Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Passion of Port Talbot

The Passion
NTW, Wildworks and Michael Sheen
Script and Novelisation by Owen Sheers
Creative Director Michael Sheen
Co-Directors Bill Mitchell and Michael Sheen
Over the Easter Weekend 2011

Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
Photos by Chelsey Gillard,
except Beach scene by Scott Dale

Taking a world famous story that almost everyone has heard and placing it into the heart of a town that almost no one has heard of was no easy task for NTW’s last production of this season. Taking place over the Easter weekend ‘The Passion’ was staged at various locations throughout the industrial town of Port Talbot, giving a modern spin on the Biblical events.

Delivered as a full-on multimedia experience, it was tremendously successful as a whole. Utilising the talents of various local filmmakers, graffiti artists, bloggers and of course actors, the people of Port Talbot must have felt totally immersed in the production. Attention to little details was incredible; posters for “The last Supper” were on walls next to genuine advertisements, production staff wore “Company” uniforms and certain characters kept popping up in the crowds.

The production started and ended at the beach, drawing in huge crowds.

Unfortunately each “event” as a singular piece did not live up to expectation. The idea that you could dip in and out of the events at will was very misleading. I was only able to attend the events on Sunday and for the “Trail” event I felt completely lost. Being unable to see or hear properly did not help matters. It seems more energy was spent on the little things rather than the actual delivery of live performance. 

Some of the graffiti in the underpass

Fortunately the three novellas, titled “The Gospel of Us”, released throughout the weekend made everything much clearer. So well written, they are the one part of the production that could stand alone, they gave a dramatised view of the proceedings from the viewpoint of a local. Certain characters and events were purely plot devices and seemed a little contrived but even this was forgivable as the main story was certainly worth taking notice of.

Set in an alternative reality where a sinister “Company” has complete control over the industrial town, the main messages were of community spirit and remembering your heritage. The Passion certainly brought all sorts out of their houses, mingling with one another, neighbours were chatting, strangers were welcomed and everyone felt part of something special.
Clothes suspended from lamposts created a spooky reminder of the ending of the tale

Watching the crucifixion on a roundabout by the beach, whether religious or not, I don’t think a single person could not be moved by the staggering performance of Michael Sheen. Having dragged a cross from the centre of town to the beach front for hours, the look of desperation was clear on his face. As he delivered his final speech affixed to the cross, the crowd’s reaction to him was overwhelming. This was where all the organisation and attention to detail paid off. A local choir sung as images were projected onto a water feature behind the cross to create a totally emotional piece of live theatre. 

This huge undertaking, although flawed was truly moving. Anyone who attended the final scenes will be haunted by its beauty for a long time. Congratulations to all involved for creating a totally unique experience that not only Port Talbot, but the whole of Wales can be proud of.

To see the blog created to accompany the production please visit :

For more reviews please visit:

Monday, 18 April 2011

Desire Lines
By Ian Rowlands
Sherman Cymru
Directed by Irina Brown
Venue: Chapter Arts
Dates: April 8-23, then touring until May 18
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard

“Our country. As beautiful as it ever was, as Heaven ever will be.” For many, life in Wales is one of beauty, enhanced by rich heritage but there is always that reminder that we are a “Small Country”. Many Welsh youngsters feel the need to move to “Big Country”, to prove themselves, but something always brings them back.

Desire Lines follows “Man”, fantastically played by Ifan Huw Dafydd, on a circular trip around “Small Country”, during which we explore his home land and some of the personalities that inhabit it.

Intertwined, each person’s story comes out through tumbling monologues and surreal dialogue. The multilayered approach, although sometimes making it hard to understand what was being said, gave a musical feel to the script, enhanced with beautiful singing from Older Woman. Sometimes the actor would be someone from Man’s past, then transform into a person with troubles of their own. A few life tales were fleshy and real, others were mere glimpses of the chaos in each person’s head.

As we follow Man we see the various stages of his life; carefree boy, flirtatious youth, scared father and regretful adult; hitting the many milestones we all hope or fear to reach. It is impossible not to relate to Man as he describes the fear of turning out like his father – old, alone and unable to take care of himself. Although this is arguably the main thread of the story; Man is now alone; the whole script is a tightly woven poem that relates to any man, or indeed woman.

Not only do we follow one person’s journey we follow the development of a country; a proud land with its own language and culture. Rowlands obviously has a great passion for his nation but does not see it through rose tinted glasses. He cheekily names Bridgend “Dullage” – “an excruciatingly dull place- to be avoided” and Rhyl “Chavton” as it has two of the poorest council wards in Wales. The “Small Country” of Desire Lines is flawed but trying to move towards a better future. Political undertones make the script relevant to today’s Wales, the Welsh people have more power than ever to make the decisions that affect their lives.

 My main criticism would be that some of the characters are over the top stereotypes, especially the gay young man played by Joshua McCord. Having said this, that particular character was probably the best received by the audience. As he sat gabbing away loudly on his phone Man did what every person in the audience has wanted to do at some point, he grabbed the phone and shouted “we’re all listening to this shit; your lives invading ours with your asinine rhetoric!” and throws the phone off the train!

Disarmingly witty, well observed and heart-warming, Desire Lines definitely pulled on the heartstrings. When Man is given a spectral visit from his dead wife he gets the chance to say the things he should have said years ago. Perhaps this is a reminder that life is all too short and we should make the most of every moment, especially the journeys.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

"One word - PROTEST"

#Fly on The Wall
Citrus Arts with Wales Millennium Centre
Directed by Philip Mackenzie
Venue: Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre
Date attended: 7th April 2010

Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
Photos from Citrus Arts Group Page

Graduates of the WMC Incubator Project, Citrus Arts use their expertise in circus, dance and aerial effects to “represent themes and environments, rather than characters and stories.” In doing so they have created a world where the British people are protesting like never before.

In the modern world normal people are finding more ways than ever to get their opinions heard using Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs. As the “#” in the title suggests the company found inspiration in many of these online sources, as well as more conventional newspaper articles. Using these genuine sources the company developed a montage of abstract images and moulded them together to form a cohesive narrative.

High Enery Acrobatic Moves  

Highlighting the hypocrisy of politicians, the police, the media and even the protesters themselves the company gives a balanced view of the argument. This is reinforced by a giant screen behind the actors, which gives the audience a view from a different angle, reminding that things aren’t always what they seem.

The production dealt with the fact that it isn’t always easy to get your opinions heard. A protestor, suspended by one wrist persistently tries to get the attention of a politician who steadfastly ignores him. After repeated attempts the protestor was left spinning from the ceiling, with no way out and no way to make his point. This chilling scene went some way to explain why it is that some people turn to more violent methods of protest; they feel it is the only way they will be listened to. 

Gas Masks Represented the Police
But one of the main themes was that protests should be a form of celebration rather than uncontrolled violence. No matter how hard it is to get the point across, aggression isn’t an option. One of the protestors says “they” will be waiting for the first broken window but we have to be more positive than that. The idea that the protest should be a carnival with music and dancing was a very powerful one, especially with the acrobatic skills the company could offer. When a crowd control barrier was raised from the floor and one of the performers ran all over it in mid air, it gave a real sense of freedom; the establishment will never hold you back if you are determined enough.

Incredible Stunts Added Drama

The whole production was very abstract and I’m sure each person in the audience will have a completely different reaction to it. For me it made me want to learn more about the politics that affect my everyday life and become more involved in making a positive difference to the world around me. The reporter in the show says “I’m impartial so you don’t have to be” and I think that is a really important point; we should all make more of an effort to use the resources available to make our own informed decisions and not always go with the easy choice.  

Intense, active and emotional, the cast perform with such conviction that they can turn even the most abstract choreography into a beautiful metaphor for the state of the country.  In the after show talk, director Philip Mackenzie said he hates companies to peak too soon. Citrus Arts definitely didn’t peak until the exact right moment and I would urge everyone to go and see this show!

Performances also at Pontardawe Arts Centre, 14th April, 8pm
                                   Galeri, Caernarfon, 13th May, 7.30pm

For booking or more information please visit:

Stunning Finale

Citrus Arts are Bridie Doyle and James Roberts

#Fly on The Wall was performed by:
Bridie Doyle
Gustav Lundstrom
Zoe Mills
John Norton
James Roberts
Fran Widdowson

Friday, 1 April 2011

"Three characters. Two days. One house."

Death and the Maiden
South Wales Theatre Collective
Directed by Jamie Lee
Venue: Chapter Arts Studio

Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard

Paulina Salas, victim of torture and rape, unexpectedly comes face to face with the man she believes led the ordeal. She sees a sick, sadistic man who willingly worked for the old totalitarian government. The audience sees a kind natured doctor, a Good Samaritan who came to Paulina’s husband’s rescue when he had neither a spare tyre nor car jack.

Set in a country bursting with political unrest where a dictator has just been overthrown and a democracy is trying to take hold, Paulina’s husband Gerado Escobar has just been chosen by the Prime Minister to serve as part of a truth and reconciliation committee, who aim to help those affected by the atrocities committed by the previous regime. He is a voice of reason when Paulina takes Dr Roberto Miranda hostage in her home saying she recognises his voice, smell and feel of his skin.

Sarah Louise Tyler is good as the paranoid “maiden”; she has a look of real psychosis in her eyes. Unfortunately as was true with all the characters, she was pretty two dimensional, her voice was always shouty and intense, there were moments were a softer, more menacing voice would have been much more effective. It seemed that she was more upset that she could no longer listen to Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” (as the Dr played this when the attacks were being carried out), than she was about the loss of her dignity and self confidence.

Lauurence Patrick as Escobar was reminiscent of Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia; charming, husky but sometimes looked lost. He was totally believable as a lawyer with political ambition, never completely taking sides in the conflict and trying to keep the tension low. One unforgivable moment was during Miranda’s “confession” scene, the lights were dimmed, the ceiling fan creating atmospheric shadows and the acting was superb. But Patrick seemed to have no regard for this as he struck the set, he could not have made more noise clinking china together and it really spoiled the otherwise superb scene.

By far, the stand out performance was by Gary Knowles as Doctor Roberto Miranda. He was sensitive to the intentional ambiguity of the script; even after the bows the audience were wondering was he the culprit of the systematic torture? He seemed very calm and collected considering the circumstances but as a doctor he is probably used to high pressure situations and if he was guilty that last thing he would want to do was seem agitated. Once again it was the littlest things that stopped this production being great; Paulina held him captive by strapping him to a chair with parcel tape, he was a larger man with an obvious amount of strength – if he wanted to he could easily have broken his bonds and escaped!

The South Wales Theatre Collective uses new or recent graduates of technical, design and stage management courses, they certainly must have got their hands on some of the best. The stage was incredible, the audience were uncomfortable guests in Paulina’s house, split levels separated a patio, kitchen and bedroom that were used effectively to give the illusion of private moments and secrecy. The lighting really complemented it, classily showing changes in scenes and the passing of time. As I mentioned earlier the “confession” scene was intelligently put together to show vulnerability and gave real weight to the words being spoken. 

Sadly the sound effects let the technical side down. Over the top car revs and awkward toilet sound effects reminded that you were sat in a theatre in Cardiff. Violin soloist Kenon Mann is obviously a superbly talented musician and mostly his accompaniment added depth to the production but occasional clich├ęd, high pitched, screechy noises made it seem more like a cheap horror flick.

Unfortunately the production lacked a real grounding, it was obvious it was set somewhere in South America but exactly where was uncertain. With all the political unrest in places such as Libya the 20 year old script still has real resonance but it didn’t quite hit the mark. This lack of background was obvious in the characters; I feel if you were to interrogate the cast in character they wouldn’t be able to answer simple questions about their past. There were also moments where the script seemed darkly comic but this wasn’t exploited at all. Perhaps more could have been done to familiarise both cast and audience with the world they were part of for that two hours.