Wednesday, May 02, 2018

REVIEW: Turn of the Screw (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)


Thirty years ago, Stephen Mallatrat's masterful adaptation of Susan Hill's novel The Woman in Black changed the way that ghost stories were told on the stage. Anybody who has seen either the West End or the touring version of the play will know how bone-chillingly effective the production is even today, especially if you don't know what to expect. Mallatrat's The Woman in Black remains the standard by which all other theatrical ghost stories must be held, and Tim Luscombe's version of the Henry James 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw is no different - especially as it mentions it in publicity.

Different people find different things scary, and there are very different approaches to making things scary within the horror/ supernatural genre. There's out-and-out gorefests, and the productions that go for the visceral as well as the visual (Ghost Stories, The Soulless Ones), while there's also the spooky, eerie, atmospherically charged productions - such as The Woman in Black - which creep up on the senses and shout BOO!

Friday, April 27, 2018

REVIEW: The Assassination of Katie Hopkins (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)


Everybody has an opinion these days. Including me. However, I'm invited to give my opinion (and sometimes paid to do it). But what about all the people who have opinions that nobody asked for? Are they still valid? Do people still want to hear them? Do people need to hear them?

The truth is, everybody's opinion is valid, but not every opinion is welcome. Social media allows the individual to speak to the masses at the touch of a button, and they can put as much or as little thought and research into that opinion as they like.

This frenetic new musical, written by Chris Bush and composed by Matt Winkworth, attempts to open up the national debate about freedom of speech, and whether what's called "hate speech" should be just as free as all the self-congratulatory back-patting and celebrity worship that happens online. For every tweet simpering over the birth of a new #royalbaby, there's another slamming the Duchess of Cambridge for looking too glamorous just hours after giving birth. For every #BlackPower hashtag, there's a thread bemoaning the loss of Little England and what it means to be British (and white).

Friday, February 16, 2018

REVIEW: The Weir (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)


Back in the 1970s, the film company Amicus made several portmanteau horror films which told eerie, sometimes light-hearted, but always gruesome tales of misfortune and tragedy. They were like Hammer films, but more lurid and macabre.

Conor McPherson's The Weir - celebrating its 20th anniversary this year - would make a cracking portmanteau horror film, with its four spine-chilling folk tales framed by an overarching story about a bunch of people whiling away an evening in a rural Irish pub. There's even a bonus tale in the form of a melancholy reminiscence of lost love and missed opportunity.

There's a good reason why McPherson won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 1999, because The Weir is a haunting, bittersweet, sometimes unsettling, often heartwarming story which beautifully reflects the laid-back, pastoral way of life in rural Ireland, as well as showing how we all carry with us our own demons and fears, which are often waiting keenly to jump to the surface if we let them.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

REVIEW: National Dance Company Wales: Roots (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)


NDC Wales decided to mix things up a bit for its Autumn tour and present a curated evening of four short and snappy dance pieces instead of the traditional three longer pieces. Contemporary dance can be a very hard sell to new audiences, so it's commendable that NDC Wales is trying to broaden its appeal by offering bite-size dances which might appeal to newbies. It's a bit like a box of Quality Street - if you don't like one piece, there'll be another one along soon to tempt your tastes. The trouble with assorted chocolates though, is that for every caramel soft centre, there's a dreaded toffee penny.

Artistic director Caroline Finn wanted Roots to present different styles of dance, to show how contrasting contemporary dance can be, so that established audiences got a little of what they fancied, and newcomers got a crash course in what the art form's all about. This is a welcome idea, as is the choice to have Finn introducing each piece, and then hosting a short Q&A afterwards, because inevitably with contemporary dance, people have questions afterwards, even if it's to say: "What was that all about?"

Saturday, November 25, 2017

REVIEW: Little Wolf (Pontio, Bangor)


The loss of a child is one of the most horrifying and emotionally exhausting events that can happen to anyone, and none more so than the child's parents and family. We've all seen it on the news, when a child is reported missing and the local community joins the emergency services in searching the area, combing the landscape for clues. And then the dreaded press conference where the parents issue an emotional plea for the child to come home, reassuring them that they've done nothing wrong, that mummy won't be angry. Or pleading with an abductor to let the child go, unharmed. It's devastating just to watch such a scenario play out, never mind be directly involved with it.

So you'd expect a play about the loss (and subsequent death) of a child to be packed with raw emotion, to grab you by the heartstrings and seriously mess you up. It's a fundamentally emotional event, invoking anger, frustration, hatred, fear and despair. Indeed, the publicity for Little Wolf - an adaptation by Simon Harris of Henrik Ibsen's 1895 play Little Eyolf - promises a "vital and raw" production, but unfortunately it turns up lacking.

Monday, October 30, 2017

REVIEW: P.A.R.A.D.E. (Pontio, Bangor)


P.A.R.A.D.E. (I'm not altogether sure what it's an acronym of; I suspect nothing in particular) is the impressive result of a collaboration between National Dance Company Wales, Dawns i Bawb, Rubicon Dance, Wales Millennium Centre, Pontio in Bangor, and artistic director Marc Rees, and forms a key part of Wales's R17 celebrations marking a century since the Russian Revolution.

What has the Russian Revolution got to do with the people of Wales, some people might ask. It's a good question, but the truth is that when the workers were going on strike and overthrowing their bosses in Petrograd, they were being watched and admired by the coal miners of South Wales, who were inspired by the fact the working man could triumph over the might of autocracy. Russia's uprising led to Maerdy in the Rhondda being nicknamed Little Moscow due to its people's socialist sympathies, and for producing the forthright trade unionist Arthur Horner, who helped found the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

REVIEW: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)


At the heart of Jim Cartwright's play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a touching, sentimental story of a shy northern girl struggling to get heard by those around her, including her brash and selfish mother, who treats her the same way wicked stepmothers treat their Cinderellas. But at over two and a half hours in length, Cartwright struggles to fill the time with enough plot to make it as riveting as it should be.

The play (which opened at the National Theatre in 1992 and was written specifically for Jane Horrocks) was adapted into a film in 1998, and tells the story of a shy girl who can do stunningly accurate impressions of divas such as Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf after listening to her beloved late father's LP collection. However, the film was significantly more concise in its plotting. Kate Wasserberg's production of the play packs plenty of wallop when it's needed, but there are also a few too many moments of ponderous water-treading, moments which allow the audience to shift in their seat, hoping something will happen soon.

This is particularly noticeable in Act 1, where too much time is spent building up characters who don't require that much time to be fleshed out. The audience gets what the playwright's trying to do much quicker than he does himself. In particular, LV's harridan mother Mari, a stereotypical northern sexpot straight out of the Lily Savage school of termagent matriarchs. All the hallmarks of such a part are there - the too-tight leopard skin skirts and heels, the flashing knickers, the sharp, foul-mouthed tongue and the total disregard for the feelings and needs of those around her. Nicola Reynolds throws everything she's got into Mari Hoff, perhaps more than she should at times, making her a loud, brash, abusive, unpleasant gorgon who cares more about her drinks cabinet and her sex life than her meek daughter. Cartwright may have written the role broadly, but with every part like this, there has to be a more human side, and unfortunately we get to see far too much of the tart and not nearly enough of the heart.