Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Alice in Wonderland with "sex and Violence"

The Wonderful World of Dissocia
A Play by Anthony Neilson
Act One
Venue: Cardiff YMCA
Dates: 8th-12th March 2011
Directed by Ellie Barrow and Natasha Clarke
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard

As the writer himself puts it "If you like Alice in Wonderland but there’s not enough sex and violence in it, then Dissocia is the show for you".  This zany show follows a young lady, Lisa (Sophie Herrman), on her journey to retrieve an hour she lost when travelling through different time zones. She believes when she has found the time she lost her frantic life will regain balance and harmony.

Her search leads her to Dissocia; an odd land full of “Little Britain” –on- speed-esque characters; that we eventually learn is all part of her imagination. The In-security officers she meets on first arrival were hilarious. Constantly doubting themselves and their job role, they were an accurate, if exaggerated, illustration of all the red tape one must endure to enter a country in fear of terrorist attacks. Chris Paisley and Ed Thomas had real camaraderie in the roles, bouncing off each other well without trying to outdo each other, they displayed Anthony Neilson’s excellent command of the English language and got a laugh for every subtle (and blindingly obvious) gag.

To enter the land of Dissocia Lisa must take an oath of loyalty to the country’s Queen Sarah; cue Greg Davies as the booming Oathtaker, followed by his entourage who answer his cry of “Oathtaker” with “Oatcake Eater” and a tray of the snacks. All involved in this scene were on the ball and beautifully performed a song to welcome Lisa to the land, but as I will explain later they really outdid themselves soon after in other roles. We learn that Dissocia is under constant threat of bombing by the Black Dog and his soldiers, who wish to capture Queen Sarah but do not know who she is as everyone has forgotten what she looks like, including herself.  

Sophie comforts Scapegoat Aled
As her journey continues Lisa bumps into a miserable, Aled Bidder, as Gavin Loxley the Scapegoat who never gets blamed for anything. In an attempt to cheer him up Lisa blames him for stealing her hour, suddenly he is tying her up to hand her over to the Black Dog as a lost hour is a great source of power. While he waits for his dark master Gavin decides to beat and rape Lisa, stating “there’s no smoke without fire” when Lisa says she thought scapegoats got blamed for things they DIDN’T do. Throughout Aled was unflinching in his delivery and didn’t shy away from the more intimate moments. How he kept a straight face I don’t know!

Luckily the attack was interrupted by Emily Napier as Jane, a government worker who becomes the victim of all crimes, in an attempt to reduce crime rates in the nation. It turns out the scheme has failed, crimes have actually doubled but the number of victims was down to one – her- therefore in government eyes a success. Emily showed real promise as a character actress but for some reason the audience didn’t seem to warm to her as much as other characters. She used both her voice and body well, and with more development I think she could be great in physical theatre.

Having narrowly avoided a horrific attack Lisa is greeted by a Bi-Polar bear, who has written a song to cheer her up. Reminiscent of a big, white, fluffy Eeyore Alex Mann was perfect. His lethargic voice and bumbling, unbending walk made you feel sorry for the overgrown teddy bear. He deservingly received a huge round of applause as he shuffled offstage having renewed not only Lisa’s but the whole audiences’ belief in the goodness of animals.

By far the best scene in the play, Lisa finally finds Lost Property, where she hopes to find her hour. Lost Property it seems is also a hotdog stand; tucking into anaemic sausages are a bunch of misfits who have lost various items. Ryan Atkinson it seems has lost the argument, constantly picking fights he cannot win; Simon Gibbs gives out the best belly laughs at completely inappropriate times, he has lost his sense of humour; but the worst thing to lose, your inhibitions, is lost by James Paine who very bravely stands up from behind his table to reveal a bare bottom and nothing on his lower half but a jock strap!

Owner of lost property, Britney (Grace Kendall), is a hard, almost chavvy lady, who is more interested in bullying her chef Biffer than actually helping anyone. Biffer marked the return of the incredible Greg Davies, who was painfully funny as the greasy, mumbling man. Everyone put their all into making this scene work with great ad lib. lines and perfect timing. It was the most surreal scene and was therefore the most powerful, especially when Aled Bidder reappeared as a glasses wearing, banjo playing, giant hotdog.

In a weird twist of events from here it turns out two of the customers are actually part of Queen Sarah’s royal guard and Lisa is rather predictably the monarch. Nathalie Bolding and Simon Gibbs were fantastically camp as the over-the-top Musketeer types who lead the citizens of Dissocia into battle against the Black Dog. And if he hadn’t already, Greg Davies completely stole the show as he stood quivering brandishing two limp frankenferters as weapons.    

The second half I feel tried to make its point too hard, without much substance. Repetitive blackouts showed the passing of time in the hospital where Lisa is actually a psychiatric patient. She is treated by familiar faces from the first half who it appears have made their way into her subconscious and are therefore characters in her imaginary world of Dissocia. One flaw was the costumes worn by the male characters in this act, they were clearly female nurse uniforms that fitted badly and therefore got laughs from the audience when there should be none, blurring the contrast that should have been obvious between act one and act two.

Not very much happens in this act, we do get a sense of her loneliness and vulnerability in the healthcare system but it has no real meat. We never get an explanation of Lisa’s condition or treatment or even the reason behind why she would choose not to take her medication. Little research seemed to have been done by the writer, Lisa seemed to be in a private room in the hospital and although I know this was to emphasise her solitude, surely it is far more harrowing to be surrounded by others with mental health issues but not being able to connect or engage with them, let alone being an inaccurate representation of the current state of the NHS.

Moving speeches made by Ben Atterbury as Vince, Lisa’s boyfriend and Emily Napier as her sister Dot, show the cast is capable of emotion as well as humour. They do give a sense of the frustrations you face when dealing with someone with mental health issues but both are portrayed as rather callous and unfeeling, this I feel is a fault with the writing rather than the acting. The plot and characters are over simplified to show how much of a victim of society Lisa is, but it forces this down your throat and made me personally become disinterested in Lisa’s plight. 
Artwork from the Poster

Sophie Herrman handled the role of Lisa very well; when in Dissocia she had a certain innocence, without naivety that was refreshing and helped the audience go along with the mad-cap antics. The monologues were nicely delivered but sometimes lacked focus, it was unclear who she was addressing and why, perhaps this was intentional due to the character’s mental illness and lack of identity but I feel a more direct approach would have been more effective. In the darker second half Sophie’s professional conduct was apparent, she hit every cue and the lights never came up on her fumbling with props. The wild emotions of the mentally ill young woman were dealt with, with sensitivity even if the fake crying did become a bit repetitive. Definitely one to watch out for in future productions.

Overall the play was really enjoyable with many laugh out loud moments and was successful as a comic satire of the governments’ and societies’ current attitudes. I feel if more work had gone into the second act in the writing stage it would have been much more hard hitting. Once again Act One has produced a highly polished production that I’m sure will be talked about for years to come.

For more reviews visit:  HyperCritic Reviews

For more info on Act One : click here
Their  next production is Twelfth Night, also performed in the YMCA theatre, from Tuesday 15th to Sat 19th March. Tickets available from Cardiff Union Box Office.

Cast List
Ryan Atkinson – Passenger, attendant, argument
Ben Atterbury – Vince
Aled Bidder – Gavin Loxley, musician
Nathalie Bolding – Passenger, attendant, ticket
Greg Davies – Oathtaker, Biffer
Simon Gibbs – Passenger, attendant, laughter
Sophie Hermann – Lisa
Grace Kendal – Britney
Alex Mann – Victor, Bi-polar bear
Emily Napier – Jane, Dot
James Paine – Passenger, attendant, inhibitions
Chris Paisley – Guard 1
Ed Thomas – Guard 2

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Student Group Triumphs Again

The Crucible
Act One
Venue: Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Dates: 1st – 5th March
Directed by Anna Bates and Fleur Tucker

Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard

The student group have triumphed once more with this heartfelt and dramatic interpretation of the classic play, The Crucible. Although the meaty play covers a plethora of “issues” : adultery, witchcraft, lying, punishment, religion, law; the young cast tackled it with maturity and much consideration for the historical aspects of the material.

The story follows a puritan community in Salem, who are rocked by accusations of witchcraft after a group of young girls are found dancing and performing rituals in the forest. To turn the accusations away from herself the wily Abigail Williams begins to point the finger at anyone in the community that she does not approve of. Amy Gilbrook was perfectly cast as the devious teen, giving the character reason for all her evil actions. She was fully believable a heartless and somewhat naive young lady who would not think twice about getting someone sentenced to death to get what she wants.  Occasionally she slipped in a bit of modern, moody teen attitude but this was not completely out of place and gave the audience more reason to dislike her!

It is eventually revealed that one of the accused women’s husband, John Proctor, has had a affair with Abigail, who is still in love with him and wishes to become his wife. Proctor, played by Sam Blythe, is perhaps the most real of the characters, claiming to be neither a saint nor a sinner. Sam played the honest and simple-living farmer well, warming into the part as the play progressed. Towards the end of the play he was truly moving in his portrayal of a man torn between his desire to live and his need to uncover the truth.

His wife, Elizabeth, was a real driving force in the production. Alice Thatcher’s interpretation of Elizabeth’s quiet defiance was much more powerful than screaming and shouting ever could be. The character was made three dimensional and it was easy to see both why John cheated on her and why he will always love her despite her initially cold exterior.

The strict nature of the society was easy to realise with a good performance from Jon Chapman as Reverend Parris. His strict religious views and need to be seen as a beacon in society made him determined to do anything to hold on to his social standing. His journey through the play is not massive, he is constantly preaching and somewhat irritating, until a final U-turn when his conscience seems to kick in. With so many condemned to hanging he became almost Gollum like with worry, but whether this is truly due to concern for the condemned or due to fear of an uprising is unclear.

Parris is backed up by the judges Danforth (James Davies) and Hathorne (Darren F. Jones) who are reserved and somewhat sadistic characters who are more concerned about upholding the court than the persecution of innocent people. Both were imposing and used their deep, resonant voices to full effect to intimidate and bully.

The other young girls from the original group caught in the woods back Abigail up in everything she has to say in a bid to save themselves. The whole group were formidable when up against the accused, working together in pretend acts of being touched by witchcraft. The only girl to stand up for truth, Mary Warren, is a somewhat simple and naive girl who was also interestingly the only one to not fully take part in the original incident in the woods. Elin Williams was again an obvious choice for the role; she perfectly captured Mary’s innocence and easily changeable nature, one of the only people to go into the more dramatic scenes full force from the off.

Perhaps the only truly religious and good character in the whole production is Rev. John Hale. Initially called in to investigate supernatural occurrences in the town he soon sees through the girls’ pretence and does his utmost to save the condemned from hanging. James Shapland played the priest very well but sometimes didn’t have enough force to be considered a real opponent against the cruel judges.

Other standout performances came from Ruth Millington as Rebecca Nurse and James Rhys Davies as Cheever. Ruth was almost unrecognisable as the old lady who was a real pillar of the society and was brilliantly brave until the end when she refuses to confess to something she didn’t do, even though it will mean certain death for her. James was a much needed injection of energy when the play started to flag half way through, he illustrated both sides of the fickle man; that which was loyal to his god and law and that which was loyal to his friends.

At times the lighting seemed a little erratic and due to over use of blackouts it was unclear when each act had finished. Costumes were fantastic and the whole cast seemed comfortable in them, the only bad point was the overly simple symbolisation of the farmers who had their shirts untucked and frayed clothes  as opposed to the overly smart  ministers of God and the court. Sometimes the cast didn’t quite get to grips with the colloquialisms of the time but I think this is unavoidable unless they all adopt accents which I feel would have 
been an even bigger problem.  

Overall the play was successful. As with any play there were certain scenes which dragged but this was more than made up for with a punchy and highly emotional second act. Without a doubt the finest scene was between Mr and Mrs Proctor before his hanging, when she tells him only God will be his judge. Hopefully the cast will only improve as the week progresses and really dive into the dramatic, high tension scenes.

Emotional, tense and believable. Highly recommended!

To get tickets go to:
£7 or £6 with NUS card

For more info on Act One: http://www.actone.uni.cc/

Cast List

John Proctor – Sam Blythe
Reverend Parris – Jon Chapman
Ann Putnam – Amy Davies
Danforth – James Davies
Giles Corey – Alex Ford
Judge Hathorne – Darren F. Jones
Betty Parris –Ana Gheorgiu
Abigail Williams – Amy Gilbrook
Francis Nurse – Thomas Greene
Mercy Lewis – Charlotte Mercer
Rebecca Nurse – Ruth Millington
Susanna Walcott – Sarah O’Brien
Ezekial Cheever – James Rhys Davies
Rev. John Hale – James Shapland
Elizabeth Proctor – Alice Thatcher
Thomas Putnam – Robert Thomas
Mary Warren –Elin Williams
Tituba – Laura Williams
Extra Vocals –Mary Nichols

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Encourage, Excite, Ignite, Inspire

Inspire – Bridgend Youth Arts Festival
Bridgend Arts Council
Venue: Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl
End Performance: Fri 25th Feb
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard

After a week of workshops for dance, theatre and film Bridgend Arts Council staged a comprehensive evening of arts and culture. Bringing together It’s My shout, Bridgend Youth Dance and Theatre, National Youth Dance and National Dance Company Wales Associates the event was a treat for all. The art exhibition in the foyer showcased not only the photographers talent but also the amazing abilities of the young people in Bridgend, highlighting the recent star stories of Aneurin Bernard and other previous Youth Theatre members. Music throughout the night was provided by Louisa Sham, who played a beautiful range of flute pieces, accompanied by Mike Plowman.

It’s My Shout
The proceedings began with a short documentary about It’s My Shout 2010. The scheme is designed to train young people in the wide range of professions encompassed in TV and film; from acting and directing to location management and costume design. The documentary highlighted how the scheme can give direction and motivation to young people who may otherwise not reach their potential. Everybody involved in the scheme seems to have a great time and make valuable contacts. IMS gets better and better every year, with the final short films produced being high quality and hugely enjoyable.

One of the films, Edna’s Bench, was shown as it was filmed in Bridgend and involved a lot of young actors from Bridgend. It follows an unlikely friendship between a pensioner and a school boy who have both experienced terrible grief. By learning to open up and share their feelings the pair come to understand death and love that little bit more. The film is a real tribute to the scheme, although slow and gentle it explores a lot of worthwhile issues and offers real comfort to viewers. It breaks down the prejudice that a lot of older people feel towards teenagers and shows the need for respect of items and people in the community.

F.E.A.R. by BYT Step Up Group
This physical theatre piece was developed by Artistic Director Roger Burnell and choreographer Lizzie Davies with the help of a small group from Bridgend Youth Theatre. Designed to explore the groups’ fears it incorporated dance, physical theatre and voice work. Although not all the performers were dancers each one of them put their all into the routine and there was a real sense of ownership and pride in the work. Although the obscure mix of disciplines may not have been everyone’s cup of tea it was certainly thought provoking and  I would love to see more BYT break away groups like this concentrate on different aspects of theatre that they don’t normally get to experience.
Bridgend Youth Dance
The first dance, Cafe, was originally created for Holocaust Memorial Day and was built from ideas surrounding a cafe at night time in the era of Cabaret Berlin in the late 20’s and 30’s. Considering this group is made up of many performers who have never had formal dance lessons they performed very well. The fairly simplistic routine let the company focus on the emotions and timing of the piece rather than getting lost in overcomplicated moves.

Their second routine, Celestial was set to Florence and The Machine’s Cosmic Love. The choice of music was superb with the dance exploring the ideas of ill-fated love, reminiscent of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. A few dancers really stood out in their solos and overall it was an exciting and well polished performance.

National Dance Company Wales Associates
This excerpt from their By Singing Light show was inspired by the poetry of Dylan Thomas. The whole company was obviously very dedicated to their art, with amazing displays of flexibility, unfortunately these moves meant they fell out of time with each other on occasion. Apart from this the routine was exciting and varied, I would urge any young person with an interest in dance to see one of their shows.

National Youth Dance Wales Peer Associates 
This trio are young professional dancers who are former members of NYDW. The routine from, A State of Rest, was designed to see how far you can push the human body whilst still holding clarity and form; they certainly achieved this. Throughout the routine the concentration was obvious on the performers’ faces and it was nice to see a company that isn’t afraid to show that dance is not always effortless, even for the best dancers. Stimulating, inspiring and thought provoking – exactly what modern dance should be about!  

Bridgend Youth Theatre
The much loved theatre group performed an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice incorporating dance, singing and acting. Although as always the massive talent of the group shone through, the script they had to work with was awful. Many key scenes were lost and the main love stories were excluded. The unorganised script coupled with odd part shares made the performance completely undecipherable even for someone familiar with the play. This is such a massive shame because there are so many talented youngsters in the group, in fact I think this was part of the problem; trying to include everyone in what was essentially written for a minimal cast led to a confusing combination of choral speaking, short acting scenes were the characters weren’t constant and disjointed dance and song. The performance was so incoherent I doubt many noticed the major slip up in the last scene were Shylock was told to become a Jew or face death, Shylock is of course already a Jew. For projects like this to work small groups need to work intensively to ensure they themselves understand the script and I hope BYT will try this in the future. I can’t wait for the company to get back to what they’re good at - high energy, large cast musicals.

Overall the whole evening was a success. As one performer said in the IMS documentary, many people take themselves too seriously, it was refreshing to see a varied bunch of young performers having fun and creating something beautiful. I really hope this celebration of talent takes place every year from now on and it gains much more support from the local community. The slogan for the programme is “encourage, excite, ignite, inspire” and it certainly was all of these things!