Tag Archives: welsh theatre

YOUNG ARTISTS FESTIVAL at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

The Young Artist’s Festival (YAF) is a week-long, annual event run by The Other Room, Cardiff’s only pub theatre. For the festival, the theatre invites between 35-50 participants from Wales’ emerging creative scene into their doors to gain invaluable experience working with their peers.

The initiative is open to actors, writers, directors and stage managers and aims to provide an opportunity to explore their chosen discipline, encourage collaboration and artistic risk-taking. The participants are shown the value of hard work with an intense, but rewarding, week. They’re given the opportunity to work with new, contemporary work. But the ultimate aim is for participants to gain confidence, grow and keep creating beyond YAF.

The week starts with various workshops and talks from The Other Room’s staff and industry professionals from a broad range of backgrounds. These workshops include casting, starting and maintaining a company, arts council applications, marketing, community theatre as well as sessions for skill-sharing and networking. They also have specific workshops within their respective disciplines with industry professionals.

The participants are then introduced to their companies, comprised of a group of actors, one director and one writer, and start working towards their end-of-week goals. Actors and directors present a performance of a given commissioned script and a dramatic rehearsed reading of their writer’s script. Writers write that ten-minute play whilst stage managers make it all happen.

Actors

The actors workshop this year was with Keiron Self and had a specific focus on how an actor interprets text. The actors from YAF tell me this was vital for the short rehearsal period they had. You don’t have long to get to know your character, and it’s especially important in shorter pieces where characters rely more on performance for characterisation.

Once the actors are in the rehearsal room they have a couple of days to get off book before their first performance. Something some saw as a somewhat daunting task, having never done it in such a short space of time before. However, they realise it’s perfectly possible and that the experience is vital for them moving forward. Especially when preparing for auditions or working in the fringe environment where time to learn lines is limited.

The performances at the end of the week come and go, but it’s really about the experience of the week, of putting yourself out there and on stage that seems to last beyond the week for the actors.

Directors

The directors had a workshop with Simon Harris, who focused on doing text work before rehearsals and working with new writing. The directors tell me this was great experience going in. Often their teaching has focused on working in the room and once again, the workshop complimented the direction process for the week.

The directors also have a production meeting with stage managers where they set out their vision and discuss the possibilities. This is something few of the directors had done before and again, it’s something that really helps with their personal growth.

Directors also expressed the experience of being able to work with a writer and have them in the room. Directing for rehearsed reading is something that kept coming up also. Directing with a specific focus on displaying the writing, which is different from directing the commissioned piece. Directing both during the week is a valuable experience to take away.

The trust and support given to directors to control not one, but two pieces of theatre, be placed in a room full of actors and deliver their own vision is something the directors also spoke highly of. The support from The Other Room’s artistic director Dan Jones and YAF producer Claire Bottomly was a big part of the director’s experience.

Stage Managers

As previously mentioned, the directors and stage managers have a production meeting near the start of the week. For the stage managers this is something none of them had done in this way before and is extremely helpful moving into YAF.

The stage managers are very hands-on during the week. With the support of a professional stage manager, in 2019 being Kristian Rhodes, they effectively make the shows happen. Bringing the director’s visions to life by sorting set, sourcing props and arranging lighting and sound. They’re present in some of the rehearsal process and get to tech a run of the final performances.

Overall, the experience is positive for the stage managers. They’re constantly busy and feel like they’re just on the job. But, crucially, have that support from a senior stage manager and The Other Room staff.

Writers

The writers start their week in a writing workshop with a professional playwright. This year, and the year I did it in 2017, it was with Matthew Bulgo. Bulgo is an excellent playwright and I can say from experience, very good at leading a workshop. He focuses this one on structure and writing for short-form, which is key for the week moving forward. All writers expressed how helpful this was on many levels.

Bulgo also returns to offer feedback, which is also offered by The Other Room’s staff throughout the week.

The writers spend the first half of the festival writing a ten-minute play. Something that sounds quite scary at first, but from watching the scripts performed at the end, easily possible to a good standard.

Writers then go into the rehearsal room on the Friday and Saturday to see their scripts rehearsed. This is a new experience for some, as is what happens in the afternoon on the Saturday when their scripts are performed in a dramatic rehearsed reading.

The writers seem to be the most stressed during the week, but as a result the most relieved and happiest at the end when they see their work. It’s an intense but rewarding week and in some cases the writers take their scripts and develop them further.

Speaking to participants from all disciplines, it’s clear they’re there for similar reasons. To make connections and friends, learn, explore, grow, reignite a passion, re-motivate, progress ideas, bounce off others, practice professionalism and a collaborative process in a supportive environment.

By the end it’s clear the week has been valuable, often in more ways than they realise. It gives participants a sense of pride if they need it or helps to ground them if they’re more critical. To realise that not everything has to be a masterpiece, and anything produced within a week won’t be perfect. But that it can be done. It shows them that this can be done and all it takes is a bit of hard work and the knowledge, which YAF provides, to do it.

When I did the Young Artists Festival in 2017, it didn’t seem much different. The main difference is it seems more focused on creating an environment of collaboration. Not that it wasn’t there in 2017. It’s hard to really progress YAF every year, because it’s always been a really great week for anyone involved. They’ve always been aware that people are different and always tried to cater to everyone, making young artists feel comfortable in an environment that, for many, is fairly alien – the world of professional theatre making.

Review: Merched Caerdydd/ Nos Sadwrn o Hyd, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (Using the Sibrwd App)

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Take four actors, three chairs, three sets of neon lights, and one stage, and what do you get? Two new plays conceived for the 2018 National Eisteddfod now touring the country with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (TGC). Both Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd are making their way from North to South, beginning in Mold and ending where they are set – in Cardiff. And thanks to TGC’s Sibrwd app, it could be said that these are the most accessible Welsh-language plays yet.

The Sibrwd app is a simple concept, designed to guide non-Welsh speakers and Welsh learners through the performance. Until now, it has provided audio synopses during plays, to help those not fluent in the language understand the gist of the narrative being played out on stage. When I arrive for this tour however, the app has undergone a significant change. For the first time, TGC, and the app’s operator Chris Harris, are providing audiences with a full translation of the dialogue. Think surtitles at the opera but on your phone. Ingenious you might think. And to some extent it works. But I’m not entirely convinced.

The main problem that I encountered was being drawn away from the action on stage in order to understand some of the dialogue being spoken. As a Welsh learner whose proficiency level floats somewhere between Intermediate and Advanced, this wasn’t as much of a problem as it could have been. I was able to grasp a general understanding of the narrative and the characters’ stories without needing to refer to the app too much. However, if I wanted to understand a particular word or phrase, it became difficult not to disengage from the play in order to seek out the translation amongst the bulk of text being shown on my screen. In one sense, I can see how this would suit a non-Welsh speaker or beginner better – they could easily follow along and not miss a trick. The transitions between each piece of dialogue on the app flowed seamlessly. The problem is that they would then be likely to miss out on one of the primary thrills of theatre: live performance. It is as much about the action on stage as it is about the dialogue being spoken. What both Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd have are strong, powerful and engaging performances by a hugely talented cast. They bring such immersive and intimate details to their characters through their physicality and movement as well as their emotion and vocals. But this could be missed if one is concentrating too much on reading in English what is being said ‘yn Gymraeg’.

This balance between the aural and the visual is a tricky one to maintain when one of those requires translation. The more translation needed, the harder it becomes to maintain a kind of equilibrium. Without prior experience of the app in its audio descriptive form, I cannot say with any confidence which style is better to enable non-speaking and/or learning audiences to engage most fully in Welsh-language theatre. I suspect that from my own position, an audio option would be preferable (particularly if it offers a synopsis, rather than the whole script). I could then maintain my focus on the stage rather than being drawn down to look at my screen. The main benefit to this, in my opinion, would be that you remain engaged in the production as a whole. To be so engrossed in the stories being told by writers Catrin Dafydd (Merched Caerdydd) and Roger Williams (Nos Sadwrn o Hyd) respectively is to be made more open to being challenged and moved by their messages; more vulnerable to empathy and emotion.

Both Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd are fascinating pieces of theatre. Whilst the former focuses on three women and the significant choices that they have to make at an important juncture in their lives, the latter concentrates its attention on Lee, a gay man whose blossoming relationship is disturbed by an act of violence that threatens his life. Performed as a series of monologues (interweaving in the case of Merched Caerdydd), the simple set and subtle use of lighting and sound help plunge the audience into the increasingly messy and fraught situations of the characters’ lives. We cannot help but become entangled in their relational quandaries and bodily vulnerabilities. The sharp focus of Merched Caerdydd on sex, love and relationships feels very relevant, particularly with its themes of control and power. Meanwhile, the mixture of humour and heartbreak, sweetness and violence found in Nos Sadwrn o Hyd, portrayed so eloquently by Sion Ifans, makes for a fraught and funny hour. It cannot be underestimated how important, how needed – these stories are.

Sion Ifan

Despite them being unrelated, both Dafydd’ and Williams’ plays seem to complement one another well. They are but a small snapshot of the strength and depth of talent coming through in Welsh-language playwriting. I find it interesting that both feel somehow connected to their own language and place – the feeling that these would not have come out of, or would at least have been conceived differently in, an Anglicised context. To give non-Welsh speakers and learners the opportunity to access and engage with these worlds through the Sibrwd app then feels important. In its current form, Sibrwd enables that to an extent. What is exciting about the app is that it remains in the relatively early stages of its development. Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru should be commended for testing and experimenting with live audiences and being genuinely open to their feedback. Give it time, and give it chance, and I think that this app will become a significant tool, not least in opening up Welsh-language plays to a wider and broader audience. That can only be a good thing for plays like Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd. For these are stories that need to be told, and experienced by as many people as possible.

For more info and tickets, click here.

gareth

REVIEW: JUST A FEW WORDS at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Just a Few Words explores the psychological and emotional impact of having a stutter. How that affects your everyday life and indeed, your love life. We follow our protagonist (Nye Russell-Thompson) as he struggles to tell the woman he loves how he feels.

I’d heard a lot about this piece and my main worry going in was that the writing would be structured poorly. This isn’t a worry that need be had. The writing from Russell-Thompson is brilliantly structured as we follow the protagonist’s journey through his mind, preparing what to say.

Just a Few Words is frustrating at times as a slow-moving piece of theatre, deliberately so. This allows the audience to imagine, if not feel, the frustration that can be felt with a stammer. Not to pity but understand. You never feel sorry for the character which is a real strength of the piece. He feels like someone going through something which is presented as normal and relatable.

A one-man-show created and performed by Russell-Thompson, you can’t help but notice how this is more real to Nye than it would be to another actor. Even without the knowledge of who he is. This is a credit to his abilities as an actor, but also serves as a note to organisations who don’t hire disabled actors to play the roles their disabilities represent.

The debate about stammering being a disability will continue, a debate I’m not qualified to comment on and one this production doesn’t claim to solve. But what this play does present clearly is that Just a Few Words is stronger because of Nye’s personal performance. And it is the character’s emotive story that is the main strength of Just a Few Words.

The music and sound utilised in the production are excellent. From stuttering on an Otis Redding love song played on a record player in the beginning, to a grainy, static from said record player that runs for the entirety of the play. The sound is simple but adds a huge amount to the ambiance.

The minimalist set is great too. A record player in one corner, a table in another and the use of pre-written cards which act as subtitles for our protagonist’s thoughts that scatter around the stage complete the show and makes it everything fringe theatre should be.

Just a Few Words is an excellent and relatable portrayal of life with a stammer, blending a beautifully minimalist approach with powerful writing.

Just a Few Words is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over eight weeks. Tickets can be found for the upcoming Spring Fringe shows HERE, with an ever-growing discount for the more shows you book.

JUST A FEW WORDS performed at The Other Room
13th February – 16th February 2019
Presented by StammerMouth
Created and Performed by Nye Russell-Thompson
Stage Manager: Megan Randall

REVIEW: BLUE at Chapter Arts Centre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Blue is a powerful drama set by the Welsh, Carmarthenshire coast which centres around the Williams family dinner in the looming absence of a father figure.

The play starts when daughter Elin brings former teacher, Thomas, home to sleep with him. However, to Elin’s surprise her brother is in and her mother home early. A confusion over Thomas’ presence ensues and drives the play forward.

Thomas finds himself awkwardly caught in a family argument under tragic circumstances but is ultimately the trigger for improvement and progress amongst the family.

The writing from Rhys Warrington is brilliant. Meticulously paced and incredibly detailed, the script starts out light-hearted and funny but as it progresses, and delves deeper into the characters, we notice something isn’t normal. At no point does anything feel forced, the play flows naturally and develops with great care.

Blue is subtly political in talking about lack of funding for the NHS. But doesn’t stray from the importance of the characters involved whose lives are being ruined by these cuts.

It’s fair to say, Rhys Warrington is off to a great start with his first feature-length play and I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

The direction from Chelsey Gillard is simply stunning. Every aspect of the script is explored diligently. This play could have been easily mismanaged but Gillard controls it masterfully. Beautifully allowing performers time to draw scenes out and the design elements to set the scene. Chelsey Gillard is forging a name for herself as one of the pioneering directors of contemporary Welsh theatre and her achievement with Bluehas only boosted that claim.

The performances are exceptional from every performer. Sophie Melville is brilliant as Elin. Proving once again what a talent she is, Melville encapsulates the final stages of teenage angst with growing mid-20’s maturity brilliantly.

Gwydion Rhys plays Elin’s shy brother, Huw, expertly. His eyes lighting up the moment Thomas asks about Minecraft. A heart-breaking and simultaneously heart-warming moment as it’s clear this is the first time someone has taken an interest in his interests outside of his online alternate-reality. We can all relate in some way to Huw and Rhys’ portrayal is a testament to this.

Jordan Bernarde’s performance as Thomas is handled with as much care as the character is attentive to the others. We can sense Thomas’ awkwardness and even though we’re aware he’s really there to sleep with Elin, we see his kind-hearted nature too. It’s only when Thomas exits the play that you realise the impact Bernarde’s performance has on the production.

Choosing a standout performance is near-impossible, but if we are to do so, it has to be Nia Roberts in portraying the matriarch figure, Lisa Williams. Everything is perfect from Roberts in this performance. At the mention of her husband, everything about her character changes, from tone to body-language – perfect. This performance will standout as one of the best in Wales this year.

The sound design from Tic Ashfield is very understated and effective. The sound mostly soothes into the background, almost unnoticeable if you’re not looking for it – but is powerful and essential to the production.

Oliver Harman’s design is simple and functional. Detailed to what one would expect any living/dining room to look like, with nothing left to waste. The blue door is, in particular, a nice touch.

Ceri James’ lighting is an essential tool for setting the mood, which James does excellently. Subtly changing throughout and providing a nice alternative to blackouts between scenes which is specifically good. The slight blue tint in some of the lighting is also lovely.

It’s frustrating when a production leaves the design elements as an after-thought and whilst it’s very subtle in Blue, the design, on all fronts, contribute hugely to Blue’s artistic success.

It’s important to stress what a team effort this production is. Huge credit must also go to Rebecca Jade Hammond for creating and producing this piece, as well as all involved at Chippy Lane and Chapter in the making of Blue.

BLUE is a heart-breaking drama about a family split in their grief of a father figure who is both no longer present and not yet absent.

BLUE performed at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
World Premiere 5th – 16th February 2019
Running time approximately 90 minutes
Created and Produced by Rebecca Jade Hammond
Written by Rhys Warrington
Directed  by Chelsey Gillard
Cast:
Elin – Sophie Melville
Thomas – Jordan Bernarde
Lisa – Nia Roberts
Huw – Gwydion Rhys
Designer: Oliver Harman
Lighting Designer: Ceri James
Sound Designer and Composer: Tic Ashfield
Dramaturg: Matthew Bulgo
Co-Producers: Chippy Lane Production and Chapter
Stage Manager: Bethan Dawson
Production Assistant: Sophie Hughes
BSL Interpreter: Sami Thorpe
Photography: Kirsten McTernan
Marketing and PR: Chloe Nelkin Consulting & PR