Alix in Wundergarten at The Other Room

The Other Room is doing something quite wonderful this Christmas, it’s brought a Christmas production to Cardiff designed for an older (15+) audience. I love everything about Christmas, and love taking my little ones to see as many Christmas shows as possible, offer me an excuse for a rare night out with friends over Christmas and I’m waving my hand in the air.Alix In Wundergarten - Louisa Marie Lorey, Arthur Hughes (photo credit - Aenne Pallasca)And Alix in Wundergarten is funny too. And that’s me saying that. I hate anyone telling me in advance that something’s going to be funny. It sets an expectation, and humour can be a random thing. And added to my random humour, I was having an absolutely shockingly bad day. The kind of day which makes you think you’d be doing everyone else a favour by going home and shutting the door on the world. But from the minute you’re asked to walk across the set to your seat, to navigate a deckchair gate, a litter tray of sorts, to be warmly greeted by two of the cast and not quite know where to put yourself, well the sense of randomness is wonderful, and the penny drops. You really are one of the radio drama competition winners joining the live audience and cast recording Alice in Wonderland. Where the acting begins and ends becomes unknown and The Other Room’s intimate setting is absolutely perfect along with Carl Davies’ design for creating this radio studio.

And everything gains an Alice in Wonderland sense of surreal. As Fabian the Director arrives and the cast are ‘formally’ introduced to us. An intricate tapestry is the best way to describe the characters which unfold, the cringeworthy and the sympathy entwining to give some of the best moments of laughter, and when I say moments, it’s a constant throughout, the kind which makes your jaw ache.

The four actors are fantastic. Such strong defined character they are incomparable. They leave their humour with you, I’ll never look at the name “Gael” and pronounce it “Gail” ever, I’ll not hear “2-4-6-0-1” and not think of Nick… there is so much packed into the 90 minutes. 

But it is the randomness which overlays everything, as the themes of the cold war overlay Alice in Wonderland, and you’re listening to a rewrite with German accents and Alice being reworked in favour of Alix.
Nothing really says “We’re all mad here” better.
Well, perhaps Fabian’s reaction to his actors did. Alix In Wundergarten - Francois Pandolfo (photo credit - Aenne Pallasca)There is no doubt of Angharad Lee’s strength of director, given the amount of improvisation which undoubtedly occurs, making a completely energised performance and even more laughter. The talent of François Pandolfo in creating such a bizarre script must need a nerve of steel to direct. And yes,  if you have a fear of performances with audience interaction, be a little cautious- and definitely don’t draw attention to yourself with any bright colours… just saying.

My office has a sign about all the best people being bonkers. I think it’s right.

Alix in Wundergarten is at The Other Room until 19th December 2015, with tickets available on the website.

Disclosure: I was invited to the performance for the purpose of this review. All opinions and views contained are my own.

Theatre review: Blud at The Other Room, Cardiff

Blud The Other Room Cardiff

Blud is the first production of The Other Room’s second season, Cardiff’s first pub theatre, a part of Porter’s Bar.
Blud is also the first creation of otherMother, partnering with The Other Room, this co-production is a brave first step, in such an intimate theatre setting, everything is considered.

The hour-long production is in keeping with the first season at The Other Room, treading difficult themes, challenging the traditional male setting of a football locker room with a two-woman play. Addressing girl gangs, rival groups and the care system, the crux of the play is in the title ‘Blud’, the need for family. The play explores the impact of the most important relationships- of immediate family, and the impact of family on life.

Set in a London borough, the action focuses on the impact of two rival football teams, separated by a boundary line, and prosperity. As Cotley Town FC lose their star player to Helmsgate, Rita is left struggling with the impact including the treachery of her old friend also moving her alliance.

Francesca Marie Claire as Rita steps up to the mark as the promised warrior and fighter. Her opening dialogue is convincing, as she faces off to the audience, the fast paced, melodic monologue is interspersed with humour, allowing the intimacy offered at The Other Room to be less confrontational and more a window into the unfolding action.

With the entrance of Olivia Elsden as Lou comes the more personable side to Rita, although absolutely cleverly unfolded to allow Rita to maintain this ringleader role within the gang, there is no softness from Rita but her vulnerabilities unfold through memories which are able to become known through Lou’s dialogue.

Elsden offers a wonderful portrayal of the 15-year-old sister, convincing in mannerisms, the bond of siblings, and beyond within the care system is carefully developed and revealed, the levels of emotion and need are carefully unfolded alongside the character of Lou. 

At times the pace of the dialogue can become a distraction. In most other settings unnoticed, a great detail of the authenticity of  the characters is created through execution of a cleverly written script, and a minor slip moves the dialogue back to a script.

A single set, two-person play is a tall order, but the play successfully maintains momentum as relationships are established, the added humour and complexity brought by the seeming presence of Marcus James allows the main themes to be established within a context and purpose of conversation.

The clever design by Chris Young, incorporating football commentary allows the focus to be retained in the here and now, there is no opportunity for distraction within the story as the timeframe is critical to how the action will unfold.

The play ends, as promised, with many questions left unanswered- practical and moral. It does not aim to solve anything, but offers a window in a world which exists whether society draws back the curtains or not. 

Blud is at The Other Room at Porter’s until 18th September 2015. 

Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets for the performance for the purposes of this review. All opinions contained are my own.

Sarah Kane’s ‘Blasted’ at The Other Room, Cardiff

As we left the theatre last week, we headed straight for the bar.

Unusual for me, usually I’m driving, and unusual for me because usually the theatre bar is closed post-production.

This was ‘The Other Room‘ at Porter’s Bar. Cardiff’s first pub theatre.

The Other Room

And this was the response to sitting in a space accommodating just 44 seats to watch the first production, of Blasted.

Messaged in advance to forearm me with the knowledge of how shocking the themes which underpin the play are, I read a few reviews, and felt that this was a production which should be seen, to understand just what theatre can accomplish. Naively perhaps, especially because my brain seems to have a habit of separation, so I was completely shocked by the final scenes, I may have read but I had chosen not to absorb. In a theatre space, with everything in front of you, there is no choice, tears may have been shed.

On taking the first sips of a much-needed drink, the suggestion that the production would continue to be absorbed over the coming days has rung true.

As all the reviews will tell you, Sarah Kane’s Blasted is shocking, and whether it is shocking in context, or with a view to shock for me in an unknown.

We choose what we read, we choose we watch on television or listen to on the radio. And whilst The Other Room handled the production sensitively, ensuring the audience understood ‘the escape route’, there is something about being in the theatre which, more so than a film, keeps you engaged.

The reality of this play is that we do not know, some choose not to, blissful ignorance, but this play deals with so many taboos, as always, the acceptance of war takes it place in our society, in some ways this acceptance has allowed the realities of war to be escaped, what we perceive we know, what we are most comfortable not knowing.

As always, I am astounded by the actors, the characters created. Three characters who accept the 44-strong voyeurs into a hotel room in Leeds. I tried, and hopefully succeeded in hindsight, to remind myself that these were actors. As repulsed as I honestly was by Ian, that Christian Patterson as an actor did an astounding job, taking on scenes which even now typing this make me grimace.  That this is the first time I recall crying in the theatre, so convincing was the unfolding story. That of course I knew the reality (reinforced by reciting in my head “It’s not real”), but that how much you fall into the story in the position as voyeur that I could not help but focus on a point ‘off-scene’ to bring myself back.

Blasted

Louise Collins as Cate added to the lack of control, how this fragile individual was able to be in this circumstance, the portrayal of Cate allowed the disgust toward Ian to grow, and yet somehow, it was possible to understand the change of power, as Cate became the stronger character, even if this was accomplished by a bargaining power few would aspire to achieve.

Over a week on, I am still not sure how I feel, and I think in itself this has to be a good thing.

Yes, some are more aware of the atrocities of war, and yes, some do not need to have this relived in a theatre setting to bring it home.

But as long as it causes disgust, is as long as we know we need to not sit back as commentators, but to know that it is not acceptable, a ‘call to action’ perhaps.

And, aside from this being a review of the production itself, to The Other Room, I wonder how people discover the wonders of fringe theatre, and that I have never heard of pub theatre to know how much this adds to Cardiff. But yes, this is definitely a welcome addition, I compare it to experiencing Maudie’s Rooms, a way to make theatre even more acceptable, a way to take theatre even further.