WELCOME TO THE DARK VANILLA JUNGLE..

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It takes a lot to unanimously grip an audience; even more so when there’s only one woman on stage.  But Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle did just that.  Performed by the exceptionally talented Gemma Whelan (best known for her roles as Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones and Rachel in One Man Two Guvnors), this 80 minute monologue told the traumatic story of Andrea, a young girl beaten repeatedly by the harsh sting of betrayal and loneliness, exploited and rejected by all those she ever loved.

Dark Vanilla Jungle delved into the uncomfortable and frighteningly real issues ever present in society; gang rape, incestuous relations, mentally abusive parents and the darker depths of the human psyche.  Despite the incredibly serious subject matter, subtle humour throughout kept the mood in the room rapidly changing; a nice touch, seeing as Andrea’s mindset did quite the same.

It was a tough 80 minutes; Whelan’s poignant portrayal of Andrea was so spot on that it left the audience reeling.  Despite there only being one actor on stage – no set, no props – the whole audience was there, peering in on this fragile girl’s life as it rapidly untangled.  In all honesty, you didn’t need set or props: if anything, they would have totally deterred from the mesmerizing words of Ridley.  One of the most beautiful elements of the production (and commented on by Director David Mercatali after the show) was that each and every member of the audience was given the tools to create their own version of the play.  Every one of us had a different idea of all the characters in the play, all the locations; it was quite an overwhelming experience, and gave us all a sense of control that Andrea did not have.

The drama and story gradually built up throughout the production, until a climatic twist that left the audience on the edge of their seats.  It was one of those moments where I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t look away.  I was totally immersed in the spellbinding performance, the delightfully intelligent direction and of course the powerful, thought-provoking script.

I was left in total awe as the lights went down on Whelan.  The first professional monologue I have ever had the pleasure to see, Dark Vanilla Jungle affected me in a way that I have never been affected before.  Everything was en pointe, intoxicating and all consuming.  A beautiful experience.

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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.

THEATRE CRITICS OF WALES AWARDS 2014..

It’s back; the Theatre Critics of Wales Awards is once again returning to the big bad city of Cardiff.  Celebrating Welsh talent, the awards are put together and hosted by the Young Critics Scheme; a group I love to get involved with.  It’s an exciting opportunity to take a look back at the year and remind yourself of the exquisite talent all around us.

And so much fantastic work I had forgotten even happened this year… NoFit State’s magical Bianco for example.  What an intoxicating production; a highlight of the whole year for me, and one of the first productions I independently reviewed (take a look here).

To my delight Dirty Protest’s Parallel Lines has swept the board with nominations, and rightly so!  Anyone who follows this blog will know it was one of the most captivating shows of 2013 for me.  A remarkably talented team of people with a real passion and power for their work.  Inspiring.

I am so excited to see who walks away with the awards on the night, and what productions go on to wow us in 2014.

NOMINATIONS:

Music and sound

• Praxis Makes Perfect – National Theatre Wales

• Sue, The Second Coming – Dafydd James/Ben Lewis

• The Bloody Ballad – Gagglebabble

• Tir Sir Gar – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Chelsea Hotel – Earthfall

Lighting

• Diary of a Madman – Living Pictures /Cegin Productions

• Pridd – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Turn of the Screw – Torch Theatre

• Romeo a Juliet – Ballet Cymru

• Praxis Makes Perfect – National Theatre Wales

Design and costume

• Sexual Perversity in Chicago – Living Pictures

• Blodeuwedd – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Sleeping Beauties – Sherman Cymru

• Salt, Root and Roe – Clwyd Theatr Cymru

• It’s a Family Affair – Sherman Cymru

Digital/online content

• Chelsea Hotel – Earthfall

• Y Bont – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Love and Money – Waking Exploits

• Praxis Makes Perfect – National Theatre Wales

• Letters from Another Island – Almost Human

Inspirational educator

• Raina Malik: School of Basic Islamic Studies – Sherman Cymru

• Ioan Hefin: You Should Ask Wallace – Theatr na nÓg

• Aled Jones Williams – Theatr Bara Caws

•  Amanda Gould – Foundation Phase, S.E.W. Education Achievement Service

• Elen Bowman – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Director

• Arwel Gruffydd: Blodeuwedd – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Kate Wasserberg: Salt, Root & Roe – Clwyd Theatr Cymru

• Catherine Paskell: Parallel Lines – Dirty Protest

• Wils Wilson: Praxis Makes Perfect – National Theatre Wales

• Mathilde Lopez: Caligula – August 012

Male in an opera

• Christopher Turner: Albert Herring – Mid Wales Opera

• Marcus Farnsworth: Greek – Music Theatre Wales

• Bruce Sledge: Maria Stuarda – Welsh National Opera

• Kelvin Thomas: Eight Songs For A Mad King – Music Theatre Wales

• Gary Griffiths: Roberto Deveraux – Welsh National Opera

Female in an opera

• Marie Arnet: Lulu – Welsh National Opera

• Gwawr Edwards: Barbwr Sefil – Opra Cymru

• Serena Farnocchia: Anna Bolena – Welsh National Opera

• Leah-Marion Jones: Roberto Deveraux – Welsh National Opera

• Alexandria Deshorties: Roberto Deveraux – Welsh National Opera

Opera production

• Paul Bunyan – Welsh National Youth Opera

• Wagner Dream – Welsh National Opera

• Barbwr Sefil – Opra Wales

• Lohengrin – Welsh National Opera

• Lulu – Welsh National Opera

Male performance in the Welsh language

• Emlyn Gomer: Llanast – Theatr Bara Caws

• Sion Ifan: Tir Sir Gar – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Ceri Murphy: Dyled Eileen – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Owen Arwyn: Pridd – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Carwyn Jones: Dim Diolch – Cwmni’r Frân Wen

Female performance in the Welsh language

• Siw Huws: Trwy’r Ddinas Hon – Sherman Cymru

• Ffion Dafis: Anweledig – Cwmni Fran Wen

• Rhian Morgan: Tir Sir Gar – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Morfudd Hughes: Cyfaill – Theatr Bara Caws

• Rhian Morgan: Dyled Eileen – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Production in the Welsh language

• Llanast – Theatr Bara Caws

• Y Bont – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Cyfaill – Theatr Bara Caws

• Blodeuwedd – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Tir Sir Gar – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Production for children and young people

• Here Be Monsters – Theatr Iolo

• Halt – Theatr na nÓg

• Dim Diolch – Cwmni’r Frân Wen

• Sleeping Beauties – Sherman Cymru

• Silly Kings – National Theatre Wales

Ensemble

• Cyfaill – Theatr Bara Caws

• Dr Frankenstein – Tin Shed Theatre Company

• Age – Re:Live

• Bianco – No Fit State

• The Bloody Ballad – Gagglebabble

Small scale dance production

• Flights of Fancy – RCT Theatres

• Hide – Deborah Light

• The Day We Realised The World Was An Oyster – Chloe Loftus

• Chelsea Hotel – Earthfall

• Mac//beth – De Oscuro

Large scale dance production

• Stuck In The Mud – GDance / Ballet Cymru / Hijinx Theatre

• Noces – National Dance Company Wales

• A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Ballet Cymru

• Romeo a Juliet – Ballet Cymru

• Water Stories – National Dance Company Wales

Playwright (Welsh language)

• Aled Jones Williams: Pridd – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

• Meic Povey: Man Gwyn Man Draw/Rhwng Dau Fyd – Living Pictures/Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru/Sherman Cymru

• Rhian Staples: Cynnau Tan – Sherman Cymru

• Francesca Rhydderch: Cyfaill –Theatr Bara Caws

• Roger Williams: Tir Sir Gar – Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Playwright (English language)

• Greg Cullen: Fallen – Shock N Awe

• Dafydd James and Ben Lewis: Sue: The Second Coming

• Rachel Trezise: Tonypandemonium – National Theatre Wales

• Katherine Chandler: Parallel Lines – Dirty Protest

• Tim Price: Salt, Root & Roe – Clwyd Theatr Cymru

Male performance (English language)

• Oliver Wood: The Bloody Ballad – Gagglebabble

• Lee Mengo: Spangled – Mercury Theatre Wales

• Robert Bowman: Diary Of A Madman – Living Pictures

• Dafydd James: Sue: The Second Coming

• Christian Patterson: Translations – Clwyd Theatr Cymru

Female performance (English language)

• Katie Elin-Salt: Educating Rita – Clwyd Theatr Cymru

• Sara Lloyd-Gregory: Love and Money – Waking Exploits

• Lynne Hunter: Dandelion – Welsh Fargo Stage Company

• Siwan Morris: Tonypandemonium – National Theatre Wales

• Rachel Redford: Parallel Lines – Dirty Protest

 Production in the English language

• The Bloody Ballad – Gagglebabble

• Tonypandemonium – National Theatre Wales

• Parallel Lines – Dirty Protest

• Love and Money – Waking Exploits

• Caligula – August 012

 Check out Karen Price’s round-up of the nominations in today’s Western Mail and also online.

Who wins your vote?

THE BIG 2013 ROUND-UP..

After starting this little blog only five months ago, I’ve been invited to some fantastic shows and events.  I’ve had tickets to the ballet, Shakespeare, site-specific dance, political comedies and daringly realistic plays.  I could not be more grateful that these fantastic, exciting theatres and companies have wanted me to review their brilliant shows; the arts scene in Cardiff is superb, and something I am incredibly passionate about, so to be able to express my opinion on it is a wonderful feeling.

So in good New Year fashion I have decided to post my “top five” events of 2013.  Here’s to many more inspiring shows in 2014!

5) Cedar Lake

NECESSITY, AGAIN, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Baden Baden, Germany.

Contemporary ballet is my favourite form of dance, and Cedar Lake ticked every single box for me.  The New York dance company are known for their edgy, adventurous performances, daring to be different whilst providing exceptional talent through their awe-inspiring dancers.   This trio of performances was exciting, dynamic and captivating.  The time flew by, leaving me wanting more from this exciting company.  And more I certainly got, as a few weeks later I won a signed programme from the team – perfect!

 

4) Takeover Cardiff

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In October I followed the first Takeover Cardiff (put on by British Council Wales).  I interviewed three fantastic international artists and then attended the day long event before writing a review of the whole event.  The event was thought-provoking and touching; a showcase of young talent in South Wales, it took artists to the iconic cultural hubs of Cardiff.  These were kids that would normally not be given the platform to play out their talent.  British Council Wales gave them the chance to throw it into the public’s attention.  The day left me feeling like anything was possible if only you have the passion, confidence and drive to achieve it.  A stunning event which I will always remember.

 

3) The Selfish Giant

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Although not technically a performance, I can’t have a write up of 2013 without mentioning The Selfish Giant.  Clio Barnard’s modern adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale classic affected me in a way that I’m not sure a film ever has before.  It was poignantly beautiful and utterly raw, leaving me quite literally breathless in the closing scenes.  It is a film that didn’t shy away from the uncomfortable truths encapsulating modern society, whilst reflecting the most delicate friendships and love in a superb way.

 

2) Clod Ensemble’s An Anatomy in Four Quarters

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Last month I was invited to a rather unusual show.  The advertising around it gave little away.  I had no idea what to expect… but always keen to see something new, I went into it with an open mind and intrigue.  What I experienced was something I could never have expected.  An Anatomy in Four Quarter’s was spellbinding, exquisitely intelligent and overwhelmingly consuming.  A mesmerizing combination of drama, music, dance and spoken word, the performance brought the audience into the performance and took us on a journey through the anatomy of the body and the theatre.  It really was an exceptional experience, and one of those performances that days later still left you questioning the deep messages behind every movement.

 

1) Dirty Protest’s Parallel Lines

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There is no doubt for me that the highlight of 2013 was Parallel Lines by Dirty Protest theatre company.  The powerful play depicted the gritty and forbidden relationship between a seemingly perfect teacher and an under privileged student, set on the simple set of two parallel kitchens.  Everything about this play was superb; the acting, the script, the direction… it all fell together in a fantastic presentation of class, truth and relationships.  The deeply disturbing subject matter was portrayed with maturity, authenticity and skill; Katherine Chandler truly has a talent for the written word.  I cannot do this play justice; but what I can say is I cannot wait to throw myself into more of Dirty Protest in 2014.

 

I hope you all have a beautiful New Year!  Let me know of any shows that have made your 2013 special… and remember, email me if you would like me to review any of your shows in 2014! Peace!

SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE GETS A DASH OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL…

What do you get when an Englishman, an Irishman, a Welshman and a Scot walk into a recording studio?

A compelling and intricate tale of our ever-changing political landscape, that’s what!

Perhaps not the typical answer to the question, but Tim Price’s latest production is anything but typical in its approach.  Set in the simple set of a recording studio, I’m with the band was performed entirely by four characters; an Englishman, a Northern Irishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman as they battle with the financial crisis of their band, The Union (very fittingly named!).

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Image by Jeremy Abrahams.

Of course, the characters all adhere to the stereotypical, highly “un-PC”, portrayals of their nation’s personalities.  You’ve got the Englishman, played by James Hillier, as domineering head of the band, reluctant to take advice and convinced he’s always right.  Then you’ve got the ditzy Welshman, played by Matthew Bulgo, as a harmless chap with little to no self esteem.  Then of course the recovering drunk and bulshy Irishman (note point, the recovering drunk, bulshy, VERY handsome Irishman) played by Declan Rodgers.  And finally, you’ve got the smart Scot, played by Andy Clark, determined to gain his independence from the rest of the band.  Ringing any bells with our current political climate?

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Image by Jeremy Abrahams.

Although going down the cliche route may seem like an obvious choice, it does provide a hilarious script.  Adding to that, the cast played each character superbly, and portrayed their character in a clever and interesting way.  My only issue with cliches, is despite them obviously being used for comical purposes, they do tend to frustrate me.  The Englishman and Irishman’s utter refusal to accept the Scotsman’s departure from the band – or let’s say, from the other nations – compared to the Welshman’s indifference was slightly uncomfortable viewing.  Perhaps just a personal point living in Wales, but the constant portrayal of the Welsh nation being “dopey” and not as important a component to political decisions is getting a bit tiresome.  I understand these things are done for dramatic purposes, but it is slightly disheartening that these stereotypes are still prevalent.

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Image by Jeremy Abrahams.

Saying that, Price did not rely solely on these stereotypes to provide a winning story.  Told not only through spoken script but also live music, the show was energetic, fast-paced and incredibly witty.  Each scene was introduced as a title of one of the band’s tracks, projected on a screen behind the stage.  I thought this was a really quirky approach, and something I appreciated a lot!  All four characters had equal “stage time”, and were all equally talented.  Clark played a strong character, battling with his journey to independence – a difficult road for the Scotsman.  Price exposed it as a problematic path, with many bumps along the way; really, it only scratched the surface Scottish independence, but for the purpose of this play, I believe it did the job.

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Image by Jeremy Abrahams.

Price’s aim for the production was not to say whether Scottish independence is a good or bad idea: it was to highlight the emotional, physical and psychological impacts on the other nations.  And this he does exceptionally.  That is why it was not necessary for him to delve into the history and facts of the movement.  What Price delivered was an inventive and though-provoking piece of work that left you with a different opinion every time you thought of it.  Political undertones aside, it was also fantastically funny, and a play I would happily see again and again.