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.

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.

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.

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.