Tag Archives: Wales Millennium Centre

REVIEW: CLUB TROPICANA BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

Club Tropicana 

Press Night: 13 Aug 

Wales Millennium Centre

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

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

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

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

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

So what then of Club Tropicana? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Review Kinky Boots, Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Michaels

Music and lyrics: Cyndi Lauper

Based on the book by Harvey Fierstein

Director and choreographer: Jerry Mitchell

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Plaudits for this musical, based on the book by Harvey Fierstein and the 2000 British film, are thick on the ground – and deservedly so.  Brash, bright and beautiful throughout, Kinky Boots tells the story of one Charlie Price.  An unwanted inheritance from his father leaves Charlie running a shoe manufacturing company in Northampton and forming a partnership with cabaret performer and drag queen Lola.  When the business is threatened with closure and bankruptcy Lola saves the day by suggesting the manufacture of high-heeled boots for drag performers. Et voilà!

Some great songs, including those with a message and others which are pure joie de vivre, pack a punch.  Kinky Boots is so much more than just another musical.  At the heart of it – and what a big heart it is – is a subject which nowadays is, for the most part, treated empathetically, which was not always the case in some communities not that long ago.  I refer to transgender – often in the news of late.  The story tackles it head on, with the occasional heartbreak yet with fun and verve, dished out by an amazing cast who earned a standing ovation last night in the Donald Gordon theatre in the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

As Charlie, Joel Harper-Jackson proves, after a slow start, that he can both act and sing, coming into his own in the second half with a rendering of Soul of A Man which tugs at the heart strings.  But it has to be said, it is Kayi Ushe’s Lola that steals the show. Ushe gives a scintillating performance as the drag queen and, equally telling, when he appears in male clothing. Lola’s singing of Hold Me in Your Heart as the show nears its close is heart-rending.

Demitri Lampa cuts the mustard as Don, managing to steer clear of the pitfalls of such a role i.e. portraying a so-called masculine prototype with beer belly and a set of out-moded ideas. Adam Price as the factory manager George makes this cameo role his own, although the joke wears a bit thin towards the end of the show.  Coronation Street’s Paula Lane as the factory girl sweet on Charlie and Helen Ternent as his erstwhile fiancée Nicola provide an extra fillip. 

As for the Angels – the dancers at Lola’s club – wow!  Brilliant and believable they sing and dance throughout showing amazing talent and especially outstanding in What A Woman Wants, sung with Lola, Don and factory girl Pat in Act II.  Everybody Says Yeah, sung by Charlie, Lola and the Angels with full ensemble, which brings the first half to a close is another gem. You couldn’t wish for better. All aided and abetted by great music, wonderful costumes and David Rockwell’s atmospheric set.  Sit back and enjoy the magic that is Kinky Boots.

Review: Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet, Wales Millenium Centre

Reviewed by Luke Seidel-Haas

ROMEO AND JULIET by Bourne , Director and Choreographer – Matthew Bourne, Designer – Lez Brotherston, Lighting – Paule Constable, Rehearsal Images, Three Mills, London, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson/

Two household’s, both alike in dignity. In fair Verona where we lay our scene”. So begins Shakespeare’s 1597 tragic love story of star crossed lovers. Intended as a radical reinterpretation of the classic tale, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company does away with the feuding families, the setting and indeed many of the characters. Instead the tragedy is set within the confines of the “Verona Institute” – some form of psychiatric ward in the not too distant future. And rather than being from rival Montagues and Capulets, the eponymous lovers are two patients being treated in the institute.

Stripping back the characters and removing the text forces you to concentrate on the connection between the characters, and in that aspect Bourne’s production is excellent. the chemistry between Romeo (Andy Monaghan) and Juliet (Seren Williams) is beautiful; their moment of meeting at the party and subsequent coming together crackles and fizzes with excitement. As they weave around each other and intertwine you feel their passion, all sound tracked brilliantly to Prokofiev’s score. Their romance is the highlight of the piece, with it’s devastating ending heartrendingly performed by the pair.

Similarly impressive is the ensemble cast. As part of New Adventure‘s endeavour to nurture the next generation of dancing talent in the UK, the whole show was cast from open auditions nationwide, and at each venue on the tour six local dancers take up place in the ensemble. It is testament to their talent and the hard work of Bourne’s creative team that they blend seamlessly in with the ‘permanent’ cast.

Less convincing is the overall concept for Bourne’s piece. Romeo and Juliet has been reinterpreted in different ways ever since it’s creation. Each interpretation can reveal fresh or different perspectives, from Baz Luhrman’s film with guns set on Venice Beach to the 1957 film West Side Story highlighting the violence between rival gangs. Yet here the interpretation falls flat. Rather than rival gangs or families, the Verona Institute is divided into girls and boys. Each are generally kept apart by officious looking guards and officers, yet are allowed to interact. The two sides don’t appear to hate each other and the only obvious tension between them is sexual tension. As a result the drama has to come from a prison guard, playing the equivalent to the Tybalt role. This change in dynamic removes much of the fuel which creates the drama in Shakespeare’s script.

The other issue with Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet is the choice of location. Set in a mental institution, the cast are subjected to medication, examination and strict exercise regimes. Their movements vary from uptight and restricted in the presence of authority to wild and passionate when let loose. Yet the subject of mental health isn’t really tackled or explored. Why have these young people been institutionalised? What help are they receiving while inside? A cynic might think that the setting was chosen to tie in with the increasing awareness of mental health, and to tap in to the surrounding zeitgeist. However, in doing so did they consider how it looks to then show people with mental health problems rocking backwards and forwards before ultimately killing each other or themselves?

As a piece of modern dance, Bourne’s production is a triumph. The choreography is dazzling, the music and score have been adapted from the original with a pared down orchestra by Terry Davies to great effect and the ensemble work from the cast is excellent. Yet sadly as an overall piece of work it doesn’t feel fully thought through with regards to how the reinterpretation changes the dynamics of the piece or intent behind it. Excellent choreography and performances, hampered by issues with the interpretation.

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet is running at the Wales Millenium Centre until the 22nd June 2019.

Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – Patrick Downes

Review:  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour® Dreamcoat – Wales Millennium Centre 14 May 2019

You’ll surely know the story of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour® Dreamcoat. If not…. where’ve you been? It’s a retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph, his eleven brothers and the coat of many colours.

From its origins in the late 60s to its revival in 1991 with Jason Donovan (then Phillip Schofield), this new touring production of Joseph certainly stands the test of time. It’s been one of my favourite musicals and that was only through listening to the 1991 cast recording, over and over. So, that aside. How does this fair?

Jaymi Hensley as Joseph is certainly a little powerhouse of a vocalist which belies his pop background of XFactor and Union J. 

Trina Hill as the Narrator guides the audience through with a voice of great stature for someone so diminutive, and Andrew Geater as Elvis, err, Pharaoh manages to steal the second act.

Special mention though to the other cast/ensemble as I can’t remember the previous tour in 2016 being so rounded like this, as for the children – on stage throughout both acts, just brilliant! There’s more to what you may know of Joseph and it’s certainly worth a few hours of your time seeing it on this current tour.  A perfect entry into the world of musical theatre for anyone of ages 8 – 98

I think you should not “Close every door” and just “Go go go” see Joseph!

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is on it’s UK Tour at at Wales Millennium Centre till 18th May 2019

Reviewer: Patrick Downes

® Technicolor is a registered trademark of the Technicolor Group of Companies

Review MACBETH, National Theatre at Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Michaels

Play by William Shakespeare

Director: Rufus Norris

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Reviled by many as one of Shakespeare’s more unpleasant plays, and referred to by thespians as ‘The Scottish Play’ because of its reputation for bringing bad luck to performances, Macbeth is open to a huge range of interpretations on account of its deep psychological reference.  Rufus Norris’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s work balances this with an urban modern setting that screams disruption and corruption in high places from start to finish.

For those unfamiliar with the play, Macbeth is a soldier whose wife’s aspirations of greatness proof to be his downfall.  Returning after a successful battle, he meets a coven of witches who predict his speedy promotion and ultimate Kingship.  On arriving home, Macbeth tells his wife, who informs him that Duncan, the present King of Scotland, will be visiting and staying the night – giving an ideal opportunity for the skulduggery which is necessary i.e. the King’s murder. One killing leads to another as both the Macbeths become victims of a bloodlust that lead inevitably to their downfall.

Played out against a forbidding darkly lit set which hardly changes throughout, this production focuses on making Shakespeare’s work compatible with contemporary times, with the obvious intent of the original text becoming more accessible to present day youth.  In this, the National Theatre’s most recent version of Macbeth, it succeeds brilliantly. The parallel with the knife crime so prevalent in today’s society is evident. The fights are, at times, almost too realistic Costume designer Moritz Junge dresses the soldiers including the main protagonists Macbeth and his rival Macduff in combat uniform, while Lady Macbeth is seen in jeans and T-shirt. Set designer Rae Smith uses a steeply sloping ramp for much of the main action in a stark setting.  Even the banquet in Macbeth’s castle is an austere affair.

. BUT – there is a caveat. Some of the poetry and fluency of the memorable speeches is lost, or drowned out by overloud music which adds to a cacophony of sound in some scenes.   And did the three witches really have to climb poles? Having said that, the pluses in this production by the prestigious National Theatre are many. Overall this is good theatre, due in no small part to the acting of Michael Nardone, who projects as a Macbeth in emotional torment yet unable to resist the possibility of ennoblement and its accompanying riches and the blandishments of his evil (soon to become deranged) wife, with disastrous consequences. Kirsty Besterman plays Lady Macbeth as a malevolent sex kitten who has no scruples in using her bedroom wiles to persuade her husband to embark on a wicked course that will lead to his destruction. Norris tackles the wickedness head-on – literally. (Forgive the pun – beheading is part of the on-stage action).

As for light relief:  there is not much of that around, but what there is gets its full due in the hands of Deka Walmsley whose spot-on timing and comedic touch provide a most welcome moment of lightness in this searingly dark tragedy, giving rise to appreciative chuckles on the night reviewed. A welcome moment of respite from the relentless discords of a brutish production that demonstrates that, while we may stop short of beheading in today’s society and guns have replaced swords, in some respects – you have only to consider the fighting in Afghanistan and Syria, for instance – the similarities with our own times are all too apparent.

Runs until Saturday March 23rd.

Review: Humanequin at Wales Millennium Centre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Humanequin by Kelly Jones is a groundbreaking collection of three stories from young transgender people in South Wales. It is raw in its monologue format and informative in its direct approach.

The stories come straight from real life and that reality is enhanced by having three transgender actors on stage. The fact that Humanequin is the first transgender play, with an all transgender cast performed in Wales, makes it truly groundbreaking. And the production is stronger for it.

The thing with this production is, it isn’t necessarily about the theatrical quality, that I am reviewing here. It is much more about what we as an audience take away from it. This is about telling and normalising the stories of transgender for the people of Cardiff and wider society. So to start without mentioning that would be a disservice.

The direction of this production from Jain Boon could be stronger. There is some nice blocking and movement in this piece. And moments that are strong. But overall, it lacks the intensity necessary for a piece like this.

Sammy Woodward stands out as the actor with the most emotional range and they really feel in the moment with their character. Emily Joh Miller grows into her performance whilst Harry Bryant keeps a steady pace throughout. The three work quite well together, but there is that lack of intensity and chemistry between the three.

Georgina Miles’ set design is simple, yet effective. The most prominent pieces of set are some blocks and three metal grates that get moved around to change the setting. There is also a tree with tags for leaves. On these tags are written names of trans people who have been lost over the years. This tree is a really nice touch and whilst not actively used in the performance, watches over the actors and certainly adds a lot. The set is nothing extravagant, but effective in its job.

Chris Young’s sound design is really complimentary to the production with Ceri James’ lighting design representing the emotion of the piece well. The main criticism for these two is there isn’t enough. At times these aspects of design are really strong, but in others they are absent, in a way that doesn’t translate well.

As a cis woman, Kelly Jones takes on a big task of writing for a group of people we very rarely hear about. But, a task she handles well as far as the content goes.

It’s more Jones’ playwriting that lets her down. It’s not a bad script by any means, and as a piece that is ultimately meant to educate, it does a very good job. But as a compelling piece of drama it is lacking.

The three intertwined stories told as monologue is a form I personally love, but here it doesn’t work for some reason.

Characterisation also gets lost in an attempt to normalise the characters. Aspects of their personalities seem trivial. As well as this, some of the politics is very on-the-nose. Not an issue in itself, but again, it just doesn’t feel right here. It seems forced. Something that is maybe necessary for the piece, but needs to be worked into the production in a stronger way.

One decision made in the writing process that was really good, was to not make every story all “doom and gloom”. It would be easy to make this a sympathetic piece of theatre that looks at the struggles of trans people with the far too often real life consequences. And that reality is not ignored here. But neither is the reality that these are people. They act out, they do things that seem irrational at the time. But like any good playwright, Jones examines and explains them by the end of the story.

Perhaps in another performance context such as being held in a different venue, at an earlier time, in a school or university, as part of an education programme or whatever it is, this could be a fantastic production. And for people who know little about trans-issues, this would certainly be a very informative and emotional way to be introduced to these issues. So that must be commended. But, for the audience that, on the night I was there, seemed very clued up on these issues, it perhaps lacked the dramatic value that we go to the theatre for.

Not necessarily to be entertained, but to leave having found or felt something. And whilst for an audience without knowledge of trans-issues, this would be great. For those with that knowledge, it doesn’t offer much.

If this piece moves forward, the decision needs to be made whether this is an educational piece or a different form of theatre. Because both have their place and both are necessary for the growth of trans-theatre and the awareness of trans-issues in wider society. But this just feels like it’s biting off more than it can chew.

Humanequin is a strong, educational piece of theatre about the experiences of young transgender people in South Wales. Its flaws pale in comparison to its importance.

Humanequin by Kelly Jones
Performed at the Wales Millennium Centre
Presented by Mess Up The Mess Theatre Company, Youth Cymru and TransForm Cymru.
Performed by:
Sammy Woodward as Rae
Harry Bryant as Max
Emily Joh Miller as Meg
Directed by Jain Boon
Designer: Georgina Miller
Sound Designer: Chris Young
Lighting Designer: Ceri James
Stage Manager: Katie Torah
Technical Assistant: Dawn Hennessey
Producer: Jay Smith
Creative Assistant: Kay R. Dennis
Community Artist: Bill Taylor-Beales
Education Producer: Rachel Benson
Artistic Director for Mess Up The Mess: Sarah Jones

Review Evita, Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Michaels

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

The real-life story of Eva Perón is a classic case of fact being stranger than fiction, and couldn’t be more suited to adaptation as a musical, and a highly successful musical at that ever since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s hit production in London’s West End back in 1978, followed by Broadway a year later and since then a string of professional productions worldwide.

Eva Duarte was living in poverty in rural Argentina in the late 1930s when her involvement with a musician takes her to Buenos Aires where her determination to become a star eventually results in a meeting with Argentinian Colonel Juan Perón at a benefit concert. He too has an ambition – in his case to become President of Argentina. With Eva – who later becomes known as Evita – by his side he succeeds. Meanwhile, despite her unflagging work for the poor of the country, Eva’s extravagant lifestyle leads to criticism.

This new production by the really Useful Group under the banner of Bill Kenright breathes new life into the show with a brand new cast including the charismatic Glenn Carter as Che. Acting as narrator, Carter’s expressive delivery and fine voice guide the audience through the twists and turns of the story of the ambitious girl from the sticks who becomes the wife of the President of Argentina, with all the trappings of wealth and status that go with it.

Taking on the role of Eva is Lucy O’Byrne – not an easy task, given that not one but two showbiz icons – Elaine Paige in the Seventies West End production and Madonna in the film – have previous in this respect. O’Byrne’s voice is strong but she needs to guard against a resulting loss of clarity at times, which is shame given the emotive quality of Tim Rice’s wonderful lyrics. O’Byrne came into her own in the second half with her performance of what was to be Eva Perón’s last appearance and her singing of ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ – heart-rending in its beauty. Interpreted by, and under the baton of musical director Anthony Gabriele, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s marvellous musical score is given full throttle, at times to the extent of being overloud in the first half but meltingly moving in the highly charged and emotional second half.

Good to see some of the talent that comes out of Wales in Swansea-born Mike Sterling as Perón. Historically in the musical the role is underplayed in relation to that of Eva. Accordingly, Sterling gives us only a glimpse of the man that was Perón leaving us aware that behind a pragmatic exterior lies an ability to recognise and rely on the power behind the throne – Eva.

Important to the first half of the story is Magaldi, the musician whose eye for the girls is Eva’s route to Buenos Aires. The dark good looks of Oscar Balmaseda make for a neat bit of casting, as does that of Cristina Hoey as Perón’s former mistress, swiftly given the boot by Eva. Although Hoey makes only one appearance, and a brief one at that, her singing of Another Suitcase, In Another Hall is up there with the best. This girl is definitely one to watch.

At the end of the day it is, as with much if not most musical theatre, the story plus the songs that make or break the show, and here the plot is a given and as for the songs – beautiful.

Runs until Saturday 8 September 2018

Review Warhorse, Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

Equine Audio Excellence  4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

It seems fitting that in this year, 100 years after the end of the Great War, War Horse has gone back on tour around the UK, currently playing at Wales Millennium Centre.

Based on the 1982 book by Michael Morpurgo, it tells the story of Albert and his beloved horse, Joey. At the outbreak of WWI, Albert and Joey are forcibly parted when Albert’s father sells the horse to the British army. Against the backdrop of the Great War, Joey begins an odyssey full of danger, joy and sorrow, and he transforms everyone he meets along the way. Meanwhile Albert, unable to forget his equine friend, searches the battlefields of France to find Joey and bring him home.

Bringing this story to the stage happened in 2007 with the National Theatre production, and in this 10th year, that production is the same now as it was then.

You won’t fail to be impressed by the puppetry of Joey, as a foal or as a full-grown horse (South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company providing both brilliantly). Little touches within the performance like the goose, send you to another place where you don’t see the human performers, you just see a goose, horses and scavenger crows.

The cast performance itself is something quite unique. It’s like a musical number. Each step is carefully choreographed so each movement between puppet and person blends seamlessly.

The main thing I found though, is the sound. It’s just epic. With a soundtrack of some music and song, and the effects of war, you can’t help to be immersed into the story – just watch if you have a dodgy heart, sometimes the effects can just grab you out of thin air, and you’ll end up in the ceiling of the WMC. With the sound, comes the lighting, it wouldn’t work one without the other. It brings the war fields of Europe to the very heart of the staging. There just seems a sense of foreboding with each lit movement on stage.

It’s rare that I feel uncomfortable in watching a performance, but the second half, I felt just that. It’s a strange thing to explain, but it felt like you were watching something truly awful, but I could also not take my eyes away I felt so immersed in the performance.

I’ve only ever managed to catch the last half of the film, and not read the book, but I don’t feel I need to with either medium, as a play, this will give you food for thought, and be thoroughly entertained.

War Horse is on at Wales Millennium Centre till 28th July 2018

Review by Patrick Downes

Festival of Voice 2018: My review highlights (Gemma Treharne-Foose)

2018’s Festival of Voice, produced by the Wales Millennium Centre builds on previous years’ attempts to unite communities and celebrate voice in all its forms, drawing upon Wales’ wide cultural and musical legacy. This would be my first experience of the festival and it really kicked off in style.

Over the course of a week, I’d be bowled over, discover something new and completely unexpected and leave my typical comfort zone of only watching (and reviewing) theatre. Festivals like these are a smorgasbord of new opportunities to learn something new and develop your palate for new art forms and genres of music.

We were introduced to the opening of the festival from the centre’s Artistic Director and team, before being joined by community and advocacy groups – true to the centre’s vision to be inclusive and accessible, but I did wonder how ‘accessible’ it really is that unless you are familiar with the set-up and already know that you can verify your ticket – the £8 parking ticket cost to park in the nearest car park and see a WMC show would be pretty inaccessible to most carers and people on PIPs and other benefits.

I also need to point out the ridiculous set-up of the toilets in the centre. There are disabled toilets, sure – but the two sets of heavy doors, teeny-weeny area to dry your hands and the smallest bins I’ve ever seen in my life are deeply irritating.

But I digress….enough of the nit-picking and on to the main event…

CARERS CHOIR, GIG BUDDIES AND BILLY BRAG, WMC

Underappreciated, underpaid and perhaps an unlikely group of people to assemble as a choir, the festival was opened by a multi-generational group of carers, who sang with real spirit and heart. Knowing the obstacles and challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, their positivity shone through and the audience were visibly moved by their version of ‘What a wonderful world’ and ‘Lean on me’.

After rapturous applause, it was time for the Gig Buddy crew to crash into the foyer, clutching signs, banging drums and stamping their feet. They had formed a group to protest the fact that the support they receive does not take into account the fact that they too want to access music and arts performances – and these of course fall outside the typical office hours of supporters and carers. In association with Learning Disability Wales and Hijinx Theatre Company, the protesters delivered a skit about the fact that for most people – not being able to go to gigs, movies and performances like everybody else is not only unfair but naturally they’re quite rightly pissed off about it.

This was a brilliant opportunity to showcase the ‘Gig Buddies’ initiative where volunteers are matched (via their interests) to people with additional learning needs and various disabilities who need a little extra support to access gigs and shows. Bloody brilliant idea and I’m hoping to sign up myself.

The main event for the opening of the festival was ‘Topical singer songwriter’ Billy Brag (he doesn’t like to call himself a political performer in case it puts people off!). I knew the name Billy Brag but barely any of his actual material. This would be a new experience, not least for discovering the awesomeness that was supporting artist Nadine Shah, a Tyneside lass whose basy, punky songs are accompanied by soulful vocals.

Her edgy songs draw upon current affairs, world injustices and the hurt and heartbreak of modern life. Performing songs from her 2017 album ‘Holiday Destination’, she gave a fierce and raw performance. The song Holiday Destination and its refrain ‘How you gonna sleep tonight’ is a polemical nudge and critique on the holidaymakers in Kos who complained of refugees on the island ruining their holidays.

Shah tells the crowd “We need immigration – we make food taste better, we make the place look better and we make music sound better, too!”.

Shah’s heritage is Norwegian-Pakistani, and her Northern accent and humour shines through in her work. Billy Brag is – just like Nadine Shah, a storyteller. In between his songs, he delights the audience with his insights, his banter and his stinging observations about what’s going on in the world. He is unapologetic about his views, honest about his flaws and endlessly witty about politics in general.

He skewers Trump in the finale song based upon Bob Dylan’s ‘Times they are a changin’, which was changed to ‘Times they are a changing-BACK’). He tells the audience he wrote the song in a rage in 2016 when Trump was elected. His stories and rambles include the fact that he was schooled the last time he was in Cardiff for using a plastic bottle on stage at the Tramshed. “I’m sorry…I learned from my mistake. The oceans are full of plastic and shit, we need to do something about it.” Since then he’s used a ‘Gig Buddy’ aluminium bottle.

Of the grumpy artist Morrissey, he tells us “What is happening? He’s turned into a bloody gammon!”. Brag’s songs are clever and his set is largely improvised. He plays a song after an audience member shouts out a suggestion – and his final song is the famous classic ‘A New England’.

The entire audience shouts back the lyrics and it’s electrifying. I couldn’t believe I haven’t been following this chap’s career. Where the hell have I been the last 37 years? He has a new fan in the Rhondda, that’s for sure. The opening acts in the foyer and the main concert in the Donald Gordon theatre were rebellious in spirit and sound.

LOVECRAFT (NOT THE SEX SHOP IN CARDIFF), WMC (Ffresh bar)

I don’t know where Carys Eleri has been hiding out but we all need to see more of her. I didn’t know what the show ‘Lovecraft’ was going to be about – something to with science and love, I gleaned from the flyer. But it’s so much better than the event write-up promises.

I can’t praise the producers and director of this show enough for their vision. As sets go, it’s pretty low-tech, a cabaret-style set up within Ffresh bar serves as the set and Carys is accompanied by two screens which form a kind of visual aid and powerpoint for this hilarious one-woman show. The production is a romp through the idiosyncrasies and absurdities of love. What’s the ‘science’ behind love and sex? You’ll get to find out – via Carys’ brilliant stories.

It’s outrageously honest… and completely mental. This show will especially appeal to any women in their thirties who feel the pressure and expectation that society thrusts (‘scuse the pun) upon them.

At times, this feels like you are catching up with one of your girlfriends from Carmarthen who is every bit as outrageous and filthy as you are – and you’ll love her for it. The science narrative is informative, but not the main point of the show. You’ll be drawn in to her off the wall stories, brilliant observations about her Mam (“Carys…can’t you put on a bra..?”) and the dirty and embarrassing secrets we might all experience growing up – ‘fanny gallops’, hallucinogenic trips in the back of a taxi being driven by a unicorn and waking up naked next to another girl. We’ve all been there, right?

The song ‘Tit Montage’ is the highlight of the show, perhaps of the entire festival – and in my opinion would be a credible entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.

The song ‘I brain you’ is pee-your-pants hilarious. If Carys Eleri was running for Prime Minister, I’d probably vote for her. I BEG you to see this show – its been to Edinburgh Fringe already and has attracted a steady stream of adoration from audiences at the Festival of Voice.

There is so much life left in this show – and I hope it tours again (I will be sure to gather as many of my filthy friends as I can to share the experience with). My only negative points are that I could have happily sat through another hour of it before it finished and I now want Carys Eleri to be my best friend/drinking companion even though she has no idea who the hell I am.

RHONDDA RIPS IT UP (WNO), New Theatre

After a somewhat lukewarm experience at my last opera, I wasn’t sure if I was an ‘opera person’. But anyone following the #MeToo movement, who calls themself a feminist or admires the women who took part in the recent ‘Procession’ in Cardiff to mark a hundred years since women obtained the right to vote REALLY shouldn’t miss out on this show.

Led by Emcee Lesley Garrett, this is a look back at the stuffy Victorian era and the legendary Margaret Haig (Lady Rhondda) – a politician’s daughter and activist who led the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The indomitable Margaret Haig was an outspoken radical who along with other women, was judged and ridiculed by the Asquith’s liberal government for her efforts.

Played by Madeline Shaw, Lady Rhondda is a fearless campaigner. Along with her friends Edith and Prid (played by Paula Greenwood and Meriel Andrew), the production satirises the ‘old boy network’ of both the government and society at the time and pokes fun at the uptight/prissy way in which women were expected to behave.

I had no idea opera could be this edgy or this level of hilarious. Everything from the choreography, the physical comedy of Garrett and other cast members, the originality of the songs and cheeky/camp way they are delivered is a treat for the audience.

The stand out scenes are the songs ‘My girl’s pussy’ (yes, really!) and the song about the fondant fancies, complete with all the flair and foppishness of the Edwardian music hall tradition. This is Women’s Institute crossed with #MeToo.

There are also guest appearances from the WNO community chorus (who deliver a rousing performance as fellow suffragettes) and a nod to Haig and Helen Archdale’s gay relationship, demonstrating the extent to which Lady Rhondda tore up the rule book and challenged convention, albeit discreetly. There is a telling scene in the show when Margaret Haig and her friend are on the train (with their bomb-making materials) and they overhear a man saying “Suffragettes! If that was my wife, I’d give her a darn good thrashing!”.

Queue a hilariously camp sequence with a bunch of ‘men’ thrashing each other’s behinds with rolled up newspapers in a homo-erotic fashion. Nowadays we’d call this toxic masculinity at its worst – back then, those kinds of attitudes were de rigueur.

I am no opera buff, but WNO have delivered a phenomenal tribute to Lady Rhondda and her contribution as a suffragette and business pioneer.

It was sensitive without being syrupy and witty without being cruel. Not everyone will get the satire, apparently – one audience member overheard in the loo commented she didn’t understand why ‘men were being made fun of’ and that she preferred the WNO community chorus to the production itself. For me, the main feeling I got was one of immense gratitude – that so many women like Haig faced violence, imprisonment and the scorn of society and for their dogged determination to change history for the better.

Their first victory was not a resounding success, the first bill allowing women to vote was only for women over 30 with property. There was plenty more to fight for – and with world events and pussy-grabbing presidents reminding us daily, some might say the battle is far from over. But as the legendary suffragette Emily Pankhurst once said:

“Never surrender….never give up the fight.”

GWENNO, WMC (Weston Studio)

A former member of indie band The Pipettes, Gwenno has already amassed a strong critical following and fanbase after the release of album Un Dydd Olaf in 2015 and Cornish language ‘Le Kov’ in 2018. Her dedication and tribute to Edrica Hughes at the Festival of Voice was a moving tribute to the poet and patchwork quilt artist Edrica Huws (1907-1999).

There was a packed house in the Weston Studio for the one-off performance, entirely created and composed by Gwenno, but this time with the support of a violinist and harpist (Angharad Davies and Georgia Ruth). The stage was dressed like a set – a lived-in parlour with an old-fashioned crib, a fireplace and the markers of domesticity from a time gone by.

At the foot of the large screen above the stage stood Gwenno’s mixing decks and computer, flanked by a triple harp and wooden toys – the musical set and hi-tec equipment is a curious accompaniment to the ironing board, clothes horse and lamp on stage, denoting the ordinary, humble life of Edrica. On the screen we saw vignettes of slices of history sketched and animated on the screen, accompanying the synthy electric-pop landscape being played and mixed live in front of us.

We saw suffragettes marching in 1907, weaving in and out of the war, a grimy London landscape of the humdrum existence of everyday life, love, relationships and duty stitched together with the dreamy melodies and an almost hallucinogenic quality to the music. I hadn’t known about Edrica’s work or story before. An ordinary wife and mother, she didn’t start expressing herself artistically until age 51.

She became a ‘patchwork pioneer’, breaking the rules and conventions of art and design in terms of subject, material, tone and texture to become a celebrated exhibitor and artist/poet around the world.

Animated by Tad Davies, the on-screen vignettes to not distract so much as heighten the experience for the audience and Gwenno’s gentle vocals, the poppy disco beats, baseline and meandering harp and violin are a thing of beauty.

Gwenno’s soundscape is punctuated by poetic whisperings, especially poignant and beautiful during ‘Anrhefn Pentyndod / The chaos of childhood’ and kooky and marvellous when she donned a cat mask for ‘Y Gath’ / The Cat in tribute to Edrica’s ‘Cat on an ironing board’ piece.

She is not a wild or attention-seeking performer in the sense of other unique artists (like Bjork for example) but she is completely enigmatic – a quiet genius in many senses. She creates riffs and spacey echoes using props – one song loops the sounds made by wooden toys and they are overlaid with a base-heavy disco beat.

It is weird and wonderful and strangely soothing. Edrica is a feast for the senses, the thinking person’s mind disco – and you’ll be richer for having witnessed it.

In between each song, the audience is almost deathly silent for a few seconds – not because the show is bad (because it was clearly bloody brilliant) but because they know they had witnessed something magical and weren’t sure what the rules were. Should we get up and dance? Applaud wildly? Edrica Huws broke the rules during her lifetime and Gwenno is doing the same.

5 stars 

Type of show: Music / Theatre / Opera / Performance Art / Poetry

Title: Festival of Voice Venue: Multiple Locations

Dates: 7-17 June

Produced by: Wales Millennium Centre (and partners)

Author: Gemma Treharne-Foose

Review: Passenger #FoV2018 at Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

REVIEW: Passenger 14 June 2018 Wales Millennium Centre

I’ve been a fan of Mike Rosenburg (Passenger) since 2012 and Let her go, plus having seen him perform at Cardiff Uni in 2014, was curious to see how he’d progressed. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve not really kept up with his music, but he’s got that kind of distinctive voice that you know for sure when he’s being played on the radio.
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Fast forward 2018 and the Festival of Voice at Wales Millennium Centre. A place I know so very well having seen many musical and theatre productions there in the past few years. It’s not really the kind of place I’ve seen live music at, albeit James and Only Men Aloud is the exception to this fact. A sold-out gig in one of the most incredible auditoriums I’ve bore witness to, could this be the most perfect night?

Well, let’s start with the support, Stu Larsen. Hailing from Australia, and with just his guitar to boot, the Donald Gordon Theatre was filled with an amazing sound of quiet, and music, with even the sound of a door in the upper circle closing, could be heard. It felt the right kind of support for Passenger, with the voice and storytelling within his music, you could see how good at his craft he was. You often wonder with support acts, are they going to be good – or are you going be heading back to the bar. Needless to say, I didn’t see anyone leaving during Stu’s 45 minutes, and quite right too.

Then onto the main event. The Festival of Voice 2018 was an international arts festival in Wales’ capital city that celebrated the voice in all its forms. It featured Gruff Rhys, Billy Bragg, Charlotte Church and Passenger. If you’ve not seen Passenger or heard his music, I think the only way to describe it would acoustic guitar driven folk story telling.

As I mentioned previous, the Donald Gordon Theatre is acoustically perfect, as was the audience. I’ve never been to a gig with such respect for the musician. Maybe that’s due to the location, or maybe due to the person. Whatever it was, the sound reverberated around the auditorium with little effort. With a setlist that featured acoustic tracks from Whispers, All the little lights, plus of course the better-known hits of Hearts of Fire (featuring Stu Larsen on harmonies), Holes and his number one single, Let her go.

Each song had a back story, and within each song then performed, you gained a better and proper understanding of it. From Riding to New York to David, I felt I left the gig with some food for thought. Anyone can write a hit record, but it takes a special kind of person to write a song that will make you think.

I just hope the next time I see Passenger, it’ll be a venue like the WMC (top 5 gigs he’s ever done apparently), and I’ll keep my musical education a little more in tune. In fact, I’ve had the last 3 albums on the iPod on repeat in my car since the gig. I just close my eyes, and I’m back there (obviously I’m not driving at the time).

In a few days, another guitar wielding male singer songwriter will be descending on Cardiff, now Passenger may not have the loop pedal, but for what he lacks in technology, he more than makes up for in heart.

Review by Patrick Downes