Recent YC reviews Rachel Williams

Last Christmas | Theatre Review

Sherman Cymru
12 December
★★★★★

Christmas with a difference has landed at the Sherman: amongst the brightly coloured lights and floating snowflakes, stands one man: devoid of renditions of ‘He’s behind you’, emotions run high and hangover’s hit hard when reality rears its head and the spirit of Christmas is floundering. Matthew Bulgo’s debut play Last Christmas explores the idea of finally growing up and realising happiness isn’t just about escaping the past, but embracing the future. Tom faces the ghosts of the Christmas past to head into his future.

There is a unique take on a seemingly clichéd topic in Last Christmas: Tom escapes the backwards, boring Swansea life for the lights and highs of London as a film maker, but after a while the drudgery of paying the bills and an ordinary office job seeps back in. The character’s and the detail of Swansea are vivid: Lanky, Spanner and Bins are that much more alive than the likes of London character’s ‘Suz’ and the Intern. If ‘ambition is critical’ enough for people to leave, Last Christmas highlights the fact that they end up leaving something behind: true friendship and family – what did Tom’s dad really think at the end? Was he proud? It is Tom’s journey home where he comes to realise, through a haze of alcohol that he need not have worried: he has after all begun to become his father.

A one man show is difficult to pull off but the combination of talent brought about by Dirty Protest’s collaboration with Clwyd Theatre Cymru creates an intimate piece full of emotion and passion. Siôn Pritchard’s skillful acting and comic timing is fantastic: he portrays this ordinary man in such a way that everyone can empathise with on different levels and his portrayal of those in his story is pitched perfectly, each personification adding to the depth of the story. Matthew Bulgo’s use of language and imagery is superb: he has brought a character – who could easily have slipped into a one dimensional life – into a multi-dimensional, full colour existence. Filled with stomach creasing rants that flow with ease into dark, grief filled moments that brings tears to the eyes. Kate Wasserberg has used her skill to mould these two talented elements of actor and writer into a seamless and striking piece of theatre.

Last Christmas was a captivating hour of theatre and joy to watch, filled with the mixed blessings that Christmas brings for so many and the joy for others.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Adventures of Sancho Panza – Theatre Review

The Adventures of Sancho Panza
Riverfront Theatre, Newport
9 November

★★★★

The Adventures of Sancho Panza is a modern twist on the Don Quixote classic, drawing the real and fictional worlds together and the Don is no longer centre stage. With an unusual opening scene, Sancho Panza and his mother are attending the funeral of their father and husband, it is after when Sancho cannot get his mother to read with him and he reads alone, that his imagination takes over, bringing the Don himself to life and launches Sancho into his adventure.

It is an adventure full of glorious battles that simultaneously get more creative and ludicrous as the journey goes on, from fighting a lion to a singing competition with another knight. The comic element to the show is a huge factor and the audience are often in stitches: Gareth Clarke’s comic timing as Sancho is impressive, appearing almost instinctive, the same with Andrew Tadd – whose cheeky aside’s to the audience are perfect.
The set is striking yet simple – all in white it is transformed from kitchen to castle, waterfall and country road with ease and some ingenious use of props: the Don’s horse is actually a double base and Sancho’s donkey a Violin. Roles of paper have versatile uses, from Knightly capes to waterfall’s and caves. The cast climb all over the furniture, turning a table into a horse drawn carriage.
Involving the audience in a rendition of Robbie Williams’ Angels was a stroke of genius:  I had to concentrate very hard to join in, as I fought not to break out into a fit of laughter.

My only note would be that the piece felt like it faltered slightly: the pace started to wind down about two thirds through, rather than continue at a pace, almost if an interval might be needed somewhere. As it moves past this it does regain its momentum as Sancho is granted is own island to govern and the comedy continues.

The musical talent of the cast is brilliant: Maxwell James is handy with his guitar throughout. His rendition of the opening “There’s a million other places I’d rather be than here…There’s a million other people in the world I would rather be” is heartrending as we watch the funeral procession unfold. He plays challenging Knight in the Don’s (Gareth Wyn Griffiths) sing off. Wyn Griffiths is brilliant as the chivalrous, kind but occasionally daft Don.

Closing back in on reality, Sancho’s mother finds him reading out in the cold, his imagination having run its course and together they are able to work through their grief and Sancho’s questions of ‘Why?

A masterful, heart-warming and touching piece it is well worth seeing.

The Adventures of Sancho Panza is on tour again in 2013.

Info: www.hijinx.org.uk/ Hijinx as a theatre company are dedicated to creating accessible theatre for all the family and to the inclusion of actors with special needs.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Theatre Review

Fri 2 Nov

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
 
It is one thing to remember how funny a show an be, it is another to bear witness to a production that goes one better and every enunciation, tumble and action is comic perfection. In this production of Shakespeare’s farcical fairy tale every comic nuance possible is put to work, creating a hilarious, adventurous and magical performance. Theatre Mwldan and Mappa Mundi have revisited a partnership with Torch Theatre for this production, an enterprise that has again worked wonders.
Transported from ancient wooded Athens to 1940’s Britain, this Midsummer Night’s Dream is a new commentary on changing times where love wins out over stubborn class divides as Lysander –transformed into an American – fights for Hermia with the now straight laced, Englishman Demetrius. Air raid sirens sound and silent films play, setting the scene before the cast launch into the text – dressed as the soldiers, land girls, wardens and the glamorous upper class.
The plebeians  of St Athans Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (SAADOS) are the perfect comic bumbling relief to Oberon and Titania’s dark, sinister fairyland where unrequited love and false chivalry abound as the human’s fall victim to Puck’s shambolic meddling. Their inexplicable rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe making the perfect comic mockery of amateur theatre Liam Tobin’s Bottom and James Peake’s Flute stumble over lines, over act the scenes and produce ridiculous prop’s – Llinos Mae’s Snout suffers as the SAADOs rendition of the ill-fated wall. Mathew Bulgo’s plays Quince, forever attempting to improve his amateur actors and forever failing – only to give up in complete irritation.
With such a sizable but incredible talented ensemble cast it is difficult to pick the shining star: they all shone. Yet Joanna Simpkins was truly impressive as Helena: heartbroken and desperate her pursuit of Demetrius plays out with such physicality the audience is at once with her in sympathy and laughing at the hilarity if it and it starts again as the roles reverse  and she is pursued by both Demetrius and Lysander after Puck’s meddling. Francois Pandolfo as Puck is simultaneously menacing and enticing – flitting about the stage he is the willing villain of Oberon’s jealous plan and his appearance amongst the audience adds to the dreamlike quality of the show, becoming the dream’s storyteller.
A remarkably simple set works well with the lighting, enhancing the dark, dreamy world. Multi-media use at the beginning and end: delivering Puck’s final lines is eerie and perfectly placed to close down the dream and let the dreaming audience awaken.
A Midsummer Nights Dream is on tour until 8th December.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Llwyth – Theatre Review

23 Aug 2012

Y Llwyfan, Carmarthen

★★
On a night when communities come together in brilliant catharsis – Wales has lost the rugby – four friends are living their own moments of catharsis as they move through their own night of fighting, reminiscing and revelations.
Llwyth takes its inspiration from the Gododdin – a tale of warriors and men from several tribes bound together as a community by loyalty for their King and their country against a common enemy. Over a year they trained during the day and feasted and drank at night before marching on their foe and wiping out seven times their number. Weaving the lyrical, poetic language of this sixth century poem into the play, writer Dafydd James handing Aneurin (Simon Watts) beautifully crafted monologues that he performs with conviction and perfectly pitched acting.
This play isn’t just about being gay or about gay life in Cardiff, it digs deeper into a world of universal insecurities, friendships that last – no matter what and that sense of belonging many of us earn for. Rhys (Paul Morgans) is turning 30 and faced with boyfriend Gareth (Michael Humphreys) supposed inconsistencies and throughout the night they fight out their differences. Gavin (Joshua Price) is that innocent teenager starting out in life, a mix of naivety and that rush to experience life. Dada (Danny Grehan) is the aging ‘queen’, father and storyteller of the group, having already lived and experienced life. Aneurin is a struggling writer, lost amongst his ideas and fighting against his past – unable to face up to his emotions and the recent death of his mother.
Humour has a huge presence in the dialogue, breaking up the tension at the most perfect moments. The Eisteddfod gets a lambasting and faces of the media get their mention as comparators to the character’s themselves and as part of their life stories.
Written predominantly in Welsh there are splashes of English and Wenglish: a vision of truth of today’s culture in Wales and even though it is English that is predominantly heard every day it adds another element to the play. As much now as in the sixth century this is a land of languages and cultures, of tribes that exist separately yet come together for a common cause.  There are surtitles available in English, but with the superb acting and physicality of the cast, the harmonic choral singing of the choir and soundtrack and the skilful use of the stage and props through Director Arwel Gruffydd Llwyth captivates the audience enough to forget about the surtitles.
A distinctly Welsh play, Llwyth is not necessarily owned by Wales, it will travel and it has proved that – receiving rave reviews at Edinburgh’s Fringe and through its invitation to the Asian Arts Festival in Taipei.
A play to make you laugh, cry and what to join in dancing, Llwyth is a genius piece of writing: tender, heart-rending, laugh out loud funny and exciting. I promise you will find it hard to fault it and will absolutely love it.
Llwyth is at Sherman Cymru for its last set of performances 12-14 September before it heads to the festival in Taipei.
Info: http://www.shermancymru.co.uk/

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Y Storm – Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru – Eisteddfod 2012

Y Storm
National Eisteddfod Wales
8th August 2012

★★★★

Ystorm is Gwyneth Lewis Welsh language translation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A tale full of power, jealousy and revenge:  Prospero was the Duke of Milan but his love of the dark arts and his library led him to invite his brother Antonio to share the power. Antonio then conspired with the King of Naples Alonso to usurp Prospero and send him to a far flung island. It is Gonzalo who allows Prospero to take supplies and his books. It is on this island that the story starts, where Prospero has used is powers and servant Ariel to shipwreck his enemies on his island where the lets them wander, tormented by dreams and spirits. Ferdinand is split from his father Alonso and thinks him dead but at sight of Miranda (Prospero’s daughter); Ferdinand falls madly in love and submits to Prospero’s servitude to prove he loves her. It is Prospero’s aim to regain his Dukedom and teach his enemies the lessons they deserve yet it is Prospero who also learns lessons – to treat his enemies with honour and to be the better man.
Directed by Elen Bowman Ystorm is part of the World Shakespeare Festival, in conjunction with the London 2012 celebrations.
As a first language English speaker and admittedly only Welsh language learner, I walked in concerned as to how much I was going to understand but within moments the performance took over and entranced the soul.
The continual movement and use of the whole space as the cast mingled in amongst the audience added another level to the performance. The surtitles were good for keeping up where the story was when you couldn’t quite remember the next part but the non-fluent audience did not have to rely on them – just listening to the language was a pleasure.
Members of the acclaimed Citrus Arts are part of the cast, lending their unique physical brand of circus theatre to the performance, using the tent scaffold to its full potential, as spirits flying around the sky (with aerial equipment) and adding a carnival atmosphere to the scene (using fire and floor equipment) when Prospero uses his powers to conjure up a fantasy for Miranda and Ferdinand and Ariel calls forth the Gods of the land.
Ariel is a character trapped by the lure of freedom and Meilir Rhys Williams plays him perfectly, he is at once the unearthly, playful mischievous spirit and the loving servant. Along with his team of spirits the choreography was fantastic, playing with the human characters minds – working around them as if invisible with perfect timing and grace.
The performance space – a purpose built tent – was a warm sandy island in the middle of an ocean of mud, replicating the remote island Prospero was cast out to and transports the audience into the Shakespearean world as they took their seats on tiered platforms around the tent.
Trinculo (Hugh Thomas) and Stephano (Siôn Pritchard) were the perfectly pitched comic relief against the more powerful, emotional turmoil’s played out by the larger characters with their brilliantly timed drunken antics and petty greed putting their own instant gratification above all else. When they come across Caliban hiding from Prospero they turn him into a willing drinker as he happily submits to being their servant not Prospero’s. Caliban’s character also provides a different angle to the story: after all he is the original inhabitant of the island – given the role of the brutish uncivilized slave he is another innocent in the equation, used harshly by Prospero for his own ends.
A brilliant show I would definitely recommend and I look forward to further productions by Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru.
Y Storm is at the United Counties Showground, Camarthe 18-21 September and
Faenol Estate, Bangor 2-6 October

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Act One’s King Lear: Edinburgh Fringe Preview

Cardiff’s Act One head for Edinburgh’s Fringe:

Sun 12-Sat 18 August

The Monkey House, Edinburgh
(originally for Buzz Mag)

The Edinburgh Fringe is a pivotal point in the theatrical calendar and Cardiff University’s very own Act One drama society are heading up there to perform, taking performances ofWuthering Heights, The Institute andKing Lear. Nearing the end of their intensive rehearsals I caught up with Piers Horner, Co-director of King Lear.
This King Lear has a substantially cut script – to fit into their 1 hour 15 minute and to make it more absorbing and engaging to a modern audience: Piers admitted it had been a challenge to retain a concise script, make a production that is far more accessible and to hold people’s attention, but also keep the essence of the play and not detract from it.

A post-apocalyptic interpretation, its intensified violence is blended with the text’s raw power and the original Shakespearean language. Piers explained the idea of a crumbling society, where Lear himself is a crumbling figurehead – losing power to his two callous daughters whilst the third daughter is banished and powerless to help. Gloucester, part of the only remaining sub-plot, is corrupted by his illegitimate son Edmund, forcing his elder son to flee.

To Piers heading up to the Edinburgh fringe is incredible and hugely exciting, particularly as they only ever envisaged it as a main Cardiff Act One production and to be there on showcase with great companies in an event where anything can happen is incredible. Performing in The Monkey House they have a prime afternoon spot away from the larger evening performances.

For those lucky enough to be heading up to Edinburgh in August @LearFringe2012 is their Twitter tag.
Tickets: £7.50. Info: www.edinburghfestivals.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s