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.