A trip down Constellation Street

Like every city, Cardiff is full of characters, some loud, some maybe less charming than others and some you would never guess have such a story to tell. The next offering from The Other Room’s Insomnia season is Constellation Street written by Matthew Bulgo, and like many of the others, the ticket comes with a punch in the gut that leaves you wanting more.

After apprehensively waiting in a holding area clutching a travel card, the audience are then ushered in to The Other Room which has been transformed once again… Just when you think the space couldn’t be used any better, TOR strike again. The attention to detail is incredible and designer, Amy Jane Cook has done a brilliant job in bringing alive each element. Split into smaller spaces, each audience member takes a different path through Cardiff’s back streets and it is very easy to lose your bearings as you move between various locations, each one with a new story to tell.

Each monologue is skilfully written, lulling the audience in to the small and slightly claustrophobic spaces with many a ‘take a seat, love’ and reassuring smiles from the ushering team, before hurtling in to dark confessions and stories of deceit, heart ache and despair. The performances are all very strong and Gwenllian Higginson especially, gives a heartbreaking and solid interpretation of Alex, even contesting with a reversing bin lorry and the buzz of the nearby railway adding to life on Cardiff’s streets.

Whether you are being offered a good deed pint, or your eye contact has been locked for one of the deeper explanations, each performance seems personal and natural; allowing audience members to connect with the characters one by one.

It is the writing which really struck a chord, as each story slowly overlapped and each monologue could be seen in virtually whichever order.  Matthew Bulgo has delved deep in to the back story of each individual, and they all entwine perfectly as the puzzle becomes complete.  Each audience member see’s three out of the four, however, out of of pure curiosity, this is one production I will be returning to specifically for the play text.

This promenade piece is one not to miss as the brilliantly directed Constellation Street brings Matthew Bulgo’s writing to life perfectly.

Constellation Street plays at The Other Room until April 30th. Follow @TORtheatre for updates and news. 

Jem and Ella

Remember those days when you used to dance around at family parties, stood on your Dad’s feet as you wannabe-waltzed across the floor? (Before you were too cool to be stood next to him, of course!) Run Ragged Dance companies new offering of Jem and Ella is a wonderfully nostalgic and endearing piece as the dance worlds and styles of Father and Daughter collide. Taking over the Sherman’s studio space this weekend to end their Welsh tour, the duo are full of energy and spark in this short but sweet performance. 

Ella is an incredibly talented ballet dancer, and as she is about to be come a teen, she is struggling with her routine of Netflix, food of course and ballet lessons. Meanwhile, Jem who is just turning the dreaded 50, is a professional contemporary dancer, and typically, like any Dad, doesn’t like to admit when he is wrong! The trust and spark between the two is instantly apparent as their relationship is documented through a series of spoken word, movement, voice overs and home video projections.

The central Dance Rug, the space in any family home which turns into a shake it out zone, was beautifully lit and the soundtrack lifted the performance at just the right times throughout the hour. However, this piece really didn’t need any flashy production elements as it is the relationship between the duo and their skills and flexibility to bounce off each other which is the most interesting to watch. 

The younger audience members around me seemed genuinely disappointed that it wasn’t the interval at the end and many parents will have been asked for dance lessons in the car journey home. A warm and charming production, which made me want to dig out my old dance shoes a little or be small enough to stand on my Dad’s feet without breaking bones! A lovely end to the week and a pair to look out for. 

Insomnia takes over

It wouldn’t be quite right to go two full months in to 2016 without a trip to my favourite pub theatre at Porter’s, Cardiff, and this visit was not one to disappoint. The minimalist yet brilliantly staged, Sand, has taken over the black box theatre tucked away in the corner of the bar as part of The Other Room’s Insomnia season and despite a last minute change to casting, the production is definitely one to make you think twice.

Sara Lloyd-Gregory stands centre stage, surrounded by an incredibly striking lighting design with a disturbing and haunting soundtrack in the background. The audience is invited to picture a little boy on the swing, swinging back and forth, and she begins her monologue. 

Switching between time zones and stories of war and nuclear bombings, she starts off very cool and collected until she accelerates straight through to first gear as panic and hysteria take over. The writing itself is incredibly disturbing and the reflection and stories are retold with a strong sense of realism and fear.
A compelling and thought provoking watch which left me confused, intrigued and a little petrified of the outside world.

Sand’s run at The Other Room is followed by St Nicholas as part of the Insomnia season. Follow @TORtheatre for more information and updates.

Always winter, never Christmas!

Christmas at the Sherman is always magical from your first steps into the foyer, and this year’s festive offering is a trip to one of the most magical places of all, Narnia! The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has taken over the main space and was welcomed by a packed audience for press night.

The story sees the four Pevensie siblings evacuated to a Professor’s house in the countryside, and immediately decide to explore the various rooms to keep themselves entertained. Lucy soon finds herself tumbling through an old wardrobe and into the snow-covered land of Narnia where talking animals are the norm, and the White Witch rules to ensure that it is always Winter but never Christmas – imagine that?!

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 11.55.37When the other siblings are forced to believe that such a place exists, the four children are thrown into the midst of the battle with Aslan; thanks to the beautiful set design based around the revolving stage, the audience are taken on the journey with the characters. The storyline is jam packed full of allies, sword fights and Turkish Delight but sometimes felt a little rushed, meaning we didn’t get a chance to connect directly with each individual.

The cast made up of actor-musicians are full of energy, and having the piano and Musical Director on stage really adds another dimension to the production, especially in his moment as a startled squirrel!  Various members of the cast take on the role of narrator as C. S. Lewis’ words are played out in front of us under O’Riordan’s direction, and brilliant performances in particular from Gwawr Loader as Lucy, and Keiron Self who interchanges between various roles.

Despite leaving the theatre feeling a little underwhelmed by the more subtle hints at magic, the majority of younger audience members seemed enthralled as the action unfolded, and this festive family show is full of catchy musical numbers and a stunning use of staging and lighting.  A festive trip to Narnia is definitely worthwhile for the whole family if you have a spare evening this holiday season, people of Cardiff!

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe plays at the Sherman until the 31st December.  Tickets and more info available here

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We’re all mad here

A trip to Wonderland was never going to be a normal night at the theatre, and as soon as The Other Room declared the house open, it was clear that sanity was not high on the agenda.  Ending the year with an alternative Christmas production, the team at TOR and Difficult Stage have created a hilarious slice of pub theatre in Alix in Wundergarten. 

Entering across the stage to get to our seats, the audience are instantly thrown in to a world where the weird and the wonderful are all part of the script! Alix is set in a cramped radio studio where a group of actors at various points in their careers have come together to record the classic, Alice in Wonderland.  It is soon very apparent that the director is not the only one with ideas of how the scene should play out and the initial calm of meet and greets, soon descends into chaos, reflecting the world Lewis Caroll created all those years ago down the rabbit hole. 

From 80s pop classics to Les Miserables references, and from a strange obsession with a Santa toy to name dropping and signing CDs for Grandma, this insight in to a radio recording session is truly bonkers. A curious and frantic production which still somehow manages to keep the audiences full attraction throughout the 100 minutes, with the cast doing a fabulous job of engaging the entire audience, as much as some may try to avoid the interaction!
The show made me cringe almost as much as I laughed and I spent the entire show dodging the eye line of the actors and trying to work out what was going on! Alix is a well directed and hilarious piece of theatre from the gang at Difficult Stage, which had the audience in stitches from their first step on a squeaky dog…!

Alix in Wundergarten plays at The Other Room until 19th December. For more info and tickets click here

I love you. Caru ti.

Pluen are back after the success of their debut Llais/Voice last year, this time with the beautiful and powerful Ti.Me which took over the Sherman’s studio space. Hitting the nail on the head with relationships everywhere, this production had me glued to the performers before the bass had even dropped. 

Devised between the Pluen team, the two actors and one musician in just two weeks, Ti.Me highlighted every girls attempt to lure a guy in a club, every guys attempt to dance with style and every couples everyday ups and downs across a four year relationship. A night club meet up, a trip to IKEA and the awkward talks about life: many of the audience left questioning whether someone had followed our own past relationships 

As both Heledd Gwynn and Alan Humphreys proved themselves to be incredibly committed and brilliant actors, the couples story came to life as they bounced off each other, fell in love and tried to hide secrets from their other half.  Switching between Welsh and English, as the two struggle to understand the other, the audience laughed and gulped in sync and despite not understanding every word, non-Welsh speakers were able to relate and enjoy just as much as the others as the chemistry drew the audience in to their lives. 
Brought to life by an incredible live soundscape and a traverse set up, Pluen have brought their personal experiences together as one and produced a punch in the stomach, rip of a daisy chain kind of night in a black box theatre. A bilingual treat of a performance with laughter, sparks of in sync magic, and utterly relatable characters. Da iawn pawb!

The lovely bunch at Pluen will be touring Ti.Me to Y Galeri, Caernarfon on 18th September and keep an eye on @CwmniPluen for more updates. 

Blud

My favourite small theatre space is back for a new season and what better way to kick off The Other Room’s autumn season than a play from brand new all female company, otherMother! Tucked away inside Porters, the space has been transformed in to a locker room ready for Blud: a piece of new writing from Kelly Jones, winner of the 2014 Wales Drama Award. 

Revolving around football rivalry and loyalty, Blud is full of sparks of magic, excellent one liners and a sense of desperation only fixed by the right pair of hands. We’re introduced to Rita, a painstakingly loyal football player and fan, and her younger sister Lou, innocently baring the weight of her family, split up by the system as children. 

As Lou is forced to grow up too quickly when she finds herself alone and vulnerable, Rita also has to face the realisation that being independent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be as she waits for the back up of her Girls in the fight to defend her beloved Cotley.  Olivia Elsden has expert comic timing as the younger sibling and provides light hearted relief to a mostly dark narrative. Alongside a brilliant sound design, Blud shows a different angle to the typical family portrait and allows the characteristics any sibling can relate to, to bounce around the space.  Despite the narrative and ideas getting a little lost in translation at times, the two girls work brilliantly together and the direction from Anna Poole shows off the small space with statement performances.

A witty and dark production with committed and powerful performances from all involved. The female trio, otherMother are most definitely a company to look out for in the future if their first production of Blud is anything to go by, because as Queen Bey always says, who runs the world? 

Blud is playing at The Other Room at Porter’s until 18th September. Tickets can be bought online or follow otherMother on Twitter: @HeyOtherMother