Thursday, 31 May 2012

That Face @ RWCMD

With the end of term rapidly approaching, it's time for the Richard Burton Company, made up of Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama students, to show off what they have learnt this year. Regular readers will know that I'm a huge fan of the Richard Burton Company (see Merrily We Roll Along, O Go My Man, and Blood Wedding) so I was excited about this end-of-term showcase. There are three productions on Our Country's Good, Earthquakes in London and That Face, and as much as I'd like to, I can't see all three. Our Country's Good is the big draw it would seem, being staged in the impressive Richard Burton Theatre. However, I've learnt from experience that where the company really excel is with contemporary writing, so I was drawn towards the much more intimate That Face by Polly Stenham, which explores the relationship between an alcoholic, manic-depressive mother and her children.

That Face is Stenham's first play, for which she won the TMA Award for Best New Play in 2007. With just five characters (and a non-speaking part), That Face builds a detailed portrait of a family torn apart: a drunken mother, an absentee father, a rebellious daughter and a devoted son. Henry (Oliver Llewellyn-Jenkins) has only just turned 18, but has become a parent to his own mother, Martha (Emily Hargreaves), who, through substance abuse, is incapable of looking after herself. Martha clings on to Henry and manipulates him, with uncomfortable incestuous overtones, but Henry won't leave her as he refuses to give up the hope that one day, if he tries hard enough, he will get his mother back. By contrast, his 15-year-old sister, Mia (Aysha Kala) has escaped to boarding school, where mummy's drugs get her into a lot of trouble. Their father Hugh (Matthew Raymond) lives in Hong Kong with family number two, unable or unwilling to confront the madness he left behind. The subject matter is certainly difficult, then, but there is such a warmth to the play, particularly from the two siblings, that you really care for the characters and become deeply engrossed in their struggles. While their story is moving, it is not that unusual, so it's great to see a play which addresses these issues in such an engaging way.

I've been consistently impressed with Oliver Llewellyn-Jenkins this year, so I was very happy to see him take the lead again. As I've said before, he has such a natural style which makes his roles always seem so truthful. With Henry, he simultaneously expresses vulnerability and inner strength, kindness and resentment. Utterly captivating. Usually a solid supporting part, Emily Hargreaves now takes the lead as Martha. Playing a drunken manic depressive must be a real challenge, with a temptation to go too wild and ridiculous, but Hargreaves displays just the right amount of restraint. She is very sympathetic and makes it impossible to hate Martha, despite what her children are going through. As Mia, Aysha Kala has such an enticing spark. I compared Kala's acting in Blood Wedding with something out of a soap-opera, but she seems much more at home in That Face. At the beginning she perfectly creates the 'casual psychopath' feel, not too over-the-top but just a little glimmer of madness in the eyes and smile. Then as Mia comes to terms with her actions, Kala brings a real sensitivity to the part. I hadn't seen Matthew Raymond perform before and was very pleasantly surprised. Again, he is extremely natural and completely believable as a father who feels bad for deserting his children but at the same time would much rather be out of the difficult situation. Rounding off the cast, Portia Panteli plays Issy, Mia's friend/accomplice from boarding school. She too has a spark to her, an infectious enthusiasm, but she could do with being a little more natural in her acting.

Overall, That Face is both a commendable piece of new writing and an excellent vehicle for the talented RWCMD students. Highly recommended.

That Face is one of three productions from the Richard Burton Company on at the RWCMD until 2 June 2012. The others are Our Country's Good and Earthquakes in London. Look out for more productions through June and July, especially the musical review Closer To Heaven on 3-7 July 2012. Full details at
If you want to see more of the students I keep talking about in action, but can't make it to the RWCMD check out their acting profiles featuring video monologues. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Institute of Critical Zoologists Exhibition

With this rare bout of beautiful weather, most of us are exploring flora and fauna in its natural habitat: parks, gardens, beaches... However, the Institute of Critical Zoologists have now brought the outside inside, with an exhibition in Chapter Gallery that celebrates the artistic side of nature. The ICZ aim to examine the 'role of  art and photography in the dissemination of knowledge and the acceptance of truths', questioning how people react to pictures of animals and plants. There's a whole range of pieces on display, from photos to scientific documents, but these are a few of my favourites.

Blind Long-tailed Owl, Desert Variant of Little Owl, 2011
The striking contrast between the white owl and turquoise background grabs you as soon as you enter the gallery.

House of Mr Kazuhiro Nagashima, 2010 from the series The whiteness of the whale
I couldn't stop staring at this picture. Apparently the exhibition aims to blue the lines between reality and fantasy, which is evident in this work. Is the whale really in such a tiny amount of water? Either way, it's a haunting image.

Pejantan Black Geysir, part of the Pulau Pejantan series, 2009
Another extremely striking image that seems unreal, but is it?

The Institute of Critical Zoologists exhibition is at Chapter until June 17 (free admission). All of their projects can be seen online here

Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures

Back in November, Matthew Bourne brought his ground-breaking Nutcracker! to the Wales Millennium Centre, where I was lucky enough to meet and interview him. At the time he told me he would be bringing his Early Adventures to Sherman Cymru in June, and I've been looking forward to it ever since. Now it's almost here!

Matthew is, in my opinion at least, the greatest living choreographer. For the last 25 years, he has been redefining dance, breaking boundaries between ballet and contemporary, and creating iconic pieces that are full of energy, style and humour. His all-male Swan Lake is instantly recognisable and revolutionised the way dance is conceived. When I met Matthew I was actually shaking, I was so nervous to meet such a legend. He was absolutely lovely though, extremely down-to-earth and welcoming, which just makes me admire him even more.

In our conversation, we obviously discussed Nutcracker!, which was celebrating its twentieth anniversary (but remains as fresh as ever!), but we also spoke about Early Adventures and Matthew's style in general. Early Adventures brings together three of his earliest, critically acclaimed pieces, which launched his career: Spitfire, Town & Country and The Infernal Galop. Matthew says that he has built on these early pieces, keeping a similar style, throughout his work, so this is a great opportunity to experience the foundations of his incredible career.

To get an idea of Matthew's style, if you're not already familiar with it, watch this trailer.

Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures is on at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff 5-6 June. Tickets are available here. More information about the show and the other tour dates is available here.

Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker

I've never really thought very much about Belarus. I didn't even know that it is Europe's last dictatorship. So while Minsk may not always be an easy watch, it's undoubtedly a necessary effort to raise awareness of the problems that afflict the country particularly its capital city.

Police brutality, homophobia, alcoholism and the prevalence and power of the sex industry are just some of the issues raised in this multimedia piece from the Belarus Free Theatre, which blends theatre and movement with video projection. The title refers to an earlier work by the BFT, New York in 1979, based on a text about identity and sexuality from American punk writer Kathy Acker. Minsk thus relocates these issues to the Belarusian capital, weaving together stories of struggles and scars.

"Many girls find scars sexy. In this regard, Minsk is a beautiful and very sexy city".

Minsk is a deeply personal piece. Written as a collaboration between all the performers, every story we see and hear is true and the result of bitter personal experience, which is what gives Minsk its power. Most of the performers lost their jobs in Minsk and/or were arrested because they dared to use theatre as a way to protest. Some aren't even allowed to ever go back. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, reflecting how humour is often born as a way of dealing with difficult situations. Often light-hearted, joyful scenes will suddenly change to something dark; like a peaceful carnival shattered by police violence. It's this contrast that shocks the audience out of apathy, reminding us that the repression and exploitation in Belarus doesn't go away just because we are not thinking about it. In fact, the culmination of the play is a gut-wrenching cry out to the rest of Europe, the rest of the world, asking just how much does Belarus have to do to get our attention.

Minsk is an absorbing character piece. It will make you feel uncomfortable at times, but that means the Belarus Free Theatre are achieving what they set out to do. The piece is a fascinating, and very moving, insight into a country that is rarely on our radar, guaranteed to leave you thinking long after it finishes.

Papergirl Cardiff

My first stop today was The PrintHaus in Canton to check out the Papergirl Cardiff exhibition.

The premise of Papergirl is that anyone can send in artwork (sketches, paintings, graphic design, even Polaroids) which will be exhibited at The PrintHaus until 4 June when the pictures will be distributed to random Cardiffians via bicycle. This video shows how it worked last year (sorry I had to remove the video because I couldn't stop it playing automatically and the music gets a bit annoying after a while - just click the link to see it).

There's a wide range of different work on show, by everyone from children to professional designers. Here are just a few quick snaps to give an idea of the variety on display, but the exhibition is much larger than just these. Quite a few of the submissions are featured on the Papergirl Cardiff page - check it out if you can't make it to the exhibition. 

While a lot of the pictures aren't labelled, I found details of a few of the artists involved. One is Ian Watson who has submitted a range of rather scary black and white sketches like the one below. I highly recommend checking out his website, as I did when I got home, for more creepy but cool drawings.

Another of my favourites was Nathan Hallett. The picture below is from his portfolio, as I can't find the pictures he submitted to the exhibition anywhere. They're in the same style but of superheroes (superheroes are clearly very in at the moment!) I look forward to seeing more from him soon.
The Printhaus itself was very interesting to visit too. It's a collective space, currently shared by various artists. During their open access hours you can have a nose around what they are currently working on and a get a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of screen printing.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Junior Avengers from Jessica Draws

I had been highly anticipating Avengers Assemble as a Joss Whedon fan, but found myself disappointed by it. Tony Stark was as funny as ever, and I appreciate Scarlett Johansson in a catsuit as much as anyone, but there was too much smashing and bashing for my liking. One group of Avengers that certainly aren't disappointing though are the Junior Avengers as imagined by Cardiff artist Jessica Draws.

One evening, Jessica asked herself what the Avengers would look like as kids and this is the result. My favourite is Captain America, but I love them all. You can buy prints of all six for £25 or each drawing for £15 at Jessica's online store and greetings cards are now on sale at Swasa in the Royal Arcade, Cardiff. To celebrate, Jessica is running a competition giving away a print as a first prize, a set of cards as second, and a card as third. All the details are here - good luck!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Castelao gets catty about modern art

For the last week I've been working my way through book two of my dissertation: Alfonso Castelao's Diario 1921. As I said in an earlier post, my dissertation is on travelogues of Galician nationalists and how their travels in Europe affected their nationalism. This particular book is Castelao's diary from the nine months he spent studying art in Paris, Belgium and Germany, thanks to a scholarship from the local (Galician) government.

While I'm studying the book for Castelao's ideas on Galician identity, it is predominantly a long list of his opinions on the art he sees (and he sees lots of it!). There are whole pages of "X painted this, it was awful, Y drew this, it was average" which can get a bit dull at times, but there are some brilliantly catty remarks peppered throughout. At the very beginning, Castelao recommends that any fans of the Venus de Milo don't see it in real life as they'll be bitterly disappointed. A similar sentiment is expressed towards the Mona Lisa, while Francis Picaba and other Dadaists are treated with utter contempt.

Castelao copies this 1919 piece by Picabia into his diary to ridicule
However, it seems that it is Picasso he treats with most scorn. To give just a few examples:

Os cadros cubistas de Picasso son sempre pra volver tolo a calquera americano do sul; pero unha persoa ben orgaizada espiritualmente non pode tomalos en serio anque vexa que isa clas de pintura non sexa enteiramente inútil.
Picasso's cubist paintings always drive any South American crazy; but a spiritually well-organised person cannot take them seriously even if they recognise that this type of painting isn't entirely useless.

Describing a portrait of a man he says:
Nin ollándoa coa mellor fe do mundo se pode adeviñar a figura dunha persoa.
Not even looking at it with the best faith in the world can you make out the figure of a person.

Picasso, Portrait of Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, 1910
My favourite in terms of rudeness:
Dous Groupes de femmes ó pastel teñen unha semellanza coas cousas de Ingres; pero unha semellanza moi lonxana, coma a distancia de saber dibuxar a non saber dibuxar.
Two pastel Groups of Women have a similarity with Ingres' work: but a distant similarity, like the distance between knowing how to draw and not knowing how to draw. 

Picasso, Three Women, 1908
Ingres, Le Bain Turc, 1862 (also featured in my post on Orientalism)
I personally disagree with Castelao. I'm fascinated by Dadaism and Picasso is one of my favourite artists. What I find most interesting though is that people would pay to send Castelao around Europe to write whatever he thought about the art he saw. I wish someone would give me that job!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Cardiff events this week not to be missed

If I were in Cardiff this week, there's a whole load of fantastic cultural goings-on I wouldn't want to miss. However, as I'm going into hospital instead, I'd like to encourage other people to go and then report back to me please!

Poetry Under Pressure - Thurs 24/Fri 25 May 
Academics from my department at Cardiff University - the School of European Languages, Translation and Politics - have invited two East German poets, Uwe Kolbe and Richard Pietraß, for a two-day poetry extravaganza. There's a poetry reading (Thurs 7-8:30, Chapter) and a public colloquium (Fri from 10, EUROS building) featuring interviews, talks from academics and a free lunch, as well as two workshops, one for translators (Thurs 10-12, EUROS building) and one for poets (Fri 3-5, Wales Millennium Centre).

The Human Library - Sat 26 May @ The Old Library
More from the School of European Languages, Translation and Politics, this time as part of the Transeuropa Festival. The Human Library is like a real library, only the books are humans. People from a whole range of backgrounds with so many different life experiences. 'Readers' sit down with their 'book' and get to know there story. Given that Cardiff is such a vibrant city, I'm sure there'll be lots of people with fascinating stories to tell.

The Get Together - until Sat 26 May @ Sherman Cymru

As I've said many times before, one of the great things about Sherman Cymru is its commitment to new writing, and Simon Crowther's The Get Together is another example. Four friends and a few drinks promises to end in 'laughter, betrayal and blood'.

If you go to any of these events (and why not?), please comment and let me know how they went!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Ramón Otero Pedrayo - Arredor De Sí

While I've had limited mobility these last few days, I have at least been able to get on with my dissertation. I've tried to combine as many of my favourite topics in it as possible: literature, travel, Europe, nationalism, identity and Galicia. It's about the travelogues of people from Galicia who travelled around Europe in search of themselves and in the process became the leaders of the Galician nationalist movement: Ramón Otero Pedrayo, Alfonso Castelao and Vincente Risco.

The first of my books is Otero Pedrayo's Arredor de sí (Around oneself). I recently wrote about Eduardo Blanco Amor's A Esmorga (On A Bender) as the best and most beloved example of Galician literature. While this is true, Arredor de sí is probably the most important piece of Galician literature, because of what it inspired.

Written in 1930, Arredor de sí is a fictionalised version of Otero Pedrayo's youth. A highly intelligent young man from a landed family, Otero's alter-ego, Adrián Solovio, is desperate to get out of Galicia. He doesn't feel at home there, and doesn't even really know who he is. He starts by exploring Spain - Madrid, Toledo, Burgos, before moving on to the rest of Europe. It's through visiting France, Germany and Belgium that he slowly realises that he belongs in Galicia and that Galicia deserves its own place in Europe. Where he once believed the Galician language was backwards and for peasants, he returns from his travels determined to prove that Galician is a worthwhile vehicle for deep philosophical thought and modern writing.

As a piece of literature, Arredor de sí isn't the finest example. It's very academic, constantly name-dropping philosophers and writers (not surprising considering the main character is a devout student, but it doesn't really help the flow of the story). However, it's important for what it represents. It's a call to arms for Galicians, an assertion of the value of Galician culture and a demand for a Europe where small nations are equal and respected. It's also a testament to the importance of travel and getting to know other cultures in the search for one's own identity.

Trust Pays: Creating trust in the UK through cultural relations

I'm often asked what's the point to all this cultural stuff. Well now a report from the British Council shows that cultural relations are essential for fostering trust in Britain, which in turn is highly beneficial for British business. 

This evening, CEO of Ipsos MORI, Ben Page, presented new research on the link between culture and trust in a live-stream called Trust Pays. Although a lot of the findings seem like common sense, it's always good to have ideas backed up by science. The basic idea is that the more Britain forms cultural relations with other countries, the more people trust us and therefore want to invest in the country or do business with us. Ben explained that regardless of what people think of British politicians or parties, people across the world have increasingly positive views of the British people the more they take part in cultural activities.

The result from Saudi Arabia is particularly interesting, proving just how important cultural relations are when other types of relations between countries are limited. This increase in trust leads to a higher likelihood of working in or with the UK.

The presentation was followed by a panel featuring Ben Page,Sir Roger Carr (Chairman of the Confederation of British Industry), Razia Iqbal (BBC) and Martin Davidson (Chief Executive of the British Council). It was a fascinating debate, including many key points I highly agree with. Firstly, as a country we undervalue our cultural heritage, professionalism and even our sense of humour. All of these are assets. The media should not only focus on exposing the bad, but celebrating what we do well. Carr highlighted the importance of making visitors feel welcome - including free access to some of the world's best museums - but insisted we need to go further, ensuring that from a visitor's first experience of the UK (be it in the airport or the visa office) they must feel respected and welcomed. He also maintained that businesses must continue to support the arts as they are 'wonderful ambassadors' for the country. On a more personal level, Razia Iqbal reminded us that 'culture can utterly change people's lives'. Through culture, people can learn that they share things they never thought possible and create lasting links. In this vein, members of the audience suggested that there should be more support for people from Britain to go out and share cultural experiences with others across the world.

As someone who strongly believes in the importance of culture to bring people together and spark new ideas, I really hope this research will inspire more investment in international cultural relations.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Carlos Fuentes - master of Mexican literature

Today, at age 83, Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes sadly passed away. He will be remembered as one of the greatest Latin American authors of all time, working tirelessly until the end on novels, short stories and essays. I sadly haven't read anywhere near enough of Fuentes' vast oeuvre, but what I have read I can highly recommend.

Aura (1962)
My first experience of Fuentes was in our second year Introduction to Latin American Culture course, when Aura was one of the set texts. At just 62 pages, this short novel is considered one of the most important not just of Fuentes' work, but of modern literature in general. I have to admit, we were all quite thrown by it at first; it messes with your mind, and that's why it's so powerful. Fuentes creates a Gothic, claustrophobic and downright freaky atmosphere throughout the novel. It's one of the few examples of a novel written in the second person (Michel Butor's La Modification, which we also had to study, is another key example), placing the reader in the place of the main character and asking just who is narrating. Moreover, it mixes the present and future tense, making you lose any sense of time. This stylistic experimentation, beyond breaking down definitions of what a novel should be, reflect the main concerns of the story: the passing of time and fading of youth and beauty (an allegory on the Partido Revolucionario Institutional who having ruled since 1929 had long lost any revolutionary ambition), and the search for identity in contemporary Mexican society. It won't take you long to read and you won't regret it.

La Muerte de Artemio Cruz/The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962)
The Death of Artemio Cruz is a lot longer than Aura and more epic, covering the life of Artemio Cruz, from his youth in the Mexican Revolution to his long and painful death as an old and very powerful man. Certain experimental elements from Aura remain though, especially as Artemio becomes increasingly delirious. It has also considered to be, out of all of Fuentes' novels, the one which most successfully captures the questioning of Mexican identity. Again, the PRI come under fire, as do the shallow bourgeoisie encapsulated by Artemio's wife. At the same time, it is a deeply personal story of Artemio's history and relationships. Fuentes was a master of blending the personal and the political/sociological. 

Todas Las Familias Felices/Happy Families (2006)
Fuentes' penultimate novel takes its name from the opening lines of Ana Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." It's a collection of short stories about dysfunctional families, from a wife who suffers her husband's sadism because she still loves him, to a daughter who prefers to live in the online world than have any human contact. In between each story is a 'Coro', like a lyrical poem related to the story, reflecting traditional oral culture. Through this collection of unhappy families, Fuentes simultaneously creates engrossing, multi-dimensional individual characters and paints a picture of contemporary Mexican society.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy's 60-second guide to RA

I interrupt my usual cultural posts to share something very important to me that I don't tend to talk about much (normal service will resume shortly). Like every other night this week, I'm up at this ridiculous time not - like every other student at the moment, it seems - because I have essays to finish or revision to cram, but because my arthritis wants me to be. 

It's been a bit of a rough week. I woke up on Thursday really stiff and by Thursday evening could barely walk. I usually don't let pain stop me (just take some pain-killers and hope people don't notice I'm high) but I couldn't fight not being able to walk or stand up for long. It means I've had to cancel seeing Fragments of Ash, which I'm sure would be amazing, as well as Cardiff Read's monthly meet up, Cardiff University's round-table on the French presidential elections on Wed (an unmissable event for a politics geek like me) and Who's Afraid of Rachel Roberts? at Sherman Cymru coming up on Thurs & Fri. (If anyone goes to any of these, please fill me in!). On the plus side, being stuck indoors and completely insomniac does mean I've had lots of time to catch up on my writing (and finish my Gossip Girl marathon...). And then tonight, while trying to fill the void left by sleep, I came across an incredible website. is run by a self-proclaimed RA superhero, @ra_guy. He blogs about living with the disease and uses his superpowers (which include positive affirmations and cute doodles) to raise awareness of the truth of RA (debunking common misconceptions) and celebrate those who don't let it stop them. By far best part of this fantastic site though is his 60 Second Guide to RA. I've always struggled with explaining it, especially as it sounds really stupid and wrong when you say "My body thinks I'm ill so it attacks me to make me better". In future, I'll just direct everyone to this handy guide, which really does only take a minute. Please read it.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Early Days of a Better Nation

Early Days of a Better Nation is a hugely exciting ongoing project, combining two of my biggest interests, theatre and national identity/nation-building. The end result will be so much more than a play: it's a document of our ideas of nationality and what a nation should be in this era of economic crisis, globalisation and increased individualism. The next stage of this process is a scratch performance at Chapter Arts Centre on Thursday 17th May.

I spoke to Annette Mees from Coney ( about the project, where it came from and where it's going to. She highlighted that Early Days is no traditional play, but rather almost a game, a space for discussion and sharing ideas. Because national identity is something which has very different meanings depending on where you are and who you talk to, the piece will grow and change as audiences react to it.

As mentioned in the interview, beyond getting live audience reactions, Coney are very interested in gathering opinions through Twitter. Follow @agencyofconey to get involved.

Early Days of a Better Nation is also just one of many interactive, thought-provoking pieces that Coney are working on at the moment, all across the country. It's well worth checking out their website to see when they are coming to a theatre near you.

A scratch performance of Early Days of a Better Nation will take place at Chapter Arts Centre on Thursday 17th May, with tickets at just £1. Stay tuned to #earlydays to follow the discussion.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Visionary Gateway is an online forum that has been set up to promote the arts and provide a space for mutual support between beginners and professionals. Visionary Gateway aims to become a creative arts charity, but to do that, they first need to build up an active online community.

I spoke to the founder Matt (@MattDSGNS) who explained that the site was set up as a place for anyone interested in the arts to discuss their work and ask questions. He said people often just post a question to Facebook or Twitter, not knowing who will respond, whereas the site aims to ensure questions find a knowledgeable respondent. At its heart is a strong belief in the power of the arts to help you relax, focus, find yourself or overcome personal struggles. For this reason, Matt is adamant that Visionary Gateway won't allow judgement, but rather encourage everyone, no matter their level. In the future, Matt hopes to send 'Arts Advocates' out into communities (schools, local groups etc) to encourage people to be creative - whether drawing a picture, writing a poem or making a film.

You can hear my full interview here:

Act One & Xpress Radio present Sherlock Holmes & The Hoards of Dracula

This year, Xpress Radio, Cardiff University's student radio station, have shown an incredible dedication to producing diverse content and on Tuesday evening they took on their most ambitious project yet, live radio drama.

Throughout the year, Head of Speech for Xpress, Amanda Cooper, has been working with the university's drama society, Act One to write, record and produce new radio dramas. So far the first episode of The Secret of Alexander (the secret being she's a girl) is up on iTunes, while The Bullingdon Boys is in production. On Tuesday, the whole six episode series of Sherlock Holmes & The Hoards of Dracula, written and performed by Act One members, was broadcast live in a technical feat involving the most microphones in Xpress history. The series will now be edited into podcasts, soon to be available to download (I'll keep you posted with when).

For a story called The Hoards of Dracula, there wasn't a huge amount of the blood-thirsty Count, but a whole range of literary references, from Frankenstein to Murder on the Orient Express. At its core, of course, was the irresistible bromance between Holmes and Watson. The six episodes all had different writers, but ran together well (credit to directors Rob Thomas and Aleks Ford). Each writer did bring their own style to their episode though, and I have to say Aled Bidder's was my favourite, while Darren Freebury-Jones' felt just a touch too repetitive.

The whole thing was incredibly funny - sometimes silly slapstick or scatological humour, sometimes really clever wit. At one point I actually laughed so hard I cried, although that had a lot to do with the unfortunate wardrobe mishap that revealed more of James Davies than anyone wanted to see. They promised nudity in the advert and they almost delivered!

Speaking of Davies, as the titular character, he joked that he'd based his performance on Benedict Cumberbatch, but I found him much more charismatic than the BBC's sleuth. As his devoted companion Watson, Adam Feltham revealed a real comedy talent. He has an incredibly expressive face - not great for radio - but luckily an equally expressive voice.  He also seemed totally unperturbed by having to perform most of the evening in his boxers (Act One's costume department must have a small budget). James 'Rolly' Rollinson was a great choice for narrator, again very funny and with a really strong voice for radio.

I really have to praise the hard work of the whole cast and crew for putting an event like this together to such a high standard, and especially Amanda Cooper and Tom Gerken, without whose dedication none of this would have been possible.

Friday, 11 May 2012


In all of the production's publicity, ELWYN is capitalised, as if it's being shouted at you. It seems inappropriate for such an inoffensive work, or indeed the shy and retiring title character. In fact, ELWYN is a sweet, heart-warming play about overcoming obstacles and the power of friendship.

A co-production between the Wales Theatre Company and Aberystwyth Arts Centre, ELWYN started out as the novel Blood Brothers (nothing to do with the musical) by Norwegian Ingvar Ambjornsen, which was then made into the award-winning 2005 film Elling. Elling in turn has been adapted to the stage in over twenty countries. Having created an extremely successful German version, acclaimed director Michael Bogdanov now brings the story to Wales. It has become an extremely local story, even referencing Chapter Arts Centre and Karen 'Media Wales' Price.

At its heart though, the story remains unchanged. Elwyn (Russell Gomer) is a 40-something mummy's boy who spent his entire life at home with mother until her death when he was taken into a rehabilitation centre. There he shares a room with Kelly (Ieuan Rhys), who is obsessed with food and sex, but only ever gets the former. When the authorities decide it's time to release them back into society, the unlikely friendship between the two characters helps them to overcome the new challenges life throws at them. Rhys is incredibly funny while Gomer does a great job balancing the two sides to Elywn, his neurotic real self and his suave, man-of-the-world fantasy. Strong support from Bethan Thomas and Bill Belamy in various roles rounds off a small but perfectly formed cast.

ELWYN is described as 'a comedy for grown-ups'. While there is a steady stream of chuckles and some real laugh-out-loud moments, for me the play is much more interesting in sociological terms: it's a really poignant insight into how people cope with new and difficult situations. I also really enjoyed the music, but I probably shouldn't admit to sharing music taste with a 42 year old man who spent most of his life clinging to his mother's apron strings!

ELWYN is at Sherman Cymru until 12 May 2012, then continues touring Wales until 19 May.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Around the EU in films

Happy Europe Day! As you may have noticed, I'm a big fan of Europe, especially when it comes to culture, so I actually celebrate Europe Day. The day commemorates the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950 in which the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed a form of European supranational community, leading to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, the ancestor of the EU.

In honour of the day, I'd like to travel through the EU through films, but I'm sad to say I don't know enough. So that's where you come in: please send me your suggestions! I'd love to end up with at least one film for each of the 27 member states.

I'll start off with a few of my favourites. Some of them are obvious choices, famous and critically acclaimed (e.g. La Dolce Vita). Others are less well known, but I love them.

France: Les Chansons d'amour (Love Songs) - Christophe Honoré (2007)

When people think French film, they'd maybe say Godard or Renoir, or more recently films like Amélie or La Haine. I am a huge fan of French cinema, old and new, but there's no director I love more (not just in France but in general) than Christophe Honoré, and his Les Chansons d'amour is my favourite film of all time. Big claim, I know, but I just love it. For starters, it's a musical, which is always going to win my favour, especially as the songs (written by Alex Beaupain) are really catchy. What I love most about it though, is that it explores so many aspects of human relationships, romantic to familial, mundane to illicit, joyful to tragic. It's an engrossing, moving and extremely true-to-life portrayal of love, loss and new beginnings. It also stars some of the best new French talent including Louis Garrel, Chiara Mastroianni and Clotilde Hesme. The trailer does not do it justice (probably because it's trying to avoid giving any plots twists away).

Germany: Metropolis - Fritz Lang (1927)
As much as I love recent German films like The Edukators, The Lives of Others and Goodbye, Lenin!, I'm going old-school for this one. Metropolis is widely regarded as one of the all-time classics and rightly so. It's one of the most creative and iconic films I've ever seen and an incredible technical achievement given when it was made. It proves you don't need words to make drama.

Ireland: Once - John Carney (2007)
A charming little musical made on a shoe-string that has taken the world by storm and has just been taken to Broadway. Staring Glen Hansard (of Irish folk band The Frames) and Czech songwriter Markéta Irglová as musicians who come together to make something beautiful. Their song Falling Slowly won the Oscar for Best Original Song (an honour slightly tarnished by the fact that Man or Mupet won this year). It's also a great film for Europe Day as it shows the benefits of supranational co-operation ;-)

Italy: La Dolce Vita - Federico Fellini (1960)
An obvious choice really. While I enjoy neo-realist classics, smush-fests like Il Postino and Cinema Paradiso, and modern films like Gomorra which show the realities of contemporary Italy, La Dolce Vita encapsulates the glamorous ideal of Rome. Plus I needed Marcello Mastroianni in here somewhere!

The Netherlands: Zwartboek (Black Book) - Paul Verhoeven (2006)
Admittedly I don't know very much about Dutch film at all (please send me recommendations!) but this exploration of Second World War Resistance is really interesting and visually impressive.

Spain: La Mala Educación (Bad Education) - Pedro Almodóvar (2004)
Pedro Almodóvar is undoubtedly the most successful and renowned Spanish film-maker and while All About My Mother is usually cited as his best film, I much prefer Bad Education. This semi-autobiographical film ties together strands that have run throughout his work, including questioning gender and sexuality norms, religious iconography and ambivalence towards the Church, and the nature of film-making. Absolutely beautiful and completely engrossing.

Sweden: Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) - Ingmar Bergman (1957)
Another obvious choice, The Seventh Seal is the film that gave the world the iconic image of death playing chess. Beautifully made.

UK: In Bruges - Martin McDonagh
Choosing one film for th UK was always going to be a challenge, so rather than trying to find a film that is particularly representative of Britain, I've just gone with another of my favourite films. It also seems appropriate as it's set in Belgium, home of the EU. I've seen this darkly hilarious gangster film/homage to one of Belguim's biggest tourist attractions so many times and yet it still makes me laugh more than most films.

So that's eight down, only 19 to go! Please send in your suggestions and help me get around the EU in films.