Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Annie (Venue Cymru, Llandudno)

When you think of Annie, you think of a precocious little girl with a frizzy red wig singing schmaltzy songs about being orphaned and hoping for a better tomorrow. And to some extent, that's right, especially if you're thinking of John Huston's 1982 film. But Annie - The Musical shows there's more to it than its rather unkind reputation would have you believe.

Because it's really a story about America in the Great Depression, about how unemployment in the States reached a frightening high of 25% in 1933, the year Annie is set. Families lost their jobs and their livelihoods, many lost their homes and were forced to congregate like gypsy travellers in public parks, cobbled-together shanty towns known as Hooverville. America in 1933 was on the skids - 5,000 banks failed, drought ravaged the country's agricultural heartland, and there seemed to be no hope on the horizon to pull it out of the economic mire. But then President Franklin D Roosevelt was elected to the White House, and his public work programmes helped turn things around.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Triptych (Galeri, Caernarfon)

Gwyn Emberton and Albert Garcia in Triptych III

Most of us cannot imagine what it's truly like to serve in a war zone. All the role-playing video games and CGI-bolstered Hollywood blockbusters in the world cannot truly recreate what it must be like to actually be there, in the thick of it, day in, day out, with no way out and no real desire to find one. There is no Stop or Off button for the soldiers who serve Queen and country on our behalf. There is only the honour, and the horror.

Triptych is the brainchild of De Oscuro producer Judith Roberts, who has been working with ex-service personnel and their families for almost 18 months to get a better idea of what it feels like to be in conflict situations such as Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan or the Falklands. We have a good idea what it looks like to be there, but the actual emotional impact it has on the soldier, the mental legacy they are left with upon demob, can be elusive, often because veterans cannot or will not discuss their thoughts.

Monday, July 13, 2015 (Palace Theatre, Manchester)

When Alice fell down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll's 1865 novel, the portal was all too literal. There was a rabbit, on his way to Wonderland, and he had a hole. Beautiful in its simplicity. But what would a modern-day rabbit hole equivalent be? How to update the portal to Wonderland for 2015?

And therein lies the genius of, the 21st century remix of a perennial family favourite by Moira Buffini and Damon Albarn. In 2015, the obvious portal to a world of wonder, colour, craziness and danger is the mobile phone in everybody's pocket. Through the screen on our mobile devices, we can be transported anywhere and everywhere, through the magic of Japanese technology and the world wide web. There are no limits to where you can go and what you can see on a mobile phone, which is why runs with this so brilliantly.

Wicked (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

One of the cleverest aspects of Wicked is Gregory Maguire's story. Audiences are so familiar with L Frank Baum's source material - or rather, the 1939 film adaptation of it - that much character introduction can be dispensed of because the audience already knows who almost everybody is (or is going to be).

And that's where the beauty of the narrative shines brightest - Wicked starts out as a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, then the narrative overlaps with that of the film, and by the end it's running concurrently with it. The ease with which the story on the stage enhances and expands the audience's established knowledge is masterful, and it's a delight to join up the dots. It's the joy of being able to pause the film and say: "Meanwhile, over there..."