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.

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The Addams Family – Wales Millennium Centre

Wednesday Addams (Carrie Hope Fletcher) has fallen in love with a ‘normal’ human, Lucas (Oliver Ormson). When his parents come to meet the Addams family at their home, it leads to some secrets, transformations and humour.

This musical is good fun with some amusing moments, and it has a strong score by Andrew Lippa. I particularly liked ‘When you’re an Addams’, ‘Pulled’, ‘Just around the corner’ and ‘Crazier than you’. Cameron Blakely is fantastic as Gomez, and is without a doubt the strongest cast member. Carrie Hope Fletcher is the strongest singer, but personally I feel her voice is better than her acting. Samantha Womack was good as the deadpan Morticia and Les Dennis was likeable as Uncle Fester.

The storyline is a little weak, but it’s a very enjoyable show and perfect for a night of escapism.

Jane Eyre – Wales Millennium Centre

I first saw this National Theatre production of Jane Eyre at an NT Live screening and I enjoyed it immensely, so when I saw that the national tour was coming to Cardiff I knew I wanted to see it again ‘properly’ in a theatre rather than a cinema.

Although I knew what to expect this time it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. The set isn’t what you’d expect for a production of Jane Eyre at all. It’s fairly bare, with many climbing frames, ladders and wooden planks which are used extremely effectively to convey the different locations as well as Jane’s varying emotions. I also liked the soundtrack which included some original music but also some contemporary songs such as Mad About the Boy and Crazy.

The cast is small with everyone apart from Jane (Nadia Clifford) playing multiple characters including Mr Rochester’s dog, Pilot. All the performances were strong and convincing, with some particularly quick role changes.

It’s a funny and emotional production, which stays very close to the novel by Charlotte Bronte, and I love that some dialogue from the novel was used. I do feel however that it is too long. I know that when it was originally performed at the Bristol Old Vic that it was in two parts, which were cut down to one part before going to the National Theatre, but I feel some further small cuts would have been beneficial, as the first half in particular is very long. However, this was an innovative and engaging production and I’m glad I saw it for the second time.

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.

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.

 

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.

Favourite theatre of 2015

I’ve been a frequent theatre goer since I was little, and one of the reasons I wanted to start this blog is that I see so many productions that it’s easy to forget details about them, so I thought that writing mini reviews would help with that. I have been incredibly lucky to see some more great theatre during 2015, and I thought I would mention some of my favourites as it’s New Year’s Eve. I won’t be mentioning any shows that I’ve seen at work (I work as an usher at a theatre) unless I actually paid to see them!

First of all, here’s a list of what I can remember seeing in 2015, including NT Live productions.

The Beaux Stratagem (NT Live), Ar Waith Ar Daith, Coriolanus (NT Live), Henry V, A Murder is Announced, A Doll’s House, Broadway to the Bay, Land of Our Fathers, Of Mice and Men (NT Live), The Shawshank Redemption, The Winter’s Tale (NT Live), Jane Eyre (NT Live), Hamlet, Shakespeare in Love, Treasure Island (NT Live), Love’s Labours Lost, Love’s Labours Won (both NT Live), Death of a Salesman, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Dead Simple, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, The Elephant Man, Dirty Dancing, Oklahoma.

Here are my favourite five, in no particular order.

Ar Waith Ar Daith, Wales Millennium Centre

This was an outdoor performance to celebrate the Centre’s 10th birthday. It was based on the story of Taliesin, and it featured Shan Cothi as the witch, with huge puppets, choirs, quad bikes, rowers and fireworks. It was wonderful, and I felt so happy and proud that Wales gets and creates experimental theatre of this high standard. It was also refreshing that the Centre did something different to celebrate its birthday, rather than a more traditional concert.

Broadway to the Bay, Wales Millennium Centre

Another part of the Centre’s birthday celebrations, but this time more traditional. The Centre has had similar ‘Night at the Musicals’ concerts before but this was bigger and better! Featuring West End stars such as Kerry Ellis, Ruthie Henshall and John Owen Jones, it was an evening of musical favourites from all the big shows like Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Wicked to name but a few. What I loved most was at the end of the show the stars ‘passed the baton’ to the next generation, starting with students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama down to children from local drama groups, singing Our Time by Sondheim. With an orchestra and dancers, it was a fantastic evening. I’d love it to be an annual event!

Land of our Fathers, Weston Studio

This was a play about 6 miners who got stuck underground. It was intimate, moving, funny and extremely memorable. There was strong characterisation in the writing and the performances. Brilliant.

Shakespeare in Love, Noel Coward Theatre

This was an excellent adaptation of the film, telling the story of William Shakespeare being suddenly inspired again following writer’s block after falling in love. It was fun to spot all the references to Shakespeare plays during the performance. Romantic, funny and a dog. Wonderful.

Jane Eyre, NT Live

I’ve put this last not as it’s the most recent, but because as I saw it via NT Live I’m aware it’s never quite the same as seeing it live in a theatre, although it’s definitely the next best thing. The most impressive element of this production was the staging, it was very simple but it managed to convey all the different settings of the story effectively. There were only 6 actors playing all the parts, with Madeleine Worrall playing Jane from a child to an adult. There were some very funny moments, including an actor playing a dog, and all the best dialogue from the novel included. It was very moving, and has made me want to reread the novel.

I hope I’m as lucky to see as many great productions in 2016!