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.