Aladdin – Prince Edward Theatre

Based on the 1992 Disney film, Aladdin is a fun filled show with great music. I have a soft spot for the film version as it’s one of the first films I ever saw in the cinema, and may have had a small crush on Aladdin too…! There have naturally been some changes to the film in the stage adaptation but none that were too much of a disappointment. Abu the monkey has been replaced by three friends, as has Rajah the tiger. These changes worked well, and Aladdin’s friends in particular provided some comedic moments. Some new songs have also been added, and I especially liked Proud of your Boy and High Adventure.

Without a doubt, the best thing about the show is the Genie, played by Trevor Dion Nicholas, who was the understudy on Broadway. Robin Williams could not be a tougher act to follow but he succeeded in making the role his own while keeping just enough of Williams’ mannerisms. The staging was also very impressive, particularly in the Cave of Wonders and with the flying carpet during A Whole New World.

My small criticism of the show is that it occasionally felt a little similar to panto when Jafar (Don Gallagher) and Iago (Nick Cavaliere) (also a human rather than a parrot) were on stage. This was the fault of the production rather than the performances. I wasn’t sure of Jade Ewen’s acting as Jasmine and I felt she sang A Whole New World a little too much like a popstar rather than a musical theatre performer. These are only small criticisms however, and although I don’t think it’s as good a show as The Lion King and Mary Poppins, I still very much enjoyed it.

 

The Graduate – Cardiff New Theatre

I have never watched the film version of The Graduate so I saw this play with only a very general idea of the plot. Benjamin Braddock (Jack Monaghan) has just graduated from college and is living with his parents. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life and isn’t impressed by his parents ideas for his future. During a party at home, he is seduced by a friend of his parents, Mrs Robinson (Catherine McCormack), who is also disillusioned with her life.

The set was fairly simple but conveyed 1960s America well, and projections were also used effectively. The soundtrack also helped to convey the period, with plenty of Simon and Garfunkel! All the performances were good but I found the character of Mrs Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Emma Curtis) quite unlikeable, and I’m not sure whether I was supposed to do so! I also didn’t think there was a lot of chemistry between the leads, but overall I enjoyed the production and I will definitely be watching the film soon.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Wales Millennium Centre

The National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a huge success since it opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. It has won Olivier Awards, moved to the West End (where it closes this month), opened on Broadway, won a Tony Award and embarked on 2 UK national tours. I have seen this production a few times, through NT Live and also in London and when it visited Cardiff previously. It is without a doubt one of my favourite things I’ve seen on stage.

It is based on the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, which tells the story of a boy called Christopher, who has Aspergers Syndrome, as he sets out to solve the mystery of who killed the dog next door. One of the clever things about the production is the way that it presents Christopher’s inner monologue. Christopher talks to the audience but his teacher, Siobhan, also reads extracts from the book that he is writing, and there are also a few instances of breaking the fourth wall.

Another innovate element of the production is the way it overwhelms the audience’s senses so that we have an idea of how Christopher feels when he goes outside his comfort zone, such as to the train station or on the tube. Lights, projections and loud sounds are used incredibly effectively.

The ensemble in the production play several different characters such as Christopher’s neighbours and passengers on the train or tube. In this production Lucianne McEvoy played Siobhan, and Scott Reid was fantastic as Christopher.

The fact that I’d seen the play before did nothing to wane my enthusiasm for this production. Very funny but also emotional. Brilliant.

Casanova – Northern Ballet – Cardiff New Theatre

Casanova is a new ballet by Kenneth Tindall, which tells the story of the legendary Giacomo Casanova’s life which was full of scandal and seduction. It documents his religious beginnings and his multiple careers as a gambler, writer and musician.

As is expected from Northern Ballet the dancing was brilliant and beautiful. The set was also very clever, particularly the use of lighting to depict columns in a church or cathedral, which was very atmospheric.

My only criticism would be that the narrative wasn’t clearly defined. Although I managed to follow the plot in general there were some things that I missed, and only realised after reading a synopsis online afterwards. However, the ballet more than lived up to Northern Ballet’s high standard of productions.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead – Old Vic

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is not an easy play to summarise! Two minor characters from Hamlet question what they are doing, why they are there, and where they are going. Scenes from Hamlet are slotted in throughout, and in between their philosophising the title characters play coin tossing games and word games, while becoming increasingly aware of their own mortality, especially due to their encounters with a group of travelling players.

I’d been curious about this play for a while and I was not disappointed. It is witty, at times moving and very funny. The staging for this production was quite bare, with mostly just a curtain across the stage used for scene changes, or sometimes as a half curtain as a divide between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the action of the story of Hamlet.

The performances were all strong. Daniel Radcliffe was bewildered and likeable as Rosencrantz, the quieter of the pair. At times I felt that he didn’t project his voice as well as the other actors – this is only a very small criticism as I didn’t miss anything he said, and it may just have been that he was meant to be the quieter character, or that he was struggling a little with his voice that day! Joshua McGuire was also very good as the livelier, bossy and more talkative Guildenstern. David Haig was excellent as The Player, the impresario of the travelling group. The comedic timing was perfect by all throughout.

I not only thoroughly enjoyed the production but the play itself. It’s very clever, especially as Tom Stoppard was so young when he wrote it. I look forward to seeing it again at some point, as I feel it’s a play where you notice something new each time you see it, but I think this production could be difficult to beat.

The Red Shoes – Wales Millennium Centre

The Red Shoes by New Adventures, Sir Matthew Bourne’s dance company, is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale and the 1948 Academy Award winning film by Powell and Pressburger. It’s the story of a successful dancer, Victoria Page, and how she is torn between her love of dance and her love for her partner, a composer called Julian Craster.

I am not familiar with the film so I cannot make any comparisons, but this was an absolutely beautiful production. As always Matthew Bourne’s choreography is innovative and clever, reflecting the time period, locations and personalities of the characters. I particularly loved the choreography for the composer when he was working on a new score, and between him and Victoria during the second half showing the tension between them.

I also thought the staging and set design was very effective. Almost throughout there was a frame on stage with a red curtain, which would turn showing us the performers both onstage and backstage. It was also used effectively in the second half to flip between scenes with Victoria and Craster and Boris Lermantov, the head of the dance company who is seemingly obsessed with her. I loved the design when the dance company perform The Red Shoes ballet, based on the fairytale but clearly a premonition for what will happen to the performers offstage. The lighting changed to black and white and the dancers were all in black, white or grey, which made the red shoes themselves and Victoria’s red dress stand out.

My one very small criticism is that I wonder whether someone who had no idea of the story would have been able to follow everything. I had read a synopsis so I had some idea, but I suspect some parts may have been a little confusing if I had not.

I am not a dance aficionado but I always enjoy Matthew Bourne’s productions. I am always impressed by how much emotion the performers can express without words, and the ending of this show was moving. I think this will be one of my favourite New Adventures productions.

 

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Swan Theatre

The Two Noble Kinsmen is Shakespeare’s last play, which he is believed to have co-written with John Fletcher. Two friends, Palamon and Arcite, are put in prison, and they both fall in love with Emilia who is the sister in law of their captor, Theseus.

This was a very well staged and lively production. I particularly enjoyed the entertaining bickering between Arcite (Jamie Wilkes) and Palamon (James Corrigan) while they argued over Emilia. However, I didn’t feel this was a very strong play, and I found the sub-plot which involved the jailer’s daughter falling in love with Palamon and later going mad to be just a poor version of Ophelia in Hamlet, despite being well acted. It is quite a rambling play, without that much action. However, as always the RSC’s productions are of such a high standard, and I am glad to have seen it.