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REVIEW Love, Cardiff: 50 Years of Your Stories @ Sherman Theatre

Reviewed by Barbara Hughes-Moore

The cast of Love, Cardiff. Image credit: Chris Lloyd

The Sherman Theatre’s 50th year kicked off with an impressive triple bill of Ghost Cities, Romeo and Julie, and Imrie – but Love, Cardiff: 50 Years of Your Stories is truly the icing on this most stacked of birthday cakes.

The cast of Love, Cardiff. Image credit: Chris Lloyd

Written by the cast in collaboration with Paul Jenkins, Love, Cardiff is indeed a love letter to the city and the people who call it home. The show is directed by Francesca Pickard, who joined the Sherman this summer as its new Creative Engagement Coordinator, and makes an impressive company debut. The production is a culmination of 15 weeks in which Pickard and producer Mehdi Razi worked with members of five community groups in Cardiff, supporting them in identifying and conveying the stories they wanted to tell.

Richard Emerson and Simon Howells in Love, Cardiff. Image credit: Chris Lloyd

Their stories are framed by a narrative featuring the Theatre’s namesakes: the Sherman brothers, played by actors Richard Emerson and Simon Howells. Harry and Abe Sherman, whose parents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants, were businessmen and philanthropists who helped to transform Cardiff into what it is today. The show’s framing device has the brothers learning about how the Sherman Theatre – which in 2019 became Wales’ first theatre of sanctuary – has continued their philanthropic work by cultivating a safe space for all, told by those who have now taken up the baton.

The cast of Love, Cardiff. Image credit: Chris Lloyd

The cast includes members of Cardiff’s Deaf Community, Cathays Day Provision, Kurdish All Wales Association (KAWA), Waulah Cymru and the Welsh Ballroom Community. Their stories and performances, while at times tinged with tragedy, are authentic, joyous and fun – and resonate with the Sherman’s mission to tell local stories with global resonance.

The cast of Love, Cardiff. Image credit: Chris Lloyd

Vibrant, diverse, and joyful, Love, Cardiff serves as a timely reminder of why, on its golden anniversary, the Sherman Theatre shines brighter than ever.

Love Cardiff: 50 Years of Your Stories is playing at the Sherman Theatre on 17 and 19 August 2023. More information and how to book tickets here.

The cast of Love, Cardiff. Image credit: Chris Lloyd

INTERVIEW AJ Jenks, star of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

Get the Chance Community Critic Barbara Hughes-Moore speaks with AJ Jenks, one of the stars of the number one national UK touring production of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. Birmingham-born AJ trained in actor/musicianship at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and has since gone on to play musical icons like Elvis Presley, Barry Gibb and Mick Jagger before taking on the role of Buddy Holly (which he shares with Chris Weeks).

Buddy is one of just a few iconic musicals including Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Miss Saigon, Evita and Cats to reach three decades on stage. It follows the musical icon’s meteoric rise from his rockabilly roots to international fame and his legendary final performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, before his untimely death at the age of 22. In just 18 months, Buddy revolutionised the face of contemporary music, and would influence everyone from The Beatles to the Rolling Stones.

Featuring a super talented cast of actor-musicians, Buddy includes 20+ of his greatest hits, including the timeless classics That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Everyday and Rave On. It also features classics from Buddy’s contemporaries, like the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba, as well as rip-roaring versions of Shout and Johnny B. Goode.

Buddy plays at the New Theatre Cardiff from 14 – 16 September 2023. For more information and to book tickets here.


Back in 2018, four prime ministers ago, a new musical based on the music of Take That was born. It was called “The Band” and the BBC did the show “Let it Shine” to discover the next big boy band for it. They were called Five to Five.

Fast forward to 2023, Take That celebrate the 30th anniversary of their first number one Pray, and “The Band” becomes Greatest Days – The Official Take That Musical!

There has been another musical based on Take That – Never Forget – which by the way, premiered at Wales Millennium Centre in 2007!

So, to Greatest Days.

It’s Manchester 1992 and its based around five 16-year-old girls for who ‘the band’ is everything.  They then reunite 25 years later, and you see how life has taken each girl down a different road.

Written by Tim Firth – who also penned Calendar Girls The musical with a certain Gary Barlow, its story is nostalgic and funny. The strength of a “Jukebox Musical” can sometimes be measured in how well it would stand without the music – Greatest Days does this so well. The nostalgia you feel could easily equate to how your own life has panned out in the last thirty-one years. There’s a warmth to each character, and something familiar that feels real.

Production wise it’s brilliant.

The “band” – well put together, but as I’ve previously said, their performances don’t drive the story forward. They provide the backing track, but the main story is carried by the performances of the main ensemble – the young and current versions of each. Going back to what I said about the warmth in each character, each performance was flawless. Sometimes with touring musicals, it’s about the one person being in it, granted Kym Marsh’s Rachel is fab, but each person took you on their own journey of nostalgia. There wasn’t one stand out moment – the story and performers are the stand outs of Greatest Days.

Back in 2018 when I reviewed “The Band” I did something a little bit cheesy and included some Take That song titles in recommending this musical.

But you’d wait for life for that. Okay Babe, are you happy now I found heaven? I might just end up all night, and then never forget to do this review pray-sing The Band. You do what you like, I’d love to hold up a light and come back for good to see this again! Patience, then you’ll rule the world.

Did I love “Greatest Days”? Sure!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

REVIEW: @ImPatrickDownes

REVIEW Around the World in 80 Days, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

150 years since its publication, Around the World in 80 Days is a story that continues to inspire and entertain us. Jules Verne’s classic tale of Phileas Fogg’s quest to circumnavigate the globe has been adapted multiple times in films, TV series and video games. This new version, adapted and directed by Juliet Forster for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal, adds a new spin on the material that brings a sense of energy, anarchy and fun for the whole family!

The cast of Around the World in 80 Days

A versatile and talented cast of five play circus performers trying to stage a (rather chaotic!) rendition of Verne’s Victorian-era novel. The quintet of actors, acrobats and puppeteers play multiple roles, such as Alex Phelps who deftly plays both the finicky Phileas Fogg and the beleaguered Ringmaster trying to keep the whole thing together. The antics have shades of Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Went Wrong, making it an ideal introduction to theatre for kids and families.

Genevieve Sabherwal, Eddie Mann and Katriona Brown in Around the World in 80 Days

The cast are on top form, bringing zeal and panache to a well-trodden tale. The show features a number of well-choreographed and excellently performed circus acts, including fight scenes, dance scenes and a standout battle over a see-saw that must have been far easier to perform than the actors made it look. While the first act lacks some pace, there is a zesty creativity to proceedings that keeps things chugging along, with puppets and props used to convey train journeys, elephant rides, and a tipsy tussle between Inspector Fix (Eddie Mann) and Passepartout (a hugely lovable Wilson Benedito).

Wilson Benedito and Alex Phelps in Around the World in 80 Days

Writer Juliet Foster, who also directs, does a great job of navigating the aspects of the story that haven’t aged quite so well, addressing the British colonialist underpinnings of the storyline in which Indian princess Aouda (Genevieve Sabherwal) is ‘rescued’ by Fogg and Passepartout, and shedding light on the real-life story of American journalist Nellie Bly (Katriona Brown) who, inspired by Verne’s story, undertook the same journey and broke Fogg’s (fictional) record by over a week.

Alex Phelps, Katriona Brown, Eddie Mann and Genevieve Sabherwal in Around the World in 80 Days

The circus elements bring a sense of spectacle to the proceedings, with Eddie Mann’s Knife Thrower twirling electric flames in a stunning light show (he also plays a sharpshooting cowboy with an action scene all to himself) while Barton whips a target in half from metres away. More circus antics and acrobats, of which this excellent cast are clearly capable, might have added even more to the story (perhaps even some more onstage musical or dance sequences), though the cast are consistently entertaining and Sara Perks’ stage and costume designs add pizzazz. With a little tweaking, though, it could be exceptional.

Alex Phelps, Wilson Benedito, Genevieve Sabherwal and Eddie Mann in Around the World in 80 Days

Originally staged in school fields and socially-distanced venues in 2021, and inspired by the many months spent locked down in our homes, Tilted Wig’s Around the World in 80 Days is a slice of escapism that will take you on a charming journey across the globe – and all without having to leave the New Theatre!

Around the World in 80 Days is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 22 – 25 June, before concluding its tour in July in Doncaster, Oldham and Bromley. More information and how to book tickets here.

Alex Phelps in Around the World in 80 Days

REVIEW Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] at the New Theatre Cardiff

When you hear the term ‘rock opera’, your first thought might be of icons and iconoclasts: Ziggy Stardust, Meat Loaf, Pink Floyd. You don’t tend to think of the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield – but TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is here to give former Prime Minister Tony Blair his very own American Idiot (but more on George W. Bush later).

The cast of TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] ©Mark Senior

Billed as Yes, Minister meets The Rocky Horror Show, TONY! is the unruly brainchild of comedian Harry Hill and songwriter Steve Brown. Directed by Peter Rowe, it follows the titular politico from cradle to grave, from his stint as a wannabe rockstar in his student days to becoming leader of the Labour party and winning a landslide victory at the 1997 election, plus the precipitous legacy of his special relationship with POTUS and ‘personality’ politics. Jack Whittle, who previously stole the show in Mischief Theatre’s Comedy About a Bank Robbery, is a pitch-perfect PM, nailing all of Blair’s mannerisms from the rictus grin to the ‘right on’ charisma that lent New Labour its groovy young poster boy.

We follow Tony through a cavalcade of larger-than-life characters, including loved-up Liverpudlian Cherie (a top-form Tori Burgess – her running joke about fox hunting is a real winner) and bumbling frenemy Gordon Brown (Phil Sealey). Through it all, Tony is dogged by the angel and devil on his shoulder: the former, a near-saintly Neil Kinnock (original cast member Martin Johnston), portrayed as a tragic Llywelyn-style hero cut down in his political prime, with a rousing ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’-esque swan song. (We were promised a Les Mis moment, after all). As for the latter, Howard Samuels is delectably devilish as Peter Mandelson, our sinister master of ceremonies and the architect of Blair’s ascent to the big leagues.

TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] centre: Jack Whittle as Tony Blair & Emma Jay Thomas as Princess Diana, ©Mark Senior

They’re joined by an excellent three-piece band (Oli Jackson, David Guy and Harry Brent) and supported by a lively and versatile cast including Rosie Strobel as a rabble-rousing John Prescott, Sally Cheng as the adulterous Robin Cook, Emma Jay Thomas as a dance-mad Princess Di, and William Hazell, who covers all the roles in the show and gets to shine as a briefly-spied Bill Clinton and as Blair’s boyhood hero ‘Mick Jaggers’. The cast double up in roles, which brings us Sealey’s memorable turn as a Groucho Marx-inspired Saddam Hussein and Johnston as a flight jacketed Dubya puppetered by Samuels’ bewigged Dick Cheney.

The cast of TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] ©Mark Senior

The accents are broad, the comedy even broader (bordering on bad taste), and the gags fly faster than insults at the PMQs – but the show doesn’t scrimp on the harsh reality. Blair’s accountability in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the three other wars he oversaw during his tenure in Number 10, are on full display, even if his culpability is downplayed into naïve self-advancement. What it does nail, however, is that Blair isn’t a pop star, but a political luvvie: picking pizzazz over principles, soaking up the spotlight while the Gordon Browns of the world are made to wait in the wings.

The cast of TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] Jack Whittle as Tony Blair & Tori Burgess as Cherie Blair, ©Mark Senior

Entertaining with flashes of brilliance, TONY! isn’t here to set the record straight: it’s here to put that record on a turntable, smash it with a comedy mallet, and dance on the debris. While the set, wigs and costumes could do with some polishing, TONY! gets away with it in the name of slapstick silliness – and its final song has moments of genuine power and poignancy, with nods to ‘Springtime for Hitler’ and Dr Strangelove. If you’re au fait with Harry Hill’s oeuvre, you’ll find the rhythm quickly, and if not, you’ll likely still be swept away in the irreverence of it all. It might not be endorsed by the real Tony Blair, but it certainly was by the audience on opening night, who couldn’t have given it a more rapturous response. The question remains, though: TONY! may have had its Mamma Mia! moment – but will you go again?

TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is playing a limited run at the New Theatre Cardiff from Wednesday 14 – Saturday 17 June. More information and how to book tickets here.

PREVIEW Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] New Theatre Cardiff

What do you get when you cross Yes, Minister with The Rocky Horror Show? You get Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera], of course! This, at least, is the bonkers pitch from comedian Harry Hill and Steve Brown, the comic creatives behind the West End’s weirdest smash hit show.

Billed as “a reckless reappraisal of the life of former Ugly Rumours front man and Britain’s first pop Prime Minister Tony Blair“, it follows the titular Tony from Easy Street to Downing Street in a madcap musical experience like no other, featuring a cast of larger-than-life characters from George W. Bush to Princess Diana.

But don’t expect a history lesson, says co-creator Harry Hill: “In our world Tony’s born singing and dancing, Saddam Hussein is played as Groucho Marx, and Gordon Brown occasionally turns into the Incredible Hulk – let’s just say all the facts are there… but not necessarily as they occurred!”

Having opened on London’s West End in May, it now embarks on a UK tour, including a planned four-week stint at the Edinburgh Festival Fring,e and of course this week at Cardiff’s prestigious New Theatre. While the show is sure to divide audiences (it comes with a note that neither Tony Blair, the Tony Blair Institute, nor any other person featured in this production have endorsed or are affiliated with the production), Hill maintains that it has something for everyone: “It’s a show for Tony Lovers and Haters everywhere – and everyone in between.”

TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is playing a limited run at the New Theatre Cardiff from Wednesday 14 – Saturday 17 June. More information and how to book tickets here.

Review, Imrie, A Sherman/Fran Wen co-production, at Theatr Clwyd, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What is striking about Welsh play Imrie is its richness. Rich in language. Rich in description. Rich in lighting. Rich in characterisation. This coming-of-age story is like a rainbow bursting into life, pouring its colour out on stage with a vibrancy that reverberates throughout the whole production. Each element resembles a charged particle which, in collision, drives forward a powerful narrative about identity and belonging. It is a tour-de-force in aesthetics, as well as telling of its message.

Credit: Mark Douet

Elan Davies and Rebecca Wilson take on the roles of Josie and Laura in this two-part drama. They are half-sisters seeking to fit in in their own ways. It begins with Laura dragging Josie along to a party on the beach, she wanting to become one of the ‘in’ crowd while her sibling would rather be elsewhere. So while the former attempts to act ‘normal’, the latter runs off, after being made fun of, and finds herself alone with only the sea for company. And when from the water she hears a voice calling, a journey into an otherworldly tale takes place. This ethereal experience is captured brilliantly by the lighting that shimmers and shapeshifts across the three walls of the enclosed set. But it is also the flexibility and freedom of Davies’ physicality that produces beautifully an event which exists between the real and the imaginary.

There are parallels with Caryl Lewis’ recent novel Drift, particularly in relation to the female protagonist. Along with Disney’s Turning Red and The Little Mermaid, it is fair to say that writer Nia Morais has tapped into something bigger with Imrie. Certainly, that desire to break free from the expectations of family and (patriarchal) society burns strong here. To tie it in with the theme and symbol of water gives it a weight that bears down on the scale of contemporary classic. Its relevance is shored up by its exploration of sexual and racial identity. In particular, the conversation between the two characters at the end is thought-provoking, challenging and inspiring in its interaction with intersectionality. This is a further facet to the richness of Imrie, whose immersive soundtrack wraps the audience in its atmospheric tones which, along with the Welsh language, contributes to a mythic quality. Its basis in Cymraeg also adds a poetic lyricism to the dialogue which, though stereotypical, actually strengthens its value as a cultural expression of (self-)acceptance.

Credit: Mark Douet

Most definitely driven by Frân Wen’s passion for young people, when coupled with the Sherman’s support for innovative new Welsh writing, Imrie becomes a bold piece of theatre. Its message may be common but at its heart is an imagination that beats with such originality that it feels fresh. Celebratory of life, even as it depicts its struggles, Imrie reveals something of how identity blossoms, arising out from the depths to become all that we are, rich in colour. A play to be enjoyed whatever age you are.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Wales Millennium Centre

Part of an extensive bibliography, Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane escaped adaptation until previews for this play began in December 2019. A successful West End run, and Olivier nominations, followed to culminate in a UK and Ireland tour. In bringing Gaiman’s famous imagination to life, friendship, storytelling, and family are central to an epic, magical tale of a childhood once forgotten and the darkness lurking at its edges.  

Following the clearly creepy visuals of Henry Selick’s Coraline (2009) and the excellent chemistry between Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale and David Tennant’s Crowley in Good Omens (2019), The Ocean at the End of the Lane presents unique challenges to theatre makers. Director Katy Rudd, Adaptor Joel Horwood, and cast tackle fantastical and gritty elements with equal sincerity resulting in an evening of spectacle, relatability, and stunning visuals enhancing the original material. 

Keir Ogilvy brings a sensitive and well-meaning 12-year-old boy to life. It is a difficult age at which to understand why, in the aftermath of his mother’s death, his Dad (Trevor Fox) burns the toast and brings in a lodger, forcing him to share a room with his energetic little sister (Laurie Ogden). All that before said lodger kills himself in the family car. Ogilvy keeps the boy grounded, but questioning and immovable whilst open-hearted as he discovers his wit and bravery along the way. Ogilby and Fox share many expertly gut-wrenching scenes ensuring the audience cannot look away for a second. 

Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy)

Millie Hikasa is a standout as Lettie Hempstock. This production emphasises Lettie’s mysterious complexities whilst keeping her immediately recognisable to all who know girls like her, want their girls to be like her, or are girls like her. Hikasa packs Lettie with undeniable charm, courage, creativity, and tenderness to provide a comforting presence throughout. Alongside Kemi-Bo Jacobs as Ginnie Hempstock and particularly Finty Williams as Old Mrs Hempstock, their clan sit as both the heart and levity of the show, gently guiding both boy and audience through darker, complex fantastical elements. 

Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy)

Charlie Brooks provides an effortless spine-chilling edge to this production as Ursula, both in her actions and the hard truths she perceives. Brooks and the tight, talented ensemble are at the central to the play’s more theatrical, fantastical elements but to describe them would be a spoiler. This production is perfect for fans of theatre magic and illusion using puppetry, movement, set, prop, and lighting design to truly elevate an already captivating performance. 

Keir Ogilvy (Boy), Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock) and Millie Hikasa (Lettie)

It is unfortunately often the case that the soundtracks of straight plays fall under the radar, or are not utilised. However, Jherek Bischoff’s compositions and Ian Dickinson’s sound design ensured the soundtrack sat in equal measure with all other elements of this production. You will leave the theatre wanting to listen to this soundtrack as much as any musical production.   

This production features theatrical narrative and design imaginative and beautiful in equal measure. There truly is something in this show for everyone, especially young and old. Particularly, anyone interested in the creation of captivating theatre design should not miss their chance to see this show! 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is playing at the Wales Millennium Centre from 30 May – 3 June 2023. More information on the show and how to book tickets here.

A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death Chapter Arts Centre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

What does it mean for a writer to be great? Is it measured by the amount of work they produce, or its quality? The way they are perceived by others, or how they see themselves? Perhaps ‘greatness’ is just the lie of venerating a ‘chosen’ few; a lie which inch by inch lifts that glass ceiling ever higher.

One of the few pictures that survive of Dorothy Edwards

By these metrics, a voice as brilliant as that of Dorothy Edwards (1902-1934) is lost in the maelstrom of literary machismo. The black sheep of the Bloomsbury Set, she was raised by firebrand radicals in South Wales and yet somehow dislocated from her working-class roots (she attended Howell’s private school, if on a scholarship, and later studied Greek and Philosophy at Cardiff University). In the London scene of literary greats like Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster, she was the ‘Welsh Cinderella’, raised from the pits of the Valleys into dazzling notoriety in her own lifetime – but after her death, her books went out of print and her suicide note became her most cited work.

Angharad Matthews in A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death. Image credit: Noel Dacey (@noeley2510)

It is this complicated legacy that Gary Raymond’s new play sensitively examines. Directed by Chris Durnall, ‘A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death’ starts at the end of Dorothy Edwards’ life and moves backwards through twin storylines: in the past, Dorothy (Angharad Matthews) is inducted into London’s writing elite by David Garnett (Jâms Thomas); in the present, actors Meg and Byron, also played by Matthews and Thomas, debate how best to bring her story to life.

Writer Gary Raymond (left) and director Chris Durnall (right)

The play’s title – taken from a line in Winter Sonata (1928), her only novel – is an apt description of the drama, which toys with musical and emotional tempos. Matthews and Thomas are captivating, playing a convivial game of cat and mouse in which you are never quite sure who is hunting who. Thomas is equal parts charming and chilling as the Svengali-esque Garnett, who always seems to place himself physically higher in the space than his ‘ingenue’. While he might have benefitted from the same costume flourishes given to Dorothy (e.g., adding braces and a waistcoat for extra texture), Thomas’ performance is nothing short of transformative.

Angharad Matthews and in A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death. Image credit: Noel Dacey (@noeley2510)

Matthews is radiant as Dorothy, a flame who refused to dim her glow. There is a quiet defiance to her performance that embodies the stoic passion of Edwards’ heroines; women who were pushed to the margins in the interwar period. She was an outsider even among the bohemians of Bloomsbury, whom another famous Dorothy (in this case, Parker) said ‘lived in squares… and loved in triangles’. Dorothy’s affair with a married cellist, her engagement to her Philosophy Professor, working as live-in carer for Garnett’s son: all of these relationships blur boundaries; triangles on triangles, like the sonata form which underscores Dorothy’s work. Even the stage – a square room with its triangle of wooden decking – plays with geometric shapes. The fact that it is designed by Matthews means that we are watching two hidden architects at work.

Angharad Matthews in A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death. Image credit: Noel Dacey (@noeley2510)

And she pulls the strings from the very start. The live score by the luminous Stacey Blythe manifests Dorothy’s melodious thought processes: but as Matthews descends the steps for the first time, she slams down on the keys. This is her story, after all – at some points, she strides out in front of the audience and stares us down, as if daring us to forget it. Raymond’s soulful script, and Matthews’ lyrical performance, convey Dorothy’s abiding love for words: their codes and cadences, the way that just 12 notes and 26 letters can capture all the beauty and chaos of the world.

Angharad Matthews in A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death. Image credit: Noel Dacey (@noeley2510)

Durnall’s direction is a live if invisible thing: kinetic and coy, like the current that pulls a river. David and Dorothy circle each other, dynamics shifting, power crystallising. The sense that she was always thinking, always writing, with pen in hand or not, is ever-present, especially in the vibrant second act. Writing is her pole star: while people flit in and out of her life, that love never leaves her. Company of Sirens have worked their magic once more, and never is this clearer than in the exquisite closing scene, in which Dorothy finds true synthesis with another Welsh wordsmith (Glyn Thomas, author of The Dragon Has Two Tongues). It is an effortless coda that leaves Dorothy at a moment of pure synthesis. It is a slip of linen on the breeze; a single sustained note, that carries on even when darkness falls.

A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death is produced by Company of Sirens in collaboration with Chapter and Arts Council Wales, and performs at Chapter through 3 June. There are BSL-interpreted and audio described performances, and one matinee: more information and how to book tickets here.

REVIEW Sherlock Holmes The Valley of Fear by Barbara Hughes Moore

Whether it’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, or even Basil and Dawson from The Great Mouse Detective, everyone has their own definitive ‘Holmes and Watson’. And I can safely say that, after watching Blackeyed Theatre’s interpretation of the dynamic duo, theirs has become mine.

Luke Barton in Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear. Image credit: Alex Harvey-Brown.

After his first appearance in 1886, Holmes quickly became a household name. 56 short stories, four novels and countless film, radio and television adaptations later, Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic consulting detective has become one of the most successful fictional characters ever – so popular that he was resurrected from the dead by public demand!

Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington in Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear. Image credit: Alex Harvey-Brown.

So who better to tackle one of Holmes’ thornier adventures than Blackeyed Theatre, the Berkshire-based company behind innovative reimaginings of Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde – not to mention previous Holmes adventures? Writer Nick Lane (who also directs) navigates smoothly through The Valley of Fear – no mean feat, as it spans twenty years, two cases, and both sides of the Atlantic. Vicky Spearing’s set – a fragmenting skeleton of exposed beams and William Morris-wallpaper, cleverly shifts from fin-de-siècle study to dusty saloon with the help of Oliver Welsh’s clever lighting and Naomi Gibbs’ convincing costumes.

Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington in Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear. Image credit: Alex Harvey-Brown.

Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington reprise their roles as Holmes and Watson, having first collaborated on Blackeyed’s The Sign of Four in 2018 (For more insight on how Luke and Joseph developed their fantastic rapport, check out our interview here). And what a dynamic duo! Barton is a zesty and mercurial Holmes who positively dances across the stage (at times, quite literally – in one of the show’s most delightful moments, he punctuates his re-enactment of the scuffle by pitching himself across the boards. It’s a ten from me, Luke!) He brings a heroic quality to the role without sanding off Holmes’ rough edges, and his declaration to Watson – “There is no me without you” – is a moment of genuine poignancy.

Joseph Derrington, Alice Osmanski and Luke Barton in Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear. Image credit: Alex Harvey-Brown.

And it rings true, because Joseph Derrington as Watson really is the perfect counter to Holmes: as steadfast and warm as Holmes is volatile and brash. Watson isn’t a slapstick sidekick here: he’s a partner in (almost) every meaning of the term (and Derrington’s own medical background lends a real authenticity to the good Doctor). Derrington is effortlessly affable as Holmes’ chronicler and companion, and their camaraderie feels authentic and lived-in; there’s a cosiness to the cattiness that reveals genuine affection between them. If, as the characters say, this is their final adventure, then they go out on a high – but I do hope we get to see them together one last time. I dare you to find a better Holmes and Watson after seeing this show.

Alice Osmanksi in Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear. Image credit: Alex Harvey-Brown.

Meanwhile, Alice Osmanski, Blake Kubena and Gavin Molloy, round out this super-skilled ensemble. Their versatility truly knows no bounds, with Osmanski especially impressive as everyone from a hard-of-hearing housekeeper to a sharp-shootin’ Pinkerton.

Blake Kubena in Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear. Image credit: Alex Harvey-Brown.

Kubena, who thrilled and chilled the New Theatre as the titular Jekyll and Hyde last year, continues to be a captivating stage presence, while Gavin Molloy brings genuine menace as coal-field crime boss McGinty and as Holmes’ most formidable foe (if you know, you know): their confrontation in an art gallery, while brief, is one of the most intense moments of theatre I have yet to experience.

Gavin Molloy in Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear. Image credit: Alex Harvey-Brown.

The show has everything you could want from a Sherlock Holmes adventure: packed with twists and turns, it brings the audience in on solving the mystery right along with the characters and keeps you guessing right until the final problem. Whether you’re a die-hard Sherlockian or an amateur sleuth, this is the show for you. Sherlock comes Holmes to roost in Cardiff this week in the last stop of its acclaimed UK Tour, and with only four performances left, it’s an absolute must-see. A whip-smart script and a supremely talented cast make this an adventure for the ages – the game is well and truly afoot!

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear is performing in Cardiff from Wednesday 24 – Friday 26 May 2023. There are only four performances remaining so make sure to reserve your spot: you can find more information and how to book tickets here.