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The Duchess of Malfi by @actonecardiff 23-25 February

February 23, 2017

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Some of my favourite productions of early modern plays have been by Act One (The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth etc), the Cardiff University Drama Society.

Dr Johann Gregory

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream @NewbridgeMemo – March, 1st-4th

February 20, 2017

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Marvellous Pretenders are a newly formed professional theatre company, based in the Newbridge Memo.

The group, who are fronted by director and actor Suzie Rees, are the only professional producing company in the area and will be bringing classic plays to Newbridge over the next few years…the first installment being the Shakespearian classic: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Wednesday, March 1st – Saturday, March 4th

Tickets on sale now: £8 standard | £6 concession.

Ballroom Bar Open: 6.30pm | Theatre Doors: 7.00pm | Event Start: 7.30pm.

Find out more

 

If you would like to review this production for Cardiff Shakespeare, please get in touch with Johann Gregory.

***

So why come and see the show?
It’s going to be great fun as the company have approached it as a Shakespearean farce so it’s quite fast and furious. Also, it’s the first opportunity to see classic theatre by the Memo’s own professional theatre company.

Is the show accessible and up to date? What can people expect?
The actors have spent a long time working on understanding the language so that the audience will be able to understand it too.  Our version is a long way from the stuffy, static performances many people associate with Shakespeare.

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RSC Live The Tempest – Encore Screenings 7 Feb @theRSC

February 3, 2017

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If, like me, you’ve yet to see the RSC Tempest, there is a chance to catch it in Cardiff next Tuesday. I was lucky enough to hear the co-producer Sarah Ellis talk yesterday in Cardiff at an event on digital and the arts, where she discussed the RSC’s collaboration with Intel and Imaginarium Studios. Last semester I was teaching the play on a Late Plays module at Cardiff University and in seminars we discussed what the masque in the play would look like in the twenty-first century, so I’ll be interested to see how this scene is staged especially.

Johann Gregory

Find the nearest cinema screening to you.

BBC NEWS: Shakespeare’s Tempest gets mixed reality makeover

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The Moot Virginity of Catherine of Aragon @ShermanTheatre

January 24, 2017

This production is currently showing at the Sherman, Cardiff:

Europe divides in two. An act of teenage love could be the cause. Catherine of Aragon’s first wedding night with Henry VIII’s brother, Arthur comes into question in this no-nonsense music-theatre first. Did they? Didn’t they?

With live on-stage musicians and an award-winning team, this immersive show is a must as we reconsider one of history’s misremembered women.

Performed by Abigail McGibbon (winner Best Supporting Actress, Irish Times Theatre Awards, 2016)

Directed by Conor Mitchell

This is an immersive piece where audiences can choose to stand or sit.

 

More information

Running time: 50 minutes

Contains strong language and themes of an adult nature and a short scene which includes the use of a real deceased pig’s head

Performed by Abigail McGibbon
Directed, Written and Composed by Conor Mitchell

An immersive piece where audiences can choose to stand or sit

Date Time
Tuesday 24 January 8.00pm
Wednesday 25 January 8.00pm
Thursday 26 January 8.00pm
Friday 27 January 8.00pm
Satuday 28 January 3.00pm
Saturday 28 January 8.00pm

Find out more

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Review of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona @RWCMD

December 3, 2016

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Royal Welsh Colege of Music and Drama, Cardiff

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Director: Caroline Byrne

Review by @LucyMenon

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s first works and as such is often held up as an example of the immature playwright experimenting with ideas that will later return in his more established comedies.  To an extent this is true as we are presented with a love triangle, a disguised boy-heroine and an escape to the green world of the forest where all the knots can be untangled and the correct pairs can be united in marriage.  These are plot devices that will be used in later comedies such as As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This play however, also causes consternation in its seeming disregard for women and the value it places on homosocial bonds between men and the importance of friendship over and above that of male-female relationships.

A reflection from Johann Gregory:

Shakespeare’s play speaks to our own time in a very unsettling way. Near the opening of the play, for example, the heroine Julia is represented wishing she hadn’t returned an unread letter via her servant:

And yet I would I had o’erlooked the letter.
It were a shame to call her back again
And pray her to a fault for which I chid her.
What fool is she, that knows I am a maid
And would not force the letter to my view,
Since maids in modesty say ‘No’ to that
Which they would have the profferer construe ‘Ay’.
(1.2.50-56)

Julia says that she wishes that she had read the letter and hadn’t rejected it. The servant is a fool, she says, not to force the letter on her when the servant knows that she must for modesty’s sake say no to something, even if she really wants it. Of course, this moment of ‘forcing’ something on a maid could be easily read differently without too much of a stretch of the imagination. ‘What do you mean?’ is Justin Bieber’s highly popular song, controversial for arguably promoting a rape culture. Sofia Lyons wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post that

the lyrics perpetuate the idea that unwanted advances or sexual misperceptions are at the fault of the woman because she wasn’t clear about her intentions or a man thought she wanted it because she couldn’t ‘make up her mind’.

How ‘What do you man?’ Promotes Rape Culture

So in a year that saw such a high profile case at Cardiff Crown Court concerning a charge of rape that rested on the issue of consent, the language and actions presented in Shakespeare’s play are uncomfortable to say the least. Of course, it remains an open question how disturbing this ‘comedy’ would have actually been in its own time to those who viewed it – apparently many, now, will listen comfortably to Bieber’s song.

***

Two friends, Proteus and Valentine each have their own love, but when Proteus meets Valentine’s paramour, Silvia, he seems to forget his own beloved, Julia.  He reveals Valentine’s plot to elope with Silvia to her father and this results in his friend’s exile.  In the meantime, Julia, who has been at home, decides to risk her reputation and follow Proteus to Italy, disguised as a page boy.  The play culminates in the attempted rape of Silvia by Proteus.  After firstly chastising Proteus for his behaviour and vowing to sever friendship, Valentine is quickly swayed when Proteus begs forgiveness and within a few lines, the men have reinstated their friendship and, most disconcertingly, Valentine has promised that ‘All that was mine in Silvia I give thee’ (5.4, line 81).  Frequently, this line is cut from productions as it is at odds with Valentine’s earlier behaviour and also emphasises the uncomfortable ease with which men can consider women as possessions and commodities.  The resultant marriages, or implied marriages at any rate, are therefore troublesome as we are left wondering whether or not the commitment to the women will be true and if the love the women bear the men is indeed, well placed.

With such a depth of characterisation to explore and treacherous issues to negotiate, I was interested to see how the cast at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama would interpret this play.  Using an interesting mix of the ancient world, through the use of stone-effect and pillars in the set and contrasting it with a more contemporary feel through the use of costume and music, the production quickly established the idea of incongruity that runs through the play itself.  The start of the play opens with Proteus (Joe Wiltshire Smith) bidding farewell to Valentine (Aly Cruickshank); this was played for laughs and in a sarcastic tone that reflected well the notion of the masculine bravado of youth which was strengthened further with the secret handshake the two had which was a nice touch.  This gesture was repeated throughout and served to show the close bond between the two friends which later makes Proteus’s betrayal even more shocking.  Julia’s tumult over receiving a letter from Proteus was extremely well delivered by Lola Petticrew and bringing the letter to members of the audience to show it off was a source of amusement.  The fact that Proteus also did this was a nice mirroring move.  Having the lovers exchange rings with an echo-like voiceover for their lines added a dreamlike quality to proceedings and made Proteus’s departure seem part of a fairytale which obviously is later undercut by his infidelity.

As with all good comedies, we have the scenes with the servants, and in this particular play, we have Launce (Charlotte O’Leary), complete with his dog, Crab.  Here, Luke Rhodri, completely excelled himself by having the tricky task of playing Crab, but executing it well.  The use of music was good, with a tense background sound of something like a police siren and radios to create a jarring atmosphere while Proteus debates love and friendship and what he is meant to do with his feelings.  When he screws up a letter and throws it to the floor, coupled with the line of Julia being dead, the action is heavy indeed.  I feel a special mention should go to Tom Murton who played Silvia’s father, the Duke of Milan.  Throughout, he delivered his lines well and commanded a very believable relationship with each character he encountered whether that was his daughter, his friends or Valentine.

Unfortunately, there was quite a lot of confusion as to whether or not there was an interval in this production.  The house lights went down and several people got up, but the actors were back on stage very quickly and the lights then dimmed.  Valentine and Speed (Elysia Welch) were shown in slow motion fleeing to the forest in exile and in the foreground, Julia was changing her costume to become a boy.  Whilst it is very probable that this was a time-filler, as there was no need for either of these processes to be staged for so long, I found it uncomfortable that the audience was leaving and entering and actually missing a silent showing of the despair and the lengths to which lovers will go for each other.

In the second half, we were treated to an entertaining spectacle of a band and song sung by Thurio (Louis Carrington) and Proteus to try and woo Siliva (Hannah Barker) who was sat in the balcony with the audience.  There were many instances where the characters came into the audience and I felt that this worked really well as it made the audience feel more involved and complicit with the action.  In order to be with Valentine, Silvia enlists the help of Sir Eglamour (Luke Rhodri) who is supposed to be a man of great virtue and chastity who still mourns the death of his love.  Silvia asks him to help her and, in this production, also kisses him deeply.  I felt that this was an incongruous interpretation as the very point was that there was somebody truly chivalrous left to rely upon and that he does aid Silvia out of genuine care rather than seeking any kind of gratification.  Silvia is also constantly confessing her love for Valentine, especially when rejecting Proteus’s advances, so it seems unrealistic and at odds with what should have been intended here.  It would also be incredibly tragic if Silvia was meant to feel obliged to offer herself in this way to ensure Eglamour’s help.

However, as the play moved towards its disturbing denouement of Proteus attempting to take Silvia’s love by force, the four central characters held their roles incredibly well.  It’s difficult to maintain the tension in this scene when the emotions alter so drastically in the space of a few lines.  Both male leads convincingly delivered their lines, even though we are left feeling that it is an inappropriate reaction to events: is it really so simple to excuse your friend for nearly raping your partner just because he says “Forgive me”?  Valentine’s line of offering Silvia to Proteus was kept in and served to cause distress and both women were shocked by the way the friends seem to value each other over them.  Even though each couple was united in the end, the women did an excellent job of showing little enthusiasm for getting married.  Silvia wraps her robe around Julia and continues the show of female solidarity that has been displayed throughout and Julia walks sombrely towards Proteus and in the final moments looks out into the audience, away from him, though he is gazing at her.  Even Silvia and Valentine are at different ends of the stage and exit off different sides: promised to each other yet distanced by events.

A troubling play, dealt with in varying degrees of success in this production. But, ultimately, this was a thought-provoking staging that didn’t gloss over the unsettling aspects of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, instead opting to leave the audience with a complex set of emotions and unanswered questions.

This production runs until December 10th. Find out more and book tickets.

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona @RWCMD

November 17, 2016

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Thursday 1 – Saturday 10 December 7.30pm
Matinee Tuesday 6 December 2.30pm
No performances on Sunday or Monday

by William Shakespeare

Trouble is on the cards in Milan when best friends Valentine and Proteus both fall in love with the Duke’s daughter, Silvia. Join us this Christmas season for a tale of love, friendship, betrayal, mistaken identity – all the hallmarks of a great work by our most famous playwright.

Venue: Richard Burton Theatre

Tickets: £13, £11 concessions (Under 25s £6)

Warning: Contains adult themes.

Visit the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama website to book tickets.

***

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, created in about 1592-1593, was first printed in the first folio of 1623. If you are part of a school, FE college or a university, you can also access the BBC Shakespeare Archive to find out more about this play:

http://shakespeare.ch.bbc.co.uk/

Find out more about the first folio here:

http://firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

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The Merchant of Venice Opera @theCentre : A Review

October 11, 2016

30th September 2016

Opera Companies:

Wales National Opera

Co-production of the Bregenzer Festspiele, Austria, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music programme & Teatr Wielki, Warsaw.

Supported by the Getty Family as part of British Firsts.

Wales Millennium Centre

Review by Lucy Menon @LucyMenon

Over the years I have attended many an intriguing adaptation of Shakespeare, but never as an opera.  As part of the celebrations of the four hundred years since Shakespeare’s death, The Merchant of Venice forms the final part of a series of operas (also including Macbeth and Kiss Me Kate) which pay homage to the bard.  With a musical score by André Tchaikowsky (1935-1982) and libretto by John O’Brien, it is hard to believe that this opera was only first performed in 2013 at the Bregenz Festival and had a UK debut at the Wales Millennium Centre this September courtesy of the Welsh National Opera.

Shakespeare’s controversial play, often held up for being anti-Semitic, becomes even more intriguing when Tchaikowsky’s own background is considered.  A Jew and a homosexual, Tchaikowsky embodied attributes of both the main characters of Shylock and Antonio.  Having had a traumatic childhood in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, he was smuggled out to be raised by his grandmother and became a musical protégé. It is pertinent that the opening and closing scene has the figure of Antonio laid on a couch in the stereotypical psychoanalyst pose almost embodying the composer’s own need for therapy.  This works well and sets up the exploration of why the character of Antonio is indeed “so sad”.  The trial scene also becomes all the more significant in light of Tchaikowsky’s life, as it could be seen to represent the conflict the composer must have experienced himself.  The homosexual content of the play is sometimes played down by productions, but the opera brings it to the foreground, allowing the exploration for the bonds of love to be demonstrated as well as the monetary bonds which bind the characters to each other.

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(Antonio on the couch) Photo: Johann Persson

Split into three acts, the opera managed to address a different aspect and theme in each section which served to renew an energy and driving pace for the production.  Act 1 dealt with the mercantile aspects of the play; Act 2 transported the audience to the romantic green space of Belmont and Act 3 culminated in the tension of the trial scene.  An epilogue also followed to focus on the multiple pairs of lovers and the resolution of the confusions that had occurred.

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(Trial Scene) Photo: Johan Persson

Antonio, on the night of this review, was played by Feargal Mostyn-Williams (Martin Wölfel had laryngitis). Mosty- Williams did a superb job of conveying a tortured soul and looking particularly pale and petrified whilst facing the potential extraction of a pound of his flesh His interaction with Bassanio (Mark Le Brocq) was entirely believable and heartfelt.  The gesture of the men touching each others’ faces was repeated at several points and created an intimacy that was sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected which served to increase the intensity of emotion.  The night, however, belonged to Lester Lynch who brought out the extremes of feeling in Shylock.  At points contrite, at others vengeful, by the end one cannot help but experience at least the stirrings of sympathy for the Jewish moneylender when he is completely humiliated in court.  Lynch manages to convey a great depth of emotion in the varying cadences of his voice and this is particularly evident in the famous “If you prick us do we not bleed” speech.

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(Lester Lynch as Shylock) Photo Johan Persson

Elements of comedy are fused with the more sombre aspects of this play which allow for light relief in what could otherwise be considered quite a macabre detailing of exacting vengeance.  Act 2 sees the representation of Belmont and an almost film-set quality to proceedings as Portia (Sarah Castle) enters attended by an entourage.  A hedge maze is on stage and also projected onto a screen at the back and serves to put a humorous slant on the task of the suitors in choosing a cask in order to win Portia’s hand in marriage.  The suitors are also outlandish in their behaviour and physical comedy ensues from leaping about to preening in mirrors which creates a more rounded production by linking visual aspects with the vocal talents of the participants.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by Tchaikowsky,       , Music - Andre Tchaikowsky, Libretto - John O'Brien, Director - Keith Warner, Designer - Ashley Martin-Davis, Lighting - Davy Cunningham, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, 2016, Credit: Johan Pers

(Portia and on of her suitors) Photo: Johan Persson

Whilst sometimes it seemed that the music and singing were slightly discordant, the vocal talents of the individuals is not in doubt and there were indeed wonderful orchestral moments: rolling timpani coming to a crescendo with cymbals to emphasise the point at which Shylock was about to collect his pound of flesh from Antonio; deep brass over the moment that Shylock’s body lies centre stage and a more light hearted string accompaniment for the epilogue when the lovers parade under a vast projection of the moon.  What was also impressive were the facial expressions and body language exhibited by each member of the cast which helped to emphasise the emotion of the piece and to reinforce the narrative.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by Tchaikowsky,       , Music - Andre Tchaikowsky, Libretto - John O'Brien, Director - Keith Warner, Designer - Ashley Martin-Davis, Lighting - Davy Cunningham, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, 2016, Credit: Johan Pers

(Lovers under the moon during the Epilogue) Photo: Johan Persson

It is such a shame that Tchaikowsky never got to see his work performed, as the English National Opera initially rejected the piece and he died only three months later.  However, his spirit lingers on as he bequeathed his skull to the RSC so he has now become Yorick, ensuring that for him, in some way, the show would always go on.

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