Run away to the Circus..

You never forget your first time with NoFit State circus.  Mine was January 2013 seeing the sensational Bianco (literally) on stage at Wales Millennium Centre.  It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  Never before had I seen such death-defying stunts, such strength and such raw excitement from a company.

So when I saw that this world-class show had returned to Cardiff, this time taking place in the big top, I knew I had to see it again.  After a pretty vanilla few weeks, I needed that NoFit State injection of madness.  I needed to be transported to another world.

Stepping inside the big top, you knew something incredible was going to happen.  This expectation and intrigue in the air was palpable.  As the performers started “setting the stage”, limbering up and yelling instructions to one another, as the live band (an epic addition to the performance) started to play, the big top was totally absorbed.  And that says a lot seeing as it was a matinee performance; it must be the first time I have been to a performance at this time when a room full of children were silent the whole time.  It really does say a lot about the power of the production.

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Property of NoFit State website

And once it kicked off, it really kicked off.  Aerial stunts that left me totally speechless, my heart threatening to explode out of my chest… how could these stunts be physically possible?  How could the human body move in such a magical way?  What was truly spectacular however, was the way NoFit State told a story purely through the power of movement.  From start to finish a mesmerizing story unfolded before our eyes.  In my opinion, no other touring company quite manages to tell a story like they do.  It was intoxicating.  They managed to perfectly balance the raucous hysteria one might associate with the circus in big group numbers with intimate, sensual solo and duets; of course accompanied with absolute perfection by the band.

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Property of NoFit State website

Every performer was flawless, with a total disregard for gravity.  This team did things that humans should not be able to do.  They challenged the boundaries of physics and gave world-renowned gymnasts a run for their money.  Each one was fully engulfed in their character, making the performance all the more believable.

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Property of NoFit State website

After an extravagant two hours of explosive stunts, Bianco closed in a simple, beautiful and artistic manner.  The perfect close to the party, it drew this awe-inspiring show to a subtle and sophisticated finale.

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Property of NoFit State website

NoFit State are masters of the profession.  Forget clowns and slap-stick humour, forget the wackiness for the sake of it of Cirque du Soleil.  What NoFit State manage to do is present a magical world in a contemporary and classy way.  They take the audience on a journey, leaving them dazzled and delirious.  For anyone who ever dreamed of running away to the circus, this is the show for you.  For anyone who didn’t, you’ll leave ready to pack your bags.

Bianco is showing in the Big Top until June 7.  For £15, this spectacle is worth every penny.  Find out more here. 

 

 

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Take a trip to The Magic Toyshop..

The Magic Toyshop

Audience members expecting a buoyant tale of happy ever after will have left Chapter with quite a surprise this evening after Theatr Iolo and Invisible Ink’s production of The Magic Toyshop.  Based on the gothic fairy-tale penned by Angela Carter, famed for her feminist and magical realism, the story explores the eerie world of forbidden desires and dark family secrets.

Following the death of her family, 15 year old Melanie is transported away from the classic, middle-class comforts of her safe, idealistic life into a parallel world.  Put in the care of her twisted Uncle Philip, her world turns a darker shade of black as the demented threads of her new family home quickly start to unravel, and an unsettling world of living dolls, abuse and incest rise to the surface.

The stage was used with strong effect, with elements of the set being transformed with ease, intensified by an interesting and intense use of lighting.  The five person cast was overall an effective team, although certain members of the cast quite easily outshone others.  Comedy was interspersed throughout which helped to reinforce the dark, Gothic undertones of the play; unfortunately, I did feel like this needed to be emphasised even further.  For such a disturbing (strike – incredibly disturbing.  Certain parts left me feeling quite uncomfortable) story line, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the darkness of the production.  Perhaps that was not the intention; and I can understand the way it was presented would appeal to a wider audience.  For my personal taste, if something is dark I want it to be dark!

Ignoring the (at times) disjointed and unexplained narrative, The Magic Toyshop did entertain.  It was not quite what I expected, but it did deliver a thought-provoking piece of theatre.  Whatever your response, it will totally engross, baffle, shock and disturb; for that alone, this one is worth a watch.

The Magic Toyshop plays at Chapter Arts Centre until Saturday 17th May. For tickets and information, visit the Chapter website.

SHAKESPEARE AS YOU’VE NEVER SEEN IT..

Tequila, pizza and gold spangled pants – no, it’s not a scene from your Uncle’s stag do, but rather a euphoric chunk from Filter Theatre‘s (in association with RSC‘s) production of Twelfth Night.  A 90 minute explosion of hysteria, live music and playfulness, this contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic was not for the faint-hearted.

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Held at Sherman Cymru, the play opened up with the foolishly lovable Orsino (played by Shakespeare veteran, Jonathan Broadbent) uttering those famous words: “If music be the food of love, play on!”.  And play on they did.   From start to finish, the show was mayhem – in the best sense of the word.  Well known for their bold and boundary pushing work, Filter Theatre has taken this churned out classic and spun it on its head making it more accessible – and more bizarre – than ever before.  The cast were comically en pointe, interweaving the much loved words of Shakespeare and the fresh, imaginative mind of director Sean Holmes.  With plentiful opportunities for audience interaction (including a theatre wide conga line!), the play had the room gripped from the word go.

And what was so incredibly refreshing to see was the hugely diverse audience.  People of all ages spanned across the theatre; it truly paid homage to the work of Filter, and the excitingly expansive audience their joyous adaptations called out to.

Really it’s difficult to sum up the experience the show gave me.  Part of me left bouncing off the walls, and the other half left not knowing what the hell had just happened.  Whatever it was, it was infectious.  Was it Shakespeare for me?  Probably not, but then who’s to say that’s a bad thing?  What Filter did was take what has become a rather tired piece of work and dazzled it into a heady concoction of carnival like splendour.  If you’re looking for a night to just let go and have some real laughs in the process, then this is a must see.  Although please be warned – you may never look at yellow socks the same way again.

DANCE THAT TAKES YOUR BREATH AWAY..

National Dance Company Wales (NDCW) are well renowned for their intricate, slick and dynamic work.  An award-winning company, their pioneering work is challenging and thought provoking; exactly how contemporary dance should be.

Today their Spring Tour visited Sherman Cymru, and I was lucky enough to be able to experience their beautiful work.  For me, contemporary dance is up there as a favourite form of art.  I love the way it challenges expectations, using the body in a divine way that seems utterly impossible.

Of course, the production did all this and more.  Kicking off with Mythology,  the dancers performed as a community, delicately bringing their separate movements and motifs together as one to create a unity.  The dance gradually built up in a frenzy of movement; you almost didn’t quite know where to look.

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But then as the dancers drew together, and the individual movements bounced off one another, they created something truly amazing.  In a split second you could see exactly what Shropshire was aiming to do with his choreography; creating something all-together greater through the sum of its individual parts.  

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He likens this to the culmination of the company over four years, together creating a vision and a philosophy of movement.  A true testament to the power of the company and the journey it has taken to become an internationally recognised dance group.

Mythology was powerful and consuming; accompanied by a Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together, an avant-garde composition for piano, jazz ensemble and spoken word, it was clever, expressive and deeply reflective.

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The Seek To Find The Happiness They Seem was totally different.

Whilst Mythology was an ensemble of manic yet controlled group work, this piece was a simple and moving duet between two exquisite dancers.

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An effortless portrayal of the inner world between couples and individuals, the dance told a classic story of dislocation and separation within a relationship.  With a single spotlight on the dancers, it begins reflecting an apparent closeness, with intimate movements and a breathtaking closeness of bodies.  Despite the beautiful accompaniment, it was as if the room was completely silent; eerie almost.  You felt you could have heard a single pin drop… as if had you made a noise, the movements would have stopped.

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It was as if you were peeking through a key-hole at this unraveling relationship, watching an initial intimacy turn to loneliness.  Both dancers were superb; their movements were smoke-like, floating across the stage and into your sub-conscious.  It was mesmerizing.

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Closing with my highlight of the evening, Water Stories was sure to be the crowd pleaser.  This piece focused on the magical waterscapes of Wales, creating a poetic and spine-tingling world of movement on stage.

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The costumes perfectly complemented the allusion of lakes, waterfalls, reservoirs… the gentle yet powerful fluidity of water.  This, alongside the dancers effortlessly flowing movements, made the piece incredibly believable.  Even for a non-contemporary mind, the subject matter was shouting out.

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Every dancer had the opportunity to shine.  Whereas I can normally focus on one performer and (secretly) pick my favourite, the choice was far too rich here.  Each individual was exceptional, taking dance to whole new levels.  The flexibility and strength of everyone on stage was jaw-dropping.  Throwing one another across the stage as if made of feathers, sinking in and out of the most stunning holds and stretches, whilst remaining in an ethereal state made this piece hypnotic to watch.

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During the dance projections of enchanting Welsh waterscapes were presented to the audience, allowing a literal representation of the very abstract movements.  It was a delightful touch, and a charming way to draw the topic, movements, music and costume in harmony with one another.

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I found myself wishing this piece would never end.  It was sublime, with some of the most exciting and natural lift work I have seen in a dance production.  I loved the attention it paid to every performer, and the variety of pace, power and emotion it reflected.

This was the first time I had seen NDCW.  After tonight, I will absolutely be following their journey and their performances, and cannot wait for their next visit to the city.

If you find yourself on their touring remit, I urge you to introduce yourself to their spell-binding work.  You will not be disappointed!

WE’RE ALL MAD HERE..

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Who’s mad and who’s sane?  It’s a question that resonates deeply with literature (who can forget One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest protagonist Randle McMurphy and his battle with the system?), film and let’s face it, modern society.  The answer, balancing on a knife edge, can hold the key to all manner of things.  And in Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange, that key is the key to freedom.

I recently previewed Canoe Theatre’s Blue/Orange, keen to drum up a bit of interest for this exceptional play that has seen huge success in the past with National Theatre.  The subject matter gripped me from the word go; a failing NHS, the ramifications of institutional politics and a young man wrestling with his identity and mental well-being.

Performed at Sherman Cymru, the story was set entirely in a doctor’s office.  We (as the audience) were led into the theatre where rows of plastic chairs surrounded this simple set up.  Immediately it reminded me of a doctor’s waiting room; I can’t be sure if this is what they were trying to evoke, but it certainly did the trick for me..

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The intimate setting was integral in the drama and power of the performance.  Played entirely by three actors, we were so close we could quite easily touch them if we reached out and tried.  That uncomfortable feeling and closeness encapsulated the paranoia projected by the play’s main star, Christopher (played by RWCMD student, Simon Mokhele).

As we eagerly awaited the start of the play, I as always had high expectations.  I knew it would go one of either way; the play would be thought-provoking, intellectual and powerfully compelling, or it would miss the real issues at hand.

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Well, happily it went the first way.  Blue/Orange tackled the ever-present problems of a poorly funded NHS, where professionals lose sight of their obligation to help the sick and the mentally troubled in a bid to cut costs and free up beds.

Christopher, who has been detained under the mental health act with borderline personality disorder, is due to be released.  His fate lies in the hands of Bruce, a doctor certain that Christopher’s issues run far deeper than originally imagined, and Robert, the “big dog” of the hospital, with his sights set entirely on promotions, publishing a book (with a focus on “black psychosis”… yep, seriously) and cutting corners and costs in any way possible.

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As Bruce persists to try and detain Christopher for longer (with the worry that actually he is suffering from schizophrenia), Robert further and further asserts his place, juggling with Christopher’s mental-wellbeing in the process.

It’s the soul-destroying tale of those in charge being able to do whatever the hell they like, even if it does lack any morality and suggest utter insanity.

And there the question lies; who is truly insane?

Is the Orange really blue?

Is Christopher really the son of Idi Amin?

Obviously I don’t want to give too much away.  What I can say is Blue/Orange attacks this profoundly complicated theme with wit and dramatic vigour.  It dives straight into the issues of racial prejudice and cultural judgement; almost painfully so.

Political, funny and seriously unnerving.  It was brilliant.

My only criticism would be the length of the first half.  I think it could have been cut easily by half an hour; and it wasn’t until the second half that I was truly consumed by the play, feeling anger, resentment, shock and pity all in one bundle.  The subject matter was so poignant and the acting was so superb that I think the dialogue could have been reduced… just to make it a bit snappier and more attention-grabbing.

Overall the play did exactly what it set out to do.  It highlighted the problems overwhelming the NHS and the racial prejudices still existing, challenging and evoking emotions; but it did all this in a somehow light… but equally powerful way.   It was quite magic.

Blue/Orange is showing at Sherman Cymru until Thursday.  Catch it while you can.

THE PERFECT NIGHT FOR THE PERFECT MURDER..

I adore surprises.  You can’t beat the look on someone’s face when you surprise them with something heartfelt and let’s face it, exciting.

So when I saw that Peter James was touring with the first ever stage adaptation of one of his books, I knew I had to grab tickets for my boyfriend.  As cliche as it sounds, he’s Peter’s biggest fan.  Before introducing him to Perfect People the most he’d read would be a Steven Gerrard autobiography (true story).  

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The idea of seeing one of his thrilling novels played out on stage was pretty exciting.  His stories are full of suspense, twists turns and devilish drama; to see  that live was bound to be a fantastic experience.

Although the thought of surprising my boyfriend with the show was brilliant enough, I was desperate for the chance to actually introduce him to his literary hero.  So after a week of tweets, Facebook messages, website trawling and emails my wish was granted.

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I’m not sure I have ever seen someone so star struck.  Not only was it the most beautiful feeling to see the look on the bf’s face as he shook his idol’s hand, but Peter James was quite easily the most humble, lovely man I have met in a very long time.  As we spoke of all things Roy Grace, potential movies, TV series and future books, I felt overwhelmingly lucky and blessed.  Here was an international best-selling crime writer taking the time to meet us.  It was an incredible experience.

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As if that wasn’t enough, the play itself was exceptional.

The Perfect Murder follows the life of Victor Smiley and his wife Joan.  Both detest each other; picture the marriage from hell and you’re nearly there.  Desperate for a way out, Victor meticulously plans the perfect murder… but little does he know what Joan has in store for him.

With a fabulous cast (including TV favourite Les Dennis), the Perfect Murder takes the audience back to the infamous Roy Grace’s very first homicide case.  As fans of the series we adored the copious links scattered throughout (I’m not going to give anything away!).  It felt like these special links had been intertwined especially to treat the audience.

In a more unexpected twist, the production was extremely funny.  Witty one-liners combined with comical personalities had the audience absolutely howling, whilst the eerie and intriguing magic of Peter James had us on the edge of our seat.  The perfect mix; the play ticked all the right boxes.

As expected, the play culminated in a deliciously shocking finale.  Curtain down, and the audience erupted.

Despite the Roy Grace references and the Peter James story-line, this production is easily attractive to fans and newbies alike.  There’s something infectious about this type of production.  You forgot you were sat in a theatre; suddenly you were transported to the keyhole of a neighbours dark domestic drama.

The Perfect Murder is touring to twelve different locations right up until April.  If you love mystery, suspense and cockney rhyming slang, this is the Perfect Play for you.

PREVIEW: BLUE/ORANGE AT SHERMAN CYMRU..

21-23 January at Sherman Cymru.

Tickets £12 (Under 25s £6)

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Christopher has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  After a grueling 28 days detained under the Mental Health Act he is due to be released.  But as the NHS crumbles and institutional politics brim over the edge, where does his fate lie?

This month the classic contemporary play Blue/Orange comes to Sherman Cymru.  Following success at National Theatre (originally created by Joe Penhall over 10 years ago), Welsh theatre company Canoe Theatre now hopes to wow Welsh audiences with the experience of this fantastic production.  It’s the companies first production; by the looks of things, they’re going to kick off with an almighty bang.

It’s darkly funny.  A daring combination of race, mental health and social structure, the play resonates in a palpable way with the current politics of today.  Christopher’s destiny lies solely in the hands of two doctors; but what’s to do with a man who could well be the illegitimate son of an African dictator?

Director Julia Thomas puts the play simply: “It is honest, funny and well observed. It makes you think but also makes you laugh. It is a contemporary classic that will resonate deeply with audiences.”

Featuring a stellar cast (including Matthew Bulgo of Sleeping Beauties, I’m with the band and Praxis makes perfect) Blue/Orange hits Sherman Cymru on Jan 21 until 23.  If you’re looking for something a bit different, something meaningful or something raw, this is the play for you.

For £12 it’s an absolute bargain.  Even better, under 25s get in half price.  To find out more about the show and tickets, visit the Sherman website.