Monday, October 31, 2016

Rent (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

Lucie Jones as Maureen during the madcap Over the Moon

When rock musical Rent first premiered back in January 1996, it became a runaway phenomenon. It was the Hair for the MTV generation. It showed what life was like for young bohemians living in New York City's East Village. It told the truth without filters. Aside from the fact the show itself was fantastic, Rent's full-on depiction of the seedier side of life made a cultural impact too. In 1996, Rent was a bold and shameless snapshot of the streets. Two decades later, it's more of a period piece, having lost some of its shock value as 21st century society has gradually equalled, then surpassed, what Rent has to offer.

Rent is built on vice and challenging themes. The audience is presented with a menu of sex, sexuality, bad language, HIV and drugs, some of which are too strong for younger viewers (indeed, one boy of about 13 or 14 was taken out of the show by his grandfather during the interval and never returned). In this gender-fluid, crystal meth-drenched, polysexual age, Rent's themes should be less shocking, and maybe they are for more established audiences, but for those just looking for a damn good musical with great songs, it still packs a punch some might not be prepared for.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Pilgrims (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

At the end of Pilgrims, the one female character (Rachel) tells the two male characters (Will and Dan) that they are not needed any more. It's symbolic of the journey the character has taken on behalf of her gender throughout the play, which is told in a non-linear way, but still very definitely ends at the end (but with a new beginning).

Because Rachel does not want to be a character in somebody else's story; she wants to tell the story herself. As part of the PhD she hopes to study she is looking at the representation of women in folk tales and ballads, decrying the fact the woman (usually called Nancy) is always left at home, waving a handkerchief as her "brave and adventurous" love sails off into danger and excitement, leaving her alone on the shore. But she secretly wants to go with him and share those adventures, or even have them in his place.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wish List (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

Katherine Soper's Bruntwood Prize-winning Wish List is about "the system" - the system that controls us, the system we are part of, and the system we design for ourselves. It's a remarkable play which reveals its multiple layers the more you think about it, and it's no wonder the Royal Exchange/ Royal Court collaboration has been wowing audiences.

Wish List centres on brother and sister Dean and Tamsin Carmody, who live together in a rundown flat in Milton Keynes struggling to make ends meet. Dean (Joseph Quinn) suffers from an array of OCD and anxiety-related issues - he ritually gels his hair in times of stress, he cannot go outside in the daytime (or the night-time!), he struggles with talking to strangers or using the telephone, or even cooking for himself, because he has to run through a certain routine of tapping surfaces in order to move forward. Dean is a prisoner of his compulsions, but after inexplicably being deemed fit for work by the DWP, he has his benefits cut, and the siblings appeal the decision in an effort to prove that Dean is certainly nowhere close to being able to exist harmoniously with the outside world.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Good Clean Heart (Pontio, Bangor)

The youthful energy and colour in Mared Swain's production of A Good Clean Heart is intoxicating. The story focuses on two brothers who were split up at a very young age by social services, who rehomed the youngest, Kevin, in Wales, while the eldest, Jay, stayed in their native London. The two lost touch (Kevin, renamed Hefin, was only a toddler anyway) and it's many years later, when Hefin is all grown up, that the boys reach out to reconnect.

It's Willy Russell's Blood Brothers but with less schmaltz, fewer songs and more relevance. Where Russell's hugely successful and sentimental musical takes class as the divide between the estranged brothers, here playwright Alun Saunders takes race and geography. Hefin is a white middle-class, well-educated and reasonably well-adjusted lad from South Wales who speaks two languages and comes from a stable, loving family who adopted him, whereas Jay is a black man who's had a tough upbringing and has ended up in trouble with the law as a result of falling in with the wrong crowd.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Interview with Phil Williams about Cascade Dance Theatre

This is a version of a feature published on October 10th, 2016 by Arts Scene in Wales 

Phil Williams is passionate about getting art out to the masses. And it's not just about enabling more people to see art forms they might never usually see. Phil believes it is vital to get art into the smaller communities of Wales, the modest towns and villages where touring theatre companies rarely go.

With this in mind, he has set up the Cascade Dance Theatre company, which embarks upon its debut tour of Wales this November, visiting some places that other theatre companies fear (or cannot secure the funding) to tread.

"The aim for this tour is to make it as much of a success as possible, both for us and the smaller venues who are taking us," says Phil, who is Artistic Director of Cascade.

"I hope to make the tour a fixture in Cascade's calendar every Autumn. We're living in difficult times so we have to make this tour a success so we can put in a strong application to the Arts Council for next time. That way we might get more venues involved along the way."

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Kreutzer vs Kreutzer (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

1803: Ludwig van Beethoven's Violin Sonata No.9 (aka The Kreutzer Sonata) premieres.
1889: Leo Tolstoy's novella The Kreutzer Sonata is published, taking inspiration from Beethoven's work.
1923: Leoš Janáček writes String Quartet No.1 (aka Kreutzer Sonata), taking inspiration from Tolstoy's work.
2010: Laura Wade's play Kreutzer vs Kreutzer premieres, taking inspiration from the work of Beethoven, Tolstoy and Janáček.

It's the perfect example of how artists and creatives inspire one another across the barriers of time and language, and how the work of one genius can provoke the best in others (although it seems only people whose names begin with the letter L). Laura Wade's Kreutzer vs Kreutzer - billed as "a play for voices" - is the perfect last lap in an artistic relay race that's been running for over 200 years. She manages to throw the individual works which serve as her inspiration into sharp focus, while also knitting them together into one cohesive and immensely rewarding whole.