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:

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

Monday, 1 September 2014

Bold New Take on a Classic

Romeo and Juliet Mash Up
Sherman Cymru, Theatre 2
Sherman 5
Saturday 30th Sept 2013

We are constantly being told that Shakespeare, lauded as the best writer of all time, is still relevant to us in this modern age. When staged with traditional costume and language it can sometimes be hard to decipher this relevance for those who are new to the plays. This original new response to Shakespeare’s words showed exactly why the tale of the star-crossed lovers and their warring families still has a place on our stages in 2013.

Exploring various stage techniques such as film, song and choral work this mash up version of Romeo and Juliet was created and performed by members of the Oasis drama group. Oasis Cardiff aims to help Refugees and Asylum Seekers to integrate into the community of Cardiff by offering workshops in everything from cookery, to bicycle maintenance, to language skills.

Oasis in rehearsal

The mash up project was initiated to provide a response to Sherman Cymru’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Rachael O’Riordan. This is the first of many exciting projects co-ordinated by Sherman Cymru’s Sherman 5 project, which is supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Guy O’Donnell from Sherman 5 has been working with Adamsdown Arts Association (A3) to reach out to groups in the STAR Communities First cluster (Splott, Tremorfa, Adamsdown, Roath) and this is how Oasis got involved with the production.

Theatre director and performer Angharad Evans has been working with the drama group at Oasis for nearly a year, often having to overcome huge language barriers to deliver her workshops. Her cast for this production was made up of individuals from all over the world, many of whom have faced great hardship and struggle both in their native countries and here in Wales. With different faces turning up to sessions each week it was a challenge to create a coherent and meaningful piece.

With just a week in the theatre space, time was short to turn the ideas explored in workshops into a performance open to the public. What resulted was an exciting and surprisingly emotional piece that spanned many cultures and languages whilst still being accessible to all.

A definite highlight of the production was the music. An almost constant accompaniment on guitar added so much emotion to the movement sections and added a sense of natural flow to the separate elements of the piece. The vocal talent in the group was stunning, showcasing traditional songs and lyrics they had penned themselves the group had some very enviable voices. Considering these are members of the public, most with no performing experience at all, they held the audiences’ gaze and commanded our attention.

Beautiful masks added to the drama

One performer really stood out when she came forward from the group and delivered a heartfelt speech about the barriers to love in her homeland of Nigeria. If someone is descended from a slave they are seen as not worthy and are often not allowed to marry those from other backgrounds. This lady fell in love with a man descended from slaves and to be together they had to run away. Their love was more powerful than the outdated laws imposed by their elders. Here the link to the source text was painfully clear, even now many people are restricted by class, background and even colour as to who they can chose to spend their life with. Some don’t even have a choice.

Filmmaker Paul Whitaker also worked with the group to create a stunning video element to compliment the piece. Beautiful scenery from around Cardiff played as recordings of the group members explained what love meant to them. Often the narration would tell of the pain of love, the barriers to love and most importantly the power of love. These disembodied voices really illustrated the hardship that comes when you leave your home for somewhere new. This interesting piece simultaneously explored the themes of Romeo and Juliet whilst highlighting the struggles and the talent of the refugee and asylum seeker communities here in the capital.

I really hope Sherman 5 and A3 will continue to bring such worthwhile productions to ours stages whilst helping new audiences access the arts. The group will continue to work on this piece throughout the coming weeks and will be returning to Sherman Cymru, but this time on the huge stage of Theatre 1, to deliver a performance of their mash up before the final performance of Sherman Cymru's Romeo & Juliet on Saturday 18th October.

Thanks to Paddy Faulkner for the beautiful photographs.

To find out more about Romeo & Juliet Mash up follow @shermancymru and @A3_Arts #rnjmashup.

And check out Adamsdown Arts Association for the latest blog

For more on the work Oasis do in the community: click here.

To find out about Sherman Cymru’s Romeo & Juliet follow this link.