Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wales Dance Platform Day 3 (Riverfront Arts, Newport)

Cat Ryan and Despina Goula. Pic: Roy Campbell-Moore

The third and final day of Wales Dance Platform was a hectic affair, the scheduling of which was knocked out of kilter right from the off with some time-consuming set-pieces in the first session. However, it was sadly too easy to forget the exhibitions on display, both by Roy Campbell-Moore. The first was The Beauty and the Grit, which showed just how well Roy can capture the intimacy of the performer without intruding on their art. As a former dancer himself he knows when it's working and when it's not, and presents what he calls unsentimental images of dance, exposing both the wonder and the torment - the beauty and the grit.

Wales Dance Platform Day 2 (Chapter, Cardiff)

Gary and Pel

Whoever decided to have Alex Marshall Parsons' Gary and Pel kick off Day 2 of Wales Dance Platform deserves a round of pirouettes. The duo is a tour de force of comedy, using both slapstick and mime, and really warmed the crowds up during their opening performance in Chapter's foyer.

Gary and Pel are two comedy characters played by Alex himself, along with Kim Noble. Gary looks like a reject from The Little Shop of Horrors, while Pel is a vision in bright yellow fright wig straight out of the B-52s. They "drive" into view in their shocking pink cardboard car and proceed to leap about the space with the energy and vigour of a pair of antelopes. Their faces are what elevates this physical piece from mere entertaining to downright brilliant, Alex in particular being blessed with a range of expressions that say every word he does not speak. I love the persona Kim has built up too, like a cross between Elvira, RuPaul and Cindy Lauper.

Wales Dance Platform Day 1 (Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff)

Christopher Owen

Over the course of 48 hours across three consecutive days in three different venues, Wales Dance Platform 2015 crammed in performances, films and photography from over 40 independent companies and artists. The weekend was hectic, but never less than entertaining, and enabled many performers and creators to get together, perhaps for the first time, and share one another's ideas and talents. It wasn't just a weekend of performance - it was a celebration of independent dance and a chance for those who work on the contemporary dance scene to make connections and develop relationships.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Kafka's Monkey (Home, Manchester)

Kathryn Hunter; photographed by Tristram Kenton

Mankind has always been fascinated with trying to find a way to "talk to the animals". We are a species of Dr Dolittles, forever trying to make ourselves understood by our pets, or on a more scientific level, trying to forge a bond between ourselves and our ape cousins. Because, rather arrogantly, we think it would be best if we could communicate with them, probably with a morally ambiguous means to an end.

Kafka's Monkey is an adaptation of Franz Kafka's 1917 short story A Report to an Academy, in which an ape, which has learnt to behave like a human, describes his transformation and tries to relate his feelings on the matter.

This is a one-woman (or should that be one-ape?) show in which the remarkable talent of Kathryn Hunter is slap-bang in the spotlight for almost an hour. She portrays Red Peter, an ape which has been injured and captured by hunters in the West African jungle and brought to Europe. It is Red Peter's imprisonment, inside a cage aboard the ship during the voyage to Europe, that forces him to try and copy his human captors, to try and become one of them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Legally Blonde: Preview of Aberystwyth Arts Centre's summer show

Rebecca Stenhouse plays Elle Woods

This feature was first published on June 18th, 2015 by Arts Scene in Wales.

That old adage of 'never work with children or animals' doesn't scare Anthony Williams. He's the director of this year's summer spectacular at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and while it may not involve children, it does have two dogs on the cast list.

Legally Blonde: The Musical is a cult favourite which tells the story of sorority girl Elle who decides to follow her ex-boyfriend Warner to law school in order to win back his affections. Famously, Elle has a pet Chihuahua called Bruiser which she takes almost everywhere with her, but the inherent unpredictability of having live animals on stage doesn't daunt Anthony too much.

Oh Hello!: Interview with Jamie Rees

This feature was first published on June 18th, 2015 by Arts Scene in Wales

The Carry On series of films has given audiences so much joy and laughter ever since the first one in 1958, and the repertory company of stars who made up the regular cast have a special place in our hearts.

There was cackling Sid James, busty Babs Windsor and snooty Kenneth Williams… but it is the camp, bespectacled Charles Hawtrey who is the subject of this one-man show starring Jamie Rees, which has a handful of dates in Wales this summer as well as a stakeout at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The play is written by Dave Ainsworth, who first performed his own script more than a decade ago. But Jamie says that he always knew he could do a better job!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

And Then There Were None (Rhyl Pavilion)

It's hard to review a whodunit - and particularly an Agatha Christie one - without writing about who did it. The beauty of the plot is in the way it is constructed so delicately by Christie, and then unravelled like a ball of wool leading to the final denouement where all is revealed and the audience gives a collective intake of breath.

So no spoilers here. But what I can tell you is that this play isn't known as one of Christie's best thrillers for nothing. It has the perfect ingredients - a cast of characters, all with their flaws and secrets, drawn by a mysterious puppeteer to a remote island cut off from the mainland to satisfy their own murderous intentions.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Blur (Venue Cymru, Llandudno)

It was a bit of a surprise earlier this year when Blur announced the release of their first new album as a foursome in 16 years. And it was even more of a surprise last month when they announced they would be playing a handful of warm-up gigs for the summer, and one of them would be in my home town of Llandudno!

I mean, that just doesn't happen... My favourite band ever, back together, releasing new material and playing live on my doorstep? It seems fantasy can become reality.

Much has been made of the fact Blur's date at Llandudno's Venue Cymru was their first gig in Wales for 18 years (since December 1997, to be precise). But that was in Cardiff; this was their first gig in North Wales ever. But, as frontman Damon Albarn told the crowd, the oversight was never intentional.

Monday, June 01, 2015

5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline (Home from Home, Manchester)

Note: Although this production was promoted by Home, it actually took place in the more fitting location of Rusholme Army Reserve Centre, Manchester.

The human body really is the front line in almost everything we do, whether that be warfare, weightlifting or washing up. What our mind wants to do, the body fulfils, and that is the theme for Rosie Kay's 5 Soldiers, which looks at how the human body remains essential to war, even in the 21st century when we have missiles, drones and mines to do our dirtiest work remotely.

The choreography starts off as militaristic, regimented, stiff and repetitive, but that's because activities such as drilling, marching and training are at the heart of every soldier's professional existence. Whether on a reserve army camp in the UK, or in the thick of the battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq, a soldier's life is informed and shaped by everyday routine. That knowledge gives the soldier a template for his or her existence, and gives something to focus on amid the horrors all about.

The Car Man (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

Whether you're a man or a woman, straight or gay, you cannot fail to be moved in some way by the sexual charge of The Car Man. Matthew Bourne's take on Georges Bizet's classic 1875 opera Carmen has S-E-X running through it like a stick of rock, setting out its stall right from the off with a rousing, and arousing, Act 1 Prelude.

The women sport plunging necklines and floating skirts, while the men are dressed in oily jeans and vests, their steel-capped boots in no way hindering their balletic, yet intensely masculine, movement. The entire production is charged with sexual tension and erotic charm - the setting is transferred from 19th century France to Dino's diner and mechanics' yard in 1960s Mid West America, and while Bizet's story remains intact, the new location adds a flourish of West Side Story mixed with Giant and A Streetcar Named Desire.

The Funfair (Home, Manchester)

When you think of the funfair, you think of an assault on the senses - the sights, the colours, the smells, the noise, the surreal atmosphere of fun and laughter. And although this adaptation of Ödön von Horváth's 1932 play Kasimir and Karoline certainly has all of these ingredients, at the end of the piece I wasn't quite sure what I was meant to be taking away from it.

The original is set at the Munich Oktoberfest in Depression-hit 1929, but Simon Stephens's 21st century update relocates the action to a fairground and renames the title characters Cash and Caroline. There's no denying that Mike Gunning's lighting and Ti Green's set design are sumptuously effective, managing to be original and creative despite the over-familiar tropes and iconography of the setting. The huge, red pleated curtain acts as a cyclorama against which silhouettes are cast, and this provides some memorable visual moments, such as the one-horse merry-go-round, and the highly impressive zoetrope.