Jane Eyre – Northern Ballet

I always keep a look out for Northern Ballet productions at my local theatres because as well as the traditional ballets, they adapt other stories such as Jane Eyre, and they are always great. I wasn’t disappointed with Jane Eyre.

Although some things had been cut, the story stayed very close to the novel. The beginning was a little confusing however, as it began with Jane staying with St John Rivers, and then there was a flashback to her childhood. For such a wordy novel, the dancing was choreographed perfectly to convey the characters’ feelings, and Jane had some help from the male chorus, who represented her inner demons. I also loved how the choreography portrayed the characters’ personalities; I particularly liked Adele who was very light and bouncy on her feet.

Another fantastic production by Northern Ballet.

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Strangers on a Train – Cardiff New Theatre

When Charles Bruno (Chris Harper) and Guy Haines (Jack Ashton) meet during a train journey, Charles devises a plan whereby they each murder someone in each other’s lives, Charles’ father, and Guy’s ex-wife. Initially Guy believes it’s just a joke, but he soon finds himself in an impossible situation.

The set in this production was fantastic. Sliding panes were used to reveal different settings in different parts of the stage, and the train set was particularly effective.

Having not read the novel by Patricia Highsmith or seen the Hitchcock film I cannot compare the play, adapted by Craig Warner, to either. However, I would imagine that as it’s directed by Hitchcock that the film is full of tension and thrill which I felt were missing from the play. This wasn’t due to the performances; Chris Harper was convincing as an alcoholic psychopath and Jack Ashton conveyed Guy’s torment effectively, particularly when trying to hide his secret from his wife Anne (Hannah Tointon), but I just couldn’t understand why Guy didn’t go the police immediately.

This is a pleasant enough production with an impressive set, but is unfortunately lacking in tension.

Pressure – Theatre Royal Bath

It’s the weekend before D-Day in 1944, and Dr James Stagg has been drafted in to a military base to advise General Eisenhower on the weather conditions for the landings. Unfortunately, Eisenhower’s own adviser, Krick, doesn’t agree with Stagg’s forecasts, and if Eisenhower decides to listen to Krick, Stagg fears that he could be putting the lives of thousands of men in danger.

A play based around a weather forecast doesn’t sound very exciting but this play successfully managed to maintain the tension, despite the audience having an idea of what the eventual outcome will be. It’s a relatively new play, first performed in 1914, and written by the actor David Haig, who also plays Stagg. It’s evident throughout that Haig has done thorough research while writing the play, and although for a few minutes in the first half I did briefly wonder whether it was just going to be discussions about jet streams for two hours, I was quickly proven wrong as the plot and characters began to develop.

The set was relatively simple, a large office space with maps being rolled up at the back of the room to show the latest forecasts. There were also balcony doors which were used effectively to convey the changing weather conditions, and the blackouts at night. Haig, as well as being a talented playwright, was excellent as Stagg, a little bossy and abrupt at times but also extremely sympathetic when he worries about his wife who is in labour. Malcolm Sinclair also gave a strong performance as Eisenhower, as did Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby, Eisenhower’s chauffeur.

It was great to learn about a little known true story, particularly in a well written pacy play.

 

The Case of the Frightened Lady – Cardiff New Theatre

When Inspector Tanner is called to the Lebanon family home following a murder at a fancy dress party, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems. Why is Lady Lebanon so keen for her soon to marry, Isla Crane, a distant cousin, when neither of them are very keen? Why does Dr Amersham visit so frequently? And why does the servant Gilder always seem to be listening in to conversations? Slowly but surely, a family secret is unveiled.

This production by the Classic Thriller Theatre Company was an entertaining evening at the theatre with a silly but fun story. Rula Lenska was suitably authoritative as Lady Lebanon and Gray O’Brien was convincing as Inspector Tanner.

Gallowglass – New Theatre, Cardiff

After Sandor saves Little Joe from jumping in front of a tube train, he tells him that as he saved his life, his life now belongs to him. Sandor begins to tell Little Joe a story about a princess who was kidnapped, but as the story develops it becomes clear that it may not be fiction, and Little Joe realises his role as a ‘gallowglass’, the servant of a chief, in Sandor’s plan.

Gallowglass is based on the novel of the same name by Ruth Rendell, but writing as Barbara Vine. I haven’t read the book so cannot make any direct comparisons, but this play felt very much like an adaptation. What I mean is, a good adaptation should sound and feel like an original whereas this didn’t. Without having read the book, I could tell that structurally it was trying to keep very close to the original narrative, and therefore it didn’t flow smoothly at times. There was a lot of setting up to do at first, and then it also meant that we were given a lot of important information extremely suddenly in the last five minutes, without time to process or receive an explanation for what had happened.

As for the actors there were some good performances byPaul Opacic as the driver, Dean Smith as Little Joe and Rachael Hart as Tilley. Smith and Hart brought some much needed humour at times. However, sometimes it was difficult to hear some of the other actors, and there is no excuse for that as professional actors should be able to project their voices adequately. The set design was clever, with the stage split in half to show two different domestic settings and then a screen coming down in front showing projections for other locations. Some of the scene changes were a little slow and clunky however, and the staging meant that people sitting on the far sides would miss quite a lot of the action at times.

Overall this was underwhelming, There were some plot points I also questioned but as I haven’t read the novel I don’t feel it’s fair to raise them here as I’m not sure whether they’re relevant to the book too and therefore not the play’s fault. It is a good premise for a story, but I feel it could have flowed a lot better. Other book to play adaptations have worked very well, and it’s a shame this fell short of the mark.

A Woman Of No Importance – Oscar Wilde Season Live

A Woman of No Importance is the first production in Dominic Dromgoole’s Oscar Wilde Season at the Vaudeville Theatre in London. It isn’t Oscar Wilde’s best known play, and it isn’t his best by far but there were several enjoyable elements.

Lady Hunstanton (Anne Reid) is hosting a gathering at her home, and among the guests are Lord Illingworth (Dominic Rowan) and a young man called Gerald (Harry Lister Smith) who he intends to employ. Later in the evening Gerald’s mother arrives, a lady who calls herself Mrs Arbuthnot (Eve Best) and it becomes clear that Gerald is in fact Illingworth’s illegitimate child, and he had refused to marry his mother. The play shows how differently men and women are treated when a child is born out of wedlock – Mrs Arbuthnot has suffered, she has been shamed, and had to change her name, leave her home and pretend to be a widow. Lord Illingworth’s life hasn’t been affected at all.

The play begins a little slowly and the plot doesn’t really start until the second scene when Mrs Arbuthnot arrives. However, the dialogue is full of Wilde’s classic witty observations and there were several recognisable quotes. The performances were all strong, particularly Eve Best but Anne Reid was also fantastic, particularly when she sang witty songs from the era during the scene changes.

This isn’t Wilde’s best play but it was an enjoyable evening at the cinema nonetheless.

A Christmas Carol – The Old Vic

In many ways it must be a daunting task trying to think of an original idea to tell such a well known story as A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, but Jack Thorne has managed it excellently for this new adaptation at the Old Vic over Christmas.

Arriving at the theatre, audience members are offered a mince pie and a satsuma by costumed actors which is a lovely touch to set the mood. The stage is set in the rounds, and the set is very minimum throughout, with four door frames onstage and lots of lanterns above as the main design.

As for the story, there are a few changes and additions. The three ghosts are all female, all in some ways echoes of Scrooge’s sister, Little Fan. None are frightening; Marley’s ghost is the only slightly scary apparition, who walks bound in chains along a walkway from the back of the stalls towards Scrooge. As well as developing the characterisation of Fan, there is also more emphasis than usual on Scrooge’s childhood, particularly his relationship with his father, who was cruel and drove the family into debt. We also see more of Scrooge’s relationship with his first love, Belle.

Rhys Ifans is a fantastic Scrooge, and his transformation from bitter and angry to forgiving and caring is very moving at times, particularly during a scene where he sees his younger self sat on his coffin. His delight when he awakes on Christmas morning is wonderfully atmospheric when he involves the audience in transferring and collecting the food to take to the Cratchits’ house.

The use of music throughout the production is fantastic, showing that the ‘carol’ element of the title is often forgotten. There is a small group of musicians and the actors sing, but the most effective music comes from the handbells used by the entire cast, particularly at the end.

A magical production that has captured the spirit of Christmas. Wonderful!

Legally Blonde – Cardiff New Theatre

Legally Blonde is a fantastic feel good musical full of hilarious lyrics and catchy songs.

When her boyfriend Warner (Liam Doyle) dumps her for a more serious girlfriend, Elle Woods (Lucie Jones) decides to work hard an enrol with him at Harvard Law to try and win him back. Although people don’t take her seriously at first due to her blonde hair and love of all things pink, when she realises that she can use her new legal skills to help others she manages to prove everybody wrong.

For some reason I’m always a little apprehensive when musicals are made that are based on films, but I needn’t have worried at all here. It is such a fun and uplifting show. Lucie Jones was fantastic as Elle, showing her strong vocals whenever she could and also proved she is skilful at comedy. Rita Simmons showed that she also has a good voice as Paulette, and the scenes between her and Kyle (Ben Harlow) were hilarious.┬áThe songs were great and incredibly catchy, and the choreography was slick and impressive, particularly with the skipping ropes during Whipped Into Shape.

My only small criticisms are that I didn’t feel Bill Ward did much with the character of Professor Callahan, and a couple of times the scene changes felt slightly clunky but this didn’t hamper my enjoyment at allI’m so glad to have finally seen this and would recommend it to anyone who wanted an evening full of laughter.

Tiger Bay the Musical – Wales Millennium Centre

Tiger Bay is the Wales Millennium Centre’s second homegrown production, following Only The Brave which was staged last year, and it is without a doubt bigger and more ambitious.

It’s set in the early 1900s when Cardiff’s docks were one the biggest coal exporters in the world and people of numerous nationalities lived in the area. Workers known as Donkeymen would push the cart loads of coal to the ships, with help from young boys known as Water Boys. The musical’s storyline includes characters that reflect the diversity of the area at that time – Rowena Pryddy (Vikki Bebb) is a shopgirl who is engaged to the nasty harbourmaster, Seamus O’Rourke (Noel Sullivan). Themba (Dom Hartley-Harris) is new to Cardiff from Africa and is looking for work as a Donkeyman and befriends Ianto (Ruby Llewellyn). A fictionalised version of the Third Marquess of Bute, John Stuart (John Owen Jones), is searching for his lost illegitimate son.

The score by Daf James is beautiful, but there are a lot of big orchestral numbers and it became difficult to differentiate between some of them by the end, but I loved the different styles and influences from Welsh and African music (this is a co-production with Cape Town Opera).

The cast are the biggest strength of this show, they work incredibly hard and there are no weak links at all. The choreography is slick and exciting to watch. My one minor quibble was that some of the dialogue wasn’t suitable for the period at all, such as Ianto exclaiming ‘Tidy!’ and someone mentioning Rowena getting ‘dumped’. I also think that the show needs a little editing – it is three hours long and although the time didn’t drag, I feel that cutting some bits here and there would make it an even better show.

I was sad to see Tiger Bay get a few very negative reviews in the mainstream press as I don’t think it deserves them at all. There have been some valid points made about the length and possibly that there are too many characters to follow, but these didn’t hinder my enjoyment and I would recommend this show to anyone, particularly anyone familiar with Cardiff.

The Cherry Orchard – Sherman Theatre

The Cherry Orchard at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff was not a traditional production using Chekhov’s words, but rather a reimagining by Gary Owen who had updated the script and moved the setting to Pembrokeshire in 1982, at the beginning of Margaret Thatcher’s leadership and just before the Falklands War. This was my first time seeing The Cherry Orchard, so I cannot make any comparisons with the original writing.

Bloumfield, a large country house, is in financial trouble and is in danger of repossession. The family have reconvened at the house to try and work out what the future holds for the house and for them. Denise Black was fantastic as the lead character, Rainey the mother, and was very intense. There were no weak links in the rest of the cast with regards to performances, and I particularly liked Alexandria Riley as Dottie the housekeeper. I did feel however that Morfydd Clarke’s accent stood out as being much posher than the rest of her family which didn’t really gel, and I thought that Richard Mylan’s character as a socialist questioning class inequality could have been developed further.

This production emphasised how the ghosts of the pasts can affect people, and how different individuals deal with grief. The class difference was evident when Dottie explains that when her father died she just had to carry on, while Rainey began to drink herself to a stupor. Despite these heavy themes, the play was full of witty dialogue and the evening sped by. Very glad to have seen it.