Saturday, 24 November 2012

Exciting New Companies Share Their Work at WMC

Incubator 12
Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio

Once again the Weston Studio welcomed an audience in to sample some of the work that the Wales Millennium Centre has been supporting over the last few months. The Incubator scheme offers support for artists and companies to develop new work and helps to facilitate a performance for the public and arts professionals who can offer their feedback and advice on what they have seen.
This time round two theatre companies shared their work in progress:

Mali Tudno Jones: The Gretel Files
This reimagining of the classic children’s tale of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ finds Gretel and the Wicked Witch joining forces to find out who stole the secret gingerbread recipe that the Witch had been guarding for MI7 – the government body in charge of all fairy tale creatures. 

Having received an email prior to the performance requesting phone numbers and twitter hash tags the audience knew they would be in for an interactive multimedia experience. Texts and tweets were sent to the audience through the night and the audience tweeted back photos of any clues they found on their investigations around the centre. 

The aim of the evening was to test this innovate approach to multimedia storytelling. Although it was great fun to receive texts telling you that you are now a secret agent you do have to wonder if the age group (small children) that the show is aimed at will have smart phones with the technology to access Twitter. Of course their parents may well have the necessary equipment but it isn’t quite the same personal approach.

The storytelling element of the show was really enjoyable with intelligent writing that children would enjoy but also had one or two jokes for the grownups. The companion website was also good fun with character profiles that you could investigate before the show. 

With a bit more development on the technology side to make sure the website and twitter pages are up to date and easy to us, this could become a must see show for younger audiences. Definitely a concept that has great potential not only in children’s shows but for any new theatre.

Actors: Kirsty Bushell, Christopher Naylor, Joannna Van Kampen, Sara Lloyed
Writer and Project Manager: Mali Tudno Jones
Director: Stephen Casey
Media: Natalie Clements

Mercury Theatre Wales: SPANGLED

This brand new devised piece about Welsh clubbing culture in the 1990s also aimed to fully emerge their audience in the experience. This time their multilayered approach began by welcoming the audience into the club, giving them glow stick and stamping their hands to say they had paid the entrance fee. If you had a jacket it was taken into the ‘cloak room’ by the chatty attendant and it wasn’t long before you were approached and asked if you needed “any pills for the night?”

Pounding club music, trance-like visuals and film projections soon made you feel like you had somehow stumbled to the town centre and found yourself in a retro club. You were surrounded by beautiful young girls dancing on raised platforms and young men off their faces trying to rave.

The story unfolded through a series of short scenes between the characters and monologues delivered directly to the audience. These characters came about through research into real-life experiences of clubbers, DJs, promoters and youth groups.

With a bit of a polish on the choreographed elements and a more choosy approach to dialogue, this could be a very touching and original production. At the moment the concept is absolutely incredible but some of the story lines were very predictable (but perhaps that says more about my relationship with club culture!).

Reminiscent of NTW’s ‘Little Dogs’ but with a lot more narrative. I for one will definitely be going to see this show when it emerges fully formed in the Spring.

Overall it was yet another enjoyable and successful night for Incubator. Both companies are ones to watch and I’m sure that two great new shows will soon be taking Wales by storm.

Actors: Beth Lindsey, Gareth Potter, Matthew David, Danielle Fahiya, Lee Mengo, Simon Mullins
Writers: Lynn Hunter, David Prince, Bethan Morgan
Director: Bethan Morgan
Music Consultant: Jimpy
Video Artist: Holly Genevieve

Saturday, 4 August 2012

NTW's 1st Cast of Deaf and Disabled Performers Deliver a Knockout

In Water I’m Weightless
National Theatre Wales
Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio
4th August 2012

“Impairment, gives you an edge – you have to work harder.”
This is certainly true of the ensemble in NTW’s first show to present a cast composed entirely of deaf and disabled performers. In a big “up yours” to all the people who stereotype, patronise and try to hide the differently able, these five performers smash all boundaries and come out triumphant.

A complete feast for the senses this mash up of speech, sign language, dance, projection and music was sometimes frustratingly chaotic but always engrossing. To see disabled performers such as Nick Phillips dance to punk music with more energy than a hyperactive five year old dosed up on sugar completely shattered any prior expectations.

Innovative use of live film and creative staging ensured that this piece didn’t at all rely on the fact it had such an unusual cast. Images of endoscope scans and soldiers accompanied Karina Jones’ touching comparison between her body and a war zone.  This was right on the brink of cutting edge theatre and the performers showed they are just as capable as any “normal” person.

The fragmented monologues and conversations gave quick glimpses into what it is like to live with a disability or impairment. A section entitled “Things I’ve lip read” added a touch of dark humour, “At least she won’t nag”, “It’s a shame more women aren’t like her.” Whilst this highlighted a lot of major issues and concerns without ever asking for sympathy – quite the opposite in fact – I wanted more narrative, to dig that little bit deeper.

A rare moment of silence, broken only by occasional wordless exclamations as Sophie Stone performed a monologue entirely in sign language gave the audience a true sense of what it is like to be the outsider, to be side tracked and not be catered for. Mat Fraser joked that he once played a criminal in a police education video, but he couldn’t be put in the cells as the station didn’t have facilities for wheelchairs.

John E. McGrath directed these inspirational performers in such a way that Kaite O’Reilly’s script came across as blunt, unflinching truth – even though they were not their stories or their words. As Stone commented in the after show talk, they are just like any other actor, it is their job to find a truthful presentation of the words they have been given.

And just like other actors this cast had to deal with last minute changes as one member of the cast, Mandy Colleran, was unfortunately injured the day before opening. This added challenge to chop and change the show at the last minute was met face on and the finished product was sleek and undiminished.

This outstanding night of theatre was beautifully topped off with an inspirational monologue powerfully delivered by David Toole. Addressed to “gems of the genome” and “medical marvels”, this rousing speech flowed rhythmically to punch home the production’s political and social message of equality and the right to own your own body.

Certainly not perfect but just incredible.

In Water I’m Weightless transfers to the Southbank Centre, London 31 August - 1 September - 0844 875 0073
For more on NTW visit:
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Monday, 9 July 2012

Olympic Triple-Bill of Britain's Best Dance Groups

Dance GB
Wales Millennium Centre
28th June 2012

First off the starting blocks was Scottish Ballet’s Run For It, choreographed by contemporary-dance creator Martin Lawrance. This fully fuelled race took place around a beautiful sculptural piece by Turner prize winner Martin Boyce, reminiscent of both Grecian pillars and a modern stadium roof it successfully linked the old tradition of the Olympics and the modern athleticism of the games. Inspired by the strength of the athletes and set to John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony, this piece was definitely a showcase of talent and skill.  A pageant of undeniably beautiful strength unfortunately there seemed to be no emotion beneath this display of competence and we were left waiting for a moment of pure exhilaration.

At the risk of sounding biased towards the home team, National Dance Company Wales delivered what was undoubtedly the most crowd pleasing performance of the night. The tongue in cheek Dream took a nostalgic look at the games, opening at a 1950’s sports day complete with egg and spoon and sack races. Soon this family fun transformed into a slightly more serious display of dancing talent set humorously to Ravel’s Bolero. Comedy popped up throughout as dancers dived on the stage to begin their attempt at synchronised swimming and men faced each other in boxing and fencing matches. A picturesque reminder of the ordinary people with extraordinary talents that compete for their country.

The gold medal winners of the night for me were English National Ballet. Itzik Galili lived up to his reputation as a choreographer who delivers passionate and forceful dance. This sensational piece And The Earth Shall Bear Again was set to a mash up of John Cage’s complicated and diverse pieces for prepared piano. Abstract and sometimes challenging, the beauty came from unexpected patterns in the choreography and music colliding and rebounding from one another. Galili’s inspired lighting added another dimension to this already dynamic display of how we learn and grow. Mind-blowing is the only word applicable to this almost overwhelming piece.

These three completely different pieces came together in a truly Olympic display of British talent. Inspiring and entertaining, a great triple-bill for dancer lovers and those new to the art alike.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Courageous Veterans take to the stage to raise awareness of PTSD

Re-Live: Abandoned Brothers
Chapter Arts Centre
14th June 2012

Every actor gets nervous before a performance. What if you forget your lines, what if a particularly moving scene threatens to overwhelm you, what if the audience don’t react in the way you expected? These fears are even more immediate for the ‘performers’ in Re-live’s Abandoned Brothers. Not trained to perform on the stage but trained for combat in our military services, these brave war veterans bared all onstage to try and raise awareness of the crippling illness that has dominated their lives for years – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These two real veterans stood in front of a sell out audience with just their wife and aunt there beside them for support. Occasionally a whispered reminder from wife to husband would help keep the performance on track. A hand placed lovingly on an aunt’s shoulder to guide her back to her chair evoking more emotion than the most convincing actor. It was clear that although these men had seen horrific things during their service tours these women still see equally as horrifying things in their own homes. A suicidal husband, unable to sleep, dosed up on sedatives, with night sweats and an alcohol problem. There is very little support available out there for these broken men and even less for their families who are often torn apart by this cruel illness.

It was hard to believe as one of the men told us he had not been outside for more than twelve months before the Re-live support group was set up. A natural born performer, witty, charming and charismatic, a strong and emotive singer. It was difficult to imagine this man home alone, with only a bottle of Jack for company.

The two men’s stories were expertly woven together with linking music provided by an acoustic guitar played live on stage whilst a projection screen showed pictures of the men’s past or art they had created as an outlet for their anxiety. Additional stories were included via voiceovers, these were just as moving as we heard from more men and women affected by PTSD.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when someone is exposed to a traumatic event that their brain cannot process properly. They are forced to re-live the original trauma through flashbacks or nightmares. Other symptoms can include difficulty staying or falling asleep, anger, hypervigilance, avoidance of any stimuli that may be associated with the original trauma, becoming emotionally numb and depression. It is easy to see why so many sufferers turn to substance abuse and why their relationships fall apart leaving them alone and helpless.

In a post show talk more veterans with PTSD took to the stage and what followed was an illuminating and worrying debate. When asked who these veterans felt abandoned by; the forces, the government, society or the NHS?; the answer was hard to swallow. They felt abandoned by all four. As soon as they are diagnosed with PTSD the forces effectively wash their hands of any involvement with the veteran and leave the funding for their care to charities. The government are to blame for instigating the violence that they are forced to re-live. Society withdraws from them, afraid and ignorant. And often the NHS doesn’t have a clue how to treat them. There is nothing on their records to say they are a veteran so often a diagnosis can take months and misdiagnosis happens all too often. When they finally get to see a psychiatrist they are told they have “ten minutes”. How can you convey all of the horror of war and the subsequent years of suffering in ten minutes?

At first I was not going to review this production. It is not theatre in a traditional sense but more storytelling and I didn’t know where to start. I originally saw the performance as research for a role I am playing myself and didn’t feel comfortable reviewing real people who have been brave enough to re-live their trauma for a curious audience. Having had a few days to fully comprehend what I witnessed I feel obliged to write something of these inspirational men and women to continue raising awareness. Someday soon hopefully this awareness will turn into action. These broken families need more support, more understanding and more help. In England there are four residential centres for PTSD sufferers to go and share their experiences and receive treatment, in Wales there are none. Their biggest fear is the “tidal wave” of PTSD suffers that will hit Britain after the end of ‘The War on Terror’. Our soldiers continue to fight long after they have left the battle field and sometimes the condition can lay dormant in their minds for years.

I have been humbled by these courageous veterans and their relatives. Not just because they have had the guts to get on stage and share their harrowing trauma but because each one of them said that they would go back and serve their country time and time again despite the hell they continue to live in. I genuinely wish them the best of wishes for the future and I hope one day they will find some peace. Thank you Re-live for bringing this massively ignored problem into focus.  

For more on the inspirational work Re-live do please visit:
For more info on PTSD visit the page on the The Royal Collage of Psychiatrists Website.

For more reviews please visit:

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Exciting New Companies at WMC and Exclusive Interview with Simon Coates

Incubator Sharing 12
Weston Studio, WMC
3rd May 2012

A forum for new and innovative companies or artists to develop their work and receive instant audience feedback – Incubator is an unmissable opportunity to work in partnership with Wales Millennium Centre. So what was on the programme for the spring season sharing?

Buddug James Jones: Hiraeth

Hiraeth is one of those Welsh words that have no literal translation. Possibly the closest in English is a nostalgic longing or homesickness combined with grief and a desire for the Wales of the past. 

In this quirky look at her eventful life so far 22 year old Bud introduces us to members of the James Jones family starting 300 years ago.  This extensive history and amusing whistle stop tour around all the farms in her local area shows how much Bud is struggling to escape from her small town upbringing. She loves these hills and these people but she longs for different life. Milking cows and picking potatoes is not for her so she decides to go to university in London. Her mother’s reaction is not good – “Why have you decided to ruin my life Buddug?!!”

With the help of the classically trained Max Mackintosh, who we are informed IS Welsh despite his lack of accent, the duo sing their way through Bud’s many misadventures in the big smoke. Experiencing true heartbreak courtesy of the Portuguese love god Carlos, discovering that throwing paint at the walls is ‘art’ and powering through homesickness with the help of some homemade Welsh cakes.  

This was a truly off the wall and heart-warming autobiographical production from Buddug. Certainly two performers to keep your eye on as they are sure to pop up in the Cardiff arts scene time and again. Although it is difficult to imagine this production in any other forum or performance space it was a well crafted and laugh out loud piece that celebrated Wales whilst looking at its flaws.

Performed by Buddug James Jones and Max Mackintosh
Directed by Jesse Briton
Produced by Lindsay Fraser Ltd

George Orange: Man on the Moon

The best way to describe George Orange as an absolutely lovable eccentric. A slack rope walker, clown and all round entertainer.

In his latest adventure we see George attempt a series of failed missions on the moon assisted by musician and collaborator Gareth Jones. Using George’s specially designed moon rig - a huge, unique alloy structure - the pair haplessly attempt their mission.

Created with a young audience in mind this piece was comic and creative. Seemingly plagued by bad luck in real life too, it was unclear which disasters were part of the performance and which were genuine mistakes. With live, daring circus tricks it’s a risk that is always present but the two worked through the kinks and still managed to deliver the laughs.

The music for this piece just as inventive as the concept. There was an incredible combination of live and pre-recorded music and inspired use of a loop pedal. The music added so much to this performance and offered something that parents could really appreciate whilst their kids got up and offered a helping, zero-gravity hand.

With possibly the most creative use of bin bags as a prop George found out what was on the other side of a black hole. And like all good stories the good guys complete their mission and perform some genuinely incredible physical feats along the way.

Once polished up a bit this is sure to be a big hit that could be performed in theatres, school halls and even outdoors. Mission: Success!

Performed by George Orange
Directed by Mathilde Lopez
Collaborator and Musician: Gareth Jones
Composer: Rob Lee
Comedy Writer: Richard Garaghty

After yet another entertaining evening in the Weston Studio the audience had the chance to leave feedback and even talk to the artists face to face. Certainly both groups deserved huge congratulations for their hard work with the centre. None of this incredible work would be possible without associate producer Simon Coates, read on for an exclusive interview....

1. Simon, in your opinion what is the most important thing that Incubator can offer new companies?
Incubator helps companies to do a number of things: to make new work and share it with an audience; to access support, advice and targeted mentoring from industry professionals to develop their practice; and garner assistance in producing their work ready for touring at a later stage.
Companies do receive a small amount of money to help enable the projects to take place but I don’t think anyone would say this was the most important part of an Incubator package.
Its hard to say what is most valuable as each company I work with is at a different stage in their development and as such I will tailor the level of support to suit them. Without any one of the above points, it would be that much more difficult to make the work they do.

2. What has been the biggest success to come out of Incubator?
I believe that every company working with Incubator has succeeded. It’s not everybody’s intention to tour the work that they have created as part of Incubator but rather spend time picking up skills to make it easier to take all of their future work forward. When a company leaves Incubator feeling that they have achieved everything they set out to, then that is a true success. (If not, then I think that’s ok too.)

3. What has been your favourite project or company to work with?
One of the reasons I love my job is that I get to make really brilliant relationships with all the companies who take part in Incubator. But my favourite companies are probably those who take risks and aren’t afraid to fail, that’s when work really becomes exciting.

4. In the last few sharings the variety of performances has been huge, from dance, to circus to two person shows. What is it like getting to work with such a varied group of people?

It certainly keeps me entertained! It can certainly be difficult to accommodate such variety within one project, let alone the demands on space when working with circus or dance companies, but Incubator has a part to play in developing performance work being made in Wales and I believe it should do this in the broadest sense. I have always been interested in work that engages multiple artforms. I can’t imagine an Incubator that wouldn’t work in this way.

5. Can you give any hints about what may be coming up in the November sharing?
Sorry but no, I haven’t made any decisions yet about which companies will be part of the November sharing. Applications are open all year round…

To find out how to apply to incubator please visit the page at the WMC website:
For more reviews please visit:

Thank you to Simon Coates for the exclusive interview and WMC for their continued commitment to new work in Wales.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Swansea's Youth under the Microscope - Little Dogs

Little Dogs
Patti Pavilion, Swansea
National Theatre Wales and Frantic Assembly
Friday 11th May 2012
Photographs:  Farrows Creative/National Theatre Wales

NTW are already treading on the heels of their recent success The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning with their latest offering – Little Dogs. Whereas Bradley Manning was minimal in terms of set Little Dogs goes whole hog to the other end of the scale. This devised promenade performance was an absolute visual treat. The initial setting in an outdated living room was soon literally ripped apart to reveal a shabby street lined with black bin bags and a rundown boy racer car.

The outstanding cast skilfully weaved their way from the street to disgusting club toilets to a lovers tryst on the beach. Giving a glimpse into the lives of Swansea’s youth as they try to be cool and give us advice on how to pull and avoid being ‘scrutty’. These often out of control youths staged street dance battles (with Darren Evans hilariously puffing away on his asthma pump) and also more delicate scenes about unrequited love. Everything was underlined with strong physical performances and an incredible sound track provided by Hybrid.
Kate-Elizabeth Payne in the nightclub toilets.

Unfortunately the script felt massively underdeveloped in comparison, always leaving the audience trailing around searching for more that never came. The audience were given quick snapshots of these teens’ lives, while they were being silently watched by the ever graceful grandmother figure – Si├ón Phillips.  Perhaps the most developed character was that played by Darren Evans, an unlucky lad, constantly trying to get in with the gang who seems to be followed everywhere by a pouring raincloud. Kate- Elizabeth Payne also stood out as a loud, ballsy ladette who told us all about why it was a good idea to wear revealing underwear to school.

It was also difficult to pin down the ages of the characters. Were they rebellious 15 year olds testing the boundaries and believing that the way to get a girl was to flash your abs and shout profanities on the sports field? Or were they slightly more cynical 18 year olds who could see the rubbish dump that their lives were headed towards, had they loved and lost, did they have abandoned dreams? Although it is always best to leave the audience wanting more the script was hugely lacking when compared to the brilliantly conceived choreography and staging design. Perhaps this was because it was devised and only very loosely based on Dylan Thomas’ short story ‘Just like Little Dogs’. Whatever the reason this was the only weak link in an otherwise stunning production.

Darren Evans and Sian Phillips in a touchign scene at the bus stop.

This production grabbed you instantly and never let go even for a second. I for one didn’t even notice that the set was being changed behind me I was so involved in the performance. Not for the fainthearted or prudish, this is an honest and hard hitting study of Swansea’s younger generation. Loud, proud and unflinching – another great success.