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.  

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

NTW's Brave New Political Drama

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
National Theatre Wales
Watched via live stream
Performance at Connah's Quay High School, Flintshire
28th April 2012

Bradley Manning is the new kid at school and “it’s your job to make sure his head doesn’t get flushed down the toilet until at least Thursday.” In NTW’s brave new production it always feels like Bradley is the new kid; scared, lonely and a little bit odd.

As only Tim Price’s third play the writer has taken on a tough and possibly legally challenging story. Based on the true events in the life of US soldier Manning’s life, this piece of fiction seeks to ask why would he allegedly release 250,000 secret cables and logs about the Iraq and Afghan wars to WikiLeaks?

Computer geek

Manning is currently awaiting trial in the US after spending ten months in semi-solitary confinement at Quantico. But it is the ten years before this that Price is interested in; when he spent time in Wales with his mother, worked dead end jobs to try and fund a college education and eventually joined the army because after four years service they will pay for his tuition.

Another dead end job

Played throughout by all six of the very strong cast Bradley is never a fully sympathetic character. As we see him struggle with his sexuality, apparent issues with cross dressing and the divorce of his parents he always comes across as difficult and a little bit whiney. Having said this you can’t help but feel protective of the young boy entrusted with military secrets well out of his depth.

NTW are known for their unusual choices of performance venue and this production was no different. The action took place in school halls across Wales including the one that Manning attending during his time in the country. This was not the only performance outlet, in an attempt to create a ‘hyper-connected’ theatre event the live performances were streamed online to a dedicated website for anyone to watch free of charge.

Although this was a highly innovative and inspired idea that enhanced the impression of constant surveillance it wasn’t 100% successful. The usual online issues of firewalls, dodgy wireless connections and system failures left some audience members disappointed. Hopefully these glitches won’t put NTW off doing this kind of thing again; it really gave a different feel to the performance although nothing can compete with seeing the action live.

Constant Surveillance

In places the performances were genuinely touching (although perhaps stretching artistic license) especially as we see Bradley being put in the shoes of Welsh revolutionaries in history class. Other scenes were simply mind blowing as heavy metal introduced us to FOB Hammer, Bagdad and Lady Gaga provided the score for Bradley’s feeling of freedom as he copied the relevant files over to re-writable CDs. 

Throughout it was thought provoking. In a talk with his father to ask for help with college fees his father asks “Do you want to be a man and join the army or do you want to be gay and work at Starbucks?” In reference to the army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to homosexuality.

The Ensemble

The episodic structure gave glimpses into all the institutions that have let Bradley down all the way through his life. These transitions were seamlessly navigated by director John E. McGrath with the aid of Natasha Chivers’ superb lighting design. Brave, bold and what NTW is all about!
In the end we are left with the question “Is it Bradley’s actions or ideas that threaten?”

All these people really deserve a mention and a huge congratulations:
Cast: Matthew Aubrey, Harry Ferrier, Gwawr Loader, Kyle Rees, Anjana Vasan, Sion Daniel Young
Writer: Tim Price
Director: John E. McGrath
Designed by: Chloe Lamford
Lighting design: Natasha Chivers
Sound Design: Mike Beer
Multi-Platform Design: Tom Beardshaw

Review and photos by Chelsey Gillard
Exclusive photographs taken at the social media call at Cardiff High School

For more information on why Tim Price chose to write about Manning read his interesting and informative blog on the Guardian website.
For more reviews please visit: