Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas Twist

Anamnesis 25.12
Mercury Theatre Wales
Chapter Arts Centre
19th December 2014

Having started their development of this production early this year Mercury Theatre Wales have spent the best part of twelve months perfecting their alternative Christmas offering - Anamnesis 25.12.

By collecting stories from a wide range of people of all faiths and ages Mercury Theatre Wales wanted to produce a show that represented what Christmas is actually like for most us. Rather than the ruddy cheeked cherubim of chocolate boxes children are often rowdy and over excited. Grandparents do not sit quietly by the fire, but rather seem to gain their enjoyment by criticising all the hard work that has gone into the day. The festive period is often when tensions run over or painful memories come to the surface.

By working with a team of writers these stories come together in Anamnesis 25.12. On a hospital ward at Christmas time we get a glimpse into each patient’s Christmas past. Some of the memories are painful and sad whereas others show families pulling together at difficult times. Using different writers for each scene has allowed each individual story to have a unique feel to it, without disrupting the unity of the production as a whole.

The format of the show is fresh, as is the content, offering something enjoyably different to the usual theatrical fare at this time of year. Presented in a semi-promenade style the audience’s attention is directed to different playing areas as each patient invites us on a trip down memory lane, guided by the wonderfully cast Louisa Lorey as the ward sister.

Unfortunately this Christmas feast is a little overstuffed, all the to-ing and fro-ing becomes very predictable. With some cuts this production could be a slick and engaging piece, in its current format I often found myself losing interest in the main action and watching the busy on-stage production team.

There is a good balance between comedy and sentimentality throughout and the audience are immediately invited to get into the participatory spirit by singing carols to the patients. Lynn Hunter, as always, gives her all to the performance, becoming excitable 8 year old Holly. Whereas Sarah-Louise Tyler convincingly plays her down-trodden mother who is trying to make the most of Christmas despite her alcoholic husband’s best attempts to drink away any money they had for presents.

Many of the scenes have this underlying tension or sadness but his mood does not overwhelm the show. Overall it is rather uplifting and certainly raises a smile. One of the final scenes, in which a middle class daughter brings a homeless man to dinner, adds an element of farce that -although a little outdated - does deliver the laughs.

An enjoyable show, that is entertainingly different. Certainly not perfect... but then again Christmas never is.

After the sell out run in Chapter Arts Centre Anamnesis 25.12 is now on tour:

The Lord Mayor's Reception Room,

The Guildhall, St. Helen's Cresent,
Swansea SA1 4PE
29&30 December 7pm
31 December 1.30pm

Pontardawe Arts Center,
Herbert Street,
Pntardawe SA8 4ED
3 January 1.30pm

Saturday, 29 November 2014

A Winter Wonderland to Inspire Hope

Preview: Blood on the Snow
Presented by Caroline Sabin
At Four Elms
19th-23rd December 2014

Caroline Sabin returns to bring us another magical celebration of midwinter with her latest creation Blood on the Snow.

In 2012 Sabin wowed audiences with her production A Curious Zoo in which she turned her home into a festive wonderland filled with odd but fascinating characters. Similarly Blood on the Snow will transport its audience to a whole new world, where anything is possible.

Caroline Sabin as one of the dryads

The Four Elms building, usually home to NoFit State Circus, will be transformed into an enchanted, snow-covered woodland for the upcoming original production. Featuring movement, text, song and aerial acrobatics the show aims to rekindle the excitement and joy that Christmas seems to have lost amid all the ‘Black Friday’ consumer madness.

Inspired by music from Sabin’s childhood the score is complex and invigorating. Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols which has pagan and Christian influences has acted as a starting point for the whole production. Despite this the show is not based in religion, but in tradition and folklore. As Sabin herself says, “the winter solstice actually marks the beginning of the upward part of the year with the days getting longer. We need something in midwinter to inspire hope”.

Devised with an outstanding company the show promises to be technically beautiful and entertaining. The mostly female cast is headed up by the wonderful Eddie Ladd as leader of a group of dryads – tree nymphs – who will welcome the audience to the woodland. They will sing, dance and even fly for our entertainment, each with their own distinct and quirky character.

Rehearsals, taking place at Chapter, hint at the bubbling excitement the production is aiming for. Already the company have created sections of very varied moods – from light, whimsical slapstick to darker, poetic intensity. The final production will no-doubt be a beautifully crafted journey into the dark heart of the forest through to the other side.

Unlike the usual Christmas fare this show is aimed at adults, although there is nothing included that would offend a younger audience. Sabin hopes that the show will remind adults of how the festive season used to feel for them and that they “can pass this excitement on to their children in turn.”

Tickets for the performances are available from Chapter or NoFit State. But be quick as all dates are selling quickly!



The Beginning of the Festive Season

The Spirit of Christmas
Hijinx Theatre Odyssey
WMC, Weston Studio
27-29th Oct 2014

Odyssey’s The Spirit of Christmas is perfectly named – a wonderful, festive treat about sharing memories and spending time with those you love.

Hijinx are a professional theatre company that tour small scale work throughout Europe. They are an inclusive company meaning they work with people with and without learning disabilities. Odyssey is their community group for adults who have a passion for performance. For me Odyssey’s Christmas performances always marks the beginning of the festive season – they put a smile on my face and get rid of all ‘bah humbug’ feelings.

Sharing memories

Created by one of the Hijinx co-founders, Gaynor Lougher, The Spirit of Christmas, follows Megan as she searches for answers about her family history. No one ever talks about Megan’s grandmother, Rita. Rita disappeared many years ago and no one has heard from her since.

Megan is invited to a party organised by people who live in the neighbourhood where Rita grew up. They have collected together an album of photographs – each photograph represents a story from their own, or Rita’s, life. Piece by piece the party put together an idea of the woman that Megan has come to resemble.

Celebrating community and togetherness, this feel-good production is an absolute pleasure to watch. As the group recreate scenes from Rita’s past we really see the company’s sense of humour. There are a few mischievous comedians in Odyssey and they certainly get the chance to shine.
The hilarious nativity scene

The company are joined onstage by music students from the University of South Wales who provide beautiful accompaniment and become part of the Odyssey team. It’s great to see such a mix of people working together to create such an outstanding production.

Odyssey are the perfect example of inclusive theatre. Their productions are always empowering for those involved and joyful for the audience. Theatre is for everyone, regardless of ability and Hijinx work tirelessly to make performance opportunities available to all. Long may they continue!

Images by Simon Gough Photography

Friday, 28 November 2014

An Open Letter to Artists Throughout Wales

Yesterday I attended and spoke at the Arts Freedom Wales Symposium at Chapter Arts Centre. The central theme was ‘Is Wales enjoying its right to artistic freedom of expression?’

The afternoon allowed various people to deliver 3 minute presentations about issues allowing or inhibiting their right to artistic freedom of expression. The topics covered were vast and important – too much to fully cover in one afternoon. The opening speech was made by Meltem Arikan, a Turkish artist living in exile here in Wales. With an outsider’s eye she was able to make some very astute observations about the artistic scene here. Vitally she pointed out our reluctance to offend anyone and our willingness to be offended, both in the work we create and in our discussion of other’s work.

In keeping with this theme I am going to exercise my right to freedom of expression and discuss this event frankly. I left the symposium really fired up – in part due to some great things I had heard and discussed, but mostly in annoyance at some of the things happening.

This is my personal response to the event as a young artist living and working in South Wales. I’m sure that others in attendance had a very different experience.

That one afternoon perfectly demonstrated why people in Wales (dare I say Cardiff) often don’t express themselves honestly and fearlessly. During the break out discussion there were spurious claims being made against institutions and individuals, there was suspicion of anyone new or different, anyone who expressed themselves passionately was quietly mocked, there was bullying with various people ganging up on one individual and many were unable to leave old allegiances or grievances at the door – allowing this to colour their opinion in every discussion.

I didn’t conduct myself as well as I would have liked – I was so shocked by the attitudes of some that I got quite angry.

In the final panel discussion of the day representatives of various artistic institutions in Wales were pressed to give concrete answers to some of the obstacles facing the freedom of expression in Wales. John McGrath of National Theatre Wales quite rightly refused to do so, saying “there are no quick fixes to this.”

The fact these events are happening is a great thing. Even if they can bring out the worst in some people, they show the passion for the arts in Wales and the passion to defend our right to express ourselves how we want. Let’s have more events like this and get even more people and opinions in the room.

Predictably, the young artists and the next generation were pointed out as one of the various answers. Although I appreciate the belief and support of those who expressed this opinion, I have to say we are not the answer.

At what point do I get to look at those younger than me and pass the buck to them? At what point did those expressing these thoughts stop believing in their own power to make change?

As a young artist I have a lot of passion, anger and determination – basically I’m still full of teenage angst that should be long forgotten. Yes, I have relevant things to say to my generation but that doesn’t make my voice more valid or powerful than others who have more experience than me. Most importantly I am yet to gain much perspective on the world around me – something that those older than me definitely do possess.

So I’m willing to make a deal with anyone who believes the young are the future:

If you are willing to express yourself honestly and passionately, being a role model for me, then I will work tirelessly WITH you to be the change we want to see. We won’t always agree about everything but let’s agree to be honest, passionate and fair.

This offer may fall on deaf ears, but I’m young, naive and optimistic – I don’t know any better. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Anti-War Musical Play Marks Centenary

Oh, What a Lovely War!
Everyman Theatre
Chapter Arts Centre, Theatre
11th-15th November 2014

As the nation marks the centenary of the First World War, Everyman bring the anti-war, play-with-music Oh, What a Lovely War! to the stage at Chapter Arts Centre.
Oh, What a Lovely War! satirises those responsible for World War One and offers a scathing view of the conflict from a soldier’s perspective. Alongside witty scenes and upbeat musical numbers, the backdrop shows projections of shocking statistics detailing those lost in each skirmish.
For Everyman this is a bit of a return to their roots, having been established in 1942 as the Unity Theatre Group that focussed on political theatre. They stay faithful to Joan Littlewood’s iconic Theatre Workshop production of 1963 with Pierrot costumes that highlight the absurdity of war and the tragedy of the lives lost. The set is simple, a number of flags hang from the ceiling, allowing the audience to focus of the live action and projections.
This production is very challenging for the cast who must sing, dance and act, taking on numerous roles throughout the show. Although the scenes are sometimes hampered by dodgy accents, the musical numbers are incredibly performed. Musical director Lindsey Allen is onstage throughout providing musical accompaniment and support for the strong voices of the cast.
The choreography by Richard Thomas is ambitious and wonderfully executed. The whole cast prove they can move in the large chorus numbers and there are some impressive solos.
For the most part the characterisation was strong, but the scenes were sometimes difficult to establish due to the fragmented nature of the piece. The cast were also often unavoidably blocking the projection screen meaning vital pieces of information were lost.  
This is a timely production and you can’t help but feel the sentiment is sadly too relevant for 2014. As we continue to fight for reasons concealed by those in power it is a horrible reminder that things have not really changed much since 1914 in terms of conflict.
Everyman should be commended for their dedication in bringing this challenging play to life with vibrant energy and passion.

Tickets: £10
7.30pm with 2.30pm matinee on Saturday

Tickets available from Chapter Arts Centre 02920 304400

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Swansea's Newest Company Make an Impression

The Man
Critical Ambition supported by GradCo.
No Sign Wine Bar
Tuesday 11th November 2014

Just the mere mention of a self-assessment tax form is enough to send any self-employed person into a state of dread. Trawling through a year’s worth of receipts, trying to decide what can legitimately be claimed as a business expense, is not anyone’s idea of fun. For Ben this challenge is even more difficult as every one of his receipts evokes memories from the past year; some wonderful, some heartbreaking.

New, young company Critical Ambition are making their stage debut with James Graham’s unconventional play The Man. At every performance the structure of the show will be completely different. Ben’s receipts are distributed randomly to the audience before the show, they then pass them to the young entrepreneur in any order they see fit throughout proceedings. This presents a real challenge to actor Tom Myles, playing Ben, but he navigates the unpredictable changes of mood with honestly and with real warmth.

We learn that Ben is a twin, but as a child his twin was diagnosed with an untreatable condition that makes extra bone grow in his tissue if he ever injures himself. Fear of having the same condition has made Ben over cautious and scared of living his life to the full.

He is an optimistic worrier and feels the need to call the Inland Revenue helpline multiple times to check that he is doing the right thing. He soon strikes up a touching friendship with call centre worker Lisa (Holly Carpenter) who patiently guides him through his self-assessment. Although a sparky actor, it somehow didn’t feel right to physically represent Lisa onstage, especially as she was positioned on a balcony above Ben throughout the whole play. It added an element of theatricality in what is otherwise a very honest and real-life feeling show.

The play itself is masterfully constructed. Each individual section gives the audiences clues to fit into the jigsaw puzzle of the whole show. Slowly, facts are revealed that allow you to make sense of something that was hinted at earlier. This production would be great to watch multiple times to see how the changing order can change your perspective.

For such an unpredictable show the young company handled it well. In an unconventional performance space and with limited tech they put on a slick performance. I feel the production will go from strength to strength as the performers get more used to the natural rhythm of the piece and begin to fully trust that the show will be a success no matter what order the sections are presented in.

Critical Ambition have chosen a fantastic show, the humour and genuine emotion make Ben so endearing it would be impossible not to enjoy the performance. They certainly have clear potential to make an impact on the theatrical scene of South Wales and I will look forward to their next production.

The Man  continues at No Sign Wine Bar until 13th November and will then go on tour.
Tour dates:
The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff
4th Dec

Exeter Pheonix
8th-10th Dec

The Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington
15th Dec

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Raw and Exposed - the story of Dylan Thomas's Wife

Light, Ladd and Emberton
Chapter Arts Centre
Thursday 30th Oct

With so many events discussing and dissecting the work and life of Dylan Thomas you would be forgiven for having lost interest in the great Welsh poet. But in amongst all the predictable revivals of his work there have been some real hidden gems. One of these gems is Caitlin, a thrill-a-minute, dance theatre production exploring the life of Thomas’s wife.

The audience sit in a circle, in the middle of an empty hall, they are attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Thomas’ battle with alcohol has been well documented, but the struggle of his wife Caitlin is less well known. It was 20 years after Dylan’s death that Caitlin attended her first AA meeting. The show begins with her first confession “Hello, I’m Caitlin and I’m an alcoholic” – from here we see Caitlin’s life laid bare, raw and exposed.

Intense and exhausting, the choreography didn’t let up for a moment. Eddie Ladd and Gwyn Emberton throw themselves, literally, into the performance head first. The movement, directed by Deborah Light, really captured the aggression and passion of the Thomas’ marriage, flipping between tender game playing and brutal violence. The tightrope between love and hate is thin and this couple fell from a great height many times.

Ladd and Emberton - photograph by Warren Orchard 

Moments of speech punctuated the momentum. Eddie Ladd as Caitlin was completely captivating every time she spoke, the audience hanging on every word. The text could have been teased out a little more, to add more detail and texture to the piece but perhaps it is a good thing to leave the audience wanting more.

The accompanying score is the only grievance. Often the heavy music felt intrusive and out of place. The real moments of genius where when you could hear the physical exertion of the performers in the slam of their bodies on the floor and in their ragged breath.

The few props were innovatively used - the spare chairs in the circle becoming a straightjacket, a pram, a bed, a pedestal. Images from Caitlin’s traumatic life were revealed to the audience only to be violently thrown away again.

“My husband is a very famous poet, I was going to be a very famous dancer,” Caitlin tells us, “I thought it was going to a truce between his brains and my body”. Of course, in reality the battle between the two never reached a truce despite their marriage lasting through numerous infidelities on both sides. Vitally Caitlin never got to realise her dream of becoming a dancer. For this one hour Eddie Ladd is able to live that terrifying dream in Caitlin’s place.  

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Dramatic Opening Of Sherman Cymru's New Season

Romeo and Juliet
Sherman Cymru, Theatre 1
Tuesday 7th October

During the interval I heard one audience member say “It’s like Gavin and Stacey meets West Side Story”. I couldn’t think of a better way to summarize Rachael O’Riordan’s take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The brilliant Sara Lloyd-Gregory as trophy wife Lady Capulet

As the first show of the new season, O’Riordan’s first as artistic director of the Sherman, there is a lot riding on this production. Sherman Cymru has a big drive at the moment to draw in new audiences and reinvigorate regular viewers and this is probably why Shakespeare’s most famous romantic tragedy was selected for production.

The production is modern but timeless, with an inner-city set, costumes from the last few decades and accents from around the UK. The modern music is trying a little too hard to appeal to younger audiences, as are all the skinny jeans. But still there is something really appealing about the modern character portrayals and dark aesthetic.

Street fight - Benvolio (Linden Walcott-Burton) and Tybalt (Luke Elliot Bridgeman)

The set, although physically impressive is a bit restrictive, meaning large sections of the stage are left completely unused. It far too unsubtly includes a poster of Baz Luhrman’s beautiful film Romeo+Juliet, the only poster still intact on the wall. Although it’s being picky, little details like this are distracting and draw attention away from the performances.

There are moments of brilliance. The set movement pieces at the Capulet’s party are really interesting to watch and add a fascinating disjointed feel to proceedings. The final scenes in the beautifully designed crypt (in the orchestra pit) are distressing and emotional, made more powerful by the ever present bloody shroud of Tybalt.

Chris Gordon and sophie Melville as the Star-Crossed Lovers

The two young leads are always difficult roles play.  Chris Gordon making his stage debut as Romeo is a real find. His transformation from the moody youth of early scenes, to a joyfully love-struck young man is truly engaging and his final scenes are heartbreaking and honest. Sophie Melville also breathes new life into the 13 year old bride, Juliet. With her peroxide pixie cut and boyish style she is completely relatable to a modern audience. Her valleys lilt, is at first, whiny, making her seem brattish and quite frankly annoying. But in the second act her words have more clarity than any other cast member meaning her monologues are intelligently delivered and have real power.

With a double suicide and four other bodies piling up it’s not the lightest of plays but much needed comedic relief came in the form of the Capulet’s staff. Tony Flynn was a one man tour de force successfully multi-roling the opening narrator, the Prince, the apothecary and the wonderfully camp manservant Peter. Anita Reynolds portrayal of Juliet’s Nurse got most of the giggles as she strutted around the stage in a pink velour track suit and dramatic hair piece, uttering the Shakespearean words in a heavy Jamaican accent. Sadly this humour came to overshadow some of the more intense scenes, particularly annoying when entrances or exits upstaged the real action.

Tony Flynn as the shell suit clad apothecary

Completely enjoyable but there’s something missing, there’s no fire in the passion between the young lovers, there’s no punch in the hatred between the two clans. Every actor was engaging but there seemed to be a lack of unity in the cast as a whole.

An interesting and relevant take on a classic, worth seeing especially if you are new to Shakespeare and want an accessible way to experience the words of the Bard.

The show continues until Saturday 18th October. To book tickets or for more info click here.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

First Time Theatre-Goers at Sherman Cymru

Sherman 5 Night
Romeo and Juliet
Sherman Cymru, Theatre 1
Friday 3rd October

As Sherman Cymru launch their new season, the first of new Artistic Director Rachael O’Riordan, it was great to see the theatre full of people. Only this wasn’t the usual theatre-going crowd. Instead Sherman Cymru opened their doors to local people who had never seen a production on their stages.

The new audience was invited as part of the Sherman 5 scheme. Sherman 5 is headed up by Guy O’Donnell, supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and is designed to reach out to people in the locality who have never been to the theatre before. With the focus on disadvantaged groups, Sherman 5 will initially be focussing on the Communities First areas in Cardiff, which according to the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation are in the top 10% of social deprivation.

The scheme offers discounted tickets on special Sherman 5 nights and even offers a discount on the bar and theatre snacks.

As the first Sherman 5 event of the season a special preview performance of Romeo and Juliet was staged, allowing the first-timers to see the show before anyone else. Even the press have to wait a few more days! (I’ll be publishing a review of the press night next week)

On arrival there was a drinks reception and each audience member was given a pack. This special pack contained the programme for the show, a welcome to Sherman 5, a membership card and a sheet of frequently asked questions about attending the theatre.

During the show itself it was great to feel the excitement of the audience. There were a few shout-outs and more miovement in and out of the auditorium than usual but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The applause at the end showed true appreciation for the production.

After the main event there was cake and live music. The foyer became a vibrant social space with people chatting about the show and planning what to see next.

Going to the theatre as often as I do it has become a common-place thing for me. Yet I couldn’t help but be swept up with the feeling of a special occasion. It was great to be reminded how exciting it can be to go and see a show, just to be in a theatre.

Sherman Cymru did a great job of making the space accessible to all, the staff (as always) were really helpful and approachable, removing any idea that the theatre isn’t for everyone. I really hope this scheme will bring more people into the Sherman and will encourage these audiences to see the great range of theatrical work being produced in Cardiff.

To find out more about Sherman 5 click here.
And if you’d like to know more about this production of Romeo and Juliet follow this link.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Inclusive Dance Journey

Stuck in the Mud
GDance and Ballet Cymru
With Hijinx Theatre Academy and Sherman Cymru INC Youth Theatre
Wales Millennium Centre
28th September 2014

What a joy! Dance is often seen as an exclusive and elitist art form but Stuck in the Mud proves that dance and movement is for everyone, regardless of ability or physical restrictions.

The promenade dance journey started outside the foyer of the Wales Millennium Centre and toured through the ground floor of the building, including the outdoor spaces, concluding in a full cast spectacle on the Glanfa stage. Inspired by the joy of children’s games the piece celebrated each performer’s unique body and allowed them to, sometimes literally, throw off the labels they can sometimes feel restricted by.

Internationally renowned disabled choreographer Marc Brew directed the piece, which was also showcased in Swansea and Llandudno earlier in the year. The fully accessible promenade piece had to be adapted to each unique location and featured the talents of different local community groups in each city.

The incredibly talented professional dancers, from Ballet Cymru and GDance, proved that physical disability should not limit anyone. Proving their many talents the group performed beautiful ballet alongside more modern techniques. Some of the most impressive sections of the journey were performed by disabled dancer Alice Sheppard in her wheelchair. Her physical strength and commanding stage presence are awe inspiring and she is an absolute pleasure to watch – as are the whole company.

In Cardiff the professional dancers were joined by community groups from Hijinx Theatre Academy and the Sherman Cymru INC Youth Theatre. Hijinx provide the only professional actor training for performers with learning disabilities in Wales and INC is Sherman Cymru’s new inclusive youth group. The sections performed by the community groups were absolutely charming and showcased the group’s sense of humour and fun, whilst proving that they are very talented performers worthy of such an impressive location and a large crowd.

The whole performance was enhanced by an exciting original score composed by Jack White that featured live French Horn accompaniment from Tom Taffinder. The music helped to link each separate part of the performance creating one big mood of celebration and I for one was smiling from start to finish.

It was clear that the free performance attracted a crowd both of dance lovers and those who have never seen dance before. As the piece moved from location to location it was great to see people who had accidentally experienced one section join the crowd to see the rest of the piece. Hopefully it has inspired more people to watch dance or even take it up themselves. As novelist Vicki Baum said ‘there are shortcuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.’

For more on GDance and their inclusive practice click here.

Ballet Cymru’s website is currently under construction but for more contact details follow this link.

And here are links to the wonderful work of Hijinx and INC youth theatre.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Cardiff's Newest Company - On in 5

Me and My Friend
On in 5 Productions
Llanover Hall Arts Centre
26th September 2014

On in 5 are a brand new theatre company set up by actor and producer, Philippa Burt. The company aims to bring shows that people have not heard of or seen before to the stage, allowing audiences to be surprised by works they don’t already know the ending of.

Their first outing is Gillian Plowman’s Me and My Friend, a tragicomic farce about four people who have recently spent some time in a psychiatric hospital and are now trying to live ‘normal’ lives. The men, Oz and Bunny, live downstairs, whilst the girls, Robin and Julia, live in the flat above. The flats are council owned but this seems to be the only support the two couples get. They appear to have been abandoned by the people who previously cared for them and none of them have any family to oversee their wellbeing.

Very much a situation comedy, there are moments of humour such as the pretend interview between Oz and Bunny, in which Oz plays the role of a bicycle shop owner who sees fit to interrogate Bunny for the role of a sales assistant. This idea of role play is continued throughout the piece and it is often difficult to discern whether we are seeing flashbacks, imaginings or real exchanges between the characters. This adds an interesting element of disorientation that causes us to question the reality the characters believe in.

The production is admirably raising money for mental health charity Mind. Sadly the show itself, having been premiered in 1990, expresses some very out of date and at times insensitive attitudes towards those with mental health diagnoses. The characters are all stereotypes and this encourages melodramatic performances at the critical moments that are unbelievable and forced. Although it is clearly a well constructed farce it does little to encourage conversation about the often taboo subject of mental health.

Looking towards the future On in 5 hope to produce 2 to 3 shows a year, each one supporting a local charity. Hopefully future shows will be a little better thought out and will act to bring more awareness and understanding to the issues their productions cover. It will be interesting to see what play they unearth next.

Me and My Friend will continue at The Gate, 2nd-4th October  

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Potty Mouthed Poetics

Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco
Waking Exploits
Chapter Arts Centre, Theatre
23rd September 2014

Waking Exploits revival of Gary Owen’s Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco is proof that all you need for captivating theatre is a great script and committed performances.

Bleak life in a typical Welsh town is examined through three extended monologues delivered by the town’s distressed male inhabitants. Three men with completely different personalities give us a glimpse into their personal struggles with masculinity and the power exerted by various unseen women over their small-town lives.

Jordan Bernarde's complex performance as Gary

‘Crazy’ Gary (Jordan Bernarde) runs the local disco on a Thursday night, or at least he used to, before some d**khead in a red bow tie took over with his “kare-f**cking-oke”. Gary is the shaven-headed bully, who knows how to charm us..... and the ladies. With his potty mouthed poetics Gary fools everyone into thinking he is the town tough-man, but there’s more to the thug when he spots the perfect woman at a house party.

Perhaps the most tragic of the trio is wannabe cabaret singer Matthew D. Melody (Gwydion Rhys) who believes he can fix other people’s ailing marriages by putting a little bit of his heart into the classic love songs he performs. Clearly damaged, his frequent mentions of the doctor leave us to wonder why such a gentle, religious soul has sudden outbursts of violence and why he always stutters on the word ‘mother’.

Left to tie the three narratives together is downtrodden Russell (Sion Pritchard). Every day he threatens to leave the small town behind, but somehow his dominating girlfriend always holds him back with a combination of threats, abuse and sexual allure. Always the underdog Russell struggles with the ties that hold him to his hometown. How far can a man like him be pushed before he breaks?

Sion Pritchard as the understated Russell

The power the three actors held over the audience was astounding, each new story felt as though it was being told solely for my benefit, not for the room at large. The performers really can’t be praised enough.

Sadly for me the design distracted from the intensive eye-contact and soul baring. The film projected on to large mirror-like shards hanging from the ceiling felt too distanced from the actors to be absorbed as part of the same stage image. Often the content of the footage heavy-handedly underlined common threads in the stories, taking the enjoyable task of making their own connections away from the audience. Perhaps other venues will suit this layout more, but for the Studio theatre at Chapter I wanted less mess, less smoke and more focus on the actors.

Gwydion Rhys praying as Matthew with projections above

It’s an absolute joy to see such a successful Welsh play return to the place it was first performed 13 years later. Now a whole new audience can experience how haunting and effective such a simple premise can be. Waking Exploits are doing an incredible job of bringing the best in new British writing to the stages of Wales – long may they continue!

Photographs thanks to Farrows Creative

For more on the show or Waking Exploits please visit: www.wakingexploits.co.uk

The show continues at Chapter until Sat 27th September and then tours around Wales.
17 - 27 September
 / 029 2030 4400

01 October
Halliwell Theatre / 01267 676 669

03 October
Aberystwyth Arts Centre / 01970 623 232

07 October

09 October

Taliesin Arts Centre / 01792 602 060