Run away to the Circus..

You never forget your first time with NoFit State circus.  Mine was January 2013 seeing the sensational Bianco (literally) on stage at Wales Millennium Centre.  It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  Never before had I seen such death-defying stunts, such strength and such raw excitement from a company.

So when I saw that this world-class show had returned to Cardiff, this time taking place in the big top, I knew I had to see it again.  After a pretty vanilla few weeks, I needed that NoFit State injection of madness.  I needed to be transported to another world.

Stepping inside the big top, you knew something incredible was going to happen.  This expectation and intrigue in the air was palpable.  As the performers started “setting the stage”, limbering up and yelling instructions to one another, as the live band (an epic addition to the performance) started to play, the big top was totally absorbed.  And that says a lot seeing as it was a matinee performance; it must be the first time I have been to a performance at this time when a room full of children were silent the whole time.  It really does say a lot about the power of the production.

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Property of NoFit State website

And once it kicked off, it really kicked off.  Aerial stunts that left me totally speechless, my heart threatening to explode out of my chest… how could these stunts be physically possible?  How could the human body move in such a magical way?  What was truly spectacular however, was the way NoFit State told a story purely through the power of movement.  From start to finish a mesmerizing story unfolded before our eyes.  In my opinion, no other touring company quite manages to tell a story like they do.  It was intoxicating.  They managed to perfectly balance the raucous hysteria one might associate with the circus in big group numbers with intimate, sensual solo and duets; of course accompanied with absolute perfection by the band.

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bianco

Property of NoFit State website

Every performer was flawless, with a total disregard for gravity.  This team did things that humans should not be able to do.  They challenged the boundaries of physics and gave world-renowned gymnasts a run for their money.  Each one was fully engulfed in their character, making the performance all the more believable.

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Property of NoFit State website

After an extravagant two hours of explosive stunts, Bianco closed in a simple, beautiful and artistic manner.  The perfect close to the party, it drew this awe-inspiring show to a subtle and sophisticated finale.

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Property of NoFit State website

NoFit State are masters of the profession.  Forget clowns and slap-stick humour, forget the wackiness for the sake of it of Cirque du Soleil.  What NoFit State manage to do is present a magical world in a contemporary and classy way.  They take the audience on a journey, leaving them dazzled and delirious.  For anyone who ever dreamed of running away to the circus, this is the show for you.  For anyone who didn’t, you’ll leave ready to pack your bags.

Bianco is showing in the Big Top until June 7.  For £15, this spectacle is worth every penny.  Find out more here. 

 

 

Take a trip to The Magic Toyshop..

The Magic Toyshop

Audience members expecting a buoyant tale of happy ever after will have left Chapter with quite a surprise this evening after Theatr Iolo and Invisible Ink’s production of The Magic Toyshop.  Based on the gothic fairy-tale penned by Angela Carter, famed for her feminist and magical realism, the story explores the eerie world of forbidden desires and dark family secrets.

Following the death of her family, 15 year old Melanie is transported away from the classic, middle-class comforts of her safe, idealistic life into a parallel world.  Put in the care of her twisted Uncle Philip, her world turns a darker shade of black as the demented threads of her new family home quickly start to unravel, and an unsettling world of living dolls, abuse and incest rise to the surface.

The stage was used with strong effect, with elements of the set being transformed with ease, intensified by an interesting and intense use of lighting.  The five person cast was overall an effective team, although certain members of the cast quite easily outshone others.  Comedy was interspersed throughout which helped to reinforce the dark, Gothic undertones of the play; unfortunately, I did feel like this needed to be emphasised even further.  For such a disturbing (strike – incredibly disturbing.  Certain parts left me feeling quite uncomfortable) story line, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the darkness of the production.  Perhaps that was not the intention; and I can understand the way it was presented would appeal to a wider audience.  For my personal taste, if something is dark I want it to be dark!

Ignoring the (at times) disjointed and unexplained narrative, The Magic Toyshop did entertain.  It was not quite what I expected, but it did deliver a thought-provoking piece of theatre.  Whatever your response, it will totally engross, baffle, shock and disturb; for that alone, this one is worth a watch.

The Magic Toyshop plays at Chapter Arts Centre until Saturday 17th May. For tickets and information, visit the Chapter website.

SHAKESPEARE AS YOU’VE NEVER SEEN IT..

Tequila, pizza and gold spangled pants – no, it’s not a scene from your Uncle’s stag do, but rather a euphoric chunk from Filter Theatre‘s (in association with RSC‘s) production of Twelfth Night.  A 90 minute explosion of hysteria, live music and playfulness, this contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic was not for the faint-hearted.

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Held at Sherman Cymru, the play opened up with the foolishly lovable Orsino (played by Shakespeare veteran, Jonathan Broadbent) uttering those famous words: “If music be the food of love, play on!”.  And play on they did.   From start to finish, the show was mayhem – in the best sense of the word.  Well known for their bold and boundary pushing work, Filter Theatre has taken this churned out classic and spun it on its head making it more accessible – and more bizarre – than ever before.  The cast were comically en pointe, interweaving the much loved words of Shakespeare and the fresh, imaginative mind of director Sean Holmes.  With plentiful opportunities for audience interaction (including a theatre wide conga line!), the play had the room gripped from the word go.

And what was so incredibly refreshing to see was the hugely diverse audience.  People of all ages spanned across the theatre; it truly paid homage to the work of Filter, and the excitingly expansive audience their joyous adaptations called out to.

Really it’s difficult to sum up the experience the show gave me.  Part of me left bouncing off the walls, and the other half left not knowing what the hell had just happened.  Whatever it was, it was infectious.  Was it Shakespeare for me?  Probably not, but then who’s to say that’s a bad thing?  What Filter did was take what has become a rather tired piece of work and dazzled it into a heady concoction of carnival like splendour.  If you’re looking for a night to just let go and have some real laughs in the process, then this is a must see.  Although please be warned – you may never look at yellow socks the same way again.

LOVE AND POETRY..

I was recently asked by my eldest sister to write a piece of poetry to read at her approaching wedding.  Of course, I was incredibly honoured and humbled by this touching request.  However – slight terror couldn’t help but creep up to the surface!  As much as I adore writing, how was I going to put into words the overwhelming love I felt not only for my sister, but also the beautiful relationship between her and her fiancé?

And yes – that terror remains.  So I have been increasing my poetry reading with the hope that inspiration will take control and allow the words to spill onto the page.

So why not share here?  I have been fairly lacklustre recently with my blog posts – a mixture of a dry spell of shows (that I was able to attend!) and an increasingly busy work schedule while the company tours has meant I haven’t had quite as much to write about.  The two combined is a dreadful mix; there are so many excellent shows out there right now (including the fabulous work WOW Film Festival has to offer) but work commitments have barricaded me from attending many.

Alas, that is no excuse!  So I solemnly do swear that from now on, whether I am attending productions or not, I will continue my loving commitment to this little blog.  Starting off with one of the most inspiring – and most appropriate – sonnets, it is of course Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116.  And as an aside, enjoy this rather geeky picture taken of me recently at the home of this absolute legend…

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Stratford-Upon-Avon Selfie!

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

WELCOME TO THE DARK VANILLA JUNGLE..

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It takes a lot to unanimously grip an audience; even more so when there’s only one woman on stage.  But Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle did just that.  Performed by the exceptionally talented Gemma Whelan (best known for her roles as Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones and Rachel in One Man Two Guvnors), this 80 minute monologue told the traumatic story of Andrea, a young girl beaten repeatedly by the harsh sting of betrayal and loneliness, exploited and rejected by all those she ever loved.

Dark Vanilla Jungle delved into the uncomfortable and frighteningly real issues ever present in society; gang rape, incestuous relations, mentally abusive parents and the darker depths of the human psyche.  Despite the incredibly serious subject matter, subtle humour throughout kept the mood in the room rapidly changing; a nice touch, seeing as Andrea’s mindset did quite the same.

It was a tough 80 minutes; Whelan’s poignant portrayal of Andrea was so spot on that it left the audience reeling.  Despite there only being one actor on stage – no set, no props – the whole audience was there, peering in on this fragile girl’s life as it rapidly untangled.  In all honesty, you didn’t need set or props: if anything, they would have totally deterred from the mesmerizing words of Ridley.  One of the most beautiful elements of the production (and commented on by Director David Mercatali after the show) was that each and every member of the audience was given the tools to create their own version of the play.  Every one of us had a different idea of all the characters in the play, all the locations; it was quite an overwhelming experience, and gave us all a sense of control that Andrea did not have.

The drama and story gradually built up throughout the production, until a climatic twist that left the audience on the edge of their seats.  It was one of those moments where I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t look away.  I was totally immersed in the spellbinding performance, the delightfully intelligent direction and of course the powerful, thought-provoking script.

I was left in total awe as the lights went down on Whelan.  The first professional monologue I have ever had the pleasure to see, Dark Vanilla Jungle affected me in a way that I have never been affected before.  Everything was en pointe, intoxicating and all consuming.  A beautiful experience.

BOLLYWOOD WITH A BANG..

band and video - Exeter - photo Tom Hurley

In the lead up to one of the most hotly anticipated film festivals the country stages, I have had the pleasure of speaking to Rabab Ghazoul, the WOW Women’s Film Club co-ordinator.  Rabab has been an integral driving force in the exciting Best of Bollywood Live, so it was an absolute delight to speak to her about the inspiration for the event, what she thinks is missing from the Bollywood culture in Cardiff and what we can expect for the future of this type of bespoke event.

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What was the inspiration for setting up the Bollywood Brass Band event?

The inspiration was wanting to do things a bit differently. I’d been running the WOW Women’s Film Club for years, and whilst a huge amount of women access our screenings at Chapter Arts Centre, I wanted to somehow combine and cross fertilise some of our audiences who wouldn’t normally come across each other: our Film Club members, the wider audiences who use Chapter Arts Centre, as well as people who might not use either Chapter or the Film Club. So the idea was to organise a pop-up screening in our of our faith/cultural communities, and try and invite ALL of these different potential audiences along to enjoy an exciting evening of film, but to do so within this very mixed environment.

Often we develop ‘tailored’ arts provision for ‘marginalised’ groups, and that’s all very well, but I felt that the future of really meaningful ‘access’ was to create cultural spaces that were increasingly inhabited by wider cross-sections of the community…not just those ‘targeted’ groups. I believe the more we mix, and experience culture together, the wider our sense of connection to community.

So within this ‘pop-up’ framework, the Bolllywood Brass Band seemed like the perfect vehicle for such an evening: something a bit different for the Hindu Gujarati community who were hosting the event, a chance for our usual Film Club (female!) members to take part in something that the whole family could attend (guys welcome too!), and something the wider Chapter Arts Centre audiences could take to! Given that our Gujarati hosts are cooking incredible food for everyone that evening, we thought, this is a great way to experience film within an authentically community setting!

Do you think that Cardiff has a sufficient amount of events / activities focused on the Bollywood culture; also do you think Cardiff has enough focused on women’s only events? 

It’s hard to tell whether we have enough Bollywood events, I’m not sure, but I certainly think there’s room for more. Within Asian communities themselves, there’s often all kinds of activities and events going on, no doubt including Bollywood inspired culture, but we rarely hear about these things. I know that for example Asian communities, in Cardiff and elsewhere, often go to Bollywood films that are put on at the big multi-plexes, or else book somewhere like Chapter Arts Centre for a special Bollywood screening, but it tends to be for that community so understandably, we don’t get to hear about it although I think it would be great! I think in a way that’s why we wanted to open out the Bollywood experience a bit to loads more people…

As far as women’s events are concerned, some people say to me…Really? Do we really need women-only spaces nowadays? And I tend to answer, well just ask the women who come! Our Film Club members absolutely argue for these spaces, for a chance for women to get together, have time out, meet each other, leave their kids in the creche and watch a film, unwind. It’s easy to take these things for granted, but many women simply don’t get a chance to do that or for that matter can afford it. Many of the women who come to the Film Club experience isolation of different kinds, we have women rom reguges, or asylum seeking women, or women who go for long periods without mixing with other people. So yes women’s spaces are important. And I think these spaces do exist in different ways across the city, perhaps we don’t have as many cultural events tailored for women, and that’s why the Film Club addresses a real need. 

Do you hope to go on to hold more of this type of event after WOW?

Yes we’d love to. We think the pop-up programme is a really vibrant part of what we have to offer. And whilst championing women’s spaces, lots of men often say to us, can you include us too please!! The pop-up events are a way to really open out to audiences, men, women, families, and a range of different communities. Pop-up film events have often happened in really interesting sites and locations across the UK (a castle, a park, a barge) but it tends to be the same audiences, just moving from an arts space over into a site-specific space or location. These pop-ups, located in the heart of cultural and faith communities, are about not just interesting spaces or locations, but really opening out, as communities, to each other.

What do you want audiences to take away from them after the event?

Well, to have a fantastic, inspiring, joy-filled time! If people aren’t familiar with the Hindu temple Samaj community centre, to leave feeling they’ve had a warm welcome and a taste of a community’s culture that’s right on their doorstep. And I suppose to really feel it’s been a great opportunity to experience something new, something fun, with a whole load of people we haven’t met before!

How difficult was the process of setting up this event… has it been in the pipeline for a long time?

It’s taken a while, things move in fits and starts as with everything. The challenges are funding a project like this, it costs a lot to bring an entire brass band outfit from London to Cardiff! So setting up isn’t so much difficult, it’s just events like this are different, logistically a little more complicated, and rely on us getting audiences in! We really need people to attend so we can break even basically, otherwise, there are serious questions over whether we can host things like this again. But we’re hoping to get a good crowd. That’s what makes the hard work all worth it!

Can audiences expect any surprises from the event?

I suppose if you haven’t experienced Bollywood before, that will an eye opener – over 15 classic, iconic Bollywood scenes from famous movies of the last 100 years. To be honest, the surprise as far as I’m concerned is the Brass Band aspect!! I’m trying to imagine how this will sound, the Bollywood given the brass band treatment! It’s fusion at its wildest! There might also be some other surprises in store, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if we told you!

Bollywood Brass Band

Thank you so much to Rabab for speaking to us – to book your tickets for the event, visit the WOW website.

 

WALES WELCOMES THE BEST OF THE WORLD..

From the Best of Bollywood, to the rolling mountains of Switzerland, Wales’ travelling film festival returns this March with an inspiring feast of cinematic magic from around the globe. First brought to our attention in 2001 – thanks to the daring imagination of festival director David Gillam – Wales One World film festival has continuously challenged, excited and touched audiences all across Wales. This year, the festival promises to be bigger and better than ever before, with a diverse range of untold stories and dazzling events to rival the popularity of previous years.

Travelling between Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff, Clwyd Theatr Cymru Mold, Taliesin Swansea and Theatr Mwldan Cardigan, WOW 2014 brings 18 of the very best world cinema films to all parts of Wales, with exclusive events across every location.

A Story of Children and Film

A Story of Children and Film

 Kicking off on Friday 21 March until Wednesday 9 April, the festival opens at Chapter Arts Centre with the Welsh premier of A Story of Children and Film; a rich exploration of the position of children in arguably the most popular art form of our time. Drawing on scenes from some of the most recognised classics, the film is directed by the celebrated Mark Cousins, the director of Channel 4’s The Story of Film, and followed by a special Q & A session. 

Metro Manila, Sundance Film Festival 2013

Metro Manila

 But this year’s festival doesn’t stop there. Perhaps one of the most outstanding factors of WOW 2014 is the high level of work it is exhibiting, with award-winning and BAFTA nominated world cinema scattered throughout. Winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance film festival and BAFTA nominated Metro Manila promises to shock audiences with its tense and gripping thrill factor, whilst the winner of last year’s Best Documentary Prize at last year’s European film awards Winter Nomads looks to take audiences on a thought-provoking journey of discovery.

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Winter Nomads

 The ingenious work on display truly plays homage to the journey the festival has taken itself on since 2001, becoming a globally recognised and powerful event, attracting world-class talent and pulling in growing audiences year on year.

 The growing phenomenon that is WOW also means the festival can now put on bigger events, such as this years Best of Bollywood Live; a new departure for the festival thanks to a partnership between WOW and their sister project, WOW Women’s Film Club. The event will take place on Saturday 22 March with a pop-up film and live music experience at Samaj Community Centre, Grangetown. Magnificent clips of iconic Bollywood scenes accompanied by the encapsulating beat of the Bollywood Brass Band promise to transport its audience members out of the festival and into a whole new world, with a delicious array of authentic Gujarati food set to seal the evening in true style.

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Bollywood Brass Band

 And that’s not all. Big or small, popular or untold, every story that the Wales One World film festival brings to its audiences illuminates our world in which we live in, from the voices of those often kept quiet. The festival brings the world a little closer to home, and takes its audience on a journey to places they may have never been. It’s innovative, expressive and utterly inspiring; and this year’s programme looks to take the festival to new heights.

 TOP FIVE

 PAPUSZA

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 An inspired evocation of a Gypsy life lost for ever, this film charts the life of Polish Roma Poet Bronislawa, full of music, despair and triumph. With strikingly beautiful black and white imagery and a tale of discovery, this film looks to linger in the audiences’ mind for years to come.

 SOMETHING NECESSARY

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 The tale of Anne, a strong-willed widow trying to piece her life back together after the civil unrest of Kenya. The film follows her life after the 2007 elections, where devastation left her widowed, her son hospitalized and her farm in tatters. Inspiring, consuming and heart-rendering; a must.

 THE SECOND DEATH

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 Something entirely different, this classy supernatural thriller is a cleverly scripted and atmospheric portrait of a twisted ghost story and a paranormal murder mystery.

 WHEN I SAW YOU

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 A powerful Palestinian drama about a rebellious young refugee on the hunt to find his Father. A touching story of people affected by the trying times around them, desperately searching for a way out.

 THE LUNCHBOX

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Quaint and subtle, this film tells the romantic tale of two mismatched personalities that have never even met. Clever, comical and charming, this delightful picture promises to put a smile on your face.