Sunday, October 15, 2017

REVIEW: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

At the heart of Jim Cartwright's play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a touching, sentimental story of a shy northern girl struggling to get heard by those around her, including her brash and selfish mother, who treats her the same way wicked stepmothers treat their Cinderellas. But at over two and a half hours in length, Cartwright struggles to fill the time with enough plot to make it as riveting as it should be.

The play (which opened at the National Theatre in 1992 and was written specifically for Jane Horrocks) was adapted into a film in 1998, and tells the story of a shy girl who can do stunningly accurate impressions of divas such as Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf after listening to her beloved late father's LP collection. However, the film was significantly more concise in its plotting. Kate Wasserberg's production of the play packs plenty of wallop when it's needed, but there are also a few too many moments of ponderous water-treading, moments which allow the audience to shift in their seat, hoping something will happen soon.

This is particularly noticeable in Act 1, where too much time is spent building up characters who don't require that much time to be fleshed out. The audience gets what the playwright's trying to do much quicker than he does himself. In particular, LV's harridan mother Mari, a stereotypical northern sexpot straight out of the Lily Savage school of termagent matriarchs. All the hallmarks of such a part are there - the too-tight leopard skin skirts and heels, the flashing knickers, the sharp, foul-mouthed tongue and the total disregard for the feelings and needs of those around her. Nicola Reynolds throws everything she's got into Mari Hoff, perhaps more than she should at times, making her a loud, brash, abusive, unpleasant gorgon who cares more about her drinks cabinet and her sex life than her meek daughter. Cartwright may have written the role broadly, but with every part like this, there has to be a more human side, and unfortunately we get to see far too much of the tart and not nearly enough of the heart.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

INTERVIEW: Actor Catrin Aaron on playing Little Voice at Theatr Clwyd

Imagine a stage show where the late, great Judy Garland tops the bill, and the support acts are Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday. Apart from the tiresome "some of them are dead" problem, you'd pay good money to see that show, wouldn't you?

Well, now you can, because Theatr Clwyd is staging a brand new production of Jim Cartwright's classic The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, which was specially written for actor Jane Horrocks back in 1992 for the National Theatre. Most people will remember the Oscar-nominated film from 1998, also starring Horrocks, but Theatr Clwyd's take casts the multi-talented Catrin Aaron as the shy, reclusive LV.

"I've never worked on a musical before," admits Catrin, "although I wouldn't really class Little Voice as a musical. It's more of a comedy drama with music."

Catrin trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and has got background in singing performance, including many educational and Christmas shows, "but this is the first time I've done it on my own," she laughs.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

REVIEW: Uncle Vanya (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

OK, let's get the headline out of the way first - Jamie Ballard is simply extraordinary in (and as) Uncle Vanya. Voted by the Guardian as one of the "ten best Hamlets ever", Ballard is an absolute revelation as a man whose entire life has been dictated to and shaped by other people's, whether it be the death of his sister, an unrequited love, or his supercilious brother-in-law. Vanya is one of life's great losers, and Jamie Ballard not so much plays the part as inhabits it.

One of the biggest problems some people have with theatre is the suspension of belief. When you watch a film or TV drama, you already know subconsciously that none of it is real, and you accept that, because you're watching these people on an oblong flatscreen several feet in front of you, like a window into a universe of fiction. But when you're at the theatre, sitting just feet away from a live action performance, you're being asked to believe that the drama is really happening right in front of you, as in life, and that can be harder for some people to swallow. Sometimes, audiences treat it as a challenge - "Convince me!" they smirk. "Convince me that you're really in that three-walled kitchen and feeling suicidal!"

The magic of live theatre is when the audience is utterly convinced that what they're witnessing is real, when they are duped into accepting the facts of the fiction before them because the talent and experience behind it is just too damn good. Achieving verisimilitude is a constant ambition for theatre makers, and director Tamara Harvey achieves it in spades in Theatr Clwyd's Uncle Vanya.

Monday, September 18, 2017

INTERVIEW: Actor Jamie Ballard on Uncle Vanya at Theatr Clwyd

In 2010, the Guardian's Susannah Clapp listed actor Jamie Ballard as one of her "ten best Hamlets", alongside high profile figures such as Henry Irving, John Gielgud, David Tennant and Mark Rylance. Jamie played the Prince of Denmark in Jonathan Miller's production at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory in 2008, but is now swapping tragedy for comedy as he's about to take on the title role in Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya for Theatr Clwyd in Mold.

But hold on. People don't generally associate the 19th century Russian playwright with laughs and giggles, do they?

"Chekhov thought of his plays as comedies," says Jamie. "It was only his creative relationship with Constantin Stanislavski [the Russian theatre practitioner who staged a pioneering version of Chekhov’s The Seagull in 1898] that made the perception of his work all heavy and serious."

Friday, September 08, 2017

PREVIEW: Llawn05 (Llandudno Arts Festival 2017)

Llawn is a free arts festival that celebrates and explores Llandudno through art, artefact, sound, comedy, performance and participation. This is its fifth successive year, and across the weekend visitors to the North Wales seaside resort can explore this work in unusual and surprising places, including baptist chapels, empty shops, shipping containers and even a set of Victorian bathing machines! Past Llawns have also featured work in the caves of the Great Orme, and on the roof of Venue Cymru!

So what has the arts festival weekend got up its sleeve for visitors this year? Curators Lisa Heledd Jones and John Rostron have lined up a plethora of stunning, inspiring and entertaining works. The fun kicks off on Friday, September 15th and continues throughout Saturday and Sunday too. Here's a guide to some of the best, most unusual and exciting exhibits and presentations to catch:

Friday, July 21, 2017

REVIEW: Out of Love (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

What is it, that "fire between women", as playwright Elinor Cook calls it? Not even the main characters in this thoughtful play can admit to defining that special and particular relationship that women have. One might say that friendship is merely a ceasefire between women, but that's too harsh, too simple a definition. It's much more complex than that.

Cook's Out of Love examines the friendship between two women over the course of a couple of decades. They grow up together, as close friends, but inevitably drift apart as their adult lives begin to develop and divert. On the one hand we have the sensible yet sensitive Lorna, all thick blonde curls and brave faces, while on the other we have the more outgoing Grace, a bundle of energy and ideas lacking a driving focus. We see these two girls at different stages of their lives together, as children, as teenagers, and as grown adults, and the story is both tragic and heart-warming.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

REVIEW: The B Word (King's Arms, Salford)

Dan is an ordinary kind of guy. He works as an airport baggage inspector. He cares as best he can for his mum, who suffers with Multiple Sclerosis. He loves doughnuts and hates mushrooms. He's a twentysomething everyman who we can all relate to. He's likeable and honest.

But Dan is also a "yes man", a pleaser, one of those people who's just too polite to say no or ask questions. He's typically English in that he'd rather smile and turn a blind eye than face confrontation. Which isn't the most ideal personality trait for an airport baggage inspector.

This performance is semi-immersive in that solo performer Ryan Gilmartin (as Dan) sits among the audience in what is supposed to be his staff room during a break. Dan has sandwiches to eat, and shares around bags of doughnuts (the chocolate custard doughnuts wisely remained unopened, but the jam ones went down very well in the performance I attended!). He talks to the audience as his confidantes, like fellow staff members on a lunch break, and over the course of 40 minutes or so he shares his thoughts on everything from the heroism in Star Wars to the depressing nature of current affairs.