Wednesday, 20 July 2011

National Rural Tourning Forum - 22 reviews in 100 words each!

National Rural Touring Forum Conference 2011
Newport University
12-14th July 2011
By Chelsey Gillard

This year’s NRTF conference was hosted by Arts Council Wales funded group Night Out who bring professional shows to small local venues by removing the financial risk for the venue. Having seen one such production earlier in the year (Peter and the Wolf at the Berwyn Centre Nantymoel) Rachel Williams, another Young Critic, and I were asked to give a short talk about working with young people in the creative arts. 

As part of the conference 5 showcases took place. In each showcase each company or performer was given 15mins to give us a taste of their production and hopefully persuade the promoters present that the show was right for their venue. 

As a little challenge to ourselves Rachel and I decided to write reviews of these performances but to make it a little more interesting (and hopefully easier) I am going to attempt to review each show in no more than 100 words! Obviously I won’t be able to say very much so I’ve included links to websites where available. Sorry if I seem a little mercenary, all my reviews sound a little like a promotional blurb but there really was nothing negative to say.

Showcase A

3D Theatre Company – When the Wind Blows

A box of set unfolds to reveal Jim and Hilda Blogg’s front room, following the advice of a government pamphlet they begin to build a shelter against an imminent nuclear attack. The sweet old couple reminisce about WW2 and Hilda contemplates writing to Russia to politely ask them to stop dropping bombs on Britain. Sweet, gently funny and heart-warming, the showcase certainly left the audience hungry for more. “A tale about two very ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances”. A fine example of great theatre in a small setting, I’m sure this production would be well received in any rural venue.

Chris Tally-Evans : Tales of the First and Second Sight

Chris is a seasoned performer and film maker, he also happens to have a visual impairment. This production is a collection of stories and films about his life and family. Posing questions such as “why do all babies look like Winston Churchill?” and screening adverts for “Plastic Crap” he welcomes you into his life and makes you feel at home. Addressing all kinds of issues from space travel to how polite bears are; his visual impairment to robots; he will have you in stitches, whilst addressing some very important issues.  Laugh out loud funny!

Rhodri Miles: Burton

As Richard Burton Rhodri Miles commands the stage in this one man show about the actor’s life. He is hugely charismatic and darkly inviting as we hear of tales about his womanising ways and his alcoholism. He tells of how he bedded every leading lady he came across, except Julie Andrews of course – “I couldn’t climb every mountain”. Perfect for a small stage, with minimal props and of course only one actor. From hilarious anecdotes to truly touching regrets, you can’t help but be intrigued by this charming yet dangerous man.

Showcase B

Mai oh Mai Productions: The Harris-Parris – The leaving Do

Hilarious original musical about a West- Walian farming family. Anni Harris-Parris is about to move to the Big Smoke and we are invited to her leaving do. Featuring songs about the local night club “Rumourz – West Wales’ only nightspot” and her brother’s dirty habit of spying on the local women through binoculars, it is the perfect entertainment for a teenage audience, especially in a rural environment. The characters were perfectly cast including Anni’s camp cousin and her Slovakian farm hand. I can’t wait to see a full version!

Gareth Bonello : The Gentle Good

Gareth writes and performs his own songs as well as traditional Welsh folk songs. Although he seems to be quite a serious young man this lends itself well to the often tragic tales of Welsh folk law.  Playing his semi-acoustic guitar he sings beautifully and it’s not hard to see why he has received so many awards.
 He performs solo or with.....

Harriet Earis

The light to Gareth’s dark, I have never seen a harp played with so much energy and evident joy. Through the music she tells stories such as the time her car got stuck in the snow and you really can hear the car struggling to make it up a hill. By explaining the tales behind her compositions and by playing with so much passion Harriet makes her art form into a rounded performance that anyone can enjoy. She really is a charming young lady and is mesmerising to watch.

Paul Granjon : Handmade Machines

Now for a trip into the utterly bizarre. Paul is a visual artist interested in the co-evolution of human and machine. He builds small machines and devices that he demonstrates along with some truly abstract songs. Often coming across many technical hitches he deals with them through his very dry sense of humour. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but certainly something I would love to see again. With the help of his little robot MoFo (because he was so hard to programme) he sings and disco dances to provide the most original performance I have ever seen.

Devil’s Violin: A Love Like Salt

With their captivating blend of theatre, live music and storytelling The Devil’s Violin are a must see. I couldn’t help but be reminded of listening to stories as a child but somehow this company bring a very grown up feeling to the ancient art. Their latest show retells stories from Shakespeare’s plays and The Canterbury Tales. They envelop you with their music and Daniel Morden is a truly extraordinary narrator. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t be spirited away with them on their magical, mythical tales. Definitely one of my favourites!

The Stu Brown Sextet presents Twisted Toons: The Music of Raymond Scott

Most of us will have heard the music of Raymond Scott without even realising it, his compositions have been used widely in cartoons such as the ‘Loony Tunes’, ‘Ren and Stimpy’ and ‘The Simpsons’. His unique brand of “cartoon jazz” is vividly brought to life by this energetic sextet who obviously love what they are doing. As part of the show they run animation workshops for youngsters and show the finished animations as they play; I have to admit I would have loved having a go at this myself. Watching them play was mind-blowing; pure energy and enthusiasm.

Ginge and Celloboi

This absolutely awesome duo blend welsh folk with bluegrass and country and western. Doing some cover versions like a wicked Johnny Cash medley and some of their own compositions they got the whole audience clapping and “ye-ha”-ing along. They are a bilingual band and even though I am not a Welsh speaker their pure emotion made me able to enjoy all of their songs. Their EP has been on repeat in my car since the conference finished and I can’t wait to see them live at a gig in Cardiff this week – what more can I say!

Showcase C – Theatre for Young People

Likely Story: Pea

With a re-imagined version of ‘The Princess and the Pea’ Likely Story are perfect for a young audience and I’m sure their parents will be entertained too. From their explosive entrance they never slowed the pace, full of humour mainly centred on the word pea (The queen needs a pea; are you taking the peas?) they had the whole audience laughing and left us a little sad when they had to stop. I would love to see the rest of the show but it may be frowned upon to turn up to a children’s show without a child!

Theatr Iolo: Little Ruby Red Tells Tales

As part of the research for this show the company went into nursery schools and asked the children there to tell a story based around an object they were given. Using these genuine stories and mimicking the children’s movements the tale of Ruby Red was born. Suited more to a younger audience the show was engaging and the gymnastic skills shown by the performers were incredible. Perhaps more suited to a school environment than a rural one, never the less enjoyable and most importantly fun.

Cwmi Theatr Arad Goch: 1 Step 2 Step

At the start of this show the audience help the characters gather up everyday objects, like stones and leaves, immediately creating a comfortable and inclusive environment for young children to express themselves. Using stones to create pictures and sounds we are told a number of entertaining and inspirational stories. This creative, tactile and interactive show will certainly be a hit with every audience. The actors were so involved you couldn’t help but feel part of the experience directly.

Showcase D

Hijinx: Old Hands

It’s the 1930’s and a hard up seaside theatre employs a well known songstress in an attempt to revive their dying business. The company produce inclusive theatre and always include actors with learning difficulties to raise awareness of the difficulties many people have trying to “fit in” to society. Some of the language was a little shocking when taken out of context, the snippets we saw of this show were emotionally charged and demanded we think about the way society has changed in the last 100 years. One show I would go out of my way to see.

Theatr na n’Og: Aesop’s Fables

Re-telling the much loved Aesop’s Fables in an exciting and energetic way, the cast of this all singing, all dancing show give it their all. Even though I’ve heard the story of the Tortoise and the Hare countless times I still enjoyed every minute of the tale and cheered Tortoise along to the finish line. The costumes were incredible and the 3 cast members obviously enjoyed the performance. The catchy songs will get stuck in your head and I’m sure it’s a performance no child will ever forget.  

Clwyd Theatr Cymru Theatre for Young People : Tall Tales

The super-high standard of children’s theatre was certainly maintained by Clwyd with their enchanting storytelling of ‘The Matchstick Girl’ and ‘The Geese and the Frog’. The main narrator’s voice really draws you in and the beautiful puppetry for the matchstick girl was magical. A really talented group, the songs were really well written and the harmonies were perfect. The simple props were really effective and helped to create a really serene atmosphere perfect for the stories. With a great balance of drama and humour all the family can enjoy them.

Showcase E

Sian James

Sian is a harp player and singer; she beautifully performs traditional Welsh folksongs with huge enthusiasm. Her performance was really absorbing and she clearly explained each song so even non-Welsh speakers could enjoy them. She had a great sense of humour and watching her perform the tongue twister “He Counts the Goats” was mindboggling and hilarious.

George Orange: Man on the Moon

Throughout George’s performance I didn’t write a single thing, I was too busy praying for him not to fall. He is a very modern clown and performs slack-rope dancing on a huge metal half moon structure. He was really funny and the tricks he performed were obviously no easy feat. Even when things went wrong he had the audience laughing along saying “ Sometimes us circus performers fail at making things look harder than they are” just as he fell of the high rope. Hilarious and talented he brings a modern spin to the world of circus.

Tanya Davies

Tanya is a poet and musician and she performs both her original songs and poems in an honest and vulnerable style. Her unique performances are minimalistic and pure. I’m sure her poem “How To Be Alone” struck a chord with many people in the audience, you can watch the video produced to accompany this poem on her website and it really is beautiful. I’m sure most people would shy away from seeing someone perform poetry but performers like Tanya make this an entertaining and accessible art form. Really great!  

Philip Clout’s Quartet

Although undoubtedly a jazz quartet, the band cover a huge range of musical genres from funk to South African inspired pieces mixed in with Latin American vibes. Their self composed songs were really varied in style and tempo keeping the audience entertained. Really entertaining and unique.

Cat Weatherill

Cat is an  incredible performer, she tells stories for adults and whilst performing a story from her show ‘Ghost’ she had the audience on the edge of their seats waiting for the grisly end of the tale. Blending music into the story added extra tension and certainly heightened the drama. With a slight Liverpudlian lilt she charms and entertains in a way I’ve never seen before. Absolutely spell binding.

Jamie Smith’s Mabon

With their unique blend of world folk music Mabon were the perfect end to the showcases. So full of energy and passion, they got the audience excited and enthused. Every one of their songs had the listeners clapping along and wanting to dance. Never before have I seen someone play an accordion as if they were the lead singer of a world famous rock band! An absolute joy, I left with a huge smile on my face and their songs in my heart.  

If you’ve made it this far THANK YOU for sticking with this mammoth review!

I want to take this opportunity to once again say thank you to Night Out for inviting us to this conference and giving us the opportunity to see such a huge variety of performers. A massive well done to everyone involved.

For more on Night Out:

For more about NRTF:

For Rachel’s take on the conference:

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

WNYO - new writing for new audiences

The Sleeper
Welsh National Youth Opera
Composed by Stephen Deazley
Libretto by Michael Symmons Roberts
The Coal Exchange, Cardiff Bay
14th July 2011

reviewed by Chelsey Gillard

As a “Young Person” involved in the creative arts it seems that one of the most frequently asked questions is “how do we get young people involved in and excited by theatre?” The answer is quite simply productions like “The Sleeper”; it’s innovative, exciting and inclusive, taking place in a non-theatre environment, therefore breaking down yet another barrier, it offers something that you certainly can’t get through TV or film.

In some futuristic world where sleeping has long been against the law, young people have forgotten how to perform this most basic of human functions. Taken by feral youths into a dirty squat in a car park underneath the venue, we discover that one among them can indeed sleep.
This “Sleeper” becomes a prime target for the police and for more shadowy figures such as Hypnos, whose mother was the last known sleeper.

Running from the authorities the youths lead us through a tunnel plastered with posters stating the dangers of sleeping, claiming that freedom relies on wakefulness. They take refuge in Hypnos’ home, having been told by his daughter that he can help them. 

Once inside the Coal Exchange we are inside what I assume is Hypnos’ house. From the ceiling hang white night gowns like giant, obscure baby mobiles, creating a surreal dream world where Hypnos hopes to find the new sleeper.

When the real sleeper is finally uncovered she is led to a bed in a cage where Hypnos says he wants to film her sleep. Weirdly and for unknown reasons he decides to kiss her and the performance takes on sexually deviant tones. Of course this being a youth production nothing wrong actually happens. 

Not wanting to ruin the ending I will leave the story here.

To be perfectly honest I did not understand much past this basic bones of a plot; the whys and wheres either were not explained or got lost in the often confusing overlapping voices. But despite the fact that I really didn’t have a clue what was going on I really enjoyed the whole production.

Performed by youngsters from 16 to 25, the show had a really professional feeling, with the cast being not only highly talented but also highly professional. For the most part it was an ensemble performance with every voice complementing the others, the group moved as one and there was a real sense of camaraderie. 

The combination of great music, voices and design left me wanting more and I wish the show, which was a little over an hour, was longer so I could let myself get further lost in this dystopian world. 

With a modern story and a modern way of telling it (through a promenade performance) WNYO have certainly created something new and exciting. Although the narrative may have been a bit lacking, the production overall was thoroughly entertaining. I can’t wait to see what the young company will do next and I hope they continue to experiment with new ideas that will continue to draw in a younger audience for opera.

Empty Pocket Theatre - a great new company with great new ideas.

Empty Pocket Theatre
YMCA Theatre, Roath
July 2nd 2011

Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard

[On]Stage was a one night event designed to showcase the talents of two up and coming writers. The main theme was how offstage characters can give more influence that those onstage.

Hello Mrs Silverstone
Written and Directed by Natalie Stone

One of the first rules of writing is to avoid on-stage phone conversations at all costs, they can be clich├ęd, badly timed and boring. Somehow Natalie Stone managed to create a script that was engaging and though provoking that completely relied on the telephone.

A lonely and confused old lady repeatedly calls the Parker household wanting to speak to her son Jonny Silverstone, he ignores her calls and never visits. Forgetting she called just five minutes ago she calls again and again. Time after time Jonny Parker has to go through the heartbreaking process of telling her that he is not her son, no he doesn’t know her son, no this is not where her son lives.

Soon these phone calls become an ever present annoyance to the Parker family; Mrs Parker cannot receive messages from her new boss, their daughter cannot get five minutes on the phone to talk to her boyfriend, their answer phone is full of messages from a little old lady they do not know and have no connection with.

When the messages suddenly stop Jonny is forced to look at his own life; he is still grieving over his mother’s death, he has not forgiven his brother for not being there when she died and he is still burning with the guilt of being a neglectful son, much like Jonny Silverstone.

Cleverly planned lighting often helped to illustrate the isolation grief had caused for Jonny and took the awkwardness away from those difficult to negotiate “24 hours later” style scene changes.

The one downside was that often the stage was left empty; phone messages were left to run for a little too long and it made me wonder if the script was better suited to a radio play. Having said this, when the cast were onstage each one of them inhabited their character and it always seemed as if there really was someone on the other end of the phone.

With a poignant message about the dissolution of the family unit and the treatment of older people in our society, ‘Hello Mrs Silverstone’ is a wonderfully observed piece that skilfully combines humour and tragedy. A great place to start a potentially trailblazing career in theatre.

A Sunday Roast
Written and Directed by Anna Poole

All of us can get trapped in routine, the same old thing day in, day out and perhaps one of the most common routines in this country is Sunday dinner with the in-laws. Not wanting to offend our partners or their parents we turn up and engage in the same conversations again and again, but how often do we say the things worth talking about?

In ‘A Sunday Roast’ we are the unseen and uninvited guests at Gav’s parents’ house. Very much the stereotypical Welsh family; Gav’s mum loves to play host and entertains illusions of grandeur, whereas Dad seems much more relaxed and is of course an avid rugby fan.

Gav is the perfect son in their eyes, he can do no wrong, but his wife Adelaide is another story completely. Adelaide has never been happy with this quiet life, she longs to use her university education in art to travel the world and have exciting adventures, but like us all she gets trapped in the comforting monotony of life.

Through masterfully choreographed pieces we get an insight into Adelaide’s head, for her the routine is a deafening cacophony, shouting disappointment, lost dreams and the death of her unborn child. Out of this discord steps another Adelaide, perhaps the true, unshielded version of herself. This Adelaide talks to her unseen therapist about her horrific miscarriage and her own loss of excitement about life. Eventually the boundaries between the two sides of Adelaide blur and merge to create deadly consequences.

This darkly beautiful piece explores our hidden desires and unfulfilled ambitions; showing the damage this sense of disappointment can cause. Emotionally charged, beautifully staged, acted to perfection, this dream-like piece will haunt its audience for a long time.

Both pieces were thought provoking and offered up a fresh look at modern theatre. Although very different in delivery the contrasting performances complimented each other and have definitely marked Empty Pocket as a company to watch. Very well done.