Friday, 19 April 2013

A Look Inside Shakespeare's Imagination

To Live, To Love, To Be
Company 5
Sherman Cymru, Theatre 2
17th April 2013

Being in the audience of To Live, To Love, To Be was like being  a witness to some occult religious ceremony; the atmosphere was heavy with expectation and a sinister sense of danger never left the room. Sitting on the balcony looking down at the huge revolving table as incense filled the room was the beginning of our initiation to the mystical world of Shakespeare’s mind.

Around the table various figures from Shakespeare’s past and fantastical imagination debate the source of the Bard’s genius. His school teacher believes that education is the key, a travelling player says that they inspired Shakespeare as a young man, Ariel from The Tempest argues that he has the heart of a fairy and Macbeth claims that the famous poet adapted stories from history to suit his own means.  

For a community group to be able to perform a specially commissioned script, with such high production values is incredible. Every element of the design was better than some professional companies. The lighting design by Ceri James was breathtaking; it had the power the change the space from the dark passages of Macbeth’s castle to the sunny Stratford of Shakespeare’s youth, whilst always maintaining a sense of the supernatural. 

An investigation into Shakespeare’s past and motivation is always going to be very intellectual and the wordplay was at times beautiful but the atmosphere was so engulfing and mysterious that some of the very down to earth humour was lost among the incense and grandeur. This lack of humour made the production, although visually impressive, very dry and academic at points. 

Considering that this is such a challenging text and the company run an open door policy, whereby anyone can get involved with no auditions, the standard of acting was very, very high. Some of the younger members are also involved with the Sherman’s Youth Theatre and they are undoubtedly getting an excellent introduction to the world of theatre. Certain performances showed real professional potential – Eifion Ap Cadno (Shakespeare), Andreas Constantinou (Macbeth) and Giorgia Marchetta (Lady Macbeth) to name a few.  Among all this talent the stand out performance of the event came from the highly talented Nerys Jones as William Shakespeare’s Welsh grandmother who argues passionately (and convincingly) that his talent comes from his Celtic blood. 

A really interesting production that is an absolute master class in building tension and atmosphere. It will be fascinating to see where the company goes from here, they have set themselves a very high standard to maintain.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Sex, Murder and Rock 'n' Roll!

The Bloody Ballad
At Volcano, Swansea
15th April 2013

Murder, incest, kidnapping and arson don’t sound like the perfect ingredients for a feel-good rockabilly music show yet Gagglebabble’s The Bloody Ballad is guaranteed to leave you with a huge smile on your face (and possibly a nauseous feeling in your stomach). 
Mary and the band (photo taken from

Meet Mary Maid (Lucy Rivers) and her band The Missin’ Fingers. Mary’s had a tough week and would like nothing more than to share her tale with you before the authorities catch up with her. 

After a few warm up tunes – including a brilliant rendition of Johnny Cash classic ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ by guitarist Dan Messore and an astonishing drum solo from Tom Cottle – Mary tells all about ‘What my Daddy Done (in A minor)’ pun most definitely intended. Knowing her back story it doesn’t come as a surprise when Mary falls for the first man to show her real romantic attention – a mysterious, shifty yet charming wanderer Connor (Oliver Woods) who works his magic on the whole audience with his velvety vocals. 

After a week-long whirlwind romance Connor betrays naive Mary and the consequences for him are not pretty at all. Mary may be young but she can sure look after herself – leaving a trail of blood and bodies behind her. Including the body of Connor’s psychotic, snakeskin wearing Mama played (with more energy than can be safe) by Hannah McPake.   

Lucy Rivers is perfect as our ill-fated heroine, with a tortured look in her eye and a mean singing voice, a bit like True Blood’s Sookie Stackhouse but a lot more kick-ass!  By the end the stage is littered with severed fingers, a snake’s head and a whole lot of blood!

Drawing on clichés of 1950s Mid-West America – the isolated gas station, the mysterious wanderer, hillbilly culture – the cast get every bit of humour out of the brilliant script (also written by the hugely talented Rivers). The amount of musical skill on the stage is phenomenal, every member of the cast could play, sometimes multiple, instruments and all had brilliant bluesy vocals.
Romance and violence! (photo taken from
It’s so refreshing to see such a raw and passionate production that, although professional, doesn’t take itself too seriously. The performers’ love for the show was so infectious and it was an absolute crime that more people weren’t there to share the unforgettable experience!

Not only will the toe-tappingly good tunes replay over and over in your head but the great flair for simple storytelling will ensure the tragic tale of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks will haunt you for a long time.
A truly original and daring production that smashes through so many genres –part folktale, part Tarantino violence and part rock and roll gig – 100% unmissable!

This is THE best touring music show you will see.

Seriously get yourself a ticket for the tour then go see it again in Edinburgh!

For more on the company :

Tour details:
Gwyn Hall, Neath
Date & Time: 17th April, 7.30pm
Box Office: 0300 3656677 /
Tickets: £9, £7 members, £5 students

St Donat’s Arts Centre, Vale of Glamorgan
Date & Time: 19th April, 8pm
Box Office: 01446 799100 /
Tickets: £12.50, £10.50 conc

University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Date & Time: 24th April, 7pm
Box Office: 01267 67 6669 /
Tickets: £6, £4

Torch Theatre, Milford Haven
Date & Time: 25th-26th April, 7.45pm
Box Office: 01646 695 267 /
Tickets: £12/£10 conc/under 26s £7

Soho Theatre, London
Date & Time: 29th April-4th May, 7.30pm
Box Office: 020 7478 0100 /
Tickets: £10 Mon + Tues, £15 (£12.50 concs) Weds – Sat

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Experimental Shakespeare from Sherman Cymru's Company 5

Preview – To Live, To Love, To Be
Company 5
Sherman Cymru, Theatre 2
17-20th April

Once a month, every month, a sinister band comes together to summon the spirits of years gone by. Last month they entered dangerous territory by summoning the spirit of Adolf Hitler. This month they have gone for an ‘easier’ option – William Shakespeare. But will their investigations into the Bard’s background be as safe as they think?

The Play

To Live, To Love, To Be is a newly commissioned play by award-winning dramatist D.J. Britton, who also penned Sherman Cymru’s take on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. The unusual script aims to explore why Shakespeare wrote what he did and what influences inspired his imagination. Around the 6 metre revolving table debate is sparked between Shakespeare’s Welsh grandmother, his father – Mayor of Stratford, travelling players, Ariel from The Tempest and other characters from his plays.

The Company

Company 5 consists of 13 members between the ages of 18 and 61, some with no previous theatre experience at all! In a chat with Director Phil MacKenzie he stressed the importance of the company’s open door policy, “there are no auditions, all that’s needed is commitment.” The result is an incredible mixture of people from all kinds of backgrounds; one is a professional actor, others are drama students, some just have a passion for theatre. For those new to treading the boards, what a way to make their theatrical debut!  

Phil says that even in the week before the show he is not completely sure what the finished production will be. “If you think of the process as a hill – we are nearly at the top of it now. By next week we will be at the top of the hill and the momentum will just carry us through.” 

Despite being unsure what to expect as the audience comes in Phil’s passion for the project is characteristically infectious. Staging such as experimental and unusual production with a group such as Company 5 could be a huge risk if the actors were not completely on board with the idea, but whilst watching them rehearse it was clear that every person on that stage is committed to putting on a high quality performance that will begin to bridge the gap between amateur and professional theatre.

The Rehearsal

In Sherman Cymru’s Theatre 2 it seems that every company finds a new way to use the adaptable space. Company 5 have decided to take the idea of performing in the round to the next level. The huge revolving séance table takes up most of the stage meaning that the audience are placed above the action on the balcony looking down on what Phil calls “the mysterious world of the afterlife.”

The set is incredible and it’s hard to believe that this isn’t a professional production with a large budget. The attention to detail is astonishing and extends to the lighting, costume and even the smell in the room. 

One of the most impressive parts of the production is, without a doubt, the music, which has been specially created by Welsh composer John Rea. He has constructed atmospheric soundscapes to accompany the action that Phil grandly calls “sonic provocations”. They certainly live up to their name adding a dark tension to the room. As if this wasn’t already a hard enough job John had the extra challenge of creating the sound only from music that has been composed in response to Shakespeare’s work. The final result is perfect for the mysterious and somewhat sinister production.

Although this was a rehearsal in which details were constantly changing with actors having to redo sections over and over there were still some eye-catching performances. There is a clear ensemble approach and it is obvious that the company have done a lot of work on movement and text meaning that they are free to experiment and produce something new and exciting.

This is sure to be yet another daring and innovative production from Sherman Cymru’s Company 5. By the time the audiences are coming in this is sure to be a polished and exciting production. If you are a Shakespeare buff, a new writing fan or are just looking for something a bit different get your tickets now!

To Live, To Love, To Be will be at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff from 17-20 April, 8pm. Tickets : £8 / £6 conc / £4 under 25s.

Tickets and info: 029 2064 6900                            

The project has been supported by RSC Open Stages and The Paul Hamlyn Foundation both of which stress the importance of high quality experiences and the importance of maximising the potential of everyone. 

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation:

Royal Shakespeare Company:

Saturday, 13 April 2013

How far would you go to pay off your debts?

Love and Money

Waking Exploits

At Chapter Arts Centre

11th April 2013

Almost hidden in the corner a small fish tank filled with its very own barcode striped set mirrored the stage. As the small goldfish swam aimlessly around it was impossible not to draw comparison between this small creature and the characters that are all trapped by their own compulsions, passions or self-imposed restrictions. 

Jess and David (Sara Lloyd-Gregory and Will Thorp) Photography credit: Jorge Lizalde / Waking Exploits

Just like the goldfish David (Will Thorp) seems lost in his own world. As he communicates awkwardly via email with his new French lover he slowly reveals his wife’s tragic death and the role he played in it. Saddled by £70,000 of debt and an overwhelming shopping addiction his young bride, Jess, saw no other way out – neither did he.

Although Love and Money is a very wordy play, mostly consisting of monologues and dialogues, there was never a lull in the tension. Spiralling backwards in time Jess’s parents (played by the perfectly cast Rebecca Harries and Keiron Self ) share their horror at the huge monuments being built on the grave next to their daughter’s. Their love for their child is obvious but they can’t help but ask “why didn’t we help her?”  Finally settling on the answer “She’ll never learn if we always bail her out.”

Jess's Parents (Rebecca Harries and Keiron Self) Photography credit: Jorge Lizalde / Waking Exploits

Occasionally dipping into surrealism the play asked a lot from the actors, especially Joanna Simpkins and Gareth Milton who both skilfully navigated a number of different roles. In a darkly comic nightclub scene sleazy ‘agent’ Duncan and seemingly naive office worker Debbie reveal the truth about the depths that people will stoop to in order to make quick cash.

 The stand out performance – in a show full to the brim with talent – came when Jess (Sara Lloyd-Gregory) entered and talked about her obsession with aliens, eventually revealing the paralysis she experienced when trying to decide between two different sets of forks. For her the compulsion to fill her life with material things seems to fill a void – but who or what this void was created by is only hinted at and each spectator is left to make up their own mind. Jess’s scenes in particular were complimented by Declan Randall’s multimedia design that gave the production a completeness and immersive quality.

Debbie and Duncan (Joanna Simpkins and Gareth Milton ) Photography Credit: Jorge Lizalde / Walking Exploits

In this close look at our society’s obsession with money and material goods there were no easy answers. In what could be a jumpy and hard to follow play Ryan Romain’s direction pulled all the viewpoints into a cohesive whole that was both interrogative and heartfelt. 

Like the goldfish the play doesn’t really go anywhere due to the big shock of the narrative happening at the very beginning. Yet the energetic and completely engrossed cast carried the performance on waves of dark humour and heartbreaking honesty. 

Don’t miss out on this challenging and inventive production.

Tour dates and more info: