Archive for October, 2015


Review of Shakespeare’s Macbeth @thegatearts

October 28, 2015

Review by Lucy Menon @LucyMenon

Performed by: The Pantaloons
Directed by: Stephen Purcell
Produced by: Mark Hayward and Caitlin Storey
Venue: The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff
Date: Thrusday 22nd October 2015

Before attending this production, a quick glance at the length and breadth of their proposed tour gave me the impression that this was certainly a company in demand. From Yorkshire to Essex, The Pantaloons have a “one night only” show across the country for over a month so it gives you plenty of chance to catch them somewhere, and I can highly recommend that you do.

In a season where Macbeth seems to be in vogue, with the latest Fassnebender film offering (which I have yet to see, but do intend to), I felt that this comic interpretation of “the Scottish Play” was the perfect antithesis to something that is essentially a psychological thriller with a very high body count! Channelling the film noir tradition as well as the gangster genre with some stand-up comedy thrown in for good measure, the company evoked a wonderful atmosphere that involved the audience directly but still managed to maintain a believable story-telling narrative.

On entering, the cast were already playing musical instruments and chatting with the audience which established the pantomime aspect of the production. They introduced the play with a song about “the curse of Macbeth”. Dressed in suits and braces, reminiscent of gangsters, the costuming helped to establish the idea of a murky underworld which worked well for the nature of Macbeth. It was a very small performance area but The Pantaloons proved how a minimal set does not mean minimal results: most of the cast had multiple roles but, through small costume changes and vocal alteration, each of these roles were clearly developed and there was no confusion over characterisation. The Weird Sisters were puppets with eerie faces which provided an apt spookiness as they were indeed disembodied creatures that were able to disappear suddenly.

The company also had ingenious ideas such as using torches for headlights to mimic a car, spraying a bottle of water into the air and saying, “it was drizzling”, rustling a plastic bag next to a microphone to give the impression of rain and having Kelly Griffiths pretend to be a lamppost by holding a light above Hannah Ellis when she was narrating as Malcolm! By taking motifs such as these, that the audience are familiar with, and putting a twist on it, the humour of the situation was evoked with ease and to great effect. One instance of this was when Malcolm switched to become Narrator-Malcolm and the other characters seemed shocked by what was said and then this was countered with, “You can’t hear me, I’m narrating.” Another example was when the cast responded to real time events, such as an audience member knocking over a cup, which, despite breaking the fourth wall of performance, actually enhanced the production. The ability of the cast to retain control of the situation was exceptional as such improvisation had the potential to disrupt, or at least interrupt, the flow of narrative but they stayed in charge of the tale and the darkness of Macbeth was sustained.

There were some nice touches including Ross (Alex Rivers) dusting the chair for Duncan (Kelly Griffiths) and shaving him too: it was comical yet also made the situation more believable. Alex Rivers switched between being Ross the dogsbody to a rather chilling Lady Macbeth and delivered the lines with a seriousness that belied the comedy of the earlier role. I felt her to be very much in control of the language and she demonstrated the power dynamic in the relationship that Lady Macbeth has over her husband extremely well. It is made evident that the couple care deeply for each other through frequent physical contact such as face stroking, but it was also revealed to be a disturbing force that in the end, propels them to commit murder.

Darkness and light were put to great effect in this production: a shadow of a dagger was seen to be present during Macbeth’s famous soliloquy of “Is this a dagger I see before me?” and as different cast members were on different sides of the stage, it seemed as if Macbeth was surrounded by this dark presence. This was carried through into the second half where a lot of the action was played out in torch light which emphasised the ideas of sleep, danger, secrets and confusion associated with the darkness.

Sound effects and music were also put to good use with chilling keyboards running through high and low notes in a disturbing fashion, wood blocks, “owl” screeching, drums for footsteps all helped to increase the tension during Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s speech after they have executed their plans. I actually felt my own heart beating which goes to show how the atmosphere was intensified and this was also reflected in the pace of the speech of the characters. Re-entering with red gloves on to symbolise the bloodshed, Lady Macbeth began to speak far more quickly, whereas Macbeth slowed down to the point he sounded dazed and drunk. Lady Macbeth seems to be genuinely frustrated with her husband and the pair engage in what can be seen as a real domestic argument, albeit on this occasion on the rather more surreal subject of the murder they have just committed.

The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff

The Porter (Kelly Griffiths) managed to engage the audience (all the more entertaining as certain people were obviously more responsive than others at being involved directly) and cracked several groan-worthy jokes which were well received. The humour was heightened by the fact that Macduff (Neil Jennings) responded in a deadpan and uninterested manner to any attempts the Porter made to be funny. Macbeth also manages to undercut Macduff’s tale of how horrific things have been by simply saying, “rough night” which injected an element of humour to the otherwise very solemn narrative.

The re-enactment of a busy train station to signify Malcolm’s journey away from Scotland was well planned out and once again added a wonderful touch of realism to a play that often becomes quite supernatural. The improvisation of using the earlier stories from the audience members as “news” hawked by the paper-seller at the station was great. Having a completely incoherent tanoy changing the train departure platform at the last minute from 1 to 33 also elicited laughs due to the fact that we can all identify with the situation.

There were exquisite moments of bathos in this production delivered through wonderful lines such as “Banquo, park the motor” and “Macbeth lurked outside soliloquising” which was a great way to set up the scene and really struck a chord with anyone that has ever studied Shakespeare and wondered why all these brooding characters seem to be talking to themselves!

Christopher Smart delivered a suitably conflicted Macbeth with a commanding stage presence: at one point coming right into the audience and almost touching several people while he is delivering his speech which draws individuals into empathising with him. The lines were delivered convincingly and Macbeth’s mental turmoil is established well and we see him waver over the decision to kill.

The Macbeths

During the second half, the Porter brought round shots of wine for the audience and gave us lines to involve us in the banquet scene. This was clever as it meant that as Macbeth suffered his mental breakdown of seeing Banquo at the meal we were exposed to it as guests at a party and it made it seem all the more uncomfortable.

There was further amusement derived from the saxophone player being shot to shut him up and then he shuffled himself off stage along the floor which caused the audience to laugh and was also accompanied by one of the cast saying “Don’t encourage him!” which just made it all the funnier.

A special commendation goes to Neil Jennings’ portrayal of Macduff hearing the news about the murder of his wife and children as his reactions were incredibly well acted and his distress was made clear through anger as well as an almost tearful response that was not over exaggerated. The final fight scene between Macduff and Macbeth was incredible and extremely well choreographed to the point I felt it was so realistic it made for uncomfortable viewing.

Concluding with the “curse of Macbeth” song that they had started with, the cast managed to make a well rounded narrative of an age-old tale by infusing it with interesting and inventive modern twists. The pantomime techniques add an air of spontaneity and thus means that each performance will be unique in some way which adds to the charm of this company. Go and see it…if you dare!

Find out more here

Tour Dates:

Wednesday 28 October
Hedingham Castle
01787 460 261

Thursday 29 October
The Lights
ANDOVER, Hampshire, SP10 1AH
01264 368 368

Friday 30 October
The Bacon Theatre
CHELTENHAM, Gloucestershire, GL51 6HE
01242 258 002

Sunday 1 November
The Watermark
01752 892 220

Tuesday 3 November
Palace Theatre
NEWARK, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1JY
01636 655755

Wednesday 4 November
Guildhall Arts Centre
GRANTHAM, Lincolnshire, NG31 6PZ
01476 406 158

Thursday 5 November
Cranleigh Arts Centre
01483 278 000

Friday 6 November
Brookside Theatre
01708 755 775

Saturday 7 November
Brookside Theatre
01708 755 775

Thursday 12 November
Gulbenkian Theatre
01227 769 075

Friday 13 November
Memorial Hall
DEREHAM, Norfolk, NR19 2DJ
01362 696943

Saturday 14 November
The Place
BEDFORD, Bedfordshire, MK40 3DE
01234 354 321

Sunday 15 November
Drayton Arms
LONDON, Greater London, SW5 0LJ
020 7835 2301

Monday 16 November
Drayton Arms
LONDON, Greater London, SW5 0LJ
020 7835 2301

Tuesday 17 November
BROMSGROVE, Birmingham, B60 1AX
01527 577 330

Thursday 19 November
Pomegranate Theatre
CHESTERFIELD, Derbyshire, S41 7TX
01246 345 222

Friday 20 November
Braintree Arts Theatre
01376 556 354

Saturday 21 November
St Peters by the Waterfront
IPSWICH, Suffolk, IP1 1XF
01473 225 269

Sunday 22 November
Dilham Village Hall
01692 536 666

Tuesday 24 November
Mumford Theatre
0845 196 2320

Wednesday 25 November
Mumford Theatre
0845 196 2320

Thursday 26 November
Trinity Theatre
01892 678 678


Macbeth: This Thursday at the Gate, Cardiff

October 19, 2015

Tickets: £12 Adult/ £8 Conc. BOOK NOW

The Pantaloons: Macbeth

This is not a story for the faint hearted. It’s the story of how old King Duncan died. It’s a story of murder and betrayal. It’s a story of supernatural sorcery. And it’s a story that’s going to be retold as you’ve never seen it before.

Taking their cues from film noir, gangland Britain and the clowning tradition (yes, really) the critically acclaimed Pantaloons Theatre company put their own contemporary spin on Shakespeare’s most dangerous play.

Tragic and hilarious in equal measures, this innovative take on ‘The Scottish Play’ (Macbeth) features female fatale, high-speed chases, killer lines, killer crimes, and some seriously weird sisters.


Who’s there?

October 16, 2015

A review of the Cumberbatch Hamlet by Eoin Price, who teaches Renaissance drama at Swansea University


Question: Who’s there?
Answer: Benedict Cumberbatch. Everywhere.
Yes, last night was the live screening of the Benedict CumberHamlet, a show which has been sold out for what seems like several summers. The production opened to a flurry of controversy (or did it? It was reviewed in preview after all). The early decision to open the play with the cast performing ‘to be or not to be’ was criticised at the time and while I don’t object to experimentation, it sounds like it was unlikely to work (even if it was fun when, in the specially prepared live screening preview, Cumberbatch visited a school in which the children performed those famous words in a similar fashion).

Even still, the production made several changes to the opening scenes and I found myself somewhat disappointed by them. Cumberbatch/Hamlet spoke the opening lines: the focus was on him from the outset when the conventional staging keeps him offstage…

View original post 295 more words


Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet in Cardiff Cinemas

October 14, 2015


The Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet is going to be screened tomorrow (October 15th) at Cinemas in and around Cardiff. It will also be screened at the Paget Rooms, Penarth, on Wednesday Oct 21st, and at Chapter on later dates.

Find out more here


Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Review @MidsummerPAC

October 6, 2015

Review by Lucy Menon (Cardiff University alumna)

Produced By: Pontardawe Arts Centre
Directed By: Derek Cobley
Friday 2nd October 2015, Wales Millennium Centre

On Friday 2nd October 2015, a more Autumnal evening as opposed to a Midsummer one, twelve Welsh actors from the Pontardawe Arts Centre enthralled the audience of the Wales Millennium Centre with their interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Having studied it at school many Midsummer nights ago now, this particular play has always held a special intrigue for me and indeed, it is considered one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. With a wonderful plot charting the events of what happens when the human world and fairy world crash into each other in the name of love and jealousy, Shakespeare creates an entertaining fiasco in which the audience can’t help but be swept along! The performance took place in the dance studio just behind the Millennium Centre which is a small venue and therefore instantly creates an intimate space: perfect for conveying magical and ethereal qualities. Audience members ranged from children to adults and there was barely a seat free which meant that this performance could be fully appreciated: I have seen several interpretations of this play but I can honestly say that this is one of the best.

The set design was minimal with two curtains of gauze, lit from the back with pale pink and green hues to start; a warmth was created for the court scenes through the use of red and orange, which later became blue and green and served to establish a colder, more eerie feel for the forest and fairy scenes. So often the disturbing qualities of the fairy world are sublimated into the comedy of the overarching theme of misdirection but I appreciated the malevolent spirits that were portrayed in this version and I felt that it captured more of Shakespeare’s original intent.

Whilst this can seem a light-hearted play with a happy ending, it is important to remember that it starts with a father who would rather agree to the death of his daughter than see her marry her choice of husband instead of his own, and a fairy King so jealous of a human child that he is willing to punish his wife in a cruel deception for her devotion. A disturbing patriarchy is at work here and the female characters are considered mere possessions, mocked, spurned and humiliated even to the point where they debase themselves! Chaos ensues as a result of mischievous, interfering fairies and even the resolution of the play is contrived through the use of potions, even if they are restoratives and the couples are in the “correct” pairs. Of course, there is humour to be derived from these situations too and Shakespeare’s witty lines were delivered with great comic timing but the actors also managed to maintain the desperation and misery that belies the surface entertainment. This is a tricky thing to convey and this is why I felt this production had more to offer than most.

Without having read the programme, throughout the performance, I jotted down the notes “accessible” and “excellently paced” which, as it turns out, were particular points which the company wished to emphasise in their interpretation. The lack of an interval also meant that the pace was able to build naturally and the tension to be carried through without interruption, which made for a more concentrated time span and thus a more intense performance. The cast conveyed emotion extremely convincingly through precise delivery of language which helped with understanding and drew out the humour of the lines. The cast doubled up on several characters (which is frequently the case) and I found that this worked well as it reinforced the parallels between the court and fairy world and emphasised how certain themes and characteristics are inherent in us all. Michelle McTernan (Titania/ Hippolyta) and Huw Novelli (Oberon/ Theseus) played the tensions present in both the courtly couple and the fairy couple very convincingly; this was perhaps particularly evident in the exchange over the Changeling Boy where it really did seem like a genuine domestic disagreement and struggle for power to be right. Helena (Alice White) managed to make her lines humorous but always kept a sense of the despair of her situation. She also used the stage space well as she pursued Demetrius (Jason Marc-Williams) and literally threw herself after him at points.

Movement was also key in this production with Puck’s (Louise Collins) motions deliberate and almost dance-like which contrasted with the sashaying of Titania and Oberon and the chaotic running of the Athenian couples. Puck would often crouch down and work on lower levels which emphasised the notion of mischievous nature at work. After Titania had been put to sleep, she remained on stage, covered by a green blanket, which blends into the idea of the forest and then the Athenians enter: the exchange between Hermia (Sophie Hughes) and Lysander (Rhys Warrington) is comical and the sexual tension played out against her virtue is evident. It is also a good way of showing how the human and fairy world converge as Titania remains present on stage throughout. The Mechanicals also enter this space so we have yet another layer intertwining which results in Titania falling in love with Bottom (Kevin Johns). Titania’s passion is well acted and her lust is comical especially when accompanied by a lot of braying from Bottom! The boyish bravado exhibited by Lysander and Demetrius when vying for Helena’s attention is extremely well played through the use of over-exaggerated theatrical movements such as preening and flexing muscles, pushing in front of each other, taking off jackets and trying to kiss her hand, and make for an amusing spectacle. When Hermia launches herself at Helena in a bid to scratch out her eyes, she is caught by the men and this also becomes a source of humour as she struggles to reach her quarry. The small nuances such as Titania jiggling Bottom’s stomach and him twitching his legs in excitement while he is laid next to her were great touches which served to add a reality to something so dream-like and was a nice addition to characterisation. The overlapping of the worlds continued by having the robed sprites come into the audience which was quite unsettling. Then, later, during the Mechanicals’ play, the couples also sat on the steps by the audience which enhanced the levels of intimacy and involved the audience directly, uniting us in the spectacle.

The Mechanicals
The Mechanicals are stereotyped as simple bumpkins and the heavy Welsh accents served to emphasise the humour in their lines with audience members laughing out loud at several points. The use of basic props such as a ladder, hamper and stool were put to good use and helped to draw out a more physical humour with the ladder being dropped on each other and later Puck climbs it and leans of Starveling (Douglas Grey) who is completely oblivious; this is a wonderful visual representation of the convergence of the two worlds. I feel a special mention should go to Sam Harding who played Flute/Thisbe: as one of the smaller roles of the Mechanicals, it is hard to make a presence when having to act next to Bottom but I felt he truly managed to bring out all of the humour possible in this role. With a risqué, low cut dress, a wonderful yellow wig arranged in pigtails and deliberate bad-acting in a high pitched voice, as well as looking awkward through over-acting physical stances, I felt that Thisbe really came alive! Bottom’s chuckles were infectious and had the audience in hysterics. James Scannell also made a marvellous Snout/Lion/Wall and managed to make such a minimal part something memorable. Also, having heard the phrase “Thanks, lovely wall” in a very heavy Welsh accent, the line will never quite be the same for me again! While there was the potential for the Mechanicals’ play to descend into something like a pantomime it continued to be well controlled and this made the overall effect a more believable one as it seemed like the Mechanicals genuinely cared about their production and that, as an audience, we weren’t just watching actors aware that they are playing wannabe actors.

The costumes were in keeping with traditional Elizabethan costuming and served to place the play in time. Often, in a bid to make it more accessible to a modern audience, companies will update to the extreme and lose inherent meaning – they could learn a lot from the Pontardawe Company who were not afraid to retain Shakespeare’s conventions. Reds and golds were used to represent the grandeur of Theseus and Hippolyta; blues and greens were used to clothe Oberon and Titania who also wore wreaths of peacock feathers as crowns which combined a regal arrogance with the natural world well; Puck was dressed in browns and greens to symbolise the natural world, down to an orangey hat which was reminiscent of an acorn; the other sprites were dressed in hooded robes which gave them a disturbing quality as opposed to the playful imps that are frequently portrayed in productions; the Athenian men were similarly clad in breeches and jackets but in opposite colour, Lysander in red and Demetrius in darker blue-black, which was useful in distinguishing them; the women had dresses with flowery patterns which helped to maintain the links with the natural world throughout and, at the end, they each wore a garland of white flowers in their hair after their marriages, which also reminded the audience of the fact that the juice of a flower was responsible for events; the Mechanicals were dressed in brown leathers and represented the working class well with Quince (Chris Morgan) dressed in black and white with a mortar board to give him an air of authority. Music also added to the atmosphere by incorporating whispering sounds which helped to depict a more sinister aspect to the fairy world and establish an ethereal quality. The cast then came together for the finale in which they danced to a traditional tune.

And finally…
The Pontardawe cast certainly did the play justice with a fully rounded production in terms of set design, clever costuming and, of course, polished performances that really emphasised the meaning and humour of Shakespeare’s word play and wit. A show well worth catching – it will be touring the following venues:

Tuesday 6th October at 7:30pm
Y Fyrness, Llanelli
01495 355800

Thursday 8th October at 7:30pm
The Metropole, Abertillery
01495 322510

Tuesday 13th October at 7:30pm
The Coliseum, Aberdare
01685 882380

Thursday 15th October at 7:30pm
Blackwood Miners Institute
01495 337206

Some production images are available from Titania here:


Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cardiff, Oct 2nd

October 1, 2015

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Produced by Pontardawe Arts Centre
Directed by Derek Cobley

At the Wales Millenium Centre, Friday Oct 2nd, 7.30pm

There is a reason why A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most popular and oft performed of Shakespeare’s comic plays.  It is brimful of fun; lovers galore, interwoven plots and endless twists and turns as mischievous and conspiring fairies lead us on a merry dance through the forest.  It is a quite fantastical piece exploring love, obsession and jealousy and set in a mysterious magical world in which anything can happen.

A superb play for the uninitiated and equally for the Shakespeare enthusiast.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to experience the thrill of Shakespeare’s words as a superb cast of twelve of the finest Welsh actors take us into the forest for the mayhem to commence.

Find out more here

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