Friday, January 13, 2017

Countdown to Wales Theatre Awards 2017 begins!

The countdown has begun to the most dramatic night in the Wales arts calendar, the Wales Theatre Awards annual celebration of the best in theatre, opera and dance across the nation.

This year the event is being held outside Cardiff for the first time, with Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea University, hosting the sparkling ceremony.

This highlight of the arts calendar includes the presentation of much coveted trophies in 20 categories and also an evening of entertainment from some of Wales' finest new and established performers.

The awards are a valuable way of showing appreciation and providing recognition for the huge variety of work done by all practitioners of the theatrical community in Wales, whatever the size, language or discipline of the companies involved. The awards evening is also recognition of the contribution of arts writers and critics. Performers, writers, directors, singers and actors are nominated by critics who have reviewed performances created and presented in Wales between December 2015 and December 2016.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Body Welsh (Pontio, Bangor)

Wales thrives on its mythologies and folklore. Whether it's the story of Gelert the hunting dog, the Mabinogion, the Roman Emperor Macsen Wledig, or the fiction of Geoffrey of Monmouth, they are tightly woven into Wales's history and heritage, and people are very reluctant to let them die.

But, as My Body Welsh makes plain, these ancient stories and myths are often mere fabrications, lies, or at the very least fairytales built upon grains of truth. And just like the creative shopkeeper who made up the world's longest place name - Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch - as a publicity stunt in the 1860s, the creation and proliferation of lies, half-truths and myths continues to this day, and in much more dangerous ways.

My Body Welsh is an innovative one-man show co-written by its performer, Steffan Donnelly, and director Tara Robinson, and cleverly weaves its own story of small-town deception with the existing mythologies of Wales. On the surface it's a "myth-tery" investigating the provenance of a skeleton found at the bottom of a well which two prominent local families claim ownership of. Donnelly tries to get to the bottom of the mystery: Is the skeleton genuine? Who put it there? Who was it? How did they die? This narrative gives the 65-minute show a backbone for the audience to latch onto, but shooting off from this trunk are a wealth of branches taking in everything from unrequited love to kidnap, from the importance of having the full facts before making judgements, to having the luxury of choice but not the confidence of which choice to make.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Love, Lies and Taxidermy (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

Theatre presented in the round (ie, with the audience encircling the stage, which often has few or no vertical backdrops) is an ingenious way of making those watching a play feel part of the proceedings, or at least closer to them. The "us and them" barrier is removed by having the performance take place just feet (sometimes inches!) away from the audience. You can see the actors' faces clearer, the expressions they make, often even the thoughts running through their minds. It can be a beautifully immersive device to make the experience more memorable to the viewer, and more exhilarating for the performer.

But one drawback of staging in the round is that at some point the performers will have their back to one section of the audience, meaning projection is key to maintaining that shared space relationship. The most common way of tackling this is to have the performers move regularly around the space, changing direction and perspective so as to keep as many plates spinning as possible.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Rambert Autumn 2016 (Venue Cymru, Llandudno)

A Linha Curva

For Rambert's 90th birthday year, the company has put together a typically varied, colourful and challenging repertoire of dances which differ according to which venue you see them in, and for their visit to the North Wales coast the company chose three pieces of suitable contrasts.

First up was Mark Baldwin's Dark Arteries, an occasionally frenetic but always energetic piece accompanied by Tredegar Town Band. Matching contemporary dance with a brass band soundtrack might be seen as unconventional, and this eccentricity is carried through into both the score and the choreography.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Rent (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

Lucie Jones as Maureen during the madcap Over the Moon

When rock musical Rent first premiered back in January 1996, it became a runaway phenomenon. It was the Hair for the MTV generation. It showed what life was like for young bohemians living in New York City's East Village. It told the truth without filters. Aside from the fact the show itself was fantastic, Rent's full-on depiction of the seedier side of life made a cultural impact too. In 1996, Rent was a bold and shameless snapshot of the streets. Two decades later, it's more of a period piece, having lost some of its shock value as 21st century society has gradually equalled, then surpassed, what Rent has to offer.

Rent is built on vice and challenging themes. The audience is presented with a menu of sex, sexuality, bad language, HIV and drugs, some of which are too strong for younger viewers (indeed, one boy of about 13 or 14 was taken out of the show by his grandfather during the interval and never returned). In this gender-fluid, crystal meth-drenched, polysexual age, Rent's themes should be less shocking, and maybe they are for more established audiences, but for those just looking for a damn good musical with great songs, it still packs a punch some might not be prepared for.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Pilgrims (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

At the end of Pilgrims, the one female character (Rachel) tells the two male characters (Will and Dan) that they are not needed any more. It's symbolic of the journey the character has taken on behalf of her gender throughout the play, which is told in a non-linear way, but still very definitely ends at the end (but with a new beginning).

Because Rachel does not want to be a character in somebody else's story; she wants to tell the story herself. As part of the PhD she hopes to study she is looking at the representation of women in folk tales and ballads, decrying the fact the woman (usually called Nancy) is always left at home, waving a handkerchief as her "brave and adventurous" love sails off into danger and excitement, leaving her alone on the shore. But she secretly wants to go with him and share those adventures, or even have them in his place.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wish List (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

Katherine Soper's Bruntwood Prize-winning Wish List is about "the system" - the system that controls us, the system we are part of, and the system we design for ourselves. It's a remarkable play which reveals its multiple layers the more you think about it, and it's no wonder the Royal Exchange/ Royal Court collaboration has been wowing audiences.

Wish List centres on brother and sister Dean and Tamsin Carmody, who live together in a rundown flat in Milton Keynes struggling to make ends meet. Dean (Joseph Quinn) suffers from an array of OCD and anxiety-related issues - he ritually gels his hair in times of stress, he cannot go outside in the daytime (or the night-time!), he struggles with talking to strangers or using the telephone, or even cooking for himself, because he has to run through a certain routine of tapping surfaces in order to move forward. Dean is a prisoner of his compulsions, but after inexplicably being deemed fit for work by the DWP, he has his benefits cut, and the siblings appeal the decision in an effort to prove that Dean is certainly nowhere close to being able to exist harmoniously with the outside world.