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. The 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.

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The Wipers Times – Cardiff New Theatre

The Wipers Times by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman is based on the incredible true story of a group of officers who found a printing press in the ruins of a bombed building in Ypres during the First World War. Captain Roberts (James Dutton) and Lieutenant Pearson (George Kemp) decided to staring printing a satirical newspaper for the troops called The Wipers Times, the name coming from the mispronunciation of ‘Ypres’ by British soldiers. It was hugely successful and managed to run for two years despite the horrors of the war and disapproval from higher ranks.

Inspired by the real newspaper (Ian Hislop joked in the post-show talk that 99% of the script was from the original papers!) the play is very funny, and includes songs in the style of music hall renditions, poems, adverts and sketches. A lot of the cast played several characters and were brilliant and full of energy. It is natural that a lot of literature about the war emphasises the terror, and rightly so, but as Hislop said after the performance The Wipers Times truly showed what soldiers thought and felt during the battles, as many of the war poems which are so well known today were actually written after the war.

The most important result of Hislop and Newman’s discovery of The Wipers Times must be that they managed to secure obituaries for Roberts and Pearson in The Times. However, this play is also a fantastic tribute to their creation, and is very uplifting.

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.

 

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.

No Man’s Land – Cardiff New Theatre

Although we are lucky in Cardiff that we get a lot of high quality touring theatre productions coming here, it is rare that we see such talented names as Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart tread our boards, especially not in the same play. Both actors have recently spoken about the importance of touring theatre with Wales Online. They feel that high quality art shouldn’t be restricted to London, and also mention that touring productions were their main contact with quality theatre as young men, as both are from the North of England. As fantastic NT Live broadcasts and other similar ideas are, they cannot beat live theatre and I hope that live broadcasts don’t mean that fewer productions tour either pre or post West End.

Anyway, to the play itself! I wasn’t very familiar with Pinter’s work beforehand, but I had heard that his plays aren’t particularly plot heavy, which is definitely true of No Man’s Land. Set in the 1970s, two men have met on a night out, and have returned to Hirst’s (Stewart) house. After he and Spooner (McKellen) have chatted for a while, two other men called Foster (Damien Molony) and Briggs (Owen Teale) show up, who claim to be Hirst’s P.A. and housekeeper. They seem sinister and bring a sense of unease to the play which is never explained.

It is definitely an absurdist play and I had more questions than answers at the end. It is however extremely witty and all four actors were fantastic at drawing out the humour from their lines. It must be an extremely difficult play to get right and with other actors it probably wouldn’t be anything special. However, getting to see these two experienced and extremely talented actors, as well as excellent performances from Teale and Molony, was an absolute pleasure. I feel very lucky to have been one of the ticket holders, and as my mum said as we left

“Something to tell your grandchildren!”

 

Shadowlands – Cardiff New Theatre

Shadowlands by William Nicholson is based on the true experiences of the author and academic C.S Lewis (Stephen Boxer), who found love later in life with Joy Gresham (Amanda Ryan). It was originally a television drama, then a play, and finally a film version starring Anthony Hopkins in 1993.

Lewis and Gresham’s initial contact was via letters, and the play depicts their first meeting, and their subsequent slow developing love story. It is a very witty and tender play, with some lovely and touching performances from the main actors. As well as the love story, the play is also a reflection on the nature of God, faith and theology – it opens and closes with Lewis giving the audience a lecture, and the points raised are poignant and thought provoking, which made for an emotional evening.

I have loved the Narnia books since I was little and this was a wonderful small insight into the author’s life, although obviously somewhat fictionalised. A touching production.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play for the Nation, Cardiff New Theatre

The Royal Shakespeare Company have celebrated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What made this production different is that the Mechanicals in the play were played by amateur performers from various places around the country. I saw the production at the New Theatre in Cardiff, with performers from the Everyman Theatre.

The production had a 1940s theme, with some elements of cabaret and jazz. The stage was relatively bare throughout, apart from a grand piano in which Titania (Ayesha Darker) slept.

If anyone thought that it would be easy to spot the amateur performers they would have been completely wrong. Everyman Theatre more than held their own against the professionals and their scenes were hilarious. Steven Smith was incredibly likeable as Bottom and Cari Barley’s timing as Quince was spot on. Amongst the professionals, Lucy Ellinson was fun and cheeky as an androgynous Puck, and Ayesha Darker was a suitably glamorous Titania. As for the lovers, I was initially a little disappointed. Hermia (Mercy Ojelade) and Helena (Laura Riseborough) spoke very quickly, especially Riseborough, and the verse didn’t always flow naturally. However, they definitely improved as the play went on and the comical fighting between the four in the second half was very funny.

I wouldn’t say that this was my favourite production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream but it was still a very enjoyable evening, and it’s fantastic that the RSC are giving amateur performers such a wonderful opportunity, as they will all also be performing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Cardiff New Theatre

A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a play that focuses on relationships and lies. It takes place over the course of an evening in Brick and Margaret/Maggie’s room in Brick’s father’s house, Big Daddy, in Mississippi. It is Big Daddy’s birthday, and he has been told he has a clean bill of health, but he is actually dying from cancer, which all the other characters know apart from his wife, Big Mama. It is clear from the outset that there is some tension between Brick and Maggie, and the history between them and Brick’s friend, Skipper, who has committed suicide, is revealed during the course of the play.

Clwyd Theatre Cymru’s production was well paced with some very strong performances. Catrin Stewart was excellent as Maggie, in a very challenging part, as was Desmond Barritt as Big Daddy. I also did not recognise Gareth David-Lloyd as Brick at all! To a non-trained ear, the Southern accents to me all sounded very good. I thought the set, designed by Janet Bird, was very effective. The room had open spaces rather than doors, reflecting the fact that lies and secrets can’t be hidden forever; when Maggie locks the room door at one point, Big Mama moves around and comes in another way.

I wasn’t familiar with the play at all beforehand and I enjoyed it, although it certainly isn’t a light evening’s entertainment, with themes of death and alcoholism. Clwyd Theatr Cymru has recently acquired a new artistic director, Tamara Harvey, and from this production the company seems to be in very safe hands.

Rehearsal for Murder, Cardiff New Theatre

Yesterday evening I went to the New Theatre in Cardiff to see Rehearsal for Murder performed by the Classic Thriller Theatre Company. I’ll admit that I hadn’t really paid attention to the poster before arriving, and seeing as the font on the poster reading ‘Classic Thriller Theatre Company’ was incredibly similar to the font that is usually used to denote Agatha Christie’s name, I actually thought it was one of her plays! It is actually a play by the writers of Murder She Wrote, and this production was directed by Roy Marsden.

A year on from his actress fiancée’s (Amy Robbins) apparent suicide on the opening night of his new play, Alex Dennison (Robert Daws) invites the cast of the play back to the theatre to find who her murderer was. It’s hard to write much more about the plot without giving too much away, as there are a couple of great twists (one of our party had actually worked it out but the rest of us hadn’t!). There were strong performances from all, particularly from real life couple Daws and Robbins. I particularly admired Holly Ellis who played Sally – performing in a Welsh accent in front of a Cardiff crowd must be a little intimidating, and on the whole it was good.

One small criticism I would have, without giving too much away, is that the murder happened incredibly quickly, and it was unclear what exactly had killed her (i.e. was it a knock on the head?). However, everything else was strong. Amy Robbins’ costumes as glamorous film star Monica were particularly beautiful. The set was fairly simple but worked well doubling as an empty theatre stage and Monica’s flat effectively.

A wonderfully entertaining evening.