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.



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.


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.



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.


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).  



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.


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.


It isn’t Christmas without a fairy tale story.

Well, that’s what I tell myself as I desperately cling on to my love of Princesses, magic and make believe stories.  And that’s exactly why I was childishly excited for Sherman Cymru’s latest adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, written by Robert Alan Evans.

I knew little about the show before entering the beautiful building that is Sherman; it’s the way I like to approach most shows.  All I knew is that Evans had taken the classical fairy tale we all know and love and given it a bit of a modern spin.  Always a risky business, but in more cases than not (in my experience anyway), a worthy choice.

The festive spirit was brimming at the edges as I walked through the doors; carol singers in one corner, majestic tree in the other, bunting, decorations, mulled wine, mince pies… the atmosphere was electric.  Families with children of all ages waited expectantly for the mighty call of the overhead speaker.  As we were eventually called to our seats I noticed I was probably the only 22 year old in a sea of pre-teens and gurgling toddlers.  I clung to my little cup of mulled wine (another bonus point; Sherman allows drinks inside the theatre) and waited cheerfully for the Christmas background music to softly drop and the lights to dip.

And what did transpire was quite simply the perfect family show.  Sleeping Beauties followed the lives of Dawn, the beautiful and cursed Princess, and Eve, her comical and dowdy friend.  Bound together by the curse of the Forest-bound Fertility Wife the girls are taken on a journey 1000 years into the future.

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 Images by Mark Douet

Evans plays with the drama of time and the horror of being forced to re-imagine the future; he brings the tale to a more modern time, whilst maintaining the charm and innocence of classic fairy tales.  Magic, intrigue, friendship and young love make this story captivating for a younger audience, whilst topical jokes and playful humour kept the theatre lively right through until the final line.

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 Images by Mark Douet

Lisa Jen Brown, cast as the Fertility Wife, was particularly commanding.  She played the part delightfully, with singing solos dispersed throughout to add even more sparkle to the festive mix.  As your perception of her character changed you realised how clever the plot really was, whilst remaining extremely accessible for the younger audience.

Clove, the “baddie” of the play, was your typical fairy tale scrooge; over the top, slimy and easily hated.  A bit much for me, but he certainly pleased the children with his extravagant gestures and excessive facial expressions.

The modest set was sweet and humble, adding to the endearing innocence of the performance.  The Forest scenes were especially enchanting, with sparkling trees glittering down from the ceiling for the characters to dive in and out of.  Despite the Forest supposedly being the “deep dark” setting, it kept the scenes light and appealing.

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Images by Mark Douet

Sleeping Beauties certainly ticked all the right boxes for family entertainment.  It’s engaging, pure and full of morals to keep the parents smiling.  Perfect for this time of year, it’s ideal for families with younger children.

My only negative is I was hoping it would be slightly more accessible to an older audience, whilst remaining jovial for the young ones. I didn’t quite get the feeling I normally do from these sorts of performances, but I don’t think I was really meant to.  It’s a fairy tale to keep children caring about the classic childhood stories; and it absolutely has the potential to do so.

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Images by Mark Douet

Sleeping Beauties is running from now until January 4th.