No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter

The performance I attended was held on Saturday 3 September 2016 at The New Theatre, Cardiff.

No Man’s Land is an absurdist play by Harold Pinter written in 1974 and first produced and published in 1975. Its original production was at the Old Vic Theatre in London by the National Theatre on 23 April 1975, and it later transferred to Wyndhams Theatre, July 1975 – January 1976, the Lyttelton Theatre April– – May 1976, and New York October – –December, returning to the Lyttelton, January – –February 1977.

Setting

“A large room in a house in North West London” on a summer night and the following morning.”
Hirst is an alcoholic upper-class literature who lives in a grand house presumed to be in Hampstead, with Foster and Briggs, respectively his purported amanuensis and man servant (or apparent bodyguard), who may be lovers. Spooner, a “failed, down-at-heel poet” whom Hirst has “picked up in a Hampstead pub” and invited home for a drink, becomes Hirst’s house guest for the night; claiming to be a fellow poet, through a contest of at least-partly fantastic reminiscences, he appears to have known Hirst at university and to have shared mutual male and female acquaintances and relationships. The four characters are named after cricket players.

Cast

Patrick Stewart as Hirst, a man in his sixties
Ian McKellen as Spooner, a man in his sixties
Damien Molony as Foster, a man in his thirties
Owen Teale as Briggs, a man in his forties
Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart return to the UK stage in Sean Mathias’ acclaimed production of No Man’s Land, one of the most brilliantly entertaining plays by Nobel Prize laureate Harold Pinter.

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Plot
“One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.”

Act 1

A man in his sixties named Hirst begins a night of heavy drinking (mainly Scotch) in his drawing room with an anonymous peer who he only just met at a pub. Hirst’s overly talkative guest, calling himself a poet, long-windedly explains how he is penetratingly perceptive, until he finally introduces himself as “Spooner”. As the men are becoming more intoxicated, Hirst suddenly rises and throws his glass, while Spooner abruptly taunts Hirst about his masculinity and wife. Hirst merely comments “No man’s land…does Not move…or Change…or Grow old…remains…forever…icy…silent”, Before collapsing twice and finally crawling out of the room.

A young man enters and suspiciously questions Spooner, who now becomes relatively silent, about his identity. The younger man introduces himself as John “Jack” Foster before the entrance of a fourth man, Briggs, who is in his forties and who also unsuccessfully questions Spooner and then bickers with Foster.

At last, Hirst re-enters, having slept, and struggles to remember a recent dream. Foster and Briggs have also started drinking, and they refill the older men’s glasses. Hirst mentions an album of photographs he keeps, commenting on the appearances of the people in the album. He does not appear to fully remember Spooner’s identity, insisting that his true friends are kept safely in the album. He begins drinking straight from the bottle, mutters incoherent statements, and continues to ponder his dream—involving someone drowning—when Spooner abruptly says that he was the one drowning in Hirst’s dream. Hirst drunkenly collapses and Spooner now rushes in to Hirst’s aid, brushing away the two younger men and claiming to be Hirst’s true friend. The younger pair becomes defensive and accusatory, asserting their obligation to protect Hirst against “men of evil”. Foster openly criticises his own past, as well as Hirst’s impulsiveness and alcoholism. It gradually becomes apparent that Foster is Hirst’s apprentice and housekeeper, and Briggs is Hirst’s personal servant. All exit except for Spooner and Foster, the latter of who says, “Listen. You know what it’s like when you’re in a room with the light on and then suddenly the light goes out? I’ll show you. It’s like this”. He flicks off the lights, causing a blackout.

Act 2

The next morning, Spooner, alone, stands from his chair and attempts to leave, but the door is locked. Briggs soon enters to deliver Spooner food and champagne, rambling on about how he met Foster and ignoring Spooner’s desire to know why the door was locked. Spooner thinks of a quick excuse to leave; however, when Briggs mentions that both Foster and Hirst are poets, Spooner show vague recognition of this fact.

Hirst himself bursts in and is delighted to see Spooner, whom he oddly mistakes for (or pretends) is an old friend. He speaks as though the two were Oxbridge classmates in the 1930s, which Spooner finally plays along with. Hirst and Spooner then bizarrely discuss scandalous romantic encounters they both had with the same women, leading to a series of increasingly questionable reminiscences, until finally Hirst is accused of having had an affair with Spooner’s own wife. All the while, Hirst refers to Briggs by a variety of inconsistent names and then launches into a rant about once-known faces in his photo album.

Spooner says that Foster, who now reappears, should have pursued his dream of being a poet, instead of working for Hirst. Spooner shows great interest in seeing Hirst’s photo album, but both Briggs and Foster discourage this. All four are now drinking champagne, and Foster, for his own pride and dignity’s sake, abruptly asserts that he desired to work in this house of his own choice, where he feels privileged to serve as famous a writer as Hirst. Suddenly, Spooner asks desperately that Hirst consider hiring him as well, verbosely praising his own work ethic and other virtues. After all this, Hirst merely replies “Let’s change the subject for the last time”. And after a pause worriedly asks “What have I said?” Foster explains definitively that Hirst’s statement means that he (Hirst) will never be able to change the subject ever again. Hirst thinks back to his youth, when he mistakenly thought he saw a drowned body in a lake. Spooner now comments, “No. You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.” Hirst responds “I’ll drink to that!” and the lights fade slowly to black.

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Production Design and Costume:

The safety curtain (well not the safety one but the scene setting one I’ve forgotten the name of) had imagery reminiscent of a dark, foreboding, forest and tattered edging so it didn’t meet the stage floor uniformally. Somehow due to the 2 or maybe three thin layers of gauze it had a 3D like effect.

no mans land stage layout.png

The single room setting of the performance has a semi-circular design, as if we were in the keep of a castle except the walls have a square glass brick effect (which seemed to be popular a few years ago or at least my local cinema and bingo hall use a similar effect) due tinged a dark turquoise. The floor has pale pine wooden slats following the semi circular design and a mat/rug with fleur de leis on it coloured deep turquoise and paler turquoise respectively. This carpeting is slightly off centre from the circular pattern of the floorboards as if to non-verbally indicate to the audience that things are not quite as simple and straight forward as they initially appear. To the rear, of centre to the left, is a window hidden behind heavy, dusty it seems, curtains obscuring any natural light entering the room despite the possibility of Hirst going out for his daily walk (which he refuses as it isn’t very light outside when he looks).

On the right is the single door on and off stage. A plain, varnished, wooden door. To the rear a well stocked bar with a cupboard in the bench hiding even more bottles. A few glasses are used during the performance as Hirst always needs another drink and often so do the others.

The room is sparsely furnitured. To either side are free standing lamps, the right of which has a small table with it. Three chairs populate the room. Two are simple wooden ones but the third, off centre to the left, is the most important. It is Hirst’s green Chesterfield chair which only he ever sits in as the master of the house. Next to it is a small side table which he places his whiskey glass upon. A trolley, with fold out wings and covered in a white sheet to make it a table, is used for Spooner’s breakfast at the start of the second half. It is wheeled in and abruptly out by Briggs.

Costume wise Hirst wears a navy three piece suit but for most of the first half this is replaced by a striped night gown. Spooner wears a dull great suit and in the second half for a brief time has on his Mac in readiness to leave. Foster and Briggs wear clothes in the style of the 1970s i.e. brown boots, leather jackets and bellbottom trousers. In the second half, with their roles as house staff revealed, Briggs wears a blue three piece suit, later discarding the jacket with his sleeves rolled up, and Foster reappears in the last few scenes in a pastel suit. In contrast to the Americanised version I have to immediately note Stewart didn’t have a wig during the performance I saw and I don’t think McKellen had a ponytail (and obviously the roles of Foster and Briggs were different actors).

Review:
The venue was sold out and it was the final night. As is often the case here when its sold out there was barely any room to move at the entrance as they put the programme selling stall at the bottom of the stairs which start right by the left side of the entrance doors. Across the small entrance way is the box office with one, maybe two, people able to serve through the small windows. Of course people queue here too and I haven’t accounted for the people standing around chatting idly having gotten themselves drinks from the bar. Saying that once you got up stairs there was more room, not much seating but that is to be expected due to the limited space.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the boxes were used for their original purpose of ‘being seen to be seen at the theatre’ thought they are renowned for their poor view of the stage. As it is they probably worked out cheaper than some of the stall seats for tonight’s performance.

The New Theatre used to be the premier location for stage plays in Cardiff but after the establishment of the Wales Millennium Centre it was quickly usurped and although still respectable it never regained this position. It’s heyday, during my life time, was probably around 1996 when Anthony Hopkins, fresh from his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, directed his stage adaptation of Uncle Vanya transposing Chekov’s Uncle Vanya to a turn-of-the-century Welsh setting, emphasising the hardships of Welsh industrial life in the slate quarries and Welsh-English turmoil. Aside from the New Theatre and WMC Chapter Arts Centre, the Sherman Theatre and recently the Gates Art Centre have grown in prominence as venues for the arts in Cardiff.

The play itself I enjoyed but I think there is an important caveat to this: I knew what the meta-narrative of the play was regarding Pinter’s mindset when he wrote it and what it represented to him. What we see portrayed on the stage is not literal. Metaphor is heavily used in this play and the audience are hinted towards this reading when Spooner proclaims his joy at its use by Hirst in the first act.

Hirst is an old man at the end of his life consumed by memories which he cannot recollect with any accuracy. He often talks of a photo album he has and the faces in it yet he himself doesn’t recognise Spooner at the start and indeed we as an audience must ask if, when he does acknowledge him as a friend from his youth, if the conversation they are having is actually between old acquaintances or if Spooner is playing along and making up stuff which Hirst, being a braggard, pretends to remember but doesn’t. In fact we could ask if any of the characters, apart from Hirst, even do exist at all or perhaps speculate that they represent different aspects of himself – Foster as his young brash self who sees opportunities in the future and is very cocky; Briggs as his masculine side aggressive, objective and arrogant; Spooner as his poetic aspect and view of old age reflecting how, now at the end of his days, he thinks back to his youth but cannot recall it with accuracy and wants to ignore, if not outright dismiss, his old age from himself and instead ‘remembers’ someone drowning but can’t recall their face. Perhaps we take this as it is him seeing himself drowning metaphorically in life unable to escape from himself.

Of course there are many ways to read this play and that is, for the most part, intentional. It is however also its weakness as you must have some knowledge of Pinter, or at least writers of his generation, and how the use of language is multilayered with more than a single understanding. Waiting For Godot, by Samuel Beckett, (premiered on 5 January 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris) is perhaps the greatest example of this use of dialogue. Symbolism and metaphor are replete throughout the work and for an audience not prepared for this they may declare it pretentious as they are unprepared. If you have not watched a work like this before I think it wise to watch the film version of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (first staged in 1966 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) to see if this sort of play is to your liking. In fact it would be hard to deny the influence Beckett and Stoppard must have had on Pinter when you make comparisons.

It would be easy to see this play as a response to Waiting For Godot. There are parallels between Vladimir and Hirst contrasting that of Estragon and Spooner but in both pairs certain aspects are exchanged. Beckett, in a correspondence reflects that “Estragon is inert and Vladimir restless.” In a twist we see Hirst, who of the pair is the slightly better off as Vladimir is, is mostly sitting for much of the first act despite how spry he is in the second, and in contrast Spooner, a poet (just as Estragon should have been Vladimir comments) is very spry unlike Estragon who is mostly seen to be sitting or reclining. In Waitng For Godot it is Vladimir who is constantly reminding Estragon but here Spooner reminds Hirst. In the first stage production of Waiting For Godot, which Beckett oversaw, both are “more shabby-genteel than ragged…Vladimir At least is capable of being scandalised…on A matter of etiquette when Estragon begs for chicken bones or money.” In No Man’s Land Hirst is scandalised by Spooner’s accusations of youthful infidelity and, while eating his breakfast, Spooner uses the serviette as a bib instead of placing it on his lap (and indeed when putting his coat on forgets to remove it). There are many facets which could be explored in analysing the intertextuality of the pieces but that should be left for another time and place.

This is not a play of events but of moods. It is a dialogue about themes which often haunted Pinter throughout his career – most obviously those of memory and death. I highly recommend it but this is one of those occasions where you are better off knowing what happens so you can focus on the nuances of the actor’s performances. If I had a criticism of the one I attended it was the audience not knowing the tone. Some laughed at any point that might be potentially comedic, for example when Hirst collapses and then crawls out of the room, but these scenes could also be played very seriously (which I believe was the intent this night) so it seemed there was a dissonance between performance and audience on the night. Of course we must reflect that the line between a tragedy and comedy is a fine line. In tragedy we identify with them and their inability to prevent the course of events but in comedy we anticipate it and take joy in their suffering. I feel the play could easily be played to either extreme. Certainly McKellen was playing to the comedic angle while Stewart played a very serious figure and somehow, as hard as it might be to believe, they did not gel on stage although this may have been intentional due to the characters’ contrasting natures. As for Molony as Foster he played his role with much energy and easily interacted with McKellen who he has directed in other plays a number of times now. Teale as Briggs was suitably intimidating and stern. He did however remind me of Danny Dyer and, unsurprisingly, I discovered that Dyer had performed this role a few years ago in another production which lead me to question if Teale was imitating Dyer or if Dyer, by some fluke of nature, had discovered a role all but made for him he fit it so perfectly.

It was an excellent performance in every respect but the audience seemed to be at odds with the intended tone at times.

Outside the stage doors I didn’t see the autograph hunters who are always present at these things. There was an A4 printed sign in the stage door saying the cast would only be signing things to do with the production (i.e. Don’t you dare come here with things relating to Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Stella, etc). After the show the theatre manager, who for some reason was wearing a full white tie dinner suit, said no one could take selfies and you probably wouldn’t even get an autograph. Ian McKellen to his credit tried to sign as many autographs as possible as did Damien Molony and Owen Teale. Unfortunately Patrick Stewart had to rush off as he was about to miss his train though he did try to sign some brochures before leaving.

In summary: Go and see it as it is a classic of modern theatre but know what you are getting into regarding Pinter’s intent. Don’t just go because there are recognisable names otherwise you will be lost when you realise it isn’t going to be as straight forward as something you watch on television or in the cinema.



Moscow State Symphony Orchestra Concert

Held at St David’s Hall, Cardiff on 17th May 2016.

A performance of Prokofiev’s Russian Overture 13′, Prokofiev’ Piano Concerto No 3 28′ and Shostakovich’ Symphony No 5 48′


The evening consisted of the following:
Pre-Concert Talk (FREE) – Jonathan James & Noriko Okawa, 6.30pm – 7.00pm, Lefel 1
Join Bristol-based music educator Jonathan James in conversation with pianist Noriko Ogawa.

Young Artists Showcase (FREE) – Beatrice Acland (soprano) & Ella O’Neill (piano),
7pm, Level 3 foyer stage
Young soprano Beatrice Acland is a current MA Opera student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. She is joined by fellow student Ella O’Neill, for selections of vocal music by Rachmaninoff and Dvořák.

Post-Concert ’30-Minutes’ (£1.50) – Katie Lower (flute) & Joshua Abbott (piano),
9.30pm, Lefel 1
Prokofiev Flute Sonata in D, Op. 94

Post-Concert Tickets £1.50 (No Ticket Service Charge applies)


Moscow State Symphony Orchestra
International Concert Series

Tuesday 17 May, 7.30pm to 9.30pm

‘The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra might well be the world’s least-heralded great orchestra … With these revelatory Russians, a free seismic test is part of the bargain.’ – Los Angeles Times

The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra is led by their Conductor Pavel Kogan and accompanied by the piano soloist Noriko Ogawa.

For almost seven decades the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra has been one of Russia’s leading orchestras, forming a legendary partnership with their conductor Pavel Kogan. Hear them in work by two of Russia’s greatest composers, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Noriko Ogawa is the soloist in Prokofiev’s high energy, sardonic and sometimes bitter-sweet Third Piano Concerto and the concert ends with a classic: Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, a dark tragic courageous reply from an individual to the state.

This UK tour by the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.


Standard Price £7.50 | £15.50 | £19.50 | £26.00 | £32.50 | £39.50
Platinum Tickets (including prime seat in Tier 1, a glass of champagne and a programme) £48.00
Friends of St David’s Hall £2.00 off
Under 16 £ 5.00
Students (up until 6.00pm on the day of the performance) £ 5.00
Claimants £2.00 off
Disabled people (plus one companion) £ 7.50
(Wheelchair users plus one companion seats at lowest prices)


 

REVIEW
I missed the pre-show talk but the Young Artists Showcase of Beatrice Acland (soprano) & Ella O’Neill (piano) was on the same level as my seating and was a really good pre-show ‘warm up’ for the audience. WMC (Wales Millennium Centre) also do a similar thing in their foyer of letting younger acts do a short performance and it can only do good to give them an opportunity.

pre show

It would have been nice if they were introduced by a member of staff rather than having to do so themselves as it would give them some respect as contributors to the evening’s events.

The joke I am reminded of by these circumstances is the one about a restaurant advertising for musicians to play for free, to promote themselves, and someone replying by imitating the poster’s use of language and advertising in rebuttal for free meals at their home to promote the restaurant.

I’m sure they were treated well but from the look of it they turned up, got on stage and did their thing then left without any significant staff interaction.

I can only imagine, when that worse case scenario does occur at any venue, it would be setting the venue up for a downfall in the future. Of course there would have been a staff turnover by them so there is always a slight aspect of inheriting a poison chalice if the previous senior staff were not cordial with people who were only beginning their careers at the time.

Beatrice and Ella were both very good and I hope to see their names again in the years to come. Despite how I make it sound they did receive applause after each piece and seemed happy with the performance.

For the main event I saw for the first time in person the seating behind the stage being used. I personally was sat towards the front in the stalls. Ironically the behind stage seating, when an orchestra is the sole aspect of the performance, is probably preferrable. Definitely when Okawa’s grand piano was being wheeled to the front it was the only seating that didn’t have a lot of the stage obscured.

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In order to get the piano to the front, after the overture had been performed, a 5 – 7 minute impromptu interruption occurred leaving the audience just sat in silence staring at the stage staff adjusting things. When you are sat there doing nothing even this short period of time can seem like an eternity despite there obviously being no other options available. The violinists and cellists had to leave the stage, the conductor’s podium moved deeper into the stage and the grand piano actually overlapping the podium. The stage area is very limited so I can only imagine how cramped it was. Once the lid to the piano was opened Kogan was probably unseeable for most people. I was actually concerned that if he lost his footing he would fall directly onto the piano as the rail of the podium had to be left off due to the overlap. That is my only significant criticism of the evening. I imagine they discussed what to do earlier and sadly this was the only option but it was such a distinct interruption to the proceedings I wish they had perhaps agreed to alter the set and have the piano and Okawa’s part performed at the start of the second half instead.
Under the orchestra staff they had to put long pieces of cardboard for friction so no one’s chairs moved about. Do they usually do that? I have never been sat close enough to the stage to notice before.

The performance was, as you would expect, an excellent world-class experience and St David’s Hall is truly the best location still for the acoustics it delivers even in contrast to WMC. Ozawa excelled in her part and ‘stole the show’ if such a thing can be suggested. Kogan, despite never addressing the audience save for gestures and smiles, seemed very jovial and after receiving rapturous applause even performed a short humourous piece which was unexpected and much appreciated by the audience.

The real gem of the evening was the intimate performance of Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata in D, Op. 94 on level one (in the room I am certain used to be a restaurant). The musicians were Katie Lower (flute) & Joshua Abbott (piano). Katie introduced herself and Joshua then gave a small overview of the piece and its history. The ticket was only £1.50 and worth every penny. Sadly there were only about 14 people there which I assume is because it was about 9.45PM and so anyone needing the train or other public transport would have had no choice but go due to scheduling. It is a shame as it was a very enjoyable 30 or so minutes.

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I don’t know if musicians would prefer a small but focused audience, like this, or a larger, if inattentive, audience as Beatrice Acland and Ella O’Neill had prior to the concert. Both have their pros and cons I suppose.

A wonderful evening and I hope the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra return again in year’s to come.


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Only The Brave – Musical [First Impressions and Story Synopsis]

Following is my initial impression of the new musical ‘Only the Brave’ premiering at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. I will write a more thorough review later this week.

First let me give you a few videos and information in case you are not already familiar with it:

Donald Gordon Theatre

Created by Wales Millennium Centre with Soho Theatre, Daniel Sparrow Productions & Birdsong Productions
Only The Brave
A New Musical

28 Mar – 02 Apr 2016

Previews: Mon – Wed £11 – £25* Premium Packages*** £35*
Thu – Sat £14 – £29* Premium Packages*** £39*

Age Guidance: 11+ (No under 2s)

Only the Brave is an epic new musical about love, friendship and, above all, hope.

Starring Emilie Fleming (Les Misérables, Oliver!), Neil McDermott (EastEnders, Shrek The Musical), Caroline Sheen (Mary Poppins, Les Misérables) and David Thaxton (Les Misérables, Love Never Dies), this moving new musical delves into the lives of the men and women who made the most astonishing sacrifices in order to protect their country and provide a better future for those they loved.

Based on the true events leading up to the D-Day landings, Only the Brave follows a group of men embarking on the ultimate mission, the friendship of two women united by love and loss, and the bravery of a young French girl determined to play her part.

In collaboration with the team behind the stunning UK tour of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong and with an original score by Cardiff born composer Matthew Brind, Wales Millennium Centre is proud to create and première this home-grown musical that will send your heart soaring.

Book by Rachel Wagstaff
Music by Matthew Brind
Directed by Steve Marmion
Original concept by Steve Coleman, Matthew Brind & Rachel Wagstaff
Lyrics by Steve Marmion


Synopsis and Review

I typed this on my phone during the intermission and after the show so some events may be out of order and it is a very scrappy account of the proceedings. As this is the first time this musical has been performed it is natural that you will not pick up the names of all the characters initially but, to the productions credit,  I found that they were all very distinct and I would suggest that any criticisms in this regard only be challenged by asking if the same critic can name all the individual protesting students, who each have a distinct characteristic, during Marius’ scenes of Les Miserables even all these years later after its international success and social osmosis.

PART 1

The first few scenes had ‘muddy’ sound quality at the start and also something I will often come back to in the proper review: the use of simultaneous scenes occurring on stage leading the audience to miss events. The very first scene is of an old man, John Howard, in a care home lying on a bed who gets up and faces his younger self. We are introduced to Captain (later Major) John Howard and Lieutenant Denham Brotheridge courting their respective wives prior to enlistment. During this people run back and forth on stage to show the build up to war and it all seems very confusing.

There is a mix of song quality and nothing feels memorable but perhaps in time would be. Certainly the initial sound quality spoiled the opening pieces. The first few bits with moving stairs is overkill pre-enlistment as they never seem to stop moving them in order to impress up on the audience how much activity there was occurring. The lightweight staircases are used throughout the performance to emulate military locations, the small housing of the nurse’s office, at the start of the second half the aeroplane being flown and at the end the bridge they have their mission at.

As they are back projected a shiloette of one onto the ‘safety curtain’ I suppose at some point the production decided, of all the things in this musical, this scenery prop is what they want to be the iconic image. Phantom of the Opera has the mask, Les Mis has the illustration of Cosette as a child with the tricolor, Oklahoma has the map of the state, various musicals have the title done in a stylised way… and Only The Brave has a stage prop. It seemed an odd choice that this be the audience’s first image of the performance.

After the initial ‘we are real men’ macho events of John knocking out all his group during some boxing training (and he becomes regional champion possibly? I wasn’t clear what was happening as this part moved so quickly) to assert he is the alpha male and lead. Also at this point someone introduces Tony ‘Darky’ Baines. I think it is the ‘Jesus’ lieutenant saying “but everyone calls him that” but not John. There is no racism in his unit which feels like quite an anachronistic, politically correct, view. It may be true historically, as this is based on real events, but when we have Prince Harry referring to one of his colleagues by the nickname Raghead a few years ago, and such nicknames are common place in the armed forces as a demonstration of mental toughness and brotherhood, it seemed a bit too forced to suggest this would have been challenged in the 1940s. Hopefully I am wrong but it felt too forced a moment during the performance.

There is also a Welsh character who keeps turning up late to practise. I wonder, should the musical tour, if this role will be changed to which ever region they perform at or the character will always be Welsh thus presenting us as as dim witted, late to everything and as a potential liability on the mission. In the second half he somehow disappears after the plane crash only to reappear to deliver the same running ‘Sorry I’m late’ joke for the final time during a skirmish where other team members have died.

 John’s first, comedy relief, lieutenant is introduced saying ” I’m Jesus”. John looks at him blankly. “Jesus Christ College, Cambridge. You?” The boy, in officer’s uniform, assumes John is of the educated social elite, not working class, due to being in a commanding role. A few minutes later this lieutenant is joking to one side with another ‘elite’ about some one shooting a hose thinking it was a snake. John is not impressed and makes it clear to the general requesting a replacement. The general, whenever he pops up, makes french jokes such as “Whats the difference between a Frenchman and toast? You can make soldiers out of toast”. He does this a few more times throughout until the intel in the final act proves to have been useful and he says he always believed in the French. Another ‘upper class twit’ character.

We finally reach what would be the start point of any other production i.e. John’s first encounter with Denham and their immediate camaraderie. They bond over the fact they both like football, played a bit of it too, they both have, or will by the end, have pregnant wives. Good, honest, salt of the Earth, blokey, Working Class, subjects of conversation. Good old fashioned caricatures of what it is to be real men.

John’s group, unit B, is for good, hard working, salt of the earth, Working Class Lads not toffs. Really the start of the musical hammers this in. I have to wonder if this was to appease the Welsh audience who they no doubt believe hold similar views? John wants Denham as his lieutenant but Denham is dedicated to being part of Company D who he already belongs to. He insists and gets his way. Later on Unit D are mentioned again in a moment of appraisal from the general and sound like they were doing well while John seems to struggle between being a stiff upper lipped leader and ‘one of the lads’ at Denham’s insistence because “They will be more willing to die for you then”.

We get some training scenes, which are very well choreographed,  and the Captain becomes ‘one of the lads’ after buying them a crate of beers and getting dragged into going to a dance hall with them. His Lieutenant and he bond over their pregnancy wives.

So far I haven’t really mentioned the scenes ‘back home’ featuring the women. To be honest they seem an ill fit with the military side of the story. Its too awkward a juxtaposition and I think that, for me, it was more about how they segwayed between the two scenes or used the stairwells, with seating, to elevate the women chatting on sofa’s about ‘women’s troubles during the war’. The dialogue seems to do little except convey an oddly archiac stereotype of the mentality of women during the time. These are not women ‘doing their bit but preoccupied with being pregnant and recounting hearing from their significant others as if that is their lot in life. It almost feels as if these scenes are tacked on as if a producer, or someone else with clout, said at a late stage production announced ‘this needs more women’ and they had to accommodate at short notice.

However there is one female role , or two though the nurse’s significance doesnt become apparent until the end, which is well conceived. A French waitress offers to aid the resistance in France as she can speak perfect German and therefore would be a key asset in getting information to aid the cause. The nurse, who informs the resistance, refuses telling her she is only a girl. The girl, Isabelle, insists and the nurse relents. Thus Isabelle goes on to spy on the German officers who discuss their orders openly in the cafe under the mistaken belief she cannot understand them. There is a running side story explaining her motivation and I felt this was if anything underplayed considering the message of the musical. Her mother said the Germans did not belong in France and for this was tied to a tree, shot and Isabelle was told not to bury the body for 24 hours. During this time she held her dead mother’s hand and her hatred of the German’s festered. This backstory is played out low lit in the background of some of Isabelle’s scenes (performed by the other ensemble actresses) and at first felt jarring as it is in such stark contrast to other events in the first act which almost come across as an homage to the ‘jolly old war’ sanitised unreal tone of films from the 1950s depicting the events of war time squadrons.

In contrast to Isabelle, who is on the front lines risking her life, the wives back home become typists for the war effort and discuss a bit more how pregnant they are and if it will be a boy or girl and how they want their significant other to see the child (in case they die out on the front). Honestly the more I think about it the more it rings true that this has the tone of a 1950s film. Perhaps that was the intention though nowhere in the press releases etc did it imply this.

So the dance hall events come to an end and John is told that due to weight issues he should leave one of his men behind. He goes to ask them and says there is no shame in wanting to go home (well except the massive amount of ‘what did you do in the war daddy?’ style social pressure propaganda and living the rest of your life with that shame –  no none at all). No one volunteers. He is proud of them. Eventually he has the youngest, who is 16 not 19, and hasn’t even kissed a girl until tonight, not go on the mission and gives the crying boy a fatherly hug. He is a father to his men in case it was too subtle. We are men with gusto. No intellectuals here. Just good honest Working Class blokes. Wear our hearts on our sleeves. Do what needs to be done no matter the cost. Each has a purpose e.g the medic (Welsh as his mother was a nurse), the pilot, the munitions guy, etc. Also the General casually informs John he is now a Major in rank prior to the mission. At some point the ‘best marksman’ on the team shoots Denham in the leg during a training exercise but John doesn’t report him and Denham forgives him. (which later leads into the moral of ‘choosing forgiveness over vengeance is the braver act’ the musical wishes to display).

Throughout the musical the humour feels weakly implemented although I could chalk it up to the audience not knowing when to laugh (which is an annoying import from American sit-coms which have laughter tracks to tell you when something is funny and you should laugh like a trained seal) so the General is laughed with, not at, for his anti-French comments at the moment despite him being a caricature of the ‘stiff upper lip’ upper class twit you usually see in war films. The audience hasn’t ‘learned’ when it is appropriate to laugh during this performance yet… as much as I hate to suggest such a cue for audience reaction exists.

The German General and Officer realise that Isabelle understands what they are saying and reporting it to the resistance. The general leaves and the Officer beats Isabelle up. He then hands a gun to his teenage subordinate, who for no real reason mentions his father shot himself during the Great War, to kill Isabelle. He can’t bring himself to do it.  Last song before end act 1 is very good obviously as they want you to come back for the second half, and the stage fades to black with Unit B preparing to take flight in the plane, the German youth stood over Isabelle holding the gun and John’s wife holding their child stood on one of the stairwells as a symbol of the women left behind.

They over do it with the moveable stairwells. Technically good but story is naff patriotic material from an old movie.

PART 2

A muddled start again as they simultaneously play out the flight and its difficulties, the wives in the typist pool and the young Germany demanding Isabelle give him some scrap of information to take back to his superiors in exchange for letting her go. The plane, represented by 4 of the stairwells being used in conjunction (rotating on stage with a back projected front of place window) crashes, the German youth holds the gun to Isabelle but ultimately let’s her go as he cannot bring himself to kill someone and the typing pool… types out letters of condolence. Sorry but the women’s scenes really are not gelling well with the other aspects. It may be the bright colours or the tone of their songs. It comes across as ‘well sucks to be you risking life and limb in the battle zone’ unintentionally. You are torn between focusing on the flight of Unit B or Isabelle’s impending death so the typists is an extra layer on top but clashes with the tone of the other parts.

Also there is a recurring mention of John having some form of issue with flying and we are finally told what it is as he lies shivering on the floor of the plane. He passes out at the start of flights due to nerves… or something. If this happened to the man in real life I understand its inclusion but it feels awkwardly included in this musical. I would prefer that when it is first mentioned by the General in the first half they just state it all then not have what amounts to exposition as they are flying into enemy territory. If it was omitted it wouldn’t affect the narrative.

There are a lot of pyrotechnics at the start of the second half so bear that in mind if you are of a weak disposition… or just don’t want to be caught unaware. It explains where much of the budget went and why back projection and the stairwells are the major props for most of the run time of the musical.

We then have the aftermath of the crashed flight. The stairwells are overturned and the soldiers are scattered across the stage. The audience hardly had time to take everything in. Personally I was focused on the conflict of Isabelle slowly walking across the front of stage with her back to the German youth who is begging her for some crumb of information so he can return without risk of execution (implied rather than explicitly stated) or otherwise he will have to shoot her. Isabelle doesn’t care for her own life only vengeance. He doesnt shoot her and breaks down.

A call is made to the General, via the damaged wireless, and due to poor reception it is reported John, now a Major in rank, has a ‘mortal’ not a ‘mortar’ wound but reported due to misheard think it’s mortal.

We then have a dedicated scene of the typing pool (actually the song here might occur later in a mirrored scene for Denham’s wife) who sing the generic ‘with sincere regret and apologies’ standard message they type in synchronicity ‘notices of the deceased’ letters to be sent to the families of dead soldiers and the General marches in to inform John’s wife of the erroneous news.

Then we have the most jarring scene of the entire musical. One of John’s men has bad nerves and is shaking severely. One soldier suggests having  a cup of tea to John’s disbelief. Suddenly the shivering soldier, miraculously recovered, shows he brought everything to make tea including a tin mug. John admonishes him saying that only what was absolutely necessary was to be brought. “But tea is essential” the soldier chimes back. What about everyone else then? asks John, at which point all of them produce their own tin cups and an extra one for their leader. A bit of humour during a tense moment. Personally I just found it jarring enough already but then…

In the middle of a stand off battle on the bridge where a tank is heading towards them the  soldiers sing about tea! What the hell? Then to one side the typing pool ladies also sing about having a cup of tea. We are British therefore we worship tea obviously. In the American version they would sing about coffee, the German version beer and the Russian version vodka it goes without saying. It is so out of place in tone it is almost surreal. I have to assume this happened in real life as this would otherwise be such a demonstration of inept understanding of narrative tone as to be insulting. It is the tone of the song more so than its subject matter though. Having a small comfort; be it tea, a keepsake of a loved one, talking of happier things, etc could be so much better implemented. in such odds it would be understandable a solider wanted some such catharsis but it could have been far better dealt with than a big fun music hall like jaunty tune of ‘tea is great, tea is the best, we love tea, its better than the rest’ song in the middle of a battle field. Reality is stranger than fiction.

Back to bridge n explosives guy does a solo while telling us his life story. He is a goner you think but no the damaged rocket device doesn’t blow him up. We then get a back projected tank image burst into flames while some more pyrotechnics go off. They notice someone was inside and one soldier runs off, against John’s orders, to save the boy. It turns out he saved the German  youth from earlier and so he is taken prisoner.

Isabelle and the nurse are both prisoners tied to a bed after being captured by the German General. The German Officer wants to shoot them but he is denied as the German General tells him that they are like birds protecting their nest and cannot be hated for this so he intends to keep them here until after the nearby battle. He begins the title song ‘Only The Brave Forgive’ and this is echoed by John during one of this musical’s simultaneous scenes. This is an immensely powerful piece and that it is the German General, not a member of the Allied Forces, makes it all the more powerful.

Although the musical plays up much to the patriotism of its influences at least in this regard it does the right thing. The German General and youth represent conscious human beings swept up in the globally genocidal machinations of their high command. The General brings to mind the respect that Rommel, the Desert Fox, gained from Allied Forces for being a humane and professional officer who ignored orders to kill indiscriminately. Whether this is more myth than fact is disputable but certainly it seems this post-war image of a noble enemy is present in the General’s depiction here. He and the youth (and by extension possibly it could be inferred the youth’s father) are still able to see the human beings they are fighting, and who have a right to oppose them, rather than an target that is to be destroyed under the justification they are just following orders from their authority figures.

However Isabelle cannot forgive. She intends to kill the German officer.For some could completely ruin the moment as it happens far too quickly after the previous song and we as an audience have not had time to process the proceeding moment. She is meant to be the contrast to John, Denham, the enlisted German youth (arguably) and the German General – they can forgive but she cannot. Not because she is a woman, as seems implied by the depiction of the British women, but because she does not have the perspective the soldiers have. They are men fighting in a foreign country and when they go home the barren, ash covered, landscape of the battlefield will be far behind them. They can look to their homelands while she is here, in the battle zone. This land which was once her home is now a burning hell of mortar fire, soldiers and death. She is as the German General describes a bird protecting its nest from invaders and should not be thought any less of for doing so. Another aspect of the forgiveness aspect I feel it quickly glanced over at the end is that we are seeing the recollections of John as a hospitalised old man and he met the German General in his later years so this is a reflection on his experiences not an unbiased presentation, even if glamourised and patriotic, of events. At the time he probably wasn’t as forgiving as depicted in the show but in time gained perspective.

The German officer seems to serve the role of ‘evil’ German as he is given no real character beyond following the party line and his orders – however this is as much as any of the other secondary characters so arguably he is in line with the caricatures we are otherwise presented with.

 Before the fly over the English General says he always thought the French were good people because of the useful intel he received which aids the war effort and saved men’s lives. So this character is redeemed I suppose. He seemed more of a mockable figure than anything.

Isabelle and Madame Vion tell each other their names as they had never done so before. This is a major turning point in Isabelle’s narrative as it is the first time she has shown confidence in another albeit someone who already knew her tragic history.

Hold onto your hats because the last sequence is so chaotic you will only be focusing on one thing. Isabelle intends to escape by grabbing the German Officers gun. During this struggle we simultaneously have this event, the Unit B soldiers at bridge in a fire fight,, John’s wife wanders about with baby. Stuff happens. Isabelle is shot and the German Officer runs off stage never to be seen again. Denham dies of his mortar neck wound and John throws the German youth to the ground wanting to execute him in revenge but cannot allow himself to do it no matter how torn apart he is by his friend’s death and let’s the boy go.  Then the wives in the typing pool know the operation was a success. John’s wife finds out he survived but Denham’s wife knows hers didn’t. They seemed to want to mirror the female characters but… it doesn’t work for a number of reasons.

Then immediately we are given a post log saying what happened to the real life people and the Old John comes back on as a bookend closing the narrative. ‘Welshy and Baines I don’t think are mentioned… so both of them were fictional then. The window washer/heavy arms guy just kind of snuck up in the second act as a notable character in Unit B…

The actors all take their bows. They come on a second time and the old man with no lines and on stage for all of 4 minutes gets a bigger applause than the actors who have been doing very physical work throughout. One of the women wanted to come out and take one more round of bows but the others wouldn’t come back out. That’s sad. This is the first night and its at Wales’ major theatrical venue… they got less of a response than a poorly received and performed middle of the road safe humour play with an actor decades out of relevance (Yes I am thinking of a particular play so don’t take this as my general view on showing appreciation to seasoned performers but the cast and production staff for Only The Brave deserved far more of a recognition considering the mammoth task they took on)

So… Welsh guys always late in training and the operation compared to the Englishmen so he is a mockable caricature. Lots of the moving staircases to the point it feels like they spent more time on choreographing that than refining the pacing of the story. The transitions and simultaneous acting out of differing scenes means the audience hasn’t a chance to absorb anything. Personally I focused on the Isabelle parts as this feels like where the production if further refined should  focus itself more. Show us the work of the French resistance and how they are not the mockable ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ that so often get depicted in American and British films.

Summary Review

Despite everything critical I have said this is a production worth seeing. It is in its infancy and WMC’s first home produced musical. I feel the setting of a World War 2 military operation was perhaps a bit too ‘safe’ a subject matter to adapt but if this is what is needed for them to gain their footing and move onto more daring matter in future I welcome it. The music is hit or miss for the most part barring the end of the first half, the ‘We Regret to inform you’ song and the title song ‘Only The Brave Forgive’. Nothing is perfect on opening night and I think with time with a few adjustments to pacing and considerations  towards how to meld it into a single coherent narrative rather than 3 which simultaneously occur this production has the potential to be a long runner. Remember Les Miserables and many other classics were damned when they first came out but in time found their groove, made the necessary adjustments to pacing and even removing or replacing songs before hitting their stride. This was a big undertaking and everyone involved should be credited for taking what is a historic moment in Wales’ Arts history. I am glad I saw it and hope to see it again years from now when they have had time and perspective to reflect what works and what needs adjusting. And now to end of some trite line like professional journalists…. ‘Only the brave forgive’ but there is no need to with this excellent, if currently flawed, production.


Comment, Like, Follow – All are welcome.

Barb Jungr at St Donats Art Centre

Held at St Donats Art Centre on 10th May 2015 – http://www.stdonats.com/

Barb Jungr accompanied by Simon Morris on the Piano – http://www.barbjungr.com/

Barb Jungr (born 9 May 1954) is an English singer-songwriter, composer and writer, of Czech and German parentage. She is known as a chansonnière, or singer of chansons—in the sense of classic, lyric-driven French songs; in the broader sense of European songs in the cabaret style; and in the even broader sense of a diverse range of songs interpreted in this style. She has become best known for her work with, or “interpretations” of, the songs of Bob Dylan. A song-stylist incorporating jazz and blues, her approach often includes radical re-readings of known writers as well as original material.

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The performance was held at St Donats Art Centre, formerly Tithe Barn of the historical St. Donat’s Castle, within the modern glass walled bar area of the art centre on a small stage, looking out towards the shoreline. I had assumed it was going to be in the barn stage area but the slowly dying light of day outside was a very pleasant backdrop to any performance and the house lights increased in accordance without being intrusive. They also lit one or two tea light candles on some tables but not all. It didn’t really add anything when you have the sunset in the background.

The seating was cabaret style so it was 4 chairs around each table. Somehow, though we booked the tickets all together, they had 2 people on one table and another on a separate table. In fact the couple who walked in after us forced us off the table we were sat at! Poor seating arrangement as it wasn’t a sold out performance and there were 4 or 5 tables left empty at the back. The barn would have been far more appropriate for it as it and has cabaret seating too at other performances I have attended here.

At the bar they said they didn’t have orange juice and offered an orange tango instead! But I had a tea so that’s beside the point…

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Disabled access: Although there is an art gallery on a higher floor there is easily available access for all events for anyone using wheelchairs or otherwise unable to use stairs. Both the bar area and the barn are ground floor so there should be no difficulty of access. Also there was a guy sat on one of the front tables with, I believe, autism who got concerned as he and the pianist as they were both named Simon. At one point he called out saying “My name’s Simon and you are Simon. But I am Simon… Hello.” Barb dealt with him well by making a comment on how there are so many people in the world and we can share names with others which is wonderful. So That was very skilfully dealt with by her I felt and helped him feel included in proceedings without there being a delay in the performance, and most importantly, him becoming worried and upset. Three times he had to go away with his aunt/grandmother but it didn’t disrupt proceedings. I felt a little sad for him although I think he was enjoying as he moved his hand in time with the music and Barb (and of course Simon the piano player) said hello thus dispelling what could have been a bit of a tense moment for them as an unexpected disruption. Professionalism like that should be commended.

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Review: I went in blind as I was told it was Cohen/Dylan songs and that was all I knew. The medleys were okay but due to her singing style, where she put emphasis in odd places and gesticulated in a very awkward way, it was really off putting. If she had been accompanied by more than just Simon on the piano I think it would have worked far better than what was the final performance. Also she seemed overly casually dressed and considering the tickets were £15 I would expect the performer to not look like they just stepped off the field from Glastonbury. Bitchy but the ticket price was too high for what we got from the venue and performance. I actually felt that if this were in a theatre or there were more people I would have left during the intermission – which at least one of the tables towards the front actually did. I didn’t like the re-imagining of ‘First We Take Manhattan’ which I have always really liked. They did a slower version of it, and in concept I have always thought that doing the song that way would be very effective (though the point of the song is that instrumentally it’s meant to be very upbeat, with a fast tempo, contrasting with the lyrics’ darker tone) but somehow it just didn’t ‘click’ with me… The way they did it though it was like karaoke… This is very rare for me to totally dislike an event but I cannot deny that sadly I did not enjoy and it was not based solely on not liking Barb’s singing but the overall experience as noted above with the seating and service at the bar. Simon was good in accompanying Barb but as mentioned previously there is only so much you can do as the sole instrumental accompaniment. It just wasn’t my thing on the night and apart from two students, who snuck onto a back table during the second half, I was the youngest there by 25 years easily. I’m sure Barb is far better in the right venue with the right accompaniment so this really felt like it was ‘local gig’ level not a professional.

It’s a very nice venue and doesn’t get much support. Although they consider themselves rural they do get many good acts there but really don’t seem to be able to penetrate the market due to bigger and more central venues drowning them out though you will find similar acts passing through. From the posters I saw signed on the walls they do have acts I would really like to see e.g. the Webb Sisters. I chalk it up as one bad experience and will be checking their site out again for future events. I have been here before and gone in the barn stage area just off the entrance and certainly feel Barb would have done better in there as it is more intimate and suitable for an act like hers compared to the quite large bar area looking out on the shoreline which seems more suited for a more ‘get up and dance’ friendly band performance.

Walk Around The Wales Coastal Path

I would like to one day walk the entire Wales Coastal Path route and see all its historical sites. If I could do so all in one go over a number of days, without having to go home and then ‘pick up’ as a designated check point, it would be the experience of a lifetime.

http://www.walescoastpath.gov.uk/?lang=en

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What would I need for this? I am not 100% sure. I would think the following:

  • A fold away green poncho. I would wear this when it was raining or as a wind breaker.
  • A scarf for warmth or to use as a makeshift sling if need be.
  • A wide brimmed hat to keep the sun out of my eyes.
  • A full length, light weight, waterproof coat to deal with the Welsh weather.
  • A fleece for heat retention if the wind chill increases.
  • Hard wearing jeans – but comfortable clothing really is the key.
  • Suitable walking shoes or boots.
  • A flask with water to drink so I do not become dehydrated. Another small flash with something a bit stronger in it too.
  • Snacks – likely peanuts and biscuits for their high fat content to keep my energy levels up.
  • A first aid kit with the various necessities and maybe also a small book about common issues and how to patch them up until I can get medical aid.
  • A working mobile phone fully charged. Although no one would want to contact me so it would make no difference.
  • Change in order to use pay phones should the mobile phone fail. Some money nonetheless for food etc.
  • Perhaps a book or working knowledge of stop gaps where I can rest, possibly sleep safely and get food and drink. Not a map. Those restrict you and the coastal walk is basically ‘walk along the shoreline’ so it would be hard to get lost. If it became boring I just may set off in another direction entirely…
  • A sturdy backpack in which to carry these items.
  • A good camera to take photos on my journeys. Memories are important.

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I have most of these items ready and waiting already on a chair in the living room except the backpack, first aid kit (except plasters/band aids) and knowledge of the route. I just may set off in another direction entirely anyway… Adventure awaits!

I guess what I am saying is that at heart, without realising it before, I have always been Snufkin from the Moomins. Snufkin is also known in the original Swedish version as Snusmumrik[en] or Mumrik[en] and in Finnish as Nuuskamuikkunen or Muikkunen. When my hair grows too long it begins to look like his and I did learn to play the harmonica too a few years ago. I don’t place much importance on possessions (except books) and would rather not have a set goal in my travels but just go wandering wherever life took me though I would return to certain places seasonally. I suppose that is what is important – having somewhere to return to where people will welcome you no matter how long you spend apart. Snufkin wandered but he always came back to Moomin Valley eventually.


On a side note this song from the 1972 version makes Snukfin sound like a Wild West badass… Like ‘The Man With No Name’ wandering into a desolate town.

This isn’t a serious post… I just considered the matter and realised it. I like the concept of being a wanderer. It’s a romantic notion but the reality is a far harsher matter altogether. This following song I always enjoyed though obviously it is taken out of context here. It is one of my all-time favourite songs.

Bonus points if you realised the connection of Clint Eastwood who played the ‘Man With No Name’ and who starred alongside Lee Marvin, who sang ‘I Was Born Under A Wandering Star’, in ‘Paint Your Wagon’! Although I don’t say it at the end of every post, I assure you, comments and likes are always welcome. If you would like to follow me that would also be welcome obviously!

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

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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

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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.

The Harri-Parris: The Big Day

A Welsh farmer’s daughter brings her English fiancé back to meet her rural West Wales community and family leading to a number of misunderstandings and hilarity ensuing the day before their wedding.

The Harri-Parris are a West Walian farming family. Hilarious and dysfunctional, they love nothing more than having visitors round. And that’s you! Anni, the farm’s only daughter, is getting married and so the Harri-Parris want to celebrate the big day with you. Well, not the actual big day, they’re not made of money. How about the night before? The night they’re going to meet Anni’s new English, vegetarian, indie musician fiancé for the first time. What could possibly for [sic] wrong? Dust off your posh hats and join the Harri-Parris for a thoroughly entertaining evening of songs, stories and cake. Lots of cake.

Mai oh Mai productions and Little Wander in partnership with Chapter and the Torch Theatre presents: The Harri-Parris: The Big Day

Script and songs by Llinos Mai
Directed by Owen Lewis

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Cast:

Llinos Mai – Anni: The only daughter of the Harri-Parri family. Actor, writer, director and farmer’s daughter. Wrote this play and the first outing of the Harri-Parris entitled The Harri-Parris: The Leaving Do.

Rhian Morgan – Mrs Harri-Parri: Widowed, overbearing, matriarch of the family and proud member of the ‘Not the Welsh W.I.’ (Played Anne Jenkins in Tir, Susan in Stella and Sian Blathwaite in August, Anthony Hopkin’s adaption of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya back in 1996 which I saw when I was very little in the New Theatre, Cardiff).

Dan Rochford – Ifan: Anni’s terse brother who runs the farm day to day. (He played the role of Dean in Hinterland / Y Gwyll for two episodes). [My personal favourite character of the show but each one has their qualities contributing the the ensemble piece].

Rhys Ap Trefor – Deiniol: The camp cousin to the Harri-Parri siblings acting as the wedding planner (Huw in the Torchwood episode ‘Countrycide’) [The role was played by Rhydian Jones in The Leaving Do and he features in the promotional video for The Big Day though for whatever reason has been replaced and it may only have been temporarily as far as I am aware though Ap Trefor does an excellent job so you would never think he was replacing someone else in the role].

Oliver Wood – Ben: Anni’s English fiancé (Who you may recognise as Charlie Jenkins from Boyd Clack’s comedy series High Hopes).

For those expecting to see Gareth Wyn Griffiths who played Branek, a Slovakian seasonal farm worker in ‘The Leaving Do’, he does not return to reprise his role but that is understandable as the character was a seasonal worker who would have moved on and perhaps, as a foil to the previous play’s events, would not have added anything to the proceedings of this play and was replaced in the four person ensemble with the character of Mrs Harri-Parri.

The light hearted narrative is a simple to follow one of a farm daughter bringing her finance to her home for the first time and the dissonance which arises from the perceptions everyone has based on the lies Anni has told and the realities when they finally meet. The Harri-Parris meet him in traditional national dress with a song, playing an accordion, before laying out a lavish buffet, “Go on have a bit… have a bit more… bit more? Go on!”, but Anni and Ben have already eaten at the service station before arriving (and everyone in the community knows they have as Mrs Harri-Parri relates who spotted them where and when… There and no secrets in the close knit community of Llanlai). Anni has told her family that her fiancé, Ben, is a sky diving, charity working, man-amongst-men when in reality he is a vegetarian indie musician. This of course riles the farming, animal slaughtering, family who soon drive him to fainting during a musical number where they place him on the table and ritualistically gut him as if he were a chicken. Other issues include Ifan slaughters a pig in the downstairs toilet ruining Anni’s wedding dress, Ben’s mother had made a wedding cake that, safe to say, is not to Mrs Harri-Parri’s expectations and inevitably there is a fall out.

The Harri Parris The Big Day

The stage layout is very tight perhaps due to Chapter’s small stage area but there is no sense it is overly compacted but rather lends itself to a realistic dimension for the kitchen area of a farmhouse. To the rear on either side are doors: on the left it leads out into the farm’s courtyard and on the right further into the house. On the rear wall are the rosettes the family have won at farming contests, probably the Royal Welsh Show, while a drum kit, electric guitar and bass sit beneath them.

On the left is the cooking stove filled with a turkey and all the food. In front of this is the telephone say on a small podium which Mrs Harii-Parri goes to throughout the play to gossip, in Welsh (although its Pobl-Y-Cwm Welsh so there is nothing lost as you will easily pick up what she is saying even if you’ve no knowledge of the Welsh language as its about what has just occurred on stage). Just off centre of the stage is the kitchen table and a few chairs.

On the right is the Welsh dresser sideboard (display cabinet for anyone not familiar with this piece of furniture) in which the ruined wedding dress is hidden unsuccessfully, a piano used during most musical pieces and the chair in which Ifan often sits reading a tractor magazine when not involved in immediate events.

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There is a little bit of audience interaction once or twice during the performance early on in terms of the cast pretending people are members of the local community. The pretence is that we, the audience, have been invited en masse to come celebrate the event and are all members of the local Llanlai community. As long as you are not in the front two or so rows there is nothing to be concerned about if you do not like this sort of thing. Most of the humour here is of the ‘no you didn’t invite that person did you!’ variety with some being the gossipy women of the community who Mrs Harri-Parri doesn’t like, Anni’s past boyfriends (some whom Ifan invited as they are his friends though he clearly gets some mocking pleasure from inviting them) and one lady who gets the pleasure of being Ifan’s girl that he is seeing (and will proceed to gesture at during one or two moments later). During this point the house lights will be up but they are few and far between and a natural continuation of the previous Leaving Do play where they actually handed chocolate cake out apparently (they do not hand out cake during The Big Day) but it helps the ‘world building’ of the setting. Of course it may be that the people selected were ones the production knew I cannot hazard a guess. Personally I don’t like audience interaction but as it was restrained to the front few rows it was fine and something to be expected if you chose to sit there.

Before going in you are handed a Llanlai newsletter which aids in the world building and serves as a one page list of the people involved in the production in one column. It’s free so that was a nice, unexpected, bonus of Welsh humour to get you in the mood.

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The approximately 90 minute performance, with no interval, has a few bits of dialogue in Welsh but these are for the most part supplemental and all the key dialogue is done in English with a few Wenglish-isms. As mentioned Mrs Harri-Parri speaks on the phone in Welsh but these are easily followed and concern the immediately preceding events of the play.

There are musical sequences involving agriculturally lyrical R&B, indie guitar anthems, wistful balladry, rap and even one song involving Bollywood styled bhangra choreography.

The seating in Chapter was ‘first come first served’ with no seating allocation so if you go to anything there best make sure your are on the door early ready to go in and get your choice of seat. The stage is less than a metre in front of the front row so preferably gets seats about 3 rows back if you want to have seats similar to the front rows of other, more traditional, theatre venues. I didn’t notice any issue with leg room unlike other venues and only now, when writing this, realise it wasn’t an issue unlike other locations I have been. I have to assume the misspelling in the promotional blurb (highlighted in blod above) was intentional…

The play is quite straightforward in its humour and music but it is one of the first ones Llinos Mai has written and I think given time she will develop a more distinct voice and can be considered to be testing the waters as this play is more theatrical compared to the more musical based The Leaving Do. Certainly the BBC is willing to invest in her as soon there will be 3 episodes of The Harri-Parris Radio Show on BBC Radio Wales soon. In a comparison Boyd Clack started in a very similar vein with Satellite City which began as a radio show on BBC Radio Wales so if all goes well this may be the start of some big things and Llinos Mai becoming a big name in Welsh comedy!

It was a very enjoyable evening and Chapter is a good venue for new, inventive, shows. The big question is would I go see this again? Yes without question but more importantly it makes me want to see more from not just Llinos Mai but also everyone else involved in the production and I can think of no greater compliment to pay them than that. I am really looking forward to hearing more from the Harri-Parris on BBC Radio Wales and will be keeping an eye out for the nativity based third entry in the series when it comes around.

http://www.theharriparris.co.uk/

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A delay to the promised A View From The Bridge as the last performance of The Big Day is tonight and from the sounds of it has been sold out every night which is good to hear!

I wonder if there is a recording of The Leaving Do somewhere online. I tend to see things being recorded but never know where these recordings go afterwards. To some archives somewhere but it seems a shame to do that in this day and age even if you had to charge a small fee to view the recording.