Tag Archives: theatre

Review the_crash.test, Hijinx Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

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.

the_crash.test is playing 13 and 14 May 2022 in the Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre and throughout June and July in Llanelli, Bangor and Cardiff. All performances are live-captioned and the 14 May performance will have BSL and audio description.

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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

REVIEW Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

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!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 7th May

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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

PREVIEW: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Interview with star Jac Yarrow

What follows is a syndicated interview with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat star Jac Yarrow.

Joseph is such a fun, upbeat musical. Is that what we all need right now?
Oh my gosh, 100% yes. When we did it at the London Palladium our favourite shows to do would always be the Saturday or Sunday matinees because we’d get the crowds from all over the UK, not just the London crowds. To be able take this show to the regional theatres that have been closed for so long is just the tonic everybody needs. And particularly this incarnation of Joseph, which is the same production you got at the Palladium. It’s lavish and no-expense-sparred, and it’s really going to lift everyone’s spirits.


You first played the title role in 2019. How did that change your life?
It completely changed my life. I was still at drama school when I got the part and it was literally over the course of two or three days that I went from getting the role to it being announced. I went from being a student living in digs dreaming of being in the West End to suddenly living that dream for real.


You returned to the show again last year and now you’re touring in it. What keeps drawing you back?
It’s massively to do with the fans of the show. It has such an amazing fanbase and it’s ingrained in people’s DNA in the UK. Everybody knows the music and everybody’s grown up with it, even if they’re not aware of where it comes from. People come along and see the show all the time and go: ‘I didn’t realise that song was in it. I love that song and I used to sing it in school.’ I’m thrilled to keep coming back to it for that reason, plus to pass up the opportunity to take this incredible, up-to-date production that changed my life to people’s hometowns would have been crazy.

The show is a perennial school favourite. Were you in any school productions yourself?
I wasn’t in a school production as such but when I was around ten I was in a 30-minute condensed version of Joseph at my Saturday drama school. I did play Joseph himself but I don’t think I had a dreamcoat, just a makeshift little jacket or something. That was my only brush with the show as a kid, although I did see it later when it came to my hometown of Cardiff. I remember really enjoying it and it’s going to be a nice full-circle when I go back to the New Theatre and am on that stage myself.

Can you relate to Joseph in any way?
Yes, especially when I first started. There was the naivety and moving from the home comforts of Cardiff myself and Egypt in his case. It was like somebody flipped a switch and everything turned Technicolor. [Laughs] But my family isn’t as big as his and they certainly treat me a lot nicer.

Do you hit the gym to make sure you look good in the shirtless scenes?
Doing eight shows a week where I’m constantly running around keeps me in pretty good shape but I go to the gym, I eat well and I drink a lot of water – but that’s the stuff you have to do anyway when you’re doing such a full-on show as this.

Jason Donovan, who now stars as Pharaoh, played Joseph in 1991. How is it following in his footsteps?
It’s great. From day one Jason has been the most supportive person. I was terrified when I had to sing Close Every Door in front of him at rehearsal but he’s been amazing. He was the first person to throw his arms around me, congratulate me and give me the boost that I needed early on. Now we have such a laugh. He’s such a fun guy and he’s another reason why I wanted to go on tour with the show, because who better to do that with than Jason Donovan?

Might you play Pharaoh yourself one day?
This is the joke we always make. You could do Joseph forever because you could graduate from Joseph himself to Pharaoh and then you could finally move on to Jacob.

The West End production was one of the first to open to full capacity after social-distancing restrictions. What was the atmosphere like?
It was unbelievable. The atmosphere at Joseph is amazing anyway because of the fans and the way the Palladium is figured it’s such an intimate space, even though it’s huge. Then when the restrictions were lifted and we had full houses it was unbelievable. It’s such a tonic and, as I say, just the kind of show people want to see to lift their spirits. We were all emotional and it was quite overwhelming.

Joseph has been going strong since the early 70s. Why do you think audiences still love it?
I think it’s just timeless and, as Jason always says, it’s a very simple story. What you see is what you get and what you get is a really good time. It’s a wholesome tale about a boy overcoming adversity and it encourages you to follow your dreams. The message is so uplifting and it’s one of those shows that continues from generation to generation. We get people at the stage door saying to Jason ‘You were my Joseph when I was a kid’ and then I meet kids at the stage door and their mums say ‘This is their first time seeing it’ so I’m their Joseph. And it’s such a famous show that it’s kind of ingrained in everybody. It’s a huge part of our theatrical culture in the UK.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice score is full of great songs. Do you have a favourite to perform?
Definitely Close Every Door and I love Go, Go, Go Joseph because we have an amazing cast and they’re all on stage for that one. It’s a huge production number and I think that’s what is so exciting about taking this particular incarnation of Joseph around the country because it’s like we’re taking the West End production to everyone.


What have been your other favourite in-between-Joseph stage roles?
I’ve been lucky to have taken part in some concerts and some TV stuff as well, and I’ve loved doing panto. My first panto was in Birmingham in 2019, then I was in panto at the Palladium this Christmas just gone with another Joseph, namely Donny Osmond. I love doing panto for the same reason I love doing Joseph, because you get an amazing audience response and it’s such fun and so entertaining.

Is this your first big tour and what are you most looking forward to about taking Joseph around the country?
It’s my first tour ever. I’ve never toured before and I’m really looking forward to it because I actually haven’t visited that many towns and cities in the UK and Ireland. It will be amazing to see all these new places, get to know them better and sink my teeth into the role even more. We did it for ten weeks in 2019 and just shy of ten weeks at the Palladium last year, and it almost felt like that as soon as we were getting into the groove the run was over. Now we’re doing eight months on the road and it will be so rewarding to throw myself into it for all that time.

Are there any stops on the tour that are dear to your heart?
I did panto at the Birmingham Hippodrome so I’m looking forward to being back there. I was there in Snow White in 2019 and I love the people, the Hippodrome is beautiful and the audiences go wild. There are a lot of places I’m excited to see, like Blackpool and Glasgow. We’re closing the tour in Edinburgh and I’ve heard the theatre there is amazing. It’s also going to be really interesting to see how different audiences respond to the show in different places.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 7th May

REVIEW Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Irish-American dance sensation Michael Flatley catapulted Irish dancing into the mainstream with his first hit show, Riverdance, in 1994. He followed that up with the record-breaking, worldwide smash-hit, Lord of the Dance, in 1997, which has since gone on to break records and box offices around the world. Now the most successful touring production in entertainment history, its 25th anniversary tour chassés its way to Cardiff for a limited time this week.

The music begins, and clips from the production’s history are projected onto the stage as Flatley explains in voiceover how the story came to him in a dream, and how the show made that dream a reality. Then the stage darkens, and lights appear one by one, glowing orbs held by hooded druids that glide so ethereally you feel as though you’re walking through a dream yourself. Then the Little Spirit (Cassidy Ludwig) plays the titular tune on her magic flute and awakens ‘Planet Ireland’: a mystical, medieval fantasy world ruled over by the Lord of the Dance (Matt Smith), who is plunged into an epic battle for both heart(h) and home.

Drawing on Irish folklore, Flatley not only created the show, but produced, directed and choreographed it. There’s nothing quite like Irish dancing, and there’s nothing quite like Lord of the Dance: a mesmerizing spectacle from start to finish. The degree of athleticism, precision and timing on display is astounding, with the 40-strong cast showcasing an unparalleled level of skill and boundless energy. It’s dizzyingly good: I’ve simply never seen dancing like it. Smith steps into Flatley’s iconic shoes with ease; with unmatched bravado and charisma to spare, Smith weaves such a spell on the audience you simply have to join in with the dancing yourself.

There is only one Lord of the Dance, and he does not share power – but there’s a worthy contender for the throne in the shape of the Dark Lord (Zoltan Papp). Dressed like an embattled biker king, Papp brings a sinister swagger that had the audience booing (or, in my case, cheering) as if he were a pantomime villain. His duel with Smith is as thrilling a setpiece as you can imagine, and features some of the finest dance-fighting this side of West Side Story.

There’s not a weak link or a missed step in the whole ensemble, from Cyra Taylor’s mercurial Morrighan to Lauren Clarke’s sparkling Saoirse. Cassidy Ludwig brings a puck-like, playful charm to the Little Spirit, whose performance shines even more brightly than her glittery golden costume. The music, composed by Ronan Hardiman and Gerard Fahy, segues from lilting Celtic ballads one minute to ritualistic chants and sweeping epics the next, some of which is even performed live on stage courtesy of Giada Costenaro Cunningham and Aisling Sage’s first-class violin duets and singer Celyn Cartwright as Erin the Goddess, whose heavenly interludes give the cast time for a spritely costume change.

It’s fitting that the last word – or should that be ‘dance’? – is left to the man who started it all, with a trio of projected Flatleys out-dancing one another, only to be joined by the whole cast dancing in unison. If, like me, you have a much-loved VHS copy of Riverdance in pride of place on the shelf, or if you’ve never experienced the thrill of Irish dancing before, then this is the show for you. Lord of the Dance is only at the New Theatre for a limited time, so join the 60 million people who have loved and lived this show for an encore like no other. There have been 25 years of standing ovations so far, and if last night was any indication, here’s to 25 more!

Lord of the Dance is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through to Wednesday 27th April

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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

REVIEW Orbit’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Orbit Theatre has dazzled and delighted Cardiff audiences for five decades and counting. As Wales’ number one amateur theatre company, it’s staged productions of everything from Grease to Godspell, and now Orbit is back at the New Theatre with an enchanting new version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Sophie Baker as Dorothy Gale (and Ella as Toto)

The story follows Dorothy Gale, a young girl from Kansas who dreams of escaping her dreary existence. She gets her wish when a tornado sweeps her and her little dog, Toto, to the fantastical land of Oz, a place filled with lions and tigers and bears – oh my! With a pair of magical ruby slippers and three new friends – a scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion – she heads to the Emerald City to meet the only person who can grant her wish to return home: the great and powerful Wizard of Oz – that is, unless the Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t catch her first.

Deryn Grigg as the Wicked Witch of the West

Directed by Rob Thorne Jnr, the show is every bit as magical as the beloved movie starring Judy Garland. It’s hard to believe this is an “amateur” production because everyone both onstage and behind it is working at such a professional level. As Dorothy, Sophie Baker steps into the iconic ruby slippers with ease and sings an enchantingly beautiful rendition of Over the Rainbow, leaving not a single dry eye in the house. Her duet with Paige Hodgson’s glamorous Glinda the Good Witch is a highlight, as are her interactions with the Wizard himself (Lewis Cook). The timeless songs you know and love all sound incredible here – everything from We’re Off to See the Wizard and the Merry Old Land of Oz to If I Only Had a Brain / a Heart / the Nerve.

Dorothy’s new friends are all on top form, from Daniel Ivor Jones’s nimble Scarecrow to Fran Hudd’s graceful Tin Man, and especially Matthew Preece as the Cowardly Lion, who has all of Bert Lahr’s mannerisms down pat (you’ll truly believe he’s The King of the Forest). The Gatekeeper might have been a throwaway role in other hands than Joe Green’s, who brings a real star quality to his scenes, while Deryn Grigg is devilishly good as the Wicked Witch of the West. Orbit’s talented young cast bring spirit and spectacle to the stage as munchkins and monkeys and trees – oh my! – and really deliver on Nicola Boyd-Anderson’s fabulous choreography. No-one, however, steals the show more than the adorable Ella as Toto who is easily one of the cutest canines to ever grace the stage – not to mention the most mischievous.

Lewis Cook as Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz

Orbit has won countless awards and has launched numerous careers, but their real magic comes from the fact that they make dreams come true. Their ‘Open Audition’ process means that newcomers have the opportunity to tread the boards and learn from the best. Dorothy’s story tells us that while there’s adventure to be found over the rainbow, there really is no place like home – and there’s no show quite as charming as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. If you and your family want a little bit of magic and a lot of fun this half term, then all you have to do is click your heels three times and follow the yellow brick road to the New Theatre.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will be playing at Cardiff’s New Theatre from 20 – 23 April, with performances at 1pm and 5pm each day.

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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

REVIEW Dreamboats & Petticoats: Bringing On Back The Good Times! New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

With the pandemic having made the future uncertain, we’ve been compelled to look back at the past, to the glory days of our youth when everything seemed possible. That’s always been the magic behind Bill Kenwright’s smash-hit jukebox franchise, Dreamboats & Petticoats, based on the multimillion selling compilation albums. The latest installment, Bringing On Back The Good Times!, is the third in the series, but you don’t need to have seen the first two to enjoy this fabulous, feel-good show.

Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the story centres around sweethearts Laura (Elizabeth Carter) and Bobby (David Ribi), as their musical dreams threaten to keep them apart. While Laura’s chart-topping success earns her a starry residency in Torquay and equal billing with Frankie Howerd, Bobby is booked for the summer at the far-less glamorous Butlins in Bognor Regis, along with his old crew from St Mungo’s Youth Club. With both his career and his relationship in jeopardy, Bobby makes one final bid to save both: a wildcard run at becoming Britain’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The show really captures the feel of the era, thanks to an energetic cast, playful direction, and magnificent renditions of some of the decade’s most beloved songs, from Pretty Woman and C’mon Everybody to Keep on Running and Mony Mony. Sean Cavanagh’s colourful set of scrapbooked ticket stubs and album sleeves, and Carole Todd’s zesty choreography, also capture the fun and flamboyance of the decade. It’s a non-stop party from beginning to end: a joyous celebration of the music that made us, featuring more iconic tunes than you can shake a (rhythm) stick at! Everything is played and sung live onstage, and you won’t find a finer ensemble this side of the 60s. Ribi is excellent as the budding Buddy Holly and Carter as the Lesley Gore-alike, while Alastair Hill as the roving eyed frontman of Norman and the Conquests is responsible for some of the funniest moments in the show, especially when paired with Lauren Anderson-Oakley as his beleaguered wife, Sue.

The song list is bursting at the seams with some of the most iconic tunes in music history, and they’ve never sounded better than they do here. For a band aptly called ‘the Conquests’, they really do take no prisoners – so huge kudos to Benji Lord on bass, Joe Sterling on electric guitar, Alan Howell on acoustic, Daniel Kofi Wealthyland on drums, and musical director Sheridan Lloyd on keys. There’s fantastic musical backup by Lauren Chinery and Chloe Edwards-Wood on sax (and dancing) duties, plus some bravura brass courtesy of Rob Gathercole and Mike Lloyd, the latter of whom also plays a tyrannical Butlins Redcoat who steals every scene he’s in (imagine if Tom Hardy’s Charles Bronson joined the cast of Hi-De-Hi and you’re halfway there).

The songs fly so thick and fast that there’s often not enough time to applaud them all, which is what happens when the incredible Samara Clarke sings an utterly breathtaking rendition of Where the Boys Are. And while the music is staggering (Baby Now That I’ve Found You is a knockout), some of the show’s most powerful moments come from their a capella arrangements of Blue Moon (a real showcase for David Luke) and Come Softly to Me. Lord, Sterling and Gathercole playing twee Eurovision hopefuls was a standout (The Kennies were robbed!) and David Benson’s pitch-perfect Kenneth Williams’ ‘Ma crepe suzette’ bit had everyone in stitches. The cast also boasts a genuine star of the 1960s music scene: Mark Wynter (of Venus in Blue Jeans and Go Away Little Girl fame), who portrays Laura’s sagacious manager, Larry.

The show really comes to life in the second half, and while some of the ‘lead in’ dialogue is tenuous at best (‘How would you describe Laura?’ Cue ‘Pretty Woman’) but it’s all very tongue in cheek and who needs an excuse to sing Roy Orbison, anyway? If you experienced the music yourself the first time round, or if you’ve grown up listening to your parents’ or grandparents’ records, this show is a must-see. The 1960s aren’t just an escape: they’re a mirror. It was a time, like ours, filled with rebellion, political upheaval, and the threat of war on the horizon. The songs, and the performances, underscore the show’s clearest, loveliest message: that the good times will return, and better than ever.

Dreamboats & Petticoats Bringing On Back The Good Times! is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through Saturday 16 April

REVIEW Stone the Crows, Chapter by Barbara Hughes-Moore

*Trigger warning: the play contains discriminatory slurs directed towards the GRT community, and some distressing scenes*

Stone the Crows has had a fascinating journey to Chapter’s Seligman Theatre. Written by acclaimed playwright Tim Rhys, it debuted as a film starring Terence Stamp and Nick Moran and has now finally made its way to the medium for which it was conceived, in a breathlessly bold new production by Winterlight in association with Company of Sirens.

Boo Golding. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

Tucker (Oliver Morgan-Thomas) is a jaded urbanite who longs to escape the choking grip of city life, so he snaps up a ramshackle farm on the suburbs. While Tucker clings to the dream of peace, what he really wants is uncontested dominance – but this brash new king has a challenger to the throne: Crow (Boo Golding), a mysterious loner who worships the forest and is prepared to do whatever it takes to defend it.

Boo Golding and Oliver Morgan-Thomas. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

Directed with kinetic intensity by Chris Durnall, Stone the Crows is the transcendent culmination of everything Company of Sirens has worked to achieve. This is a play about borders: between people, between identities, between the urban and the rural, and between those who respect the land and those who gut it for profit. Even its setting transcends categories or definitions: Rhys terms it a ‘social jungle’, a liminal space in which the tangible and the psychological blur together.

Boo Golding. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

And Golding’s Crow is a character who embodies liminality. They exist free of binaries, expectations, demands. They adore the forest with an anchorite’s zeal, and spend the play’s first few minutes meticulously constructing a skeletal altar from twigs and branches in the manner of an ancient ritual. While Golding is mercurial as the wind, Morgan-Thomas is all iron and grit, hard as the city that built him; there’s a simmering machismo to his performance which suggests that rage, fed and informed by white supremacy, is never far from the surface.

Oliver Morgan-Thomas and Chris Durnall. Image credit: Noel Dacey.

Tucker’s particular evil can be seen in the awful, racialized abuse he directs at the Travellers who live and work on ‘his’ land. The title itself evokes a racial slur against Roma people (specifically the Romani communities of Eastern Europe). While it’s unclear to what extent GRT people were consulted in the making of the play, the creative team’s intentions are firmly in solidarity with these marginalised communities (and very firmly against despotic legislation currently making its way through Parliament), and Rhys and Golding depict the main character with empathy, nuance and complexity.

Boo Golding. Image credit: Noel Dacey

The visceral connection between its two central performers is the axis on which the story turns. While Golding shifts effortlessly between Puck-like trickster and vengeful spirit, Morgan Thomas’ laddish certitude grows increasingly sinister as the action unfurls. They mimic, complete, and predict each other; there’s a dynamism to their exchanges that, even when they don’t interact directly, renders their connection immediate and undeniable. It also means that when their characters do finally ‘meet’, it’s breathtaking.

Boo Golding and Oliver Morgan-Thomas. Image credit: Noel Dacey

Nature, though, is the master here, captured by Eren Anderson’s exquisite music. His soundscape beautifully weaves the gently unspooling song of the forest. He plays, at first, only when we are in Crow’s perspective, as if the primal music of the spheres flows only through them, and not Tucker. All we hear when Tucker speaks is the snap of a twig underfoot and the susurrus of rustling leaves. But then, when allegiances and sympathies start to shift, their melodies intertwine like roots.

Hypnotic and engrossing, Stone the Crows is a masterpiece of gorgeous brutality. The play leaves us at a threshold, and you must decide whether to turn back or to cross into the unknown.

Playing at Chapter through Friday 1st April

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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

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.

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Reviewed by
Gareth Williams