On Bear Ridge

“One minute we had customers, the next minute there was no-one.”

In a lost village, blurred by redrawn borders, hidden under a crumb on the map, Bear Ridge Stores still stands. After a hundred years, the family butchers and grocers – a place for odds and ends, contraband goods, and the last petrol pump for 30 miles – is now silent. But owners John Daniel and Noni are going nowhere. They are defiantly drinking the remaining whiskey and remembering good times, when everyone was on the same side and the old language shone. Outside in the dark, a figure is making their way towards them…

One of Wales’ most celebrated writers, Ed Thomas (co-creator of Hinterland) makes a momentous return to the stage with this semi-autobiographical story about the places we leave behind, the indelible marks they make on us, and the unreliable memories we hold onto.

Ed Thomas speaks about writing the play

Writer Ed Thomas

Co-directors Vicky Featherstone & Ed Thomas

Designer Cai Dyfan

Composer John Hardy

Sound Designer Mike Beer

Cast

Noni: Rakie Ayola

The Captain: Jason Hughes

John Daniel: Rhys Ifans

Ifan William: Sion Daniel Young

World Premiere in Sherman Theatre‘s Main House

National Theatre Wales and Royal Court Theatre

Performed in English (though there are a few Welsh words present e.g. bara brith).

Contains strong language, scenes of an adult nature, loud noises & gun shots

Running time: Approx. 95 minutes (no interval)

I saw it on 25 September 2019 at 7.30pm.

The cast and staff speak of the play.

Synopsis

I usually give quite detailed, near exhaustive, accounts of a narrative but I feel due to how new this play is it would be a disservice to do so. I will just give a general outline for those who want it. A lot of the impact is in the dialogue and performance of this play, so much so it could easily be adapted for radio, so it may seem relatively uneventful. It’s an allegorical narrative regarding the playwright’s memories of his community and concerns about the challenges the Welsh language and culture face both from the past and going forward when there are so many foreign influences, most notably that of England. I probably have forgotten certain elements or omit them intentionally in the following paragraphs so there are some things for you to experience for yourself.

A man, John Daniel, awakens in the remnants of his burnt out butcher’s shop after an aerial carpet bombing raid. He laments he is all alone now in the dark as snow falls about him. He begins to recount the birth of his son with his wife Noni and how proud he was. (I’ve forgotten the son’s name ironically but he does have one).

We then see him and his wife waving their butcher’s cleavers as planes fly overhead. They condemn that they don’t know if they’re on their side or against them during an ongoing war. A war that apparently ended decades ago yet still seems to affect them currently. They then spend a while discussing how their community at Bear Ridge has dwindled as they relive the memories of their past both in terms of recalling their customers, food and events. Their young slaughterman Ifan William comes from out of the trapdoor and goes into the fridge and returns to the underground slaughterhouse after some brief chatter. The couple continue their discussion once he has left reciting their mantra of foodstuffs happily to each other relishing the memories.

John Daniel and Noni dancing to the radio

As the couple are dancing to a repeating song on the radio a captain, who was involved in the ongoing war, walks into their shop and holds them at gunpoint not sure if they are friend or foe. Once reassured he chats with them and says the song reminded him of his mother and youth. He recounts a number of things, including how his commanding officer gave him the order to clear the mountain before then shooting herself to his shock. Eventually he gains the couple’s confidence. They discuss memories and ‘the old language’ which only John Daniel now knows how to speak but laments he is forgetting. He only remembers it because he remembers speaking it to others but they’re all in the past so all he has are his memories with which to keep the language alive. His son spoke it fluently, Noni learned some but he is ultimately alone now in knowing it which throws him into despair.

Suddenly the captain is on edge when Ifan William comes from out of the trap door again. He demands to know why they didn’t tell him of this third person. ‘You never asked’ John Daniel replies drily. Ifan William recounts his childhood growing up and going to university with the now dead son of the couple. The son went to university and was very progressive, philosophical and wanted to keep the ‘old language’ alive. However the son and Ifan William (who the son taught Welsh) were beaten by others one day in the street accusing them of being Germans and other nationalities though they were not as these aggressors didn’t recognise the old language of their own country and assumed the worst (the identity of the characters in the play as native Welsh people is never explicitly stated but some words and phrases dotted throughout the dialogue suggest this along with the distinctly Welsh naming styles of the characters). The son died in the war and had so much potential the characters who knew him lament. Ifan William admits he truly loved their son and their son loved him (to the degree it’s implied to have been romantic in nature but this too is never made explicit). John Daniel silently embraces Ifan William for their mutual loss.

The captain holds his service revolver to his head as Ifan William watches

The captain, after offering Ifan William a swig from his canteen, again recounts his memories. How he was ordered to clear the mountain by a commanding officer who then killed herself immediately afterwards in front of him having fulfilled her duty. The couple refuse to leave, despite being the only people left, as this is where they belong as does Ifan William. The captain tells them he is on the same side as them. Noni, agitated by such a broad declaration, asks if he really is or not and compares it to a river where there are two sides – the side they are on and the other side. People who want to swim over can try but the current is strong and deep many drown in the effort (as if referring to the Severn river which acts as both the physical and metaphysical division between the Welsh and English identities). She asks the captain again if he really is on their side or not. He insists he is. Now they’re all assured Noni offers to make tea and the captain excuses himself asking to go to the bathroom. John Daniel says it’s around the corner, behind the rocks, outside the building (actually it may have been in the building but the actor exits the stage via the rear). The captain leaves silently.

Ifan William enters carrying a tray piled high with a china tea service. The couple and Ifan William sit down to drink. A single gun shot rings out (presumably the captain coming to the same conclusion his commander did and committing suicide). Nothing is said. No one reacts. They sit in silence drinking their tea and then, once everyone is content, a plane flies overhead and it suddenly cuts to black and it seems a bomb was finally dropped on Bear Ridge to clear it.

The End.

Arguably this loops back to the start of the play though you could also read the beginning as John Daniel lamenting his isolation as the only person who knows the old language… which he truly is if the play loops back to that opening scene as his wife (who was a learner), his son (who was fluent) and Ifan William (who was, I think, semi-fluent) are all now gone leaving him truly alone both in his memories, knowledge and physically.

Costumes

I won’t go into great detail. They’re all dressed in the manner one would expect of people left with little to sustain themselves during an ongoing conflict with few if any supplies available over a long time.

John Daniel is dressed in a worn jumper and the white, but now grubby and worn, coat of a butcher with an orange gilet over it. Around his ankles are scraps of cloth over his worn boots. A shaggy beard and overall dishevelled state indicate he has little time to pretend like he is at all at peace with life to attend to such things. Not just due to the situation they find themselves in but it seems like he’s always been a bit like this and the gilet is, as explained during a piece of dialogue, a birthday resent from his wife and the only clean thing on him. Life weighs heavy on his shoulders.

Noni wears an apron and cardigan with a tattered skirt and hobnail boots. Even in these bad times it’s evident she tries her best to maintain normality by taking care of herself appearance wise unlike her husband.

Ifan William is young and his clothes are relatively clean with little sign of wear. They are also of a much more modern, casual sportswear, design compared to those of John Daniel and Noni who, in comparison, could be from a hundred years ago or yesterday in their style of dress (except for the gilet which seems to act like a life vest keeping John Daniel afloat in modern times). The only dirt on the young man’s clothing is the dried, caked, blood from the job he does on his butcher’s apron. His beard and hair are relatively well trimmed in comparison to his wild, mountain man, looking employer John Daniel.

The captain has outerwear of a military design. I would say it reflects the clothing of a First World War office in the trenches but I believe it is meant to evoke a timeless militaristic style really. He wears heavy boots, a serviceman’s belt of pouches and a holster with his service revolver. A large, thick, scarf is wrapped around his neck obscuring any signs of a uniform and he wears a full length woollen, olive drab coloured, trench coat so little else is visible on his person beneath it.

Staging

A rough sketch of the stage layout. I forgot to include the debris at the sides of the stage.

Throughout the play the floor is covered in a light layer of fake snow as though the interior and exterior of the butcher’s shop is gutted.

There are three walls to represent the interior of the shop. On the left wall is a cupboard where Noni keeps the trinkets she has collected and which spill out at the start of the play. On the right is a fridge door which when opened lets the actor walk through as if entering a room sized fridge. Again this too is featured at the start of the play but neither plays any purpose besides establishing the characters of Noni and Ifan William.

The rear wall is in fact technically two pieces which sit either side of a green door frame and door. These are the shop front, gutted by a previous bomb explosion it can be assumed, and a broken window. The door itself is intact with a ‘sorry we are closed’ sign on it and a set of lace curtain netting across it. These are all removed about half way through the run time once everyone is, presumably, stood outside.

A pile of broken school desks and furniture sits left of centre representing all the furniture they’ve had to break up for firewood during the ongoing harsh weather conditions on the mountain without any outside aid arriving. Hidden within this pile are two milk crates used for seats at certain points of the play. Ifan William later uses a tin box as a stool too which I think he brings up from the trapdoor.

Beyond the ‘shop’ are black, dead, trees and high piles of rock to represent the mountain range. A path leads behind the rocks which is where the captain goes, off stage, at the end of the play.

The backdrop is a curved white sheet lit in a manner to give the illusion of a heavy misty skyline beyond which nothing can be seen. It becomes brightly lit when planes fly over to silhouette the characters against it.

Overall I feel it’s very effective though I question if you could actually reduce the staging to be even more minimalist to be honest as so much of the play is in fact grounded in it’s dialogue rather than actions. Throughout the only ‘actions’ that occur are the couple wave their tools at the planes flying overhead once or twice cursing at them, an overfilled cupboard spilling, the couple dance, the captain firing his gun in frustration, Ifan William going in and out of the trapdoor, in and out of the fridge and later kicking up some dust, John Daniel when lamenting the loss of the old language scrabbling about creating a dust storm in frustration and the tea service being brought on at the end of the play. In fact you could even embellish it if you wanted to be honest without detracting from the core dynamics of the play.

An interview, featuring clips, about the play in Welsh. Turn on the auto-translation of the Closed Captions if you want to follow the comments made.

Review

The allegorical play begins with an incredibly strong echo of Dylan Thomas’ lyrical dialogue style most notably heard in Under Milk Wood when John Daniel and Noni begin reciting a list of customers and the foodstuffs they sold and enjoyed in the past as if relishing and being nourished by the language and memories they share.

Throughout John Daniels has a phrase he often uses ‘no, you’re alright’ when he wants to assure others or dismiss something troubling. You could reflect he says this because he himself is not alright though I’ve often heard fellow Welshmen, admittedly of an older generation, use the phrase in the same tone Rhys Ifans uses where it is more akin to ‘I don’t approve but I accept the situation at hand’. There is a lot of the dour Welsh humour present in the play and I wonder if non-Welsh people will ‘get it’. Only when it’s performed in England will we know. I’m sure they will but sometimes it does seem people unfamiliar with that Welsh style of humour feel it can be harsh hence the stereotype some hang onto of us being isolationist when in reality we are very warm towards visitors.

Noni is a difficult character to categorise. She collects trinkets, she laments her sons death and she loves her husband who it seems is notably older than her. The only real information we get about her past, her memories, tends to be through John Daniels recounting the birth of his son and his first encounter with Noni where they both knew they were meant to be together. She fits the Welsh archetype of a valleys girl, that is to say bubbly, chatty, but not afraid of confronting people she doesn’t agree with, however it feels she has the least substance presented to the audience. She seems secondary to the male characters and even her dead son whose ghost echoes throughout the memories of the others. While it can be said that there’s an element of this enforcing traditional stereotypes of women place being in the shadow of the men in their lives it’s not as simple as that in Wales. We have been a soft matriarchy throughout history so a woman being quiet and ‘knowing her place’ is quite alien to us and only crept into our culture through the influences of the English. So there’s an underlying question regarding her character where arguably she is the most conformist of the ‘native’ characters but we don’t have a chance to explore that aspect of her characterisation during the plays run time and it has to be portrayed via the actress’ mannerisms more so than the dialogue.

Ifan William has two scenes, one at the start is somewhat light hearted and merely acts as a set up for the sudden shift in tone towards the end. The actor has some great material to work with as he confesses his feeling to John Daniel and Noni about their son. It could feel a bit laboured by a less skilled actor so to see the shift of the character from somewhat lackadaisical to heart-rendingly broken by his memories really delivers a contrast to John Daniel and Noni. The older characters recount happy times in the past and bemoan their current circumstances while here the younger man finds trauma in the past but, having survived an assault by bigots, seems to thrive in the current circumstances having found his place in the world. So through him we have elements of discussion regarding the ‘truth’ of cultural heritage and the effects of rose tinted memories on passing it to the next generation. While John Daniel speaks of a united community under one language Ifan William presents the harsh reality of conflicting cultures and of prejudice which isn’t acknowledged by the older generation.

The captain, in contrast to the other characters, is notably different sounding not just in accent but diction and phrasing. He is an outsider but I feel the role is being played far too safely so as not to feel jarring when contrasted with the other characters tonally. If anything I would actually like the play to be a bit more bold in this to truly challenge the audience in the later part when he is asked if he is ‘on our side’ or not so they question if he is sincere or playing along for survival. The actor performs the role well but I feel maybe there needs to be some work on the role. Whether it’s to make him more of an outsider conflicting with the other characters or truly get across his desire to be on their side by gradually emulating them.

As it is I assume the intention is for the audience to decide for themselves his motives and values by the end of the play’s events. Does he shoot himself just to repeat history as his commanding officer did; did he do it because, despite his words, he truly couldn’t be on their side despite his intentions as he lacked the language and other cultural aspects to do so; was it because he didn’t seek to become like them. Could it even be the case we should interpret his behaviour as PTSD where he keeps reliving the moment he saw his commanding officer shoot herself, after giving him his orders, thus leaving him to wander in a liminal state somewhere between constantly reliving that memory as a soldier and incapable of reacclimatising to civil society (as is the case for many servicemen who suffer trauma during their service).

I think my overall question about him is, PTSD possibility aside, whether he was a soldier carrying out his duty, but faltered when the opposition was given a face, or a refugee like figure trying to escape the war and ‘join’ the others in their world view of not being defined by the conflict. He feels vaguely defined and I’m not completely certain that was intentional to the degree it appears. Although, in fairness, we never learn his name and it is certain he was meant to be culturally ‘othered’ to the shared culture and history of the other three characters as an outsider.

The staging is good but perhaps needs some refining as I noted when discussing it earlier. At times when a sense of claustrophobia is required it feels there is a bit too much space inside the shop’s interior and yet when they’re meant to be stood outside it feels far too claustrophobic ironically. I’m not sure if that’s because the Sherman’s stage wasn’t quite right for their planned layout but maybe on smaller stages the rubble on the sides (which I omitted from the stage plan though it remains throughout the performance) could be removed to give them more space in the later parts of the play. I only say this as there is a moment later in the play when John Daniels is meant to walk away from the others to ‘speak the old language to the moon’ but unfortunately he is barely 3 metres away on the stage. In fact Rhys gave a cheeky look to the audience at this point as if acknowledging it. Perhaps for that moment he can go onto the ‘mountain path’ the captain later uses leading backstage instead as that would be more effective? It’s an minor issue to be honest.

The performances are excellent but certainly I feel there might be a need to work on the pacing of dialogue or where to emphasis certain lines as sometimes there were moments of speaking over each other with little narrative purpose for it. Also while the characters are distinct I feel there needs to be more confidence in the delivery by the captain as he doesn’t seem as affected nor distinct from the others as he needs to be. As much as none of us wants to see overacting I do feel for John Daniel and Noni to fit the Welsh archetypes they are referencing they may need to be slightly more embellished with John Daniel having a slightly more intense manner with some pregnant pauses possibly.

I understand why the performance choices were made however part of me feels, when the play moves onto the Royal Court Theatre, it’s been done early to ‘tone down’ the Welshness to be more accessible and that feels counter-intuitive considering what the message of this play seems to be. I’ve seen that done in translation of various works to localise things but it never feels like a good idea in the long run. In effect it seems to have caused a Welsh playwright, writing about Welsh cultural matters obliquely, to ‘other’ his message in his own work as if self censoring which speaks volumes about how entrenched the cultural persecution of the Welsh culture and language is in our mindset as a nation.

Part of me feels the refusal to actually name Wales or Welsh in any form is possibly part of the narrative in the sense it is self censorship as the ‘Welsh Not’ was in the classroom for a time in the early twentieth century. However it also in effect makes the play more universal while still retaining the irrefutable inclusion of Welsh things such as the characters’ naming (except the captain who is only known by his military rank title and never his personal name), a reference to bara brith and other elements which seem all too obvious in context to a Welsh audience but might not to a different culture if there was a foreign production of the play. (e.g. how Welsh seems part of the ‘Elder Speech language’ in the Polish fantasy literature series The Witcher and it’s adaptions going as far as the card card in it being called Gwent).

Wales has a number of Welsh playwrights who, when doing work for television, are lauded and award winning yet to set a play in Wales seems to ghettoise it unlike if you set it in England. Perhaps that’s just me recalling my issues with Niall Griffith’s novel ‘Sheepshagger’ which felt like it could have been set in England’s west country or elsewhere rurally without losing anything as it’s so devoid of inherent ‘Welshness’ unlike this play.

I fear, in later productions, this play might have the Welsh elements edited out of it to localise it and thus lose its inherent message. As I said with my review of Gary Owen’s adaption of The Cherry Orchard, which localised Chekov’s play to 1980s Wales, there is a risk of losing part of a message or altering it in adaption which I dearly hope doesn’t occur here as discussion of the trials Wales has faced in maintaining its culture seem to be muted whenever presented to a wider audience. Certainly in my experience few people from other countries know much about us without it being tinged by English imperialism to the point they assume we are part of England and not a separate entity.

There is great potential here but as I’ve seen it so early in it’s run I feel everyone is still finding their stride in their performances and no doubt, should you go see it, they’ll have worked out those nuances so what is already a thoroughly enjoyable, evocative, play about identity will become a modern classic. Already it is getting high praise and, despite the critical tone of this review at times, I thoroughly recommend seeing it!

All Right by R. S. Thomas

I look. You look

Away. No colour,

No ruffling of the brow’s

Surface betrays

Your feeling. As though I

Were not here; as

Though you were your own

Mirror, you arrange yourself

For the play. My eyes’

Adjectives; the way that

I scan you; the

Conjunction the flesh

Needs – all these

Are as nothing

To you. Serene, cool,

Motionless, no statue

Could show less

The impression of

My regard. Madam, I

Grant the artistry

Of your part. Let us

Consider it, then,

A finished performance.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

Diary of a Mad Man

A new adaptation based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol. Performed by award-winning actor, Robert Bowman and directed by Olivier Award nominee Sinéad Rushe.

Poprishchin is a low ranking civil servant for the Government, struggling to make his mark on life, but one day he makes an amazing discovery. Could he really be the next King of Spain?

Driven insane by government bureaucracy and hierarchy, Gogol’s dark comedy exposes one man’s reality spiralling deeper into a surreal fantasy world.

…Bowman perfectly encapsulates the madness as we watch him unravel before our eyes and head deeper into a fantasy world – Western Mail

Tickets: £12/£10

Age 12+

Running time: 1 hour

 

I saw performed at the Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on 4 November 2017. There are no allocated seats which is incredibly rare in established venues but the audience seems so small there is no reason to do so. It also meant we probably got the best experience possible.

The performer, Robert Bowman, starts the play lying still on top of some pallets with a pile of books in one corner and a bare bulb hanging from above. When you enter the door he remains there until everyone is seated slowly turning the piece of paper in his hand.

He starts off speaking so suddenly at the beginning you don’t catch what he says but he is clearer a few minutes later. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not as the room was silent when he began. It did however add to the character’s dissonance and lasts at most the first line or two before he is far clearer as if to instinctively put you at edge as you delve into the mindset of Poprishchin via his increasingly frantic diary entries.

It’s an hour-long monologue where he usually remains on the crate pallets, as if they were the limits of the stage, but will, surpring you the first time it occurs, leavve this space and explore the space including often entering the audience. At certain sections sit in the audience (when performing the section where Poprishchin is going to the theatre one evening), rush at the front row of chairs (during the character’s breakdown) while carrying scissors and go sit in the back row of seats and during the final section after which Poprishchin is taken to the asylum (which he thinks is Spain) so Bowman alters the staging by upturning the pallets to create the walls of the asylum cell where Poprishchin is being kept.

I was sat in the second row with the seats in front of me left empty though people had sat at the far side of the front row. Bowman took advantage of this by sitting in the vacant seats for the ‘at the theatre’ part. He did a gradually more and more forced, over the top, laugh as if the character Poprishchin has to force himself to pretend to be similar to the ordinary theatre goers by overreacting to the unseen performance. Then pointing at myself and others, as we were in second row, telling us to stop overreacting and, during the later ‘I’m the new King of Spain’ section, crashing into the front row seating and invading the back rows while carrying scissors menacingly later prior to the final asylum scenes.

There was a mix of ages attending on the evening but ultimately about only about 12 people came to see the performance. I found that surprising. You would expect more especially with the high praise Bowman has had for this piece year after year having received rave reviews in Edinbrugh, but I guess not… The R17 events did try to promote it but I guess this style of theatre is hard to market in this day where people want spectacle or quantity over quality…

You are meant to start off laughing with Poprishchin only for it to gradually become clear how badly he’s affected with an increasingly warped perception of the world around him. I can’t say anyone laughed out loud but that wasn’t the point… this is the downfall of a man alienated from the society around him and has that dark sort of tragi-comic style of humour that Russia is renowned for and finds itself in many ways reflected in the Welsh sense of humour also.

20171104_192745 the diary of a madman stage and actor before the start

Costume wise he wears a shabby striped dress shirt with a dirty t-shirt beneath, waistcoat and flat cap. During the later sections he removes his shirt and draws tally marks on himself with charcoal. Then a large number 8 on his chest when he thinks he is the new King of Spain. Towards the end he eventually composes, on stage, a cape from sheets of newspaper he straps together with masking tape when he dresses as the king of Spain. He does this all while ranting on stage. Quite impressive though I could see the tears in the paper. I wonder if it’s ever fallen apart of he has torn it too severely when putting it on. Well it’s all part of the spectacle leaving a great impact to see how far the character has fallen.

The stage is four pallets with alterations to hide certain items like the paper chain of dog’s correspondence letters or the paper he scrunched up as a hand puppet to represent the petty councillor confronting him at one point leading to a comedic scene of him conversing with a hand puppet as he mockingly recounts the event. In the final part he upturns the pallets to make the walls of the asylum cell. At one point, to represent the theatre, he opens up a book with a little pop-up theatre building, similar to a child’s pop-up book, then sat in the front row and began to laugh more and more hysterically which in-character showed how desperately out of step the character, yet desiring acceptance, even at this early stage when interacting with those around him (both as part of the play and when interacting with the audience).

A bare bulb hangs down and flares into a orangey pink light at times though there is also the lamp to one side and the stage lighting which intensifies starkly in later scenes creating long shadows across the space. He uses a bulldog clip to hang papers and such on the bare bulb wire in earlier scenes and tears them down later on. The sound and lighting play an important part in establishing the scenes especially in the hellscape like experience of the asylum. In the production’s minimalist staging it helps to enforce the sense of isolation and terror he fears during the story’s progress.

Review: Very intense. I really enjoyed it. I dislike ‘audience interaction’ stuff but this wasn’t reliant on it as Bowman would carry on and adapt as needed so it was more about him making clear how disconnected the character was from society so in fact it really worked incredibly well. We probably had the best experience of it possible as he could crash into the seats and be sat in front of us so there was always that slight barrier but interaction nonetheless. The usher was sat on the chair at the end of the front row, nearest the door, so maybe, if the show sold out, that’s the chair he would take?

Bowman has mastered this piece and you will find other actors failing to match the intensity and pitiable nature of the character in other versions after seeing this. He maintains the intensity of Poprishchin’s alienation throughout with turns between humour and tragedy effortlessly. We see the division between Poprishchin’s public and private identity begin to erode exposed through his developing obsession with numbers, amongst other signs, as his duality of nature declines. The insanity grows in degrees gradually over time replacing the somewhat idiosyncratic normality of earlier scenes with the desperate distress of the comi-tragic ending.

It’s the sort of thing you expect to play at Chapter as it is the experimental arts venue of Cardiff while the Sherman is for more established performers and artistic pieces, The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama is music orientated, Wales Millennium Centre is for the ‘big ticket’ shows and the other venues in the city exist somewhere in between these extremes.

It’s the sort of thing you expect to be followed by a short after talk once it finishes really. But that’s it and off you go off into the bleak cold of night outside having seen an excellent performance that you’ll remember for years to come and compare other actors against.

It’s the sort of thing you should definitely go see at least once in your life time, whether you love theatre or not, as it is a brilliant experience. I would happily go see it again given the chance. Highly recommended.

It’s the sort of thing you should definitely go see!

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1962 play by Edward Albee. It examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Late one evening, after a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests, and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship.

The play is in three acts, normally taking a little less than three hours to perform, with two 10-minute intermissions. The title is a pun on the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs (1933), substituting the name of the celebrated English author Virginia Woolf. Martha and George repeatedly sing this version of the song throughout the play.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. It is frequently revived on the modern stage.

Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill star in a new production of the play, directed by James MacDonald, at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London currently (early 2017). This is the production I shall be discussing in this post from this point on though I do discuss the play in a broader aspect too while doing this.

Stage Layout

whose afraid of virginia woolf staging

 

Beige: stage floor

Light grey: Raised areas

Dark Grey: The entrance and the stairs leading up to the bedrooms.

Green: Access off stage. The lefthand door goes to the kitchen, the middle is the entrance to the house and living room and the one on the right leads to the toilet.

Purple: Offstage. I guess those sat on the right would have had some limited view but most events occur towards the front of stage.

Orange: The drinks trolley and the record player.

Red: the seating.

Brown: On the left the fireplace, centrally the table and the cabinet on which the piece of art sits.

Yellow: The triangle is the art piece they comment onn in the first act, the circles the bells that get hit at one point and the diamond a free standing light.

Thick black: Walls.

This image is an estimation of how everything was placed on stage. Kirsty Walk, during the brief break between acts 2 and 3 told us about the staging. The couch and lower level is set out like a boxing ring into which the characters enter to confront each other with the fireplace, doorway and reading areas act as the ringside where they take respite from the frisson of events as observers.

Plot summary

Act One: “Fun and Games”

George and Martha engage in dangerous emotional games. George is an associate professor of history and Martha is the daughter of the president of the college. After they return home, Martha reveals she has invited a young married couple, whom she met at the party, for a drink. The guests arrive – Nick, a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths), and his wife, Honey. As the four drink, Martha and George engage in scathing verbal abuse of each other in front of Nick and Honey. The younger couple is first embarrassed and later enmeshed. They stay.

Martha taunts George aggressively, and he retaliates with his usual passive aggression. Martha tells an embarrassing story about how she humiliated him with a sucker-punch in front of her father. During the telling, George appears with a gun and fires at Martha, but an umbrella pops out. After this scare, Martha’s taunts continue, and George reacts violently by breaking a bottle. Nick and Honey become increasingly unsettled and, at the end of the act, Honey runs to the bathroom to vomit, because she had too much to drink.

Act Two: “Walpurgisnacht”

Traditionally, “Walpurgisnacht” is the name of an annual witches’ meeting (satiric in the context of the play). Nick and George are sitting outside. As they talk about their wives, Nick says that his wife had a “hysterical pregnancy”. George tells Nick about a time that he went to a gin-mill with some boarding school classmates, one of whom had accidentally killed his mother by shooting her. This friend was laughed at for ordering “bergin”. The following summer, the friend accidentally killed his father while driving, was committed to an asylum, and never spoke again. George and Nick discuss the possibility of having children and eventually argue and insult each other. After they rejoin the women in the house, Martha and Nick dance suggestively. Martha also reveals the truth about George’s creative writing escapades: he had tried to publish a novel about a boy who accidentally killed both of his parents (with the implication that the deaths were actually murder), but Martha’s father would not let it be published. George responds by attacking Martha, but Nick separates them.

George suggests a new game called “Get the Guests”. George insults and mocks Honey with an extemporaneous tale of “the Mousie” who “tooted brandy immodestly and spent half her time in the up-chuck”. Honey realizes that the story is about her and her “hysterical pregnancy”. The implication is that she trapped Nick into marrying her because of a false pregnancy. She feels sick and runs to the bathroom again.

At the end of this scene, Martha starts to act seductively towards Nick in George’s presence. George pretends to react calmly, reading a book. As Martha and Nick walk upstairs, George throws his book against the door. In all productions until 2005, Honey returns, wondering who rang the doorbell (Martha and Nick had knocked into some bells). George comes up with a plan to tell Martha that their son has died, and the act ends with George eagerly preparing to tell her. In what is labelled the “Definitive Edition” of the script, however, the second act ends before Honey arrives.

Act Three: “The Exorcism”

Martha appears alone in the living room, shouting at the others to come out from hiding. Nick joins her. The doorbell rings: it is George, with a bunch of snapdragons in his hand, calling out, “Flores para los muertos” (flowers for the dead), a reference to the play and movie A Streetcar Named Desire, also about a marriage and outside influences. Martha and George argue about whether the moon is up or down: George insists it is up, while Martha says she saw no moon from the bedroom. This leads to a discussion in which Martha and George insult Nick in tandem, an argument revealing that Nick was too drunk to have sex with Martha upstairs.

George asks Nick to bring Honey back for the final game – “Bringing Up Baby”. George and Martha have a son, about whom George has repeatedly told Martha to keep quiet. George talks about Martha’s overbearing attitude toward their son. He then prompts her for her “recitation”, in which they describe, in a bizarre duet, their son’s upbringing. Martha describes their son’s beauty and talents and then accuses George of ruining his life. As this segment progresses, George recites sections of the Libera me (part of the Requiem Mass, the Latin mass for the dead).

At the end of the play, George informs Martha that a messenger from Western Union arrived at the door earlier with a telegram saying their son was “killed late in the afternoon…on a country road, with his learner’s permit in his pocket” and that he “swerved, to avoid a porcupine”. The description matches that of the boy in the gin-mill story told earlier. Martha screams, “You can’t do that!” and collapses.

It becomes clear to the guests that George and Martha’s son is a mutually agreed-upon fiction. The fictional son is a final “game” the two have been playing since discovering early in their marriage that they are infertile. George has decided to “kill” him because Martha broke the game’s single rule: never mention their son to others. Overcome with horror and pity, Nick and Honey leave. Martha suggests they could invent a new imaginary child, but George forbids the idea, saying it was time for the game to end. The play ends with George singing, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to Martha, whereupon she replies, “I am, George…I am.”

Review

When people debate the greatest plays ever written this one is regularly in top 10s and rightly so, when acted well it is one of the most devastating evenings of theatre you can encounter.

However the live broadcast of the current production I saw of it was not…

In a sentence I found that subtlety was thrown out for overt caricature which led the dark dry humour of the play to be performed as if it was an American sitcom.

There are only four roles in the play.

Martha – (Imelda Staunton) A screeching loud New Englander

the daughter of the president of the college

George – (Conleth Hill) an associate professor of history

A put upon ‘family man’ with a whiny nasal tonality

Nick – (Luke Treadaway) A stereotypical all American corn fed jock

a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths)

Honey – (Imogen Poots) A squeaky voiced, ditzy, North West all American girl

Nick’s childhood sweetheart and wife

I think what set it off on the wrong foot was the preceding short documentary we were presented with about the play’s history with talking head after talking head telling us of how Albee has humorous dialogue. This led to certain members of the audience laughing at every few lines as if a laugh track was playing in their head telling them when, where and to what degree to laugh.

Do you ever feel like you’re the young child in the children’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? That is how I feel about this particular production. It has received glowing reviews but the bitterness of the characters and their predicament is lost in people doing the broadest impressions of Americans they can manage. For the time period and location the play is set it’s not inaccurate but I kept getting the feeling more effort was put into that side of the production than working on the nuances of each exchange between the characters. Maybe I just feel Imelda Staunton is too old to play the role. Yes controversial. How dare I say such a thing of a living legend. But it reminds me of when, in opera, you have people with visible grey hair performing the role of teenagers because they’re the ones with the ability to do so. The performance is good but when you have a very short woman in her 60s. Playing a woman in her 50s, pawing at a tall 32 year old (playing a 28 year old) it comes across as false he would have, at least in this production, an all but implied sexual liaison while his wife lies drunk in the toilet.

The whole production is oddly paced and plays out in the style of a 1960s sitcom in tone. I think what suits it better is to play it far more straight, to allow the black humour of the passive aggression play out without flourishes. Perhaps what I instinctively felt was there was no energy between the performers. Of course it’s about dysfunctional relationships but even that has an energy to it which I found lacking here and instead replaced with energy you expect of a comedy which doesn’t fit the tone I was expecting.

Imelda Staunton all but yells her lines. Each. And. Every. Time. This is a great acting by a living theatre legend? Her performance is praised but there is no nuance. Either she’s shouting, thrusting herself at Nick or rattling off stories intending to shame her husband… until the final scene which is performed well but is too little too late. Nuance be damned. It’s far too over the top. I saw her, in person, performing the role of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother Rose in the 2015 production of Gypsy and can’t help but feel she has brought over some of that behaviour when reprising the American accent which was a mistake. She is a good actor but something in the direction has led her and the others astray. Less shouting and I probably would have enjoyed it more. There’s a way to be loud without coming across as if every line should be shouted and she is more than skilled enough to do so.

Conleth Hill… I don’t know what to say. He plays the role of a put upon family man from a 1950s American sitcom. Burton played the role as a mild mannered yet passively aggressive man of letters while Hill plays the role as… Varys from Game of Thrones (who he plays) so I am a bit concerned he lacks range as I’ve not had the chance to see him in other productions. If you know Nathan Lane and how he performs comedy roles just imagine him in the role and you’re more or less where I was watching this. What are meant to be bitter barbs of a frustrated man come across like catty comments more fitting of a stereotyped gay character. Maybe that’s something they were implying in this production though I feel I’m giving them more credit that they deserve.

Luke Treadaway plays his role overly safe if not quite bland. Imagine a jock from a comedy film or all American young hero from a war film. There you go you know how he came across both aurally and physically. Admittedly the character lends himself to being played that way but it’s too blunt. The liaison between Nick and Martha comes across as so sudden and forced due to how things have been staged that it’s as if you put two cats on heat in a box and watched them writhing into each other. Partially intentional of course but a bit too forced here when the others are in the room still.

Imogen Poots also plays her role somewhat safe if not overly straight with little if any nuance. Someone apparently watched Grease and decided to replicate a Pink Ladies. The role is a foil for the others and is meant to offer some levity to the deeply embittered proceedings but here, where everything is on the verge of spilling into slapstick, it’s hard to make the role have any weight sadly. She is a good actress and makes the most of what she can thus stealing a few scenes but usually gets left in the sidelines. Often quite literally by being offstage for most of acts two and three.

There is, as the preceding documentary insisted, humour in the dialogue but by drawing attention to it with slapstick like delivery undermines the underlying tragedy of the narrative involving a marital breakdown and how the characters feel trapped by social conventions.

Each person is ignoring reality and perpetuating a socially acceptable facade. They do so to appear as successful members of society when in reality each of them is, in their own way, severely damaged. In their overwrought efforts to fit social norms they only exacerbates their problems until confronted with their reality which ultimately breaks them. Be it Martha marrying George because she wanted to remain a part of her feckless father’s world in which she herself could never impress him. George never becoming head of the History department. Nick who married his childhood sweetheart because that’s what everyone expected of him (especially after the phantom pregnancy) or Honey who you could argue remains a cypher to us beyond her existence as Nick’s wife.

The costumes were what you would expect so there is no fault there and the stage design gives an over burdened, claustrophobic, atmosphere helping emphasis the intensity of the character’s interactions with it’s excessive furniture tightly packed into a small area. Some liberties were taken in order to make it more of a chamber drama than other productions might but on the whole you don’t miss anything substantial.

The play is good. This production is not.

If you have never seen a production of this play before then go watch the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I never suggest watching the film as, of course, it’s a completely different experience – however in this case I think the real life relationship of Burton and Taylor lent the dialogue exchanges a depth that is hard to replicate though, by their own admission, it took a toll on their relationship and Taylor felt she was playing Martha too much in real life afterwards. I feel the play is better played understated and straight while this version has overplayed the humorous aspects.

Personally I feel the delicate balance required for this play is lost and makes me wonder if, in trying to play up to the humour inherent in Albee’s dialogue, James MacDonald unintentionally played up the humour to differentiate this production from others and in doing so completely undermined the drama of the piece. It discredits the themes of reality versus illusion, as all comedy requires some level by trivialising or satirising of reality in order for us to cope with it’s harshness, and the social expectations both we and society expect of each other which few, if any can live up to.

Playing it for laughs too much means the impact of the reality is muted and because Martha is played over the top we see her more as a caricature not as a tragic figure who feels the need to exaggerate her actions in order to garner a reaction – first from a father who all but ignores her when she doesn’t serve his purpose and then a husband she feels is inattentive to her needs.

Nick is the overachiever being both an athlete and a prodigy who got his masters at 19 years old. He has to get things right at all times because that is what is expected of him. Even in the bed room he is expected to be a stud but ultimately, like all the men in Martha’s life, failing her as a ‘flop’. Honey gets pregnant (albeit it’s proven to be a phantom pregnancy soon after) so of course he will marry her as any good guy would. Failure is not an option.

Contrasting to him is George to whom failure is the only option and like any underachiever he plays the role of satirist playing out fictional narratives over and over to trivialise the dramas of reality. He fails Martha by not having children and by not being able to stand up to nor replace her father as a potent, in both senses, male figure in her life.

Honey… is a cypher. Is Honey even her real name or just a moniker everyone calls her by just like Lady Bird Johnson in real life because that’s the only name anyone around her uses? Do we hear of anything she does exclusive of Nick? Thus she is in the role of the trophy wife, as George was the trophy husband expected to have achieved but ultimately failing too for Martha.

Honey and George mirror each other as ‘failures’ – he as an academic and husband and she as a traditional housewife meant to serve her husband and cause him no trouble. Both fail to bear children in comparison to their alpha partners who, over the nights proceedings, are drawn to each other and have a tryst which ultimately leads them to realise that it’s not an equal they need but a partner who compliments and supports them. Honey, despite drinking, plays the doting wife to her husband obeying him when leaving while George, as Martha mocks at one point, makes her laugh and as the play ends he tries, but fails, to comfort her as she admits she is deeply scared now her bravado has been stripped away and she accepts reality now George has stopped humouring her about their son and no doubt any number of unspoken illusions they have maintained with one another until this point.


This review might be a bit patchy but I keep writing things and not posting them so expect, in the following few weeks, reviews of things that are a bit out of date…

The Audience: Theatre Review

The Audience – A new play by Peter Morgan

Winner of three Tony Awards and two Olivier Awards, National Theatre Live’s smash-hit broadcast of the original West End production of The Audience – featuring Helen Mirren’s multi-award-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth II – returns to cinemas in celebration of the monarch’s 90th birthday.

Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen) and directed by two-time Tony Award winner and Academy Award – nominated director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours), these special encore screenings include an exclusive Q&A with Helen Mirren and director Stephen Daldry.

For sixty years, Queen Elizabeth II has met with each of her twelve Prime Ministers in a private weekly meeting. This meeting is known as The Audience. No one knows what they discuss, not even their spouses.

From the old warrior Winston Churchill, to the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair right up to today’s meetings with the current incumbent David Cameron, the Queen advises her Prime Ministers on all matters both public and personal. Through these private audiences, we see glimpses of the woman behind the crown and witness the moments that shaped a monarch.

The Audience was presented in the West End by Matthew Byam Shaw for Playful Productions, Robert Fox and Andy Harries.


(This teaser is from the later Broadway run but gives you an idea of the costumes and staging)


Cast: West End performers

Queen Elizabeth II: Helen Mirren
John Major: Paul Ritter
Gordon Brown: Nathaniel Parker
Harold Wilson: Richard McCabe
Winston Churchill: Edward Fox
Anthony Eden: Michael Elwyn
Margaret Thatcher: Haydn Gwynne
David Cameron: Rufus Wright
James Callaghan: David Peart
Equerry: Geoffrey Beevers
Young Elizabeth: Nell Williams



Review: The play operates as a series of interconnected, non-chronological, vignettes regarding meetings between the Queen and her Prime Ministers. Tony Blair, although mentioned, is omitted in this early version of the play. A few scenes are of their first meetings, with most set during mid-term meetings and one, James Callaghan, breaking the routine towards the end by appearing as a cut away reminiscence as the prime minister the Queen forgets to recall when she counts all the prime ministers she had. Admittedly he acts as a one scene wonder joking that she called him ‘Sunny ‘Jim’. In fact the same could be said of most of the actors playing various Prime Ministers although John Major returns a second time but, most notably, Harold Wilson has quite a few scenes with the Queen showing his first meeting with her, a holiday at Balmoral and one of their last audiences where he is shown to be paranoid of the room being bugged and admits to the Queen he is in the early stages of dementia before the Queen, in the indirect manner in which she makes her view clear. It is all but explicitly stated he was her favourite Prime Minister as he was given the honour of hosting a dinner for her and Philip at 10 Downing Street which was an honour last given to Winston Churchill.

The stage layout could be as minimal as having just two chairs on the stage but we also get some other pieces of furniture such as a bureau desk, a table for drinks and during the Balmoral scene a 3 bar heater. The provenance of each item of furniture is recounted by the Equerry (a sort of aide-de camp but nowadays more like a personal servant similar to a valet but for monarchs) and usually raises a few laughs. Usually I would make a basic stage layout diagram but it seems redundant here. The only thing I need add is that when set in Buckingham palace we have a background looking down a corridor to give a full impression of the immense size of the building along with its marble columns and while at Balmoral the background is of a highlands scene with chandeliers composed of stags’ antlers.

The costumes are historically based and during the intermission we were shown a documentary of the behind the scenes process of research with photos of the various era of the queens clothing and her hair styles. At one point, when transitioning from John major in the 1990s all the way back to Winston Churchill in the 1950s just before the Queen’s inauguration, there is a costume change live on stage. This is done by three attendants, who are actually the wig and costume staff of the production, crowding her and changing her outfit so that the queen goes from an old woman back to a young woman. Also, between Prime Ministers, we have scenes where the Queen addresses her younger childhood self who rebels and cannot conceive of being a monarch. They give us the audience and insight into how the Queen has a duality as she always wanted to just live a country life but having taken the role of monarch must act the part. Also later in the play we have actual corgi dogs, which the Queen adores, run across the stage. Of course they upstage everyone and would have been a distraction if on the stage for any significant period of time.

This is a light-hearted play with quite a bit of wordplay or what nowadays would be called ‘banter’ between the Queen and her various Prime Ministers. At the 2013 Olivier Awards, Helen Mirren received the best actress Olivier for her portrayal of the Queen, while Richard McCabe received the best supporting actor nod for his role as Harold Wilson. In this play anyone can be the standout performance it feels but with the most stage time these two roles, of the Queen which the performance hinges upon and Wilson who has multiple scenes with her, are inevitably the ones people will leave remembering.

The key question people no doubt have is whether knowledge of British political history is necessary. I would say you don’t to enjoy it. In fact having a little prior knowledge is a doubled edge sword as you will see the caricatures for what they are but at the same time, for the disinterested, its just people interacting with the Queen to no real end. The various roles are caricatures of the real life people and any suggestion regarding the authenticity of the Queen’s portrayal I think is best summed up by Helen Mirren herself: we have many photos and portraits of the Queen but each is as much influenced by the artist as it is by its subject matter. This play itself is just another portrait depicting a particular perception of the Queen just as we only have contemporary depictions of monarchs of past centuries to base our portrayals on. It’s a fun play which you will enjoy seeing once but I personally would wonder if it has any legs.

It is a time capsule of sorts in that it gives the current view of these political figures and, as mentioned in the interview shown after the show, they had to (and no doubt still do) update the portrayal of David Cameron week on week so that it feels as up to date as possible. It’s evitably at some point there will be another Prime Minister after Cameron and one day the Queen herself will sadly die so how much they add to the play and if they alter it is some way is questionable. For example interjections into other scenes as Callaghan’s scene can feel forced and as I mentioned earlier in this early version Tony Blair (and others) were omitted. It feels that for the time being this is going to be a constantly evolving play but whether it will still be held in prominence decades from now or assigned to the same place as many historical plays is to be seen. Go see it, enjoy it, just be mindful you are watching caricatures of these people not fair reflections of who they were and often it looks at their positives and ignores the bad political moves of some of them.

the audience leaflet2

Eurovision 2016

The 61st contest which this year is set in Stockholm.

Graham Norton is commentating for the UK audience on the BBC broadcast. He is still nothing compared to Terry Wogan’s coverage sadly.

My first impressions of each song and performance are noted below. I didn’t watch all the lead up semi-finals etc so I am seeing these for the first time.

There is an epilepsy warning accompanied by a pseudo-catwalk fashion show in the introductions of the competitors projecting their national flags onto avant-garde fashion designs worn by the models. It is a spectacle but could easily outshine the costumes of the competitors’ performances in its extravagance unfortunately. I remember that, year on year, there would be competitors with very unique appearances and performances but if it is going to be anything like last year? I feel like everything is going to feel very toned down compared to the past.


Details on each performer can be found at: http://www.eurovision.tv/page/stockholm-2016/participants


The presenters: No idea who they are. Home crowd loves them obviously. Cheesy jokes – but that happens every year. ‘put our differences aside and join in our love of music’ Petra declares – shame no one said that around the time of the Iraq war as it feels like Britain is still paying for a choice our government made without the support of its citizens. UK viewers cannot vote by text apparently and no reason is given why not. Then Graham rattles off a long list of how the voting has changed and I would be surprised anyone was definite what this meant from what he said. Richard Osmond (who gave our judge’s vote later) made a short film explaining it apparently. I wasn’t aware of it personally. Petra’s dress is awful. It is that oddly washed out vomit tone of salmon which never looks good. A little later the male presenter goes to the stadium next door where people are gathered for some reason and speaks to two previous winners – and cuts one off as she sings Hallelujah! Awkward.


Performers intro videos – nice if a bit unconnected to the performers featured or indicative of their personal nationality. It gives you a few tourism brochure like images of the country but tells you nothing of note.


Belgium: Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure : Disco/ R&B sensibility. Golden lights and sparkly silver clothing. It’s the first person to perform so you already know it’s the ‘no hoper’ for winning. If I heard this on the radio I would enjoy it as an upbeat little song. The dance routine feels very restrained. It’s a nice ‘warm up’ for later acts. Age 19 – Graham keeps mentioning everyone’s ages tonight. Is he feeling a little old or something? Wogan embraced it and mocked the young performers. Maybe the BBC have been very strict with Norton considering some of the things Wogan used to say – but that was the fun part noting the ridiculous aspects of the performances.

Czech Republic: Gabriela Gunčíková – I Stand: Nice dramatic intro. Big contrast to the previous song. In fairness to Stockholm they have really given the performers a massive amount of variety with the under stage lighting effect and everything. This song I can imagine being very effective in a film soundtrack associated with a very emotionally impactful scene but in isolation it feels a bit… numb. It reminds me of Spectre’s ‘The Writing is on the Wall’ theme song. I didn’t like that song initially but it really grew on me over time. I will be surprised if it gets a high level of votes tonight which is unfortunate. Good but in the way that it would take time to be appreciated which sadly a song contest like this doesn’t allow.

The Netherlands: Douwe Bob – Slow Down: Clock floor. Very country music in tone. Wearing a suit with an unbuttoned shirt to expose his throat tattoo just makes it look like he has a cravat. The keyboardist looks like a young Bob Dylan. This is the sort of slower acoustic song I would expect on a boy band album that doesn’t get released as a single. The 10 second stop is stupid. It adds nothing to the song. The lyrics were incredibly repetitive. Tells Europe to slow down… for what reason?

Azerbaijan: Samra – Miracle: Her intro is like a model’s film reel with her posing in a shop and roller skate park. Good timing with the flame effects to add emphasis. Clearly learned from last years winner. In fact I can imagine many of the entrants are really going to go to town with the stage effects… The song is like a B-side of a girl band album where they’ve let one of the less prominent members have a go as lead vocalist. So far everyone’s sung in English… I kind of want people to represent their nation in their own language and show a bit of pride rather than go with what is most ‘commercial’. Outfits wise its like a low-budget 1970s sci-fi film based on a pulp fiction story.

Hungary: Freddie – Pioneer: So again its a ‘stood posing around the city’ intro. Dull. Ooh a taiko drum on stage! The jeans and t-shirt look isn’t doing it for me. The backing singers bouncing on their heels back and forth is ‘dad dancing’so unintentionally hilarious. Let’s face it people will vote for the pretty boy’s face or the drummer who isn’t actually the competitor. The song is a nice anthemic one but… it’s missing that special something but definitely would grow on me very quickly. So far this one is the one I would say is in the lead. Good overall performance.

Italy: Francesca Michielin – No Degree Of Separation: ATTRACTIVE LADY! (If you read my coverage last year I kind of noted which ones I thought were attractive so ;P to any who take umbridge) And she sings in Italian!!! automatically I want her to win. The staging. There are actual physical decorations in the form of floral arrangements. (In the end I think she was the only one to have physical decorations onstagw while everyone else used the back projected scenes). She is wearing odd dungarees that remind me of a Klimt painting… The song is a very nice soft ballad. She kicks it up into English and I am really enjoying it. On the screen are whisps and water drops which an audience there wouldn’t see so that’s not great. The fruit offering at the end is a bit hokey. Overall I really liked it.

Israel: Hovi Star – Made Of Stars: The guy looks like one of the goth kids off South Park. Go look and tell me I’m wrong. A sparkly shirt under a dull black suit. Very emo looking though I thought that fashion faded out a few years ago. He has a good singing voice. The hoop gymnast dancers are impressive but very much distracting and I feel trying to make up for the limited tone of the song as it is much slower than the competition so far. At the end it kicks up instrumentally but he doesn’t really match that energy. It was a good effort but not enough.

Bulgaria: Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime: Side of the head shaved hairstyles are fashionable now. I don’t know if I like the style or not as I grew up seeing it in the British comic 2000AD and Tank Girl as a futuristic punk style so it’s very old-fashioned to me. Her costume is very like a sci-fi cosplay as a sort of military half beige, half black, uniform. She is cute… kind of hitting a few geek fetishes… phwoar. (I’m joking). The song is energetic and she at least moves a bit unlike many of the previous entrants. I actually would like to see her do really well as the entire performance is coordinated in tone and aesthetic. Oh the costume lights up! and the backing singers appear. Yes I really hope she does well.

Sweden: Frans – If I Were Sorry: Franz wears a beanie. It reminds me of that character from ‘American Beauty’ who films a plastic carrier bag moving in the wind. He is being clapped along with so… yeah he has home team support and is a good, if sterile, young male, spray tanned one too many times, performer. Casual but stylishly fashionable clothing which is inoffensive. An upbeat slightly crooning style of song. Words appear behind him. He has what the Might Boosh would describe as ‘shrimp eyes’ usually associated with Julian Barrett. He is only 17 years old Graham notes again. Host nations on the year usually don’t go all out as they don’t want the cost year on year but this was a nice entry nonetheless.

Germany: Jamie-Lee = Ghost: Graham says she annoys him but doesn’t explain clearly. I know she is a Koreanphile. I really like the stage design. Lasers and old black gnarled tree forest. But she stays stood at the front and the backing singers are hidden away so it all feels a wasted opportunity for really elaborate dance choreography. Clearly the presenters little chat between this and the last song was to allow time for it to be set up. She starts in silhouette. Should have stayed that way as her head-dress or even maybe the whole outfit is ridiculous. I feared everyone would be very muted in visual tone this year. My fears are allayed. The song is slow and again maybe something that given a context in a young adult film might get an audience but it feels too weak to compete her. (Later I note they got very low votes. Is it because Eurovision is moving in a more ‘serious’ direction? Is it because of the fetishisation people perhaps felt was implied by her overt interest in Korean culture? Was it just because its Germany i.e. one of the ‘big 5’ nations and there is some bitterness towards them? Or maybe the song just wasn’t up to standard. What do you think?)

France: Amir – J’ai cherché: A trained dentist. Sings in French but adds a little bit of English. Good. Again dressed casual smart in a suit but with t-shirt and white trainers. Works the camera and moves around the stage. Good energy. No great energy! This is a competitor! Doesn’t need much in the sense of visuals as the song itself is more than enough… but then we know Eurovision doesn’t always award talent. (I was proven right in the end sadly).

Poland: Michał Szpak – Color Of Your Life: Long haired guy with a pseudo-rocker look. Graham says he doesn’t like performing. I kind of wish Graham would hold off these comments of his until after the person has performed. (Actually it turns out Graham is correct as this guy doesn’t come across very well). So he is a guy in a circus owner’s long red coat with epaulettes. Black shirt, trousers and shoes. No socks. Another modern look that feels wrong as people would be mocked for short trousers and this look when I was a teenager. The song is lacklustre. He gesticulated a lot. There isn’t much to add really. Ooooh Ooooh Ohhhh. I see violinists but couldn’t hear them.

Australia: Dami Im – Sound Of Silence: I appreciate they watch it ‘down under’ and as a special celebration they let them compete last year but I don’t think they should be a permanent addition to the EUROPEAN song contest. Emigrated to Australia at 9 years old. Won their X-Factor or similar talent show. Stong singing voice. Sat on a glittery box in a dress I would expect to see on a pre-teen beauty queen pageant contestant in America. The way she is sat on the box reminds me of Kermit the frog and any other muppets… The song is good. This is a strong competitor and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this on another show. Serious competitor despite my views on who should or shouldn’t be allowed to compete.

Cyprus: Minus One – Alter Ego: Band performs in cages. Weird… oh wait they are a rock band so it’s okay. Vocalist has a bit of a whine in his voice so I’m not impressed. Lots of seizure inducing flashing. The song isn’t great as a rock song and as an Eurovision entry is generic. They wear black as shirts, leather jackets and such. Dry ice smoke. Graham should have warned about the light show on this entry even if he did the disclaimer at the start of the broadcast. I will be surprised if this rises above the bottom 5 ( and only then because of political voting). Fucking hell I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone didn’t get a headache from those lights let alone a seizure.

Serbia: Sanja Vučić ZAA – Goodbye (Shelter): Side shaved head again. Graham makes another critical but unfunny observation. Long black (leather?) dress with shoulder tassels and … whatever is happening on her hair fringe. Nice imagery. A dancer interacting with her for the songs narrative of her being a betrayed women standing up for herself. Nice visuals. The song would definitely do well under other circumstances. It reminds me of the late 90s – early 00s James Bond themes. I really like it although the song and visuals don’t really go together if I’m honest.

Lithuania: Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting for This Night: Competed before. Might remember him wearing a blindfold as his song was about ‘love being blind’. Has a mini trampoline this time. Side shaved head again. The ‘black t-shirt, black skinny jeans and trainers look that is popular coupled with a white leather jacket. The song is generic ‘I’ve been waiting for this night (to have another go at competing in Eurovision)’. Visuals are… ok. Someone heard the other competitors were going to use it so they made generic splashes and … oh! There was the mini trampoline and dry ice making his jacket disappear! Well that was the ‘hook’ of this performance otherwise… bland as hell.

Croatia: Nina Kraljić – Lighthouse: Partially shaved heads are on trend right now then obviously. Half shaved heads for the girls and the skinny jeans and t-shirt with designer trainers for the boys. Graham comments her dress is too big for her as if she lost weight – he should have saved it for after we saw the poncho dress to get the joke. Her hair is awful. Like someone bought a white widow’s peak wig and put it on wrong but didn’t adjust it. Interesting cape/poncho. Then underneath she has a very art deco dress with extravagant arm wings which are mirrored bits on one side and lavender feathers on the opposite side. Dame Edna has had her wardrobe raided I guess. The song… she sounds off-key. Backing singers/dancers are like cult members preparing for a sacrifice. This is a stereotypical Eurovision entry. I will be shocked it gets a big numbers of votes.

Russia: Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One: Bookies favourite apparently. Had to speak out against his homeland to please voters which really feels like he is going to cause himself trouble once back home. Dressed in black. Using the back screen to full effect for wings and storm effects. Backing singer/dancers appear. Very visually impressive. Definitely Graham’s description of him going on a charm offensive wasn’t inappropriate. Then sat on the screen… climbed as its made of rubber so he could dig his feet into it. They’ve really pulled out all the stops for this. The song is very anthemic and immediately pleasing. No wonder this is the favourite its a near masterclass on combining the best parts of the previous few years’ winners.

Spain: Barei – Say Yay! Apparently her fall is intentional in the middle. Graham is ruining the performances by alerting us to these aspects. (Actually the lights cut out and she is laying sideways, as if on a chez longe, on the floor). He has seen them during the preliminaries but we haven’t! It ruins the expereince for people who just watch the final. Very attractive features. Her hair… guess the style- except she brush it in the opposite direction to the other competitors. She has a sparkly mini dress on and pixie boots. Also gauntlet like jewellery on her left arm. Very good song! Extremely energetic performance and song. Gets the audience involved too! Works the stage wonderfully. It has definitely been affected by being placed directly after Russia’s song but this is certainly up there and deserves a lot of votes.

Latvia: Justs – Heartbeat: Similar to other male competitors he wears the fashionable uniform but with cut out knee slits and a black leather jacket. It’s… not great if I am honest. Subdued performance. He puts emphasis in certain parts but the electronica instrumental doesn’t justify it. This is the sort of song I imagine being played towards the end of the night when the nightclubs want people to leave. Maybe girls will vote for him as he is attractive in a Chris Hemsworth way.

Ukraine: Jamala – 1944: Grandmother was deported by Stalin. Denies the song is anything to do with Russia. ~cough~sure~cough~. Will get votes for its political commentary. Dress is a navy off the shoulder with long arm ‘wings’ piece. Very good song with traditional tones but electronic drum beat. Reminds me of a lot of 80s alternative songs or maybe 90s stuff like Moloko. The lights are red and therefore the focus is completely on her and its a very good performance. A Eurovision winner – we will have to see but I would listen to it again definitely which is more than I can say for most of these songs. I think the only one I listened to again from last year was Georgia’s entry ‘Warrior’. Didn’t sing in English which is a bonus to me. Good entry. (Was the winner in the end).

Malta: Ira Losco – Walk On Water: Was in it 2002 or 2012 before apparently. She is pregnant. Filmed smoke effects to open into it. Then an art deco corridor effect behind her. sequined dress. Lots of cleavage and slit to the thigh dress to expose a leg to get male voters onside. Then a dancer erupts from nowhere and disappears just as fast. The song… it’s okay. Nothing special in the context of the competition. Might get a bit of radio play as one of those songs people half remember and request on Sunday afternoon shows. An also ran entry. Might have done better in past years but the Eurovision has begun to shift to more modern tastes after years of stagnancy.

Georgia: Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold: Rock show lighting show with a mirroring effect. Wearing modern fashion in blacks and greys with wide-brimmed hats. Decent rock song. Eurovision tends to prefer spectacle though so while I would definitely listen to this again although it isn’t going to do neither good nor bad vote wise on the day. Then the epilepsy light show occurs. Again, thanks for the timely warning Graham. Also thanks for saying it felt overly long… I felt it passed very quickly. Personal tastes of course but he isn’t funny like Terry Wogan was and I think he is all too aware of it.

Austria: ZOË – Loin d’ici: Sings in French. Has a pastel pink ’16 year olds special day’ type dress on with a single strand wire tiara you can barely see. A gentle use of the wind machine. Pop dance song with violins. Enjoyable. Forgettable. Inoffensive. Will be used in a clip show edit to show this year’s competitors. I probably would enjoy other songs by her but this feels a bit too muted compared to other competitors this year.

United Kingdom: Joe and Jake – You’re Not Alone: Intro features football and rugby because we British handed in our ‘part of globally significant arts’ card a long time ago apparently. And smoke flares. We clearly pissed off someone at a sports match with drunken louts who the travelled to Stockholm… Two young guys so they’ll get girls’ votes. Dressed in the fashion uniform of this year. The song is quite ‘radio play on a Sunday’… It’s inoffensive. Oh fuck – we are going to be in the bottom three again aren’t we? I can already tell. Fuck. I can see the tabloids using this as a weak argument for ‘Brexit’ (Britain exiting the European Union). Decent performance but the other competitor’s came to compete and win – not just take part.

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave: Last entry. Last entries have won before so not saying bad but you can bet it will be one of the good ones as they want to end on a high when some turn over preferring not to watch the voting etc. OOOOH ATTRACTIVE! the lights and pyrotechnics have clearly been invested in. the dry ice smoke too. She is wearing a sparkly black opaque leotard with ‘butt cape’. Dirty old man vote winner of the night. The song is good and changes tone well unlike most of the one note songs tonight. Didn’t quite hit that high note at the end. Shame as a bit more polish and it would have been a serious contender.

Vote time: It was good. I think it is clear who the top ones are going to be. Of course now we have the presenters banter… Oh and she has a green dress on now. It looks terrible. I hope she was forced to wear in. Weird 70s crepe shoulder flower ruffles thing and the ‘skirt’, beneath a narrow silver ‘belt’ is a sparkly abomination like something dredged up from the deep. So they show Ian McKellen and Derrick Jacobi from a scene in that rubbish ITV show they did… which was random. Some come across better in the voting snippets than they did during the full performance and some come across worse as I notice the Czech entry awkwardly hit her top note apparently.

Hungary, Russia and maybe Spain are my ‘top three’ likely to win at the moment. I wish Bulgaria, Italy or Spain would win though. Australia will do well I have no doubt and Armenia deserve a good number of votes. Poland, Latvia, Croatia or Lithuania getting large numbers of votes will surprise me.

Justin Timberlake turns up in the green room because… just because. Oh promoting a film. Nice that we can’t have even one evening where America isn’t involved in any sense. Oh and he is going to sing 2 songs. Great. Bulgaria’s entrant is hovering around in the background. Okay she is winning me over since her outfit is far better than the presenters dress.
Then we get some VTs and such in a supercut of various moments in Swedish musical history and music videos by a guy who did a Madonna video. I will be fair it was entertaining as I recognised many of the songs. IT EVEN HAD PAPA EMERITUS FROM GHOST IN IT! I’m won over!

Then Justin Timberlake. Rock your body. Of course with more backing singers, a more tightly choreographed routine. Inevitably it blows everything else out of the water. Yes please remind us America does it bigger and better. There was talk of letting them compete in Eurovision. I hope it was just a rumour because we all know they are going to go whole hog into winning year on yea until Eurovision becomes amalgamated and just like every other homogenized American product we consume day on day. Nothing against Justin personally as he is very good but I just get a bad taste over the entire matter. Then again Britain has pulled out the stops dragging in international singers in a few years recently so I shouldn’t be overly critical. People joked they wanted to vote for the American entry. Be careful what you wish for…

Malta won the Junior Eurovision. The winner comes on stage promoting the Junior Eurovision. That’s nice as she seemed a little nervous but then many performers come across like that once the stage persona is
Petra chides her boy toy for interrupting her. Now she is wearing an elegant gothy lace and satin dress which is far better than the previous ones. Then they do a run down of ‘things to have to win’ sketch.

Humour can be very awkward but this was actually quite amusing in inoffensive. Oh they got the violin guy back! Then they did the costume change and she has a Shakira like style on ut the top is a one piece with skin tone which makes her look worse than ever! Like some one in their 50s trying to dress how they did as a 19 year old! I am wondering what her actual age is as I;m guessing the way she has been styled tonight has made her look far older than her actual age. Then they do a song which was good. She lets her hair down while he shows off his chest and lots of dancers with very different styles referencing previous entries get on stage. a Very impressive filler while all the voting is going on. Good for them.

Then they have a comedian, Lynda Woodruff, some on as a representative of the EBU while they go off for a costume change. Really falling flat answering some emailed questions. Then she crowd surfs off back into obscurity. Guy is back in open collared shirt and suit. Then a bit of bragging over how often they’ve won on a VT about Sweden’s achievements.

It’s self-deprecating however so they get away with it as they say Eurovision influences their foreign language lessons, gangs, religion, etc.

Petra returns in a flowing Dame Edna Everage dress… Sparkly with a mix of pink raw flesh tones. Like someone who got thrown through a window in the middle of the day into a bottle bank. She introduces the previous winner who does a very ‘Hugh Jackman at an award ceremony’ like performance.

The song ‘Heroes’ still holds up no question. In fact I could argue that putting this year’s winner up next to it will probably make this year look like a step down from last year in terms of quality unfortunately – certainly the fact so many acts adopted his use of back projected imagery proves how effective the entire performance was.

So national votes and televotes are presented separately. How you vote doesn’t change just how they present it. 50% from the voting boards and 50% from the public.

The vote announcers of each country always comes across strained and extremely false in their joy… and straight off the bat Australia got 12 points! Then a guy holding a dog. Oh right so they just say who got the 12 points from each country. I can live with them doing that I guess though it’s a bit less fun than the minute or so of build up for the big numbers. San Marino gave use 8 points. Czech Republic gave us 4. So far we are not doing bad this year which is encouraging. Ireland gave us 7 points. Georgia phwoar lady from last year! 🙂 Gave us nothing though… Bosnia and Herzevogina gave us nothing. I’m going to assume we just had a nice start. Malta gave us 12 points!!!! But that was a political vote if we are honest. Spain gave us nothing. (I should be noting who is giving who 12 points so will do that next year for those interested – oh except they put up a video on YouTube of the entire votes process so no need). Finland gives awkward banter and no points to us though 12 to their neighbour Sweden obviously. Switzerland gave us nothing. Denmark gave us three. France gave us nothing… obviously ;p Moldova lady is very Hello Nurse! Ash blonde, red lips and in a suit and they gave us nothing. Armenia had a connection issue and gave us nothing. Votes seem quite spread this year although Ukraine is getting quite a few. (So ironically even this new style of voting though much closer in its first year of use gave away the final winner early). Cyprus gave us nothing – the guy looks like a sweet shop owner. Bulgaria lady is hello brunette in off shoulder jacket dress and again we get no points. (admit you are enjoying this repetition in the abscence of there being no chance of anyone being ‘nul points’ -nil pwa- this year). The Netherlands give us nothing and their lady wears a jacket with random bits of kryptonite stuck on to ward off Superman. Latvia has a basement dwelling man-child stereotype give the vote and we get no points.

Israel are missing in action so Petra has to buy some time. ‘we are half way through’. Yeah whatever. Her boy toy is in the green room wearing a black shirt and trousers with a white blazer. Are the fascist fashion police on patrol tonight or something? This uniform for men I joked about is a bit too adhered to… Australia is in the lead. It reminds me of Britain’s Got Talent where it’s acts from other countries doing well not our own acts.

Ukrainian lady seems a little drunk or overwhelmed.

Israel sort their side out and we get nothing after the guy uses a little Swedish to flatter Petra. Belarus give us nothing but of course give Russia their 12 points because after all Belarus is beautiful Russia. Germany have their presenter in front of a crowd and give us nothing but emo Israel 12. Russia PHWOAR weird ‘parcel wrapped’ red dress and we get nothing. Norway has their 1985 winner give the vote who give us nothing nor anything to Sweden surprisingly. Australia give us 4 points from an anorexic Asian news presenter with a weird weaved neck ruffle thing. Belgium has a… humpty dumpty brought to life guy give us nothing but Australia 12. UK has Richard Osman give the vote. Nothing for us obviously. We gave Georgia 12 interestingly – its girls voting for a boy band obviously. Croatia has an attractive middle-aged voter giving us nothing but Australia 12 points. Greece has a well-groomed young guy making ladies’ hearts flutter and 12 points to Russia. Lithuania blonde in sparkly white dress and red lips gives us nothing but Australia 12 points. Serbia gave us 2 Points. Very attractive side swiped brunette haired lady in white dress voter. Australia has clearly won its obvious and the new points displaying thing has failed to keep tension. (I was wrong fortunately). FYR Macedonia gives nothing to us and 12 to Ukraine. Albania gave us 5 points and 12 to Australia. Estonia gave us 3 points and 12 to Sweden. Ukraine – WTF mix of traditional dress and the soviet star from the top of the Kremlin… I remember that person. We got no votes and 12 points went to Lithuania. Italy sexy lady, obviously, in a simple red dress giving nothing to us and 12 to Spain. Poland give us nothing and 12 to Ukraine. Slovenia – HELLO! Red hair and leather dress. We got nothing and 12 went to Ukraine. Hungary has a blonde in a yellow dress/coat. Nothing to us and 12 to Australia. Montenegro guy looks like he just walked in off the street and doesn’t speak English as all the others did. Nothing to us but 12 to Malta surprisingly. Sweden’s vote from a Kim Kardashian wannabe in a weird formal dress with cleavage window and sparkles in the shoulder, groin and arm areas like armour. Nothing to us and 12 to Australia.

If Australia win they will partner with an EU member and host it in their country… so that scuppers everyone’s idea of having a jaunt down under next year then. If they partner with anyone but the UK it’ll be a slap in the face of the commonwealth.

And so they move to the popular vote i.e. tele-votes.

Yeah Australia are around 100 points ahead.

*drum roll*

Six lowest voted for countries: 0 to the Czech Republic. 8 to the UK. 10 to Germany. 10 to Spain. 11 to Israel. 16 to Malta. 24 to Georgia. 33 to Croatia. 34 to italy. 39 to the Netherlands. 51 to Belgium. 53 to Cyprus. 56 to Hungary. 63 to Latvia. 73 Azerbaijan. 80 to Serbia.

63 points to the UK in total this year.We have done worse recently so this is a good result despite what the media will no doubt say.

Ten highest voted for countries: 96 points to Lithuania. 109 points to France. 120 points to Austria (which skyrocketed them up the chart). 134 points to Armenia (ditto skyrocket). 139 points to Sweden (ditto but cannot win). 180 points to Bulgaria (ditto skyrocket to second place so far).

Poland, Australia, Ukraine and Russia still need numbers.

Dramatic long pause.

191 points to Australia. So they win with 511 points possibly.

Russia, Ukraine and Poland left.

222 points to Poland. but only to fifth place at this point. went from the bottom to that.

Shocking.

Russia and Ukraine are left now. Kind of ironic considering recent events.

323 points to Ukraine. May very well have won.

So Russia got the most tele-votes. Who got 361 points. So he hasn’t done it.

Ukraine, Australia and Russia.

Russia 3rd place
Australia 2nd place
Ukraine 1st place

(We gave 10 points to Poland in the tele-vote apparently. It must have been patriotic immigrants who voted).

Well I’m glad Australia didn’t win just because of the power it gives them to decide who to partner with to host it next year.

Ukraine winning is a political statement I feel due to the, admittedly denied, implications of the song. It’s a very good song but clearly with this and Conchita Wurst it’s ‘pan-European sociopolitical statement’ entrants who win ultimately. The voting system revision did make it a bit more exciting and concise I will admit so that is a positive move forward for the contest as in previous years the voting seemed to drag on indefinitely.


It’s a shame I can’t embed a link of the condescending tone of the reporter, Nick Higham, on the BBC news immediately after the show coverage ended. He was hilarious and instantly punchable in the face due to his attitude and trite comments about things such as how cheesy it was and the Ukrainian entry adding ‘a well needed tone of seriousness’ as it referenced the ethnic cleansing during Stalin’s era. He obviously didn’t want to cover the event but was forced into it just like the current royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell. Actually add in the political lead Nick Robinson and it seems the BBC are partial to arrogant correspondents named Nicholas at the moment…

Well that was fun. I hope you’ve enjoyed. Comment, Like, follow – all are welcome. That’s all until next year when America is let in as a guest entry with a view to becoming a permanent fixture take care!

Acapela Studio, Pentyrch, Cardiff: Concert Reviews

Over the past few months I have gone to Acapela studios to see some musical talent but kept putting off posting the reviews. Therefore what you read below was the reaction at the time immediately after the event. So this could be considered as an overview of the venue via the 3 short reviews of concerts I went to there.

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  • Shan Cothi featuring the Nidum Ensemble & Guests 26/02/2015
  • Catrin Finch’s Launch of her Album ‘Waves’ 19/03/2015
  • Frank Hennessy – Welsh Folk Singer   17/04/2015

Acapela-Church-pentyrch

The performances were all held at Pentyrch’s Acapela Studios: a converted Welsh chapel which she bought with her husband Hywel Wigley in 2005. They renovated it into a recording studio and music venue due to the acoustics it offered.

http://www.acapela.co.uk/

Capel Horeb, Heol Y Pentre, Pentyrch, Cardiff CF15 9QD

balcony acapela

It’s an excellent venue acoustically and there are many interesting, eclectic, acts performing there throughout the year and it deserves all the support it can get as the ticket prices are very reasonable, if not cheap, in comparison with many other local venues considering the extremely high quality of acts it attracts.

My only real criticism is that if they are going to have a bar they need to invest in a fridge or some cooling device as having room temperature drinks, charged at the premium price you expect from larger venues, seems unfair to the patrons supporting it. Parking in the area may be awkward the first time you attend an event so make sure to arrive a bit early in case you have to park a bit further away than desired due to the location being in a residential area.

[Edit: 02/02/2018: I have been back to see a few more events since these reviews and they had a restructure of the bar area shortly afterwards so it has all the facilities you would expect of a performance venue including a proper bar area, toilets and it has, on most occassions, been well heated and there is padded seating as long as you are amongst the first to enter the chapel room for a performance as seating is not assigned by ticket.]

[Edit: 20/02/2018: Further to the above I attended a concert by Vonda Shepard and apparently now they’ve changed the bar area into a food service area. There are a number of tables in the studio/chapel part. People were eating before and during the concert which I found odd. At the start of the second half the people sat in front of me sat were eating pizza out of pizza delivery boxes sat upstairs. I suppose that’s what Acapela has had to do to survive but it does bring into question the number of seats lost by bringing the tables in and if they’ve decided to deprioritise the recording studio aspects and such. It’s a shame as it makes it all a bit ‘dinner theatre’ but that’s how things are going now I suppose so they can’t be blamed if that’s what keeps them afloat. Vonda was excellent anyway and its a very intimate venue.]


Shan Cothi featuring the Nidum Ensemble & Guests
26/02/2015

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A fun, light hearted, evening and great atmosphere with a good audience turn out.

Performing were: Shan Cothi (Classical singer and host of Bore Cothi on Radio Cymru), Wynne Evans (The Go Compare Tenor), Rebecca Evans (Opera Diva – Not Wynne’s wife though the joke about it), Catrin Finch (Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales from 2000 to 2004) and the 4 person string quartet of the (12 person strong) Nidum Ensemble.

Wynne mocked Shan, Rebecca and Catrin in a song he made up. Mostly the evening was a preview of Shan’s new album, a composition from Katrin’s new album and, amongst other pieces, 4 compositions by Ennio Morricone.

‘Big Dai’ Watkins, a lyricist, sat in front of me and kept turning around telling me ‘this is a good one’ and had one of those distinctly Welsh senses of humour saying at the start of the second half ‘How you liking the concert so far? Been to worse…’ It was nice to meet people like that there due to the really informal, friendly, atmosphere.

When singing they would be stood up on the pulpit while the musicians were on the floor beneath it. Along with the string quartet were a piano and harp (maybe also another cello I wasn’t sure from where I was sat on the evening).

The crowd was a wide mix of age ranges though seemed to be composed of many familiar with the musical arts scene in Wales. There was a boisterous energy amongst the audience and it really contributed to what were already energetic performances.

Interior wise: Floor boards are bare. I can see where the plaster has shrunk away from the skirting rail. The pews are still all there and more seating upstairs in the balcony area similar to the church in St Fagan. A very cosy atmosphere where it seemed everyone knew each other. There is a very modern looking bar in the vestry which seemed out of keeping with the retained aesthetic of the chapel room itself. Drinks sat in their bottles on the bar. No ice in the drinks. I hate room temperature drinks especially if you charge the going ‘musical performance venue’ rate for them.


Catrin Finch’s Launch of her ‘Waves’ Album
19/03/2015

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There was a composer on before Catrin who I think wasn’t very experienced in giving performances as he tripped up when performing his own compositions a few times unfortunately. Sadly I forgot his name but it was hopefully a positive experience for him and did contribute to setting the tone for Catrin later on.

There was a good turnout. There were some cushions available for those who needed them as the chapel pews could get uncomfortable after a while. There is a small step that has some warning tape on it but plenty still stumbled on it due to the space the raised platform took up. There were 4 reserved pews on the left side in front of me but I don’t know if VIPs actually attended as they seemed to remove the reserved signs a few minutes before the start so people who had been milling around looking for seats could actually sit down. It is quite cold when you first arrive but after a while, due to the body heat of the assembled audience and lighting, it will be very warm. They film and photograph all the performances but I don’t know where they use the recordings. The drinks at the bar are expensive and served at room temperature as they seem to have no chiller or ice box on the premises…

After an intermission Catrin took to the stage with a string quartet (plus a double bassist who had to be sat on ground level behind the raised stage) with a hipster DJ sound engineer wearing a fedora with full ginger beard up on the pulpit using an Apple mac.

She played a number of songs from her new album Waves (about to be released), a song in dedication to the events of Capel Celyn (a community was forced from their homes so their valley could be flooded in order to provide water for Liverpool in England http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capel_Celyn) and the song she composed for Water Aid. At one point in the middle of the concert she stopped and said she was now going to play Debussey’s Clair De Lune as it was her favourite. It seemed out of keeping with the other more experimental music.

It was enjoyable but also quite austere as Catrin herself appears to be during performances – however that seems to be the established tone for many classical concerts as the performers need to focus and traditionally they have always been far more formal than other events which sadly may deter some from attending due to the stigma it is for the elite of society. The songs are very atmospheric but not immediately memorable to my ear. It may be a case I just need to hear them a few more times to be more familiar with them as, unlike much of popular music, it is not rely upon a clear ‘hook’ to maintain your memory of them later as an earworm. I will revisit the music in future as there was definitely something there in the composition that makes me want to hear them again. It’s a good venue for bands, etc, but the bar area needs to be sorted out if they want to host more events in future. As the chapel is in a residential area you need to turn up quite early to find anywhere to park nearby.

The crowd was composed of the sort you would expect at a classical concert so there was a good, respectful, tone all round and I enjoyed the concert thoroughly.


Frank Hennessy – Welsh Folk Singer
17/04/2015

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Frank Hennessy – Guitar. a Welsh folk singer and BBC Wales radio presenter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Hennessy

Accompanied by:
Iolo Jones- Violinist
Dave Burns – Mandolin

He does a mix of Celtic folk music and a few of his own compositions which are Cardiff-centric including ‘Cardiff born, Cardiff bred’. By his own admission you will enjoy it more if you are drunk and he encouraged everyone to get as drunk as they could during the interval as they would enjoy it more then. However he was saying this to the Pentyrch crowd and freely admitted they were not his usual crowd. Catrin Finch was there with one of her young daughters who fell asleep in her mother’s arms during the second half having played with one of the folding cushions for a while. It reminded me of when I was little and had to keep myself physically stimulated during live performances that ran for, what seems an eternity to a young child, about an hour per part of the performance.

It was good if you were drunk and had a boisterous crowd. It’s good if you like classical ballad of troubadours. There was a bit too much telling of bad jokes and ‘where I got this song from’ between songs for me but that is part of the experience as the whole style of folk singer performances. It wasn’t my kind of thing ultimately but then I had an ear ache which may have detracted from the experience at no fault to the performers.

It was a clearly much older crowd than the other events thoguh still very enthusiastic to sing, clap or stamp along when asked. I would say if you know who Max Boyce is and like his stuff then you will like Frank Hennessy too.


As an extra you will see Wynne Evans and Frank Hennessy during this video singing Calon Lan.

… my ear ache is clearing up not that it matters. It is one of the few things where I fully agree with young children’s overt reaction to it unlike getting a bump or scraping a knee it really is debilitating when it is at its harshest point.