Wednesday, April 26, 2017

REVIEW: National Dance Company Wales Spring 2017 (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

What I love about Caroline Finn is the eccentricity she brings to her work. Finn, the Artistic Director of NDC Wales and choreographer of The Green House, has an innate ability to tap into the "Britishness" of a situation, and as a result comes up with such quirky, endearing and aesthetically powerful works as The Green House.

This whimsy is also present in past works such as Bernadette, Bloom and Folk, an ability to mine an off-kilter oddness, whether that be the misplaced hubris of baking (Bernadette) or the solemn, melancholic face masks used in Bloom. Indeed, the fundamental atmosphere of Folk, with its pastoral aesthetic, was another manifestation of Finn's skill at shining light on the quirkier corners of our culture.

With The Green House, Finn has arguably crossed the Pond to soak up some of the tropes of American culture, especially those deep-seated in the 1950s - that I Love Lucy '50s housewife vibe, mixed with a Stepford Wives oddness most familiar today through its Desperate Housewives filter, and, as the programme notes point out, the bizarre other-world of David Lynch.

Friday, April 21, 2017

REVIEW: Super Sunday (Pontio, Bangor)

It might have been a Thursday evening, but Race Horse Company gave its audience a truly Super Sunday with its latest circus show at Pontio, combining all the fun of the fair with more serious religious iconography.

That clash of stylistic approaches can jar a little - one of the last places you'd expect to be confronted with a vivid portrayal of the Crucifixion is a circus show - but you've got to admire their chutzpah. The producers do warn people in advance about the religious imagery ("Super Sunday features irreverent humour and Christian religious motifs. We think the show is most suitable for people aged 12 years to adult") but being forewarned still doesn't quite forearm the audience enough for what they see.

It's not that the Crucifixion scene is offensive, distasteful or disrespectful. In fact, there's a degree of reverence in the lit candles and supplication. It's merely the audacity of shackling someone to a giant cross, then wrapping them up tight in clingfilm, which takes you by surprise. It's not offensive as such, just odd, and it doesn't altogether work.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

REVIEW: Gabriel (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

The Channel Islands were the only British territory occupied by German forces during World War Two. The UK government did not deem Jersey or Guernsey strategic in its fight against Hitler, and so quietly backed away, allowing the Nazis to settle there in June 1940. The thing was, the islands were of no particular use to Germany either, except for the fact it allowed the Nazis to say they'd captured British soil.

Moira Buffini's Gabriel is set on Guernsey in 1943 in the depths of the German occupation and shows what life was like for the women left to survive there after their men had gone to war, and thousands of other islanders had been evacuated. Guernsey was cut off from the realities of war: the Germans banned any communication with the mainland and clamped down on attempts to distribute a newsletter among the islanders based on information gathered from the secret monitoring of BBC radio broadcasts. As far as the people of Guernsey knew, the war would never end.

Buffini's play tries to say many things - about the roles and strengths of women during the occupation, about hope and fear, about the definition of evil - but the through-lines get muddled up and sometimes lost in Kate McGregor's dry production. You get the feeling the script has more to say than the production is allowing, and that the actors are fighting hard to make their characters reach the point.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

REVIEW: Scarlett (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

We've all wanted to just throw in the towel and run away sometimes, haven't we? When the daily humdrummery of life gets too montonous, or repetitive, or just too damn hard, we've had those thoughts about not turning up the next day, and simply disappearing. A new life with new rules. A new you!

This is how Scarlett feels. She rocks up somewhere in rural Wales with the intention of buying a rundown stone chapel, restoring it and living there for the rest of her days, away from the noise and bustle and stress of London life. And when she's asked about her life back home, and what she's left behind, Scarlett initially blanks it off - she has a business she plans to close down, a mother and daughter she denies exist. Scarlett is simply desperate to escape, both her own life and those within it.

Colette Kane - winner of the Royal Literary Fund's JB Priestley Award in 2013 and now a burgeoning playwright for stage and screen - is a remarkable talent. This play is intelligent and thought-provoking, it is vital and funny and revealing, and gives a rattlingly honest portrayal of the nature of the relationship between mothers and daughters of all generations. Kane's script is so arresting and insightful that by the end of the 75-minute piece, you feel a deep connection with the five characters. In short, Kane is a gift to the stage.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

INTERVIEW: Tamara Harvey, Artistic Director of Theatr Clwyd

When Tamara Harvey talks about Junkyard – the new musical from the prestigious pens of BAFTA-winning playwright Jack Thorne and Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck, which runs at Theatr Clwyd until April 15th – she gets a little emotional.

A co-production between Theatr Clwyd, Bristol Old Vic, Headlong and Rose Theatre Kingston, Junkyard is an honest and witty coming-of-age story about friendship and standing up for what matters, and features a cast of bright young talented actors.

“I’m so proud of this piece, it slightly shakes me up,” admits Tamara, who recently celebrated her first year of programming at the Mold production house. “Junkyard was one of the first scripts I was sent when I got the job. I read it and fell in love with it. It’s like Goodbye Mr Chips but set in Bristol in the 1970s. It’s that inspirational teacher story but with a twist. Any story that has that ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ moment chokes us up because we’ve all had that inspirational teacher or leader.”

Saturday, April 01, 2017

REVIEW: Lifted By Beauty: Adventures in Dreaming (Rhyl)

"The creative possibilities in Rhyl are mind-blowing. They are unique, powerful and lush. There is deep magic here, it lies close by in the mountains, in the sea, and truly in the people. I hope the work reflects some of this. It is a poem. A love letter to Rhyl." - Mark Storer, lead artist
National Theatre Wales's Lifted By Beauty: Adventures in Dreaming takes the seaside town of Rhyl as inspiration for a series of bizarre, surreal and yes, dream-like promenade installations. It's a walk-through 90-minute show which is sensually immersive, but not interactive. After being sung to in Welsh by a man hiding in a cardboard box, and then had poetry read to them by a man dressed as some kind of SOCO/ beekeeper hybrid, the audience is ushered into a dingy, gloomy, dank underground car park, where real life is left at the door and fantasy takes over.

The audience is led very organically between the different installations, which seem to emerge without notice in different locations around the car park. You don't know it's there until you hear a voice in the distance behind you, or when the characters you're watching lead you to the next stage. We first see a runway made of top soil, lit beautifully from different angles by Ceri James, creating a kind of Martian landscape. A man sows more soil as he moves barefoot through the earth, followed by a woman apparently pregnant with soil, who is in turn stalked by a Puck-like man dressed in silk pyjamas. So far, so weird...