Thursday, 26 June 2014

International Dark Comedy Comes to Cardiff

Preview: Roberto Zucco
August 012
Chapter Arts Centre, Stwdio
9-19th July, 2014

Cardiff based theatre company August 012 are committed to introducing Welsh audiences to the best international playwrights. Their debut production, Caligula, was highly critically acclaimed, being nominated for Best Production at the Theatre Critics’ of Wales Awards earlier this year. This summer they are presenting French writer and director Bernard-Marie Koltés’ final play; Roberto Zucco.

Based on true events, the dark play recounts the criminal antics of Italian serial killer Roberto Succo. The real Succo terrorised Europe in the 1980s between stints in prison, often breaking free from incarceration to commit even more terrible offences.

Director Mathilde López is presenting the scandalous play in the traverse style – with audience on two sides, creating a corridor in which the actors perform. This intimate staging allows the characters to really connect with the audience which will leave you questioning where your sympathies lie. Is Roberto a brutal murderer and kidnapper? Or is he a misunderstood and poetic young man whose life could have been different had those around him reacted differently?

Despite the sinister subject matter the play is hugely comedic, flipping between earnest monologues and madcap, slapstick set pieces. The contrast between Adam Redmore’s quiet, contemplative Zucco and Bethan Mai’s hysterical aging nymphomaniac will certainly bring a smile to your face.

The four strong cast multi-role throughout the show, often having to present large crowd scenes, resulting in hilarious audience participation (you have been warned!). Joanna Simpkins and John Norton form a zany double act as the police force hunting down Zucco, they may require your help so be prepared.

And if it didn’t sound bonkers enough already there will also be a live choir and electric guitar adding musical accompaniment (and more) throughout.

 Director Mathilde sums it up pretty well in her description of the show as ‘a cheap 1980’s version of the ten commandments in a brothel’.

9 - 19 July, 7.30pm
Chapter Stiwdio, Cardiff / 02920 304400

£15 / £12

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

@TORtheatre week 3 update

The Other Room – Weekly Update

Over the last two weeks I’ve been sharing some exciting news about Cardiff’s very first pub theatre – but what exactly is a pub theatre?

Well in this case The Other Room will become permanent residents in ‘the other room’ of one of Cardiff’s best pubs (the location is still a secret, sorry!). The theatre and pub, although separated by a soundproofed wall, will be part of the same building and will work together to provide a great night out in the capital city.

You can enjoy a pint whilst watching the very best in modern drama or see a play when you’re out for a casual drink with your mates. You could do one then the other without having to go outside. You could just enjoy one of the two options available, pub OR theatre. But I think the two go together pretty well.

The Finborough (

Throughout England there are plenty of venues with the same model, but until The Other Room came along there were none at all in Wales. Artistic director of The Other Room, Kate Wasserberg, was the associate director of the Finborough, London’s leading Off West End theatre. It also just so happens to be a pub theatre with an international reputation, so Kate certainly knows what she is doing. To add to Kate’s expertise the artistic directors of the Finborough and the The Gate (another pub theatre in London) will be acting as mentors to The Other Room, offering their vast knowledge and experience.

Another great example is the Bike Shed theatre in Exeter. Since it opened in 2010 it has become a multi- award-winning venue. It is slightly bigger than The Other Room with a 60 seat subterranean auditorium and instead of a pub they are part of a vintage cocktail tavern. The Guardian even credits the Bike Shed with ‘keeping theatre alive in Exeter’.

The Bike Shed (photo from:

Apart from their relationships with great drinking spots these theatres also have something else in common – their commitment to exciting, contemporary and thought-provoking drama. The small size of the pub theatres means they can often take artistic risks that larger venues cannot support, meaning they are always pushing the boundaries of what is possible and are offering a unique experience every time the audience comes through the doors.

Simon Tait of The Stage believes: ‘These little theatres in London and around the country are the lifeblood of who we are, our drama for which we are world leaders.’ Surely you must be excited by the potential that The Other Room is grasping with both hands to bring a whole new experience to the arts scene of Cardiff. Personally, I can’t wait!

Make sure you catch my update next week, as I’ll be able to tell you the big secret – where The Other Room is!

In the mean-time head over to:

the Kickstarter campaign to see what the funds raised will be used for (and some funny videos of the team)
Facebook to ‘like’ The Other Room
Twitter to follow @TORtheatre for updates about the theatre

Here or here to see my previous weekly updates.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

@TORtheatre week 2

Weekly Update: The Other Room Theatre

I know you’re all curious, so here’s some more info on Cardiff’s very first pub theatre: The Other Room.

Although the venue is still top secret, I can share some details about the space. The Other Room is going to be built inside an already existing pub in the city centre, one you’ve probably visited once or twice. Turning part of a vibrant and busy pub into a top class performance venue isn’t going to be easy but the conversion allows the team to custom build every detail of the space. The finished theatre will be opened in January 2015 and I’m sure all the hard work will be worth it. The venue will be quite exclusive (small) at only 45 seats per night, so you’ll have to snap up tickets fast, especially for opening nights.

At such a hard time for the arts, with funding cuts coming from all angles, it may be a surprise that anyone would do something as crazy as build a theatre from scratch. The Other Room are determined to be ambitious despite the difficult times and it seems their very generous Kickstarter backers are just as determined too. All their donations will be put into creating a theatre that will have a lasting effect on the city, contributing to its cultural and economic climate for years to come. The Other Room is also committed to providing support for artists throughout all stages of their careers. Obviously they will be inviting the very best established talent to work with them, but they will also be giving a vital chance to emerging artists through their development scheme.

Alongside all the technical business of building a venue the team have also been busy preparing their first season of work. The Kickstarter money has allowed The Other Room to secure the performance rights for two great modern plays that will kick off their first season. Unfortunately we are all going to have to wait a little longer to find out what the very first productions to be seen at The Other Room will be.

In the mean-time head over to:
the Kickstarter campaign to see what the funds raised will be used for (and some funny videos of the team)
Facebook to ‘like’ The Other Room
Twitter to follow @TORtheatre for updates about the theatre.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Completely Spellbinding Immersive Theatre

Beneath the Streets
Hijinx and Punchdrunk Enrichment
13th-14th June
Castle Street Arcade

What an absolute joy to experience!

Beneath the Streets was the final part of a two week residency programme with Punchdrunk, hosted by Hijinx Theatre. With only a fortnight to meet each other, explore Punchdrunk’s unique approach to theatre and create an immersive, site-sympathetic show the residency members somehow pulled off one of the most exciting events of 2014.

Hijinx is one of Cardiff’s best loved theatres, touring small scale productions around the UK and Europe. Every one of their professional shows features an inclusive cast of actors with and without learning disabilities. Alongside this they also provide a whole range of inclusive groups and events for adults, including their Odyssey community theatre group. Their most unique feature is perhaps their training Academy for actors with learning disabilities, a professional course teaching vital theatre skills and providing chances to perform.

Members of the Academy worked alongside other theatre professionals as part of the Punchdrunk residency. Punchdrunk are known for their completely immersive productions in which the audience are free to roam around the detailed world created by the company. Beneath the Streets used this free-roaming structure to allow the audience to explore the hidden world beneath the shops of Castle Arcade.

Very quickly the audience were split into two groups, each to participate in a different version of events. My group was taken to a new coffee shop, hoping to win our custom. Whilst sampling their wares things took a sinister turn, the baristas seemed hypnotised and a recorded voice beckoned us down the stairs to the basement.

Once we had descended a whole range of mad cap characters were there to meet us. Somehow we had travelled through a portal to where the lost things go. Each room in the subterranean world contained a new wonder.

The Lost in Translation room held two figures performing a ritual around a pile of discarded letters. Occasionally they would share one of the messages with you, or communicate to you in whispers. There was something so powerful about the hushed quiet and concentration of the performers; I could have watched them for hours.

In complete contrast the room of Lost Memories was covered in UV paint, whilst two shopkeepers, in equally eye catching garb, told us about their wares. The shelves were full of brightly coloured potions, the lost memories of hundreds of people. The pure joy and madness was intoxicating.

 Every new environment held a new wonder to watch or participate in. The whole arcade became a strange and exciting wonderland of quirky characters and involving narratives.

As we were ushered to the finale of the piece I wanted to run back and explore more of this delightful world. I wanted to learn more about the people who had found themselves trapped in the world of lost things. In the time scale it was impossible to experience each and every part of the production, and this is what makes it so special – each member of the audience will have had their own unique experience.

Cardiff doesn’t see much truly immersive theatre and this production has proved there is a hunger for it (the show was sold out every night in advance). Hijinx and Punchdrunk managed to take a location in the city centre and turn it into a magical experience for everyone who walked into the arcade. More of this please!

To find out more about Hijinx please visit their website.

And click here for more on Punchdrunk.

Otherworldly Dance Theatre

Beyond the Body
Sherman Cymru Theatre 1
Wednesday 11th June, 2014

TaikaBox took a trip into the unknown in their latest dance theatre offering, Beyond the Body. The meditative piece explores spirituality and the unique journey of each human spirit on their way through life (and what may come after).

The company have an unusual and innovative approach to dance, using not only the form of the dancer on stage. The human body is complemented by the addition of high-tech projection and a live two-piece band, Eyebrow. For this production the projections were on two planes, both the back wall and the floor became reactive landscapes, adapting to the inhabitants of the stage.

A very loose narrative centres on the character of The Seeker (Tilly Webber). A young woman researching a range beliefs and customs who ends up on a spiritual journey of her own. Through this journey she encounters four characters who each have their own path to follow and challenges to face.

Each performer fully inhabits their role, clearly benefitting from the extensive research process carried out by the company. The different energy of each dancer really shines through making them unique individuals even in the group choreography.

For me the highlights of the show were the solos by The Shaman (Noora Kela) and The Runner (Daisy Natale). The raw, animalistic qualities of Kela’s movement really captured a sense of the wild. Infectious accompaniment from the band drives this section into a ritualistic fever of excitement.

Whereas Natale’s tortured writhing was horribly compelling to watch. The projection also worked particularly well in this section, a dark, inky cloud seeming to react to The Runner, trapping her and chasing her at the same time.

These solo sections were exciting, offering an energetic change of pace but jarred when the whole group re-emerged from the wings. The production often felt more like a collection of smaller pieces, with their own narratives, rather than one cohesive whole.

Beyond the Body will be in Edinburgh through the whole of the festival. This long period of performance could be a great chance to keep developing and playing with the structure of the piece to find a more organic ebb and flow between sections.

If you are at the Fringe this August, seek out Beyond the Body for its otherworldly atmosphere and sense of curiosity. You may be surprised by what you find.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Cardiff's First Pub Theatre

Weekly Update: The Other Room Theatre

Cardiff is a pretty exciting place for performance at the moment. Two major theatres have recently instated new artistic directors, great new companies are producing the best quality work and to top it all off Cardiff will be getting its very first pub theatre very soon.

At a currently secret location in the city centre, The Other Room will become a permanent fixture in the fabric of Cardiff life. Offering a programme of modern classic texts and new work by Welsh or Wales-based writers, the theatre will be a new home for top quality drama.

The first season of work will begin in early 2015 with four performance slots that will feature some of the best British writing from the last 60 years alongside brand new productions. The Other Room is committed to supporting local artists and will also be helping emerging artists to become working practitioners.

The team, headed up by artistic director Kate Wasserberg and executive director Bizzy Day, have already been overwhelmed by the support from local theatre makers and theatre goers. In their recent Kickstarter campaign, The Other Room hoped to raise £2,500 to get the ball rolling on this amazing project. That target was absolutely smashed with the final total being over three times as much!

To say thank you to all the supporters, The Other Room are holding an exclusive venue reveal event later this month. The invites have been sent out but the venue won’t be revealed until the day itself.

Up until the launch I’ll be giving you little updates about what the team are up to and what to expect when the theatre is up and running. So keep your eyes peeled for more info.

In the mean-time head over to:

the Kickstarter campaign to see what the funds raised will be used for (and some funny videos of the team)

Facebook to ‘like’ The Other Room

Twitter to follow @TORtheatre for updates about the theatre.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Particles by Josh Coates - Preview

Preview: Particles
Josh Coates
International Performance Festival Cardiff
Weds 18th June, 7.30pm
Chapter Arts Centre
£5 on the door

The very first International Performance Festival Cardiff is currently in full swing at Chapter Arts Centre. Artists from around the world have been invited to the city to share their unique performance practice which responds to the communities in which they usually work.

In among the varied and exotic programme is theatre maker Josh Coates, who has come all the way from the farthest depths of Bolton to entertain you. Josh will be sharing his very first full-length, solo production:

Particles is an exploration of modern storytelling, in which Josh retells the various possibilities of a single tale. A man is faced with a decision, how will his choices affect his life? Each choice we face carries new hope and changes the person we become. As the possible outcomes grow and multiply the audience is encouraged to revel in the possibilities of love and chaos.

Josh describes his work as ‘conversational’. Putting the audience at the forefront of his work he wants to share an experience and generate a conversation. His charismatic personality and charming stage presence will make you feel as though you are sharing stories with an old friend.

Despite being an experienced theatre maker Josh has sadly never performed in his own hometown. Come along on Wednesday night and give him a warm Cardiff welcome to make him feel at home. 

To see more on Particles visit the Chapter website.
For more on the festival click here.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Immersive, Inclusive and Intriguing

Preview: Beneath the Streets
Hijinx and Punchdrunk Enrichment
13th-14th June
Secret City Centre location

The masters of immersive theatre Punchdrunk have come to Cardiff to deliver a fortnight of workshops as part of Hijinx Theatre’s exciting residency programme. These workshops, focussing on how to work as an ensemble and create devised theatre, will culminate in a unique immersive experience this weekend.

Beneath the Streets explores the hidden underworld beneath the shops of Cardiff, the concealed, dark and dirty underbelly. Punchdrunk’s enrichment director Peter Higgin says they were keen to find ‘an iconic, interesting location that resonates with people. But perhaps somewhere that they had never been before.’ The whole piece explores this relationship between what is perceived and what is hidden under the surface. What lies beneath?

The production is shrouded in mystery and Peter warns ‘we will be pulling the rug from under the audience’. Nothing will be as it seems and as each audience member roams around the space they will have a unique experience. Peter’s advice to those attending is ‘lose your friends, follow your heart and your gut, make your own path’. The production is ephemeral and the team believe it could be transformational as long as you are prepared to ‘accept a certain degree of madness’.

The cast will be made up of members of the Hijinx Academy, a professional training scheme for actors with learning disabilities and those who attended the residency, creating an inclusive and varied team. Double act Matthew Purnell and Jeremy Linnell shared their excitement for the performances saying ‘it’s a whole new experience.’

Matthew has been involved with Hijinx since 2007 and has appeared in many of their shows but he believes this will be the ‘best show ever’ and it could be ‘the highlight of your life’. Theatre maker Jeremy has been volunteering with Hijinx since January and this is his second residency with the company. He believes ‘interactive theatre is for everyone. It’s a real live experience. 
Instead of just sitting there for two hours you are free to create your own experience.’

The pair have worked together before and they make a really great team. Last time, as part of the Frantic Assembly residency, they were performing a more physical piece. This time they had to work together to create unique characters and devise dialogue to give the audience some vital information. This presented its own challenges as the first draft of the script they created was fifteen minutes long, they needed to cut it down to just three!

The feeling of collaboration is really strong with every member of the team contributing their all to the production. Jeremy says the residency is ‘a lot of fun, everyone is here to make something great together , everyone is professional and it proves anyone can be a performer if they are willing to work hard enough’.

Although it isn’t just performers who have been working hard to make this production happen. Theatre student Matthew Westcott, who is part of Odyssey, the inclusive community group for adults at Hijinx, has been roped in to help organise volunteers and work on the set. For him this has been a huge learning curve where he has learnt valuable new skills whilst creating the ‘out of this world’ environment for the production. The set was described as being like a film set, every detail matters. Matthew Westcott describes it as ‘a real, inhabitable world full of atmosphere that the audience can explore and interact with’.

More than anything it is clear that everyone is excited to share this new world with an audience. 
Performer Matthew Purnell promises it will be an ‘outstanding, surprising, cracking performance’ and adds ‘it is an honour to work on a show like this in Cardiff.’

If you aren’t already intrigued Jeremy gave one more tantalising clue: ‘pay attention to anything you’ve lost’.  

For more on Hijinx, including their residencies and the Academy click here

To find out more about Punchdrunk click here.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Technology, Music and Movement

Preview: Beyond the Body
Sherman Cymru Theatre 1
7.30pm     Wednesday 11th June, 2014

Dance, live music and technology come together in a truly innovative and beautiful way in this reworked version of Beyond the Body. The otherworldly production by TaikaBox searches the human spirit, following the characters on their curious journeys of self discovery and development.

This refreshed version of their 2012 original production will be touring Cardiff, Edinburgh, Llanelli and Harlech. Throughout next week TaikaBox will be performing around the city of Cardiff culminating in the performance at Sherman Cymru.

The project is the result of much research by choreographer Tanja Råman and visual artist John Collingswood who make up TaikaBox. From the ritualistic world of the shaman to the non-stop drive of the modern city they have explored the ways in which we connect to our bodies, the people we meet, our beliefs and the world around us.

Five wonderfully unique dancers will help the audience explore the world out of balance. Each one caught up in a repetitive cycle, sometimes given chances of redemption and rebalance. The work is initiated by The Seeker a young woman searching for something, looking through old texts and immersing herself in other worlds. Along the way she encounters four figures, possibly parts of her own imagination or perhaps something entirely different, they share her journey whilst exploring their own paths. They are the four elements, the four directions of the compass, four tribes who once were one. If all four can find balance there is an opportunity for harmony.

In rehearsal the production, even with less than half of its full lighting and projection rig, is visually arresting. Rarely do companies find a way to seamlessly fuse live performance with projected images, yet TaikaBox have done just that. The projections, on the walls and floor, seem to react to the movement of the dancers complimenting their physicality rather than competing with them. In performance this promises to be a really exciting collaboration between body and technology.

The addition of live musicians is the perfect third element, maintaining the ethereal and mystic atmosphere throughout the piece. The rhythms will take you into the world of the shaman or the make you feel the delicacy of our natural environment. With just a drum kit and a trumpet the two musicians will enhance the emotion and intensity of the movement, really capturing the mood.
This unusual and intriguing dance piece is only onstage in Cardiff for one night. Come along and explore, you may just find something important.

Concessions: £2 off
Under 25s: Half Price 
Ticket Office 02920 646900

Discipline! Direction! Purpose! Power!

Crowds and Power
By Megan Barker
Sherman Cymru Youth Theatre and Company 5

Sherman Cymru Theatre 1
7.30pm    5th-7th June 2014

On the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings it seems appropriate that the community theatre groups at Sherman Cymru are delving into the world of politics, in particular autocracy.

The play begins with intense movement, it is eerie and unsettling. Soon this atmosphere is complete broken as Pinar Ogun, playing the character of the teacher, steps forward and addresses the audience directly. She asks us not to do what a typical audience would, watch the show disengaged and clap at the end. She wants us to be present, really present in the moment. Of course, as Pinar also comments, a play on autocracy is difficult, we all have our own preconceived ideas, we all think autocracy is bad all of the time.

Pinar Ogun

As Pinar and her classroom full of pupils explore how autocracy comes to be they uncover some worrying truths about themselves. All of us have similar fears and desires and the knowledge of those things is all an autocrat needs to gain power over us. After all it is the masses that let the autocrat rule, the many who give power to the individual.

In a real Californian classroom in 1967 a similar experiment took place, the result of which was so disturbing it was called off after two weeks. On stage the experiment takes a similar dark turn. At first the pupils enjoy their uniform, their slogan, the sense of belonging. But there are always those who are left out, those who do not agree and are shunned for voicing their opinions.
Some of the youth theatre perfromers

Shadowy men in suits haunt the stage, like secret police they are always watching. The older actors from Company 5 deliver upsetting speeches about how the comfort of a group made them feel more at home than in their own families. The effect is though provoking and worrying.

As always with Phil Mackenzie’s direction the physical pieces are a joy watch, the intensity and control of the young performers is absorbing. This is only enhanced by Andy Hamer’s stunning lighting design, which far out performs many professional shows.

Stunning lighting by Andy Hamer

Although the script is a little clunky and disorganised this is still a fascinating piece of theatre. The fact it is performed by community theatre groups rather than professionals makes it even more special, the show isn’t ‘acted’, rather the performers really invest themselves in the work and deliver incredible performances.

This is a really experimental approach to theatre making, one that can be both frustrating and invigorating. The highlights of this production are really exciting moments that will stay in your mind for days. You will certainly leave the theatre with something to think about.

To find out more about the show and for tickets: click here.
For the Sherman Cymru ticket office: 029 2064 6900

Tickets: £8
Concessions: £2 off
Under 25s: Half Price 

Photographs by Alex Lloyd Jenkins


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Preview: Crowds and Power

Preview: Crowds and Power
By Megan Barker
Sherman Cymru Youth Theatre and Company 5

Sherman Cymru Theatre 1
7.30pm    5th-7th June 2014

Always exciting and innovative Sherman Cymru’s community theatre groups are set to deliver another electrifying performance this week. The Youth Theatre and Company 5, made up of performers ranging from their 20s to their 80s, are joining forces to stage the premier of Megan Barker’s Crowds and Power.

Inspired by Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti’s book Crowds and Power and using a real social experiment as its starting point the play explores the ideas of autocracy and the power of the crowd.

Young drama teacher Pinar encourages her students to think about what they want, what they really need and what they fear. When you are willing to really ask these questions it’s amazing how similar all of our basic desires and fears are. With this knowledge it must be easy to manipulate and control a population, for good or bad purposes.

Worrying poignant at this particular moment, the production considers the consequences of what happens when one person is given power over a mass of people. Why do the masses comply with the autocrat’s will? What would it take for an autocrat to gain power here in Britain and would we have any control over their rise to power?

Using real responses from the company members alongside quotations from the Hitler Youth, Roosevelt and Bertolt Brecht the script is an exciting study of human nature and our desire to belong.

In contrast to many of the youth theatre’s previous productions this is a much more text based production, providing new challenges for the performers. Alongside the spoken word the company are still utilising their trademark bold staging and raw physicality, a blend that was stunning to watch in rehearsal. The real performance, with dramatic lighting and sound is going to be breathtaking.  

Despite the rather heavy topic the performers bring light and shade to the words and Pinar in particular has a charming humour that captures the imagination. Sadly for actress Pinar Ogun the themes explored through the play are all too familiar. Having left her home country in the last 12 months due to its recent turn towards autocracy she says, “Sadly, I personally experienced how life threatening it can be when those in power transform the crowds into herds.”

These groups at Sherman Cymru always produce exciting, experimental work that is completely different to many youth theatres and community performance groups. The productions often reach professional standards and are always full of spectacle and powerful visual images. This production looks like it could be their best yet, with a meaty topic and talented performers who are completely committed to the work.

I really recommend you get tickets to see what is guaranteed to be another unforgettable experience.

To find out more about the show and for tickets: click here.
For the Sherman Cymru ticket office: 029 2064 6900