A little bit of Dahl magic

Everyone knows the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs… But do you know the re-imagined Roald Dahl versions where pistols and sass outweigh tradition, and not all is as it first appears? Kicking their tour off at Newport’s the Riverfront last night, Ballet Cymru have brought Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes to the stage as part of the centenary celebrations this year with a simply, mischievous piece of dance.

Despite a few opening night hiccups and a slow start, the stories were brought to life for a busy auditorium with humour and beautiful imagery as the performers took on various roles alongside the poetic narrative.  With minimal set and props, it’s down to the movement and strong characters to pull off the story and our heroin in red is particularly enchanting to watch as she leaps and soars across the bare stage.   As Little Red proves herself to be slightly less innocent than you may have previously imagined, and the house building materials chosen by the three little pigs result in tragic consequences, Dahl’s witty rhymes and wonderful imagination are injected carefully but firmly in to the choreography.

The movement of the ensemble in sync was wonderful to watch and the combination of the fun writing and the upbeat yet charming musical score was a winning formula.  As a first time ballet experience for many young audience members: Ballet Cymru have created a brilliant piece with a distinct hint of Dahl magic.

On tour across Wales and the rest of the UK for the rest of the year, click here for further tour dates and follow @balletcymru on twitter for more information.

Bird

Sherman Cymru are back again with another haunting and brave take on the lives of those who are swept under the carpet of society on a daily basis. Written by Kath Chandler, Bird has been brought to life under Rachel O’Riordan’s direction and has taken over the studio at the Sherman in a fast paced, punch in the gut fashion.

Ava is a prime example of someone who has been chewed up and spat out by the care system, but now she’s nearly 16, a decision needs to be made about her future. In a series of quick fire, disengaged conversations, Ava’s tale comes to life as she discovers the vodka filled, nights in the park, dancing other world outside of the care home.  Played by Georgia Henshaw, Ava has an eratic energy and a sincerely, watchable quality from her first words and it is soon clear that her wish of returning to the family home may not be as straight forward as she thinks. 

As she veers off course and tries to spread her wings with her moral compass of best friend Tash who loves the rush of the wind on her face as she strays too close to the edge, the audience join her in her plight to belong. Whether it’s her interactions with Dan (who was just passing, y’know) or her attempts to reform her relationship with her stand off-ish Mother after being separated for three years – Ava’s tale is a brave and touching one which covers love, loss and grief, and leads the audience hopeful. Some of the more beautiful moments were the pauses in the backchat, allowing the audience to connect as the studio stayed silent with the characters and the story began to evolve.

In a similar fashion to the hugely successful Iphigenia in Splott, Bird is brilliantly staged. The deep bass of the sound design links back to reality and the stark but beautiful lighting (especially as the light bulbs rustle and the birds take flight) really brings alive the script. Although there may have been a slight overdose of the repeated bird references, the writing and direction is wonderfully haunting leaving plenty to think about.

A brave, fast-paced rollercoaster performance from a stellar cast, with especially brilliant casting of Georgia Henshaw as Ava: Bird is a brave, spirited production with a lot of heart against an uncaring system. 

Bird continues at the Sherman Theatre until the 28th May, when it will transfer to the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Follow @shermancymru for more updates. 

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A Sunny Disposition 

Not just any piece of theatre can make you feel guilty for clutching a half empty pint glass when the house lights come up, but Nicola Reynold’s A Sunny Disposition did just that last night. The closing production to The Other Room’s Insomnia season and yet another performance sure to leave you on the edge of your seat. 

Aptly named Charlie, wants people to like him. Perched on the edge of a table in a pub with carpet and wallpaper of the exact same pattern, the audience are drawn in to his jittery energy as he launches in to his monologue and it is soon clear that all is not peachy behind closed doors. Addiction is so often pushed under the bed or shoved to the back of a kitchen cupboard, and Nicola Reynold’s writing debut brings up the subject carefully but skilfully. 

Charlie, played by Neal McWilliams, to look at is a long way away from your stereotypical user and alcoholic, you know the ones… Park bench, string for a belt and a brown paper bag? But proving that there is no fixed stereotype, the audience are thrown up and down through the motions of the highs of Charlie’s friendship with alcohol and cocaine and left feeling almost as spat out as Charlie as events take a turn for the worst, and Charlie’s . 

With a simple set design and a slightly haunting soundscape, this performance effectively worked with stripped back, minimal staging. Despite a slow and slightly uneasy start, The Other Room is brought to life by the tale of chaotic highs at Soda bar (back when it was good) versus the wails of despair when tragedy hits. 

A whirlwind thought provoking production and a promising writing debut from Nicola Reynolds.
Keep an eye on @TORtheatre for updates from Cardiff’s first pub theatre. 

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.

The Princess and the Pea

Chandeliers hung from the ceiling and pots and pans scattered the floor, as audience members filled up the studio at the Sherman for this years festive offering for 3-6 year olds – The Princess and the Pea.  A joint production from Theatr Iolo and Sherman Cymru, the three cast members were instantly engaged with the little ones brave enough to sit on the mats at the front and the music allowed both parents and children to relax around the stage area.

The Hans-Christian Anderson fairy-tale soon takes over the studio space, all be-it at a slow pace to begin with – although this didn’t seem to disinterest the younger audience members in the slightest.  The Prince is only interested in finding a Princess to marry, much to the Queen’s dismay and the two meet various potential suitors in order to make him happy.  As the rain falls on the old castle roof, the repetitive raindrops created mini musical interludes and the Sherman roof could well have been actually leaking!

The real sparkle comes when the unconventional Princess arrives, and as she chases, and plays, and makes the Prince laugh, the Queen decides to put her to the test to see if she actually is a real Princess.  Ceri Elen is brilliant as she takes over the space and the clever lighting design really emphasises the castle feel and changes in the weather.

A tale full of mis-used mash potato, a mattress or 20 and a lot of pans full of rain, the performance was enchanting for the younger audience members, although I felt it was missing a certain chaos or noisy interaction.  The Sherman studio space is full of magic and this gentle fairy-tale is a great treat for young families this Christmas.

Nadolig Llawen! The Princess and the Pea is on until the 2nd January 2016. More information and show times can be seen here.