Monday, June 26, 2017
The recent controversy surrounding last month's Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar in New York is the best example of why this 418-year-old play is still fiercely relevant today. In the American production, staged in Central Park, the setting was updated to modern day, and the character of Caesar was depicted as a suspiciously Donald Trump-like figure. And because it forms the backbone of Shakespeare's play, Caesar was duly assassinated, outraging some audience members who saw it as "political violence against the right".
It's impossible not to see the parallels between Shakespeare's 16th century political thriller and what's going on in the world in 2017. Caesar was a democratically elected but autocratic leader whose hubris and ambition bred discontent and, ultimately, rebellion within his ranks. Although we haven't seen much by way of betrayal among Trump's people so far, it's surely only a matter of time until the whispers of conspiracy begin and the knives are sharpened.
For Storyhouse's summer production of Julius Caesar, director Loveday Ingram has brought the setting right up to date too. This is a play for today, these times of political extremes and turmoil, despite its vintage. So out go the togas and amphitheatres and in come the sharp business suits and presidential lecterns. Modernising Julius Caesar may be the obvious thing to do (Robert Hastie did the same again with his recent Crucible Theatre production in Sheffield), but it gives the play fresh life, invigorating its message by telling it from a 21st century perspective. Christopher Wright's Caesar may not look like Donald Trump, but he's depicted very much in a presidential vein, complete with rally flags and banners of red, white and blue.
Friday, June 23, 2017
Working in the City is hard. It's stressful. Maybe it's not as hard as coal mining or fire-fighting, and not as stressful as policing or soldiering, but in context, city slickers have a tough time, not least because of the pressures they put on themselves to be successful. To beat their colleagues and to be the best, no matter how or what.
David Jones is just another cog in the giant wheel of this industry. He wears a sharp suit, maintains a healthy body, and is great in bed (or so he tells us). But what happens when the pressure to maintain this vision of perfection starts to get too much, and the veneer begins to crumble?
Although BoHo - a co-production between Theatr Clwyd and Hijinx - takes city slicker David as its central character, this "dystopian musical misadventure" is not strictly about bankers and financiers. David is an avatar for us all, for each and every one of us making our way through life in the best way we know how. David, for all his sharp-suited, pill-popping trappings, is an everyman who hurts and feels and struggles just like the rest of us.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
A script is like a recipe – the playwright sets out the ingredients and their properties, but it takes a team of chefs to cook up the finished dish. That's how Brad Birch, whose latest play Black Mountain will receive its world premiere at Mold's Theatr Clwyd on July 11th, thinks about his various creations.
Brad's work is far more than a simple list of ingredients, however. As writer in residence with the Welsh new writing theatre company Undeb, as well as being attached to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Brad has enjoyed his fair share of successes, whether it's receiving the prestigious Harold Pinter Commission in 2016 to write a new play for the Royal Court, or winning a Scotsman Edinburgh Fringe First Award for his 2013 play Gardening: For the Unfulfilled and Alienated.
The Mid Wales-born writer penned his first piece, The Snow Queen, in 2008 for Mid Powys Youth Theatre, and has since seen his work produced by Cardiff's Sherman (Light Arrested Between the Curtain and the Glass, 2011), the Royal Court (Permafrost, 2011, and Where the Shot Rabbits Lay, 2012), Dirty Protest (Milton, 2013), the Royal Exchange (Tender Bolus, 2014) and the Orange Tree (The Brink, 2016), among others.
Monday, May 15, 2017
When Chester's Gateway Theatre closed its doors for the very last time ten years ago, there was the expectation that it would be replaced by a performing arts centre called the Northgate Development. However, the Northgate plans were put on hold in 2008, and it wasn't until 2012 that Cheshire West and Chester Council revealed an ambitious vision to transform the city centre's derelict Odeon cinema into a replacement theatre and picture house combined. This vision widened still further the following year with the announcement that the old Odeon building would be renovated and extended to become a cultural arts hub for the entire city.
Last week saw Chester's decade in the cultural wilderness finally come to an end with the grand opening of Storyhouse, a £37 million arts centre which incorporates an 800-seat auditorium, a 100-seat cinema, plus the city library, a community performance and rehearsal space, a restaurant, two bars, and a children's storytelling space. To be blunt, Storyhouse is nothing short of magnificent.
Who would have thought that a spelling mistake could lead to the ignominious and very public downfall of one of the greatest playwrights in British literary history? On February 18th, 1895, the Marquess of Queensberry left a card at the reception of the Albemarle Club for the attention of playwright Oscar Wilde. It simply read: "For Oscar Wilde, posing Somdomite". This card subsequently became Exhibit A in a libel case Wilde brought against Queensberry, but the truth was the Marquess knew exactly what he was doing in goading Wilde, who fell for his "booby trap".
The trial exposed more about Wilde's private life, proclivities and passions than he could ever have bargained for, and ultimately led to a counter-trial where the Crown prosecuted Wilde for gross indecency. The jury in this trial could not reach a verdict, but the retrial jury certainly did, and Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labour in prison. The sentence took its toll on Wilde both spiritually and physically, and three-and-a-half year later, he was dead, aged 46.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
The last production I saw of Oscar Wilde's 1895 classic The Importance of Being Earnest lived up to the common conception that the play is a rather fusty, stilted, mildly amusing drawing-room comedy, performed with stiff upper lips and an air of superiority to the audience.
Not so with Richard Fitch's blisteringly energetic new production at Theatr Clwyd, which takes Wilde's magnum opus, holds it up to the light, decides that it's actually perfectly good as it is, but places it back down on the stage with a youthful enthusiasm that its creator would've revelled in.
The hallmarks of the play are all still there: the period setting, the lavish 19th century costumes, the acerbic and witty dialogue, the thematic intent to scratch the veneer of Victorian society to see what lies beneath. Everything that somebody going to see The Importance of Being Earnest would expect to see is there, but Fitch has given the presentation a jolly good shake and as a result, gives the play a fresh lease of life.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
What I love about Caroline Finn is the eccentricity she brings to her work. Finn, the Artistic Director of NDC Wales and choreographer of The Green House, has an innate ability to tap into the "Britishness" of a situation, and as a result comes up with such quirky, endearing and aesthetically powerful works as The Green House.
This whimsy is also present in past works such as Bernadette, Bloom and Folk, an ability to mine an off-kilter oddness, whether that be the misplaced hubris of baking (Bernadette) or the solemn, melancholic face masks used in Bloom. Indeed, the fundamental atmosphere of Folk, with its pastoral aesthetic, was another manifestation of Finn's skill at shining light on the quirkier corners of our culture.
With The Green House, Finn has arguably crossed the Pond to soak up some of the tropes of American culture, especially those deep-seated in the 1950s - that I Love Lucy '50s housewife vibe, mixed with a Stepford Wives oddness most familiar today through its Desperate Housewives filter, and, as the programme notes point out, the bizarre other-world of David Lynch.
Friday, April 21, 2017
It might have been a Thursday evening, but Race Horse Company gave its audience a truly Super Sunday with its latest circus show at Pontio, combining all the fun of the fair with more serious religious iconography.
That clash of stylistic approaches can jar a little - one of the last places you'd expect to be confronted with a vivid portrayal of the Crucifixion is a circus show - but you've got to admire their chutzpah. The producers do warn people in advance about the religious imagery ("Super Sunday features irreverent humour and Christian religious motifs. We think the show is most suitable for people aged 12 years to adult") but being forewarned still doesn't quite forearm the audience enough for what they see.
It's not that the Crucifixion scene is offensive, distasteful or disrespectful. In fact, there's a degree of reverence in the lit candles and supplication. It's merely the audacity of shackling someone to a giant cross, then wrapping them up tight in clingfilm, which takes you by surprise. It's not offensive as such, just odd, and it doesn't altogether work.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
The Channel Islands were the only British territory occupied by German forces during World War Two. The UK government did not deem Jersey or Guernsey strategic in its fight against Hitler, and so quietly backed away, allowing the Nazis to settle there in June 1940. The thing was, the islands were of no particular use to Germany either, except for the fact it allowed the Nazis to say they'd captured British soil.
Moira Buffini's Gabriel is set on Guernsey in 1943 in the depths of the German occupation and shows what life was like for the women left to survive there after their men had gone to war, and thousands of other islanders had been evacuated. Guernsey was cut off from the realities of war: the Germans banned any communication with the mainland and clamped down on attempts to distribute a newsletter among the islanders based on information gathered from the secret monitoring of BBC radio broadcasts. As far as the people of Guernsey knew, the war would never end.
Buffini's play tries to say many things - about the roles and strengths of women during the occupation, about hope and fear, about the definition of evil - but the through-lines get muddled up and sometimes lost in Kate McGregor's dry production. You get the feeling the script has more to say than the production is allowing, and that the actors are fighting hard to make their characters reach the point.
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
We've all wanted to just throw in the towel and run away sometimes, haven't we? When the daily humdrummery of life gets too montonous, or repetitive, or just too damn hard, we've had those thoughts about not turning up the next day, and simply disappearing. A new life with new rules. A new you!
This is how Scarlett feels. She rocks up somewhere in rural Wales with the intention of buying a rundown stone chapel, restoring it and living there for the rest of her days, away from the noise and bustle and stress of London life. And when she's asked about her life back home, and what she's left behind, Scarlett initially blanks it off - she has a business she plans to close down, a mother and daughter she denies exist. Scarlett is simply desperate to escape, both her own life and those within it.
Colette Kane - winner of the Royal Literary Fund's JB Priestley Award in 2013 and now a burgeoning playwright for stage and screen - is a remarkable talent. This play is intelligent and thought-provoking, it is vital and funny and revealing, and gives a rattlingly honest portrayal of the nature of the relationship between mothers and daughters of all generations. Kane's script is so arresting and insightful that by the end of the 75-minute piece, you feel a deep connection with the five characters. In short, Kane is a gift to the stage.
Tuesday, April 04, 2017
When Tamara Harvey talks about Junkyard – the new musical from the prestigious pens of BAFTA-winning playwright Jack Thorne and Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck, which runs at Theatr Clwyd until April 15th – she gets a little emotional.
A co-production between Theatr Clwyd, Bristol Old Vic, Headlong and Rose Theatre Kingston, Junkyard is an honest and witty coming-of-age story about friendship and standing up for what matters, and features a cast of bright young talented actors.
“I’m so proud of this piece, it slightly shakes me up,” admits Tamara, who recently celebrated her first year of programming at the Mold production house. “Junkyard was one of the first scripts I was sent when I got the job. I read it and fell in love with it. It’s like Goodbye Mr Chips but set in Bristol in the 1970s. It’s that inspirational teacher story but with a twist. Any story that has that ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ moment chokes us up because we’ve all had that inspirational teacher or leader.”
Saturday, April 01, 2017
"The creative possibilities in Rhyl are mind-blowing. They are unique, powerful and lush. There is deep magic here, it lies close by in the mountains, in the sea, and truly in the people. I hope the work reflects some of this. It is a poem. A love letter to Rhyl." - Mark Storer, lead artistNational Theatre Wales's Lifted By Beauty: Adventures in Dreaming takes the seaside town of Rhyl as inspiration for a series of bizarre, surreal and yes, dream-like promenade installations. It's a walk-through 90-minute show which is sensually immersive, but not interactive. After being sung to in Welsh by a man hiding in a cardboard box, and then had poetry read to them by a man dressed as some kind of SOCO/ beekeeper hybrid, the audience is ushered into a dingy, gloomy, dank underground car park, where real life is left at the door and fantasy takes over.
The audience is led very organically between the different installations, which seem to emerge without notice in different locations around the car park. You don't know it's there until you hear a voice in the distance behind you, or when the characters you're watching lead you to the next stage. We first see a runway made of top soil, lit beautifully from different angles by Ceri James, creating a kind of Martian landscape. A man sows more soil as he moves barefoot through the earth, followed by a woman apparently pregnant with soil, who is in turn stalked by a Puck-like man dressed in silk pyjamas. So far, so weird...
Friday, March 31, 2017
If the Children's Film Foundation had decided to make a movie of the Bash Street Kids in 1978, Junkyard would undoubtedly be the result. This new musical from the pens of playwright Jack Thorne (writer of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and composer Stephen Warbeck (Oscar-winning musician on Shakespeare in Love) is a raucous, riotous, rambunctious romp through what life was like for kids growing up in and around Bristol in the 1970s.
It's unapologetically in-yer-face, intentionally disruptive and offensive, and perfectly captures that feeling of restless rebellion that all teenagers develop on their journey between childhood and adulthood. Thorne's uncompromising but searingly truthful book weaves a set of characters that at first push you on your back foot, but by the end you find yourself caring about, even wanting to spend more time with.
Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Live every day as if it were your last - that's the message to take away from Bruce Joel Rubin's Oscar-winning screenplay for the 1990 film, on which this Bill Kenwright Productions stage musical is based. The original film starred Man of the Moment Patrick Swayze and Soon-To-Be Woman of the Moment Demi Moore and became the highest-grossing film that year, scooping five Oscar nominations (winning two of them) and four Golden Globe nominations. It was a phenomenon.
Twenty-one years later it was rejuvenated for a stage musical version, with new songs added by Eurythmics maestro Dave Stewart and veteran songwriter Glen Ballard (he's good - he co-wrote Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror). This Kenwright production is enhanced even further, with an improved story and different songs.
Rubin's original story is an undisputed classic, it's one everybody remembers and loves. At the start of the show, Molly and Sam are head over heels in love, so we know straight away that something bad is going to happen, and it does. Sam is shot and killed by a street robber, leaving heartbroken Molly alone and vulnerable. But for all the proclamations of love and devotion in the early scenes, it's only when Sam's shot dead that the show comes truly alive as his ghost hangs around in order to protect Molly from ongoing dangers.
Monday, March 06, 2017
Every one of us lives in fear every day, from the moment we know what being afraid feels like, to the moment when the ultimate fear consumes us. We might not be consciously aware of all our fears, but they are there, programmed into us, subliminally controlling the way we live our lives, the way we react and respond. And then there are the greater fears that we recognise all too well - the phobias and the nightmares and the manias.
Gareth Clark is one half of the performing duo Mr and Mrs Clark (he's the Mr), but for F.E.A.R, he works alone in what is a solo show written and performed from the very depths of his heart and soul. A result of 12 months of research into both his own and other cultures, F.E.A.R is both an intensely personal work and also terrifyingly relevant to almost everybody who sees it. It speaks to every member of the audience as much as it does on behalf of Gareth Clark.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Sinners Club is a gig. It's not a play, it's a gig. But then, it's also more than "just" a gig. It's an immersive experience, a theatrical spectacle which transports the audience to another place, another time, another society.
Sinners Club places the audience in a recording studio where The Bad Mothers are rehearsing and recording some songs for their latest live album. This concept album is inspired by the life of Rhyl-born Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, on July 13th, 1955 (the last man was in 1964). Ellis was just 28 years old, and was convicted of shooting dead her lover, the racing driver David Blakely, on Easter Sunday that year. Ellis gave herself up to police, took full responsibility for the murder, and conducted herself with grace and courtesy during the proceeding trial.
Ellis's story is ripe for dramatic interpretation. It's been done on TV (1980), film (1985) and stage (2007), but Lucy Rivers's production is the first time it's been done in such a stylistically broad, cabaret mould. Ellis's story involves nude modelling, prostitution, illegal abortion, domestic violence and, ultimately, homicide. How Rivers chooses to interpret all this sin and iniquity is through the power of song, as the lead singer of The Bad Mothers.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
The winners of the 2017 Wales Theatre Awards have been announced, taking in the best in opera, dance and theatre in Wales between December 1st, 2015 and December 31st, 2016.
The ceremony took place at Taliesin Arts Centre in Swansea on Saturday, February 25th, from 5.30pm. Here's who won:
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
David Hare's Skylight debuted 22 years ago, but the socio-political themes the playwright addresses in the text are just as relevant today, if not more so. The two main characters (there is a third, but he is largely peripheral) represent the chasm between the two main attitudes toward society in British life - empathy and apathy.
East End school teacher Kyra is a forthright defender of the underdog, the dispossessed and the disadvantaged. She teaches difficult children in a difficult school in a difficult part of London because she believes she is doing good, that she is improving their lives and so, by association, is making the most of her own.
However, moneyed restaurateur Tom is in denial about how much good Kyra can do, and whether she really means what she says or whether she is holding herself back through some form of self-piteous punishment. Kyra lives in a freezing cold flat in Kensal Rise and seems relatively happy there, insisting that this way of living is really quite normal. Tom refuses to believe that is the case, and pushes Kyra to make more of herself, her intellect and her talents, to apply herself to self-improvement rather than that of others less fortunate than her.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
The shortlisted nominations for the 2017 Wales Theatre Awards have been announced, taking in the best in opera, dance and theatre in Wales between December 1st, 2015 and December 31st, 2016.
The winners will be announced at a ceremony at Taliesin Arts Centre in Swansea on Saturday, February 25th, from 5.30pm. See the Wales Theatre Awards website for more information.
Here's who's shortlisted, or click here for the winners:
Thursday, February 02, 2017
The relationship between men is a complex one. There are certain undrawn lines that you shouldn't cross if you're just mates, and there are certain things you need to be able to do in order to fit in. Masculinity has a habit of defining how far men's relationships with each other can go. The normative behaviour of heterosexual men means that emotion should be suppressed, not expressed, and that physical contact should remain blokey not invasive.
Bromance is a fascinating study on the different types of male relationships, and what restricts and enhances them, told through the medium of physical theatre such as circus, parkour and mime. Three performers - Charlie Wheeller, Beren D'Amico and Arthur Parsons - capitalise on their personal chemistry to present a show that balances physical expression with eye-popping spectacle to create a thoughtful, if sometimes roughly paced, hour of entertainment.
It explores the taboo of physical intimacy between men cleverly. When men touch, it's usually just to shake hands, or pat each other on the back. Maybe there's a drunken hug on a Saturday night, but rarely does it go beyond that. A bloke touching a bloke, especially without permission or unexpectedly, causes tension. The three boys begin by demonstrating the different types of handshake greetings, but show how some can feel too far or inappropriate. Some men aren't comfortable with a shoulder hug, others are more at ease with their bodies and don't mind an affectionate pat on the bum or chest.
Friday, January 27, 2017
There's a distinct mix of the traditional with the modern in Richard Alston Dance's Spring 2017 tour, which takes the company from the wilds of North Wales to the hubbub of London, via the US, Germany and Yeovil.
Theatr Clwyd is the first stop on a series of performances that take the company through the first six months of the year, and the Mold audience was lucky enough to have a preview of a brand new piece commissioned by Peak Performances, the Office of Arts and Cultural Programming at Montclair State University in New Jersey, before its official premiere on February 2nd in the States.
That piece is Chacony, named after a type of musical composition which reached peak popularity in the 17th century baroque era. Like a pure dance version of Laura Wade's Kreutzer vs Kreutzer (seen at Theatr Clwyd last October), Alston's choreography takes its lead from two pieces of music which are directly interconnected, but quite different. First there's Henry Purcell's Chacony in G minor, then Chacony from 2nd String Quartet Op.36 by Benjamin Britten. Purcell's score is ordered, structured and carefully sequenced, the dancers moving in unison to music reminiscent of a 17th century Viennese masquerade. The polite composition is reflected beautifully by the mannered choreography, the dancers floating around the stage in Peter Todd's diaphanous burgundy outfits as one cohesive group.
Friday, January 13, 2017
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
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.