There once was an Ugly Duckling…

Taking over the Sherman theatre’s studio space this Christmas, is the gorgeous tale of The Ugly Duckling brought to audiences age 3 – 6 courtesy of Sherman Cymru and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru.

The story of a young duckling who doesn’t fit in in his nest and goes on a search to find himself, and his friends, begins with a warm Croeso from the three actors, instantly engaging the attention of even the grizzliest toddler. The other ducklings in his nest take great joy in making sure he knows he is different, as they can both quack and he can only honk!

As the duckling travels to find himself and some real friends, he comes across a hilarious hen who shows us how easy it is to lay an egg, a cat who doesn’t understand why everyone can not pounce and meow like him and a short sighted hunting dog who thankfully has no interest in making the duckling his dinner. The traditional story conveys all of the key themes that any good festive tale should, brilliant directed by Sara Lloyd and performed with total commitment and stunning energy.
The leaves swirl through the sky, snow falls and the stars shine brightly, as the seasons come and go illuminating the simple yet well used set, enchanting audience members young and young at heart with a stunning lighting design. Incorporating musical instruments and song in to the tale, the musical score is charming and full of joy – evoking cries of ‘wow it’s a harp!’ from the musicians of tomorrow in the front row!

A beautiful narrative brought to life in an incredible fashion full of delight, friendship and music, one not to miss this Christmas, to escape your standard Christmas carols and Santa Claus’.

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Arabian Nights

Audiences are being transported on to sandy streets and magical lands this Christmas, as Arabian Nights takes over the Sherman Theatre’s main stage awash with music, laughter and a touch of romance.

Shahrazad has a gift for telling stories: wonderful tales of thieves, mythical creatures and jealous brothers… and and her younger sister loves to hear them.  But when the King’s wife is unfaithful, he sentences her to death, and the lives of those in the kingdom are changed for good.  The King swears to marry for only one day, marrying a different girl each night and having her executing her the following morning.  Shahrazad decides to try and change his ways and win the King’s heart, determined to save her village.

As she tells tale after tale, in order to delay her execution, we are introduced to a delightful array of characters from Ali Baba to Sinibad the Sailor… and the actor musicians work seamlessly to bring each story to life.  The talented, versatile cast bounce off each other, and work incredibly as an ensemble lead by on stage Musical Director and pianist, Gareth Wyn Griffiths.

The colourful performances are emphasised by a stunning set, as sand and snakes lace the floor, mountains and caves come to life, and light bulbs sway in the wind.  Audience members young and old were intrigued and enchanted from the first chords of the piano, and the clever twists in the stories were vividly brought to life.

Wonderful, entertaining and charming storytelling, full of magic and mystery, enhanced by a beautiful set – Arabian Nights is a beautiful Christmas treat this year with the same values of family, love and a happy ending.

Arabian Nights runs until December 31st at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.  For tickets and more information, click here.

It’s Incubator time

It’s that time of the year again: five weeks of R&D for two companies, culminating in a showback performance in the Centre’s studio space.  Last night Likely Story and H & S took to the floor with very different but equally as heart warming performances.

Likely Story, a female group from Cardiff, took their starting point from a painting in an old pub entitled ‘Rude and Coarse’ Women and turned it into a sequence of moments reflecting the feeling that change is needed.  A charming and natural performance revolving around a rowing trip, highlighting the relationships between women and how they are represented to each other, and to the world we live in.  Seatown Ladies had me laughing out loud, and welling up with tears; and the mixture of live music and a close knit cast produced brilliant results.

Next up H&S took to the floor, amongst a beautiful set of wooden domino style blocks snaking around the floor and in stacks surrounding a rope hanging from the ceiling.  Mirroring human relationships in a combination of physical theatre and circus skills, the duo worked seamlessly together to produce a beautiful piece which had the audience mesmerised from the dimming of the lights.  Proving their worth as brilliant circus performers, the trapeze finale topped off a fab performance.

Two brilliant performances which I would love to see more of in the future and it was great to see the early development stages.  Heart warming and full of power in their own ways – thank you Incubator’14!

A whole lot of Bedroom Farce!

This weekend saw Black Rat Productions and their adaptation of Bedroom Farce take over Royal Welsh College on the final leg of their tour, providing a sold out crowd in the Richard Burton theatre with an evening full of laughter!

Set in three bedrooms, featuring four couples each at different stages in their relationships and focusing on one night’s events, we are taken back to the 70s with excellent platform shoes and wallpaper my Grandma would appreciate!  Kate and Malcolm have invited their friends to a house warming party, while Ernest and Deliah are off out for their anniversary dinner at their annual restaurant of choice.  The recipe for disaster is complete when Nick is laid up in bed with a bad back and Jan decides to go to the party without him, in the company of ex-husband Trevor and new wife, the slightly neurotic Susannah.  Exposing secrets and cracks in their relationships, the ups and downs of love and marriage are displayed with hilarious consequences!

With a well designed set and a stellar cast, Black Rat have done it again.  Full of giggles and excellent timing, the intertwining lives of the four couples creates a humorous production, if a little cringe-worthy at times! All in all a great night at the theatre full of fun and laughter!

Keep an eye on the Black Rat Productions website and their twitter feed @blackratprods for news of their future productions. 

I am the common man

Cardiff is not short of gutsy performances lately and National Theatre of Scotland’s visit to the Sherman this week was definitely that.  Gutsy, proud and full of heart, In Time O’ Strife had it’s audience gripped from the first bars of the opening song.

30 years on from the Miners Strike of ’84, the Scots have revisited Joe Corrie’s classic play, which focuses on the struggle of a mining community after over six months of strike action.  Entering the auditorium at the Sherman to a live band (who remain on stage for the entire performance) playing folk songs, we are welcomed in to the lives of those on the stage which doubles as both a community centre and a living room.

Each character’s life entwines with another, and another, and the demise of the community in a time of starvation and despair soon becomes apparent.  Each one is individually relatable to, coping with their struggle in their own way: whether it be through alcohol, attempts to flee or emotional breakdown.  With bursts of passion and energy demonstrated through strongly choreographed ensemble movements, the band come to life throughout the narrative, illustrating the emotion from the poems in the original play.  Although the script itself may have been lacking a little punch, the movement and live punk-folk music combined powerfully to really nail home the frustration and emotion of the close-knit community.

National Theatre of Scotland have proved that despite ending with a bitter and desperate rendition of ‘The Red Flag’, history definitely needed to be retold and the creative team have done so in style.  Full of power, energy and passion, In Time O’ Strife is a beautiful and moving production, gaining a well deserved standing ovation at the Sherman Theatre.

In Time O’Strife has sadly finished it’s tour now, but find out more about National Theatre of Scotland here and see the trailer here

Ladies and gentlemen, Welcome to Claude’s

Performance and circus, mixed in with food… What’s not to like?! And Crashmat Collective definitely did not fail to excite, amaze and entertain as Facade took over the Weston Studio space at the Wales Millennium Centre last night.

Greeted at the door by owner of the restaurant Claude, audience members/restaurant goers are seated by a team of waiters and waitresses who also double up as highly skilled performers. As the piece kicks in, we are soon introduced to each different character and their relationships within the team: and the inner thoughts (hidden behind their customer service is key’ smiles) are relayed via voice overs with sometimes hilarious consequences.

Our three course meal is brought out to us, made of course with TLC (Tender loving cooking!) whilst the performance continues around, above and even on top of the table! The hopes, dreams and emotions of the waiting staff are shown through the intersections of circus and acrobatics. One falls through the air with one leg caught in a rope… And another walks her way around a pole, while the rest of the cast perform a beautifully choreographed selection of movements. The pure skill and strength is incredible and enough to make anyone put down their glass of wine or their dessert spoon for a few minutes!

The frantic switching between reality and the hidden circus skills of the performers is mesmerising to watch although it was sometimes tricky to decide on which character to focus your attention on with so much going on. The electric soundtrack and the clever lighting really pulled the piece together: instantly transporting everyone in the room to the stage.

From the classic romantic movie lift, to a waiter madly in love with another, to the skill used on the ropes and the hoop: Facade is an immersive theatre and dining experience like none other. I would definitely recommend a night at Claude’s, and next time I go out for food, I expect my pudding to be paraded down a catwalk first!

For full tour dates, go to the website or follow them on Twitter @crashmatcollect

‘Deny thy father and refuse thy name …

… And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.’ Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, arguably Shakespeare’s most popular play: whether it be the Leonardo De Caprio version or the battered play-text from your school days. And the new production currently hitting the Sherman main house is full of the same star-crossed lovers, family feuds and tragedy… But grittier and bolder than before under the direction of new Artistic Director, Rachel O’Riordan.

Having never seen a stage adaptation of Romeo and Juliet previously, it was a clean slate for me as an audience member.  With accents a plenty from Glaswegian to Valleys to Jamaican, the cast brought to life the tragedy with a fresh perspective whilst remaining true to the original Shakespearean language.  Although the dialect got lost at times, the brilliantly stylised fight scenes between the two families, directed by Kevin McCurdy, were cleverly effective without being overly brutal.  With comedic moments from the hot-pink tracksuit wearing Nurse (Anita Reynolds), a fatherly kindness from the Friar (Sean O’Callaghan), and a brilliant portrayal of Mercutio from Scott Reid, the key characters each brought something new to the scene: although I felt I could have gained a stronger connection/empathy for the two young lovers.

The grey scale stone wall backdrop brings to life Verona, but not as we know it.  Littered with bicycles, hooded youths and cans of Stella, the team have kept the piece timeless with no set decade of narrative, including their younger, new audience members with blasting contemporary music as more and more of the set is revealed.  An incredibly designed stage with dark alleyways and an orchestra pit disguised as a candle lit tomb, incorporating the traditional balcony scene to brilliant effect – massive kudos to the production team!

A bold and striking production from the first light switch and the opening lines, emphasised by a brilliant design choices and strong performances.  It was fantastic to see such an evolved piece of Shakespeare take over the Sherman stage!

Romeo and Juliet plays at the Sherman Theatre until the 18th October – tickets available online here or from the box office on 02920 646900.