Blue

The theatre lull of January has been and gone, and Chippy Lane productions are back in Wales with their second production this week as BLUE has takes over the Seligman Theatre at Chapter.

Set in Carmarthenshire, this is a tale of family tragedy and a mother and her two children living trapped and haunted by their absent husband and father. We are introduced to polar opposites Huw, whose online gaming world substitutes human interaction, and his sister Elin, who has brought an old acquaintance back from the pub on a visit home from London, where she managed to escape the family home. As crossed wires ensue when it turns out Elin is not the only one who remembers her guest from school, it is clear that there is something not quite right behind the scenes, as their mother wills for her son to find a companion, and the subject of her husband is brushed under the carpet at an impromptu dinner party.

Gwydion Rhys as Huw, is very watchable as he attempts to get a word in against his mother and sister, and Sophie Melville plays the daughter who got away very well, with some scenes displaying very familiar family dynamics and chemistry for the audience to relate to. Despite the air of intrigue, the production lacks pace in the initial two thirds, and the storyline feels very compactly tied up in the final scenes, despite some larger revelations which potentially deserved a bit more chaos and emphasis to mirror their impact.

A trapped family, unexpected secrets and a guest with a new perspective; this is a promising, ambitious piece of new writing from Chippy Lane productions.

BLUE plays at Chapter until 16th February.

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Cheer

The lights are up, the shoppers are out in force and the temperatures have dropped, it is indeed the most wonderful time of the year and yet again there’s an alternate Christmas offering at Cardiff’s pub theatre, The Other Room. This year, it’s the turn of young company, Big Loop and their production of Cheer.

Cheer revolves around a society, not entirely removed from our current one, where Christmas is for the wealthy and purchased via a license, while those who can’t afford one, make do with a drug to instigate that festive feeling. We meet two characters on either end of the spectrum, as Todd tries to buy a counterfeit license and is batted back and forth by Jules. Although it soon becomes clear that their experiences of this time of the year isn’t actually that different.

Another strong set design from the team as a standard office space turns into a grotto within the tucked away theatre, although the piece itself lacks pace and a clear message. As the drug kicks in, everyone can emphasise with the Christmas spirit which the two experience and the tinsel, and snowball fights really bring the piece to life. Cheer is a very ambitious production by an obviously young company behind it, as some of the choices lack maturity and clear purpose.

It will be interesting to see how this script and the company develops going forward, and while there are some moments to induce laughter and there are some interesting themes and ideas, the production doesn’t quite take off with all the extra festive baggage.

Cheer plays at The Other Room until December 15th

Exodus

Motherlode are back, following their previous success with The Good Earth, and this time, Exodus has landed at the lovely Chapter as part of it’s Welsh tour.

In the perfectly sized Seligman theatre, the audience are introduced to Mary, a manager in retail for a company that ‘used to be River Island’, and as she describes her day, we are eased in to a warm and full of heart story. Mary is soon roped in to be part of a flying adventure to Argentina, whilst on a visit to see her Mother in Aberdare, with an old friend, Ray leading the way on their big adventure.

Teamed up with Timmy, a silent immigrant who speaks only through his violin, and local boy, Gareth who has perfected the pre-flight safety demonstration to a tee to move his focus away from his brother. Gwenllian Higginson as Mary really joins the four together, and the impact of changes in their society and mental health become apparent as each steps forward, although never to dwell, just to relay.

Political without being overbearing, we learn of the last factory in the town closing and being destroyed, and of the cuts being made, and the protests in the streets to welcome all. The humour which sits deep within the Welsh valleys outshines the darkness, and this new piece of writing really works under the direction of Rachael Boulton. A few areas could be refined and tightened but overall, the movement and choreography is pitched perfectly as the plane jolts and soars, and despite their differences, the moments where the cast are in unison as an ensemble really seal the deal.

A piece full of hope and warmth, despite the underlying themes of poverty and troubles, which is relatable, funny and well worth a watch across Wales and the UK.

Exodus plays at Chapter until the 20th October before moving on on its tour. Full details via @Motherlodewales on twitter.

This Incredible Life

As part of a tour of Wales, this week Canoe theatre are back at the lovely Chapter with their production of This Incredible Life.

We’re introduced to Mab and her nephew, Robert, who are waiting for a car to arrive to take them both to an awards ceremony in London, to celebrate Mab’s journalism achievements over the years. It soon becomes clear that the two spending time together is not a common occurrence, and as only Mab switches swiftly between Welsh and English, the audience is quick to discover that Robert has made big strides away from the place that was once home.

Despite still enjoying the power of storytelling, Mab’s memory is not what it once was and confusion has set in, and she recounts stories from the past, aided by video excerpts only visible to her. Oblivious to Robert’s inability to see her memories, the stories and truths unravel and the differences and similarities between the two soon become clear. ‘Bertie’ has his own worries, and with his Aunt as a reminder of his deceased Father, his patience soon wears thin.

The text itself, written by Alan Harris, is heart warming and the writing lends itself well to a wide audience, although the production could definitely have benefitted from being a pure two hander. The alternate actors in the videos lose the chemistry between the on-stage performers, not aided by the inevitable technical hitches, and the piece loses its heart a little via the disconnect, although the end scene is a simple but beautiful cross over to conclude.

This Incredible Life is thoughtful and heartwarming, with a script which is a great exploration of memories, story telling and what the truth is. The companies work with Dementia Friendly performances is a brilliant leap in connecting audiences to their own stories, and this is definitely worth a watch on it’s tour this autumn.

The Awkward Years

The evenings are getting darker earlier, and the beautiful heatwave has come to an end, so it’s only apt that The Other Room are back with their Autumn season at Cardiff’s wonderful pub theatre in Porters. Written by Matthew Bulgo, The Awkward Years is the latest production to take over the space and this one woman show is unassuming but fully charged from the dim of the lights.

With a jolt and a flash of light, we’re introduced to Lily, who finds herself mid-hangover after another night out and the resulting encounter with a ‘random’. She tells of how her and her housemates liken their one night stands to catchy film titles, and how she strategically manages to maintain her cool as she wipes away stray vomit, although it soon becomes clear that there is something bubbling under the surface as her Mother struggles to get a response and her best friend looks on…

Recently graduated from RWCMD, Lauren O’Leary has mastered the act of the downward spiral, and as her sentences stop and start, and her body jerks amidst the chaos and her emotions, she commands the stage brilliantly. From stumbling down Womanby Street in the early hours, to a cupboard encounter with her boss at the leisure centre, we are taken on a rollercoaster through the post college period where chaos takes over and the life you once knew lulls in limbo.

Whilst some points within the text are a little laboured and overdone, O’Leary’s performance remains undeterred and her comic timing is spot on, as she says it how it is without any thought of potential audience laughter. Brilliantly emphasised by the shakes and splashes of lighting, in tune with the soundscape, the designers need a special hats off as the stark set comes to life within the confined space at Porters.

The Awkward Years is a tale with secrets and a bit of joining the dots, pitched and performed with guts and vulnerability to the perfect length, which will stay on your mind long after the final blackout.

The Awkward Years plays at The Other Room until September 29th. Follow @TORtheatre for more info

Shift

The Circus Hub in the meadows is one of the best places to go for a little escapism of the festival, for it can be a pretty full on place to be in August. Shift was the perfect remedy for a manic day, and there was no doubt that the tent was in awe from very early on in the piece.

Following hits such as Bromance, the Barely Methodical Troupe are back as part of the Circus line up at this years festival and Shift shows their four performances display an array of skills and immense strength and they take centre stage in the tent. They take it in turns to test their abilities and their strength as they come to terms with just how much weight their bodies can withstand, with the young female performer giving the most impressive performance of the four.

  • With a huge elastic band, a large metal hoop, as well as each performers bodies moving in unbelievable ways, the audience are very much involved from the beginning, despite those in the front row start to retreat further back in their seats as objects get a little close for comfort. The soundtrack and light design work beautifully well alongside the acts, and whilst each breaks free of their confines, so too do their accompaniments.
  • With some comedic moments, as well as many moments leaving the audience open mouthed, and one gent further along the row from me repeatedly muttering wow under his breath, Shift is the perfect escape and an incredible display of circus skills mixed with theatre from a flawless ensemble.

    Shift plays at Underbelly: Circus Hub until August 26th

    Hunch

    As usual, Edinburgh is bursting with single performer productions this August and over at Assembly Roxy, Kate Kennedy has written and is performing Hunch, and her portrayal sure packs a punch.

    Decision making doesn’t come easy to everyone, and those stabbing aches you get in your gut when you don’t know what to do can happen at any moment in life’s ups and downs. It is soon established that this happens to our female character, Una, and when a gut feeling saves her life, she is called upon as a new superhero, to help others to do the same in Hum.

    Hum is a world relatable to our own, with analogies to make you chuckle, but also removed enough to evoke the imaginations of the audience. The whole piece is a whirlwind of different characters, whether Hunch, Una’s given superhero name, is saving others or coming to terms with her own thoughts and feelings in her new role. As Kennedy switched between roles, the in-sync lighting really emphasises her skills as she effortlessly changes from minister to office worker to her own Dad, amongst many others.

    As someone going in with very little prior knowledge of the script or piece, Hunch was an excellent surprise, despite taking a while to bed in in the midst of the tornado of personas, and Kennedy truly soars, captivating from her arrival on stage. A brilliant example of how one actor can bring to life a whole town.

    Hunch. Assembly Roxy until the 26th August.