Wednesday, September 30, 2015

All My Sons (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

Pic: Catherine Ashmore

When Arthur Miller's All My Sons made its stage debut in 1947, it must have been at its rawest and most powerful for audiences. Taking the subject of war profiteering and the effect conflict has on families, the play was as relevant as it would ever be. Almost 60 years later, those themes can still be applied to more modern conflicts - from Vietnam to Afghanistan - but the post-World War Two setting remains the ace up its sleeve.

Three years ago, businessman Joe Keller was exonerated after being charged with knowingly shipping damaged aircraft engine cylinder heads from his factory, which ultimately led to the deaths of 21 pilots. His business partner Steve Deever took the blame and was jailed, but during the trial maintained that Keller was just as responsible for the deaths, having been made aware of the faulty parts in a telephone call. That telephone call could not be proven in court, and Keller claimed he was ill with pneumonia at the time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Absent Friends (Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham)

The biggest clue to Alan Ayckbourn's Absent Friends is the title. There may be a six-strong cast on the stage, but the various stories being played out are as much driven by characters who are not present as those that are. Rather like Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot or Kevin Elyot's My Night with Reg, the characters we do see are directly influenced in either their attitude or life choices by those we don't - a frighteningly accurate reflection of real life. We may not realise or admit it, but we're all influenced by our experiences with people who may no longer be in our lives, whether we like it or not.

Absent Friends is reminiscent of Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, but actually predates that more famous production by three years. It concerns a gathering of old friends several months after the tragic death of Colin's fiancée, Carol. The setting is a middle class living room in 1974, complete with brick fireplace, poufs and sunburst wall clock. The dimensions of the set are meant to reflect a realistic front room to encourage the awkwardness and tensions that develop in the play, and the careful placing and spacing of the barely adequate seating arrangements cleverly contributes to this conceit. There are six characters and seven places to sit, but not all of these seats are comfortable or appropriate, so it's interesting to watch the movement around the set throughout the play.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interview with pianist Ivan Ilić about his 2015 tour

Pic: Michelle Blioux

This feature was commissioned by Arts Scene in Wales

Ivan Ilić has been described as one of the world's most adventurous pianists, a man who likes to think outside of the box and bring something new and fresh to an art-form that can sometimes be a little tried and tested.

He has controversially rearranged the order of Debussy's Preludes, attempted to redress the imbalance between the use of the left and right hands in piano-playing, and championed Godowsky's little-known left-hand studies on Chopin's Etudes, all to great acclaim. Such innovation has propelled Ilić to the forefront of creative solo piano-playing on an international level – he's damned good at what he does, but he's best at doing what nobody else has thought to do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

An Inspector Calls (Venue Cymru, Llandudno)

"It is the business of the community not simply to glorify itself but to produce better persons, to enrich its individual sphere..."

J B Priestley was a forward-thinking, radical socialist whose political achievements have been forgotten somewhat in the 70 or so years since he was at his most influential in this regard. Today he is best remembered for his works of fiction - such as An inspector Calls - and less so for his ideological breakthroughs in politics and philosophy. But Priestley's world-view is the very bricks and mortar from which An Inspector Calls is built, and his agenda is still very much evident in the production today.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Llawn03 (Llandudno Arts Festival) Day 3

Have you ever wondered what language mermaids speak? No, neither had I, not until I saw Bedraggled on Day 3 of Llawn03 and found out the perfectly obvious truth: they speak flobalob (a bit like the Flowerpot Men!).

Yes, welcome to the crazy, surreal and slightly fractured world of the Kitsch 'n' Sync collective. On Day 2 they flabbergasted us with the sci-fi silliness of Babs and Stella, but Bedraggled was a step beyond. This comic dance theatre performance consisted of three mermaids washed ashore who dance well in unison (despite their flippers) but who lose their tempers easily and even turn an unsuspecting audience member into their marine deity, complete with a plastic octopus on his head.

Llawn03 (Llandudno Arts Festival) Day 2

Definition of 'different': a tour of Llandudno's lost theatres aboard a red double-decker bus festooned with pink balloons, accompanied by a drag queen singing operatic arias and a mute who likes to act out through the medium of mime.

That's Divina and Dymphna's Day-Glo Bus Tour in a rather cracked nutshell. And it was fabulous! The bus was originally to have been an open-topped affair, so it was a shame it wasn't in the end as Divina De Campo's stacked high-heel boots made her so tall that she couldn't stand up straight with a roof on top! But it made the tour a much more intimate affair. As we were driven around Llandudno's "treacherous one-way system" to visit the former locations or currently derelict theatres of the resort, Divina educated us in her own amusing style about the buildings' history, their origins, heydays and downfalls, while Dymphna D'Arcy careered up and down the aisle acting out Divina's commentary.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Llawn03 (Llandudno Arts Festival) Day 1

Anybody out for a few beers in Llandudno on Friday night might be mistaken for thinking their drinks had been spiked when they saw a group of people dressed in white smocks and wearing blank, white face masks gathering outside a disused garage in the heart of the town.

It made for a surreal experience, but this was not a bizarre religious sect or a re-enactment of the unsettling Solutions section of The League of Gentlemen's Christmas special (if you've never seen it, where have you been?!). It was the meeting place for Joel Cockrill's installation Ffloc, an immersive experience which converts an old mechanic's garage on Mostyn Broadway into a walk-through world of loud music, projections and bilingual voiceovers.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Phoenix Dance Theatre Mixed Programme 2015

There can't be many dance pieces which are directly inspired by the work of Charlie Chaplin and Goldie Hawn, but when choreographer Christopher Bruce heard a section of music by American composer Kenji Bunch, the ideas that flooded into his mind were clear and precise.

Shift is the first of two of his pieces performed by Phoenix Dance Theatre in their 2015 mixed programme, touring the UK this Autumn and which premiered at Mold's Clwyd Theatr Cymru to a young and enthusiastic audience.