Monday, 28 October 2013

Silence, Sexual Tension and Social Commentary

Sue Williams and Roy Campbell-Moore
Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio
13th Oct 2013

It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but what you can do when words just can’t express how you feel. In the appropriately named Shh! silence ruled as a couple wordlessly vied for each other’s attention and battled to be in control of themselves and each other.

This exciting collaboration between acclaimed visual artist Sue Williams and artistic associate of National Dance Company Wales Roy Campbell-Moore defies categorization; part dance, part theatre, part art installation. It is a thorough and intriguing investigation into sexual politics, gender, power, security and eroticism.

Performed and developed by renowned dance artists Chloe Loftus and Jem Treays the silent struggle played out in full view of an audience who were invited to walk around the space and see the action from every angle. The battlefield was the blueprint of the couple’s house outlined in white tape on the floor, furnished sparsely by just the bare essentials with the addition a pole dancing podium centre stage. This minimalism also extended to the costume; the pair were often in various states of undress, sometimes to arouse, other times to completely reveal their insecurities and self doubt.

Chloe Loftus from

The choreography was powerful and emotive especially the solo sections. The woman alone in a corridor of light seemed tortured as she violently contorted her body silently screaming of female anxiety. The man alone in the bedroom, lifting weights whilst gazing at himself in the mirror wordlessly cried out about his loneliness and the male need to reach visual perfection. Some of the movement was truly mesmerising - an extended scene on the living room armchair where the couple silently fought for possession of the space slowly and sinisterly grew from playful shoves to violent lunges as the audience powerlessly watched this very personal and physical conflict.

Certain moments were so intriguing that it would have been nice to see more of them. The room was full of tension and excitement when the man leapt across the dining room table, grabbed the woman, stayed suspended for a moment only to be pushed back into his chair by her. It could have been really exciting to see what happened if these loaded moments were pushed further. Although it would have been fascinating to see more during these slightly unexplored moments they certainly added to the sense of unease and miscommunication that ran through the piece.

Around the space samples of Sue Williams’ art work were also on display. Many featured nudes provocatively posed or over made-up women with eye catching slogans. Every piece screamed urgency, exploring the ideas around feminine identity and the constant search for perfection. The drawings, just like the piece as a whole, were thought provoking and somewhat disturbing. Although the art work only explored the feminine the performance itself perfectly captured the fragility and desires of both sexes.

An example of Sue's work from

Blending sexual tension with an unvoiced battle for authority Shh! is a compelling and intelligent piece. Not wanting to look away, yet barely able to watch the audience became helpless participants in the battle of the sexes and certainly left re-evaluating their own views on feminine and masculine ideals. Exploring strength, sexuality and social interaction Shh! is a compelling and challenging piece that viscerally excites and intellectually stimulates.

For more on Sue Williams and her dynamic artwork please visit:

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Engaging and Exciting Literacy Enhancment Programme at Sherman Cymru

Fresh INK

A Sherman Cymru Outreach Programme

Friday 11th October 2013

As part of its extensive outreach programme Sherman Cymru have established a new and exciting project called Fresh INK. The literacy enhancement programme is for primary and secondary school pupils and aims to ignite a passion for creative writing and the spoken word both in English and in Welsh. 

Participating schools and groups take part in an engaging six week programme that teaches creative writing skills with the goal of creating a ten minute script for theatre. The project is in its infancy but has already been highly successful and this week some of those scripts were presented in front of family and friends at script-in-hand performances by professional actors. 

I was fortunate enough to attend the second evening of readings and was completely blown away by the high standard of work. The young writers from SOBIS (School of Basic Islamic Studies) took part in workshops led by Angharad Lee and Morgan Thomas each week to develop their confidence and creativity. When I spoke to one of the young writers she said it was refreshing to be encouraged to write in her own voice and not over think things as she felt she produced a more entertaining script that she could be truly proud of.

This idea of the individual voice was really strong as each piece was completely different from the last. One had an almost Beckett-esque surreal feeling (despite the fact the group have probably never even heard of Waiting for Godot) enhanced by circuitous dialogue as a young man met an older version of himself from the past. Others were satires of their everyday teenage life – complete with an appearance from One Direction. Some took on more serious subject matters like the conflict in Syria or the everyday struggle of being a mother with surprising insight and clarity. 

Essentially these young writers wrote about topics that were important to them; their friend’s birthday party, stalking their favourite band and how to understand a world full of conflict and confusion. No adult would be able to capture the true dialogue of teenage girls arguing about special birthday outfits or the fear of being caught in an armed conflict. These are the best people to talk on behalf of young people and perhaps more should be done to include their voices in productions made for their age group.

Many of the group members had never set foot in a theatre before and certainly would never have thought of becoming writers. This project is all about unlocking the creativity within these young minds and encouraging them to engage with the arts. There is some serious potential in this group and hopefully the writers will be able to continue to explore the ideas they have developed and who knows where their writing could be performed one day. 

Each and every participant should be proud of the work they created; all were original and really well crafted. There were plenty of laughs but there was also some really touching moments that shone through and made a real impact. Sherman Cymru should be applauded for their dedication to nurturing young potential and giving these students the chance to have their work performed in a professional theatre by professional actors – something not many people can say about their work, especially writers under the age of 20.

A great initiative that I’m sure will continue to grow and reach more and more potential young writers. Fresh INK is an engaging and exciting project that is the perfect example of how to run successful and beneficial outreach programmes. 

If you are interested in getting your school or group involved with the Fresh INK initiative please contact Angharad Lee at Sherman Cymru (029 2064 6980).

Dark Exploration into the Human Mind and Neurosurgery

Happiness Repeats Itself
By Sean Tuan John
7th and 8th October 2013
Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio

Happiness Repeats Itself is a textual and physical exploration of the infamous lobotomy procedures carried out in America by the notorious Dr Walter Freeman during the 1950s. 

Dr Freeman was the first person to carry out a lobotomy in America and eventually developed the transorbital lobotomy technique in which the frontal lobes of the brain were accessed through the eye sockets, the infamous ‘ice-pick technique’. The company performed this grisly procedure in gruesome detail onstage, practising on grapefruit just as Dr Freeman did in the 50s.

Lobotomies were carried out as a ‘cure’ for many different conditions including violent or compulsive behaviour, schizophrenia, depression, strong emotions and even homosexuality. The idea was to disconnect the frontal lobes of the brain whilst leaving the motor functions and intelligence unharmed. Unfortunately the frontal lobes are also responsible for decision making, personality, creativity and other higher brain functions which meant many patients were left dull and lifeless with no personality and unable to look after themselves.

Despite constantly battling with the American accent and dodgy wigs the energetic cast gave powerful and compelling performances. A number of real life case studies were used as inspiration for the characters of Dr Freeman’s patients, each of which led a tragic life before and after their procedure. Every performer committed fully to their role and it’s a wonder they didn’t really collapse at the end after throwing their bodies around the stage

The piece was interestingly staged using several desks spread around the space, lit by desk lamps whilst the performers spoke into microphones. Unfortunately the stage picture was sometimes a bit muddled and it was difficult to establish what part of the stage required attention. Too much was happening at once and background action was often better lit than the people talking. This may have been a clever technique to make the audience feel the disorientation of the patients but unfortunately it took away from what could have been some quite poignant and moving sections. 

The action was also rather repetitive and it may have been beneficial to only explore a few of the case studies in greater detail as the separate introductions to each character became repetitive adding little to the progression of the piece. This also meant the conclusion was somewhat predictable. The choreographed sections were without a doubt the strongest element of the piece as they were completely engrossing and really conveyed the struggle of emotions and physical pains the patients went through, whist the cold and mechanical doctor oversaw all the action. 

Perhaps Happiness Repeats Itself needs to be viewed several times to fully appreciate the intricacies and detail of the production as so much went on in the short time. Overall was an intelligent and visceral investigation into the horror of 1950s neurosurgery and the failings of the medical community, American society and sometimes even the family unit.

For more on creator and choreographer Sean Tuan John click here.