Saturday, 27 November 2010

Camp as Christmas!

Mamma Mia
By Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
Venue: Wales Millenium Centre
Dates: 16th Nov to 23rd Jan
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard

A fabulous celebration of ABBA’s greatest hits and 70’s culture Mamma Mia is the ultimate feel good musical, full of energy and oomph. The massive film sensation has revived the stage show’s popularity with sell out performances around the country.
Personally I was a little disappointed, having heard that the stage show is very different from the film I found the opposite to be true. Many of the costumes were VERY similar if not identical, characterisation was alike and even the choreography was familiar. A welcome addition to the live performance was the inclusion of some of ABBA’s songs that didn’t make it to cinema. This stopped the performance becoming too predictable but didn’t stop a rowdy audience singing along!
Before I go on to rant I want to stress that I did enjoy the energy and feel good nature of the show but there were some flaws that you wouldn’t expect in a professional tour (but maybe I am just too picky?). For the whole of the first act the sound levels seemed to be out of balance with some characters barely audible, it was fortunate that the audience were familiar with the lyrics as most of the story is told through the music. The reliance on the songs I felt was far too great, the brief stints of acting were a little lifeless and seemed to just fill time between tunes.
 2009/10 International Tour Cast - Press/Publicity Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
My biggest complaint was that due to the audience’s familiarity with the show they treated it like panto, offering (often completely irrelevant) replies to the cast and would sing in what were meant to be dramatic silences. Although funny to begin with it soon got tiresome and definitely lessened the impact of the emotional scenes in act 2.    
The highlight of the evening was most certainly the encore; the cast were clearly enjoying themselves and the audience were on their feet. The choreography was breathtaking, especially from the male members of the cast who performed acrobatic feats as it they were a walk in the park. It was a fabulously camp, loud and energetic crowd pleaser that ensured every single person left with a warm fuzzy feeling inside
 I would definitely recommend it as a Christmas treat but don’t expect to see anything new.        

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Sexuality and Desire in the Struggle for Power

Measure for Measure
Sherman Cymru
Venue: The Provincial, Cardiff Bay
Directed by : Chris Ricketts
Dates: 18 November - 05 December
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
Photographs from Sherman Cymru Gallery

William Shakespeare's play dealing with corruption, power and lust has been dramatically remodelled by D.J. Britton to deliver a punchy, sharp and relevant piece of theatre. The whole production has been shortened to two hours and many characters from the original have been merged to give a smaller but very strong cast.
Even with the reduced number of characters most of the actors had to take on two roles. This really developed the ideas of deception and hidden agendas, especially as the characters were often polar opposites. Perhaps the best example of this was Ifan Meredith's solemn, chaste Angelo and his delightfully camp brothel madam Mistress Overdone.


Ifan Meredith tries to seduce Kezia Burrows

To allow this duality of character the costumes were masterfully designed. Some had removable panels that revealed chains and piercings, others cloaks that were readjusted to showcase busty corsets. Kezia Burrows beautifully played Isabella, a novice nun, whose habit had a cut out panel to reveal lace and barely concealed underwear, showing how even those who devote their life to chastity can be objects of desire.

As it was performed in the round the audience could not help but feel involved and therefore cast their own judgements as to who was right and wrong in a tale full of vice. The audience were even given the opportunity to sit right alongside the action with ringside seats. The whole set was magnificent; drawers and chests with half open cupboards gave a sense of secrecy and temptation, scattered bottles of alcohol and makeup illustrated the lack of self restraint all the characters felt at some point.



Opulent surroundings at The Provincial

Even the venue added to the atmosphere, the building is in the centre of what used to be Cardiff's red light district, but was formerly a bank. These contrary ideas of sexuality and power were key themes of the play. The lighting and music built the sensual ambience, with moody saxophone and deep lighting. Everything came together to build a fantastic atmosphere and really compelling performance.



"Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall".

Monday, 15 November 2010

A Bizzare Slice of Welsh Life

The Dark Philosophers
National Theatre Wales with Told by an Idiot
Venue: The Riverfront, Newport
Directed by: Paul Hunter
Verdict: ****
Reviewed By Chelsey Gillard

 A drama critics dream, The Dark Philosophers is brilliantly bizarre. The highly physical piece asked a lot from the performers with each one taking on numerous roles, including animating the giant puppet that was the terrifying Oscar; owner of the Welsh mountain where the play is set.

As Gwyn Thomas’ stories are acted out he watches proceedings narrating and often offering the characters appropriate lines. Although this was a very clever device that gave insight into the writer’s mind, the mask that was worn throughout the performance made the character seem distant and less real than some of the others. Having said this Glyn Pritchard more than made up for the lack of facial expressions with flamboyant gestures and a superb voice.

The set was a ramshackle pile of wardrobes and drawers that were used to portray houses, pubs and bedrooms. This brilliant design perfectly illustrated how the characters could have no secrets due to their proximity.

Each character, even those with no lines, was unique. The eight actors were brilliant at changing their body language, voices and even genders to suit each oddball inhabitant of the valley. Any Welsh person watching the show would easily identify with these characters that seem to pop up all over the country.  
Original music by Iain Johnstone added to the tension, especially in what seemed to be a murder scene. The actors urged the potential murderer on with an intricate multipart song and chant that had my heart pounding with anticipation.

Although the production may not be to the taste of more traditional theatre goers and Gwyn Thomas fans, I found it compelling. Real empathy was developed between the audience and characters and I was genuinely moved by some of the stories. Elements of the show reminded me of Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milkwood” especially the dark humour and eccentric personalities. It was a brave production but the risks definitely paid off.

 The Dark Philosophers will also be performed at Y Stiwt, Wrexham on Friday 19th  and Saturday 20th, November.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Staring Competition

Kontakt 3
Sherman Cymru Youth Theatre
Venue: St. John's Church, Canton
Directed and Developed by Phillip Mackenzie
Dates: 28th Oct - 6th Nov
Verdict: ****
Review by Chelsey Gillard
Photographs by Andy Hammer

             The first point of contact with another human being is usually through the eyes, but it is rather unusual to find yourself sat behind a little table, in a candle lit church with a complete stranger staring into the depths of your soul. Kontakt is an annual event that forces communication and understanding between different generations and backgrounds, beginning with a surreal staring competition where nothing is said and the only noise is eerie  music and the snap of candles burning.
The beautifully haunting venue.

               Waiting for the performance to begin I really didn't know what to expect, all the information I could find on Kontakt was rather elusive. Next thing I knew a young man appeared asking the "participants" to take their seats. Not knowing what to do I waited until someone informed me I was indeed a participant and of course this filled me with dread; I do not enjoy the whole "He's behind you" routine and audience participation puts me on edge.

                Throughout the night different young people from the cast took the seat opposite me sometimes just to chat, others held my hands in silence, one questioned me on the fundamentals of good and evil but all broke through the shield we put up when confronted with an uncomfortable and unexpected situation. In this respect the event was  real success, I felt like I had really gotten to know some of the young people, I even agreed to get up and dance which is an event that usually only occurs after a good few rum and cokes.

Every "participant" was persuaded to bust some moves. 

                 In contrast to this I felt some of the content was irrelevant and just plain awkward. There was  recurring dance that the cast would do in front of the tables, the first few moves looked like the beginning of the Macarena and this had me desperately trying to stifle my giggles, at one point it got so bad that the performer in front of me got the giggles too and I had to look away every time the move came around. Another poor choice was a position where the dancers put their hands on their hips, for girls fine, but the boys looked so comically uncomfortable. I have to say I'm not entirely sure what purpose the dancing served.

              One of the teenage girls who sat opposite me broke the magic by asking "Do you think this is acting? Because I don't." Having had time to consider this my view of the whole experience is that although it is not traditional theatre it will teach the young performers a lot of essential skills; concentration, audience connection, self-confidence and the ability to be true on stage.    

Getting to know you...
                 I would honestly encourage everyone to make Kontakt, it's eye-opening, educational and heartwarming. It was like speed-dating without the date, but with a lot more truth. I learnt a lot about myself and will keep the souvenir picture I drew with one of the actors to remind me that it is possible for humans to honest and warm towards each other. I will definitely be attending next year to see what new social challenges the company can offer.  



Thursday, 4 November 2010

Love and Loss in Bridgend

Love Steals Us From Loneliness by Gary Owen
National Theatre Wales with Sherman Cymru
Venue: Hobo’s Rock Club, Bridgend
Dates: 7th – 16th Oct 2010
Director: John E McGrath  
Verdict: ***
Review by Chelsey Gillard
Photographs by Toby Farrow
               Being born and bred in Bridgend I was dreading either a depressing, dark and moody look at teenage life in “the Big-End” or a telling off about how the town was so much better back in the day and that kids don’t get outside enough. The teens in this play were of course moody and bordering on depression (what teen isn’t) but they certainly got out enough! Their destination of choice was Bridgend town centre at Halloween; a place that locals know, come midnight, is full of witches and monsters all year round.

              Standing in the bar waiting for the show to start I realised that someone I vaguely recognised was standing next to me looking nervous, a second look revealed Mark Sumner in the part of Scott. He was living the geeky character so thoroughly that even after years of acting alongside him in the Bridgend Youth Theatre it took me a while to figure out his identity. The karaoke microphone on the small stage was soon put to use as Scott began the play with a song interrupted by a rather gobby yet beautiful Catrin (Katie Elin-Salt) storming out of the club.
              We were led into the intimate, double sided, theatre area and the play began proper.  Catrin and Scott were now in a graveyard where Catrin was trying to relieve herself. The awkwardness of the situation soon forced the two- linked by their friendship and love of Lee, Catrin’s boyfriend - to not only talk, but listen. This act of the play was beautifully naturalistic, with a lot of Bridgend’s unique language captured almost perfectly, including very regular F- and C-bombs. Scott’s understated declaration of love for Catrin was realistic, funny and most of all touching. The interval came all too soon as we waited for Catrin’s response. 

Katie Elin-Salt and Mark Sumner drunkenly discuss love.
            In the second act the metal hoops that were earlier used as seats and fences were now decorated in various personal belongings – Lee’s belongings, who we learn has died in a car crash via the brutal text message “Lee’s dead” from his mother to his sister. His shoes, clothes and car accessories constantly give this character a presence on the stage although there is never a physical embodiment of the boy who is to remain forever 17.
            We are joined by three new characters; Lee’s sister Becky, played by Remy Beasley, who was possibly a secondary character but she made the part as important as all the others with a unique combination of brash charm and sensitivity. Catrin’s new boyfriend Mikey, Matthew Trevannion, who reminded me of that friend we all have that we sometimes wish we didn’t know so we don’t have to admit to any connection in public but we love deep down. And Lee’s mother Mags, superbly portrayed by Nia Roberts, who won most, if not all of our sympathy with her descent into grief- stricken meltdown.
A distressed Nia Roberts as Mags.

             This act flipped, sometimes ungracefully, between naturalistic speech and more poetic musings on life, love and mortality. Personally I think these musings were perhaps out of character, but they did serve the purpose of giving us an insight into each person’s journey from the hell of losing a loved one to the need to move on with life. The monologues occasionally seemed to be designed only to tug on the heartstrings and I felt more moved by some of the more underplayed lines. The bittersweet ending gave us Catrin’s much anticipated answer to Scott’s adoration; a brief kiss that had provided the fuel for Lee’s high speed death.       
Having myself acted in one of Gary Owen’s plays “Mary Twice” I must rather brutally admit that I was not expecting much from the script. Although “Love Steals” was an improvement I still feel the success of this production lies in the hands of the director and actors who used everything they were given; script, music, set and venue; to their full advantage.
My main criticism is that on times the effort the actors were making to address both sides of the audience was a bit obvious with big, although probably unintentional, flourishes when turning around and that as they we on stage for the full second half brief lapses in concentration were all too visible. Also if that is what a Bridgend accent truly sounds like I need to get myself some elocution lessons pronto!
Remy Beasley as Becky, with a floral tribute to her brother in the background.
               Hopefully this production will force those with the power to sit up and realise that Bridgend is bursting with talent and a thirst for quality theatre that requires a full time venue in the town centre that will hopefully attract more productions from the fantastic NTW. The time has come for my little ugly-beautiful town to lick its wounds and move on to a bright future whilst also remembering its past, bad times but more so good.