Wednesday, 27 February 2013

'Catwalk Circus of Fractured Narratives'

Dressing Up Too
Sherman Cymru Youth Theatre
Sherman Cymru
23rd Feb 2013

To get nearly 100 young performers on stage is no mean feat, yet Sherman Cymru Youth Theatre’s inventive catwalk show was engaging and unusual. In form and content it covered material that is completely out of the normal comfort zone of other youth theatres. There were no ‘lead roles’ for the star performers, no mediocre chorus – just a group of talented young people who worked together to produce a polished and touching show.

The production explored the dichotomy between what we show on the outside and what is going on inside each of our minds. Described by Head of Creative Learning, Phil Mackenzie, as a ‘catwalk circus of fractured narratives’ the show jumped between each of the five youth theatre academies. Each one having worked on separate narratives that all linked to the theme of social perception and inner turmoil.

A deeper layer of meaning was given to the performance by the presence of a group of elderly citizens who remained onstage throughout. At intervals each would come forward and share a story from their life, often humorous, sometimes tragic. One of the older women amused the audience with her phobia of finding a dead body around every corner and then proceeded to ask ‘do you think I watch too much TV?’

One of the highlights of the night was undoubtedly the story of Harry who is different, quirky, unaccepted by his peers. After a mysterious visit (just like Harry Potter) our Harry goes away to school but this time he is to become a cardboard box. After finishing school Harry becomes a fashion icon and soon everyone is wearing his cardboard creations. Everyone except a young woman brave enough to be different, she’s a tin foil girl. This clever commentary on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook was light enough for the age group but still touched on the hugely important issues surrounding cyber bullying and isolation. Political theatre from young people is so rare but clearly much needed.

Any casting agents out there should definitely keep their eyes on the members of the oldest group of young performers - Company 4. In their late teens and twenties the group is chock full of focussed and talented actors. Their group work was flawlessly timed and each of their sections was intense and emotional. With plenty of youngsters to take up the mantle this group is sure to be strong for years to come. 

Mention has to be made of the beautiful costume design by Deryn Tudor, combined with hair and makeup by Alice Pattillo that added so much drama to the more traditional theatrical sections. Also the multimedia aspect of the show (John Ingham ) ensured there was a constant visual feast that captivated and intrigued.

For young performers to be given the opportunity to develop such highly polished and professional work is amazing. More importantly however, they all seem to love what they are doing and put their all into giving great performances and making sure everyone there has a great time. With the ages of the young performers ranging from 11-26 the skills they will pick up will be invaluable – confidence, focus and teamwork.

Any young person with an interest in performance should get involved with these groups; they will constantly be creating stimulating work that they can be proud of.

To find out more visit:

The Best of 2013 so far!

Created by Deborah Light
Chapter Arts Centre, Studio
22nd Feb 2013

When confronted by a naked, giggling woman as you walk into the theatre you know the show you are about to see is either going to be attention-seeking or daring.  Deborah Light’s innovative first full length piece of course fell into the latter category – original and thought provoking. 

With a cast of world-renowned female performers HIDE showed how much is possible in a stripped back space. With just their bodies and a few mobile studio lights these women explored the boundaries between our public and private lives – as the programme asks, ‘are they showing themselves? Or is this a show?’

Wonderfully timid Jo Fong physicalised the constant battle between a performer and their onstage psyche, telling us ‘this is a show’ whilst performing conflicted choreography that showed a performers struggle with nerves more than words could ever convey. 

Rosalind Haf Brooks on the other hand strived to make a connection with her fellow performers, even resorting to sniffing their clothes just to make contact. By turns equally humorous and touching in her pursuit for human interaction. 

Most of the text based content came from the beautifully androgynous Eddie Ladd who chronicled the stages of her life by describing what length her hair was at any given time. She revealed that she has not always been Eddie, but as a performer she needed to change her name to avoid having the same name as another.

Each of the women contributed something new to the mix, each dancing in their own unique way and each bringing a different set of emotions to the performance. The fractured nature of the piece allowed them to disappear and reappear, transform and dissolve exploring the multiple layers of human nature.

The lines between performance and life were completely blurred – what was a performance and what was truth didn’t seem to matter as the piece delved further into what’s underneath the surface of our external fa├žades.

Exciting and engaging, this is the kind of work that will encourage discussion and linger in your mind long after the event.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Simple yet elegant opera from WNO

Madame Butterfly
Welsh National Opera
Wales Millennium Centre
Open Dress - 13th Feb 2013

Imagine a marriage contract that you could terminate at the end of every month, where abandonment of the bride is equal to divorce. In Nagasaki this is the reality for Madame Butterfly, yet in her young heart marriage is forever, no matter how long her sweetheart is absent.

American Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Gwyn Hughes Jones) thinks he has found the perfect part-time bride in fifteen year old Cio-Cio-San or Madame Butterfly (Cheryl Barker).  His plan is to enjoy life with his young wife before moving back to America to find a real, American Mrs Pinkerton.

The first half leisurely shows us Butterfly’s marriage to Pinkerton and beautifully encapsulates all her hopes for their joint future. Marrying an American is such an honour that she is prepared to renounce her faith in order to become a Christian. Her family do not approve and their initial joy and excitement over the wedding soon turns to scorn and they shun her in a wonderfully chilling choreographed scene. Despite their abandonment Butterfly is still overjoyed at her future prospects and the curtain goes down as the newlyweds prepare to send their first night as man and wife.

Conversely the second act seems to move too fast. We discover Pinkerton has been absent for three years leaving Butterfly alone in their hilltop house with her faithful maid Suzuki for company – tenderly played by Claire Bradshaw. Despite countless offers from the marriage broker (Phillip Lloyd Holtam) to remarry a rich prince, Butterfly holds onto the marriage that is now dissolved in Japanese law - she still loves Pinkerton and can’t wait to introduce him to their son, who she had whilst he was at sea.  With little time between Butterfly discovering her husband’s betrayal –he returns to Japan with his new American wife (Sian Meinir) -  and subsequently deciding to take her own life leaves  no room for real emotion and the scenes became a little melodramatic yet somehow still moving. 

The beautiful set by Reinhart Zimmermann provided the backdrop throughout – Butterfly’s traditional Japanese home, complete with sliding panels, provided a bright and airy scene of potential hope in act one, yet it really captured the feeling of a beautiful young spirit being crushed towards the finale. This combined with the subtle lighting and costume choices by John Waterhouse and Eleonore Kleiber respectively, made the visual experience rich in its imagery even though the set remained the same throughout. 

Despite the melodramatic second half Madame Butterfly is a really enjoyable opera and would be a great introduction to WNO’s work for anyone who has not seen it before. The performances are all captivating to watch and of course their voices are top notch.  Lacking the frilly decadence usually associated with opera makes this is a really accessible and engaging production.

Catch it now:

More info at :

Sunday, 10 February 2013


Preview – Dressing Up Too
Sherman Cymru Youth Theatre
21nd - 23rd February

On a 15 metre long catwalk 120 young performers will be joined by 6 others, all 85 years old or over to perform an unusual, intergenerational, multimedia event.

I was recently privileged enough to have a chat with Sherman Cymru Youth Theatre director and Head of Creative Learning, Phillip Mackenzie and sit in on one of the groups rehearsals.

Phil is an exciting, dynamic man, with a clear vision for the work he is doing:

I first got the idea for this show when I had to design a catwalk show in Paris. It turns out that the catwalk models were actually really interesting people – one of them was an aspiring beat poet! I was really interested in the difference between what we see and what we hear. In Dressing Up Too the visual outside is clearly represented by the catwalk but at the end of the runway are three microphones from which the characters can express their inner thoughts.

It is very unusual in theatre to have such a large group of young people performing in the same show in which none of them are the ‘leads’ and none are relegated to being ‘chorus’:

For me it is really important that youth theatre is inclusive, this show has a large scale ensemble from the ages of 12 to 26. The show is made up of lots of different sections each directed by a different emerging director – I haven’t seen the final product of any of the sections yet, just parts of the work in progress. Each of the 4 emerging directors has a 15 minute slot in the show to create something great. Not only is it important to support our young acting talent but also these new directors, it means we will have an interesting and varied show that is dominated by tempo and rhythm rather than direct narrative.

It’s not often you get to see such a huge range of ages on the stage at the same time. This is obviously a subject that Phil is very passionate about:  

No one ever asks old people about their futures. All they can talk about is the past or how young people today have no idea about anything!  When I spoke to one of our performers, Alfred, about his future he said “I despair – the older I get the more invisible I become”, that isn’t right. I’d been working on the idea of running an intergenerational summer school but then I thought; why not do it now?  At first some of our 85 year olds were reluctant to get involved but now they are just as excited as the young performers. The audience will be seeing the show of young people through the eyes of the old people.  It’s an exciting idea!

After our chat I was welcomed into the rehearsal room where a small group of unusually focussed young people were preparing to warm up. With very little instruction and nothing but an empty room and some pulsing beats the group started to create a spontaneous series of movements that were incredible to watch. The group is so supportive and collaborative and each individual had a sense of self-confidence that is often lacking in people of their age group. Personally I would pay just to watch one of these improvised warm-ups.

As they started to rehearse the set pieces for the show there was plenty of pouting as the young men swaggered up and down the catwalk. One of the sections performed by the girls showcased their talent not just for movement but their excellent delivery of poetic verse. Each time they went over a section small tweaks were made, it is this attention to detail that will made the final production unmissable.

No where else would a group of young (and old) people get the chance to be involved in something so innovative and exciting. They are all part of an incredible creative experience that will teach them so much - not just about theatre, but about themselves and the world around them.

As I left the theatre I had the feeling of having been part of something special, some kind of infectious ritual. The final piece will involve so many layers; movement, text, projection, music, not to mention the huge number of performers; that the audience will be completely absorbed in this world of internal desire and external perceptions.


For tickets or more info visit:
Or call : 029 2064 6900


"'A person makes an effort to enjoy himself, why pin a label on it, huh?'"

Sexual Perversity in Chicago
Living Pictures in association with Cegin Productions
Sherman Cymru, Cardiff
Written by David Mamhet
Fri 8th Feb, 2013

Any men discussing their latest conquests are bound to exaggerate just a little, but middle-aged womanizer Bernie’s story is so farfetched it has to be true! Robert Bowman (who also directs) revels in the delightfully dirty language of this aging Lothario and is certainly the driving force behind the breakneck speed of the production. 

Made up of thirty short scenes the action takes a whistle-stop tour of the singles scene in 1970s Chicago. The wonderfully understated set design by Jacob Hughes plays in the round, with brave members of the audience sat right next to the actors and the others looking down from the balcony. A set of filing cabinets serve a multitude of functions – bar stools, tables and from their drawers are revealed all the props required. 

Younger co-worker Danny (Ioannis Sholto) looks up to misogynist Bernie so much we already know any romantic attempts will fail. Yet he is soon moving in with Deborah (Lizzie Rogan), an independent and optimistic illustrator. Without much time to blink she is moving out again, going back to acid-tounged, school teacher Joan. 

Although the plot focuses on the brief romance of Danny and Deborah it is the older characters that have most impact. Joan and Bernie are both bitter about the opposite sex and are not afraid to be verbal about it. Quite why they are so damaged is never revealed but both steal the show with their sordid tales or schoolroom mishaps.

The story ends pretty much back where it started, with two single men ogling ladies. Although a very clever dramatic and comedic device it leaves very little room for any character development. Combine this with the fact that none of the characters are particularly likeable and it leaves you feeling a bit cold – struggling to feel any empathy for these four sad singletons. 

Having said that the laughs come thick and fast, Mamhet’s dark comedy gives a hilarious snap-shot of the times. At its premier it was surely shocking and groundbreaking; nowadays you have to do more than say the C-word to get a reaction out of most.  Perhaps the shock factor has been toned down but men and women never really change, the attitudes shown by these dysfunctional daters are just as common in 2013 as in 1970.

Definitely worth seeing for the vibrant strength of the cast, the 70s disco tunes and Danny’s handle-bar moustache. 

An enjoyable and entertaining evening, that will certainly have you laughing if nothing else.

For more info:


6 - 9 February
Sherman Cymru, Cardiff
029 2064 6900
20 February
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven
01646 695 267
22 February
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
01970 62 32 32
27 February
Pontardawe Arts Centre
01792 863 722
4 - 5 March
Galeri, Caernarfon
01286 685 222
7 March
Y Ffwrnes, Llanelli
0845 226 3510