Friday, 10 December 2010

Unprotected

Unprotected by Bethan Marlow
Velvet Ensemble
Venue: Wales Millenium Centre, Weston Studio
Directed by: Sarah Bickerton
Dates: 8th – 9th December 2010
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
Photographs from www.velvetensemble.co.uk



The moment you suddenly realise you are out in the world without mummy and daddy there to hold your hand is a daunting prospect for anyone, more so if you have lived a sheltered life until that point. This is the exactly where we find the innocent Violet (Rhian Blythe), in a new flat that she hopes will allow her a new, more independent life.

The set was a simple raised square, with a ¾ bed and boxes full of Violet’s few possessions. The only way to distinguish outside and inside was through lighting changes that were executed flawlessly. Subtle red lighting was also used in scenes of high tension or passion, although a slightly overused technique it was ideal for laying Violet’s emotions open for all to see. This simplicity suited the performance, highlighting Violet’s isolation and vulnerability.

Rhian Blythe in the poster for Unprotected



Throughout the play we only see two actors even though other people are present and even spoken to in one sided conversations. This choice was brilliant; it exaggerated the sense of Violet being completely alone apart from her strained connection with Tom (Gareth Milton) and helped maintain intensity in the small venue. Having said this the absence of Violet’s parents was slightly odd as we were led to believe that they were over protective and defensive, the fact that they wouldn’t try to get in contact with her, or that she wouldn’t worry about them more is perhaps a slight oversight in characterisation. I could be completely wrong with statement as we soon learn Violet is a compulsive liar and she could in fact have parents who don’t care at all, but then where did she get the money for the flat from?

This is Velvet Ensemble’s first full length production and is also Bethan Marlow’s first English language play (her first language being Welsh). Watching the production you would never guess this; the script is complex and unpredictable much like the character of Violet, the words and direction manage to skirt around clich├ęs and the acting was superb. Due to a combination of these things the characters of Violet and Tom were solid, three dimensional and most importantly believable.


Rhian and Gareth in rehersals

Velvet Ensemble aim to redress the male/female balance in theatre by producing plays that have female lead characters. Although this particular production was very much about Violet’s world we were given great insight into Tom’s motives and at no point was the play anti-male. In fact, of the two, Tom was in many ways more likeable, with Violet being a combination of innocence and unreasonable behaviour that stemmed from her need to please others.  The theatre company have definitely achieved their objective as this project was a brilliant showcase of female talent in all areas, especially Rhian Blythe who was absolutely perfect as oddball Violet with perfect gestures and tone of voice.

Any young woman or indeed man watching the production would be able to take some comfort in the fact that it is ok to fall in love and do silly things. Normality is different for each one of us and everyone has a piece of the eccentric, extrovert side of Violet and the shy, embarrassed qualities of Tom. Hopefully people will also take the message that it is ok to be your true self and that you should never change for anyone.

I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone involved in this production the VERY best. I can’t wait to see more Velvet Ensemble productions and more writing from Bethan Marlow both of which are sure to have brilliant futures.


For more info on Velvet Ensemble visit: www.velvetensemble.co.uk

For more reviews and an interview with VE producer V John and writer Bethan Marlow visit: www.hypercriticreviews.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Interview with Velvet Ensemble

Written by Rachel Williams
Edited by Chelsey Gillard


Theatre Company Velvet Ensemble is back in the WMC with their first big production; Unprotected. This time as ‘graduates’ of its annual Incubator Project (2009) and we grabbed the chance to talk to its producer Victoria “V” John and writer Bethan Marlow during rehearsals in Cardiff, in an unexpected rehearsal space; rather than in a WMC studio V walked us to an office building around the corner where we settled into sofas out of the cold.
Velvet Ensemble:
Living in a world dominated by male writers and uninteresting female parts V was encouraged by positive, proud, can do women in American theatre: women who freely admit to being feminists. So V brought Velvet Ensemble to life as a theatre company creating productions for and about women, by women. Although they both stress that the male voice is still important - it is just an attempt to address the gender imbalance and to quote V they are not “angry, man hating, bra burning lesbians” but are certainly not afraid of that label, her attitude is that people should come see the plays and let them speak for themselves before she has to defend anything.
We asked V to define Velvet Ensemble, was it aiming to be mainstream? Edgy? To her those words mean little: she doesn’t know the ultimate goal for the company, only that there is no ‘house style’ and she would like to produce a different work every time and that is the main reason for the absence of an Artistic Director.
The Incubator Project, Victoria?
V explained that WMC set up this initiative to nurture new talent, starting with Inc’Ling: where any type of artist; from actor to lighting designer can try out any new idea they have. From here it progresses into the Incubator project which requires a larger, more solid brief/work in progress: giving them rehearsal space and a small bursary. The work is then presented in a one night performance along with other ‘Incubator’ companies/ artists where the audience can provide feedback. For Velvet Ensemble the support provided was incredibly important especially now as they are in co-production with the WMC as part of an ‘Incubator 2’ almost, to develop Unprotected into a full production.
Bethan on Unprotected
It isn’t just the name of the show, Unprotected defines the process of evolution that plays can go through – nothing is safe. With the dates for the show around the corner we asked just how much of the original project and brief had survived and what had grown from it. Out of the original four, only one main character has survived so we only see her part of the story: the best way to concentrate on the central idea. It still carries the same themes: questioning the word “normal” and playing with the word love and peoples fears; our relationship with love, what it is, what it makes you do and how scared we are of it and what it can make you do.
Why should anyone go see Unprotected?
“The people that are involved are phenomenally gifted, are rising stars in Welsh theatre. We are expressing something new and Welsh talent should be supported in Wales”.
Cardiff and being in Wales
V currently lives in London but works between there and Cardiff, the two cities are vastly different, not just in size but in outlook and personality so we asked just what Cardiff’s allure was – away from the bright lights of London’s theatre. London is brilliant but vastly over populated: the spectrum of spectacular theatre to the downright dire is far greater: one is able to go out any night of the week to an array of locations and find a production, whereas in Cardiff’s smaller circle the spectrum is not so wide. Both are hugely passionate about Cardiff and Wales; its theatre scene is burgeoning, the support is far greater and the buzz of a fringe theatre scene has only now begun to stamp its mark outside of the conventional theatre space. They candidly admit it that the environment here is such that if the production was not done here, would not have been done at all.
It’s not a secret
“Theatre is just a job like anything else” and Bethan would be right, people see theatre as an unattainable luxury that only the gifted and privileged have access to but the case is most of us want to share what we learn – Bethan for instance does workshops in the prisons with Academi. Education is important to the VE team too – they work with Channel 4’s ‘4 talent’ and work within schools, not just to develop theatre skills but to also give people confidence, build self esteem and to just show that there isn’t a massive gap between the theatre and an audience. Both V and Bethan stressed that they want “real” people to come to their productions, open minded and willing to be as involved in the performance as the actors.
So what is next?
We didn’t get much out of V on this one, “the future is bright and varied” she said cryptically at the end. Although she is very excited about the next piece which will hopefully be a children’s show and she is looking at a stack of plays at the moment, all that is needed is the time and space to develop ideas and then the money to do it.
To find out more go to http://www.velvetensemble.co.uk/
Unprotected plays at Wales Millennium Centre’s Weston Studio on 8th and 9th December 2010 at 8pm. Tickets are available from www.wmc.org.uk or by contacting the Box Office on 029 2063 6464
(Unprotected poster taken from website)