Thursday, January 15, 2015

Wales Theatre Awards 2015 nominations announced

The shortlisted nominations for the 2015 Wales Theatre Awards were announced this evening in the Theatre Bar at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. The nominations are listed below, and the awards ceremony will take place on Saturday, January 31st, 2015 at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff.

Updated January 12th 2016 with the winners

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

High Society (Venue Cymru, Llandudno)

Archive: This review was first published on January 31, 2013 by the Daily Post

High Society has had a chequered history. It all began as a stage play in 1939 written by Philip Barry, but under the guise of The Philadelphia Story.

That was turned into a film the following year, also known as The Philadelphia Story, and then 16 years later came the Cole Porter musical film version, retitled High Society. And now it's back on the stage, but in musical form and still as High Society, at Llandudno's Venue Cymru.

It's a very pleasant tale of a New York socialite whose wedding plans start to go awry with the unexpected arrival of a handsome journalist as well as her ex-husband. There's really not very much more to the plot than that, and various predictable couplings, re-couplings and unrequited couplings either crash and burn, or take flight on the wind.

Rape of the Fair Country (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Archive: This review was first published on February 20, 2013 by the Daily Post

Alexander Cordell's Rape of the Fair Country is the first in a trilogy of books about the South Walian ironmaking family, the Mortymers.

The book has been adapted for the Clwyd Theatr Cymru stage by Manon Eames, who has created a production aimed squarely at those interested in social history and human drama.

When I attended the press night I was told Rape of the Fair Country was an historical epic, with the emphasis very much on the historical. Which is true. But to be honest, it's also important to underline the fact this play is epic, because the first act amounts to a bum-numbing 90 minutes, and after an all too brief 15-minute interval, act two ploughs on for a further hour and a quarter. This play is not for the fidgety or weak of bladder, so be warned!

Educating Rita (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Archive: This review was first published on March 6, 2013 by the Daily Post

When Rita enrols on an Open University English literature course, she tells her tutor that she wants to "know everything".

Rita is a sweet 26-year-old married woman from a working class background who rues the fact she had no proper education, which she admits is mainly her own fault. Peer pressure dictated that clothes and boys were cooler than trying to pass exams.

A decade after leaving school Rita realises there is more to life than telly, karaoke and having the latest phone. She wants to know about poetry and literature, to be able to talk about it with other people and understand what they say back to her.

It is this rampant aspiration in Rita that brings her into contact with alcoholic tutor Frank, who is at first staunchly against being forced into teaching her. He has low self esteem and very little get up and go; he is a remnant of a once great man whose sights are now firmly set on the gutter, no longer the stars.

The Mousetrap (Venue Cymru, Llandudno)

Archive: This review was first published on March 26, 2013 by the Daily Post

Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap is the longest running stage play in the world, and this year marks its 60th birthday by going on tour around the UK for the first time ever.

It's a very traditional play, a typical Christie plot and set-up. Giles and Mollie Ralston (Bruno Langley and Jemma Walker) are a young couple who decide to open their own guest house, despite not being well experienced in the role. Monkswell Manor is a fusty old house with wood panelling and back stairs and all those trappings that make for a good old whodunnit.

Various guests start to arrive as the snow falls heavily outside, eventually cutting them off from the outside world.

But following a telephone call from the police, it soon becomes clear there is a murderer on the loose, and it is thought the killer is heading to the guest house to carry out their twisted Three Blind Mice death spree.

The Importance of Being Earnest (Venue Cymru, Llandudno)

Archive: This review was first published on April 5, 2013 by the Daily Post

First performed in 1895, Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest has the perfect, self-aware subtitle. It was originally described as a A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, and that sums up the entire thing well.

The plot revolves around the sticky situations two amorous bachelors get themselves into by leading double lives - "I'm Jack in the country and Ernest in the town" - and trying to secure the hands of their beloveds. As in life, lies always lead to deeper misunderstandings and never make a situation any better or easier, and such is the case for Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing.

As their double identities get ever more complicated and characters make discoveries they were never intended to, the humour comes out of those drawing room comedy situations which tend to make one smile rather than laugh (although there was one gentleman in the row behind me who seemed to be having kittens at the slightest of quips).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Winslow Boy (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Archive: This review was first published on May 9, 2013 by the Daily Post

When 14-year-old Ronnie Winslow is expelled from the Royal Naval College for stealing a five shilling postal order, the lives of almost everybody in his family are touched by the repercussions in this astonishingly involving and well-staged play.

It is 1914 when Ronnie is sent home to his gruff father with a letter detailing his crime, although the timid student denies he did anything wrong. Father Arthur Winslow decides his family will not take this lying down and opts to take the Admiralty to court to clear his son's name.

You might think that a two-hour play about a stolen postal order and a court case (which incidentally, we never witness) isn't the most riveting slice of entertainment, but far from it. The Winslow Boy is one of the very best productions I have seen at the Mold theatre, in part due to the well-structured, engrossing story by playwright Terence Rattigan, but also thanks to the mesmerising and utterly convincing performances from the cast.

The Static & Boy Magnet (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Pic: Tommy Ga Ken Wan
Archive: This review was first published on May 23, 2013 by the Daily Post

Davey Anderson's The Static is a Scottish element of the 2013 Celtic Festival, currently being hosted at Mold's Clwyd Theatr Cymru, and although it will mainly appeal to teenage audiences, it will also strike a chord with practically anybody who's ever been a teenager.

Sparky is a volatile but bright 15-year-old on the brink of permanent exclusion from his school. Then one day he falls under the spell of a seemingly psychic girl called Siouxsie and develops his own kinetic superpower.

This might all sound like a theatrical version of Channel 4's Misfits, but what it's really about is the turbulence of being a hormonal teenager. It transpires that Sparky and Siouxsie's kinetic powers (all they need do is think something, and it happens) only thrive between the moment their puberty begins, and the moment they lose their VL (virgin lips).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blood Brothers (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

Archive: This review was first published on September 12, 2013 by the Daily Post

Anybody who grew up with a working class background, living in terraced housing and having adventures in the alleyways of a council estate will love where Blood Brothers comes from.

This heartwarming (and when I say warming, sometimes you'll feel roasted) musical about the tale of two brothers parted at birth stars Maureen Nolan as Liverpudlian single mum Mrs Johnstone, who finds herself pregnant with twins at a time when she really cannot afford them (she has seven other kids).

She enters into an inadvisable pact with her well-to-do employer Mrs Lyons, who cannot have children of her own, and gives one twin away while keeping the other.

Aristocrats (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Pic: Catherine Ashmore
Archive: This review was first published on September 25, 2013 by the Daily Post

When I walked into the Emlyn Williams Theatre at Clwyd Theatr Cymru for the press night of the latest adaptation of Brian Friel's 1979 play Aristocrats, possibly the last thing I expected to see was a colourful recreation of Tellytubbyland.

That flippant remark might diminish the splendour of Mike Britton's stage design a little, but there's no escaping the fact it is highly reminiscent of the children's retreat, complete with rolling green grass, half-trampled dandelions and a beautiful azure sky populated with fluffy clouds. It makes you feel you're sitting outside when you're inside, the essence of the magic of theatre.

Season's Greetings (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Pic: Catherine Ashmore
Archive: This review was first published on October 9, 2013 by the Daily Post

We may have more than ten weeks to go until Christmas, but that shouldn't stop you seeing the latest play being staged by Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Mold.

Season's Greetings by prolific playwright Alan Ayckbourn takes place over the course of two and a half days, starting on Christmas Eve. The action takes place in the home of Neville and Belinda, and is firmly set in the 1980s, when the original play was written and set.

Their guests include Nev's blood-thirsty uncle Harvey; Nev's tipsy sister Phyllis and her grey husband Bernard; Belinda's sister Rachel and her new beau Clive; and Nev's dim-witted friend Eddie and his heavily pregnant wife Pattie. There's also a bunch of raucous children in evidence, but they are represented by off-stage recordings (I assume it was recordings and not actual children being denied their limelight!).

Go Back for Murder (Venue Cymru, Llandudno)

Archive: This review was first published on November 5, 2013 by the Daily Post

Agatha Christie's Go Back for Murder has had a chequered history, first emerging as a novel in 1942 entitled Murder in Retrospect, and later becoming more commonly known as Five Little Pigs.

The story originally featured Belgian detective Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, but she later adapted the novel for the stage as Go Back for Murder, editing out Poirot and replacing him with a young lawyer called Justin Fogg.

Act 1 of this Agatha Christie Theatre Company production is shamelessly pedestrian and formulaic. Carla Le Marchant (Sophie Ward) decides to investigate the murder of her father, for which his wife was jailed 16 years ago, when she receives a letter from her dying mother saying she was innocent of the crime.

It is then up to her, in association with Fogg (a likeable Ben Nealon), to work out whodunit based solely upon the faded testimonies of five prime suspects.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Copenhagen (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Pic: Catherine Ashmore
Archive: This review was first published on November 6, 2013 by the Daily Post

Albert Einstein once said: "I know not with what weapons World War Three will be fought, but World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones."

The use of atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945 brought an end to World War Two's Pacific conflict, three months after the Nazi surrender in Europe. It was the United States that exploded those bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, a result of years of research as part of the Manhattan Project.

Meanwhile, in Germany during the war, scientists were also trying to win the arms race to atomic supremacy, but were beaten to it by the States.

But that might not have been the case, and that forms the basis for what is a fascinating yet dense play by Michael Frayn which unpicks the controversy surrounding the ethics of using nuclear power in warfare.

Dangerous Corner (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Archive: This review was first published on September 16, 2014 by the Daily Post

Everybody has a secret; maybe you have several. It's human nature to keep things from one another, either because the truth will hurt a loved one or, most selfishly, hurt ourselves.

J B Priestley's classic Dangerous Corner is a beautifully constructed two-act play which begins in the drawing room of a successful publisher's house as a party winds down for the evening. There's typical 1930s jollity, society gossip and some gorgeous, flowing dresses.

But what appears to be a pleasant gathering of society friends soon plunges, like a rollercoaster, out of control when one seemingly innocent question is asked: would anybody like a cigarette?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Not About Heroes (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Pic: Catherine Ashmore
Archive: This review was first published on November 14, 2014 by the Daily Post

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old...

I, like many others, first came across the war poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon during English literature lessons at secondary school, so it is something most people are familiar with, if not necessarily proficient in.

I remember having to pick apart each line of Owen's devastating Dulce et Decorum est and analysing it almost word for word, then writing an essay about its expert construction and the deeper meaning of its rhythms. And while I enjoyed doing this, it did put me off poetry for the rest of my life.

I've never believed that art can be analysed, or ever should be. I prefer to take from a painting, poem or novel what I read into it, based upon my personal life experience: dismantling Owen's war poems seems to me, in hindsight, rather crass.

Ghosts (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Pic: Catherine Ashmore
Archive: This review was first published on October 2, 2014 by the Daily Post

When Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen debuted his latest work Ghosts in 1881, the reaction from critics and the public was, to say the least, inflammatory.

The play was described as a loathsome sore unbandaged, a dirty act done publicly, as offensively cynical and "gross, almost putrid indecorum".

Somewhere in England (Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold)

Pic: Catherine Ashmore
Archive: This review was first published on October 24, 2014 by the Daily Post

When Hitler started dropping bombs on London during World War II, the BBC decided that the best way it could keep up the nation's spirits was to relocate its Variety department to a much safer location.

And so it came to pass that light entertainment radio programmes such as It's That Man Again (ITMA) were moved to North Wales, in particular Bangor, for live broadcast across the United Kingdom. After all, Hitler would never think to attack little old Maesgeirchen, would he?