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.

Mary Poppins – Wales Millennium Centre

Mary Poppins is one of my favourite films, and when films I love are adapted for the stage I tend to feel a mixture of excitement and nerves. No nerves were needed for this production.

This adaptation, directed by Richard Eyre, was just as magical as the film. There were some changes to the story as the writer (Julian Fellowes) had taken some elements from P L Travers’ original books, but this only added to the magic and with the exception of laughing Uncle Albert I didn’t miss anything from the film at all. As well as the much loved songs by the Sherman brothers there were some additional songs written by George Stiles and Andrew Drewe, including the catchy Practically Perfect and inspiring Anything Can Happen. The choreography, by Matthew Bourne, was fantastic, and more was added with this particular cast as Mary and Bert (Zizzi Strallen and Matt Lee) were particularly gifted dancers. Strallen was a wonderful Mary, and managed to keep the spirit of Julie Andrews’ portrayal without just copying, and also put her own stamp on the character.

This production more than lived up to the film and there were plenty of special effects to mesmerise the audience. Definitely of my favourite stage productions.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Despite being a huge Harry Potter fan, my initial reaction when I heard that J.K.Rowling was collaborating with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne to write a new Harry Potter play wasn’t excitement. I think I felt that the original series was enough and I was happy with how it ended, so I was worried that anything new would be a disappointment. However, once the previews for the stage production started and the word spread that it was an amazing spectacle, I felt I had to read the story. I did consider waiting until I’d seen the play on stage before reading the script, but as it would appear that I’m going to have to wait years to be lucky enough to get a ticket I decided to go ahead and read it!

I’ve read a few reviews of the script and I feel that many people forget the main purpose of a play which is to be performed, not read. That’s why many fans of Shakespeare say that his plays should be seen by school pupils before they are studied. Of course, reading plays can also be enjoyable, but the playwright isn’t writing for the script to be read, but performed. In the world of Harry Potter, where so many of the events depend on visual effects and scene changes, of course things are going to be missing when reading the script. I feel that the Cursed Child has been unfairly criticised in many ways because of this, but that doesn’t mean that I was completely satisfied with it either.

I liked the development of the original characters in general, particularly Harry’s struggle with being a father having not had a father himself when he was growing up. I was disappointed that Ron was reduced to just a comedy character though, and I felt sad that he was working in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes (although I guess he wouldn’t necessarily want to work for the Ministry when his wife is the Minister for Magic…) I felt the writing let him down as a character. I did however love the friendship between Scorpius and Albus, and their bond due to living in the shadow of their famous parents. I also loved Scorpius’ humour.

I didn’t feel that the plot was particularly strong, with a lot of emphasis on time travel, however again this could be as it’s in the format of a play. The stage directions are very simple, but this would give an actor or director more freedom and I would imagine that these were developed and possibly adapted during rehearsals.

I wouldn’t say I felt disappointed exactly on finishing the play, but I think I felt that something was missing, which I believe is that I wasn’t reading the story in the form in which it was intended. I have no doubt that it must be an incredible production to see on stage, and I hope that I’m lucky enough to get a ticket one day.