting duo who blazed their own trail in music history (You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling, Who Put the Bomp) and whose rivalry with King/Goffin is tempered by a genuine sense of friendship.
The cast are in a constant flow across the stage, seamlessly changing between costumes, characters and musical instruments. The Drifters are on particularly lively form (special mention to Kevin Yates on tambourine), and they bring a genuine sense of playfulness and fun just as The Shirelles bring more than a little glamour. Weil and Mann’s On Broadway – performed by the Drifters in sparkly jackets and Ben Cracknell’s equally glitzy light show – is one of the standouts, but there’s little that can compare with the aching grace of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? or the saucy roar of I Feel the Earth Move. Edd Lindley’s costumes place you in the era while Leah Hill’s choreography looks to the future, and Frankie Bradshaw’s music studio-set makes you feel as if you’re part of the action.
The perfect ensemble ensures that the show really lives up to its name and they weave a sumptuous tapestry through some of the finest music you’ll ever hear – it’s no surprise that the audience was on its feet by the end. The show has a lot to say about forging your own path, and it concludes that while your story might find more success in another’s voice, your own is always the most beautiful.
What follows is a syndicated interview with the stars of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: Molly-Grace Cutler (Carole King), Tom Milner (Gerry Goffin), Seren Sandham-Davies (Cynthia Weil), and Jos Slovick (Barry Mann)
What can audiences expect when they come see the show? Molly-Grace: It’s done by a full company of live musicians, which is very different to the original Broadway and West End productions and previous tours. It’s a really feel-good musical. It’s emotional and very heartwarming, to say the least.
Seren: There’s a lot of energy on stage and audiences are excited and happy to be back in the theatre. The music is infectious, we’re all so passionate about what we’re doing and everyone leaves with a smile on their faces and the tunes going round in their heads.
Jos: It’s like a gig within a play – lots of songs that people will recognise and lots of songs they maybe didn’t know were written by Carole King or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. They’re in for some laughs and some drama, and there’s something for everyone from ballads and rock songs to old-style show tunes.
Tom: There’s not a thing that any of our cast members don’t do. It’s full-on because we’re acting, singing, dancing and playing the music so the audience certainly gets its money’s worth.
Molly-Grace, how would you describe Carole King as a character? And do you feel any pressure about bringing her to life on stage? Molly-Grace: She’s an incredible music icon. She’s very driven and very determined, and you get to see how resilient she is as her story goes on. As for feeling the pressure, yes there’s a lot of that – especially given that she’s still to this day a living legend. But I’m very happy that I’m getting to play her and her music. The big challenge is in playing someone who is still around, so people will inevitably compare you to her as well as other people who have played the role before. It’s about doing your own thing whilst also paying respect to the people before along with Carole herself.
Tom, Seren and Jos, who do you play and how do they feature in Carole’s story? Tom: Gerry Goffin is her first husband and songwriting partner. In the show he’s quite chaotic, he’s always striving for more and he eventually suffers a massive breakdown.
Seren: Cynthia Weil is part of a songwriting team with Barry Mann whose paths cross with Carole and Gerry during the Brill Building era in the 60s. As a character she’s ahead of her time. She doesn’t conform and she’s very prescient, plus she’s very funny and having a female comic character to play is an absolute gift.
Jos: Barry, as Seren says, is Cynthia’s songwriter partner as well as her husband. He’s very sharp with a lot of that Jewish humour; think Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld because he has that kind of rhythm to him. He’s a humorous hypochondriac.
Were there things you were intrigued to learn about your characters? Molly-King: [Laughs] That she married many times after Gerry Goffin. I also learned she was incredibly resilient and let nothing stand in the way of her success. She wrote from the heart, and that’s evident in every song she’s ever written. They’re very emotional.
Tom: I’d heard of Goffin and King’s music but I didn’t realise how much they wrote and how much they did for the industry. I also didn’t know about him as a person. He was always chasing happiness and the next big thing, which set him on a downward spiral.
Seren: I knew all the Mann and Weil songs but I didn’t know about the people who wrote them. I was intrigued by how Cynthia grew up in a conservative Jewish family but went against the grain of having that traditional life.
Jos: I knew a load of their songs but I didn’t know who wrote them. When I was a kid I had this talking dog toy and when you pressed its paw it would play Who Put The Bomp. I remember asking my dad ‘Who wrote that song?’ and he told me Barry Mann. But that’s all I knew about him. I didn’t know he’d also co-written On Broadway and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling among many others.
There are so many great numbers in the show. Do you have any favourites to perform? Molly-Grace: I’d have to say (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman because it’s such an honest, emotional song about her relationship with Gerry.
Seren: That song is very special because it has such an impact on the audience. I also love the rockier numbers and It’s Too Late, which has a jazzier feel. There are so many good songs, it’s hard to choose between them.
Jos: I play the guitar on It’s Too Late and it’s got a great groove to it. [Laughs] It’s my jam, as the kids say, and Molly-Grace sings and plays it wonderfully.
Tom: There’s a song I do with the cast called Pleasant Valley Sunday and it’s a great rocking, uptempo song.
As an actor and musician, it must be great getting to bring all your skills to the table? Molly-Grace: Absolutely. We’re very lucky that we have such a talented cast of actors and musicians who create this amazing sound. Being an actor-musician is what I trained to do but I think these kind of productions are still pretty new for the theatre industry.
Tom: I love music and acting so getting to scratch both itches with this show is brilliant. I’ve done regular acting roles, especially on TV, that I’ve loved but it’s so creatively fulfilling getting to do a bit of everything.
Seren: Having actor-musicians play the parts works so well for this show because it has music at its core. When you have a story like Beautiful that’s all about music and musicianship, it takes it to a whole new level.
Jos: It’s always fun because I get to combine my two great loves, namely acting and playing music. Are there enough shows that offer the chance to do both? [Laughs] I’ll say no because I want to get more work!
Beautiful aside, what have been your other favourite theatre roles? Seren: I was in Brassed Off in 2015 and that was such an amazing job. The majority of us had a connection with mining through our families and we still keep in touch. Then I did a tour of Crazy For You which was great fun, getting to perform all those wonderful Gershwin tunes.
Molly-Grace: My first-ever job I did after finishing my training was a punk rock show called Oxy & the Morons and doing that straight out of drama school was very cathartic. I did a panto of Beauty and the Beast, I did Priscilla Queen of the Desert and I did a show called Girls Don’t Play Guitars and it was incredible playing a lead guitarist in a 60s rock-and-roll band.
Tom: My first-ever stage role was in a George Styles and Anthony Drewe musical called Soho Cinders and they were the first people to give me a leg up the musical theatre ladder because I was more of a TV boy. That was a real learning curve. Then recently I was in American Idiot and being able to sing Green Day songs for a year was great.
Jos: I was in Once, where I was a Czech burger joint manager and which I got to play bass, ukulele, banjo and mandolin. Then I was in the Theatre Royal Bath production of Bad Jews, which I loved because it’s such a great play.
What are you most enjoying about taking Beautiful around the country? And how do you hope people will feel when they leave the theatre? Molly-Grace: It’s about getting to share some incredible music with people as well as getting to share Carole’s story. A lot of people don’t know enough about her so it’s nice to show what she went through and how much she’s achieved.
Tom: It’s the kind of show everyone needs right now. We’ve all been through the pandemic and hard times and this show has such a feel-good factor. When we do the finale everyone is dancing, singing, clapping and smiling. For us to take it round the country and bring people so much joy is just amazing.
Jos: When we play the finale you can’t help but feel uplifted. Carole had a bit of a rough life but the music she produced was so wonderful that people will be skipping out of the theatre.
Seren: I hope they’ll be happy to be back in the theatre and that they feel excited and exuberant, and that they’ve made a connection during a time that’s been so hard for everyone. I just hope they feel the joy of this truly joyous show.
Celebrated Virgins is Theatr Clwyd’s brand new play written by Katie Elin-Salt and directed by Eleri B. Jones. The show is based on the true story of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby who were forced to flee Ireland and took up residence in Llangollen. They were true LGBTQ+ icons of their time and this show sees them tell their story, on their own terms for the very first time.
We sat down with Katie, writer of the show, to find out more:
You will be a familiar face to many at Theatr Clwyd as an actor. What’s it like to be back?
When I first came to Clwyd, I was a nervous 21-year-old performing a cameo role in As You Like It, under the direction of Terry Hands. Since then, Theatr Clwyd has always been a home from home for me and I have been privileged to perform here as an actor many times – growing from bit parts to leads in shows such as Educating Rita and Under Milk Wood, I was even lucky enough to be the fairy in the panto two years ago – what an honour! To come back to Mold under this capacity, is just the most incredible feeling. I have always felt so supported by the team and the audience at Theatr Clwyd and I could not be in a safer place to be premiering my first full play. But I honestly feel if I could tell that nervous 21 year old a decade ago that her name would one day be on the front of those programmes – she would never have believed it!
Give us a brief of what Celebrated Virgins is about?
Celebrated Virgins is based on the true story of two remarkable women – Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler a.k.a ‘The Ladies of Llangollen’. We follow their story from separate childhoods in the upper echelons of 18th century Irish society to meeting each other at school and forming an unbreakable bond. This leads them to decide they would rather leave everything they have known behind than live without each other. We then follow their journey to Plas Newydd, their home for over 50 years in Llangollen and learn through them the bravery and the fear involved in living an authentic life in full view of a community who does not always understand who you truly are.
What made you want to create this show?
Well, firstly it is just an amazing epic love story and I remain amazed and bewildered that it has taken nearly 300 years for it to be put on a stage. It really has everything – love, risk, danger, even someone dressing in a suit and jumping out of a window armed with a pistol and a Jack Russell – I mean what more could you want? But also, I think it is incredibly important for today’s society that we see stories like Sarah and Eleanor’s represented on stage. It has taken such a long time for love between two women to be not only accepted but celebrated, and I want to show the next generation of LGBTQ+ that their stories and their history are just as important and worth celebrating as anybody else’s.
It’s such a fascinating story but this will be the first time they are telling it themselves. What can the audience expect?
The audience can expect to see two brilliant women at the front and centre of their own story. We have an amazing cast of professional actors and also added to that the addition of a cast from the local community – who will show us what life was really like for the Ladies as they tried to make their way in society. We have an incredible movement and sound team who will bring this story bang up to date and of course fantastic direction from Eleri B. Jones. I would tell the audience to buy an ice cream and get comfortable as the lights go down as they are in for a truly epic night of theatre – and after the last two years I think that is the least an audience deserves!
What advice would you give to people wanting to get into the industry?
My first bit of advice would be to try out as many facets of your creativity as you possibly can! Like many young people I got into this industry through my local youth theatre, there I found a love of theatre and a friendship and connection I couldn’t find anywhere else. I realised there that I could act but it took me until the age of 30 to realise I might be any good at writing – think of all that wasted time! I am also now training as a music therapist to spread my creativity even further. There are some elements of this job I definitely can’t do (trust me you don’t want to see me trying to move set around a stage), but that is when you find the people who can and let them support and help you. Basically, no matter where you come from or what your story is – find it, own it and let yourself be seen in as many glorious ways as you possibly can!
Celebrated Virgins will be performed at Theatr Clwyd from Friday 20 May – Saturday 4 June. Tickets start at £10 and can be booked here. Please check the website for Trigger Warnings.
The award-winning Hijinx, one of Europe’s leading inclusive theatre companies, is always pushing the envelope on what ‘theatre’ is and what it can be. the_crash.test – in partnership with Wales Millennium Centre, Pontio and Theatr Ffwrnes – is Hijinx’s latest experiment in ‘hybrid theatre’, fusing performance and technology in an immersive experience like no other. Branded as a Frankenstein for the tech age, the show explores the responsibility we have as humans: to each other and to the things we create.
Directed by Hijinx’s AD Ben Pettitt-Wade, the_crash.test asks you to imagine a world in which your digital self could live for you (think the Bruce Willis movie Surrogates, only better). This is the promise of tech start-up Figital, led by preening CEO Michel LeCoq (Benjamin Victor), who zooms in from a wellness retreat in Bali to put the finishing touches on the ‘Fing-a-me-Bob’, or ‘Bob’ for short: a digital crash test dummy whose burgeoning sentience is about to throw a serious spanner in the works for world domination.
The show itself is a marvel of creativity and collaboration, devised and driven by a cast of performers on stage and via video link. The space is filled with two huge screens onto which is projected everything from a tropical paradise to a molecular wonderland, underscored by Tic Ashfield’s evocatively unnerving soundscape. The motion capture puppetry for ‘Bob’ is especially impressive, and Owen Pugh and Lucy Green, who alternate the role, really bring the character to life. Pugh carries much of the drama as both ‘himself’ and as ‘Bob’. Green is also hilarious as one of Figital’s increasingly concerned shareholders, zooming in alongside Richard Newnham (be-wigged, bothered and bewildered – to fantastic effect) and Lindsay Foster as the feather boa-ed investor riotously reaching the end of her tether.
Benjamin Victor conducts the show with a skittish charm, joyfully skewering the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. Bethany Freeman steals scenes as the beleaguered cleaner Betty, whose interactions with Bob are genuinely moving. Meanwhile, Matthew Mullins is responsible for some uproarious moments as the cameraman watching everything slowly devolve into chaos. In a time when zoom call ‘comedy’ has become rote, Hijinx have found a way of making it feel fresh, new and funny – and when they go dark, they don’t pull any punches.
While the ending is genuinely spectacular, the show can be a little uneven at times, and the meta-narrative doesn’t quite pay off – but it is always dynamic, clever, and darkly funny, and whenever the focus is on ‘Bob’ and their increasing sentience, it really soars. Bob’s creators aren’t sure what he’s ‘for’ – but what are any of us ‘for’, at the end of the day? That sort of capitalistic thinking gets very dehumanising very fast: if all of us have worth based on what we can offer, then what does it truly mean to be ‘human’?
The interactive parts of this show are a lot of fun and it’s exhilarating to be able to explore ethical dilemmas alongside the characters. The audience can join in-person or online, and whichever you choose, do bring your mobile phone with you if you can as you’ll be asked to vote on certain moments, starting with ‘what colour should Bob be?’ and escalating to high-stakes questions of mor(t)ality. It might even be worth exploring asking the audience to ‘justify’ their ethical decisions.
The level of talent and creativity on display is staggering. the_crash.test is playing at the Millennium again tonight, and there are plenty of chances to see it again: at the Millennium on 24 June, Pontio Bangor on 29 June and Ffwrnes Llanelli on 2 July (all as part of Hijinx’s Unity festival). Innovative, imaginative and totally immersive, the_crash.test is bonkers in the best way and something you simply have to experience for yourself.
Your first ever trip to the theatre is always a magical experience. It’s a rite of passage, that first step through those doors and into a world of fun and fantasy. What you see on that first trip is something that sticks with you: for many children, that show is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the first musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice whose subsequent megahits include Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and Cats. Whether you grew up on the Donny Osmond VHS, or watched Jason Donovan, Philip Schofield or Lee Mead don the icon dreamcoat on stage, everyone has their own Joseph story – and local boy Jac Yarrow is now the definitive Joseph for a whole new generation of kids as he returns to his home town for a show like no other.
Our story starts way, way back many centuries ago – not long after the Bible began, in fact. Our hero is Joseph, Jacob’s favourite son. After his father gifts him with the titular dreamcoat, Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery. While in Egypt, Joseph gets himself thrown in prison over a misunderstanding – but it’s only while he’s locked up that he finally unlocks the secret power of his dreams, and finds himself becoming the right-hand man of the Pharaoh himself.
Directed by Laurence Connor and staged at the London Palladium in 2019 and 2021, this new UK tour brings with it all the glitz and glamour of the West End. As the latest to don the dreamcoat, Yarrow has quite the legacy to live up to – and he does so with ease. It’s hard to believe this is his first role right out of drama school; a belter of a debut that has garnered much deserved praise, including an Olivier Award nomination. Yarrow might have implored us to ‘Close Every Door’ to him but I’m sure many more will be opening in future. His performance of ‘Close Every Door To Me’ is easily one of the best things I’ve ever seen on stage, and is well worth the price of admission alone.
X Factor winner Alexandra Burke, is not only a multimillion selling artist and West End star (Sister Act, The Bodyguard, Chess) but is fast proving herself as one of the most talented and versatile performers onstage today. She brings tremendous energy and charm to The Narrator, at ease in every moment whether she’s cheerfully corralling the young cast or playing a half dozen characters – each one more hilarious than the last. With such a dazzling repertoire to her name, when I say this is the best she’s ever been, that’s really saying something.
The whole ensemble is on top form, from the lively young cast to the cracking orchestra directed by John Rigby (who, in a nice touch, conducts music with a Welsh flag in place of a baton!) JoAnn Hunter’s zesty choreography really shines in ‘Go Go Go Joseph’, ‘Jacob and Sons’ and especially ‘One More Angel in Heaven’, which turns into a full-on rootin’ tootin’ hoedown, complete with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers-style gymnastics.
Speaking of brothers, Joseph’s are a blast: from a pitch-perfect Will Hawksworth who leads a riotous rendition of ‘Those Canaan Days’ led by, to Jabari Braham’s top-tier acrobatics, to Shane Antony-Whitely and young castmate Nadini Sharma who bring down the house with ‘Benjamin Calypso’. And as Pharaoh, Bobby Windebank is every inch The King – as a rock ‘n’ roll Pharaoh straight out of Graceland, he leads a rowdy Vegas-style set that leaves no hip thrust or ‘uh huh’ unturned.
Morgan Large’s stage is one big rainbow explosion, a technicolor utopia which gives way to a golden paradise once Joseph gets to the Pharoah’s court. It’s spectacular – and the titular dreamcoat, much like the show itself, is the best it’s ever been. Joseph has been performed for over 50 years in over 80 countries and counting, and it’s easy to see why. It had the whole audience on their feet, dancing and singing along. As Joseph sings that ‘Any Dream Will Do’, but this isn’t just any old dream. Technicolour, transcendent, triumphant, it’s the easiest 5 stars I’ve ever given. It really is the show that dreams are made of: so go, go see Joseph and see for yourself!